Loving Peace Versus Pursuing Peace

“Moses and Aaron with the Elders,”    by Marc Chagall

A teaching of Moshe Chaim Efraim, from Degel Mahane Efraim, Parshat Acharei Mot.

וְכִפֶּר הַכֹּהֵן אֲשֶׁר יִמְשַׁח אֹתוֹ וַאֲשֶׁר יְמַלֵּא אֶת יָדוֹ לְכַהֵן תַּחַת אָבִיו וְלָבַשׁ אֶת בִּגְדֵי הַבָּד בִּגְדֵי הַקֹּדֶש And the Kohen, the one who is anointed, who is invested to serve in his father’s stead, shall effect atonement, and he shall don the linen garments, the holy garments. Leviticus 16:32

This verse is difficult, for it would have been sufficient to say “the Kohen shall wear the holy clothing.” Why the lengthy wording “the one who is anointed, who is invested to serve in his father’s stead”? The great Torah commentators have said many things on this verse, picking up the nuances within it, each explaining it and renewing the holy Torah in his own way, given to him by God according to his own form of divine service, and surely there are wonderful secrets in each and every letter. Now let us too say in our own way what God has graced us in His mercy and great lovingkindness to say.

Let’s begin with the saying of the sages, “The way of Aaron is to love peace and pursue peace, loving his fellows and bringing them close to Torah” (1). Now “pursuing” means never ceasing — but that is impossible! I will explain it with a parable I heard from my [grand]father and master [the Baal Shem Tov], of a wise and skilled physician who was gifted in matters of the human temperaments. When he came to a seriously ill person, he would listen to him and know just the right medicine to give him, though it would be acrid and bitter, and sometimes dangerous or even fatal in the hands of a lesser physician.

By this we can understand the saying of the sages, for it is known that Aaron’s way was that, when there was an argument, he would go to the parties involved and tell each one that the other was pained by their disagreement and wished to make up, and so make peace between them (2). And so he would not only restore peace but also bring them closer to the Torah, for when they considered how the High Priest troubled himself to visit each of them individually, and how he humbled himself before them to repair the damage they had caused themselves, they would be ashamed of their troublesome ways and repent and return to the Torah. But what of a foolish and prideful person, who does not recognize his own lowliness and thinks it only right that the High Priest should come appease him? For such a person Aaron would change his way, pursuing him relentlessly to humble him and show him his own faults, so that he should be able to make peace with his fellow and his Father who is in heaven and return to the Torah. And this is what is hinted at by “to love peace and pursue peace.” Sometimes Aaron would act as peacemaker, but he was also permitted to pursue someone — even though such a thing is not from the way of lovingkindness (hasidut) — because Aaron never did a single thing for himself, but only for the sake of heaven. Thus when the situation called for it he was able to set aside the ways of peace and take up the ways of the world.

Understand, in this he was like the physician of the parable and also by this we can understand our initial verse, which shows us the upright way to behave with our fellows. For the word vekhiper (usually translated “[the priest] shall atone for him”) can also mean “he shall propitiate him” (3); so the Torah commands the Kohen to propitiate his fellow. The tzaddik too, like the Kohen in our verse, must understand again and again how to purify his fellow Jews from their iniquity, and which Kohen can do such a thing? The one who is anointed by God for the task…who is free of selfishness and has no desire but to serve God. Such a person may don the “holy garments” of his station, that is, sometimes he assumes a role and a way of being that is not really his nature, but which he takes on in the service of God. For example, he may act sternly in order to humble a person who needs humbling, but all the while he is aware that it is not he who acts in this way, but rather it is as if the clothes of his station do so, and he is able to act in this way only because he has no desire of his own but to serve G0d.


1) Pirkei Avot 1:12    2) Avot d’Rebbe Natan 12:3 tells the following: How should one “love peace”? Love peace between fellows, like Aaron did, as it says, The teaching of truth was in his mouth, and injustice was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and with fairness, and turned many away from iniquity. (Malachi 2:6)  Rabbi Meir says: Why does it say, and turned many away from iniquity? When Aaron walked along the road and met an evil man, he greeted him. Later, if that man wished to sin, he would say to himself, ‘Woe is me! How will I face Aaron afterwards? I’ll be ashamed, for he greeted me.’ As a result, he will not sin. When two men fought, Aaron sat with one of them and said, ‘Son, let me tell you what your friend is doing. He beats his breast and tears his clothing, crying, Woe is me! How can I face my friend after mistreating him so? I am terribly ashamed of what I did to him. Aaron stayed with him until he had removed all resentment from his heart. Then he would sit with the other and say the same thing, until he too no longer resented his friend.  When the two met they would hug and kiss each other. That is why it says [when Aaron died], The entire family of Israel mourned Aaron for thirty days. (Numbers 20:29)   3) as in the phrase  akhparah fanav from Genesis 32:21, in which Jacob seeks to make peace with his brother Esau after years of estrangement.

Jeff says…

To my ear, the message in this teaching is all in what the Degel doesn’t say. Perhaps addressing the leaders of his generation, the Degel explains at great length (even this version is abridged) the level of selflessness and disengagement the tzaddik must reach before he can rebuke another. The rest of us (and here’s the silent teaching) must leave off the role of “pursuing” others in our attempt to get them on the right path, and instead take the way of “loving.” This means doing so even at the expense of what we are convinced is the truth. If even Aaron the High Priest was willing to forgo the objective truth in pursuit of peace, then we should be able to leave off our own subjective understandings for that same goal. Any other way, according to the Degel, is not the way of hasidut.

Posted in Acharei Mot, Concepts, Hasidic Masters, Moshe Chaim Efraim/ Degel Mahane Efraim, Tzaddik/ Rebbe | Leave a comment

Humble Abode

A teaching by Yehuda Leib Alter of Ger, from Sfas Emes, Parshat Vayakhel.

Take from among you gifts for the LORD; everyone whose heart so moves him shall bring them. Exodus 35:5

On this verse the midrash quotes the Song of Songs, “Great floods cannot quench love, nor rivers drown it”; it is as if God said “My children have made me a sanctuary of [mere] goat skins, yet I shall dwell among them” (1).

The love for and the cleaving to God that the Children of Israel received at Mount Sinai live and endure forever. But because of the sin [of the Golden Calf], they were sealed away, and the Jews could not access this hidden love (2). So after the sin, this great willingness [to build the Tabernacle] was needed, for through this offering the will and the longing for cleaving to God was brought out and made manifest, so much so that they caused the Shekhinah to dwell below (3). So the Tabernacle was called “the Sanctuary of Witness,” for it is a witness that the Shekhinah dwells among Israel.

In the time of the Tabernacle and the Temple, the Shekhinah’s dwelling was palpable. What then is the purpose of [an additional, physical] witness? Rather, it witnessed to all the generations to come that, even though God’s holiness is no longer revealed [to the same extent], nevertheless the stamp of holiness remains on the inner hearts of Israel.

This is truly a goal of the mitzvot, for the mitzvot are ways to bring forth the will and the desire [for God], as the verse says, “everyone whose heart so moves him”… Thus are the mitzvot called a candle, as in “A mitzvah is a candle, and the Torah is light,” and “The soul of man is God’s candle, seeking out the inner chambers” (4). Through the mitzvot we can raise every desire to God.

And the building of the Tabernacle was a witness to all the generations that even though sin brings separation, nevertheless it cannot extinguish love.


1) Shir HaShirim 8:7, Shemot Rabbah 49:1.   2) The phrase for hidden love, ahavah hagenuza, evokes or haganuz, “the hidden light,” the original divine light of creation that was hidden away for the righteous, drawing in my mind an unmistakable connection between God’s creation of the world out of love, and our love for God in return. This connection is bolstered by the Sfas Emes’ repeated use of the phrase mikoach el hapoel, “from potential to manifestation,” which echoes the common phrase koach hapoel banifal, “the power of the Creator in Creation,”  used to describe God’s immanence in creation, and of course by the whole background of the building of the Tabernacle, with its clear parallels (found in Torah and expanded by the sages) to Creation. 3)  The Shekhina is God’s (usually feminine) indwelling presence, the immanent versus the transcendent.  In Exodus 29:46 the Jews were commanded to build the Tabernacle veshakhanti betocham, so that God “will dwell among them.” 4) Proverbs 6:23, 20:27

Posted in Hasidic Masters, Parsha, Vayakhel, Yehuda Leib Alter of Ger/ Sfas Emes | Leave a comment

School’s Out

A teaching of Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl, Meor Einayim, Parshat Ki Tissa.

Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Yose: Whoever delights in the Sabbath is granted a boundless heritage, as it says, “If you proclaim the Sabbath a delight, then you will be granted pleasure with God, and I shall mount you astride the heights of the world; and I will provide you the heritage of your forefather Jacob”…of whom it is written, “you shall burst out westward, eastward, northward, and southward.” (1)

This is like the parable of a man who has a young son. Even though the boy acts foolishly and immaturely, the father delights in his love for him, for he knows that once the boy matures he will serve God, and his future maturity will grow out of this very immaturity. The same occurs when a person serves God. Everything the person has — his mind, his personality, his very life — is a gift from God to use to serve Him, and even though the spiritually immature person acts foolishly, God still delights in him, knowing that once he matures he will return everything to God. This is why he is called “the son in whom I delight; whenever I have spoken against him, My thoughts would return to him still” (2).

All non-holy days draw from the life force of the Creator, but through a process of withdrawal and disguise (3). This is like the father who hides his face from his son, allowing him the freedom to act foolishly. On Shabbat, however, there is no withdrawal or constriction at all; the father forgets what the son has done, having nothing but compassion for him, and stands by him to make sure he does nothing foolish.


1) Shabbat 118a; Isaiah 58:14; Genesis 28:14   2) Jeremiah 31:20   3) This is the mystical concept of tzimtzum, “constriction” or “withdrawal”: God withdraws some of the infinite divine light to make “room” for the finite world, then pours out that light through a series of “veils,” so that the (now dimmed) light can reach the finite world and sustain it without overpowering it. While God is present, that Presence is not as recognizable as on Shabbat.

Jeff says…

Shabbat is called the day of rest not only because on it we rest from our labors, but because on a deeper level on this day all things return to their divine root and rest there — hence the shared root (שב) of both “rest” and “return.” In that place of divine unity, there are no divisions and no limits, including between past and future, and even good and bad. On this day, God sees all of our actions only from the perspective of our end, which the optimistic Meor Einayim claims will be to return to God’s service. What a far cry from the image of the schoolmaster marking down our merits and demerits! Instead, every failure is seen as part of growing up, spiritually. As my own father said every time I did a knuckle-headed thing as a teenager, “Well, that’s how you learn.” So our distance from God, when He “hides His face,” is only God’s way of allowing us to grow; but, mercifully, we have one day each week when we can take a break from learning (usually the hard way), and just be, when we can have “a taste of the World to Come,” that time when we will have learned all we need to learn and can go back home to stay.

The Meor Einayim doesn’t mention a single word of the parshah in this teaching. Here’s the question: why did he include this teaching in Parshat Ki Tissa, and what’s the connection?

Posted in Divine Service, Hasidic Masters, Ki Tissa, Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl/Meor Einayim, Parsha | Leave a comment

Earning Our Keep

Illuminated pages from the Apter Rav’s Mishna Society.

From Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apt, Ohev Yisroel, Parshat Mishpatim.

וַעֲבַדְתֶּם אֵת יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם וּבֵרַךְ אֶת לַחְמְךָ וְאֶת מֵימֶיךָ וַהֲסִרֹתִי מַחֲלָה מִקִּרְבֶּךָ                  And you shall serve the LORD your God, and He will bless your bread and your water, and He will remove sickness from your midst… Exodus 23:25

This begins in the plural and ends in the singular [the command is in the plural and the reward is in the singular] (1).
Now it is known that God does not need our service and our righteous acts, for need applies only to flesh and blood — what can we offer for God’s benefit? Rather, God’s delight is in granting good to His creations and bestowing on them all their needs. And for this He created all the worlds and all the creatures, so that they would do His will and receive His wonderful bounty at every moment. For when a person walks in the ways of God and cleaves to Him, imitating God’s holy ways, he arouses from below the heavenly attributes above, and God pours out His loving-kindness on the world (2). Such a one was Abraham our father.
But when a person does not arouse the mercies above through good deeds, the Holy One of Blessing does not withhold from us His loving-kindness. He continues to pour out His bounty upon us, but this does not grant Him delight, for it is difficult for God to pour out His goodness and graces upon the world below by way of wonders and miracles without the arousal from below. So our sages say: “A person’s sustenance is as difficult as parting the Reed Sea” (3), for the parting of the sea was entirely a miracle. For the Assembly of Israel was naked and devoid of Torah and mitzvot, and so could not cause any arousal from below; therefore God’s mercy had to overwhelm His judgment so that he could bestow upon them such loving-kindness.
This is why the sages say it was at the sight of Joseph’s coffin (4) that the sea split. The sea wished to do the will of its Creator, assigned to it at creation, that is, to fill the space between its shores. But when it saw the coffin it understood that there is a quality to Israel that supersedes nature — just as the righteous one Joseph, the foundation of the world, overcame his natural urges and did not want to listen to his master’s wife, out of love for God (5) — and it grew afraid and fled. For the Holy One of Blessing guides Israel, granting them good and lifting them up above nature.
But in this case there was truly no arousal from below, so it was “difficult,” as it were, for God to bring them this good. It is the same with a person, as the sages say, “I defiled my deeds and forfeited my sustenance” (6). But when a person serves God then His bounty and goodness come upon him according to justice, and He does not need to give out of mercy, and this is truly a delight to God. Thus the saying of the sages, “The attribute of Loving-kindness said, ‘So long as Abraham was alive, I did not need to do my work, for he stood in my place” (7). That is, Abraham our father, through his good deeds, opened the gates of heavenly loving-kindness to fulfill the needs of all creatures, and so the attribute of Loving-kindness never had to reveal its function, because of this arousal from below.
Now every righteous person serves God according to his understanding and his conception of God, depending on how his heart burns within him. One righteous person might serve through his great cleaving to God in love, and so become a seat and a vehicle for divine loving-kindness, like Abraham. Another might serve through rigor and fear, like Isaac, or through truth, like Jacob; there are in fact many different ways of serving. They seem different from the point of view of the servants who are performing the arousal from below, but above, at their heavenly root, they are gathered and united, and all proceed to the same source. All of them are made into a crown for the head of the King of Glory, and they all have the same intent — to bring delight to the Creator with their good deeds and open the source of bounty, so that it pours down on all creatures of the world. Thus the source of the bounty is one single unity, though the arousal from below to above occurs in many different ways, each service according to the servant.
This is why “You shall serve” is in the plural, for the ways of service are many. Likewise, “your God” is in the plural, for each acts according to the godliness within him. But when it comes to the drawing out of heavenly bounty, it is all from one source, so “your bread and water will be blessed” is in the singular. Likewise, “I will remove the sickness from you” is in the singular. For there is an evil sickness, as King Solomon wrote in his book: “I have observed an evil sickness: riches hoarded by their owner to his misfortune, for they are lost through evil, and if he begets a son, he has nothing to offer,” and he is not even allowed to enjoy them himself (8). For this is the soul-sickness, that a person cannot even enjoy his own riches. But when his riches come to him through his deeds, as explained above, then all sickness will pass from the world, and he will no longer eat the bread of grief, but rather everyone will eat his bread and drink his water in joy and gladness of heart, according to God’s blessing (so may it be His will!).


1) You (pl.) shall serve the Lord your (pl.) God…your (sing.) bread…your (sing.) water…from your (sing.) midst.   2) This is a mystical motif that uses sexual imagery to describe the interplay between the upper and lower worlds. In the same way that the husband or the wife may initiate sex, both God and people may “make the first move” towards uniting the worlds and bringing heaven and earth together.   3) A literal translation of Yam Suf. It was probably not the Red Sea that the Jews crossed, despite our continued use of the phrase.   4) The Jews were carrying it back to the Land of Israel for burial.   5)    6) Kiddushin 82b   7) Midrash   8) Ecclesiastes 5:12-13

Jeff says…
Ever since Jews have been serving God, we’ve been trying to figure out if it’s for us or for God. The Ohev Yisroel, in true Hasidic fashion, answers, “Yes!” To see the question as either-or would be to posit God and us as separate and mutually exclusive, but Hasidism, following the mystical understanding of God’s oneness that they inherited, says no such thing. Rather, all existence can be seen as one continuous spectrum. At one end is God (actually, God’s at the other end, too, and everywhere in between, but for the sake of simplicity let’s leave that out for now), an infinite white light containing all other colors within it. All those other colors, broken up across the spectrum, are the created worlds, both spiritual and physical. (We’re somewhere towards the far end.) All life, all existence, exist only because of the outpouring of light. Our job, and the point of all religious acts, according to this understanding, is to make sure that light continues to flow and even reach us at the end of the spectrum. We need it, and God “wants” it (inasmuch as God can want anything). God wants it so much that even if we lie down on the job, God finds a way, but it’s the nature of the arrangement that everyone’s happier when we earn it.
It might seem strange that the Ohev Yisroel, a man known for his loving-kindness, speaking as a leader of Hasidism, a movement known for dealing in the miraculous, should here claim that God takes special delight in the world running according to the attribute of Rigor, without recourse to miracles. But it’s actually right in line with Hasidism’s claim that miracles are often a sign of a lack of holiness, and that even God’s rigor is a form of mercy. I think of us parents supporting our children — obviously, we wouldn’t let them starve, but wouldn’t we rather see them earn their keep than sit on the couch all day? And wouldn’t we, God’s children, rather be partners with God, earning our keep, than sit around in this world all our lives eating out of God’s pantry and doing nothing in return? Or to continue the mystical metaphor of arousal: the Torah tells us God is our spouse, and that each spouse must fulfill the needs of the other. Do we really want to be cold fish in bed with our divine Lover? And isn’t that the greatest miracle, that God invites us to share the bed?

Posted in Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apt/ Ohev Yisroel, Divine Service, Hasidic Masters, Mishpatim, Parsha | Leave a comment

The Tree Fifty Cubits Tall

Marc Chagall, Tree of Life

Marc Chagall, Tree of Life

A teaching by Yehuda Leib Alter of Ger, from Sfas Emes, on Purim.

It is written in the Gemara that we are obligated to become so intoxicated on Purim that we cannot tell the difference between “Blessed is Mordechai” and “Cursed is Haman” (1). I heard a teaching on this from the holy mouth of my teacher and grandfather [Rabbi Yitzhak Meir], that one must go above the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Although I don’t exactly remember his words, it seems that he connected the “tree fifty cubits tall” (2) to the forty-nine gates of impurity, for there are forty-nine types of impurity and purity (3).  The power of Amalek is found at every one of those forty-nine levels, but the fiftieth gate is that of holiness (4). There is no dualism there, but rather only good, for it is the root of unity. So it is written [about the war against Amalek], “when Moses raised his hands” — that is, to the fiftieth gate and the Tree of Life, which is the Torah — Israel would prevail, but when he let his hands fall, Amalek would prevail” (5).

1) Megillah 7b   2) that is, the post that Haman erected to hang or impale (depending on your translation) Mordechai, and on which Haman was himself executed; the word is eitz, the same as “tree”   3) a kabbalistic idea; according to tradition, while living in the exile of Egypt the Jews fell from one level of impurity to another, until on the eve of the redemption they were about to fall into the  fiftieth and final level,  from which there is no return (see Or HaHayyim on Exodus 3:7); the parallel phenomenon is the fifty gates of purity, through which we rise one by one as we count the Omer from Pesach to Shavuot, from Redemption to Revelation; there is also the parallel of the fifty gates of wisdom, the first forty-nine of which can be achieved through human effort, but the fiftieth of which only comes through divine grace, being above human comprehension.   4) Amalek is the leader (and the tribe) that tried to destroy the Children of Israel while wandering through the desert (Exodus 17:8-10), apparently for no reason but for the sake of murder, and so Amalek is considered the archetype of anti-Semites and pure evil. Haman is called an Agagite, that is, a descendant of Amalek, and is considered an incarnation of the same murderous evil.   5) Exodus 17:11

Posted in Hasidic Masters, Holidays/Days of Remembrance, Purim, Yehuda Leib Alter of Ger/ Sfas Emes | Leave a comment

Till you can’t tell the difference

"Esther Denouncing Haman" by Ernest Normand

“Esther Denouncing Haman” by Ernest Normand

A guest posting by Ariel Evan Mayse (thanks Ariel!): a translation of R. Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apta on Purim, from Ohev Yisroel. Get ready. To see the Hebrew original, click here.

Let us begin with the words of that holy man, the Maggid of Mezritch, in explaining
the Mishnah: “all the opposite is found in the boor (golem)” (Avot 5:9). There is a world that is called golem. It is the world of hokhmah (Wisdom), represented by the letter yod. This letter is like the golem, because it is a tiny point. You can make it into whatever letter you would like. This is the meaning of “the opposite.” If you want to transform something—“in the golem (ba-golem)”—you must raise that thing up to the aspect of golem. There you can change it. Thus far are his pure words.

I will help you understand this. Anything that occupies a certain form cannot receive
another one until its initial form is destroyed and it becomes a golem, without any form orspecific attributes. Only then can it be transformed into whatever you want. We see this with our own eyes. Silver vessels must be melted down first before we can turn them into a different vessel. The same is true in the upper worlds. When we raise something up to the world of hokhmah, called golem, then something new can sprout forth from it. This is the meaning of “all the opposite is found in the golem.”

With this in mind, we can explain the sages’ teaching about Purim: “one is obligated
to become so drunk that he does not know the difference between ‘cursed is Haman’ and
‘blessed in Mordecai’ (b. Megillah 7b). This is quite surprising! Nowhere else in our holy
Torah do we find that anything good ever came from drinking a lot of wine—especially
drinking so much that you almost leave behind your discerning mind. What good can come from this?

Now Scripture says, “let the king and Haman come to the party” (Esth. 5:4). The
matter is thus. During her celebration Esther did the same thing the High Priest would do on Yom Kippur. He took two goats, which needed to be alike in appearance and height, taking hold of them at once. He cast a lot between them, one for the God and one for Azazel, in order to lift up the Evil One and make him equal to the blessed Creator, as it were. Then the High Priest would confess on behalf of all Israel, raising up the letters of the sins to the world of hokhmah, which is golem. Because of His great love for the Jewish people, the blessed Holy One was pleased by this, pardoning the affront to his glory. This was in order that to bring the angel of destruction into the realm of golem, where things and their opposite are equal as one. Hokhmah is attached to Ayin, as it says, “hokhmah comes forth from Ayin” (Job 28:12). In Ayin anything may become its opposite. This is the deeper meaning of “if your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; [If he is thirsty, give him water to drink.] You will be heaping live coals on his head, [and Y-H-V-H will reward you]” (Prov. 25:21).

This is exactly what Esther did when she said, “let the king and Haman come.” She
made him equal to the king, and by doing so broke the power and strength of that wicked
Haman. This is also the reason the meal is referred as the “wine party” (Esth. 5:6), and not the “bread party.” As long as Haman’s greatness was firmly resolved within the king’s mind (lit. “knowledge,” da‘at), she could do nothing to him, for it is the mind that decides.
Therefore she threw a wine party. They rose even higher than the mind, to the world that is called golem. She changed one thing into its opposite, as she wished, and mourning was
transformed into joy. Esther has already destroyed Haman’s strength. However, it is still up to us to break the strength and power of the wicked Haman, who came from the seed of Amalek, which dwells in the heart of each and every Jew—as individuals, and as a community. Each of us, the people of Y-H-V-H, must uproot the wickedness hidden within. For this reason we too must go higher than the conscious mind (da‘at), in order to truly destroy this element of wickedness. This is the meaning of their sweet words, “one must become so inebriated that he does not know….” Go beyond the mind and enter into the world of golem, where you will not know the difference between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed in Mordecai.” In that realm one thing is equal to its opposite, and you can get rid of that wickedness that dwells within you.

Posted in Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apt/ Ohev Yisroel, Ayin, Concepts, Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch, Hasidic Masters, Holidays/Days of Remembrance, Purim, Teshuvah | Leave a comment

Over and Under


‘Joseph Explains the Dreams of Pharaoh’         by Marc Chagall

 A short teaching from R. Uziel Meizlish, Tiferes Uziel, Parshat Miketz

ויהי מקץ שנתים ימים ופרעה חולם והנה עומד על היאור וגו’. פרעה אמר בסיפור חלומו שעומד על שפת היאור. וקשה הא בחלום עצמו כתיב שעומד על היאור ולא על שפת. ואפשר שזה הרשע שינה במכוון כי היאור היה אלהיו כידוע מאמרם ז”ל שהרשעים על אלהיהם ולכן בוש עצמו לומר שעומד על היאור ולכך שינה שעומד על שפת היאור

At the end of two years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing over the Nile… Gen. 41:1

When Pharaoh told Joseph about his dream, he said that he was ‘standing over the bank of the Nile,’ while in the dream he is standing over the Nile itself. It may be that the wicked Pharaoh made this change on purpose, for it is known from the teachings of the rabbis that ‘the wicked stand over their Gods,’ and he was ashamed to say it.

Sources: the wicked stand over their Gods… Rabbi Yohanan said, ‘The wicked place themselves over their gods, as in “Pharaoh stood over the Nile,” while the righteous place the blessed Holy One over them, as in “Behold, the LORD stood over him.” Pharaoh places himself over the Nile and uses his god for his own needs, while Jacob, despite his own difficulties, stands before God, ready to serve. (Yalkut Shimoni on Vayetzei)


Jeff says…

To me this short teaching seems to be about religious integrity. It’s easy to believe that our religious deeds are always for God, but sometimes we have an experience or an encounter which shows us our less-than-selfless motives. What seems to separate the ‘wicked’ Pharaoh from the ‘righteous’ Joseph is the honesty to admit what we see.

For other teachings from Tiferes Uziel on integrity in service, see this.

Posted in Hasidic Masters, Miketz, Parsha, Uziel Meizlish/ Tiferes Uziel | 3 Comments

One for Two and Two for One


‘Adam and Eve’ by Marc Chagall

Here’s a teaching of R. Aharon of Karlin (1802-1872) based on teachings his grandfather, Aharon the Great of Karlin (1736-1772), one of the earliest Hasidic rebbes, gave at Simhat Torah. Before we start, it’s worth taking a look at the midrash that will be the lynchpin of the teaching, from Bereishit Rabbah 8:1.

Said Rabbi Jeremiah ben Elazar: “When the blessed Holy One created the first Adam, He created him an androgynos, “androgynous,” as  it is written (Gen. 5:2) ‘When God created the Adam, He made him in the likeness of God; male and female God created them.’  Said Rabbi Shmuel Bar Nachman: “At the time that the blessed Holy One created the first Adam, He created him du-partzufin, “double-faced,” and then split him, making for him two backs – a back here and a back there.” They asked him: “But isn’t it written: ‘and He took one of his ribs [tzela]’?” He said to them: “This actually means one of his sides, as in (Ex. 26:20) ‘and one of the sides [tzela] of the tabernacle.’”

Now on to the Karliner Rebbe’s Torah.

People speak of the joy of Simhat Torah, but why is that? The answer is in the verse, ‘And the Lord God built the side [tzela] which he had taken from Adam into the woman, and brought her to him.’

At first, Adam had to be created du-partzufim. And truly, the purpose of creation was so that all the worlds should be united as one, completely, and so God cut Adam in two, so that they could unite face to face and complete the creation. And when did this happen? We know that the creation of the world began on the 25th of Elul, and the beginning [of Adam’s creation] was on Rosh Hashannah. So was all the brokenness of creation mended and unity achieved, but it was incomplete until the joy of Shemini Atzeret. For on Rosh Hashannah there is tremendous fear because of the world is judged on that day, but during Sukkot, when we dwell in the sukkah and shake the lulav in joy, it sweetens the judgements and brings mercy into the world, and so creation is made complete. This is the meaning of (Ps. 35:15) ‘They rejoiced in my tzela‘ — the union which began on Rosh Hashannah is completed on Simhat Torah because of our joy.


Jeff wants to know… who are the ‘they’ who are separated so that they can unite and complete creation?

Posted in Aharon of Karlin/ Beis Aharon, Bereishit, Concepts, Creation, Hasidic Masters, Holidays/Days of Remembrance, Parsha, Simhat Torah | Leave a comment

Rosh haShannah Short Shorts

Some short shorts to get you ready for Rosh haShannah.


Marc Chagall’s ‘The Shofar Blower’

The Maggid of Mezeritch writes that we have forgotten our divine mother tongue, and so on Rosh haShannah we blow the shofar, which is just a voice without words, and God understands.

From Kedushas Levi:

The blessed Holy One pours out divine abundance upon us, and we are the ones who channel it, each according to his own desire, ‘for life, for peace,’ and so on.

All the angels and all the holy beasts of the chariot tremble at the Day of Judgment, and so too does every one of our limbs. But if you consider that the blessed Holy One is our father, then you will fear nothing.

From Tiferes Uziel:

It was revealed to me in a dream the meaning of blowing the shofar. It is like two lovers who don’t want others to know what they write to each other, so they have a secret language which no one else knows.

My father taught that the one who blows the shofar should be like the shofar himself, emptying himself so that God can blow the holy spirit into him as he blows into the shofar.

From Or haMeir:

God creates the world anew every morning, as we say in Yotzer Or of the morning prayers. So every morning when you get up you must ask if your deeds merit the world’s re-creation. How much more so on Rosh haShannah, when the whole world returns to its original state, only to be made again!

Let it be fixed in your heart that there is nothing in this world that does not draw from God like a baby nursing from its mother. Now most people today waste their time amassing money — they cannot be called children of God, for they depend on their own strength. Be rather as a child in a swaddling blanket, nursing from the Heavenly Mother, knowing that you cannot lift a hand without Her.

Posted in Days of Awe, Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch, Hasidic Masters, Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev/Kedushas Levi, Shorts, Uziel Meizlish/ Tiferes Uziel, Zeev Wolf of Zhitomir/Or HaMeir | Leave a comment

What goes around comes around

A nugget from Zeev Wolf of Zhitomir, Or haMeir, Behaalotecha


If you see people spreading lies about you, know for sure they are only giving you back your own, and that you have brought this upon yourself because you could not keep your mouth shut.

Posted in Behaalotecha, Concepts, Divine Providence, Hasidic Masters, Parsha, Reward and Punishment, Shorts, Zeev Wolf of Zhitomir/Or HaMeir | 1 Comment

With apologies to the foodies…

From R. Uziel Meizlish of Ostrog, Tiferes Uziel, Beha’alotecha

שָׁטוּ הָעָם וְלָקְטוּ וְטָחֲנוּ בָרֵחַיִם אוֹ דָכוּ בַּמְּדֹכָה וּבִשְּׁלוּ בַּפָּרוּר וְעָשׂוּ אֹתוֹ עֻגוֹת וְהָיָה טַעְמוֹ כְּטַעַם לְשַׁד הַשָּׁמֶן The people walked about and gathered it. Then they ground it in a mill or crushed it in a mortar, cooked it in a pot and made it into cakes. It had a taste like the taste of oil cake. Bamidbar 11:8

TUbehaalotechaWhere is the praise in saying that the manna tasted like oil cake?

It is known that the manna was given every morning so that the people could serve God without having to take time away to feed themselves, and this is why the taste of the manna changed into many tastes, so that they should not take any time away from service chasing after their desires for other foods, such as meat. Now the righteous among them, whose sole purpose was to serve God in truth, would eat the manna as it was when it fell from the heavens and did not “walk about” (shatu) that is, they wasted no time doing anything else to it, because they did not wish to be caught up in trivialities; they tasted any taste in the world they desired. But the people שטו shatu, that is, they acted foolishly (שטות shtut) by feasting (משטים mashtim) (1), for “the people,” as opposed to the righteous, were on a low level (2), and so they “ground it in a mill or crushed it in a mortar, cooked it in a pot and made it into cake,” wasting their time on trivialities, against the intent of the Creator. So they tasted nothing but oil cake, while the righteous among them tasted any taste in the world they desired.


Sources: the taste of the manna…Rashi brings the sources here.

1) All three words are built on the same root and could be seen as variations on the same word.   2) Literally “a small level,” evoking the Hasidic concept of katnut, “small[minded]ness,” a mindset in which we focus on ourselves and our own, usually physical, needs, as opposed to gadlut, “big[minded]ness,” when we focus on our place in the whole and our relationship to others, including God.

Jeff says…

A story is told of Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin:

When Rabbi Shelomo drank tea or coffee, it was his custom to take a piece of sugar and hold it in his hand the entire time he was drinking. Once his son asked him: “Father, why do you do that? If you need sugar, put it in your mouth, but if you do not need it, why hold it in your hand!” When he had emptied his cup, the rabbi gave the piece of sugar he had been holding to his son and said: “Taste it.” The son put it in his mouth and was very much astonished, for there was no sweetness at all left in it. Later, when the son told this story, he said: “A man, in whom everything is unified, can taste with his hand as if with his tongue.” (Buber’s translation from Tales of the Hasidim)

Posted in Behaalotecha, Hasidic Masters, Parsha, Uziel Meizlish/ Tiferes Uziel | Tagged | 1 Comment