web analytics
September 18, 2014 / 23 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘the Torah’

The Joy of Achdus

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Now that the Daf Yomi cycle has reached Meseches Shabbos I’d like to take this opportunity to remind those who are participating in it that my son, Rabbi Meyer Maryles (pictured), will be giving on-line in depth daily Shiurim on the Daf on the website Shas Illuminated. If you want more out of a Blatt Gemarah than Pashut Peshat, this site is for you. Once you learn the Daf, listen to this Shiur. It will truly enhance the Daf Yomi experience. Speaking of Torah – it was just Shemini Atzeres, the last day of the holiday season. In Israel that day is combined with Simchas Torah. I celebrated that day here in Israel with my son and his family.

On Simchas Torah we complete the yearly reading cycle of the Torah by reading its final Parsha followed by beginning anew the reading of the very first section of Bereshis.The day is also marked by doing Hakafos, both at night and during the day. Men holding Sifrei Torah circle the Bima seven times in special song. That is the formality. But it doesn’t end there. There is spontaneous singing and dancing after each Hakafa by those holding the Sifrei Torah as well as most of the rest of the people in the Shul (or in a Yeshiva as the case may be).

This practice has expanded to massive proportions reflecting great joy on that day, by those who learn Torah and by all who adhere to its precepts. The joy and exuberance by religious Jews – young and old – in celebrating this event on this day is palpable.

It doesn’t matter to what segment of Orthodox Jewry one belongs. All segments celebrate this day with the same exuberance.

It is truly the Torah which unites us all, right to left. Those of us who participate in this event are sincere in our feelings of joy. It doesn’t matter if one is Charedi or MO; Chasidic or Yeshivish; Asheknazi or Sephardi; Mizrachi or Agudah. It is a true moment of Achdus for all. Jews all over the world are all dancing to the same tunes and for the same reasons.

When I get a bit fatigued at the amount of dancing, I remind myself of this very plain fact and it renews my hope for the future. With all the things that divide us, there is so much more that unites us. Achdus is what Simchas Torah is all about. At least for me.

We have concluded the holiday season. One that involves great intensity on religious matters. Beginning with the month of Elul and culminating well into Tishrei – almost two months of celebration which begins with solemnity and repentance and ends in a great joy. I like to think that the Achdus in which this season ends is a sign for us about what our goals as a people should be.

Visit the Emes Ve-Emunah blog.

A Torah

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

The Torah is the holiest of books in the Jewish religion. The Torah is the first 5 books of the Bible – in English – Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy…in Hebrew the names flow more easily, have more meaning. They are – Bereshit, Bamidbar, Shmot, Vayikra, Devarim.

The Jews and the Torah have a very unique and ancient history. The Torah is a gift that God gave to us thousands of years ago. It is something we as a people cherish. We stand when the Torah is taken from its resting place in the synagogue. We kiss it as it passes us. We stand as it is walked to a center table where it is read aloud, three times a a week and on holidays. We stand in respect, and in love – always in love.

On Simchat Torah – a holiday that translates as the “Happiness of the Torah” – we celebrate having successfully read the entire Torah over the space of a year. We dance with the Torah and sing. We gather our children and bless them before it – and then, having finally finished the very last word (which is the word “Israel”), we immediately start reading it again so that not a day goes by without there being more we have to read.

On this Simchat Torah, I sat with my mother and watched the men circling and dancing below. And I pointed to one Torah, smaller than the others and started to tell my mother its story. Unsure of some details, I turned to the women behind me and asked them to again tell me about it. These are the daughter-in-law and her sister of the man who owns the Torah, who saved it and brought it to my synagogue.

On November 9, 1933, the Nazis went on a rampage and burned synagogues, Torahs and holy books throughout Germany. They beat and murdered Jews – it was a national celebration of hatred that would herald more than a decade of agony and anti-semitism and culminate in the murders of more than 6 million Jews. It was called the Night of the Broken Glass – Kristallnacht – for all the broken windows and destruction. It should have been a signal to the world, had they only listened and in the deafening silence that resulted, it was a signal back to Hitler. Go ahead – murder your Jews, burn their holy Torah scrolls. Go ahead…and they did.

Yesterday, there were about 8 or 9 Torah scrolls around which the men in our synagogue were dancing. One was written a bit over a year ago in memory of a friend of mine and so I watched the men dance around Ziva’s Torah. Ziva was a beautiful and lively woman who died too young and as I watched her Torah circle below, I saw the beautiful woodwork on the edges of her Torah and smiled – she always had so much style.

But the one that caught my eye over and over again was the small Torah in the green velvet wrapping. The green material was a bit faded and looked very old. In 1933, that Torah had been in a synagogue in Germany when the Nazis came and set the building on fire. The roof collapsed the next day and it rained; the Torah scrolls in the synagogue were badly damaged. The elderly father who was in our synagogue for the holiday took the Torah scroll and tried to have it fixed but it was too badly damaged.

Most Torah scrolls are buried when they can no longer be used. This one could never be read again to a congregation to fulfill the commandment of reading the Torah out loud three times per week. It was taken to France and then, after the war, when the family came to Israel, the Torah came with them.

It is taken out each year, honored for its history – it survived the Nazis; today, they are long gone but the Torah remains. It is given a special honor – it leads the other Torah scrolls around as the men dance and circle and sing.

Seven hakafot – seven circles are made on the holiday – each circle taking long moments as everyone sings and dances. One of the circles was led by an elderly man who walks painfully slow. He is bent over and I cannot even begin to guess his age. He held his Torah, wrapped in the ancient green material and I watched as my mother’s eyes filled with tears.

TORAH, TORAH, TORAH

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

As we saw in a previous blog, the t’shuva of the Nation and the Land of Israel go hand in hand. Phase two is the Nation’s return to the Torah.

During the reign of King Solomon, the Nation of Israel was at its prime. We lived in peace in our own homeland. A Jewish government ruled over the country from the majestic city of Jerusalem. All of the people gathered for the Festivals at the Temple three times a year. Jewish law went forth from the Sanhedrin. Prophets communicated the word of the Lord to the Nation and the world. A powerful Jewish army guarded the country’s borders. Torah was studied in great academies of learning. Hebrew was spoken on the street. The leaders of foreign nations flocked to Jerusalem to pay tribute to the Jews.

When Israel was exiled, however, everything was lost. The country was conquered by enemies. Jerusalem was razed, the Temple destroyed. Prophecy ceased. Jews wandered from country to country. They began speaking strange languages. Instead of being honored by the gentiles, the Jews were disgraced. They became an oppressed minority in alien lands. And while Jews continued to learn Torah throughout their exile, its light was considerably waned (Chagiga 4B). In the face of persecution and assimilation, Judaism lost its once great stature.

As we mentioned in our previous blog, with the commencement of the Zionist movement, the Jewish people began to return to what had been lost. Jews began to return to their homeland. They began to return to their very own Hebrew language. A Jewish government returned to Jerusalem. The city was rebuilt. Once again, Jews were sovereign in their homeland. Jewish soldiers once again guarded its borders. Once again, foreign rulers came to pay tribute to the leaders of Israel. Out from the humiliation of exile, the Nation was resurrected to life. The physical, national body of Israel’s statehood was restored with a newfound Jewish valor and strength. But without the Temple, without the Sanhedrin and prophecy, without the pilgrimages to Jerusalem three times a year, and without a national dedication to Torah, the return is still incomplete. Nonetheless, Rabbi Kook assures us, within the yearning to return to the Land is a deeper, hidden yearning to return to the Torah as well.

Within the inner heart, in its pure and holy chambers, the Israeli flame increases, demanding the strong, brave, constant connection of life to all of the mitzvot of God…. And in the hearts of all the empty ones, and in the hearts of all of the sinners of Israel, the fire burns and blazes in the most inward depths, and in the Nation in its entirety, all of the desire for freedom, and all of the yearning for life, for the community and for the individual, all of the hope for Redemption, only from the source of this inner spring of life do they flow in order to live Israeli life in its fullest, without contradiction or limitation (Orot, Eretz Yisrael, 8).

Under the secular-looking Zionist State is a flaming, raging, engulfing fireball of t’shuva. The Jewish soul is yearning for religion. Like a man dying of thirst in the desert, the voice of the Nation cries out, “Torah, Torah, Torah.” Ironically, it is precisely the spiritual wilderness which brings the great thirst. Rabbi Kook writes:

T’shuva will come (to the Jewish Nation) in several directions. One of the causes will be the deep sorrow felt over the humiliation inflicted upon the great spiritual treasure which our forefathers bequeathed to us, and which possesses immeasurable power and glory (Orot HaT’shuva, 4:9).

Israel’s great spiritual treasure is the Torah, the commandments, the holidays, Jewish customs, traditions, prayer, and the vast sea of Talmudic learning.

This mighty spirit spans over all generations. Its source is the most exalted Divine Source of life. When one looks to it, one finds everything, all beauty and splendor (Ibid).

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov told a story about a poor man from a poor village who was told in a dream to seek out a treasure buried under a certain bridge in a faraway town. The poor man made the long journey and located the bridge. As he was searching around, a policeman accosted him and demanded to know what he was doing. When the poor man explained, the policeman confided that he too had had a similar foolish dream, in which a treasure was to be found in a certain faraway village under the shack of a poor man. When the policeman cited the poor man’s name and village, the poor man realized that the treasure was buried under his very own house! He had to make the long journey to the bridge to discover the secret. Sure enough, when the poor man hurried back home, he uncovered the treasure under the floor of his storeroom.

Sukkot: Guide for the Perplexed 2012

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

1. The U.S. covenant with the Jewish State dates back to Columbus Day, which is celebrated around Sukkot (October 8).  According to “Columbus Then and Now” (Miles Davidson, 1997, p. 268), Columbus arrived in America on Friday afternoon, October 12, 1492, the 21st day of the Jewish month of Tishrey, the Jewish year 5235, the 7th day of Sukkot, Hoshaa’na’ Rabbah, which is a day of universal deliverance and miracles.    Hosha (הושע) is the Hebrew word for “deliverance” and Na’ (נא) is the Hebrew word for “please.”  The numerical value of Na’ is 51, which corresponds to the celebration of Hoshaa’na’ Rabbah on the 51st day following Moses’ ascension to Mt. Sinai.

2.  Sukkot is the 3rd Jewish holiday – following Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – in the month of Tishrey, the most significant Jewish month. According to Judaism, the number 3 represents divine wisdom, stability, permanence, integration and peace. 3 is the total sum of the basic odd (1) and even (2) numbers. The 3rd day of the Creation was blessed twice; God appeared on Mt. Sinai on the 3rd day; there are 3 parts to the Bible, 3 Patriarchs, 3 pilgrimages to Jerusalem, etc.

3.  The Book of Ecclesiastes, written by King Solomon – one of the greatest philosophical documents – is read during Sukkot.  It amplifies Solomon’s philosophy on the centrality of God and the importance of morality, humility, family, friendship, historical memory and perspective, patience, long-term thinking, proper-timing, realism and knowledge.  Ecclesiastes 4:12: “A three-ply cord is not easily severed.” The Hebrew name of Ecclesiastes is Kohelet (קהלת), which is similar to the commandment to celebrate Sukkot – Hakhel (הקהל), to assemble.

4.  Sukkot starts on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Tishrey, commemorating the Exodus and the beginning of the construction of the Holy Tabernacle in Sinai. Sukkah (סכה) and Sukkot (סכות) are named after the first stop of the Exodus – Sukkota  (סכותה).  The Hebrew root of Sukkah (סכה) is “wholesomeness” and “totality” (סך), “shelter” (סכך), “to anoint” (סוך), “divine curtain/shelter” (מסך) and “attentiveness” (סכת).

5.  The Sukkah symbolizes the Chuppah – the Jewish wedding canopy – of the renewed vows between God and the Jewish People. While Yom Kippur represents God’s forgiveness of the Golden Calf Sin, Sukkot represents the reinstatement of Divine Providence over the Jewish People.  Sukkot is called Zman Simchatenou – time of our joy – and mandates Jews to rejoice (“והיית אך שמח”).  It is the first of the three Pilgrimages to Jerusalem: Passover – the holiday of Liberty, Shavuot (Pentecost) – the holiday of the Torah and Sukkot – the holiday of Joy.

6.  “The House of David” is defined as a Sukkah (Amos 9:11), representing the permanent vision of the ingathering of Jews to the Land of Israel, Zion.  Sukkot is the holiday of harvesting – Assif (אסיף) – which also means “ingathering” (אסוף) in Hebrew. The four sides of the Sukkah represent the global Jewish community, which ingathers under the same roof.  The construction of the Sukkah and Zion are two of the 248 Jewish Do’s (next to the 365 Don’ts). Sukkot – just like Passover – commemorates Jewish sovereignty and liberty.  Sukkot highlights the collective responsibility of the Jewish people, complementing Yom Kippur’s and Rosh Hashanah’s individual responsibility.  Humility – as a national and personal prerequisite – is accentuated by the humble Sukkah. Sukkot provides the last opportunity for repentance. 

7.  Sukkot honors the Torah, as the foundation of Judaism and the Jewish people. Sukkot reflects the three inter-related and mutually-inclusive pillars of Judaism: The Torah of Israel, the People of Israel and the Land of Israel. The day following Sukkot (Simchat Torah – Torah-joy in Hebrew) is dedicated to the conclusion of the annual Torah reading and to the beginning of next year’s Torah reading.  On Simchat Torah, the People of the Book are dancing with the Book.

8.  The seven days of Sukkot are dedicated to the seven Ushpizindistinguished guests (origin of the words Hospes and hospitality): Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David. They defied immense odds in their determined pursuit of ground- breaking initiatives. The Ushpizin constitute role models to contemporary leadership.

9. The seven day duration of Sukkot – celebrated during the 7th Jewish month, Tishrey –highlights the appreciation to God for blessing the Promised Land with the 7 species (Deuteronomy 8:8): wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olive oil, and dates’ honey – 3 fruit of the tree, 2 kinds of bread, 1 product of olives, 1 product of dates = 4 categories.  The duration of Sukkot corresponds, also, to the 7 day week (the Creation), the 7 divine clouds which sheltered the Jewish People in the desert, the 7 blessings which are read during a Jewish wedding, the 7 rounds of dancing with the Torah during Simchat Torah,  the 7 readings of the Torah on Sabbath, etc.

Mothers, Fathers, And The Curse Of Family Breakdowns

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

In my most recent column I wrote about ways of improving family relationships, and raising children who have derech eretz and respect for their parents. I will continue on that same theme here.

If the Jewish home is to survive as it did throughout the centuries, if it is to remain immune to the degeneracy and immorality of the outside world, it must become a bastion of Torah, where mothers and fathers stand guard day and night and do not allow messengers of evil to enter – messengers who have the capacity to bring down the walls and set the entire house aflame.

But here comes the tricky part. As in all things, we cannot make generalizations. There are always exceptions to the rule, and, sadly, in these types of situations the anomalies are even more striking. We see homes that, outwardly at least, house families committed to Torah and yet are torn by strife and acrimony. Despite the glow of the Shabbos lights, despite family members’ adherence to the laws of kashrut and shmiras Shabbos, if you are close enough you can hear loud, angry voices spewing vile words – words that build walls of hatred and shut the gates of the heart.

How can that be? you ask. Where is the Torah? Where is the protective wall that should have shielded the house from the evils of the street?

My husband, Rabbi Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, would explain it all through a story:

A soap manufacturer came to a rabbi and said, “Rabbi, your Torah teachings are of no avail. I see so many out there who claim to be observant, but they are mean and miserable.”

The rabbi invited him to take a stroll in the park. He took him to the children’s playground and said, “Your soap is useless. It is of no avail. Look at those children – they are all dirty, covered with sand and mud!”

“What are you talking about?” the soap manufacturer retorted indignantly. “My soap is perfect, but these kids have been playing in the dirt and have yet to use it.”

“That’s exactly right.” the rabbi responded. “Our Torah is perfect, but there are many out there playing in the dirt and they have yet to use the powerful, cleansing force of our Torah!”

This story perfectly illustrates the fact that there are people who go through the motions of observance but it is something else again for them to allow the Torah to mold their lives and, yes, cleanse them.

The great sage of Mussar, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, taught that for some people it is easier to learn an entire tractate of Talmud than to change even one character trait. Bad middos that are allowed to fester soon become ingrained and almost impossible to extricate. Too often, despite intense therapy and admonishment, these traits remain unchanged. For example, if someone is a ba’al ka’as – has an uncontrollable temper – he will succumb to that negative character trait despite all his promises to change. His words are empty, without substance. Perhaps for a few days he will appear to be different, but it is only an appearance, and in no time at all he will be back to his old ways. So it is that an angry secular person may become a shomer Shabbos angry person, and this holds true for all other character aberrations.

There is a well-known story of a cat that is trained to walk on its hind legs holding a tray with its front paws. One day, it sees some mice – and in no time at all it is chasing the mice on all fours. The lesson is obvious. Parents who wish to build solid families and enjoy loving relationships with their children must become living role models of the Torah and mitzvot that they preach.

The Shabbos candles are symbols of peace, but if those symbols are to have meaning they must be reflected in the words and actions of those who are living in that house. To make this change in our homes, to turn ourselves over and become real Torah people, is not an option but a life and death priority. The very lives of our families are at stake.

Goodbye World, I’m Off to the Mountains!

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

After analyzing the many different facets of t’shuva, Rabbi Kook explains what happens to a person who sets out on a path of return. The first thing we should know is that there are many barriers to t’shuva. To begin with, when someone is not accustomed to the sounds of holiness, his ears are blocked to t’shuva’s constant call.

Life’s inner moral demand calls out to man, “Turn back from your sins!” Sometimes this inner moral compunction begins as a soft echo barely audible in the conscience. Was it a voice? Did I hear someone calling? Little by little, it gains in volume and insistency until it thunders, SON OF MAN, RETURN FROM YOUREVIL WAYS!

Occasionally this voice calls out so loudly, it rings in a person’s ear wherever he goes. It won’t give him rest. “RETURN!” it calls out in the disco. “RETURN!” it calls out at the beach.  “Leave me alone!” the hounded soul cries out. No longer can he pretend not to listen. No longer can he remain in the chains of crass material existence with all of its vices and pulls.

At this point, Rabbi Kook says, a person must rise to a higher spiritual level in order to find inner peace. He must summon inner courage to face this spiritual crisis. Sometimes, however, the moral demands of t’shuva seem so great, a person despairs of ever being able to escape the clutches of sin. His transgressions, like thorns, pin him down on every side. Outside forces seem to control him. He sees no possible way of making amends.

Once again, Rabbi Kook offers hope by telling us that it is precisely from this point of despair that God’s mercy will shine. “A broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou will not despise” (Tehillim, 51:19).

Sometimes when a person has a passionate desire to do t’shuva, he longs to perfect everything all at once. Discovering a world of greater morality, he immediately wants to actualize it in life. A sudden spiritual illumination has raised him out of his darkness, and he wants all of his actions, thoughts, and character traits to be immediately on the same holy level. With all that needs to be corrected, he does not know where to begin. It is easier to contemplate a state of absolute morality than to achieve it in everyday life. The more t’shuva he does, the more he feels the gap between where he is and where he should be. Without a firm foundation in the realm of the holy, he can easily grow discouraged and lose his resolve to become a more moral person. As a result, people who begin learning about Judaism, and about their inner spiritual world, often put on the brakes in fear of experiencing further letdown in not being able to reach their ideals.

“If a person wants all of his inner sensitivities and powers to be instantly renewed in line with the spiritual elevation which he has discovered, and expects all of his immoral ways to be immediately straightened and perfected — he will lack inner stability, and he will not be able to fortify his will to follow the path to true perfection” (Orot HaT’shuva, 13:6).

The solution, Rabbi Kook says, is to do t’shuva in stages. First of all, one should console oneself with the knowledge that the very thought of t’shuva, the very desire to perfect the wrongs of one’s life, is t’shuva itself. This very understanding brings great inner correction in its wake. With this recognition, a person can feel more relaxed, feeling certain that the t’shuva process is already underway.

Next, a person must intensify the illumination of holiness within him. This is to be found in the study of Torah. As we have learned in our previous blog, the study of Torah strengthens the will to do t’shuva and refines character traits and modes of behavior. As the saying goes, “Where there is a will, there’s a way.”

After the will for t’shuva has been firmly established, the person is ready for the details of t’shuva. This stage has two aspects: t’shuva over behavior in the future, and t’shuva over transgressions in the past. Once again, the Torah provides the guidance and light. The Torah translates the ideal moral standards which the person has discovered into the details of day-to-day living. Rabbi Kook writes:

Madonna and Kabbalah Don’t Mix

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Today, we are going to examine the relationship between Torah and T’shuva. First, we must understand that Torah is not external, factual knowledge like the knowledge of science, mathematics, or linguistics. Torah is an inwardly-directed knowledge which has the power to influence and change a person, to refine a person’s sensitivities and to connect him to the holy, spiritual foundations of life.

The study of Torah is not a quantitative amassing of information and theories like other knowledges. It is a qualitative experience demanding both moral and intellectual involvement, and a desire to make Torah ideals an essential part of one’s character. When a person learns Torah and discovers the exalted harmony and goodness of Creation, his will is affected, stimulating a yearning for God. Because his will for goodness is enhanced, his desire for t’shuva is strengthened as well.

The Talmud teaches that God created the evil inclination and the Torah as its cure (Kiddushin 30B). Rabbi Kook explains this as meaning that a person’s will cannot be perfected except through the purifying influence of the Torah. The Torah strengthens the will and directs it towards holiness and goodness.

The more an individual learns Torah, especially the deeper wisdom of Torah, the more knowledgeable he becomes about his true spiritual nature and about the nature of his will. He comes to recognize that the entire world is Divinely inspired to attain a purer connection to God. This higher contemplation brings him to a higher level of t’shuva. Rabbi Kook writes:

“True, complete t’shuva demands lofty horizons of perception, in order to be raised to the resplendent world which abounds in holiness and truth. This can only be done by being immersed in the secrets of life found in Divine wisdom and the depths of the Torah. This necessitates physical cleansing and the purification of one’s traits as aids, so that the clouds of lust will not darken the intellect’s clarity. But the study of Torah must precede everything else, especially the study of the higher, supernal Torah, for it alone can shatter all of the iron barriers which separate the individual and the Nation from God” (Orot HaT’shuva, 10:1).

T’shuva and Torah go hand-in-hand. Like bees and honey, you can’t have one without the other. The more a person studies Torah, the more inspired he is to do t’shuva. Similarly, to the extent that a person purifies himself through t’shuva, his study of Torah is blessed and made more clear.

A person who is satisfied with a routine performance of the Torah’s commandments can get by with a minimum of t’shuva, but to enter into the deep, secret wellsprings of Torah, a person must be pure of all unholy influences. To reach this state of cleanliness, a great deal of t’shuva is required. The depth of a person’s t’shuva enables him to understand greater degrees of Torah, for the ability to understand Torah does not solely depend on one’s intellectual skills in clinically analyzing a passage of Talmud — the essence of Torah is when the person has internalized its profound moral concepts into his being, so much so that he yearns for them with all of his might. Only when a person has reached this level, when his will is so refined that it longs only for goodness, can he properly understand the deep secrets of Torah.

For this reason, people who profess to learn Kabbalah without doing t’shuva are not really learning at all. They study the formulas of mysticism, but the import of the teachings does not enter their hearts, for God only unravels the secrets of Torah to one who has prepared his soul to receive them. Rabbi Kook writes:

“It is obvious that it is impossible to learn the secrets of Torah without t’shuva. For in these great matters, the will and the intellect are united. When one understands these subjects with a mighty will for the good, one yearns for them and devises many general and specific strategies to obtain them. However, when sins form a barrier, the will is damaged, and since one cannot rise to the highest, innermost level of the will…wisdom cannot grow in him, and the channels of understanding the secrets of Torah are blocked” (Ibid, 10:8).

Simply put, if you want to understand the inner workings of existence, you have to clean up your act. Just like you cannot purify yourself in a ritual bath while holding a dead mouse in your hand, you cannot learn the secrets of Torah while you are living in sin.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/felafel-on-rye/madonna-and-kabbalah-dont-mix/2012/09/21/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: