The Essence of a Test

“G-d did prove [test] Abraham, and said unto him: ‘Abraham’; and he said: ‘Here am I’ [Hineni]. And he said, ‘Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee [lech lecha] into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.’”

– Genesis 22:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

As for Abraham’s response, when he was called by H’Shem, “Hineni,” commentary reads, “Such is the answer of the pious: it is an expression of meekness and readiness (Midrash Tanchuma, Vayera 22; sefaria.org). With one word, Abraham demonstrated his commitment to G-d as his servant; so, that in a state of preparedness to obey whatever commanded of him, when told to bring his son, Isaac up as an offering, he did not flinch.

The question may be asked, that if G-d is omniscient (all-knowing), why did he need to test Abraham’s faithfulness towards Him? Nachmanides’ comment, seems to answer this question, that Abraham showed he was willing to “bring forth the matter from the potential into actuality so that he may be rewarded for a good deed, not for a good thought alone” (Nachmanides on Genesis 22:1, sefaria.org).

This is the nature of our lives, that G-d would test the quality of our every breath, were it possible, to see if we are willing to serve Him with our all – that is every ounce and fiber of our being. Yet, the tests that are designed for us, the challenges that are tailor made for each individual, are done so in order to create an opportunity for our strengths to be expressed in actuality, thereby demonstrating the veracity of our positive character traits. Additionally, “G-d trieth the righteous” (Psalms 11:5), in order to increase a sense of righteousness within an individual, so that moral rectitude will permeate his being (Bereishis Rabbah 34).

Fair is Fair

“G-d heard the cry of the boy, and an angel of G-d called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for G-d has heard the cry of the boy from where he is.”

– Genesis 21:17, JPS 1985 Tanach

The midrash comments on the phrase, “from where he is,” by paraphrasing it as such: “in that condition in which he now is” (Genesis Rabbah 53:14, sefaria.org). As further explained, “He shall be judged according to his present deeds, and not according to those actions which he may do in the future” (Ramban; sefaria.org). Nachmanides further notes that the plain meaning is that G-d would provide water for the boy, in the very place that he was without further ado. And, so G-d opened the eyes of Hagar, whereafter “she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin with water, and let the boy drink” (Genesis 21:19).

Thus, if a generalization can be made, two inferences may be drawn out, one each from these two different interpretations. In the plain sense of the verse, G-d will meet us where we are at, when we call out to Him. In our very present needs, we seek relief from G-d when all else seems to fail. Our nisyanos (challenges) in life are sometimes of this kind. And, H’Shem willing, our help will appear in a manner that may even be unexpected, inasmuch that we had not considered such and such prior to our eyes being opened to the potential source of benefit for our relief.

In the more theological sense of the verse, we are seen by G-d for who we are at the time of need, regardless of who we will become in the future. For, “the L-RD is good to all; and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 149:9, JPS 1917 Tanach). Consider how Lot was blessed through the merit of Abraham, despite Lot’s immoral behavior that expressed itself, later, after he was spared from the fire and brimstone that fell upon Sodom and Gomorrah. It is important to note, that our condition in the future will be judged: if the righteous fall into a life of sin, “none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered.” And, if the wicked turn away from a sinful lifestyle, “none of his sins that he committed shall be remembered against him” (Ezekiel 33:12-16, JPS).

shabbos reflection: Tu b’Av

eruv Tu b’AV (fifteenth of the Hebrew month of Av)

This evening begins the lesser known Jewish holiday of Tu b’Av. Most of us are familiar with the 9th of Av, that occurred last week, commemorating the destruction of both the first and second Temples. Contrary to the mournful tone of Tish b”Av, the holiday of Tu b’Av (15th of Av) is a joyous holiday, a welcome change to the mournful Three Weeks that led up to Tish b’Av.

What does the holiday of Tu b’Av commemorate? According to some sources, all of the firewood necessary for the offerings of the new year was gathered by this day. Additionally, this day is when the men courted the women, in an outside gathering. Many Jews today pray for shidduchim (a marriage arrangement) on this particular day, because the day is considered auspicious to receive a favorable reply from H’Shem.

motzei Shabbos: G-d’s Integrity

the 2nd set of Balaam’s blessings

“G-d is not man to be capricious, or mortal to change His mind.
Would He speak and not act, promise and not fulfill?”

– Numbers 23:21, JPS 1985 Tanach

Targum Jonathan renders the same verse, in the following manner, essentially providing a significant explanation of the import of Balaam’s declarations:


“The Word of the living G-d is not as the words of men for the L-rd, the Ruler of all worlds, is the unchangeable, (but) man speaketh and denieth. Neither are His works like the works of the children of flesh, who consult, and then repent them of what they had decreed. But when the L-rd of all worlds hath said, I will multiply this people as the stars of the heavens, and will give them to possess the land of the Kenaanites, is He not able to perform what He hath spoken? and what He hath said, can He not confirm it?” (Targum Jonathan on Numbers 23:19, sefaria.org).


The nature of this explanation denotes Balaam’s insistence on G-d’s track record, with regard to not breaking His word. For not only multiplied B’nei Yisrael, like”the stars of the Heavens,” He also gave the Torah to B’nei the Yisrael, as he had told Moshe, that He would do at Mount Sinai; and, surely He would bring B’nei Yisrael into the promised land of Eretz Canaan, after the incident with Balak and Balaam.


R’ Bachya states, that “the essential difference between G’d and man is that G’d keeps His promises whereas man often deceives, [and] disappoints the people who have been promised by him” (sefaria.org). Furthermore, “Whereas man may change his mind concerning matters he had planned, which did not involve undertakings to his fellow man, he nonetheless is apt to have remorse, to change his mind before executing his plan. Not so G-d. When G-d decides on a course of action, He will not change His mind, even if such a change of mind does not involve a third party” (sefaria.org). And, “when man deceives or reneges, this is considered a serious flaw in his character” (sefaria.org).

Therefore, it may be important to keep in mind, based upon this commentary the benefits, of focusing upon character development, integrity, and keeping one’s word. These are all positive qualities to work on obtaining in life. Moreover, that our own words, should not contradict each other, as if we had two selves, in conflict with each other. Rather, it is important to aspire towards being yashar (upright) in all of our ways. Shavua tov (Have a good week).

The Malevolence of Balaam

Within the overall narrative of the parashas, Balaam’s attempt to curse Israel in which he failed, is followed by an alternative plan to cause malevolence amongst the fledging nation of Israel. A curse would typically bring upon a people some sort of malaise, at the behest of spiritual powers having the ability to wreak havoc. Yet, being compelled by H’Shem to bless Israel, instead of cursing the Children Israel, Balaam was thwarted. Out of his frustration, he encouraged Balaak to send Midianite women to entice the Jewish men into idolatry and licentious behavior (Numbers 25:1-3).

Having undermined the kedushah (holiness) of Israel, through his devious advice to Balak, Balaam caused Israel to sin, therefore leaving them open to judgment from H’Shem (Nesivos Shalom). A “shield of protection” is guaranteed to the nation, when a strong connection to H’Shem is maintained through emunah (faith) and moral integrity. Both of these essentials were diminished when the people bowed down to the gods of the Moabites, and the men fell prey to licentiousness with “the daughters of Moab” (Numbers 25:1-2, JPS). As a result, H’Shem, who is both just and merciful, acted upon His Attribute of Justice, by causing a plague, when “the anger of the L-RD was kindled against Israel” ((Numbers 25:3, JPS).

The Sin of Slander

motzei Shabbos: parashas Behaalotecha 5781

In parashas Beha’alotecha, a brief description of a critique against Moses is given: Miriam and Aaron, co-leaders of Israel (see Micah) as sell as prophets in their own right feel diminished by Moshe’s uniqueness, when he separates himself out from family life, in order to be more prepared to receive H’Shem’s presence at all times. And they said: ‘Hath the L-RD indeed spoken only with Moses? hath He not spoken also with us?’ And the L-RD heard it” (Numbers 12:2, JPS).


H’Shem responded by rebuking Miriam and Aaron, reminding them that the level of prophecy that Moses received is such that the L-RD speaks with him face to face, and that Moses is the trusted one in all His house. He asks Miriam and Aaron, “‘wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?’” (12:8).


Then H’Shem strikes Miriam with leprosy; although, upon Moshe’s immediate plea to heal her, the L-RD heals her; yet, she is placed in quarantine for seven days. She as treated as a metzorah (similar to a leper), wherein she is removed to the outer limits of the camp. This, like any metzorah who receives the same treatment, will give Miriam time to reflect. Her transgression is slander, one of the sins that normally leads to the spiritual malaise of tzarras, a skin affliction similar to leprosy.


This event is recorded towards the end of the parashas. The next reading from the Torah, parashas Shelach includes the narrative concerning the slander of the ten spies against the land that was promised to Israel. Their slander demoralizes the nation, compelling them to curtail the attempt to enter the land, only one year after leaving Egypt. Apparently, the lesson in regard to the slander against Moses by Miriam had not made a strong enough impression upon them, in order to take into consideration the nature of their own complaints.


Perhaps, as a lesson, this may serve as a reminder of the ease of humanity to recognize transgression in others; yet, to so easily overlook our own faults. Slander, and being critical of others is an especially prolific sin, that seems almost commonplace; however, anyone such as myself, who is serious about their relationship with G-d and man, needs to examine the conscience, as well as one’s speech, in order to uproot this sin from the soul.

shabbos reflections: Tradition

As Shabbos approaches, I have already said, “amein” after my mother lit candles, on Zoom according to halachic time on the East Coast. After welcoming Shabbat, I recited kiddush, we partook of motzei and ate our meals quietly, as if two thousand miles were condensed into two feet across the table. Now, back in my own time zone, so to speak, I am making the most of three hours until Shabbos begins. This would not have been possible, without the many circumstances that led to this new tradition. The Coronavirus is not without its blessings; although, I would not intend to diminish the overall tragic consequences for many people that have occurred in its wake.

Yet, for myself, I carry on, introvert that I am. For, my self-imposed shelter in place policy 24-7 provided much time for reflection. And, a prolific abundance of writings that I have mostly posted on my blogs. Overall, there is no way to measure these times, except within the framework of the big picture. As incident rates of Covid-19 decrease, we will not necessarily be entering the “new normal,” unless our minds are complacent. Rather we are already entering what is more akin to a brave new world, promoted by the technocracy, i.e., the means to manage the infrastructure, ideology, and economic system of the future. This will not lead to an utopia, rather, a dystopia; therefore, I will continue to cling to G-d, Torah, and acts of kindness, instead of the “new normal.”

Moving On

parashas Beha’alotecha 5781

“In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, that the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle of the testimony.”

  • Numbers, 10:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

B’nei Yisrael had been encamped at the base of Mount Sinai for ten days under a year. When the Cloud lifted up from above the encampment, that was the signal to journey to the next location. “And the cloud of the L-RD was over them by day, when they set forward from the camp” (Numbers 10:34, JPS 1917 Tanach). Thus, did the Children of Israel move out in the formation that was previously established for them.


First the tribe of Judah, then, as they began to march, the tabernacle would be disassembled, and placed in the care of the three Levite families. Two of the families followed the tribe of Judah; the third Levite family followed the tribe of Reuben. The rest of the tribes followed in formation behind them. “Whenever the cloud was taken up from over the Tent, then after that the children of Israel journeyed; and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel encamped” (Numbers 9:17, JPS). By day also He led them by a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire (Psalm 78:14).

Let us consider how G-d’s Presence guided the B’nei Yisrael, during the wandering in the desert. “Thou goest before them, in a pillar of cloud by day, and in a pillar of fire by night” (Numbers 14:14, JPS). This points toward H’Shem’s role in our lives to guide us in the right direction, to be a compass in an uncertain world, and a light in the darkness, as well as a refuge from the tumults of life. Appropos of the times, the day speaks of the necessity to turn towards the Creator, whose words are better than silver and gold (Psalms 19:1-5, Proverbs 8:19).

Marching Orders

“In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, that the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle of the testimony.”

  • Numbers, 10:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

The first journey made by B’nei Yisrael, after the encampment at the foot of Mount Sinai was on the twentieth of Iyar, ten days shy of one year, from their arrival at Sinai on the first of Sivan. The departure was well organized, ahead of time, for the sake of an orderly procession, tribe by tribe, to the next encampment.

First the tribe of Judah, then, as they began to march, the tabernacle would be disassembled, and placed in the care of the three Levite families. Two of the families followed the tribe of Judah; the third Levite family followed the tribe of Reuben. The rest of the tribes followed in formation, according to the Jerusalem Talmud either in the shape of a diamond, or in a straight line, tribe by tribe.


“And the cloud of the L-RD was over them by day, when they set forward from the camp” (Numbers 10:34, JPS 1917 Tanach). Thus, during their three day journey, H’Shem’s Presence in the form if a tangible cloud, sheltered them from the heat of the day. “Whenever the cloud was taken up from over the Tent; afterwards, the children of Israel journeyed; and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel encamped” (Numbers 9:17, JPS).

Therefore, let us consider how G-d’s Presence guided the B’nei Yisrael, during the wandering in the desert. “Thou goest before them, in a pillar of cloud by day, and in a pillar of fire by night” (Numbers 14:14, JPS). This points toward H’Shem’s role in our lives to guide us in the right direction, to be a compass in an uncertain world, and a light in the darkness, as well as a refuge from the tumults of life.

Motzei Shabbos: Nasso 5781

B”H

Motzei Shabbos parashas Nasso 5781

A few thoughts, as the Shabbos kedushah diminishes, with the onset of yom rishon: And the evening and the morning were the first day of the week.

In parashas Nasso, the passage concerning the nazir, speaks of the intention of a man or woman to separate oneself to a higher degree of kedushah (holiness), by primarily abstaining from wine and other intoxicants, as well as letting one’s hair grow. The minimum requirement for this endeavor is thirty days; at the completion of the designated term, in addition to receiving a haircut, the nazir would bring several offerings (in Hebrew, “korban”), including a sin offering.


Although there are various commentaries on the reason for bringing a sin offering, this is the one that I prefer above all of the others. Ramban, Nachmanides, comments that the nazir would have best served his own intentions to live in a manner that would bring him closer to G-d, if he remained a nazir, rather than only becoming a nazir for a limited amount of time. For his decision to enter back into the world, where he will once again partake of worldly pleasures, he must needs bring a sin offering. This is the position of the Ramban, one of the most authorative Rabbinical voices in Judaism today; although, he lived in the 13th Century.


How much moreso, today, when egotistical desires, and the profligation of worldly pleasures abound as normative in a modern society that typifies indulgence as the norm? We do not need to take a Nazirite vow, in order to abstain from the abnormal standards of the world; abnormal, because they are mostly antithetical to Torah. However, we can make an effort to diminish the impact of the yetzer hara (evil inclination) upon our soul; rather than tuning into the zeitgeist, I would recommend opening our eyes to the wondrous words of the wisdom of G-d.