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Yom Kippur 5782

Sins of the Heels

“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,” seems reminiscent to me, of the prayer, Ana Bekoach, where a request is made to 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. And as for Me, this is My covenant with them, saith the L-RD; My spirit that is upon thee, and My words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the L-RD, from henceforth and for ever” (Isaiah 59:20-21, JPS 1917 Tanach).

gmar chatimah tovah

“a good final sealing” (in the Book of Life)

The Hidden Order of Things

motzei Shabbos: parashas Vayelech 5782

“And they shall say on that day, ‘Surely it is because our G-d is not in our midst that these evils have befallen us.’” – Deuteronomy 31:17, JPS 1985 Tanach

“They will be intelligent enough to conclude that all the troubles which suddenly overtook them must be due to G-d having deliberately left their midst” (Or HaChayim on Deuteronomy 31:17, sefaria.org). The key word here in this commentary is “deliberately,” as if it is implied that the people realized that their own sins compelled G-d to abandon them. This is an important connection for them to make, whereas without recognizing their own complicity, would only have led to blame G-d for His abandonment of them, as if they had no part in the matter.

Consider the attitude of some, in blaming G-d for harsh events in life, holding Him accountable for our suffering, without acknowledging the sins that created the distance between us and Him in the first place. The point being, that it is the wrong attitude to have, a spoiled mindset to think that we deserve better, despite our abandoning Him through our own misdeeds. And, yet, He is compassionate and merciful, inasmuch that hiding His face from us, He desires us to cry out with a heartfelt repentant stance, taking it upon ourselves, to return to Him, in all of our ways, in order to elicit His forgiveness.

So, we do not understand G-d to be capricious: rather everything is ultimately designed for our benefit, even the chastisement that is placed upon us, when we go astray of G-d’s commandments. For nothing happens by chance in an ordered world, that is a world whose order is often above our own understanding.  Any randomness that appears to occur is only based upon a perspective that does not fully comprehend His sovereignty over all events in the world, as well as those that occur to us on an individual level. To understand that everything happens according to G-d’s will, or is permitted by Him, is to recognize His absolute sovereignty in all realms of life.

shiur: Shabbat Shuvah 5782

“Concealed acts concern H’Shem our G-d.”

– Deuteronomy 29:28, JPS 1985 Tanach

After Adam and Chava ate from the Tree of Knowledge, H’Shem called to Adam, “Where art thou?” (Genesis 3:9, JPS, 1917 Tanach). He responded, “I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; so I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). Adam’s shame compelled him to hide himself. Yet, G-d is all-knowing, as well as omnipresent (everywhere present). He surely knew where Adam was. Then, why did he ask, “Where are you?” The answer often given, is that G-d was challenging Adam’s own awareness, in effect, asking, Where are you in your relationship with me?

We learn in the Book of Isaiah that sin separates us from G-d (Isaiah 59:2). Adam lost the oneness that he had with G-d; as a result of his transgression, he was expelled from Gan Eden, along with Chava, who also partook from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Up until that point, everything that they experienced in Gan Eden was in one accord with H’Shem, a nondual perspective. Yet, after eating from the tree that was forbidden to eat from, they became aware of good and evil. For this reason, even today, there is not only good and evil in the world; also, there is an admixture of good and bad in everything we do.

Like Adam and Chava, we can not hide from H’Shem. He knows our “concealed acts.” Sin separates us from Him; the path to return is through actually admitting our transgressions, unlike Adam who circumvented G-d’s questions. At this time of year, during the Ten Days of Awe, and especially on Shabbat Shuvah (the Sabbath of Return), we are all asked, “Where are you?” G-d is prompting us to reveal our sins to Him. Yet, sometimes, our sins may be hidden from ourselves; in this case, we may ask Him to reveal our sins to ourselves.

Shabbat Shuvah 5782

the Significance of Teshuvah

“And H’Shem, He it is that doth go before thee; He will be with thee, He will not fail thee, neither forsake thee; fear not, neither be dismayed.”

– Deuteronomy 31:8, JPS 1917 Tanach

Moshe encouraged Joshua and the people, for they were about to cross into the Promised Land.  He told them that H’Shem would go before them; so they should not fear, for He would be with them.  To have emunah (faith), in this respect, is to trust that H’Shem would strengthen them, so that a dependence on Him could be fostered, rather than relying on their own strength.  In this way, their enemies would be defeated – through H’Shem.

The same is true today, that H’Shem would like us to return to the simplicity of faith, by looking towards Him in all things. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5, JPS 1985 Tanach). For He will lead us forward through the nisyanos (challenges) of our lives.

When we are in a quandry, not able to see the light, there is a narrow path through which we may return to Him; thereby, stepping out of the mire that we may be in because of our own negligence and transgressions.  So, teshuvah is the element that allows us to seek Him again when we have made the wrong choices in our lives, having turned away from the Torah given at Sinai. 

“Turn Thou us unto Thee, O L-RD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.”

– Lamentations 5:21, JPS

motzei Rosh HaShannah reflection – 5782

“And the new year begins,” I thought to myself, after finishing the cup of wine drank in conjunction with the brief havdallah service recited at the end of a holiday during the week. Thus concludes the commemoration of Rosh HaShannah, and the beginning of the new year, replete with its ten day focus on teshuvah (repentance) during the ten Days of Awe, culminating with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Therefore, the theme of judgment continues, throughout these days, as the decrees are not sealed until the neilah service that concludes Yom Kippur. In fact, for the traditionally-minded Jew, the day after Rosh HaShannah is a minor fat day (the fast of Gedaliah) that helps us to counteract any indulgence that occurred during the two days of Rosh HaShannah. This allows us to recalibrate after the celebrations of the New Year, lest we forget the gravity of these days.

For myself, this is the beginning of the three week period that incorporates the shifting of one holiday to another, inclusive of Rosh HaShannah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchas Torah. This is the only time of the year that I can sincerely validate taking time off, for the sake of a “vacation,” that is more like a three week religious retreat. Moreover, considering that the new Torah reading cycle does not begin until Simchas Torah, the end of the year is still upon us; and, the complete beginning of the new year is still not yet begun. We sort of ease into the renewal of the year on different levels, over the next three weeks. This is one reason why, I am compelled to devote myself to these themes of “new beginnings,” during this extended New Year commemoration.

The Binding of Isaac

Rosh HaShannah 5782 – 2nd Day

“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 responded, 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 commitment to carry out G-d’s will, inasmuch that his response was one of unequivocal piety, in regard to the will of the L-RD.

It is an even greater tribute 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 willingly 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” (Genesis 22:18, JPS).

Although the ram “caught in the thickets” was offered up instead of Isaac, Rashi comments that it was as if Isaac was offered up (Metsudah siddur). One reason why this reading may have been selected for Rosh HaShannah, is because the offering up of Isaac is seen as an atonement and source of merit for the Jewish people. As further mentioned in commentary, As long as Israel makes mention of Isaac’s Akedah before Him, it continues to serve as an atonement for them” (Beit ha-Midrash, part V). And, “When you appear on trial before Me on Rosh ha-Shanah, come with the shofar. Then even if there are many accusers against you, I shall recall Isaac’s Akedah and acquit you” (Pesikta Rabbati, 167a).

Rosh HaShannah 5782

erev Rosh HaShannah 5782

Rosh HaShannah is a time of renewal. Through teshuvah (repentance) we prepare ourselves to face H’Shem: Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King) on the Day of Judgment for the New Year. Through proper reflection, and rooting out our sins well in advance of that day, we hope to begin the new year with the resolve to start anew.

Inidentally, in regard to the renewal of the moon, on that day, when the first sliver of the new moon becomes visible, it is written that it is a time of atonement (Rosh Chodesh musaf service). The waning of the moon, until it is completely diminished by the end of the month, serves to remind us of our own deficiencies, faults, and weaknesses. At the end of the year, when the moon wanes towards the end of Elul; at this time, what merit can we claim in our lives over the past year. Knowing our spiritual paucity, we pray to H’Shem for His mercy.

Rosh HaShannah is considered to be a day of judgment for the new year. We would like to be judged favorably, so we make an accounting of the soul (heshbnon hanefesh), in order that our conscience will permit ourselves to stand before the King. According to the Zohar, “’You stand this day all of you before the L-RD your G-d’” (Deuteronomy 30:9) refers to Rosh HaShannah, when we stand before H’Shem in judgment for the New Year.

When we examine our conscience, we may be brought to a place of moral compunction as a result of guilt and remorse. During the Ten Days of Repentance, otherwise known as the Days of Awe, we continue to search our souls for the flaws that need to be brought into the light . During that time, any judgments against us for the year may be diminished through our efforts at “teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer), and tsedokah (charity),” the mitvoth (good deeds) that “avert the severity of the decree,” for the decrees are not sealed until Yom Kippur.

motzei Shabbos: parashas Nitzavim 5781 – Choose Life

“See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil.”

  • Deuteronomy 30:15, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Behold, I have set before you this day the way of life, wherein is the recompense of the reward of good unto the righteous, and the way of death, wherein is the retribution of the wages of evil unto the wicked.” – Deuteronomy 30:15, Targum Yonaton


Sforno comments, “eternal life, not just life on earth” (sefaria.org). Likewise, the opposite is mentioned “eternal oblivion” (Sforno, ibid.), not only physical death. These are the destinations of the two paths, delineated in Torah – the way of life, and the way of death, corresponding to our two inclinations, the yetzer tov (good inclination), and the yetzer hara (evil inclination). In the modern world, it is not always clear what choices we make will lead us down one or the other road. This is mostly because, there are no signposts to be found, showing us which way we are headed. The world would like us to believe that all roads lead to Rome, Nirvana, or G-d. However, nothing could be further from the truth.


In the Torah, G-d is explicit, concerning the path we are to follow, and the path that we are not to follow. “Behold, I have set before you this day the way of life, wherein is the recompense of the reward of good unto the righteous, and the way of death, wherein is the retribution of the wages of evil unto the wicked” (Targum Jonathan on Deuteronomy 30:15, sefaria.org). If we make an effort to follow our good inclination, by listening to the conscience, and doing what is right, then we will be rewarded for our efforts. Yet, if we give in to the evil inclination, adhering to our “lesser instincts,” falling prey to sin, then we will receive retribution for actions. It is more challenging to do good, than to be lured into temptation by the desires of the heart. For this reason, we can only conquer the yetzer hara with the help of G-d.

Thou Shalt Return

parashas Nitzavim 5781

Thou Shalt Return

“And it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, – thou shalt bethink thyself among all the nations, wither the L-RD thy G-d has driven thee, and shalt return unto the L-RD thy G-d, and hearken to His voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul; that then the L-RD thy G-d will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the peoples, whither the L-RD thy G-d hath scattered thee.

– Deuteronomy 30:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The promise of return to the Land of Israel includes a reassurance of teshuvah; in other words, that the Jewish people will be moved by H’Shem to do teshuvah (repentance).  The commandment to repent is phrased in the future tense, rather than in the imperative command form, because G-d wanted it to be an assurance to the Jewish people that in due time we would repent. Thus, as Rosh HaShannah approaches, we are reminded of the inevitable call towards teshuvah (repentance).

Commentary relates that the phrase vahasheivosa ell’vavecha (then you will take it to your heart;” Deuteronomy 30:1) conveys the understanding that, an intellectual knowledge alone, concerning the importance of the service of G-d, is not enough; rather, it is necessary to bring this awareness into one’s heart – the seat of the emotions. As a result of this endeavor, repentance will follow.

The sense of renewal within the context of the ingathering of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisrael hints at the level of teshuvah that will occur at this time.  The prophet Ezekiel spoke of an unprecedented restoration when we will be gathered in from the nations where we have been scattered:  

“And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh; that they may walk in My statutes, and keep Mine ordinances, and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their G-d.”

– Ezekiel 11:19-20, JPS 1917 Tanach

As we approach Rosh HaShannah, we will soon hear the sounds the shofar. This may serve to remind of the time of the ingathering, “All ye inhabitants of the world, and ye dwellers on the earth, when an ensign is lifted up on the mountains, see ye; and when the horn [shofar] is blown, hear ye” (Isaiah 18:3, JPS 1917 Tanach)

Do Not Be Hindered

shiur for parashas Nitzavim 5781

“For I know their imagination how they do even now.”

  • Deuteronomy 31:21, JPS 1917 Tanach

 “For their evil disposition to which they are yielding today, even before I bring you into the promised land, is known to Me.” – Targum Yonaton

G-d knows our proclivity towards aveiros (transgressions). In regard to B’nei Yisrael, He knew that the imagination, i.e., yetzer (inclination) of the people was inclined towards evil. Sforno explains, that the people were about to be brought into the promised land, in order to focus on H’Shem, serving Him through the mitzvot (as mentioned in Psalms 105:44-45); yet, “instead they look forward to gratify their own cravings” (Sforno on Deuteronomy 31:21, sefaria.org) which will lead to an excessive focus on material pleasures, gained from the wealth that H’Shem provides. In other words, they will end up misusing their material goods. By neglecting to focus on H’Shem, after entering the Land, the priorities that were established, “that they might keep His statutes, and observe His laws,” were forgotten (Psalm 105:45).

Although many would like to believe that our natural tendency is to do good, this goes against the grain of understanding. Upon further reflection, we may find that we are inclined to enjoy ourselves, and be entertained by the world, while our efforts to do good are hindered. We may neglect to be kind, considerate, and selfless, unless we seriously strive to do so at all times. As soon as we take our eyes off of H’Shem, especially in this modern world, we will become further distracted, engrossed, and captured by our yetzer hara. Zechirus (vigilance) is of the upmost importance, in order to maintain a sense of deveykus (attachment) to G-d. If we expect to enter into the Promised Land of Olam Haba (the World to Come) with a good place reserved for us there, then, we must keep these points in mind: 1). sur meira, asei tov (eschew evil, do good); 2). show zechirus (vigilance) through constant awareness; and, 3). deveykus (stay connected) to G-d Above, who watches over us from Shomayim (Heaven).