Shabbat Shuvah 5783

parasha Vayelech 5783

“And H’Shem, He it is that doth go before thee; He will be with thee, He will not fail the, neither forsake thee; fear not, neither be dismayed.”  – Deuteronomy 31:8, JPS 1917 Tanach

Moshe encouraged Joshua and the people, for they were about to cross into the Promised Land.  He told them that H’Shem would go before them; so they should not fear, for He would be with them.  To have emunah (faith), in this respect, is to comprehend that H’Shem would strengthen them, so that a dependence on Him could be fostered, rather than relying on their own strength.  In this way, their enemies would be defeated – through H’Shem.

The same is true today, that H’Shem would like us to return to the simplicity of faith, by looking towards Him in all things.  For He will lead us forward through the challenges of our lives.  Moreover, He gave us the Torah to serve as a way of life, to observe His commandments.  Yet, he also gave us bechirah (free will), inasmuch that he would like us to freely choose life.

When we are in a quandry, not able to see the light, there is a narrow path through which we may return to Him; thereby, stepping out of the mire that we may be in because of our own negligence and transgressions.  So, teshuvah is the element that allows us to seek Him again when we have made the wrong choices in our lives, having turned away from the Torah given at Sinai. When we hear the sound of the shofar, our souls awaken to what is essential in our connection to G-d.

Rosh HaShannah 5783

Rosh HaShannah is a time of renewal. Through teshuvah (repentance) we prepare ourselves to face H’Shem: Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King) on the Day of Judgment for the New Year. Through proper reflection, and rooting out our sins well in advance of that day, we hope to begin the new year with the resolve to start anew.

Rosh HaShannah is considered to be a day of judgment for the new year. We would like to be judged favorably, so we make an accounting of the soul (heshbnon hanefesh), in order that our conscience will permit ourselves to stand before the King. According to the Zohar, “’You stand this day all of you before the L-RD your G-d’” (Deuteronomy 30:9) refers to Rosh HaShannah, when we stand before H’Shem in judgment for the New Year.

When we examine our conscience, we may be brought to a place of moral compunction as a result of guilt and remorse. During the Ten Days of Repentance, otherwise known as the Days of Awe, we continue to search our souls for the flaws that need to be brought into the light . During that time, any judgments against us for the year may be diminished through our efforts at “teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer), and tsedokah (charity),” that “avert the severity of the decree,” for the decrees are not sealed until Yom Kippur.

Stand in Righteousness 5782

parasha Nitzavim 5782

“Ye are standing this day all of you before the L’rd your G’d.

– Deuteronomy 29:9, JPS

Moshe speaks to the generation of B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) that will soon cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land, under the new leadership of Joshua. Moshe reassures the people that despite their transgressions in the wilderness, they are still “standing this day.” The Hebrew word used for stand in this verse is nitzavim, from the shoresh (root word) NZV, meaning to stand upright.

Moshe explains that they are gathered together, standing before H’Shem, “that thou shouldest enter (uvalaso) into the covenant of the L’RD thy G’d (Deuteronomy 29:11, JPS). The shoresh, AVR, meaning to enter, also means to cross over. The use of this word is apropos of B’nei Yisrael’s immanent crossing over the Jordan to Canaan. Figuratively speaking, they are crossing over as wanderers in the wilderness into the Covenant. The proclamation given by Moses in this passage is a renewal of the covenant.

The Zohar relates the phrase, “Ye are standing this day” to Rosh HaShannah. When we stand before H’Shem on Rosh HaShannah, the Day of Judgment, when we are judged for the year, the books are opened, and we hope to be judged favorably, so that we may cross over into a good year. Let us search and try our ways, and return to the L’RD (Lamentations 3:40, JPS), so that we may stand before Him, and be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Bikurim (First Fruits)

dvar for parasha Ki Savo 5782

The commandment of bikkurim (first fruits) was to be performed after B’nei Yisrael entered Eretz Canaan and received their inheritance. It was only incumbent upon them to observe the mitzvah of bikurim, after they were established in the land. It was to serve as a constant reminder of our heritage. The declaration that is made at the time, encapsulates our history, beginning with Jacob, who went to Egypt with his entire family. And, how we later became slaves in Egypt; yet, H’Shem redeemed us, and we became His people, bound by covenant to the Torah given at Sinai.

The declaration, made when bringing the basket of the first fruits of one’s harvest to the Kohein, concerns our history, how we began as a small people, and became populous, and were brought into “a land that flows with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy 26:9). It is an expression of gratitude to H’Shem for our redemption, and a reminder of our humble origins as a people.  Also, the import of this declaration brings to light all of the provisions bestowed upon us since that time.

A stark reminder that G-d provides, and has done so since Gan Eden. Yet, today, society is so far removed from the harmony in the Garden before Adam and Chava partook from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Today, good and evil are being redefined by man, if not essentially reversed. The prophet Jeremiah warned of this: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that change darkness into light, and light into darkness; that change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter” (Jeremiah 5:20, JPS).

That direct personal relationship of Adam and Chava (Eve), has for the most part within secular society been replaced with a connection to “everything under the sun.” Mankind seeks to become the ultimate arbiter good and evil, proclaiming truth relative, by way of subjectivism. In an immoral world, let us stand up for our values, as given by the Creator. Our heritage, as preserved through the declaration of bikkurim, and other traditions, provides us with a foundation as a people. Even if the world’s foundations crumble, let us hold on to ours.

The bikurim (first fruits) were brought to Yerushalayim, between Shavuot and Sukkot, the harvest season. The seven species from which they were selected were wheat, barley, figs, pomegranates, olives, grapes, and dates. Today, these grains and fruits serve to remind us of our connection to the Land of Israel. We may enjoy these foods, especially at certain times, according to tradition, in the same spirit that B’nei Yisrael was called upon to rejoice in Yerushalayim, when they brought the bikurim.

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Mercy Me

“Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” – Psalms 85:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

It is written that in the future, “mercy and truth” will have met, and, furthermore, that righteousness (tsedokah = justice) and peace will have kissed (Psalms 85:11). Thus, it can be understood from this verse, that these qualities will have appeared together, ushering in G-d’s Kingdom. Where are we today, in regard to this effort in our own lives? And, what of society’s take on the nature of these qualities appearing together?

Surely, divine truth and justice are qualified by the concomitant kindness, and peace that must be congruent for any effort to express truth, or bring about justice on earth. Rather, the social justice movement that has taken the world, as if by surprise overnight, fails in this regard. For, one of the means to obtain “social justice” according to the actual means through which this is being attempted is without any sense of peace, as if it is permissible from the point of view of SJW’s to use any means possible to reach their goals, thereby inferring that the means justify the ends.

However, the psalmist speaks of justice and peace existing together, implying that the means must not be in conflict with the end. Rather, the utopian vision of cultural Marxism, through the current Wokism agenda, is one is furthered through aggressive means, harshly condemning anyone not on board with Woke tenets; regrettably, this is the road towards totalitarianism.

Yet, regarding the efforts to bring about social change in a compassionate manner, have they not heard the adage echoed from the 1960’s: “If we can’t do it with a smile on our face, you know if we can’t love in our hearts, then children we ain’t got no right to do it at all” (For What It’s Worth, CSNY). Instead, their message is increasingly one of intolerance for viewpoints not in alignment with their own.

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Seek Refuge

“Happy is the man who finds refuge in You, whose mind is on the [pilgrim] highways.” – Psalms 84:6, JPS 1985 Tanach

To take refuge in G-d is something that can be done today, and has been done across the ages. To keep one’s mind on the roads leading to Jerusalem that were full of those who came to observe the holidays from outside of Jerusalem, today becomes partly an excursion to our glorious past, yet, also possible to envision as this occurs in the modern era, whether by foot, car, or bus. Or for those living overseas, by plane.

Additionally this latter part of the verse, concerning a focus on the pilgrimage may also be rendered as an ascent that led to perceiving G-d in their hearts. Thus, this path of the heart, that all may partake of, may lead to the fulfillment of a constant awareness of G-d, such that this acquisition may outwardly reflect the inner radiance that results from connecting to G-d, and following His moral law.

Truly, a refuge from the external forces of modernity, and widespread pseudo-morality in the world today, this path may sustain those who seek a higher moral ground in their lives. So, as we pass through the Valley of Thorns, may our efforts to meet these current challenges, blossom into a means to draw closer to G-d in our lives on a continual basis.

May we go from “strength to strength,” until we stand before the L-RD in Zion (derived from Psalms 84:8).

Leil Selichot 5782

“No one is perfect, nor can our faults be projected onto others, while absolving ourselves from a self-righteous perspective.” – Tzvi Fievel Schnee

This is the curse of Wokism, that its proponents look outside of themselves to designate sin in others, without examining themselves. Let us enter the New Year on Rosh HaShannah, free from the taint of moral decay in our own lives; may we also not be influenced by those around us, who are caught up in the outwardly focused ideology of Wokism; rather, let us also seek to bring awareness of the truth to those who have been deceived.

Yet, even if the woke crowd claims to look inwardly in order to purge themselves of their so-called “white privilege,” or other doctrinaire bias, any ensuing effort is based upon a lesser sin than those defined as such by divine decree. As for the origins of the concept of “white privilege,” consider the following:

A Marxist essay, entitled “White Blindspot,” written to various Marxist groups in America (circa 1967; 6th edition 1972), concerned itself with the issue of bringing African American’s onboard with the Worker’s Party. To do so, and bring them fully into the fold, it was recommended for the white members of the worker’s revolution to recognize their inherent privileges, in order to become more sympathetic with their black brethren.

This in-house Marxist indoctrination has now gone fully mainstream within the Marxist-oriented Woke Movement. It does not take a rocket scientist to note that the lens through which Wokism views all group identities that it considers at risk, is the Oppressed vs. the Oppressor theme, that is clearly Marxist ideology. Let us wake up to the truth of this pernicious movement.

Although Wokism claims to be a social justice Movement, it totalizes partial truths, for the sake of spreading an ideology that will continue to undermine every facet of America if left unchecked. Meanwhile, let us orient ourselves within the framework of the inner person, encompassing the pursuit of righteousness within the framework of the values given by divine decree, as opposed to the pseudo-morality of Wokism. For, although the ills of society may be apparent to the hypercritical, we should be more concerned about the sin residing within ourselves.

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Thou Shalt Not Mix

weekly Torah reading: parashas Ki Seitzei 5782

 “Thou shalt not wear a mingled stuff, wool and linen together.”

– Deuteronomy 22:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Seeing that the first two human beings who were born on earth were of different species, (Kayin and Hevel), one being the result of the evil genes of the serpent, the other that of Adam’s divinely inspired spirit, and we are commanded to keep our distance from the spirit of impurity, mixing the species has been forbidden for us as we have learned the fatal consequences which this could have.” – R. Bachya, commentary on Leviticus 19:19, sefaria.org

The fundamental differences between Kayin (Cain) and Hevel (Abel) are reflected in the nature of the offerings that each brought to H’Shem. “Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the L-RD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the L-RD had respect unto Abel and to his offering; but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect” (Genesis 4:3-5 JPS). A qualitative difference between Abel and Cain’s offering is inferred. Cain’s offering was linseed (Midrash Tanchuma, Bereishis 9), whereas Abel brought the choicest of his flock.

 If Abel brought from his sheep, then this could correspond to the wool, mentioned in the commandment, while Cain’s offering would be represented by linen. The commandment forbids “wool and linen together.” This rendering would reinforce the underlying differences between Cain and Abel. If we are to be more like Abel, giving the best of ourselves as an offering to H’Shem through our good deeds, then, we should not compromise our standing with H’Shem by following the poor example of Cain. Rather, we should maintain excellency in all of our endeavors, both towards G-d and man, without permitting our intentions to become mixed with ulterior motives.

To Be Whole-Hearted

parasha Shoftim 5782

“You must be whole-hearted with the L-RD your G-d.”

– Deuteronomy 18:13, JPS

“Put thy hope in Him and do not attempt to investigate the future, but whatever it may be that comes upon thee accept it whole-heartedly.” – Rashi, sefaria.org

The Targum paraphrase is intriguing: “Ye shall be perfect in the fear of the L-rd your G-d” (Yonatan Targum, Deuteronomy 18:13, sefaria.org). Perhaps, the idea being conveyed in this rendering is, that in order to be tamiym (whole, perfect, having integrity), what is required is yiras H’Shem (awe, reverence and respect towards the L-RD). So, a practical application is included within the Targum rendering of the pasuk (verse). The two go “hand in hand,” yiras H’Shem for the sake of walking whole-heartedly with H’Shem. Because, in this manner, the chasid (pietist) will be cautious enough, as a result of yiras H’Shem to walk in an upright manner, as pertaining to all of one’s thought, speech, and action.

Moreover, as Rashi clarifies, to trust in H’Shem to the extent that we are not worried about the future, because all is in his hands. As is conveyed elsewhere, all that is required is fear of H’Shem, because He will provide for all else in our lives, dependent upon our sincerity in regard to observing His commandments. Otherwise stated, there is no need to be concerned about future events, because everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen in our lives is for the good, even if we are currently unable to discern that goodness as found within our circumstances. We trust in H’Shem that only He knows what is best for us. Additionally, I would add that these are trying times; our dependence on H’Shem should also be pervasive enough in our lives, in order to weather the storms ahead.

Perceive the Blessings

parasha Re’eh 5782 – Perceive the Blessings

 “Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse.”

 – Deuteronomy 11:26, JPS 1917 Tanach

“See, I set before you this day,” in other words, perceive that I present before you this very day, the significance of blessings and curses in your lives. According to Rabbeinu Bahya, the so-called, “mental eye” of the spiritually sensitive is able to see the effects of the blessings and curses, on an individual basis, in their own lives. Incidentally, the blessings originate with the Attribute of Mercy, whereas the curses are derived from the Attribute of Justice.

R. Bahya makes reference to the pasuk (verse), “I have seen great wisdom and knowledge” (Ecclesiastes 1:16). As a direct result of our being aware of the blessings and curses in life, we may obtain great knowledge, concerning the causal relationship between our thoughts, speech, & actions, and their consequences. This may lead towards wisdom, having to do with how H’Shem Elokim guides us – each and every person, according to hasgachah peratis (divine guidance), weaving a tapestry of events and consequences in our lives, dependent upon the nature of our conduct.

Additionally, consider the words of King David, who wrote, “Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4, JPS); he was assured through H’Shem’s guidance and correction, that he would remain on the derech (path). H’Shem’s guidance, as represented by a staff (a shepherd’s crook) and His correction, as symbolized by a rod. This is akin to the understanding that blessings can be understood as signs that we are on the right path; and curses are a form of chastisement meant to correct us, whenever we go astray.