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  • Modesty or The Holy Scroll

    Shmuel Katanov

    Modesty or Tzeniut... When one hears either one of these words, the first thing that usually comes to one’s mind is: Oh come on! Do I really have to wear all that? It is so hot outside, I feel so layered up, like an onion... There are lots of excuses one can come up with, but allow me to show you the outcome of either of the choices one decides to make.

    I looked up the word Modesty in the dictionary and this is what I have found: Modesty, is a mode of dress which intends to avoid the encouraging of sexual attraction in others. The word "modesty" comes from the Latin word modestus which means "keeping within measure". 

    The word Tzniut means: it describes both the character trait of modesty and discretion, as well as a group of Jewish laws pertaining to conduct. In modern times, the term has become more frequently used with regard to the rules of dress for women within Judaism.

    The Sages say, if woman keeps the laws of modesty as a reward she will merit to marry a Cohen and have Cohanim Gedolim come from her, she will have children that may be Jewish judges, sages, scholars, and righteous people and so much more and all of this just by being modest.

    But what is it about modesty that so much can be gained from it?

    In the book called Power Points by Rabbi Ephraim Nissenbaum, there's a story in Parashat Nasso, of a young woman that became observant and was bothered that Jews made a lavish Bar Mitzvahs for boys, while for girls - the Bat Mitzvah passes unnoticed.

    So she asked her Rav. To which he replied, "The Vilna Gaon says that tzeniut or modesty is to a woman what Torah study is to a man, meaning it is her vehicle for spiritual growth. When a boy becomes 13 years old, he is counted as part of the minyan and is being called to the Torah. These are public events and the celebration is therefore public as well.

    When a girl reaches bat mitzvah, her defining moment is marked by an image of royalty through modesty. So with this spirit of modesty, her celebration is less public and more reserved."

    An image of royalty - this is a great way of looking at it, but I believe there are could be more to it.

    The Sages compare a woman to a Sefer Torah scroll. Since the Sefer Torah is holy and valuable, we dress it beautifully and hide it in a safe box or the Aron. And not only that, if any of the letters in the scroll are missing or broken, the whole scroll becomes invalid or not kosher.

    But what is the scroll made out of? It is made of the skin of a kosher animal - klaf and the sofer - the person who writes it, writes it in holiness and while meditating on the names of G-d.

    In the Midrash Tanchuma, Bereshit 1 it says: How was the Torah written? It was written with letters of black fire on a surface of white fire or black ink against the white parchment. 

    The black fire on white fire, I believe there are could be more to it.

    We can literally compare them to a married couple - a woman as white fire and man as a black fire.

    Just like in the Torah, if the letter is broken or fallen from its original place, the scroll becomes invalid, so is the woman, if she is dressed immodestly not according to the Jewish law, that makes her lose that energy or her white fire.

    But, what is this energy or the white fire?

    In Bereshit 2:24 it says: "עַל־כֵּן֙ יַֽעֲזָב־אִ֔ישׁ אֶת־אָבִ֖יו וְאֶת־אִמּ֑וֹ וְדָבַ֣ק בְּאִשְׁתּ֔וֹ וְהָי֖וּ לְבָשָׂ֥ר אֶחָֽד׃ - Hence a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, so that they become one flesh." What happens when the two of them become one flesh? Once the man and the woman are united in holy act when allowed according to the Jewish law, this is when they combine their energies or their fires - black fire and the white fire, and this is when the Presence of Hashem comes and lives in their home, thus helping them grow in their holiness.

    When woman dresses immodestly, she is letting her energy or her white fire to drip out, which causes her to lose her holiness. This causes the couple to get distracted from serving Hashem and their goals switch from spiritual to physical, but this is not the only loss. This distraction causes all the members of the family to weaken from serving G-d  and makes them slowly move further and further away from Him. Since when she is together with her husband, he cannot cling to her, and they cannot become one flesh - thus they lose out in this world and the next. This is when the issues of Shalom Bayit and other problems arise.

    When woman keeps the laws of Modesty, she becomes a holy parchment - the white fire, a man becomes the black fire or the black ink, when they are together in the holy act, the couple becomes a Holy Letter of the Torah - with their children around them as crowns on that letter written on the parchment

    As the families all around the world strengthen in their modesty, they slowly grow in their holiness, Hashem handpicks them to be part of his own Sefer Torah - The Living and Breathing Sefer Torah. These holy couples, keep the laws of modesty and the laws of Torah - either from birth, or by returning to their roots later on in their lives, thus they become part of the Holy Scroll of Hashem. And if little is revealed by the woman in immodest way, that letter loses its place in the Holy Scroll of Hashem, but not only the woman looses its place - the whole family is affected by it as well.

    In the Megilat Ruth 2:5 says, "וַיֹּ֤אמֶר בֹּ֙עַז֙ לְנַעֲר֔וֹ הַנִּצָּ֖ב עַל־הַקּֽוֹצְרִ֑ים לְמִ֖י הַנַּעֲרָ֥ה הַזֹּֽאת׃ - Boaz said to the servant who was in charge of the reapers: Whose girl is that? Rashi explains, To whom does this maiden belong. What did Boaz see in Ruth? He saw her modest and wise behavior, how she was picking up the stalks of wheat in order not to bend over and did it in modest way by sitting."

    This act alone, led to her marriage with Boaz - thus paving the way to a royal lineage to come from her - King David, King Shlomo and long awaited Mashiach himself, and all of this because of her modesty.

    But let's look at this from yet another angle. 

    It is written in the Torah, "The Israelites journeyed from Raamses to Succoth, about 600,000 men on foot, aside from children." (Shemot 12:37) They all traveled with their wives and children, and as it says in the Masechet Sotah 11B, "Rav Avira taught: In the merit of the righteous women that were in that generation, the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt."

    Also, the word "ישראל - Israel" can be read as an acronym for "Yesh Shishim Ribo Otiot LaTorah", meaning: "There are 600,000 letters in the Torah." Therefore, nation of Israel did not leave Egypt until there were 600,000 holy couples that were included in Hashem's Sefer Torah.

    So, if the problems come into this world, we have probably fallen from our minimum count of 600,000 families or letters in Hashem's Sefer Torah for modesty - if we improve on this collectively - this can be the answer to solve the current problems the world faces today.

    And as we bring up the numbers to 600,000+ families, this will increase our chances of bringing the redemption closer and finally meet Mashiach in the near future.

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  • Why should I keep Shabbat?

    Shmuel Katanov

    Shabbat or Shabbos
    ... we heard it so many times, some heard it since birth if they were born into religious home, while others heard it from a friend, on a lecture or read an article about it later on in their life. This is the only question that is being asked most of the time, whether one observes Sabbath... when one is about to be hired, looking for a shidduch or some other important matter, but what is it? Why such importance is placed on this one day of the week? There are books and books written on this subject and if you search the Internet, there are literally thousands of lectures on importance of keeping Shabbat and its laws. So let's look into it closely, maybe we can understand it better...

    The first time we see the mention of Shabbat is when Moshe Rabbeinu received the Ten Commandments. G-d said: "Remember Shabbat day and keep it Holy". 

    So, what Shabbat is all about?

    A person is not allowed to do the 39 melachot or types of work on Shabbat, according to the Mishkan's activities with which they are associated.

    The commandment of Shabbat is a sign between us and Hashem for generations to come, when one day of the week we unplug ourselves from mundane, and plug ourselves or shall I say flood our life with holy energy of Shabbat for one day of the week that lasts until the next week Shabbat comes around. 

    But I believe there's more to it, so please allow me to offer my explanation.

    When woman lights the Shabbat candles, the Shabbat starts. Men go to shule for prayers, the table is set and everyone is in great mood. This is when the table is set with beautiful tablecloth, and set with fine silverware. The feeling of holiness is in the air. The food is extra delicious, there are more dishes taken out and in overall it feels extra special. Kids are sitting around the table, everyone singing, talking the words of Torah and simply enjoying each other's company. There's a feeling of harmony, and oneness in the family, love and comradery. This is the time when the family bonds and the ties of love between all the members of the family become stronger.

    Suddenly, one member of the family gets up from the table and sits on the sofa, reaches out for the remote control and turns on the TV...and BOOM - all the magic suddenly disappears, the harsh reality of mundane sets in, the voices of the people sitting at the table become louder and louder, the situation switches from the holy to everyday and the feeling of holiness and harmony of Shabbat is no longer there.

    This is how Shabbat is broken. The Holy Books bring some of the harshest punishments to the one that breaks Shabbat, but why go to such extremity? Why is G-d so harsh with the one that breaks Shabbat?

    To answer the question above, we need to look into one incident in the Torah, and hopefully we will be able to look at this with different set of eyes.

    In Sefer Bereshit, G-d created Heaven and Earth, then He created animals, trees, birds, man and everything else to support His creation in the livable conditions, after each day or work He said that - It Was Good - and indeed it was. Everything was simply beautiful, the sky with the birds flying around singing and enjoying life, the land with its animals and greenery, oceans with its creatures and above all there are were Adam with his wife Chava - everything in the Garden of Eden was in harmony and was simply beautiful.

    Suddenly, the Snake comes over to Chava and while Adam was not around, talks her into eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, which she does and then she makes Adam to do the same. And for this, everyone involved were punished. G-d cursed Adam, Chava and a Snake with the harshest curses for breaking His word.

    Since Adam and Chava ate from the Tree of Knowledge, their view of the world has changed in an instant. But more then that, something else has been changed or shall I say got broken. The efforts that G-d put in to create that perfect world that can coexist with its flora and fauna - its harmony and its magic was broken, evaporated, gone and simply faded.

    Murder, rivalry, death, hardships, competition, diseases and more were introduced into the world. We are plagued by this till today and the whole world suffers. Turn on any media outlet and the negative news floods the minds of millions of people daily trying to sway them from spiritual truth and pursuits, we drowning in the lies and it seems that there's no way out. Go out into any social setting, and you'll see lies, slander, murder, and anything bad you can think of is done either openly or stealthily.

    But I believe there's more to the curse of the snake. In Bereshit 3:14 it says: "Then the LORD G-d said to the serpent, Because you did this, More cursed shall you be Than all cattle And all the wild beasts: On your belly shall you crawl And dirt shall you eat All the days of your life."

    In the beginning it may seem that the snake hasn't lost much, but the Sages say the real curse was that snake was walking like a human being in an upright position, but after the curse he has lost his limbs, thus had to crawl on its belly and eat the dust, which is plenty and all around him. He also lost the ability to pray or be heard by G-d, this ability has been taken away from him no matter the situation he may be in.

    When person breaks Shabbat, he breaks the harmony of that day, he breaks the flow of the holy energy, he breaks the ancient creation, and draws more of that negative energy into this world, thus continuing the work of the snake. That is why Masechat Chulin 5A says, that he deliberately takes himself out of the covenant and sets himself apart from the nation - where he is considered to be like a non Jew. By breaking Shabbat, it opens the door to more transgressions, at which point they are committed without a second thought.

    I believe we can even go further and say, that just like the snake lost his limbs, so is the person's spiritual limbs on his neshama atrophies so he can't experience the spiritual, and he pursues physical pleasures in this world. He may enjoy wealth and positions in this world since they become more available and abundant to him, because they become easier to acquire than spiritual items which require functional limbs, but he also loses the opportunity to have a relationship with G-d, and gets paid for any of the outstanding merits and good he may have done over the years in this world to enjoy his life, until he is ready to part with this world.

    When a Jew dies, it is said in the Holy Books, that so and so is joined to his nation, his neshama is joined with his parents, grandparents and so on all the way to the forefathers, but not so with the one that breaks the Shabbat, he is not joined to his nation and his soul goes to a different place not where all the Jews are going, the cleansing process of the soul is longer, and when the time of resurrection comes, he won’t be joining his nation, since he is not part of the Jewish nation and his soul is lost forever.

    By breaking Shabbat we are breaking away from our people, thus making ourselves an outsider not only to the religion, but to the G-d, to the nation, to the future redemption and vulnerable to the outside events and turmoil of the everyday life.

    Our passed on parents, grandparents and the ones before them all the way to our forefathers are praying that we will make the right choice and embrace the covenant so we stay together after our passing as a nation.

    The Sages say that this world is like a hallway before the Grand Ballroom. In order to get to the main room we need to pass through the hallway, make ourselves look presentable - by toiling in Torah and mitzvot - in order not to be ashamed in front of others that have passed before us, and not to shame our relatives because we lack in front of others present in the ballroom.

    But, what should we do, if Shabbat was not on our To Do list as a major and important item? Start today, and keep some of it or all of it, and you will see how your life will change. Make an opening in your heart and let G-d enter and fill your heart, and let the blessings overflow into every area of your life. And when you do that, that's when your spiritual limbs will heal and get stronger and you will be able to easily grow and prosper in the spiritual domain. As it is says in the Devarim 4:4 "וְאַתֶּם֙ הַדְּבֵקִ֔ים בַּיהוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֑ם חַיִּ֥ים כֻּלְּכֶ֖ם הַיּֽוֹם׃ - While you, who held tight to the LORD your G-d, are all alive Today." With the turmoil that's going on in the world today, you can hold tight, only if your spiritual limbs are intact and strong.

    So, why should we keep Shabbat? Because life is full of vanities as was told by Shlomo HaMelech, it is full of things that make noise but have no base and no real value. Loyalty to G-d, and to the generations of the past, and loyalty to your own nation - this is something worth living for, everything else is just a fading noise which is not worth pursuing.

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  • The Wisdom of the Jewish Sage

    Shmuel Katanov

    It's very puzzling how it all played out. The nation of Israel was three days away from the Land of Israel - just go in, and mission accomplished - you are in Israel, Moshe Rabbeinu is a Moshiach, build the Bet Hamikdash and life is beautiful.

    But suddenly people ask for the spies to be send to check out the land. So Hashem says to Moshe Rabbeinu in Parashat Shelach 13:2: "Send men to scout the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people; send one man from each of their ancestral tribes, each one a leader among them." So Hashem asked for leaders to be send from each tribe. To date I have read many explanations on this pasuk. But with your permission, allow me to offer you yet another explanation.

    So twelve people go together as a group. The Rabbis say that the ten men out of twelve concentrated on the negative points of the Land, since they had their own hidden agenda, and this was the reason of their downfall - the exile and hardships we are facing today. The other two men - Calev ben Yefuneh and Yehoshua Bin Nun, have tried, but could not overpower the ten men's efforts of slandering the Land.

    But why did the ten men do that? What made them commit such a grievous sin?

    To answer the above questions, we need to look into another story of a different leader - a story of Mordechay HaTzadik - a story of Purim. There's something in this story that can be viewed from a different angle.

    Mordechay HaTzadik was a sage, someone that spoke 70 languages, and was part of the Great Assembly.

    The Megilat Esther says: "Once on a party in front of other kings and his friends, King Achashverosh executed his wife Vashti in a fit of drunken rage. After he got sober, he regretted it, but then realized that he needs a new wife, one that is beautiful and charming. So the King sent his people all over the towns to find a wife that would be pleasing for the King. 

    They gathered lots of ladies for the King to choose from, and this is when Mordechay HaTzadik approached Esther.

    There are many explanations who Esther was to him, one of them says, she was his niece. So Mordechay HaTzadik asked her to become a wife of the King. We don't realize what it meant to her - being married to a non-Jew, she forfeits all the mitzvot that woman should perform, she becomes part of the non-Jewish nation. To our dismay, she agrees...why would she do that? Let's try to understand this as well.

    As the time passes there are comes a man called Haman who didn't like Mordechay HaTzadik, and then he tries to annihilate the Jewish nation, he gets a permission from the King to do just that. The King agrees and Haman starts the process.

    So, this is when Mordechay HaTzadik goes to the Plan B.

    Queen Esther invites Haman to the palace along with the King where she exposes the evil plans of Haman. The King gets furious with the Haman and gives an order to hang Haman and ten of his sons on the gallows. And the King's orders have been carried out.

    Mordechay HaTzadik gets his community together for the attacks of the locals, since the decree was signed and put in motion by Haman, the Jews win the battle and there's a happiness and joy all over the towns in the Jewish neighborhoods."

    Our Rabbis say, that this story is not over yet. Mordechay HaTzadik becomes the King's advisor, thus ensuring that peace and security is guaranteed going forward for the Jews in those towns.

    Queen Esther and King Achashverosh have a son. The son grows up, and becomes the next King after the passing of his father. It is told, that this new king - Cyrus King of Persia, under the influence of his mother allows for the mass immigration of the Jews from the Persia to the Land of Israel to rebuild the Second Bet Hamikdash. He sent the nation with gifts of gold and silver to make a fitting house for G-d.

    Do you realize what has just happened? Did you see the wisdom of the Jewish sage?

    Mordechay HaTzadik asked his niece to marry a non Jewish King, to be a "spy" - where she lost out on all the mitzvot she could of done and ended up living a non Jewish lifestyle. But she was there for her nation in the darkest and trying times. She had saved the nation from the pogroms, overturning the decrees and eventually this led to the rebuilding of the Second Bet Hamikdash and in-gathering of the Jews back in Israel.

    The wisdom of Mordechay HaTzadik was in the realization, and right assessment of the situation, making the right moves to win the battle in the long run, and make it good and comfortable not for himself but for the entire Jewish nation.

    This is something the Meraglim or the spies in the times of Moshe Rabbeinu lacked. They were looking out for themselves, they were trying not to lose their positions and were more concerned about their fate and not with the fate of the Jewish nation.

    But why? Why Mordechay HaTzadik was able to make the right choices and the spies failed at it? Because Mordechay HaTzadik had a wisdom of the Jewish sage

    How can a person acquire wisdom? There's a pasuk on how to acquire wisdom, which goes like this: Reshit Chochmah Yirat Hashem - The beginning of wisdom is fear of G-d. If one wants wisdom, he must learn to fear G-d, he must fear G-d, without this he will not have wisdom - he will transgress everything under the sun, will make people around him suffer, for which eventually he will be bring judgement upon himself.

    The ten spies that went out to spy out the Land, came back with a bad report - because they lacked one thing - which is a Fear of G-d. They did things to fit their own agenda, and they spoke to support their own story. They were worried about their positions, about things they had, and how their life would unfold, without giving a second thought about the fate of the nation, the people they led and the task they were entrusted with. Eventually, it led the nation to wonder for forty years in the desert and the death of that, older generation.

    The Rabbis say, that the ten spies were fixing the sin of the ten sons of Yaakov Avinu that sinned against Yosef HaTzadik, but they failed. So the rabbis instituted that there are should be ten men every time they gather to pray daily prayers - a miniyan - where that gathering of ten people or the miniyan would have to fix the sin of the ten spies.

    A prayer in the minyan is the search for the right meaning, correction and unification of the goals, desires and motivation to serve the One and Only G-d, where it is done in unity and oneness of spirit or achdut just like it was done back in the day when we received the Torah on Mount Sinai.

    Why Hashem held them liable for the lack of Fear of G-d?
    Because in Talmud Berachot 33b it says: "Hakol Bidey Shamayim Chutz Miyirat Shamayim" which means, "Everything is in the Hands of G-d except for the Fear of Heaven / G-d".

    That's why Hashem has not given us the Fear of G-d - because He wants to see us work for it, since it is there are waiting for us, it is something that's attainable and available, within our reach, and definitely something that should NOT be ignored or postponed for the later years.

    With everything that we been through lately - virus and us being out of the shules and having no miniyanim - it makes one wonder if we have been making the mistakes of the ten spies, being too selfish with no concern for the nation, while forgetting the most important thing that we must posses and work on - The Fear of G-d

    Fortunately we have been granted the opportunity to return to our shules - where we have minyanim, and are allowed to pray together. Let's step up to the expectations that Hashem has for us. The meraglim did what they did, and now, it is on our shoulders and our responsibility to fix the wrong that was done, so we get to the next phase of our redemption.

    It is hard to acquire the Fear of G-d, but it is a worthy cause to invest our life into.

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Latest Articles

  • Modesty or The Holy Scroll
    Shmuel KatanovModesty or Tzeniut... When one hears either one of these words, the first thing that usually comes to one’s...
  • Why should I keep Shabbat?
    Shmuel KatanovShabbat or Shabbos... we heard it so many times, some heard it since birth if they were born into religious home,...
  • The Wisdom of the Jewish Sage
    Shmuel KatanovIt's very puzzling how it all played out. The nation of Israel was three days away from the Land of Israel - just...
  • Upon whom shall we depend?
    "When murderers multiplied, the [ceremony of] breaking a heifer’s neck ceased. That was from the time of Eliezer ben...
  • Why do we light bonfires on Lag BaOmer?
    Shmuel KatanovImagine it is dark, and there are hundreds of people dancing, and in the middle there's a huge bonfire lighting...

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