February 19, 2020
Where can we find the “still waters” of our life? In our busyness, there is little room for reflection. “He leadeth me beside the still waters” (Psalm 23:2). Our recompense for turning to G-d at times of disquietude is that we will eventually be shown a place within time to settle down, and reflect on what is important.
These opportunities are a necessary ingredient of a life focused on G-d. Perhaps, even moreso, for those who are not as focused on G-d in their lives, finding a quiet time to reflect is even more important. What is the rationale behind this statement? My point is only that without the nurturing presence of G-d in our lives, there is more turmoil. I speak from experience.
By neglecting to spend time with G-d during the day, we are deprived of the corresponding solace that only He can provide. For someone who has not made a sincere effort in his life to turn towards G-d, the need for solace will be greater, because of the tumult, stress, and hectic pace of a life where G-d is not part of the equation. Therefore, it is important to turn our hearts to G-d often enough to receive His invitation to immerse ourselves “beside the still waters,” lest we find ourselves swept away by the secular currents of the modern world.
February 18, 2020
“He that kindled the fire shall surely make restitution.” – Exodus 22:6, JPS 1917 Tanach
The Torah instructs that if a fire, lit by a person burning off his own field, gets out of control, and consumes grain in storage, stalks of corn, or a neighbors field, the person who is responsible for tending the fire is held accountable. He must make restitution for the damage incurred to his neighbor’s property.
How much more so for the individual, who is not able to keep his anger in check? We need to make amends for harsh words spoken in times of disquietude. How so? One recommendation is to stop fanning the flames of discontent. Instead of permitting ourselves to get worked up over something, we should douse the flames of anger with understanding and compassion.
“Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day.”
– Exodus 35:3, JPS 1917 Tanach
It is forbidden to kindle a fire on Shabbos. According to Abraham Heschel, this would include “the fire of righteous indignation” (Heschel, The Sabbath). On the Sabbath, there is a sense of acceptance of the provision of G-d. This is symbolized by the two portions of manna, that B’nei Yisrael received on Friday mornings, while in the desert for forty years. There is no room for being upset about perceived personal injustices, insults, or displeasures, on the day that symbolizes wholeness, completion, and rest.
“Surely His salvation is nigh them that fear Him.”
– Psalm 85:9, JPS 1917 Tanach
Looking forward in time, I have a vision for the near future. Yet, there is a certain derech (path), for me to arrive at the destination. There is a specific manner, that outlines how to get there. The road whereon I may accomplish my goals, step by step, in an incremental manner, is fraught with hazards. Even so, this has been provided for, that I may reach the heights of spiritual growth in my life in due time.
Only when I begin to consider sheker (falsity) as real, do I compromise the effort being made: chasing the shadows of my past, instead of following the dreams of my future, I may falter on the way. Wherein lies the reconciliation of my previous footsteps, along the road to freedom with my present-day life? Shall I let the sands of time drift, and cover over my footsteps? Or shall I retrace my steps, in order to analyze, learn, and grow through my introspection?
The ever-present risk is the potential to get sidetracked; yet, I can not move forward without knowing where I came from. If I do not recover my past, in a manner that gives me a foundation for the future, then the future that I envision for myself will crumble. My heritage, family roots, and future of my people, all play a role, that forms a necessary part of the overall equation. With G-d at the helm of the ship, so to speak, keeping everything on course, shall I falter?
February 16, 2020
“I will redeem you with an outstretched arm.”
– Exodus 6:6, JPS 1917 Tanach
There is a saying, concerning the departure from Egypt, that B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) had a much more challenging task ahead of them: removing Egypt from their hearts. They were brought out through the strength of G-d, Who redeemed them “with an out stretched arm.” Yet, the greater effort on their part, was incumbent upon themselves to make the changes in their new approach to life, effectively, leaving their past ways behind.
Although help from Above, through G-d’s intervention, may serve as a catalyst to change, our response is required, with the upmost discipline, to heed the call to freedom on a daily basis. Although B’nei Yisrael was freed from slavery, they became servants of G-d through matan Torah (the giving of the Commandments). True freedom is embracing the yoke of Heaven, so that we may be free from the burden of chet (sin).
parashas Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1 – 24:18)
It is notable that the parashas begins with the ordinance (mishpat) that a Jewish bondsman may serve his master for six years; however, in the seventh year he goes free.
The Children of Israel were slaves in Egypt for 216 years. We received the Torah less than two months after leaving Egypt. After receiving the Ten Commandments, the mishpatim (ordinances) were given.
The first ordinance given is the designation of freedom a Jewish servant receives after only serving a for a limited amount of time. It is as if the Torah is saying, that the Jewish people are not meant to remain in bondage again, not even as indentured servants.
The only exception is the servant, who after six years, would prefer to remain with his master. He declines his freedom; subsequently, his ear is pierced by an awl on a door to mark his perpetual servitude. This act serves as a reminder that the same ear that was pierced, should have heeded the call to freedom.
The door represents freedom, because of the blood of the Pesach offering that was placed on the doorposts in Egypt, right before B’nei Yisrael was freed. Our freedom is sustained through the following of the mitzvoth (commandments). As explained in the following manner:
The commandments were inscribed (cherut) on stone tablets; yet, the Hebrew word cherut, with a different vowelization, means “freedom.” What is the connection? When we observe the commandments of G-d, we are freed from slavery to our yetzer harah (evil inclination). Ultimately, we look.forward to the day when the commandments will be inscribed on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).
Shiur for parashas Yisro 5780
(Exodus 18:1 – 20:23
Measure for measure, H’Shem enacted judgment upon Egypt. Turning the Nile River into blood, reminded Pharaoh of his guilt, concerning his decree against male infants, that they be drowned in the Nile. And, the perishing of Pharaoh and his army at the Sea of Reeds was an expression of H’Shem’s judgment against Pharaoh. As implied by Yisro’s words:
Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law, “heard of all that G-d had done for Moses, and for Israel his people” (Exodus 18:1, JPS). “Now I know that the L-RD is greater than all gods” (Exodus 18:11, JPS). He continued, by making the implication that in the same manner that the Pharaoh conspired against the Children of Israel, so was his army destroyed. I.e., measure for measure, by means of water.
Although Yisro had worshipped many gods, according to Tanchuma, he had renounced idolatry. Yet, it was not until he heard of H’Shem’s plagues against Egypt – each one symbolizing H’Shem’s superiority over an Egyptian god – and the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, that he recognized H’ Shem as “greater than all gods.”
Up until then, his belief was predicated upon rational inquiry; he had his doubts about the efficacy of the many deities that he used to worship. Yet, when he heard of H’Shem’s greatness being demonstrated in a tangible way through the plagues, and the splitting of the sea, his belief was upgraded to the level of da’as (actual knowledge). So strong was his belief in H’Shem, that he chose to align himself with truth. Only H’Shem is the One true G-d. All other so-called deities are no-things.
February 14, 2020
“And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the G-d of thy father, and serve Him with a whole heart and with a willing mind.” – 1 Chronicles 28:9, JPS 1917 Tanach
The Greek adage is to know thyself. Yet, King David told Solomon, his son, “Know thou the G-d of thy father.” Solomon was full of wisdom. He wrote the Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. Yet, perhaps, King David was calling upon Solomon to stay focused on H’Shem.
Many people today would like to find themselves, and achieve their potential, otherwise stated as “self-actualization.” This is all well and good. Yet, to leave G-d out of the question will leave the aspirant short-sighted. There is so much more potential for us, when we acknowledge G-d in all our ways (Proverbs 3:6). He should be our goal: in finding Him, we find ourselves. By getting to know Him, we are better able to understand ourselves.
February 13, 2020
“Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink.”
– Psalm 69:14, JPS 1917 Tanach
Some mornings, it is as if I’m stuck in the mire of my past; a sign for me to somehow reconcile my feelings in an honest way with myself and G-d. Waiting patiently for insight, I felt compelled to write in my journal this morning, as well as share a few words. These are candid words; I hope that they will be accessible to others for the sake of their own journey. For myself, a glimmer of light has appeared on the horizon. My hope is that the same will be true for others in due time, according to G-d’s will.
It is a progressive path, not an overnight realisation, as if everything shifts into resolution at once. The uphill climb is not easy; it takes effort, determination, and constant hope. “The L-rd is good unto them that wait for Him” (Lamentations 3:25). Perhaps, quoting this verse sounds like a contradiction. How is it possible to act and wait at the same time? Keeping with my routine, staying the course, and placing my trust in G-d, I also wait for his response to the prayers of my heart.