parasha Bechukosai 5782

“If ye walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them; then I will give your rains in their season, and the land shall yield her produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.” – Leviticus 26:3-4, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Do His will as if it were thy will. Nullify thy will before His will, that He may nullify the will of others before thy will.” – Pirkei Avos 2:4, traditional text

The parashas begins with a conditional set of blessings, dependent upon the observance of the commandments. By studying, contemplating, and resolving to bring these commandments into our daily lives, we will also be bestowed with the blessings of H’Shem. The “L-RD will give that which is good;” and our lives will be fruitful (Psalm 85:13, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The observance of the commandments is meant to lead us into a state of kedusha (holiness), so that our very lives may be sanctified through their performance. To serve Him (avodah) is the task of the “inner person,” wherein the battle is fought between the yetzer tov (good inclination) and the yetzer hara (evil inclination). We need to align ourselves with G-d’s will.

“The reward for a mitzvah (good deed) is another mitzvah” (Pirkei Avos 4:2). I.e., more opportunities to do good, will be given to us as we continue to observe the mitzvot (good deeds). These opportunities may require the use of our discernment, in tandem with the prevailing directives of our conscience. Through the negation of our will, which is often contrary to G-d’s will, we may mature according to His guidance in our lives.

parashas Metzora 5782

“Then the kohen is to command that two clean living birds, cedar wood, scarlet and hyssop be brought for the one being cleansed.” – Leviticus 14:4

The cleansing of the metzora, a person who has contracted tzaras, a skin condition similar to leprosy, is done by means of a unique procedure. “He who is to be cleansed” (Targum Yonaton) is cleansed through a unique procedure, using “two clean living birds, cedar wood, scarlet and hyssop” (see above). The “ingredients” that contribute to the purification of the metzora, are carefully chosen in recognition that tzarras (leprosy) is primarily a “spiritual malaise,” that results from lashon hara (gossip; literally, “evil tongue), as well as other transgressions that indicate a lack of empathy towards others. So, the metzora is quarantined, living in isolation until his purification, so that he may contemplate his insensitivity towards others.

The cedar wood is chosen as part of the remedy, because this is a high and lofty kind of tree, that reminds the metzora of his haughtiness. For, the aggrandizement of himself over others, led towards a callous disregard of the reputation of those he slandered. This is typically understood today as placing ourselves above others, for the sake of a false sense of esteem, as if we are better than those that we put down with ill-chosen words, whether implicitly or explicitly. For,

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” – Psalm 51:9, JPS 1917 Tanach

parasha Tazria 5782

weekly Torah reading: parasha Tazria 5782

The skin diseases falling under the category or tzarras (often translated as “leprosy”) needed to be determined by a kohein (Leviticus 13:1-2). Yet, the so-called “plague of leprosy,” as mentioned in the Tanach, is not exactly the leprosy of more modern times.  Rather, it is a category of various skin diseases that need to be determined by the Kohein: for only the Kohein has the authority to make the pronouncement.  “And the [kohein] priest shall look on him and pronounce him unclean” (Leviticus 13:3, JPS). 

The leprosy of biblical times was the result of spiritual malaise, commonly, the result of lashon harah (literally, evil tongue – a type of gossip).  “The word, metzorah (someone, who has tzaaras – leprosy) is a contraction of motzi ra, meaning, “one who spreads slander” (Arachin 15b).  The very visible chastisement is meant to show that the metzorah must mend his ways.  In other words, the outward sign is meant to compel him to do teshuvah (repentance).

Sin may be manifest in our lives, living below the surface of our awareness.  For this reason, one must make an attempt to examine one’s life.  There are visible signs, at times, that we need to understand as wake-up calls. Also, when the children of Israel entered the land, sometimes they found mold in the walls; so, they would have to dig out the mold. On the one hand, the nega (plague) in the form of mold should serve for them to search their conscience, on the other hand, they often found hidden treasures in the walls, hidden by the previous occupants, the Canaanites, who hoped to return. By way of an analogy, there is always a reward for rectifying our faults.

Sanctity of Life

parasha Tazria 5782 -The Sanctity of Life
“Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: if a woman be delivered, and bear a man child.”

– Leviticus 12:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to Torah, the miracle of life, from the beginning, is addressed within the framework of sanctification. That is, both the mother and the child are taken into consideration, in terms of their purification. Both the mother as well as child are given a means to commemorate the birth. This is a life cycle tradition. When a male is born, the mother’s temporary state of impurity is only for seven days; this permits her to be present on the eighth day for her son’s circumcision.

The parashas continues with the laws, in regard to tzarras, a skin affliction, often mistranslated as leprosy. The metzorah (person who contracts tzarras) is diagnosed and quarantined. Because the metzorah has contracted tzarras as a result of lashon hara (literally, “evil speech”), isolation outside of the camp provides time for reflection upon the harm done to the recipient of the gossip. H’Shem willing, the metzorah will be able to return to society, as a result of a tikkun (rectification).

The concept appears within the overall framework of the sanctity required to approach H’Shem. Since H’Shem’s presence dwells within the mishkan (tabernacle) at the center of the camp, the metzorah is separated by way of not being permitted to be in the vicinity of the mishkan. Thus, the sanctity of the camp is preserved; and the metzorah is given the opportunity to do teshuvah (repentance), turning the heart back to Elokim (G-d).

parasha Shemini 5782

parasha Shemini 5782

“And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and came out, and blessed the people; and the glory of the L-RD appeared unto all the people.  And there came forth fire from the L-RD.” – Leviticus 9:23, JPS 1917 Tanach

“The fire came down like a pillar from heaven to earth.” – Sifra

The people had grown expectant, to the point of concern, over the previous seven days, in which Moses daily performed the inauguration service on his own. On the eighth day, corresponding to the first of Nissan, one year after leaving Egypt, everything was in place; yet, still there was no fire from Shomayim (Heaven).

The offerings of that day included a calf as a sin-offering, of which commentary mentions atoned for Aaron’s role in the making of the golden calf.  Also, a goat as a sin-offering to atone for the people. Additionally, an olah, and the people’s shelamin – peace offering – as well as the daily morning Tamid offering.

It was at this point, that “Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting.” One possible explanation, offered by Rashi, who refers to Sifre, is that when Aaron perceived that the offerings had been made, yet, the heavenly fire had not descended, he thought that H’Shem was still angry with him, because of his role in the sin of the golden calf. He pleaded to Moshe, in the midst of his “inner shame,” whereupon they both entered the sanctuary to pray for H’Shem’s mercy.

What can be learned from this event? Even upon beginning his role as Kohein Gadol, when making the first offerings, Aaron recalled his sin, and through the prayers of Moshe, sought complete atonement and forgiveness for his role in the making of the golden calf. Overall, this must have been a humbling experience for him; elsewhere, commentary explains that even though he felt ashamed, this was precisely why he had been chosen, because he remained humble, as a result of recalling his sin. The principle is encapsulated in the pasuk (verse), “my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:5). If we keep our past sins in mind, this will help us to keep our ego in check.

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).

Ner Tamid

“Fire shall be kept burning upon the altar continually; it shall not go out.”

– Leviticus 6:6, JPS 1917 Tanach

The olah [elevation offering] remained on the mizbeach (altar) all night until the morning (Leviticus 6:2). This refers to the daily tamid offering; one lamb was brought as an offering in the morning, and one in the evening. The commandment for eish (fire) to be kept burning upon the mizbeach (altar) all night, was enacted throughout the nighttime as well, enabling the remaining parts of the evening olah, plus any additional offerings of the day, to continue burning. Additionally, two logs of wood were placed on the mizbeach in the morning, and again in the evening, as fuel for the sacred fire.

This fire that was kept continually burning upon the mizbeach, reflects the ideal devotion towards H’Shem that we should have on a continual basis. “To serve the L-RD thy G-d with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deuteronomy 10:12, JPS). The olah offering of the morning and evening, may be understood to represent our devotion, throughout both the day and night. Additionally, the morning and afternoon services – shachris and mincha – relate to the two daily tamid offerings; whereas the evening service (maariv) has its complement, as pertaining to the remainders of the olah of the second tamid offering, and other offerings that burnt throughout the night.

The ner tamid (eternal light), represented by the light above the ark in a synagogue, brings us even closer to an understanding of what H’Shem desires of us. In the Zohar, 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). To connect with H’Shem (deveykus) on a continual basis, we need to engage every facet of ourselves – our thought, speech, and behavior – in an effort towards enhancing the light within us. As is demonstrated by the flame of a candle, that flickers upwards, just as our soul should reach up towards Shomayim (Heaven).

“In Thy light we see light.” – Psalm 36:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

parashas Tzav 5782

“And the fire upon the altar shall be kept burning thereby, it shall not go out; and the priest [kohein] shall kindle wood on it every morning.” – Leviticus 6:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

No other offerings could precede the morning olah, the first of the two tamid offerings, made in the morning and the afternoon; thus, every morning the first order of business in serving H’Shem, for the kohein, included adding wood on the mizbeach, before offering up the olah (Bava Kamma 111a). According to the Talmud, two logs of wood were added to the fire on the mizbeach (outer altar) every morning and evening (Yoma 27b). Yet, prior to this, the remnant of ashes from the remaining parts of the olah offering from the previous night, were first collected, and set aside near the mizbeach (altar). Then, the kohein changed out of his sacred clothes to used garments, in order to bring those ashes outside “to a pure place.” (Leviticus 6:4).

The changing of garments signifies a delineation between the sacred and profane, inasmuch that the transition from one service to another required different garments. The separating of the ashes, placing them in a pile next to the mizbeach (altar) was one service. Taking the ashes outside to a pure place was another. The second set of garments were bound to be soiled, when bringing the ashes outside to the third camp. This was a designated area, further away from the mishkan (tabernacle). Each camp, at an increasingly further perimeter around the mishkan had its own level of holiness.

This denotes the overall theme of sacred and mundane found Torah, as well as in our own lives. At least, we are called to denote a difference between secular time (the six days of the week), and sacred time (the Sabbath). Also, to bring an awareness of the Shechinah (G-d’s Presence) into our lives, we need to create room for doing so, in both time and space. Primarily, this awareness may be fostered, by settling our minds, and creating a space within ourselves, in order to focus on our connection to H’Shem. This may be done, not only on Shabbat; rather, also on other days of the week by finding a little bit of quiet time for ourselves. To foster that connection to G-d, is called hisbodedus – a type of meditation of the heart. May we keep the fire of our avodah (service) to H’Shem burning on a continual basis.

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).