parasha Chayei Sarah 5783

parasha Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1 – 25:18) 5783

“And the life of Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.” – Genesis 23:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

It’s interesting to note, that Judaism is often regarded as a worldly religion, focusing on our earthly lives, while placing less emphasis on the next life, otherwise known as Olam Haba – the World-to-Come. However, when we delve into Torah, looking below the surface of the plain meaning, we begin to see a different picture. Additionally, the teachings of chazal (the sages), can inform us as well, concerning a perspective that brings us into a fuller knowledge of Torah.

Torah itself is compared to the ocean, perhaps, because its depths are unfathomable. Moreover, it is recorded in Torah, that the number of creatures in the ocean are uncountable; perhaps, this also applies to Torah itself, in regard to the many facets of Torah. It is said that there are seventy faces of Torah, connoting the teaching that Torah presents its mysteries in many ways.

The parasha begins with the death of Sarah, a seemingly disconnected beginning to a narrative entitled Chayei Sarah – the Life of Sarah. Yet, the first word of the parasha, vayechi, meaning “life,” according to R’ Bachya implies “something that exists permanently,” thereby, it could be inferred that this hints toward the understanding that her soul would “take up permanent residence in the celestial regions” (R. Bachya, commentary on Genesis 23:1, sefaria.org).

In this respect, Chayei Sarah, the Life of Sarah may be understood as an implicit message or remez (hint), concerning Sarah’s continued existence in Olam Haba. Thus, the title of the parasha points to the promise of an afterlife for the righteous in the World-to-Come.

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Seeking Restoration

“In that day, I will set up again the fallen booth [sukkah] of David: I will mend its breaches and set up its ruins anew. I will build it firm as in the days of old.” – Amos 9:11, JPSN

If our expectations for the future rest, primarily, upon our fears, anxieties, and concerns having to do with the present, then we may expect to transition to something different in our lives as individuals, and part of the greater whole, based upon our discontent of the current status quo. Yet, we should not permit our expectations to lead us astray, into thinking that some better “state of affairs” will come into fruition, as a result of efforts that have more to do with a vision of utopia, based upon a progressive understanding of social justice, in totale, rather than giving credence to the transcendent wisdom of G-d.

Moreover, there is a difference between social justice, bought with the price of losing our freedoms, while condemning those who are not in accord with the pseudo-morality that it proffers, versus a sense of justice that is balanced by chesed (mercy), bringing about a harmonious world view that treats all according to the same standard. G-d’s worldview and divine plan for humankind differs greatly in kind and means to bring his Kingdom into the world, as opposed to mankind’s vision of New Babylon that is already becoming a dystopian reality.

Therefore, let us strive to be in accordance with G-d’s promises for His people, by looking forward to the rebuilding of the Beish HaMikdash in the near future; so that we may not falter while the world around us descends into darkness, let us fully place our trust in G-d, and our expectations in his divine plan.

Hearing the Voice

dvar for parasha Haazinu (Deuteronomy 32:1 – 32:52) 5783

 “Give ear, ye heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.” – Deuteronomy 32:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

As Moshe prepares to pass on his leadership to Joshua, he focuses on the conclusion of his speech to B’nei Yisrael. H’Shem explains to Moshe that at some point after being established in Eretz Canaan, on the other side of the Jordan River – the land that will be called Eretz Yisrael – the people will “go astray after the foreign gods of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake Me, and break My covenant which I have made with them” (Deuteronomy 31:16, JPS). Therefore, H’Shem instructs Moshe to teach them a song – to be remembered – that will serve as a witness against them in future generations.

Moshe calls upon the heavens and the earth to serve as witnesses, since they will outlast the generations, always serving to remind Israel of this song. On another level, according to Rashi, the heavens and earth would actually play an active role in chastising Israel – the nourishing rains of the heavens would diminish, and the produce of the earth would be withheld. On a more subtle note, not only the words of this song reverberate throughout the heaven and earth; even H’Shem’s words, intent and guidance span the continents and the skies, reaching out to all who will listen intently for His voice. This is our consolation for today. If we hear His voice.

Bikurim (First Fruits)

dvar for parasha Ki Savo 5782

The commandment of bikkurim (first fruits) was to be performed after B’nei Yisrael entered Eretz Canaan and received their inheritance. It was only incumbent upon them to observe the mitzvah of bikurim, after they were established in the land. It was to serve as a constant reminder of our heritage. The declaration that is made at the time, encapsulates our history, beginning with Jacob, who went to Egypt with his entire family. And, how we later became slaves in Egypt; yet, H’Shem redeemed us, and we became His people, bound by covenant to the Torah given at Sinai.

The declaration, made when bringing the basket of the first fruits of one’s harvest to the Kohein, concerns our history, how we began as a small people, and became populous, and were brought into “a land that flows with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy 26:9). It is an expression of gratitude to H’Shem for our redemption, and a reminder of our humble origins as a people.  Also, the import of this declaration brings to light all of the provisions bestowed upon us since that time.

A stark reminder that G-d provides, and has done so since Gan Eden. Yet, today, society is so far removed from the harmony in the Garden before Adam and Chava partook from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Today, good and evil are being redefined by man, if not essentially reversed. The prophet Jeremiah warned of this: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that change darkness into light, and light into darkness; that change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter” (Jeremiah 5:20, JPS).

That direct personal relationship of Adam and Chava (Eve), has for the most part within secular society been replaced with a connection to “everything under the sun.” Mankind seeks to become the ultimate arbiter good and evil, proclaiming truth relative, by way of subjectivism. In an immoral world, let us stand up for our values, as given by the Creator. Our heritage, as preserved through the declaration of bikkurim, and other traditions, provides us with a foundation as a people. Even if the world’s foundations crumble, let us hold on to ours.

The bikurim (first fruits) were brought to Yerushalayim, between Shavuot and Sukkot, the harvest season. The seven species from which they were selected were wheat, barley, figs, pomegranates, olives, grapes, and dates. Today, these grains and fruits serve to remind us of our connection to the Land of Israel. We may enjoy these foods, especially at certain times, according to tradition, in the same spirit that B’nei Yisrael was called upon to rejoice in Yerushalayim, when they brought the bikurim.

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Character and Integrity

parasha Balak 5782

“G-d is not man to be capricious, or mortal to change His mind. Would He speak and not act, promise and not fulfill?” – Numbers 23:21, JPS 1985 Tanach

As paraphrased by the Targum, “The Word of the living G-d is not as the words of men for the L-rd, the Ruler of all worlds, is the unchangeable, (but) man speaketh and denieth. Neither are His works like the works of the children of flesh, who consult, and then repent them of what they had decreed” (Targum Jonathan on Numbers 23:19, sefaria.org). In other words, that they change their mind, instead of remaining committed to their original intended course of action.

R’ Bachya states, in no uncertain terms that “the essential difference between G’d and man is that G’d keeps His promises whereas man often deceives, [and] disappoints the people who have been promised by him” (sefaria.org). Moreover, “Whereas man may change his mind concerning matters he had planned, which did not involve undertakings to his fellow man, he nonetheless is apt to have remorse, to change his mind before executing his plan” (sefaria.org).

Additionally, “when man deceives or reneges, this is considered a serious flaw in his character” (sefaria.org). Therefore, it may is important to keep in mind, based upon this commentary the benefits, of focusing upon character development, integrity, and keeping one’s word. These are all positive qualities to work on obtaining in life. Moreover, that our own words, should not contradict each other, as if we had two selves, in conflict with each other. And, that are actions should also not be opposed to our values, beliefs, and goals.

reflections: Psalms 55:23

Tehillim (Psalms): reflections on the Psalms

“Cast thy burden upon the L-RD, and He will sustain thee.”

– Psalms 55:23, JPS 1917 Tanach

If we ourselves took responsibility for shouldering our burdens, without seeking help from H’Shem, how could we possibly bear our challenges in life? Even in seeking the help of others, if we do not also rely on the L-RD, then we are limiting ourselves and Him. It is as if we may unconsciously say to ourselves, H’Shem can not effectually change my situation for the better. Or, as is written in Torah, in no uncertain terms, “Is the arm of the L-RD too short?” (Numbers 11:23) So, we would do well to understand that H’Shem wants us to depend on Him. As is written, “in all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:6, JPS 1917 Tanach).

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dvar Korach 5782

parasha Korach 5782

“O G-d, the G-d of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt Thou be wroth with all the congregation?” – Numbers 16:22, JPS 1917 Tanach

It is written in Pirkei Avos that every controversy that is for the sake of heaven will endure, while every argument that is not “in the name of Heaven” will not endure. The discussions between Shammai and Hillel are an example of those that endure. The dispute of Korach was a rebellious argument that was not destined to endure (Pirkei Avos 5:20). Rather, Korach was destined to be punished from the beginning of human history, inasmuch that the mouth of the earth that swallowed Korach and his followers is said to have been created on twilight of Shabbat Eve (Pirkei Avos 5:9).


Korach separated himself from the assembly of H’Shem. He purported to champion the people, inasmuch that he claimed that everyone was holy, saying that Moses and Aaron should not lift themselves “above the assembly of H’Shem” (Numbers 16:3, JPS 1917 Tanach); commentary explains that Korach wanted Aaron’s position of Kohein Gadol (High Priest) for himself. He did not recognize that both Moshe and Aaron were G-d appointed; rather, he felt that they unfairly took the positions of leadership for themselves. His accusation revealed his own intent.


With the rebellion looming over Moses and Aaron, poised to overthrow them, H’Shem told Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from the congregation, so that He might destroy the entire congregation. Yet, Moses interceded on behalf of the people; in doing so, he addressed G-d as “the G-d of the spirits of all flesh.” In other words, Moses appealed to G-d, Who knows the hearts of all men, including their thoughts, inasmuch that in this specific case, He knew who was loyal to Him, and who was disloyal. So, Moses pleaded on behalf of the people that G-d would distinguish between the conspirators, and those of the people who still trusted in Him. As a result of Moshe’s heartfelt prayer, G-d decided to limit the extent of the punishment only to the guilty. This connotes G-d’s sense of justice, as well as His attribute of mercy.

“Behold, the eye of the L-RD is toward them that fear Him, toward them that wait for His mercy.” = Psalm 33:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

parasha Shelach 5782 – Trusting G-d

“‘We came unto the land where thou didst send us, and truly it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it.'” – Numbers 13:27

“H’Shem spoke unto Moshe, saying: ‘Send thou men, that they may spy out the land of Canaan’” (Numbers 13:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach). Yet, this does not give the complete details, as later revealed in Torah. In Deuteronomy, it is written, “Behold, H’Shem thy G-d hath set the land before thee; go up, take possession, as H’Shem, the G-d of thy fathers, hath spoken unto thee; fear not, neither be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 1:21, JPS).

These are words of encouragement; however, the people responded with caution, requesting of Moshe, “Let us send men before us, that they may search the land” (Deuteronomy 1:22, JPS). This is the prior conversation between Moshe and the people, before the opening words of the parashas, where H’Shem literally says, “if you would like to send men, send men for yourself.” In other words, H’Shem left the decision to Moshe, whether to grant the request of the people to send out spies into the land of Canaan.

So, proof of the goodness of the fruits of the land was brought back to the people; however, ten of the spies also brought an ill report of the land. They said, “howbeit the people that dwell in the land are fierce, and the cities are fortified, and very great” (Deuteronomy 13:28, JPS). Rather than trust in H’Shem, that he would be their strength, the spies searched out the land in order to prepare a military strategy; yet, in their own estimation they saw themselves as “grasshoppers,” compared to the local inhabitants of the land (13:33).

The ten spies lacked self-esteem, as well as emunah (faith), they did not fully trust in H’Shem to bring them into the land. They saw a lack in their own abilities, not realizing that their strength was in H’Shem. When we put our trust in H’Shem, set our concerns aside, and acknowledge that our reliance on Him will bring our best intentions to fruition, in accordance with His will, then we can expect good results.

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Shabbat shalom.

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.

motzei Shabbos: Emor 5782

parasha Emor 5782 – 7th aliyah

“He shall order the lamps upon the pure candlestick before the L-RD continually.”

– Leviticus 24:4, JPS 1917 Tanach

The menorah and the showbread table, respectively represent “spiritual growth” and “material prosperity.”  Both of these provisions rest upon the incense mizbeach (altar), so to speak, inasmuch that the smoke of the incense is symbolic of prayer; thus, through our avodah, namely, service of the heart (prayer), we may acquire both spiritual and material blessings.

Additionally, according to the Steinsaltz edition of the Chumash, the menorah represents “purity and radiance” (Steinsaltz commentary on Leviticus 24:4). This makes perfect sense, in consideration of the pure olive oil that was used for the menorah; and, the light emitting from the wicks of the menorah. Thus, an added dimension is brought to the above-mentioned insight, namely, that our spiritual growth is also dependent upon leading a pure life, focused on righteousness.