The Wisdom of Proverbs

“He that acquires wisdom loves his own soul; he that retains understanding will find good.”- Proverbs 19:8

Acquiring wisdom may seem like an arduous task, akin to mining for gold. And, retaining understanding involves not simply letting the words of wisdom go in one ear and out the other, nor dispersed like seedlings in the wind. Rather, these words should be planted within our hearts. The Book of Proverbs has the potential to benefit our daily lives, through its instruction. It is included within the category of mussar, ethics to live by, standards to guide our lives. Its teachings are often very practical insights into human nature.

parasha Lech Lecha 5783

parasha Lech Lecha 5783 – Pivotal Points

“Ten generations from Noah to Abraham, in order to make known what long-suffering is His; for all those generations kept on provoking Him, until Abraham, came and received the reward of all of them.” – Pirkei Avos 5:2, sefaria.org

“Based upon the merit of Abraham, G-d did not destroy again the whole world. Abraham taught them that repentance was possible, and therefore G-d did not destroy the world.”– English explanation of the Mishnah; sefaria.org

Inasmuch that Noah and his family was spared when “Noah found favor in the eyes of H’Shem,” so, too, according to the mishnah, the world was spared through the merit of Abraham. In light of this comparison, two points become evident. First, the implementation of G-d’s Attribute of Mercy, as a means of relating to mankind, despite His strict Attribute of Justice. Second, that in each case, a righteous person was chosen to offer teshuvah (repentance) to others, and become the means through whom redemption would be offered to all of mankind.

In regard to Noah, it is evident that G-d favored him due to his righteousness, for, following the verse, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the L-RD,” the Torah  states that Noah was “a man righteous and wholehearted; Noah walked with G-d” (Genesis 6:8-9). As for Abraham, there is no such immediate mention of his character, when he is called out from the land of Ur, to the land that he would be shown. He is told by H’Shem, that he would become a great nation, that his name would be great, and that the nations would be blessed through him. And, the “persons that they had acquired in Haran” were converts to Abraham’s newfound monotheistic faith.

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

parasha Beha’alotecha 5782 – Our Refuge

d’var for parashas Beha’alotecha 5782

parasha Beha’alotecha 5782


“In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, that the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle of the testimony.” – Numbers, 10:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

The first journey made by B’nei Yisrael, after the encampment at the foot of Mount Sinai was on the twentieth of Iyar, ten days shy of one year, from their arrival at Sinai on the first of Sivan. The departure was well organized, ahead of time, for the sake of an orderly procession, tribe by tribe, to the next encampment.

First the tribe of Judah, then, as they began to march, the tabernacle would be disassembled, and placed in the care of the three Levite families. Two of the families followed the tribe of Judah; the third Levite family followed the tribe of Reuben. The rest of the tribes followed in formation, according to the Jerusalem Talmud either in the shape of a diamond, or in a straight line, tribe by tribe.

“And the cloud of the L-RD was over them by day, when they set forward from the camp” (Numbers 10:34, JPS 1917 Tanach). Thus, during their three day journey, H’Shem’s Presence in the form if a tangible cloud, sheltered them from the heat of the day.  “Whenever the cloud was taken up from over the Tent, then after that the children of Israel journeyed; and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel encamped” (Numbers 9:17, JPS).

Consider how G-d’s Presence guided the B’nei Yisrael, during the wandering in the desert. “Thou goest before them, in a pillar of cloud by day, and in a pillar of fire by night” (Numbers 14:14, JPS). This points toward H’Shem’s role in our lives to guide us in the right direction, to be a compass in an uncertain world, and a light in the darkness, as well as a refuge from the tumults of life.

Tonic for Mind & Body

“My heart and my flesh cry out to the living G-d.”

– Psalm 84:3

It is known to we, who pray to G-d in all sincerity, with heartfelt conviction, that our souls are nourished by Him, because He is the Source of renewal for our troubled selves. Yet, G-d is also a tonic for our body as well, so that both our heart (the seat of emotion, and biblically speaking, akin to the soul), and our body may yearn for His ever-flowing waters of refreshment. Although, at times we may flee like a bird soaring in flight, we will soon return to the place of our refuge, within the confines of our relationship to G-d (Psalm 84:4).

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Shavuot Renewal 5782

“And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.”

– Ezekiel 36:25, JPS 1917 Tanach

The B’nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) had sunk to the 49th level of impurity in Egypt. Had we descended to the 50th level of impurity, according to chazal, we would have been indistinguishable from the Egyptians. From this perspective, we were not brought out of Egypt, based upon our own merit. This is akin to what is mentioned later in Torah, “Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thy heart” (Deuteronomy 9:5).

Thus, we were taken out of Egypt by way of what is called itaruta dil’eyla, an “awakening from above,” wherein H’Shem brings about an effect from Shomayim. From out of the influence of an idolatrous society, B’nei Yisrael was freed from slavery, in order to serve H’Shem.

The 49 day counting of the Omer, between Pesach and Shavuos is a gradual ascent to the 49th level purity. A time to effect a gradual transition to a positive set of character traits, through an itaruta dil’tata, an awakening from below, i.e., from our own efforts. As B’nei Yisrael spent forty nine days on a journey from Egypt towards Mount Sinai, where the Torah was given, so opportunity given the opportunity to prepare ourselves to receive the Torah anew on Shavuot.

Omer: Day 31 Kaleidoscopic Splendor

Tiferes shebbe Hod: Beauty within Splendor

(Otherwise rendered as harmony within humility).

As explained elsewhere, 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. Therefore, we may find through harmonizing ourselves enough to show deference to G-d, we may bear the light bestowed upon us through our reconciliation with Him.

By way of harmonizing ourselves, I mean to bring the soul into alignment with truth, by sifting through the various inconsistencies in character, called from a psychological perspective, “cognitive dissonance.” Ideally, the result would be like viewing the shapes combined into patterns within the kaleidoscope of our soul. Imagine all of the variegated shapes being lit up by light in the background; this effect would be akin to G-d’s splendor being reflected by our souls.

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).

Omer: Day 25 One Life to Live

Netzach shebbe Netzach: Endurance within Endurance:

(The attribute of netzach may also be rendered as “victory” or “eternity”).

The attribute of Netzach carries the weight of eternity on its shoulders, in like manner that Atlas, in the Greek myth, carried the world on his shoulders. In truth, G-d carries both of these burdens for all of mankind. Yet, we may be made privy to them in a manner that is not burdensome: our place in this world, and our time in eternity is sweetened by the victory of life over death, as mentioned in the Book of Isaiah. “He will swallow up death for ever; and the L-RD G-D will wipe away tears from off all faces” (Isaiah 25:8, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The question is not often asked, what is the ultimate purpose of our lives? Nor, is the answer readily inferred from worldly knowledge; nor, deduced from general knowledge. Yet, G-d has placed eternity in our hearts, so that we might have a glimpse of eternity within us. Therefore, we are able to aspire towards that eternity, having sensed a time and place of continual existence in our heart. Otherwise, what reward will we have at the end of a life well-lived? If we endure the challenges of this life for the sake of monetary gain, pleasure, or posterity, then we are being misled by the false promises of this world.

Consider endurance of each and every day, living our lives for the sake of an eternal reward, knowing that this life is a test. “This world is like a vestibule before the world to come; prepare yourself in the vestibule, that you mayest enter into the banquet hall” (Pirkei Avos 4:21). We are to prepare ourselves, through the refinement of our character, and living a morally upright life, according to G-d’s standard, for the sake of obtaining a good place in Olam Haba (the World to Come). This begins upon our admittance into the coronation banquet of the King, at the beginning of the Messianic Era. For the soul lives on for eternity.

Omer: Day 24 Balancing Challenges

Tiferes shebbe Netzach: Beauty within Endurance:

Otherwise rendered as harmony, balance, or compassion within endurance.

Tiferes represents the ability to blend or harmonize opposites; thus, the strong-willed efforts to endure challenges in life, may require tenacity; yet, a measure of compassion for ourselves and others also plays a role. Endurance in regard to forbearance of others, is supported by compassion, mercy, and leniency towards others. Also, we would benefit from some show of compassion to ourselves, when even our best efforts do not immediately amount to success. By acknowledging our mis-tries as stepping stones, we can learn how to do better next time; this does require a certain amount of self-compassion, lest we judge ourselves too harshly for our failures.

The tenacity to endure the nisyanos (challenges) of our lives, especially when we are running low on reserves, may benefit from acknowledging that we are not superhumans; rather, we are beings built to be dependent on the earth, our fellow human beings, and G-d Himself. When we reach the point of ayin (nothingness), when we find ourselves barely able to cope, then we may note a sense of powerlessness. This is exactly the state of mind that we should turn towards others for help; and, primarily, to accept that the only One who may be able to effect a situation from Above for the good, is the One who created the situation in the first place.

While it is true that we may often create the circumstances for our own negative situations; at times, we may find ourselves being tried by G-d. This was the case for Joseph, who was refined in the fires fire in Egypt, before he ascended to a place of sovereign rule. The trials that he endured shaped his character; so, he proved himself to be capable of being placed in a position of leadership, within the overall framework of G-d’s design. G-d has a divine plan for every individual; when we begin to see the challenges in our lives as tests that will bring us to the next level of spiritual improvement, then we may be in harmony with our circumstances, others, and G-d’s blueprint for our lives.

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).

Omer: Day 23 Soul Care

Gevurah shebbe Netzach: Power within Endurance:

(otherwise rendered as discipline within endurance).

The motivating factor for endurance is discipline; in any endeavor, a regimen that is followed with discipline, will lead to endurance in that endeavor. The path to success, may be said to be paved with sweat, especially in regard to an exercise routine. Yet, to neglect the soul, while placing undue emphasis on the body, will lead towards spiritual undernourishment. Both body and soul are important aspects of human beings. While disciplining the body seems to be an endeavor that is well undertaken by many, who are concerned with well being; the discipline of the soul is also necessary, and should be kept in mind, when dividing one’s time.

The two may complement each other; I am not advocating neglect of the body in favor of the soul. However, I imagine that in contemporary society, neglect of the soul may be all too common, and not necessarily due to an overemphasis on the body. Rather, any focus on the soul, is often diminished in favor of other preoccupations, such as entertainment, socialization, and internet use. May all, including myself, who might fall into the category of an undernourished soul, think twice about what is important in life. For the soul is eternal, and, therefore, significantly more important to nourish; whereas, the body will be subject to entropy over time, and return to the dust.

With that in mind, the discipline of the soul might entail the same type of regimen, planned out on a regular basis, akin to a jogging or exercise routine. Spending a few moments of quiet time at the beginning of the day, will lead towards a lasting benefit – a spiritual charge – if you will, that will continue throughout the day. Also, connecting to the soul in a meaningful way, before retiring in the evening, may help to settle the mind, and calm the nerves. Therefore, in this manner, it can be clearly seen that there are practical advantages to soul care.

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).