Diminished by Sin, Renewed by Teshuvah

“No greenery remained on the trees or the grass of the field in the entire land of Egypt.” – Exodus 10:15

It is as if to say that Egypt was deprived of its finery. Later, the Egyptian people, who had developed a sense of respect toward the Children of Israel, gave them their silver and gold vessels, as well as fine garments; thus was Egypt depleted. This is metaphorically the effect of sin upon our lives, that the corruption within eventually takes on an outward appearance, diminishing our regality as beings created in the image of G-d. Additionally, the external manifestation of sin may appear in a way, and a measure, concomitant with the aveira (sin).

Consider that even though King David was forgiven for his transgression, he was still chastised as a measure of H’Shem’s attribute of justice. Lest we think that teshuvah is too easy of a way to wipe our sins clean, perhaps, like David, we are still chastised, yet, to a lesser degree than we would have been if we were obstinate to the point of not acknowledging our sins. One might say that this is an example of the dynamic interchange of mercy and justice, working in tandem with each other, to a greater or lesser degree; and, we hope that H’Shem will always sweeten the judgment against us, by way of showing His mercy toward us.

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For the Sake of His Glory

dvar for parashas Va’eira 5783

“For this cause have I made thee to stand [endure], to show thee My power, and that My name may be declared throughout all the earth.” – Exodus 9:16, JPS 1917 Tanach

“G-d’s name would be declared from generation to generation because of the signs which He performed.” – Ibn Ezra, sefaria.org

H’Shem continually hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he could remain recalcitrant against G-d’s divine plan to free B’nei Yisrael from bondage, and endure the subsequent plagues; thus, this may be understood as enabling Pharaoh to continue in his resistance. As the ruler of Egypt, the world’s leading superpower at that time, Pharaoh was not interested in receiving a higher authority than himself.

Even his so-called gods, the Egyptian deities that his people worshipped, were approached from the perspective of gaining outcomes that would best suit his own ambitions. I would surmise that there was no sense of obedience to these deities, in terms of committing to a set of principles, or guidelines, thusly decreed from a sense of morality; there was only an attempt to appease the wrath of the deities when some natural occurrences were unfavorable to the population – an opportunistic strategy.

Yet, with H’Shem, there is both justice and mercy, above and beyond the understanding of mankind, in regard to His commandments; therefore, He responded with justice upon Egypt, carried out in the form of ten plagues; and, mercy towards the Children of Israel, who cried out to him in their suffering. Elsewhere it is written, “I will be gracious (חנן) to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy (רחם) on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19).

Because of Pharaoh’s unrepentant heart, H’Shem could not show mercy towards him; moreover, by hardening Pharaoh’s heart, he strengthened his position. Rashi explains that the first five times, Torah mentions that “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened,” thus implying an act of self-volition. Only, for the sake of bringing about the fulfillment of the plagues decreed upon Egypt, did H’Shem permit Pharaoh to remain resistant. He was essentially bringing Pharaoh’s unrepentance to fruition for the sake of G-d’s glory, as He was able to demonstrate His sovereignty through the plagues.

parasha Va’eira 5783

“And moreover I have heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered My covenant.” – Exodus 6:5

            A covenant was made with Abraham, many years before his descendants entered Egypt: “And He said unto Abram: ‘Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years” (Genesis 15:12-13, JPS 1917 Tanach).

           When the time of redemption arrived, H’Shem sent Moshe, whom He spoke to at the burning bush: “‘I have surely seen the affliction of My people that are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their pains; and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians.” (Exodus 3:7-8).

            For H’Shem heard the cry of His people; he “descended to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians” (Exodus 3:8, Complete Jewish Bible, chabad.org).  Such is His love for His children, that he “descended to rescue them.”  Even though, He is thought of in Talmudic thought as sitting on His throne in Seventh Heaven, He heard our cries from there.

            The Talmud further explains that He can even hear the penitent whisper prayers in the synagogue: for He is not only transcendent; He is also immanent.  This explains to some degree how He can be the Master of the Universe, as well as the One who effects miracles to release His people from bondage. 

Expect Redemption

motzei Shabbos: parashas Shemot 5783

“Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them: The L-RD, the G-d of your fathers, the G-d of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, hath appeared unto me, saying: I have surely remembered you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt.” – Exodus 3:16, JPS 1917 Tanach

“It was a sign for Israel. When any redeemer would come with this sign, ‘I have surely thought of you,’ they would know that he was a true redeemer.” – Midrash Tanchuma Buber; sefaria.org

A prophecy given to Abraham, speaks of a time that his descendants, “shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years” (Genesis 15:13, JPS). Therefore, this was known well to the Children of Israel, who were enslaved, that towards the end of the allotment of time given in the prophecy, they should begin to expect a redeemer. Now, the time was at hand; so, when Moses returned to Egypt from Midian, he first approached the elders, along with Aaron, who accompanied him: “And Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel” (Exodus 4:29, JPS).

At this pivotal moment in the lives of the Children of Israel, when they heard the words that H’Shem had given to Moses, and saw the signs given him to validate that indeed he was the one who H’Shem sent, they responded in a manner that expressed their hope, trust, and faith in H’Shem, who sent the redeemer: “And the people believed; and when they heard that the L-RD had remembered the children of Israel, and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped” (Exodus 4:31, JPS).

As we look ahead, along the trajectory that this world is heading, the days will approach whereof the light will be diminished by darkness; then, we should lift up our heads and look towards the Final Redemption. Our expectations will increase in direct proportion to our understanding that we can only place our trust in H’Shem. “And it is a time of trouble unto Jacob” (Jeremiah 30:7, JPS). The birthpangs of Moshiach (Messiah), the travails that will be brought upon the world, will precede the Final Redemption (Sanhedrin 97a).

motzei Shabbos: parasha Vayechi 5783 -Bundle of Life

Vayechi Yaakov (And Jacob lived).” – Genesis 47:28, JPS 1917 Tanach

When Jacob arrived with his family, having traveled from the land of Canaan to Egypt, to where Joseph, his son greeted him, he and his family settled in the land of Goshen. Jacob spent the last seventeen years of his life there, comforted by his reunion with Joseph, and the bountiful plenty of the most choice land in all of Egypt. The land of Goshen encapsulated an environment, somewhat removed from Egypt proper, therefore, providing an isolated locale for Jacob’s family to preserve the values of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Moreover, goshen, meaning “drawing near” was a place where the twelve tribes of Jacob could “draw near” to H’Shem; so, with this in mind, Jacob “sojourned” in the land of Egypt” (Psalm 105), while setting his hopes on Olam Haba. For to sojourn means to reside temporarily in a place; while, on the other hand, Jacob knew that his true home was with H’Shem.

During years prior, he was able to transcend his circumstances by prevailing upon H’Shem’s covenantal promises to him, thereby triumphing over Laban and Esau. He endured much while working for his Uncle Laban; he also was greatly disconcerted in regard to his encounter with his brother, Esau. Yet, H’Shem was with him in the midst of his trials – this exemplifies H’Shem’s immanence. At other times, when H’Shem seems more distant from us, this denotes His transcendence, and should compel us to pray to Him, as did Jacob.

In the last seventeen years of his life, Jacob was drawing near to his more permanent home, when he would be “gathered to his people” (Genesis 49:29). The “bundle of life,” wherein the souls of the righteous are wrapped up in the light of G-d in Shomayim (Heaven) is implied by this phrase. Therefore, to be gathered to his people means to be blessed with G-d’s presence in Eternity.

Vayechi Yaakov (Jacob lives); for, his soul continues to live, basking in the light of G-d until the time of the Tehillas HaMeisim (Resurrection of the Dead), when souls are restored to their resurrected bodies, at the beginning of Olam Haba (the World to Come).

parasha Chayei Sarah 5783

parasha Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1 – 25:18) 5783

“And the life of Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.” – Genesis 23:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

It’s interesting to note, that Judaism is often regarded as a worldly religion, focusing on our earthly lives, while placing less emphasis on the next life, otherwise known as Olam Haba – the World-to-Come. However, when we delve into Torah, looking below the surface of the plain meaning, we begin to see a different picture. Additionally, the teachings of chazal (the sages), can inform us as well, concerning a perspective that brings us into a fuller knowledge of Torah.

Torah itself is compared to the ocean, perhaps, because its depths are unfathomable. Moreover, it is recorded in Torah, that the number of creatures in the ocean are uncountable; perhaps, this also applies to Torah itself, in regard to the many facets of Torah. It is said that there are seventy faces of Torah, connoting the teaching that Torah presents its mysteries in many ways.

The parasha begins with the death of Sarah, a seemingly disconnected beginning to a narrative entitled Chayei Sarah – the Life of Sarah. Yet, the first word of the parasha, vayechi, meaning “life,” according to R’ Bachya implies “something that exists permanently,” thereby, it could be inferred that this hints toward the understanding that her soul would “take up permanent residence in the celestial regions” (R. Bachya, commentary on Genesis 23:1, sefaria.org).

In this respect, Chayei Sarah, the Life of Sarah may be understood as an implicit message or remez (hint), concerning Sarah’s continued existence in Olam Haba. Thus, the title of the parasha points to the promise of an afterlife for the righteous in the World-to-Come.

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parasha Lech Lecha 5783

parasha Lech Lecha 5783 – Pivotal Points

“Ten generations from Noah to Abraham, in order to make known what long-suffering is His; for all those generations kept on provoking Him, until Abraham, came and received the reward of all of them.” – Pirkei Avos 5:2, sefaria.org

“Based upon the merit of Abraham, G-d did not destroy again the whole world. Abraham taught them that repentance was possible, and therefore G-d did not destroy the world.”– English explanation of the Mishnah; sefaria.org

Inasmuch that Noah and his family was spared when “Noah found favor in the eyes of H’Shem,” so, too, according to the mishnah, the world was spared through the merit of Abraham. In light of this comparison, two points become evident. First, the implementation of G-d’s Attribute of Mercy, as a means of relating to mankind, despite His strict Attribute of Justice. Second, that in each case, a righteous person was chosen to offer teshuvah (repentance) to others, and become the means through whom redemption would be offered to all of mankind.

In regard to Noah, it is evident that G-d favored him due to his righteousness, for, following the verse, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the L-RD,” the Torah  states that Noah was “a man righteous and wholehearted; Noah walked with G-d” (Genesis 6:8-9). As for Abraham, there is no such immediate mention of his character, when he is called out from the land of Ur, to the land that he would be shown. He is told by H’Shem, that he would become a great nation, that his name would be great, and that the nations would be blessed through him. And, the “persons that they had acquired in Haran” were converts to Abraham’s newfound monotheistic faith.

parasha Noach 5783

dvar for parasha Noach 5783

After Adam and Chava partook of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, an admixture of good and evil occurred; evil had entered the world through the original sin, compromising the integrity of Gan Eden. Evil became mixed with good; prior to the first aveirah (sin), only good existed in Gan Eden. Increasingly, over time the yetzer hara (evil inclination) seemed to gain the upper hand amongst all of mankind except for Noah, who served as a kind of repository of good. “And the L-RD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5, JPS).

A perplexing dilemma arises, in relationship to G-d’s omniscience; knowing past, present, and future, G-d knew that man would fall as a result of temptation, when seduced by the serpent. Yet, the nature of the free will bestowed upon mankind, is such that at the time, G-d excluded his foreknowledge of man’s fall, from deterring Him with following through on the divine plan. Moreover, as a safeguard, teshuvah (repentance) was also part of the divine plan from the beginning in fine print, so that would give mankind the ability to seek reconciliation with G-d.

Once fallen, mankind would need to be guided toward an everlasting covenant, despite the original sin, so that G-d’s ultimate intentions for man would remain intact. When mankind had gone too far off from the blueprint, G-d sought to find a reason to not entirely destroy His creation. “The L-RD looked forth from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any man of understanding, that did seek after G-d” (Psalm 14:2, JPS). “Noah found grace in the eyes of the L-RD” (Genesis6:8, JPS). For, “Noah was in his generations a man righteous and wholehearted; Noah walked with G-d” (Genesis 6:9, JPS).  

“I will establish My covenant with thee; and thou shalt come into the ark.” – Genesis 6:18, JPS

parasha Bereishis 5783

dvar for parashas Bereishis 5783

וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃

“Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of G-d hovered over the face of the waters.” – Genesis 1:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

“The throne of Divine Glory was standing in space, hovering over the face of the waters by the breath of the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He, and by His command, even as a dove hovers over its nest.” – Rashi, sefaria.org

In the beginning of Creation, “when G-d began to create heaven and earth” (Genesis 1:1, JPSN), the earth was tohu vavohu (formless and empty). “At the beginning G’d created a minute amount of matter out of absolute nothingness. This contained within itself the potential and energy to expand into what we call “heaven and earth” (R’ Bachya on Genesis 1:2, sefaria.org). Prior to the 1950’s, science adhered to the Aristotelian belief that the Universe always existed. When scientists discovered that the universe was expanding, science proffered that there was a distinct beginning, ex nihilo – something out of nothing. So, it took several thousand years for science to “catch up” with the creation account in Torah, as R’Bachya explains (circa 1255 – 1340).

“With the beginning of the manifestation of the King’s will, that is, when the King desired to emanate and create the world, a hard spark made an engraving upon the supernal light. This hard spark [matter], which emanated from the most concealed of all concealed things from the secret of the Endlessness Light took a shapeless form. The spark was then inserted into the center of a circle [from here, it expanded outward]” (Zohar 15a, sefaria.org). That spark is called reishis (first).

Enter All Ye Who Trust

motzei Shabbos: parasha Ha’azinu 5783

The ten spies, that brought back an “ill-report of the land” were naysayers and pessimists. They were not able to place their trust in G-d’s promises for the very near and present future, wherein the Children of Israel were on the cusp of inheriting the land, promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Hence, they faltered, and stubbornly refused to portray the land in light of its rich value and potential, as G-d had previously stated, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” Furthermore, the ten spies demoralized the people with a negative slew of words, designed to persuade the people of the impossibility of defeating the local inhabitants, who had already been condemned in the eyes of G-d, for their immoral practices, and destined to be expelled from the land.

Upon finally reaching the edge of the land again, forty years later, Moses delivers a 36 day speech, to prepare the people for entering the land. This is the next generation, and they received a series of lectures, before taking the challenge, and decisively entering in, where the previous generation refused to go. In retrospect, when we consider these events, it seems unimaginable that the previous generation failed in this regard. Yet, we must also look to ourselves, and our own shortcomings, failures, and lack of emunah (faith). Let us acknowledge, today, amongst the last generation, before the reign of Moshiach (Messiah) in G-d’s Kingdom that “He will cover you with His feathers. He will shelter you with His wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection” (Psalm 91:4, NLT).