parasha Beha’alotecha 5782 – Our Refuge

d’var for parashas Beha’alotecha 5782

parasha Beha’alotecha 5782


“In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, that the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle of the testimony.” – Numbers, 10:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

The first journey made by B’nei Yisrael, after the encampment at the foot of Mount Sinai was on the twentieth of Iyar, ten days shy of one year, from their arrival at Sinai on the first of Sivan. The departure was well organized, ahead of time, for the sake of an orderly procession, tribe by tribe, to the next encampment.

First the tribe of Judah, then, as they began to march, the tabernacle would be disassembled, and placed in the care of the three Levite families. Two of the families followed the tribe of Judah; the third Levite family followed the tribe of Reuben. The rest of the tribes followed in formation, according to the Jerusalem Talmud either in the shape of a diamond, or in a straight line, tribe by tribe.

“And the cloud of the L-RD was over them by day, when they set forward from the camp” (Numbers 10:34, JPS 1917 Tanach). Thus, during their three day journey, H’Shem’s Presence in the form if a tangible cloud, sheltered them from the heat of the day.  “Whenever the cloud was taken up from over the Tent, then after that the children of Israel journeyed; and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel encamped” (Numbers 9:17, JPS).

Consider how G-d’s Presence guided the B’nei Yisrael, during the wandering in the desert. “Thou goest before them, in a pillar of cloud by day, and in a pillar of fire by night” (Numbers 14:14, JPS). This points toward H’Shem’s role in our lives to guide us in the right direction, to be a compass in an uncertain world, and a light in the darkness, as well as a refuge from the tumults of life.

Sacred Blessing

new audio: parashas Pekudei 5782

“It came to pass in the first month, in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the Mishkan was set up.”– Exodus 40:16

After the Exodus from Egypt, the B’nei Yisrael ascended over a period of forty-nine days on their way to Sinai. How was this journey an ascent? Figuratively speaking, they had ascended from the forty-ninth level of impurity, over the course of forty-nine days, wherein they were able to make an account of their souls (tikkun hanefesh) to H’Shem. The Torah records that Moshe requested that B’nei Yisrael prepare themselves for receiving the commandments three days ahead of time. However, tradition holds that the refinement of their souls, through introspection of their character, began at the outset of the Exodus, continuing for a period of forty-nine days.

Had they remained at their new level, acquired over this period of time, the Mishkan (Tabernacle) would have not been necessary, because they would have all been pure vessels, so to speak, capable of receiving H’Shem’s Presence, the Shechinah within themselves. However, with their lapse into idolatry, upon the building of the golden egel (calf), they fell back into impurity, because of the idolatrous nature of their revelry (Exodus 32:19). Thus, Moses broke the tablets, for their righteousness had plummeted, and they were no longer worthy of receiving the Tablets.

Yet, on Sinai, during the forty days that Moses had spent in communion with H’Shem, he had received the divinely inspired plans for the Mishkan. And, this would serve for their atonement. So, a year later, upon the completion of the building of the Mishkan, Moshe blessed B’nei Yisrael, “And Moses saw all the work, and behold, they had done it; as the L-RD had commanded, even so had they done it. And Moses blessed them” (Exodus 39:43, JPS).

G-d’s Architect

parashas Vayakhel 5782

“The Lord, by wisdom, founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens. By His knowledge the depths were broken up and the skies drop down the dew” (Proverbs 3:19-20, JPSN). These three qualities, wisdom, understanding, and knowledge were imbued in the heart of Bezalel, “And I have filled him with the spirit of G-d, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship” (Exodus 31:3; Berachos 55).

The sages say of Betzalel that he was capable of using the letters of the alphabet of the Holy Tongue in a manner similar to the way G’d had used them when creating the universe (Sforno). How remarkable to note this comparison. The building of the Mishkan was like unto the creation of the world. And, how remarkable that the chosen craftsman for overseeing the construction of the Mishkan was given qualities inspired by the Ruach Elokim (G-d’s Spirit).

We should marvel at the construction of the Mishkan, as well as the Creation of the World. G-d’s Creation is a masterpiece beyond compare; yet, reflected in the Mishkan. Our appreciation of the Mishkan, although we only have the written account, should compel us all the more to appreciate G-d’s Creation. For, “the heavens declare the glory of G-d, the sky proclaims His handiwork” (Psalms 19:2, JPS 2006 Tanach). King David compares the orderliness of the heavens, and the sun in particular to the perfectness of Torah (Psalms 19:3-10).

“And in the hearts of all the wise-hearted, I have placed wisdom.” – Exodus 31:6

The builders of the Mishkan were also imbued with wisdom. Through Torah, we learn of the right ways to interact, harmonize, and build the world, bringing G-d’s perfection of creation into every part and parcel of our lives. May we continue this endeavor, in the face of adversity, chaos, and the imbalances currently found within societies around the world. H’Shem will grant us an assurance of tomorrow’s promises, when we focus on His Kingdom being established through Moshiach. And, the Torah will go out from Zion as is written:

“And it shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of the L-RD’s house shall be established as the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the L-RD, to the house of the G-d of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the L-RD from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:2-3, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Insights on the Mishkan

weekly Torah reading: parashas Vayakhel 5782

“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a sabbath of solemn rest to the L-RD.” – Exodus 35:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

Before giving the commandment to B’nei Yisrael, concerning the terumah (offerings) that are to be brought (silver, gold, and various materials for the building of the Mishkan, a free will offering from the heart of each and every individual), H’Shem instructs Moshe to remind the B’nei Yisrael about Shabbat.

The juxtaposition of the commandment to observe Shabbos, with the commandment, concerning the construction of the Mishkan is significant. As holy as the project of the Mishkan is, the building of the Mishkan does not supersede the sanctity (holiness) of Shabbos; therefore, even work on the Mishkan was prohibited on the Sabbath.

Additionally, the Shabbos points toward acknowledgment of H’Shem, Who created the world in six days, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore, belief in a H’Shem is primary; and, perhaps, by implication, a greater imperative than the construction of the Mishkan. That is the essence of what is truly necessary: first, a belief in the existence of G-d; then, a desire to draw near to Him through our avodah (service).

Although the Mishkan was the officially prescribed way to serve H’Shem, through the bringing of offerings, today the main way to do so is through the service of the heart (prayer). Prayer may be enacted on a communal basis, as well as a personal level – external aspects of prayer, and an internal heartfelt connection to H’Shem, that strengthens the inner dimension of our soul.

Our ultimate avodah (service) reflects the purpose of the Mishkan, inasmuch that we are to make ourselves into a temple for His Presence, for this is implied in the commandment, “let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among [within] them” (Exodus 25:8, JPS). The Mishkan serves as a dwelling-place for H’Shem’s Presence, the Shechinah, and is a model for us as vessels for the Shechinah, too.

Established from Above

parashas Vayakhel 5782

Upon completing the monumental task of building all of the various components of the Mishkan (portable tabernacle in the desert), the artisans and craftsmen brought everything to Moses, who responded with the appropriate enthusiasm of the leader of B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel). “And when Moses saw that they had performed all the tasks—as the L-RD had commanded, so they had done—Moses blessed them” (Exodus 39:43, NJPS).

The Israelites had done all that was commanded of them; so, of course, they deserved a blessing. Yet, what does a blessing in and of itself constitute, especially for such an enormous amount of work that was done willingly, as a free gift offering by the people that committed themselves to the task?

In the modern world, remuneration for services rendered is the norm amongst those who work for a living; and, often we value even our very selves, based upon our profession, and our ability to provide for ourselves and our families. Yet, anyone who has worked as a volunteer for some cause, knows the reward for doing so; and, to feel a part of a greater whole, for the sole sake of contributing to a good cause results in an invaluable estimation of one’s time and effort in the endeavor.

The big picture concerns our contribution to the expectations of G-d for the sake of others, as well as ourselves. There is no monetary remuneration that can be measured in terms that would compare to the benefits that the soul receives for having been part of G-d’s master plan; for He is the great architect of our lives, as well as the end goal of all human endeavors that are in alignment with His divine blueprint for the world.

The  Mishkan was constructed for the sake of providing a place where G-d’s presence would rest amongst His people (see Exodus 25:8). The project required a coordinated effort from the people to build something of lasting value for the sake of maintaining a connection with G-d. We would also do well to consider, that whatever we do will only be established through the blessings of G-d in our lives, whether we realize the nature of those blessings or not. The more we contribute to worthy endeavors that will be approved in His eyes, the greater will be our security. When we place our trust in Him, He will guide us in the right endeavors. “Except the L-RD build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:1, JPS).

“Let the graciousness of the L-rd our G-d be upon us; establish Thou also upon us the work of our hands; yea, the work of our hands establish Thou it.” – Psalm 90:17, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Mishkan & Creation

parashas Vayakhel 5782

“And He hath filled him with the spirit of G-d, in wisdom, in understanding, and in all manner of workmanship.” – Exodus 35:31 JPS, 1917 Tanach

Moshe assembled B’nei Yisrael, reiterating what H’Shem had commanded to him, while on Mount Sinai, to speak to them that they bring an offering – willingly from the heart – to contribute materials to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Bezalel is chosen by H’Shem to oversee the entire project, that would amount to a great artistic endeavor; moreover, Bezalel is endowed by H’Shem with the Spirit of G-d (Ruach Elokim), in wisdom (chochmah), in understanding (binah), and in knowledge (da’as)” (Exodus 35:31).

The Talmud notes in Berachos 55a that these same qualities were used by H’Shem to create the Heavens and Earth (see also Proverbs 3:19-20). This comparison points towards the idea that the Mishkan (Tabernacle) itself is a reflection of Heaven on Earth. H’Shem’s Presence (the Shechinah) dwelt in the Mishkan between the two golden Cherubim on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant, from where H’Shem spoke to Moshe; in this sense, the Mishkan encapsulated a smaller rendering of H’Shem’s Glory in Shomayim (Heaven), where, according to the vision of the prophet Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 10:1), H’Shem is surrounded by Cherubim.

In consideration of the designation of the Mishkan as a place where the Shechinah would dwell, it is all the more understandable why its master craftsman was endowed with the same qualities that H’Shem used to create the Heavens and Earth: a microcosm of the whole (Akeidut Yitzchak), the Mishkan required more than artistic capabilities; rather, it called for divine intuition, in regard to making patterns found in the Heavenly Realm. That may be the reason that the most-used color of various components of the Mishkan was blue, denoting a similarity to “the sea that resembles Heaven, and Heaven resembles the Throne of Glory,” as mentioned in the Talmud, tractate Menachos 43a, based on Exodus 1:24, and Ezekiel 1:26.

“The L-RD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens. By His knowledge the depths were broken up, and the skies drop down the dew.”

 – Proverbs 3:19-20, JPS 1917 Tanach

Take for Me

parashas Terumah 5782

“Speak unto the children of Israel, that they take for Me an offering; of every man whose heart maketh him willing ye shall take My offering.” – Exodus 25:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

While H’Shem conversed with Moshe on Mount Sinai, He gave him the instructions for the building of the Mishkan. In order for the Mishkan [portable tabernacle in the desert] to be built, first, a collection was necessary. The collection was a freewill offering of the people for H’Shem, for the sake of building a sanctuary, where H’Shem would dwell. Everyone gave according to what their heart inspired them to give.

The Hebrew word, “lakach” is translated as “take;” although, “bring for Me an offering” would seem more linguistically correct. According to many commentators, the Torah is teaching us that when we bring an offering, we are actually taking for ourselves. I.e., the benefits of giving to a G-dly cause, outweigh the cost. We receive much for our efforts, for we have a reciprocal relationship with H’Shem. When we give, we are blessed with abundance, as is written elsewhere.

For example, regarding the tithes, brought during the first Temple period, it is written, “Bring ye the whole tithe into the store-house, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now herewith, saith the L-RD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall be more than sufficiency” (Malachi 3:10, JPS).

Sukkot 5782 – Shabbat Chol HaMoed

Exodus 33:12 – 34:26

“The L-RD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light.” – Exodus 13:21, JPS 1917 Tanach

When B’nei Yisrael was seemingly ensconced at the Sea of Reeds, as the Egyptian army approached, “the angel of G-d, who went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud removed from before them, and stood behind them; and it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel” (Exodus 14:19-20, JPS). Thus protection was assured to B’nei Yisrael, sheltered by the Cloud, and illuminated by the Pillar of Fire (synonymous with the angel of G-d); yet, the Egyptians remained in darkness.

After crossing through the Sea of Reeds, the Cloud of Glory continued to shelter B’nei Yisrael in the journeys through the wilderness, and the pillar of fire continued to provide illumination at night. During Sukkot, we remind ourselves of the existential nature of these journeys, by dwelling in temporary structures known as sukkoth, similar to the makeshift tents that provided shelter from the physical elements for B’nei Yisrael in the wilderness. Yet, on another level, these structures are meant to remind us of the Clouds of Glory that sheltered the Children of Israel.

In reviewing the parashas, I was struck by the use of a word, very similar to the Hebrew word, sukkah. Both words share two common letters in their shoresh (root word), the letters shin and kof. The word sukkah, basically means, tent or booth, as per the temporary structures built in the wilderness journeys. The word sakoti means cover or covering, and is found in the following verse: “And it shall come to pass, while My glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover [sakoti] thee with My hand until I have passed by” (Exodus 33:22, JPS). So, perhaps this is at least one connection found to Sukkot in this parashas chosen as the reading.

What might this similarity imply? In the context of the pasuk (verse), H’Shem’s hand, figuratively speaking, shields Moshe from His brilliance, thereby protecting him from the overwhelming glory of H’Shem.* One might say that H’Shem’s hand serves as a temporary sukkah, encompassing Moshe, while He passes by; yet, surely, some of the brightness of H’Shem is still visible to Moses, since a hand would not serve to totally encapsulate and block the light. This is comparable to the skach, the roof of a sukkah that leaves visibility of the stars and sky above.

Moshe received a fuller revelation of H’Shem at that time; he also heard the thirteen attributes of mercy proclaimed as “H’Shem passed by before him” (34:6, JPS). These are the same attributes of mercy that are recited in the prayers for the holidays. We seek H’Shem’s mercy, not only in anticipation of forgiveness, leading up to Yom Kippur; additionally, according to the Zohar, we may still seek His mercy through repentance, prayer, and charity until the the gates are completely closed for the year’s decrees on Hoshannah Rabbah – the seventh day of Sukkot.

*According to Ibn Ezra, some commentators translate kappi (hand) as clouds. Thus the rendering is that the cloud covered Moses, in like manner as the Cloud of Glory, symbolized by a sukkah.

Moving On

parashas Beha’alotecha 5781

“In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, that the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle of the testimony.”

  • Numbers, 10:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

B’nei Yisrael had been encamped at the base of Mount Sinai for ten days under a year. When the Cloud lifted up from above the encampment, that was the signal to journey to the next location. “And the cloud of the L-RD was over them by day, when they set forward from the camp” (Numbers 10:34, JPS 1917 Tanach). Thus, did the Children of Israel move out in the formation that was previously established for them.


First the tribe of Judah, then, as they began to march, the tabernacle would be disassembled, and placed in the care of the three Levite families. Two of the families followed the tribe of Judah; the third Levite family followed the tribe of Reuben. The rest of the tribes followed in formation behind them. “Whenever the cloud was taken up from over the Tent, then after that the children of Israel journeyed; and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel encamped” (Numbers 9:17, JPS). By day also He led them by a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire (Psalm 78:14).

Let us consider how G-d’s Presence guided the B’nei Yisrael, during the wandering in the desert. “Thou goest before them, in a pillar of cloud by day, and in a pillar of fire by night” (Numbers 14:14, JPS). This points toward H’Shem’s role in our lives to guide us in the right direction, to be a compass in an uncertain world, and a light in the darkness, as well as a refuge from the tumults of life. Appropos of the times, the day speaks of the necessity to turn towards the Creator, whose words are better than silver and gold (Psalms 19:1-5, Proverbs 8:19).

dvar Shemini 5781 – Inner Shame

B”H

dvar for parashas Shemini 5781

“And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and came out, and blessed the people; and the glory of the L-RD appeared unto all the people.  And there came forth fire from the L-RD.”

– Leviticus 9:23, JPS 1917 Tanach

“The fire came down like a pillar from heaven to earth.” – Sifra

The people had grown expectant, to the point of concern, over the previous seven days, in which Moses daily performed the inauguration service on his own. On the eighth day, corresponding to the first of Nissan, one year after leaving Egypt, everything was in place; yet, still there was no fire from Shomayim (Heaven).

The offerings of that day included a calf as a sin-offering, of which commentary mentions atoned for Aaron’s role in the making of the golden calf.  Also, a goat as a sin-offering to atone for the people. Additionally, an olah, and the people’s shelamin – peace offering – as well as the daily morning Tamid offering.

It was at this point, that “Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting.” According commentary, one possible explanation, offered by Rashi, who refers to Sifre, is that when Aaron perceived that the offerings had been made, yet, the heavenly fire had not descended, he thought that H’Shem was still angry with him, because of his role in the sin of the golden calf. He pleaded to Moshe, in the midst of his “inner shame,” whereupon they both entered the sanctuary to pray.

Even upon beginning his role as Kohein Gadol (High Priest) upon making the first offerings, Aaron recalled his sin, and through his prayers, may have sought further atonement for his transgression. Surely, this must have been a humbling experience for him; elsewhere, commentary explains that even though he felt ashamed, this was precisely why he had been chosen, because he remained humble, as a result of recalling his sin. The principle is encapsulated in the pasuk (verse), “my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:5). If we keep our past sins in mind, this will help us to keep our ego in check.