weekly reading: the Census

B”H

Shiur for parashas Vayakhel-Pekudei 5779

When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel, according to their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the L-Rd.”

– Exodus 30:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

A unique perspective on the census taken of B’nei Yisrael involves the consideration of how the silver from the census – a half shekel from every man – was actually used in the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). First of all, let us consider the amount of silver that was taken: “And the silver of them that were numbered of the congregation was a hundred talents, and a thousand seven hundred and three-score and fifteen shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary” (Exodus 38:25, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The one hundred talents of silver was used for ninety-six sockets at the base of the planks that served to make the walls of the Mishkan, plus four sockets for the partition screen (see scripture). The remaining silver amounted to less than a talent; this was also used to build the mishkan. The exact amount needed was the exact amount collected from B’nei Yisrael when the census had previously been taken. Ohr HaChaim comments that this was a miracle.

Additionally, the census is referred to as an atonement for the souls of B’nei Yisrael. Commentary explains that the half shekels that were taken from each indvidual served as atonement for their souls, specifically for the sin of the golden calf.

Sforno draws another insight, noting that the nature of a census itself requires an atonement for the souls of the individuals counted. He explains, that the mentioning of a head count of people is an oblique reminder of mans sin, his guilt (commentary on 30:12, sefaria.org). In his estimation, humans change from day to day, in regard to their moral status. Therefore, they are not the same when counted each time.

It is as if they are scrutinized by the Almighty at the time of a census, and may fall short of His standard, namely, the commandments, at the time of counting. Therefore, the half shekel served as an atonement for their moral deficiencies at the time of scrutiny.

Inasmuch that these half shekels were used to build the mishkan, another insight can be drawn, in regard to the importance of atonement. The Mishkan served as a dwelling place for H’Shem; yet, its purpose emphasized a central structure where offerings for atonement would be made on behalf of B’nei Yisrael.

May it be H’Shem’s will that when we are scrutinized, we will be judged favorably. May His attribute of mercy override His attribute of judgment.

Ki Tisa – A Remedy Prepared

B”H

Shiur for parashas Ki Tisa 5780
17 Adar 5780 (March 13, 2020)

H’Shem plagued the people, because they made the calf. ” – Exodus 32:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights; during this time, H’Shem spoke with Moses – according to some commentators, Moses received the instruction for the Mishkan at this time. It is mentioned in the Talmud, that H’Shem creates the cure before the ailment. Here, the blueprints for the Mishkan served as the remedy to what had not yet occurred – the idolatry of the golden calf. H’Shem prepared the cure before the sickness.

What is the malaise of idolatry? To place anything in our lives above our commitment to H’Shem. This raises up the created above the Creator, G-d forbid. Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for the fear of Heaven (Talmud). Therefore, our conscious effort to make G-d most important in our lives is up to us; in effect, we are called upon to crown Him as King – sovereign over every aspect of our lives.

In these challenging days, we also look for the remedy to the various ailments of our lives; yet, even when there seems to be no hope on the horizon, we must maintain a sense of bechirah (trust) in H’Shem, that He has already designated, the time, place, and remedy for each of us to continue on the derech (path) towards righteous.

Yet, the path is narrow, there are many distractions along the way. It was only when Moshe sought out the forgiveness of H’Shem, on behalf of B’nei Yisrael, that he was able to receive the second set of tablets. We are also given second chances in our lives; however, if we do not even realise the need to change our ways, we may be given a wake up call.

The Mishkan (portable tabernacle in the wilderness) permitted B’nei Yisrael to focus on worshipping H’Shem; we need to do the same, in a manner of speaking, and be ever mindful of H’Shem’s Presence. “I have set the L-RD always before me; surely He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved” (Psalms 16:8, JPS 1917 Tanach).

weekly reading: The Light of Insight

B”H

Shiur for parashas Tetzaveh 5780

“Bring unto thee pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually.” – Exodus 27:20

The light in our lives, that kindles our understanding is a gift from H’Shem, without any shadow; yet, the intuition we receive from Him is often clouded by our own perception of reality; in other words, rather than remaining pure, the vision becomes obscured. In all likelihood, the main culprit that casts a shadow upon the glimpses of wisdom that vanish, before we can procure knowledge from those flashes of insight, is the accruement of aveiros (transgressions) that create a dullness – a lacklustre – upon our hearts and minds.

Perhaps, this may be one reason that Moshe said of the final generation before Moshiach that “H’Shem will circumcise your hearts” (Deuteronomy 30:6), in the days leading towards the Final Redemption. In order to bring the unadulterated light into our lives, our hearts must be purified from the taint of the world, that has left a near indelible impression upon our thinking, viewpoints, and perspective in life. Our minds have been corroded by the zeitgeist (spirit of the time) that has pervaded every aspect of our being. Yet, we will be shown the light in due time, as we walk upon the derech (path) towards righteousness.

daily reflection: Illumination

B”H

March 2, 2020

“And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually.”

– Exodus 27:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

Only the purest of olive oil was sanctioned for use in the seven-branched menorah (candelabra) in the Sanctuary. The specifications given in Torah, concerning this requirement, point towards a teaching. Only the first droplets of oil from the olives could be used for the illumination of the menorah. By analogy, when our lives are under pressure, our best efforts are brought forth to meet the challenges designed for us from Above, for the sake of our spiritual growth.

daily contemplation: Fanning the Flames

B”H

February 18, 2020

“He that kindled the fire shall surely make restitution.” – Exodus 22:6, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Torah instructs that if a fire, lit by a person burning off his own field, gets out of control, and consumes grain in storage, stalks of corn, or a neighbors field, the person who is responsible for tending the fire is held accountable. He must make restitution for the damage incurred to his neighbor’s property.

How much more so for the individual, who is not able to keep his anger in check? We need to make amends for harsh words spoken in times of disquietude. How so? One recommendation is to stop fanning the flames of discontent. Instead of permitting ourselves to get worked up over something, we should douse the flames of anger with understanding and compassion.

“Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day.”

– Exodus 35:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

It is forbidden to kindle a fire on Shabbos. According to Abraham Heschel, this would include “the fire of righteous indignation” (Heschel, The Sabbath). On the Sabbath, there is a sense of acceptance of the provision of G-d. This is symbolized by the two portions of manna, that B’nei Yisrael received on Friday mornings, while in the desert for forty years. There is no room for being upset about perceived personal injustices, insults, or displeasures, on the day that symbolizes wholeness, completion, and rest.

weekly reading: Yisro’s Belief

B”H

Shiur for parashas Yisro 5780

(Exodus 18:1 – 20:23

Measure for measure, H’Shem enacted judgment upon Egypt. Turning the Nile River into blood reminded Pharaoh of his guilt, concerning his decree against male infants, that they be drowned in the Nile. And, the perishing of Pharaoh and his army at the Sea of Reeds was an expression of H’Shem’s judgment against Pharaoh. As implied by Yisro’s words:

Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law, “heard of all that G-d had done for Moses, and for Israel his people” (Exodus 18:1, JPS). “Now I know that the L-RD is greater than all gods” (Exodus 18:11, JPS). He continued, by making the implication that in the same manner that the Pharaoh conspired against the Children of Israel, so was his army destroyed. I.e., measure for measure, by means of water.

Although Yisro had worshipped many gods, according to Tanchuma, he had renounced idolatry. Yet, it was not until he heard of H’Shem’s plagues against Egypt – each one symbolizing H’Shem’s superiority over an Egyptian god – and the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, that he recognized H’ Shem as “greater than all gods.”

Up until then, his belief was predicated upon rational inquiry; he had his doubts about the efficacy of the many deities that he used to worship. Yet, when he heard of H’Shem’s greatness being demonstrated in a tangible way through the plagues, and the splitting of the sea, his belief was upgraded to the level of da’as (actual knowledge). So strong was his belief in H’Shem, that he chose to align himself with truth. Only H’Shem is the One true G-d. All other so-called deities are no-things.

G-d’s Protection

B”H Shiur for parashas Beshalach 5780 “The pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, departed not from before the people.” – Exodus 13:22, JPS 1917 Tanach Upon departing from their former lives as slaves in Egypt, B’nei Yisrael was provided with H’Shem’s presence in the form of “the pillar of […]

parashas Beshalach: G-d’s Protection — Inspired Torah

Passages

B”H

B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) were slaves in Egypt for 216 years; yet, they were not forgotten by G-d, who eventually heard their cries. Didn’t G-d hear their cries all of those years of bondage in Egypt? Of course, He did; however, all of the circumstances for their deliverance did not fall into place until that time.

Moreover, it is written, as revealed to Abraham when he enacted the covenant of the parts, that B’nei Yisrael would not be brought into Eretz Canaan, until the iniquity of the Amorite was full (see Genesis 15:16). In other words, G-d could not reasonably displace a people until the full measure of their immorality was brought to light by their sinful conduct. Only then could G-d permit the Israelites to enter the land, that was previously occupied by an iniquitous nation.

“Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thy heart, dost thou go in to possess their land; but for the wickedness of these nations the L-RD thy G-d doth drive them out from before thee, and that He may establish the word which the L-RD swore unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

  • Deuteronomy 9:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

Regarding the circumstances of our lives, when we pray for something that will make a major impact for us, we need to fully place out trust in G-d, knowing that through His wisdom, the timing and manner of actualization of our prayers is best placed in His hands, and not our own. Otherwise, we may even run the risk of thwarting His plans for us. This was the case of the Ephraimites, who attempted to leave Egypt thirty years prior to the Exodus. They were defeated in battle by the Philistines.

So, when we look to G-d to provide safe passage for us, as He did for the Israelites at the Sea of Reeds, into some place of renewal in our lives, let’s acknowledge that this is only possible through complete emunah (faith) in Him, despite whatever the circumstances are in our lives – His timing is perfect. He can even change a negative situation into a positive one, like He did when B’nei Yisrael appeared to be trapped at the Sea of Reeds, when Pharaoh’s army approached.

Darkness Crushed

B”H “And the L-RD said unto Moses: Go in unto Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might show these My signs in the midst of them.’” – Exodus 10:1, JPS 1917 Tanach According to the Zohar, when Moses entered Pharaohs inner chamber, considered to be the […]

parashas Bo 5780 — Inspired Torah

Fragile Soul

B”H

Aseret B’Teves – the tenth of Teves

a minor fast day on the Hebrew calendar

Yearning for a connection, beyond the panorama of my assimilated life, so unlike my ancestors from Europe, many who grew up in the shtetl. An insulated environment, sheltered from the influence of the surrounding peoples, who eventually turned, for the most part, against their fellow neighbors – the divide between Jew and gentile, during the antisemitic climate that reached its peak during WW2. The Shoah, also known as the Holocaust, was the tipping point between right and wrong, good and evil, friend and foe, exposing the hidden intentions of the hearts of millions.

My forebearers clung to G-d, Torah, and their sense of yiddishkeit (things Jewish). How can I walk in their shoes? Modern values clash with the sense of propriety that is still honored amongst Orthodox Jews around the world. The television, Internet, and Hollywood compete with the instititions, traditions, and way of life of a Jew. There is a tenuous line that is drawn in the sands of time across the generations. How shall I walk?

How I occupied my time in my younger years is no longer kosher (fit). Like clothes out grown, favorite pastimes are cast aside, in favor of time-honored traditions that are the building blocks of a life of sanctity. Yet, the call to a high set of morals is still met with wavering and hesitation on my part, even fifteen years after I began this journey. A journey back in time to the shtetls of my great grand parents, and great great grand parents. That is where I find solace.