A Dvar Torah: The Month of Adar


This Hebrew month is called Adar. From one perspective of calculating the Jewish calendar, it is the last or 12th month of the Jewish year. Adar is connected to the Hebrew word Adir which implies strength. Adar is the month of good fortune for the Jewish people – in fact the Talmud states that we should actually settle legal disputes in the month of Adar because of its good luck.

Interestingly, Adar is the only month of the Jewish calendar that we repeat in the instance of a leap year.

The month of Adar is associated with the zodiac sign of Pisces – in Hebrew dagim. This mazal or sign is symbolic in Judaism of blessing and fruitfulness, so Adar is the month of blessing and fruitfulness. More so, we are told:

Mi shenichnas Adar Marbim be simcha!

With the month of Adar we should increase our joy.

But how? We don’t actually do anything different – we don’t add anything to our prayers, we are not told to behave differently, just to increase our joy.

The source for this idea is in the Gemara which comments that just as when the month of Av arrives we reduce our joy, so when the month of Adar arrives we increase our joy. The reason that the Gemara gives is that Adar is the month of Purim closely followed by pesach which is a time of redemption – both are times of great miracles for the people of Israel.

Furthermore, we are commanded to always worship Gd “bsimcha” so if we are not changing anything how to we actualise this in the month of Adar? How do we Marbim be simcha?
First I want to give a very textual explanation and then I will give a more personal one:
The midrash tells us that when hashem commanded Moshe to build the Mishkan he made a request: asei li kiton echad v’edor beineichem (make for me a small chamber, a mishkan, so that I may live in your midst.). The Sfat Emet explains v’edor (and I will dwell) is related to the word Adar – the very name of this month implies that hashem is dwelling in our midst. Furthermore, all the Torah portions that we read during Adar are connected to the building of the Mishkan. On a very deep, spiritual level, it is this closeness that differentiates Adar and is supposed to bring us such enormous joy. It is the notion of Hashem’s closeness that is the greatest source of simcha.
But that is quite a difficult thing for most me to attain and even comprehend so I wanted to draw a more personal connection.
Yesterday at a funeral that I attended, the Rabbi commented that while all of us were rejoicing in Adar, the family of the deceased were destined to mourn in sorrow. I found myself wondering about the nature of this “simcha” that we are expected to find in this month of Adar. How do you find this joy if you are indeed in mourning? 
It seems to me that the answer lies in the very meaning of Purim, the culmination of Adar׳s simcha
Purim. The festival that celebrates all that is hidden, a time when we dress up to emphasize the illusive, when we eat food like hamantaschen filled with hidden deliciousness, when we revel in all that we cannot see – when we tell a story that glorifies Hashem’s but never mentions his name. It is the festival that forces us to look long and hard and deep at everything in order to find the magic that makes us unique and life worth living.

mi Shenichnas Adar Marbim b’simcha

The simcha is not the laugh out loud wedding simcha that so often represents only a fleeting surface joy. Rather it is the lasting warm satisfaction that comes from connections with others, from friendships, relationships and accomplishments. 
So you can mourn and still experience the simcha of Adar on some level because in the act of remembering itself there is an expression of Adar, bringing what is hidden to the fore and experiencing joy, albeit fleeting, at that memory.


The Funeral of the Three Boys, Sara Yocheved Rigler


It is timely that I read this article in Sara Yocheved Rigler’s book ‘Heaven Prints’. This book is made up of a selection of article which have been published in a range of different places. I’ve been reading it slowly, over time, an article here and an article there, savouring the words of wisdom and the incredible insight of one of my mentors. I couldn’t find this article on the Internet so I have typed up parts of it here so that you too can share in these insights. I felt it timely in the wake of the tragic murders of Rav Henkin and Rabbanit Henkin that I should read exactly these words …

Envy me. Because I was at the funeral. When I heard the news that our three boys Naftali, Eyal, and Gilad had been murdered, my heart broke. The funeral glued it back together.

… We chose to go to the hesped of Naftali Fraenkel in Nof Ayalon. Scored of buses, hundreds of cars, thousands of mourners.

… And then Naftali’s mother Racheli spoke. It was she, the only fluent English speaker among the six parents, who had represented the parents of these boys at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. It was she who had rallied all of Am Yisrael into an army of prayer, doing mitzvahs, and unity. It was she, speaking to a group of children who told her proudly that they were praying for her son, who worried that they might face a crisis of faith. She told them, “Children, I want to tell you something. I believe with all my heart that they will return. But whatever happens, whatever happens … Hashem is not our employee. You shouldn’t be broken if something else happens, O.K.? I believe that they will return quickly.”

Now here she stood, her hopes dashed, her worst nightmare come true, and she did what she had done throughout those wrenching eighteen days: she expressed gratitude! She thanked the solders and the police – a pointed reference indeed, since so many had blamed the incompetence of the police personnel (since fired) who did not immediately report the phone call from one of the abducted boys.

She declared: “Dear soldiers, intelligence forces, and police, we thank you very, very much. You promised that you would find them and bring them home. And you did. Also, this is a great chesed. We are not taking it for granted.”

Rejecting the idea of ‘random evil’ and referring to the murderers as ‘hunters’, she spoke to her son and the other boys, “HaKadosh Boruch Hu chose you as His poster children – as the opposite of them – of good, purity, and love.”

Then, standing beside the aron of her son, Racheli Fraenkel, her voice breaking, did something that carved an impression deep into my soul: she thanked God! “From the first day, we said to ourselves that even if it ends badly, HaKadosh Boruch Hu gave us an outpouring of blessings.” Through her tears, she proceeded to count her blessings, “We are so rich – with wonderful children, youths with nobility of spirit, incomparably wonderful brothers and sisters, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, a strong and empowering community …”

The ultimate example of focusing on what you have rather than what you lack! Racheli Fraenkel was not declaring the glass half full. She was peering over the edge of a deep pit and thanking Hashem for His benificence.

… she concluded: “Rest in peace, my boy. We will learn to sing without you, but we will always hear your voice inside of us.”

No blaming God, no cries of ‘unfair’, no accusations against Divine justice, no questioning, no wondering how evil could prevail… the family led the thousands of mourners to accept that God is in control and that this was a Divine decree that in no way dimishes all the good that God does. The paste that glued my heart back together was the faith and fortitude of the Fraenkel family.

The unity forged by our ordeal was evident throughout the funeral. Several tents offered shade…. A man on a motorcycle distributed small bottles of water. Parched people crowded around him. The last bottle went to tall young man. Noticing a middle-aged woman behind him, he handed the bottle to her and moved on. She saw three girls with empty bottles and poured half of the new bottle into one of theirs.

We had come to bury three innocents murdered by evil men, and everyone accepted, painfully accepted, that this was a decree from God. Who is just and fair. Mi’K’amcha Yisrael! Such faith! Such fortitude!

On my hike bake to our car, I passed a large, hand-painted sign hung on the back of a bus: “Am ha’netzach lo mi’fached mei’haderech aruchah: THE ETERNAL NATION IS NOT AFRAID OF THE LONG JOURNEY.”

That said it all.

I was looking for something to clarify my despair over the incomprehensible murders of last week, over the newly orphaned children and the sorrow of the families of both Eitam and Naama Henkin. I found it in this article. Hopefully you will find some comfort here too.

A Different Perspective on Challah


I recently had the pleasure of speaking at a Challah Baking event in honour of two special girls. I’d like to share my words with you:

Take a moment and think about the basic ingredients of challah: flour, water, yeast, sugar, salt, eggs, oil. There are 7- and today is the 7th of September.
7 is a special number in Judaism.
There are 7 days of creation, 7 days of the week, we have 7 major Jewish holidays, Shavuot, when we rejoice receiving the Torah, comes 7 weeks after the holiday of Pesach, which celebrates the freedom of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, both festivals last for 7 whole days. And there are more meanings to the number 7 – Rosh Hashana falls in the 7th month, Moshe was the 7th generation after Abraham, born on the 7th of Adar, Batsheva – the 7th daughter – was Moshe’s wife. A succah has to be a minimum of 7 by 7 hand breadths in size and on Succot we shake the lulav and etrog, signifying the 7 species for which the Land of Israel is praised. In Israel, this year is a shmittah year, the seventh in the agricultural cycle when the land is left to rest and this shmittah year is actually the 7th or last in the cycle of shmita years.
All of these 7s are central to how we perform our Jewish practices.
In the same way that each of the seven ingredients of challah alone has little value, gaining magnitude only when they are combined, so too in our performance or Judaism, we have to combine our practice of many rites and rituals in order to make it complete.
But, challah doesn’t just have 7 ingredients. Anyone who makes it regularly will tell you that no matter how you do it, what recipe you use, each challah you make will taste different to the one you made before. Each one is unique. And this is because the key ingredient to challah, one of the reasons why it is a women’s mitzvah, is love. The love we put into our careful measuring, our mixing, our kneading, the devotion that we weave into our dough is what makes challah such a unique mitzvah.
And so it is that challah is really about 8 – the basic 7 ingredients and the piece of ourselves that we add.
And in Judaism, while 7 is the world we live in, eight is the world that fills the lives we lead with depth, meaning and spirituality – and that is our greatest challenge: to infuse the commonplace, natural, physical, pedestrian activities of life with the refined spices of kindness, integrity, spirituality and the pursuit of meaning. (http://www.simpletoremember.com/jewish/blog/lucky-number-8/)
8 are the days leading to the Bris, 8 are the days of Channukah and 8 are also the levels of tzedakah as defined by Maimonides.
And so it is that challah is connected to tzedakah.
Challah literally refers to the portion of dough that we remove and offer up to Hashem.
In biblical times, there was a practical reason for doing this –  the challah that Bnei Yisrael (Children of Israel) took helped feed the cohanim (high priests) who served in the Temple. Today, we have no Temple and our cohanim are not employed in this holy service. So, why do we bother? Why can’t we keep the dough all for ourselves? What does Hashem want with this small offering? Wouldn’t he be better off with a square of chocolate or a piece of Bobbi’s cake or maybe the biggest kneidel swimming in a bowl of delicious, hot chicken soup? And, why do we offer uncooked dough? Surely baked challah would be more sumptuous?
Clearly, there has to be something more to this practice. Not only was the act of separating challah about tzedakah but this gift of challah is actually a metaphor for human beings, for how we behave, for the responsibilities we have in this world.
By separating a small piece of dough we symbolically assert that our lives are full, that we have enough blessings to share.
Yes, we could keep the dough all to ourselves, but by doing that we would in fact land up separating ourselves from others, from communities, deny ourselves the opportunity to grow. We would always be alone.
The word challah is derived from the Hebrew word chol – chet, vav, lamed. When we create challah out of chol, we simply add the heh – the letter that signifies G-d. Similarly, in our actions, by taking the most basic element of physicality – an uncooked piece of challah – and elevating it to connect with Hashem, we assert that we have the power to take anything ordinary and make it great, elevate it with kedusha (holiness). We perform hafrashat challah, the separation of challah in order to engage with what Sara Yocheved Rigler calls life’s most important ‘app’ – appreciation.
Appreciation is central to why we are all here tonight, because we appreciate all we have, because we appreciate each other and most importantly, because we believe that together we can make a difference and change the world.
One way to do this is through tzedakah.
Tzedakah is one practical expression of chesed or loving kindness,
Rav Wolbe teaches: “just as people differ in their personalities, so too do their needs differ. Someone who wishes to be a true practitioner of chesed must train himself to see and listen to what the other is lacking.”
The root of the word tzedakah is tzedek which means justice or righteousness. Charity normally connotes benevolence, but when we give tzedakah, we believe that we have simply done the right thing. According to Rabbi Becher, this belief is based on the concept that everything we have is a gift from Hashem and that we are duty bound to share it.
By giving tzedakah we express our ultimate appreciation for all that we have and in doing so, not only do we change the world, we also do what is tzedek for our souls, we grow.
So my blessing for all of you at this sweet time it year is: be a giver. Be someone who is full to overflowing and who revels in every opportunity to help others. Be the kind of person who is noticed for your chesed and your tzedakah.
Don’t be satisfied with a 7. Rather be a ‘plus 1’,  aim to be an 8 and to always add that special part of yourself to everything you do, that something which defines you as unique, something which will help others and will also help you to grow.
And as we strive to change at this auspicious and holy time of year, I ask you all to think about giving just one more – one more dollar, one more minute of your time, one more ounce of appreciation. And while you are doing this, please think of the life of Dr Henri Sueke, that it may be a blessing. Tie your plus with him at http://www.36plus1.org
Wishing you all a shana tova u’metukah and gmar chatima tova. Chag Sameach.



Eyal, Gilad, Naftali.

Gilad, Eyal, Naftali.

Naftali, Gilad, Eyal.

Three boys. Our three boys.

I have listened to many shiurim, been to tefillah groups, davened, called out to Hashem to brings these boys home safely, speedily. We can so easily lay the blame for this tragedy at the feet of any number of parties – it’s the fault of the Palestinians, the boys shouldn’t have tried to ‘tramp’ home, it’s our own fault – why didn’t we do more mitzvot, daven more, speak less lashon hara? Why? Why? Why?

We can so easily be caught up in this game of blame.

Instead, I have chosen to revel in this wonderful thing that is the broader Jewish community, a global entity that lives and breathes in all of us. A spiritual, non tangible thing that draws us in like super glue, catching us in its wave and flowing over us with warmth. How blessed are we that we belong in this way, that we have a connection to other people, that when tragedy strikes, there is an outpouring of support from all corners of the Earth and beyond, that we are never alone.

I can’t help thinking about those Nigerian girls, still missing, still lost. Where is their ongoing wave of support? Where is their community crying out for their return?

I can’t begin to imagine the trauma that these families are experiencing, the shock of not knowing, the uncertainty of it all. I can feel the love, though, and surely, it is that that will bring them through this, out into the other side? Surely, knowing that you are not alone counts for something?

So, instead of doubting or questioning, recommit yourself to the magic of this Jewish community, join in the wave of Jewish commitment and continuity. Add something more to your Mitzvah plate – it can be anything. Smile at someone, take a moment to rejoice in this beautiful world that Hashem has created for us. And do it all in the name of #GiladEyalNaftali, that they should be speedily and safely returned.


Shoftim: Yael


Well, we have finished Pirkei Avot – finally! – and have now plunged into Sefer Shoftim, not to be confused with Parsha Shoftim. 

I listened to a fascinating shiur by Kochava Yitzchak which detailed the role of Yael in the Sefer and her connection to Eshet Chayil. I thought it was well worth sharing so I have transcribed the Shiur and pasted it below. Please bear in mind that they are my notes so you would be better off listening to the actual Shiur. I hope you all enjoy it!

Women of Valour: Yael

Yaldeya shilcha … Eshet Chayil – she stretches her hands out to the distaff and her palms hold the spindle (spinning wool)

Midrash: She sends her hand out to the spindle = Yael. Why is she described this way? Wool/spinning instruments are typically female instruments. Yael embraced this feminine aspect of herself. When Yael in her moment of heroism had to kill Sisra she did not use a sword, rather she used a tent peg with the strength of her hands. Why didn’t she use a weapon of war? She was very sensitive to a pasuk in the Torah that a woman should not use a male instrument and a man should not use a woman’s instrument – – what is going on here?? What is the point of this explanation?? What are we supposed to learn?

Jewish people living in Israel, there is no king and the people have been living there for about 100 years. The rulers are judges/shoftim. At the time the leader was Devorah. For 20 year the people were being oppressed by a King called Yavin, king of C’naan. Why is there another king ruling over the land of Israel? Even though Joshua had conquered Israel, the Canaanites had been trying to establish control and had settled a capital city in the centre of the region. Sisra was a general and had achieved great heights. All he was missing was Israel to make his ultimate conquest. He has a big army (9000 iron chariots) and all he needs to do is conquer Israel.

Hashem had told Devorah that he was going to create a battle and the Jewish people were going to triumph. The battle ensues, Devorah is in charge and all the soldiers were killed and only Sisra remains – the most dangerous of them all. Sisra runs to the tent of Yael, the wife of Chever who comes from the people of the Kaynim – Yitro was from the Kaynim. Chever is from this tribe and is married to Yael and Sisra runs there because there was peace between the King of C’naan and the family of the Kayni so he thought that it would be a safe place for him to go.

Yael understands that he is coming and she realizes the import of this event so she goes out to meet Sisra – who else goes out of her tent? Leah too goes out of her tent to great her husband. Yael is compared to Leah – when a woman goes out of her tent there is an implication … Yael beckons him and covers him with a blanket (smecha) – sura, sura adoni – come, turn aside, come to me …. He asks for water and instead of getting it she goes to her container of milk and gives it to him and he starts to doze off. She kills him with a tent peg – bloody scene. Barak is running outside, he had been following Sisra. Yael goes out to greet (again she goes out of her tent) Barak and calls him to show him that Sisra is dead.

What was so amazing out Yael that this tremendous victory came through her? Simple say the Rabbis, she was a kosher Jewish woman who did the will of her husband… She does the will of her husband – she brings to life (gives reality) all the new energy from her husband. (Read Pasuk and listen to the words and the music – hissing …sly)…

Yael was not typical – she was the kind of woman who when you met her, you did not forget her. There were 4 women who inspired lust, passion, desire in other men in various ways –

–       Rachav = was a prostitute and she inspired lust with her name.

–       Yael = inspired lust with her voice. This was part of her greatness (she did not abuse this power). She knew she had magic in her voice!

–       Avigal = she inspired passion just by remembering her.

–       Michal Bat Shaul = inspired passion by her appearance.

Why does she get the milk? She needed to know what he had in mind – milk can get you drunk – real milk straight from the cow – she wants to know the truth about his intentions. When he had drunk he demanded that she do something inappropriate. Once she understood his true intention she had to take action.

Debate: Did Yael actually do anything with Sisra? Gemara tells us: it is greater to do a sin when you are doing it for the sake of a mitzvah – this has more value than doing a mitzvah for your own selfish purposes. Yael is the proof for this notion – seems to indicate that she compromised herself for lofty intentions.

Devorah sings a song of praise to Hashem and among the people she praises is Yael. She says of Yael: Yael should be blessed above all other women because he asked for water and she gave him milk/cream etc. He fell/knelt/lay between her feet, and there where he fell, he vanquished – number of verbs for falling = 7 verbs > from this pasuk the Rabbis understand that he had relations with her seven times. Or, perhaps this is just for emphasis?

Blanket: with a ‘sin’ not a ‘samech’ (semicha) – not repeated elsewhere in this way, therefore can’t just be a blanket = shmi co – my name is here (Hashem), Hashem is testifying that Sisra did not touch Yael.

Who are the women of the tent? Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, Leah – the women who preserved everything that was holy and sacred in the tent. Had it not been for Yael then the evil Sisra would have killed off the Jewish people.  So, while Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, Leah brought the Jewish people in to the world, Yael allowed their survival.

Don’t think that Yael was abusing the power of her voice (her voice makes her unlikely to be one of the women of the tent) – she is always referred to as “the wife of chever” – she embraced her role as a wife.

Three people in the Torah were put in a terrible test of sexual immorality, and were able to successfully pass the test and Hashem added his name to their name: Yosef (Tehillim he is called Yehosef) and Potifar’s wife, Yael (Ya-El – the name of Hashem is upon her), Palti

Batya also sends her hand to grab something – Moshe – from the teyva (same letters BATYA = TEYVA). Yael sends her hand she grabs the tent peg. Rabbis make a connection between these women – Batya’s basket and Yael’s tent peg = if not for the basket you would never have a tent peg. Connection: if Batya had not sent her hand to grab the basket with baby Moshe then we would never have a Moshe. But, she did. Moshe grows up, gets into trouble by standing up for the Jews, kills the Egyptian and gets in trouble with Paro who wants to kill him. Moshe runs away to Yitro. Yitro takes him in at his own danger and gives his daughter for Moshe to marry. Because Yitro took Moshe in, he merits to have an offspring (Chever) who is going to marry Yael who is going to kill Sisra who is a reincarnation of Paro.

 Cain and Abel (Adam’s children) > Cain kills Abel because Abel was born with two twin sisters and Cain was born with only 1 twin sister. Cain wants Abel’s second sister. – this was confusing.

What does it mean to be Eshet Chayil? The secret of an EC is that you pull out of your pocket whatever character trait is necessary in that moment.

Another woman who stands in stark contrast to Yael – here is Yael who does not abuse her power, she is contrasted with Sisra’s mother who looks out of the window and cries > where is Sisra? Her ladies in waiting imply that Sisra is out enjoying the spoils of war – two wombs for each man, it will take time. Sisra – his name encapsulates his downfall. Sisra = turning aside (lasur = to get off your straight path and turn aside.).

Compare Yael to Leah – Leah comes out of her tent while Yaacov was riding on his donkey which Hashem ensured made donkey noises. That night, Leah and Yaacov are together and she conceives Yisachar. When Yisachar gets his blessings he is compared to a donkey because a donkey carries a heavy burden. Yisachar carried the burden of Torah, the yoke of Torah. Another woman who goes out = when Yael goes out (like Leah) to greet Sisra (just like Leah goes out for Yaacov) and Leah and Yaacov created Yisachar, so too when Yael went out to Sisra she created Rabbi Akiva – not Yael’s direct child but a descendent of Sisra. Rabbi Akiva is a reincarnation of Yisachar. Rabbi Akiva for the first 40 years of his life he was not Torah observant but he also hated Torah scholars. He used to say that if he found a Torah scholar on the street he would bite him like a donkey.

Switch around the letters of Yael’s name and you get Eli from the story of Chana. Yael, the woman of the tent, comes back as Eli who is the High Priest in the mishkan. Yael’s husband is Chever. Chever was originally Rachav (prostitute), same shoresh. Chever gets reincarnated as Chana.

Yael spins wool and linen – Shatnez. Cain and Abel – Cain was a shepherd, a man of wool and Abel was a man of the field, a man of flax seeds, linen. Cain and Abel represent wool and linen – two different lifestyles. Yael knew how to combine the wool and the linen successfully. She knows how to use her power of linen (outside) and to take her power of wool (inside) and combine them so that they work successfully together and does not cause tragedy for her. Wool and linen exist in tzitzit (wool strings and linen garment) and also in the clothing of the cohanim – when Yael comes back as Eli there is a connection… a High Priest is an all encompassing being… like Yael.

Pirkei Avot, Chapter 3:3


רבי שמעון אומר, שלושה שאכלו על שולחן אחד, ולא אמרו עליו דברי תורה–כאילו אכלו מזבחי מתים, שנאמר “כי כל שולחנות, מלאו קיא צואה, בלי, מקום” (ישעיהו כח,ח).  אבל שלושה שאכלו על שולחן אחד, ואמרו עליו דברי תורה–כאילו אכלו משולחנו של מקום ברוך הוא, שנאמר “וידבר אליי–זה השולחן, אשר לפני ה'” (יחזקאל מא,כב

R. Shimon would say: Three who eat at a single table and do not say words of Torah are akin to those who eat from idolatrous offerings as it says “For all tables are full of filthy vomit and no pace is clean” (Yeshayahu 28:8). However, three who eat at a single table and say words of Torah are like those that partake from God’s table as it says: “This is the table that is before God” (Yechezkel 41: 22). (Avot 3:3)


From CHABAD: On the surface, Rabbi Shimon’s message is simple and straightforward: utilize your mealtimes to share the wisdom of Torah.  This way, the mundane activity of eating becomes a lofty and G-dly endeavor.

But surely the same applies to a single diner or to many who eat scattered about the room. Why “three who eat”?  And why specifically when they eat at “one table”?  On a deeper level, Rabbi Shimon conveys the true significance of our need for food.

Hunger In Two Dimensions

The human being consists of two primary components: the physical body and the soul that gives it life and direction.  The same is true of every created thing: its physicality and substance is but its outer husk. Within is a “soul,” an inner, spiritual essence and significance.

Ultimately, the soul of the entire universe is one: the drive to fulfill its Creator’s will. At creation, this unified “soul” splintered into a myriad of individual “sparks” that now form the core of every created thing.

But unlike the human soul, who exercises will and choice, all other creatures are passive containers of their purpose and utility.  They depend upon man, the crown and apex of G-d’s creation, to develop and utilize them in accordance with the Creator’s design.  It is man to whom the Torah, which outlines this design, has been given, and it is man who has been granted the franchise and the tools to implement it.

So the soul of man descends into the trials and trappings of physical life in order to gain access to these “sparks of holiness”:  By investing itself within a physical body which will eat, clothe itself, and otherwise make use of the objects and forces of the physical universe, the soul redeems the “sparks” that they incorporate.  For when man utilizes something, directly or indirectly, to serve G-d’s will, he penetrates its shell of mundanity, revealing and realizing its function within the essence and purpose of existence.

This explains a most puzzling fact of life: Why is it that man derives life and sustenance from the animal, vegetable, and mineral worlds?  How is it that the highest form of life is dependent upon these lower tiers of creation?

But in truth, man’s need of the nutrients that his environment provides him (and the many other material resources that sustain and enhance his life) is the manner in which these elements reach fulfillment.  When man makes positive use of the energy he derives from them, they become elevated to a station they could never attain on their own.  They become an integral part of a conscious, willful being who elects to serve the Almighty.  The meat of the beast, the grain in the bread, the water that quenches our thirst, these become the essence of an act of charity, an hour expended in the study of G-d’s wisdom, a feeling of love for G-d in prayer.

In this way, Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch explained the verse: “The hungry and thirsty, in them does their soul wrap itself.”   A person desiring food may sense only his body’s hunger; but, in truth, his physical craving is the external expression of a deeper yen.  “Wrapped within” is his soul’s hunger for the sparks of holiness that are the object of his mission in life.

Three At One

When a person sits to eat there are three partners to the endeavor: his body, his soul, and the food–the vital glue that keeps body and soul together as a living organism.

But if his eating is dominated by the perspective of Torah, these “three who eat” do so at a single table.  Their eating is an act of unification, a revelation of the underlying oneness of creation and its connection to the One Creator.

New Beginnings: Yom Kippur, Tu B’Av and Tisha B’Av


This article explores the connection between Tu’B’av, Tisha’Be’Av and Yom Kippur. It is taken from morim-madrichim.org.

A full moon on a summer night. A dry, refreshing breeze caresses the hills. The perfume of ripened fruit floods the air. White, diaphanous dresses play in the moonlight and shadow of flourishing vineyards. Young people laugh and dance, going beyond the city walls in search of love.

According to the Talmud (Talmud Bavli, Tractate Ta’anit 30b-31a), this idyllic scene used to take place every 15 Av on the outskirts of Yerushalayim, only a few days after the fast commemorating the saddest day of the year, Tisha B’Av.

The two days, which appear absolutely irreconcilable, are actually united by more than their closeness in time. What is even more surprising is that this double act is a part of a triple: Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel (Ta’anit 4:8) considered Yom Kippur and Tu B’Av to be a pair, the two happiest days in the Jewish calendar.

The eyes, the heart, explorers, and discovery.

Tisha B’Av is a kind of North Star, a trusted guide to heartfelt love on a path we have a chance to discern on Tu B’Av. How so?

Twelve were the explorers—meraglim–sent out by Moshe. For forty days they remained in Eretz Kna’an before they returned to the desert. Their mission was clear: Latur et ha’aretz (“to discover, to explore the land”) (Num. 13). According to our rabbanim, the final report, and the consequent reaction in the hearts of the people upon hearing it (to weep and complain all night long), determined that the people’s entry into the Promised Land would be postponed by an entire generation (forty years). G_d was imagined as having declared: “These people have cried for no reason at all. I’ll give them a reason to cry on this day for all eternity!” The day on which this happened was identified as 9 Av.

We know that what we see depends on which glass we look through. And the meraglim looked upon the land with eyes and hearts lacking in faith.

The miracles (magnificent and grandiloquent, the exodus from Mitzraim, the crossing of the sea and the desert, the gift of the Torah and manna) were apparently not enough to instill belief.

On the subject of these paradigmatic meraglim, Rashi in his take on the Midrash Tanchuma, Shelach 15 (“they should not explore by following their hearts” – the heart and the eyes being the agents of the body that lead the body astray), changes its language slightly but significantly, maintaining that “The heart and the eyes are the spies of the body. They introduce it to sin: The eye sees, the heart desires, and the body transgresses.”

And one more factor adds complication to our reflections: Who leads? Do the eyes lead the heart or vice versa? Is it that, within the realm of all existing things and possibilities, we can see only what we desire? Or, do we desire because we pause to see?

Whatever the case, the Torah immediately offers us an antidote. So as not to repeat the errors of our ancestors in the desert, we have reminders: effective, forceful, daily reminders.

On the one hand, the mitzvah puts into perspective the tzitzit, which were given to us immediately after the episode involving the meraglim and which share etymology (latur, taturu), parashah, and semantics with that term.

More specifically, contemplation of the tzitzit symbolizes the opposite path from that leading to the spies’ transgression. It leads to adoption of a perspective nourished by faith, thus enabling us to explore the world fully, not merely with our eyes and the desires of our hearts.

Apparently this is the first tool any successful explorer should have to hand, and Av indicates that it is a conduit to true love: to choices based not only on the sense of sight and on desire but also on the spirit and faith.

The other element of the triplet, as suggested earlier, is Yom Kippur, which shares with Tu B’Av not only profound joy but also the transcendental values represented by this holiday.

Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur lead us to new beginnings that are the fruit of a time of introspection, far from the predominantly material considerations that dominate our lives throughout the rest of the year: one such new beginning is found in our interpersonal relations and the other in the intimacy of our own being.

Even in the midst of this idyllic scene of courtship and seduction on summer nights among vineyards, we are reminded that our vision and desires must be guided by values that transcend them.

None of the girls wore their own gowns. Instead, they submitted to the demand that their white dresses not belong to them but be borrowed, so that none of the men would be tempted to choose a woman on the basis of her social or material circumstances or the fanciness of her attire. And, although this requirement made it perfectly clear what the focus of the male’s attention should be, the women–who imposed the rules governing the scene of seduction–would proclaim: “Do not choose me for my beauty but for the good name of my family and for my respect and fear of G_d.” Don’t choose me on account of what you see, but on account of what I believe in, on account of what constitutes me.

These values are more than attractive items for a woman to carry in her purse, or a man in his pocket. They are reliable signposts providing guidance that points the way home, so that we don’t get lost in tortuous alleyways.