Parashat Shoftim

A Calming Judgment

How can someone be fond of judgement and laws?  Judgment is scary.  Judgment is bad.  Judgment is guilt.  Judgment is a prosecutor and a defense attorney and judges and hammers and shameful punishments.  Judgment is something very stressful and frightening!  Can there really be something in the world called ‘a calming judgment’??

judgement 2

Harav Israel Asulin

Tuesday, 3rd of Elul, 5775

BS”D

If the words ‘judgment’ or ‘sentence’ awaken in somebody soft feelings of fondness and longing, or seem to someone as something good, positive, beloved, pleasant and nice- let him stand up!

None.

How can someone be fond of judgement and laws?

Judgment is scary.  Judgment is bad.  Judgment is guilt.  Judgment is a prosecutor and a defense attorney and judges and hammers and shameful punishments.

Judgment is something very stressful and frightening!

Can there really be something in the world called ‘a calming judgment’??

“Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities… and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment… so that you will live…” (Devarim[1], Chapter 16, Verses 18-20)  This week’s Torah portion opens with the command to appoint in every city a judge, whose role was to uphold the religious laws and judge between people.  If the people would fulfill the command of righteous judgment, the Torah promises, the Jewish people would merit life and blessing.

Why does righteous judgment guarantee good life?

The Midrash explains:  “Where there is judgment- there is no judgment, and where there is no judgment- there is judgment.  What does this mean?  Rebbe Eliezer said: If the judgment is carried out below- then the judgment is not carried out above, and if it is not carried out below- it is carried out above.” (Midrash Raba, Devarim, 5th Parsha, 5th Paragraph)

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov takes this teaching, which deals with public judgments, and compares it to the personal judgment which a person needs to carry out with himself: “Judgment means that a person judges himself regarding everything he does, before he is judged from above.  By way of his judging himself he is saved from judgment from on high, because when the judgment is carried out below, there is no judgment from above…” (Likutei Moharan[2], Torah 154) Rebbe Nachman reveals to us that this is advice how to be saved from heavenly judgments- if you will judge yourself, here below, then you will be saved from judgments from above.

Great, the second part sounds promising, to be saved from heavenly judgments, we all agree… but regarding the first part- to judge myself?!  Judge myself?  Sentence myself? Criticize myself?

Okay, if you say this needs to be done- and furthermore it’s the month of Elul now and the Day of Judgment is approaching, and I’m searching for refuge and sweetening of the judgments- then maybe I’ll do it.  However, you should know that I don’t want to!  You should know that the child inside of me is going crazy on the floor and kicking the walls saying ‘I don’t want to”.  I don’t want to!  I don’t want to!! Don’t want!!  I don’t want to judge myself and don’t judge me!  Don’t tell me where I made a mistake and don’t tell me what I need to correct!  Enough, I didn’t do anything!  Leave me alone!!

We have inside of us hysterical opposition to anything that smells like criticism or judgment.  We need to understand, why?  What happens to us when we face criticism, does this have to happen, and is there such a thing as a sweet judgment?

Why are we afraid of judgment and why do we refuse to look at the bad and where we made mistakes?

Because we are certain that that is who we are, the bad, and that that is us ourselves, the mistake.  The bad things we did appear to us as our identity.  We are so sure that we are not good at the source, to the point that if we’ll receive criticism and if we admit that we made a mistake or sinned, it will be like we are signing the sentence that erases our existence.  It’s true, we are defected.  We don’t even exist.  We don’t have the right to live.  We don’t have the right to open our eyes in the morning.  We don’t have the right to receive anything.  We are something dirty and spoiled.  To the garbage and that’s all…

This is our feeling when we face criticism, because of so much exile.

The beginning of the redemption is to learn anew, from the Tsaddikim, what is judgment and how do we carry out judgments.

To make a judgment here in this world is first of all, to internalize that I am essentially good.  I am a pure soul.  I am sweet and precious and separate from the bad.  The bad is not me; it’s just like a piece of clothing which has been put on me.  If I’ve sinned, it’s not me who is lacking, rather my actions.  If I make a mistake, it does not erase my existence!  I remain eternally good!!

After I have made this distinction between myself (the good) and the (smelly) clothing that is covering me, I can progress to the next stage of the judgment- to enter a room, close the door, and sit with myself to take an accounting of my soul.  To look at reality in the eyes without blinking, and check carefully where the mistake is and what can be fixed.  Let’s see, what’s this dirty shirt?  That’s not fitting for me!  I’m so beautiful and pure!  This dirt is not fitting for me!  Let’s see how to make teshuva[3], how can I throw out this shirt and exchange it for another, clean one.

I know and feel in the clearest possible way- it’s not me!  It’s not me they are throwing into the garbage!  It’s not me they are disqualifying in the judgment!  I am revealed through the judgment, my true self who is under the garbage…

Then I’ll also merit to be saved from the judgment from above.

What is a judgment from above?

When a judgment is made in heaven, the goal is the same goal- to reveal to you that you are good and to push away the bad that has stuck to you.  If you hold on to the bad and are certain that it’s you, then it hurts.  It’s like a surgery.  They are trying to take away from you a disgusting shirt which is clinging to you, and you feel like they’re cutting your limbs and sawing into you!

When you judge yourself for yourself, when you differentiate between yourself and the bad and let go of the grip, it already doesn’t hurt.  It’s not an amputation.  It’s simple and calming like changing a dirty shirt for a clean one.

Understand?  Judgment, and it’s not a scary judge with hammers and punishments and a garbage that I’m thrown into like a rotten fruit… judgment is an amazing opportunity for cleansing.  To be freed of all the discomforts, to be separated from all the choking shirts, and move forward to my true place and to grow.

So, who’s afraid of judgment?  Let him stand up!

[1] Deuteronomy

[2] The main collection of Rebbe Nachman’s teachings

[3] Repentance

Parashat Re’eh

I have a problem; I need to help

How does this statement sound to you- I have a problem; I need to help…?  A mess of words!?  A default in the brain!?  A lack of logic!?  That’s understandable.  Nevertheless, it’s not correct.  There is no mistake here; there is a secret here…

giving

Harav Israel Asulin

Wednesday, 27th of Av, 5775

BS”D

How does this statement sound to you- I have a problem, I need to help…?  A mess of words!?  A default in the brain!?  A lack of logic!?  Do you want to press delete on the last word in the sentence and write instead: “I have a problem; I need help!?”

That’s understandable.  Nevertheless, it’s not correct.  There is no mistake here; there is a secret here.

It is a secret which is called “I have a problem; I need to help…”

In this week’s Torah portion it is said about the mitzvah of tzedakah[1]: “You shall surely give him, and let your heart not feel bad when you give him, for in return for this matter, Hashem your God, will bless you in all your deeds and in your every undertaking.” (Devarim[2] Chapter 15, Verse 10)  The holy Torah reveals to us that in contrast to how we understand it sometimes, to give is not to lose.  To give is to receive a free entrance card to the department of blessings, successes and salvations.

Rebbe Nachman says that giving is the key which opens all the closed gates and expands all of the narrow crossings.  It is like a wondrous formula the paves the path to the light: “Tzedakah expands all the entrances of holiness.  When a person enters into a path of serving Hashem he needs to open there an opening in order to enter that path, and because of this all beginnings are difficult.  Through tzedakah a person expands the opening, because tzedakah expands and opens greatly all of the openings of holiness.” (Likutei Eitzot[3], Tzedakah)

Think about how amazing this is, and it is especially amazing when we contemplate the field of healing the soul.  Just as anyone who recognizes the difficulties and pain in his soul knows- nobody can save himself.  We can and are obligated to make an effort, but there is still no professional formula that heals the soul.

A person can try for years upon years to go in a certain path, to make progress in a certain area, to push forward towards the holiness’ to search for love, good, trust, will and peace, to deeply desire tasting the taste of healing.  However, everything is stuck, exhausted, clogged and sealed.  There are iron gates and steel latches.

What is the advice of the Torah against this closed screen?  To give.

You cannot save yourself, but you can really save another person!

Are stuck on the path? You need to give.

You have a problem?  Then you need to give!

You feel pain?  Come and see what is hurting your brother… leave yourself for a moment.  Stop protecting yourself as if you were in mortal danger.  Give boundaries in a gentle and decisive way to the small and hurt child inside of you, who only wants to be seen and understood and receive mercy and compassion and be loved and honored… and choose for yourself one person- it’s desirable that it be your spouse- to dedicate yourself completely to them.  Put him/her at the top of your priorities- and give!

Why?  What is the connection?  How is my difficulty to wean myself from my addiction to sweets, for example, connected to giving?  Why should giving open for me the gates of dieting and to be satisfied with lettuce instead of ice cream?  Why is it that when I begin to give I move from the department of almost dying to the department of healing?

That’s the way it is.  It’s like a tactic.  This is the data that Hashem inserted into the operating system of a Jew.  You will give and automatically all of the locked gates will be removed from before you in the aspect of “Raise up your gates”[4]… that is the way it is in every area, and especially when dealing with the soul.  The Tsaddikim say that there is no such thing as an emotional problem.  Rather there is something hiding the soul.

What does this mean?

Each and every one of us has an amazing soul which is carved from on high and it has in it all of the good.  All of the light that was inside of you when you were a child and you knew to love with all your soul, and to bounce with laughter from nothing, and to enjoy every floating butterfly, and to cry when it hurt, and to believe, and be happy, and to truly live with all of your energy and strength… all of the light that was there still exists, but it is hidden.

Layers and layers of pain and distance from Hashem are hiding from you your own self, and are causing your soul to appear dirty and sick, addicted, self-centered, depressed, worried, angry and abandoned.

They took from you, betrayed you, laughed at you, belittled you, acted like strangers, threatened you, abandoned you and demanded from you to be a man (at age 5).  You had to adapt yourself to expectations, wipe away the tears and by way of this stop living… life with its many crises buried you to the depths.  They buried the light and froze the love, extinguished will and choked happiness…

However, beyond all of the coverings and concealments, the soul remains the same amazing and gentle one that was brought down from the thrown of glory.  Healing means to peel away what is covering the soul and return to being.

How do we peel away the layers?  With a peeler?  On the fire?  By hand?  With a technological instrument?

There is no way to peel away the layers.  You can go to a professional, speak about yourself and your childhood, learn the skills of coping, and maybe wean yourself from an addiction.  However, yourself, your fire, your soul, where are you?  How do you reach yourself?  How do you break through the concealment?

Hashem put the concealments there and only he, when he wills it, will remove them.  This will happen only when it is clear to you that you are a giver!

If you have at least one person that you dedicate yourself to their healing- then also Hashem, as it were, will dedicate himself to your healing.  He will put aside all of the considerations, the judgements and your debts, and look at you with good and loving eyes, and he will remove from you layer after layer and allow you to be revealed.

[1] Charity

[2] Deuteronomy

[3] Practical teachings of advice taken from Rebbe Nachman’s teachings, complied by Rebbe Natan, Rebbe Nachman’s main disciple

[4] Psalms Chapter 24, verse 7

Parashat Ekev

To Be In Truth

You can spend entire days choosing menus and tasting them, one after the other and it does not matter in which order… You can spend your entire life on a journey tasting different cuisines, and not even comprehend.

food

Harav Israel Asulin

Monday, 18th of Av, 5775

BS”D

You can spend days choosing menus and tasting them, one after the other and it does not matter in which order… You can spend your entire life on a journey tasting different cuisines, and not even comprehend.

Comprehend what?

Not comprehend that you are not living because you are far from the truth.

“Lest you eat…and forget the Lord your G-d…” (Devarim[1] Chapter 8, Verse 12-14) In this week’s Torah portion there are a lot of references and warnings regarding the subject of eating. Rebbe Nachman says in Likutei Moharan[2], Torah 47: “Someone who is immersed in overeating, it is known that he is far from the truth…”

It is simple and clear, says Rebbe Nachman, if you are immersed there then it is known and clear and understood completely that you are far from the truth.

Why? What is so clear here? What, you can’t be in truth and into food? Why does one have to come on the account of the other?

Our teacher Rebbe Nachman, the artist of the soul, knows. Already, two hundred years ago, during a time when there was not yet rehabilitation centers for addictions or hospital departments, the size of small villages, for treating eating disorders. He saw us on an escape journey from ourselves. He foresaw us running from the coffee shop to the steak house, opening the fridge and the food pantry every two minutes to see what is new… eating with our eyes closed, sweet and salty and sour and spicy, hot and cold, wet and dry. The main thing is to snack. Escaping, run amok, into food. Addicted, immersed, and drowning in food.

In this generation, there is almost no one who can flee from the addiction to food. It appears in everyone to one extent or another.

Why are we constantly running to the food?

Because we are sick, and most of all- we are afraid to feel. In food there is something very rewarding. It distracts us from anything that is annoying. It is pleasant, tasty, gives you a break from life and you can find it with the best kosher certification.

Even in the act of chewing, even if we would chew rocks, we would have a lot of emotional ‘gains’. It is possible to release tension and nerves by chewing, to grind very finely between the teeth a cracker with no salt, until I’ll forget that I was annoyed and even who I was in general… all the more so when we put into our mouth something that is not rocks… something sweet gives us the feeling of comfort and love. In something picante, including all of the types of salty and very hot foods, there is a lot of excitement. Warm food is something so nice and soft, it gives you a hug, and it fulfills you, and allows you to feel like you are wrapped in a comfortable blanket in the heart of the wilderness.

Of course, when the eating is proportional, when you are not “sunken in the desire for food”, when you take care of your body and your soul’s nutrition with clear boundaries, when you are in control of the food and he is not in control of you, then it is completely fine. It is permitted for you to eat and even a mitzvah.

However, if you are immersed in it- you lose all of your existence! If you escape from your feelings and from your struggle with anger or with pain, with the emptiness or with your spouse, and run to the food, then it’s as if you are erased. There was a feeling which tried to come to the surface in order to receive treatment, and instead of giving it attention you drowned it in a tray of pizza with tomato sauce.

Isn’t it a shame? Isn’t it a waste for you?

Who will take care of the child[3] that you were, if every time that he tries to lift his head you place upon him a dish of delicious danishes?

Who will bring alive the relationship with your spouse that you can awaken, if every time a window is opened for you to correct something in your connection you close it with a piece of chocolate filled with nougat cream and cream puffs?

Even if you fulfill with great beauty all of the 613 mitzvahs, how can it be said about you that you are close to the truth when all you do is run away from any piece of truth which threatens to appear in your path? How can it be said about you that you are truthful and in the truth, if you are not present in any place, and when you are not eating you feel dead??

What do we do? How can we be weaned? The food is tasty and the truth is much bitterer. Where do we run to?

That’s it, we don’t escape. We stay where we are. We receive upon ourselves clear boundaries. We stop escaping to the food and stay where we are. We stay in the pain. We stay in the fear. We stay in the boredom. We stay with the communication difficulties. We remain.

However, you are not alone.

You are not alone in this battle. Our Torah is the Torah of life, and nobody is telling you- stop running away and stay shivering on a flimsy board in the heart of a stormy sea. Nobody is leaving you to be devoured by yourself with no relief against all the truths of your life. You have three anchors that are waiting for you: the Tsaddik, a friend and personal prayer.

The first thing that you need to do when you decide to wean yourself is to connect yourself strongly to the teachings of the Tsaddik. Read the words of Rebbe Nachman, even without understanding, although it is preferable to understand, but the main thing is to read and connect yourself to the Tsaddik.

The second anchor is to find a good friend in order to speak with him truthfully about what you are going through; about your difficulty with the food- you want to eat so badly! What is the connection to dieting?? Just today your wife prepared for you a ten story cake with frosting. Talk to him about the difficulty that the absence of the food causes you, and slowly you will meet the truth; the pain, the distance, the emptiness, the small child you once were, how you felt lonely all those years, the fears that you pushed away, and the pangs of conscience that arise. Don’t be alone with this pain; find an address to speak about what you are going through. Whether it’s a good friend, or your wife, or paying someone with a good heart to listen to you.

Personal prayer- Hashem never leaves you, he is always with you. He is just waiting for you to come to him and to tell him about yourself, simply, in your words: “Father, you know, I started working on my desire to overeat…”

[1] Deuteronomy

[2] The main collection of Rebbe Nachman’s teachings

[3] A reference to our emotional world inside

Tisha B’Av

The Way Home

Just like it is impossible to harvest a hazelnut before it has gone through twenty-one days of ripening, so to it is impossible to reach the redemption without being in distress. In order to obtain something good- you need to go through a painful journey. First you need to mourn every aspect, there needs to be sadness and pain and destruction.

Bet Hamikdash

Harav Israel Asulin

Tuesday, 5th of Av, 5775

It is possible to find a lot of comparisons for the twenty-one days between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av). Throughout history, many terrible and bitter events happened to the Jews during these days, on a national level and on a personal level. These are dark and melancholy days; days of mourning and destruction, days of calamity and blood. Days where demons are given strength and according to Halacha one needs to be very careful during this time to guard oneself from misery and damage.

However, when Rebbe Nachman speaks about these twenty-one days (Likutei Moharan Tanina, Torah 85), he doesn’t compare them to blood or destruction or annihilation. From all of the things in the world, Rebbe Nachman chooses to compare these days to nuts and to eggs.

Just as during these three weeks, we have twenty-one days, so to says Rebbe Nachman are the amount of days it takes for the hazelnut to ripen and for the egg inside a hen to mature.

In other words, twenty-one days are the time it takes for something to ripen and mature. It is the time in which hazelnuts ripen and eggs mature, and apparently something else comes to fruition during these three weeks. What is this thing that comes to fruition at the end of the twenty-one days of mourning?

Consolation.

The mourning during the three weeks becomes stronger and intensifies during the nine days, and becomes more stringent during the week in which Tisha B’Av falls, and comes to its climax on Tisha B’Av. Then the screen changes and the melody is of ‘be comforted, be comforted, my people’[1] and of closeness and amazing love of Hashem that envelopes us during the seven weeks of consolation.

How does this happen? How does comfort replace the mourning, and even more so when the mourning is at its’ peak? What is the connection between the hazelnuts and the eggs and these days of mourning? Is it just a matter of counting the days or are there additional meanings we can find?

The answer is that there is very great fundamental point that Rebbe Nachman teaches us in a five word headline: “Through Luz (לוז) we enter Bet El.”

The simple meaning is that ‘Bet El’ was a city from the time of Yehoshua[2], which was surrounded by a wall and the only entrance into it was hidden inside the trunk of an enormous nut tree.

However, in the deeper understanding, Bet El was not a city; rather it is the dwelling place of the Divine presence. It is the Holy Temple and it is my private home. If we merit, the Divine presence dwells amongst us. In my heart- if I will make for the Divine presence a tabernacle, it will dwell inside of me.

Rebbe Nachman asks- You feel destruction? You feel distant from holiness? You’re standing in front of the great wall and can’t find the opening and there is no gate to reach Bet El? You really want to find Hashem in your life, with your spouse, in your parenthood? You are longing for the great and holy house of Hashem? You yearn for the private temple inside of you, your holy of holies? Do you want me to reveal to you the path to enter Bet El?

Listen to me well- “Through Luz you will enter Bet El.”

As mentioned earlier, the hazelnut (luz) is the type of nut whose time to ripen is twenty-one days. However, the word’ luz’ has an additional meaning- in every person there is a bone called the ‘essential bone (etzem ha’luz) .’[3] “This is the essential bone which is in a person’s back, which will remain after the body decays, and from it the body will be rebuilt at the time of the resurrection of the dead; and this is our main comfort…” (Likutei Moharan Tanina, Torah 85) The ‘essential bone’ is the only bone which remains after the body decays in the grave, and from it the body will be rebuilt at the time of the resurrection of the dead. That is to say this is actually our hope for resurrection and life.

On the other hand, the placement of the essential bone is in our back, and the back represents hiddenness and distance, just like the meaning of the phrase ‘turning your back.’ Furthermore, עורף (back) if the letters are changed around becomes פרעה (Pharoah), who represents the difficulty of the exile and the distress of slavery.

We find therefore that the word ‘luz’ has two sides to it, exile or comfort, hiddenness or redemption. That is exactly the meaning of the eggs which grow inside the chicken for twenty-one days.

Rebbe Natan explains that a kosher egg has two sides, one side is like a jug- rounded, and the other side is sharpened. Rebbe Natan says: “A jug- this eludes to mourning and sorrow, the aspect of the cycle of life, and for this reason we eat eggs and lentils at the time of mourning…” The circular shape tells us of the cycle of life, about the fact that life progresses to the end. Therefore an egg is the food of mourners and therefore we also have the custom of eating an egg at the final meal before Tisha B’Av.

In contrast, Rebbe Natan continues: “Sharpness- this is the aspect of boldness and happiness, the aspect of making the mouth like a sharp sword, the opposite of a mourner who doesn’t have a mouth. This hints to the resurrection and the days of redemption, when the children of Israel will stand sharp and strong.” If so, like the hazelnut so to the egg, its’ meaning is sorrow and also happiness, mourning with resurrection and redemption.

“This teaches a person that it’s impossible for any person to have good hope without sorrow and difficulties and tremendous bitterness, which is the aspect of our mourning and sorrow over the destruction of the Holy Temple… as our Sages of blessed memory said ‘He who mourns for Jerusalem will merit it see its’ joy…’, and this is true for every person and in every time regarding his exile and pain and the difficulties he goes through.” (Likutei Halachot, Laws of Eggs, Halachah 5)

Just as it is impossible to build a building before digging deep for the foundation, just as it is impossible to plant a tree before it rots deep within the sand, just as it is impossible to eat a nut before it ripens for three weeks- so to it is impossible to get to the redemption before being in distress and watering the ground with our tears.

Why?

There is a law in creation, that in order to get to the good and the hope, one needs to go through a path of bitterness and hiddenness. Just like the thesis which states ‘necessity is the mother of invention’- if we don’t need something, if it is not difficult for us, or if it is not painful, than why would we search for the good? Why would we want to change? Why would we want to move from our place and begin to move upward?

The pain is our fuel, it is the power that motivates us and causes all good things to grow.

On the way to ‘Bet El’ and during ‘the three weeks’, when you get stuck amongst the bumps and the nuts, you should understand that they are only labor pains. This is the path. First you need to mourn every aspect. There needs to be sadness and pain and destruction. We need these three weeks, by way of ‘Luz’ with tribulations, in order to arrive at the consolation that awaits us at the peak of the three weeks.

May it be that very soon we will be enveloped in the hug of “rejoice with her a rejoicing, all who mourn over her…” (Yeshayahu[4] Chapter 66, Verse 10).

[1] During the Shabbat following the fast of Tishah B’Av, the passage “Nachamu” (Yeshayahu 40:1) is read for the Haftorah

[2] Joshua

[3] עצם הלוז Some opinions say it is the top of the spine, others say it is the tailbone

[4] Isaiah

Parashat Massei

You Need a Desert After we scream and call for help and acknowledge that we are weak and choose the holy land and are willing to sacrifice ourselves, for our complete healing, or for our spouse, or for both of us; then Hashem sends us Moshe to take us out of Egypt. This is when our test begins… Desert Safari - Amram's Pillars

Harav Israel Asulin

Tuesday, 27th of Tammuz, 5775

BS”D

“These are the journeys of the children of Israel who left the land of Egypt…” (Bamidbar[1] Chapter 33, Verse 1). In the parasha[2] Massei the holy Torah tells us about the forty-two journeys that the nation of Israel traveled in the desert. Forty-two stops, that began at the exodus from Egypt and came to their culmination with the entrance to the land of Israel. The discussion of these journeys- as our holy sages teach us- it is not a historical or archeological documentation of an ancient journey; rather it is an exact and actual discussion relevant to every Jew, where ever they find themselves in their lives. “All the journeys were forty-two and they are for every man from the day of his birth until his returning to the next world…” (The ‘Degel Machanei Ephraim’, accredited to his grandfather, the holy Baal Shem Tov). So let us listen to the whole story from the beginning: The nation of Israel leaves Egypt with a clear promise to inherit the land of Israel. Instead of landing, straight from the miracles on the sea- to the receiving of the Torah, and from there a quick jump to the Promised Land, a long journey in a desolate land begins. This journey, as in the parable with the generation in the desert that took place thousands of years ago, is also the lesson for every one of us. It is a journey that requires a lot of emunah[3]in Hashem, in Moshe, and in ourselves. The beginning for everyone in every area is in Egypt. In our relationship with Hashem, in our relationship with ourselves, and in our relationship with our spouse, they all start in Egypt. The beginning is disconnect and exile and complete slavery to Pharaoh. I don’t know who I am, I don’t know who Hashem is, and it doesn’t really interest me who my spouse is, as long as Hashem doesn’t interfere with my life with some sort of earth shaking tragedy. If my wife still prepares for me good food and good laundry services, in my opinion why not spend the next eighty years in the shadow of Pithom and Ramses and Pharaoh’s Nile River. Then Egypt started to pressure us and to limit our steps. Everything begins to screech and to whistle and to shake. Your health is not what is used to be and the children are screaming the scream of your wife and your livelihood and your neighbors…something is happening and you are waking up to realize that you are really in exile and enslaved. After we scream and call for help and acknowledge that we are weak and choose the holy land and are willing to sacrifice ourselves, for our complete healing, or for our spouse, or for both of us; then Hashem sends us Moshe to take us out of Egypt. This is when our test begins. When we are leaving Egypt we don’t have patience, we want to get to the Land of Israel, to find serenity and to settle immediately and without any stops along the way. This desert, and these forty-two journeys, arouse within us our sense of justice: You said we were going to be redeemed, correct?! You said we only need to come and then we will be healed, correct?! So here I am! Why does everything continue to stay black? You spoke about the Land of Israel, so why am I in the desert??…and it doesn’t end! Look a little at the names of the places that are written in this Torah portion, and see the stops that we are passing in our lives: ‘Marrah (Bitterness)’, ‘Charadah (Anxiety)’, ‘Rephidim (where Amalek attacked the nation of Israel)’, and ‘Kivrot Hatavah (Burial of Lust)’…and this is how we falter in the desert, instead of settling down in the Land of Milk and Honey. Why? The Chassidic sages explain to us that any real relationship needs a desert first. You are requesting the real, complete, and lofty relationship? You are searching for the connection with yourself, to your strengths, to your soul, to your life’s purpose, to your ‘Lost Princess’? So this is the way- “He traveled back and forth for a long time, through deserts, fields, and forests, and searched for her (the ‘Lost Princess’) for a long time.” (Rebbe Nachman’s Thirteen Tales, The Lost Princess[4]). You want a relationship with Hashem? So try personal prayer, and instead of meeting angels, you meet the emptiness and the lacking and the boredom and ‘no words’ and ‘no strength’ and ‘no desire’ and maybe it is enough to try personal prayer once a month or every two months or once a year?… You want to connect to yourself? Start to work on yourself, and meet the hurt child within yourself, and recognize the addictions that infiltrate your life. Start getting to know the desert and the snakes and scorpions that you have inside yourself! You want a relationship with your spouse? Only by way of a desert! Start to devote yourself even when you don’t feel anything and don’t know what love is. Begin to obligate yourself and sacrifice your soul for your obligations, even when surrounding you everything is desolate and profane and without reason and enjoyment. Why is it like this? Why do all real relationships need a desert first? Only in the desert can you find your path on the side. Just as Rebbe Nachman says in the tale of The Lost Princess: “Finally while traveling through the desert; he saw a path to the side. He thought it over, ‘Since I have traveled for so long in the desert and cannot find her, let me follow this path. Perhaps it will bring me to an inhabited area.’” So what is a desert? A desert is the wilderness. There is nothing. Everything is barren. Everything is arid. There is no water, no food and no shade. You need to build everything anew. You need to invent. You cannot rely on the good of Pharaoh that he will give you something to drink or to eat or a place to sleep. In the desert you are the first explorer. From this empty desert without an outlet, you will find something from nothing, your individual path to the ‘Lost Princess.’ [1] Numbers [2] Torah portion [3] Faith [4] This first of Rebbe Nachman’s Thirteen Tales, literally the title should be “Loss of a King’s Daughter”. The ‘Lost Princess’ refers to our soul, and the story is a parable of our journey to find our connection with our soul and G-d.

Parashat Pinchas

There Is No Despair

Correct, your situation is lousy and you have fallen into all of the pits and bumped into all of the walls.  There is still one place that you haven’t been, in the ground. Indeed you know the ground very well and are friendly with it, you tread with your nose sunken in the ground and feel like a lump of matter lacking hope.  But from the inside- you still have not seen what it is like.אפשר לתקן

Harav Israel Asulin

Tuesday, 20th of Tammuz, 5775

In everyone one of us there exists basic emunah[1], which we received from our forefathers, Abraham Issac and Jacob; emunah that it is possible, we will succeed, we will overcome, and it will be good.

However there are things that appear to us that regarding them there is already no hope.  It is already too late and there is no chance.  We missed the boat and the moment has passed us by and from here these is only despair and helplessness.

Do you recognize the places where you have lost in them emunah– and specifically in a rational and weighted out way with reality and with the statistical data and probability…?

This child, this relationship, this craving, this addiction, and these behaviors…

We’re done.  I am already at the edge.  From here there is no way out!

This child? – I have already made all the possible mistakes.  From the time he was born, I have only acted with him in a stupid and destructive way. So that’s it.  It’s all over for the child, for us, for the child’s future.  It’s all over for our relationship.  It’s sad, but that’s the reality.

This addiction? – Maybe once, before I started to taste and to enjoy and to stoop over the alcohol or the internet like it was oxygen, maybe then there was a chance for a sane life; but now I am already hooked on them and suck from them life.  It’s hard for me, I would want to quit and start to live, but there is no chance.

This is true in all the areas of life: This marriage? – Failed and finished! My spirituality? – From the time I have become knowledgeable I have worked to disappoint Hashem.  I have sinned all the sins, I have reached the worst state.  So we’re finished, there is no chance.  Maybe once, when the situation was still reasonable, when the filth was separate from me and not welded to me and a part of me; maybe then there was a place for this discussion about repentance and service of G-d.  Now it’s too late, sorry.

***

This week’s Torah portion reveals to us that there is no such thing as too late and there is no place without a way out.

After the big plague that annihilated many of the children of Israel, Hashem commands Moshe and Elazar the Cohen to count the nation, in order to know who the remaining people are.  The verse details: “These were the families of the family of Levi: the family of the Libnites, the family of the Hebronites, the family of the Mahlites, the family of the Mushites, the family of the Korahites…” (Bamidbar[2] Chapter 26, Verse 58).

It’s not understandable, who is the family of the Korahites?  Behold, Korach and everything he had was swallowed into the ground!

Preceding this verse it is mentioned that: “Korah’s sons, however, did not die” (et al, Verse 11).  Rebbe Natan says – “Amongst the great noise of the swallowing, the sons repented… and they held steadfastly and did not enter hell, like it our Rabbis, of blessed memory, said on this verse ‘Korah’s sons, however, did not die’.  From them came the great descendants who Korach prophetically saw, which were the holy generations of Shmuel etc. who revealed G-d in this world.”  (Likutei Halachot[3], Hilchot Netilat Yediim L’seuda, Halacha 5)

The sons of Korach were partners in their father’s disagreement and were swallowed with him in the stomach of the ground.  However, at the entrance to hell, amongst the great noise of the swallowing, they repented, and due to the strength of their repentance they merited to a great miracle that ‘they held steadfastly and did not enter hell’.  They merited to leave the depths of the ground and to have lives of holiness, and to be the ones from which the prophet Shmuel was born and twenty-four guards of the priesthood!!!

Do you understand this, my dear Jew?

Our holy Rebbe, Rebbe Nachman, promised that “If you believe that you can destroy- believe that you can repair” (Likutei Mohoran Tanina, Torah 112)[4].  He was referring to all types of destruction, on one side, and the complete and eternal repair, on the other side!

When our holy Rebbe screamed that “There is not despair in the world” (Likutei Mohoran Tanina, Torah 78), he brought into account all the situations and all the worst case scenarios in the world!

Here is tangible and amazing proof from the sons of Korach.

***

Correct, your situation is lousy; you have fallen into all of the pits and bumped into all of the walls.

There is still one place that you haven’t been, in the ground.

Indeed you know the ground very well and are friendly with it, you tread with your nose sunken in the ground and feel like a lump of matter lacking hope.  However from inside- you still have not seen what it is like…

There are people who saw the ceiling and not only the floor.  There are people who were swallowed by the ground completely, hermetically.  Not in poetic phrase, not in similes or in imaginary theories; real life.

There are people whose actions brought them into the stomach of the ground, and buried them in the foam of fury and anger.

Then they repented.

In the merit of their repentance they were saved from there.

From now on, it is not worthwhile to be some shocked scarecrow, stuck in the ground like a couch potato and sigh the rest of your days about the hard trauma that you went through in the stomach of the ground…

Rather, it is worthwhile to have the prophet Shmuel come from you, who is comparable to Moshe and Aharon, the leaders of the nation!

[1] faith

[2] Numbers

[3] Rebbe Natan’s explanation of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), based upon Rebbe Nachman’s teachings

[4] The main collection of Rebbe Nachman’s teachings

Parashat Balak

The Power of Choice

When we think about this deeply, we are shocked.  As long as we discuss the evil Bilam and his choices, we can look at him from the side and become angry at his inflexibility and his horrifying impurity however when it comes close to us and touches our choices, it begins to stress us out.

balaam_and_talking_donkey

Harav Israel Asulin

Wedsnesday, 14th of Tammuz, 5775

BS”D

One of the most amazing and exceptional things that we learn from this Torah portion, is the matter of the power of choice.  As Rebbe Natan says in Likutei Halachot[1] (Orach Hayim- Hilchot Birkot Ha’shachar, Halacha 5): “We see in this Torah portion about Bilam, the principle of the power of choice in the matter of him going to curse Israel, G-d forbid; and how Hashem acts with him; because he had a very strong desire to curse them…”  Bilam, the son of Beor, so badly wanted to curse Israel, we was on fire with desire and vigorous with urge.  He was a solidified mass of passionate yearning to curse.  He knew that Hashem loves Israel with extra love.  He knew that the nation of Israel was the chosen people and the blessed amongst all the nations.  He knew that no father would give permission to curse his sons, in any situation.  Nevertheless, he is stubborn.  “In spite of the fact that he discovered that everything is in the hand of Hashem; he still went on his way to continue with his same desire…”  Hashem says to him, ‘You shall not go with them! You shall not curse the people because they are blessed’ (Bamidbar[2] Chapter 22, Verse 12)”[3].   Everything that he hears is “don’t go with them”- with the original ministers Hashem does not let him go, but if Balak brings him ministers that are greater than them- then there is a chance.  Balak[4] sends to him ministers that are superior, and again Bilam waits to speak to Hashem, maybe this time Hashem will be persuaded?  “And then when they came a second time and Hashem saw that he had strengthened his impure will to go, Hashem said to him: ‘If these men have come to call for you, arise and go with them’[5]…”.  Bilam arises in the morning, full of fervent hatred, saddles his donkey, without waiting for his servants to do so, and joins the messengers of Balak- happy to curse Israel.  “After this when he went, his donkey stood there three times and was oppressed by the angel that came toward him to follow him.  He did not pay attention to this and went on his evil way, until Hashem opened his donkey’s mouth and spoke to him and reprimanded him.  Afterwards Hashem revealed to him the angel who was positioned toward him with a drawn sword… nevertheless Hashem did not want to nullify his will and said ‘if it displeases you, I will return’[6], as a protest to Hashem… and Hashem responded to him according to his will ‘Go with these men’[7].  It was all because of his choice, like our Rabbi’s of blessed memory said on this Torah portion ‘on the path a man wants to go, in that way he is lead’[8]…”[9]

Terrifying!

A person wants something, he asks Hashem and Hashem says to him no.  He continues to want, and becomes wise, and hints to the messengers of Balak that they are not important enough for him, and with more enlightened and exalted messengers, perhaps then he would be allowed to come… he does not relax.  Until Hashem says to him- do you know what? You want so badly?! So go with it; please, whatever you want. Get up, and go with them.

***

What does this mean that Hashem agrees with him?  That this is the correct path? That he is going the right direction?  No. It means that this is a bad and mistaken path that leads to destruction.   Then why does Hashem let him go?  Why does Hashem say to him “If these men have come to call for you, arise and go with them”[10]? He should forbid it with a serious prohibition.  He should not be able to go.  He should make an earthquake or a Tsunami.  He should explode the walking trails to Moab and its entire infrastructure.  He should make a flood.  He should mix up their language.   He should block him from going!  Why does he let him walk in this destructive path?  Not only does not he even exert against him an opposing force, he even says to him: “Ok, you can go,” why?  Says Rebbe Natan:”Because this is an important fundamental rule that the entire world was created for choice.  Therefore choice has a very big power.  The principle part of the power of choice is by means of Hashem hiding and concealing his will with great concealment…”[11]  This world is called “Olam” from the language of concealment and forgetfulness.  There is an idea that the will of Hashem is hidden, there is an idea that the Satan will succeed and make us forget the reality of Hashem.  There is an idea like this.  So we will be able to choose.   So we won’t be like puppets.  So we won’t be forced.  So we don’t have only one path, rather a few paths, and that we choose life.

When we think about this deeply, we are shocked. As long as we are speaking about the evil Bilam and his choices, we can look at this from the side and become angry at his inflexibility and his horrifying impurity, however when it comes close to us and touches our choices, it begins to stress us out.  Think about this; this is really dangerous!  Correct, I want good.  But what if I make mistakes and lose my direction?  I am only a man in a world of concealment, with an evil inclination and desires and an enormous power of choice, and even without the power of prophecy that rested upon Bilam!  In the direction I want to go, I will be lead?! What does that mean I will be lead? It means that there is a path I am supposed to go on, and I suddenly chose to turn left to the bad side, they don’t place a barrier and puncture my tires, and they don’t turn off my headlights and put down axes with the command “stop”.  Rather they pave the roads for me and alternate roads and they exchange for me my Subaru with a Jeep and a full tank of gas and a good engine, which will take me on my way.  They help me on this path!  I am lead on my mistaken path that I chose!

***

Is there advice to be saved and to remain with the good?  This question takes us back to personal prayer which Bilam relates to with curses that are turned into blessings:  “it is a nation that will dwell alone” (Bamidbar Chapter 23, Verse 9)- a nation that has personal prayer.  A nation that for an hour a day separates from the ways of the world and turns a back to the race and to the interests that trick us; and speaks to Hashem.  Personal prayer is our place to speak about our true desires.  To tell about the forces that pull us toward the bad, about the difficulties, about the evil inclination and his soldiers that portray to us black as light and pleasant.  To request our true good, that after everything and before everything- only this we want.  Master of the world, more than everything, more than ice cream and money, more than success and honor, I want you the most in this world.  I yearn for you.  I long for you; to come close to you and to serve you alone.  This is my true will, creator of the world; this and nothing else.  So please, only guide me there.  Only make this path clear to me, and when I look for you- answer me.  When I am mistaken- return me to you.

If I want and speak about my will, over and over again multiplied exponentially, then it is clear that I will receive the abundance of Hashem, even through a change of nature.  About this said our Rabbis of blessed memory:  ‘Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for fear of heaven’[12]– that all of the prayers that a man prays, they are given into the hands of Heaven to receive them or not, but a man who prays for fear of Heaven; to merit to know the path that he should go, then for sure his prayers will be received and he will merit the revelation of Hashem!!

[1] Rebbe Natan’s explanation of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), based upon Rebbe Nachman’s teachings

[2] Numbers

[3] Likutei Halachot et al

[4]King of Moab, son of Zippor

[5] Bamidbar et al, Verse 20

[6] Bamidbar et al, Verse 34

[7] Bamidbar et al, Verse 35

[8] Gemara Makot Page 72

[9] Lekutei Halachot et al

[10] Bamidbar et al, Verse 20

[11] Lekutei Halachot et al

[12] Gemara Brachot 33:72

Parashat Chukat

Without Blows

Think about this situation: A dry and desolate desert, an entire nation hysterical from dehydration, and one big, hard and dry rock. What everyone wants right now is only water, a lot of water, and enough water. How can they receive this water?

water-from-the-rock2

Harav Israel Asulin

Tuesday, 6th of Tammuz, 5775

BS”D

In this week’s Torah portion, after a forty year supernatural trek in the desert, accompanied by the clouds of glory and the manna and Miriam’s well; something changes.   The prophetess, Miriam, passes away, and along with her passing her well also disappears. In Miriam’s merit, her well provided the entire nation with water during their forty years in the desert.

Now the nation of Israel has nothing to drink.

Moshe and Aharon pray before Hashem and Hashem commands Moshe to take his staff: to gather the entire congregation around some rock and to talk to the rock in order to bring water forth from it, to provide the entire nation with water. Then the mistake occurs, Moshe hits the rock instead of speaking to it. Even though the hitting caused water to come out of the rock, this incident also caused Moshe and Aharon to be punished with a severe punishment – they would not merit entering into the land of Israel.

One needs to understand, what is the significance of this story? What was Moshe’s critical mistake, the mistake that he and Aharon were punished for with such a severe punishment, that they would not be allowed to enter the land of Israel? What is the big difference between hitting a rock and talking to a rock?   In any case, a great and open miracle still happened when a dry rock brought forth water in the middle of the desert, so what’s the difference between using words or blows?

Rebbe Nachman explains in Likutei Moharan (Torah 20): “This is the mistake that Moses made, Hashem spoke to Moses saying, ‘Take the staff and gather together the assembly, you and Aaron your brother, and speak to the rock before their eyes[1]’, he should take from his mighty leadership that he received from his good deeds and actions, and ‘gather together the assembly’. Because at the time when Moshe gathered the congregation, there were amongst them evildoers- and he needed a staff- strength in order to subjugate their evil; and after this he should ‘speak to the rock before their eyes’ ‘speaking is only with a pleasant manner[2]’… that is to say he should pour out his conversation and his prayers like a pauper, to the rock, which is the supreme heart…

But he did not do this, he did not remember Hashem’s goodness and righteousness during his prayer and he did not use his staff for the assembly, rather he used his staff during his prayer. And this is the aspect of: ‘Moses raised his hand[3]’ his hand is referring to his prayer…’and struck the rock with his staff twice[4]’- that is to say that he hit the supreme heart, just like someone taking something with strength and coercion, because the water came forth due to the strength of his good deeds. This is the meaning of hitting the rock twice: in one blow he took the explanation of the Torah with strength and coercion and did not plead for a free gift, and in the other blow he forced the moment, and therefore his time was shortened and he passed away before his time…”

Think about this situation- a dry and desolate desert, an entire nation, hysterical from dehydration, and a large, hard and dry rock. What everyone wants right now is only water, a lot of water, and enough water.

How can one receive this water?

So there are two ways: the first is the staff which represents a leadership of power and strength, and with it Moshe was commanded to assemble the congregation and the second is speech. Different from the staff, speech is something soft not aggressive, not controlling- requesting, begging, without exerting strength.

In order to extract water from the rock, Moshe is commanded to pray in the fashion of speech and not in the fashion of a staff. That is to say, with gentleness and placation, and not with aggression.

Aggressive prayer is a prayer where a person, so to speak, forces Hashem to answer him. It is like he is taking something with strength and coercion, and this is called ‘forcing the moment’ and about this our sages say, that anyone who ’forces the moment’–time gets back at them. The strength that you exert returns to you, and hits you back in return.

Rebbe Nachman explains that Moshe’s mistake at the incident of the hitting of the rock was due to the fact that he forced the moment. “ And from this we learn, a man should not force himself on anything rather to request with pleas; if Hashem gives to him- he gives, and if not- not…”

Read these words of our Rebbe, and think about all the desolate deserts in our life and of all the closed dry and jaded rocks, that are blocking our view and choking us like a bone in our throat.

Everything that we want is water. That the rock will burst open, please, the faster the better, and that the abundance will flow and wash and redeem!

And then people come and say- wait, be careful! Don’t force the moment! Don’t use strength! Wait with patience, request gently, don’t insist, don’t hit; speak!

This is difficult! How can one not force the moment? I want something so badly. I don’t just want. I need it desperately! I need money immediately or children or a spouse or work…I have to have it immediately! The redemption is delayed and the distress is stuck in my throat like a rock! I want to be done with this thing and to continue on to the next! This rock is blocking me. Can it move already? How much can one tolerate it? Move!

How can you tell me not to use strength? How can I pray so I won’t get hit back in return? How can I pray so that I will be drawn closer to the light and to the redemption?

Exactly, there is prayer and then there is prayer.

There is a prayer in which you insist upon something in particular, that it should happen already. In the meantime you hit your head on the rocks, until your head, or the rock, or both burst open.

In contrast, there is personal prayer, the present that Rebbe Nachman bestowed to us. The essence of personal prayer is, as our Rebbe stated: “If Hashem gives to him- he gives, and if not- not…” In personal prayer, you don’t come to ask specifically in a way that is desirable and understandable to you, with all of your human limitations. The entire purpose to of personal prayer, it to speak with Hashem like you would speak to and true and real friend.

Do you understand?

You do not come to Hashem like you are coming to somebody that did you wrong and owes you something, and however much you beg of him, he says ‘leave me alone, there is nothing to speak about’… Rather you approach personal prayer as if you are coming to a good friend.

If you are in financial distress and you run into a good and true friend, do you start to hassle him and say: “Give me money! Fast! I need money! Now!” Or are you pleasant with him and say: “Hi, how nice to run into you! I need to tell you what I am going through, for so long I have been stewing with this alone. Do you understand? I don’t have enough money and I don’t know what to do. It’s really difficult. I am choking. It’s difficult for me. It’s very difficult for me. There are so many necessities in this world and everything cost money. If only it was possible to live in this world without needing money. This hysterical race after money is very difficult! Do you know how weird it is, how money can simply disappear into thin air?! It is not yet even in your hands, and it has already been taken from between your fingers!”…

What a difference! What a relief!

When you merit coming to Hashem like this, you suddenly see how, slowly, everything happens.

It is a lot more than throwing rocks in all directions or splitting cracks in a wall; it is like climbing on top of the rock to a higher and more amazing place.

And from there touching new horizons.

[1] Bamidbar Chapter 20 Verse 8

[2] Gemara Shabbat, Page 63

[3] Bamidbar Chapter 20 Verse 11

[4] Bamidbar et al

Parashat Korach

Don’t Be Swallowed Up

All day long we are in a race with the outside world.  We have a lot on our heads and so much to do: tasks and obligations, going to work, coming home, going shopping and filling the shelves, and giving everyone attention and making them happy.  We have so many roles and positions.

Korach and his rebellion

Harav Israel Asulin

Monday, 28th of Sivan, 5775

BS”D

In this week’s Torah portion we meet Korach and his congregation in a situation that you won’t believe: “They assembled against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘you take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?’… Moses said, ‘With this you shall know that the Lord sent me to do all these deeds, for I did not devise them myself. If these men die as all men die and the fate of all men will be visited upon them, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord creates a creation, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them and all that is theirs, and they descend alive into the grave, you will know that these men have provoked the Lord.’ As soon as he finished speaking all these words, the earth beneath them split open.  The earth beneath them opened its mouth and swallowed them and their houses, and all the men who were with Korach and all the property. They, and all they possessed, descended alive into the grave; the earth covered them up, and they were lost to the assembly” (Bamidbar[1] Chapter 16 Verse 3; 28-33).

Korach and his congregation were all very great people with stature. They were wise sages, people who saw Hashem’s hand in Egypt and during the splitting of the Red Sea.  They said ‘we will fulfill and we will listen’[2]  and merited to stand at the foot of Mount Sinai and to receive the Torah. How could this be?  How could enlightened people like this fall into such a foolish argument and lose everything?

“And Korach, who was very bright, why did he fall into this foolishness? His eyes deceived him- he saw many great descendents coming from him, like Shmuel who is compared to Moses and Aaron, as it says (Tehillim[3] 99) ‘Moses and Aaron among His priests, and Samuel among those who call in His name.’  Twenty-four watches came from his descendants, who were all prophets (Divrei Hayamim[4] I Chapter 25), all these were sons of Heman, (so Korach) said: ‘Is it possible that this greatness is to come from me and I will be silent?”(Midrash Rabbah[5] Bamidbar, Portion 18, Paragraph 8).

There is something scary about the words, “his eyes deceived him”; he simply made a mistake. “His mistake was because when he saw that Shmuel, the prophet, and the people mentioned above, would be descended from him, he became proud due to his misunderstanding and it was his foolishness that made him disagree with Moses…” (Likutei Halachot[6], Hilchot Arev, Halacha 5).  Korach, looked ahead through prophecy and saw all the majesty and beauty that was to be descended from him in the future, and was mistaken in his interpretation.   He did not intend to sin or to rebel, he did not intend at the onset to do something bad; he was just mistaken.

It sounds shocking; one can be great and enlightened, can even have the power to prophesize, and be the grandfather of Shmuel the prophet, and still get confused and err.  Even to the extent that they are swallowed up by the earth in one moment.

What should we say; the small, the tired, and the confused amongst this fog of dark exile? What should we say in the dim ‘valley of tears’[7] that leads our generation astray?  Korach, who was from a great generation and he himself was so great; made a mistake and lost his entire world.  What does this mean for us, from where we are, do we have any chance?

First and foremost we need to understand, what caused Korach’s mistake?  Was there a way to prevent it?  Was there a way for him to be saved and not to make this mistake?

The foundation for Korach’s mistake was the fact that he looked outside and beyond and not inside.  He looked around him at the positions and the authority of those around him; he looked ahead in prophecy about what and who was to be descended from him over the years.  He checked and investigated everything that was around him and external to him, but he did not look at himself.  He forgot to check what was going on inside of himself; what he really wants and what the issue really is.

If he would have left everything, the past and the future and the reasons and the grandchildren…if he would have been closed off from the external world, and only look inside of himself, he would have realized that this was all the plot of a small worm of jealousy that was eroding him completely.  Apparently, it was too hard and disempowering to go against this insulting revelation; ultimately he would have merited to repent and to inherit all the good of this world and the next world.

“And now that he has suffered what he has suffered for thousands of years, and finally there will be his uplifting and rectification by Moses…” (et al).  Korach was mistaken and sinned and was swallowed up by the earth, but in the end he was rectified by Moshe.  And us, the small, and the confused, can be saved from great mistakes, not with our strength, but by the strength of true Tsaddikim and their exceptional advice.

The key to being saved from destructive mistakes like this one is to look inside and not outside.

How can one look inside and not outside?

All day we are in a race with what is going on outside; the world hits us with the intensity of a tsunami. We have so much on our heads and so much to do; jobs and obligations and going to work and coming home, cashing checks at the bank and withdrawing cash, going shopping and filling the shelves and appeasing everyone and being a good father or mother or child or grandchild or neighbor or boss.  We have so many roles and positions.

When will we look inside and not outside?

We can during personal prayer.

It is true that we are in the generation before the Messiah, and we are already treading in dirt up to our necks of secular culture, but we don’t have to be swallowed up, we don’t have to bury ourselves in this life and in its’ race for seventy years; we can raise our heads and breathe a little air.

One hour a day stopping from everything, going inside a closed room or finding a quiet corner, for just Hashem and I, to speak.  Telling him everything I am going through and what I am feeling and how my day went and whatever speaks to me from what is going on around me.

And going inside a little deeper, taking a self-accounting; calculating the state of my soul, which I did not have a chance all day to look at or even to remember its existence.  Seeing my soul, looking at it in the eyes and asking: dearest, how are you today and how do you feel?  What do you want to tell me?  Why do you feel guilty? What do you want?  Why are you angry? Why are you scared? What are you waiting for?  Checking out what is going on inside.

Open a window a crack for your soul, raise your head a bit, float an inch above the ground, so as not to be swallowed up.

[1] Numbers

[2] ‘נעשה ונשמע’ is expressed in the book of Names from the mouths of the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. This expression became a significant symbol of faith and acceptance of the entire Torah unconditionally. Common interpretation sees this expression as a symbol of the symbiotic relationship between the accepting of the commandments and the receipt of the yoke from heaven.

[3] Psalms

[4] Chronicles

[5] Midrash Rabbah refers to part of or the collective whole of aggadic midrashim on the books of the Tanach, generally having the term “Rabbah” (רבה), meaning “great,” as part of their name.

[6] Rebbe Natan’s explanation of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), based upon Rebbe Nachman’s teachings

[7]עמק הבכא is a valley, which is thought to be in the North of Israel, where there are willow trees and poplar trees growing and has become a symbolic site of suffering of Jews and of all of humanity.  This place is mentioned in the prayer לכה דודי (Lacha Dodi).

Feeding Our Children- Part 1

What is Normal Growth?

Where my growth seemed slow and I might have even fallen from my percentile curve of success.   Those years were a time when I was nursing myself back to attachment with Hashem. 

Aliza Neveloff

Tuesday, 29th of Sivan, 5775

A child has a natural way of growing that is right for them.  They know how much they need to grow the right way.  If you do your job with feeding and let them decide how much they want to eat, you generally don’t need to worry about normal growth- it will happen.[1]  There are many different shapes and sizes that are normal.  The fact that your child is short and stocky or tall and slender is determined mostly by genetics, not your wishes.  Children usually grow in a predictable pattern.

So what happened to my daughter as a baby?  She was born two weeks early and was given the label of Low Birth Weight (LBW), weighing in at 2.7kg (6 lbs).  My dream was to only nurse.  This dream was put on hold by my fears of my daughter’s size and my own strength after a difficult labor.  I decided to nurse and then supplement if she was still hungry.  I did this for two months and she grew well.  The doctors calmed down and this helped me calm down too.

One day a friend and neighbor came to talk and asked me how my nursing was going.  I said ok.  I told her I was supplementing and thought that I did not have enough milk.  She encouraged me and said the more I nurse the more milk I would have.  I decided to try.  I nursed night and day for a week.  I am not exaggerating!  I actually enjoyed all this bonding time with my daughter.  It was like a time out, just to work on developing our mother/daughter relationship.  My body started to produce more milk and I was able to attend to my daughter every time she showed signs of hunger.

Now let’s fast forward a few years.  I started to learn Ellyn Satter’s methods and wanted to put her theories to the test.  On our last visit to the nurse, at the Well Baby Clinic, I asked her to print out my daughter’s growth card. The growth card shows every time I took my daughter to the nurse, her weight, and her weight percentile.  At first glance, I could not help to notice how my daughter’s weight fell so low on the fourth month and sixth month visit.  I called my sister to share my discovery, “I knew I did not have enough milk!”

My daughter's growth chart from 0-24 months.
My daughter’s growth chart from 0-24 months.

A couple days later I sat down with the raw data I was given from the nurse and decided to plot them on a standard growth chart for girls from ages 0-24 months.   I also turned the page in Ellyn Satter’s book where she writes, “Breastfed babies may shift downward as much as a percentile curve in weight between 3 and 12 months.[2]”  I breathed a sigh of relief.  This is exactly what happened to my daughter.   Once we got over the breastfeeding hump and transitioned to solids, slowly my daughter’s weight jumped up from percentile curve to percentile curve.  My daughter is still thin and tall (no big surprise… both my husband and I are as well) but she has remained on the 60th percentile curve, which she has maintained for the last few years.

This made me reflect.  It made me think of the times in my life where I did not have much external success, when I had trouble conceiving or in my professional pursuits.   Where my growth seemed slow and I might have even fallen off of the percentile curve of success.   Those years were a time when I was nursing myself back to attachment with Hashem.

You may be asking yourself what is this attachment I am referring to?  It is the second stage of development.  As Ellyn Satter explains so well, “Feeding is so much a part of your child’s early years that feeding and development are inseparable”[3]Homeostasis is the first stage of development where a baby reaches a stable state of equilibrium.  This stage expresses itself in feeding; when a baby is able wake themselves up and ask to be fed and stay awake long enough to eat as much as they need. The next stage, attachment, occurs around two months, when the baby begins to smile and take delight in your presence.  Healthy attachment is encouraged when you share control with your baby by feeding them when they want to be fed.  This makes them feel loved and understood; they are seen, heard, and cared for.

Feeding during the first year of life is not only important to your baby nutritionally, but it is also important because of the love you convey to them and for their growth and development.  While breastfeeding is superior to formula nutritionally, whatever method you decide to feed your baby, remember that these are formative years where you are developing the feeding relationship with your children.  Other people can hold your baby, diaper them, and bathe them; but for feeding they need you.

[1]Satter,E. 2000: Child of Mine: Feeding with love and Good Sense. United Sates: Bull Publishing Company, pp. 34.

[2] Satter et al. 2000: pp 449

[3]Satter et al. 2000: pp 111-112