For the Sake of His Glory

dvar for parashas Va’eira 5783

“For this cause have I made thee to stand [endure], to show thee My power, and that My name may be declared throughout all the earth.” – Exodus 9:16, JPS 1917 Tanach

“G-d’s name would be declared from generation to generation because of the signs which He performed.” – Ibn Ezra, sefaria.org

H’Shem continually hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he could remain recalcitrant against G-d’s divine plan to free B’nei Yisrael from bondage, and endure the subsequent plagues; thus, this may be understood as enabling Pharaoh to continue in his resistance. As the ruler of Egypt, the world’s leading superpower at that time, Pharaoh was not interested in receiving a higher authority than himself.

Even his so-called gods, the Egyptian deities that his people worshipped, were approached from the perspective of gaining outcomes that would best suit his own ambitions. I would surmise that there was no sense of obedience to these deities, in terms of committing to a set of principles, or guidelines, thusly decreed from a sense of morality; there was only an attempt to appease the wrath of the deities when some natural occurrences were unfavorable to the population – an opportunistic strategy.

Yet, with H’Shem, there is both justice and mercy, above and beyond the understanding of mankind, in regard to His commandments; therefore, He responded with justice upon Egypt, carried out in the form of ten plagues; and, mercy towards the Children of Israel, who cried out to him in their suffering. Elsewhere it is written, “I will be gracious (חנן) to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy (רחם) on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19).

Because of Pharaoh’s unrepentant heart, H’Shem could not show mercy towards him; moreover, by hardening Pharaoh’s heart, he strengthened his position. Rashi explains that the first five times, Torah mentions that “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened,” thus implying an act of self-volition. Only, for the sake of bringing about the fulfillment of the plagues decreed upon Egypt, did H’Shem permit Pharaoh to remain resistant. He was essentially bringing Pharaoh’s unrepentance to fruition for the sake of G-d’s glory, as He was able to demonstrate His sovereignty through the plagues.

parasha Va’eira 5783

“And moreover I have heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered My covenant.” – Exodus 6:5

            A covenant was made with Abraham, many years before his descendants entered Egypt: “And He said unto Abram: ‘Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years” (Genesis 15:12-13, JPS 1917 Tanach).

           When the time of redemption arrived, H’Shem sent Moshe, whom He spoke to at the burning bush: “‘I have surely seen the affliction of My people that are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their pains; and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians.” (Exodus 3:7-8).

            For H’Shem heard the cry of His people; he “descended to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians” (Exodus 3:8, Complete Jewish Bible, chabad.org).  Such is His love for His children, that he “descended to rescue them.”  Even though, He is thought of in Talmudic thought as sitting on His throne in Seventh Heaven, He heard our cries from there.

            The Talmud further explains that He can even hear the penitent whisper prayers in the synagogue: for He is not only transcendent; He is also immanent.  This explains to some degree how He can be the Master of the Universe, as well as the One who effects miracles to release His people from bondage. 

Expect Redemption

motzei Shabbos: parashas Shemot 5783

“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).

motzei Shabbos: parasha Vayechi 5783 -Bundle of Life

Vayechi Yaakov (And Jacob lived).” – Genesis 47:28, JPS 1917 Tanach

When Jacob arrived with his family, having traveled from the land of Canaan to Egypt, to where Joseph, his son greeted him, he and his family settled in the land of Goshen. Jacob spent the last seventeen years of his life there, comforted by his reunion with Joseph, and the bountiful plenty of the most choice land in all of Egypt. The land of Goshen encapsulated an environment, somewhat removed from Egypt proper, therefore, providing an isolated locale for Jacob’s family to preserve the values of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Moreover, goshen, meaning “drawing near” was a place where the twelve tribes of Jacob could “draw near” to H’Shem; so, with this in mind, Jacob “sojourned” in the land of Egypt” (Psalm 105), while setting his hopes on Olam Haba. For to sojourn means to reside temporarily in a place; while, on the other hand, Jacob knew that his true home was with H’Shem.

During years prior, he was able to transcend his circumstances by prevailing upon H’Shem’s covenantal promises to him, thereby triumphing over Laban and Esau. He endured much while working for his Uncle Laban; he also was greatly disconcerted in regard to his encounter with his brother, Esau. Yet, H’Shem was with him in the midst of his trials – this exemplifies H’Shem’s immanence. At other times, when H’Shem seems more distant from us, this denotes His transcendence, and should compel us to pray to Him, as did Jacob.

In the last seventeen years of his life, Jacob was drawing near to his more permanent home, when he would be “gathered to his people” (Genesis 49:29). The “bundle of life,” wherein the souls of the righteous are wrapped up in the light of G-d in Shomayim (Heaven) is implied by this phrase. Therefore, to be gathered to his people means to be blessed with G-d’s presence in Eternity.

Vayechi Yaakov (Jacob lives); for, his soul continues to live, basking in the light of G-d until the time of the Tehillas HaMeisim (Resurrection of the Dead), when souls are restored to their resurrected bodies, at the beginning of Olam Haba (the World to Come).

Exilic Prayer

motzei Shabbos: parasha Vayigash 5783

 

 

The divine yearning within us seeks to be consoled, by uniting ourselves with H’Shem. Therefore, rather than ignore the natural affinity that the soul has for the Creator, we should acknowledge this vital element in our personal makeup. That is to say, that without nurturing the soul’s need to connect to H’Shem, we deprive ourselves of the true source of our life. Yet, the question remains, how to properly access this source, the root of our essential selves

Judah makes an impassioned plea, for the sake of Benjamin, while addressing the Egyptian prince (Joseph) that stands before him: “Oh my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord’s ears” (Genesis 44:18, JPS 1917 Tanach). Nesivos Shalom renders the passage in a symbolic manner, ascribing Judah’s words to a conversation with G-d. Rather than the plain meaning, wherein Judah is addressing the prince that stands before him as lord, he is addressing H’Shem. This passage is an allusion to the essence of prayer during the current exile; we seeking to consolation from the Shechinah – the presence of G-d Who dwells with us, for he is with us in the midst of our nisyanos as is written, “I will be with him in trouble” (Psalm 91:15).

.During this current exile, we may seek consolation through prayer; and, G-d’s presence will be with us, even in the midst of our suffering. Let us speak in G-d’s ears, all that troubles us, even offering our very selves as servants, as Judah offered to be a servant in place of his brother, Benjamin. Let us serve as surety for our brethren, K’lal Yisrael (All of Israel), and lead the way, towards redemption from Galus (Exile). Just as Joseph was reconciled to his brothers, may all of Israel be reconciled to H’Shem, through the unity that will be brought about only through Moshiach.

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).

The Power of Words

parasha Mattot-Massei 5782

“When a man voweth a vow unto the L-RD, or sweareth an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.” – Numbers 30:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

Although the specific kinds of vows and oaths, referenced in the above-mentioned commandment apply to certain situations, within the context of Judaic law, the general principle is encapsulated, “he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.” Therefore, the premise may be applied to more commonly found issues, regarding the integrity or lack of integrity of speech.

In our own lives, there are many stipulations that could be identified in terms of the words that we speak.  For example, oftentimes what is said in anger is not to be taken seriously.  It is better to acknowledge what may have been said out of anger as inappropriate, making amends for the emotional harm done.  This requires the counterpart of forgiveness by the recipient. 

Any commitments we make to ourselves or others should be kept or not made at all.  The Sages were very skeptical about making vows of any sort, saying that it is better to not vow at all.  The L-RD appreciates a sincere effort in all that we do for His sake; it is better not to boast about our intentions. Bragging will only lead towards a negative consequence, akin to the adage, pride before a fall.

Additionally, all of our words should be chosen carefully, in accordance with humility. Idle chatter will be scrutinized by the heavenly court at the judgment. We will be subject to the consequences of every idle word spoken. Ill-spoken words will also be taken into account, as well as words of judgment against others. Taking all of this into consideration, it is better to remain silent, than to speak without thinking. Let us guard our speech from now on.

“Set a guard, O L-RD, to my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips.”

– Psalm 141:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

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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.

parasha Chukat 5782

“And there was no water for the congregation.” – Numbers 20:2

The well that provided water for the B’nei Yisrael in the desert, and “followed” them throughout their journeys, did so upon the merit of Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron. She was a prophetess, and a coleader with Moses and Aaron. “For I brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam” (Micah 6:4). However, when Miriam passed away, “there was no water for the congregation” (Numbers 20:2). Miriam was a righteous person; so, in her merit the water had been provided to the Children of Israel for thirty-nine years. When she passed away, the well dried up.

The Sages ask why the mentioning of Miriam’s death occurs right after the description of the chukat (decree) of the parumah adumah (red heifer). The answer given is to exemplify that just as an offering brings atonement, so does the death of a righteous person bring atonement for the people (Mo’ed Katan 28a). Additionally, concerning the death of Aaron, who was not permitted to enter the land of Canaan: “Aaron shall be gathered to his people” (Numbers 20:4), his death also brought atonement.

As commentary futher explains, “Wherefore is [the account of] Aaron’s death closely followed by [the account of the disposal of] the priestly garments? [to inform you] that just as the priest’s vestments were [means to effect] atonement, so is the death of the righteous [conducive to procuring] atonement” (Talmud: Moed Katan 28a, Soncino edition, www.halakhah.com). Therefore, both the deaths of Miriam and Aaron, because they were righteous persons, atoned for that generation.

In like manner, that the chukat (decree) of the parumah adumah (red heiffer) is perplexing, so too, is the chukat of the lifting up of the copper serpent in the wilderness. The red heifer’s ashes mixed with hyssop, crimson, and cedar wood, are placed in mayim chayim (living water), that serves to cleanse from the impurities associated with death. And, the copper serpent, when looked upon, healed the people who had been bitten by the serpents in the wilderness. Perhaps, these chukatim both symbolically point toward the atonement of sin (the bite of the serpent) that would otherwise lead toward a type of spiritual death, if not atoned for.

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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