The Principal Part

shiur for parasha Behar-Bechukosai 5783

“If ye walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them.”

 – Leviticus 26:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

Through the revelation at Mt. Sinai (Mattan Torah – the giving of the Instruction), H’Shem revealed His will in the form of the Commandments. Clearly, the Ten Commandments, in and of themselves, are the pivotal commandments meant to guide the moral sphere of our lives. All the other commandments are derived from these. The Aseret Dibrot (Ten Utterances) reflect the principal part of G-d’s Torah – His expectations of us.

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. “The reward for a mizvah (good deed) is another mitzvah” (Pirkei Avos 4:2). In other words, more opportunities to do good will be given to us as we continue to observe the mitzvot.

Yet, these opportunities may require the use of our discernment, in tandem with the prevailing directives of our conscience. Ultimately, 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. To serve Him (avodah) becomes 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 bend our will to serve His will, thereby aligning ourselves with Divine Guidance and transpired will.

“Do His will as though it were your will.”

– Pirkei Avos 2:4, traditional text

Trust in Providence

parasha Behar-Bechukosai (Leviticus 25:1 – 26:2) 5783

“And the L-RD spoke unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a Sabbath unto the L-RD.” 

– Leviticus 25:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

At the beginning of the parasha, an emphasis is placed on the Shemitah commandment, in particular, being given at Mt Sinai. All of the commandments were given at Sinai; therefore, the question may be asked, why is Shemitah singled out from amongst the other commandments? First of all, it may be understood within the context of emunah (faith). For, H’Shem guarantees, “I will command My blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth produce for the three years” (Leviticus 25:21, JPS 1917 Tanach).

To rely on H’Shem’s word that he would bestow a blessing upon the children of Israel, so that their crops would produce an abundance of yield, enough to last for three years, this is an act of emunah (faith). Only H’Shem could make this guarantee; so, inasmuch that Torah specifically notes the commandment to observe the Shemitah year, wherein the seventh year the land is to lie fallow, this is a reminder that H’Shem gave the commandment on Mt. Sinai, He is the Guarantor; only G-d could assure the people that by placing all of their trust in Him, He would provide for them until the new crop of the following year produced a yield.

The Shemitah cycle also conveys the essential truth, the epitome of historical realization from a Biblical perspective, that after six thousand years, there will be a Sabbatical Millenium. The thousand-year Sabbath begins with the reign of Moshiach in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem); it is considered the first part of Olam Haba (the World to Come). Therefore, in light of this expectation, we are to prepare ourselves in this world, so that we may partake of the reward, likened to a banquet, in the next world.

“‘This world is like a corridor before Olam Haba (the World to Appear); prepare thyself in the corridor, so that thou mayest enter into the banquet hall.'”- Pirkei Avos 4:21).

Yesod: Foundation

Sixth week of the Counting of the Omer

The middah (character trait) of yesod, meaning foundation, amongst other renderings, such as covenant, bonding, and Tzaddik (Righteous One). Where is the stability in our lives? Are there consistent factors in our lives that contribute to a sense of stability? Or are we standing on shifting sands, always changing with the winds of the time? Societal norms will always change; yet, lasting values are grounded in sound ethical, religious, or moral principles. Our foundational beliefs will sustain throughout the challenges of life, from both within ourselves and from without.

Choosing the Good

Mesillas Yesharim: The Path of the Just – Zechirus

Ramchal writes that pertaining to the quality of zechirus, the trait of vigilance along the derech (path) of righteousness, one must first acquire an understanding through contemplation of what is good and evil, in order to make the right choices in life. Once clearly defined, then one can choose the good and avoid the evil. Moreover, it is not enough to have an abstract understanding of good evil; rather, the understanding should lead to application.

Therefore, one needs to scrutinize thoughts, speech and behavior, in order to make an honest assessment of oneself. If good draws us near to H’Shem, and evil will distance ourselves from Him, then this concept may be applied in the following manner: to ask ourselves, when in doubt, whether such and such will bring us closer to H’Shem or result in creating a separation. As is written, “Your iniquities have separated between you and your G-d” (Isaiah 59:2, JPS).

We may familiarize ourselves with the basic components of Jewish belief and practice; yet, the test of whether or not we are actually walking along the path prescribed for us, has to do with how we spend most of our time, what are presuppositions are, and whether or not we are consciously aware of H’Shem’s presence. Otherwise there will be a disconnect in our lives between our beliefs and actions; moreover, what ultimate value will our practice have, if there is a separate area of our lives that is not permeated by our beliefs?

Heshbon hanefesh, literally, an “accounting of the soul” can be used as a means to align our thoughts, speech, and action with G-d’s expectations of us, and rein in any area of our lives that has not yet been subjected to His sovereignty. This endeavor entails much reflection, and a constant dedication to the true good, designed to bring our souls closer to H’Shem.

How to Be a Mensch

The promotion of virtue within a human being is the original idea of changing oneself on the inside, in order to become a better human being. This type of virtue acquisition is ensconced within the tomes of religious libraries, and the shelves of classical antiquity that are becoming more like tombs, in the face of a redefining of virtue. If virtue-signalling continues to replace actual virtue in the minds of this generation, then all virtue will eventually be lost.

Virtue as defined by religion and classical works of antiquity is a moral compass formed by character development that takes place within the human soul. Discernment, courage, self-control, and a sense of fairness are some of the main virtues of classical antiquity. Patience, kindness, humility, and compassion are a few of the virtues found amongst the world’s religions. Doing unto others as you would like to have done to yourself is a key adage meant to foster consideration to others. And, loving your fellow person as yourself exceeds the limitations that are inherent from a sense of egoism.

Yet, the trendy virtue-signalling of more recent years is based upon a set of pseudo-values that lack the countermeasures to put a rein on one’s own negative character traits. In fact, it is entirely possible to fall prey to virtue-signalling, without becoming virtuous at all. If we are considerate, then we should be considerate to all. We should not only be concerned for specific “oppressed” groups within the framework of identity politics; rather, also, for those who are labeled “oppressors.”

By labeling, categorizing, and placing into good groups and bad groups, we are overlooking the uniqueness and individuality of each, and every person categorized. “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.” (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn).

Thus, every individual has a fine line within themselves, wherein both hate and love, compassion and intolerance exist. We should compel ourselves to demonstrate love toward all human being, rather than love some and hate others. Also, in regard to compassion for all, instead of compassion for some, and intolerance for others.

Lag b’Omer 5783

Lag b’Omer is the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer – the 49 day period between Passover and Shavuot. The day has several clear historical references, most significantly, being the day that the plague that took 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students ceased. With his five remaining students, he began again to promote Torah instruction to his students, including Shimon bar Yochai.

The message being that because the reason given for the plague is the baseless dissension amongst the students, the importance of respect towards others who have differing opinions and viewpoints, inclusive of various interpretations should be respected, despite the differences. A timely message for today’s world, wherein the overflowing messages of cancel culture seem to o.k. intolerance, disrespect, and raising one’s own viewpoints above all others.

Regarding R’ Shimon bar Yochai, it is claimed by the most devoted advocates of the Zohar that the author of the premier mystical literature of Judaism is indeed R’Shimon bar Yochai. Yet, not everyone agrees with this claim; in particular, from a scholarly perspective, the work has been shown to have been written by Moses de Leon of Spain. When the Aramaic writing is deciphered according to its grammar and other idiosyncrasies, these have much in common with the grammatical structures and manner of conveying ideas at the time and place that Moses de Leon lived. Additionally, there is testimony given by his wife in a letter, that indicates he wrote the work, yet because of his own relative obscurity, assigned the authorship to Shimon bar Yochai to bring an air of authenticity to the writing.

The historical Shimon bar Yochai, according to a reference in the Talmud, lived in a cave for many years, in order to escape persecution by the Romans. When he left the cave, he was given almost supernatural powers in the Talmudic account, as if he acquired these during his meditations in the cave. A story that was later developed into a greater myth by the author of the Zohar, assigning the mystical treatise itself to his authorship. Yet, any astute reader can note that the “companions” of the character, Shimon bar Yochai in the accounts given over in the Zohar, are historical personages whom did not even live during the same time span as each other. Yet, they all gather around Shimon bar Yochai as if they are alive and well, irrespective of when they actually lived.

While it is true that the Zohar does contain many ideas, teachings, and Torah gems, not generally found in more traditional works, these mysteries of Torah are revealed by the actual author based upon his knowledge of prior mystical treatises. So, perhaps, it may be considered as a moot issue, who the author of the Zohar is, if indeed its words still help to further understand the secrets of Torah, and give an enlightening and inspired deeper layer of meaning.

On the other hand, it is disconcerting that Shimon bar Yochai is described as a holy lamp, and elevated as the chief expositor of the mysteries of Torah, giving an air of legitimacy to certain concepts conveyed in the Zohar that are foreign to Torah, Tanach, and Talmud, such as gilgulim, transmigration, and the error of reincarnation. The specific teachings in regard to reincarnation do not bring light into the world; rather, they cast a shadow of darkness upon the truths of Torah. Moreover, the concept of reincarnation detracts from the clear understanding having to do with the Tehillas HaMeisim (resurrection of the dead). Whereas, the soul is restored to the body and we are judged according to how we lived this one life that we are all given.

Furthermore, glorifying Shimon bar Yochai seems to detract from the expectation of the prophet, Eliyahu HaNavi revealing the secrets of Torah, upon his return. Incidentally, since the prophet ascended into Heaven on a chariot, his return would not be counted as reincarnation. Additionally, the role of the Messiah in part is to also, even moreso bring to light the essential Torah truths for the generation that will see his crowning as King in Jerusalem, at the beginning of the sabbatical millennium, when G-d’s Kingdom is ushered into existence. HIs light cannot be supplanted by the would-be author of the Zohar, despite how many secrets it contains. So, I believe, if studying the Zohar, we should keep in mind that time when the greater secrets will be revealed.

Ad mosai – how long until the fallen sukkah of David is restored?

“In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof, and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old.” – Amos 9:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Appointed Times

parasha Emor (Leviticus 21:1 – 24:23) 5783

“The appointed seasons of the L-RD, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are My appointed seasons.”

– Leviticus 23:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

On “the fourteenth day of the first month,” the Pesach offering was made (Leviticus 23:5).  seven-day observance begins on the fifteenth of Nissan, when we refrain from eating chometz, during “the Feast of Unleavened Bread” (Leviticus 23:6). “Ye shall bring the sheaf of the first-fruits of your harvest” (Leviticus 23:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). This was brought to the kohein [priest], on the day after the first rest day of Pesach. The offering is referred to in Torah as the waving of the Omer; it was only enacted after B’nei Yisrael entered the Promised Land.

“Even unto the morrow after the seventh week shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall present a new meal-offering unto the L-RD” (Leviticus 23:16, JPS). That is, fifty days were counted from the second day of Passover, onward until on the fiftieth day, the first wheat offering of the harvest was brought “unto the L-RD.” (The offering that was made prior to this – the Omer – on the second day of Passover, was the first of the barley harvest). Today, we refer to the fiftieth day after Passover as Shavuot, in commemoration of Matan Torah (the giving of the Torah).

In Autumn, we celebrate Rosh HaShannah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Sukkot, which follows Yom Kippur, is considered a Festival, like Passover, and Shavuot; so, it is the third of the Festivals: “Ye shall dwell in booths seven days” (Leviticus 23:42, JPS). We build sukkot (booths) to commemorate the protection we received from the Clouds of Glory, while dwelling in booths, during our forty-day sojourn in the desert. On the eighth day, we celebrate Shemini Atzeret, symbolizing Olam Haba (the World-to-Come).

Pesach Sheini 5783

FRI: May 5, 2023

Pesach Sheini – the Passover of second chances

Pesach Sheini, the second Passover, for those who were impure, according to the definition of Torah, or were on a distant journey. Pesach Sheini connotes the idea of second chances. The Israelites who were not able to observe Pesach were given a second chance, one month later, on Nissan 14, in order to do so.

Today, the concept may be applicable to the personal instances of our lives, when we were given a second chance of some nature. Traditionally, matzoh is eaten on Pesach Sheini, although there is no requirement to eat only matzah. Apropos of the theme, let us all consider the second chance to re-evaluate our lives in the face of the challenges ahead.

Omer Count: Week Five

5th Emotional Attribute: Hod (Splendor)

By humbling ourselves, we are able to reflect the splendor of G-d. Only through bowing down in our hearts to the splendor of the L-RD, may we also acquire splendor, by way of reflecting His Splendor. This is a basic metaphysical, aka spiritual principle, explained within the context of the sefirot. This is noted as well, in a comparably similar concept, concerning how the light of the sun is reflected by the moon. The moon, in and of itself, has no light, except for the light that strikes the surface of the moon. It waxes and wanes, dependent upon its location in regard to the sun.

So, too, with human beings, inasmuch that we are dependent upon the kavod (glory) of H’Shem to light our way. And, any glory that we have is only His kavod resting upon us. Even our very life breath originates with G-d, so that He sustains us each and every moment of the day. Thus, we are humbled before Him, in acknowledgement of His greatness, and capabilities, in terms of how our very lives are dependent upon Him. When we act in accordance with His will and align ourselves with His words, He will bestow His splendor upon us.

Omer: Day 29 Chesed shebbe Hod

Love (kindness) within Splendor (humility)

The role of kindness within the quality of humility. How does kindness influence the potential for humility? Kindness may serve as a key ingredient of humility. Otherwise, kindness may actually be a result of the quality of humility. To humble ourselves before G-d, and others, downplaying our “plusses,” and acknowledging our “minuses,” places us in a position to better appreciate others, by not seeing ourselves as better than them.

Therefore, kindness may be a consequence of recognizing our inherent sameness with others. It is easier to be kind to those whom we feel a common connection. Recognizing our own humanity, reflected in the eyes of others, may help us to bridge the gap with personal acts of kindness.

note: The counting of the Omer serves as a spiritual journey. We are called upon to leave our own personal limitations behind us, as we travel on the path of freedom, away from the influence of negativity in our lives. This is a forty-nine day journey, a self improvement plan, between Passover and Shavuot. Each of the seven weeks corresponds to one of the seven middos (character traits) that we will have the opportunity to improve upon in our lives.

My personal reflections on each day’s combination of middot are not meant to be comprehensive; they are not based upon any one particular system. Nor, may my insights be characterized as authoritative, because I am a student, not a teacher. I simply hope to inspire others to delve into an exploration of their own personality, for the sake of tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul).