Integrating Good

Leaving Egypt, our first exile, is the paradigm of Redemption and Transformation, setting the themes for the other four exiles and redemptions.

The women of Yisrael are told to “borrow” precious items of gold and silver from their Egyptian neighbors. A lot is made of our leaving Egypt despoiled. In fact, it is this very silver and gold that make their way into the vessels, furniture and tools of the Mishkan. How can that be?

The Mei HaShiloach expands on a Gemara in Brachot to teach that even when we emulate the perverse acts of the Egyptians, when we do them, somehow, they become virtuous. He doesn’t mean that theft or rape or exploitation is, somehow, ever ok when we do it, that we have a mystical Get Out Of Jail Free Card, that our …….. smells, somehow, sweet. Chas v’Shalom!

The idea is that we transform the gold and silver, the material treasure of Ancient Egypt, once in service to the Avoda Zara, idol worship of elevating a flesh-and-blood leader, Pharaoh, into a false divinity, by using them in service to the one true Infinite God. These precious materials are no longer merely objects of display and dominance and envy, but rather shared by the entire people (and from there to all humanity and then to all creation) as they’re put to a higher purpose.

Likewise, the Ishbitzer teaches (based on a prophecy from Isaiah (14:30) that we take the most precious qualities of each society we found ourselves enslaved to and we refine them, often beyond all recognition, and repurpose them, remove them from the realm of ego and self aggrandizement into the realm of universal improvement and benefit, in other words into the service of The Almighty, partnering with Him to complete and perfect Creation (the authentic Jewish meaning of the often misused and misappropriated phrase tikkun olam).

Think of all the cultures where we were enslaved. Or discriminated against,  made second-class citizens. Subjected to humiliation, unfair special taxes, limits to our occupations, not to mention wholesale slaughter. Think of the grandeur of ancient Babylon, ancient Persia, Greece and Rome. The pinnacle of European culture and enlightenment, pre-war Germany. Of the great Arab cultures of the middle east. And see the steep decline in today’s America, accompanied with rising anti-semitism and exclusion, that’s starting just now.

See the refinement in culture and in science and technology sweeping Israel. Not just the Start Up Nation, but the lone example of real Democracy in the Middle East, most of Asia and most of Africa. A nation filled with symphony orchestras and modern dance companies, a thriving jazz scene (consider how many Israelis went to study music at the Berklee College of Music over the last thirty years!), art museums, publishing houses and universities. Not to mention the greatest flowering in history of Torah studies of all kinds and from all points of view, that is not only thriving, but growing faster than the eye can see.

This is the promise of each Geula, Redemption, cascading and combining into the final, ultimate Redemption which is taking place right here, right now.

We haven’t come close to completing the process and there are plenty of mistakes and false steps along the way, but with each passing moment we truly go “From Strength To Strength”. We are truly marching out of Mitzraim b’Yad Rama, with a high hand.

Participate and celebrate. Together.

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Who I Am

Among the many profound pleasures I enjoy living in Israel is that I no longer define myself as who I’m not.

To survive two millennia in foreign, often hostile (occasionally softly hostile but more frequently brutally hard) environments, we needed a system to preserve our unique identities without petrifying ourselves out of existence. Driven from place to place, we needed a way to practice and preserve our way of life wherever we might find ourselves. Chazal, our visionary sages, who, int the first centuries of the first millennium, devised what became known as  Halacha (Jewish Practice) with Divine assistance but no longer enjoying Divine Guidance (The Age Of Prophecy ended with Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and our subsequent Galut, or exile), but based on the revelations of Moshe Rabbenu (also known as Torah or Bible) and the other Nevi’im, Prophets (Nach) and with the insight that we were not interested in mere lifestyle, but with a holy mission to bring God’s Will into living reality, this system succeeded as long as it needed to. It wasn’t perfect, but largely achieved its goal. Am Yisrael, The Jewish People, in the 21st century, thrives.

Today, and for the last seventy years, that need for defensive halacha is, with thanks to The Creator, much much less. While not fully in the realm of Geula, Redemption, the current reality for those of us fortunate, blessed, lucky and courageous enough to live in the first sovereign Jewish state in these two millennia is day-and-night different from any Jewish existence in that long duration. This applies to both those born here and those who made the decision to re-home themselves here.

Of course, not everyone, probably not even a majority of Israel’s citizens are “religious”, at least not as defined by orthodoxy. But denominational divisions, so natural in Galut, so necessary so we can each define ourselves as not this or that, even though they still persist, are dissolving. Not only are these distinctions not needed, they’re counterproductive.

While we await, hopefully actively even if slowly, engaged in building Bayit Shlishi, that long-dreamt-of Third Beit HaMikdash, Holy Temple, whatever its ultimate form and expression will turn out to be, there is no reason to think that what had been accepted and deified as orthodox practice and halacha are identical, or even necessarily close to what Torah Judaism in Israel will be in the future. We need no longer mindlessly cling to every detail, every humrah (strictness) especially without even exploring and understanding how they developed historically in our long and varied history, in the many diverse locations and situations of The Exile we found ourselves in. When the conditions they were a necessary response to no longer exist, there is no need to deify our temporary reactions; even if they lasted a long time, they were still temporary.

So much halacha, as it’s come to us in the twenty-first century, is based on avoiding not just physical threats, but the more subtle annihilation of assimilation. How many laws of kashrut have nothing to do with the actual ingredients we eat, or our treatment of animals, but rather as obstacles to socializing over meals with the dominant non-Jewish culture we were surrounded by? So much of the religious practice we inherited was based on Al Telech, Don’t walk in the ways of our non-Jewish neighbors. So much of modern orthodox practice (as opposed to Modern Orthodox) revolves around obsessive non-conformity with the surrounding majority and obsessive conformity within our own group. Just look at the clothes worn in a frum community, so often out-of-phase with the local climates, based on two hundred and three hundred year-old and even older, often non-Jewish, fashions. The outlandish, but identical hats (within each sub-group, but the need to distinguish group from group repeats itself as a Gur Hasid will never appear in public in the clothing of a yeshivish Litvak (except maybe on Purim) any more than he would in revealing swim trunks. Never would a frum woman, in the hottest summer day, give up her wrist-to-ankle polyesters, full head-coverings. Kashrut supervision to guarantee that a non-Jew doesn’t participate in food preparation, pasteurizing wine (which ruins it, at least a little) to prevent a non-Jew’s handling an open wine bottle making it no longer fit (kosher) to drink.

It goes on and on.

This time of year, in most orthodox communities around the world, unfortunately even here in Eretz Yisrael, Israel, Jews will obsessively seek out Chinese food and meticulously avoid our one highest-value activity, learning Torah, all to avoid giving honor to Jesus. Christmas Eve becomes the one night of a year it’s permitted to go to a movie theater (at least pre-covid), of course, though, limiting the fare to a Disney-esque fairy tale. In a backhanded-insult to secular intellectual pursuits like chess (a game favored by many scholars of the past, including the late Lubavitcher Rebbe!) is allowed, if not encouraged, as a substitute for our supreme (all other nights (except for Tisha B’Av, when we refrain from the pleasure out of mourning the devastating destruction of ) intellectual/spiritual pursuit of Torah study.

Even here in Israel, in the year 2021, so many practicing Jews engage in the non-observance of the Christian holiday, even though our surrounding dominant culture is our own, the search for a Chinese restaurant that will deliver (it was, after all, Leyl Shabbat! It baffles my mind. Sure it can be light-hearted and even fun, but it’s for the past, not the future.

For here is the one place on earth, and the one time in millennia we finally can, and should be exactly who we are.

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Where’s God In All This?

As Elul, the month when we say HaMelech b’Sadeh, the King is in the Field, winds down and we look forward to the great renewal of Rosh Hashana, I am still searchng to find God. And now, ten days later, waiting for the entry of Yom Kippur, even more so……He ramains so elusive. Facing another year of the unknown in terms of Covid and global health, weather disasters everywhere, chaos and violence seeming to run rampant even in those places we thought were safe and calm…… Such a long, often self-contradictory list of mandatory instructions to do our part to solve each crisis, too long to successfully complete even half.

On top of all that, there is all the spiritual preparation for Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Some of us have been waking early for the entire months to say Selichot, other just started a couple weeks ago. There are also those of us for whom the multitude of words, once a bridge, has now become an obstacle. Is God in the silence or is He in the words, so many of which are intricately structured into a poetry we rarely understand, can barely remember?

Netzavim, read just before Rosh Hashana, is usually the fifty-first parsha read in the yearly cycle (which begins on Shimini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, a few weeks beyond). Thus it normally follows the fiftieth parsha. Fifty, represented by the letter Nun, is the one after forty-nine which represent the forty-nine Shaarei Bina, Gates of Understanding. By the time we read this very enigmatic parsha, we have presumably achieved our years understanding and Torah wisdom. Vayelech, just before Yom Kippur, presents us an enigmatic poem where we must face our multi-dimensional relationship with God and our prayers and hopes for the new year.

The Ishbitzer discusses the verse that tells us that He is not hidden away in the Heavens where someone need sor far distance, across the sea. Rather, He is right here, in our hearts and minds, in our ears and eyes. He also tells us we can have the relationship of a son to a father, who despite our faults gives us conditional love, if we examine the relationship of a prospective father-in-law who wants the best for his daughter, a son-in-saw who can provide everything that is needed (please don’t get bogged down in the difference in historical social organization–transcend that to see the beautiful point drawn from what was then everyday-life).

Without crippling ourselves with the “soft prejudice of low expectations”, we can also free ourselves from the opposite emotional devestations of being terrified of failure. We do our best and known that even though it will never be perfect, God will never Turn His Face away from us in rejection.

These holy days we experience every year have so much potential, both to reinforce and strengthen us, but also to fail. As we’ve been told the last few weeks in various Torah readings, choose life.

It’s so easy to get distracted by all the ritual, all the requirements, for all the halacha which is supposed to bring us close to The Creator, to present the path for us to walk, to hide Him instead. All the prayers and pleading can end up only emphasizing how far away we are.

Especially these years, in Eretz Yisrael, where our Jewish Neshamot can freely display and express themselves, where we don’t need any schtick to overcome our secular rulers who, millennium after millennium, century after century, generation after generation have made us so fearful to just be who we naturally are, but can sit quietly, or walk thoughtfully, gently breathe in the Divine Presence so that every exhalation reveals Him to us and we see that, following the hint of Rabban Gamliel, who required (TB Brachot) that each Jew be tocho k’baro, his inner self just like his outer self, and baro k’tocho, his outer self transparent to in inner self, that we can finally properly meet God, Creator and sustainer of the Universe, in the same manner as did Moshe Rabbeinu, Panim el Panim, face-to-face.

Keyn yehi Ratzon. May it be His will.

G’mar Chatima Tova

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First Thoughts On Rosh Hashana 5782

I’m not sure that Tshuva has much to do with forgiving. Or, at least, our forgiving, and I’d argue that we shouldn’t pro-actively forgive anyone who’s truly harmed us before they ask. Not to be disrespectful, but that sounds a lot more like “Turn the other Cheek” Christianity, which is so understandable since most of us grew up under a mixed fabric of Judeo-Christian Ethics, which for all it’s fancy title, really had little to do with traditional Jewish values and teachings.

In terms of Halacha, we’re supposed to ask forgiveness from everyone we harmed over the past year. Once asked, although we’re not commanded to, it’s advised that, given certain criteria, we do forgive. But I would argue that forgiving someone who hasn’t actually asked you, rather than being generous, steals the mitzvah of asking from them. It reminds of of how my great teacher, Rabbi Shloime Twerski zt”l would never let someone walk through the congregation with the tzedaka pushka even though that’s standard practice in almost every shul I’ve ever been in. He felt that at least part of why someone would give in that situation is because someone is standing there, asking, rather than walking up on your own because your heart calls you to give.

In another directions, we’re instructed to try to imitate The Creator, and The Creator will always forgive (but only if it actually benefits the one who’s asking—blanket “amnesty” can encourage people to “sin” because they know it will be wiped away….). And My ways are not your ways—we aren’t equipped to understand why God does anything.

The subtleties of Chazal, our sages, are so deep.

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Everyone celebrates when rhapsodic love becomes a joyous wedding, but what of a wedding based on lust? And when that lust isn’t mutual, but only one-sided (what if the lust, chas v’shalom, crosses the line to rape?) When that already-inadequate flame dies or, even worse, flips to contempt? 

We celebrate a birth created in love, but what of the baby conceived only in lust or in hate? What when an unloved child becomes a dangerous sociopath (not a guaranteed outcome, but all too common a story)? Even a monstrous criminal was once a tiny baby, but what if they must be put to death? Where is God in all this?

Eyn Od Milvado, there is nothing that isn’t God, that isn’t, in it’s deepest nature, God. And when we assume, as taught by the Ramchal (Derech Hashem 1:2) that the pre-visioned, end-purpose of Creation, from the formation of the universe all the way to our individual deeds and thoughts, is L’Hativ MiTuvo, Yitbarach Sh’mo, L’Zulato, to benefit from His Inifinte Good a being other than Himself, it becomes one of our most important challenges to find that goodness in everything that occurs. Even when that netzuzt, spark of goodness, seems so tiny, almost invisible/non-existent, so hidden, how do we decipher the message embedded in it, teaching us how to continue the search, to eventually find that nugget of pure good?

Before proceeding, it’s important to empahsize that Torah of this incredible depth and perception isn’t meant to be taken literally. By no stretch of the imagination am I or authentic Jewish Tradition advocating, approving or even accepting either rape or aggressive wars. I’ll explain as we go.

The Ishbitzer refers us to the opening of Parshat Ki Tetze, |When you go out to war”. As he strings together the early topics into a chain of events, based on just a very few pasukim, verses, the subject goes from joining a war, becoming so attracted to a female captive who catches his eye (to the point of convincing himself that she is his beshart, his truly destined mate, and that taking her for a wife is practically mandated, no longer optional), resisting the temptation by making her appear unattractive in his eyes, starting a family with complete faith it will become a bayit ne’eman b’Yisrael, a holy family participating in Israel’s ultimate destiny and responsibility of revealing God’s Light and Holiness to the world, but finding that his love isn’t so strong afterall, that he favors children from a different wife, leading that unloved son to become a Ben Sorer U’Moreh, a parents’ worst nightmare of a sociopath whose end is to put to death by a court (remember that capitol punishment in Judaism was/is so rare (The State of Israel has executed only one person in all it’s existence, Adolf Eichman) that a Bet Din, court who administers the death penalty once in seven or seventy years was considered a blood-thirst court, and in reality it was probably never actually carried out.) the court was commanded to bury the body almost immediately and to not let it hang from a tree (as was a typical warning in medeival courts) overnight because of the inherent dignity of a human being, no matter how horrible its actions in life.

So, we see that when we take God’s essense, love, and degrade it and degrade it and degrade it further, leading to terrible consequences for all involved, the initial involvement of The Creator predicates at least a netzutz, a holy spark of good and purity that will endure.

We’re commanded, even in the darkest night, to find that spark of light and to incorporate it in ourselves and thus to restore it to the Pure Light Of The World.

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Crimes Against Humanity

In the midst of horrific heatwaves throughout much of the world, one should plant trees, as many and as fast as possible. You don’t intentionally torch forest and field.

When you so love a land, a land you’ve been exiled from for two millennia, especially a land that’s been deliberately deforested, a land turned from lush garden to desert and swamps, you plant trees, you don’t wantonly destroy them. If you honestly desire that land for a home for your children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, you build up that land, you don’t trash it, foul its water table or fill it’s air with the stink of ashes.

The latest arson-terror attacks we’ve endured in Israel in recent days (in recent weeks, in recent months, in recent years–they don’t seem to end) are not blows against a made-up “colonial occupier” or other such bullshit jargon.

They are nothing less than Crimes Against Humanity, crimes against every man, woman and child living on Planet Earth.

Would’t it be wonderful, wouldn’t it signal a universal change of Humanity United for Life, if the world doesn’t, once again, give terrorists a free pass since they only targeted Jews?

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At the end of the day, it seems to me that unless we’ve intentionally tried to live the most selfish and destructive lives we can, we shouldn’t fear, but rather should welcome the upcoming Yom HaDin, Day of Judgement, Rosh Hashana. Likewise, even though our own individual values are a work-in-progress, the word and concept “Judgemental” need not be condemned as small-minded, selfish and vindictive. Especially during this time in the Jewish Calendar, we praise, rather than curse, God as The Almighty Judge.

Not every value-system is equal, nor are all the actions we might choose to take. The Mei HaShiloach teaches us deep insights in his comments to Parshat Shoftim. He compares the opening of this parsha, “Shoftim v’Shotrim Titeyn L’cha B’Chol Sha’arecha…..V’Shaftu Et HaAm Mishpat Tzedek” (Appoint for yourselves Judges and Magistrates in all the Gates of Your Dwellings….And They will Govern the Nation with Justice), with a verse from Isaiah, 33:22, (Ki) Hashem Shofteinu, Hashem M’chakakeynu, Hashem Malkeinu, Hu Yoshienu (Because Hashem is our Judge, Hashem is our Decreer, Hashem is our King, He will redeem us).

God is our Judge, he explains, that He will shine into the mind of Man so we will understand which of the paths (choice) before us is best, even when our heart is not yet prepared to follow God’s Will. Next, that God will engrave (the word, חק, Chok is the root of both Decree and Engrave) the passionate desire in man’s heart so we will begin to ask for help and advice just how to find in the Torah (just exactly how each of us, as individuals, will perform the mitzvot in that unique way that sings to our unique Neshama, soul), so that we will understand that there is no other path to reach this goal–it’s all contained within Torah

God will lead (lamedchof, the final two letters of the root mem-lamed-chof, מלך, is also the root for לך, lech, to walk) Man’s will to match up with The Divine Will, even without our being aware of the manipulation–in the beginning we will think that we’ve reached this level of wisdom on our own. Eventually, I’ll  realize that I was unable to evaluate even the superficial without the deeper structure of Torah (in all its depths).

Finally, in a state of Ultimate Redemption, I will realize that all this seeming manipulation (including all the difficulties we go through in life which nudge us from side to side, always correcting our course) is entirely for our benefit. That no matter how difficult the path, the pain and loss along the way, Sof Sof, at the very end of the day, it’s all been to bring us to the pinnacle of our potentials.

Perhaps this is the deepest expression of faith–that rather than evaluating and critiquing step-by-step, we have some trust the The Creator knows what He is doing, that He, indeed, Created the Heavens and the Earth and everything within them, including (primarily) us, in order to benefit a being “outside” (as it were) of Himself.

Shabbat Shalom

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Rejecting Enlightened Cynicism

 Facing all the challenges of today’s round of Covid, perhaps yet another lockdown in Israel, finally revealed to be planned for the Jewish Holidays because that has the least financial impact on the economy, in the middle of a heat wave that just won’t quit–it’s been weeks since the daily high in Jerusalem was below 90 (33 Celcius), it’s the easiest thing in the world to throw our hands up in despair. The climate is irreparable and we’ll soon become extinct. The world will no longer be able to support the Human species. The Environment has permanently changed to the point that we can no longer survive. And if that isn’t enough, Covid will kill us all within the next couple years. And all of our religious mumbo-jumbo will go for naught, if we’re even given a chance to replay our Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur rituals anyhow (at least here in Israel, supposedly the epicenter and “power center” of all our rites and customs.

It seems that suicidal depression or chaotic depravity might be the only reasonable responses a thinking person might have left. Even the Frum  knee-jerk refrain of Do More Mitzvas seems empty, at best.

What all these responses share is the fallacy that we are able to even fathom the reality of The Creator and that the limits of our imaginations actually limit His Reality. Ishbitz offers a completely different way of approaching all of this.

The Mei HaShiloach, illuminating Parshat Re’ah, begins quoting the first few words of the parsha, “Look! (Pay attention to what’s before your eyes, look at this unavoidable truth) I place before you today Blessing and Curse”. He goes on to explain that everything, הכל, HaKol, the inclusive every thing, is from God. In other words, there is no other source for anything that exists or occurs in the universe. Think about that for a moment.

He continues to point out a very telling behavioral/psychological truth. Hard-wired into our very beings, the very nature of humanity is reflex to cry and shout, זעוק וצעוק, za-ok v’tza-ok to God about what He made, in our times of pain. But when He showers only good upon us, we plaster טח tach our eyes shut rather than to see (and admit) that God brought that into our lives. Rather, we, lamely, declare that whatever good there is in the world is a product of our very own work and effort. Indeed, it seems we’re pre-programed to view the world with “Eyes Wide Shut”.

Furthermore, he goes on to explain that whenever God brings Good, Bracha, blessing, to man, he disguises it “to deceive the eye” in order to appear the very opposite of Good. This is in order to enlist our participation, to enable us to transform what originally appears to be a curse into what is truly a blessing, Bracha. In other words, God Creates, but leaves it in our hands how everything is going to manifest. Perhaps the most ennobling project mankind as a whole, and each person individually, can embark on is to read everything that comes into our lives, no matter how challenging, how initially disastrous and evil, rather as an opportunity to transform bad into good (in the words of medieval non-Jewish Cabbala, to transform lead into gold). It’s well known in our tradition that the darkest dark merely conceals (temporarily) the brightest light.

When faced with seeming disasters, especially when on the scale we seem to now experience, it’s equally wrong to lose ourselves to despair as it is to pollyanna-ishly deny the threat and danger, but rather to take the moment that God gives to us and places us in as the most sublime challenge. This will allow us to underestand the otherwise baffling halacha that we’re commanded to bless the bad that happens to us, exactly the same as the good that comes our way. Because all is directly from God, Hodu l’Shem ki tov, ki l’olam chasdo, Give thanks and praise to God because he is Good, because his loving-kindness is eternal.

At some time in the future, may it be not too far away, when we look back at the challenges facing us today, and they are, indeed, mighty challenges (including climate-based disasters, impending nuclear weapons let loose among evil people, new and frightening pandemics, urban violence throughout the United States and much of Western Europe, and more, not to mention famine and plague which even in the “enlightened” twenty-first century which effect billions of our fellow humans), we’ll also be able to look back and see how we transformed every single apparent curse into untold blessings.

For that is why were were created. To partner with The Creator by bringing this world to perfection. In fact, it’s only through these urgent challenges that we put our hand in and take up our true work.

Shabbat Shalom

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Man, Not Superman

When you’ve spent enough years of your life living with Gemara, the Jerusalem Talmud, you take it for granted that the sages who participated in this several-centuries-long project were a diverse group. Most held a variety of jobs to, often barely, support their families. They found themselves in family dramas, communal quarrels, political power struggles and, always, a search for non-trivial truth, not just in interpreting and selecting which halacha to apply in any given situation, but also in describing Jewish History and deciding to disclose and share tiny slices of our spiritual tradition. They didn’t back away from argument and controversy, didn’t hesitate from irony and sarcasm, but were unafraid to admit folly and to ask forgiveness.

No one of them ever knew, or even claimed to “know it all”. At the very best, one could contribute but a tiny part of the overall picture, and all would immediately admit that it was impossible for any human being to have a complete picture of reality.

Nonetheless, or perhaps in merit of all this, these great holy scholars, quarrelsome and closed-minded as they occasionally are, were trusted with fragments of Universal Meaning (the Meaning of the Universe). Because of Man’s very imperfection he has a relationship with an equally imperfect world. (Rashi points out (Breishit 1:11) that the Creation Process itself was defective (and this can only have been intentional!). On the third day when the earth is commanded to bring forth fruit trees bearing fruit (Eitz pri oseh pri), the world responds by creating only trees bearing fruit (Eitz oseh pri–verse 12). From its very beginning, the Torah goes out of it’s way to remind us of that very imperfection of the world which allows us, in our own imperfection, to completely engage with our world in order to do those things we were created to do.

If a man were, somehow, perfect, he would no longer be worthy of mastering and understanding the world as we are mandated to do. We are able to partner with The Creator in perfecting this world only because we, like the world itself, were born defective. And only through this process can we transcend ourselves, recreating ourselves in accordance with The Divine Wisdom, as we also re-create the world to it’s originally-intended perfection, thus fixing all the cascading disasters, both physical and spiritual, which followed.

Keyn yehi ratzon, May it be His will.

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Armour To Withstand The Exile/More Thoughts on Tisha B’Av 2021

The Tikkunei Zohar is a major section of the Zohar and portions of it (mianly Petach Eliyahu (the end of the second introduction) have made their way into the daily liturgy for many Sephardim and some Chassidim as well. The main text comprises seventy drashim (explanations/insights/poems/explorations/meditations) on the first word of the Torah, בראשית, Bereishit, each drash original, unique and inspiring, each a universe of its own.

Composed after the main text of the Zohar, after Rabbi Shimon and his son emerged from their cave and foreseeing the two-millennia Galut, exile, about to commence, Rabbi Shimon had to prepare Am Yisrael, The Jewish People, to be scattered among the nations of the world, cut off from their land and roots, he armed us to survive through our only permanent possession, the Holy Torah. With this secret knowledge, he filled the Torah with a portable and permanent spiritual energy, based on the understanding of The Creators connection, through this Torah, refused by all other people, with Yisrael.

It is this connection, and only this connection, which has allowed us to survive genocides, persecutions and ethnic cleansings, the seemingly unending exile and alienation, filled with poverty and struggle, discrimination and universal hate. Shattering all rules and logic, miraculously and finally on the road home after all these years. Many of us are back in the Holy Land, some of us even privileged to live in Jerusalem. The return journey home isn’t over, but as far as we’ve come, often our only hope has been that memory of the eternal connection The Creator has made with The People and The Land of Yisrael.

(A millennium-and-a-half later, another mystic, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto, composed seventy meditations, Tikkunim Chadashim (New Tikkunim) on the final pasuk, verse, of the Torah, beginning to collect wind up and return this energy back to it’s source, returning us to our source, may it be soon in our days.)

With the destruction of the Holy Temple, the Shechina, the Divine Presence was scattered, as were each of the six hundred thousand soul roots of the Jewish People. How can they possibly find their paths to reunite? How can they, in the chaos of the world, now thrown off its axis identify each other.

The Torah begins with the word Bereishit, which Rabbi Shimon divides into two parts, ב, Bet and ראשית, Reishit,  and he then explores the Bet, ב, open on one side, closed on three, like a door or gate, Sha’ar L’Hashem Tzaddikim Ya’vo-u, God’s gate through which only Tzaddikim, the righteous, can pass.

How does the Tzaddik, how does the Jewish Soul find its way back to The Creator? How do we identify our place in Spiritual Space, that reunites us with God? How does The Shechina, the Feminine Divine Spirit, return to Zeir Anpin, the Sefirotic manifestation of The Divine Name, God the Creator? How will they recognize each other and reconnect?

If we imagine a Sofer, a holy scribe, writing a scroll for the Tefilla shel Yad, the Tefillin we place on our arms, inking the Divine Name on a kosher parchment. First he visualizes, then solidifies that visualization as an outline, he fills it in until he finally applies the ink and the image, until now completely hidden, manifests. 

The Tikkun refers to Shir HaShirim, Song of Songs, 6:8, “Set me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm, for love is fierce as death”. The daily ritual of Tefillin, placed on the arm, against the heart, each day brings us closer to a reunion which can overcome Death, even generations of Death.

A first step to understanding the end of Exile is the daily, step-by-step, as it were, slow progress returning home, powered by a love which even when it is faint, is fiercer than death. It will, eventually, return us to the Sha’ar, gate to The Creator, which our daily devotions, developing in us the the capacity of Tzaddikim, the Righteous, will return us to the Holy Shechinah, which never really left.

May it be soon in our days, Bimheyra b’Yameynu. May this be our last fast of mourning.

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