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.

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).

Journeying Through Life

parasha Mattos-Masei 5782

“These are the stages of the children of Israel, by which they went forth out of the land of Egypt.” – Numbers 33:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

The forty-two journeys of the Children of Israel, “their goings out according to their journeys by the commandment of H’Shem,” were seen from the perspective of G-d, each one as a significant journey of progress, according to His plan. Each time they set out on a journey to the next encampment, there was no need for regret, if they accomplished, learned, and advanced in character development, according to G-d’s will.

Yet, even if they failed, they were given the opportunity to return to Him through teshuvah (repentance). Therefore, there was still no cause to regret, as long as they would be focused on a “godly sorrow,” that would bring them to a place of acknowledgment in regard to their aveiros (sins). This is akin to teshuvah tataah, fostering a contrite spirit, that will elicit H’Shem’s compassion from Above.

On the contrary, a sorrow in the form of yearning for the past, e.g., the comforts of Egypt (Numbers 11:5-6), or provisions other than the manna and water that H’Shem provided in the desert, led to complaining and rebellion. This was tantamount to turning away from their divinely inspired goal to enter the Promised Land. Even so, the goal remained to enter Eretz Canaan, as a people separated from the nations, in order to serve H’Shem, who had their best interests in mind. H’Shem still has our best interests in mind today. He has not forgotten the us, nor our individual needs along the journeys of the soul, set forth for us along the way towards the Promised Land of Olam Haba.

The Power of Words

parasha Mattot-Massei 5782

“When a man voweth a vow unto the L-RD, or sweareth an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.” – Numbers 30:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

Although the specific kinds of vows and oaths, referenced in the above-mentioned commandment apply to certain situations, within the context of Judaic law, the general principle is encapsulated, “he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.” Therefore, the premise may be applied to more commonly found issues, regarding the integrity or lack of integrity of speech.

In our own lives, there are many stipulations that could be identified in terms of the words that we speak.  For example, oftentimes what is said in anger is not to be taken seriously.  It is better to acknowledge what may have been said out of anger as inappropriate, making amends for the emotional harm done.  This requires the counterpart of forgiveness by the recipient. 

Any commitments we make to ourselves or others should be kept or not made at all.  The Sages were very skeptical about making vows of any sort, saying that it is better to not vow at all.  The L-RD appreciates a sincere effort in all that we do for His sake; it is better not to boast about our intentions. Bragging will only lead towards a negative consequence, akin to the adage, pride before a fall.

Additionally, all of our words should be chosen carefully, in accordance with humility. Idle chatter will be scrutinized by the heavenly court at the judgment. We will be subject to the consequences of every idle word spoken. Ill-spoken words will also be taken into account, as well as words of judgment against others. Taking all of this into consideration, it is better to remain silent, than to speak without thinking. Let us guard our speech from now on.

“Set a guard, O L-RD, to my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips.”

– Psalm 141:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

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The Penitent Soul

parasha Pinchas 5782

Our allegiance belongs to the L-RD. If we displace our devotion to H’Shem onto something other than Him, then we are inadvertently heading in a direction that will ultimately not be of benefit to us. Even if we appear to benefit for some time, in the material sense, our spiritual compass will be amiss as a result. Thus, in terms of the values, that we inevitably promote in our own lives whether consciously, or unconsciously, we should choose wisely.

When B’nei Yisrael fell prey to the influence of the Midianites, resulting in immediate acts of idolatry and immorality, their connection with H’Shem was diminished. Their emunah (faith) and kedushah (holiness) plummeted. Only through the selfless act of mesiras nefesh on the part of Pinchas, who put his own life at risk to make an atonement for their sins (Numbers 25:13), were the people reconciled to H’Shem. So, the brief national diversion that had swept through the encampment was staid; and, the plague was stopped.

Why did G-d impose a plague upon the Children of Israel? Because of His attribute of Justice, that works in tandem with His attribute of Mercy. Although he enacted a response from a sense of justice, by holding the people accountable for their sins, He showed mercy towards them, when Pinchas turned back His wrath, and assuaged His anger (25:11).

Therefore, it can be deduced that H’Shem is not interested in condemning those who stray from the path; rather, He would like to offer us the opportunity to return to Him, through righteousness, via teshuvah (repentance). For the people, after realizing the gravity of their sins, had been weeping near the entrance of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). “Weeping,” as mentioned here, denotes a heartfelt act of teshuvah (repentance) over wrongs committed against H’Shem. This may serve as an example for us; since H’Shem will always hear the cry of the sincere penitent.

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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.

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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