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shiur: Mingled Stuff

 “Thou shalt not wear a mingled stuff, wool and linen together.”

– Deuteronomy 22:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Seeing that the first two human beings who were born on earth were of different species, (Kayin and Hevel), one being the result of the evil genes of the serpent, the other that of Adam’s divinely inspired spirit, and we are commanded to keep our distance from the spirit of impurity, mixing the species has been forbidden for us as we have learned the fatal consequences which this could have.” – R. Bachya, commentary on Leviticus 19:19, sefaria.org

The fundamental differences between Kayin (Cain) and Hevel (Abel) are reflected in the nature of the offerings that each brought to H’Shem. “Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the L-RD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the L-RD had respect unto Abel and to his offering; but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect” (Genesis 4:3-5 JPS). A qualitative difference between Abel and Cain’s offerieng is inferred. Cain’s offering was linseed (Midrash Tanchuma, Bereishis 9), whereas Abel brought the choicest of his flock.

 If Abel brought from his sheep, then this could correspond to the wool, mentioned in the previous commandment, while Cain’s offering would be represented by linen. The commandment forbids “wool and linen together.” This rendering would reinforce the underlying differences between Cain and Abel. If we are to be more like Abel, giving the best of ourselves as an offering to the L-RD through our good deeds, then, we should not compromise our standing with the L-RD by following the poor example of Cain at all. Rather, we should maintain excellency in all of our endeavors, both towards G-d and man.

shiur: parashas Shoftim 5781

“Justice justice [tzedek tzedek] shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the L-RD, Our G-d giveth thee.” – Deuteronomy 16:2, JPS

Moshe proclaims the imperative to establish judges to judge the people, emphasizing the pursuit of justice. However, the Hebrew word, tzedek, may also be translated as righteousness. Therefore, the pasuk (verse)may be rendered, “Righteousness, righteousness, shall you pursue,” providing a more accessible understanding for the benefit of the everyday reader. Within this framework, the pasuk (verse) may be taken as an ethical imperative, that places a strong emphasis on individual righteousness. Besides, if we are not walking in righteousness, what right do we have to judge others?

Additionally, Inasmuch that the word tzedek (righteousness) is repeated twice, we may infer that the repetition refers to two types of righteousness. This might be alluded to in several passages within the book of Deuteronomy. The first, is a call for B’nei Yisrael to circumcise their hearts, making an effort on their own to improve their ways, moving towards righteousness (Deuteronomy 10).

The second, H’Shem states that He Himself will circumcise our hearts (Deuteronomy 30), whereas the righteousness that will ensue is a gift from Above. Viewed together, these two ways may imply that when we make an effort to draw close to H’Shem through teshuvah, He will meet us halfway (Shabbos 104a). For, when we attempt to improve ourselves, H’Shem will respond in like manner to our efforts.

Furthermore, to be righteous in H’Shem’s eyes, a casting away of aveiros (transgressions) is first necessary. “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean” (Ezekiel 36:25, JPS).   “I will put My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes” (Ezekiel 36:27, JPS 1917 Tanach). H’Shem’s gift from Above will be bestowed upon us through the Ruach (Spirit), so that our lives may be sanctified.

shiur: parashas Re’eh 5781

 “Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse.”

 – Deuteronomy 11:26, JPS 1917 Tanach

“See, I set before you this day,” in other words, perceive that I present before you this very day, the significance of blessings and curses in your lives. According to Rabbeinu Bahya, the so-called, “mental eye” of the spiritually sensitive is able to see the effects of the blessings and curses, on an individual basis, in their own lives. Incidentally, the blessings originate with the Attribute of Mercy, whereas the curses are derived from the Attribute of Justice.

R. Bahya makes reference to the pasuk (verse), “I have seen great wisdom and knowledge” (Ecclesiastes 1:16). As a direct result of our being aware of the blessings and curses in life, we may obtain great knowledge, concerning the causal relationship between our thoughts, speech, & actions, and their consequences. This may lead towards wisdom, having to do with how H’Shem Elokim guides us – each and every person, according to hasgachah peratis (divine guidance), weaving a tapestry of events and consequences in our lives, dependent upon the nature of our conduct.

Additionally, consider the words of King David, who wrote, “Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4, JPS); he was assured through H’Shem’s guidance and correction, that he would remain on the derech (path). H’Shem’s guidance, as represented by a staff (a shepherd’s crook) and His correction, as symbolized by a rod. This is akin to the understanding that blessings can be understood as signs that we are on the right path; and curses are a form of chastisement meant to correct us, whenever we go astray. Shabbat shalom.

shiur Eikev 5781

 “Beware lest thou forget the L-RD thy G-d, in not keeping His commandments, and His ordinances, and His statutes, which I command thee this day.”

– Deuteronomy 8:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

This admonition exemplifies the connection between having an awareness of H’Shem’s presence, and the performance of mitzvoth (commandments). The message implies that if we do not observe the commandments, we will forget H’Shem. In other words, negligence in observance may lead to forgetfullness. Hence, having a belief in H’Shem’s existence is only the starting point, as inferred by the first commandment, “I am the L-rd your G-d,” understood as an pronouncement to believe in G-d. Yet, we must constantly remind ourselves of His presence, by keeping Him in mind through tangible means. Whether through prayer, study, or observance, our whole self may have the opportunity to be attached to Him:

“After the L-RD your G-d shall ye walk, and Him shall ye fear, and His commandments shall ye keep, and unto His voice shall ye hearken, and Him shall ye serve, and unto Him shall ye cleave.”

– Deuteronomy 13:5 , JPS 1917 Tanach

By attaching ourselves to H’Shem, above all else, we will not lose sight of Him, and fall into forgetfullness. Within the greater context of the passage, the admonition not to forget H’Shem, given to B’nei Yisrael, continues, to warn against a potential snare of material prosperity, wherein the acquisition of goods could lead to forgetfulness of H’Shem, “lest  thou say in thy heart: ‘My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth’” (Deuteronomy 8:17).

If the children of Israel become too caught up in their own achievements, once they enter Eretz Yisrael, then a constant remembrance of H’Shem could be replaced by the busyness of their lives. How much more of an admonition can this passage be viewed as relevant for us today in the postmodern world, where the noise, and constant activity of the world has the potential to drown out the silence of our inward person. This makes reflection, as well as a continual awareness of H’Shem, even more challenging for us. Yet, we may persevere, if we keep in mind “to love the L-RD your G-d, to walk in all His ways, and to cleave unto Him” (Deuteronomy 11:22).                                                                                                                                  

Our Ingathering

B”H

וְאֶתְכֶם לָקַח יְהֹוָה וַיּוֹצִא אֶתְכֶם מִכּוּר

 “You hath the L-RD taken and brought forth out of the iron furnace.”

 – Deuteronomy 4:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

Rashi explains, “a כור is a vessel in which one refines gold” (sefaria.org). Moshe’s choice of words, attempts to impress upon the new generation, that the nisyanos (challenges) in Egypt, were meant to serve as a means to refine the people. Consider that when gold is placed in “a refiner’s fire,” the impurities are drawn out; consequently, what remains is pure. On the level of practical application, the soul is also refined, through the challenges of life, in order to be free from taint.

Consider the following as well, Joseph, who went ahead of the children of Israel into Egypt, endured many challenges, “until the time that His word came to pass; the word of the L-rd had tested him” (Psalms 105:19). His character was refined in the refiner’s fire, in preparation for his role as a leader in Egypt, only second to Pharoah. In this manner, he was tested, until his prophetic dreams were fulfilled by H’Shem, through the circumstances of his life.

Moshe continues, “The L-RD shall scatter you among the peoples, and ye shall be left few in number among the nations, whither the L-RD shall lead you away” (Deuteronomy 4:27). “From thence ye will seek the L-RD thy G-d; and thou shalt find Him, if thou search after Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29). These words are addressed to the current generation; this is denoted by the phrase, “the end of days,” wherein we currently are on the Biblical timeline.

בַּצַּר לְךָ וּמְצָאוּךָ כֹּל הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה בְּאַֽחֲרִית הַיָּמִים וְשַׁבְתָּ עַד־יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ וְשָֽׁמַעְתָּ בְּקֹלֽוֹ׃

“In thy distress, when all these things are come upon thee in the end of days, thou wilt return to H’Shem thy G-d, and hearken unto His voice; for the L-RD thy G-d is a merciful G-d; He will not fail thee.” – Deuteronomy 4:30-31

“G-d assayed to go and take Him a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, and by wonders” (Deuteronomy 4:34). So too, will He lead us out of exile. As the sages note, the time that precedes the Final Redemption, will mirror the plagues that preceded the First Redemption, when B’nei Yisrael was led out of Egypt. “There shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time; and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book” (Daniel 12:1, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Our Promised Inheritance


“Let us send men before us, that they may search the land for us, and bring us back word of the way by which we must go up, and the cities unto which we shall come.”

– Deuteronomy 1:22, JPS 1917 Tanach

Moshe reiterates the events of B’nei Yisrael over the past 39 years, in an effort to convey to the next generation, who will enter the Promised Land, what needs to be learned from their ancestor’s travails. Although various narratives recorded prior in Torah are mentioned, they are being retold in a way that will benefit this generation, boost their morale, and caution them against making similar mistakes that were made by the previous generation.

Apropos of entering the land, Moshe recalls the first time, when thirty-eight years prior, Bnei Yisrael were poised on the brink of entering the land. Although they had been encouraged at that time to go forward without fear or trepidation, they hesitated, and requested to send men ahead of them, in order to get a better idea of what they would face when attempting to conquer the land. This might be seen as prudent, and perhaps even wise, were it not for their motivation in making the request; they did not have enough emunah (faith) in H’Shem to foster the necessary resolve to enter the land, fully trusting in H’Shem’s strength to provide a victory.

The new generation is being called to task, to fully place their trust in H’Shem as they are about to enter the Promised Land. Having recently defeated the two Kings, Sihon and Og (Deuteronomy 1:4), who guarded the border of Eretz Canaan, Bnei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) are encouraged by Moshe, to know that they will also be able to defeat the inhabitants of Canaan (Deuteronomy 3:21-22).

The symbolic lesson for us has to do with trusting in H’Shem to bring us into our inheritance at the end of the age. No eye has seen nor ear heard what H’Shem has prepared for those who wait for Him (Isaiah 64:3). “The L-RD will build up Zion; He will appear in His glory. This shall be written for the generation to come” (Psalm 102:17,19). In Hebrew, the phrase, l’dor acharon, means “the last generation,” before the restoration of the Kingdom, when Messiah will reign from Jerusalem.

We are encouraged to trust in H’Shem’s provision for us in Olam Haba (the World to Come). We can not peer across the veil; yet, according to the sages we may receive a glimpse of Olam Haba on Shabbos. And, this particular sabbath is Shabbat Chazon, the shabbos before Tish b’Av. On Shabbat Chazon tradition speaks of receiving a vision of the Third Temple on this day.

“Oh how abundant is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee;
which Thou hast wrought for them that take their refuge in Thee.”
– Psalm 31:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

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

shiur Pinchas 5781

Discord was sown, when the advice that Balaam gave to Balak, was enacted upon the Children of Israel. Although Balak was not able to curse Israel, being compelled instead to bless, he still managed to set up circumstances in an underhanded manner, whereby the kedushah (holiness) and emunah (faith) of B’nei Yisrael would be diminished. He knew that the only way to bring about malfeasance upon Israel was to cause them to sin; as a consequence, G-d would have to respond to Israel’s transgression.

Balak and Balaam conspired against Israel; and they sent out Moabite and Midianite women to entice Israel. “And the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods; and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. And Israel joined himself unto the Baal of Peor; and the anger of the L-RD was kindled against Israel” (Numbers 25:1-3, JPS).

The kindling of H’Shem’s anger resulted in the form of a plague. Although the guilty were hanged after a makeshift court was held with the leaders of Israel residing, and a follow up by the judges of Israel further eliminated those who sinned in this incident, apparently, the plague continued to spread. The children of Israel were weeping, signifying teshuvah (repentance) outside of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Moses and Aaron were present at the Mishkan, when an Israelite prince brought a Midianite princess into his tent, in full view of everyone present outside the Mishkan. What an affront to the dignity of the nation, and an insult to H’Shem. Such effrontery was condemned in one swift action by Pinchas.

His response was born out of zealousness; Pinchas executed the Israelite man and his cohort. “So the plague ceased from the people of Israel.” For this zealous act, Pinchas was rewarded with a covenant of peace. As the Talmud explains, “The Holy One, blessed be He said to Moses, ‘Be the first to extend a greeting of peace to him,’ as it is written, wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace; and this atonement [that Phinehas has made] is worthy of being an everlasting atonement” (Sanhedrin 82b). Pinchas atoned for the sins of Israel, and reconciled the people to G-d.

The Persistence of Balaam

In parashas Balak, the “prophet of the nations,” Balaam is hired by Balaak, King of Moab to curse B’nei Yisrael. The Moabites had heard of how B’nei Yisrael defeated Sichon and Og, two Ammonite kings, and they feared for themselves. Specifically, Torah records that when they saw the multitude of B’nei Yisrael, they were overwhelmed with dread. The Hebrew word translated in this pasuk (verse) is koots. This is the same word used to describe how the Egyptians felt about the Children of Israel, generations ago, when they saw that “the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad” (Exodus 1:12, JPS).

The three attempts of the prophet, Balaam to curse Israel are thwarted by H’Shem. Each time, Balaam and Balaak bring seven offerings to H’Shem, hoping to appease Him; yet, H’Shem is adamantly opposed to Balaam’s intent to curse Israel. Balaam was told by G-d, even before he set out on his journey to Moab, with the princes sent by Balak, “‘Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people; for they are blessed’” (Numbers 22:12, JPS).

Yet, eventually, in response to the persistence of Balak’s emmisaries, G-d said to Balaam, “‘rise up, go with them; but only the word which I speak unto thee, that shalt thou do’” (Numbers 22:20, JPS). Later, on the journey to Moab, Balaam was reminded by the angel of H’Shem, “only speak the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak” (Numbers 22:35, JPS). Not only did H’Shem prevent Balaam from cursing Israel, He also caused Balaam to bless Israel instead. An example to be remembered, of how a blessing may be transformed into a curse through H’Shem’s Providence.

shiur parashas Chukat 5781

“And the soul of the people became impatient because of the way.”

  • Numbers 21:4, JPS, 1917 Tanach

B’nei Yisrael, as a result of circumstances that seemed beyond their control, grew impatient along the journey. By taking a roundabout way around the country of Edom, they felt they were moving further away from their destination . Their frustration manifested in the form of complaining; yet, the question may be asked, did they really have anything to complain about? What was the nature of their complaint. The Torah records that “the people spoke against G-d, and against Moses: ‘Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, and there is no water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.’” (Numbers 21:5, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Commentary explains that they were dissatisfied with the the mode of their existence. In other words, they were discontent not only with the bread and water that H’Shem provided for them, rather, also with the means that they received this provision. In particular, R. Bachya explains, that their complaint disparaged the manna, and the water from the “well of Miriam” that H’Shem had provided for them on their travels, because they were dependent each and every day on H’Shem to give what was necessary for their daily existence. This is in comparison to other nations, who were able to store up a supply of bread and water that was always available.

It was as if they were really saying that the bread and water they received was not in the manner that they would have preferred. Moreover, the manna did not seem substantial enough for the rigours of the wilderness that they had to endure. Yet, H’Shem provided for them on a daily basis, in order to test their faith in him; for they would have to trust that on the morrow, they would be able to collect the manna in the morning, during the weekdays. Of course, on the sixth day, they received a double portion for that day and Shabbat. They were tired of this type of day to day existence, and seemingly yearned for more security in their material needs.

Because of their complaints against Him, and the heavenly provision of manna, G-d sent fiery serpents that bit the people. Yet, when they acknowledged their wrong perspective, H’Shem told Moshe to make a copper serpent, and place it on a pole. “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he seeth it, shall live” (Numbers 21:8). Thus, as Rashi comments, when they looked up towards the serpent, they turned their hearts to their Father in Shomayim (Heaven).