Jacob’s Ladder

Prayer in respect to the connection between heaven and earth

parasha Vayeitzei (Genesis 28:10 – 32:3) 5783

Jacob journeys on foot to Haran, in order to take a wife from his own kindred. Along the way, he encounters the place (hamakom). He “spent the night there, for the sun had set” (Genesis 28:11). “And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of G-d were ascending and descending on it” (Genesis 28:12). This ascent and descent of the angels upon the ladder in Jacob’s dream may be understood as being symbolic of prayer (Sforno).

Consider that this place (hamakom) is described as “the House of G-d,” and ”the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17, TLV). So, a parallel may be drawn between this place (hamakom) on earth, and “the place (hamakom),” used to describe where the H’Shem resides in Shomayim (Heaven): “Blessed be the glory of the L-RD from His place (makom)” (Ezekiel 3:12, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The Talmud notes that even though G-d resides in Shomayim (Heaven), He can still hear the whispered prayers of a penitent, standing near a column, during a prayer service at a synagogue. Perhaps, the column suggests a connection between heaven earth.

Nevertheless, for many people, G-d seems to be distant, far away from the mundane business and chatter of the world. This dilemma may be approached through finding the opportunity to speak to G-d, from the depths of the heart, preferably, during a quiet time set aside for this purpose. Although, even in the sanctuaries of prayer today, the service allows for an individual connection to G-d, when we resolve ourselves to tune out any distractions within or without.

Self Indulgence VS. Moral Restraint

Self-indulgence: Imaginative powers gone awry, subject to the yetzer hara (evil inclination).

It is written, “And G-D saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” Genesis 6:5). Thus, it is clear that the propensity of the imagination is inclined towards evil, unless put in check through our own efforts, accompanied by the grace of G-d. Today, there is much encouragement to indulge in the fantasies of the heart. This can lead to the greater evil of distancing ourselves from our own humanity, as a result of disobedience to G-d’s directives. For, it is written, that His commandments are for our own good.

Yet, sin has the effect of distancing us from G-d. So, when we let our imaginations run free, the result is that this indulgence draws us away from G-d. The metaverse is an extreme example of what might ultimately remove those who venture there from the norms of society and the framework of reality itself. The moors of society are already loosened, like a boat no longer tethered to the dock. The increase of personal freedom to do as one wishes, irrespective of a clear moral framework will lead to nihilism. And, yet, it can be argued that a sense of meaninglessness and purpose in life elicits this drift away from social norms, into a pleasure-driven life.

Moral restraint becomes a neglected virtue, and is seen as an obstacle to the philosophical notion of proclaiming the reign of human nature, indulging in one’s passions, as key to liberation from the bonds of society. In fact, this is an underlying Marxist principle, drawn from the architects of the so-called Age of Enlightenment that followed the French revolution. Thus, the opposition to religious norms that was widespread at that time, and manifested in violence to the church, transformed itself into new philosophical beliefs that would continue to diminish and undermine remaining godly values in society. This line of thought was continued by the neoMarxists of the Frankfort School, that became the New School of Social research at Columbia University.

According to Noelle Mering, these neoMaxists knew that through the corrosion of faith in societal norms, they could eventually undermine the stability of Western culture (Mering, Awake, Not Woke). Voices of influence such as Herbert Marcuse, Saul Alinsky, and Antonio Gramsci steered the rebellious generation of the sixties and seventies into the New Left, intent on undermining the institutions of society in this country from within. The amalgamation of movements and causes transformed the culture over time, leading to the Woke movement of today.

I am so saint; however, I recognize that taming the passions within myself leads to a focus on pleasing G-d, instead of myself. And, in turn, if I follow in the ways of the commandments, then I will be blessed with G-d’s graces. He is merciful, so that if I stray from the path, I will be guided back to Him. And, teshuvah (repentance) done in a sincere manner will bring back into His graces. As is written, “The L-RD, The L-RD G-d, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth” (Exodus 34:6).

 

 

 

 

 

The Struggle Within

parasha Toldos 5783

And the children struggled within her.” – Genesis 25:22, JPS

Esau was the first born, while Jacob was born grasping Esau’s heel. This is how Jacob received his name, meaning heel, or supplanter, because, eventually, he supplanted the rights of the firstborn. Additionally, “Jacob’s holding on to the heel of Esau may symbolize that values which Esau would stamp his foot on, would be the very ones Jacob would cherish” (Akeidat Yitzchak 23:1:10, sefaria.org).

This appears to be a reference to the pasuk (verse), “Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my supplanters [heels] compasseth me about” (Psalm 49:6, JPS), concerning King David’s fear that the sins of his heels, those that most people disregard, i.e., “trample upon,” would prevent him from entering Olam Haba (the World-to-Come).

Akeidat Yitzchak applies the same verse in a different manner, implying that Esau would tread upon the very values that Jacob cherished, the values that Jacob emulated in his father Isaac, the same values of Abraham. Jacob was destined to supplant Esau in regard to the rights of the first born, so that the legacy of Abraham, replete with the qualities of chesed (kindness), gevurah (moral restraint) and emes (truth) would be continued.

Yalkut Shimoni infers that before they were born, Jacob and Esau were struggling inside the womb, for the inheritance of the two worlds: Olam HaZeh (This World), and Olam Haba (the World to Come). According to this rendering, the struggle was a cosmic struggle (Gur Ayeh), with the victor claiming the greater inheritance, Olam HaBa.

This struggle is reflected by the internal battle within ourselves: the conflict between the yetzer tov (good inclination) and the yetzer harah (the evil inclination). It is a challenge faced by every individual, to aspire towards the good, while rejecting the bad (Isaiah 7:15). We are bound to face many nisyanos (trials) in our lives, so that our souls may be refined.

Shabbat shalom

travelogue entry: This is the last leg of my journey, whereof I will be visiting with my Mom for the first time in three years. I intend to spend Shabbos with her, beginning this Friday evening (parasha Chayei Sarah). It has been a long journey since I left AZ by Amtrak on Tuesday morning, Oct. 18th. I spent three weeks in New Jersey visiting with my family, after attending my nephew’s bar Mitzvah there. I attended a family Hasidic wedding in Borough Park, a week ago last Sunday. And, now, two weeks with my Mom, beginning tomorrow, after a week’s long convalescence.

parasha Chayei Sarah 5783

parasha Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1 – 25:18) 5783

“And the life of Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.” – Genesis 23:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

It’s interesting to note, that Judaism is often regarded as a worldly religion, focusing on our earthly lives, while placing less emphasis on the next life, otherwise known as Olam Haba – the World-to-Come. However, when we delve into Torah, looking below the surface of the plain meaning, we begin to see a different picture. Additionally, the teachings of chazal (the sages), can inform us as well, concerning a perspective that brings us into a fuller knowledge of Torah.

Torah itself is compared to the ocean, perhaps, because its depths are unfathomable. Moreover, it is recorded in Torah, that the number of creatures in the ocean are uncountable; perhaps, this also applies to Torah itself, in regard to the many facets of Torah. It is said that there are seventy faces of Torah, connoting the teaching that Torah presents its mysteries in many ways.

The parasha begins with the death of Sarah, a seemingly disconnected beginning to a narrative entitled Chayei Sarah – the Life of Sarah. Yet, the first word of the parasha, vayechi, meaning “life,” according to R’ Bachya implies “something that exists permanently,” thereby, it could be inferred that this hints toward the understanding that her soul would “take up permanent residence in the celestial regions” (R. Bachya, commentary on Genesis 23:1, sefaria.org).

In this respect, Chayei Sarah, the Life of Sarah may be understood as an implicit message or remez (hint), concerning Sarah’s continued existence in Olam Haba. Thus, the title of the parasha points to the promise of an afterlife for the righteous in the World-to-Come.

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Miraculous Intervention:

Arriving at Penn Station in Newark, N.J., I had thought it would be a brief walk to the local train station. I sought out the Information Desk and asked how to get there. I was told that I needed to take the light rail to the Broad Street Station. So, I purchased a ticket to my destination, via the light rail to Broad Street. When I found the entrance to the light rail, after walking down and around several corridors inside of Penn Station, I opened the door, and, lo and behold, I was astonished to see the following:

The stairs down to the platform were full of people, and the platform was completely occupied by would be passengers waiting for their train. I was not sure what to do, nor what side of the platform the train that I needed to take would be arriving. All of a sudden, a guy walked in behind me, and as he passes by and walks down the staircase past all of the people on the stairs, he says into his cell phone at his right ear, “Yeah, Broad Street, I’m going to Broad Street.” I instantly thought to myself, “Follow him.”

So, I followed him down the stairs to the platform, where he got on the train that had immediately arrived. To be sure, I asked somebody sitting on the platform on a bench, if that’s the train to Broad Street. He responded, “yes.” So, I hopped on the train. I asked the guy who had unknowingly led me to the right train, how long until the Broad Street Station. After letting me know, I told him that I’m trying to catch a train at 5:28 p.m., he said that I had plenty of time. Yet, he would only have one minute to catch his train, once the light rail arrived at Broad Street Station.

Before the light rail left Penn Station to Broad Street, an onboard ticket agent asked to see my ticket. Apparently, even though I purchased my ticket from an employee at the ticket counter, after carefully explaining that I needed to take the light rail to Broad Street, then on to my next destination, I was given a ticket to Broad Street by subway, and onward. So, the onboard ticket collector graciously decided to overlook this.

When the light rail (that runs on tracks on the street, like a subway car on trolley tracks) arrived at the Broad Station, I motioned to the guy on the light rail to go ahead of me, because I knew that he only had one minute to catch his train. Yet, when I walked off the light rail car, he was still standing out there. He asked me, “Do you know where you are going?” I said, “I have no idea.”

So, my guide, who I believe to be a godsend, courteously led me around to the side of the station, up a staircase to an elevated platform. He said that his own train was running late. He showed me how to know for sure when my train would arrive, and upon what track. He said your train is on track 3, as listed for 5:28 p.m. When I looked at the digital board for arrivals, my train was listed as Mount Olive (a biblical name for a sacred place near Jerusalem). I told my would-be guide that was not the name of the particular train line that I was taking. He explained that it was indeed the train for the route I needed to take. I would not have known this, unless so propitiously guided by someone who appeared at the right time in my hour of need. It was then that he told me that he worked for the transit authority. And he showed me his I.D card, attached to a lanyard around his neck, that I had not previously noticed.

When I explained to him that I hadn’t a clue of how to proceed back at Penn Station, when I was waiting on the staircase, until I heard him say that he’s going to Broad Street, he explained in the following manner: He was only talking into his phone, saying that he was going to Broad Street, so that the people he was hurriedly passing by wouldn’t get angry at him for butting in line. We both realized at this point how much of a coincidence this was. We even talked for a while until his train arrived. Baruch H’Shem (Praise G-d), for this truly was hasgacha peratis (divine guidance). Shalom.

parasha Lech Lecha 5783

parasha Lech Lecha 5783 – Pivotal Points

“Ten generations from Noah to Abraham, in order to make known what long-suffering is His; for all those generations kept on provoking Him, until Abraham, came and received the reward of all of them.” – Pirkei Avos 5:2, sefaria.org

“Based upon the merit of Abraham, G-d did not destroy again the whole world. Abraham taught them that repentance was possible, and therefore G-d did not destroy the world.”– English explanation of the Mishnah; sefaria.org

Inasmuch that Noah and his family was spared when “Noah found favor in the eyes of H’Shem,” so, too, according to the mishnah, the world was spared through the merit of Abraham. In light of this comparison, two points become evident. First, the implementation of G-d’s Attribute of Mercy, as a means of relating to mankind, despite His strict Attribute of Justice. Second, that in each case, a righteous person was chosen to offer teshuvah (repentance) to others, and become the means through whom redemption would be offered to all of mankind.

In regard to Noah, it is evident that G-d favored him due to his righteousness, for, following the verse, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the L-RD,” the Torah  states that Noah was “a man righteous and wholehearted; Noah walked with G-d” (Genesis 6:8-9). As for Abraham, there is no such immediate mention of his character, when he is called out from the land of Ur, to the land that he would be shown. He is told by H’Shem, that he would become a great nation, that his name would be great, and that the nations would be blessed through him. And, the “persons that they had acquired in Haran” were converts to Abraham’s newfound monotheistic faith.

Tradition & Remembrance

Halloween, traditionally known as All Hallow’s Eve was originally a solemn vigil that preceded All Hallow’s Day (All Saints Day) on November 1st. There were pagan origins to the day itself, before the Church’s innovation; yet, for Western civilization in Europe, the day connoted respect for the dead, within a traditional Christian framework. Therefore, having superseded the pagan origins, the intent was to prepare for the remembrance of the saints the next day, as well as all of the departed souls, remembered on All Soul’s Day (November 2nd). It was believed that prayers could be offered on behalf of the dead who were in purgatory, that they might eventually be freed in order to make their ascent to Heaven.

In the Jewish tradition, we have nothing of the sort on this day that is reckoned according to the Gregorian calendar. Rather, we have Yizkor, and other traditions to commemorate our loved ones who have passed away. Yet, there are some striking similarities, if I dare to mention some of them. When we say the kaddish prayer, in particular, this is a prayer that specifically praises G-d, and does not mention death at all. Because the dead can no longer perform mitzvoth (good deeds), we say prayers on their behalf, to bring them closer to G-d; thus, I believe that even if they are in Gehenna, their souls may benefit for the good. When lighting a yahrzeit (memorial) candle, on the anniversary of the death of a loved one, a traditional prayer requests an aliyah (ascent) for the soul of the one who has passed away. Respect for the dead is of the utmost importance in Judaism.

parasha Noach 5783

dvar for parasha Noach 5783

After Adam and Chava partook of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, an admixture of good and evil occurred; evil had entered the world through the original sin, compromising the integrity of Gan Eden. Evil became mixed with good; prior to the first aveirah (sin), only good existed in Gan Eden. Increasingly, over time the yetzer hara (evil inclination) seemed to gain the upper hand amongst all of mankind except for Noah, who served as a kind of repository of good. “And the L-RD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5, JPS).

A perplexing dilemma arises, in relationship to G-d’s omniscience; knowing past, present, and future, G-d knew that man would fall as a result of temptation, when seduced by the serpent. Yet, the nature of the free will bestowed upon mankind, is such that at the time, G-d excluded his foreknowledge of man’s fall, from deterring Him with following through on the divine plan. Moreover, as a safeguard, teshuvah (repentance) was also part of the divine plan from the beginning in fine print, so that would give mankind the ability to seek reconciliation with G-d.

Once fallen, mankind would need to be guided toward an everlasting covenant, despite the original sin, so that G-d’s ultimate intentions for man would remain intact. When mankind had gone too far off from the blueprint, G-d sought to find a reason to not entirely destroy His creation. “The L-RD looked forth from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any man of understanding, that did seek after G-d” (Psalm 14:2, JPS). “Noah found grace in the eyes of the L-RD” (Genesis6:8, JPS). For, “Noah was in his generations a man righteous and wholehearted; Noah walked with G-d” (Genesis 6:9, JPS).  

“I will establish My covenant with thee; and thou shalt come into the ark.” – Genesis 6:18, JPS