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The Central Focus

parashas Terumah 5781

“Make its seven lamps—the lamps shall be so mounted as to give the light on its front side.” – Exodus 25:37, sefaria.org

“Their light should be directed in the direction of the front of the central branch which forms the candlestick proper.” – Rashi, sefaria.org

“Inasmuch as the lights symbolized spiritual “enlighten-ment,” the lesson is that in all our efforts at obtaining such enlightenment, and during all the digressions that the pursuit of such disciplines necessarily entails, we must never lose sight of the direction in which we are striving and keep this central idea of such enlightenment resulting in us becoming better servants of the L-rd, constantly in front of our mental eye.’” – Sforno, sefaria.org

The seven-candled menorah, that rested in the mishkan (sanctuary), was lit in a manner, whereof the lit wicks, set in oil on top of six of the seven branches, faced the lit wick of the central branch. They illumined the light that shone in the middle of the menorah with their own light. In a manner of speaking, they reflected back the glory of the center light, with their own. Symbolically, the central branch represents Shabbat, while the six other branches represent the weekdays.

Therefore, we can learn from this to let our efforts during the week, enliven the quality of our Shabbat. The weekdays must be “directed” towards the sanctity bestowed upon us on Shabbos from Above. The mundane days of the week require our own efforts at dedicating the hours of each day towards higher spiritual purposes, despite their mundanity. This will also benefit the level of tangible kedushah (holiness) that we will experience on Shabbos. Ultimately, all of our thoughts, speech, and conduct should reflect the kavod (glory) of G-d.

“How abundant is the good that You have in store for those who fear You.”

– Psalm 31:20, JPS 1985 Tanach

parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Exilic Faith Words Give Life: Torah for the Soul

The light of the menorah represents G-d's presence in our lives, even during the current exile. In times of darkness, the light may always found, if we search for its illumination in our lives.
  1. parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Exilic Faith
  2. parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Crushed for the Sake of Purity
  3. parashas Terumah 5781 – The Central Focus
  4. parashas Terumah 5781 – His Presence
  5. parashas Mishpatim 5781 – Slaves No More

His Presence

parashas Terumah 5781

“The veil shall divide unto you between the holy place and the most holy.”

– Exodus 26:33, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Ark of the Covenant with the tablets, rested within the Kadosh Kadoshim – the Holy of Holies. The cover was designed with two golden cherubim with their wings spanning the breadth of the Ark. The Holy of Holies was separated by the paroches – a veil – a finely embroidered curtain that was placed between the holiest place where the Ark containing the Ten Commandments was kept, and the Kadosh (Holy place), where the menorah, showbread table and copper incense mizbeach (altar) were placed. The holy place was frequented by the Kohein, while the most holy place received one visitor each year – the Kohein Gadol – only on Yom Kippur.

Although the offerings made within the mishkan were facilitated by the Kohein, symbolically, Torah points us in the direction of making ourselves a sanctuary for H’Shem’s Presence. According to the pasuk (verse), “Make Me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell within them” (Exodus 25:8). Therefore, let us consider, that we need to clear away a space inside of ourselves, in order to invite H’Shem to dwell within us. It is not necessary to use a broom and dustpan; although, figuratively speaking, perhaps, a feather to clean our minds and hearts, according to the moral inventory of Torah.

In preparing ourselves to sense H’Shem’s Presence, through the kedushah (holiness) that we create by sanctifying our lives, with respect to our higher aspirations, we remove ourselves from the realm of unholiness. Within our “inner sanctum” – the holy of holies – where only each one of us as sovereign individual of our own soul may enter, there we find H’Shem in the solace of a quiet refuge. “Rest in the L-rd, and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7).

“Who shall ascend into the mountain of the L-RD? And who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart. – Psalms 24:3-4, JPS 1917 Tanach

parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Exilic Faith Words Give Life: Torah for the Soul

The light of the menorah represents G-d's presence in our lives, even during the current exile. In times of darkness, the light may always found, if we search for its illumination in our lives.
  1. parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Exilic Faith
  2. parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Crushed for the Sake of Purity
  3. parashas Terumah 5781 – The Central Focus
  4. parashas Terumah 5781 – His Presence
  5. parashas Mishpatim 5781 – Slaves No More

motzei Shabbos: Mishpatim 5781

Imagine what the first Shabbos was like, after G-d created the heavens and earth. A project like none other that existed at that time; a project that will only be given a complete renewal upon the appearance of the new heavens and the new earth (Isaiah 65:17). Abraham Heschel explains that when we observe Shabbos, we are celebrating the creation of the world, to the extent that we may even take part in the renewal of the seventh day. Perhaps, this may be envisioned as actually entering that space that Heschel refers to as “an island in time.”

In parashas Mishpatim, a reminder to keep the Sabbath is given, immediately following the commandment about the Shemitah year. The juxtaposition of this reminder with the commandment in regard to the Shemitah cycle is important: what is the implication? The seventh year when the land is permitted to lie fallow, follows six years of work on the land. This cycle is akin to the day of rest that follows a six day work week. Both of these observances point towards the Millennial Sabbath, that follows six thousand years of history.

In like manner that during the first six years of the Shemitah cycle, the land is sown, and produce is gathered, the same may be true in regard to the six thousand years of history. G-d’s divine plan is continuously sown through His words, and hashgacha (guidance). The Shemitah year may be likened to the abundance of blessings that will be poured out upon us, when we are gathered into the land of Israel. The Sabbath also points towards these blessings, inasmuch that chazal explain we can even get a glimpse of Olam Haba (the World to Come) on Shabbos.

Redemption Price

parashas Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1 – 24:18) 5781

parashas Mishpatim 5781

“And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and gather in the increase thereof; but the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie fallow.” – Exodus 23:10-11, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Six days thou shalt do thy work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest” – Exodus 23:12

“For a thousand years in Thy sight are as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.”
– Psalms 90:4, JPS 1917 Tanach

For six thousand years of history shall pass; then, the sabbatical millenium according to traditional Jewish thought. This understanding is based upon the shemittah cycle as well as the weekly Sabbath, and other commandments mentioned in parashas. The Shemittah year, the seventh year whereof the land lies fallow, follows six years of work on the land, whereof the land is sown with seed, and the produce is gathered (see above, Exodus 23:10-11). The weekly Sabbath is a day of rest, following a six day work week; the seventh day being when G-d rested from creating the world, we are commanded to rest as well.

Thus, a comparison may be drawn, based upon these examples, pointing towards the six thousand years of history that will be followed by a thousand year rest, an era of peace and prosperity. “For a day is like a thousand years, and thousand years is like a day to Elokim G-d.” After the sabbatical millenium, when the natural cycle of seven days is completed, the new heavens and the new earth will appear. “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered, nor come into mind” (Isaiah 65:17, JPS).

“If thou buy a Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve; and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing” (Exodus 21:2). A remez (hint) to the Messianic Redemption, can be found in the commandment in regard to a Hebrew servant who serves another Hebrew. He is redeemed from bondage at the end of six years; a Hebrew who was a slave in Egypt is not meant to be a perpetual slave again. At the completion of six thousand years of history, the Geulah (Redemption) occurs, bringing a restoration to Israel, & the Malchus Elokim (Kingdom of G-d).

Additionally, another commandment obligates a fellow Hebrew to redeem a brother who had been sold as a servant to a gentile. In this case, he is redeemed by a relative, through a redemption price, given to the gentile. “Any that is nigh of kin unto him of his family may redeem him” (Leviticus 25:49, JPS 1917 Tanach). The relative who redeems his brother is called the goel. The Hebrew word goel (redeemer), may also be understood as a reference to the Moshiach (Messiah).  He is like the goel who is obligated to redeem his Jewish brother from slavery. How much more so is He sent to redeem his Jewish brethren?


Rosh Chodesh Adar 5781

B”H

Rosh Chodesh Adar 5781

On Shabbos Mevarchim for Rosh Chodesh Adar 5781, this past Shabbat, I reflected on the blessing for the new month, traditionally recited on the Sabbath before Rosh Chodesh:

I noticed how this Adar will bring the globe, as well as, Jewish communities around the world full circle; inasmuch, that it will have been about a year since the proliferation of the coronavirus. May H’Shem have mercy on us; may He bless our lives, family, friends, and communities. May He preserve us during the days that will follow. Amein.

For myself, I have been sheltering in place, virtually twenty four – seven. I have much opportunity for reflection, writing, and kavanah (intention). Yet, the days are somewhat bittersweet, since my thoughts turn pensive, akin to the required seriousness necessary for the sake of heshbon hanefesh (literally, an accounting of the soul). To examine one’s conscience in this manner, will only lead to joy down the road, after rooting out unhealthy maladaptive behaviors, negative character traits, and making an effort to do better. Additionally, I count the hours of each and every day, until evening, when I hope to have fulfilled the day’s tasks, that are expected of me from Above. May we all be productive in divinely inspired ways. Amein,

Focusing on what is essential, as the restrictions let up, I wonder how often will newly found essentials continue to be important in my life, and the lives of others down the road. To revert back to former ways would only prove to be detrimental, if what has been learned at this slowed down pace of life, simply gives sway to momentum, approaching the previous standards of the often frenetic pace of society. Yet, positive societal change should be the result of individuals focusing on retaining the lessons learned during these challenging times. May we all continue to grow in our understanding of what is important in life. Amein.

The Hebrew month of Adar is traditionally associated with joy (Taanis 29a).

May our joys in life increase, despite the challenges ahead. Amein.

Slaves No More

parashas Mishpatim 5781

After receiving the Ten Commandments, the mishpatim (ordinances) were given. The first ordinance given is the designation of freedom a Jewish servant receives after only serving a for a limited amount of time. It is as if the Torah is saying, that the Jewish people are not meant to remain in bondage again, not even as indentured servants.

The only exception appears to be the servant, who after six years, would prefer to remain with his master. He declines his freedom; subsequently, his ear is pierced by an awl on a door to mark his perpetual servitude. This act serves as a reminder that the same ear that was pierced, should have heeded the call to freedom. Yet, according to some commentators, even he is released from bondage upon the arrival of the Jubilee year.

Symbolically, the door represents freedom, because of the blood of the Pesach offering that was placed on the doorposts in Egypt, right before B’nei Yisrael was freed. Ultimately, our actual freedom is through Torah itself. As explained in the following manner:

The commandments were inscribed (cherut) on stone tablets; yet, the Hebrew word cherut, with a different vowelization, means “freedom.” What is the connection? When we observe the commandments of G-d, we are freed from slavery to our yetzer harah (evil inclination).

parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Exilic Faith Words Give Life: Torah for the Soul

The light of the menorah represents G-d's presence in our lives, even during the current exile. In times of darkness, the light may always found, if we search for its illumination in our lives.
  1. parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Exilic Faith
  2. parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Crushed for the Sake of Purity
  3. parashas Terumah 5781 – The Central Focus
  4. parashas Terumah 5781 – His Presence
  5. parashas Mishpatim 5781 – Slaves No More

Contrasts Reconciled

“And these are the judgments that you shall set before them.” – Exodus 21:1

v’eilah mishpatim – and these are the judgments”

The parashas begins, “and these are the judgments.” In Hebrew, the letter vov, meaning “and,” bears significance here. For the implication can be drawn, that there is a connection being emphasized, between this parashas and the previous one. Immediately following the revelation at Sinai, whereof H’Shem “descended,” amidst the thunder and lightning, in an impressive display of His greatness, the Torah begins to list the mishpatim, a set of commandments that seem pale, mundane, and this-worldly in comparison. A simple question may be asked, in and of itself, what does this juxtaposition of opposites portray in its contrast of a heightened experience at Sinai, to the relatively dry giving forth of commandments having to do with everyday life?

All areas of life are intertwined, as characterized within the framework of Torah. G-d’s divine plan for mankind has as much to do with His appearance on Sinai, amidst the thunder and lightning, as the everyday guidelines given to us in order to regulate our conduct. Although many would conceive of religion, as somehow separate from the mundane affairs of life, this can not be the case. Also, in regard to what is considered as the spiritual realm, wherein, through prayer or hisbodedus (meditation), we may reach great heights of sublime experience that seem “out of the ordinary:” these experiences must not take precedent over our attempts to live a righteous life, in all the manner of details.

Yet, perhaps, it is all to common to focus on the spiritual component, to the exclusion of leading a leading a life based upon G-d’s commandments. Thus, a compartmentalization of spiritual experiences may occur, while conducting oneself in a manner akin to secular standards. Rather, the sublime ways that we connect to G-d should sharpen our acuity to bring down this awareness into every aspect of our lives, encompassing all areas that might otherwise be overlooked, disregarded, or not held up to the light of reason, within the perspective given to us by all of kitvei kodesh (Holy Scripture).

parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Exilic Faith Words Give Life: Torah for the Soul

The light of the menorah represents G-d's presence in our lives, even during the current exile. In times of darkness, the light may always found, if we search for its illumination in our lives.
  1. parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Exilic Faith
  2. parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Crushed for the Sake of Purity
  3. parashas Terumah 5781 – The Central Focus
  4. parashas Terumah 5781 – His Presence
  5. parashas Mishpatim 5781 – Slaves No More

parashas Yisro 5781 – Mattan Torah

B”H

d’rash for parashas Yisro (Exodus 18:1 – 20:23) 5781 – Mattan Torah

“And He said: ‘Certainly I shall be with thee; and this shall be the token unto thee, that I have sent thee: when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve G-d upon this mountain.” 

– Exodus 3:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

“I promise thee that when thou hast brought them forth from Egypt ye will serve Me upon this mountain — i.e. that ye will receive the Torah upon it.” – Rashi, sefaria.org

When G-d spoke to Moshe at the burning bush, Moshe asked, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11, JPS).  G-d assured Moshe, despite his own doubts, that he would know that he was chosen as the Redeemer of B’nei Yisrael, when he would “serve G-d on this mountain.” In other words, that B’nei Yisrael “would serve Him at the very spot Moses was standing on at that moment” (Or HaChayim, sefaria.org). For this was the culmination of the Exodus from Egypt – the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.  “And it came to pass on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of a horn [shofar] exceeding loud; and all the people that were in the camp trembled” (Exodus 19:16, JPS). 

The impressive array of fireworks was more than a celebration of the liberation of a people from slavery.  Rashi explains that H’Shem preceded the people, by appearing on Mount Sinai first, even before Moshe went up to receive the commandments. He explains that usually a teacher does not wait for the pupil; however, H’Shem’s august Majesty preceded Him, and His Presence alighted on the mountaintop.  “Now mount Sinai was altogether on smoke, because the L-RD descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly” (Exodus 19:18, JPS).  “And the L-RD came down upon mount Sinai, to the top of the mount; and the L-RD called Moses to the top of the mount; and Moses went up” (Exodus 19:20, JPS 19 Tanach).

Moshe, who had previously “hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon G-d,” when H’Shem appeared to him at the burning bush, must have gained some confidence since that time.  Only Moshe was permitted to climb Mount Sinai, to speak with G-d.  Furthermore, he was told by H’Shem to “charge the people, lest they break through unto the L-RD to gaze, and many of them perish” (Exodus 19:21, JPS 1917 Tanach).  For as is written elsewhere, “G-d is a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24).  He is to be approached with awe and respect. “Thou shalt fear the L-RD thy G-d; Him shalt thou serve; and to Him shalt thou cleave [deveykus]” (Deuteronomy 10:20, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The Torah given on Mount Sinai is eternal.  It was given to the B’nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) as a ketubah (a marriage contract) between G-d and Israel.  This is why when a synagogue receives a new sefer Torah, it is placed under a chupah (a marriage canopy), and paraded around, while people celebrate.  At Sinai, the people entered the covenant with great awe and respect.  And, even before receiving the commandments, they said, “na’aseh v’nishmah,” we will do and we will understand. In other words, first we will do, then we will understand; only after performing the commandments, will we begin to fully understand their value, meaning, and intent. This was the commitment that B’nei Yisrael made, in regard to the commandments given by the L-RD our G-d, who redeemed us from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 20:2).

The Nature of Faith

“Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the L-RD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all the night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.”

– Exodus 14:21-22, JPS 1917 Tanach

 “If they came into the sea, why does the Torah write: “they came unto dry land?” If they came unto dry land why does the Torah call it “sea?” (Shemot Rabbah 21.10). The verse teaches that the sea was not split for them until they had set foot in it while it was still sea up to the level of the nostrils (to demonstrate their faith). Immediately after they had done this the sea was converted to dry land.

– R’ Bachya on Exodus 14:22, sefaria.org

The midrashim are not always meant to be taken literally, rather to make a point. Perhaps, one inference to be drawn from this particular midrash, concerns the nature of emunah (faith). While the faith required by B’nei Yisrael to enter into the narrow passage created in the midst of the sea is comprehensible, an even greater faith would have been required if they began to enter the water, even before the splitting of the sea.

The nature of faith, is not only an abstract quality of belief, per se, in something that is unseen. True emunah is to actually believe in what one cannot see, beyond speculation, as if it exists in actuality, and has an influence in a person’s life. Therefore, while many people confess a belief in G-d, only in tandem to the day to day challenges, does that belief become more of an actuality.

Belief in G-d is more than an intellectual exercise in speculation, in order to compel us to have a reference point (usually, somewhere in Heaven) to direct our prayers towards in times of need. The nature of faith denotes an interface between a person’s belief system and practice, not as something removed from a person’s life, compartmentalized in a region of the mind, wherein a disconnect exists to that person’s practical existence.

At the Sea of Reeds, the Almighty’s Presence within the pillar of fire, and the pillar of cloud, were manifestations of His actual existence. Additionally, the splitting of the sea served as a sign of His power, not only to the Children of Israel, also to the rest of the world at that time. The existence of G-d, the manifestation of His Presence, and the signs of His interaction in this world are not as easily found in our lives, surroundings, or greater environmental milieu. Instead, emunah (faith) requires a profound degree of awareness.

“The L-RD is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation; this is my G-d, and I will glorify Him; my father’s G-d, and I will exalt Him.”

– Exodus 15:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The midrash states that even a lowly handmaid saw more at the Sea of Reeds than the prophet Ezekiel saw in his visions (see Ezekiel ch. 1). In other words, she was able to perceive more in regard to H’Shem, because of her actual experience, where G-d’s intervention was clear. The midrash emphasizes the importance of seeing G-d’s direct interaction in our lives; this type of interaction is referred to as hashgacha peratis – G’d’s guidance over the life of every individual on earth, even on a personal level. Once we begin to open our eyes to this truth, then our belief will take root in our soul.

Light Within the Darkness

parashas Bo 5781

“And the L-RD said unto Moses: ‘Stretch out thy hand toward the heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.’ And Moses stretched forth his hand toward the heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days; they saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days; but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.”– Exodus 10:21-23, JPS 1917 Tanach

Or HaChayim explains that, according to certain rabbinic commentators, the darkness that originated in a heavenly place, may be likened to the description, found in psalms, “He made darkness His hiding-place, His pavilion round about Him; darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies” (Psalms 18:12, JPS; Shemot Rabbah 14). This verse conveys the understanding, that, H’Shem, who is surrounded by atmospheric darkness, is hidden within those phenomenon. This may explain why Moshe raised his hand to the sky, instead of raising his staff. “Inasmuch as the darkness was of a supernatural kind, Moses did not consider it appropriate to raise his staff against supernatural phenomena” (Ohr HaVhayim on Exodus 10:23, sefaria.org.

Another view, likens the darkness that encompassed Egypt for three days, to the darkness of purgatory (Or HaChayim on Exodus 10:23; sefaria.org). Or HaChayim comments that both views may be feasible, within the context of the plague’s duration. According to Rashi’s rendering, there were two sets of three day periods of darkness, since each plague always lasted for a week. So, the during the first three days, no person could see another; and, during the second three days, “no one could get up from where he was.” (Incidentally, the seventh day of darkness occurred at the encampment of the Egyptians, who had pursued B’nei Yisrael to the edge of the Sea of Reeds).

How might these considerations be understood, in a manner of rendering some significance to the comments, beyond their face value? If we consider that H’Shem, Who is surrounded by dark clouds, refers as well to our inability to draw close to Him, unless we enter a place of unknowing, wherein we need to let go of our intellectual understanding of Him, we are gaining understanding of the nature of His essence, as well as our relationship to Him. The Egyptians were not able to see beyond the darkness; yet, the Children of Israel, who had light in their dwellings, were also closer to G-d than their neighbors. Moreover, without a connection to G-d, we live in a type of purgatory; as opposed to being aware of the lofty nature of G-d.