Friday, February 28, 2014

The Meeting Place

The past several Torah portions (towards the end of Exodus), contain detailed architectural and financial measurements relating to the Tabernacle. Why so much emphasis on measurement?

Because the Tabernacle is where Immeasurable meets measurable.

Shabbat Shalom. :)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Spark in Dark,

Why Get Drunk on Purim? – a Kabbalistic perspective [1]

By Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Bagdad

And King Ahasuerus probed Queen Esther, “Who and where is he who filled his heart with such designs?”

And Esther responded, “This oppressor and enemy, this evil Haman!”
And Haman cringed in terror before the King and Queen.
~ Esther 7:5, 6

Wouldn’t it be more accurate for the verse to read, “This evil oppressor and enemy Haman!” rather than reading, “This oppressor and enemy, this evil Haman!”?

The current reading seems to exclude a “good Haman” [from Queen Esther’s accusation].  Is there such a thing as a “good Haman” and this was an “evil Haman”? Isn’t Haman one person - who’s evil, an oppressor and an enemy?

It appears appropriate to answer this question according to the teachings of Rabbi Isaac Luria of blessed memory.[2]  Here’s an excerpt in his words: [3]

The Talmud teaches that a person is supposed to get drunk on Purim to the point that he does not know the difference between cursing Haman and blessing Mordecai. [4] The intention of this teaching is that a dark force always contains a holy spark illuminating it and giving it life. This is why we need to say ‘blessed is Haman’ in order to draw the appropriate living light to this holy spark.

This is why the statement needs to be made unintentionally while drunk and unfocused. If one said this intentionally the dark forces [of Haman] will also become illuminated, heaven forefend.

Based on this teaching, it can be understood what our sages related that there were descendants of [Israel’s arch enemies,] Haman, Sennacherib and Sisera, who taught Torah to the masses. [5] This is because within each of these dark forces there had to be a single great spark of holiness. These Jewish sages, who taught Torah publicly, emerged from the holy spark within each of the dark forces.

It comes out that there was a great spark of holiness within the dark forces of Haman and Rabbi Shmuel bar Shilat emerged from the power of that spark, as he was from the descendants of Haman who taught Torah to the masses. It appears to be an allusion to this in the Hebrew letters comprising the name Haman. [In Hebrew Haman is spelled with the letters “Heh”, “Mem” and “Nun”.] When each of the letters were fully spelled out, the filled in letters also spell out “Haman”. This is how: “Heh” is spelled “Heh-Heh”, “Mem” is spelled “Mem-Mem” and “Nun” is spelled “Nun-Vav-Nun”. However, there’s one exception to this pattern of respelling Haman from the filled in letters. There’s an addition of a “Vav” within the full spelling of the “Nun”. This “Vav” alludes to the holy spark within the dark force of Haman. From this spark, emerged Rabbi Shmuel bar Shilat who taught Torah to the masses.

The above seems to properly explain why it was fitting for a saintly person who taught Torah to the masses to have emerged from Haman’s spark of goodness. [The Talmud relates that] the Jews lovingly reaccepted the Torah in the days of Ahasuerus.[6] This resulted from Haman’s decree [- from the holy spark within Haman]. That’s why [generations later] this saintly person taught Torah to the masses.[7]

Based on above teachings, what the following verse alludes to can be understood: “Write this as a record in a scroll and place it in the ears of Joshua that I will certainly erase the memory of Amalek [8] from under the heavens”. [9]

Why doesn’t the verse simply state “I will erase Amalek”, why does the word “memory” need to be used? In accordance with the above, a beautiful explanation emerges: because there has to be inside the impurity of Amalek a good and holy spark, which gives it life. This good spark won’t be erased, heaven forefend. However, when Creator erases the evil, the good portion will be removed and separated out. This way the evil will be entirely nullified and the good portion will continue to exist.

The numerical value of Amalek and “mar”, Hebrew for “bitter”, both equal 240. When you subtract 13 the numerical value for “echad”, Hebrew for “one”, alluding to the portion of holiness and goodness (for goodness is the mystery of oneness, a unified domain), what remains is “zecher”, Hebrew for “memory”. This alludes to the portion of evil in the dark forces, which in the future will be blotted out and nullified. Concerning this the verse states, “I will certainly blot out the memory of Amalek”, with specific emphasis on the word “memory”, which is the evil alone.

Accordingly, Haman sought to destroy, murder and displace. All this was done with the evil portion within him and not with the good portion which was swallowed up within him. For the good portion of Haman aids and loves the Jewish people. It’s only the portion of evil within Haman who's the “This oppressor and enemy…” By responding, “This oppressor and enemy, this evil Haman!”, Esther intended to exclude from her accusation the “good Haman”, the good portion swallowed up within him, which is alluded to by the “Vav” in the filled out spelling of his name. The latter is not the “oppressor and enemy” and did not agree to and plot the destruction of the Jewish people. On the contrary, this portion aids and loves, as from it emerged Rabbi Shmuel bar Shilat who taught Torah to the masses.

From the above, we can understand what the following verses in Psalms are alluding to: “Those who love God hate evil. He guards the souls of His devoted ones. He spares them from the hand of the wicked.”[10] The verse intends to inform us that when one encounters a wicked person, with a huge Haman-like dark force, hate him out of love for God. However, lovers of God, don’t hate the entire person. Only hate the evil part of him. This is why the verse emphasizes “hate evil”, for only the evil you should hate and curse, because God protects the souls of His devoted ones - which are hidden inside the dark forces.

“He spares them from the hand of evil”. This is similar to the language, “The Lord spared the flocks of your father and gave them to me”.[11] For in the future God will separate and divide them out from within the evil of the wicked, where they’re now sunken and blended in. This portion of good within the wicked needs to be blessed in order to draw light towards it, as the Ari z”l taught in his explanation of getting drunk until one does not know…

Therefore, as they proclaim, “Curse Haman, curse the wicked” don’t hate in order to curse entire the person, only the wicked portion within him. For it is impossible that there isn’t a good portion giving him life. This good portion, you need to bless, in order to draw light to it, as our master [12] taught in his explanation on getting drunk until one does not know the difference between cursing Haman and blessing…

This is an expression of “light is sown for the saintly”. However, to accomplish this, the straight-hearted need to celebrate, so that the blessing to the good portion shall be in the midst of celebration and drunkenness, allowing the blessing to emerge from his mouth unintentionally. So this way the flow from the blessing won’t reach the darkness, heaven forefend.

[1] This is a translation from Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Bagdad’s commentary to the “Book of Esther” called “The Wholesome Power of Redemption”, pages 32 and 33. He was also known as the “Ben Ish Chai” after his most popular work.
[2] Rabbi Isaac Luria, known as the Ari z”l, was the leading figure in the mystical renaissance which occurred in 16th Century Safad, Israel.
[3] See “The Gate of Meditation”, the discourse on Purim, P.109, folio 4.
[4] Megillah 7A
[5] Gittin 57B
[6] Shabbat 88A
[7] Rabbi Yosef Chaim is explaining that the Haman’s good spark is designed to enhance Torah. During the story of Purim it was working behind the scenes to enhance Torah’s acceptance. Generations later, the spark worked openly through the person of Rabbi Shmuel bar Shilat to enhance Torah teachings.
[8] Amalek plays an important role in the story of Purim, as Haman was a descendant of Agog the king of Amalek. This is why he’s referred to as “the Aggagite” (see Esther 3:1). In contrast, Mordecai and Esther are descendants of King Saul. This is why Mordecai is called “a Benjamite”, a member of Saul’s tribe (see Esther 2:5).  By oral tradition, the confrontation between Haman and Mordecai was a replay of the showdown between Saul and Agog in Samuel I, chapter 15.
The Bible explicitly states that this Saul’s battle with Amalek was a continuation of the battle between Joshua and Amalek, following their unprovoked ambush, in the desert, on the Jews who left Egypt.
[9] Exodus 17:14
[10] Psalms 97:10,11
[11] Genesis 31:9
[12] The Ari z”l

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Lesson of Four Spirits


Last night, I studied from the opening Zohar of “The Song of Songs”. Here, the Zohar explained that there are four spirits that the Messiah will have: (1) a spirit of God (2) a spirit of wisdom and understanding (3) a spirit of counsel and strength (4) a spirit of knowledge and fear of God. Yet, these four blend into a single spirit - giving the Messiah one spirit. 

How did they start off as four spirits?  The four are created by the kissing of the cosmic couple - the cosmic male and female. In kissing spirit is shared. So she takes in a bit of his spirit and he takes in a bit of her’s. Thus, each one now embodies two spirits, one’s own and one’s partner’s - making a total of four spirits. These four spirits then blend into individual souls born from their coupling - especially, the most ideal of souls, the soul of the Messiah himself. Thus, within him, these four spirits are actually a single spirit. However, within his singular spirit there remains a trace of the fourfold origin, which manifest as his four core divine expressions.

What fascinates me most, at this moment, might not necessarily be the central message of this Zoharic passage. It might be a bit off to the side. I am fascinated by how when the male spirit enters the female, it somehow becomes a distinct spirit. Similarly, when the female spirit enters the male, it too somehow becomes a distinct spirit. One would expect that the entering spirits either retain their identity of origin or take on the identity of their destination. I found their becoming counted as “distinct” a bit of a surprise.

There’s a great lesson here. Everything is shaped both by origin and destination, past and present, nature and nurture. This shows that if a person wants to change into a better ideal self and does not find the strength within to transform, it’s worth immersing oneself in an environment where the ideal is lived and breathed. Then the desired transformation is more likely to catch.

I know that this is a very humbling position and humility can be an emotionally painful place to be. Many enjoy the notion of being “self made” or “self perfected”. However, it appears that God wants humility on the journey. Therefore, He makes us need others who are already further along. 

However, lest one’s concerned that the new environment will dissolve all traces of individuality, this too is untrue. We see from this Zoharic passage that two of the spirits are first considered “distinct” because they are absorbed in a new environment. 

Let’s pray for the emotional wherewithal to be humble. So that we can go forth, find proper environments and spiritually grow.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Haman Tosh


Today, I ate the very first “Haman tosh” cookie of the Purim season. Eating one reminds me that we’re in the season. It three corners are intended to symbolize Haman’s three cornered hat. I wonder why his hat had three corners, what could of it meant to him? 

In Jewish spiritual thought, a hat or crown, generally conveys a symbolism of something higher than oneself that s/he closely identifies with - something above one’s own head. In the case of Haman, what would have he held as higher than himself? It had to be a cause he was committed to. It was the destruction of the Jewish People and all Judaism stands for. It was to set up a “master race” of Amalek, a race where the powerful can exploit without the shackles of morality, justice and responsibility. This desire for ethnic supremacy is evident from the Prophet Samuel’s words to Agog, Haman’s ancestor, right before he sliced him up. He brandished Agog’s own sword and declared that as with this sword he made other women suffer childlessness, now “measure for measure” his mother will be childless among women. Where does dashing the dreams of mothers come into play with doing the Creator’s justice against an evil person? Obviously, a big part of his evil was that he was into ethnic cleansing.  He had no compassion for mothers of other nations.

The question is what does all this have to do with a three cornered hat? Amalek’s power comes from the absence of divine light. In the void created by the light’s absence, his lawlessness thrives, becoming the new law - a law that calls for the exploitation of the “weak” and the murder of any potential “dissenters”. He wanted to empty the three faceted framework of our universe, time, space and life, from all that truly makes it sweet - which are all manifestations of the divine light. He wanted the occult systems, which made no moral demands, to replace the Torah on the timeline of human history, in all places of human habitation and in all human hearts.

So as part of the Purim season celebration, we eat a three cornered cookie, to symbolize the three basic facets of our universe - time, space and life. We make sure that it’s filled with something “yummy” - like jam, prune, poppy seeds, pie filling, chocolate, etc. Yes, all sweetness comes from the divine light. So we fill it with something which manifested from the divine light. In contrast to Haman, we are committed to the cause of filling the universe with divine light. We then internalize it, by eating it. 


Thursday, February 6, 2014


Freedom without direction is like soil without seed.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

"Aleph Dar" / Oneness Dwells

Yesterday, I was at a Carlebach styled Torah class. The teacher reminded that the word for this Hebrew month "Adar" divides into two words "Aleph" and "Dar". "Aleph" is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It can mean "One" or "Leader". Therefore, it often refers to the Creator, as both terms easily suit Him. "Dar" is the Hebrew word for "dwell". Last Hebrew month, "Shevat" carried the theme of creating a vessel in our hearts. This Hebrew month,"Adar", carries the theme of filling the vessel with the Creator's holy light. During this month we use the vessel to create a dwelling place for His holy light. So "Adar" means "Aleph Dar" or the "Oneness dwells".  

The teacher went further to explain that the Talmud teaches there are four hearts that the Creator does not dwell in: a haughty egoist, a liar, a slanderer and a mocker. The implication is that if a person is clear from these undesirable traits, by default his/her heart is a vessel for the Creator's light.

When I reviewed this teaching today in contemplation, I realized that these four traits form a sequential chain: separation, distortion of truth, justification and rebellion.

A haughty egoist is not usually someone who has made a logical choice. Rather, s/he's usually emotionally disturbed by his/her vulnerability to the Creator and need to rely on others. Therefore, the egoist seeks separation and independence. S/he wants to stand out as flawless in some way in the eyes of others or at least feel like s/he's "ahead" of others.

Since this was an emotional choice and there's no real status given to choices made by emotion alone, the egoist seeks a justification - a “spin”, a distortion of truth, to make it look good. Here the truth is stretched, tailored, re-proportioned and often outright denied in order to provide justification for the position.

In the justification process, the “new outlook” casts ordinary people, very often doing ordinary things, in the wrong. All of a sudden, people who are merely humanly imperfect are “guilty” of ordinary and innocent acts which are now recast as socially “inappropriate” or even worse “crimes”. They are slandered in the court of social acceptance and find that for doing nothing other than struggling through life, the doors of human acceptance which should have been open for them are mysteriously closed.

However, there are circumstances where these measures don’t provide an egoist with sufficient justification. The truth of his/her dependency still nags deep within, refusing to be stifled, torturing with lashes of guilt . The egoist needs an even larger campaign of justification to deal with the voice that won’t stop crying. By reaching further out, s/he hopes at reaching deeper in. So the egoist takes up a campaign of rebellion. The rebellion begins by mocking the sources of dependency. By this, the rebel hopes to prove to self and all that the bonds of dependency are truly severed. But they’re not. The whole thing is a castle built on air. It’s a sham. No human is a self contained system.

This was what was at the core in the confrontation between Haman and Mordechai in the “Book of Esther”. Haman wore a mask of smug invincibility over his insecure weak and very dependent identity. Mordechai knew that he was vulnerable and knew whom he depended on. Never losing sight of this truth actually strengthened him. Meeting such a presence, threw Haman into uncontrolled fits of rage!

The story of the “Book of Esther” is the story of finding our true identities behind the masks we sometimes unconsciously put on. It’s in these true identities that the Creator seeks to dwell.

Monday, February 3, 2014


Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (18th Century Kabbalist) taught that time is caused by fluctuations in the universe's spiritual level.

~ "Divine Knowledge", page 115

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Holy Party Time!

We are now at the beginning of Adar, the happiest month in the Jewish calendar - the month of Adar. Party time! Holy party time!

What's the difference between a party and a holy party? In general, a party is a celebration. A holy party is also a celebration, only it's a celebrates connection to the Creator. Truthfully, everyday should be a celebration of connection with the Creator, regardless of the month. However, Adar is the training grounds for constant joy. Indeed, the "Book of Formation" teaches that the character of Adar is "laughter". We laugh and laugh. We laugh caught up in the joy of the moment. We  laugh to train ourselves to laugh for through the upcoming monthly cycle, beginning with the month of Nisan.

Laughter and celebration is the great equalizer. Everyone, on every level, can enjoy a celebration. A wedding is the highest of celebrations. Opposites who were apart for so long, the couple, finally unite and finally  identity blend.  Male and female union on every level is the highest ideal of happiness and the source of every other kind of happiness. In language of Kabbalah the Ramchal expresses it such that happiness happens when the "kindnesses" sweeten the "severities", transforming them into "sweetness". This is a technical Kabbalistic way of saying that happiness happens when male and female unite, whether cosmically or personally. 

So if opposites equalize and unify in laughter and celebration at a wedding, so can everyone else. The couple sets the stage. The ripple effects of their unifying energy wave inspires people of all sorts and levels dance together and rejoice at their wedding. If this is so within the wedding hall of a human couple, how much more so is this true of the "wedding hall" of the cosmic couple - which is the whole of creation. Every kindness, every Mitzvah, causes the cosmic couple to unite. Their happiness and celebration ripples throughout the whole cosmos with bringing good cheer to all the inhabitants, the cosmic wedding guests. This is part of why there's an expectation that we perform our good deeds with much happiness and celebration - as we are bringing union to a couple so much more alive than a human couple. Can we even imagine what happiness and celebration means on that level? Wow!

From a certain angle of thought, it really could be said that the Creator created creation for the sake of happiness, celebration and laughter. There needs to be unifying for such amazing feelings to happen. Since the Creator is a perfectly seamless Oneness, in His Being alone all is already One. There's nothing to unify. So He made a creation where duality abounds. On every level, there's male and female yearning for union. Whenever He gives blessings to His creations unions happen and happiness, celebration and laughter follow. On the highest levels, it's deep cosmic laughter. On the lower levels, it's fragments of that laughter, more individualized. 

Keep laughing!


Holy Jealousy

The Zohar in this week's Torah portion (Terumah) discusses how the lower realms are jealous of the spiritual lights received by the upper realms. The Creator responds to the lower realms' lack with compassion and grants them more lights than they would have otherwise received.

The Zohar explains that this cosmic jealousy is the spiritual root of the Talmudic adage, which is usually translated as, "Competition among Torah scholars increases wisdom." The Zohar, however, reads this phrase a bit more literally as, "Jealousy among Torah scholars increases wisdom." The meaning is that somehow there's an increase in wisdom when Torah scholars are jealous of each others' spiritual attainments.

The Zohar explains that the "increase" happens because the jealousy evokes divine compassion, which moves the Creator to grant the scholars new gifts of wisdom. These new gifts mirror the new gifts of lights granted to the lower realms in compensation for their jealousy.

This passage in the Zohar teaches us that it pays to be jealous over another's spiritual attainments for a couple of reasons. Firstly, jealousy can encourage us about our own potentials, pushing us to grow even further. Secondly, like a silent prayer, the Creator's compassion can be stirred to help our spiritual growth along the way.