Stand in Righteousness 5782

parasha Nitzavim 5782

“Ye are standing this day all of you before the L’rd your G’d.

– Deuteronomy 29:9, JPS

Moshe speaks to the generation of B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) that will soon cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land, under the new leadership of Joshua. Moshe reassures the people that despite their transgressions in the wilderness, they are still “standing this day.” The Hebrew word used for stand in this verse is nitzavim, from the shoresh (root word) NZV, meaning to stand upright.

Moshe explains that they are gathered together, standing before H’Shem, “that thou shouldest enter (uvalaso) into the covenant of the L’RD thy G’d (Deuteronomy 29:11, JPS). The shoresh, AVR, meaning to enter, also means to cross over. The use of this word is apropos of B’nei Yisrael’s immanent crossing over the Jordan to Canaan. Figuratively speaking, they are crossing over as wanderers in the wilderness into the Covenant. The proclamation given by Moses in this passage is a renewal of the covenant.

The Zohar relates the phrase, “Ye are standing this day” to Rosh HaShannah. When we stand before H’Shem on Rosh HaShannah, the Day of Judgment, when we are judged for the year, the books are opened, and we hope to be judged favorably, so that we may cross over into a good year. Let us search and try our ways, and return to the L’RD (Lamentations 3:40, JPS), so that we may stand before Him, and be inscribed in the Book of Life.

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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Thou Shalt Not Mix

weekly Torah reading: parashas Ki Seitzei 5782

 “Thou shalt not wear a mingled stuff, wool and linen together.”

– Deuteronomy 22:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Seeing that the first two human beings who were born on earth were of different species, (Kayin and Hevel), one being the result of the evil genes of the serpent, the other that of Adam’s divinely inspired spirit, and we are commanded to keep our distance from the spirit of impurity, mixing the species has been forbidden for us as we have learned the fatal consequences which this could have.” – R. Bachya, commentary on Leviticus 19:19, sefaria.org

The fundamental differences between Kayin (Cain) and Hevel (Abel) are reflected in the nature of the offerings that each brought to H’Shem. “Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the L-RD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the L-RD had respect unto Abel and to his offering; but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect” (Genesis 4:3-5 JPS). A qualitative difference between Abel and Cain’s offering is inferred. Cain’s offering was linseed (Midrash Tanchuma, Bereishis 9), whereas Abel brought the choicest of his flock.

 If Abel brought from his sheep, then this could correspond to the wool, mentioned in the commandment, while Cain’s offering would be represented by linen. The commandment forbids “wool and linen together.” This rendering would reinforce the underlying differences between Cain and Abel. If we are to be more like Abel, giving the best of ourselves as an offering to H’Shem through our good deeds, then, we should not compromise our standing with H’Shem by following the poor example of Cain. Rather, we should maintain excellency in all of our endeavors, both towards G-d and man, without permitting our intentions to become mixed with ulterior motives.

Perceive the Blessings

parasha Re’eh 5782 – Perceive the Blessings

 “Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse.”

 – Deuteronomy 11:26, JPS 1917 Tanach

“See, I set before you this day,” in other words, perceive that I present before you this very day, the significance of blessings and curses in your lives. According to Rabbeinu Bahya, the so-called, “mental eye” of the spiritually sensitive is able to see the effects of the blessings and curses, on an individual basis, in their own lives. Incidentally, the blessings originate with the Attribute of Mercy, whereas the curses are derived from the Attribute of Justice.

R. Bahya makes reference to the pasuk (verse), “I have seen great wisdom and knowledge” (Ecclesiastes 1:16). As a direct result of our being aware of the blessings and curses in life, we may obtain great knowledge, concerning the causal relationship between our thoughts, speech, & actions, and their consequences. This may lead towards wisdom, having to do with how H’Shem Elokim guides us – each and every person, according to hasgachah peratis (divine guidance), weaving a tapestry of events and consequences in our lives, dependent upon the nature of our conduct.

Additionally, consider the words of King David, who wrote, “Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4, JPS); he was assured through H’Shem’s guidance and correction, that he would remain on the derech (path). H’Shem’s guidance, as represented by a staff (a shepherd’s crook) and His correction, as symbolized by a rod. This is akin to the understanding that blessings can be understood as signs that we are on the right path; and curses are a form of chastisement meant to correct us, whenever we go astray.

Cling Ye, Cling Ye

parasha Va’etchanan 5782

“Ye that did cleave unto H’Shem your G-d are alive every one of you this day.” – Deuteronomy 4:4, JPS 1917 Tanach

During Moshe’s thirty-seven-day speech, he prepared B’nei Yisrael to enter the Promised Land. He cautioned them, admonished them, and reminded them in a tactful way of previous sins. Rather than naming the sins, he would mention the place where the transgression occurred.

One such instance that appears  more direct is when he mentions the matter of Baal-Peor, whereof H’Shem punished “all the men that followed the Baal of Peor,” a Midianite deity (Deuteronomy 4:3). He further mentions that those who cleaved to H’Shem, rather than follow the deity, “are alive every one of you this day” (Deuteronomy 4:4, JPS 1917 Tanach).

This juxtaposition makes it clear that those who did not transgress through idolatry and licentiousness were preserved by H’Shem, because they “cleaved” to Him. The Hebrew word used for “cleave,” in this instance, is “deveykus.” The word connotes a “clinging” to H’Shem in the sense of one who is dependent on Him for his sense of well-being.

Furthermore, deveykus is necessary for hitbodedus (Jewish meditation). Within the practice of hitbodedus, one pours out one’s heart to H’Shem, hoping for an answer to all of his prayers. Yet, in complete deveykus, one lives his life in constant acknowledgement of H’Shem. Furthermore, he is able to speak to H’Shem from within his heart in the quiet moments of the day. May we avoid the secular deities of modern society, so that we can cling to H’Shem in our own lives.

Missed Opportunities

motzei Shabbos: parasha Devarim 5782 – Missed Opportunities

Avraham rose early in the morning, in order to bring up his son, Isaac as an offering as commanded. From this example, we learn of the importance of doing a mitzvah at the earliest opportunity: in Hebrew, this is referred to as Zerezin Makidimin Lemitzot. A number of years ago, I had the distinct opportunity to learn how serious this concept is to be taken.

After purchasing a money order at a satellite post office station on campus at the university, instead of mailing that right away, to send off to a charitable organization, I decided to wait until I got back to my apartment, and then walk over to the main post office branch.

On my way back to the apartment, the last five minutes of a twenty-minute walk, the sidewalk goes under a bridge, where there is a wall on one side, and the guard rail upon a smaller wall on the other side, where the street is. There is no room for much leverage, especially if a few people are passing by.

However, I did not need to be concerned about passerbys or bicyclists, for I was the only one walking along this path, when I actually noticed a snake coiled, and its head up above the ground like a cobra. I thought that the snake looked like a nonpoisonous garner snake; yet, I had never seen a snake in this position ever. It was looking directly at me; and, there was no room to pass safely if it should strike, and turn out to be poisonous.

So, I turned around, and walked all the way back to the smaller post office station on campus and filled out the money order, addressed the envelope and sent out my tsedokah contribution. I should be grateful to H’Shem for teaching me this lesson; and, I hope to never forget the instructions conveyed by what I consider a divinely coordinated sign.

In parasha Devarim, Moses recounts that there is an eleven-day journey from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea, inasmuch that after leaving Sinai, the Children of Israel would have entered the land of Israel eleven days later, about year after leaving Egypt. Yet, they flouted G-d’s directive to enter the land, based upon an ill-report of the land given by ten of the twelve spies that reconnoitered the land.

Thus, as the next verse mentions, thirty-nine years later, in the fortieth year, after the Exodus, the Children of Israel were again poised at Kadesh Barnea, in preparation of entering the land. There wasn’t another window of opportunity until that time for them to do so, having not taken the chance to do so, so many years prior.

Everything in life points to an opportunity of some sort or another, if we can only realize this truth. If we do not intuit and act upon these moments of potentiality, then we may find that the task at hand is squandered. Let us not fail to do good at the times presented to us to do so.

Although the Children of Israel entered the Promised Land thirty-nine years later, after wandering in the desert all of that time, the promise given to Abraham’s descendants was fulfilled. Another example of a commandment required to be made in a timely manner are the offerings, and today, the respective prayer times, that correspond to the daily offerings that were made in the Temple. As is elsewhere written, “in their appointed times;” for, inasmuch that the moadim, as well, the Jewish holidays are arranged on the Hebrew calendar.

I believe that H’Shem also arranges impromptu occasions for the benefit of individuals, pertaining to the spiritual growth of our souls. If we give our attention to H’Shem throughout the day, by recalling H’Shem to mind, as is written, shiveesee H’Shem l’negdi tamid, I am ever mindful of H’Shem’s presence, then we may be more likely to notice these personal divine moments. On Tish b’Av, we mourn the destruction of both the first and second Temples. H’Shem is all about giving us second chances; and we look forward to the building of the third Temple in due time.   Amein.

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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Journeying Through Life

parasha Mattos-Masei 5782

“These are the stages of the children of Israel, by which they went forth out of the land of Egypt.” – Numbers 33:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

The forty-two journeys of the Children of Israel, “their goings out according to their journeys by the commandment of H’Shem,” were seen from the perspective of G-d, each one as a significant journey of progress, according to His plan. Each time they set out on a journey to the next encampment, there was no need for regret, if they accomplished, learned, and advanced in character development, according to G-d’s will.

Yet, even if they failed, they were given the opportunity to return to Him through teshuvah (repentance). Therefore, there was still no cause to regret, as long as they would be focused on a “godly sorrow,” that would bring them to a place of acknowledgment in regard to their aveiros (sins). This is akin to teshuvah tataah, fostering a contrite spirit, that will elicit H’Shem’s compassion from Above.

On the contrary, a sorrow in the form of yearning for the past, e.g., the comforts of Egypt (Numbers 11:5-6), or provisions other than the manna and water that H’Shem provided in the desert, led to complaining and rebellion. This was tantamount to turning away from their divinely inspired goal to enter the Promised Land. Even so, the goal remained to enter Eretz Canaan, as a people separated from the nations, in order to serve H’Shem, who had their best interests in mind. H’Shem still has our best interests in mind today. He has not forgotten the us, nor our individual needs along the journeys of the soul, set forth for us along the way towards the Promised Land of Olam Haba.

The Penitent Soul

parasha Pinchas 5782

Our allegiance belongs to the L-RD. If we displace our devotion to H’Shem onto something other than Him, then we are inadvertently heading in a direction that will ultimately not be of benefit to us. Even if we appear to benefit for some time, in the material sense, our spiritual compass will be amiss as a result. Thus, in terms of the values, that we inevitably promote in our own lives whether consciously, or unconsciously, we should choose wisely.

When B’nei Yisrael fell prey to the influence of the Midianites, resulting in immediate acts of idolatry and immorality, their connection with H’Shem was diminished. Their emunah (faith) and kedushah (holiness) plummeted. Only through the selfless act of mesiras nefesh on the part of Pinchas, who put his own life at risk to make an atonement for their sins (Numbers 25:13), were the people reconciled to H’Shem. So, the brief national diversion that had swept through the encampment was staid; and, the plague was stopped.

Why did G-d impose a plague upon the Children of Israel? Because of His attribute of Justice, that works in tandem with His attribute of Mercy. Although he enacted a response from a sense of justice, by holding the people accountable for their sins, He showed mercy towards them, when Pinchas turned back His wrath, and assuaged His anger (25:11).

Therefore, it can be deduced that H’Shem is not interested in condemning those who stray from the path; rather, He would like to offer us the opportunity to return to Him, through righteousness, via teshuvah (repentance). For the people, after realizing the gravity of their sins, had been weeping near the entrance of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). “Weeping,” as mentioned here, denotes a heartfelt act of teshuvah (repentance) over wrongs committed against H’Shem. This may serve as an example for us; since H’Shem will always hear the cry of the sincere penitent.

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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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