Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The secret to Yosef's Success

Rav Arush at a Brit on the 7th day of Hannukah

Yosef then said to his brothers, "Please come closer to me," and they drew closer. He then said, "I am Yosef your brother whom you sold to Mitzrayim."
(Beresheet 45:4)
Rashi comments on this verse that Yosef saw that his brothers were frightened (after he revealed himself to them), so he brought them closer and showed them that he was circumcised.
In the sefer Zohar Torah written by Rav Yudel Rosenberg (which is a collection of sayings from the Zohar on each parasha) it says:
Why did Yosef call his brothers closer to him, were they not already standing close? Rather, when he told them that he was Yosef, they became shocked and bewildered because they saw that he possessed the upper Malchut (rulership). Yosef then said to them, I achieved this level of Malchut because of this... he then told them to come closer and he showed them his brit milah. He said it was this that caused me to get to this level of Malchut, because I guarded my brit. From here we learn that one who guards his brit will ultimately receive Malchut. From where do we know this, from Boaz, who instructed Ruth to sleep in his bed until the morning (Ruth 3:13). He overcame his desire and swore an oath to her and by passing this test in which he guarded his brit, he merited to have rulers come from his seed, including the Melech Mashiach who is called in the name of Hashem.
Rav Shalom Arush mentioned in several past shiurim that the only way to achieve personal holiness is by guarding the eyes. The eyes are the seed of all of our desires, as our Rabbis teach us, "The eyes see, ther heart desires, and the body carries out the deed." So therefore, one must begin by praying to Hashem every single day to be worthy of guarding his eyes. The Rav also mentioned that it is not only to avoid sin and improper desires that we guard our eyes; but it is also the only way to see Hashem in this world and how He is constantly communicating with us and trying to draw us closer. This world is actually created to conceal Hashem, therefore, if we look at it, we will certainly get confused and misled. Only by closing our eyes to the physical world, do we merit true vision which is the ability to see Hashem. This is the hidden light that has been stored away for the Tzaddikim. And who is called a Tzaddik? One who guards his eyes and brit.
May we all be worthy to experience the light of holiness and may our eyes merit to see the coming of Moshiach and the Third Temple speedily and in our days, amen.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Light of Hannukah

Rav Arush at last years Purim seuda, 5771
(A lesson Given by Rav Shalom Arush on Wed, 19 Kislev, 5772. Translated by Yehoshua Goldstein)

"A Mitzvah is a candle and the Torah is light." With the light of the Torah, we are able to get through this world which is called darkness. This world is a very great darkness, it is full of darkness and dangers and very few people are able to make it through this darkness. The Gemara in Sotah gives a mashal of a person who is walking through the darkness of the night; he will be afraid of many different things like thorns, pits, bushes, wild animals and robbers, etc. The Gemara says that this world is similar to that person walking through the darkness. And even worse is that a person has no idea what path he is walking on, "For there is a path which looks straight to a man's eyes, and its end is death."
So then how is a person to know which path to travel on to make it through this world? This can only be discovered with the light of the Torah. This is the light which is able to enlighten and guide a person through all the darkness and dangers of this world. When a person is in the darkness, then all the desires and all temptations that are in this world overpower him. However, when he comes out of this darkness, then he can laugh at all those temptations, they become like nothing to him and have no ability to tempt him or persuade him at all. (In another similar lesson the Rav gave a mashal; that the pleasures and temptations of this world are like telling a person to come and play in the sewage. Which normal person wants to go jump around and play in stinky filthy sewage?)
Now how does one get the light of the Torah? This can only be gotten through happiness. If a person is not happy; not happy in doing the mitzvot, not happy when he is learning Torah, then no matter what he is doing, it will not help him; he will still be trapped in the darkness. I was thinking, what is meant by the idea that the Greeks tried to get us to forget the Torah? Is it really possible to forget Torah? What it means is that they tried to bring darkness and sadness into our lives which would take away our happiness. This is what is meant by getting us to forget the Torah. They wanted us to stop being happy, because once a person is not happy he is able to get confused and flip the truth completely. A person who performs the mitzvot without simcha doesn't need the Greeks to get him to forget the Torah; he will leave it on his own. Any person who falls away from Judaism is only because they never experienced the joy and sweetness to be found in it. One who tasted this sweetness would never leave such a thing, not for any riches or pleasures in this whole world, for this is the only true sweetness in the world. The only reason we see children leaving religion is because they never saw their parents happy with the religion. This is why I want to make the point of the necessity of singing. Some people feel that singing and dancing is called bitul Torah (wasting time from Torah learning), well those people don't even know what Torah is to begin with! In fact, the only reason why King Chizkiyahu was not crowned as the Mashiach was because he failed to sing.
This happiness of the Torah and Mitzvot is precisely the light to be found in Hannukah. The sages of that time understood very well that this was the main cause of Jews becoming drawn after the Greek culture. Since they did not really know how to experience the true happiness in Judaism, then it was very easy for them to desire the foreign Greek culture. And how does one discover the happiness to be found in Judaism? This is only possible when he learns how to go with gratitude and praise to Hashem.  Let us now explain this concept of how to be grateful to Hashem, for this is not simply good advice, this is actually what all of your Judaism and connection to Hashem depends on. A person who does not feel this gratefulness to Hashem really needs to stop himself and try to understand why? What is going on here, why am I not able to feel gratitude to Hashem for making me a Jew?
I thought to myself, there is no coincidence why every year around Hannukah time, we read the parasha dealing with Yosef Hatzadik. Understanding the story of Yosef Hatzadik is the key to us learning how to be happy with all the challenges we are going through and will even teach us how to be thankful and grateful to Hashem for them all. Having this attitude is what will bring us to true happiness, which is the only way to experience the light of Hannukah. It is also the only way to avoid all the pitfalls and dangers of this world and prevent ourselves from being drawn after foreign cultures and ideologies.
Yosef Hatzadik was faced with a great test of his emuna (faith). His brothers desired to murder him, and then he was sold as a slave and completely cut off from his family. He was taken down to Egypt where he was immersed in a very impure and immoral society where he had no connection at all to Judaism. Then he was put through an extreme test of morality and temptation with the wife of his master, and when he overcame and ran away from the sin, he was still falsely accused and thrown into prison for 12 years. All this could have easily given him a reason to give up on Judaism; he certainly had all the excuses he needed to make a claim against G-d.  However the Midrash testifies that he spent the entire time in prison doing nothing but singing and dancing and praising Hashem with happiness. A person must go with this type of faith; that he accepts that Hashem is fully in charge and that he (the person) knows nothing at all. If Hashem wants me to go through this challenge, fine. If He wants me now to serve Him under these circumstances, Fine. I ask no questions on G-d, I just feel happy and privileged to be able to serve Hashem; it makes no difference to me how He wants me to serve Him. If this is what Hashem wants from me right now, fine, I ask no questions on Him, I don't understand anything and I don't know anything.
A person comes into this world in order to be tested. Yosef was not living with the concept of reward and punishment, he knew that he came into this world to be tested and therefore he was able to overcome all his difficulties and serve Hashem with complete happiness. This is the lesson that we need to learn from the story of Yosef Hatzadik; this is the key to being happy in our service of Hashem. (In a previous lesson the Rav explained that without this attitude, a person is not really serving Hashem, but they are actually serving themselves. Serving Hashem means that you happily do what He wants you to do under His conditions and circumstances, and you put what you think aside.)
Rebbe Nachman writes in the Likkutei Moharan lesson 4, that if a person knows that everything that happens to him (both the good and the bad) is from Hashem, than this is an aspect of the World to Come. You would think that the Rebbe should have written that if everything goes well for that person, then it is an aspect of the World to Come, but no, the Rebbe is teaching us that we need to know that all that happens to us is from Hashem and for our good (in the World to Come we will have this awareness with full clarity). Now if something bad happens to you, you are supposed to look for the message in it and search for what it is that you need to correct, but this does not mean that you are not supposed to be happy. A person no matter what circumstance he finds himself in must still serve Hashem happily. Even if the suffering is a result of a sin I did, I must still search for how to correct it with happiness. (Teshuva is a mitzvah from the Torah, a person is obligated to be happy when performing the mitzvot. We can even thank Hashem and be happy with the punishment or suffering because it is only there to bring to our attention something that we need to correct. Then, once we make teshuva, the sin turns into a merit, because it now became the catalyst which got you to make teshuva and gain even more closeness to Hashem - YG) Without this understanding, it is impossible for a person to be happy and to go in the ways of gratitude and praise to Hashem. We must remember that this life is not a kiddie camp, there are definitely difficulties and challenges along the way. We need to know that all the light of the Torah is only to be discovered through happiness and gratitude to Hashem. Without this attitude, we will have no way of receiving the light.
How can it be that a person would choose the temporal pleasures of this world instead of the holy Torah? This is only the result of a person not understanding how to serve Hashem with happiness. In the future we are told that all the holidays will be cancelled except for Hannukah. That is, in the future, gratitude and praise of Hashem will still be present. This light of Hannukah is very necessary for us to make it through the darkness of this exile. Without it, there is no way for us to make it through this world.  Everyone has to light the Hannukiah in his home, that is, he must bring this light of Torah which is happiness and gratitude to Hashem into his home. To this the Rabbis established these eight days of Hannukah as days of gratitude and praise (lehodot ulehallel). This is the only way to prevent the Greek (foreign) ideologies from entering into our homes. There is no greater joy in this world than the happiness of learning Torah and performing the mitzvot, this is the light of Hannukah. One who wants his home to be protected needs to bring this light into his home.
May we all merit this wonderful light this Hannukah,
Rav Shalom Arush.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I Place Hashem Before Me Always


The Circle of Life

In the first siman of the Shulchan Aruch, the Rema writes, "I place Hashem before me always; this is a big concept in the Torah and it is the reason for the exaltedness of the Tzaddikim who walk before G-d..."
Both the Be'er Heitev and Mishna Berura explain as follows. A person should be aware that he is in the constant presence of The Creator, for the Holy One blessed be He fills the entire creation. A person should picture the letters Yod (and) Heh (and) Vav (and) Heh in front of his eyes with the same vowelization as the word yirah (fear). This is the real meaning of "I place Hashem before me always", and this practice has a great benefit in helping one gain fear of Hashem (fear of sin). The source given for this is in the writings of the Ari Z"L.

I was once learning this halacha in kollel and a gentleman sitting next to me who overheard this, shared an incredible story with me. He said that he had a secular nephew who after completing his duty in the Israeli army went off to India to experiment with meditation and spirituality. He found a group that was about to begin some sort of meditation and he joined in with them. They all sat in a circle and were given instructions of what to meditate on. This young man felt guilty about thinking of such unholy things and instead, an image of the name of Hashem popped into his head (he had grown up seeing a framed picture of a menorah in his house with the name of Hashem written on the top of it, so it was easy for him to picture it in his mind). A few minutes into the meditation, the group leader walked over to him and threw him out of the circle. Being determined to experience some spirituality, he went and found another meditation group. Again he was instructed on what to meditate on, and again he began to picture the name of Hashem. A few minutes later, the same thing happened and he was removed from the group again. He realized that this was not a coincidence, and he immediately returned to Eretz Yisrael and checked himself into a yeshiva where he began learnig Torah and eventually went on to become religious. 

Attached above is an image of the name of Hashem with the vowelization of yirah (as mentioned in the Be'er Heitev and Mishna Berura)
Try looking at it for a few minutes, and see if you are able to picture the four letters in your head with your eyes closed. It could take some practice, but it comes with many benefits.

As a young child, the Rebbe (Rebbe Nachman) wanted to literally fulfill the verse, "I have set G-d before me constantly (Psalms 16:8)." He continually tried to depict G-d's ineffable Name before his eyes, even while studying with his tutor. His thoughts were so occupied that he often did not know his lessons, making his teacher very angry.
Despite this, the Rebbe acted like a normal child his age, playing, jumping and taking walks. But he was also very constant in the above practice.
(Shevachay HaRan #2)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Importance of Zohar Study

Earlier this week I was very privileged to be present at a meeting between the Admor of Holmin - Rav Shalom Yehuda Gross and Rav Shalom Arush at the house of Rav Arush.

I will now do my best to recall what was happened at that meeting. Rav Arush was very happy to greet Rav Gross and he kissed his hand when he entered. Then Rav Gross kissed Rav Arush’s hand and they sat down at the table. Rav Gross started to explain about his operation (Mifal Zohar Haolami) which is involved in printing and distributing Zohar Hakadosh all over Israel and the world. He said that only in the merit of studying the Zohar Hakadosh will we be redeemed from this exile in mercy as Rebbe Shimon promised us in the Zohar. He also said that the study of Zohar is able to cancell any harsh decrees upon the Jews. Rav Arush agreed about the importance of the study of Zohar.
Then Rav Gross went on to say that the situation in the world is not very good at all right now, and we need Zohar study to help give us more merits. Rav Arush added that he had also heard a few times from his Rav, Rav Yehuda Zeev Leibovich zt”l that the situation in the world was very dangerous now. Then Rav Gross handed Rav Arush many of his Zohar sefarim and publications and Rav Arush was very happy to receive them. He picked one set of sefarim up “Zohar Shabbat” and he was admiring its beauty for a long time (no doubt he was getting pleasure from the burst of spiritual light in those Zohars).
Rav Gross began telling a story about the Baal Hasulam, a commentator on the Zohar in the last hundred years and about how in the last world war, in heaven they took away the power from Hitler (may his name be erased) to invade Israel exactly coinciding with the printing of the Baal Hasulam’s Zohar commentary. Rav Arush then spoke highly of the Baal Hasulam and said that Rav Leibovich was very close to the Baal Sulams Zohar commentary. Then Rav Arush mentioned how he wanted to have everyone in his yeshiva start reading the Zohar everyday. He said to Rav Gross, “Now that you have come here to me, we must begin learning the Zohar, we must have the yeshiva learning the Zohar.” Then Rav Gross handed him a letter endorsing the study of Zohar and Rav Arush wrote as follows,
It is very important for every single person to read the Zohar Hakadosh. We have a promise from Rebbe Nachman of Breslov that through the study of the Zohar, we will be redeemed with mercy from this exile.Rav Gross was very happy to hear this and even told Rav Arush that he would send more of the Zohars and other sefarim so that they could put them and learn them in the yeshiva.
They then got up and walked out of the Rav's house side by side.
A few days later, I brought Rav Arush a six volume set of the Zohar Hakadosh which is broken up to be read in the course of one year. The Rav was very impressed with it's beauity and he said that the Admor (Rav Gross) gives him such happiness. Then he said that he was going to begin that very day on the one year cycle of reading the Zohar.
May the promise of Rebbe Shimon and Rebbe Nachman be fulfilled and may we merit a merciful redemption in the merit of the study of Zohar Hakadosh, Amen.

I wanted to clarify a point that people often get confused, there is a big difference between the reading of Zohar and the study of Kabbala. Although the Zohar is the primary Kabbala text, when one reads it, one is in no danger of what is called delving too deep into the study of Kabbala. Although it is true that only fitting people should learn the Kabbala from fitting teachers, the study or reading of Zohar is quite the opposite. the words itself are able to spiritually arouse a person and have the ability to purify the soul even if one has no idea what he is reading and even if he is making many mistakes, it gives great pleasure to Hashem. Reading of Zohar is something that is fitting for men, women and even young children (heard from Rav Gross, and Rav Benayahu Shmueli, Rosh Yeshiva of Nahar Shalom and a close student of Rav Kaduri Z"L).

For more info on the study of Zohar, you can go to http://www.thezoharinenglish.com/. Not only that, but it also is able to cancell any harsh decrees upon Am Yisrael, G-d forbid, and there is a promise by Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai himself that with the study of this book (the Zohar) we will be redeemed from the exile with mercy, Amen.