Torah of the Night

In the nightThe Gemara extrapolates from the verse – “from night until morning” – that there is no other service that is performed specifically at night other than the Menorah. Ben Yehoyada suggests that the reason the service of the Menorah is specifically at night is that the Menorah alludes to Torah and the primary time to study Torah is at night when a person’s mind is clear and he is free of his daily responsibilities. This follows Chazal’s statement in Eruvin (65a) that the night was created for Torah study. This concept is also recorded in Shulchan Aruch where he writes that one must be more careful with the learning that he does at night than the learning that he does during the day. Mishnah Berurah further elaborates on the importance and value of studying Torah at night and writes that when Torah scholars study Torah at night it is considered as though they are performing the service of the Bais Hamikdash. Furthermore, the Divine Presence stands opposite those who study Torah at night.

Daf Yomi Digest
Halacha Highlight
“Studying Torah at night”
Menachos 89

Night time sharpens, heightens each sensation
Darkness stirs and wakes imagination
Silently the senses abandon their defenses
Slowly, gently night unfurls its splendor
Grasp it, sense it, tremulous and tender
Turn your face away from the garish light of day
Turn you thoughts away from cold unfeeling light
And listen to the music of the night

Music of the Night
from “Phantom of the Opera”
by Andrew Lloyd Webber

If you consider “night” to be any time the sun isn’t shining in the sky, then this teaching certainly fits onto the foundation upon which I laid this blog and what Rabbi Tzvi Freeman at Chabad.org presents here:

When you get up in the morning, let the world wait. Defy it a little. First learn something to inspire you. Take a few moments to meditate upon it. And then you may plunge ahead into the darkness, full of light with which to illuminate it.

A continuation of the commentary of Menachos 89 seems to support this idea, which works well for me as an early riser.

Mishnah Berurah writes that according to Kabbalists the primary time for Torah study is from chatzos until the onset of the morning. Shulchan Aruch HaRav writes that at the very least one should arise before morning to learn for some period of time at the end of the night.

Other Poskim support the opposite viewpoint, advocating for Torah study in the evening and then reciting the Tikun Chatzos before retiring. From an outsider’s perspective, it might be the difference between being a morning person and a night person.

For me, it’s helpful to start the day pondering God. Each day in an ordinary work week has its fair share of challenges and disappointments and, like a house, how or if it will stand depends on the solidity of the foundation. To build on “the Rock”, so to speak, means your “house” has a better chance of weathering storms. I suppose that’s why I created “Morning Meditations” rather than “Evening Meditations”.

ShavuotAt sundown this evening, the festival of Shavuot begins (at the end of the Omer count), which commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Children of Israel at Sinai. It is one of two times of year (the other is Simchat Torah) where God’s gift of the Torah to the Jewish people is specifically recognized and celebrated.

Just a few days ago, I wrote a blog post regarding my small understanding of the Torah. To continue from that beginning, the Torah is the illustrative force in the life of the Jewish people and it defines them as who they are, why they exist, and their specialness in the eyes of God. Since the days of Moses, “the Torah was to go forth from Zion and the Word of God from Jerusalem” (paraphrasing Micah 4:2) and even traditional Jewish sages admit that Christianity has been one vehicle by which the principles and teachings of God have reached an unbelieving world. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Shavuot and Pentecost, the observance of the giving of the Holy Spirit to Christ’s disciples in Jerusalem, happen on the same day.

This should be a night of joyous celebration as we let ourselves fully realize how God has abundantly reached out to humanity with His love, His wisdom, and His mercy. Both Jew and Christian can consider themselves greatly blessed by all that God has done for them; what God has done for us all.

But my greatest joy is not in singing or eating or in partaking of any other outward celebration with people, but in arising early each morning, before the sun begins to lighten the eastern sky, and alone in the silence, opening the pages of the Bible, delaying the start of day for a tiny march of minutes, while I pray, thank God, and then meditate upon His Word, letting it illuminate the darkness of the night.

At Mount Sinai, tradition tells, there was no echo. Torah penetrates and is absorbed by all things, because it is their essence. There is no place where it does not apply, no darkness it does not illuminate, nothing it cannot bring alive. Nothing will bounce it back and say, “Torah is too holy to belong here.”

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Penetrating Wisdom”
Chabad.org

Candle in Obsidian

Rising SparksFrom the moment that they were sundered apart, the earth has craved to reunite with heaven; physical with spiritual, body with soul, the life that breathes within us with the transcendental that lies beyond life, beyond being.

And yet more so does the Infinite Light yearn to find itself within that world, that pulse of life, within finite, earthly existence. There, more than any spiritual world, is the place of G-d’s delight.

Towards this ultimate union all of history flows, all living things crave, all of human activities are subliminally directed. When it will finally occur, it will be the quintessence of every marriage that has ever occurred.

May it be soon in our times, sooner than we can imagine.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Cosmic Marriage”
Chabad.org

The 213th mitzvah is that we are commanded to acquire [by kiddushin] a woman before marrying her [n’suin]: either by giving her something [of sufficient value]; by giving her a document [of marriage]; or by having marital relations [for the purpose of kiddushin]. This is the mitzvah of kiddushin.

This mitzvah is hinted to in the Torah in the verse, “When a man acquires a woman and has relations with her….” This implies that he can acquire her through having relations.

-Rabbi Berel Bell
“Marriage: Positive Commandment 213”
Sefer Hamitzvot in English
Chabad.org.

Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.Mark 10:9

There are all kinds of “marital metaphors” in the Bible. In the Tanakh, Israel is often described as God’s bride (sometimes as a faithless lover) and in the Apostolic Scriptures, “the church” is referred to as the Bride of Christ. This language implies a special type of intimacy between God and his redeemed community (depending on your point of view regarding who is “redeemed”). While we’d like to think of ourselves as “intimate” with God, Rabbi Freeman points out that as long as heaven and earth are separate environments, man and God are like forlorn lovers, separated by a broad and dark sea, yearning for each other as if estranged paramours in a tale by Chaucer.

I once quoted Paul Philip Levertoff’s commentary on this from his work Love and the Messianic Age thus:

From this life and light proceeds the divine “spark” which is hidden in every soul. Not all men succeed in rising to this close union with God at prayer, because this spark is imprisoned in them. “Yea, even the Shechinah herself is imprisoned in us, for the spark is the Shechinah in our souls.

We are all made in the image of God and what He has placed in us yearns to return to the Source. Those of us who call ourselves “believers” are receptacles for His Holy Spirit and as such we find that we are with God and of God, yet still apart. It’s as if we can see each other and yearn for each other, but are still somehow separated. The Vine of David commentary on Levertoff says it this way:

Although every man has the divine potential of a godly soul planted within him, this is not a guarantee that every man will enter into a relationship with HaShem or even that every soul will be redeemed. Instead, the soul is separated from God by a wall of partition – sin and guilt. HaShem removes the wall of partition between man and Himself through the work of the Messiah. When the wall is removed, then the soul can connect with HaShem. Then He can “use it for the gathering of these ‘sparks’.”

But even after we confess our sin to God and receive forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation, there is still a “wall of partition” between us. We live in a broken world and that “brokeness” in Creation and in the nature of man, mars the intimacy of who would otherwise be perfect lovers.

Rabbi Bell’s interpretation of the 213th positive commandment speaks of how Jews see the mitzvah of marriage. A man may join with a woman by presenting her with a gift, a document of marriage, or by being physically intimate with her for the purpose of marriage. In the case of the Children of Israel, God in the role of the groom, presented His gift, the Torah, to the entire assembly, His bride, at Sinai. For the nations of the world, the marriage document “became a human being and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) and the other document (of divorce) that condemned us and separated us from this gift was destroyed when “the Word made flesh” died on our behalf (Colossians 2:14).

We have access to an intimate relationship with God. So why do I often feel alone? Perhaps it’s because we don’t have such a relationship between ourselves or even within ourselves.

Candle in ObsidianWhile God is perfect, the human beings in the community of faith are not. We are as flawed and as broken as the world we live in. We seek to fly up like sparks into heaven while our feet are stuck in the mud and roots of a sullied earth. The Master said Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate, yet we put barriers between each other and between us and God all the time. We may gather together all of the “Divine Sparks” in the world but still struggle to reunite them to Heaven:

At a certain point, each of us, through all our many journeys through life, will have found and redeemed all the Divine sparks in our share of the world. Then the darkness that holds such mastery, such cruelty, such irrational evil that it cannot be elevated—all this will simply vanish from its place, like a puff of steam in the midday air.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Completion”
Chabad.org

Rabbi Freeman paints a very optimistic picture but the truth is, gathering together these sparks is easier said than done. If it weren’t, we would all be shining with God’s light and the darkness would not exist. Rabbi Freeman completes his thought:

All that we salvaged and used for good, on the other hand, will shine with a tremendous light beyond even the light of the G-dly realm. The world will have arrived.

More’s the pity that we must await the Messiah to ignite the final bowl of the Menorah. Our own light is not enough to illuminate the abyss of a world shrouded in darkness. What should be the courtship of estranged but impassioned lovers burning like a forest fire has become a dim flame frozen in obsidian:

I sit before my only candle,
like a pilgrim sits beside the way
Now this journey appears before my candle
As a song that’s growing fainter, the harder I play
That I fear before I end, will fade away
I guess I’ll get there, but I wouldn’t say for sure

-from “Song for Adam”
by Jackson Browne

The Author

In the BeginningWhen someone asked the Radvaz, zt”l, why the Torah lacks vowels he gave an interesting response.

He said, “To understand this we must realize why the angels asked God not to give Torah to mankind, since they wanted God to give it to them. Moshe refuted them with an apparently simple reply, ‘What does it say in the Torah? Do not kill; do not commit adultery. Can angels murder? Is it possible for an angel to commit adultery? Why, then, do you need the Torah?’ ”

He continued, “Not surprisingly, the angels conceded this point. What is strange is what they had in mind in the first place. It seems clear that the angels had a very different way to read the Torah. When read in this manner it had much to teach them, and they wanted it so that they could receive it in the manner suited to them, on their level. Our sages tell us that the entire Torah is formed of Divine Names. The angels wished to read it spiritually at one time without interruption. In this manner, the Torah makes up one long name of God.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories off the Daf
No Wasted Letter
Menachos 87

Sometimes I think the Torah has a life of its own. It’s certainly easier and reasonable to think of the Torah as a document that we can examine and learn from, much like any other document. On the other hand, the Torah is also the foundation of our understanding of God, the Prophets, the Writings, Israel, and the Messiah. We cannot simply treat it as if it were a good book on philosophy. Then, there are its mystic properties, such as how the Torah was with God when He created the world:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. –John 1:1-5

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. –John 1:14

Reading John, the Torah does have a life of its own and a human life at that. No wonder the Angels were fascinated (though, it’s likely that the Radvaz, zt”l did not have Jesus in mind when he wrote his commentary).

The Torah seems to exist in a sort of “multi-dimensional” state, operating differently depending on who is using it and how it is being used. We very much can treat the Torah, and indeed, all of Holy Scripture, as a document to be examined and learned from. I recently reviewed an analysis of the Great Isaiah Scroll recovered from the Dead Sea Scrolls near the ruins of Qumran, and what scholars Steven Lancaster and James Monson reveal about the Messiah is fascinating.

But however illuminating a rational and literary approach to the Torah may be, there is so much more to be discovered if you just change your angle of approach, as the Radvaz, continues to state in our “Story off the Daf”:

“Moshe explained to them that this is not the purpose of the Torah. The point of the Torah is for us to fulfill its material reading, by keeping mitzvos: eating kosher, avoiding non-kosher, and the like. Since there are many ways to read the Torah it is obvious why it is written without vowels or notes—to leave it open to an infinity of possible readings.”

The Radvaz concluded, “This also explains why the oral Torah was not recorded within the body of the Torah itself. It also explains why some stories or statements appear unnecessary while other essentials are virtually left out. This apparent discrepancy is because the Torah has many levels. Believe me, there is not one superfluous letter in the entire Torah. Place this principle before you always and you will always succeed.”.

The Torah is an enormously flexible resource that serves different purposes and has different meanings depending on its audience and its context. I have sometimes wondered why the Torah seems to include information that doesn’t make sense or why other information that would seem absolutely vital to know was “omitted”. God is unchanging but He is also infinite. There is no limit to His being and ultimately, no knowing His objective essense and thus, He can and must contain everything. Since the Torah has to be accessible by human beings, it must be finite which limits what it can contain, but by the explanation presented on the daf, we see that the Torah was created in a manner that conceals how versatile it actually is. We can read the Torah year after year, study the Oral Traditions and the commentaries of the sages, and yet never grow tired of how it speaks to us of things even Angels want to know.

The Word of God calls to each of us in a unique way. Each man or woman hears something different and we respond to the Torah as who we are at the moment we’re listening. A year later, the Torah speaks the same words again, but what we hear is different because the Torah was designed to reach us in a different way as we change and grow.

I am not the same person today as I was a year ago. What the Torah of Moses and the Spirit of God whisper to me out of Heaven captures me in a different way each time I hear it. I don’t always understand what He’s trying to say, but as I draw nearer to God, it becomes impossible for me not to strain my hearing and strive to perceive every word, every sound, and every breath, as one might listen to a lover whisper secrets in the night.

Listening to God through His Torah and His Spirit tells us how to order our lives and more. As we draw closer to Him; as we draw closer to the One who loves us without limit, bit by bit, He shows us the inner nature of the author of our souls.

People think the Torah is all about laws and customs and quaint stories, with a mystical side as well.

In truth, the Torah is entirely spiritual. But when you cannot perceive the spiritual, all you see are laws and quaint stories.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“More Than Stories”
Chabad.org

Two Worlds

What are you looking for? Wealth? Prestige? Position? You have all these right now. You should be altogether happy. And yet you are miserable – I can feel it for all your brave speech. Can you not be satisfied? And this way of living that fills you with restlessness and discontent – I am not a Jew but even I have sensed something lovely in Judaism, in its faith and in its morality with its emphasis on pity. Even its rituals are not without poetic grace. See how many Gentiles have been converted to your religion. Does that not prove that it possesses virtues which the Greek world lacks? These are at your disposal now. What more do you want?

-Nicholaus to Elisha in the book:
As a Driven Leaf
by Milton Steinberg

Steinberg’s classic is set at the beginning of the Talmudic age in Palestine during the Roman occupation, some fifty years after the destruction of the Second Temple. The book’s protagonist, Elisha ben Abuyah was born a Jew but raised by a Jewish father who disdained the traditional beliefs and who pursued pagan philosophies instead. Nicholaus was Elisha’s Greek tutor when he was a child but the tutor was dismissed when Abuyah died (Elisha’s mother died in childbirth). Abuyah’s brother then took charge of Elisha, providing him with a Jewish education rooted in Torah and tradition.

Elisha eventually abandons his Greek education and as a disciple of the sage Joshua, he not only becomes a Rabbi in his own right, but a member of the Sanhedrin as well.

Yet a series of personal and political conflicts throws Elisha into a crisis of faith and pulls his heart between the Jewish and Greek worlds. A chance meeting with his old tutor Nicholaus many years later in a bookstore in Caesarea, provides the stage for a confrontation between the spiritually tortured Elisha and his former teacher. But rather than support Elisha’s pursuit of “truth” by guiding him back into Greek beliefs, Nicholaus pushes Elisha toward the only path that seems sensible and right for a Jew; the path of Moses.

In some ways, I can relate to both Elisha and Nicholaus. Like Nicholaus, as a non-Jew, I can see great beauty, wisdom, and meaning in the fabric of Jewish ritual, learning, and understanding. Like Elisha, I feel as if I’m struggling to stand between two worlds; the Christian world which is the source of my faith, and the Jewish world which provides clarity and purpose to that faith. I too know what it’s like to be self-tormented, searching the path looking for divine sparks and not letting myself be satisfied with what I already possess.

Elisha’s anguish, and my own, reflects that of Job’s in our shared search for meaning and God, expressed here in Elisha’s own words:

“‘Wherefore,’ he demanded, ‘hidest Thou Thyself from me? Wilt Thou harass a driven leaf?’
“I know how he felt. The great curiosity is like that. It is not a matter of volition. It is a stark inner compulsion, dire necessary. And he against whom it moves has no more choice than a leaf driven by a gale. No, there is no retreat. Forward is the only way.”

Why do you hide your face
and consider me your enemy?
Will you torment a windblown leaf?
Will you chase after dry chaff? –Job 13:24-25

For the past year, I have also been enduring a crisis of faith and like Elisha, seeking answers in unusual places..well, “unusual” relative to modern Christianity which doesn’t typically see a great deal of validity in seeking the Christ within the pages of Talmud and Kabbalah. Yet I have seen the Messiah in the Chasidic writings and found his fingerprints on the pages of the Zohar. How can I relent, when Jewish sages from Hillel to Maimonides teach wisdom that so clearly points to the Master?

In his desperation, Elisha desires to seek out those who his Jewish disciples and peers would categorically reject as pagans and heretics:

“Two courses are before me. I wish first of all to make contact with the Christians and the Gnostics here in Caesarea.”

“What good will that do you?” Nicholaus inquired, wary now.

“It is not impossible that they can teach me some principle to give me direction.”

While a Christian might read these words and rejoice that a Jew is seeking out the grace and salvation of Jesus, for Elisha, this could very well turn out to be a disaster. It is not so much that he sees in Christianity what Judaism lacks, but that he has not allowed his faith to rest on the foundation of his fathers, and for that matter, on the rock of Torah, which the Jewish Messiah continually taught and lived when he walked among men.

Ironically, Elisha’s quest threatened to cost him the very thing he already possessed in Judaism:

“A man has happiness if he possesses three things – those whom he loves and who love him in turn, confidence in the worth and continued existence of the group of which he is a part, and last of all, a truth by which he may order his being.”

AbyssIn a sense, I am prepared to do what Elisha has done and leave my group and to some degree, the truth they follow, in order to seek out what I believe is right for me. Like Elisha, I’m taking a risk of falling completely away from my current expression of faith in order to seek out a greater closeness with God. Like Elisha, I am convinced in the existence of God but am uncertain as to how He may be understood and approached.

Unlike Elisha, I was not born into a people and a tradition built on the holy mount in Jerusalem and forged by the Shechinah at Sinai.

Here’s the danger:

“But look here,” Nicholaus cried, discerning a possibility he had not envisaged before. “Suppose the results of your experiment are not consistent with the Jewish religion?”

Elisha’s voice was strained, as though his throat had tightened, but he did not falter.

“I have considered that possibility, too. I hope it may never become an actuality. Yet, should that be my destiny, I am prepared to assume it.”

Here is what I face:

“I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God.” –Luke 12:8-9

Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
if we are faithless,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot disown himself. –2 Timothy 2:11-13

I don’t say this is a great danger to me, but the challenge exists. Nicholaus called Elisha’s effort an “experiment” but for me, what I am doing is taking a journey and I expect that I will be traveling all of my life. I walk the path before me and risk losing my way. I travel in darkness while seeking the light. I pray that God travels with me and shows me who He is and who I am in Him. May my footsteps follow His as I climb a holy mountain.

As a Driven Leaf is a cautionary tale; it’s Steinberg’s warning that a Jew cannot live in two worlds without the danger of falling away from everything that gives meaning to being a Jew. Friedrich Nietzsche said that “if you gaze into the abyss long enough, the abyss gazes also into you.” Yet like Elisha, I am driven by forces I do not always understand and cannot control, to seek out God in the places where He may be found, even in the darkness of the abyss.

That’s why I write. That’s why I’m here. I am the leaf driven before the wind. Where will I finally alight and take rest?

Only time and God can answer me.

Building a Home

RainA home is more than a house, it is a state of being. A home provides space and shelter, not just for bodies, but for the human spirit.

Who creates this space? Mainly the woman. As it says, “A woman’s wisdom builds her home.”
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Home”
Chabad.org

“There’s no place like home.”
-Dorothy

Sometimes I catch myself saying “I want to go home.” No, it’s not like I’m having a bad day at work and want to go home to wife and hearth. It’s more like I get tired of the various battles of life and I want to go “home” to someplace safe and quiet. It’s not even a feeling that I want to be in a place. It’s more like a sense of nostalgia; stringing together little bits and pieces of my memory and history together from the fabric of my life to create a warm and secure blanket in which to hide.

Then I blink and return to whatever I was doing when that random musing happened upon me.

The world isn’t a safe place. I’m not talking about the physical dangers around us, although they exist, but when I say the world’s not safe, I mean it’s not safe for our souls. It’s not easy to contemplate a life of holiness when everything we’re surrounded by is unholy. It’s difficult to find the tiny and precious pearls in life when they’re covered by a humongous pile of manure. But then, I’m forgetting myself.

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” –John 17:13-19

The Master left the world, but he did not leave us alone:

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” –John 14:15-18

There is much talk in the church about Jesus the Savior and about the comfort and wisdom given to us by the Holy Spirit of God, but I find it more than coincidental that the giving of the spirit, the event Christianity calls Pentacost, comes on Shavuot, or the Festival of Weeks (which is arriving in just a few days), the anniversary of the giving of the Torah to the Children of Israel at Sinai. Is the Torah another “comforter”?

The sages expounded in the language of the Mishnah (blessed is He who chose them and their learning):
Rabbi Meir would say: Whoever studies Torah for Torah’s sake alone, merits many things; not only that, but [the creation of] the entire world is worthwhile for him alone. He is called friend, beloved, lover of G-d, lover of humanity, rejoicer of G-d, rejoicer of humanity. The Torah enclothes him with humility and awe; makes him fit to be righteous, a chassid, correct and faithful; distances him from sin and brings him close to merit. From him, people enjoy counsel and wisdom, understanding and power, as is stated, “Mine are counsel and wisdom, I am understanding, mine is power.” The Torah grants him sovereignty, dominion, and jurisprudence. The Torah’s secrets are revealed to him, and he becomes as an ever-increasing wellspring and as an unceasing river. He becomes modest, patient and forgiving of insults. The Torah uplifts him and makes him greater than all creations. –Pirkei Avot 6:1

While the sages are addressing a Jewish audience, I don’t see anything here that can’t apply to any person who is devoted to God and who clings to His wisdom and teachings. In clinging to the Torah, we are indeed clinging to God, and perhaps there is no difference between what the Apostles received in that upper room of the Temple in Jerusalem (Acts 2:1-4) and what the Children of Israel received from God through the hands of Moses thousands of years before:

Adonai’s Torah is pure, reviving the soul.
Adonai’s testimony is sure, educating the simple.
Adonai’s laws are just, delighting the heart.
Adonai’s command is clear, lighting the eyes.
Adonai will give strength to his people. Adonai will bless his people with peace.
God’s way is pure, and Adonai’s word is clear. He protects all who seek refuge in Him. All you who cling to Adonai your God are alive today.

from the Torah Service portion of
My People’s Prayer Book

Ruby SlippersGod has provided something to comfort us regardless of where we are or what we’re doing. He has given us access to His Spirit, but in more than one way. David, Israel’s greatest King and forerunner of the Messiah, loved God and He cherished His Torah:

One who learns from his fellow a single chapter, or a single law, or a single verse, or a single word, or even a single letter, he must treat him with respect. For so we find with David, king of Israel, who did not learn anything from Achitofel except for two things alone, yet he called him his “master,” his “guide” and his “intimate,” as is stated, “And you are a man of my worth, my guide and intimate friend.” –Pirkei Avot 6:3

Perhaps David expressed his relationship with God, the Torah, and provided the answer to my need for “home” in times of distress, in his most famous Psalm:

A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul; He guideth me in straight paths for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou hast anointed my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. –Psalm 23

David found “home” in the midst of his enemies, yet he feared no evil and lived in the presence of God. His cup overflowed with goodness and he was anointed with oil. In the valley of the shadow of death, he was in God’s house forever.

Rabbi Freeman says that “a women’s wisdom builds her home” and this is very true, but it isn’t always that simple. Beneath the woman’s wisdom and warmth, it is God’s providence that is the foundation of home, both the dwelling of the family and the shelter for the heart. Near the end of the film The Wizard of Oz (1939), we discover that Dorothy had the power to return home to Kansas at any time she wanted. She just had to discover that power within herself. We too have that ability but we have to discover God within ourselves and within the pages of the Torah. When He created the Torah and us, He made it all out of the stuff of Heaven. This is what we use to build “home”.

May the Messiah come soon and in our day.

Two and One

God Made ManLook deeply and you will see that the Torah does not know of man and woman as separate beings. Each act is performed once through a single body—a body that in our world may appear as two, but which the Torah sees as one.

On the contrary, for both to do the same mitzvah would be redundant, for why should one half of the body do what the other has already done?

They are a single whole, whether they know of one another or not. Where does a woman put on tefillin or wear tzitzit? On the body of her male counterpart.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Two Is One
Chabad.org

Today’s “Morning Meditation” is an extension of yesterday’s blog post albeit a more optimistic one. Each day brings its own surprises from Hashem though in my human frailty, I sometimes appreciate some more than others.

Yesterday morning, I was feeling the sting of disagreement with my wife and daughter but later in the day, God showed me reconciliation. Yes, the disturbance in our peace was minor, but that doesn’t mean it was welcome.

Rabbi Freeman had something interesting to say for this morning’s meditation, but before I talk about that, I want to show you what the Master has to say on the subject:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” –Matthew 19:4-6

This teaching uses Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 as its source and most of the time, we blow past “and they become one flesh” and assume this is just poetic language, but look at what Rabbi Freeman is saying in the above-posted quote.

We are two and one in the sense that what the one does, for good or bad, completely affects the other. If a Jewish man obeys the commandment to pray wearing tzitzit (Numbers 15:38; Deuteronomy 22:12) and tefillin (Exodus 13:9; Deuteronomy 6:8), it is as if his wife fulfilled those commandments. If the wife fulfills a different mitzvah, it’s as if her husband did so as well. For those of us who aren’t Jewish, it is the same. When one of us relates to God in any way, it’s as if the spouse has done so as well. This may be what Paul meant here:

To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. –1 Corinthians 7:12-14

I know Rabbi Freeman’s comments could be interpreted as rather “sexist” excuses for why men are required to wear tzitzit and tefillin but not so women, yet we see that even the Apostle Paul defined man and woman as equal under the Master’s grace and yet not alike in form and function (Galatians 3:28). It’s important to extend ourselves beyond modern understanding and try to see God’s intention for making man and woman different in from each other and yet “one flesh”. This is a closeness and intimacy that cannot be found in any other relationship, even between parent and child. This is what we seek when we join ourselves to God. Marriage is the physical realization of our spiritual aspirations.

While husbands and wives don’t always “feel” their oneness together, when they do; when we do, it is like a miracle of God and gratitude is the spontaneous result. We see God’s miracles everyday.

We find in today’s daf that it is possible to obligate oneself to bring a korban todah. This person understands that everything he has is from Hashem and he is filled with gratitude. Daily miracles are no less than a miraculous recovery from illness, escaping a dangerous situation or the like.

But how can one attain a deep appreciation that everything is a gift from Hashem? The Alter of Kelm, zt”l, explains this in depth. “It is very difficult feel hakaras hatov to Hashem since we do not see Hashem’s kindness with our physical eyes. It is only with the mind’s eye that one understands what Hashem is always doing for him. Our first task in feeling gratitude is to undergo an inner transformation. Our intellectual understanding that we must have hakaras hatov must become our deep inner feeling. The more we work to strengthen our feelings of hakaras hatov, the stronger our appreciation will become. Eventually we will begin to recognize the myriads of kindnesses which Hashem does for us at all times.

“But there is a powerful way to develop hakaras hatov. As everyone knows, the reason for berachos—those that we say before partaking of something or those that serve to praise Hashem afterward – help us to focus on what Hashem has given us and expressing thanks for His kindness. A wondrous way to attain hakaras hatov is by focusing on saying berachos with full attention so our hearts are attuned to what we are saying.

“Since our entire day is laced with berachos, it becomes easy for us to acquire hakaras hatov. Each blessing recited carefully helps our awareness of gratitude penetrates deeper and deeper, until we come to truly feel gratitude for everything that Hashem has done for us. Truly a wondrous way to work on this trait!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories off the Daf
The Daily Thanksgiving Offering
Menachos 81

In reading this, I wonder why there isn’t a blessing thanking God for our spouse and our marriage.

We’ve seen in the news recently how, when marriage goes terribly wrong, especially with a couple in the public eye, it seems to invalidate the “sanctity of marriage” as instituted by God and make way for interpretations of “marriage” that God never intended (Leviticus 18:22; Romans 1:27).

Two and OneHowever, there is a difference between God’s desires for men and women and what human beings do with their will and their desires. I previously quoted Rabbi Freeman in another of his commentaries on marriage and how a man and a woman must be different in nature and character in order for the two to effectively and productively become one. In order for marriage to be marriage, the “one flesh” must be one man and one woman:

When the Infinite Light emanated a world, It did so with two minds, two states of consciousness. One mind sees from above to below—and so, all is insignificant before it. From above to below, there is no world, only One.

The other mind sees from below to above—and so all of creation is G-dly to it. From below to above, there is a world to point to the Oneness.

At the nexus of these two minds, at the crux of their paradox, there shines the very Essence of the Infinite Light.

The first mind descended into man; the second into woman.

That is why the man has the power to conquer and subdue, but he lacks a sense of the other.

That is why the woman feels the other. She does not conquer, she nurtures. But her light is tightly constrained and so she is full of harsh judgments.

As they bond together, the man sweetens the judgment of the woman and the woman teaches the man to feel the other. And in that union shines the very Essence of the Infinite.

While it can be frustrating and even disillusioning to encounter the differences in your husband or wife, how they see the world in a separate way and how that separateness can contribute to disagreements and strife, a marriage needs those two radically different lenses in order to bring God into focus.

If you have no “other”; no partner in life, everything I’ve said up until now probably seems unfair, but people were not made to be alone. The man Adam was not truly satisfied with his lot in life until God made Eve (Havah), a helper; a woman suitable for him (Genesis 1:20-22). I’ve been married for 28 years and my relationship with my wife continues to see challenges. We continue to frustrate each other and upset each other from time to time. Sometimes it seems like life would be easier if we were apart. And then God reminds us why He joined us together.

Then our lives become glorious all over again when God sees the two of us as one.

"When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness." -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman