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.”

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.

Shavuot 5780

B”H

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger from Pexels

This year, as Shavuot approaches, my imagination is captured by recent events, going back to Purim: a long and arduous journey of the soul, from rejoicing, to solitude, and now the figurative climb in preparation of receiving the Commandments anew in our lives. Let me explain. On my personal journey from rejoicing at a Purim celebration, that turned out to be the last time that I attended a religious community event. Solitude, as I mostly hunkered down into an almost overly self imposed shelter-in-place existence. The spiritual climb, having the solitude to focus on my derech (path), into the wilderness, so that I might be refined b’ezrach H’Shem (with G-d’s help) enough to na’aseh v’nishmah – perform, and understand – over time the significance of the commandments anew.

We are mostly all camped out within our own personal deserts; yet, the desert is where the Torah was given to B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel). A place where the mind is unhindered from distractions, and solace may be found in the stillness of Sinai. Plenty of opportunity for spiritual growth, if our perspective in life can shift in that direction, even moreso than if and when we already have in the past. By “the past,” I do not only mean, before the corona virus, I mean even if we have never considered are ruchniyos (spirituality) throughout most of our lives. Because, without a godly focus to some extent, human beings, myself included, are too easily caught up in gashmios (materiality). However, we have the opportunity to reach out towards H’Shem, so that we may be drawn to Him.

When Moshe entered “the thick cloud” (Exodus 19:9) on Sinai, he was called even further, he “drew near unto the thick darkness where G-d was” (Exodus 20:18, JPS 1917 Tanach). This serves as an example for us in our quest to grow closer to G-d. He is found within the darkness of our lives. We may ask ourselves when will the clouds part, and the light begin to shine in our lives again. Yet, perhaps, there will be no preemptive parting of the clouds, not until we learn how to bear the challenges in our lives by using them as opportunities to seek G-d, so that His presence, may comfort us during our nisyanos (troubles). Then, we may enter back into the world, renewed with godly strength and vigour, as a result of our own personal Sinai experience, no matter how many days we may actually be on the mountain.

Shavuos 5780

Jerusalem Day

B”H

May 22, 2020

A poem: Perhaps

Perhaps someone knows,
where the fire still glows.

Perhaps, the stars still shine
over the lives of distant relatives.

Somewhere, in the darkness of the past,
perhaps, they returned home at last.

Today, I continuously search,
within the ashes of the Shoah.

Searching for my lost family members,
whose fate is unknown.

Yet, the light from Shomayim
will always protect their souls.

Wrapped up in the Bundle of Life,
they are preserved forever.

by Tzvi Fievel Schnee

Lag b’Omer 5780

B”H

Today is the 33rd day, four weeks and five days of the counting of the Omer. Today is known as Lag b’Omer, in commemoration of the Talmudic figure, Shimon bar Yochai. The authorship of the Zohar, a Jewish mystical work is attributed to him; however, according to scholarly research, the Zohar has been shown to have been written by Moses de Leon, a Spanish Rabbi and kabbalist, who lived during the thirteenth century.

Many in Israel light bonfires on Lag b’Omer [although, perhaps, not this year] especially in Meron, where Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is buried. Although an actual person, who is mentioned in the Talmud, he has become somewhat of a legendary figure, because of the Zohar, where he is the main character. He is honored as having revealed the secrets of the Torah, while Moses de Leon is assigned a lesser seat amongst rabbis, memoralized in relative obscurity.

The day is also the day when the plague that had been taking the lives of R’ Akiva’s students stopped, after decimating twelve thousand pairs of his students. In fact, the historical Shimon ben Yochai is said to have been amongst the few who remained alive at the time. He is credited with superhuman feats in the Talmud, thus sparking the beginning of his legendary status through the Zohar. Yet, instead of viewing the bonfires as symbolic as the light of wisdom emanating from him, I prefer to perceive the flames of the bonfires as representative of the light of Torah.

All the same, on Lag b’Omer, many have barbecues, in lieu of bonfires; and, I must admit that I have been craving a kosher hamburger, as well as a kosher hot dog or two ever since lunch time today. One last point, as food for thought, regarding the students of R. Akiva. According to the Talmud, the reason attributed to their deaths was a lack of respect towards each other. By way of a negative example, we can learn through the serious repercussions of their disrespect, to focus on our relationships with others, especially family and friends, with respect, tolerance, and forbearance to the other, in full recognition of their positive qualities and contributions as unique persons.

The Second Passover

B”H

Pesach Sheini 5780

Thursday night begins Pesach Sheini – the second Passover, for those who were impure, according to the definition of Torah, or were on a distant journey. Pesach Sheini connotes the idea of second chances. The Israelites who were not able to observe Pesach were given a second chance, one month later, in order to do so. Today, the concept may be applicable to the personal instances of our lives, when we were given a second chance of some nature. Traditionally, matzoh is eaten on Pesach Sheini, a one day holiday that will end Friday night as Shabbos begins.

Chanukah lights

B”H

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Each day of the eight days of Chanukah, a candle is lit, successively, so that on the first day – one candle is lit, then two candles on the eve of the second day, and so on. Yet, if you look at a menorah designed for Chanukah, there are nine candle holders. (Unless the menorah uses oil with tiny wicks, then there are nine repositories for the oil). The reason for a total of nine, is to have a place, usually in the center of the menorah, for the shamash (servant) candle, that is used to light all of the other candles. This candle is lit first; then, it shares its light with the other candles.

The tradition is reminiscent of the pasuk (verse), “In Thy light do we see light” (Psalm 36:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). H’Shem is the source of life, that bestows light upon us; we are connected, even dependent upon Him for every breathe we take. “For Thou dost light my lamp; the L-RD my G-d doth lighten my darkness” (Psalm 18:29, JPS). At the darkest time of the year, may we hope to be enlightened by H’Shem, by way of His emes (truth), and chesed (mercy), two key components of Chanukah; for His truth led us in the darkness against our enemies; and, through His mercy the few were able to defeat the many.