Rosh HaShannah 5783

Rosh HaShannah is a time of renewal. Through teshuvah (repentance) we prepare ourselves to face H’Shem: Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King) on the Day of Judgment for the New Year. Through proper reflection, and rooting out our sins well in advance of that day, we hope to begin the new year with the resolve to start anew.

Rosh HaShannah is considered to be a day of judgment for the new year. We would like to be judged favorably, so we make an accounting of the soul (heshbnon hanefesh), in order that our conscience will permit ourselves to stand before the King. According to the Zohar, “’You stand this day all of you before the L-RD your G-d’” (Deuteronomy 30:9) refers to Rosh HaShannah, when we stand before H’Shem in judgment for the New Year.

When we examine our conscience, we may be brought to a place of moral compunction as a result of guilt and remorse. During the Ten Days of Repentance, otherwise known as the Days of Awe, we continue to search our souls for the flaws that need to be brought into the light . During that time, any judgments against us for the year may be diminished through our efforts at “teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer), and tsedokah (charity),” that “avert the severity of the decree,” for the decrees are not sealed until Yom Kippur.

Stand in Righteousness 5782

parasha Nitzavim 5782

“Ye are standing this day all of you before the L’rd your G’d.

– Deuteronomy 29:9, JPS

Moshe speaks to the generation of B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) that will soon cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land, under the new leadership of Joshua. Moshe reassures the people that despite their transgressions in the wilderness, they are still “standing this day.” The Hebrew word used for stand in this verse is nitzavim, from the shoresh (root word) NZV, meaning to stand upright.

Moshe explains that they are gathered together, standing before H’Shem, “that thou shouldest enter (uvalaso) into the covenant of the L’RD thy G’d (Deuteronomy 29:11, JPS). The shoresh, AVR, meaning to enter, also means to cross over. The use of this word is apropos of B’nei Yisrael’s immanent crossing over the Jordan to Canaan. Figuratively speaking, they are crossing over as wanderers in the wilderness into the Covenant. The proclamation given by Moses in this passage is a renewal of the covenant.

The Zohar relates the phrase, “Ye are standing this day” to Rosh HaShannah. When we stand before H’Shem on Rosh HaShannah, the Day of Judgment, when we are judged for the year, the books are opened, and we hope to be judged favorably, so that we may cross over into a good year. Let us search and try our ways, and return to the L’RD (Lamentations 3:40, JPS), so that we may stand before Him, and be inscribed in the Book of Life.

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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Thou Shalt Not Mix

weekly Torah reading: parashas Ki Seitzei 5782

 “Thou shalt not wear a mingled stuff, wool and linen together.”

– Deuteronomy 22:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Seeing that the first two human beings who were born on earth were of different species, (Kayin and Hevel), one being the result of the evil genes of the serpent, the other that of Adam’s divinely inspired spirit, and we are commanded to keep our distance from the spirit of impurity, mixing the species has been forbidden for us as we have learned the fatal consequences which this could have.” – R. Bachya, commentary on Leviticus 19:19, sefaria.org

The fundamental differences between Kayin (Cain) and Hevel (Abel) are reflected in the nature of the offerings that each brought to H’Shem. “Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the L-RD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the L-RD had respect unto Abel and to his offering; but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect” (Genesis 4:3-5 JPS). A qualitative difference between Abel and Cain’s offering is inferred. Cain’s offering was linseed (Midrash Tanchuma, Bereishis 9), whereas Abel brought the choicest of his flock.

 If Abel brought from his sheep, then this could correspond to the wool, mentioned in the commandment, while Cain’s offering would be represented by linen. The commandment forbids “wool and linen together.” This rendering would reinforce the underlying differences between Cain and Abel. If we are to be more like Abel, giving the best of ourselves as an offering to H’Shem through our good deeds, then, we should not compromise our standing with H’Shem by following the poor example of Cain. Rather, we should maintain excellency in all of our endeavors, both towards G-d and man, without permitting our intentions to become mixed with ulterior motives.

To Be Whole-Hearted

parasha Shoftim 5782

“You must be whole-hearted with the L-RD your G-d.”

– Deuteronomy 18:13, JPS

“Put thy hope in Him and do not attempt to investigate the future, but whatever it may be that comes upon thee accept it whole-heartedly.” – Rashi, sefaria.org

The Targum paraphrase is intriguing: “Ye shall be perfect in the fear of the L-rd your G-d” (Yonatan Targum, Deuteronomy 18:13, sefaria.org). Perhaps, the idea being conveyed in this rendering is, that in order to be tamiym (whole, perfect, having integrity), what is required is yiras H’Shem (awe, reverence and respect towards the L-RD). So, a practical application is included within the Targum rendering of the pasuk (verse). The two go “hand in hand,” yiras H’Shem for the sake of walking whole-heartedly with H’Shem. Because, in this manner, the chasid (pietist) will be cautious enough, as a result of yiras H’Shem to walk in an upright manner, as pertaining to all of one’s thought, speech, and action.

Moreover, as Rashi clarifies, to trust in H’Shem to the extent that we are not worried about the future, because all is in his hands. As is conveyed elsewhere, all that is required is fear of H’Shem, because He will provide for all else in our lives, dependent upon our sincerity in regard to observing His commandments. Otherwise stated, there is no need to be concerned about future events, because everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen in our lives is for the good, even if we are currently unable to discern that goodness as found within our circumstances. We trust in H’Shem that only He knows what is best for us. Additionally, I would add that these are trying times; our dependence on H’Shem should also be pervasive enough in our lives, in order to weather the storms ahead.

Perceive the Blessings

parasha Re’eh 5782 – Perceive the Blessings

 “Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse.”

 – Deuteronomy 11:26, JPS 1917 Tanach

“See, I set before you this day,” in other words, perceive that I present before you this very day, the significance of blessings and curses in your lives. According to Rabbeinu Bahya, the so-called, “mental eye” of the spiritually sensitive is able to see the effects of the blessings and curses, on an individual basis, in their own lives. Incidentally, the blessings originate with the Attribute of Mercy, whereas the curses are derived from the Attribute of Justice.

R. Bahya makes reference to the pasuk (verse), “I have seen great wisdom and knowledge” (Ecclesiastes 1:16). As a direct result of our being aware of the blessings and curses in life, we may obtain great knowledge, concerning the causal relationship between our thoughts, speech, & actions, and their consequences. This may lead towards wisdom, having to do with how H’Shem Elokim guides us – each and every person, according to hasgachah peratis (divine guidance), weaving a tapestry of events and consequences in our lives, dependent upon the nature of our conduct.

Additionally, consider the words of King David, who wrote, “Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4, JPS); he was assured through H’Shem’s guidance and correction, that he would remain on the derech (path). H’Shem’s guidance, as represented by a staff (a shepherd’s crook) and His correction, as symbolized by a rod. This is akin to the understanding that blessings can be understood as signs that we are on the right path; and curses are a form of chastisement meant to correct us, whenever we go astray.

Cling Ye, Cling Ye

parasha Va’etchanan 5782

“Ye that did cleave unto H’Shem your G-d are alive every one of you this day.” – Deuteronomy 4:4, JPS 1917 Tanach

During Moshe’s thirty-seven-day speech, he prepared B’nei Yisrael to enter the Promised Land. He cautioned them, admonished them, and reminded them in a tactful way of previous sins. Rather than naming the sins, he would mention the place where the transgression occurred.

One such instance that appears  more direct is when he mentions the matter of Baal-Peor, whereof H’Shem punished “all the men that followed the Baal of Peor,” a Midianite deity (Deuteronomy 4:3). He further mentions that those who cleaved to H’Shem, rather than follow the deity, “are alive every one of you this day” (Deuteronomy 4:4, JPS 1917 Tanach).

This juxtaposition makes it clear that those who did not transgress through idolatry and licentiousness were preserved by H’Shem, because they “cleaved” to Him. The Hebrew word used for “cleave,” in this instance, is “deveykus.” The word connotes a “clinging” to H’Shem in the sense of one who is dependent on Him for his sense of well-being.

Furthermore, deveykus is necessary for hitbodedus (Jewish meditation). Within the practice of hitbodedus, one pours out one’s heart to H’Shem, hoping for an answer to all of his prayers. Yet, in complete deveykus, one lives his life in constant acknowledgement of H’Shem. Furthermore, he is able to speak to H’Shem from within his heart in the quiet moments of the day. May we avoid the secular deities of modern society, so that we can cling to H’Shem in our own lives.

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.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

weekly Torah reading: parasha Devarim 5782

parasha Devarim 5782

“There are eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of mount Seir to Kadesh-Barnea.” – Deuteronomy 1:2, JPS

Devarim (Deuteronomy is known as Mishneh Torah, Repetition of the Torah, because the book is an account of the journeys of B’nei Yisrael and reiteration of laws, because Moses sought to rebuke, instruct, and inspire the new generation that would be entering Eretz Yisrael. The account mentions that there is an eleven day journey from Horeb, the general area where Mount Sinai is located, to Kadesh-Barnea, passing around Mount Seir to get there. Kadesh-Barnea is where B’nei Yisrael gathered, before being commanded to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 32:8).

“Behold, the L-RD your G-d has set the land before you; go up and possess it, as the L-RD G-d of your fathers has said to you; fear not, nor be discouraged.” – Deuteronomy 1:21

However, the next verse after the eleven-day journey from Mount Sinai to the edge of Eretz Canaan, states, “And it came to pass in the fortieth year…that Moses spoke to the people of Israel” (Deuteronomy 1:3); and, thus begins Moshe’s thirty-six-day discourse. By contrasting the eleven-day journey to Kadesh-Barnea with the fact that now it is the fortieth year after leaving Egypt, attention is drawn to the point that had it not been for the debacle of the spies, B’nei Yisrael would have entered the Land from Kadesh-Barnea, only eleven days after leaving Sinai.

Yet, thirty-nine years transpired since that time; and, this is the new generation that is being prepared to enter the Promised Land after the many years of wandering in the desert. This teaches us that not all who wander are lost. For H’Shem remained faithful to the Children of Israel and brought them into the land despite the many delays, nisyanos (tests), and detours.

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Walk in Faith

parasha Devarim 5782

At Kadesh-Barnea, Moses explained to B’nei Yisrael that they had alighted upon the land that “our L-RD is giving to us” (Deuteronomy 1:20, JPS 1985 Tanach). At that time, they were commanded to take possession of the land promised to them. Moses said to them, “Fear not and be not dismayed” (1:21).

Moses recounts this narrative, thirty-nine years later, when the Children of Israel are poised on the edge of the Promised Land. He further explains to this new generation, how the generation of the spies, unfortunately, preferred to reconnoiter the land, rather than fully trusting in H’Shem to lead the way into the Promised Land.

This was a lack of faith on their part, and although Moses permitted them to send spies (see Deuteronomy 1:23), as H’Shem had left the choice up to him, the mission turned out for the worse.

Moses reminds the people, for the sake of admonishing them for their past failure, with the intent that they will see the error of their ways, and strengthen their trust in H’Shem this time. “I said to you, ‘Have no dread or fear of them. None other than the L-RD, who goes before you, will fight for you, just as He did for you in Egypt before your very eyes’” (Deuteronomy 1:30-31).

Similarly, to learn from our past failures in life is to gain an understanding based upon lived experience. In this manner, our errors may instruct and encourage us to do better, if we take them to heart, as steppingstones, along the way towards perfection of our faith. “The L-RD will accomplish that which concerneth me; Thy mercy, O L-RD, endureth for ever; forsake not the work of Thine own hands” (Psalm 138:8, JPS 1917 Tanach).