parasha Nasso 5783

weekly Torah reading: parasha Nasso (Numbers 4:21 – 7:89) 5783

 “Speak unto the children of Israel: When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to commit a trespass against the L-RD, and that soul be guilty; then shall they confess their sin which they have done.”

– Numbers 5:6-7, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to Rambam (Maimonides), this verse is the basis of vidui (confession), within the context of teshuvah (repentance). “And shall make reparation in full” (Numbers 5:7). This latter part of the pasuk (verse) denotes reparations made to others, if the aveirah (transgression) is against another person. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for reparation is from the same shoresh (root), shuv (to return) as teshuvah (repentance). Essentially, repentance is a return to H’Shem (the L-RD). “Let us return unto the L-RD” (Hosea 5:15b, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Maimonides offers a basic example of how to approach vidui (confession):  “I beseech Thee, O Great Name! I have sinned; I have been obstinate; I have committed [profane acts] against Thee, particularly in doing thus and such. Now, behold! I have repented and am ashamed of my actions; forever will I not relapse into this thing again.” He further states that whoever takes it upon him or herself to further elaborate, is considered praiseworthy. Nachman of Breslov notes that one measure of having done a complete teshuvah (return to H’Shem), is if in the same situation wherein had previously sinned, this time, avoids sin in the given situation.

post Shavuot reflection 5783

As we descend from Sinai, after the receiving of the Torah anew in our lives, may we be compelled to reflect upon our experience, and bring the light and wisdom of the Torah forward with us day by day.

May H’Shem grant us the discernment to apply these teachings to our everyday challenges, and spread the light throughout the mundane as well as the sacred times. That all truth may flourish above and beyond the lies.

©2023 all rights reserved

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).

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.

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).

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).

Omer: Day 27 – Foundational Truths

Yesod shebbe Netzach: Foundation of Victory

How well am I able to maintain an active participation in the foundational truths of my life? Do I only have an intellectual understanding of those truths? Or, am I able to ground those truths within the framework of my everyday life? Moreover, when faced with challenges, within and without, how well will that foundation prove to support the overall structure of my belief and practice? The stronger my foundation, the greater my ability to endure the storms of life. If my foundation is like a house built upon a rock, then it will be more secure than a foundation built upon sand.

A solid foundation is one that will withstand the changing seasons, because the underlying principles are founded upon timeless truths. Yet, a foundation built upon the shifting sands of societal norms will not last. This should be clear to anyone who reviews the values in American society, from the 1950’s until today.

There has been a substantial shift away from traditional values toward the radical pseudo-values, currently being implemented in all of America’s institutions. And, where will this trajectory of descent lead? The radical Leftist ideology behind the proponents of cancel culture continues to impact society as a whole, by diminishing traditional voices, and persuading those that are “sitting on the fence” in regard to classical Western morality. Those without a firm foundation will sink into this quagmire of confusion.

Without building blocks that will provide a sure foundation, a structure built upon empty truths, ultimately, will not be established. The measure of strength of a foundation may very well be its resistance to change; therefore, only time-tested truths will ultimately prevail. The establishment of any foundation that is not in accord with those truths will ultimately fail to provide the shelter that only can only be provided through what is Heaven sent. May the Shechinah (the Divine presence) be bestowed upon you. Shalom.

Omer: Day 26 – Resilience in Adversity

Hod shebbe Netzach: Splendor (Humility) within Victory (Endurance)

Hod may also be rendered as humility. The quality of humility in regard to endurance may be envisioned as a bamboo tree yielding to a strong wind in a storm, signifying, that endurance in the face of life’s challenges may also require resilience. When we are able to acknowledge our limitations in the face of adversity, then we may be compelled to gather inner strength. In other words, our limitations may compel us to renew our strength through a resilient spirit.

The splendor of hod represents the light of G-d, that shines upon us when we humble ourselves in respect to Him. (We mirror his light). By recognizing our limitations, we may receive His blessing to endure, with a little help from Above. Our resilience in the face of adversity may depend upon an added measure of assistance from outside of our own resources, in order to persist with any worthy endeavor. In G-d’s eyes, when we reach out to Him, we are being dependent in a good way.

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).