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Redemptive Prayer

B”H

16 Nissan 5780

March 10, 2020

Shiur for Pesach 5780

“And Moses said unto the people: Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the L-RD, which He will work for you to-day; for whereas ye have seen the Egyptians to-day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.”

– Exodus 14:13, JPS 1917 Tanach

As the Egyptian army approached, Torah records that B’nei Yisrael, encamped near the Sea of Reeds, cried out to H’Shem in great fear (14:10). Commentary notes that the people were divided in their response: 1). Some cried out to H’Shem in prayer, akin to the later writing of the psalmist, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will make mention of the name of the L-RD our G-d” (Psalm 20:8, JPS). 2). Another group of the people, having great trepidation about their circumstances, took the exact opposite approach, expressing their regret for having left Egypt, and complaining to Moshe (see Exodus 14:10-12).

When Moshe responded to the consternation of B’nei Yisrael, in light of their present circumstances, despite the seemingly near danger that was imminent, he said to them, “Fear ye not, stand still and see” (see above). Or HaChayim comments, that the words “stand still” convey the essence of prayer, a reliance on H’Shem, turning to Him in the midst of nisyanos (trials). He notes that the same Hebrew phrase is used in the Tanach, in regard to the prayer of Hannah, Samuel’s mother, who prayed in all sincerity to H’Shem. The picture derived from this understanding is one of a people’s reliance on H’Shem, in hope of seeing His salvation at a time of great need, when Pharaoh’s army was bearing down on them.

That night, an angel of H’Shem protected the people from the Egyptians, a cloud darkened the Egyptian camp, while a pillar of light shined upon the B’nei Yisrael. Moshe stretched his hand over the sea; and, H’Shem caused the sea to part by way of a strong east wind. The Children of Israel passed through the sea; however, when the Egyptians pursued them, Pharaoh and his army were drowned in the sea. Our own expectations of H’Shem for deliverance in our lives, regardless of our circumstances, when made through the prayer of sincerity, may bring results greater than our expectations. Especially, when there is no other recourse to be made, it is then that we may see the grandeur of His salvation.

Service of the Heart

B”H

9 Nissan 5780

Shiur for parashas Tzav 5780

“And the fire upon the altar shall be kept burning thereby, it shall not go out; and the priest [kohein] shall kindle wood on it every morning.”

– Leviticus 6:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

No other offerings could precede the morning olah, the first of the two tamid offerings, made in the morning and the afternoon; thus, every morning the first order of business in serving H’Shem, for the kohein, included adding wood on the mizbeach, before offering up the olah (Bava Kamma 111a). According to the Talmud, two logs of wood were added to the fire on the mizbeach (outer altar) every morning and evening (Yoma 27b). Yet, prior to this, the remnant of ashes from the remaining parts of the olah offering from the previous night, were first collected, and set aside near the mizbeach (altar). Then, the kohein changed out of his sacred clothes, into used garments, in order to bring those ashes outside “to a pure place.” (Leviticus 6:4).

The changing of garments signifies a delineation between the sacred and profrane, inasmuch that the transition from one service to another required different garments. The separating of the ashes, placing them in a pile next to the mizbeach (altar) was one service. Taking the ashes outside to a pure place was another. The second set of garments were bound to be soiled, when bringing the ashes outside to the third camp. This was a designated area, further a way from the mishkan (tabernacle). Each camp, at an increasingly further perimeter around the mishkan had its own level of holiness.

This denotes the overall theme of sacred and mundane found Torah, as well as in our own lives. At least, we are called to denote a difference between secular time (the six days of the week), and sacred time (the Sabbath). Also, to bring an awareness of the Shechinah (G-d’s Presence) into our lives, we need to create room for doing so, in both time and space. Primarily, this awareness may be fostered, by settling our minds, and creating a space within ourselves, in order to focus on our connection to H’Shem. This may be done, not only on Shabbat; rather, also on other days of the week by finding a little bit of quiet time for ourselves. To foster that connection to G-d, is called hisbodedus – a type of meditation of the heart. In that manner, we may symbolically keep the fire of our avodah (service) to H’Shem burning on a continual basis.

weekly reading: Vayikra

B”H

Shiur for parashas Vayikra 5780

“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, will our prayers of the heart ascend to G-d.

Interestingly enough, the name associated with the korbanot is H’Shem (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: for, 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 H’Shem (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).

weekly reading: the Census

B”H

Shiur for parashas Vayakhel-Pekudei 5779

When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel, according to their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the L-Rd.”

– Exodus 30:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

A unique perspective on the census taken of B’nei Yisrael involves the consideration of how the silver from the census – a half shekel from every man – was actually used in the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). First of all, let us consider the amount of silver that was taken: “And the silver of them that were numbered of the congregation was a hundred talents, and a thousand seven hundred and three-score and fifteen shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary” (Exodus 38:25, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The one hundred talents of silver was used for ninety-six sockets at the base of the planks that served to make the walls of the Mishkan, plus four sockets for the partition screen (see scripture). The remaining silver amounted to less than a talent; this was also used to build the mishkan. The exact amount needed was the exact amount collected from B’nei Yisrael when the census had previously been taken. Ohr HaChaim comments that this was a miracle.

Additionally, the census is referred to as an atonement for the souls of B’nei Yisrael. Commentary explains that the half shekels that were taken from each indvidual served as atonement for their souls, specifically for the sin of the golden calf.

Sforno draws another insight, noting that the nature of a census itself requires an atonement for the souls of the individuals counted. He explains, that the mentioning of a head count of people is an oblique reminder of mans sin, his guilt (commentary on 30:12, sefaria.org). In his estimation, humans change from day to day, in regard to their moral status. Therefore, they are not the same when counted each time.

It is as if they are scrutinized by the Almighty at the time of a census, and may fall short of His standard, namely, the commandments, at the time of counting. Therefore, the half shekel served as an atonement for their moral deficiencies at the time of scrutiny.

Inasmuch that these half shekels were used to build the mishkan, another insight can be drawn, in regard to the importance of atonement. The Mishkan served as a dwelling place for H’Shem; yet, its purpose emphasized a central structure where offerings for atonement would be made on behalf of B’nei Yisrael.

May it be H’Shem’s will that when we are scrutinized, we will be judged favorably. May His attribute of mercy override His attribute of judgment.

Ki Tisa – A Remedy Prepared

B”H

Shiur for parashas Ki Tisa 5780
17 Adar 5780 (March 13, 2020)

H’Shem plagued the people, because they made the calf. ” – Exodus 32:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights; during this time, H’Shem spoke with Moses – according to some commentators, Moses received the instruction for the Mishkan at this time. It is mentioned in the Talmud, that H’Shem creates the cure before the ailment. Here, the blueprints for the Mishkan served as the remedy to what had not yet occurred – the idolatry of the golden calf. H’Shem prepared the cure before the sickness.

What is the malaise of idolatry? To place anything in our lives above our commitment to H’Shem. This raises up the created above the Creator, G-d forbid. Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for the fear of Heaven (Talmud). Therefore, our conscious effort to make G-d most important in our lives is up to us; in effect, we are called upon to crown Him as King – sovereign over every aspect of our lives.

In these challenging days, we also look for the remedy to the various ailments of our lives; yet, even when there seems to be no hope on the horizon, we must maintain a sense of bechirah (trust) in H’Shem, that He has already designated, the time, place, and remedy for each of us to continue on the derech (path) towards righteous.

Yet, the path is narrow, there are many distractions along the way. It was only when Moshe sought out the forgiveness of H’Shem, on behalf of B’nei Yisrael, that he was able to receive the second set of tablets. We are also given second chances in our lives; however, if we do not even realise the need to change our ways, we may be given a wake up call.

The Mishkan (portable tabernacle in the wilderness) permitted B’nei Yisrael to focus on worshipping H’Shem; we need to do the same, in a manner of speaking, and be ever mindful of H’Shem’s Presence. “I have set the L-RD always before me; surely He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved” (Psalms 16:8, JPS 1917 Tanach).

weekly reading: The Light of Insight

B”H

Shiur for parashas Tetzaveh 5780

“Bring unto thee pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually.” – Exodus 27:20

The light in our lives, that kindles our understanding is a gift from H’Shem, without any shadow; yet, the intuition we receive from Him is often clouded by our own perception of reality; in other words, rather than remaining pure, the vision becomes obscured. In all likelihood, the main culprit that casts a shadow upon the glimpses of wisdom that vanish, before we can procure knowledge from those flashes of insight, is the accruement of aveiros (transgressions) that create a dullness – a lacklustre – upon our hearts and minds.

Perhaps, this may be one reason that Moshe said of the final generation before Moshiach that “H’Shem will circumcise your hearts” (Deuteronomy 30:6), in the days leading towards the Final Redemption. In order to bring the unadulterated light into our lives, our hearts must be purified from the taint of the world, that has left a near indelible impression upon our thinking, viewpoints, and perspective in life. Our minds have been corroded by the zeitgeist (spirit of the time) that has pervaded every aspect of our being. Yet, we will be shown the light in due time, as we walk upon the derech (path) towards righteousness.

weekly portion: Terumah 5780

B”H

Shiur for parashas Terumah 5780

“Let them make me a sanctuary [mikdash] that I may dwell among them.”

– Exodus 25:8, JPS 1917 Tanach

The purpose of the building of the Mishkan (portable tabernacle in the desert) was to provide a sanctuary (mikdash) for the L-RD to dwell amongst the B’nei Yisrael. H’Shem’s presence rested between the golden cherubim, on top of the cover of the Ark.

Or HaChayim notes, about the pasuk (verse), “That I may dwell among (within) them,” that “It does not say ‘within it,’ which means that the place that G-d will sanctify to dwell there is within the children of Israel.” (commentary to Exodus 25:8, sefaria.org).

The ultimate purpose of the sanctuary (mikdash) is to serve as a place of residence, so to speak, for the Shechinah. Yet, G-d’s Divine Presence may also dwell within the clay vessels that He created.

“Know ye that the L-RD He is G-d; it is He that hath made us, and we our His, His people, and the flock of His pasture.”

– Tehillim 100:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

weekly reading: The Doorway

B”H

parashas Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1 – 24:18)

It is notable that the parashas begins with the ordinance (mishpat) that a Jewish bondsman may serve his master for six years; however, in the seventh year he goes free.

The Children of Israel were slaves in Egypt for 216 years. We received the Torah less than two months after leaving Egypt. After receiving the Ten Commandments, the mishpatim (ordinances) were given.

The first ordinance given is the designation of freedom a Jewish servant receives after only serving for a limited amount of time. It is as if the Torah is saying, that the Jewish people are not meant to remain in bondage again, not even as indentured servants.

The only exception is the servant, who after six years, would prefer to remain with his master. He declines his freedom; subsequently, his ear is pierced by an awl on a door to mark his perpetual servitude. This act serves as a reminder that the same ear that was pierced, should have heeded the call to freedom.

The door represents freedom, because of the blood of the Pesach offering that was placed on the doorposts in Egypt, right before B’nei Yisrael was freed. Our freedom is sustained through the following of the mitzvoth (commandments). As explained in the following manner:

The commandments were inscribed (cherut) on stone tablets; yet, the Hebrew word cherut, with a different vowelization, means “freedom.” What is the connection? When we observe the commandments of G-d, we are freed from slavery to our yetzer harah (evil inclination). Eventually, the commandments will be inscribed on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).

weekly reading: Yisro’s Belief

B”H

Shiur for parashas Yisro 5780

(Exodus 18:1 – 20:23

Measure for measure, H’Shem enacted judgment upon Egypt. Turning the Nile River into blood reminded Pharaoh of his guilt, concerning his decree against male infants, that they be drowned in the Nile. And, the perishing of Pharaoh and his army at the Sea of Reeds was an expression of H’Shem’s judgment against Pharaoh. As implied by Yisro’s words:

Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law, “heard of all that G-d had done for Moses, and for Israel his people” (Exodus 18:1, JPS). “Now I know that the L-RD is greater than all gods” (Exodus 18:11, JPS). He continued, by making the implication that in the same manner that the Pharaoh conspired against the Children of Israel, so was his army destroyed. I.e., measure for measure, by means of water.

Although Yisro had worshipped many gods, according to Tanchuma, he had renounced idolatry. Yet, it was not until he heard of H’Shem’s plagues against Egypt – each one symbolizing H’Shem’s superiority over an Egyptian god – and the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, that he recognized H’ Shem as “greater than all gods.”

Up until then, his belief was predicated upon rational inquiry; he had his doubts about the efficacy of the many deities that he used to worship. Yet, when he heard of H’Shem’s greatness being demonstrated in a tangible way through the plagues, and the splitting of the sea, his belief was upgraded to the level of da’as (actual knowledge). So strong was his belief in H’Shem, that he chose to align himself with truth. Only H’Shem is the One true G-d. All other so-called deities are no-things.