Parshios Netzavim & Vayeilech
Knock, Knock, Knocking on Prayer's Gate
This week's parshah sheet is dedicated in memory of Chana Leah bat
Baila (Ann Rosenberg), z"l, whose yarzheit is the 24th of Elul, by her
son, daughter-in-law, and their family. May the reading of this
week's "Perceptions" be an ilui Neshamah for her.
Moshe went and spoke all of these words to all of Israel. He said, "I
am 120 years old today; I can no longer go out and come in" (Devarim
Come and go means with respect to words of Torah, which teaches that the
traditions and well-springs of wisdom were closed off to him. (Rashi)
It must have been hard to imagine that the fountains of Torah and prophecy
from which the Jewish people had been spiritually drinking and sustaining
themselves for 40 years could stop flowing through Moshe Rabbeinu. But it
was true, confirmed by Moshe Rabbeinu himself, and even though they would
divert themselves to flow through his protégé, Yehoshua Bin Nun, they
would never be quite the same.
The question is, what exactly closed up?
The answer to this question comes from examining another idea that is very
relevant to us now as we stand one week in advance of Rosh Hashanah. The
rest of the year we have many ways to serve G-d and earn His favor; during
the "Aseret Yemai Teshuvah", the "Ten Days of Repentance" we do it
primarily through tefillah (prayer). However, according to Chazal it is
not so simple, and the Tikunei HaZohar explains why (the large type is the
Tikunei HaZohar, and the small type is the commentary "Mitok M'Dvash"):
THIS IS, "ALL THE GATES ARE LOCKED in terms of accepting prayers EXCEPT
FOR THE GATES OF TEARS" (Brochot 32a), because the Sha'arei Dima (Gates of
Tears) are on the level of Netzach and Hod of Chochmah, the sod of the two
eyes, and the Chitzonim cannot reach that level, so therefore they are not
closed, AND THERE IS NO ONE WHO CAN OPEN THOSE GATES, i.e., there is no
one who can open the Sha'arei Tefillah UNTIL SOMEONE COMES IN TEARS, i.e.,
until he prays with tears AS IT SAYS, "AFTER SHE OPENED IT SHE SAW THE
BOY - this refers to B'nei Yisroel - AND HE WAS CRYING" - who prayed with
tears (Shemot 2:6), AND THERE IS NO HEICHEL THAT OPENS EXCEPT THROUGH IT,
i.e., the Heichel of Tefillah only opens for one with tears. IT SAYS with
respect to the daughter of Pharaoh that "SHE OPENED IT", but it does not
say that "she opened the basket" that alludes to CERTAINLY SHE OPENED IT
i.e., the Shechinah opened the Sha'arei Heichel HaTefillah for the prayers
of the Jewish people (AND THIS IS WHAT IT SAYS, "G-D, OPEN MY LIPS _"
(Tehillim 51:17)). AND WITH WHAT DOES IT OPEN? WITH TEARS, AS IT
SAYS, "AND HE WAS CRYING", that is, in the merit and the strength of the
tears IMMEDIATELY "SHE HAD MERCY ON HIM" meaning that the Sha'arei
Tefillah is open to accept their prayers. FURTHER REGARDING "AND SHE
OPENED IT", WHEN ISRAEL DOES TESHUVAH WITH TEARS, i.e., they "open" with
teshuvah and tears, IMMEDIATELY "SHE HAD MERCY ON HIM", immediately mercy
is aroused on Israel, AS IT SAYS "CRYING THEY CAME" (Yirmiyahu 31:8), IN
THE MERIT OF THEIR CRYING - in the merit of the crying of Israel - THEY
ARE GATHERED and go out FROM EXILE. (Tikunei HaZohar, Tikun 11, p. 26b)
Putting Kabbalah aside for the moment, what we have just learned is that
our prayers just don't go up and do their thing on their own. Rather, they
ascend from our mouths upward to a specific location, what is called
the "Sha'arei Tefillah" (the "Gates of Prayer"). If and when they enter
these gates, then they can at least try and do their thing, bringing down
to us the good for which we have prayed.
But if the gates are locked, then what good is our prayer?
Open for me the Gates of Righteousness, I will enter them and thank G-
d. (Tehillim 118:20)
Okay, so not the Gates of Righteousness, but at least the Gates of Prayer!
First of all, why would they be locked in the first place? The answer is,
for our own good. The question is, how can locking the gates intended to
receive our prayers be for our own good? The answer is, because not only
does locking the Sha'arei Tefillah keep out our prayers, but it also keeps
out the Chitzonim as well.
Great. What's "chitznomim"?
Literally translated, "chitzonim" means "externalities" but also refers to
elements of Creation that act as a spiritual barrier between us and G-d.
They are there to challenge us, to literally play "devil's advocate", in
order to force us to use our free-will to choose to be close to G-d, and
therefore earn reward in the World-to-Come, the sole purpose of Creation.
The trouble is, that they can do their job so well that we can also end up
losing our portion in the World-to-Come, G-d forbid, because of their
Anything that interferes with our belief in G-d and closeness to Him, is
by definition associated with the Chitzonim. When they are weak, it is
easy to be spiritual and sense the Presence of G-d. But when they are
strong, it can become almost impossible to do so, at least not without
great effort. If you want to know where the Chitzonim "live" and "hang
out", just ask yourself, "Where do I feel the most distracted from G-d and
spirituality? Which activities promote G-d awareness and which ones
detract from it? Which people inspire me to become closer to G-d and help
me feel His Presence, and which ones turn me away from Him?"
Hence, anyone who believes in the World-to-Come and wants to get there as
spiritually intact as possible, wants to know how to avoid the Chitzonim.
It would be great to be able to destroy them, but as Adam HaRishon found
out the hard way, we don't always have that luxury. Sometimes the best we
can do is to just avoid them, which in a world like ours is also not so
simple, certainly not for any great length of time.
Strategizing against the Chitzonim becomes clear when in an actual war,
the best defense is an offence, and the best offence means cutting off the
enemy's supply lines. Every army needs to eat and drink if it is going to
be able to fight, and the Chitzonim are no different, except that they
draw sustenance from kedushah (holiness).
Indeed, the Chitzonim are often compared to "bees", and the kedushah they
seek with everything they have, is like a bee to honey. Evil has no
intrinsic evil source of life, so therefore they must feed off kedushah to
survive. The more kedushah to which they can latch onto and from which
they can draw spiritual nourishment, the stronger they become and the more
over-powering they become. If they could, they would reach up to the
highest of heights to steal the kedushah meant for far holier purposes.
However, they can't do that either, for if they could, they would have the
power to destroy Creation, and they do not have permission to do that.
Cause the world to approach the brink of self-destruction, yes, but
actually push us over the edge, no. What this amounts to is G-d shutting
the door to certain levels in the Sefirot, the spiritual
emanations/channels through which the Divine light flows down to us, to
limit the exposure to the negative elements of Creation that would abuse
The good news is that the Chitzonim are kept at bay. The bad news is that
so are we, since it is kind of an all or nothing thing. Thus, when the
rabbis prayed that the yetzer hara for idol worship be taken away and were
successful (Yoma 69b), with it also went our drive to serve G-d. For, idol
worship is the abuse of that drive, a counterfeit spiritual experience.
Tefillah is a function of the mouth, and the mouth is on the level of
Malchut, the lowest sefirah of the ten, and therefore, the most
susceptible to the Chitzonim. Thus, to protect "her" from the Chitzonim,
she had to be shut down, so-to-speak, at least temporarily while in exile
and while the Chitzonim clearly have the upper hand. And with that, the
Gates of Prayer were shut and locked, locked to the Chitzonim and locked
to our tefillot as well.
G-d said to Moshe, "Why are you crying out to me? Speak to the Children
of Israel and tell them to move forward." (Shemot 14:15)
If you stood with your back to a huge and impassable sea while facing a
murderous army with nothing but sticks and stones to defend yourself,
wouldn't you cry out to G-d? It's not only the Jewish thing to do at a
time of crisis, but the human thing. Besides, it was only because we cried
out last time that G-d even listened to us:
Eventually the king of Egypt died, but by that time the Children of Israel
were broken because of the servitude, and they cried out. Their cry for
help came up to G-d, Who heard their groaning. G-d remembered His covenant
with Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov, and saw the Children of Israel. G-d
was aware of their suffering. (Shemot 2:23-25)
So, from this passage of Torah, it seems as if crying is a good thing to
do when we need help, big time. Unless, of course, at that time the
Sha'arei Tefillah are closed to ward off the impure forces of Creation,
which circle like vultures at times of Divine judgment looking for the
kind of kedushah that prayer generates. In such a situation, one must find
a way to by-pass the Chitzonim, to reach higher than they can go, and find
an alternative and safer way to enter the Gates of Prayer, such as the
Sha'arei Dima, for example (the Gates of Tears). For, they are on the
level of the "eyes" in the Sefirot, on a level forbidden to the Chitzonim,
but NOT to the tears of a Jew.
It's like trying to get in to see the boss to ask for a raise in salary.
Just as you get there, an office somewhere on the ground floor, you find a
long line-up and all kinds of people standing in line ahead of you just to
get an appointment. However, not being the pushing-shoving type, you
decide that this line-up is not for you.
Dejected, you turn around to walk out when you bump into a relative of
yours who just happens to work upstairs with the rest of management. After
a short conversation, you open up and tell him your problem and
disappointment. With a reassuring smile your relative tells you, "You
don't have to stand in line with the rest of these people who aren't going
to get raises anyhow. Come with me to the ninth floor (the level of the
sefirah of Chochmah), and I'll get you into rooms three (Netzach) and four
(Hod). There you can actually make your request directly and see results!"
There is no question that the Aseret Yemai Teshuvah are the most crucial
days of the year when we try to justify another year of life, and perhaps
even some success. So, we spend hours in shul either dovening or
contemplating the value of our lives. Nevertheless, we are in exile and
quite clearly immersed in a sea of Chitzonim which is attacking kedushah
on all fronts. Who knows if our prayers are really penetrating the
Sha'arei Tefillah at all?
We don't know and there is a good chance they aren't.
But if you cry, it is most certainly a different story. While the
Chitzonim keep knocking on a locked door, your tears have free passage in
on a higher level, and they shlepp your prayers along with them. It is a
whole different story when the tears start to flow, a whole different Rosh
Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
But not everyone is so fortunate to be able to just turn on the taps of
tears, especially in a public place. And certainly insincere tears do not
count for much either.
That's why we have Elul Zman. Elul Zman is a time given to us by G-d so
that we don't come into Rosh Hashanah cold, unprepared for the opportunity
of a lifetime, literally. The shofar we blow each day says, "Wake up! Get
real with life! Get real with what day is coming up soon, and what it
means to you! Start 'exercising' now! Get your emotions in order, and get
an appreciation of what's at stake, of Who you're going to be standing
before and what you can gain and lose!"
If we had appreciated this in the desert back then, perhaps we would not
have lost Moshe Rabbeinu and the channels of light he could access and
keep free of Chitzonim. Instead, he was taken from us, and the level of
light that came through Yehoshua was far less, so-much-so that we are
still in golut because of it.
Nefesh HaChaim, Chapter 3
Likewise, when G-d created man, He empowered him to control countless
forces and worlds, handing control of them over to him so that he should
be the one to direct them, according to his actions, words, and thoughts -
for good, or G-d forbid, the opposite.
It is the positive actions, words and thoughts of man that sustain and
give energy to countless forces and holy celestial worlds, increasing
their holiness and light, as it is says, "I have placed My word in your
mouth ... to plant heaven and to establish land" (Yeshayahu 51:16). And as
the rabbis teach, "... Don't read banayich (your children), but bonayich
(your builders) ..." (Brochot 64a), because it is they who arrange the
upper worlds like a builder does his building, giving them great strength.
Likewise, G-d forbid, man can destroy countless forces and holy upper
worlds through his immoral actions, words, or thoughts, as it says, "Your
destroyers and wasters emanate from you" (Yeshayahu 49:17). He darkens
and reduces their light and holiness, G-d forbid, adding strength instead
to the source of spiritual impurity.
This is what the words, "And G-d created the man in His image; in the
image of G-d" (Bereishit 1:27), and "In the image of G-d he was made"
(Bereishit 9:6) mean. For, just as G-d is Elokim, which means "Master of
all Forces" and the One Who orders and directs them each moment, likewise
it was His will to empower man to control countless forces and worlds
through the details of his behavior every moment in time, depending upon
how his actions, words, or thoughts are "rooted" in the Upper World. It is
as if he is the master of their abilities.
The rabbis taught:
Rebi Azariah said in the name of Rebi Yehuda ben Rebi Shimon: "When Israel
does the will of G-d they add strength above, as it says, 'Through G-d
(Elokim) we will do valiantly' (Tehillim 60:14). When Israel disobeys G-
d, they weaken the strength above, as it is written, 'Of the Rock that
bore you are you unmindful' (Devarim 32:18)." (Eichah Rabbosai 1:33)
In the holy Zohar it also says in many places that the sins of men cause
imperfections above; it speaks of the opposite as well. This is the
meaning of the verse, "Give strength to G-d!" (Tehillim 68:35).
And in the Zohar, at the beginning of Parashat Bo it says,
"It happened one day that they came...to present themselves before G-d..."
(Iyov 1:6): When they want to prosecute the actions of Israel against G-d
they lay their charges, because when Israel acts improperly they weaken
the strength of G-d; when they act correctly they give strength and power
to G-d. With respect to this it is written, "Give strength to G-d
(Elokim)!" How do we do that? Through proper conduct.
Therefore it says, "to Elokim" and likewise, "through Elokim" (Tehillim
60:14), because in this context, they speak of G-d as the Master of all
Have a great Shabbos. L'Shannah Tovah u'Metukah. Ketivah u'Chatimah
Tovah. And thank you once again for the opportunity to write a year's
worth of "Perceptions". And, a big thank you and yasher koach to Mrs.
Miriam Tovah Weinberg for taking the time each week, free of charge, to
edit Perceptions, one of the few parshah sheets about five pages long each
week. May she only know brochah for it. Thank you to Torah.org for posting
it and sending it out each week. Most of all, thank you Hashem Yisborach
for the opportunity of life and the opportunity of a lifetime to learn,
live, and write Torah.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.