40. Balak

A Message Written in Tears

 In Rabbi Nachman’s story “The Lost Princess”, a viceroy sets out to find and rescue his king’s daughter after she disappears. Just as he’s about to succeed, he drinks forbidden wine and falls asleep for seventy years.

The princess is led right past the sleeping viceroy by her captors. Recognizing him, she tries to stir him, but fails. With a broken heart she cries, “What a great pity both on him and on me!”

Forced to leave, she writes on her kerchief with her tears and leaves it near the sleeping man. When the viceroy wakes up he deciphers the message and, through the secret it contains, he eventually saves the princess.[1]

“I Lift My Eyes Toward the Hills…”[2]

In Parshath Balak, the sorcerer Bilaam says, “I see [this nation] from the mountain tops …”[3] and here Rashi’s comments: “I gaze at their beginning…their roots…and I see them established and strong as these rocks and as these hills, through the patriarchs and matriarchs.”[4]

Our ancestors were, as mountains, unshakeable in their faith.[5] To give us access to their level of invincibility, they provided a powerful and unfailing technique:  they taught us how to cry.

“…Water shall Flow from the House of Hashem…”[6]

We know Miriam stood watch over her baby brother – Moshe – when he was set in the basket in the Nile. But where was their mother, Yocheved?

The Zohar HaKodesh tells us: “The child’s mother was crying. As is written:[7] ‘A voice is heard on high. It is the sound bitter weeping, Rachel is crying for her children.’ He [her child] cries, and the mother of the child cries…and in the future: ‘They will come with tears…’[8] That is: …the children [Israel] will come and be gathered in from exile in the merit of the tears of the child’s mother – Rachel.[9]

Yocheved was crying for her child, yet the Zohar equates this with “Rachel is crying.” When a Jewish woman cries for her child, her tears become one with Rachel’s. Tears purify the heart – an aspect of “House of Hashem[10] – and become the “water” that flows from the House of Hashem.[11]

“…There is No Wizardry in Jacob…”[12]

Hashem created the world through the containment of light in the Hebrew letters. Bilaam knew this and boasted, “It is BaReiKH – a blessing – that I have taken.”[13] He thought he could use the letters of the Torah against Israel. But the wizard failed because he missed the crucial point: Hashem listens to a broken heart.[14]

Israel doesn’t need magic because we have something infinitely more powerful: the expression of our helplessness before God. We’re not even afraid of supernatural forces, because saying the Shema before going to sleep draws Hashem’s protection over us.[15]

No magic can harm Israel when we admit our helplessness by praying. We’re also advised to ask a tzaddik to pray on our behalf because without tzaddikim “the world could not exist for even half a day.”[16]

The Power of Helplessness

Parashath Balak resonates in the saga of the Lost Princess. The heroism of Pinchas illuminates the history of Israel among the nations because it marks a crucial “turning point” after which all the “characters” are finally “put in their place”.

The Princess conveys a powerful secret to the viceroy simply by writing with her tears on a piece of cloth. The message she conveyed was that he should cry. From that point on in the story, whenever the viceroy cries he succeeds.

This parable illustrates another facet of Parshath Balak: the turning point reached when Jewish sanctity was threatened and the leaders of Israel stood “weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting”.[17]Suddenly confronted by a brazen display of immorality, all the Torah Sages of the generation, including Moshe Rabeynu, simultaneously forgot a major section of Torah law.[18]

Helplessly, all they could do was cry and recite the Shema.[19]

Father and Son as One

At their reunion after 22 years, Yaakov recited the Shema[20] while Yosef wept. Yaakov said the Shema, because he foresaw the exile and knew the power of these words would unify his children. But Yosef wept because he had been in Egypt for 22 years and knew what searing pain his family would be up against.[21]

At that moment – similar to the Akeydath Yitzchak (Avraham’s sacrificial binding of his son) – a father’s restraint and a son’s passion merged into a perfect synthesis to fortify their descendants forever.

How Could Moshe Rabeynu Forget?

The use of magic and divination leads to immorality.[22] Immorality also harms a person’s memory[23] and is a direct result of forgetting ourselves.

Hashem’s light can be received in direct proportion to the purity of one’s mind.[24] Immoral thoughts are contagious and can harm even the greatest tzaddik. This is how even Moshe Rabeynu came to “forget” a vital Law of the Torah at the close of this week’s parsha..

This forgetfulness was repaired through the generation’s heartfelt prayer and recital of the Shema, the heritage of our forefathers. Pinchas then suddenly remembered the appropriate response and merited saving his People.

Fighting Water With Water

The world is drowning in a flood of immorality, and clear thinking alone is not enough to save us. Sometimes to suppress a forest fire, a counter-fire is set encircling the blaze to “fight fire with fire.”

We can also “fight water with water” by pouring out our tears and asking Hashem to preserve the Inner Jerusalem of our heart[25] so the flood of immorality can’t penetrate its walls. In a similar way, immersing in the Torah’s “…flowing stream, source of wisdom”[26] transforms “waters of destruction” into a “… river – its streams will make the City of God rejoice”.[27]


[1] Rabbi Nachman’s Stories: The Lost Princess

[2] Psalms 121:1

[3] Numbers 23:9

[4] Rashi, Numbers 23:9

[5] Bereishis Rabbah 68:2

[6] Joel 4:18

[7] Jeremiah 31:14

[8] Jeremiah 31:8

[9] Zohar, Shemoth 12:2

[10] Lekutey Tinyana 1

[11] Joel 4:18

[12] Numbers 23:23

[13] Numbers 23:20

[14] Deuteronomy 23:6

[15] Rashi on Numbers 23:24

[16] Zohar, Shemos 16b

[17] Numbers 25:6

[18] Sanhedrin 82a; Yad HaChazakah, Hilkhot Issurei Biah 12:4

[19] Targum Yonatan on Numbers 25:6

[20] Rashi, Genesis 46:29

[21] Likutey Moharan 1, Torath Natan #8.

[22] Sefer HaMidoth: Niuf A 38

[23] Sefer HaMidoth: Memory #7

[24] Likutey Moharan 36:2

[25] Lekutey Tanyina 1

[26] Proverbs 18:4

[27] Psalms 46:5


 Mail this post

34. BeMidbar

The order of Israel’s tribal encampment while traveling in the wilderness is described in this week’s parsha: “Camping to the east shall be the divisions under the banner of Yehuda…1

With the tribe of Yehuda corresponding to the month of Nissan, the camps parallel each of the twelve lunar months and were ordered, by Hashem, in a counter-clockwise fashion around the tabernacle.2

Nissan=Yehuda, Iyar=Yissachar, Sivan=Zevulun

Tammuz=Reuven, Av=Shimeon, Elul=Gad

Tishrei=Ephraim, Cheshvan=Menashe, Kislev=Benyamin

Teves=Dan, Shevat=Asher, Adar=Naftali

Each family camped within the boundaries indicated by the colored banners signifying their tribe. The colors of these banners were deeply significant and corresponded to the colors of the gemstones worn by Aaron during service in the tabernacle. 3



The four sections of the encampment parallel the four letters of Hashem’s ineffable Name, the four aspects of Hashem’s throne, the four worlds (Atzilus, Briya, Yetzira, Asiya), and the four elements of creation: earth, air, fire, and water. 4

Show 4 footnotes

  1. BeMidbar (Numbers) 2:3
  2. Bnei Yissachar
  3. Midrash Rabba
  4. Lekutey Halachoth Choshen Mishpat 2, Hilchos Ganeyva, Halacha 5, Paragraph 19.
 Mail this post

31. Emor

“And you shall count seven complete weeks…”1

To make sure that the seven weeks of the Omer are “complete” the time set for counting is during the early evening hours.2 Performing this mitzvah as soon as possible after nightfall — when the new day begins — ensures that our seven weeks will be as “complete” as we can possibly make them.

The Zohar Hakadosh teaches that counting the Omer similar in importance to the Shemoneh Esrei prayer and should therefore be recited standing3 as hinted through the word 4 בקמה  — read as בקומה, “standing”.5

If a person lost the count and can no longer say the blessing, counting the day still elevates our soul, especially if we count joyfully and in a way that we can hear our voice!6

Show 6 footnotes

  1. Vayikra 23:15
  2. Menachoth 66a
  3. Zohar: Tetzaveh
  4. Devarim 16:9
  5. R’ Asher, end of Pesachim
  6. Oral Tradition, heard from Rav Yehiel Michel Dorfman ז”ל
 Mail this post

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Tu b’Shevat

In Mishnah Rosh HaShana 1:1, Tu b’Shevat is called “the New Year for the tree” — Rosh HaShana la’ilan. It occurs each year on the fifteenth of Shevat, and fruit that ripens before this day is considered harvest from the previous year for the purposes of tithing.

“The tree” referred to in the Mishnah is the Tree of Life — the conduit for divine blessing that emanates from Hashem to every level of His creation. “The tree” therefore is the Torah, as in “She is a tree of life for all who cling to her…” (Mishlei-Proverbs).

Tu b’Shevat is a day for directing our attention and speech to all the aspects of miraculous good found only the Land of Israel. We praise the Land through tasting its fruits in appreciation for Hashem’s kindness in renewing, each year on this day, the strength of the Land.

The entire month of Shevat is a time of renewal for us, as well… a season when our capacity for understanding the Torah is at its fullest and new insights abound. Moshe Rabeynu began his review of the entire Torah on Rosh Chodesh Shevat, revealing secrets not previously known to the People of Israel.

May Hashem bless us all with success in using every day wisely. For more about this special day: Seder for Tu b’Shevat. Enjoy!

 Mail this post

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Nissan – Blessing on Fruit Trees


Peach Blossom in Jerusalem

Nature is an allegory and springtime says it all: renewal! Right in the middle of Pesach cleaning, the Torah encourages us to take a break from the cabinets and crumbles, walk outdoors, find some blossoming fruit trees, and say the blessing:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלקֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁלֹּא חִסַּר בְּעוֹלָמוֹ כלום
וּבָרָא בוֹ בְּרִיוֹת טוֹבוֹת וְאִילָנוֹת טוֹבִים לְהַנּוֹת בָּהֶם בְּנֵי אָדָם

Baruch ata Hashem, Elokeinu Melech HaOlam, shelo chisar baolamo klum, uvara vo beriyot tovot v’ilanot tovim lehanot bahem benei adam.

“Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, Master of the universe, Whose world lacks nothing, and Who created within it beneficial creatures and beneficial trees to bring pleasure to human beings.”

Apple Blossom in Jerusalem

The Hebrew word for blossoms, nitzanim, is related to the name for the first month of spring: Nissan, and to netz (sunrise), since all three fulfill Hashem’s eternal promise that the natural cycles of life will continue, even after the coldest winter or the darkest night.

According to most authorities, this blessing is made during the month of Nissan (Sdei Chemed – Berachos 2:1 and Kaf ha-Chayim 126:1). It is best recited on two or more trees in blossom (Chida, Moreh b’Etzba 198) and the more trees the better (Teshuvos Halachos Ketanos 2:28). We do not recite the blessing on Shabbos or Yom Tov. We also do not say it on trees have been grafted or less than three years old.

Ever since Adam and Eve, fruit trees have been an integral part of our lives. We’re even compared to them, as in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 20: “Man is a tree of the field.” We are rooted, we have seasons of productivity, we need light, nurturing and, most of all, our purpose is to bear fruit!

The Chida taught that saying this blessing releases souls incarnated in the plant kingdom, making it possible for them to complete their soul’s journey. Some people donate 3 coins to charity immediately after making the blessing, corresponding to the nefesh, ruach, neshama levels of the soul. The Ben Ish Hai advises giving 4 coins if one’s parents are no longer in this world, the fourth coin being in honor of the departed souls.

Women also say this annual blessing. Similar to our obligation to bring first fruits — bikurim — to the Holy Temple, this commandment is not considered “time-bound”. It is a “season-bound” break from our daily routine, so that we can take a deep breath, open our senses to the natural processes around us, and draw strength from their renewal.

Sources: Berachos 43b, Rambam (Berachos 10:13); Rokei’ach pg. 235; Ohr Zarua 1:179; Avudraham (Berachos); Tur and Shulchan Aruch O.C. 226; Siddur Rav Yaakov Emden; Chayei Adam 63:2.

Below: Almond branches in early spring, nachalath Binyamin, north of Jerusalem.

 Mail this post

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Seder Tu B’Shevat

IMG_2466-Figs“Taste and see that Hashem is good…” advises King David (Tehillim-Psalms 34:9) but we might wonder: what does the sense of taste have to do with the ability to see? The experience of Tu B’Shevat is a perfect example of how spiritual insight can actually be enhanced and strengthened through developing our sense of taste.

Once a year, on Tu B’Shevat, we are invited back into the Garden of Eden to restore the integrity of humanity and repair all that was destroyed by Adam and Chava (Eve) when they ate the fruit of the primordial ILaN – “fruit bearing tree”.

IMG_2477Seder Tu b’Shevat

Many celebrate Rosh HaShanah L’ILaN(oTH) the “New Year of the Tree(s)” with a festive meal or “Seder” – that includes tasting at least 12 different kinds of fruits. Taking part in this meal, and saying the blessings on it, actually restores a glimmer of paradise to its rightful centrality in our lives.

Four Worlds

To appreciate the powerful significance of this holiday and gain more of what it has to offer, we need to know, first of all, that there are four worlds. Beginning with the one that is most hidden, these worlds are:

1) Olam HaAtziluth “Realm of Proximity” – “near” the Unknowable Creator, Source of all good/light
2) Olam HaBriyah – “Realm of Creation” – the “throne room” of Hashem Yisborach
3) Olam HaYetzirah – “Realm of Formation” – the spiritual realm and all that it contains
4) Olam HaAsiyah – “Realm of Action” – the physical universe and all that it contains

Whatever we think, say, or do affects all four worlds — profoundly and eternally. Depending on our moment-to-moment life choices, we allow more light to permeate the physical world from Olam HaAtziluth, or we block that light.

At certain times, we are given a chance to create unusually large conduits (“KayLIM“) for Hashem’s blessing/light, and Tu B’Shevat is a window to such an opportunity.

Simply through enjoying the taste of different fruits, and saying the appropriate blessings, we actually correct the devastating mistake made by Adam and Chava when they helped themselves — prematurely — to the Tree of Knowledge.

Tasting 12 Different Fruits helps restore mankind’s relationship with this “Tree of Knowledge”. In Olam HaBriyah, the most refined of the knowable worlds, we taste not less than four — preferably ten — fruits that are entirely edible and do not have any unusable KLiPaH – “shell” – inside or out. These include: grapes/raisins, figs, blueberries, apples, pears, raspberries, kiwis, quince, carob, and similar fruits.

pomegbranchsky4x4To regain access to the original “ILaN” (fruit bearing tree) from which all understanding streams, in Olam HaYetzirah, we taste not less than four — preferably ten — fruits that have an edible exterior but inedible  interior or pit. These include: olives, dates, apricots, loquats, persimmons, cherries, peaches, plums, and similar fruits.

To repair the damage done in Olam HaAsiyah, we taste not less than four – preferably ten — fruits that have an inedible exterior, but edible interior, such as: pomegranates, orange, pomello, grapefruit, walnuts, almonds, chestnuts, pistachio nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, etc.

The Seder

The order of priority in blessings on food is:
1. Hamotzi – Bread
2. Mezonoth (goods made from grain)
3. wine or grape juice, both red and white
4. olive
5. date
6. grape/raisin
7. fig
8. pomegranate
9. all other fruits, including ETHRoG (citron), nuts, etc.
10. fruits on which the blessing HaADaMaH is said (fruits that do not grow on a perennial tree) , such as pineapple, banana, papaya, etc.
11. foods on which the blessing SHeHaKoL is said, such as popcorn, watermelon seeds, beer (it’s made from barley!), etc.
12. the various blessing on fragrances

Taste, see, and enjoy the day!

 Mail this post

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,