Rosh Chodesh Av 5782

This evening begins the month of Av, as well as the last nine (intensive) days of the three-week period of mourning for the destruction of the Temples, leading up to the ninth of Av – the day when both Temples were destroyed about six hundred years apart from each other in history.

After the breach of the walls of Jerusalem on Tammuz 17 by the Romans, the second Temple was destroyed, about 1,950 years ago. As a result, even though the state of Israel has been reborn (see Isaiah 66:8), we are still in exile until the time that the third Temple is built. May that day arrive soon. Amein.

Character and Integrity

parasha Balak 5782

“G-d is not man to be capricious, or mortal to change His mind. Would He speak and not act, promise and not fulfill?” – Numbers 23:21, JPS 1985 Tanach

As paraphrased by the Targum, “The Word of the living G-d is not as the words of men for the L-rd, the Ruler of all worlds, is the unchangeable, (but) man speaketh and denieth. Neither are His works like the works of the children of flesh, who consult, and then repent them of what they had decreed” (Targum Jonathan on Numbers 23:19, sefaria.org). In other words, that they change their mind, instead of remaining committed to their original intended course of action.

R’ Bachya states, in no uncertain terms that “the essential difference between G’d and man is that G’d keeps His promises whereas man often deceives, [and] disappoints the people who have been promised by him” (sefaria.org). Moreover, “Whereas man may change his mind concerning matters he had planned, which did not involve undertakings to his fellow man, he nonetheless is apt to have remorse, to change his mind before executing his plan” (sefaria.org).

Additionally, “when man deceives or reneges, this is considered a serious flaw in his character” (sefaria.org). Therefore, it may is important to keep in mind, based upon this commentary the benefits, of focusing upon character development, integrity, and keeping one’s word. These are all positive qualities to work on obtaining in life. Moreover, that our own words, should not contradict each other, as if we had two selves, in conflict with each other. And, that are actions should also not be opposed to our values, beliefs, and goals.

Tikkun HaNefesh

Our entire lives may serve as an opportunity to seek tikkun hanefesh – a renewal of our souls, wherein every day may constitute an effort to rectify our personal past, within the framework of our individual lives. This is the essence of teshuvah, a returning to our unadulterated selves, not confounded by our attachments to the impermissible, nor confused by conflicting feelings, ideas, and behavior. Rather, a return, albeit, a continual progression, towards ourselves, as intended from the original blueprint of life. This path of an inner focus, differs much from the pervasive trend to point the finger at others and society. If we do not first make a concerted effort to change ourselves for the better, then we have no right to attempt to change others or society.

Additionally, because teshuvah (repentance) was created before the creation of the world, we are given continual second chances in life, despite our errors, faults, and foibles. Inasmuch that this gift is freely given to us, isn’t it right to also give others a second chance through a heartfelt expression of forgiveness? Yet, the relentless pursuit of “social justice” through the condemnation of others fails the test of human goodness, because of its incessant focus on human weakness, and the so-called evils of mankind, without any offering of redemption to those who are being judged by others, who are also flawed, as we all are, myself included. A society does not become better in its overall national character through condemnation; rather, only through a natural bond of compassion towards all.

on a personal note:

I am at my desk, nearly twenty-four hours a day, for I often fall to sleep at my desk. Yet, the time has arrived for me to question my motives, and activities. What do I do? Mostly I think, read, and write about G-d, religion, and scripture. However, this will not suffice. For, I have very little lived experience in actually serving G-d within the framework of an active compatible community. To what avail have I been attending services on Shabbos on a regular basis? Virtually none, for the pace of service is too fast for me to meaningful follow along. The interruptions and chatter are always present to some degree; and, additionally, there is no fertile opportunity for me to foster any sense of kavannah before during or after the service. Moreover, seudah (lunch) after services, is disappointing as well, even though at times, I do get to here an interesting dvar. Even so, mostly, the table(s) are full of mundane chatter about worldly topics, forbidden to speak about on Shabbos.

And, so, at my desk shall I remain until I am able to find another community for myself, according to H’Shem’s directive. Baruch H’Shem (Praise G-d), for taking me this far on the journey. As usual, I will need to move on at some point, perhaps, in the near future; that is to say, that it is typical in my life to change, and need to find somewhere else where there is “room to grow.” For now, I will take a break from attendance at the local shul where I have been davening in-person on Shabbos and holidays. After all, I still have the shul I attend on Zoom during the weekdays, as well as on Shabbos, early in the morning, inasmuch as I give myself a dispensation to do so, being that it is forbidden to use the internet on the Sabbath. It figures that all of these thoughts are preceded by my first ever purchase of a bottle of unkosher wine on Friday afternoon (under extenuating circumstances); perhaps, the treif wine has made my brain “loopy,” so to speak; although I feel as if I am “liberated” from the minutia of details, that plague the mind of an observant Jew. So be it, for now. I will remain on the derech (path); yet, I will tread mindfully as I walk along to eternity.

note: this blogpost was posted exactly at the end of Shabbat, erev 30 Nissan 5782.

motzei Shabbos: Acharei 5782

The Death of the Righteous Serves as Atonement

At the beginning of parashas Acharei, the Torah briefly mentions the deaths of two of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, 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.

The nature of atonement may be better understood in light of the following commentary: “For the life [nefesh, soul] of the flesh [basar, body] is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life” (Leviticus 17:11, JPS 1917 Tanach). Rashi comments on ci nefesh habasar, “for the life of the flesh” of every creature, “not only of animals brought as sacrifices, is dependent on its blood (badahm hiy), and it is for this reason that I have placed it [on the altar] to make expiation for the life of man: Let life come and expiate for life” (Rashi, commentary on Leviticus 17:11, sefaria.org).

Purim: The Hidden Face of G-d

hester panim – the hidden face (of G-d)

In the Book of Esther, the narrative that is read on Purim, the name of G-d is not found even once; rather, His divine guidance is hidden within the framework of coincidental events within the narrative. G-d’s providence is already at work, in order to provide for a yeshua (salvation) for the Jewish people, even before the initial threat arises as recorded in the narrative. First of all, Queen Vashti is deposed after she disobeyed her husband, king Ahasueros, who is king of 127 provinces from India to Ethiopa. This sets the stage for a beauty pageant, won by Esther, whose beauty resides within as well as without. The king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight” (Esther 2:17, JPS). Moreover, she remained obedient to her Uncle Mordechai; and, as he instructed her, she did not make “known her kindred nor her people” (2:20).

As recorded at the end of chapter two, Mordechai had overheard a plot against the kink by two of his servants; so, he informed Esther, who told the king in his name; thus, his good deed was recorded in the chronicles of the king (Esther 2:21-23). This preceded a threat that rose up from Haman, who in the next chapter is raised up to a position of power. Therefore, both the position of Esther as Queen, and Mordechai’s deed for which he will be honored later in the narrative, as the ensuing events unfold, are as seeds of redemption waiting to ripen in due time.

Haman, in his new position, demanded that all bow down to him. Mordechai, a Jew who is a Benjamite will not bow down to him. It is interesting to note that one of the twelve sons of Jacob, Benjamin is the only one who did not bow down to Esau when he approached Jacob and his family. This is because Benjamin was still in the womb of his mother. Therefore, Mordechai exhibits this trait, if you will, by not bowing down to Haman, who is a descendant of King Agag, who was a descendant of Amalek. In turn, Amalek was the son of Eliphaz, the son of Esau. So, Haman’s hatred of Mordechai, went beyond his refusal to bow to him: rather, this was an ancient hatred that manifested in Haman’s ire, and insistence as well as determination to destroy all of Mordechai’s people.

Yet, as mentioned in the Talmud, the remedy precedes the sickness: “The Holy One, blessed be He, does not smite Israel unless He has created for them a healing beforehand” (Megillah 13b, Soncino edition). When Mordechai learns of Haman’s decree to destroy the Jewish people, he sends word to Esther, requesting that she appeal to the king on behalf of her people. “Who knoweth whether thou art not come to royal estate for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14). Her response is one of mesiras nefesh (self-sacrifice). “So will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16).

Additionally, on a night that King Ahasueros is not able to sleep, he decides to peruse through the chronicles of the king: here he finds mention of Mordechai’s good deed, whereby a plot against the king was thwarted. In the morning, when Haman happens to be in the King’s court, Ahasueros asks him, “what shall be done for the man whom the king would like to honor.” Haman, in his self-conceit, thinks that king wants to honor him, so he replies:

“Let royal apparel be brought which the king useth to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and on whose head a crown royal is set; and let the apparel and the horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king’s most noble princes, that they may array the man therewith whom the king delighteth to honour, and cause him to ride on horseback through the street of the city.” The king responds, “‘Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew” (Esther 6:8-10). So, there is a reversal of fortune, whereby Mordechai is now honored, while Haman is humiliated.

Esther holds two banquets for the king, herself, and Haman; at Esther’s second banquet for the King, of which Haman is also invited, she reveals the plot to the king: “We are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish” (Esther 7:4). He asks, “Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to do so?” (Esther 7:5). She responds, “An adversary and an enemy, even this wicked Haman” (Ester 7:6). Additionally, the king’s servant points out that this Haman had made a gallows “for Mordecai, who spoke good for the king” (Esther 7:9). Thus, Haman’s fate is sealed (by way of the gallows he himself built); and the decree that had previously gone out, calling for the destruction of the Jewish people is countermanded by a second decree, permitting the Jews to defend themselves. Victory is secured, and thus remains the celebration instituted by Mordechai every year at this time on the Hebrew calendar.

Purim: Taanis Esther 5782

“‘Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews.  For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then will relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but thou and thy father’s house will perish; and who knoweth whether thou art not come to royal estate for such a time as this?’”  – Esther 4:13-14, JPS 1917 Tanach

“There is no man who has not his hour, and no thing that has not its place.” – Pirkei Avos 4:3

Esther petitioned King Ahasuerus to spare her people.  She, her maidens, and the Jewish people fasted for three days, before she approached the King.  She was risking her life, in doing so, because, no one could approach the king without permission.  Yet, she was emboldened to approach him, after fasting, with all of her people in support of her. 

Queen Esther was given her moment: “who knoweth whether thou art not come to royal estate for such a time as this?”  H’Shem arranges the remedy, before the sickness (Talmud). Esther was made queen, before Haman hatched his plan to eliminate the Jewish people. Thank G-d. And, may we also see hidden remedies revealed as miracles, soon in regard to the modern-day Purim narrative in Ukraine. Ahmein.

Ultimately, we have H’Shem to seek as a refuge, both then and now; we should not take His shield of protection for granted; our refuge and fortress in Whom we trust (Psalm 91:2).  We should seek Him in all of our trials and tribulations, keeping in mind that He is the Source of our well-being. Especially, at this time to remember our brothers and sisters in peril, is an obligation and responsibility of K’lal Yisrael.

Wake Up Call

I woke up this morning, as the remnant of a dream lingered in my soul. All was foretold long ago; and, yet we seem to get so little of a glimpse on occasion into this hope for redemption. My academic background is in psychology; needless to say, I began to analyze my dream: Rockets turned into butterflies, and missiles turned into doves; the sky became bright blue, as light descended from above. As if in an overnight occurrence, the Third Temple appeared in Jerusalem; and, the king entered through the Eastern Gate.

Yet, before he could reach the throne, the processions stopped. The King exclaimed, “I can go no further.” Everyone looked astonished and turned one to another in wonder. Then, I woke up with the following words spoken quietly in my mind: the redemption will not occur until you correct your spelling mistake. So, I laughed and smirked, and went back to sleep, thinking, oh, what a silly dream. Later, I wrote in my journal that this dream was a wish-fulfillment tinged with anxiety because of my lack of self-esteem. Then, I turned the page in my journal, and continued to write…

What if the dream was a divine portent? I know that mysticism bears some light upon this dream, if I think about the nature of words and their power to move mountains. I recall hearing about a misspelling in a mezuzah scroll that brought ill fortune upon the people who lived at that residence, where the mezuzah was placed on the doorway. When the mistake was found, and the correction made, all turned out well for the family and their descendants. Now, I know there is a principle, isn’t there? “As above so below.” So, our efforts, thoughts and speech in this world have an influence upon the spiritual realm. Hmm.

Then, I realized, that I had recently written a poem about the Geulah. As usual, I placed the appropriate tags on the post for ease of accessibility and viewership; however, I wonder if I misspelled the word, redemption. So, I decided to check, half-heartedly remaining skeptical. Lo and behold, I had misspelled the word, redemption, spelling the word without the second “e” – redmption. I added the letter “e,” and quietly made my usual cup of green tea in the morning. I had a glimmer of hope in my heart, wondering if I had actually in some small way contributed to the hastening of the Geulah. After all, isn’t there a saying about how one mitzvah can change the entire world? Hmm.

I sat back down at my desk in front of the computer screen. I sat silently in deep thought. I decided to check the likes for that poem. There were the usual likes from people who read my posts; there were also some likes from some bloggers unknown to me. I checked the comments; many of the comments were from the usual crowd; there were a few from others not previously known. I continued with my day, not letting my dreams hold sway over reality. An hour later, I checked the post again; the likes were climbing higher than usual; the comments kept pouring in one after the other. Hmm. I must have struck a chord in the heartstrings of like-minded folk. I decided to place the poem on some other platforms. Then, I continued to work on some other writing tasks until dusk; studied Torah and called it a day.

The next day there was a bright light in my room, and it was not even daylight yet. I thought that I was still dreaming. Perhaps, I was still sleeping, I thought to myself; so, I decided to make a cup of tea. There was music emanating from my computer; yet, the pc was still closed for I always close up my laptop overnight. Normally, the music app only works when the laptop is open. I did not even recognize the song. Then, I began listening to the lyrics, “Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, working wonders?” I realized that these are the words of Az Yashir, giving praise to H’Shem, for having led us out of Egypt and split the Sea of Reeds.

Where was the music coming from? The online morning service that I attend had not even begun, so this couldn’t have been from the liturgy. The choir singing the song sounded as if composed of thousands of voices. Then, I remembered the commentary on this verse: the sages point out that the verb tense is in the future; in other words, not “Then Moses sang;” rather, “Then Moses [and the people] will sing.” When? According to chazal, after the Tehillas haMeisim (Resurrection of the Dead) at the beginning of the Messianic Age.

I couldn’t believe what I was thinking. Could this really be? Or was I still dreaming? I went into the restroom to splash some water upon my face. Then, when I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I looked as if I was twenty years old again. Wait. Didn’t my friend once tell me that when Moshiach appears, those who are alive at the time will be transformed? And, that they will have a resurrection body like that of a twenty-year old? Could this really be happening?

I decided to check the news. All of the Israeli papers, including Arutz Sheva, the Jerusalem Post, and Ha’aretz had live coverage at the Western Wall. Is the Redemption at hand? Is the Geulah being broadcast around the world? Will all eyes behold him? As is written, “And His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives” (Zechariah 14:4, JPSN). “I would behold G-d while still in my flesh, I myself, not another, would behold Him; would see with my own eyes” (Job 19:26-27, JPSN). Amein and amein.

The Sweetness of Torah

Sweeten the words of Your Torah in our mouth.

– Blessings of the Torah

What was once pleasant, has become unpleasant. The wisdom of the Torah has given place to the wisdom of the world, without any recourse to the truths of our ancestors. Rather, for many amongst the children of Seth in the diaspora, the traditions of Judaism may still flourish, yet, without the substance. If we only knew what we were missing, we would pray, “sweeten the words of your Torah in our mouth.” In other words, we would feel compelled to learn of the words and instructions of Torah, to the extent that they would appeal to our sense of priorities, and what is important in our lives. Rather than rejecting them as passe, unenlightened, or contrary to our progressive sensibilities, we would yearn to receive them, if only G-d would somehow cause us to appreciate their flavor, taste, and essential ingredients.

We have forsaken “the fountain of living waters,” and constructed “cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13, JPS). When we thirst for something more constant in our lives to bring us peace, contentment, and lasting joy, we turn elsewhere, without realizing that only pure water from the Source of all that exists can supply us with any refreshment of lasting value. And, still, we yearn for something more than the ephemeral pleasures of life. For G-d has planted eternity in the heart of mankind, so that we might seek to know Him beyond time and space. Only a transcendent G-d, Who is able to transcend our own understanding, can give us anything of lasting joy in this world and the World-to-Come. His wisdom, contained in Torah, within the narratives of creation and fall, the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Joseph and the Exodus, plus the giving of the Torah at Sinai, and all of the commandments are rich in value.