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Tish b’Av 5781

“And it shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of the L-RD’S house shall be established as the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. 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. And He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

– Isaiah 2:2-4, JPS 1917 Tanach

Turn Again

“What is meant by, ‘Surely he scorneth the scorners, but he giveth grace unto the lowly’ [Proverbs 3:34]? If one comes to defile himself, he is given an opening; if one comes to cleanse himself, he is helped.”  – Talmud Shabbos 104a

The Sages teach, based on the above Talmudic passage, and the configuration of the Hebrew letter, “hei,” that H’Shem will “give grace unto the lowly” to do teshuvah (repentance) through the narrow way.  This is represented by the small space towards the top of the letter hei – ה – the narrow gate that leads towards teshuvah (repentance). On the other hand, “surely he scorneth scorners” can be understood to mean that G-d will also give occasion to those whose way is stubbornly opposed to following G-d’s word. The scorners are bent on following their own way that leads to “defilement;” for them, the way is broad, symbolized by the broad space at the bottom of the letter hei: ה.

“Know whence you came and to where you are going and before Whom you are destined to give a final accounting.” – Pirkei Avos 3:1

“The whole wide world is a very narrow bridge.”

– R’ Nachman of Breslov

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.

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

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

shabbos reflection: Blessings Abound

This evening begins the month of Av, as well as the last nine intensive days of the three week period of mourning for the destruction of the Temple, leading up to the ninth of Av – the day when both Temples were destroyed about six hundred years apart from each other in history. The Rafael fire brought much consternation to the local residents of the many communities in Northern Arizona; and, seemed like a reminder to me of the tragic nature of the breach of the walls of Jerusalem, and its subsequent demise by fire about 1,900 years ago. As a result, even though the state of Israel has been reborn (see Isaiah 66:8), we are still in exile until the time that the third Temple is built. May that day arrive soon.

As erev Shabbos draws near, I take stock for the blessings in this life: tonight begins Rosh Chodesh. So, the coincidence of Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh, simply means that there are extra blessings derived from the day. By way of explanation, although we already receive an extra portion of shefa (divine flow) on Shabbos in and of itself, Rosh Chodesh also brings additional shefa. Traditionally, it is actually explained that each individual receives an “extra soul” on Shabbos. Otherwise, figuratively speaking, as symbolic of a boost in spirit on the day. The neshama yetera is like an extra portion of the spiritual side of the soul, elevating one’s sense of ruchniyos (spirituality) on the day.

A more detailed explanation can be found elsewhere; what seems important to me, is the connection of one’s soul to the day, through prayer, study, and festive meals. A day to nourish the soul; for when the soul is edified, for example, by reading a book that has to do with higher aspirations, the body also benefits. This opportunity for a heightened spiritual experience should not be squandered. Rather, we should feel inspired to pursue spiritual activities on a day where we cease from work. The Shabbos connotes, as a day of rest, a slower pace, where we can appreciate the countless moments of our lives, as opposed to letting everything pass us by in a flurry of activity. The frenetic pace of the week is set aside, and we welcome the Shabbos in joy and expectation of the even Greater Shabbos, when we enter into Olam Haba (the World to Come).

A G-dly Sorrow

parashas Matos-Massei 5781

drash 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,” 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.


Yet, even if they failed, they were given the opportunity to return to Him through teshuvah (repentance). Therefore, there was still no cause to regret, as long as they would be focused on a “godly sorrow,” that would bring them to a place of acknowledgment in regard to their aveiros (sins). This is akin to teshuvah tataah, fostering a contrite spirit, that will elicit H’Shem’s compassion from Above.

On the contrary, a sorrow in the form of yearning for the past, e.g., the comforts of Egypt (Numbers 11:5-6), or provisions other than the manna and water that H’Shem provided in the desert, led to complaining and rebellion. These complaints, and rebelliousness were tantamount to turning away from their divinely inspired goal to enter the Promised Land.

Even so, the goal remained, to enter Eretz Canaan as a people separated from the nations, in order to serve H’Shem, who only had their best interests in mind. And, H’Shem still has our best interests in mind today. He has not forgotten us, nor our individual needs, as we go from one place to another, journeying along throughout the stages of lives; moreover, He has set forth our path towards the Promised Land of Olam Haba (the World to Come).

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

drash Pinchas 5781

 “Behold, I give unto him My covenant of peace.”

– Numbers 25:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

Pinchas, a grandson of Aaron, Kohein Gadol, nevertheless, had not been granted the status of a kohein (priest), at the time that Aaron and his four sons were designated as such. Rather, only the progeny of Aaron’s sons after their designation as kohein would also become kohein. Pinchas, having already been born at that time, did not automatically become one. Only the future born sons of Aaron’s sons would have that status. Yet, an exception was made, later on in the life of Pinchas, as shown from the narrative recorded in the Torah portions of Balak and Pinchas.

In spite of Balaam’s inability to curse Israel, he compels Balak to enact a devious plan. He explains to Balak that the way to bring malaise and judgment upon Israel is to weaken their kedushah (holiness) from the inside. Therefore, “through the counsel of Balaam,” given to Balak, King of the Moabites, both Moabite and Midianite women were sent to entice the people, “who began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab” (Numbers 25:1, JPS). Moreover, a leader of one of the tribes, Zimri, was seen with a Moabite princess.

Pinchas “rose up from the midst of the congregation” (Numbers 25:8, JPS). He followed the Israelite man into his tent, and executed both Zimri and his cohort. For this act, described as a zealous act for the L-rd, the plague that H’Shem inflicted upon the people for their harlotry ceased. Also, Pinchas himself was rewarded with H’Shem’s covenant of peace, an eternal covenant of priesthood, “‘because he was jealous for his G-d, and made atonement for the children of Israel'” (Numbers 25:13). This may sound like a conundrum, for how can he be rewarded with “a covenant of peace, for acting out of zealousness in such an aggressive manner?

Pinchas, was the only Israelite to take responsibility for the effrontery of Zimri and his cohort. For this outrage, of a Prince of Israel (Zimri) cohabiting with a Moabite princess, when he took her into his tent in full view of the congregation, could have set off sparks that would undermine the teshuvah (repentance) of the Israelites, and set an example of the worst kind. Moreover, Zimri’s very act is considered to be a challenge to the authority of Moses. When Pinchas acted, he brought peace between G-d and His people, thus compelling H’Shem to stop the plague that He had enacted as a punishment for the immorality of the people.