Va’etchanan 5781

parashas Va’etchanan 5781

“Ye that did cleave unto the L-RD your G-d are alive every one of you this day.”

 – Deuteronomy 4:4, JPS 1917 Tanach

During Moshe’s speech that lasted thirty-seven days, he prepared B’nei Yisrael to enter the Promised Land.  He cautioned them, admonished them, and reminded them in a tactful way of previous sins.  Rather than naming the sins, he would mention the place where the transgressions occurred.

One such instance that appears a little more direct is when he mentions the matter of Baal-peor, whereof H’Shem punished “all the men that followed the Baal of Peor [the deity of the Midianites]” (Deuteronomy 4:3).  He further mentions that those who cleaved to H’Shem, rather than follow the deity, “are alive every one of you this day” (Deuteronomy 4:4, JPS 1917 Tanach).

This juxtaposition makes it clear that those who did not transgress through idolatry and licentiousness were preserved by H’Shem because they “cleaved” to Him.  The Hebrew word used for “cleave,” in this instance, is “deveykut.”  The word connotes a clinging to H’Shem in the sense of one who is dependent on Him for his sense of well-being.

Deveykut is necessary for hitbodedut (Jewish meditation).  Within the practice of hitbodedut, one pours out his heart to H’Shem, hoping for an answer to all of his prayers.  Yet, in complete deveykut, one lives his life in constant acknowledgement of the L-RD.  Furthermore, he is able to speak to H’Shem from within in his heart in the quiet moments of the day. May we avoid the secular deities of modern society, so that we can cleave to the L-RD in our own lives.

Steady Course

“There are eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of mount Seir to Kadesh-Barnea.” – Deuteronomy 1:2

The book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) was previously known as Mishneh Torah, Repetition of the Torah, because the book is mostly an account of the journeys of B’nei Yisrael and reiteration of certain laws. The reason being that Moshe sought to rebuke, instruct, and inspire the new generation that would be entering Eretz Yisrael.

The account mentions that there is an eleven day journey from Horeb, the general area where Mount Sinai is located, to Kadesh-Barnea, passing around Mount Seir to get there. Kadesh-Barnea is where B’nei Yisrael gathered, before being commanded to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 32:8). “Behold, the L-RD your G-d has set the land before you; go up and possess it, as the L-RD G-d of your fathers has said to you; fear not, nor be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 1:21).

However, the next verse after the eleven day journey from Mount Sinai to the edge of Eretz Canaan, states, “And it came to pass in the fortieth year…that Moses spoke to the people of Israel” (Deuteronomy 3:3); and, thus begins Moshe’s thirty-six day discourse. By contrasting the eleven day journey to Kadesh-Barnea, with the fact that now it is the fortieth year after leaving Egypt, attention is drawn to the point that had it not been for the debacle of the spies, B’nei Yisrael would have entered the Land from Kadesh-Barnea, only eleven days after leaving Sinai.

Yet, thirty-nine years  transpired since that time; and, this is the new generation that is being prepared to enter the Promised Land after the many years of wandering in the desert. This teaches us that not all who wander are lost. For H’Shem remained faithful to the Children of Israel and brought them into the land despite the many delays, nisyanos (tests), and detours.

He will also bring us into the Promised Land, as long as we do not stray; rather, that we should always seek Him as our Guiding Light. Inasmuch that the pillar of fire provided light for B’nei Yisrael at night, the L-RD will provide us with light in the darkness of our lives; despite the challenges in our lives, G-d will lead us to the Promised Land.

Priorities

shiur for parashas Mattot-Masei 5781


“Let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession.”
– Numbers 32:5, JPS 1917 Tanach


The tribes of Reuben and Gad requested of Moshe, thus, also of H’Shem, that their inheritance be given to them on the East side of the Jordan River. Yet, they were rebuked by Moshe, for implying that they would not set forth into Eretz Canaan, with the rest of the twelve tribes of Jacob, to partake in the battles that would enable them to defeat the local inhabitants, subsequently, enabling them to settle in the land. In response to Moshe’s concerns, they responded that not only would they fight with their brethren, rather, also they would be the vanguard, and would remain in the Eretz Canaan, until the lands were allotted to the other tribes, before going back to the East side of the Jordan.


What compelled them, to place themselves outside of Eretz Yisrael proper, set apart from their brethren, was the quality of the land, east of the Jordan, wherein they would be able to graze their flocks; apparently, they had more livestock than any other tribe. Their overemphasis on materialistic concerns may be part of an overall faulty outlook, further revealed when examining Moshe’s correction of their values. Two points are noted, based upon Moshe’s critique of their response: 1). misplaced allegiance, and 2). neglect of primary responsibilities.


First of all, Moshe points out that rather than making a commitment as the vanguard of the Children of Israel, when going into battle, for the sake of their inheritance in Eretz Canaan, they should see themselves as marching “before H’Shem,” first and foremost, according to His will. This should be their primary allegiance, then all else will follow. Even any commitment they felt towards their brethren should not be stronger than their devotion to H’Shem. As Arbavanel points out, the compassion towards their fellow tribes that compelled them to assist them in battle, does not match their obligation towards H’Shem. Our best intentions towards our fellow human being, even family and friends may fall short of the mark from time to time. However, when we fulfill our commitments to others, because we know that we should do so by divine decree, we are less likely to shirk our responsibilities.


Secondly, Moshe reminded the tribes of Gad and Reuben of their family responsibilites. They had initially said that they would “build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones” (Numbers 32:16). However, Moshe responded, “Build you cities for your little ones, and folds for your sheep” (32:34), reversing the order of their words to show that their children were certainly more important than their livestock.” A lesson for modern times, whereof misplaced values may lead to being sidetracked by an over-emphasis on work, material goods, and the temporal realm. Lest we forget, a more balanced perspective on life, inclusive of relationships, spiritual blessings, and the realm of the sublime.


“Search me, O G-d, and know my heart, try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any way in me that is grievous, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
– Psalm 139:23-24, 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

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).

drash Korach 5781

parashas Korach 5781

“And he spoke unto Korah and unto all his company, saying: ‘In the morning the L-RD will show who are His, and who is holy, and will cause him to come near unto Him; even him whom He may choose will He cause to come near unto Him.”

  • Numbers 16:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

Korach separated himself from the assembly of H’Shem. He purported to champion the people, inasmuch that he claimed that everyone was holy, saying that Moses and Aaron should not lift themselves above the assembly of H’Shem (Numbers 16:3, JPS 1917 Tanach); yet, commentary explains that Korach wanted Aaron’s position of Kohein Gadol for himself. Therefore, his mass appeal was a ruse, made only to aggrandize himself, and his followers.


In response to the challenge of Korach and his followers, Moshe spoke of a test, whereby H’Shem will show who are His, and who is kadosh [holy] (see above). He said, take ye everyman his fire-pan, and put incense upon them, and bring ye before H’Shem every man his fire-pan, two hundred and fifty fire pans; thou also, and Aaron, each his fire-pan (Numbers 16:17).


H’Shem told Moshe, Speak unto the congregation, saying: Get you up from about the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16:24). The earth opened up its mouth, and swallowed Korach, his family, and his followers; they went down alive into the pit; and the earth closed upon them, and they perished from among the assembly (24:33). Fire came forth from H’Shem, and devoured the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense (24:35).

The fire pans were gathered up, “and they beat them out for a covering of the altar,” as a reminder that only those who are “of the seed of Aaron, [may] draw near to burn incense before the L-RD” (Numbers 17:4-5, JPS). Yet, inasmuch that on a symbolic level, prayer is likened to the incense service, today we may always offer up our prayers to the L-RD, whether in a communal setting, or through hisbodedus (personal prayer). Our avodas (service) is the prayer of the heart.

shiur Korach 5781

“So they, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit [Sheol]; and the earth closed upon them, and they perished from among the assembly.” – Numbers 16:33, JPS 1917 Tanach

Korach gathered the adus (congregation) against Moses and Aaron, in an attempt to overthrow their authority by means of an outright rebellion (Numbers 16:1-3). It was an opportune time for rebellion, inasmuch that the people were already disgruntled, because of the decree proclaimed by H’Shem that the men, over twenty years of age would all pass away in the wilderness, during the course of the next thirty-nine years, as a consequence of their lack of trust in H’Shem, when they neglected to enter the land at the designated time.

Korach, Dathan and Aviram were the ringleaders of the uprising. As a result of their insurgency, Korach perished (AVD), along with his family, and Dathan and Aviram, with their families, when they were swallowed up by the earth. Incidentally, the Hebrew word yov’du, translated as “perished,” derives from the shoresh (root word), aleph-beis-dalet. The word, avadon, is also derived from the same shoresh. Avadon refers to a place of destruction similar to Sheol, possibly Gehinnom. Additionally, the two hundred fifty men of renown, who followed him were consumed by fire from H’Shem, when they attempted to offer up incense, individually, every man his fire pan.

Both punishments were clearly by way of divine intervention; yet, the people ignored this. They still had a complaint against Moshe: they claimed that Moshe was responsible for the deaths of Korach’s two hundred fifty followers. The people themselves had been rallied by Korach against Moshe and Aaron; now, their enthusiasm was piqued by the loss of these men, who supported the rebellion. In response, to subdue another uprising, H’Shem sent a plague amongst the people, wherein 14,500 perished, before Aaron intervened at the urgent insistence of Moses.

“And Moses said unto Aaron: ‘Take thy fire-pan, and put fire therein from off the altar, and lay incense thereon, and carry it quickly unto the congregation, and make atonement for them; for there is wrath gone out from the L-RD: the plague is begun’” (Numbers 17:11, JPS 1917 Tanach). The response was immediate: “And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed” (17:13). Symbolically, the burning of incense represents steadfast prayer; perhaps, prayer may serve today as an effectual means, even to combat the remainder of the current pandemic.

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.

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).