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.

Transcendent Character

“You hath the L-RD taken and brought forth out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be unto Him a people of inheritance, as ye are this day.” – Deuteronomy 4:20, JPS

The refiner’s fire, where Joseph was tested (Psalm 105), before being elevated to the status of viceroy of Egypt, melted his ego, pride, and vanity, and brought him forth mature enough to be responsible for a country. His brethren were also brought down to Egypt, and after being refined, “brought forth out of the furnace (see above).

Everyone is tested in alignment with his or her character, namely, to bring out the good, while separating what shines from the dross. This is life, as intended by the guiding hand of H’Shem unto each individual and their needs, for the sake of refining their character. Eventually, the soul gleams, after passing the tests given.

“And Moses said unto the people: ‘Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the L-RD brought you out from this place; there shall no leavened bread be eaten.” – Exodus 13:3, JPS

The question remains, to what extent were the character traits of B’nei Yisrael refined in Egypt, when they were slaves, if the next 49 days after obtaining their freedom constituted the refining of character that we still seek for ourselves, during the days of counting the omer?

Perhaps, the Israelites needed to be subjected to the rigours of servitude, to understand the difference between serving Pharaoh as a result of being forcibly compelled to do so, and serving H’Shem out of their own free will.

The same can be said of the world, in regard to its hold on those who remain in bondage to it through gashmiyos (materialism). Yet, Torah frees us from bondage to the world. By choosing to serve H’Shem, we are able to transcend the world through ruchniyos (spirituality).

©2023 all rights reserved

Mind Tapestry

Motzei Shabbos: Vayakhel-Pekudei 5783

The paroches (partition) separated between the area where the Ark was kept and the less holy area of the Mikdash (sanctuary). Consider the variety of materials used, “blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen; with cherubim the work of the skillful workman shall it be made” (26:31, JPS 1917 Tanach). According to the Talmud, the craftsmen “embroidered the place where they had designed” (Yoma 72b). Thus, first a pattern was made on the material, then they embroidered the design.

Our thoughts are woven together, forming a tapestry in this life. The nature of our thoughts will determine the quality of the tapestry. Our thoughts surface first in our mind; these thoughts may be likened to a pattern that is based upon our soul; therefore, the design that is eventually woven in our lives is a reflection of who we are.

Yet, our personalities may often influence the overall design of our soul, either positively or negatively, dependent on what kind of thoughts occupy our minds. If only the true light of the soul could shine through, irrespective of our own limiting factors, then the woven result would reflect that light.

This has to do with the basic mechanism of the soul, inasmuch that our lower nature may interfere with our higher aspirations. Therefore, like skilled crafts-persons, we need to discern positive from negative, right from wrong, and light from darkness, so that we can weave a pure tapestry.

Additionally, consider that in regard to our thoughts, the tapestry we weave separates to some degree, between our inner sanctuary (the depths of our mind), and the persona we present to the world. Only behind the paroches (partition) of our soul, i.e., behind our thought life, we may connect on an intimate level with H’Shem, whose presence appeared upon the Ark cover, between the two golden cherubim, behind the paroches (veil).

motzei Shabbos: Terumah 5783

motzei Shabbos: parasha Terumah 5783 – Everlasting Values

“Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.” – Exodus 25:2, JPS 1985 Tanach

The sin of the golden calf preceded the building of the mishkan (tabernacle). The gold used to build the calf, was contributed by the men, who gathered the earrings for the cause of making an idolatrous calf. “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me” (Exodus 32:2, JPS 1985 Tanach).

When Moses returned from on top of Sinai, he shattered the tablets upon discerning the idolatrous revelry focused on the golden calf; thus, in effect, the covenant was symbolically broken upon its intended reception (Jeremiah 31:32). Incidentally, the covenant was not renewed, until Moshe spent another forty days on the mountain; and, brought down the second set of tablets.

Yet, first, Moshe pleaded on behalf of B’nei Yisrael for H’Shem to forgive their descent into idolatry. Moreover, it can be understood that even before the actual transgression, the remedy for the sin had already been given to Moshe on the mountain, when he received the instructions regarding all of the details for the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). For, “the Tabernacle was a form of atonement for the sin of the golden calf” (Or HaChayim, JT Shekalim 1:5, sefaria.org).

The collection itself of the materials for the construction of the mishkan served as a form of repentance; inasmuch that the collection was designated as a free will offering; this reflects the nature of teshuvah (repentance). Or HaChayim explains that this is the reason why the collection was not made mandatory; instead, everyone contributed of their own free will, inclination, and what their heart compelled them to give; otherwise, “they would not enjoy the atonement for their participation in the sin of the golden calf” (Or HaChayim, sefaria.org).

The essential nature of the Mishkan reveals a hint as to why this type of repentance led towards reconciliation with H”Shem. The Mishkan is where H’Shem’s presence dwelt, in a visible way when the clouds of glory would hover over the Tabernacle. There is an inherent transition enacted amongst the people, from idolatry to the worship of H’Shem, indicated by the difference between them freely contributing gold for the golden calf; versus giving freely from their heart for the tabernacle that will enable the worship of H’Shem. We may also make that transition in our lives, from the idolatry of the modern world, towards the everlasting values given to us at Sinai.

© 2023 all rights reserved

The Millenial Sabbath

motzei Shabbos: Mishpatim 5783

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. However, 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; and, yet, according to the sages, we may at least receive a glimpse of Olam Haba (the World to Come) on Shabbos.

motzei Beshalach 5783

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 may remind ourselves of this teaching, by taking 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

Expect Redemption

motzei Shabbos: parashas Shemot 5783

“Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them: The L-RD, the G-d of your fathers, the G-d of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, hath appeared unto me, saying: I have surely remembered you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt.” – Exodus 3:16, JPS 1917 Tanach

“It was a sign for Israel. When any redeemer would come with this sign, ‘I have surely thought of you,’ they would know that he was a true redeemer.” – Midrash Tanchuma Buber; sefaria.org

A prophecy given to Abraham, speaks of a time that his descendants, “shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years” (Genesis 15:13, JPS). Therefore, this was known well to the Children of Israel, who were enslaved, that towards the end of the allotment of time given in the prophecy, they should begin to expect a redeemer. Now, the time was at hand; so, when Moses returned to Egypt from Midian, he first approached the elders, along with Aaron, who accompanied him: “And Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel” (Exodus 4:29, JPS).

At this pivotal moment in the lives of the Children of Israel, when they heard the words that H’Shem had given to Moses, and saw the signs given him to validate that indeed he was the one who H’Shem sent, they responded in a manner that expressed their hope, trust, and faith in H’Shem, who sent the redeemer: “And the people believed; and when they heard that the L-RD had remembered the children of Israel, and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped” (Exodus 4:31, JPS).

As we look ahead, along the trajectory that this world is heading, the days will approach whereof the light will be diminished by darkness; then, we should lift up our heads and look towards the Final Redemption. Our expectations will increase in direct proportion to our understanding that we can only place our trust in H’Shem. “And it is a time of trouble unto Jacob” (Jeremiah 30:7, JPS). The birthpangs of Moshiach (Messiah), the travails that will be brought upon the world, will precede the Final Redemption (Sanhedrin 97a).

motzei Shabbos: parasha Vayechi 5783 -Bundle of Life

Vayechi Yaakov (And Jacob lived).” – Genesis 47:28, JPS 1917 Tanach

When Jacob arrived with his family, having traveled from the land of Canaan to Egypt, to where Joseph, his son greeted him, he and his family settled in the land of Goshen. Jacob spent the last seventeen years of his life there, comforted by his reunion with Joseph, and the bountiful plenty of the most choice land in all of Egypt. The land of Goshen encapsulated an environment, somewhat removed from Egypt proper, therefore, providing an isolated locale for Jacob’s family to preserve the values of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Moreover, goshen, meaning “drawing near” was a place where the twelve tribes of Jacob could “draw near” to H’Shem; so, with this in mind, Jacob “sojourned” in the land of Egypt” (Psalm 105), while setting his hopes on Olam Haba. For to sojourn means to reside temporarily in a place; while, on the other hand, Jacob knew that his true home was with H’Shem.

During years prior, he was able to transcend his circumstances by prevailing upon H’Shem’s covenantal promises to him, thereby triumphing over Laban and Esau. He endured much while working for his Uncle Laban; he also was greatly disconcerted in regard to his encounter with his brother, Esau. Yet, H’Shem was with him in the midst of his trials – this exemplifies H’Shem’s immanence. At other times, when H’Shem seems more distant from us, this denotes His transcendence, and should compel us to pray to Him, as did Jacob.

In the last seventeen years of his life, Jacob was drawing near to his more permanent home, when he would be “gathered to his people” (Genesis 49:29). The “bundle of life,” wherein the souls of the righteous are wrapped up in the light of G-d in Shomayim (Heaven) is implied by this phrase. Therefore, to be gathered to his people means to be blessed with G-d’s presence in Eternity.

Vayechi Yaakov (Jacob lives); for, his soul continues to live, basking in the light of G-d until the time of the Tehillas HaMeisim (Resurrection of the Dead), when souls are restored to their resurrected bodies, at the beginning of Olam Haba (the World to Come).

Everyday Avodah

motzei Shabbos shpiel for Shabbat Shuvah:

Avodah as an Everyday Intention (not only for the pious):

“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 in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the L-RD thy G-d with all thy heart and all thy soul.”

– Deuteronomy 10:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to Ramchal, the primary expectation of H’Shem is to serve Him with all our heart and soul. In other words, our avodah (service) towards H’Shem within the framework of our everyday lives is what counts the most in His eyes. It is written elsewhere, “Trust in the L-RD with all thy heart and lean not upon thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, JPS 1917 Tanach). Thus, living in accordance with H’Shem’s intent for our lives goes well beyond observing Shabbos, giving tsedokah, and lighting Friday night candles.

Every facet of our lives should reflect the wisdom of G-d, bestowed upon us through His words. For, his wisdom is higher than ours, and his thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). That is to say, that if our thoughts are not in accordance with the transcendent values that H’Shem would like to instill within us (see Jeremiah 31:33), then, we may unfortunately be led astray by a subjective rendering of value, derived from our feelings.

The current set of values being offered to society, proliferating to an accelerated degree, fosters subjectivity, while de-emphasizing objective reality. Additionally, when an entire society adopts a set of pseudo-values, then that society is no longer in accordance with G-d’s directive. How will the faithful be able to continue to walk in integrity? Our dependence on H’Shem is essential, despite whatever trajectory the world takes.

“Commit thy way unto the L-RD; trust also in Him, and He will bring
it to pass. And He will make thy righteousness to go forth as the light,
and thy right as the noonday.” – Psalm 37:5-6, JPS 1917 Tanach