| Spirit and Sparks |


I didn't connect. What's blocking my tefillos?



Whoever trusts in Rabi Shimon bar Yochai can draw chizuk from Rabi Shimon bar Yochai. Just as HaKadosh Baruch Hu is [available] for everyone, so is Rabi Shimon bar Yochai for everyone, even the lowly. (Beis Aharon)

There’s no sacred site, aside from the Kosel, which attracts such a diverse spectrum of Jews as Meron. What’s strange is that Rabi Shimon is renowned as the master of Kabbalah, the esoteric sections of Torah reserved for elite talmidei chachamim. If there’s a figure who’s irrelevant to the masses, especially the unobservant masses, we’d think it would be Rabi Shimon. Yet they flock to Rabi Shimon with the sense that he’s “theirs,” and celebrate enthusiastically at his holy burial place.

And what does the Beis Aharon mean, that merely having emunah in Rabi Shimon bar Yochai is enough to give a Jew encouragement?

In the question itself, we find the answer. Because Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai is the master of secrets, every single Jew, especially spiritually downtrodden Jews, draw joy and encouragement from him.

Every Jewish neshamah corresponds to a letter in the Torah. Thus, when we learn Torah, we’re learning Jewish neshamos. Since Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai is the master of the secrets of the Torah, he’s the master of the secret of the Jewish neshamah.

And what’s the secret of the Jewish soul? A spark of pure G-dliness that we can never damage, no matter how much we sin. Therefore, merely by our connection to Rabi Shimon, by trusting in his zechusim and his Torah, we’re encouraged and strengthened. We know that we’re essentially good and therefore beloved by Hashem.

Adapted from Sacred Soil by Rav Moshe Wolfson


Fanning the Flame

More often than I’d like to admit, I close my siddur with disappointment. Again, I wasn’t able to concentrate and pour my heart out to Hashem as I would like. What’s getting in the way of my prayers? 

Rebbetzin Tamar Taback responds:

The Baal Shem Tov, master of chassidus and tefillah, explains (in Amud HaTefillah, Parshas Noach) that alien thoughts entering our minds during prayer are fragments of our consciousness that have put themselves forward to be healed during the process of prayer.

These thoughts are the parts of our lives that we haven’t yet given over to Hashem. We need to welcome these thoughts, fears, and worries and bring them into the light of emunah.

Along this line, the more we try to repress the natural activity of our minds, the louder and more disruptive these thoughts become. What we resist persists. Instead, we should hone in on the inner essence of the thought and connect it back to its Source, Hashem, by giving it over to Him.

Ah, sounds wonderful.

However, there’s another side to the story. The yetzer hara renews himself every day finding creative ways to sabotage our sincere desire to serve Hashem. These thoughts that arise, thoughts that seem so compelling, urgent, and vivid, complete with emotional charge and imagery, are nothing but machinations of our evil inclination.

Therefore, we’re instructed to not give them the time of day. We don’t negotiate with terrorists. The Torah permits — commands — us to kill those that rise to kill us! We’re advised not to allow these thoughts to put a foot in the door. We simply turn away and bring ourselves back to our tefillos. A hundred million times.

How do we know which of these opposing techniques to employ? Says the Baal Shem Tov, if we don’t immediately know how to heal the impulse by bringing it back to Hashem, we can be sure it’s the latter kind, and it should be banished.


Rebbetzin Tamar Taback is the founder of thenexus.org, the online Torah school for “pre-messianic women,” and is currently teaching the “Rise! Into our femininity through modeling the Imahos” series.



A Line That Stuck

I sent a book teaching the deeper side of tzniyus, Free to Be Me, to my prison pen-pal through the Aleph Institute. In a display of tremendous depth, she noted that Hashem, working behind the scenes orchestrating our lives (we would call this Hashgachah pratis), is “modesty at its best from the Creator of all.”

From my dear prison friend, I realized that being tzanuah means emulating Hashem.

Tova L., Boro Park

Please daven for Amalya Libya bas Dina bas Shoshana


Your Mashiach Questions Answered: Part II


Last time you said that every single Yid will make it to Mashiach. How do we understand sources that contradict this?


A good Jewish answer is to ask another question, so I’ll answer yours with one of my own: The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10) states that every Jew will have Olam Haba, but makes numerous exceptions to this rule. The Midrash (Rabbah, Bamidbar 14:1), however, argues that everyone, no exceptions, will be allowed in. Are there exceptions, or will every Jew have Olam Haba?

When Chazal say that there are those who will not make it to greet Mashiach, they are talking on the level of pshat, the simple, revealed layer of Torah that we learn in Olam Hazeh. This refers to the initial stage of punishment the sinful soul endures.

However, after the neshamah has been purified, it’s able to enter Olam Haba, and it can join the nation in rejoicing with Mashiach.

Thus, in the writings of mekubalim, we find that even very sinful people achieve tikkunim after a period of cleansing. Rav Tzadok HaKohein ztz”l devoted a sefer, Takanas HaShavim, to demonstrating that every neshamah — in fact, the entire world — will have a tikkun.


Carrying Us Through

Chavi Cohen

It felt like I was drowning. Corona was spreading throughout our community. It was the end of my law school semester, which meant I was burning the midnight oil to finish a huge legal paper and prepare for three exams. My husband’s union was planning to strike any day now, which would leave us without health insurance or a second paycheck. I was working full-time as well as studying, and Chanukah vacation was around the corner.

If that wasn’t enough, my children’s school had just announced they were moving to long-distance learning for two weeks. Now I would have to manage Zoom school on top of everything. It was too much.

Usually, I only post cute pictures or exciting events. But that night, without much thought, but plenty of emotion, I shared a heartfelt post asking only for words of encouragement. I posted, hoping that if I shared my burden, maybe it would take a little bit of stress off my shoulders.

Yet what I received was so much more.

Within minutes of my post, I was getting texts and messages — friends from college whom I hadn’t spoken to in years, acquaintances from the community, former coworkers, and friends. They were all offering to send dinner. When I received the first offer, I was so embarrassed.

Yet, at that moment, I decided to be a receiver and graciously accept. Dinner was sent to us for over two weeks straight. Friends from across the country sent small gifts, which allowed us to buy takeout Shabbos food for two Shabbosos.

This kindness, the sheer thoughtfulness of it all, created a collective impact that lifted us through what would have otherwise been an unbearable time. Never will I underestimate what a little kindness can do.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 791)

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