parasha Chayei Sarah 5783

parasha Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1 – 25:18) 5783

“And the life of Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.” – Genesis 23:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

It’s interesting to note, that Judaism is often regarded as a worldly religion, focusing on our earthly lives, while placing less emphasis on the next life, otherwise known as Olam Haba – the World-to-Come. However, when we delve into Torah, looking below the surface of the plain meaning, we begin to see a different picture. Additionally, the teachings of chazal (the sages), can inform us as well, concerning a perspective that brings us into a fuller knowledge of Torah.

Torah itself is compared to the ocean, perhaps, because its depths are unfathomable. Moreover, it is recorded in Torah, that the number of creatures in the ocean are uncountable; perhaps, this also applies to Torah itself, in regard to the many facets of Torah. It is said that there are seventy faces of Torah, connoting the teaching that Torah presents its mysteries in many ways.

The parasha begins with the death of Sarah, a seemingly disconnected beginning to a narrative entitled Chayei Sarah – the Life of Sarah. Yet, the first word of the parasha, vayechi, meaning “life,” according to R’ Bachya implies “something that exists permanently,” thereby, it could be inferred that this hints toward the understanding that her soul would “take up permanent residence in the celestial regions” (R. Bachya, commentary on Genesis 23:1, sefaria.org).

In this respect, Chayei Sarah, the Life of Sarah may be understood as an implicit message or remez (hint), concerning Sarah’s continued existence in Olam Haba. Thus, the title of the parasha points to the promise of an afterlife for the righteous in the World-to-Come.

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Seeking Restoration

“In that day, I will set up again the fallen booth [sukkah] of David: I will mend its breaches and set up its ruins anew. I will build it firm as in the days of old.” – Amos 9:11, JPSN

If our expectations for the future rest, primarily, upon our fears, anxieties, and concerns having to do with the present, then we may expect to transition to something different in our lives as individuals, and part of the greater whole, based upon our discontent of the current status quo. Yet, we should not permit our expectations to lead us astray, into thinking that some better “state of affairs” will come into fruition, as a result of efforts that have more to do with a vision of utopia, based upon a progressive understanding of social justice, in totale, rather than giving credence to the transcendent wisdom of G-d.

Moreover, there is a difference between social justice, bought with the price of losing our freedoms, while condemning those who are not in accord with the pseudo-morality that it proffers, versus a sense of justice that is balanced by chesed (mercy), bringing about a harmonious world view that treats all according to the same standard. G-d’s worldview and divine plan for humankind differs greatly in kind and means to bring his Kingdom into the world, as opposed to mankind’s vision of New Babylon that is already becoming a dystopian reality.

Therefore, let us strive to be in accordance with G-d’s promises for His people, by looking forward to the rebuilding of the Beish HaMikdash in the near future; so that we may not falter while the world around us descends into darkness, let us fully place our trust in G-d, and our expectations in his divine plan.

Hearing the Voice

dvar for parasha Haazinu (Deuteronomy 32:1 – 32:52) 5783

 “Give ear, ye heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.” – Deuteronomy 32:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

As Moshe prepares to pass on his leadership to Joshua, he focuses on the conclusion of his speech to B’nei Yisrael. H’Shem explains to Moshe that at some point after being established in Eretz Canaan, on the other side of the Jordan River – the land that will be called Eretz Yisrael – the people will “go astray after the foreign gods of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake Me, and break My covenant which I have made with them” (Deuteronomy 31:16, JPS). Therefore, H’Shem instructs Moshe to teach them a song – to be remembered – that will serve as a witness against them in future generations.

Moshe calls upon the heavens and the earth to serve as witnesses, since they will outlast the generations, always serving to remind Israel of this song. On another level, according to Rashi, the heavens and earth would actually play an active role in chastising Israel – the nourishing rains of the heavens would diminish, and the produce of the earth would be withheld. On a more subtle note, not only the words of this song reverberate throughout the heaven and earth; even H’Shem’s words, intent and guidance span the continents and the skies, reaching out to all who will listen intently for His voice. This is our consolation for today. If we hear His voice.

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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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.

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.

reflections: Psalms 55:23

Tehillim (Psalms): reflections on the Psalms

“Cast thy burden upon the L-RD, and He will sustain thee.”

– Psalms 55:23, JPS 1917 Tanach

If we ourselves took responsibility for shouldering our burdens, without seeking help from H’Shem, how could we possibly bear our challenges in life? Even in seeking the help of others, if we do not also rely on the L-RD, then we are limiting ourselves and Him. It is as if we may unconsciously say to ourselves, H’Shem can not effectually change my situation for the better. Or, as is written in Torah, in no uncertain terms, “Is the arm of the L-RD too short?” (Numbers 11:23) So, we would do well to understand that H’Shem wants us to depend on Him. As is written, “in all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:6, JPS 1917 Tanach).

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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

Psalms: Day 1 – The Path

Tehillim: Day 1 (Psalms 1 – 9) for 1 Tammuz 5782

“Happy is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of the scornful.” – Psalm 1:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Notice that in these three are comprised all man’s position, either he walks or stands or sits.” – Radak on Psalms 1:1; sefaria.org

Where is the dividing line between the wicked and the sinful? And, can we sincerely count ourselves amongst the righteous? If the wicked sin intentionally, and the sinful are those who err by unintentional sins, because they are not careful, while travelling along the derech (path) of life, then where do we stand?

Incidentally, regarding, “nor stood in the way of sinners,” Radak further comments, that the righteous person “does not linger with, nor does he devote himself to them, neither does he remain in their company, lest he should learn of their works” (ibid.).

Moreover, the third category mentioned in the pasuk (verse), “nor sat in the seat of the scornful,” are the scorners, those who mockingly portray themselves as righteous, while degrading others.

If we can transcend all three of these negative categories, and root out any vestiges of similarities to these types of aveiros (sins), then we are “praiseworthy” in H’Shem’s eyes, even if we are not looked upon favorably by others.

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