Category Archives: Archives 5766


Tammuz 5766 – Turning Destruction into Creation

1 Tammuz 5766
Reaching Up: Turning Destruction into Creation
by Rabbi Shlomo Borinstein

The word Tammuz comes from the word maza or mazi which means something which burns or a fire(See Shem MiShmuel parshas Korach). It is true that the month of Tammuz falls out in the hot summer but there probably is another connection between this month and something which burns.

The Shem MiShmuel (parshas Shelach) states that the months of Tammuz and Av are months full of hardships for us but will eventually turn into the months of holidays and happiness. He explains that Hashem created the world in such a way that the mundane parts of this world are also imbued with a kedusha from above. We read in parshas Eikav that man doesn’t live by bread alone but rather through that which comes from Hashem’s mouth. The Arizal explains that the bread we eat has that which comes from Hashem’s mouth in it. It, and everything else, have a holiness from above. Originally, before the sin of Adam, a person’s neshama was suppose to come down and connect with the physical body to the extent that the body would be raised up above this world as well. Only because of the sin does the neshama disconnect from the body at death leaving the body down here.

The months of the year are also suppose to teach us this lesson. The first three months, Nissan, Iyar, and Sivan, are months that a kedusha came down from above and connected with them. Nissan had all the makos and other miracles happen in it enabling the Jews to leave Mitzrayim. During Iyar the mon fell from shamayim giving the Jews sustenance in the desert. And, of course, in Sivan we received the Torah from above and brought it down here. We see kedusha come from above into this world.

The next three months are suppose to teach us the idea of being raised up above through the kedusha that came down to us. Had it not been for our sins all the mundane of this world would have become holy and during these months we would have rose above to unprecedented heights. We could have used the physical to elevate to spiritual.

Tammuz is the month that two of the worse calamities in our history took place. It was on the 17th of the month that Moshe came down with the luchos only to find the people with the eigal hazahav. And a year later the meraglim spent the entire month of Tammuz in Eretz Canaan which would cause us to spend forty years in the desert. It’s a month of destruction and great sorrow for us. But in that time of hardship there’s hope.

Tammuz represents Hashem’s mida of strict din and that’s why we’ve been punished so hard during this month. But in the future, when we finally come back to Hashem, the world will return to the way that He intended it to be. The world is suppose to run on din, but a din that we can handle. According to din we will turn all the destruction that we created into deserved festivals and happiness. The same powers that cause us to weep during this sad month with bring about laughter and cheer during the joyous month. This is the Tammuz that we dream for.

Now we can understand what burning has to do with Tammuz. Fire is destructive. The Gemara regards it as one of the four main categories of destruction. But there’s another characteristic about fire. Fire always reaches upwards as if it wants to return back to its Creator. That same power of destruction has in it the ability to connect us with the spiritual world. If we use the fire to light up our hearts then we can change the destruction into creation. This is the lesson of chodesh Tammuz.

May we merit to see the mourning turn into happiness and the darkness into light.


Iyar 5766 – A Deeper Level of Listening

5 Iyar 5766
A Deeper Level of Listening
by Rabbi Shlomo Borinstein

It’s not by chance, of course, that there are twelve months of the year and twelve Shevatim. Avraham Avinu, in his Sefer Yetzira, already points this out and the greatest meforshim throughout the generations have tried to explain the connection between each month and it’s corresponding sheivet.

If we start the year with chodesh Nissan and we line up the shevatim according to their births then chodesh Iyar corresponds to sheivat Shimon. Leah named her son because “Hashem heard that I am hated”. Shimon comes from the word to hear. What does hearing have to do with chodesh Iyar? What are we suppose to hear this month more than any other month?

Hearing is different than seeing. When a person sees something he immediately begins to analyze the sight and tries to gain an understanding of what he’s viewing. Since he sees it he believes it is real (Seeing is believing) but exactly what it is might be difficult to ascertain. He only sees the external and therefore there’s only so much his mind can take in to build an accurate picture of this sight. A person may make a first impression based on sight only to have in change radically as he gets to know it better.

Hearing, however, allows us to gain a much greater understanding of what we’re analyzing. The Maharal writes that a person’s ears are the opening into the person similar to a door of a house. Since sounds enter deeper into the person this allows for a deeper understanding. Through analyzation of what’s being heard a completely new picture, or at least a clearer picture, may evolve than that which originally appeared only through sight.

Torah Sh’Bichsav is written and we must learn it with our eyes. But if a person just has Torah Sh’Bichsav, just what he sees, the Torah will be a confusing maze to him, not understanding what Hashem wants from him. The Torah says to observe Shabbos, but what is it? What do tefillin look like and how do I know if my esrog is kosher or not? None of these answers will be found just looking at the pesukim. We certainly need Torah Sh’Bicsav because it is the foundation for all the understanding of the Torah. But it alone is not enough.

Torah Sh’Baal Peh is to be transmitted from mouth to ears, from Rebbi to talmid. The talmid will now be able to hear what Torah Sh’Bicsav is all about and gain a fuller understanding of what our avodah is in this world. He’ll listen to his Rebbi’s explanations of the pesukim and new depths will be reached than had he just looked at them himself. Through hearing he will develop into a new person.

Chodesh Nissan corresponds to Shevet Reuven, or rieeah, seeing. In Mitzraim the Jews saw the makos and began their understanding of Hashem. But this was only a beginning. It was enough of an understanding to get them out of Mitzraim but much more was expected of them. During chodesh Iyar Klal Yisrael worked at gaining as great of an understanding of Hashem as possible until they final reach Sinai, Rosh Chodesh Sivan.

Iyar is the month of deeper understanding. The bulk of sefiras ha’omer is during this month. It’s a time to listen to what’s going on around us and to connect to Hashem, each person according to his ability. In Lashon haKodesh the word for thing is davar, which comes from the word speak. Everything in this world is speaking and it’s up to us to listen and understand what it’s saying.

Let’s make this Iyar the month of connecting with Hashem so that this Sivan will be a new kabalos ha’Torah and we’ll finally see the coming of mashiach, bimhaira b’yameinu.


Nissan 5766 – Pesach Talk

8 Nissan 5766
Pesach Talk
by Rabbi Shlomo Borinstein

As we bring in chodesh Nissan, it’s important for us to focus on the lessons of this month so that we can gain from it as much as possible. Chodesh Nissan isn’t like all the other months. We’re told that it’s the month which is most ripe for a geula. Just as Klal Yisrael experienced their first geula back in Mitzrayim during this month so too may we be zoche to experience another geula this Nissan.

The Arizal writes that the word Pesach is actually made up of two different words, Peh and Sach, mouth and speak. In other words, on Pesach we were given a mouth to speak with. The obvious question is, what does that have to do with Pesach? What does speech have to do with yitzias Miztraim? Before we received the Torah we said Na’aseh v’Nishmah. But that was weeks after we left Mitzraim. How did speech play a part in our redemption?

Let’s start with a different question. How would you define the yetzer hara? Most would answer that it’s the evil inclination that entices a person to do bad things. A tzaddik is one who overcomes this inclination while a rasha is one who falls prey to it. In “Toras Avraham” Rav Avraham Grodzinski, may Hashem avenge his blood, has a different understanding of the yetzer hara.

The Gemara brings that the Roman emperor, Antinonis asked Rebbi when does the yetzer hara enter a baby: while the baby is still inside the womb or only after the birth? Rebbi answered that it enters while the baby is still in the womb. Antinonis countered that if this were true the baby would kick even harder than it does already to try and get out. The Gemara writes that Rebbi changed his mind and agreed with Antinonis. The question must be asked, why would the baby want to come out so badly? In the womb it has everything it could want: food, drink, warmth, protection, transportation. What’s it lacking that it would want to come out so badly?

Most of us, if not all of us, grew up in countries where we are given freedom to do almost everything. There’s freedom of speech and freedom of religion and freedom of press and freedom to live our lives in almost any fashion that we would like. Comes along the “Toras Avraham” and defines the yetzer hara as the freedom of choice. The greater a person feels he can choose to do whatever he desires the greater his yetzer hara. In truth, from a very young age we are taught that we don’t have freedom of choice. We can’t cheat and we can’t steal and we can’t pour our bowl of oatmeal on our brother’s head. We can’t do whatever we want. The greater the chinuch we are given the more our yetzer hara is minimized. This is what the baby inside the womb is missing. If the yetzer hara entered the baby before birth it would try to kick its way out so that it could choose for itself want it wants to do.

Now, if Hashem wanted to teach an entire nation to break it’s yetzer hara how should He go about it? Who’s the one person that has the least amount of freedom of choice? A slave. Therefore, in order to teach Klal Yisrael want it means not to have freedom of choice he made the entire nation a nation of slaves for 210 years. This will enable them to fight their yetzer hara and serve Hashem to the greatest extent.

At yetzias Mitzrayim Klal Yisrael is put to test. What kind of speech will they have? Will they talk about their desire to vacation at the popular tourist sites? Will they discuss which restaurant they’ll try next night out? Will they talk about the guys and the girls? Will their speech be a speech of chasing after all their freedom of choices or will they have learn their lesson and keep quiet and realize they really don’t have choices? This will determine if they’re ready for a redemption.

It’s up to us to make the right choices.


Adar 5766 – It’s Not Easy Being Green

3 Adar 5766
It’s Not Easy Being Green
by Mrs. Aviva Feiner

She is beautiful, she is stately, she is regal, she is pious, and she is GREEN!

We have grown up with various understandings and renditions of this opinion in the gemara. From cute little dressed up Esthers with their pretty faces painted green to Gadi Pollack’s illustrated Megillah with its heroine peeking out at us in lovely green hues. Who was Esther HaMalka? – The Tanna R’ Yehoshua says that the Jews of her time referred to her as “achos lanu b’beis hamelech,” “Our sister in the house of the king.” To what extent will a sister go for her siblings?

It cannot be coincidence that the first woman we see willing to take such a great sacrifice for a sibling was, in fact, Esther’s direct ancestress, our Mama Rochel. Rochel willingly gave up all of her aspirations and visions of her future with the man with whom she thought she could build the Jewish people, so as not shame her sister. Rochel was also aware that she might potentially end up in the married to Eisav Harasha, but she was willing to take that chance. Generations later stands her granddaughter Esther – she is not merely taking a chance – she KNOWS that she is walking into a life, physically bound to a rasha, and that she is irreversibly altering her destiny. (The commentaries explain that once Esther willing went to Achashveirosh she changed her status of anusah, a forced woman, to that of a willing woman. This would forever prohibit her to Mordechai – and it is Mordechai who orders her to do it!) The Gra explains that this sister to the Jewish people was really physically beautiful, like Rochel –”yifas to’ar v’yifas mar’eh” (Breishis 29:17; Esther, 2:7). Yet, when she stood there about to enter the chambers of the king, she needed a “chut shel chessed”(Megilla 13a), an aura of chessed as an enhancement from G-d, because our Esther was SICK, ill, all broken up from what she was about to do, and Esther, indeed, looked GREEN.

Rav Moshe Eisemann shlita, mashgiach of Ner Yisrael, explains that while the people of Shushan partied – as we do today – let us not forget the bas Melech Malchei HaMelachim who did not go out to rejoice with her people; she was left, instead, locked in a world with a foolish melech basar vadam whom she despised, content with the knowledge that she had taken advantage of an opportunity to save her people. We name the story of Purim for her and she asks, “kisvuni l’doros” (Megilla 7) – remember me forever!

(Chullin 139b) :Esther Min HaTorah Minayin? – “Ve’anochi Haster Astir Panai” – From where does the Torah teach us about Esther? From the words, “And I surely have concealed My face”(Devarim, 31:18). These words do not seem to be an encouraging prediction as to what the future Esther will be about. Yet the Ramban comments on them that while these words are an expression of G-d’s wrath, they also portend an impending redemption yet unrevealed.

Esther is the story of the Jew in exile, the first of many from the time of the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash until the time for which we are still waiting. Esther is the end of the time of open miracles, and the Jewish people are now faced with an additional challenge: Find Hashem when He hides Himself from you! Search for Him in your moments of darkness, in your moments of pain. Esther has taught us a new talent, says Rav Hutner, the ability to find light even from within the darkness. This is a talent, he continues, because it takes no chochmah to find Hashem when there is a light, kaviyachol, shining on His face. Esther, the ayeles hashachar (Tehillim 22:1), the morning star, gives us hope for a day when the sun will eternally shine and gives us strength to shine in the darkness of night.

May we, the daughters of Melech Malchei Hamlachim, still in galus, learn many lessons from Esther. How sickened we should be from the debased immorality of the society that surrounds us. How proud we should be of our sacrifices for Hashem and the Jewish people. How open our eyes should be to searching for Hashem in our moments of pain. And how ready our hearts should be for the revelation of a time of eternal sunshine!

“LaYehudim Haysah Orah… – Kein T’hiyeh Lanu!”


Shevat 5766 – The Winter Of Our Content

15 Shevat 5766
The Winter Of Our Content
by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair

Why Do Trees Need a New Year?

The Ages Of Man

If we were to compare the seasons of the year to the ages of Man, which age would winter represent?

“Old age” you would say. Winter connotes the chill of rapidly receding years and ultimate death. Winter’s snow covers the world with a white and aging head. In every language, winter symbolizes old age. Every language, that is, except one. In Hebrew, the word for winter, /Choref/, can also connote the hidden burgeoning of youth into maturity. As it says in the Book of /Iyov:/ /”as it was in the days of my winter.” (29:4) /”Winter” here means dormant vigor. How is it that winter can symbolize the bursting forth of life? How can we understand a world view where winter is not necessarily connected to death – but to the flourishing of life?

Auld Lang Syne

On the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat, which this year falls out on the 22nd of January, a new year will begin. There will be little or no television coverage of this event. No one will be jumping into fountains. No one will be waiting for midnight so they can drunkenly wend their way through some ancient Scottish ballad with obscure lyrics. No one will be setting off firecrackers. The 22nd of January will be the quietest New Year’s Day in the world, and yet, /Tu B’Shevat – /the New Year for Trees – is one of the most significant days in the calendar.

I can hear you saying: “What do the trees need a New Year for?”

Apart from its halachic ramifications, why should trees need a New Year? Are they going to make resolutions? What does it mean that the trees have a new year? And why is it specifically on the 15th of Shevat?

Here Comes The Sun

Let’s start with the last question. Tu B’Shevat /takes place in the middle of winter. Everything outside seems frozen and lifeless. However, hidden from sight, something is happening deep inside the trees. Under the frozen bark, at the very core, the sap is beginning to rise. Everything looks the same as yesterday, everything seems unchanged – but inexorably, new life is starting to burgeon. It may not be the end of Winter, but it is the beginning of the end.

You can look at Winter two ways: You can look at it as The End. You can look at its deathly chill. Or you can look at it as the silent birthday of life. You can look back and see winter as the end. Or you can look forward and see it as the beginning.

The same is true of life itself. You can look at the winter years of life as the end. Or you see those same years looking forward to a life just about to be born on another plane.

The Torah likens Man to the tree of the field. “For Man is the tree of the field.” (Devarim 20:19) Just like the tree contains an unseen vigor which rises in the depths of winter and death, so too man has an unseen vigor planted inside him – an eternal existence which springs to life when we leave this winter- world of suffering and pain.

When we celebrate Tu B’Shevat, we are not just celebrating the New Year for Trees. In a way, we are celebrating our own re-naissance. We are reminding ourselves that this is just a winter-world.

Evening And Morning

Winter brings us the shortest days of the year. Night seems to dominate the day. Winter is a paradigm of this world. In this world, darkness seems to rule. It’s easy to think that this is a brief walk in darkness between two greater darknesses. But to the Jew, this world of darkness is no more than a prelude to a great light. The Jew sees this Winter-world as the harbinger of Spring, not the executioner of Summer.

At the very beginning of Creation, the Torah repeats the following phrase many times: “And it was evening and it was morning…” Evening precedes morning. Night precedes day. Why does the day start with the evening? If you were creating the world, wouldn’t it be more logical to start with the morning, with the light? For if the first thing that G-d called into creation was light, shouldn’t we view the day as morning first and only then evening?

Right at the beginning of the Creation, there is a hint. A hint that this is an evening world. A world of winter and darkness. And it is only after this evening- world that we will finally enter the morning-world to live on an eternal plane.

That’s the secret message of Tu B’Shevat, the day when we celebrate new life rising in the tree. Tu B’Shvat is a New Year which proclaims that “It was evening,” but soon it will be morning.

JemSem would like to thank Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair and Ohr Somayach International for permission to use this article.