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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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.

Teshuvah: Return

parasha Nasso 5782 – Returning to G-d

“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 they shall confess their sin which they have done.” – Numbers 5:6-7, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to the Talmud (Pesachim 54a), G-d created teshuvah (repentance), before the creation of the world. This teaching connotes the significance of teshuvah for tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul), and tikkun olam (repair of the world). In light of another passage in the Talmud (Megillah 13b), that speaks of the remedy being created before the wound, teshuvah is elevated to a near panacea, capable of transforming lives.

The first person to do teshuvah (repentance), as recorded in the Torah is Yehudah. He publicly acknowledged his transgression, after realizing his guilt. Also, King David, upon hearing a mashal (parable) about a rich man who had many sheep, yet, demanded the one and only sheep of a poor person for dinner, was told by the prophet that he was that man; consequently, he immediately confessed his sin. If only we had the resolve of biblical proportion to act in a decisive way, without hesitance, in recognizing our trespasses against G-d and man.

A sincere confession is necessary to diminish the influence of the yetzer hara (evil inclination), designating past ways of transgression to the past, in order to begin anew (Maimonides). Acknowledging past mistakes, and attitudes, as well as behaviors that are not in accord with a righteous way of living is an act of character, that supplements self-improvement. “And to him that ordereth his way aright will I show the salvation of G-d” (Psalm 50:23, JPS).

To be delivered from our nisyanos (trials), requires an effort that is enhanced by G-d’s mercy. He gives us opportunity to do teshuvah, to rectify our ways, so that we may be reconciled to Him. Additionally, regardless of any overly harsh condemnation we might hold against ourselves, He will grant us clemency, when we make a sincere confession within the depths of our heart.

Yet, if we do not recognize that we are imperfect human beings, who are subject to stray from the derech (path) that G-d intends for us, then we will continue to be lost amidst a labyrinth of wrong choices, and false ways. As noted in Mesillas Yesharim (the Path of the Just), by Chaim Luzatto, we need to seek the direction of someone, who figuratively speaking, can stand in the middle of the labyrinth and point out the right path. If we seek the wisdom of G-d, then we will find the way. “In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:6, JPS).

parasha Tazria 5782

weekly Torah reading: parasha Tazria 5782

The skin diseases falling under the category or tzarras (often translated as “leprosy”) needed to be determined by a kohein (Leviticus 13:1-2). Yet, the so-called “plague of leprosy,” as mentioned in the Tanach, is not exactly the leprosy of more modern times.  Rather, it is a category of various skin diseases that need to be determined by the Kohein: for only the Kohein has the authority to make the pronouncement.  “And the [kohein] priest shall look on him and pronounce him unclean” (Leviticus 13:3, JPS). 

The leprosy of biblical times was the result of spiritual malaise, commonly, the result of lashon harah (literally, evil tongue – a type of gossip).  “The word, metzorah (someone, who has tzaaras – leprosy) is a contraction of motzi ra, meaning, “one who spreads slander” (Arachin 15b).  The very visible chastisement is meant to show that the metzorah must mend his ways.  In other words, the outward sign is meant to compel him to do teshuvah (repentance).

Sin may be manifest in our lives, living below the surface of our awareness.  For this reason, one must make an attempt to examine one’s life.  There are visible signs, at times, that we need to understand as wake-up calls. Also, when the children of Israel entered the land, sometimes they found mold in the walls; so, they would have to dig out the mold. On the one hand, the nega (plague) in the form of mold should serve for them to search their conscience, on the other hand, they often found hidden treasures in the walls, hidden by the previous occupants, the Canaanites, who hoped to return. By way of an analogy, there is always a reward for rectifying our faults.

Sanctity of Life

parasha Tazria 5782 -The Sanctity of Life
“Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: if a woman be delivered, and bear a man child.”

– Leviticus 12:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to Torah, the miracle of life, from the beginning, is addressed within the framework of sanctification. That is, both the mother and the child are taken into consideration, in terms of their purification. Both the mother as well as child are given a means to commemorate the birth. This is a life cycle tradition. When a male is born, the mother’s temporary state of impurity is only for seven days; this permits her to be present on the eighth day for her son’s circumcision.

The parashas continues with the laws, in regard to tzarras, a skin affliction, often mistranslated as leprosy. The metzorah (person who contracts tzarras) is diagnosed and quarantined. Because the metzorah has contracted tzarras as a result of lashon hara (literally, “evil speech”), isolation outside of the camp provides time for reflection upon the harm done to the recipient of the gossip. H’Shem willing, the metzorah will be able to return to society, as a result of a tikkun (rectification).

The concept appears within the overall framework of the sanctity required to approach H’Shem. Since H’Shem’s presence dwells within the mishkan (tabernacle) at the center of the camp, the metzorah is separated by way of not being permitted to be in the vicinity of the mishkan. Thus, the sanctity of the camp is preserved; and the metzorah is given the opportunity to do teshuvah (repentance), turning the heart back to Elokim (G-d).

G-d’s Sovereignty

parashas Ki Tisa 5782

“Let me fall now into the hand of the L-RD, for very great are His mercies; and let me not fall into the hand of man.” – 1 Chronicles 21:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

In parashas Ki Tisa, a census is taken wherein each person gave a half shekel as an atonement for his soul. The half shekel is described as a ransom for the soul, so that there will not be a plague when the census is taken (Exodus 30:12). The ransom guarantees that there will be no plague, as a result of the collective sins of Israel.

Commentary explains that because at the time of a census, wherein each man is counted, it is as if every man is also scrutinized in regard to his moral status. Inasmuch that deficiencies in thought, speech, and behavior may always be found upon such scrutiny, the ransom of a half shekel is necessary for atonement.

At the time of King David, a census was taken, by way of his directive; however, this displeased H’Shem, so a message was given to David to choose one of three consequences. Rather than be subject to famine, or his foes, David exclaimed that he would prefer to “fall into the hand of the L-RD” (see above).

Thus, G-d sent a plague throughout Israel. He then sent a destroying angel to enact a plague upon Jerusalem, until H’Shem decided out of His mercy to spare Jerusalem from destruction. David and the elders repented, saying, “let Thy hand, I pray Thee, O L-RD my G-d, be against me, and against my father’s house; but not against Thy people, that they should be plagued” (1 Chronicles 21:17).

Mishnah Insights: Spiritual Cleanliness

Mishnah Daily Study: Berachos 3:4-5


In regard to prayer and study, in that order, to what extent is spiritual purity required? The Mishnah addresses this question in specific terms, while I will attempt to draw a broader perspective. Various views range from distancing oneself from prayer and study, until one has become spiritually cleansed (through immersion in water), thus freeing his conscience from guilt, versus permitting oneself to engage in prayer and study in a less direct manner, such as forming the words of prayer in one’s mind, and studying without reading aloud, even before immersion.

I ask myself, what is the concern at hand, in regard to engaging in prayer or study, with unclean hands (see Psalm 24:4)? Perhaps, because G-d is a consuming fire, as is mentioned elsewhere, so that if we approach Him in a condition less than pure, or a state of mind that is not reconciled to Him, we risk the occurrence of having our soul singed. Thus, approaching G-d in an unworthy manner, could have the effect of bringing judgment upon ourselves (G-d forbid).

Moreover, both prayer and study require concentration; so, so the soul needs to be recollected, in order to engage in these meaningful spiritual activities. This is not to say, that we can not approach G-d in our unworthiness, and ask Him to cleanse us. Rather, the traditional times of prayer and study that we are accustomed to would be diminished in their effectiveness, if we are still wallowing in the dirt of our aveiros (transgressions).

In the time of King Solomon, a large vessel made of brass, described as a “molten sea” was placed on twelve oxen, also cast of brass, placed in proximity to the entrance of the Beis HaMikdash or Temple. The waters contained therein were for purification. Before we enter into dialogue with G-d, we need to cleanse our hearts through teshuvah (repentance).

Pivotal Points

parashas Lech Lecha 5782

“Ten generations from Noah to Abraham, in order to make known what long-suffering is His; for all those generations kept on provoking Him, until Abraham, came and received the reward of all of them.” – Pirkei Avos 5:2, sefaria.org

“Based upon the merit of Abraham, G-d did not destroy again the whole world. Abraham taught them that repentance was possible, and therefore G-d did not destroy the world.”

– English explanation of the Mishnah; sefaria.org

Inasmuch that Noah and his family was spared when “Noah found favor in the eyes of H’Shem,” so, too, according to the mishnah, the world was spared through the merit of Abraham. In light of this comparison, two points become evident. First, the necessity of G-d’s of Attribute of Mercy, as a means of relating to mankind, despite His strict attribute of justice. Second, that in each case, a righteous person was chosen to offer repentance to others, and ultimately to become the means through which a type of redemption would occur for all of mankind.

In the case of Noah, it is evident that G-d favored him for a specific reason. Immediately following “Noah found grace in the eyes of the L-RD,” the Torah  states that Noah was “a man righteous and wholehearted; Noah walked with G-d” (Genesis 6:8-9). As for Abraham, there is no such immediate recognition of his character, when he is called out from the land of Ur, to the land that he would be shown. He is told by H’Shem, that he would become a great nation, that his name would be great, and that the nations would be blessed through him. Before Abraham, Sarah, and his nephew Lot set out for Canaan, there were “persons that they had acquired in Haran.”

These souls are said to be converts to Abraham’s newfound monotheistic faith. It is this faith as demonstrated by his obedience to the L-RD’s calling, that Abraham is considered righteous: For, “he believed in the L-RD; and He counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6, JPS). “O ye seed of Abraham His servant, ye children of Jacob, His chosen ones. He is the L-RD our G-d; His judgments are in all the earth” (Psalm 105:6-7, JPS 1917 Tanach).

motzei Shabbos: Noach 5782

 “And the L-RD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

– Genesis 6:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Ten generations from Adam to Noah, in order to make known what long-suffering is His; for all those generations kept on provoking Him, until He brought upon them the waters of the flood.”

– Pirkei Avos 5:2, sefaria.org

“In G-d’s long-suffering we can learn a lesson of patience and forgiveness. Even though in the end G-d did decide to destroy the world, He did not do so immediately, but gave the world a chance to repent“ (English Explanation of Mishnah; sefaria.org). Therefore, we can see that G-d is not only just; he is also merciful. It is only fair to give others a second chance in life, as G-d did with the generation of the Flood. On a personal level, although we do not know what the person being forgiven will do in the future, it is up to us to attempt to amend the situation. And, moreover, to caution others against aveiros (sins), and expound upon the importance of teshuvah (repentance), is humane. We can not foresee whether others will do teshuvah or not; yet, we must give others the opportunity to mend their ways.

Shemini Atzeret 5782

Shemini Atzeret is essentially the eighth day of Sukkot.  The literal translation is eighth day assembly.  Regarding the word, assembly, according to commentary, this has to do with the connotation of the pilgrims from outside of Jerusalem, remaining behind after the Sukkot celebrations, for one more day, to rededicate oneself to to G-d’s service, imbibing the teachings from scripture, (G-d’s Word), and staying in the Temple area before going back to the daily grind (paraphrase of Sforno’s commentary).

Moreover, let  it be understood, that during the seven days of Sukkot, there are 70 bulls offered for the seventy nations of the world, connecting the first seven days of Sukkot with the gentiles. Yet, Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day, is a day of assembly, in specific, solely for the Jewish people, as if H’Shem would like the pilgrims to remain in Israel for an intimate time of connection with G-d.

Regarding the pasuk, “On the eighth day there shall be an assembly for you” (Numbers 29:35), the Sfas Emes conveys an insight, that “it is for you because the gates of teshuva are open to all.  But Israel takes greater joy in accepting G-d’s service anew than they did in having their sins forgiven” (p.372, The Language of Truth).  Therefore, it can be said, that while the focus of Rosh Hashannah was on repentance, and the Day of Yom Kippur on forgiveness, Shemini Atzeret, a holiday connected to Simchas Torah, has a focus on renewal – the natural complement of a complete teshuvah.

This makes perfect sense, following the “shedding of sins,” as symbolized by beating the aravah (willow leaves), at the end of shachris (morning service) on Hoshannah Rabbah, the seventh day of Sukkot. After this final release of the previous year’s sins, a feeling of renewal is definitely appropriate, if everything was “done right,” in regard to teshuvah (repentance). Like, “the cleansing of the soul,” in preparation for a new year of service to G-d, via the spiritual growth, and perfection of character that result from selfless dedication to the higher values of Torah.

Ultimately, renewal may be said to involve purification through a rededication in one’s life to the service of H’Shem.  This dedication may be exemplified, as is found in Bereishis, “And G-d took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to av’dah it and to sham’rah it” (Genesis 2:15).  The root of avdah, AVD (ayinveisdalet) connotes avad (to serve), while shamrah, SMR (shinmemresh) connotes shamar (to guard).

Traditionally, these refer to serving G-d through the positive commandments, and guarding ourselves against the negative commandments. In summary, our avodah (service towards G-d), and observance of the commandments. So, when we start the Torah cycle anew, we read in Bereishis about the beginning of creation, and are reminded of the main purpose of life, our avodah, overall service towards G-d, and our shomer, otherwise understood as the guarding of our souls from all that would taint the holy neshamah.