Derech HaMelech

The Weekly Raid From Galus

Friday, December 26, 2008

Erev Shabbos Chanukah Rosh Chodesh Parashas Miketz

This is such a gevaldik Torah from one of my rebbes I had to post it. Archives can be found at Have a spectacular, loving, light filled Shabbos, Chanukah, Rosh Chodesh.

Torah Thoughts from Jerusalem

The Impossible Dream

If there is a theme that seems to run through the Torah portions that are always read in an around the festival of “Hanukah”, it is the importance of dreams. A good portion of the second half of “Bereisheet” deals with dreams. First there is the famous dream of Jacob where he sees angels ascending and descending a ladder. Then we read about the dreams of his son Joseph where he sees sheaves of wheat and the sun moon and stars bowing to him. In last week’s Torah portion we read about the dreams of the butler and the baker that Joseph meets in the Egyptian jail cell. Finally in this week’s portion of “Miketz” we will read about the dreams of Pharaoh of scrawny cows devouring healthy ones. Joseph not only emerges as a first class dreamer but as an expert of dream interpretation. One would almost think that the second part of Bereisheet is a psychology manual on dreams and their meanings.

Why does the Torah have such a pre-occupation with dreams? More specifically why do we always read about dreams during the festival of “Hanukah”?

The answer to that question is actually quite scientific. There is a great deal of research that has been done on dreams and dreaming. What most observations show is that we dream during Rapid Eye Movement sleep known as “REM”. What many people don’t know is that when we sleep, and more specifically when we dream, it is when the greatest amounts of growth hormone is secreted. These were the findings of a team of scientists from the Washington University School of Medicine in an article entitled “Growth Hormone Secretion during Sleep” (Y. Takahashi, D. M. Kipnis and W. H. Daughaday).

Of course as a Rabbi who is always trying to find the spiritual message behind everything, it is hard to overlook the philosophical significance of this scientific finding. What these findings are telling us is that not only do we grow physically through dreaming but without the ability to dream we cannot grow spiritually either. To dream is to grow. To dream is to have aspirations. To dream is an inherent part of what being Jewish is all about. Had the Jewish people stopped dreaming, we would have been gone long ago.

The importance of dreams in Jewish thought can also be seen by a number of statements made by our Rabbis. They devoted a considerable amount of time to the importance of dreams. In the Talmud, the final chapter of the Tractate of “Berakhot” is devoted largely to the subject of dreams and their interpretations. In that same chapter the Rabbis made the following statements, “Dreams are one sixtieth of prophesy” (Talmud Berakhot 57b). A more radical statement is made in the name of Rabbi Ze-era who states the following, “Any person who goes seven days without dreaming is called bad” (Ibid 58b).

The importance our Rabbis placed on dreams can also be seen in a number of laws that were enacted to offset bad dreams. The Talmud also explains that a special prayer to annul bad dreams can be said during the time that the “Kohanim” are blessing the people during the morning prayers. These are all but a few examples.

Yes dreams play an important role in Jewish thought and even more so they play an important role in Jewish history. Our nation has always been filled with dreamers who have always reminded us that no matter how dark the reality is we can never stop dreaming of a better one.

Yes Joseph was the greatest dreamer of all. In the pit of an Egyptian prison cell he dared to dream of a better day where he would leave the prison and become an important leader. In the solitude of Egypt he dared to dream that the day would come where he would be reunited with his family. In the heresy of Egypt he dared say that everything he did and stood for was not for personal gain but for G-d’s glory. And in a far away place his father Jacob also never stopped dreaming that the day would come where he would see his beloved son. In fact at the end of his life when he blesses his children Jacob says the following to Joseph, “I had never dreamed (Pilalti) that I would ever see your face and behold now G-d has shown me your children”. How interesting that the word Jacob uses for “the thoughts of his dreams” is “Pilalti” which is the same root as the word “Tefilah” which means prayer. The association is very powerful. For is not prayer a state of wakeful dreaming where we are filled with aspirations and the hopes and dreams of what we want our lives to become.

It is for this reason that the Torah in the latter part of Bereisheet devotes so much time to dreams, and it is also the reason why we read these portions around the time of the festival of “Hanukah”.

The holiday of “Hanukah” is all about dreaming. Who would have thought that the Jews who, as we say in our prayers, were few could stand up to the mighty army of the Greeks? Weren’t those Jews crazy, why would they endanger their lives and the lives of their families in a war that on paper was hopeless? What in the world got into the minds of the “Macabim” to fight such a preposterous battle? The answer is their dreams. Like Joseph before them they were not afraid of the impossible. They too dreamt of better times where they would be free and the Land of Israel would once again return to Jewish hands.

In fact if we are looking for a “Hanukah” hero, let me suggest that it was a crazy “Kohen” who had to be a dreamer. The Talmud (Shabbat 21a) explains that we celebrate the festival of “Hanukah” for eight days because when the Macabim freed the Temple they found that all the olive oil used to light the Menorah was defiled. But they searched and found one small jar hidden and sealed with the stamp of the High Priest. It had only enough oil to light for one day but instead it lit for eight days. And so we celebrate every year the festival of lights.

But who was that crazy “Kohen” who had the foresight to hide that one small jar of oil. What was he thinking as everything around him was going up in flames and the mightiest army of the world was overtaking the Temple? Didn’t he have anything better to do than to hide one little jar of oil? Dear friends he was a dreamer and he is the true hero of the “Hanukah” story. It is because of his dream that we celebrate today.

Dear friends the message of Hanukah is “never stop dreaming”. Today we find ourselves in darkness. A huge financial crisis hangs over our heads, corruption is everywhere, terrorism is rampant, and no one has yet to offer the solution. If there was ever a time to dream it is now. Who can forget the words of Martin Luther King when he said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Today America has a black president. Was someone just dreaming? Perhaps yes, but today that dream is a reality.

Wishing you all a Happy Hanukah

Rabbi Yosef Benarroch

SEC Jerusalem

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Chanukah Ner Revi'i

This is a spectacular article from about the Jewish woman, feminism, Chanukah and life. It's a must read. Enjoy.

Michelle Melov Schiffman
In university, I had a sepia print of a vintage suffragette poster from 1914. I had enlarged and mounted it to hold a place of honor on my bedroom wall. It was a fifteen cent photocopy pièce de résistance, proudly communicating my enlightened coming-of-age to the world, my avant-garde catchphrase of who I quintessentially was, what I quintessentially believed in. I am Woman. Hear me vote. See me unshackle my bonds of long endured submission, and those of my fellow sisters, and hereby enjoy rights of unapologetic and unencumbered freedom. After decades of failed attempts to change laws through indirect, “ladylike” means, the patience of women had run dry. Women realized that the only way to be heard, to be treated with dignity and to create positive social change was to take public matters into their own hands. The suffragettes organized, strategized and resorted to militant (and often violent) means to ensure that their demands were finally sanctioned. In the merit of our beloved suffragette mothers, we women now enjoy the right to be free, the right to be safe and the right to have an autonomous hand in the matters that directly affect and shape our lives. And yet, as impassioned as I was with my newfound feminist identity and ideals, there still remained inside me an enigmatic longing...obscure but still annoyingly palpable. It took some time for me to disentangle these inner feelings. I had a boyfriend, a cause and a sensational suffragettes wall poster--what else could a university student want? But I still couldn’t kick this longing for...for something. Something more. A longing for a bigger cause. A better cause. A true cause. A way to genuinely improve the world, and everyone in it, permanently and ultimately making the world a better place. A way to genuinely, permanently and ultimately improve myself. Omniscient and omnipresent justice. Peace and goodness for all. It was the desire for spirituality that was nagging at me. But not just any old generic spiritual pick-me-up would do. Though I did try, no meditation, mantra or daring feat of physical flexibility sufficed to give me that ever-sought-after sense of inward
peaceful tidiness when the world around me still remained so messy. What I needed was a practical spirituality, one that benefitted the physical world, that worked hand-in-hand with it to yield tangible, transformative results. And so, like any good secular Jew, I began my spiritual search at my local neighborhood Buddhist monastery. I read books about Hinduism and Chinese religions. I sat in on lectures on Islam and Christianity. I even attended a meeting for those interested in learning about the ancient traditions of Wicca. The thought of looking deeper into my own Jewish roots was out of the question. How could I - a proud, self-proclaimed feminist with such fantastic suffragette wall paraphernalia – even consider finding spiritual fulfillment in a religion that was stereotyped as patriarchal? How could I find identity with a group of women who were restricted from participation in the communal sphere, occupied solely with matronly child-rearing duties, invisible, voices unheard? And yet I was born to Judaism. And I was secretly drawn to it. Indeed, many unlikely circumstances and people soon started to pull me closer to it, whether I liked it or not, eventually challenging me to open my stubbornly clenched eyelids to see the truth that lay right in front of my unmistakably yiddisha shnoz all along. I started to meet more and more intelligent, educated, upright, awe-inspiring religious Jewish women, whose inward beauty, self-worth and social-worth beamed brightly through their outwardly unostentatious clothing (a feat that, I couldn’t help but note, their secular sisters are still floundering with, despite years of anti-objectification “beauty-is-only-skin-deep” campaigns). I began to learn. I began to participate. Chanukah rolled around. And to my absolute delight, I learned of a beautiful tradition involving a woman abstaining from performing any work for at least thirty minutes after the menorah candles are lit. Naturally, as any owner of a highly coveted vintage suffragettes poster would, my ears perked up, and I inquired as to where this tradition came from. The answer riveted me. The story of Yehudit (Judith) brought tears to my eyes, understanding to my heart and peace to any remaining spiritual dissonance that remained within me. A woman of unbelievable strength and will, bent on making change for her Jewish sisters, at all cost to herself. A beautiful feminist who would not allow her sisters to be taken advantage of any longer. During the horrible time that the Syrian-Greeks occupied the land of Israel, they were determined to assimilate the Jews. Their goal then changed to wanting to desecrate and finally eliminate Judaism from the face of the planet. Staples of Jewish observance, such as Shabbat, maintaining the Jewish calendar, circumcision and keeping kosher, were outlawed, and Jews were forced to prostrate themselves to idols and publically break Torah laws for fear of death. However, despite such threats, the Jews defiantly held on to their practices and suffered unspeakable tortures and even death. Syrian-Greek terrorism aimed to obliterate the very soul of our people. Embodied in their final despoilment of our Holy Temple and their pollution of our sacred burning oil was their sole aim: to violate the purest, most fundamental aspects of who we are as a people. To this aim, the law of “prima nostra” was passed, requiring brides to be subjected to molestation by Greek generals, on the night before their wedding. And then, the patience of one woman ran dry. Yehudit, daughter of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest), finally realized that the only way to be heard, to be treated with dignity and to create positive social change was to take public matters into her own hands. Our heroine decided to resort to whatever means necessary to ensure salvation for her people, who now faced starvation and genocide. Formulating a plan that involved utter peril to herself, she snuck out of the city gates, finagled herself past the Greek soldiers and marched straight through the enemy camp to stand face-to-face with the Syrian-Greek commander, Holofernes. Cleverly spinning a false tale of treason, she devised a way of gaining free access to the Syrian-Greek camp by day and to her Jewish city by night, and then singlehandedly played the final card that earned the Jewish army the element of victorious surprise over their enemy. Incapacitating Holofernes with copious amounts of salty cheeses and unfiltered wine, Yehudit quietly beheaded him in the night and escaped back to her city by dawn. In the morning, the Syrian-Greek soldiers were utterly befuddled at the discovery of their commander’s headless body. Shocked, they were unprepared for the Jewish attack upon them soon thereafter. It didn’t take long for me to learn that Yehudit was but one of many Jewish matriarchs who faced - and overcame – perilous circumstances, thus saving the Jewish people from yet another brush with extinction. Our Torah and scriptures are full of such events, all of which transpired centuries before our suffering suffragettes burned their first bras. Hmm. And we continue to fight our matriarchs’ brave battle for freedom and dignity every time we light a set of Shabbat candles, go to the mikvah or perform any of the mitzvot that are our right, that are our responsibility. For it is in these things, in the things that they fought to the death for, that we can see a hint as to what we are meant to live for--our Jewish way of life. Our inner, pure and inextinguishable communal soul. Today, a peacefully serene oil painting of an Israeli vineyard graces my bedroom wall, next to some lovingly framed photographs of the two loves of my life, my wonderful husband and my gentle little baby boy, Aaron Emmanuel. I like this painting. I like to fancy that its aura of tranquility somehow speaks to my inner contentment with who I am, and who I continue to become. And yet, at the same time, it’s just a painting. And a wall decoration can’t really embody all of the continual personal growth that comes from the ever new and delightful evolutions of my Jewish femininity, as a Jewish woman, as a Jewish wife, as a Jewish mother, etc. I eagerly await the time when I’ll be able to replace this painting with a framed copy of my son’s first Crayola abstract masterpiece d’art. And I await, with giddy excitement, the opportunity to celebrate his first Chanukah together with him. Let us all light our menorahs in the merit of our beloved Jewish mothers, because of whom we women now enjoy the right to be free, the right to be safe, and the right to kick up our feet, lean back our chairs, and close our eyes with a guiltless smile for no less - and hopefully more - than thirty minutes, reveling in the miraculous victories of faith that are our proud Jewish legacy.
Michelle Melov Schiffman lives in Montreal, Quebec, with her wonderful husband and son. She is a post-graduate student of Nutrition and Naturopathy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Chanukah Ner Sheini

I saw this article from Rabbi Shmuely Boteach and I thought a response was necessary. I did not address all of the issues raised, but there is one particular area I wanted to address. Rabbi Shmuley seems to be complaining about a higher standard applied to religious people and he is right. This is standard Judaism. Not only do our Rabbis teach us this, but also in the first chapter of Tanya, the Alter Rebbe writes that a righteous man is not just someone who does good deeds; rather, all sin and the thought of sin repulses him - he is only attracted to goodness. Therefore, I think we can deduce from this that when someone who we formerly believed to be righteous somehow fell from that standard, his negative behaviors are more closely scrutinized. We see this all throughout the Torah and throughout our history. Mr. Madoff did not wear a beard and a hat and although this does not make him less Jewish, G-d forbid, than you and I, he certainly is not expected to behave in the same manner as someone who represents themselves as being a religious Jew. We can draw a parallel from what happened in Mumbai - why was it so different than any of the - thank G-d not anymore - daily killings and suicide bombings that happened in Israel since Oslo and before? Because at the center of the Mumbai killings stood a few religious Jews, Chabadnikim (and I'm not Chabad, BTW) and it hit so much more close to home for religious Jews, because we identified personally, saying "Oh my goodness, these were religious Jews representing G-d and his Torah! How could it be?" The same here as far as identification, the same words can be applied, with different accentuation, "Oh my goodness, these were religious Jews representing G-d and his Torah! How could it be?" And I think the entire world understands this way of thinking.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Chanukah Ner Rishon

I saw this article on the Failed Messiah blog and wanted to respond. But I won't. I think that Matisyahu is confused and searching right now and probably needs some guidance, especially after starting to drop F-bombs on stage and even in one of his new songs (almost) on the Shattered EP. Although I can understand some of his claims, he seems to be moving directionless into a dangerous area, without a real spiritual adviser i.e. a Rov or a Rebbe who's not his personal therapist. We will have to wait patiently and see how it turns out. He is still an incredible performer and musician, I'm just a little worried about which direction he is headed in. I hope that the lights of Chanukah take him and all of us further away from our own personal exiles and bring us towards more holiness - malin b'kodesh v 'ein moridin.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Erev Shabbos Vayeishev

You know I just got finished cleaning the bathrooms and I feel good. My Rebbe Shlit"a once told me that his Erev Shabbos avodah involves cleaning the bathrooms because once he was reading a book about the Holocaust and one Jew was asked to clean the bathrooms and he couldn't bring himself to it so he R"L threw himself onto the electric fence and killed himself. So my Rebbe Shilt"a told me that you always have to be prepared to do whatever it takes to save your life, even cleaning the toilets. It's a big Torah and a big lesson also that if my Rebbe Shlit"a who is absolutely one of the holiest men in the world can do such seemingly menial and low work, that my view of what is menial and low has to change and it actually is holy work - which anyway is what chassidus is all about anyway - looking for the kedusha, holiness, in everything we do. We can tie it to this week's parasha also, that what appeared to be an inappropriate act with Yehudah and Tamar ends up to be the holy union that leads us to King David and eventually to the Messiah, King Moshiach, speedily in our days. So we always have to look at everything with very open eyes and remember that our perspective is sometimes skewed and if so, we need to reevaluate our beliefs and preconceived notions about reality and make the appropriate changes when necessary. A Gite Shabbos Koidesh.