Awe, Reverence, and Respect

“Everything is in the hands of G-d, except for the fear of G-d.”

– Berachos 33b

 “And now, Israel, what doth the L-RD thy G-d require of thee, but to fear the L-RD thy G-d, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the L-RD thy G-d with all thy heart and with all thy soul; to keep for thy good the commandments of the L-RD, and His statutes, which I command thee this day?”  – Deuteronomy 10:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

Yiras H’Shem (fear of G-d) is a major component of one’s relationship to G-d; fear, in the sense of awe, reverence, and respect. The Torah records, “What doth the L-RD thy G-d require of thee, but to fear the L-RD thy G-d?”

The quality of yiras H’Shem is what will determine the level of kedushah (holiness) in a person’s life. For our response to constant acknowledgment of G-d, will compel us to watch our own thoughts, speech, and behavior at all times, thereby elevating our level of kedushah.

Our response to H’Shem’s directive, through His commandments, requires giving Him the due respect that He deserves as our King. As a consequence of our reverence towards Him, we bring kedushah (holiness) into our lives through our obedience. We become sanctified through His commandments; every aspect of our lives may become sanctified (made holy).

“Happy is everyone that feareth the L-RD, that walketh in His ways.” – Psalm 128:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

Psalm 71

“With Thy mighty acts, O L-rd G-D; I will make mention of Thy righteousness, even of Thine only.” – Psalm 71:16, JPS

When we are humbled by our own sense of unrighteousness, there is nothing left to do than to proclaim the righteousness of H’Shem. As the psalmist speaks, “I will mention Your righteousness, Yours alone” (Psalms 71:16). King David, who was taught by H’Shem since his youth (v.17), grew up with an understanding of his own smallness, as compared to G-d’s greatness. This is what compelled David to attribute all of his success to G-d, and what ultimately made him great, as the chosen receptacle for G-d’s sovereignty to be enacted.

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Sinai Experience

“Moses said to the people, “Fear not, for G-d has come in order to exalt you, and in order that His awe shall be upon your faces, so that you shall not sin.” – Exodus 20:16

“The fear of the L-RD is pure, abiding forever.” – Psalms 19:10

An impressive away of supernal fireworks, in the form of fire, smoke, and lightning appeared on the top of Mt. Sinai; yet, not for entertainment; rather, to instill awe in the hearts of the children of Israel, for the sake of their upright walk with the L-RD. Thus, Moshe conveyed to the people that they should not be in fear, in a negative sense of the word; instead, a godly fear that would compel them not to go astray, as long as they would continue to keep the phenomenal experience at Sinai, after leaving the encampment.

This was the intent, in terms of understanding how to direct one’s fear, towards refraining from sin. For, our G-d is a consuming fire; let us not make haste in turning towards the ways of the world; the betterment of the soul, to bring about an eternal fruition, may only be furthered by focusing on G-d, to the exclusion of whatever might lead us astray. The revelation at Sinai, expressly described in the narrative, carries weight over the centuries, impressing itself upon our conscious minds as well. Let this serve as a reminder, to refrain from all ungodly activities.

Although our conscience may lead us closer towards right conduct day by day, if we make an effort to listen to the still small voice; when necessary, we may be reminded not to get thrown off track from our godly pursuits, by a healthy fear of G-d, in the sense of awe, reverence, and respect towards Him. Staying in alignment with G-d’s intentions for us, as individuals, as well as part of a community, will cause us to be more attuned to His guidance. For, “the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Prov. 4:18).

Shabbos reflection: Drawing Near

As the 17th of Tammuz draws near, the connection seems so relevant to make. In a way, because of the Rafael Fire, burning fifteen miles away, imagining what occurred almost two thousand years ago in Jerusalem on the 17th of Tammuz seems more tangible. That is the day in 70 C.E. when the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem. Fires raged throughout the city; and the Temple was destroyed three weeks later on the 15th of Av.

Rafael Fire, Arizona

Drawing near to G-d seems like the most beneficial endeavor, at this time; and, perhaps, how my concerns about the fire may be channeled into the commemoration of the 17th of Tammuz on the first day of the week. Surely this would have been the only recourse of the pious two thousand years ago; drawing near to G-d at the time of an event that preceded one of the worst tragedies in Jewish history. Hopefully, any tragedies as a result of the Rafael Fire will be averted. H’Shem willing.

Seek the Light

B”H

“Towards the face of the menorah shall the seven lamps cast light.”

  • Numbers 8:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The “seven lamps” shall cast their light towards the face of the menorah. Seven lamps, towards the face (p’nei). Commentary explains that the six lamps, three on either side of the center lamp, had their wicks tilted towards the center lamp. Yet, this begs the question, if the verse mentions that all seven lamps shall cast their light towards the p’nei (face) of the menorah, then the Hebrew word, p’nei must represent something other than the center lamp, since it is only one of the seven. Therefore, what does the Hebrew word p’nei represent in this verse?

An answer may be given by focusing on another verse from Kitvei Kodesh (Holy Scripture), wherein a clue may be found. “In Thy behalf my heart hath said: ‘Seek ye My face’; Thy face, L-RD, will I seek” (Psalms 27:8, JPS 1917 Tanach). Consequently, the verse about the menorah could be rendered as having the light of the seven lamps glowing towards the “face of G-d.” And, what may be learned by this understanding? The light of the lamps can be seen as symbolic of our avodas (service) towards H’Shem, seven days a week. All our efforts in avodas are to culminate in seeking the face of G-d.

parashas Beha’alosecha 5780

Restoration

B”H

Shiur for parashas Nasso 5780

“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 they shall confess their sin which they have done.”

  • Numbers 5:6-7, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to Rambam (Maimonides), this verse is the basis of the importance of confession (vidui), 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,” as teshuvah, meaning to return. Repentance is a return to H’Shem (the L-RD). “Let us return unto the L-RD” (Hosea 5:15, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The Mishkan along with the Levitical system of offerings were meant to restore the relationship of the people with HShem. A restored relationship with HShem begins with vidui (confession), whereby we confess our sins to Him; additionally, we return to Him by not making the same transgression again. We must also increase our mitzvoth, spending more time engaged with G-dly pursuits, and less time in that which could be considered frivolous.

Unless we are conscious of leading a godly life, we may not even realize that a diminished connection to G-d may be a result of our own lack of mitzvot (good deeds). “Your iniquities have separated between you and your G-d (Isaiah 59:2, JPS 1917 Tanach). In order to experience G-d’s presence in our lives, then we need to approach Him in righteousness. If we have not been cognizant of what He expects from us, then we need to educate ourselves, according to His ways. Now is a good time to start.

parashas Nasso 5780

Shavuot 5780

B”H

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger from Pexels

This year, as Shavuot approaches, my imagination is captured by recent events, going back to Purim: a long and arduous journey of the soul, from rejoicing, to solitude, and now the figurative climb in preparation of receiving the Commandments anew in our lives. Let me explain. On my personal journey from rejoicing at a Purim celebration, that turned out to be the last time that I attended a religious community event. Solitude, as I mostly hunkered down into an almost overly self imposed shelter-in-place existence. The spiritual climb, having the solitude to focus on my derech (path), into the wilderness, so that I might be refined b’ezrach H’Shem (with G-d’s help) enough to na’aseh v’nishmah – perform, and understand – over time the significance of the commandments anew.

We are mostly all camped out within our own personal deserts; yet, the desert is where the Torah was given to B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel). A place where the mind is unhindered from distractions, and solace may be found in the stillness of Sinai. Plenty of opportunity for spiritual growth, if our perspective in life can shift in that direction, even moreso than if and when we already have in the past. By “the past,” I do not only mean, before the corona virus, I mean even if we have never considered are ruchniyos (spirituality) throughout most of our lives. Because, without a godly focus to some extent, human beings, myself included, are too easily caught up in gashmios (materiality). However, we have the opportunity to reach out towards H’Shem, so that we may be drawn to Him.

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. We may ask ourselves when will the clouds part, and the light begin to shine in our lives again. Yet, perhaps, there will be no preemptive parting of the clouds, not until we learn how to bear 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). Then, we may enter back into the world, renewed with godly strength and vigour, as a result of our own personal Sinai experience, no matter how many days we may actually be on the mountain.

Counting Sheep

B”H

Shiur for parashas Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1 – 4:20) 5780

“Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel.”

– Numbers 1:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

“The literal translation of the above mentioned verse would be, ‘Lift up the head of the entire assembly.” This rendering has two potential meanings: that the people would be lifted up to a higher spiritual status or brought down by their own unworthiness. The phrase suggests either upliftment, if B’nei Yisrael were worthy in G-d’s eyes, or chastisement, if they were not acting in accordance with His expectations of them (Ramban).

The sages note that there were nine times recorded in the Tanach, whereupon a census was taken. According to their rendering of scripture, there will be a tenth census taken in the days of Moshiach. “The flocks again pass under the hands of him that counteth them, saith the L-RD” (Jeremiah 33:13, JPS 1917 Tanach). According to the rendering of this verse by the Targum Yonaton, the verse reads, “by the hand of Moshiach.”

The world is judged four times a year; the sages envision the judgment that occurs on Rosh HaShannah, as a census being taken, likened to counting sheep: “On Rosh HaShana all creatures pass before Him like sheep [benei maron], as it is stated: ‘He Who fashions their hearts alike, Who considers all their deeds’ (Psalms 33:15)” (Talmud, tractate Rosh HaShannah 16a, sefaria.org).

The mashal (parable) of counting the sheep also points towards the final judgment, when all of mankind will be judged. “For I [know] their works and their thoughts; [the time] cometh, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and shall see My glory” (Isaiah 66:18).

“Therefore will I save My flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle. And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even My servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the L-RD will be their G-d, and My servant David prince among them” (Ezekiel 34:22-24, JPS 1917 Tanach).

parashas Bamidbar

weekly reading: Sanctification

B”H

Shiur for parashas Emor

The Sanctification of H’Shem’s Name

“I will be sanctified among the children of Israel.”
– Leviticus 22:32

Selfless behavior could be defined as akin to mesiras nefesh – self-sacrifice. Mesiras nefesh may be viewed as an ongoing act in the sense of subduing the yetzer hara (the evil inclination), for the sake of sanctifying H’Shem’s name. The resultant reward is that we ourselves become sanctified, every time that we do not give in to our own character weaknesses. This is a challenge that appears in many circumstances on a daily basis; therefore, it is best to be on guard against temptation, by strengthening ourselves through constant vigilance.

To be selfless, in respect to mesiras nefesh on the level of morality, is to actively engage in diminishing our own will in favor of the ratzon (will) of H’Shem. When we negate ourselves, we renew ourselves for the sake of H’Shem who sanctifies us. This is a two way street of reciprocity; otherwise, like two sides of the same coin. Whereof, we are sanctified by H’Shem, through our own efforts to become holy. When we separate ourselves from unholiness, we are blessed with an equal measure of kedushah from H’Shem. By serving H’Shem, we bring glory (kavod) to H’Shem.

“You are my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”

-Isaiah 49:3

Imatatio Dei

B”H

7 Iyar 5780

1 May 2020

Shiur for parashas Acharei-Mos – Kedoshim 5780

“Ye shall be holy, for I the L-RD your G-d am holy.”

  • Leviticus 19:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

We are created b’tzelem Elokim – in the image of G-d – as is written, “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them” (Genesis 1:27, JPS). We are to imitate G-d, in a sincere effort to live up to that image. In specific, we should focus our efforts on an attempt to approach His level of holiness, even if this may not be within our own power to do so.

Consider, Nadav and Abihu, who raised themselves up above their status as kohanim, sons of Aaron (see Leviticus 10:1-2). They did not recognize the boundaries placed before themselves and H’Shem. Therefore, they served as a negative example to maintain a high level of respect, awe, and reverence towards H’Shem, regardless of our calling to be like unto Him.

In parashas Kedoshim, H’Shem tells Moshe, “Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them: Ye shall be holy; for I the L-RD your G-d am holy” (Leviticus 19:2, JPS). A question may be asked, relevant to the theme of kedushah (holiness): how are we able to even approach the level of G-d’s holiness? Again, this is an ideal standard, that we are to simply set as our goal. Yet, it’s attainment is by no means simple, nor even possible without H’Shem at the helm of our ship, guiding our way upon the ocean of life.