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.

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).

©2023 all rights reserved

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.

Trust in Providence

parasha Behar-Bechukosai (Leviticus 25:1 – 26:2) 5783

“And the L-RD spoke unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a Sabbath unto the L-RD.” 

– Leviticus 25:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

At the beginning of the parasha, an emphasis is placed on the Shemitah commandment, in particular, being given at Mt Sinai. All of the commandments were given at Sinai; therefore, the question may be asked, why is Shemitah singled out from amongst the other commandments? First of all, it may be understood within the context of emunah (faith). For, H’Shem guarantees, “I will command My blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth produce for the three years” (Leviticus 25:21, JPS 1917 Tanach).

To rely on H’Shem’s word that he would bestow a blessing upon the children of Israel, so that their crops would produce an abundance of yield, enough to last for three years, this is an act of emunah (faith). Only H’Shem could make this guarantee; so, inasmuch that Torah specifically notes the commandment to observe the Shemitah year, wherein the seventh year the land is to lie fallow, this is a reminder that H’Shem gave the commandment on Mt. Sinai, He is the Guarantor; only G-d could assure the people that by placing all of their trust in Him, He would provide for them until the new crop of the following year produced a yield.

The Shemitah cycle also conveys the essential truth, the epitome of historical realization from a Biblical perspective, that after six thousand years, there will be a Sabbatical Millenium. The thousand-year Sabbath begins with the reign of Moshiach in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem); it is considered the first part of Olam Haba (the World to Come). Therefore, in light of this expectation, we are to prepare ourselves in this world, so that we may partake of the reward, likened to a banquet, in the next world.

“‘This world is like a corridor before Olam Haba (the World to Appear); prepare thyself in the corridor, so that thou mayest enter into the banquet hall.'”- Pirkei Avos 4:21).

The Appointed Times

parasha Emor (Leviticus 21:1 – 24:23) 5783

“The appointed seasons of the L-RD, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are My appointed seasons.”

– Leviticus 23:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

On “the fourteenth day of the first month,” the Pesach offering was made (Leviticus 23:5).  seven-day observance begins on the fifteenth of Nissan, when we refrain from eating chometz, during “the Feast of Unleavened Bread” (Leviticus 23:6). “Ye shall bring the sheaf of the first-fruits of your harvest” (Leviticus 23:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). This was brought to the kohein [priest], on the day after the first rest day of Pesach. The offering is referred to in Torah as the waving of the Omer; it was only enacted after B’nei Yisrael entered the Promised Land.

“Even unto the morrow after the seventh week shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall present a new meal-offering unto the L-RD” (Leviticus 23:16, JPS). That is, fifty days were counted from the second day of Passover, onward until on the fiftieth day, the first wheat offering of the harvest was brought “unto the L-RD.” (The offering that was made prior to this – the Omer – on the second day of Passover, was the first of the barley harvest). Today, we refer to the fiftieth day after Passover as Shavuot, in commemoration of Matan Torah (the giving of the Torah).

In Autumn, we celebrate Rosh HaShannah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Sukkot, which follows Yom Kippur, is considered a Festival, like Passover, and Shavuot; so, it is the third of the Festivals: “Ye shall dwell in booths seven days” (Leviticus 23:42, JPS). We build sukkot (booths) to commemorate the protection we received from the Clouds of Glory, while dwelling in booths, during our forty-day sojourn in the desert. On the eighth day, we celebrate Shemini Atzeret, symbolizing Olam Haba (the World-to-Come).

Righteous Atonement

motzei Shabbos: Acharei-Kedoshim 5783 – Atonement

At the beginning of parashas Acharei, the Torah briefly mentions the deaths of two of Aaron’s sons, Adav and Navihu, whose lives were taken by the L-RD, when they approached near to Him (Leviticus 16:1). Immediately afterwards, the H’Shem commands, in regard to Aaron, “that he not come at all times into the the holy place within the veil, before the ark-cover which is upon the ark; that he die not; for I appear in the cloud upon the ark-cover” (Leviticus 16:2, JPS).

The juxtaposition of this admonition alongside the mentioning of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu hints to one reason why they were consumed by fire: H’Shem’s warning to Aaron, not to enter at all times, implies that Nadav and Avihu made an unbidden entry into the Holy of Holies, for which their lives were taken. “The L-RD thy G-d is a devouring fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24, JPS).

Next, the Torah begins to relate the various details of the Yom Kippur service: “Aaron shall come into the holy place” (Leviticus 16:3). Only the Kohein Gadol could enter the Kadosh Kadoshim (Holy of Holies), and only on one day of the year, the Day of Atonement. The Sages ask, why are the deaths of Nadav and Avihu are juxtaposed with the Yom Kippur service?

In like manner that the Yom Kippur brings atonement, so does the death of the righteous also bring atonement” (Yerushalmi Yoma 1:1). Even though Nadav and Avihu were consumed, the Torah credits them as righteous (Leviticus 10:3), because of their intentions to draw close to H’Shem. So, the juxtaposition of their deaths with the Yom Kippur service points toward the understanding that the death of the righteous atones for sin.

Seek to Mend

“With righteousness shall you judge your fellow.”

– Leviticus 19:15

Up until recently, I did not realize that to give another person “the benefit of the doubt” was actually akin to a Torah precept (Rashi; Shevuos 30a). Yet, there can be no mistake, that this should be the prevailing attitude of one human being toward another, in order for the world to spin harmoniously upon its axis. If not, well, case in point, I wouldn’t be surprised if the world would suddenly spin slightly off its axis, based upon what is happening in this country, and all around the globe.

The Torah compels us to judge others favorably, since we ourselves are not impartial, namely, because of the human tendency to be critical of other people’s behavior and lacking in discernment towards our own behavior. Thus, we need to work against the negative inclination to judge others wrongly, by giving them the benefit of the doubt. This is all the more important within the framework of the overall climate of cancel culture that is potentially able to become the normative mode of “communicating” with others, based on our own narcissistic pride and glory in ourselves, on one hand, and superficial virtue signaling on the other hand.

Yet, putting other people down by “calling them out” on perceived injustices, moral flaws, or lack of tolerance, in order to make ourselves feel superior is a deadly trap for the soul. Thus, we would be better off by showing true compassion toward everyone, regardless of our slanted accusations that would otherwise roll off the tongue, past the teeth, and out into the space between us and others, whether in-person, or through social media. G-d help us to make amends for the damage that we may have already done. In our lives, we should seek to redress the wounds of society, only by beginning with ourselves.

Clean Speech

Tazria-Metzora 5783

“Then the kohen is to command that two clean living birds, cedar wood, scarlet and hyssop be brought for the one being cleansed.” – Leviticus 14:4

The cleansing of the metzora, a person who has contracted tzaras, a skin condition similar to leprosy, is done by means of a unique procedure. “He who is to be cleansed” (Targum Yonaton) is cleansed through a unique procedure, using “two clean living birds, cedar wood, scarlet and hyssop” (see above).

The “ingredients” that contribute to the purification of the metzora, are carefully chosen in recognition that tzarras (leprosy) is primarily a “spiritual malaise,” that results from lashon hara (gossip; literally, “evil tongue), as well as other transgressions that indicate a lack of empathy towards others. The metzora is quarantined, living in isolation until his purification, so that he may contemplate his insensitivity towards others.

The cedar wood is chosen as part of the remedy, because this is a high and lofty kind of tree, that reminds the metzora of his haughtiness. For, the aggrandizement of himself over others, led towards a callous disregard of the reputation of those he slandered. Yet, the hyssop is a lowly bush, symbolizing the preferred quality of anavah (humility) that we should uphold, especially in regard to our own sense of limitations, rather than putting ourselves up on a pedestal, by diminishing others through our speech.

This is typically understood today as placing ourselves above others, for the sake of a false sense of esteem, as if we are better than those that we put down with ill-chosen words, whether implicitly or explicitly. Yet, rather than put others down with negative speech, we should build them up with positive words.

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” – Psalm 51:9, JPS 1917 Tanach

©2023 all rights reserved

note to reader: If you appreciate this writing, please consider a small donation in support of Torah. Donate here: tap link.