​As one of the twelve sons of Yaakov Avinu, Asher received a unique and generous blessing to have a lot of sustenance and bounty. His very name Asher (אשר) connotes happiness and richness (from the root of the word osher [אושר]) and indeed, Asher’s portion in Eretz Yisrael was the most fertile and brought the best produce among all the tribes. Our sages teach in a Midrash that this blessing indeed spilled over to other areas of life, making the women born to the tribe of Asher among the most beautiful and desired.

​Kabbalistically, Asher’s tribe correspond to the month of Shevat when we celebrate the New Year of Trees on T’u (14th) B’Shvat. In Pri Tzadik, Rabbi Tzadok haCohen of Lublin teaches that the Torah writes "As for Asher, his produce [should be] fat (rich, delicious)." This, he writes, means that Asher’s essenceis related to enjoying the food. Before passing away, Moshe Rabbenu also blessed the tribe that it should be “blessed above other sons, be esteemed by his brothersand may he bathe his feet in olive oil.”

​At first glance, all these blessings seem to be emphasizing physical enjoyment of this world a littletoo much. But as we know, nothing is as simple as it seems. Let’s delve deeper and see what lessons the tribe of Asher can teach us!

 

The Kabbalah of affluence

​We all wish to be affluent, and not have to worry about money. This is, in fact, as Kabbalistic need as a physical one, as Rebbe Nachman teaches in Likutey Moharan that a person needs to be very rich in order to acquire “depth of Torah”. The reason is very simple: one needs a fully free mind in order to delve into the secrets of Torah, and that includes having no concerns about sustenance. And he names great sages like Moshe Rabbenu, Eliyahu HaNavi, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and many others who were incredibly rich.

Another dimension to this is that sustenance and money can be a very good thing as these are blessings that enable one to become fully at peace with the worldand serve Hashem better. In fact, our sages in the Talmud teach us that a person will be held accountable in the next world for everything he did not enjoy. Clearly then Hashem intends us to enjoy the pleasures of this world in order to appreciate his goodness.

Obviously, this enjoyment must be moderated, and everything must be done for the sake of Divine Service since this is how we get closer to Hashem. Enjoying this world purely for pleasure’s sake is, as we all know, a very bad thing and can bring a person to very bad places. So proper intention when enjoying the world is crucial. This is what the Ba’al Shem Tov writes in Tzava’at HaRiVash (“the testament of the Ba’al Shem Tov”) that a person should think “If this is sweet to me, imagine how much more so would Hashem be!”.

One who has affluence, provided he’s been working on his middot (personality traits) will also become more generous, happier and live healthier.

 

Secrets from food

Eating reveals much of our spiritual standing. It is one of the most difficult traits to dominate, as usually when we eat, we tend to relax and just enjoy the food. However, as many Chassidic masters like the Ba’al Shem Tov, the Noam Elimelech and Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teach us, there’s an incredible divine service behind eating.

From the writings of the Arizal, we find that eating is quite literally the physical counterpart of prayer and blessings. It enables us to draw down the light we took from the upper worlds into the physical realm by eating. This is why Rabbi Chaim Vital writes in Sha’ar Ruach HaKodesh (“Gate of the Holy Spirit”) that his master taught him that one who wishes to have Ruach HaKodesh (“Holy Spirit”) should be very careful to do all the blessings of enjoyment [like food and drinks]with incredible concentration, and this is “one of the most important things to do in order to attain it”!

One would expect that fasting or praying hard would be the main requirements to attain Ruach HaKodesh, but how amazing it is that Hashem made it so that “simple” blessings well done would be the most important step! The blessings of enjoyment not only thank Hashem and draw down bounty from the spiritual worlds to our lives, but also take out the spiritual impurities of the food therefore cleansing us. It’s in fact a very natural cleansing process of our soulsthrough which we eventually gain this understanding.

The name Asher (אשר) is also word we use to draw down the Mochin (divine consciousness) from the Sephira of Binah (understanding) when making a blessing “asher kidshnanu b’mitzvotav…”. As many of us know, since we don’t have the Altar for sacrifices today, our tables effect atonement. One way to do so is by inviting others to share our bounties while eating. Another way, Rebbe Nachman teaches, is by eating like royalty. Since the Altar is an aspect of the Sephira of Malkhut (Kingship), if we eat like royalty, we are able to bring down even more sustenance to us.

The main question we should be asking is: are we eating the food or is the food eating us?

As Hashem is infinite and lacks nothing, may we all be blessed to live richly and draw down all the blessings we need, both spiritually and materially!

 

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​Chana stands as one of the most praised women in Jewish History. Not only was her daring bet accepted by Hashem, but she also merited to have Shmuel the prophet descend from her. We also read the passage of Chana’s exchange with Eli the Kohen Gadol as the Haftarah of the second Rosh Hashana, because that was when she was answered.

However, one often overlooked aspect of her whole narrative is the vow she made to dedicate her future son (Shmuel) to the Tabernacle service. Vows are not something to be taken lightly as R’ Chaim Vital writes in Sha’arei Kedusha that a person should be extremely careful not to vow (or even hint of vowing!) even if he knows he can fulfil it.

Yet, Chana was not criticized, neither for making her vow or for making the daring threat to seclude herself with another man in order to undergo the Sotahprocedure and be blessed with a child. So, what can we learn from all of this from a Kabbalistic perspective?

 



The nature of vows

​The Holy Zohar teaches us that vows come from the Sephirah of Binah, the supernal “Mother” or “understanding” that transcends the laws of the physical realm. In Sha’ar HaKavanot (Gate of Mystical Intentions), the Arizal explains that during Yom Kippur, the entire world is being sustained by that Sephira as everything is elevated. We are not deprived of food, drink, leather shoes, anointing and marital relations because there’s some deficiency in the world, but rather because in our elevated spiritual state, these things don’t exist as we know them. The world is, instead, satiated by the exalted spiritual “vapors”(“Havalim” in Hebrew) that emanate from the Sephirah of Bina. So too, when we make a vow, we bring down these incredibly holy vapors from our mouths. This explains many halachot (laws) regarding vows, such as how they are pronounced and how they can be revoked.

We also bless people with our mouths and Rabbi Shmuel Vital, in his commentary to his father Rabbi Chaim Vital’s Sha’ar HaGilgulim (Gate of Reincarnation) explains that Eli the Kohen Gadol was able to have such power in blessing Chana because he was the reincarnation of Yael (the righteous woman who killed Sisera). We see this from the fact that Eli’s name (עלי) and Yael’s name (יעל) have exactly the same letters. When Dvorah the Prophetess blessed Yael in her song, she also blessed her reincarnations to have this incredible power.

 

The exaltedness of Rosh Hashanah

​As we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, it’s important we understand a little bit about it from a Kabbalistic perspective. We know from the writings of the Rasha’sh (Rabbi Shalom Sharabi) that the first day of Rosh Hashanah we plead for our spiritual (internal) needs, while the second day, we pray for our physical (external) needs. This is reflected from the Kavanot(mystical intentions) in his Siddur Nahar Shalom.

​Nevertheless, the primary intent of Rosh Hashanah is to crown Hashem King over not only the entire world, but over each and every one of our soul’s limbs.The sound of the Shofar also comes from the exalted vapors that we saw before from the Sephirah of Binah and possess incredible power to return us to Teshuva (also the Sephira of Binah).

Chana was answered on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, and she prayed for a song that would illuminate the Jewish people, even though that this is supposedly a day focused on physical needs. When one hears the Shofar blast, it is a tremendous time of grace (e’t ratzon) to ask for anything we need. We should make the most out of this opportunity.

Chana the righteous prophetess teaches us to be bold in asking for our needs. Though she went so far as to almost threaten Hashem, this should never be attempted. As we mentioned in our article about Shmuel, her son, she did it with incredibly deep wisdom and for very specific Kabbalisitic reasons. Her burial place is not known, and the one in Tzfat for “Chana and her seven sons” is another very important Tzadika, but not the same Chana, mother of Shmuel.​May her memory be for a blessing and inspiration!

 

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​Rav Pappa is perhaps one of the most interesting Amoraim (Gemara sages) that we find in the Talmud. It is said that his approach was not a very high scholar, and tried to accept both approaches when a discussion arises. Nevertheless, he fervently prayed to become a great scholar and prided in the fact that he never excommunicated anyone.

​The Gemara records that, in all these merits, he was graced with 10 sons who were great scholars, and whose merit we invoke when finishing a Tractate of the Talmud. His pragmatic approach to life was also reflected in the fact that he loved folk saying (even using them in his arguments), and saying that “no work is too degrading for a man to make a proper living.

​Let’s explore a little bit of Rav Pappa’s life to see what we can glean as lessons to living better.

 



Things that are above merit

​To be precise, the sages (Moed Katan 28A)enumerate 3 things that are not dependent on merit at all, but rather on Mazal. As we saw before, Mazal is the flowing spiritual river that enables us to perform our mission, either in an easy or difficult way.

These three things are children, sustenance and health. That is to say, each and everyone of us come to the world with a certain measure of them, and it’s very difficult to change it over the course of life. This is because, in a Kabbalistic sense, they come from the highest Sephirah of Keter (crown).

​We however find that there are more attributes a person can be born with, which are also difficult to change. Fascinatingly, we find in Tractate Niddah 16B that when a couple is intimate, there’s an angel called Layla who takes the drop of seed (at least its spiritual counterpart), brings to Hashem and asks “Master of the Universe, what will become of this drop? Will it be strong or weak, wise or stupid, rich or poor?” – but concerning its fear of Heaven, whether it will be a Tzadik or a wicked person, he does not ask.

​We see then that there are a few more things that are not dependent on merit.

Hope and Teshuva never dies

​While it might seem desponding that so many things are out of our control, the truth is Jewish literature is full of sources that attest otherwise. The Ba’al Shem Tov, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, RebbeNatan his disciple, and many others all encourage us to keep praying no matter how difficult or impossible something seems, for all the things that are either big or small.

​Praying is an essential component to life and enables us to reach Teshuva. Nothing is beyond Teshuva and we can find an example in the Zohar where it writes that for the sin of wasting seed one can never be forgiven. Rav Chaim Vital however teaches us that this doesn’t mean it in the literal sense, rather it means that Hashem does not extend his help to cleanse someone of this sin as much as he does for all other sins. We also see then that the Zohar can never be taken literally, but must be interpreted by the Kabbalists in order to be understand.

​In many places in the writings of the Arizal, we find that Teshuva is in the world of Binah (understanding), which is the 8th Sephira from bottom up. As such, it is above nature and that’s one of the reasons why we make Brit Milah on the 8th day, why the week has only 7 days, and why the duration of the world as we know only has 7 millennia. The number 7 governs and includes nature, including its spiritual component such as the Shabbat, but 8 is above it.

​With Teshuva therefore we can reach levels we never though were possible, and surprisingly, even change our Mazal! Though the Sephira of Keter is the 10th from bottom up, here are talking about an entiredifferent spiritual system way above the one we were. When we do proper Teshuva we rise ourselves to an entirely different mode of existence and earn an entirely higher Mazal!

​Rav Pappa teaches us that no matter what decrees we are born with, we can surely change them with proper effort.

​May the memory of the sage Rav Pappa be for a blessing and inspiration and may we merit to make proper Teshuva!

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