motzei Shabbos: Beha’alotecha 5782

“And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the L-rd, and Satan standing at his right hand to thwart him.” – Zechariah 3:4

In parashas Beha’alotecha, a brief description of a critique against Moses is given, concerning Miriam and Aaron, co-leaders of Israel (see Micah 6:4) as well as prophets in their own right, who feel diminished by Moshe’s apparent uniqueness, when he separates himself out from family life, in order to be more prepared to receive H’Shem’s presence at all times. And they said: ‘Hath the L-RD indeed spoken only with Moses? hath He not spoken also with us?’ And the L-RD heard it” (Numbers 12:2).  

H’Shem responds by rebuking Miriam and Aaron, reminding them that the level of prophecy that Moses received is such that the L-RD speaks with him face to face, and that Moses is the trusted one in all His house. He asks Miriam and Aaron, “wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?” (Numbers 12:8, JPS).

Then H’Shem strikes Miriam with leprosy; although, upon Moshe’s immediate plea to heal her, the L-Rd heals her; yet, she is placed in quarantine for seven days. She as treated as a metzorah (similar to a leper), wherein she is removed to the outer limits of the camp. This, like any metzorah who receives the same treatment, will give Miriam time to reflect.

Thus, as mentioned in the haftorah, for the sake of comparison, and this is the parallel theme to the parasha, an accusation made against Joshua, the next kohein gadol (high priest), and his subsequent acquittal, so to speak, through the defense laid out by the prophet Zechariah.

Although we are not on the same level as Moses or Joshua, the kohein gadol, we are still subject to the protection of H’Shem if we are in good standing with Him. G-d is our defense, he will avail us, when we are in need, on an individual basis, if place our trust in Him. And, he will also redeem us as a people, K’lal Yisrael, in due time at the Final Redemption.

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).

motzei Shabbos: parashas Tzav 5782

“Fire is to be kept burning on the altar continually—it must not go out.”

– Leviticus 6:6, Tree of Life Version

To connect with H’Shem through deveykus on a continual basis, we need to engage every facet of ourselves – our thought, speech, and behavior – in an effort to enhance the light within us. This is denoted in the manner that many Jewish people pray while standing, swaying back and forth. Symbolically, this may also be understood to represent the ner tamid – eternal flame that was kept burning on the mizbeach (altar). Thus, we should also keep the fire of devotion lit in our hearts for H’Shem both day and night.

The ner tamid, represented as well by the light above the ark in most synagogues, has another lesson to impart, in regard to H’Shem’s expectations of us. The “everlasting fire,” that is to be kept continually burning on the mizbeach (altar), alludes to the divine light of the soul (Tikkunei Zohar 74a). As expressed elsewhere, “The spirit [neshama] of man is the lamp of the L-RD” (Proverbs 20:27).

In like manner that a candle may be used to lighten a dark room, when searching for some lost object, man’s spirit is enlightened by H’Shem, in order to search all the inner nature of man, to bring to light faults, and negative character traits, as well as sins that might otherwise go unnoticed. This is of paramount importance, especially in consideration of negative thoughts that may often go unchecked.

Akin to the olah offering that could be brought to atone for sinful thoughts, and was kept burning on the mizbeach, we may benefit from a continual focus on guarding our thoughts, subjecting them to the light of truth. “Above all that thou guardest keep thy heart; for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23, JPS).

Negative Thoughts

motzei Shabbos: Vayikra 5782

“If one’s offering [korban] is an elevation offering [olah]” – Leviticus 1:3

The Hebrew word korban, meaning “offering,” is derived from the shoresh (root word) קרב, meaning “to draw near.” Thus it is implied that an offering serves “to bring us closer to G-d as well as to elevate us” (R’ Hirsch). The olah (elevation offering) has the potential to raise the spiritual level of the person who brings that offering. R’ Hirsch further comments that the offering’s name reflects its purpose, which is to raise its owner from the status of a sinner and bring him to a state of spiritual elevation.

Additionally, the olah is brought by someone who seeks to repent of sinful thoughts that have not actually been enacted.  The olah offering  may serve as an atonement for those negative thoughts, that seem to involuntary present themselves at times in a person’s mind. This would include the imagination; especially, if one permits the imagination to entertain these negative thoughts.

It is interesting to note that the righteous Iyov (Job; see Ezekiel 14:20, Job 1:1), “would rise early in the morning, and offer burnt offerings [olot, from olah]” for his children, because he said to himself, “it may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed G-d in their hearts” (Job 1:5, Tanach). Iyov made olah offerings for his children, on a continual basis, always after the days of their feasting (see Job 1:4-5). How much more so, should we in our own lives ask forgiveness of G-d for the sinful thoughts in our hearts.

Clouds of Darkness

motzei Shabbos: parashas Pekudei 5782

“And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the L-RD filled the Mishkan.” – Exodus 40:33

After Moses set up the Mishkan, and put the outside screen to the entrance of the courtyard in place (Exodus 40:32), the cloud of glory hovered over the Tent of Meeting, and filled the Mishkan (see above). Thus, when the cloud rested upon the Tent of Meeting, and H’Shem’s Presence filled the Mishkan, Moshe was unable to enter (Exodus 40:34). The same phenomenon occurred when King Solomon inaugurated the first Beis haMikdash (Temple structure). At that time, the kohanim were unable to remain in the sanctuary, because “the cloud had filled the House of the L-RD” (1 KIngs 8:10-11, JPSN). Thus, the parallel exemplifies the phenomenon mentioned elsewhere, “clouds and darkness are round about Him” (Psalms 97:2, JPS 1917 Tanach).

In our own lives, when our path is obscured, figuratively speaking, by darkness, may we continue to place our trust in H’Shem, to bring us safely through the obscurity to our destination. Additionally, if we seem stuck at a certain madreiga (level) in regard to our connection to H’Shem, may we be brought to a greater understanding in due time, according to His will and timing. Eis ratzon – at a favorable time. Finally, in acknowledgment of our brethren in Ukraine, and all of the Ukranian people facing unprecedented challenges in their lives, at this time, may we keep them in our prayers. And, may they be led to safety if having decided to flee, and kept safe if sheltering in place within the cities.

G-d’s Architect

parashas Vayakhel 5782

“The Lord, by wisdom, founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens. By His knowledge the depths were broken up and the skies drop down the dew” (Proverbs 3:19-20, JPSN). These three qualities, wisdom, understanding, and knowledge were imbued in the heart of Bezalel, “And I have filled him with the spirit of G-d, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship” (Exodus 31:3; Berachos 55).

The sages say of Betzalel that he was capable of using the letters of the alphabet of the Holy Tongue in a manner similar to the way G’d had used them when creating the universe (Sforno). How remarkable to note this comparison. The building of the Mishkan was like unto the creation of the world. And, how remarkable that the chosen craftsman for overseeing the construction of the Mishkan was given qualities inspired by the Ruach Elokim (G-d’s Spirit).

We should marvel at the construction of the Mishkan, as well as the Creation of the World. G-d’s Creation is a masterpiece beyond compare; yet, reflected in the Mishkan. Our appreciation of the Mishkan, although we only have the written account, should compel us all the more to appreciate G-d’s Creation. For, “the heavens declare the glory of G-d, the sky proclaims His handiwork” (Psalms 19:2, JPS 2006 Tanach). King David compares the orderliness of the heavens, and the sun in particular to the perfectness of Torah (Psalms 19:3-10).

“And in the hearts of all the wise-hearted, I have placed wisdom.” – Exodus 31:6

The builders of the Mishkan were also imbued with wisdom. Through Torah, we learn of the right ways to interact, harmonize, and build the world, bringing G-d’s perfection of creation into every part and parcel of our lives. May we continue this endeavor, in the face of adversity, chaos, and the imbalances currently found within societies around the world. H’Shem will grant us an assurance of tomorrow’s promises, when we focus on His Kingdom being established through Moshiach. And, the Torah will go out from Zion as is written:

“And it shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of the L-RD’s house shall be established as the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the L-RD, to the house of the G-d of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the L-RD from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:2-3, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Carry On

motzei Shabbos: parashas Tetzaveh 5782

“And thou shalt make staves of acacia-wood, and overlay them with gold. And thou shalt put the staves into the rings on the sides of the ark, wherewith to bear the ark. The staves shall be in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it.” – Exodus 25:15, JPS 1917 Tanach

On the commandment, “they shall not be removed from it” (Exodus 25:15), R’ Hirsch comments that because the poles that were placed in rings on the sides of the Ark of the Covenant were to always remain there, to carry the Ark, this symbolizes that the Torah itself is not bound to any one place; rather, wherever one goes, the teachings are meant to accompany us. G-d’s words are meant to be our companions, so to speak, even as we look towards His presence to guide us.

The same idea holds true, chronologically, that the veracity of Torah carries its own weight, and holds true across the ages. Thus G-d’s commandments should be no less compelling today, then they were on the day that they were given at Sinai. Even so, many forces in society tug at the heartstrings of human beings, attempting to lure one’s understanding away from the truth. We are challenged to remain steadfast, by not going along with the zeitgeist (spirit of the age); rather, that we remain loyal to G-d, even though many people may view the commandments as passé, a relic of the past.

G-d’s words throughout kitvei kodesh (holy scripture) are a moral compass, especially in times of tumult and confusion. Without the express knowledge of the pure unadulterated truth, how can mankind even know left from right, up from down, or good from evil? In general, we would not even know what direction we are headed, unless we have the “divine blueprint of life” to guide us along the way. So, let us not stray from the path, nor err in our judgment, as we encounter various elements in society that are not in accord with the truth. For, truth is not relative; rather, truth is an essential constant, like a compass always pointing in one direction.

The Millenial Sabbath

motzei Shabbos: Mishpatim 5782

Imagine what the first Shabbos was like, after G-d created the heavens and earth. A project like none other that existed at that time; a project that will only be given a complete renewal upon the appearance of the new heavens and the new earth (Isaiah 65:17).

Abraham Heschel explains that when we observe Shabbos, we are celebrating the creation of the world, to the extent that we may even take part in the renewal of the seventh day. Perhaps, this may be envisioned as actually entering that space that Heschel refers to as “an island in time.”

In parashas Mishpatim, a reminder to keep the Sabbath is given, immediately following the commandment about the Shemitah year. The juxtaposition of this reminder with the commandment in regard to the Shemitah cycle is important. What is the implication?

The seventh year when the land is permitted to lie fallow, follows six years of work on the land. This cycle is akin to the day of rest that follows a six day work week. Both of these observances point towards the Millennial Sabbath, that follows six thousand years of history.

In like manner, that during the first six years of the Shemitah cycle, the land is sown and produce is gathered, the same is true in regard to the six thousand years of history. G-d’s divine plan is continuously sown through His words, and hashgacha (guidance).

The Shemitah year may be likened to the abundance of blessings that will be poured out upon us, when we are gathered into the land of Israel, at the end of history as we know it. Howver, we cannot reckon the nature of the Sabbatical Millenium, nor the new Heavens and Earth.

The Sabbath itself points towards the blessings of the Millenial Kingdom: inasmuch that no eye has seen nor ear heard what G-d has in store for the righteous; at least, according to the sages, we may receive a glimpse of Olam Haba (the World to Come) on Shabbos.

motzei Beshalach 5782

motzei Shabbos: parashas Beshalach 5782 – Sweet Waters

“And Moses led Israel onward from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water.” –  Exodus 15:22, JPS

For three days after the miracle of the splitting of the sea that led to their deliverance, they were without water. This occurred as a test of their emunah (faith) in G-d, to prove whether or not they believed that He would provide for them, even though the situation appeared bleak. Yet, upon arriving at Marah, they complained, because the only water source was too bitter for them to drink. According to Rashi, instead of grumbling, they should have approached Moshe in a respectful manner, saying, “Entreat mercy for us that we may have water to drink” (Rashi on Exodus 15:25, sefaria.org). In any case, Moshe responded by crying out to H’Shem, Who showed him a tree, to cast into the water, in order to make the bitter waters sweet (Exodus 15:25).

“There He made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them” (Exodus 15:25, JPS). Sforno explains, that, the test was designed, “to find out if they would be willing to accept statutes, i.e., laws not given to our intelligence to understand, as well as social legislation” (sefaria). If so, this would determine whether or not, they would receive the commandments at Sinai.

Thus, to accept that despite all understanding, a tree that is thrown into bitter waters will somehow have the effect of purifying those waters, so that they are no longer bitter, rather, that they become sweet, was a “lithmus test” of sorts, that would indicate their level of acceptance of commandments, some that have no apparent rational basis, and others that could only be understood over time.

We would be well-reminded of this teaching, if we take this to heart, in regard to our own belief and practice, within the context of the yoke of heaven: the acceptance of the commandments as incumbent upon us to observe, in all diligence, ultimately, for our own benefit. Whether we understand the nature of those commandments on a rational basis or not.

“And He said: ‘If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of HaShem thy G-d, and wilt do that which is right in His eyes, and wilt give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases upon thee, which I have put upon the Egyptians; for I am the L-RD that healeth thee.’” – Exodus 15:26, JPS 1917 Tanach