parasha Nasso 5783

weekly Torah reading: parasha Nasso (Numbers 4:21 – 7:89) 5783

 “Speak unto the children of Israel: When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to commit a trespass against the L-RD, and that soul be guilty; then shall they confess their sin which they have done.”

– Numbers 5:6-7, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to Rambam (Maimonides), this verse is the basis of vidui (confession), within the context of teshuvah (repentance). “And shall make reparation in full” (Numbers 5:7). This latter part of the pasuk (verse) denotes reparations made to others, if the aveirah (transgression) is against another person. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for reparation is from the same shoresh (root), shuv (to return) as teshuvah (repentance). Essentially, repentance is a return to H’Shem (the L-RD). “Let us return unto the L-RD” (Hosea 5:15b, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Maimonides offers a basic example of how to approach vidui (confession):  “I beseech Thee, O Great Name! I have sinned; I have been obstinate; I have committed [profane acts] against Thee, particularly in doing thus and such. Now, behold! I have repented and am ashamed of my actions; forever will I not relapse into this thing again.” He further states that whoever takes it upon him or herself to further elaborate, is considered praiseworthy. Nachman of Breslov notes that one measure of having done a complete teshuvah (return to H’Shem), is if in the same situation wherein had previously sinned, this time, avoids sin in the given situation.

shiur Vayikra 5783

weekly Torah reading: parashah Vayikra 5783 – Renewal of Committment

“When any man of you bringeth an offering unto the L-RD.”

– Leviticus 1:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Hebrew word for offering is korban. The shoresh (root word) of korban is KRV, meaning “to draw near.” Therefore, the act of bringing an offering has the connotation of drawing near to H’Shem. According to Akeidas Yitzchak, the olah offering, in particular, represents prayer from the heart, because the olah completely ascends to H’Shem. Therefore, in like manner that the entire animal brought as an olah offering is consumed on the mizbeach (altar), so too, it can be said, that our prayers of the heart ascend to G-d.

Interestingly enough, the name associated with the korbanot is YHVH, the name that denotes H’Shem’s Attribute of Mercy. Since the korban is not associated with the name, Elokim that represents the Attribute of Justice, the implication is that an offering permits us to draw near to H’Shem, because of His mercy towards us. Although the world was first created with the Attribute of Justice, denoted by the name Elokim (the name of G-d that first appears in the Creation narrative), later, the name YHVH appears, because the world could not survive without Mercy (see Rashi, Genesis 1:1).

H’Shem’s Attribute of mercy makes an allowance for reconciliation through atonement, by way of a korban. The first offering was made for mankind by H’Shem, for the sake of Adam and Chava, when they disobeyed Him and ate from the Tree of Good and Evil. Furthermore, He covered them with clothes derived from the offering (see Genesis 3:21). That an offering was indeed made is alluded to by a particular commentary that speaks of the mate of Leviathan being slayed by G-d, in order to clothe Adam and Chava (Chizkuni, R. Bachya, commentary on Genesis 3:21).

drash Vayikra 5783

parasha Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26) 5783

“The L-RD called unto Moses, and spoke unto him out of the tent of meeting, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When any man of you bringeth an offering unto the L-RD.”

– Leviticus 1:2 , JPS 1917 Tanach

Maimonides explains that the institution of the korbanot (offerings) was necessary, because the Israelites were used to the mode of worship of the times. The difference between the offerings of the nations, and those of Israel, was that Israel’s offerings were to be made only to the One True G-d. Even so, the korbanot (offerings) were meant to be a transitional step towards the ultimate mode of avodah (worship) – prayer.

For, “it is, namely, impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other: it is therefore according to the nature of man impossible for him suddenly to discontinue everything to which he has been accustomed” (Maimonides, guide for the Perplexed, Part 3, Ch. 32, To have gone directly to the avodah (service) of the heart, in other words, “heartfelt prayer,” after leaving Egypt would have been an impossibility.

The Wise Craftsman

weekly Torah reading: parashas Vayakhel-Pekudei 5783

 “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, in understanding, and in knowledge” (Exodus 35:31).

The Talmud notes, in Berachos 55a, that these same qualities were used by H’Shem to create the Heavens and Earth, as is found in Mishlei (Proverbs 3:19-20). This insightful comparison points towards the idea that the Mishkan (Tabernacle) itself is a reflection of Heaven on Earth.

Inasmuch that 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, 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 (according to 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.

Incidentally, that may be the reason that the most-used color of various components of the Mishkan was techiles (a specific hue of 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

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Entering the Cloud

weekly Torah reading: parashas Vayakhel-Pekudei 5783

  “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the L-RD filled the tabernacle.” – Exodus 40:34, JPS 1917 Tanach

H’Shem’s Presence appeared to B’nei Yisrael, before they crossed the Sea of Reeds; at that time, H’Shem’s presence was manifest in the form of the cloud, and the pillar of fire. At Sinai, H’Shem’s Presence was accompanied by thunder and lightning (Exodus 19:18). And the cloud rested atop Sinai: “‘Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee’” (Exodus 19:9, JPS).

When Moshe was on Sinai with Aaron, Nadav and Avihu and the seventy elders of Israel, (see 24:9), he was called by H’Shem, “Come up to Me into the Mount and be there; and I will give thee the tables of stone,” and thus, “Moses entered into the midst of the cloud.” (24:18). R. Bachya explains that just as he was called to go into the cloud of H’Shem’s glory at Sinai, the only way he could enter the sanctuary when the cloud of glory filled the sanctuary was when H’Shem would first call to him (40:34, sefaria). “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the L-RD filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Consider that to a certain extent, a parallel lesson can be drawn from this reading, wherein we too will find that as we approach H’Shem, the way may be obscured by His glory, like the cloud atop Sinai and within the Mishkan (Tabernacle). We may find that we are not able to draw any closer to Him than we are at current, until He calls us from within the obscurity of our understanding. Then, we may enter a cloud, so to speak, of initial unknowing (like leaving our comfort zone) that will eventually bring us to a greater understanding.

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Let the Light Shine

motzei Shabbos: parasha Tetzaveh 5783

(based on Likutei Amarim – beginning of ch.29)

The light of the seven-branched menorah in the Mishkan (portable tabernacle of the desert was like the original light (ohr chadash) of creation, even before the sun, moon, and the stars were created. How so? First of all, the mishkan itself is likened to a microcosm of the world. This is derived by the sages, who noted the parallel language between the creation narrative, and the building of the Mishkan. Additionally, the accoutrements of the miskan are likened to aspects of the soul. Hence, it follows that the menorah may be understood as symbolic of the light of the soul: “The spirit of man is the lamp of the L-RD” (Proverbs 20:27, JPS).

The Tanya references the teaching from the Zohar, concerning chochmah, a window within the soul, whereof the divine light may shine through, if we do not “pull down the shades,” so to speak by way of darkening our minds and tainting our soul with the stains of our aveiros (sins). Thus, if we are unable to let the light shine through, the Tanya recommends, based on a passage in the Zohar, that we may seek to “crush” our egos, through introspection, resulting in alleviating the darkness that obscures the light in our souls.

“True sacrifice to G-d is a contrite spirit; G-d, You will not despise a contrite and crushed heart.” – Psalms 51:19, JPS 1985 Tanach

The Enlightened Soul

weekly Torah reading: parasha Tetzaveh 5783

“And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring thee pure olive oil, beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually.” – Exodus 27:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

The seven-branched menorah in the Mishkan was the only source of light inside of this sacred structure. The lamps were lit by the kohein, and gave off their light, within the Kadosh – the larger portion of the Mishkan, where the menorah, showbread table and incense mizbeach rested. “The spirit of man is the lamp of the L-RD” (Proverbs 20:27, JPS). In like manner that the menorah gave off the light, within the confines of the Kadosh, so, too, dose G-d illuminate our soul.

Yet, if we tread upon the demarcations of moral integrity, as prescribed by His commandments, then we bring darkness upon ourselves, as our sins separate us from G-d (Isaiah 59:2).

Viktor Frankl, the eminent psychological thinker and psychiatrist, who survived Auschwitz, proffers that man’s conscience is directly linked to G-d. This teaching reflects the wisdom of the above-mentioned proverb, connecting man’s spirit to G-d. Thus, in its undiluted state, the spirit may is in alignment with the conscience.

Taking this a step further, when in accord with G-d’s will, light will animate the soul; yet, when we do not adhere to our conscience, we darken our moral understanding. The conscience is weakened – G-d forbid – in this manner, yet, strengthened when we remain in our integrity, according to the standards set by H’Shem. This is akin to “flexing our spiritual muscles.” If we falter, we may seek to return to G-d, by making a greater effort through teshuvah (repentance).

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Righteous Clothes

weekly Torah reading: parasha Tetzaveh 5783

Righteous thoughts, speech, and acts clothe the soul.

“And this is the thing that thou shalt do unto them to hallow them, to minister unto Me.”

– Exodus 29:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

During Moshe’s forty days on Mount Sinai, the pattern of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was shown to him, complete with all the details necessary to construct a Mishkan on earth, where H’Shem’s Presence – the Shechinah – would dwell. Also, the commandments and details in regard to the Kohein Gadol and the kohanim were given.

Aaron was chosen as the first Kohein Gadol; however, Moshe served unofficially in that position, during the seven-day inauguration, when he brought the offerings. His role was given to him by H’Shem, who said to Moses: “This is the thing [word] that thou shalt do to them [the kohanim] to set them apart as kodesh [holy];” i.e., to sanctify them for service to H’Shem.

The verse continues with the offerings, necessary for the inauguration. Also, the commandment is given for the kohanim to cleanse themselves in a mikveh. Additionally mentioned are the garments that Moses will place upon the Kohein Gadol, before anointing him with oil. These garments, referred to previously, are described as “holy garments for Aaron thy brother, for splendour and glory” (Exodus 28:2, JPS).

“Let Thy priests [kohanim] be clothed with righteousness” (Psalm 132:9, JPS 1917 Tanach). Righteousness is likened to clothes, because righteous thought, speech, and acts clothe the soul; they have everlasting value, whereby our righteousness will be rewarded in Olam Haba. So, let us focus on our inner person, the soul, clothed in deeds of righteousness.

Sanctification of the Soul

weekly Torah reading: parasha Terumah 5783


The sanctification of our lives is dependent upon recognizing the difference between sacred and mundane. Additionally, it is possible to delineate the sacred and most sacred. In light of a godly perspective, we may characterize these aspects of our lives based upon the Tabernacle: the Mishkan contains two spaces within, 1). the Kadosh Kadoshim (Holy of Holies), where the ark of the covenant was kept; and, 2). the Kadosh (Holy), where the incense mizbeach, menorah, and showbread table were contained.

The three components within the Kadosh, may be said to represent prayer, wisdom, and kitvei kodesh (holy scripture). Inasmuch that it is written, “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of G-d,” we may view bread as symbolic of the word of G-d. The light of the seven-branched menorah was maintained by seven oil lamps on the top of each branch. In kitvei kodesh, both light and olive oil represent wisdom. And, finally, the smoke of the incense mizbeach (altar) is indicative of our prayers rising up toward Heaven.

These components were essential to the avodah (service) of the Mishkan, performed by the Levites. Their corresponding attributes are key for our own personal avodah (service) to G-d. If we “feast” upon the word of G-d, then we are providing ourselves with a rich banquet of truth, and the values derived thereof, in order to nourish our soul. Through abiding in the word, we will acquire wisdom; and, our prayers may be based on scripture as well, even those that we form within our heart.

Additionally, the significance of the Kadosh Kadoshim (Holy of Holies), where the ark resides, as the repository for the commandments of G-d. The commandments are the backbone our uprightness in the eyes of G-d. Also, consider that G-d’s presence rested upon the kapores (cover) of the ark; this may remind of G-d’s presence within us, when we make ourselves tabernacles, sacred vessels for His presence – the Shechinah. The inner sanctum of our souls, where only we may reside, along with G-d’s presence, is a place where G-d may communicate to us as individuals through our intuition, insight, and dreams.

Inner Sanctum

weekly Torah reading: parasha Terumah 5783

 “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.

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.