Measure for Measure

parashas Haazinu 5782

“Give ear, ye heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew; as the small rain upon the tender grass, and as the showers upon the herb.” – Deuteronomy 32:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

Moses taught the Children of Israel a song that would serve to remind them, at some point in the future, of their failures, hopes, and redemption. Both Heaven and earth were called upon as witnesses to the words of Moses. Rashi adds that both heaven and earth would also serve to carry out the chastisement of Israel when they turned away from H’Shem: Heaven would withhold its rain, and the earth would withhold its produce.

Incidentally, almost as a sidenote, there is a reciprocal relationship between heaven and earth: “as above, so below.” Whatever we do on earth, causes a response in heaven. For example, when we pray, G-d will respond in a manner concomitant with our faith, and the nature of our prayer. Additionally, when we show kindness to others, we will find that in some unexpected way, we are rewarded for our kindnesses in due time, according to G-d’s wisdom.

This principle can also be found in the haftorah: “With the merciful Thou dost show Thyself merciful, with the upright man Thou dost show Thyself upright, with the pure Thou dost show Thyself pure; and with the crooked Thou dost show Thyself subtle” (2 Samuel 22:26-27, JPS 1917 Tanach). The principle is otherwise known as middah k’neged middah, “measure for measure.”

Stand This Day

d’var for parashas Nitzavim 5781

“Ye are standing this day all of you before the L-RD your G-d.”

  • Deuteronomy 29:9, JPS 1917 Tanach

Moshe speaks to the generation of Bnei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) that will soon cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land, under the new leadership of Joshua. Moshe reassures the people that despite their transgressions in the wilderness, they are still “standing this day.” The Hebrew word used for stand in this verse is nitzavim, from the shoresh (root word) NZV, meaning to stand upright. This has the the connotation of moral uprightness.

Moshe explains that they are gathered together, standing before HShem, “that thou shouldest enter (uvalaso) into the covenant of the L-RD thy G-d” (Deuteronomy 29:11, JPS). The shoresh, AVR, meaning to enter, also means to cross over. The use of this word is apropos of Bnei Yisrael’s imminent crossing over the Jordan to Canaan. Figuratively speaking, they are crossing over, i.e., transitioning from wanderers in the wilderness into G-d’s covenantal nation. (The proclamation given by Moses in this passage is a renewal of the covenant).

The Zohar relates the phrase, “Ye are standing this day” to Rosh HaShannah. When we stand before H’Shem on Rosh HaShannah, the Day of Judgment, we are judged for the year; the books are opened, and we hope to be judged favorably, so that we may cross over into a good year. Let us search and try our ways, and return to the L-RD (Lamentations 3:40, JPS), so that we may stand before Him, and be inscribed in the Book of Life.

A Wandering Aramean

dvar for parashas Ki Savo 5781

“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

“He begins with shame and concludes with praise.”

– Jerusalem Talmud Pesachim 70a

Jacob was a wandering Aramean (inasmuch that he spent twenty years serving his Uncle Laban in Aramea). According to the declaration made when the Bikurim (first fruits) were brought by an Israelite to the Kohein, the national narrative begins with Jacob, homeless and peniless (Ibn Ezra). Our humble beginnings as a people begin in shame; yet, they end in praise (see above). As a people, B’nei Yisrael became a nation, after being freed from slavery in Egypt.

We are like unto Jacob; If we are able to recognize our own “spiritual poverty,” then we would aspire towards the freedom from the shackles of our yetzer hara (evil inclination). In like manner that B’nei Yisrael received the Torah at Sinai, gaining true freedom through the commandments, we may do the same by following a life of restraint, moderation, and righteousness, with help from the L-RD. We may aspire towards greater heights, when we live in accordance with the guidelines given to us at Sinai.

When bringing the first fruits of the land as an offering to the Kohein, the declaration made by each individual Israelite is meant to remind the person bringing the offering of all that there is to be thankful for, in addition to the fruits of the land. “A land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and honey” (Deuteronomy 8:8, JPS 1917 Tanach). The material blessings in our own lives are best enjoyed with the acknowledgment of the L-RD’s influence. Whether we are able to clearly see His hand at work in our lives or not, we should always give thanks.

“And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which Thou, O L-RD, hast given me.’ And thou shalt set it down before the L-RD thy G-d, and worship before the L-RD thy G-d. And thou shalt rejoice in all the good which the L-RD thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thy house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is in the midst of thee.”

– Deuteronomy 26:10-11, JPS 1917 Tanach

dvar: Think Twice

“That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt observe and do; according as thou hast vowed freely unto the L-RD thy G-d, even that which thou hast promised with thy mouth.”

– Deuteronomy 23:24, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Torah records the positive commandment to observe whatever commitments we speak of through our own words. Although it is not advisable to make a vow these days, we are to be careful about fulfilling the promises we make with ourselves and others through our spoken words. “I will perform unto Thee my vows, which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken” (Psalm 66:13-14, JPS).

Otherwise, we will be held accountable for not following through on our words. Of course, this only applies to kind speech and intentions, whereas if we have said anything hurtful to another person, we should apologize in due time, and certainly not act upon anything said hastily, that could have negative consequences if acted upon. G-d forbid.

Positive speech is recommended at all times, when speaking to others, as well as when speaking of others. It is better to bless than to curse; i.e., it is better to speak well of people, than to speak ill of them. When we consider our words, before speaking, we should refrain from saying anything negative. “Set a guard, O L-RD, to my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3, JPS). “Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile” (Psalm 34:14, JPS).

Additionally, even our thoughts should be pure, as exemplified by the following pasuk (verse), “Thou hast tried my heart, Thou hast visited it in the night; Thou hast tested me, and Thou findest not that I had a thought which should not pass my mouth” (Psalm 17:3, JPS 1917 Tanach). For as we think, will be as we act; unless, we can scrutinize our thoughts, reconfigure our intentions, and not act upon our unconscious motives, without reflecting upon our actions.

dvar: parashas Shoftim 5781

“You must be whole-hearted with the L-RD your G-d.”

– Deuteronomy 18:13, JPS

“Put thy hope in Him and do not attempt to investigate the future, but whatever it may be that comes upon thee accept it whole-heartedly.” – Rashi,

The Targum paraphrase is intriguing: “Ye shall be perfect in the fear of the L-rd your G-d” (Yonatan Targum, Deuteronomy 18:13, Perhaps, the idea being conveyed in this rendering is, that in order to be tamiym (whole, perfect, having integrity), what is required is yiras H’Shem (awe, reverence and respect towards the L-RD). So, a practical application is included within the Targum rendering of the pasuk (verse). The two go “hand in hand,” yiras H’Shem for the sake of walking whole-heartedly with H’Shem. Because, in this manner, we will be cautious enough, as a result of yiras H’Shem to walk in an upright manner, as pertains to all of our thought, speech, and action.

Moreover, as Rashi clarifies, to trust in H’Shem to the extent that we are not worried about the future, because all is in his hands. As is conveyed elsewhere, all that is required is fear of H’Shem, because He will provide for all else in our lives, dependent upon our sincerity in regard to observing His commandments. There is no need to be concerned about future events, because everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen in our lives is for the good, even if we are currently unable to decipher the goodness found within our circumstances. We trust in H’Shem that only He knows what is best for us.

dvar: parashas Re’eh 5781

“Unto the place which the L-RD your G-d shall choose out of all your tribes to put His name there, even unto His habitation shall ye seek.”

– Deuteronomy 12:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

Moshe explains to the B’nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) that they should not do like the nations in regard to their service to H’Shem. The idolatrous nations worshipped anywhere and everywhere to various so-called deities. However, when entering Eretz Canaan, B’nei Yisrael would be called upon to “destroy all the places, wherein the nations that ye are to dispossess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every leafy tree” (Deuteronomy 12:2, JPS). Rather, Israel is called to worship in “the place which H’Shem your G-d shall choose” (Deuteronomy 12:5, JPS).

The place that H’Shem chose, eventually was Jerusalem. That is where the first and second Temples were built. Moreover, we await the building of the Third temple. Until then, we congregate in assemblies, that are referred to as “small sanctuaries,” as per one interpretation of the following pasuk (verse): “Thus saith the L-rd G-D: Although I have removed them far off among the nations, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet have I been to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they are come” (Ezekiel 11:16, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The original meaning of the verse was meant to convey a sense of reassurance to the exiles, after the first Temple was destroyed, that H’Shem’s presence would still be with them; i.e., that H’Shem would be a sanctuary – a place of refuge for them. This rendering is also apropos today, during the current galus (exile), inasmuch that we believe that His presence, otherwise known as the Shechinah, went into exile with us after the destruction of the second Temple. Although, the return of the Jewish people has already begun at the time of the recreation of the State of Israel, our exile is not officially, over until the third Temple is built in the time of Moshiach (Messiah).

dvar Eikev 5781

 “But thou shalt remember the L-RD thy G-d, for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore unto thy fathers”

– Deuteronomy 8:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

B’nei Yisrael, the Children of Israel will soon cross over the Jordan River, to their inheritance in Eretz Canaan, the Land of Canaan, otherwise referred to as the Promised Land. They will no longer receive the benefit of Divine Providence in a clear, unmistakable manner; the provision of manna, the bread from Shomayim (Heaven) will cease, and they will have to dig their own wells, in order to obtain water. In other words, B’nei Yisrael will become dependent on the land itself, through their own efforts.

Therefore, H’Shem’s Providence will not be as apparent to them; they may forget that all of their provisions are really from H’Shem, because they will not see H’Shem’s direct influence, except in regard, for example, to the timely amounts of rain, necessary for maintaining their crops, attributed to Him: “I will give the rain of your land in its season, the former rain and the latter rain” (Deuteronomy 11:14). Also, “I will give grass in thy fields for thy cattle, and thou shalt eat and be satisfied” (Deuteronomy 11:15).

The same is true today, even moreso, inasmuch that we attribute our wealth, success, and overall well-being to our own efforts, without realizing how all is dependent on our relationship to H’Shem. Not that we may adopt a passive stance towards the acquisition of a meaningful and substantial parnasah (livelihood), the pursuit of hatzlachah (success), and the maintenance of our refuah sheleimah (well-being); rather, we are reminded to acknowledge H’Shem’s hand in regard to our various situations and overall condition in life.

King David attributed all of his success in battle to H’Shem. Moreover, he said, “Both riches and honour come of Thee” (1 Chronicles 29:12). Regarding the ability to give generously, he noted, “who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? for all things come of Thee, and of Thine own have we given Thee” (29:14). Likewise, inasmuch that we are able to acknowledge all that we have is from H’Shem, when we give tsedokah (charity), we are only returning to Him what is His.

Pleading for an Undeserved Favor

“And I besought [implored] H’Shem at that time, saying: ‘O L-rd G-D, thou hast begun to show Thy servant Thy greatness, and Thy strong hand; for what god is there in heaven or on earth, that can do according to Thy works, and according to Thy mighty acts?  Let me go over, I pray Thee, and see the good land that is beyond the Jordan, that goodly hill-country, and Lebanon.'”

– Deuteronomy 3:23, JPS 1917 Tanach

Moshe was considered the humblest man alive; yet, he spoke in anger, and transgressed at the waters of Meribah when he struck the rock instead of speaking to it as H’Shem had commanded; therefore, he was not permitted to enter Canaan.  Moshe pleads for H’Shem’s mercy in an attempt to ask Him to annul His decree that he would not enter the Promised Land.  However, he is only permitted to view the Promised Land from the top of a mountain (see Deuteronomy 3:26). According to Rashi, even though Moshe was denied entrance into Eretz Yisrael, he was received into Olam Haba .

Vaeschanan – I implored.  Rashi further comments that the verb chanan, signifies a gift given out of kindness or grace. “Although the righteous might make a claim to reward depend upon their good deeds, yet they solicit from the Omnipresent only an ex gratia gift” – a gift given out of kindness, not dependent upon merit (Rashi on Deuteronomy 3:23, In looking at ourselves, we should acknowledge our lowliness, and our own need to seek G-d’s mercy. If we were to consider all of the ways that we offend H’Shem, how can we even stand before Him? “Not in the merit of our righteousness do we cast our supplications before you, but in the merit of Your mercy” (morning prayers).     


Beyond Trust

“The land the L-RD, our G-d, is giving us is good.” – Deuteronomy 1:25

G-d had previously said, that the land was good, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” Sifrei emphasizes that both Joshua and Caleb asserted that the land was good, even after seeing the land for themselves, despite the ill report of the ten other spies. Their perspective was positive, while the others had a negative perspective; yet, the words of the malcontent “descend into the inmost parts” (Proverbs 18:8), in this case, influencing the people in an adverse manner.

Even to the extent that they claimed that the L-RD hated them, saying that He brought them out of Egypt to die at the hands of their enemies (Deuteronomy 1:27). Fear, as well as their own hatred towards G-d (see Sifrei) compelled them to project their own hatred onto Him, as if they were the hated ones. As if G-d’s design from the beginning was to permit them to be exterminated?

A lack of judgment engulfed them because of the cloudiness of their minds. In Egypt, the Nile allowed for an irrigation system that would distribute the water for farming. Yet, in the land of Canaan, where the Israelites were being brought, only through natural means, by rainfall, allotted to the land by G-d Himself, would their survival depend (Numbers Rabbah 17). Yet, they trusted in the security provided for them in Egypt, and disparaged trusting in the L-RD to provide for them.

Isn’t this like modern man, with all of his comforts, as per the result of civilization, buttressed by the foundation of the industrial revolution, and its counterpart, the age of technology? To consider for ourselves, how much this may be the case, we may ask whether we would be willing to give up our material comforts for a two week camping trip.

Yet, the children of Israel went on “a camping trip” for forty years. During this time, the L-RD provided for them, beyond any means that Egypt could have provided. And if we were faced with the prospect of becoming “enslaved” by technology, would we be willing to leave everything behind us, for the sake of our freedom? Is our emunah (faith) in the L-RD strong enough, that our subsequent trust in His provision for us would foster resiliency in the face of adversity?

“Blessed is the man that trusteth in the L-RD, and whose trust the L-RD is.”

– Isaiah 17:7, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Journey

dvar for parashas Mattos – Masei 5781

“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” (Numbers 33:2), 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. Lessons learned, although, often from past mistakes, should also compel us anew to be more circumspect in our lives.

Thus, here is the segway to the applied application of Torah, from the passage that lists the forty-two journeys of B’nei Yisrael through the desert: each journey was a necessary stage, paving the way for the next advancement on the overall path from Mitzraim (Egypt) to Eretz Yisrael, as the Children of Israel are transformed into a G-d fearing people in alignment with the will of H’Shem, as given through His commandments.

Our own life journeys, from place to place mirror the template: the 42 journeys of the Israelites through the wilderness. They were brought out of a place of tumah (impurity), namely Mitzraim (Egypt), crossed through the Sea of reeds that parted for them, symbolic of immersion in a mikveh, and continued for forty years in the wilderness until reaching a place of kedushah (holiness) in the Land of Israel.

This journey serves to remind us of one of the main purposes in life: to move away from a sense of spiritual impurity to greater kedushah (holiness) by repairing our character defects and turning away from sin. In a similar manner that the Children of Israel were encompassed on all sides by tumah (impurity) in their environment, we should also be aware of the negative influences in our environment.

Our individual paths are designed by H’Shem to guide us through the various challenges we face in life. Once we learn the lesson, we may move on to the next place or situation that has another inherent challenge for us. Each stage may serve as a tikkun hanefesh, a repairing of the soul. The ultimate destination of the Israelites was the Promised Land; so, too, in a way, for us, inasmuch that Israel, under the reign of Moshiach (Messiah) is our ultimate inheritance.

“The path of the righteous is as the light of dawn, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”

– Proverbs 4:18, JPS 1917 Tanach