Parshat Toldot

By Sarah Goldstein

Chodesh Tov v’ Shabbat shalom,

In this world we often get caught in the world of externals and challenges.  Even for those of us who have deeper goals and are looking for that depth, so often we can feel that the deep wells of water, of dveikus, of toras chayim, can be blocked up with the עפר of this world. The Sfas Emes quotes his grandfather the Chidushei Harim in explaining that Yitzchak’s digging up the wells that Avraham dug that were now covered up was him revealing the capacity to find that inner Torah and the connection to Hashem hiding in everything.
At first the struggle is more challenging and we face the levels of עשק and שטנה, facing the physical world and fighting the yetzer hara, engaging in the active avodah of peeling back the surface layers to reveal the connection to Hashem that is possible in everything we encounter. The final level he reveals for us is רחובות, the expansion that comes with Torah, that comes on shabbos, the באר מים חיים awaiting to be discovered. This avodah also was reflected in Avraham needing to dig the wells in the first place, finding the neshama of the world, what the inside picture, discoveringit its צורה. Yitzchak’s birth marked the beginning of galus mitzrayim. His avodah with these wells, the avodah of שטנה, fighting the layers of concealment in galus, the layers of challenge and lack of clarity to discover Hashem. Yaakov comes to the big stone on the well and can roll it off with his finger, he represents the inner point, shabbos, Torah where the external illusion falls away to the beauty of seeing the world with the eyes of Emunah, seeing Hashem’s presence in it all.
In fact, this digging motion is also mentioned at the beginning of the parsha too, the Sfas Emes explains, as Yitzchak’s tefilla is compared to a pitchfork that turns the crop over from one place to another. In contrast to Avraham’s avodah of shacharis which draws down Hashem’s chessed into each day, in Yitzchak’s tefilla of mincha the avodah that is introduced is the capacity to transform the dinim to rachamim, sweetening the judgements, through finding Hashem even in the midst of everything, even in those places where it feels that He is hiding.
This capacity to find holiness in everything and desire to elevate everything to Hashem, even the layers of chaos, hiddeness and distance from Hashem within his son Esav, was also Yitzchak’s plan with the brachos. According to the Sfas Emes, Yitzchak knew Esav was not righteous, but Yitzchak’s bracha was intended to be able to find that kedusha and bring him close even from such a far away place. This was the bracha, he teaches, that Yaakov had to steal, not for himself but for his children. That no matter how far we fall, and how many layers of externals we are caught in we can still always find that point of kedusha. This is the Bracha we receive this week.
As we begin this month of kislev and head further into the winter months, let us remember and daven to find that Torah, the connection to Hashem, that point of kedusha in everything we encounter and light up the darkness with the light that is found from within.

Parshat Chayei Sarah

By Yehudis Golshevsky

After the death of Sorah Imeinu, the Zohar teaches that her diyokan–her essential persona–remained within her tent, but it lacked a means through which it could become manifest until Yitzchak brought Rivka home as his bride.

For three years, some form of her essence pervaded her private space–a space that no other woman entered into until Rivka arrived–but it needed a channel that had a spiritual affinity with her to find its expression again. During the three years between the akeida–which was when Sorah died–and the homecoming of Rivka, the three signs of the indwelling of the Shechinah in Sorah’s tent were absent. When Rivka came, they returned, and suddenly it was as though Sorah herself was present.
For Yitzchak, during those three years it was as if Sorah had never really died–her presence was still available in some way–but he was not truly consoled until Rivka manifested the essence of Sorah within her tent. This diyokan–some essence of Sorah palpably experienced within Rivka–was known to Avraham, but not experienced by him. The only person to experience it was Yitzchak…and this was what brought him comfort. Seeing his mother’s righteous ways, even the look of her face, mirrored in that of his wife, who continued in the pathway of Sorah Imeinu.
On a personal note, this piece of the Zohar has been affecting me very strongly this week, most likely because our father’s yohrtzeit is coming up soon. This idea that there’s some quality of the remnant of the lost parent that remains available to the child even when it is no longer available to the spouse left behind has moved me deeply even if I can’t fully articulate to myself why. Maybe it’s because a bereaved spouse can have another marriage–even though, of course, the first spouse retains such a hold on the heart–but we never can have another parent to replace the one that’s gone.
Maybe it’s because spouses had lives before they ever married, but children come into a world where their parents are always and forever their parents. I don’t know exactly why this piece has touched me so deeply, but I wanted to share it with you–the idea of the diyokan or “image” of Sorah that persisted until it found a suitable vessel to express itself again in the world through Rivka. And even though Rivka is an Eishes Chayil in her own right, this idea of the imahos superimposed together within the space of the tent, where souls are nourished and cultivated and the Shechinah is palpable overwhelms me with a sense of kedushah.
May we feel the holiness of our imahos within ourselves, and may our homes be a space in which the Shechinah dwells always.
Gut Shabbos!

Parshat VaYeira

By Micha Golshevsky

In this parshah we find that Avraham gave Yitzchak a bris milah when he was eight days old.

When the communists took over Lithuania, Rabbi Yankeleh Galinsky was staying with the local mohel, Reb Aizik. When the head of the KGB came for a visit, Aizik sent Rabbi Yankeleh to the door.

“Is this the house of the man who cuts infants?” What a way to describe milah!

“I think you came to the wrong house.”

Drey nit kein kup—don’t mess with me!” shouted the officer in Yiddish. “Where is he?!”

Hearing Yiddish, Rav Yankeleh figured it was going to be all right. “Reb Aizik, you can come to the door!”

The mohel came to the door with a very white countenance.

“Are you are the one who makes children Jews?” A much better depiction!

“Listen, we just had a baby boy. My wife keeps dreaming that her father is pushing her to give the child a bris.”

He gave his address.

“Come tomorrow at nine A.M. If all is clear you will see a woman with a basket leaving the house. The only one in our home will be a completely trustworthy maid…”

Reb Aizik said he would be there.

Although this meant he had to skip his regular job, which was dangerous enough, he was willing. The next morning Rav Aizik and his guest waited near the post office, one of the only buildings with a clock. At nine they arrived at the address and saw the woman leaving with the basket as described.

They entered the officer’s home and Reb Aizik performed the bris. As they were leaving the maid gave them a fortune in meal tickets at the better store for officers and the like, which was stocked plentifully and had no lines.

Later on, Rav Yankeleh ran into the baby’s father. “Why did you risk your position to give your son a bris?”

Rav Yankeleh often repeated his reply. “Right now the communists have the upper hand and I must work with them to live. But the Jewish people have survived for three thousand years and will surely outlive them, just like the sun always comes out after a cloudy day. Then it will be an honor to be Jewish. My son must know he is Jewish so that he can find his way home when the time comes.”


Parshat Lech Lecha

By Sarah Goldstein

This week, the Torah tells Avraham, and thereby us לך לך מארצך וממולדתך ומית אביך אל הארץ אשר אראך…

Hashem is asking each of us to leave the old ruts we are stuck in in so many areas in our lives, and go to our deepest self, as Rebbe Nachman and Reb Nosson teach us לך לך לעצמך, go from all your patterns that come from all these different layers of our past, to our most core essential self, our neshama, our deepest I. But in order to do so we must be willing to embark on the journey to the unknown, to be open to where Hashem is taking us. Avraham was already headed to Eretz Yisrael but they stopped in Charan. Going to the same destination but this time with the commandment of going to where Hashem shows him, opens up the opportunity to discover not just the destination but to find his neshama and Hashem along the way.
There is also another perspective on how to understand this passuk relating to us that I found particularly pertinent, brought down by the first Modzitzer Rebber, the Divrei Yisrael. He brings the Zohar Hakadosh who teaches that לך לך is the call of our neshama being sent into this world. The neshama lacks nothing in Shamayim, it is basking in Hashem’s presence, everything is perfect. But by being sent into this world, the the neshama gets something even higher, the capacity to be a הולך, to grow. This capacity for movement and growth is not possible even for malachim, as well as our neshama before it comes down to this world. This journey of becoming someone that can grow and move and become, לך לך, comes specifically מארצך, from being in this world, within just trying to do this world activities, going through the amount of challenges and bothers we go through to acquire things, to build keilim in this world, that builds us into someone who is growing all the time. Our challenges we face along the way of trying to actualise things in this world are not a hitch along the way, rather they ARE the way we become all we are meant to be. And this is how the passuk continues ואברכך- בבנים ובממון, Hashem says I will bless you with children and money because specifically in engaging with these blessings in this world will you become who you were meant to be, a הולך, a constantly growing person. We all encounter these “this worldly” challenges all the time and sometimes wonder why we have to spend so much time and devotion to these areas rather than areas we may term as Avodas Hashem. But the  Divrei Yisrael goes on to say, that even if engaging with these areas of children and parnassah and all that is attached in this world brings us to a nefila, to fall in our Avodas Hashem, it is a נפילה לצורך עליה, a vital stage in the process that eventually leads us to an even higher level of dveikus than before. Davka going through the challenges of this world, the frustrations and confusions of trying to do things and acquire things in this world, do we get to an even higher level than that which we were on when we were basking in Hashem’s light before coming into this world.
May we be constantly growing people, realising that the journey is bringing us far closer than we ever imagined, let us be open to Hashem taking us to the ארץ אשר אראך and come back to our neshama’s mission on this world.
Good shabbos,
Sarah Goldstein

Parshat Noach

Kindness to Animals

By Rav Micha Golshevsky

In Parshas Noach we find that Noach fed the animals in the ark a full solar year. But why did the flood last so long? The Midrash explains that Noach and his family were spared during the flood in the merit of this perpetual kindness.

The Midrash states that sometimes people are protected in the merit of the animals in their city. This is the meaning of the verse that “Hashem delivers man and beast.”

The Yad Efraim explains a well known halachah with this midrash. “Now we understand why one must feed his animals before himself. Even if a city is wicked its very survival can sometimes be in the merit of the innocent animals who dwell there!”

The Klausenberger Rebbe once remarked. “Our sages say that Hashem has mercy on those who show mercy to the briyos, to Hashem’s creations. It does not say one who has mercy on mankind, but rather on creations or creatures. Showing compassion for one’s animals arouses Hashem’s compassion on us even if we have sinned and are ‘hardly better than animals.’”

Rav David Feigels would carry a sack of different types of foods suitable for different species of birds from one courtyard to the next, just so that he could ensure that the birds were well fed throughout the cold winters. Many people in his area kept fowl, but assumed that they would just forage for themselves throughout the year. The Shomer Emunim would comment about this: “When it starts to freeze and the snow is on the ground, how are the animals and birds to forage? If their owners don’t feed them, and they are confined to their pens or their yards, then one should certainly provide for them!”

The Chazon Ish once spotted a non-kosher animal that had fallen into a deep ditch. The animal tried with all its might to climb out of the rut without success. The gadol was then with a group of people who seemed to look on the situation with resignation. They all just shrugged, as if to say, “What can we do?”

The Chazon Ish truly took the poor animal’s pain to heart. Without waiting for assistance from the others, he approached the pit and lowered himself down into it. Those with him could barely believe their eyes. The Chazon Ish actually carried the animal out of the ditch in his arms to set it free.

Good Shabbos!

Parshat Bereisheet

Art by Matthew Klaver

By Yael Dworkin

Breishis!! New Year. New Potential. New Beginnings.

We are all invited to create ourselves anew with authentically inspired
originality- to become wholesome, integrated, and complete. Putting away the mirror that only reflects the distortions of past limitations, rather, we are encouraged to look ahead and move forward with the permission to birth our great and holy potential, not yet actualized, not yet revealed. We have G-dly souls. We have that much ability to manifest. Baruch HaShem.

I could end this dvar Torah on this positive uplifting note- but I want to
share something more with you. Something I find oddly and counter
intuitively comforting. A teaching that holds within it the key with the
promise to open for us the way to developing into our holiest most
integrated potentials.

“And God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good…”
(Breishit 1:31)
“Very Good- this is referring to death, the evil inclination, or calamities”
(Medrash Breishit Raba 9:5)
Everything that we consider ‘very bad’ is, in fact, categorically ‘very good’ (!?!). The medrash here is telling us that everything that exists, even the most damaging things in the world has a raison d’etre- a reason for being and a right to exist. All the pain we feel, all our disappointments, heartaches, fears, and losses we suffer are ‘very good’?

Yes. Very Good.

Rav Ashlag ztz”l, in his article called “Peace in the World”, explains:
In all the various classifications that exist in the world we see the law of
gradual development. For instance: before a fruit is ripe and juicy and
sweet, it is bitter. Everything that lives and breathes goes through stages of development that start from an unformed, undeveloped stage to gradually becoming what it was meant to be in its fully actualized form.

Because we understand this fundamental principle of gradual development, we would never consider that a tree baring unripe bitter fruits to be a bad tree- because we understand that the un-ripened fruits simply did not yet complete their growth and development. So too with all matters in existence, when a matter seems bad and harmful to us, this is not a testimony of the matter itself being bad- but rather, it is simply being seen at its transitional developing phase. Everything G-d created in this world is meant to ultimately serve the good in the world. It may not be evident in its transitional phases, but regarding where things are meant to get to- everything is Very Good.

Rav Ashlag ztz”l explains that this is equally true regarding our evil
inclinations. Our bad character traits are to be understood as mere stages in our development- necessary for our developing consciousness. As babies, we are born quite egocentric. It is a necessary stage of development. Developing and growing spiritually means replacing egotism with altruism. But it’s a process. We need healthy egos to start off with if our divine service is going to mean anything. Good has meaning in the context of bad. Transforming undesirable traits to good ones is the ultimate
in divine service. This is not an easy thing to do, as there is much
resistance, pain and suffering by the ego to let go of comfort and self-
serving desires. But the growth pain we go through, as we train ourselves to serve a higher purpose than simply ourselves, is very good because it is meant to take us to the ultimate good- which is dveikus (closeness) with G-d.

The world doesn’t always look to us to be such a good place. There is
death, suffering, calamities. The good news is that these scenarios are not the final chapter of the book. They are simply stages humanity has to go through until we will get to the final ripened stage of it being Very Good, until we will all be ‘very good’, understanding what we are meant to be and do. G-d created the world, but He also gave us the ultimate most complete instruction manual to go with it!

May we merit seeing with our own eyes soon the ultimate good. May we
merit to know to stay bsimcha (utter joy and happiness) when things look
awful, knowing how to develop correctly in the right direction to the Very
Good that was G-d’s intention when creating us and the world- Amen!

Good Shabbos
Yael Dworkin

Parshat Nitzavim

By Yehudis Golshevsky

I’ve always felt that one of the most uplifting elements of these parashiyos — and there are many — is the promise that, after all is said and done, we are definitely going to do teshuvah as a People. “All these things” — blessings and curses — will befall us, but afterward we’ll be restored to Hashem, He will bring us back to Eretz Yisrael and provide for us beautifully. And then, “Hashem, your G-d, will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your children to love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart and soul, in order that you may live.” What is this “circumcised heart”? The Ramban explains there that this is a reflection of the Divine promise, “One who seeks to purify himself is helped [from above]” (Shabbos 104). The circumcised heart no longer feels the desire to do wrong — it has had its husk cut away from it, and all that remains is the fullness of the desire to serve G-d. This is the promise that our Creator makes to us; after you’ve gone through everything that you need to experience, personally and collectively, you will be free from the inclination to do evil.

Rav Yaakov of Lissa draws our attention to another nuance, rooted in a teaching of Rabbeinu Yonah. The circumcised heart receives assistance from Above to accomplish the teshuvah that it cannot manage on its own. Sometimes, we lack the understanding of what we need to repair, of what we need to do to make the repair, or the means to carry it out. Our yearning, however, draws down heavenly assistance — we don’t circumcise our own hearts, it’s done for us. It’s a gift. (Tzror HaMor, loc cit)

One of the well-known acronyms of Elul is found in this verse: “Es levavcha v’es levav… Your heart, and the hearts [of your children]…” Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that this is a secret of teshuvah — when parents repent deeply of their own sin, it helps to uproot the same sin from the heart of their offspring. We can’t change other people, we cannot make choices for our children, but because our souls are bound up together with theirs, when we make a change in ourselves, it can have the power to reach them. (Likutei Maharan I:141) And if not them, then their children.

I wish you a beautiful, sweet new year, filled with blessings both spiritual and material, good health, and joy. May your final Shabbos of 5782 be uplifting, delightful, and filled with good, and may it be a sign of wonderful things to come.

Gut Shabbos! Shanah tovah! A gut, gebentsched yohr!


Parshat Ki Tavo

Uplifting Creation

By Rav Micha Golshevsky

This parshah begins with the mitzvah to bring the first fruits to Yerushalayim and recite some special verses of thanks to Hashem.

The Heichal Habrochah explains that the first fruits are the product of long and painstaking effort, and they embody the task of sanctifying the mundane endeavors of this world. To do that properly, we have to be deeply aware that no two actions are the same, no two moments are the same. For every day is completely new and fresh, and new light and connection to Hashem is waiting to be discovered every day. The mitzvos of today are completely different from tomorrow’s mitzvos. No tefillah is exactly like another. But it is almost impossible to achieve this level of awareness without the Beis Hamikdash. Certain individuals do achieve such levels, and the Sages said about such people: “Whoever has holy awareness, it is as if the Beis Hamikdash was built in his days.”

Once, when Rav Tzvi Hirsch of Ziditchov was a young man, he spent the whole day doing business with non-Jews. When his day was through, he went to daven Minchah, and prayed with tremendous exuberance. It almost seemed as though his every limb was on fire, and anyone could see that he was full of a great longing for his Creator. Praying with such devotion usually takes a lot of preparation, so his older brother thought that perhaps his fervor was less than genuine.

He asked his younger brother after the prayers, “Where did you get such a davening from without spending any time preparing?

Rav Tzvi answered, “When you go out to the field, or a little village, and there is no Jew for miles around… If you can maintain holy thoughts, you raise up all the holy sparks in the stones, the trees, the animals, in everything growing and living in the whole area. What could be a greater preparation for davening than that?”




Parshat Ki Tetzei

The Inner Battle

By Yael Dworkin

The Zohar Hakadosh relates the following story:

A group of wise men were out walking when they happened to meet on the way a group of strong military men. The wise men asked the soldiers where they were coming back from. The soldiers answered: “From fighting in the great war!”. The wise men laughed, saying: “The real war you must fight has not yet begun! The real war awaits each of us at home, within our own selves…”

The parsha opens with the following instruction:

“If you go out to war over your enemies, and the Lord, your God, will deliver him into your hands, and you take his captives; and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her, you may take [her] for yourself as a wife.” (Devorim 21:10-11)

Concerning the beautiful woman, Rashi comments:

“… Scripture [in permitting this marriage] is speaking only against the evil inclination [ which drives him to desire her]. For if the Holy One, blessed is He, would not permit her to him, he would take her illicitly… “

From Rashi’s commentary, we come to understand, that “the going out to war” that the parsha is speaking about is the going out to the only real war that truly exists, namely- the war against one’s own egotism and selfish desires. This parsha comes out quite deliberately in the month of Elul- when the order of the day is to take stock of our year’s spiritual advancements and failings. It comes to fortify us with the proper wisdom and strength necessary to be able to overcome our evil inclination. Rabbi Ashlag ztz”l formulated an easy understanding of what the yetzer hara is. ‘Yetzer’ translates as ‘inclination’, and ‘Hara’ translates as ‘the bad one’. Rav Ashlag breaks it down for us even more by teaching that the word ‘ra’, meaning bad, is an acronym of 2 words: Ratzon Atzmi- the will to serve oneself, i.e.: egotism.

The parsha’s opening words: “If you go out to war against your enemies” is also hinting to us regarding the spiritual nature of reality. Scripture does not say here: “when fighting a war against your enemies”. This would imply a physical war in a physical plain. But the Torah here, with its deliberate choice of words of Ki Tetzeh (when you shall go out) seems to put an emphasis on the ‘going out’ part- implying that there is a war to fight as soon as we ‘go out’. That is, as soon as the neshama leaves its supernal source above to come into this world- it is forced into a battle. The lower-level self that is attached to the body wants comfort and ease, while the person’s neshama, a part of G-d above, is on a shlichus to do what is right in the eyes of HaShem, despite the cost to one’s itches and desires that want to be satisfied.

It is important to always keep in mind “from whence we have come and to where we are going” (Pirkei Avos 3). We are primarily holy neshamas that want to do what is right in the eyes of HaShem- just as a branch ought to resemble the roots from which it issued forth from. Just as a branch is meant to be an actualized potential that was latent within its roots- so too our G-dly self wants to be manifested more in the details of our lives.

“Ki Tezteh lmilchama al oyvecha”- “when you go out to war over your enemies”. Every choice we make is preceded by a kind of a battle- are we going to do that which is comfortable, from a place of self-serving interest and egotism, or are we going to choose to do that which is correct according to Torah, even though it may mean giving up something of a personal desire for it. Understanding reality from this vantage point and perspective will, Gd willing, give us the strength and the wisdom to know better what to want, going forward, as we approach Rosh Hashanah.

Rosh Hashanah is a time for renewal of our commitment to HaShem- to crowning Him as King over all our desires. May we merit to ‘go out’ into the new year with the strength and resolve that will serve to establish the victories our neshama wants to see in all its spiritual aspirations- Amen!

Good Shabbos


“כִּי תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה עַל אֹיְבֶיךָ“, הפותחות את הפרשה, בעצם מרמזות לנו על הטבע הרוחני של המציאות. הכתוב היה יכול לומר, ‘כי תלחם באויבך’, אלא שהדגש הוא על היציאה. חז”ל אמרו, מדובר על יציאת הנשמה אל העולם הזה. הנשמה יוצאת ממקורה העליון אל העולם הזה כדי לבצע את השליחות שהטיל עליה בורא עולם. חשוב להבין מאין אנחנו יוצאים ולאן אנחנו באים, “דע מאיין באת, ולאיין אתה הולך” (אבות ג’), כדי להבין באיזה שדה קרב מדובר, מהו מקום המלחמה ומה טבעה.


Parshat Shoftim

By Rav Micha Golshevsky

Internalizing Emunah

This parsha we find that one who accidentally killed a fellow Jew must flee to a city of refuge. The six cities of refuge that were designated by Moshe allude to the six words of the first verse of shema. The forty-two  cities that were given to the Levi’im also acted as a city of refuge. These cities allude to the forty-two words of the next part of shema beginning with v’ahavta.

Rav Nosson of Breslov explains that the main mitzvah of kriyas Shema is to have true faith that everything we are going through is because Hashem wills it to be so. He is the one who is running this world from moment to moment. We draw this emunah upon ourselves from day to day when we read the Shema. As we say in the Shema itself, “And these words that I command you this day…”—“They should be new to you every day, as if you had just received the Torah.” We can feel this newness because, in reality, the Torah is given to us anew every single day.

This Emunah expressed in Shema acts as a spiritual city of refuge for all our difficulties by reminding us to keep Hashem in our minds and hearts throughout every second of the day. We renew this yearning each day as if it’s the first time—it is fresh and new for us—and we increase this focus daily. We remember that Hashem causes deliverance to sprout forth all the time—He is “matzmiach yeshuah.” Every new day brings an increase of holiness which is revealed into the world. As Rebbe Nachman said, the world is always getting “shener und shener”—better and better. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be difficulties, but that there is a plan and the closer we are to the redemption the more holiness is revealed.

Good Shabbos