Lech Lecha 5781

Abraham was the first monotheist. According to the midrash, he arrived at the realisation of G-d’s oneness after a thorough intellectual inquiry. In considering the sun that rules during the day, and the moon at night, he realised neither ruled completely; hence, they must have a Creator who created them. Through this reflection, he raised himself up above the idolatrous beliefs of his countrymen. His newfound belief could only be nurtured, by removing himself from his environmental milieu, so that he would not continue to be influenced by idolatry. So that when G-d called him to lech lecha (literally, go forth to yourself), he was ready to go.

Yet, not until he departed with Sarah, Lot (his nephew), and his entourage of souls (converts) that they had acquired, did H’Shem appear to him in Shechem. The question is asked, why did H’Shem first speak (vayomer) to Abraham, when he was first called (Genesis 12:1), then appeared (vayeira) and spoke to Abraham in Shechem (Genesis 12:7)? Why is there a differentiation noted in these passages? A direct answer is not given. Yet, accompanying the vision, Abraham was granted greater insight into the nature of H’Shem. For this reason, out of gratitude towards H’Shem, Abraham built the mizbeach (altar) there (Zohar; Sheini Luchot HaBerit). I would add that there is a progressive revelation given to Abraham, beginning with his intellectual realisation. Next, he is called directly by H’Shem, then, after he takes that first step on the journey “to a land that I will show you,” H’Shem appears to him.

Abraham’s initial call, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and thy father’s house” (Genesis 12:1), compelled him to separate from his familiar environs. He became known as an “ivri,” mraning, “other side,” because he was from the other side of the Euphrates River. In terms of his belief, he was on one side of the moral sphere, and the world was on the other side. Incidentally, the transliteration of the word, ivri is Hebrew. Abraham was the first Hebrew, thus becoming the progenitor of the Hebrew people, whom later became known as the Israelites. Yet, the blessings given to Abraham would also include all the families of the earth being blessed through him (Genesis 12:2).

Noach 5781

parashas Noach 5781

“And it came to pass at the end of seven days, that the word of the L-RD came unto me, saying: Son of man, I have appointed thee a watchman.”

– Ezekiel 3:17, JPS 1917 Tanach

At the end of seven days, the final seven days, before the door to the ark was closed, the first part of Noah’s mission was completed; the judgment was at hand, for the earth would be consumed by the Mabul (Flood). As mentioned in the Zohar, Noah had warned his generation of the impending doom; all the inhabitants of the earth were given the opportunity for teshuvah. This is also denoted by the Targum, wherein it is written, “if they will be converted, it shall be forgiven them” (Genesis 7:14, Targum Yonaton).

Noah’s role to warn mankind, was given to him at the receiving of the commandment from G-d to build an Ark. Up until that time, as the tzaddik (righteous person) of his generation, he must have been disconsolate, witnessing the vast amount of errant ways upon the earth. He was chosen for a mission that would encompass simultaneously warning others, while building the ark that would become a place of refuge for his family, as well as G-d’s creatures from the animal kingdom, in order to be spared by the Flood.

Ostensibly, anyone who was compelled to take his message to heart would have been forgiven. Yet, the question remains, if that was the case, would forgiveness include being physically spared from the Mabul (Flood)? G-d’s forgiveness pertains to the soul – our condition as humans within the realm of creation, is that our soul is spiritual. Therefore, ultimate forgiveness from G-d’s viewpoint, has to do with the part of us that lives beyond our physical selves. The unrepentant on earth became the rephaim (shades) who descended into gehinnom after perishing in the Flood. “The shades [rephaim] tremble beneath the waters” (Job 26:1). If any of them had repented, would their souls not have descended into gehinnon, even though their bodies perished?

Bereishis 5781

B”H


“And the L-rd G-d took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.”

– Genesis 2:15, JPS 1917 Tanach

G-d had the foresight to provide a remedy before the ailment that still plagues man today. The first act of disobedience, on the part of Adam and Chava (Eve). Adam, whose Hebrew name means man, and is similar the word adamah (earth), is synonymous with the first man, created from the various elements of the earth, with one exception, his soul as mentioned in Torah. “Then the L-RD G-d formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Eve, whose name means life, yet, as a result of her and her husband’s disobedience, brought death into the world. “‘Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die’” (Genesis 2:16-17, JPS). Even so, Adam decided to focus on his wife’s role in regard to all of humanity. “And the man called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20, JPS).

Many questions may be asked in regard to the cryptic language of Torah; for example, what is the nature of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? The Targum, a complete rendering of the Five Books as a paraphrase of the original explains well: “But of the tree of whose fruit they who eat (become) wise to know between good and evil, thou shalt not eat” (Sefaria.org).

Sforno notes, that the Tree of Knowledge was placed in close proximity to the Tree of Life in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden). Sforno relates these trees to the choice given to mankind: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed;” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Simchat Torah 5781

the Fiery Torah

“At His right hand was a fiery law unto them.”

– Deuteronomy 33:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

On Simchas Torah, the entire portion of V’zot HaBeracha is read; this is the last parashas of the Torah. Afterwards, the first part of Bereishis, the first parashas of the Torah is read, in order to make the statement that we begin anew, immediately following an ending. This reminds of the saying, when one door closes, another door opens, meaning that when one endeavor is brought to its conclusion, another opportunity will prevail. The seasons of nature, as well as the seasons of our lives reflect this theme.

Within the framework of the parashas, B’nei Yisrael is poised to enter Eretz Cannan; Moshe is intent on imparting a beracha (blessing) to them. This blessing parallels the blessing that Jacob gave to his twelve sons; inasmuch that Moshe has been the king and prophet over B’nei Yisrael, he is giving a blessing to the twelve tribes.

Moshe begins, “The L-RD came from Sinai,” therefore, emphasizing H’Shem’s presence, of Whom “at His right hand was a fiery law unto them” (Deuteronomy 33:2, JPS). “The voice of the L-RD heweth out flames of fire” (Psalm 29:7, JPS). H’Shem’s voice appeared as fire that engraved the commandments into the two stone tablets. On Simchat Torah, we rejoice knowing that H’Shem will also eventually engrave these words on our heart in due time:

“This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the L-RD, I will put My law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their G-d, and they shall be My people.”

– Jeremiah 31:33, JPS 1917 Tanach

Sukkot 5781

Sukkot: Inclusivity of the Nations

“On the fifteenth day of the seventh month ye shall have a holy convocation: ye shall do no manner of servile work, and ye shall keep a feast unto H’Shem seven days.”

– Numbers 29:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

The festival of Sukkot, as prescribed in Torah, included offerings for the nations for their protection from affliction. There were a total of seventy bulls offered over a period of seven days. This specifically designated amount of offerings corresponds to the primary nations mentioned in Genesis (Sukkah 55b). In the future, all of the nations will be required to worship in Jerusalem (it is likely to presume that they will send delegates). This is a sign of the Messianic Era, when Moshiach will reign from Jerusalem.

“And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations that came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the L-RD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles [Sukkot].”

– Zechariah 14:7, JPS

“And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the L-RD, to the house of the G-d of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the L-RD from Jerusalem.” JPS

– Isaiah 2:3, JPS

Yom Kippur 5781

Yom Kippur 5781

B”H

shiur for Yom Kippur 5781

“Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions; and my sin is ever before me.”
– Psalm 51:4-5, JPS 1917 Tanach

Dovid HaMelech (King David) was constantly aware of the sins of his past. This awareness imbued him with humility, in the face of G-d’s righteousness. “Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my supplanters [heels] compasseth me about” (Psalm 49:6, JPS 1917 Tanach). Literally, “the sins of my heels,” referring to the breaking of lesser mitzvoth, that people, figuratively speaking, tend to trample upon, mistakenly thinking that they are insignificant. Yet, even King David, was concerned, that he might be prevented from entering Olam Haba, because of the sins of the heels in his own life.

“Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope” (Isaiah 5:18, JPS 1917 Tanach). As is mentioned in Chok L’Yisrael, based on the Zohar Bereishis 198a, the phrase, “the cords of vanity,” is also likened to the sins of the heels. Additionally, the phrase, “cords of vanity” is reminiscent of the prayer, Ana Bekoach, where we request of H’Shem, that He “untie the bundled sins.” These sins are traditionally understood to be the collective sins of Israel.

On this Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, may we as well as all of Israel (K’lal Yisrael) be forgiven. Effectively, in due time, may this lead to our complete renewal as individuals. Furthermore, as a nation, may Israel’s redemption also be enacted through teshuvah. “And a redeemer will come to Zion, And unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, Saith the L-RD” (Isaiah 59:20, JPS 1917 Tanach).

G’mar chatimah tovah. “May you be completely sealed for the good.”

Shabbat Shuvah 5781

B”H

Shiur for Shabbat Shuvah

(parashas Ha’azinu) 5781

“If thou, O L-rd, wilt mark iniquities: L-rd, how could we stand before you?”
– Psalms 130:3, embellished

“Concealed acts concern the L-RD our G-d.”
– Deuteronomy 29:28, JPS 1985 Tanach

After Adam and Chava ate from the Tree of Knowledge, H’Shem called to Adam, “Where art thou?” (Genesis 3:9, JPS, 1917 Tanach). He responded, “I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; so I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). Adam’s shame compelled him to hide himself. Yet, G-d is all-knowing, as well as omnipresent (everywhere present). He surely knew where Adam was. Why did He ask, “Where are you?” One answer given, is that G-d was, in effect, asking, Where are you in your relationship with me?

We learn in the Book of Isaiah that sin separates us from G-d (Isaiah 59:2). Adam lost the oneness that he had with G-d; as a result of his transgression, he was was expelled from Gan Eden, along with Chava, who also partook from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Up until that point, everything that they experienced in Gan Eden was in one accord with H’Shem, a nondual perspective. Yet, after eating from the tree that was forbidden to eat from, they became aware of good and evil. For this reason, even today, there is not only good and evil in the world; also, there is an admixture of good and bad in everything we do.

Like Adam and Chava, we can not hide from H’Shem. He knows our “concealed acts.” Sin separates us from Him; the path to return is through actually admitting our transgressions, unlike Adam who circumvented G-d’s questions. During the Ten Days of Repentance, between Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, we are all asked, “Where are you?” G-d is prompting us to reveal our sins to Him. Yet, sometimes, our sins may be hidden from ourselves; in this case, we may ask Him to reveal our sins to us.

“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

The Devotion of Abraham

L’Shannah Tovah

B”H

shiur for Rosh HaShannah 5781
Conviction: the Strength of Hineni
The Akeidah: Binding of Isaac

“And it came to pass after these things, that G-d tested Abraham, and said to him, Abraham; and he said, [Hineni] Behold, here I am.”

– Genesis 22:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Such is the answer of the pious: it is an expression of meekness and readiness.”

– Rashi, Midrash Tanchuma, Vayera 22, sefaria.org

Abraham was called to bring his son Isaac as an offering to Mount Moriah – the future location of the Temple. He answered, initially, without having specifically been told yet what commandment he was to fulfill. He answered with one word, “hineni,” “an expression of meekness and piousness.” Meekness denotes humility, in the face of G-d’s greatness. Readiness to serve H’Shem connotes the ideal mindset of a righteous person. Abraham made a committment to carry out G-d’s will, inasmuch that his response was one of unequivocal piety, in regard to the will of H’Shem.

Therefore, it is an even greater accolade to his merit, that upon hearing that he was to bring up Isaac as an offering, he did so without wavering. Consider the ramifications: Sarah was barren for thirty nine years, before G-d fulfilled the promise of a child. Abraham was ninety nine when Sarah gave birth. Isaac was the sole heir to the legacy of Abraham and Sarah, the next in line to fulfill the mission, whereof Abraham was called out from his homeland, to a place that he would be shown. To bring up Isaac as an offering was tantamount to the end of all the hope and aspirations of over fifty decades of patient waiting.

Yet, both father and son, Abraham and Isaac went willingy up Mount Moriah. Isaac permitted himself to be bound to the mizbeach (altar). Yet, when Abraham reached out for the macholes (knife), an angel stayed his hand, saying, “‘Lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him; for now I know that thou art a God-fearing man, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me’” (Genesis 22:12, JPS). Abraham was further blessed, “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gemesis 22:18, JPS). Perhaps, this may be seen as a segue to Rosh HaShannah, when the entire world is judged; and, H’Shem decides how many blessings we will receieve.

“L’Shannah Tovah Tikateivu”
May you have a good year, and be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Finding the Good

parashas Nitzavim Vayelech 5780

B”H

Shiur for parashas Nitzavim Vayelech 5780

“For I know their imagination how they do even now.”

– Deuteronomy 31:21, JPS 1917 Tanach

“For their evil disposition to which they are yielding today, even before I bring you into the promised land, is known to Me.”

– Targum Yonaton, sefaria.org

G-d knows our proclivity towards aveiros (transgressions). In regard to B’nei Yisrael, He knew that the imagination, i.e., yetzer (inclination) of the people was inclined towards evil. Sforno explains, that the people were about to be brought into the promised land, in order to focus on H’Shem, serving Him through the mitzvot (as mentioned in Psalms 105:44-45); yet, “instead they look forward to gratify their own cravings” (Sforno, on Deuteronomy 31:21, sefaria.org) which will lead to an excessive focus on material pleasures, gained from the wealth that H’Shem provides. In other words, B’nei Yisrael will end up misusing their material goods. By neglecting to focus on H’Shem, after entering the Land, the priorities that were established, “that they might keep His statutes, and observe His laws,” were forgotten (Psalm 105:45).

Although many would like to believe that our natural tendency is to do good, this goes against the grain of understanding. Upon further reflection, we may find that we are inclined to enjoy ourselves, and be entertained by the world, while our efforts to do good are hindered. We may neglect to be kind, considerate, and selfless, unless we seriously strive to do so at all times. As soon as we take our eyes off of H’Shem, especially in this modern world, we might become further distracted, engrossed, and captured by our yetzer hara. Zechirus (vigilance) is of the upmost importance, in order to maintain our sense of deveykus (attachment) to G-d. If we expect to enter into the Promised Land of Olam Haba (the World to Come) with a good place reserved for us there, then, we must keep these points in mind: 1). sur meira, asei tov (eschew evil, do good); 2). show zechirus (vigilance) through constant awareness; and, 3). deveykus (stay connected) to G-d Above, who watches over us from Shomayim (Heaven).

Connecting to Heritage

by Tzvi Fievel Schnee

B”H

Shiur for Ki Savo 5780

“That thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which thou shalt bring in from thy land that the L-RD thy G-d giveth thee; and thou shalt put it in a basket and shalt go unto the place which the L-RD thy G-d shall choose to cause His name to dwell there.”

– Deuteronomy 26:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The first fruits (bikurim) from each person’s harvest, were to be brought to “the place that H’Shem your G-d will choose” after B’nei Yisrael entered the Land. Upon giving the bikurim to a Kohein, one of G-d’s representatives, a proclamation was made, by the giver, declaring a brief historical background, encapsulating the identity of the Children of Israel from humble origins:

“And thou shalt speak and say before the L-RD thy G-d: ‘A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.”

– Deuteronomy 26:5 , JPS 1917 Tanach

“My father, i.e. Yaakov, who was for a while a wandering lost person without a home of his own, was not at the time able to establish a nation deserving or fit to inherit this land.” – Sforno

Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, began his endeavors to establish a family, and vocation, as a wandering Aramean, having left home to find a wife. Yet, he went out into the world without anything of value, nor even any gifts for his wife-to-be. After twenty years of working for Laban, he set out to his home country. From there, he and the seventy members of his family were called to go down to Egypt. The Children of Israel were enslaved, eventually freed, and received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Entering the Promised Land would be the culmination of the Exodus.

Upon entering the land, the show of gratitude, a deep appreciation of H’Shem, and the origins of a national identity were acknowleged. Today, we need to reconnect with our origins as children of H’Shem. Once we are able to acknowledge our heritage, so that we may identify with our past as a people, we may also become aware of the Inheritance that awaits us. “Men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen” (Isaiah 64:3). Regarding this verse, Rashi explains that while the sages note that the prophets only spoke in regard to the Messianic era, they were not able to speak of Olam Haba (Berachos 34a). What awaits us in Olam Haba is beyond description, imagination, or our greatest expectations.