What are you wearing for Purim? Part 2

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What are you wearing for Purim? Part 2

Yesterday, we discussed the importance of clothing in the story of Purim, as well as the custom of wearing costumes on this holiday.

However, when discussing the Kabbalah we always keep in mind that there is both the physical aspect, and an opposing or complementary spiritual aspect to all that we do. 

The Shabbat before Purim is Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat of Remembrance. We have a special Torah reading for the maftir, as well as a special haftarah. In the maftir we are called to remember what Amalek did to us when we were leaving Egypt, and in the haftarah from 1 Samuel 15 we read about King Shaul (Saul) who is called upon by G-d through the prophet Samuel to destroy the Amalekites. We read in that story, that of course King Saul did not do as he was commanded, but instead spared the choicest of their herds and flocks, as well as sparing the king of the Amalekites. It is no surprise to learn that the enemy of the Jewish people in the story of Purim is a descendant of Amalek named Haman. This is the physical side of the story, but what is the spiritual connotation?

Well, one can do more than just dress in costumes on Purim or other times of the year, because while Amalek is a nation as described in the Tanakh, Amalek can also be a character trait. A character trait that one puts on like any other piece of clothing or costume.

There is a Midrash on the verse we read from the maftir: “Remember what Amalek did to you...as you came forth from Egypt, how he encountered you on the way and cut down all the weak who straggled behind you.” 

It describes this character trait on its commentary and explains that when we see the work for “encountered you,” that this can also be interpreted as “he cooled you off.” In other words, this character trait of Amalek makes us questions all our decisions as it relates to our divine service.

We must remember that when our ancestors stood at Har Sinai receiving the Torah they made a commitment through the statement “Naaseh v’Nishma, We will do and we will listen.”

The fact that our ancestors stated that they would first do before they listened, implied that they would seek to do the will of Hashem without hesitation or doubt. Only after, when they would listen, did this imply understanding the commandments of Hashem intellectually.

How do we know if we have clothed ourselves with Amalek? We know when our commitment to Torah goes beyond the limits of our understanding. In other words, we don’t hear a voice telling us, “Sure, go ahead and follow Torah, but keep in mind that you have other commitments and you should never bite off more than you can chew.”

The Baal Shem Tov and others taught us through Gematria (numerology) that the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word Amalek is the same value as the Hebrew word “safek,” which means doubt. Amalek causes doubt and hesitation which cools us off in our devotion to our divine service.

Throwing off the cloak of Amalek and winning out over our inner Amalek requires devoting our­selves to G‑d’s service without hesitation or limitation. Keeping and observing the Torah with diligence and enthusiasm that are beyond our ability to reason with our intellect. First saying, “I wll do, and then saying I will understand.”

Chag Purim Sameach!

What are you wearing for Purim?

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What are you wearing this Purim?

Purim a holiday where we celebrate once again the deliverance of the Jewish people from an enemy that wanted to destroy us is celebrated with parties, and drinking, and most importantly costumes. However, there is no text that speaks about costumes. Nothing in the Torah, nothing in the book of Esther, nothing in the Talmud. The only thing that alludes to this custom is the fact that while other times that salvation came to the Jews it was open and connected to natural events. With Purim, the opposite is true. The miracle is hidden and disguised in natural events. Even the heroine of our story, Queen Esther alludes to this hidden nature, as her name comes from the same Hebrew root as the word for hidden. The Talmud teaches us that this is hinted at in the verse where Hashem says, “And I will hide my face.” Something we refer to as “Hester Panim.” Most people know that the book of Esther is the only place where G-d is not mentioned. 

Yet, with all of this, we also know that clothing or what one wears play a prominent role in the book of Esther. From Esther wearing royal clothing, all the while hiding the fact that she was a Jew. Mordechai wearing the clothing of mourning. Haman the evil enemy seeking to destroy the Jewish people desiring to wear the clothes of the king. Even Achashverosh was said to have been wearing the clothing of the Cohen HaGadol, (the high priest) that he stole from the Temple when he sacked Jerusalem.

So, this actually brings up many questions. What is the reason we dress up? Do we dress up to hide our true nature? Do we only hide this nature on Purim, or do we wear costume and masks the entire year?

In the Hebrew language, the word for “to dress up, or “to disguise oneself” is the word לְהִתְחַפֵּשׂ 

Interestingly enough, this comes from a reflexive conjugation o fלְחַפֵּשׂ the word that means “to search.”

One could argue that by putting on these costumes, as some dress like superheroes and others dress like queens and kings, that we are actually searching for our true identities. So many people are confused today. Searching for their truth. Searching for meaning. Searching for who they really are.

Purim is and and should be fun, but it should also be a reminder that we spend so much of our lives dressing up and leading lives that are in opposition to the holiness of our with souls. We put on disguises that lull us into a false sense of identity. 

This Purim, we should make it our business to find our true clothing, and our true selves. Recognizing the inner beauty of our holy souls. Not just individually, but together as people who call upon the one true G-d of Israel. This is the clothing of royalty, and we must remember that clothing has the power to communicate. We can either wear costumes and masks, or we can allow the true light of our holy souls to shine forth.

Chag Purim Sameach!

The Mishkan

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We have been discussing the month of Adar and all that is connected with it. In addition to what we have already mentioned, the Second Temple was dedicated in the month of Adar according to Ezra 6.

Both the Mishkah and the Temple were where the spiritual realm touched the physical. It was as if both the Mishkan and the Beit HaMikdash acted as a gateway for the divine.

One of the most interesting connections we see to support this, is the fact that the word for the Divine Presence in Hebew is "Shekhinah," which happens to come from the same root as "Mishkan." It is from the root "to dwell." When the Creator asks that a Mishkan or sanctuary be built for Him, he says "Shakhanti," so "I may dwell in the midst." Shakanti, Mishkan, and Shekhinah are all connected.

The Creator then goes on to say that an offering be taken from those "whose hearts compel them." The Zohar HaKadosh teaches us that the heart is the seat of all our desires, whether good or bad. We read in the Zohar on Parsha Terumah 128b:

“How do we know that the Holy One Blessed Be He wants him and places His dwelling place in him? It is when we see that the desire of the person is to endeavor to pursue the Holy One, blessed be he, with his heart, soul and desire. We are certain then that the Shechinah dwells there. Then we should pay in full to befriend him and to learn from him………..
.....You must buy him for a full price in order to merit the Shechinah. This is how far it is necessary to pursue a righteous man and purchase him.

In another amazing connection, the Zohar shows us how the famous section of Pirkei Avot tells us "to make ourselves a Rabbi, and acquire a friend." However, just like we read above, Pirkei Avot actually says, "Kane l'cha chaver," which literally means "purchase for yourself a friend."

The point being made here, is that in any important relationship, investment is required. When we find that friend who can help us reach the next level in our relationship with the Creator, we are told to purchase him for the full price. Invest, with no discounts. This is true of our relationship with the Creator as well. We must be willing to invest everything we have in drawing closer to the Creator.

The result will be that we will construct a Mishkan, a dwelling place in our hearts, where Hashem will be able to dwell.

The Holy Baba Sali

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n honor of the Yahrtzeit of the Holy Tzadik Rabbi Yisrael Abuchatzeirah, otherwise known as the Baba Sali (Our praying father), here is anamazing story on the power of Emunah and Prayer as heard from R' Moshe Aharon Stern of Jerusalem:

There was once a simple Israeli worker from Jerusalem, who, though he had been married a long time, had never been blessed with children. He had been to all the specialists, but to no avail. "Hair will grow on the palm of your hand before you see a child," the doctors had told him. After years of hope and despair, he had almost given up. Then he heard about the great miracles wrought by the prayers of Rabbi Israel Abuchatzeirah.

With an expectant heart, the man traveled several hours from Jerusalem to Netivot, to the home of the Baba Sali. When he arrived, he found a long line of petitioners already ahead of him, and had to wait hours before entering to receive a blessing. Finally, his turn arrived. He entered the tzaddik's room, nervous, eyes downcast, clutching a small piece of paper on which he had written his only request: Children! He sat down and placed the paper on the table before the Baba Sali. The tzaddik opened it, then put it down. "Matzav avud," was all he said. "A lost case." Before he could open his mouth, the man had been whisked out of the chamber by the attendants to make room for the next petitioner. Shocked, brokenhearted, he returned to his home.

The next day, however, when the people began lining up for blessings, there he was again. Again he waited several hours. Again he entered, put his slip of paper on the table, and again he heard the same terrible answer -- "a lost case." Yet, when the next day arrived, there he was again, and the next day again! Every single day, as long as the Baba Sali was receiving people for blessings, the man would be there in line, at times waiting hours. And always he would hear the same sad answer, "a lost case."

Finally, after almost a year, the family of the Baba Sali took pity on this man and approached the great saint with their request. "Rabbeinu Israel," they said, "this poor man has been coming to you for a year straight now, and every time you give him the same answer. Can't you tell him to stop coming already? It's much too heartbreaking to continue." "How long has it been?" Rabbi Abuchatzeirah inquired. "We've counted, today is his two hundredth visit." The Baba Sali agreed to talk with him. That afternoon, the man entered the room as usual and placed his slip of paper on the table before the Baba Sali. This time, the tzaddik did not even pick it up.

"Listen, my friend," he said gently. "You have been coming to me every day for a very long time. Haven't I already told you that it is a lost case. Go home, why do you insist on coming to me?" The man lifted his eyes. "I come to you every day, and I will keep coming to you every day, because I believe in the power of prayer, and I believe that God listens to your prayers, and that you are the only one in the world who can help me."

Baal HaSulam – Rav Ashlag

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Rav Yehudah Leib Ashlag known as the Baal HaSulam after his magnus opus called HaSulam, the ladder commentary to the Zohar, was the most famous modern day Kabbalist. While he was born in Poland into Hasidic dynasties, including Belz. He chose to emigrate to Israel in 1922, and learned with such luminaries as Rav Kook and the giants of Torah in his day. He became the Rabbi of the Givat Shaul section of Jerusalem, himself teaching some well known Rabbis like Rabbi Brandwein, one of the first to settle in the Old City.

Rav Ashlag often stressed the importance of the study of Kabbalah even over what he called practical Torah, like the Oral Torah (Talmud). He felt that our ignoring of this ancient wisdom was holding back Moshiach.

To show you how significant a concept this was in his own life, there is a story that at seven years old, he himself would hide pages of Etz Chaim the work by the Arizal within the tractate of Talmud was supposed to be learning.

While we should never ignore the practical texts of Torah, which should include daily learning in halakha, we should spend as much time as we can in this day learning as much of the ancient wisdom of Kabbalah that is possible for us. It is the wisdom that will allow one to overcome his yetzer hara, ego, evil inclination, or whatever name one chooses for the enemy of our souls.

This is the way that we can transform ourselves, help to gather the holy sparks, and bring true Tikun Olam.

How Old?

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I am often asked the question about whether someone needs to be 40 yrs old and learned in Talmud and Halakha before they can learn the Kabbalah. Unfortunately, this is a grave misconception by most.

It is true that having a knowledge of the revealed Torah, like Talmud, Halakha, and Tanakh is preferable, but not a prerequisite. I think the misconception is the result of not understanding the difference between what is called "Sitrei Torah" and Ta'amei Torah." The first is the secrets of Torah, and the second is the tastes, intentions, or reasons of the Torah.

An example of the Sitrei Torah would be discussing Maasei Merkavah or Maasei Bereshit. These are the workings of the Divine Chariot and the workings of Creation. These are left to only those who are the most wise of our sages to pass down to their students. However, the tastes or reasons of Torah are meant for everyone to learn.

As a matter of fact, the Baal HaSulam, Rav Ashlag taught that to ignore the Ta'amei Torah was to hold back Moshiach. Let us be people who desire to learn the tastes or intentions of Torah for the right reasons. Not for selfish reasons, but only to bring pleasure to our Creator. To be those who want to receive, only in order to give.

The Joy of Adar

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This evening we begin the celebration of Rosh Chodesh Adar. Adar is very special to me, as it is the month of my birth. More than that, it has some very special significance in Kabbalah related to the Zodiac. Each month is also connected to one of the 12 tribes of Israel, and there is a special connection to my name in this months as well.

Adar is the last month of the Hebrew months. Winter is still upon us, but we can almost smell Spring in the air. While Nisan is the first of the months, and gives us Pesach and redemption, Adar can be cold and lonely as we deal with the frustration of and depression of unfinished business. However, there is a reason and a hope in the month of Adar.

This year is a leap year, which means we have two months of Adar. This is the same as the year of my birth, when I was born on the 5th of Adar Aleph (1).

The tribe of Israel related to the month of Adar is Yosef, however, as you know there is no tribe of Yosef, but instead these tribes are attributed to his two sons Ephraim and Menashe. It could be said that Ephraim and Menashe represent Adar Aleph and Adar Bet. There is also the blessing of Yaacov, “and let them grown into a multitude.” Some say that this blessing has a paraphrase in Hebrew that relates to the reproduction of fish, which just happens to be the zodiac sign of Pisces for the month of Adar. 

In the book of Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation) the first of the Kabbalistic works, attributed to our patriarch Avraham Avinu, it teaches us that each month also has associated with it, among other things, a letter and a “sense.” The letter of Adar is kuf and the “sense” of the month is laughter. This is of course manifested in the holiday of Purim, the most joyous of all the holidays, as it says in the Talmud: “When Adar begins let joy increase”
(Taanit 26b ).

In my Jewels of Kabbalah Whatsapp group, I recently wrote about Hester Panim, the hiding of the face. Hester Panim is relates to G-d hiding His face, which I will touch on right after we talk about the Book of Esther or Megilat Esther which is read on the holiday of Purim.

At the end of Esther in chapter 9:1 we read,… "the day the enemies of the Jews hoped to have power over them it was turned to the contrary" וְנַהֲפ֣וֹךְ (v’nahafuch), that the Jews had rule over those who hated them.” The word nahafuch means to “completely turn around,” and in modern Hebrew can mean “upside down.” For instance, one of my favorite coffee drinks is a Cafe Hafuch, or upside down coffee, similar to a Latte. The idea of turning things around or completely upside down is one of the main concepts of this month and the holiday of Purim.

It is noted by all the commentaries that G-d’s name is not mentioned in Megilat Esther, the Book of Esther. Thus, the idea of Hester Panim, or the hiding of G-d’s face. As a matter of fact, the name Esther comes from the root “to hide,” while the word Megilat comes from the word “to reveal.” In the story of Purim, God’s Presence is hidden, yet so revealed. Intentionally, in the lowest of the worlds, in the last of the months, in the midst of the evil designs of Haman, there G-d reveals His “hiding in history.” Though Purim reveals no wondrous open miracles, more importantly, it reveals the ongoing miracle of another amazing concept, and that is Divine Providence. Even though it seems to be hidden in the midst of history and politics.

There is also a Hebrew letter attached to the month, and that is the letter “kuf” (ק)

It is interesting to note that the words for holiness (kedusha) and shells of impurity (klipot) both start with the letter kuf. This teaches us that in spite of the cold depression of Winter, we have a spiritual imperative to raise the holy sparks from their klipot and redeeming them by completely turning them around. This is accomplished during Purim when that unholy party thrown by Ahasverush is nahafuch (turned around) into a feast of joy and celebration.

In closing, I mentioned my name, which is Yitzchak Moshe Ben Ephraim. Can you see the connections? Yitzchak means “laughter,” which is connected to the “sense” of the month as I noted above. Ephraim is one of the two sons of Yosef related to the tribe of the mont of Adar, and finally, there is Moshe. I did not mention that Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our Teacher) was also born in Adar, just two days after my birthday on the 7th of Adar.

In another interesting connection, my civil birthday, which happens to be Feb. 6th, just happens to fall this year on Rosh Chodesh Adar Aleph.

 So my friends, we have much to look forward to in the upcoming month. Since it is said that birthday’s are an auspicious time for our prayers to be heard, please let me know if there is anything I can pray for you on the 5th of Adar, as I believe that after what has been a very long Winter for me, I am going to see the joy, celebration, and complete turning around as we enter into the final month of the year.

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