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.

Lag b’Omer 5782

Lag b’Omer is the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer – the 49 day period between Passover and Shavuot. The day has several clear historical references, most significantly, being the day that the plague that took 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students ceased. With his five remaining students, he began again to promote Torah instruction to his students, including Shimon bar Yochai. The message being that because the reason given for the plague is the baseless dissension amongst the students, the importance of respect towards others who have differing opinions and viewpoints, inclusive of various interpretations should be respected, despite the differences. A timely message for today’s world.

It is proclaimed by the most devoted advocates of the Zohar that the author of the premier mystical literature of Judaism is indeed R’Shimon bar Yochai. Yet, not everyone agrees with this claim; in particular, from a scholarly perspective, the work has been shown to have been written by Moses de Leon of Spain. When the Aramaic writing is deciphered according to its grammar and other idiosyncracies, these have much in common with the grammatical structures and manner of conveying ideas at the time and place that Moses de Leon lived. Additionally, there is testimony from that time, that indicates he wrote the work, yet because of his own relative obscurity, assigned the authorship to Shimon bar Yochai to bring an air of authenticity to the writing.

The historical Shimon bar Yochai, according to a reference in the Talmud lived in a cave for many years, in order to escape persecution by the Romans. When he left the cave, he was given almost supernatural powers in the Talmudic account, as if he acquired these during his meditations in the cave. A story that was later developed into a greater myth by the author of the Zohar, assigning the mystical treatise itself to his authorship. Yet, any astute reader can note that the “companions” of the character, Shimon bar Yochai in the accounts given over in the Zohar are historical personages whom did not even live during the same time span as each other. Yet, they all gather around Shimon bar Yochai as if they are alive and well, irrespective of when they actually lived.

While it is true that the Zohar does contain many ideas, teachings, and Torah gems not generally found in more traditional works, these mysteries of Torah are revealed by the actual author based upon his knowledge of prior mystical treatises. So, perhaps, it may be considered as a moot issue, who the author of the Zohar is, if indeed it’s words help to further understand the secrets of Torah.

On the other hand, it is a concern of my mine, that Shimon bar Yochai is described as a holy lamp, subsequently elevated as the chief expositor of the mysteries of Torah, when some of what is conveyed in the Zohar are foreign to Torah, Tanach, and Talmud, such as gilgulim, transmigration, and the error of reincarnation. The specific teachings in regard to reincarnation do not bring light into the world; rather, they cast a shadow of darkness upon the truths of Torah. Moreover, the concept of reincarnation detracts from the clear understanding having to do with the Tehillas HaMeisim (resurrection of the dead). Whereas, the soul is restored to the body and we are judged according to how we lived this one life that we are all given.

Furthermore, glorifying Shimon bar Yochai seems to detract from the expectation of the prophet, Eliyahu HaNavi revealing the secrets of Torah, upon his return. Incidentally, since the prophet ascended into Heaven on a chariot, his return would not be counted as reincarnation. Additionally, the role of the Messiah in part is to bring to light the essential Torah truths for the generation that will see his crowning as King in Jerusalem, at the beginning of the the sabbatical millennium, when G-d’s Kingdom is ushered into existence.

Ad mosai – how long until the fallen sukkah of David is restored?

“In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof, and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old.”

– Amos 9:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

Let the Light Shine

Tanya Insights: parashas Tetzaveh 5782

(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

Hidden Presence

parashas insights: Yisro 5782

“Search for the L-rd and His might, continually seek His countenance.”

– Psalm 105:4

G-d’s presence in this world (olam hazeh) is hidden. Yet, He yearns that we seek for Him. Our seeking is more than a hide-and-seek game; to seek G-d also includes preparing ourselves for the encounter, when we find Him. For, His “supernal holiness” (Zohar 3, 297a) may only fill a vessel that has emptied itself in surrender to G-d’s will. Thus, through sanctification, our lives may be sanctified as a preparation for encountering G-d’s Presence.

How may our lives be sanctified? Traditionally, our lives are sanctified through observance of the commandments. “Blessed are You, L-rd, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments…” Moreover, because the Torah and G-d are one, His light is revealed within the world through the observance of mitzvos (commandments). If divine light is brought into the world through our positive actions in this world, then we ourselves are a light unto the world (Isaiah 42:6). So, as we are sanctified through the observance of mitzvos, the world also receives the positive benefit of our observance.

In this week’s Torah reading, parashas Yisro, B’nei Yisrael assembles at the base of Mount Sinai. Moses is given a set of instructions, in order that the Children of Israel may prepare themselves: “And the L-RD said unto Moses: ‘Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow” (Exodus 19:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). This is in preparation for the third day, when the L-RD will descend upon Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19:11). “O L-RD, bow Thy heavens, and come down; touch the mountains, that they may smoke” (Psalms 144:5, JPS).

How is it possible for H’Shem to descend on Sinai? Only inasmuch that the heavens were stretched like a bow, so that H’Shem could be simultaneously in Shomayim, and on the top of Mt. Sinai (Mechilta). Yet, this may also be explained through the metaphorical language of tzimtzum: that He descended on Sinai by way of the many levels of contractions, between heaven and earth, until His Presence, hidden within the cloud (Exodus 19:9), revealed itself to Moshe, while from the vantage point of the people, all that could be seen was the thunder, lightning, and smoke (Exodus 19:18, 20:15).

Lag b’Omer 5781

In light of the recent tragedy in Meron, at the Lag b’Omer celebration there, this essay is dedicated as memorial to those who perished, those who were injured, and those who are recovering from shock and ther psychological trauma after witnessing the event. Also, comfort and solace to those who are in bereavement; the families and friends of all who have suffered on this day. Usually, an auspicious day, honoring R’Shimon bar Yochai, the reputed author of the Zohar, the event turned tragic after the collapse of a structure, where some were celebrating. Full details are not available at this time.

Lag b’Omer is the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer – the 49 day period between Passover and Shavuot. The day has several clear historical references, most significantly, being the day that the plague that took 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students ceased. With his five remaining students, he began again to promote Torah instruction to his students, including Shimon bar Yochai. The message being that because the reason given for the plague is the baseless dissension amongst the students, the importance of respect towards others who have differing opinions and viewpoints, inclusive of various interpretations should be respected, despite the differences. A timely message for today’s world.

It is proclaimed by the most devoted advocates of the Zohar that the author of the premier mystical literature of Judaism is indeed R’Shimon bar Yochai. Yet, not everyone agrees with this claim; in particular, from a scholarly perspective, the work has been shown to have been written by Moses de Leon of Spain. When the Aramaic writing is deciphered according to its grammar and other idiosyncracies, these have much in common with the grammatical structures and manner of conveying ideas at the time and place that Moses de Leon lived. Additionally, there is testimony from that time, that indicates he wrote the work, yet because of his own relative obscurity, assigned the authorship to Shimon bar Yochai to bring an air of authenticity to the writing.

Shimon bar Yochai, according to a reference in the Talmud lived in a cave for many years, in order to escape persecution by the Romans. When he left the cave, he is given almost supernatural powers in the Talmudic account, as if he acquired these during his meditations in the cave. A likely story that was later developed into a greater myth by the author of the Zohar, assigning the mystical treatise itself to his authorship. Yet, any astute reader can note that the “companions” of the character, Shimon bar Yochai in the accounts given over in the Zohar are historical personages whom did not even live during the same time span as each other. Yet, they all gather around Shimon bar Yochai as if they are alive and well, irrespective of when they actually lived.

While it is true that the Zohar does contain many ideas, teachings, and Torah gems not generally found in more traditional works, these mysteries of Torah are revealed by the actual author based upon his knowledge of prior mystical treatises. So, perhaps, it may be considered as a moot issue, who the author of the Zohar is, if indeed it’s words help to further understand the secrets of Torah.

On the other hand, it is a concern of my mine, that Shimon bar Yochai is described as a holy lamp, subsequently elevated as the chief expositor of the mysteries of Torah, when some of what is conveyed in the Zohar are foreign to Torah, Tanach, and Talmud, such as gilgulim, transmigration, and the error of reincarnation. The specific teachings in regard to reincarnation do not bring light into the world; rather, they cast a shadow of darkness upon the truths of Torah. Moreover, the concept of reincarnation detracts from the clear understanding having to do with the Tehillas HaMeisim (resurrection of the dead). Whereas, the soul is restored to the body and we are judged according to how we lived this one life that we are all given.

Furthermore, glorifying Shimon bar Yochai seems to detract from the expectation of the prophet, Eliyahu HaNavi revealing the secrets of Torah, upon his return. Incidentally, since the prophet ascended into Heaven on a chariot, his return would not be counted as reincarnation. Additionally, the role of the Messiah in part is to bring to light the essential Torah truths for the generation that will see his crowning as King in Jerusalem, at the beginning of the the sabbatical millennium, when G-d’s Kingdom is ushered into existence.

Ad mosai – how long until the fallen sukkah of David is restored?

“In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof, and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old.”

– Amos 9:11, JPS 1917 Tanach