Not All Who Wander Are Lost

weekly Torah reading: parasha Devarim 5782

parasha Devarim 5782

“There are eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of mount Seir to Kadesh-Barnea.” – Deuteronomy 1:2, JPS

Devarim (Deuteronomy is known as Mishneh Torah, Repetition of the Torah, because the book is an account of the journeys of B’nei Yisrael and reiteration of laws, because Moses sought to rebuke, instruct, and inspire the new generation that would be entering Eretz Yisrael. The account mentions that there is an eleven day journey from Horeb, the general area where Mount Sinai is located, to Kadesh-Barnea, passing around Mount Seir to get there. Kadesh-Barnea is where B’nei Yisrael gathered, before being commanded to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 32:8).

“Behold, the L-RD your G-d has set the land before you; go up and possess it, as the L-RD G-d of your fathers has said to you; fear not, nor be discouraged.” – Deuteronomy 1:21

However, the next verse after the eleven-day journey from Mount Sinai to the edge of Eretz Canaan, states, “And it came to pass in the fortieth year…that Moses spoke to the people of Israel” (Deuteronomy 1:3); and, thus begins Moshe’s thirty-six-day discourse. By contrasting the eleven-day journey to Kadesh-Barnea with the fact that now it is the fortieth year after leaving Egypt, attention is drawn to the point that had it not been for the debacle of the spies, B’nei Yisrael would have entered the Land from Kadesh-Barnea, only eleven days after leaving Sinai.

Yet, thirty-nine years transpired since that time; and, this is the new generation that is being prepared to enter the Promised Land after the many years of wandering in the desert. This teaches us that not all who wander are lost. For H’Shem remained faithful to the Children of Israel and brought them into the land despite the many delays, nisyanos (tests), and detours.

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Walk in Faith

parasha Devarim 5782

At Kadesh-Barnea, Moses explained to B’nei Yisrael that they had alighted upon the land that “our L-RD is giving to us” (Deuteronomy 1:20, JPS 1985 Tanach). At that time, they were commanded to take possession of the land promised to them. Moses said to them, “Fear not and be not dismayed” (1:21).

Moses recounts this narrative, thirty-nine years later, when the Children of Israel are poised on the edge of the Promised Land. He further explains to this new generation, how the generation of the spies, unfortunately, preferred to reconnoiter the land, rather than fully trusting in H’Shem to lead the way into the Promised Land.

This was a lack of faith on their part, and although Moses permitted them to send spies (see Deuteronomy 1:23), as H’Shem had left the choice up to him, the mission turned out for the worse.

Moses reminds the people, for the sake of admonishing them for their past failure, with the intent that they will see the error of their ways, and strengthen their trust in H’Shem this time. “I said to you, ‘Have no dread or fear of them. None other than the L-RD, who goes before you, will fight for you, just as He did for you in Egypt before your very eyes’” (Deuteronomy 1:30-31).

Similarly, to learn from our past failures in life is to gain an understanding based upon lived experience. In this manner, our errors may instruct and encourage us to do better, if we take them to heart, as steppingstones, along the way towards perfection of our faith. “The L-RD will accomplish that which concerneth me; Thy mercy, O L-RD, endureth for ever; forsake not the work of Thine own hands” (Psalm 138:8, 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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motzei Shabbos: Beha’alotecha 5782

“And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the L-rd, and Satan standing at his right hand to thwart him.” – Zechariah 3:4

In parashas Beha’alotecha, a brief description of a critique against Moses is given, concerning Miriam and Aaron, co-leaders of Israel (see Micah 6:4) as well as prophets in their own right, who feel diminished by Moshe’s apparent uniqueness, when he separates himself out from family life, in order to be more prepared to receive H’Shem’s presence at all times. And they said: ‘Hath the L-RD indeed spoken only with Moses? hath He not spoken also with us?’ And the L-RD heard it” (Numbers 12:2).  

H’Shem responds by rebuking Miriam and Aaron, reminding them that the level of prophecy that Moses received is such that the L-RD speaks with him face to face, and that Moses is the trusted one in all His house. He asks Miriam and Aaron, “wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?” (Numbers 12:8, JPS).

Then H’Shem strikes Miriam with leprosy; although, upon Moshe’s immediate plea to heal her, the L-Rd heals her; yet, she is placed in quarantine for seven days. She as treated as a metzorah (similar to a leper), wherein she is removed to the outer limits of the camp. This, like any metzorah who receives the same treatment, will give Miriam time to reflect.

Thus, as mentioned in the haftorah, for the sake of comparison, and this is the parallel theme to the parasha, an accusation made against Joshua, the next kohein gadol (high priest), and his subsequent acquittal, so to speak, through the defense laid out by the prophet Zechariah.

Although we are not on the same level as Moses or Joshua, the kohein gadol, we are still subject to the protection of H’Shem if we are in good standing with Him. G-d is our defense, he will avail us, when we are in need, on an individual basis, if place our trust in Him. And, he will also redeem us as a people, K’lal Yisrael, in due time at the Final Redemption.

erev Pesach 5782

While in bondage in Mitzraim, the B’nei Yisrael had sunk to the 49th level of impurity, having neglected to distance themselves from the surrounding environment of idolatry. The Midrash records that when about to cross through the Sea of Reeds, the angels questioned their merit, saying both these and those, i.e., the Children of Israel and the Egyptians, were both idol worshippers. Why should these be spared, and the others not? Yet, H’Shem honored the covenant that he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in order to bring His newly acquired nation out of bondage, and into covenant relationship with Him through the Torah.

H’Shem brought us out of Egypt to Mount Sinai, where He gave us the Torah. He had said to Moses, “This shall be the token unto thee, that I have sent thee: when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve G-d upon this mountain” (Exodus 3:12, JPS 1917 Tanach). The revelation of Mount Sinai was the pinnacle of the redemption. “The tablets were the work of G-d, and the writing was the writing of G-d, graven upon the tablets” (Exodus 32:16, JPS). The Hebrew word for engrave is charut. The Sages note that the word cherut, meaning “freedom” is from the same shoresh (root word). This implies that our true freedom is derived through Torah.

B’nei Yisrael, in a manner of speaking, was also enslaved to sin in Egypt, having assimilated to the immorality of Egypt at that time. Although freed from actual physical bondage, they were still slaves to sin; yet, through the Torah, we may seek freedom from bondage to the yetzer harah (the evil inclination). We may break through the limitations of our own personal Mitzraim (Egypt; from “nitzavim,” limitations), and, figuratively speaking, pass through the Yam Suf (Dividing of the Sea), into the freedom that entails a responsibility to follow our yetzer tov (good inclination).

Mishnah Insights: Berachos 4:4 – prayer & travel

“Redeem, L-rd, Your people, the remnant of Israel, at every transition. May their needs be before You. Blessed are You, L-rd, Who listens to prayer.”

– Mishnah Berachos 4:4, sefaria.org

The Mishnah discusses fixed payer; and, the inability to pray a complete prayer, while walking in a place of danger. Fixed prayer, that is to say, prayer viewed as an obligation, whereof prayer may seem like a burden, and done only to fulfill an obligation is discouraged. For that type of prayer will not be sincere, as the person praying only seeks to relieve himself of what is considered a burdensome obligation.

In regard to prayer while traveling through an area that might be dangerous, it is assumed that the person’s mind is unsettled, hence, an inability to foster proper concentration. In this situation, a person is not required to say a complete prayer (e.g., the Shemonah Esrei). Moroever, there is not even a requirement to say Havineinu, a shortened version of the Shemonah Esrei; rather, an even briefer prayer may be recited (see above-mentioned prayer). Incidentally, I imagine that the reason the prayer is in the plural is because, prayers including oneself with others are more likely to be answered.

These considerations are made, for the sake of the safety of the traveler. Consider Moshe, who at the Sea of Reeds began to pray to H’Shem, when Pharaoh’s army posed a significant threat to B’nei Yisrael. To paraphrase the passage, H’Shem told Moses, now is not the time to pray; rather, I will deliver the people now. Certainly, in any given situation wherein imminent harm is at hand, the time would appear to be a time to act, rather than pray.

However, a brief prayer for deliverance is in total accord with what is right in the eyes of G-d, who would like us to put our trust completely in Him. At times like those, a brief prayer, like, “H’Shem, guard me against evil,” would be appropriate. The Mishnah, in discussing prayer here, Is only referring to traditional prayers recited on a daily basis, as opposed to impromptu heartfelt prayers that may be said at any time, in any situation.

Expect Redemption

motzei Shabbos: parashas Shemot 5782

“Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them: The L-RD, the G-d of your fathers, the G-d of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, hath appeared unto me, saying: I have surely remembered you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt.” – Exodus 3:16, JPS 1917 Tanach

“It was a sign for Israel. When any redeemer would come with this sign, ‘I have surely thought of you,’ they would know that he was a true redeemer.” – Midrash Tanchuma Buber; sefaria.org

A prophecy given to Abraham, speaks of a time that his descendants, “shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years” (Genesis 15:13, JPS). Therefore, this was known well to the Children of Israel, who were enslaved, that towards the end of the allotment of time given in the prophecy, they should begin to expect a redeemer. Now, the time was at hand; so, when Moses returned to Egypt from Midian, he first approached the elders, along with Aaron, who accompanied him: “And Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel” (Exodus 4:29, JPS).

At this pivotal moment in the lives of the Children of Israel, when they heard the words that H’Shem had given to Moses, and saw the signs given him to validate that indeed he was the one who H’Shem sent, they responded in a manner that expressed their hope, trust, and faith in H’Shem, who sent the redeemer: “And the people believed; and when they heard that the L-RD had remembered the children of Israel, and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped” (Exodus 4:31, JPS).

As we look ahead, along the trajectory that this world is heading, the days will approach whereof the light will be diminished by darkness; then, we should lift up our heads and look towards the Final Redemption. Our expectations will increase in direct proportion to our understanding that we can only place our trust in H’Shem. “And it is a time of trouble unto Jacob” (Jeremiah 30:7, JPS). The birthpangs of Moshiach (Messiah), the travails that will be brought upon the world, will precede the Final Redemption (Sanhedrin 97a).

Birth of Moses

parashas Shemot 5782

“And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived, and bore a son; and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months.” – Exodus 2:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

Towards the end of Joseph’s life, he explained to his brothers, that G-d would surely visit his people – pekod pekodti – a redeemer shall come. This was the assurance given to his brothers, so that their descendants who would meet with challenging times, culminating in their enslavement in Egypt, would have hope for their redemption down the road. After 136 years of slavery, a redeemer was born, who was named Moses. Torah describes him as טוב – a “goodly” child. Commentary explains that, “When he was born the whole house became filled with light” (Rashi on Genesis 2:2, Sotah 12a; sefaria.org).

Additionally, “the meaning of this goodliness is that she saw in him some unique quality which, in her opinion, foreshadowed that a miracle would happen to him and he would be saved” (Nachmanides, sefaria.org). Therefore, she took it upon herself to seek a way to save him; and, after three months she placed him in an ark (תבת) that was “made of reeds, and “daubed it with slime and with pitch; and she put the child therein” (Exodus 2:3), and she laid the ark near the reeds, by the bank of the River Nile.  Thus, the prophecy was set in motion, as conveyed by the sages, “that Miriam prophesied, ‘Mother is destined to bear a son who will deliver Israel’” (Nachmanides, sefaria.org).

All of this was required, because of the decree that had gone out from Pharoah’s court, “And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying: ‘Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive” (Exodus 1:22). Yet, that day, Pharaoh’s daughter, who was named Batya, was by the river, and saw the child. She brought the child into the court, to raise as her son. Thus, was the redeemer’s life preserved in the very place that the command had been issued against his life. Moreover, Moshe’s sister, Miriam was watching nearby the river to see what would happen; Pharaoh’s daughter, Batya told her to fetch a Hebrew woman to nurse the child; so, of course, Miriam brought the child’s mother to Batya, to nurse him for two years. So, Moshe grew up cognizant of his Hebrew heritage, because of the instruction given to him by his natural birth mother.

motzei Shabbos: Sukkot Chol haMoed 5782

And Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba also said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Had there been left open a crack so much as the size of small sewing needle in the cave in which Moses and Elijah stood when G-d’s glory was revealed to them, as it is written: “And it shall come to pass, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in a cleft of the rock” (Exodus 33:22), and: “And he came there to a cave…and, behold, the L-rd passed by” (I Kings 19:9–11), they would not have been able to endure due to the intense light that would have entered that crack, as it is stated: “For no man shall see Me and live” (Exodus 33:20).

– Megillah 19b; sefaria.org

Sukkot 5782 – Shabbat Chol HaMoed

Exodus 33:12 – 34:26

“The L-RD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light.” – Exodus 13:21, JPS 1917 Tanach

When B’nei Yisrael was seemingly ensconced at the Sea of Reeds, as the Egyptian army approached, “the angel of G-d, who went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud removed from before them, and stood behind them; and it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel” (Exodus 14:19-20, JPS). Thus protection was assured to B’nei Yisrael, sheltered by the Cloud, and illuminated by the Pillar of Fire (synonymous with the angel of G-d); yet, the Egyptians remained in darkness.

After crossing through the Sea of Reeds, the Cloud of Glory continued to shelter B’nei Yisrael in the journeys through the wilderness, and the pillar of fire continued to provide illumination at night. During Sukkot, we remind ourselves of the existential nature of these journeys, by dwelling in temporary structures known as sukkoth, similar to the makeshift tents that provided shelter from the physical elements for B’nei Yisrael in the wilderness. Yet, on another level, these structures are meant to remind us of the Clouds of Glory that sheltered the Children of Israel.

In reviewing the parashas, I was struck by the use of a word, very similar to the Hebrew word, sukkah. Both words share two common letters in their shoresh (root word), the letters shin and kof. The word sukkah, basically means, tent or booth, as per the temporary structures built in the wilderness journeys. The word sakoti means cover or covering, and is found in the following verse: “And it shall come to pass, while My glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover [sakoti] thee with My hand until I have passed by” (Exodus 33:22, JPS). So, perhaps this is at least one connection found to Sukkot in this parashas chosen as the reading.

What might this similarity imply? In the context of the pasuk (verse), H’Shem’s hand, figuratively speaking, shields Moshe from His brilliance, thereby protecting him from the overwhelming glory of H’Shem.* One might say that H’Shem’s hand serves as a temporary sukkah, encompassing Moshe, while He passes by; yet, surely, some of the brightness of H’Shem is still visible to Moses, since a hand would not serve to totally encapsulate and block the light. This is comparable to the skach, the roof of a sukkah that leaves visibility of the stars and sky above.

Moshe received a fuller revelation of H’Shem at that time; he also heard the thirteen attributes of mercy proclaimed as “H’Shem passed by before him” (34:6, JPS). These are the same attributes of mercy that are recited in the prayers for the holidays. We seek H’Shem’s mercy, not only in anticipation of forgiveness, leading up to Yom Kippur; additionally, according to the Zohar, we may still seek His mercy through repentance, prayer, and charity until the the gates are completely closed for the year’s decrees on Hoshannah Rabbah – the seventh day of Sukkot.

*According to Ibn Ezra, some commentators translate kappi (hand) as clouds. Thus the rendering is that the cloud covered Moses, in like manner as the Cloud of Glory, symbolized by a sukkah.