Torah Study for the Soul: Pri Ha’Aretz

» Posted by on Oct 8, 2015 in Online Learning | 4 comments

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The first five teachings are below.


 

Teaching: WEEK 1

Torah Study for the Soul:
Pri Ha’Aretz
Hasidic Text Study
with Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels

Peshat
“God made the two great lights, the greater light to dominate the day and the lesser light to dominate the night, and the stars” (Gen. 1:16). For lo it is known that God emanated the worlds and created something [yesh] from nothing [ayin] and the essence [of creation] was so that the Zaddik [righteous one] would make from something [yesh] nothing [ayin] and subjugate all of the middot [dispositions, character traits, sefirot] to God, as King David wrote “Yours, YHVH, are greatness [gedulah], (might [gevurah], splendor [tiferet], triumph [nezaḥ], and majesty [hod]…) (I Chron. 29:11), raising all of the middot to their roots and then sweetening them in their roots.

This is as King David said “When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and stars that You set in place, what is man that You have been mindful of him, a human being that You have taken note of him” (Ps. 8:4-5). The explanation of “When I behold Your heavens [shamekha]” is that they are the two names (shemot, reading shamekha as “your names”) Havayah Adonai. For Havayah [Being] indicates the cause of causes prior to the emanation of the worlds and Adonai [Lord] indicates that which is after the emanation of the worlds, as it is written, “Lord [adon] of all the earth” (Ps. 97:5). God contracted [tzimtzem] from level to level until He reached [the lowest level] of the four hues and four elements. This is “the work of Your fingers [etzbotekha – tzadi.bet.ayin], the language of color [tzeva – tzadi.bet.ayin] and hue. “The moon and stars that You set in place”, for God reduced the moon (Hulin 60b), that is, contracted [it] from level to level until it reached the world of Assiyah (the fourth, lowest and most physical kabbalistic world), the corporeal world. This is the reduction of the moon, for prior to arrival of the middot “The noble were not preferred to the wretched” (Job. 34:19). There was no smallness at all rather everything was expansive and large. When the middotarrived small and large came into being. Why? So that the Zaddik (righteous one) would make from something (yesh) nothing (ayin) and raise up the corporeal middot to their roots as mentioned. This is the meaning of “what [mah] is man.” That the Zaddik will come to the level of “what” and then everything will be raised. In doing so the Zaddik will bring life-force to all of the worlds. This is the meaning of, “that You have been mindful of him.” The Zaddik will then be at the level of “mindful” [zekher]. “A human being” means that because he has reached the level of “what” then he is called a human being [adam] the number forty five [mah]. Then the portion of the verse “that You have taken note of him” applies. Then he is fitting to be taken note of.
This is what is written in the Talmud when God said “Bring an atonement for Me [alai] for making the moon smaller” (Hulin 60b). The meaning of “Bring for Me [alai]” is to bring all of the middot to a level beyond speech to their roots. Then they will be sweetened in their roots and then there will be atonement for making the moon smaller as mentioned above, for the purpose of the emanation of the worlds was for this reason….

The meaning of the verse “the greater light to dominate the day and the lesser light to dominate the night” (Gen. 1:16) is that the purpose of creation was so that the Zaddik would rule over the night. This is the meaning of “At midnight [ḥatzot] [I arise to praise You for Your just rules]” (Ps. 119:62), that [the Zaddik] should sunder and break the night. Then “I arise to praise You.” When [the Zaddik] breaks the night and raises up the middot and comes to the level of “day” then he understands that the God’s contraction of the worlds was great loving-kindness….

…. For the purpose of creation was to reveal the thirteen attributes of compassion and this is the healing [tikkun] of the worlds, understand.

Click here to download James’ full teaching
(Peshat, Derash, Remez, Sod, Avodah).
Click here to download the Hebrew text.
Click here to download a bio of R. Menachim Mendel of Vitebsk.

Teaching: WEEK 2

Torah Study for the Soul:
Pri Ha’Aretz
Hasidic Text Study
with Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels

Peshat
“These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his generation…” (Gen. 6:9)…. The matter is as our Sages expounded the verse “Happy is the man who has not followed the counsel of the wicked, or taken the path of sinners…” (Ps. 1:1). “Happy is the man” this is Noah. “Who has not followed the counsel of the wicked” this is the generation of the Flood. “Or taken the path of sinners” this is the generation of the tower of Babel (based on Gen. Rabbah 26:1).

The root of the matter is that there is a type of fear or awe (yirah) of a mitzvah when a person contemplates the fact that the doing of the mitzvah is itself divinity… When the person begins to do the mitzvah with his corporeal limbs and the accoutrements of the mitzvah which are also corporeal, he is alarmed and his spirit beats in agitation that he can corporealize a divine matter. For is God corporeal, God forbid! Yet after becoming agitated a number of times he nonetheless strengthens himself in his faith in God that the mitzvah is connection and the words of the living God…. He understands the enclothing of the Shekhinah in that mitzvah… and that the enclothing of the Shekhinah in the corporeal is in order to connect all the lowly corporeal things through his limbs which perform mitzvot… to Ain Sof [the infinite]….

But all of this cannot occur until after the awe and fear mentioned above. For all of the character dispositions or modes of being [midot] and the joy that a person brings on herself voluntarily are not genuine, for they are not formed in her mind, if they are not preceded by the fear of God which strengthens her faith. Then when love or joy or any other quality are drawn out of [her] faith afterwards it is genuine for it is divine inspiration….

… But this matter [the proper performance of a mitzvah and the vitality and creativity it induces] can only come to be through lowliness and humility. When a person contemplates his lowliness and unimportance he is alarmed at the thought of corporealizing a mitzvah. This is not the case of one who pretends to piety through a thunderous tumultuous revelation from his performance of the mizvot of God and who swells through this to be greater than he was beforehand. All of the character dispositions [midot] and joy which come to him are only illusions as mentioned above. All of his mitzvot are corporeal and physical without any vitality in them….

The general principle is the lowly person’s connection to the Upper Will through lowliness, fear and awe. Through this she will come to contemplation, investigation and wisdom which she will then enter into every mitzvah that she performs, as mentioned above. But without [such] contemplation and comprehension the mitzvah is just corporeal. And so too the opposite, without the corporeal performance of the mitzvah, neither contemplation nor comprehension will connect a person to the blessed Creator. The proof of this is King Solomon of whom it is said “He was the wisest of all men” (I Kings 5:11). But because he tried to be wise without [following] the mitzvah which warned the king not to multiply horses and women saying, “I will multiply and not go astray” (Sanhedrin 21b), he faltered even though [he was wise].

This is the meaning of our Sages statement (Gen. Rabbah 26:1) [with which we began], ‘”Happy is the man’ this is Noah. ‘Who has not followed the counsel of the wicked’ this is the generation of the flood.” This means to use the intellect without performing mitzvot. For the multiplying of comprehension is called a flood, as it says “YHVH sat at the flood and YHVH will sit as king forever” (Ps. 29:10) and as it is mentioned in the Zohar (I 56a)…. “‘Or taken the path of sinners’ this is the generation of the tower of Babel” who had [only] external fear, as it says, “[And they said, ‘Come, let us build us a city, and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves;] lest we shall be scattered [all over the world]” (Gen. 11:4). May God place in the heart of every wise-hearted person wisdom and the knowledge of God in Zion, amen.

Click here to download James’ full teaching

Click here to download the Hebrew text.

Teaching: WEEK 3

Torah Study for the Soul:
Pri Ha’Aretz
Hasidic Text Study
with Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels

Peshat
It is taught in the midrash (Genesis Rabba 30:11): the difference between Noah and Abraham can be explained through a parable. Noah is similar to one who loves the king who us sitting in darkness and has the king come and shine a light for him. Abraham is like one who loves the king and who comes to shine a light for the king. The king says to him (the lover), “Instead of shining a light in darkness come and shine a light in a place of light.” The language is clear and this is the meaning of Him saying [to Abraham] “Go forth (lekh lekha) [from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you]” (Gen. 12:1).

The matter is that Noah was righteous in his faith, without any kind of analytical investigation [hasagah iyunit]. He was simply upright (tamim) in his deeds and God shone a light for him. But Abraham already knew his Creator from the age of three (Nedarim 32a). Through investigation and contemplation he matured in his awareness, understanding and intellect. [Only] after all of this [his intellectual maturation] was he simply upright (tamim) in his deeds, which is faith alone- as it says “Walk before me,” which is beyond the midot (sefirot, character dispositions, duality, intellect) “and [then] be simply upright (tamim)” afterwards (Gen. 17:1). For comprehension of God is infinite (ain sof) and true connection and cleaving (devekut) to God occurs through faith alone.

This can be seen by way of a parable: the connection of all of the worlds (kabbalistic dimensions of being) to each other also occurs through faith. Even in this lower world, for example, a person gets pleasure when his infant recognizes that he is his father even before the child has any intellectual capacity at all. Despite [this lack of intellectual capacity], [the father] gets pleasure [from this recognition]. The creation of the worlds was in this manner, as in the teaching that “‘In the beginning God created’ [b’reshit barah] means that [God created the world] for Israel who is called reshit [first], who knew to glorify their Creator and call Him ‘our Father, our King'” (Pesikta Zutarta Gen. 1:1). This is the entirety of God’s delight as in the teaching “more than the calf wants to suck the cow wants to suckle” (Pesaḥim 112a). This is the connection between all of the worlds. Everything greater than its fellow wants to shower that below it with goodness [lehashpia] and in its showering goodness it receives pleasure greater than that below it in its receiving [the overflowing goodness].

But the symbol in the parable is not in fact similar to that which it symbolizes at all for lo all of these [worlds and things] were created in this manner and arrangement, and the nature of creation is this kind of connection. This is not the case in reference to the Divine, the cause of all causes, the Infinite (ain sof) who created everything including the nature of creation. Pleasure and connection, as mentioned above, do not apply to God at all. For lo God created nature and sustains it at every moment, for if God’s Will did not desire the existence of the world every single moment it would be as if [the world] never was and [the world] would be annihilated. If so, the connection between God and [the world] to shower this goodness [on the world] is none other than God’s simple will and desire as it is taught “When it arose in God’s will [to create the world]” (Hayyim Vital, Kitvei Ari, Etz Hayyin, Opening, Sha’ar Hakelalim Chpt. 1). It is mentioned that God created with His will first and with His will He sustains [the world] and showers goodness constantly and gets pleasure.

Click here to download James’ full teaching

Click here to download the Hebrew text.

Teaching: WEEK 4

Torah Study for the Soul:
Pri Ha’Aretz
Hasidic Text Study
with Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels

Peshat
It is taught in the Midrash (Tanchuma Vayera 1): R. Isaac the Blacksmith began his teaching: It is written “Make for Me an altar of earth and sacrifice on it [your burnt offerings and your sacrifices of well-being, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come to you and bless you]” (Ex. 20:21). If a person makes an altar and sacrifices burnt offerings and sacrifices of well-being, it is said concerning him “in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come to you and bless you” (ibid.), how much more so does this apply to Abraham the patriarch who sacrificed himself. This is the meaning of the verse [with which our parsha begins] “YHVH appeared to him [Abraham]…” (Gen. 18:1). The matter will be explained by first considering two surprising points recalled by the Torah’s interpreters. First, why is the akeidah (sacrifice of Isaac) considered a test of Abraham and not a test of Isaac who sacrificed himself for God? This is according to Rashi’s interpretation that “After these things/words [God put Abraham to the test.]” (Gen 22:1) means [after] the words of Ishmael [who boasted that he was circumcised at 13 years of age and did not protest] to which Isaac responded that he would be willing to sacrifice his whole self for God (Rashi on Gen. 22:1). Second, why is Abraham’s test in Ur of the Chaldeans (being thrown into the fiery furnace) not mentioned in the Bible?

The test of the akeidah as explained in the midrash (Gen. Rabba 56:8) and Rashi (Gen. 22:12) was that one would have expected Abraham to question and ruminate upon [l’harher] God’s actions such as:
R. Aba said: Abraham said: I will set my thoughts before you. Yesterday you said to me “for it is through Isaac that your offspring shall be continued” (Gen. 21:12). Then You retracted and said “Take your son […and offer (v’ha’aleu) him there as an offering (l’olah)]” (Gen. 22:2). Now You say to me “Do not raise your hand against the boy” (Gen. 22:12).

This would indicate a change in God’s will, God forbid, which is the root of heresy… which is opposed to cleaving [to God] and the apprehension of His truth through His wisdom. This is as Rashi stated concerning the snake which was “the most cunning [arum mikol] [of all the animals]” (Gen. 3:1). “Most cunning [arum mikol] is most cursed [arur mikol],” “His [the snake’s] downfall was proportional to his cunning and greatness” (Rashi on Gen. 3:1). But Abraham withstood the test and did not disparage or ruminate upon [l’harher] his faith when he grasped God’s words as being contradictory. He strengthened himself in the truth of the strong and great faith in His simple will. For his thoughts are not God’s thoughts and his ways are not God’s ways and he cannot understand the words of God and God’s actions at all… For no apprehension can grasp God’s utterances and the explanation of God’s words… How much more are God’s thoughts and even more so God’s will incomprehensible? Through this faith Abraham strengthened himself and did not rely on his apprehension and withstood the test in that he did not criticize [l’harher] God.

The general rule is that the essence of the tests is faith. As it is said “that He might test you to learn what was in your hearts” (Deut. 8:2)… Like the famine [in Canaan] where at first [God says] “Go forth [… to the land [Canaan] that I will show you.] (Gen 12:1) and afterwards there is a seeming change in [God’s] will in bringing a famine to that place [causing Abraham to leave Canaan for Egypt] as Rashi explains (on Gen. 12:10)… But concerning the test of giving one’s life for God after one knows that God is the Creator… that commands one to give one’s life and sacrifice oneself, who would not heed and who would not want [to do what God commands]?… Every person, if God spoke to her directly to sacrifice herself for God and if she knew for certain that these were God’s words, would heed God. Therefore these two tests [of Isaac being offered as a sacrifice and of the fiery furnace in Ur of Chaldeans] are not mentioned in the Torah….

For the Torah stands forever and is practiced in each generation and in each person through gazing and contemplating the deeds written in the Torah and God’s qualities… And everything goes to one place and the root of all is His simple will through His simple, great, strong faith. Through this the forces of judgment [gevurot] are sweetened [transformed], for this faith pierces to the depths and integrates all of the divine qualities [midot] to unify them. From there God’s faith is blessed and flows and afterwards one understands clearly that God’s words are not contradictory, as God replied to Abraham there, as Rashi explains (Gen. 22:12). And from the source of blessings all of the worlds are automatically blessed unto the lower world and unto the tiny worm in the ocean.

This is the meaning of the teaching of R. Isaac the Blacksmith who said “in every place where I cause My name (Adonai) to be mentioned” (Ex. 20:21)… Which means in every place where the masculine and feminine names of God are unified… “I will come to you and bless you” (ibid.), means blessing and abundance [will manifest] through [this shift in] awareness and the corporeal world will be automatically blessed [as a result]. Concerning the claim that Abraham sacrificed himself, this means the test of faith, which is harder and more bitter than death and sacrifice.

Click here to download James’ full teaching (Peshat, Derash, Remez, Sod, Avodah).
Click here to download the Hebrew text.

Teaching: WEEK 5

Torah Study for the Soul:
Pri Ha’Aretz
Hasidic Text Study
with Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels

Peshat
[Abraham was now old, advanced in years [ba b’yamim]] and YHVH had blessed Abraham in all things [bakol] (Gen. 24:1)…. It is like the Sages said concerning Barzillai the Gileadite who was eighty years old and said [in response to the King’s invitation to join his court] “[I am now eighty years old.] Can I tell the difference between good and bad? Can your servant taste what he eats and drinks?” (2 Samuel 19:36). The Sages said that he was “awash in in lust” and [so] old age sprang upon him (Shabbat 152a). And truly concerning every desire of this world it is said that the way of the adulterer is that “his satiety makes him hungry” (Sukkah 52b). Similarly the Sages said “no one dies with even half of their desires fulfilled” (Ecl. Rabbah 1:34). Therefore they [the desires] age a person’s mind so that his mind never rests and is full of desire, as the verse says “the craving of a lazy man kills him” (Prov. 21:25) and so too the verse “Hope deferred sickens the heart” (Prov. 13:12). So too one can find this quality in the service of God. [With this quality] the word of God is precious to find and one is never satisfied with it for the person greater than his fellow perceives the depth of the lofty matter which is hidden from him [the lesser person]. All understandings are considered as nothing and naught as it is said “where [me’ayin] can wisdom be found” (Job. 28:12). For God is infinite [ain sof] and all understandings of God are infinite.

But the essence of spiritual practice is connecting to God with every quality [midah] and with everything that overcomes a person for lo “a person’s evil inclination grows in strength [mitgaber] every day [yom]” (Sukkah 52b). Even though yesterday the person overcame [hitgaber] it [the evil inclination] and God’s spirit rested upon him through that quality, tomorrow the evil inclination attempts to kill him in some other harder way… and to trap him in its net forever, unless the person strengthens [hitḥazek] himself to such an extent that he is completely liberated from using that quality for himself at all. He takes no pleasure in it except insofar as he uses it to serve his Creator, as King David said “My heart is pierced [ḥalal] within me” (Ps. 109:22). Then the evil inclination lets him be. For how can it trap him if he receives no pleasure from using it [the quality] for himself? On the contrary, he experiences pain [at the idea of using it for himself] as the Sages teach “that which is good to the wicked is evil to the righteous” (Yevamot 103a).

This is called redemption and the building of the Temple in his days. For days [yamim] are called qualities [midot]… and he has now been redeemed, in this quality, from the difficulty of the evil inclination. As long as he is not redeemed, the evil inclination twitches in him… And if his sins entrap him… the first days fall. This means that all that he has used to overcome the evil inclination [until this fall]… is entered into the kelipot [shells of evil] and he cannot recover [his previous status] through reinforcing the same strategies [sekhel] which he previously used to withstand the evil inclination. For now, after… he has appointed the evil inclination to rule over him…, he has also entered these sparks of holiness [the strategies] into the kelipot, and how can he raise up life-force [ḥiyut] from the pit with that same practice [etza]… unless it [the evil inclination] is subdued with a strength of courage and abundant holiness that he never had before. This is what the sages taught “Every generation in which the Temple is not built in its days is as if it was destroyed in its days” (Yerushalmi Yoma Chpt. 1, Halakha 1, with changes). This means they did not build the Temple in the way explained above….

But the general principle is faith in that which the eyes cannot see, the ear cannot hear, and the intellect cannot comprehend…. And then afterwards the strengthening of awe which will automatically occur after [the attainment] of faith for the two of them are one thing and a simple unity (see Zohar 11b). This brings connection to God through every quality [midah]. For these things stand at the heights of the world and break all desire and all kelipot. When these [faith and awe] overcome the self “all workers of iniquity are scattered” (Ps. 92:10) as wax melts away before fire. And he will be [the one to whom the verse applies]: “[better…] to rule one’s spirit than to conquer a city.” (Prov. 16:32)

This is “Abraham was now old [ba b’yamim]” (Gen. 24:1) which means he was old in terms of the qualities [midot]… in his senses… being annihilated. This is the way of God, after he [Abraham] overcame his qualities to use them to serve God and not for any self-benefit at all, he transcended the qualities and they were annihilated in his constant unceasing connection to God. This is “YHVH had blessed Abraham in all things”, for connection is called “all.”

Click here to download James’ full teaching (Peshat, Derash, Remez, Sod, Ma’aseh).
Click here to download the Hebrew text.

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