parasha Nasso 5783

weekly Torah reading: parasha Nasso (Numbers 4:21 – 7:89) 5783

 “Speak unto the children of Israel: When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to commit a trespass against the L-RD, and that soul be guilty; then shall they confess their sin which they have done.”

– Numbers 5:6-7, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to Rambam (Maimonides), this verse is the basis of vidui (confession), within the context of teshuvah (repentance). “And shall make reparation in full” (Numbers 5:7). This latter part of the pasuk (verse) denotes reparations made to others, if the aveirah (transgression) is against another person. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for reparation is from the same shoresh (root), shuv (to return) as teshuvah (repentance). Essentially, repentance is a return to H’Shem (the L-RD). “Let us return unto the L-RD” (Hosea 5:15b, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Maimonides offers a basic example of how to approach vidui (confession):  “I beseech Thee, O Great Name! I have sinned; I have been obstinate; I have committed [profane acts] against Thee, particularly in doing thus and such. Now, behold! I have repented and am ashamed of my actions; forever will I not relapse into this thing again.” He further states that whoever takes it upon him or herself to further elaborate, is considered praiseworthy. Nachman of Breslov notes that one measure of having done a complete teshuvah (return to H’Shem), is if in the same situation wherein had previously sinned, this time, avoids sin in the given situation.

post Shavuot reflection 5783

As we descend from Sinai, after the receiving of the Torah anew in our lives, may we be compelled to reflect upon our experience, and bring the light and wisdom of the Torah forward with us day by day.

May H’Shem grant us the discernment to apply these teachings to our everyday challenges, and spread the light throughout the mundane as well as the sacred times. That all truth may flourish above and beyond the lies.

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Shavuot 5783 Mattan Torah

“And it came to pass on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of a horn exceeding loud; and all the people that were in the camp trembled. ” – Exodus 19:16, JPS 1917 Tanach

At Mount Sinai, the people in the camp trembled at the awesome display of H’Shem’s Presence, amidst the thunder and lightning. The people’s sense of yiras H’Shem (fear, awe, and reverence towards the L-RD) was elicited by the spectacular display, when the Commandments were given to B’nei Yisrael through Moshe (Moses). This may serve as an example for us, when we gather ourselves together, in order to receive the Torah anew in our lives on the day of Shavuot. The thunder and lightening that humbled the people at Sinai, demonstrates the importance of yiras H’Shem for our own lives. “The fear of H’Shem is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10).

When we seek to develop awe, reverence, and proper respect towards H’Shem, we are planting a foundation within us that will bring wisdom and understanding into our lives (see also Proverbs 9:10). G-d seeks to bring our heart into alignment with His ways, by compelling us to seek teshuvah, that we may start anew. The powerful reminder of thunder is a natural occurrence that should serve as a wake-up call. According to the Talmud, thunder was created for this very purpose (Berachos 59a).  “G-d hath so made it, that men should fear before Him” (Ec. 3:14, JPS).

On Shavuot, we stand once again, ready to leave our personal Mitzraim behind us, as we renew our commitment to keep the Covenant made at Mt. Sinai with B’nei Yisrael. We may also seek the realization of G-d’s promise, “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel.” As is written, “I will put My law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their G-d, and they shall be My people” (Jeremiah 31:31, 33, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Shavuot 5783 Renewal

Let us stand at Sinai, figuratively speaking, to receive the commandments anew. Further consider that when Moshe entered “the thick cloud” (Exodus 19:9) on Sinai, he was called even further, he “drew near unto the thick darkness where G-d was” (Exodus 20:18, JPS 1917 Tanach). This serves as an example for us, in our quest to grow closer to G-d. He is found within the darkness of our lives, concealed within the hardships, trials and tribulations.

We may ask ourselves, when will the clouds part, and the light begin to shine in our lives? Perhaps, there will be a parting of the clouds, when we learn how to transform the challenges in our lives, by using them as opportunities to seek G-d, so that His presence, may comfort us during our nisyanos (troubles). On Shavuot, let us be strengthened by G-d’s presence, so that we may enter back into our lives, renewed with godly strength and vigor, as a result of our own personal Sinai experience.

Na’aseh V’nishmah

“We will do and we will listen (understand).”

A pledge of loyalty was made first – a commitment to the observance of Torah – before fully hearing or understanding why it was important to observe the mitzvoth. Instilled with yiras H’Shem (awe, reverence, and respect toward G-d), they decidedly committed to His words.

A certain sense of “intuitive knowledge” already exists within us. Contrary to the appearance of blind obedience to G-d’s commandments by stating first, “We will do,” Avraham Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel explained that at Sinai, the people were intuitively connected to their “natural essence” that was in alignment with G-d’s will, unhindered by the prevailing culture at that time.

They had been removed their shackles of Egyptian civilization, brought into the desert, and had revealed to them G-d’s Presence at Sinai – this was a transformative experience of the nth degree.

Today, many of us are entangled to a lesser or greater extent with the surrounding culture of society – the zeitgeist that is composed of the shifting sands of time, and therefore not a stable, nor a consistent foundation to build upon.

It is important to extricate ourselves from the beliefs and practices, presuppositions and behaviors of society, especially the pseudo-morality and virtue-signalling that permeates society today, via the so-called social justice movement, institutional capture, and educational indoctrination. After removing the confusion that occludes our intellectual faculties, the value of Torah will become inherently understood. B’ezrach H’Shem (With the help of G-d).

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parasha Bamidbar 5783

weekly Torah reading: Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1 – 4:20) 5783

“And the L-RD spoke unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying: ‘The children of Israel shall pitch by their father’s houses; every man with his own standard, according to the ensigns.’”

– Numbers 2:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

B’nei Yisrael were encamped around the Mishkan, according to their tribal affiliation. Aaron’s family and Moshe’s family were encamped on the east side, facing the front of the Mishkan. The Levites were encamped on the other three surrounding sides of the Mishkan. The rest of the twelve tribes were encamped further away from the Mishkan, three tribes on each side, north, south, east, and west.

The Levites were assigned the tasks, regarding the carrying of the Mishkan. B’nei Yisrael had been encamped at Sinai; now, these responsibilities were given, specifically, to each of the three Levite families, in preparation for the movement of the camp. First, a census was taken, of all the men eligible for war. The Levites were counted separately; they were chosen “to do the service of the tabernacle” (Numbers 3:6-8, JPS).

At the center of the encampment of the B’nei Yisrael [the Children of Israel] was the Mishkan, meaning “dwelling place.” This is where H’Shem’s presence, the Shechinah dwelt. The Hebrew word, Shechinah is derived from the word Mishkan. H’Shem would appear to Moses, when His presence rested between the two cherubim [golden angels], on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant. Also, He appeared within the manifestation of the Clouds of Glory to all of Israel.

Sovereignty within the Kingdom

Emotional attribute: Malchus -kingdom, sovereignty, autonomy

Malchus (sovereignty) may also be rendered as autonomy. Human beings are created in G-d’s image, so we are obligated by our godly nature, at least to make an attempt to reflect His attributes. We were also given free will; therefore, to varying degrees, we may seek an autonomous stance in life; yet, to see ourselves as independent of G-d would only be self-deception. Ultimate deference should be shown to G-d, through obeisance of His commandments, as well as an acknowledgment of His greater wisdom (Isaiah 55:8-9)

G-d’s sovereignty is made known through His commandments; and the enactment of his judgments. His sovereignty may be recognized in the manner that the natural world is continues to function well under the right conditions. He not only created the world, He also interacts via His guidance. Every atom and cell of all life is still maintained by the energizing principle of His spirit. Even inanimate things like rocks, composed of minerals, would disintegrate, if its integrity was not upheld by a minute amount of the divine.

Past Archetypes

The Relevancy of the Past

This is important to understand; as soon as an event is dismissed as a story or myth that has no historical relevancy, that is to say, it is invalidated as an actual occurrence, the principles drawn from the event are also undermined. Thus, in the postmodern age, where everything is ripe for the taking and immediate dismissing, one stroke of criticism can cast down the truth, and hide it from the minds of that generation.

Unless we reclaim history, historical narrative, and the validity of the events described in the Bible, this entropy of all that is meaningful from the past will prevail, until the world is unrecognizable. Where do we begin? We do not need to worry about beginning. We already have the events of the Bible, more or less, ingrained in our memory, regardless of our background.

There is an adage concerning the study of Torah; it is emphasized that review is necessary to strengthen the bond of memory of these events to the soul. Improve upon what you already know; build up what has eroded over the years, since your bar or bas Mitzvah. If you recognize the declining values of this generation, and entropy that began in the 1960’s, and has culminated in institutionalized moral decay, then consider where you stand on the issue of societal norms.

On the other hand, if you already steeped in Yiddishkeit, and a thorough understanding of the Torah, consider the words of Abraham Heschel, that “when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past” then the messages of the Bible remain ensconced in a gilded cage, without bearing relevancy on the present (Heschel, G-d in Search of Man). Thus, it is up to this generation, to reach out to youth, and those on the fringes, to strengthen our heritage.

New Age Revelry

The Ubiquity of Spirituality without Religion

The sovereignty of the individual is ultimately supported by the Higher Authority of G-d. We are guided by lasting principles that enable us to direct our autonomy toward a worthy goal. We work in tandem with His guidance, recognizing that ultimately, He should be L-rd over our lives.

 Yet, today, in the chaotic postmodern world, where spirituality abounds, devoid of a connection to a transcendent G-d, man raises himself up as the highest authority. Indeed, many, who are steeped in New Age spirituality view themselves, and all humankind as part and parcel with the divinity of G-d, irrespective of His transcendent nature. In other words, they view themselves as divine, without recognizing a higher authority.

As shocking as this may sound to anyone who holds a traditional religious worldview, it should be noted that the separation of spirituality from religion is gaining ground in the world. As people move away from traditional concepts of G-d and religion, the yearning for something other than the mundane compels many to fill the void in their lives with anything under the sun, except the idea of a G-d who has moral expectations of us.

The main tenets of monotheistic faith, in particular, are replaced by alternatives that have less of a demand for responsibility to a moral order, and more of a subjective, experience-based spirituality without a particular moral code. Thus, any conception of an absolute authority that can guide our lives is substituted with the individual being the highest form of authority.

Where will this rift between religion and spirituality lead? There seems to be a growing consensus that religion is too binding upon the freedom of an individual; hence, the embracing of a myriad diversions from the revealed truth at Sinai, encompassing subjective experiential pursuits. Worse than worshiping other gods, many within the New Age Movement are worshipping themselves.

The Principal Part

shiur for parasha Behar-Bechukosai 5783

“If ye walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them.”

 – Leviticus 26:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

Through the revelation at Mt. Sinai (Mattan Torah – the giving of the Instruction), H’Shem revealed His will in the form of the Commandments. Clearly, the Ten Commandments, in and of themselves, are the pivotal commandments meant to guide the moral sphere of our lives. All the other commandments are derived from these. The Aseret Dibrot (Ten Utterances) reflect the principal part of G-d’s Torah – His expectations of us.

The observance of the commandments is meant to lead us into a state of kedusha (holiness), so that our very lives may be sanctified through their performance. “The reward for a mizvah (good deed) is another mitzvah” (Pirkei Avos 4:2). In other words, more opportunities to do good will be given to us as we continue to observe the mitzvot.

Yet, these opportunities may require the use of our discernment, in tandem with the prevailing directives of our conscience. Ultimately, through the negation of our will, which is often contrary to G-d’s will, we may mature according to His guidance in our lives. To serve Him (avodah) becomes the task of the “inner person,” wherein the battle is fought between the yetzer tov (good inclination) and the yetzer hara (evil inclination). We need to bend our will to serve His will, thereby aligning ourselves with Divine Guidance and transpired will.

“Do His will as though it were your will.”

– Pirkei Avos 2:4, traditional text