Inner Sanctum

parashas Terumah 5782

 “The veil shall divide unto you between the holy place and the most holy.” – Exodus 26:33, JPS

The Ark of the Covenant with the tablets rested within the Kadosh Kadoshim, the Holy of Holies (Most Holy). The cover was designed with two golden cherubim with their wings spanning the breadth of the Ark. The Holy of Holies was separated by the paroches – a veil – a finely embroidered curtain that was placed between the holiest place where the Ark containing the Ten Commandments was kept, and the Kadosh (Holy Place), where the menorah, showbread table and copper incense mizbeach (altar) were located.

“Who shall ascend to the mountain of the L-RD? And who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart.” – Psalm 24:3-4, JPS

Yet, Torah also points us in the direction of making ourselves a sanctuary for H’Shem’s Presence, according to the pasuk (verse), “Make Me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell within them” (Exodus 25:8). Therefore, let us consider, that we need to clear away a space inside of ourselves, in order to invite H’Shem to dwell within us. By preparing ourselves to receive H’Shem’s Presence, through the kedushah (holiness) that we acquire by sanctifying our lives, we remove ourselves from the realm of unholiness. Then, within our inner sanctum, the “holy of holies” of our soul, where only each one of us alone may enter, we may find H’Shem in the solace of a quiet refuge.

“Rest in the L-rd, and wait patiently for him.” – Psalm 37:7

Mishnah Insights: Berachos 4:2-3 – study & prayer

Mishnah Berachos 4:2-3

4:2 – One of the sages “would recite a brief prayer upon his entrance into the study hall and upon his exit” (sefaria.org), for the sake of the sanctification of his study time. He would say a prayer, before studying that he would not negatively influence others, by way of sharing a wrong understanding (G-d forbid), having the adverse impact of causing someone to err in his ways. After studying, his prayer encompassed an appreciation of having the opportunity to study, and his gratitude towards G-d for that opportunity.

Reflecting on this, I think about how much I take for granted, in regard to my ability to study with concentration, and the time allotment that I have for doing so. I have taken these studies upon myself, and though at times they feel like an arduous chore, at other times, I find an almost instantaneous reward, for having learned something of unique value.

Yet, I am too preoccupied, most of the time, to thank G-d for these opportunities. Furthermore, when I take creative license for my explanations, instead of going strictly “by the book,” I wonder if I have permitted myself too much of an interpretive rendering of my own. I should offer more thanks to G-d, and always pray for guidance in my words.

4:3 – Regarding a shortened version of the Shemonah Esrei prayer, this version may be said when one is lacking in concentration. The point is that it is better to recite less with kavannah (intentional focus) than to recite the full prayer without doing so in a meaningful way. Thus, as a side note, I would add that another way to put this would be to focus on “quality, rather than quantity.” Much consideration is given elsewhere, such as in the Mesillas Yesharim (Way of the Upright), concerning the importance of kavannah. This is something that I should always try to emphasize.

shiur Shemini 5781 – Serving with Reverence

B”H

shiur for parashas Shemini 5781

“This is it that H’Shem spoke, saying: Through them that are nigh unto Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.”

– Leviticus 10:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to chazal, Nadav and Avihu are portrayed as righteous individuals who overstepped the boundaries in place for them as kohanim; as they tried to draw closer to H’Shem, in an unauthorized manner, they were consumed by “fire from before H’Shem” (Leviticus 10:2, JPS). According to the Talmud, Aaron’s two sons died, only for the sake of sanctifying H’Shem’s name (Zevachim 115b). Within the same Talmudic passage, another view expresses their deaths in a more nuanced way, specifically, alluding to their transgression, by making the point that they had previously been cautioned against drawing too close to H’Shem.

Rashi comments that through the execution of judgment upon righteous individuals, yiras HShem (fear of G-d) is brought upon the people. This is an important principle; with respect to Nadav and Avihu, their deaths caused the people to witness how precarious serving G-d may be, if a righteous person is not careful in respect to his avodah (service towards H’Shem). The deaths of Nadav and Avihu show, by way of an example with a deadly consequence, that H’Shem needs to be approached with great reverence, awe, and respect.

A harsher condemnation of Nadav and Avihu may be rendered by a perspective that is even more critical of their transgression. They brought “alien fire” from a source other than the fire on the mizbeach. The fire on the mizbeach had its origin from Shomayim (Leviticus 9:24); according to Sifre, fire descended in the shape of a pillar between heaven and earth. Yet, Nadav and Avihu flouted the implicit directive, to draw fire from the outer mizbeach for all of the offerings (the original fire from H’Shem).

What could have motivated Nadav and Avihu to take alien fire for their incense offering, instead of the fire that H’Shem had provided? One view critiques them as desiring to usurp the authority of Moshe and Aaron. Furthermore, because the authority of Moshe and Aaron was given to them from H’Shem, then flouting that authority would be akin to disregarding the authority of H’Shem. Therefore, it could be inferred that their taking of alien fire constitutes a betrayal of their motives to disregard the sovereignty of H’Shem.

Consider that towards the end of the first Temple period, the people were admonished, “they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13, JPS). The people had sought out other gods – alien gods – to worship, according to their own intentions; they had forsaken H’Shem.

Today, when we approach H’Shem in prayer, our avodah (service), equal to prayer of the heart, should be performed in reverence. Serving H’Shem, through the observance of the mitzvot, as well as through prayer, may also require a rigorous examination of conscience, for the sake of bringing to light ulterior motives, faults, and character defects. Who shall ascend into the mountain of H’Shem? And who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart [lev tahor]; who hath not taken My name in vain, and hath not sworn deceitfully” (Psalm 24:4, JPS 1917 Tanach).

parashas Shoftim 5780

parashas Shoftim 5780 (recorded on Sunday)

“Justice justice [tzedek tzedek] shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the L-RD, Our G-d giveth thee.”

  • Deuteronomy 16:2

Moshe proclaims the imperative to establish judges to judge the people, emphasizing the pursuit of justice. However, the Hebrew word, tzedek, may also be translated as righteousness. Therefore, the verse (pasuk) may be rendered, Righteousness, righteousness, shall you pursue, providing a more accessible understanding for the benefit of the everyday reader. Within this framework, the pasuk (verse) may be taken an ethical imperative, that places a strong emphasis on individual righteousness. Besides, if we are not walking in righteousness, what right do we have to judge others?

Additionally, inasmuch that the word tzedek (righteousness) is repeated twice, we may infer that the repetition refers to two types of righteousness. This might be alluded to in several passages within the book of Deuteronomy. The first, is a call for Bnei Yisrael to circumcise their hearts, making an effort on their own to improve their ways, moving towards righteousness (Deuteronomy 10).

The second, HShem states that He Himself will circumcise our hearts (Deuteronomy 30), whereas the righteousness that will ensue is a gift from Above. Viewed together, these two ways may imply that when we make an effort to draw close to HShem through teshuvah, He will meet us halfway (Shabbos 104a). I.e., When we attempt to improve ourselves, HShem will respond in like manner to our efforts.

Furthermore, to be righteous in HShems eyes, a casting away of aveiros (transgressions) is first necessary. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean (Ezekiel 36:25, JPS). I will put My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes (Ezekiel 36:27, JPS 1917 Tanach). H’Shem’s gift from Above will be bestowed upon us through the Ruach (Spirit), so that our lives may be sanctified.

weekly reading: Sanctification

B”H

Shiur for parashas Emor

The Sanctification of H’Shem’s Name

“I will be sanctified among the children of Israel.”
– Leviticus 22:32

Selfless behavior could be defined as akin to mesiras nefesh – self-sacrifice. Mesiras nefesh may be viewed as an ongoing act in the sense of subduing the yetzer hara (the evil inclination), for the sake of sanctifying H’Shem’s name. The resultant reward is that we ourselves become sanctified, every time that we do not give in to our own character weaknesses. This is a challenge that appears in many circumstances on a daily basis; therefore, it is best to be on guard against temptation, by strengthening ourselves through constant vigilance.

To be selfless, in respect to mesiras nefesh on the level of morality, is to actively engage in diminishing our own will in favor of the ratzon (will) of H’Shem. When we negate ourselves, we renew ourselves for the sake of H’Shem who sanctifies us. This is a two way street of reciprocity; otherwise, like two sides of the same coin. Whereof, we are sanctified by H’Shem, through our own efforts to become holy. When we separate ourselves from unholiness, we are blessed with an equal measure of kedushah from H’Shem. By serving H’Shem, we bring glory (kavod) to H’Shem.

“You are my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”

-Isaiah 49:3