Rosh Chodesh Av 5782

This evening begins the month of Av, as well as the last nine (intensive) days of the three-week period of mourning for the destruction of the Temples, leading up to the ninth of Av – the day when both Temples were destroyed about six hundred years apart from each other in history.

After the breach of the walls of Jerusalem on Tammuz 17 by the Romans, the second Temple was destroyed, about 1,950 years ago. As a result, even though the state of Israel has been reborn (see Isaiah 66:8), we are still in exile until the time that the third Temple is built. May that day arrive soon. Amein.

Prayer & Sincerity

A Few Thoughts on Prayer and Sincerity: Elokai Neshama

“My G-d, the soul you placed within me is pure.”

– from the morning prayers



Too often, I am unable to say the beginning of this prayer “as is.” Was the original soul that G-d placed within me pure when I was born? Yes, as far as I know, I can receive this as a truth.

Is my soul renewed every morning, having spent some time in the upper realms to get a recharge, before being placed back within me before I wake up? No doubt, that my soul is renewed each and every morning, as implied elsewhere, “new every morning” (Lamentations 3:23).

Yet, I know myself too well; my conscience is not necessarily renewed to its pristine quality every morning. And, if yesterday’s taint upon the soul is still present in my mind, my soul does not “feel” pure when I awake to the “rise and shine” of the day.

For some time, I have been disconcerted by the apparent incongruity of how I feel, as compared to the literal text; so, I explored various ways to understand this concept of the soul’s purity being restored. One finding is that, only a certain part of the soul is referred to in the prayer; that part is “pure.”

I also seem to recall learning of tzaddikim, who were unable to say certain prayers in sincerity. As far as I can recall, they modified those particular prayers a little bit, for themselves, in the moment, in order to be heartfelt and true to their words. Yet, this is not to be understood as a pretext to actually changing the prayers of chazal (the sages).

Yet, there does appear to be a pretext to solving my own troublesome dilemma, by altering a prayer somewhat, at least, in the moment, to be faithful and true to one’s own words. As such, I usually say, “My G-d, may the soul you placed within me be pure.” I have turned a statement into a request.

Additionally, the prayers may be personalized, to some extent, while reciting them: that is the nature of personal kavannos, best explained as thoughts about the prayers while reciting them. (There are also specially designed kavannos to recall while reciting certain prayers).

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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Teshuvah – A Return to G-d

weekly Torah reading: parasha Nasso 5782

 “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 5:6-7a, 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, OJB). 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 profanity 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.

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.

motzei Shabbos: Emor 5782

parasha Emor 5782 – 7th aliyah

“He shall order the lamps upon the pure candlestick before the L-RD continually.”

– Leviticus 24:4, JPS 1917 Tanach

The menorah and the showbread table, respectively represent “spiritual growth” and “material prosperity.”  Both of these provisions rest upon the incense mizbeach (altar), so to speak, inasmuch that the smoke of the incense is symbolic of prayer; thus, through our avodah, namely, service of the heart (prayer), we may acquire both spiritual and material blessings.

Additionally, according to the Steinsaltz edition of the Chumash, the menorah represents “purity and radiance” (Steinsaltz commentary on Leviticus 24:4). This makes perfect sense, in consideration of the pure olive oil that was used for the menorah; and, the light emitting from the wicks of the menorah. Thus, an added dimension is brought to the above-mentioned insight, namely, that our spiritual growth is also dependent upon leading a pure life, focused on righteousness.

Omer: Day 27 Foundational Truths

Yesod shebbe Netzach: Foundation of Endurance

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 would be more secure than a foundation built upon sand.

A sure foundation is one that will withstand the changing seasons, because the underlying principles are founded upon timeless truths, such as those found in the Bible. 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 liberal ones, even going beyond all that was considered decent yesterday. And, where will this trajectory of descent lead? Cancel culture continues to impact society as whole, for the most part by diminishing traditional voices.

What is considered normative in society changes over time. Especially, when there is an attempt to influence the societal norm in favor of an agenda that is secular, it seems that traditional godly values fall by the wayside. This is something to consider for both those who identify with traditional values, and those who do not. Where will the proverbial “line in the sand” be drawn? On what side of that line will we find ourselves, as individuals?

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. And, the establishment of any foundation that is not in accord with those truths will ultimately fail to provide the shelter that only G-d can provide, under the wings of the Shechinah.

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).

Omer: Day 22 Chesed shebbe Netzach

Love within Endurance

Being kind to ourselves in respect to the aspect of netzach, rendered as endurance, is tantamount to an everlasting kindness, that we can only approach as an ideal, based on the aspect of chesed, that H’Shem shows to us, not only when we might deserve so; also, when we do not necessarily deserve to be treated with kindness from G-d, He will still show His kindnesses to us, in order to win us over to His love for us. If he loves us, then we may also show love in return towards Him through our obedience.

To endure in right relationship towards Him, is no easy task; rather, we need to keep being drawn back to Him by some reminder, or effort on His part, as well as our own. As long as He sees us trying, he will meet us halfway in our walk towards Him. This ideal may also be applied in our relationship to self and others. If we are kind to ourselves, we are more likely to treat others in the same manner; as is mentioned in Torah, to love your fellow human being as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). To extend love outwards beyond family and friends may seem to amount to the impossible; yet, the idea can at least be kept in mind, the next time, a challenging situation might occur.

Instead of responding to others, whether family friends, or acquaintances in annoyance when something is less than perfect in our lives, remember that any relationship’s endurance is dependent on kindnesses. I.e., the concrete expression of kindness in accordance with what is able to be expressed towards others. A smile, a kind act, or overlooking the other person’s faults. All of these and more will contribute to the endurance of the relationship.

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).