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

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).