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