“And there was hail, and fire was flashing within the hail…” 1
“The flax and barley have been destroyed...” 2
The first six plagues were not enough to make Pharaoh admit his mistakes. Hashem hardened his heart to allow him to dismiss every plague so far as a “natural disaster”. But the hail, with its terrifying and clearly unnatural fire contained within ice, frightens Pharaoh enough to make him cry out, for the first time, “…I am guilty! God is just! It is I and my people who are in the wrong! Pray to God! Enough of this supernatural thunder and hail…”3
Another lesson for life: the stalks of barley and flax were hardened and inflexible, so they were crushed by the hail. But the spelt and wheat were still young, sprouting and supple and therefore survived.4
Good Shabbos, Shabbath Shalom!
13. Shemoth 5776 ~ The Treasure and the Bridge
Once upon a time a man dreamed that a treasure was buried under a bridge in Vienna so he traveled there to find it. But when he arrived, a guard confronted him. Hoping to bribe the official into joining his quest, the traveler told the story of his dream, but the guard only laughed.
“I also dreamed about a treasure, but do I go chasing after it? Of course not!” He then told how, in his own dream, a treasure was hidden in a certain city at a certain address. Realizing that the guard had described his own home, the traveler rushed back and found the treasure!
In his parable Rebbe Nachman alludes to many secrets. One of them is that the treasure is our voice – a unique symphony of colors and resonances that has never been heard before, and will never be heard again.
We’ve used our voice all our lives but to discover that it is actually a treasure, we need to travel to the “bridge” spanning all worlds, the teachings of the Tzadik.1
“These are the names of the Children of Israel who arrived…”
ואלה שמות בני ישראל הבאים
In this week’s parsha, Shemoth, rearranging the final letters of the opening words spells תהלים–Tehillim (Psalms). Hashem always sends the cure before He sends the illness, and so before the exile in Egypt began, the antidote was already prepared: Sefer Tehillim. 2
Through vocalization, even a whisper, the power locked inside the letters, words, and phrases of Sefer Tehillim is activated. This is the antidote to the exiles that began so long ago in Egypt. May we soon be free!
Good Shabbos — Shabbath Shalom!
A.M.Mail this post
“Don’t Be Afraid…”
To prepare them for entering the Land of Israel without him, Moshe Rabeynu’s simple, clarion advice was: “Don’t be afraid.” After all, the last time he left us on our own, fear he might not return gave rise to the disastrous creation of the Golden Calf.
We’re approaching the final days of mourning for the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash — an event rooted in the destruction of the first tablets of the Torah, and therefore a direct result of the Golden Calf.
How could Israel have substituted an idol for the Creator of the Universe, given all the miracles we had seen? The simplest maidservant saw what no prophet ever had and even the youngest child was able to point heavenward and say, “This is my God…”
The golden calf reminded us of something powerful, but fear made us forget what we were supposed to do with those visions, because fear saps a person’s strength and blocks the discerning powers of the heart.
The sound of the shofar dispels the kind of fear that causes us to forget Hashem. So, during Elul, we begin sounding the shofar — the instrument that awakens the soul, to get ready for our year’s ultimate “Day of Memory”: Rosh HaShanah.
“Today You Are As the Stars of Heaven…”
Moshe Rabeynu also reminds the People of Israel that they will exist permanently, like the stars. Just as a star is constantly giving its light without fear of being diminished, our Sages advise us to do the same: “Don’t be ungrateful for Hashem’s goodness by appearing as though you are poor, but present yourselves as wealthy.”
Remembering who we are clears the pathways of courage in our heart so we can radiate the unique light with which each of us is blessed.
Good Shabbos – Shabbath Shalom!
 Deuteronomy 1:21; 1:29: 3:22
 Rashi on Exodus 15:2
 Rashi and Medrash on Exodus 15:2
 Sefer HaMidoth: Pachad A8; A31
 Lekutey Halachoth Orach Chayim, Hilchoth Brachoth Har’Iyah 5:17
 Lekutey Halachoth Orach Chayim, Hilchoth Brachoth Har’Iyah 5:18
 Rashi on Deuteronomy 1:10
 Rashi on Deuteronomy 2:7Mail this post
In a chassidic parable called The Exchanged Children, a prince (our spirituality) and a slave’s son (our physicality) are lost in a forest. After much wandering, the prince merits to receive a powerful gift: the ability “to distinguish one thing from another (BINaH)”.1
When the comrades finally return to civilization, the prince is challenged to solve the mystery of a strange garden where anyone who enters runs out screaming in terror.
Because through his traveling he gained the power of discernment, the prince calmly reasons out how to exit the maze in peace. By rearranging the garden just a bit here and there, order is restored within the maze and all the invisible terrors dissipate.
Through the divine gift of BINaH, the wandering of the prince ends and he assumes his true regal status.
Finding A Way
When Hashem commanded Israel to build the MiSHKaN, he filled Betzalel with Divine Inspiration “BeCHoKHMaH – through knowlege, UViTHVuNaH – through understanding and UVeDAaTH – through knowledge”.2
CHoKHMaH — knowledge — is received from others. BINaH – Understanding — is the ability to extract new information from previous knowledge, similar but superior to deduction.3 . It is “rearranging conceptual furniture” to facilitate DAaTH – true wisdom. 4
CHoKHMaH is received from the past. BINaH projects what we know into its application the future. Through the gift of BINaH, the prince was able to place the mysterious elements of the maze in their proper order. By rearranging the MiTaH, SHuLCHaN, KiSAy, NeR he creates a MiSHKaN – a place from which peace and harmony emanate into the world.
The story of the prince and the maze describes finding a way back to Hashem and thereby to our most essential self. At first we are terrified by invisible “demons” that chase us from the “garden” of our own potential.5
Only by empowering CHoKHMaH (Torah study) through BINaH (facilitated by tefilah – prayer) can we merit the ability to rearrange our priorities – the “furniture” of our lives – to create a MiSHKaN – a dwelling place for Hashem’s Presence.
“Not a Man was Missing…”
The tribes of Reuben and Gad wanted to settle on the far side of the Jordan, outside the border of Israel. They proposed building “pens for our cattle and cities for our children.”6
Moshe Rabeynu agrees to this, but notices through the wording of their request that concern for their wealth took subconscious precedence over the establishment of their children. He corrects their priorities gently, with compassion, simply by reversing their word order in his response: “Build cities for your children and pens for your cattle.”7
May Hashem provide us with leaders who have the wisdom and compassion of Moshe Rabeynu to help us navigate the “media maze” so not one of us falls “missing” in the war to establish priorities in Torah education, as in this week’s parasha:
וְלֹא נִפְקַד מִמֶּנּוּ אִישׁ
“…not a man was missing from among us.”8
The Midianites numbered “as many as there are grains of sand” but only 12,000 Jewish soldiers were sent to fight against them.
Through Hashem’s miraculous protection, Israel was victorious even though greatly outnumbered and there was not a single Jewish casualty. So may it be His will now, in these confusing, maze-like times, omen v’omen.
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
“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
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
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.”
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