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Pivotal Points

parashas Lech Lecha 5782

“Ten generations from Noah to Abraham, in order to make known what long-suffering is His; for all those generations kept on provoking Him, until Abraham, came and received the reward of all of them.” – Pirkei Avos 5:2, sefaria.org

“Based upon the merit of Abraham, G-d did not destroy again the whole world. Abraham taught them that repentance was possible, and therefore G-d did not destroy the world.”

– English explanation of the Mishnah; sefaria.org

Inasmuch that Noah and his family was spared when “Noah found favor in the eyes of H’Shem,” so, too, according to the mishnah, the world was spared through the merit of Abraham. In light of this comparison, two points become evident. First, the necessity of G-d’s of Attribute of Mercy, as a means of relating to mankind, despite His strict attribute of justice. Second, that in each case, a righteous person was chosen to offer repentance to others, and ultimately to become the means through which a type of redemption would occur for all of mankind.

In the case of Noah, it is evident that G-d favored him for a specific reason. Immediately following “Noah found grace in the eyes of the L-RD,” the Torah  states that Noah was “a man righteous and wholehearted; Noah walked with G-d” (Genesis 6:8-9). As for Abraham, there is no such immediate recognition of his character, when he is called out from the land of Ur, to the land that he would be shown. He is told by H’Shem, that he would become a great nation, that his name would be great, and that the nations would be blessed through him. Before Abraham, Sarah, and his nephew Lot set out for Canaan, there were “persons that they had acquired in Haran.”

These souls are said to be converts to Abraham’s newfound monotheistic faith. It is this faith as demonstrated by his obedience to the L-RD’s calling, that Abraham is considered righteous: For, “he believed in the L-RD; and He counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6, JPS). “O ye seed of Abraham His servant, ye children of Jacob, His chosen ones. He is the L-RD our G-d; His judgments are in all the earth” (Psalm 105:6-7, JPS 1917 Tanach).

motzei Shabbos: Noach 5782

 “And the L-RD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

– Genesis 6:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Ten generations from Adam to Noah, in order to make known what long-suffering is His; for all those generations kept on provoking Him, until He brought upon them the waters of the flood.”

– Pirkei Avos 5:2, sefaria.org

“In G-d’s long-suffering we can learn a lesson of patience and forgiveness. Even though in the end G-d did decide to destroy the world, He did not do so immediately, but gave the world a chance to repent“ (English Explanation of Mishnah; sefaria.org). Therefore, we can see that G-d is not only just; he is also merciful. It is only fair to give others a second chance in life, as G-d did with the generation of the Flood. On a personal level, although we do not know what the person being forgiven will do in the future, it is up to us to attempt to amend the situation. And, moreover, to caution others against aveiros (sins), and expound upon the importance of teshuvah (repentance), is humane. We can not foresee whether others will do teshuvah or not; yet, we must give others the opportunity to mend their ways.

Stewardship

drash for parashas Noach 5782

“All the springs of the great deep were split, and the windows of the heavens opened up.”

– Genesis 7:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

The judgment upon mankind was enacted through the natural forces of both the earth and the heavens. What can be gleaned from this occurrence, that destroyed mankind, except for the eight who were spared? Even the various species of plants and animals, fish and birds were only preserved through the efforts of Noach and his family. They may be said to exemplify what is meant by stewards of the earth. For the sake of mankind, all of the earth was created; so, stewardship cannot be separated from this truth. Is being environmental sanctioned by the Blueprint (Torah) of life? I believe so; yet, the underlying philosophy of radical environmentalism (deep ecology) borders on a type of “natural religion,” irrespective of Creation with a capital “C.”

It’s Covenantal

shiur for parashas Noach 5782

“I will establish My covenant with thee; and thou shalt come into the ark.”

– Genesis 6:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

From the beginning of time, G-d did not plan on catastrophes, turmoil, and strife amongst mankind. Rather, mankind brought this upon themselves. When G-d created the world, He brought into existence human beings that were given free will. Yet, this freedom only exists within the overall construct of consequences, in regard to the types of choices man makes for himself. Freedom is circumscribed by guidelines and boundaries, in order to maintain the truest sense of freedom, that is to say, freedom from subjugation to evil.

Too often, we would like to point the finger at something outside of ourselves, condemning it as inappropriate, wrong, or even evil in and of itself. A sense of injustice, or righteous indignation compels some of us to seek amendments. Try as we may to subdue, suppress, and right the wrongs, we would do better to look within ourselves. This is where the real battle is fought, between the yetzer tov (good inclination) and the yetzer hara (evil inclination).

Through tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul), transformation becomes available to all who seek sincere self improvement. As Ghandi said, “Be the change that you would like to see in the world.” Yet, condemnation, shaming, and cancelling out of the other, will only bring a false utopia, that neglects to root out its own evil inclinations. “And the L-RD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5, JPS 1917 Tanach). Yet, Noach found favor in the eyes of the L-RD. And, the L-RD established His covenant with Noach, his family, and all of mankind.

Even so, man continued to rebel, in opposition to G-d; hence, the building of the Tower of Babel, wherein, man attempted to make a name for himself, to the exclusion of His Creator. Thus, a misguided effort was brought to halt through G-d’s intervention. Today, we may ask ourselves, whether we are contributing to the divine blueprint, or an alternative design, that erroneously leaves G-d out of the equation. “Choose this day whom ye will serve” (Joshua 24:15, JPS).

Behold, the Covenant

dvar for parashas Noach 5782

After Adam and Chava (Eve) partook of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, an admixture of good and evil occurred; thus, evil had entered the world through the original sin, compromising the integrity of Gan Eden. Evil became mixed in with good; since, prior to the first aveirah (sin), only good existed in Gan Eden. Yet, increasingly, over time the yetzer hara (evil inclination) seemed to gain the upper hand amongst almost all of mankind. “And the L-RD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5, JPS 1917 Tanach).

A perplexing dilemma arises, in relationship to G-d’s omniscience; knowing past, present, and future, G-d knew that man would fall as a result of temptation, when seduced by the serpent. Yet, the nature of the free will bestowed upon mankind, is such that at the time, G-d excluded his foreknowledge of man’s fall, from deterring Him with following through on the divine plan. Moreover, as a safeguard, teshuvah (repentance) was also part of the divine plan from the beginning in fine print, so that would give mankind the ability to seek reconciliation with G-d.

Once fallen, mankind would need to be guided toward an everlasting covenant, despite the original sin, so that G-d’s ultimate intentions for man would remain intact. When mankind had gone too far off from the blueprint, G-d sought to find a reason to not entirely destroy His creation. “The L-RD looked forth from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any man of understanding, that did seek after G-d” (Psalm 14:2, JPS 1917 Tanach). “Noah found grace in the eyes of the L-RD” (Genesis 6:8, JPS). For, “Noah was in his generations a man righteous and wholehearted; Noah walked with G-d” (Genesis 6:9, JPS). The Targum paraphrases, “in the fear of the L-RD walked Noah” (Targum Jonathan on Genesis 6:9, sefaria.org).  “I will establish My covenant with thee; and thou shalt come into the ark” (Genesis 6:18, JPS).

motzei Shabbos: Bereishis 5782

parashas Bereishis 5782

parashas Bereishis, plus a brief introduction to Noach.

G-d’s Divine Attributes, Imitatio Dei, mankind’s raison d’etre.

Middos (character traits); both negative and positive examples,

as exemplified within the narrative of the Book of Genesis.

Gan Eden Essentials

parashas Bereishis 5782

“The L-RD G-d took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden, to till it and tend it.”

– Genesis 2:15, JPS 1985 Tanach

Adam was given the responsibility to avdah (work) and shomer (guard) the garden of Eden. Yet, not until after Adam and Chava were expelled from Gan Eden, was he commanded to till the earth outside of the garden. The question may be asked, what was the essential difference between his responsibilities in regard to Gan Eden, and what comprised his role, once expelled?

A union with G-d (yichud, in Hebrew) constituted the existential nature of life in Gan Eden. Yet, that perfect relationship of oneness with G-d was broken by disobedience, having partaken from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. When both Adam and Chava had partaken of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, they became self-aware, because the unity with G-d was interrupted.

As a result, existentially outside of Paradise, even before being officially expelled, their existence was disrupted by their own sin. In other words, they no longer were within the domain of perfect correspondence with the various components of Gan Eden. Sin, shame, and rebellion had entered into the picture, thereby disrupting peace and contentment.

Thus, within the garden, prior to the aveirah (sin), a G-d centered focus permeated every act, in regard to their endeavors. As explained elsewhere, that avdah refers to perfection of the soul, as per man being described as a nefesh chaya (literally, living soul; Ibn Ezra). Thereby, the refining of one’s personality is tantamount to the service that is concomitant with gan eden, when doing so under the guidance of H’Shem.

Yet, having been expelled, their lives subsequently encompassed, a self focused reality, wherein one attempts to improve himself, according to his own design, irrespective of the original blueprint. Having already given in to temptation, and partaken of the forbidden fruit, mankind was now subject to the challenges of dealing with his own unruly nature that had been unleashed.

The only way back to the garden is through acknowledgment of our own misguided attempts to continue on the path of independence from G-d; then to realize over time that these attempts are vain, and return to the original blueprint for our lives. This blueprint is known as the Torah, meaning “instruction.” All of kitvei kodesh (holy scripture) is of benefit for this endeavor, as well as listening to our conscience; for, G-d has given us an inner guidance system, with a homing beacon, called the soul.

In the Beginning

dvar for parashas Bereishis 5782

וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃

“Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of G-d hovered over the face of the waters.” – Genesis 1:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

“The throne of Divine Glory was standing in space, hovering over the face of the waters by the breath of the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He, and by His command, even as a dove hovers over its nest.” – Rashi, sefaria.org

In the beginning of Creation, “when G-d began to create heaven and earth” (Genesis 1:1, JPS 1985 Tanach), the earth was tohu vavohu (formless and empty). As summarized by R’Bachya, “At the beginning G’d created a minute amount of matter out of absolute nothingness. This contained within itself the potential and energy to expand into what we call “heaven and earth” (R’ Bachya on Genesis 1:2, sefaria.org). Doesn’t this sound familiar?

Prior to the 1950’s, science adhered to the Aristotelian belief that the Universe always existed. Yet, when the discovery was made that the universe was expanding, science proffered that there was a distinct beginning, ex nihilo – something out of nothing. In other words, it only took several thousand years for science to “catch up” with the creation account in Torah, as R’Bachya so deftly explains. Incidentally, R’Bachya lived between 1255 and 1340 C.E.

A similar account is found in the Zohar:

“With the beginning of the manifestation of the King’s will, that is, when the King desired to emanate and create the world, a hard spark made an engraving upon the supernal light. This hard spark [matter], which emanated from the most concealed of all concealed things from the secret of the Endlessness Light took a shapeless form. The spark was then inserted into the center of a circle [from here, it expanded outward]” (Zohar 15a, sefaria.org). That spark is called reishis (first).

Rashi comments upon the Ruach haElokim (the Spirit of G-d), that hovered over the surface of the waters upon the earth, that this phenomenon was akin to “a dove hovering over its nest.” The primordial material, according to R’Bachya is called tohu, while the first formations of that material into something distinct is referred to as vohu. Yet, essentially, “the earth had been in a chaotic state,” and the Ruach haElokim hovered over the mayim (waters) that may have represented the so called primordial soup from where all life began. Thus, it is clear that a divine force was at work, in conjunction with the elements of the universe that would become all life on earth.

Action Potential

parashas Bereishis 5782


That inevitably fleeting moment of expectation, that seems even more tangible, right before the expectation bears fruit, so to speak, passes into oblivion upon the fulfillment of whatever one was anticipating in the first place. Alas, that feeling was only the means to carry a person forward, in a focused manner, placing the attention upon whatever it may be that a person held in anticipation. Once realized, the feeling that served as a catalyst of sorts, vanishes without a trace; this seems akin to the so called “action potential” of a neuron.

The seemingly interminable state of perpetuation, that may precede the prolonged expectation of something, only increases the fulfillment of that moment once arrived. However, in the case of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Chava were devastatingly let down by the lie of the serpent, that deceived them into thinking that upon partaking of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they would achieve enlightenment, wisdom, and immortality. The exact opposite occurred.

True enlightenment is given from Above, and does not stem from our own expectations. The beginning of wisdom is fear, in the sense of awe, reverence, and respect towards G-d. And, immortality is only a possibility, when granted chayei olam (eternal life), after the Techiyas HaMeisim (Resurrection of the Dead), dependent upon our laboring for righteousness, all the days of our life. As the saying goes, there are no shortcuts in life.

Simchas Torah 5782

“At His right hand was a fiery law unto them.”

– Deuteronomy 33:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

On Simchas Torah, the entire portion of V’zot HaBeracha is read; this is the last parashas of the Torah. Afterwards, the first part of Bereishis, the first parashas of the Torah is read, in order to make the statement that we begin anew, immediately following an ending. This reminds of the saying, when one door closes, another door opens, meaning that when one endeavor is brought to its conclusion, another opportunity will prevail. The seasons of nature, as well as the seasons of our lives reflect this theme.

Within the framework of the parashas, B’nei Yisrael is poised to enter Eretz Canaan; Moshe is intent on imparting a berachah (blessing) to them. This blessing parallels the blessing that Jacob gave to his twelve sons; inasmuch that Moshe has been the king and prophet over B’nei Yisrael, he is giving a blessing to the twelve tribes.

Moshe begins, “The L-RD came from Sinai,” therefore, emphasizing H’Shem’s presence, of Whom “at His right hand was a fiery law unto them” (Deuteronomy 33:2, JPS). “The voice of the L-RD heweth out flames of fire” (Psalm 29:7, JPS). H’Shem’s voice appeared as fire that engraved the commandments into the two stone tablets. On Simchat Torah, may we rejoice in acknowledgment of H’Shem’s promise through the prophet, to engrave these words on our heart in due time:

“This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the L-RD, I will put My law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their G-d, and they shall be My people.”

– Jeremiah 31:33, JPS 1917 Tanach