Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Shavuot Departure of the Baal Shem Tov


[Shavuot is the Yarzheit of the Baal Shem Tov]

Biographical note: Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer [18 Elul 1698-6 Sivan 1760] - the Baal Shem Tov ["master of the good Name"] - a unique and seminal figure in Jewish history, revealed the Chassidic movement and his own identity as an exceptionally holy person, on his 36th birthday, 18 Elul 1734. He wrote no books, although many claim to contain his teachings. One available in English is the excellent annotated translation of Tzava'at Harivash, published by Kehot.

* * *

Following the revelation of Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov, on 18 Elul 1734, as a great Jewish leader and mystic, many of the Jewish community, especially in Poland, became followers of the Chassidic path of Judaism. Twenty-six years later, the time arrived all too soon for the Baal Shem Tov to pass on to the next world.

For Passover 1760, Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, came to visit his Master, the Baal Shem Tov. On the afternoon preceding the festival, Seventh Day of Passover, Rabbi Pinchas was feeling weak and decided not to go to the mikveh, as was his custom.

The next day during his morning prayers, he had a premonition that the Baal Shem Tov would soon pass away. Rabbi Pinchas began to pray more intensely, begging that the Heavenly decree against the Baal Shem Tov be lifted. But he felt that he was unable to affect the decree and started to deeply regret that he had not gone to the mikveh before the holiday.

Interestingly, after morning prayers, the Baal Shem Tov asked Rabbi Pinchas if he had gone to the mikveh on the previous afternoon. When he answered he had not, the Baal Shem Tov replied, "It's too late to correct that now."

* * *

After Passover, the Baal Shem Tov fell ill. However, he did not tell his followers and continued to pray before the ark. Whoever among his close followers might have been able to effect changes with their prayers, he sent on missions to other communities. Rabbi Pinchas, knowing of the Heavenly decree against the Baal Shem Tov, did not return to his home but stayed on in Medzibuz.

Previously, on the eve of Shabbat Hagadol, the Sabbath preceding Passover, the Baal Shem Tov had sat down to write a last will and testament addressed to his disciples. He concluded it with the words, "I write this today because last night my [heavenly] master and teacher [Ahiya of Shilo-a biblical prophet,] revealed to me that this is my last eve of Shabbat Hagadol…."

Seven and one half weeks later, on the eve of Shavuot, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov called his personal scribe, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh, and dictated to him some final revisions and amendments to an earlier, detailed will, ordering among other things that all his books and manuscripts be given unto "my disciple and peer, the Prince of Torah, Rabbi Dov Ber [the Magid of Mezritch,] son of Rabbi Abraham, except for all the books in Yiddish which belong to my G-d fearing daughter Adele."

He reaffirmed article 18 of his original will to the effect that his copies of "the commentaries of Gersonides on the bible, and the book Neveh Shalom [a 15th century philosophical-homiletical work, with Kabbalistic overtones composed by Rabbi Abraham Shalom] both with my marginal notes and annotations, are to be given unto my disciple, dear to me like a son, the Pillar of fire, Rabbi Jacob Joseph Hacohen [of Polnoy]."

* * *

On Tuesday evening, the [first] night of Shavuot, all of the followers of the Baal Shem Tov gathered with him to spend the night in Torah study, as is the custom. The Baal Shem Tov expounded on the Torah portion of the week and the meaning of Shavuot.

In the morning, he sent for his closest followers to gather in his room. He told Rabbi Leib Kessler and several others to arrange for his burial. Because they were members of the Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society) and were knowledgeable in signs of illness, he showed them the signs on his body and explained how the soul emanates from each part. Then, he told them to gather a minyan to pray with him. Before they began, he said, "Soon I shall be with the Holy One, blessed be He."

After the prayers, Rabbi Nachman of Horodenka went to the Study Hall to pray for his Master. Later, the Baal Shem Tov said, "He petitions in vain. Maybe if he could have entered in the Heavenly gate where I was accustomed to enter, his prayers would have helped."

When the shammesh (attendant) of the Baal Shem Tov entered his master's room, he heard the Baal Shem Tov saying, "I grant you these two hours. Do not torture me."

The asked, "Rebbe, who are you talking to?"

The Baal Shem Tov answered, "Don't you see the Angel of Death? Before, he always ran from me. Now that he has been given control over me, he stands straighter and laughs at me."

Later, during the festival day meal, he asked his attendant to put mead in a large glass. Instead, the shammesh put it in a small glass. The Baal Shem Tov remarked wryly, "'Man has no power on the day of death,' even my attendant does not obey me."

After the meal, many of the town's people, who did not know of the Baal Shem Tov's condition, came to see him. As always, he delivered a discourse of Torah to them.

All of his close disciples were sitting in the room of the Baal Shem Tov while he lay in his bed. He gave them a sign. "My friends, when I leave this world, both clocks in this room will stop."

He asked for a large cup of water and a basin to be brought to him. While he was washing his hands, His followers saw the hands of the big clock stop. They stood in front of it so that the Baal Shem wouldn't see that it had stopped.

He said to them, "My friends, I am not concerned for myself because l know that when I leave through the door of this world, I'll immediately enter into the door of the next world."

The Baal Shem Tov then sat up in his bed and told them to gather around him. He spoke words of Torah, explaining about the column upon which one ascends from Lower Paradise to Upper Paradise, and how this was so in each of the Four Worlds. Then he described the World of Souls, and expounded the order of worship. He instructed them to say with him, "Let the pleasantness of the L-rd our G-d be upon us" [Psalms 90:17].

He lay down and sat up several times. Meanwhile he concentrated on mystical kavanot (intentions) until they could not distinguish the syllables of his speech.

Finally he lay down and told them to cover him with a sheet. Then he began to tremble as when he said the nineteen blessings of the Amida prayer. Slowly he became quiet.

They saw that the small clock had stopped. They waited for a long time but he didn't move. Then they put a feather under his nose to detect his breathing, whereupon they finally had to accept that he had passed away.

A Rabbi Jacob of Medzibuz, reported that Rabbi Leib Kessler of the Burial Society saw the departure of his soul as a blue flame rising.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the rendition of Tzvi Meir HaCohane (Howard M. Cohn. Patent Attorney) on //besht.com, and supplemented from other written and oral sources, mainly "The Great Maggid" by J. I. Schochet (Kehot).  Ascent of Safed


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Trumpet Shofar Sounds

Better late than never I guess.... this Australian mainstream newspaper has finally picked up the Shofar noises around the world.  

Here is the link:  News.com

Here is one of the videos, several more at the News.com site.  And quite a few blogged by me in the past - click on the EARTH SOUNDS label below.

''Something Big is About to Happen''

I am not an American, and I do not listen to Alex Jones, at least not regularly, but this video he has just uploaded was sent to me, and it seems to tie in with statements made by rabbis and Binyamin on other blogs, that something big is about to happen -  very soon.  


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Secrets of Reincarnation The Vilna Gaon on Yonah

A Glimpse into the world of Remez

Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, commonly known as the Gaon [literally "genius"] was probably the most influential Jewish leader in modern history. He never assumed any official position of leadership and spent his time in almost total isolation toiling day and night in torah study. He became the undisputed greatest torah scholar and kabbalist in modern history.

The book of Yonah is read every Yom Kippur in all orthodox synagogues. The simple meaning of the story contains the theme of repentance. However, as is known there are 4 main dimensions of interpretation in the torah. They are 1: "Pshat" [simple,literal meaning], 2: Remez [allusion, hinted], 3: Drosh [not explicit interpretation], 4: Sod [secret meaning, which form the acronym PaRDeS (orchard)]. The Vilna Gaon on Mishlei [1:6, commentary "chemda genuza"] explains: "The 4th level of Torah, called "Sod" [secret] is the inner and primary meaning. The other lower meanings, are also true, but serve primarily for the purpose of straightening a man in order that he be sufficiently spiritually developed to understand the Sod". These four dimensions of interpretation exist certainly in the 24 books of the bible but even in the mishna and in the talmud. 

Very few people can delve properly beyond the pshat. Only one who has attained mastery in the four levels can be capable of deciphering the hidden code. The Vilna Gaon was such a rare person and offers us a spectacular view of a parallel book of the Yonah story in the realm of "Remez". Note that the simple meaning of the book is also true as we see, for example, that the Midrash Raba lists the "special fish" which swallowed Yonah as one of the creatures specially prepared during the 6 days of the creation of the world. Yet in the Vilna Gaon's "remez" version of the story, the fish is not real but is only symbolic of the grave of Yonah. 

This parallel story of Yonah is one of a human being who got caught up in materialism, dies, goes through Gehinom [purgatory], and returns in a reincarnation. The Sages teach that the vast majority of people alive today are reincarnations, which are sent back down because they did not complete their previous "mission". So this book, can very well speak personally to many of us. In Chapter 4 verse 3 the Vilna Gaon gives us a sign into how to see what went wrong in our previous lives.

And how could one know what he corrupted before [in his previous gilgul]? There is on this two signs. One - that [sin] which he stumbles many times in this gilgul. On this they said "let him examine his ways", which ones does he stumble. Two - which sin does his soul desire greatly, because it was used to it previously and became second nature. Therefore there are some men who desire one sin more, and others who desire a different sin. And on this they said "examine his ways" - that he should also fix his ways.

To read the whole thing go to: a glimpse into the world of Remez

Monday, May 18, 2015

Real Love


from the writings of the Ben Ish Chai

Real love is reciprocated: "As in water, face reflects face, so is the heart of man to man" [Proverbs 27:19]. Reflections in water are an apt metaphor for the reciprocity of feelings.

The Hebrew word for "water" - mayim - is a reflection of itself: it is the same read forwards or backwards.

Love is reciprocated, though, only if it as strong as the love of father for son, brother for brother, or husband for wife. Weak love might not be returned.

"Love your neighbour like yourself" - love him so strongly that he will naturally reciprocate with love like you have for him.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Anticipating the Geula


In his definitive work on Moshiach, Otzrot Acharit Hayamim, Rabbi Yehoshua Chayun of Bnei Brak quotes the Maharal: "The essence of yemos HaMashiach is the return of the world to its complete spiritual tikkun, as was in the time of Adam Harishon before the sin." 

In various places, such as Maseches Brachos it says: "There is no difference between the olam hazeh [this world] to Yemos Hamashaich [time of Moshiach] but for 'shi'abud malchuyos' [dominion of the nations].

The explanation for this given there, is that in Yemos HaMashiach, the way of the world will not change from its present state of nature to a way that goes against nature, etc., 'ein chadash tachas hashemesh' [there is nothing new under the sun]. Nevertheless, there will be a most awesome and wondrous change from its current shape and form, physically and spiritually, including the living, the inanimate, the vegetation, the desert and the people. And there is no contradiction here, for the world, as it will be in Acharis hayomim, is naught but a return to its original state before the aveira of Adam Harishon. 

Thus, indeed, 'ein chadash tachas hashemesh' for what was once is what will again be. 

There are many wondrous things written by Chaza"l about these times, but I will mention just two more: First, the biggest change in yemos Hamashiach is the cancellation of the yetzer hara [evil inclination]. The whole world will change immensely due to this great and wonderful chiddush. Animals will live in peace with each other  - can you imagine your neighborhood cats hanging out with the dogs and mice of the street?" There will be no money or financial dealings since there will be no more need for money. Hashem will directly give us our daily needs. 

One hint we have to the cancellation of money is in Maseches Sanhedrin 97, where it says, "ein ben Dovid ba ad shetichleh prutah min hakis [the son of David does not come until people's pockets are empty of even one penny]." 

We can understand this vital issue if we think carefully about what money has caused throughout the generations. All the gashmius and havalim [physicality and vanities] of the world start with money... and since there will be no more gashmius, everything will be purely for the sake of serving Hashem and for ruchnius [spirituality] -  there will thus be no more need for money, banks, etc. 

In the Nevuos [Prophets], we read that before Moshiach comes Hashem will take away all the gashmius.  His nation have so fallen in love with "es maahavecha". Therefore we can understand that a World of emes [truth] would have no need for gashmius and the likes and seeing as how it truly controls our lives, I'm sure we will not miss it when it is gone. 

Adapted from: Revach L'Neshama

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Bechukotai: Prophetic Letters

by Rabbi Chanan Morrison

Five Double Letters
Of the 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, five are called 'double letters,' as they take on a different form when appearing at the end of a word. The five letters are Mem, Nun, Tzadi, Pay, and Chaf. When placed together as one word, they spell M-N-Tz-P-Ch.

According to Talmudic tradition [Shabbat 104a], the dual form of these letters goes back to the prophets. The abbreviation M-N-Tz-P-Ch can be read as Min Tzophim — 'from the prophets.'

From the Prophets
This claim — that the special form of these letters originated with the prophets — needs clarification. The Torah of Moses is complete and whole in itself. Even a prophet is not allowed to add or invent a new mitzvah. The Torah explicitly states:

"These are the decrees, laws and codes that God set between Himself and Israel at Mount Sinai, through the hand of Moses" [Lev. 26:46]

The phrase ' These are the decrees' indicates that only the decrees that Moses set down in the Torah are in fact between God and Israel. How could the prophets change the Torah by adding new shapes of letters?

The Talmud explains that the prophets did not actually introduce anything new. There always existed two ways to write these five letters. With the passage of time, however, it was forgotten which shape belongs at the end of the word, and which at the beginning and middle. The prophets did not devise the two forms; they merely recovered the lost knowledge of which letterform belongs at the end of the word.

Why Two Forms?
Still, we need to understand: why do these letters have dual forms? What is the significance of their relative position in the word? And why were the prophets (and not the sages or the grammarians) the ones who restored this knowledge?

Letters are more than just elements of speech. They are the building blocks of creation. The Sages taught, "The universe was created with ten utterances" [Avot 5:1]. Each letter in the alphabet represents a fundamental force in the world.

Rav Kook explained that the 'final forms' — the shape that these letters take at the end of words — are the holiest. The final forms most accurately portray the sublime essence of each letter, fully expressing its ultimate purpose. To better understand this statement, we must analyze the morphological differences between the two forms of these letters.

With four of the letters — Nun, Tzadi, Pay, Chaf — the regular form is smaller and more cramped. The 'leg' of the letter is constrained and bent upwards. The form appearing at the end of the word, on the other hand, allows the 'leg' to stretch and extend itself fully. It is the final form that truly expresses the full content and power of these letters.

The two shapes of the letter Mem are distinguished in a different fashion. The regular Mem has a small opening at the bottom. It is called the Mem Petuchah, the Open Mem. It is open and revealed to all.

The final Mem is closed off on all sides. It is called the Mem Setumah, the Sealed Mem. Or perhaps — the Esoteric Mem. This form of Mem is more sublime than the regular Open Mem. Thus, the holiest written object, the stone tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments, contained only Sealed Mems, with the center part of the Mem hanging miraculously in place. The final Mem is closed off and concealed. It guards its inner secret, which due to its profound holiness may not be revealed to all.

Why is the more elevated form used at the end of the word? A hidden light appears at the ultimate vision of every noble matter. The hidden light of the M-N-Tz-P-Ch letters belongs to the end. The beginning and middle appearances of these letters are open and revealed. Their light steadily increases, until it brings us to the final, sublime conclusion.

The prophets are called tzofim, visionaries, as they were blessed with prophetic vision. Their greatness was that they could perceive the final outcome while still living in a flawed present. Understandably, it was these tzofim who sensed that the more elevated letterforms belong at the end.

Source: Rav Kook Torah

The Vatican to Recognize ''Palestine''

ROME — The Vatican said Wednesday that it had concluded a treaty to recognize Palestinian statehood, a symbolic but significant step welcomed by Palestinians but upsetting to the Israeli government.

Read more at: NY Times

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

In Reverse



"...and I will remember My covenant [with] Jacob, and also My covenant [with] Isaac, and also My covenant [with] Abraham I will remember." [Bechukotai 26:42]

Why are the forefathers listed in reverse order? asked R' Shmelke of Nikolsburg.

Chazal have taught us, answered the Rebbe, that "The world depends on three things - on Torah study, on the service of G-d, and on kind deeds [Pirkei Avot 1:2]

Each one of the forefathers was noted for a different character trait.

Yaakov embodied Torah study.  He was "a wholesome man abiding in tents" [Bereishis 25:27] who studied Torah in the yeshivah of Shem and Ever. 

Yitzchak, who had been bound to an altar, represented service of Hashem.

Avraham, the paradigm of hospitality, represented the trait of kindness.

The order in which the verse lists the forefathers - Yaakov, Yitzchak and Avraham - corresponds to the order utilitzed by Chazal to enumerate the three things upon which the world depends: first "Torah", then "service of G-d" and finally "kindness" [Torah, Tefilla, Tzedaka]

Source: Rabbi Yitzchak Bronstein

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Reward


A person might pray for his friend before praying for himself for one of two reasons:

a) because his friend's problem genuinely bothers him more than his own problems; or
b) because he wants the reward of being answered first. [see Rashi Vayeira 21:1]

Generally, with acts of kindness, the result for the recipient is more important than the donor's motive. So even if a person prays for another because he wants the reward of being answered first he will still be rewarded, for after all he performed an act of kindness in praying for another.

Nevertheless, it goes without saying that the first approach above - the person with pure motives - is vastly superior.

Based on Sichas Shabbos Parshas Vayeira 5743, Lubavitcher Rebbe