Author Archives: Rabbi DovBer Pinson

Rabbi DovBer Pinson

About Rabbi DovBer Pinson

Rabbi DovBer Pinson is the Rosh Yeshiva of the IYYUN Yeshiva, a Yeshiva for adults. He is also the founder of the IYYUN Center, a center for Jewish enrichment in Brooklyn, New York, and and is the author of more than ten books on Kabbalah and spirituality.

Awakening From Above

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Reprinted with permission from

Iyyun

, an institute for the exploration of the deeper dimensions of Torah.

The Sefer Yetzirah, among other texts, reveals a constellation of unique energies, themes and spiritual practices for each month of the year. We will build on these teachings in order to discover some of the deeper meanings of the month of Nisan, and its special days, in particular the holiday of Passover. This will allow us to unleash the redemptive powers of these most auspicious times.

Letter-Combination of the Month

There are four letters in the name of Hashem (Yud, Hei, Vav, and Hei). Each month of the year has an inner light that is refracted as a different sequence of these four letters. The Month of Nisan shines as the original sequence, Yud-Hei-Vav-Hei.
matzah and egg
The letters Yud and Vav are called mashpi’im, or ‘givers’, and the letter Hei is called a m’kabeil, or ‘receiver’. This month’s sequence thus represents the proper flow of energy: if it were written vertically, the Yud would be on top giving to the Hei below it, and the Vav would be giving to the Hei at the bottom.

This sequence of letters is found in the beginnings of four words in Tehillim, 90:11–Yismehu Hashamayim V’tageil Ha’aretz, “the Heavens will be happy and the earth will rejoice.” The nouns in this verse also allude to a flow from a giver above to a receiver below, shamayim (Heavens), giving to aretz (earth).

The verbs in this verse also describe an energetic flow. First comes yismehu (from the word simcha, ‘happiness’ ) and then comes v’tageil (from the word gila, ‘rejoicing’). Simcha has the same letters as mah’shava, ‘thought’, suggesting that yismechu refers to an inner joy, hidden within the mind. Gila is related to the word gilu, ‘to reveal’, suggesting that v’tageil refers to a form of joy that is expressed outwardly, in the world.

Our letter-sequence therefore suggests a flow from giver to receiver, from above to below, from Heaven to earth, from inside to outside, and from hidden to revealed. Nisan is called the Month of Miracles. On Passover, Hashem displays transcendental miracles and descends, so to speak, to take us out of our lowliness and slavery. This is called an ‘awakening from above’, for it is an unearned gift of kindness flowing down to us from Heaven. During the Seder, the joy of freedom that has been suppressed and hidden deep within us is released. As we sing Hallel, we reveal our joy and gratitude openly. In Nisan, we meditate on Hashem as the giver, and ourselves as the receivers.

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The Context of Purim

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Reprinted with permission from

Iyyun

, an institute for the exploration of the deeper dimensions of Torah.

“For Haman…had plotted to destroy the Jews, and ha cast a pur (lottery) to terrify and destroy them; but when she (Esther) appeared before the King, he commanded…that the evil scheme which he (Haman) had devised against the Jews, should recoil upon his own head….”

Megillat Esther, 9:24-25

The Sefer Yetzirah, among other texts, reveals the unique energies, themes and spiritual practices corresponding to each month of the year. When we look into this mystical information on the month of Adar, we can crack the code of Purim…and find out why it is that we are still cracking up today.

israeli children dancing on purimEvery holy day has both a narrative (the miracle that happened), and a seasonal context (the time of year when the miracle happened). In a sense, it is the seasonal context that gives rise to the narrative. The spiritual matrix of Adar gives rise to the day of Purim.

The Letter-Combination of the Month

There are four letters in the name of Hashem (Yud, Hei, Vav, and Hei). Each month of the year has an inner light that is refracted as a different sequence of these four letters. The sequence corresponding with the month of Adar is Hei – Hei – Yud – Vav. This is, in a sense, an inverse image of the name of Hashem. In the design of the normal spelling, there is first a ‘giver’ (Yud), then a ‘receiver’ (Hei); then another ‘giver’ (Vav) and another receiver (Hei). In Adar’s sequence, first come the receivers, followed by the givers.

This reversal reminds us of when Haman’s destructive decree was reversed. Although the day of Purim was supposed to be when we would receive our end and demise, we came out on top. The day was transformed into a joyful festival of giving gifts.

The Letter of the Month

The alphabetical letter corresponding to Adar is Kuf.

Kuf represents kedushah, ‘holiness.’ Yet, the word kuf means ‘monkey’–bringing up images of play and mockery. Similarly, the Zohar says the letter Kuf represents imitation. That is, Kuf imitates the letter Hei, the only other letter that has two separate lines in its graphic design.

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Tu Bishvat and the Transformation of Eating

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Reprinted with permission from

Iyyun

, an institute for the exploration of the deeper dimensions of Torah.

The Sefer Yetzirah, among other texts, reveals a constellation of unique energies, themes and spiritual practices for each month of the year. We will build on these teachings in order to discover some of the deeper meanings of the month of Shevat, and its special day, Tu Bishvat. This will allow us to unleash the transformative powers of these times.

The Letter-Combination of the Month

There are four letters in the name of Hashem (Yud, Hei, Vav, and Hei) and each month of the year has an inner light that shines as a different sequence of these four letters. The month of Shevat shines as the combination Hei–Yud–Vav–Hei. It’s interesting to note that the only difference between this combination and the original spelling of the Divine Name is that the sequence of the first two letters is reversed.
tu bishvat berries
There are two parts of the month of Shevat. The first part, from the first of Shevat until the eve of the fifteenth (Tu Bishvat), is considered ‘harsh’ (din). This is because the natural flow of the first part of Hashem’s name is reversed in this month’s letter-combination: Hei then Yud. The second part of Shevat is much less harsh, and contains more kindness (hesed). This is because the second part of the letter-combination is in the natural flow of the Divine Name: Vav then Hei.

The second part of the month begins with Tu Bishvat. As the fifteenth day, Tu Bishvat is the fulcrum between the two sides, the Hei–Yud, and the Vav–Hei. As a fulcrum contains the qualities of both sides, so the day of Tu Bishvat includes the four letters of the Name. Tu means 15, and this is the numerical value of Hei–Yud (or Yud–Hei). Shevat is the eleventh month of the year (starting from Nisan), and 11 is the numerical value of Vav–Hei.

Tu Bishvat is thus the shifting point where din is diminished and the proper flow of chesed is restored. How can we activate this shift in our own lives?

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Kislev & Hanukkah

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Reprinted with permission from Iyyun, an institute for the exploration of the deeper dimensions of Torah.

Hanukkah is one of the most widely known and celebrated holidays of the year. It is festive, joyous, and family-oriented. It begins on the 24th of the Hebrew month of Kislev: a significant time of year–at least in the Northern Hemisphere–when the days are the shortest, and the climate the coldest.

In the summer months, people are generally more outgoing and in brighter moods. As the sunlight begins to decrease, people tend to become more introspective. The autumnal Hebrew month of Tishrei (occurring around September and October) is saturated with holy days such as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the festival of Sukkot. The next month, Cheshvan, has no holidays at all, and it is typically rainy and cold.
children celebrating hanukkah
This is when people are drawn further inward, and many desire to spend time alone. Kislev continues becoming darker and colder. People tend to retreat into their warm homes, and due to a subtle hibernation instinct in humans, we may actually sleep more than usual. Kislev culminates with the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. The following night is therefore minutely shorter–the first glimmer of light begins to re-awaken. At this season there’s a natural desire to join with family and friends and celebrate.

Every yom tov (Jewish holy day) has a natural, seasonal explanation, as well as a historical and spiritual story that gives rise to the celebration. When the Torah speaks of Pesah (Passover), for example, it defines the celebration as a commemoration of the story of the Exodus from Egypt. However, the Torah also says Pesah is to be celebrated in “the month of Aviv” (the first month of Spring), when harvesting begins. Thus, the content of the day–the narrative–is understood within a particular context, a specific season, with all its physical and psychological qualities. Before exploring the depths of the content of Hanukkah, let’s first delve more into the context, and the intricate interconnection between Hanukkah and its month and season.

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Meditations on the Seder Plate

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Reprinted with permission from Iyyun, an institute for the exploration of the deeper dimensions of Torah.

In a self-contained and rigid paradigm of cause and affect, action/reaction, freedom is merely an illusion, a deception of what truly is. Yet, as we sit down to the Seder on Passover night, we aspire and dream of freedom, genuine freedom–what existentialists would call “radical freedom”–where we choose “just because: uninfluenced and non-reactive. But is this freedom truly attainable? Is not every choice determined by a previous choice?
seder plate
In a created evolving universe, once something is set into motion, the ripple effects are interminable. Every effect can be traced to a cause, and the cause in turn is merely an effect of a previous cause. Such is the nature of a closed system, what is referred to in Kabbalistic language as “seder histalshelut–evolving order.” On Passover night, however, we are given the power to tap into a space beyond “seder hishtalshelut,” beyond the “order of universe” transcendent of cause/effect and access genuine freedom. Doing so affords us the ability to articulate our beyond seder (order) freedom throughout the entire seder of the coming year.

Speaking of Freedom

Before leapfrogging to beyond order we need to secure the vessels of order, as only “a filled vessel is able to receive.” Before we begin reciting the haggadah, which speaks of freedom, we ensure that we are prepared for the experience, so that later on we are able to integrate the experience of ‘beyond order’ in real time, within the workings of ‘order’ and the natural flow of life.

Let’s begin by understanding the process of seder histalshelut on a cosmic level.

Initially there was and is only “or ein sof–the endless light,” absolute oneness and unity. Thus, finite creative reality as we know it, and as we understand it to be, couldn’t have merged. To create otherness and apparent separation there was a great tzimtzum–contraction and concealment of the ein sof within itself–and finite came into focus. The first otherness that took shape was “formed” as an igul–circle. The image is of a circular space in which all potential reality was contained within as one, non-individuated, and non-distinct, no beginning and no end. Within the circle a line, a kav, was formed with distinct points and an up-and-down sequential structure with a clear beginning and a definite end.

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Hanukkah: A Light Meditation

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Iyyun, an institute for the exploration of the deeper dimensions of Torah.

Meditating on the flame of the menorah is integral to the Hanukkah lights. Unlike the Shabbat candles, for example, which are kindled to add kavod (honor) to the ensuing day or for the purpose of oneg (pleasure) so that we eat in light and do not stumble in darkness, the flames of the menorah are lit for no personal use whatsoever, rather simply, as the Rambam writes, “to manifest and reveal the miracle” or in the words of the prayer following the lighting: “These lights are holy. Permission is not granted to use them, merely to look at them.” Since looking is all that can be done, Hasidic teachers and Kabbalistic masters have suggested we do so. Once we light the flames we should sit gently next to the lights and look, notice and listen to them.
hanukkah candles
What is their story? And what are they telling us? Most clearly they are telling us is to simply quiet down. Often we become so entangled in the noise and onrush of day-to-day life that we fail to truly notice that which is important. Almost habitually we go around stressing about the future or violently regretting the past, that we neglect to focus on the present. The mind tends to settle in all directions of time except the moment. The gentle hissing sound of the flame begs us to slow down, relax, become more introspective, reflective, and take notice.

So we sit there quietly and listen, become attentive and introspect. In due time, as the light fills our imagination we become fully aware and realize that there is nothing fundamentally outside and besides the Ultimate Light.

What Do We See?

Looking at the flames, what do we see? Noticeably there are three basic elements to the fire; the flame, the wick and the oil or wax. Says the Zohar; the body is similar to the wick, the flame itself is analogous to the divine presence that rests above the head, and the oil that fuses the two together, allowing the flame to join and remain connected with the wick is our ma’asim tovim-good and illuminating deeds. (3:187a)

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