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.

Rosh Chodesh Tammuz 5782

Today is Rosh Chodesh Tammuz,

the first day of the new month of Tammuz on the Hebrew calendar.

Aside from entering the auspicious month of Tammuz, wherein the 17th of Tammuz commemorates the breach of the walls of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E., the three weeks leading up to Tish b’Av begins on that day. On the ninth of Av, both the first Temple in 586 B.C.E., and the second Temple in 70 C.E. were destroyed. Yet, we look forward to the building of the Third Temple, in like manner that light always follows darkness at dawn.

Tammuz is also a month of reckoning, whereof we may focus on ourselves, in terms of our own progress and lack thereof, taking stock of our weaknesses, as well as our strengths. Our “spiritual reserve,” may be running low; perhaps, akin to the sins that lead to the destruction of the Temples amongst those two generations, especially sinas chinam, baseless enmity. Yet, for myself, and K’lal Yisrael (All of Israel), I take hope, for our generation is the generation of return, both in the sense of teshuvah (repentance), and an actual return to Israel:

“And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt bethink thyself among all the nations, whither the L-RD thy G-d hath driven thee, and shalt return unto the L-RD thy G-d, and hearken to His voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul; that then the L-RD thy G-d will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the peoples, whither the L-RD thy G-d hath scattered thee.” – Deuteronomy 30:1-3, JPS 1917 Tanach

© 2022 all rights reserved

If you appreciate the content at the Tree of Life, please consider “buying me a cup of tea” for three dollars. (To donate, please find link here). Thank you very much. And, may G-d bless you. Shalom.

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).

Dawn Arrives Serene

"Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee; hide thyself for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast." 
- Isaiah 26:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

The final dawn arrives to bring

a hopeful message tinged with joy,

compels the soul to lift on high

the weary eyes above the sky.

Until that day, I’ll hide away,

and bide my time, making rhyme,

behind the screen of inner space,

where no one sees my hidden face.

I’ll greet the dawn with praise and song,

without the slightest sound of alarm,

resting in my safest haven,

and in anticipation sing.

The veil will part in sky and heart,

revealing all to glorify the One,

Who in Heaven’s Highest Abode,

sends blessings from His treasure trove.

deveykus

When merged

within the singsong chant

of a chassidic melody,

the congregant’s souls become one

for a brief moment, encapsulated

by the deveykus (connection)

to G-d that is fostered

by the unity.

~~~~~ ~~~~~

The sway

of the congregants

while davening (praying),

like flickering flames on candles,

reaching toward heaven,

assist the soul’s yearning

for deveykus (connection).

Connecting to Heritage

by Tzvi Fievel Schnee

B”H

Shiur for Ki Savo 5780

“That thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which thou shalt bring in from thy land that the L-RD thy G-d giveth thee; and thou shalt put it in a basket and shalt go unto the place which the L-RD thy G-d shall choose to cause His name to dwell there.”

– Deuteronomy 26:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The first fruits (bikurim) from each person’s harvest, were to be brought to “the place that H’Shem your G-d will choose” after B’nei Yisrael entered the Land. Upon giving the bikurim to a Kohein, one of G-d’s representatives, a proclamation was made, by the giver, declaring a brief historical background, encapsulating the identity of the Children of Israel from humble origins:

“And thou shalt speak and say before the L-RD thy G-d: ‘A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.”

– Deuteronomy 26:5 , JPS 1917 Tanach

“My father, i.e. Yaakov, who was for a while a wandering lost person without a home of his own, was not at the time able to establish a nation deserving or fit to inherit this land.” – Sforno

Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, began his endeavors to establish a family, and vocation, as a wandering Aramean, having left home to find a wife. Yet, he went out into the world without anything of value, nor even any gifts for his wife-to-be. After twenty years of working for Laban, he set out to his home country. From there, he and the seventy members of his family were called to go down to Egypt. The Children of Israel were enslaved, eventually freed, and received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Entering the Promised Land would be the culmination of the Exodus.

Upon entering the land, the show of gratitude, a deep appreciation of H’Shem, and the origins of a national identity were acknowleged. Today, we need to reconnect with our origins as children of H’Shem. Once we are able to acknowledge our heritage, so that we may identify with our past as a people, we may also become aware of the Inheritance that awaits us. “Men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen” (Isaiah 64:3). Regarding this verse, Rashi explains that while the sages note that the prophets only spoke in regard to the Messianic era, they were not able to speak of Olam Haba (Berachos 34a). What awaits us in Olam Haba is beyond description, imagination, or our greatest expectations.

A Singular Effort

B”H

Shiur for parashas Ki Seitzei 5780

“Thou shalt not wear a mingled stuff, wool and linen together.”

  • Deuteronomy 22:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Seeing that the first two human beings who were born on earth were of different species, (Kayin and Hevel), one being the result of the evil genes of the serpent, the other that of Adam’s divinely inspired spirit, and we are commanded to keep our distance from the spirit of impurity, mixing the species has been forbidden for us as we have learned the fatal consequences which this could have.”

  • R. Bachya, commentary on Leviticus 19:19, sefaria.org

The fundamental differences between Kayin (Cain) and Hevel (Abel) are reflected in the nature of the offerings that each brought to H’Shem. “Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the L-RD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the L-RD had respect unto Abel and to his offering; but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect” (Genesis 4:3-5 JPS). A qualitative difference between Abel and Cain’s offerieng is inferred. Cain’s offering was linseed (Midrash Tanchuma, Bereishis 9), whereas Abel brought the choicest of his flock.

If Abel brought from his sheep, then this could correspond to the wool, mentioned in the previous commandment, while Cain’s offering would be represented by linen. The commandment forbids “wool and linen together.” This rendering would reinforce the underlying differences between Cain and Abel. If we are to be more like Abel, giving the best of ourselves as an offering to H’Shem through our good deeds, then, we should not compromise our standing with H’Shem by following the poor example of Cain at all. Rather, we should maintain excellency in all of our endeavors, both towards G-d and man.

parashas Re’eh 5780

B”H

parashas Re’eh: Blessings & Curses

Shiur for parashas Re’eh 5780

“Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse.”

  • Deuteronomy 11:26, JPS 1917 Tanach

“See, I set before you this day,” in other words, perceive that I present before you this very day, the significance of blessings and curses in your lives. According to Rabbeinu Bahya, the so-called, “mental eye” of the spiritually sensitive is able to see the effects of the blessings and curses, on an individual basis, in their own lives. The blessings originate with the Attribute of Mercy, whereas the curses are derived from the Attribute of Justice.

R. Bahya makes reference to the pasuk (verse), “I have seen great wisdom and knowledge” (Ecclesiastes 1:16). As a direct result of our being aware of the blessings and curses in life, we may obtain great knowledge, concerning the causal relationship between our thoughts, speech, and actions, and their consequences. This may lead towards wisdom, having to do with how H’Shem Elokim guides us – each and every person, according to hasgachah peratis (divine guidance), weaving a tapestry of events and consequences in our lives, dependent upon the nature of our conduct.

Additionally, I would mention that King David wrote, “Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4, JPS); he was assured through H’Shem’s guidance and correction, that he would remain on the derech (path). H’Shem’s guidance, as represented by a staff (a sheperds crook) and His correction, as symbolized by a rod. This is akin to the undestanding that blessings can be understood as signs that we are on the right path; and curses are a form of chastisement meant to correct us, whenever we go astray.

“Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law.”

  • Psalm 119:18, JPS, 1917 Tanach

reflections: Redemption

B”H

17 Tammuz 5780

“And Moses said unto the people: ‘Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the L-RD, which He will work for you to-day.” – Exodus 14:13, JPS 1917 Tanach

Is the time drawing near for the sea to part? Is the Geulah (Redemption) at hand? The sages, in all of their sharp acuity, draw a parallel between the First Redemption, and the Final Redemption: akin to plagues that devastated Egypt, before the exodus of the Children of Israel, so will many plagues, even more than those inflicted upon ancient Egypt, precede the final redemption. This is gleaned from the following verse: “As in the days of thy coming forth out of the land of Egypt, will I show unto him marvellous things” (Micah 7:15, JPS). Could the modern day plague of the coronavirus be a foreshadowing of the Messianic Age?

The current exile (galus) of the Jewish people began almost two thousand years ago, when the second Temple was destroyed by the Romans. We were dispersed amongst the nations, as we still are today to some degree. Even though the state of Israel was renewed in 1948, without the Third Temple, we are technically still in exile. This is one reason why we proclaim every year, at the end of our Passover seder, “Next Year in Yerushalayim.” In essence, this does not refer to having the opportunity to fly to Israel via El Al Airlines, in order to make aliyah to our Biblical homeland. Rather, this alludes to the Geulah (Redemption), when Moshiach will reign from Jerusalem.

At that time, “peace on earth,” in all of its splendor will prevail over the unruly forces, that have no interest in recognising G-d’s sovereignty. Needless to say, we are only witnessing the beginning of these forces to potentially impact society in an unprecedented way; the road has been paved ever since the Age of Enlightenment, when the Deity of Reason was worshipped, to the diminishment of a focus on G-d, and religious values. This set the background for the French Revolution.

Behind the facade of a higher cause, these forces hold sway over any godless movement, whose roots are deeper than its claims to higher ideals, human rights, or “power to the people.” It is interesting to note, that as a result of the Bubonic plague of the 14th Century in Europe, “some historians believe that society subsequently became more violent as the mass mortality rate cheapened life and thus increased warfare, crime, popular revolt, waves of flagellants, and persecution” (Wikipedia). As far as I know, excepting self-flagellation, this seems to ring true today, in the face of COVID-19. “If we do not learn from the past, history will repeat itself.”

Am I overconcerned with the state of affairs in the world, and, more specifically, in America today? Others are apparently even more concerned. “In a normal month [Nefesh B’Nefesh] receives several hundred to a few thousand calls,” yet, this past June the Jewish organisation that promotes aliyah from the U.S. to Israel received 25,000 calls (VosIzNeias). For myself, I would only take that step, if and when I would hear the call from H’Shem, as has been mentioned by several fellow Jews in the not so recent past, concerning intuition from Above. Yet, the call to teshuvah, in and of itself, is primary; and, may be viewed the in light Hillel’s adage, “It’s not where you are, but how you are.” And, “if not now, when.”

“And thou shalt bethink thyself among the nations, whither the L-RD thy G-d hath driven thee, and shalt return unto the L-RD thy G-d.”

– Deuteronomy 30:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

parashas: Avadon

B”H

Shiur for parashas Korach 5780

“So they, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit [Sheol]; and the earth closed upon them, and they perished from among the assembly.” – Numbers 16:33, JPS 1917 Tanach

Korach gathered the adus (congregation) against Moses and Aaron, in an attempt to overthrow their authority by means of an outright rebellion (Numbers 16:1-3). It was an opportune time for rebellion, inasmuch that the people were already disgruntled, because of the decree proclaimed by H’Shem that the men, over twenty years of age would all pass away in the wilderness, during the course of the next thirty-nine years, as a consequence of their lack of trust in H’Shem, when they neglected to enter the land at the designated time.

Korach, Dathan and Aviram were the ringleaders of the uprising. As a result of their insurgency, Korach perished (AVD), along with his family, and Dathan and Aviram, with their families, when they were swallowed up by the earth. Incidentally, the Hebrew word yov’du, translated as “perished,” derives from the shoresh (root word), aleph-beis-dalet. The word, avadon, is also derived from the same shoresh. Avadon refers to a place of destruction similar to Sheol, possibly Gehinnom. Additionally, the two hundred fifty men of renown, who followed him were consumed by fire from H’Shem, when they attempted to offer up incense, individually, every man his fire pan.

Both punishments were clearly by way of divine intervention; yet, the people ignored this. They still had a complaint against Moshe: they claimed that Moshe was responsible for the deaths of Korach’s two hundred fifty followers. The people themselves had been rallied by Korach against Moshe and Aaron; now, their enthusiasm was piqued by the loss of these men, who supported the rebellion. In response, to subdue another uprising, H’Shem sent a plague amongst the people, wherein 14,500 perished, before Aaron intervened at the urgent insistence of Moses.

“And Moses said unto Aaron: ‘Take thy fire-pan, and put fire therein from off the altar, and lay incense thereon, and carry it quickly unto the congregation, and make atonement for them; for there is wrath gone out from the L-RD: the plague is begun’” (Numbers 17:11, JPS 1917 Tanach). The response was immediate: “And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed” (17:13). Symbolically, the burning of incense represents steadfast prayer; perhaps, prayer may serve today as an effectual means to combat the current pandemic.