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Mishnah Insights: Berachos 3

Mishnah Berachos 3:2

“After they buried the deceased and returned, if they have sufficient time to begin to recite Shema and conclude before they arrive at the row, formed by those who attended the burial, through which the bereaved family will pass in order to receive consolation, they should begin [even if they will only have an opportunity to recite the first verse (Deuteronomy 6:4)].” – sefaria.org

From this we learn in the commentary, that the main part of the Shema prayer is the first verse; and, that this verse is minimally permissible to recite by a comforter, between the time after the deceased is buried, until reaching the line, where one would line up to approach and comfort the mourners, by offering one’s condolences. Seemingly so, the only motivating factor, according to halacha, to say the Shema at this time if necessary, would be if one was not able to do so that morning prior to the funeral. Incidentally, the Shema is a comforting prayer, in and of itself, and, if said, quietly to oneself, can offer divine consolation, regardless of who may take the opportunity to recite the prayer. Yet, it is forbidden to say the Shema while walking; so, this more or less throws a monkeywrench, figuratively speaking, of course, into the entire discussion.

Perforce, to say that these and similar guidelines within perek (chapter) 3:2, have to do with being exempt from performing a mitzvah, while engaged at the time with the performance of another mitzvah; for example, consoling a mourner. That so much consideration is given, in regard to the exact details of the situation, compels me to have more respect and appreciation of such a mitzvah. The gravity of the situation at a funeral, would certainly elicit proper respect towards the mourner and the mitzvah of consolation itself; yet, knowing that consoling a mourner takes precedence over the most important prayer in Judaism, demonstrates the kindness and compassion that we are to show to mourners. Also, this priority demonstrates as well, the kavanah (proper focus and intention) necessary to offer a meaningful consolation, without the distraction of having another mitzvah preoccupying one’s thoughts.

As an afterthought, I would add that Jewish mysticism teaches that every person has a divine spark within their soul, that originates with G-d. By treating others with respect, we are also honoring others as being created in G-d’s image. Therefore, I would imagine that G-d would not feel the least bit slighted in any way, if we set aside the obligation to say the Shema, for the sake of consoling a mourner.

Mishnah Berachos 3:3 has to do with more general exemptions and obligations, in regard to the following: tefillin (phylacteries), Shemonah Esrei, mezuzah, and Birchas HaMazon (Grace after Meals). Amongst the discussion on mezuzot is a commentary that obligates a father to make sure that a mezuzah is placed upon the doorpost of a child that lives alone. This is emotionally moving to me; and, I imagine the father himself placing the mezuzah on the doorpost of his child’s place of residence. For myself, this speaks of the continuity of values and traditions, within the framework of Judaism.

For the Sake of His Glory

dvar for parashas Va’eira 5782

“For this cause have I made thee to stand [endure], to show thee My power, and that My name may be declared throughout all the earth.” – Exodus 9:16, JPS 1917 Tanach

“G-d’s name would be declared from generation to generation because of the signs which He performed.” – Ibn Ezra, sefaria.org

H’Shem continually hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he could remain recalcitrant against G-d’s divine plan to free B’nei Yisrael from bondage, and endure the subsequent plagues; thus, this may be understood as enabling Pharaoh to continue in his resistance. As the ruler of Egypt, the world’s leading superpower at that time, Pharaoh was not interested in receiving a higher authority than himself.

Even his so-called gods, the Egyptian deities that his people worshipped, were approached from the perspective of gaining outcomes that would best suit his own ambitions. I would surmise that there was no sense of obedience to these deities, in terms of committing to a set of principles, or guidelines, thusly decreed from a sense of morality; there was only an attempt to appease the wrath of the deities when some natural occurrences were unfavorable to the population – an opportunistic strategy.

Yet, with H’Shem, there is both justice and mercy, above and beyond the understanding of mankind, in regard to His commandments; therefore, He responded with justice upon Egypt, carried out in the form of ten plagues; and, mercy towards the Children of Israel, who cried out to him in their suffering. Elsewhere it is written, “I will be gracious (חנן) to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy (רחם) on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19).

Because of Pharaoh’s unrepentant heart, H’Shem could not show mercy towards him; moreover, by hardening Pharaoh’s heart, he strengthened his position. Rashi explains that the first five times, Torah mentions that “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened,” thus implying an act of self-volition. Only, for the sake of bringing about the fulfillment of the plagues decreed upon Egypt, did H’Shem permit Pharaoh to remain resistant. He was essentially bringing Pharaoh’s unrepentance to fruition for the sake of G-d’s glory, as He was able to demonstrate His sovereignty through the plagues.

Connotations of His Name

shiur for parashas Va’eira 5782

Towards the end of the previous parashas, Moshe approached Pharaoh, on behalf of H’Shem, saying, “Let My people go, that they may hold a feast unto Me in the wilderness” (Exodus 5:1, JPS 1917 Tanach).  A people, enslaved, for 216 years in Egypt, were about to be redeemed.  Yet, the redemption did not occur in as expedient a manner as Moshe had hoped for it to be.  Rather, Pharaoh increased the workload, by making the people find straw for themselves to make the bricks.  The elders said to Moses and Aaron that they had made them abhorrent in the eyes of Pharaoh (Exodus 5:21).  In turn, Moshe said to H’Shem that the people were being treated worse, and He had not delivered His people at all (Exodus 5:23).

H’Shem responds at the beginning of parashas Va’eira, “’Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh; for by a strong hand shall he let them go, and by a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land” (Exodus 6:1).  The Sages explain that it was necessary for the full measure of wickedness to be enacted by Pharaoh and the Egyptian people (who were complicit with his decisions), so that the Redemption could begin.  In other words, Pharaoh’s punishment was only meted out, when he showed how cruel he really could be.

H’Shem continues, “I am H’Shem [YHVH]; and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as G-d Almighty [El Shaddai], but by My name H’Shem [YHVH] I made not known to them” (Exodus 6:3, JPS 1917 Tanach).  The name H’Shem [YHVH] conveys an expression of faithfulness towards the covenant that was made with the Patriarchs.  Although the name does appear in the narrative of the Patriarchs, as if He did use that name with them, the intent of the passage is that the actual covenant was not yet brought about to fruition.  Only now, would H’Shem make His name known to Moshe, inasmuch that Moshe and B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) would see the promise of the covenant given to the Patriarchs – inhabiting HaEretz Yisrael  (the Land of Israel) – be brought into reality.

Hedge of Protection

parashas Va’eira 5781 (Exodus 6:2 – 9:35)

Despite our own impatience, in a world of instant gratification, at times, life may convey in no uncertain terms, that situations may get worse, before they can get better. This appears to be the case for the Children of Israel who had been enslaved for several hundred years in Egypt. When the redeemer appeared, he explained that G-d has visited His people. “When they heard that the L-RD had remembered the children of Israel, and that He had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshipped” (Exodus 4:31, JPS 1917 Tanach). Shortly later, Moses and Aaron appeared before Pharaoh, saying, “Thus saith the L-RD, the G-d of Israel: Let my people go” (Exodus 5:1, JPS). Yet, Pharaoh refused to do so; additionally, he increased the burdens of Israel, so that they would not have time to foment rebellion (Zohar).

The Hebrew officers complained to Pharaoh; then they approached Moses and Aaron. “Ye have made our savour to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh” (Exodus 5:21, JPS). The literalism of the Hebrew language, in this case, implies extreme contempt on the part of Pharaoh for the Children of Israel. Moses was blamed, essentially, for his effort to free the people, as if Pharaoh’s recalcitrance, and subsequent aggression towards the people was his fault, inasmuch that Pharaoh made their plight worse than it had been, before the intervention of Moses. Moreover, Moses in turn complained to G-d, because of his own disillusionment at the setback to gaining freedom for the Children of Israel.

Yet, despite all of this, G-d sent Moses back to Pharaoh, to make the assertion a second time, that if he did not let the people go, there would be certain severe consequences. And, so, the plagues ensued in sequential progression, about one plague a month. Each time Moses specifically told Pharaoh what would occur, if he did not relent of his stance against the people; and, each time the plague brought havoc upon Egypt. One point to make here is that these plagues did not affect the Children of Israel.

“And I will set apart in that day the land of Goshen, in which My people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there; to the end that thou mayest know that I am the L-RD in the midst of the earth. And I will put a division between My people and thy people” (Exodus 8:18-19, JPS). “All the cattle of Egypt died; but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one” (Exodus 9:6, JPS). “Only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were, was there no hail” (Exodus 9:26, JPS).

And, during the plague of darkness, concerning the Egyptians, “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 10:23, JPS). How remarkable that a hedge of protection was placed around the Israelites in Goshen. Even today, as the Final Redemption approaches, refuge may be sought in G-d, as the plague(s) continue to increase. “For He concealeth me in His pavilion [sukkah] in the day of evil; He hideth me in the covert of His tent [ohel]; He lifteth me up upon a rock” (Psalms 27:5, JPS).

Expect Redemption

motzei Shabbos: parashas Shemot 5782

“Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them: The L-RD, the G-d of your fathers, the G-d of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, hath appeared unto me, saying: I have surely remembered you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt.” – Exodus 3:16, JPS 1917 Tanach

“It was a sign for Israel. When any redeemer would come with this sign, ‘I have surely thought of you,’ they would know that he was a true redeemer.” – Midrash Tanchuma Buber; sefaria.org

A prophecy given to Abraham, speaks of a time that his descendants, “shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years” (Genesis 15:13, JPS). Therefore, this was known well to the Children of Israel, who were enslaved, that towards the end of the allotment of time given in the prophecy, they should begin to expect a redeemer. Now, the time was at hand; so, when Moses returned to Egypt from Midian, he first approached the elders, along with Aaron, who accompanied him: “And Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel” (Exodus 4:29, JPS).

At this pivotal moment in the lives of the Children of Israel, when they heard the words that H’Shem had given to Moses, and saw the signs given him to validate that indeed he was the one who H’Shem sent, they responded in a manner that expressed their hope, trust, and faith in H’Shem, who sent the redeemer: “And the people believed; and when they heard that the L-RD had remembered the children of Israel, and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped” (Exodus 4:31, JPS).

As we look ahead, along the trajectory that this world is heading, the days will approach whereof the light will be diminished by darkness; then, we should lift up our heads and look towards the Final Redemption. Our expectations will increase in direct proportion to our understanding that we can only place our trust in H’Shem. “And it is a time of trouble unto Jacob” (Jeremiah 30:7, JPS). The birthpangs of Moshiach (Messiah), the travails that will be brought upon the world, will precede the Final Redemption (Sanhedrin 97a).

Never Forget

parashas Shemot 5782

And G-d heard their groaning, and G-d remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” – Exodus 2:24, JPS 1917 Tanach

For four hundred years, the Children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt. Upon crying out to G-d day and night, perhaps, they began to wonder when the Redeemer would arrive. The question may be asked, why did G-d permit so many years to pass, before He finally responded? One answer given is because not until the pleas of the Children of Israel were genuinely heartfelt did He answer them. At that time, finally, “they cried, and their cry ascended to the high heavens of the L-rd” (Targum Jonathan on Genesis 22:4, sefaria.org). Persistence in prayer, to the point of utmost sincerity, was eventually heard. “The L-RD is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him” (Lamentations 3:25, JPS 1917 Tanach).


How did the Children of Israel become enslaved? Ironically, when Joseph was governing Egypt, second only to Pharaoh, he instituted a system, whereof all of the land was turned over to Pharaoh. When all the people of Egypt became destitute during the famine, they said to Joseph, “there is naught left in the sight of my lord, but our bodies, and our lands” (Genesis 47:18, JPS). “So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for the Egyptians sold every man his field, because the famine was sore upon them; and the land became Pharaoh’s” (Genesis 47:20, JPS). Yet, to what degree this system, wherein the Egyptians became serfs, remained in place over the ensuing years, thus setting the stage for a more fluid transition, when the Children of Israel became enslaved is unclear.


Consider that an entire people, the Children of Israel, a large population of common ethnic origin, could not have been made subject to slavery overnight. Perhaps, their subjugation occurred in a manner akin to the proverbial frog in boiling water. Thus, the temperature of the water is slowly increased, cooking the frog without a reaction from the frog, that would otherwise immediately jump out of the cooking pot, if it had been thrown into boiling water. Although the actuality of the proverb may not be accurate, the saying does serve as a descriptive metaphor. Can this metaphor be applied to the enslavement of the Children of Israel?

If so, perhaps, the narrative could serve as an admonition. In retrospect, a parallel can be drawn to a contemporary historical tragedy. The confinement of the Jewish people, to ghettos and concentration camps in Germany, only occurred after the institution of discriminatory laws, and state-sponsored violence against German citizens of Jewish descent. However, the same principle may conveniently play out in other insidious designs, cast upon an unsuspecting people. Today, more than ever, in acknowledgment of the cultural shifts that eventually brought oppressive regimes into power, within the modern era, we should always remember the past, lest history repeats itself.

note: first published at my blog, Holy Scribbles

Birth of Moses

parashas Shemot 5782

“And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived, and bore a son; and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months.” – Exodus 2:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

Towards the end of Joseph’s life, he explained to his brothers, that G-d would surely visit his people – pekod pekodti – a redeemer shall come. This was the assurance given to his brothers, so that their descendants who would meet with challenging times, culminating in their enslavement in Egypt, would have hope for their redemption down the road. After 136 years of slavery, a redeemer was born, who was named Moses. Torah describes him as טוב – a “goodly” child. Commentary explains that, “When he was born the whole house became filled with light” (Rashi on Genesis 2:2, Sotah 12a; sefaria.org).

Additionally, “the meaning of this goodliness is that she saw in him some unique quality which, in her opinion, foreshadowed that a miracle would happen to him and he would be saved” (Nachmanides, sefaria.org). Therefore, she took it upon herself to seek a way to save him; and, after three months she placed him in an ark (תבת) that was “made of reeds, and “daubed it with slime and with pitch; and she put the child therein” (Exodus 2:3), and she laid the ark near the reeds, by the bank of the River Nile.  Thus, the prophecy was set in motion, as conveyed by the sages, “that Miriam prophesied, ‘Mother is destined to bear a son who will deliver Israel’” (Nachmanides, sefaria.org).

All of this was required, because of the decree that had gone out from Pharoah’s court, “And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying: ‘Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive” (Exodus 1:22). Yet, that day, Pharaoh’s daughter, who was named Batya, was by the river, and saw the child. She brought the child into the court, to raise as her son. Thus, was the redeemer’s life preserved in the very place that the command had been issued against his life. Moreover, Moshe’s sister, Miriam was watching nearby the river to see what would happen; Pharaoh’s daughter, Batya told her to fetch a Hebrew woman to nurse the child; so, of course, Miriam brought the child’s mother to Batya, to nurse him for two years. So, Moshe grew up cognizant of his Hebrew heritage, because of the instruction given to him by his natural birth mother.

Forgiveness

B”H

YouTube Poster
parashas Vayechi 5781

“And as for you, ye meant evil against me; but G-d meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” – Genesis 50:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

Joseph’s perspective, in regard to the events in his life, spanning a period of twenty-two years, was such that he recognized a higher purpose to his suffering: inasmuch that his suffering led to a greater good, for himself, his family, and all of Egypt, as well as the surrounding peoples. Surely, knowing that the challenges that he endured throughout life were part of G-d’s divine plan to provide for the children of Israel, and sustain many peoples, during the seven-year famine, compelled him to transcend the causal events that led to this provision.

Therefore, he was in a place of understanding, wherein even the precipitant event, when his brothers cast him into a pit, then sold him as a slave to traders who brought him down to Egypt, could not be viewed through the taint of blame. Nor did he hold his brothers responsible for what ensued, the many further trials that he faced in Egypt, before being placed in charge, second to Pharaoh. Rather, he attributed all, to the hand of G-d, whose design was implemented through a means that only appeared to be human-related.

The hindsight gained into the purpose of his undoing, and journey from slave to royalty permitted him to forgive his brothers, to the extent that no trace of ill will towards them existed in his newfound relationship with them. For, he explained to them, “ye meant evil against me; but G-d meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20, JPS). Therefore, he acquiesced to G-d’s will, without concern for a cause and effect view, that would only render the events of his life as near happenstance, without any greater purpose.

So too, may our lives be viewed, especially with the greater understanding of seeing in retrospect, what may have transpired to bring us to where we are today. No one lives in a vacuum, nor does anyone go unnoticed in regard to G-d’s plan for every individual on the face of the planet. If every star is given a name, denoting its significance, how much more so is every human being watched over by G-d? By placing our faith in Him, we may be lifted up above the negativity, that could otherwise be amplified by our lower selves.

Often, we may not acknowledge that our suffering may be hinged upon an unknown plan from Above; this type of reasoning usually escapes us, because our perspective is limited. Yet, to at least acknowledge the possibility of a higher plan, could permit us to better endure the suffering for the sake of His intent to bring about something of benefit sometime and somewhere down the road from now.

 “There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.” – Victor Frankl

motzei Shabbos: parashas Vayechi 5782

havdallah service
parashas Insight on prayer

How to combat two impediments to prayer:

1). arrogance & pride, 2). sin & negative thoughts.

note: based on the teachings of Nachman of Breslov, and his contemporary student, Mohorosh.(Lekutei Mohoron, Part 1, Lesson 97; The Inner Stream: Insights on the Parsha of the Week)

the antidote to arrogance and pride: sur meira (avoid evil) – Self-Abnegation (Bitul)

“For G-d has made me forget all my toil an all of my father’s household.” – Genesis 41:51

the antidote to sin and negative thoughts: asei tov (do good) – Holy Thoughts in prayer

“For G-d has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” – Genesis 41:52

Eternal Presence

Vayechi Yaakov (And Jacob lived).” – Genesis 47:28, JPS 1917 Tanach

When Jacob arrived with his family, having traveled from the land of Canaan to Egypt, to where Joseph, his son greeted him, he and his family settled in the land of Goshen. Jacob spent the last seventeen years of his life there, comforted by his reunion with Joseph, and the bountiful plenty of the most choice land in all of Egypt. The land of Goshen encapsulated an environment, somewhat removed from Egypt proper, therefore, providing an isolated locale for Jacob’s family to preserve the values of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Moreover, goshen, meaning “drawing near” was a place where the twelve tribes of Jacob could “draw near” to H’Shem; so, with this in mind, Jacob “sojourned” in the land of Egypt” (Psalm 105), while setting his hopes on Olam Haba. For to sojourn means to reside temporarily in a place; while, on the other hand, Jacob knew that his true home was with H’Shem.

During years prior, he was able to transcend his circumstances by prevailing upon H’Shem’s covenantal promises to him, thereby triumphing over Laban and Esau. He endured much while working for his Uncle Laban; he also was greatly disconcerted in regard to his encounter with his brother, Esau. Yet, H’Shem was with him in the midst of his trials – this exemplifies H’Shem’s immanence. When moved to tefillah (prayer), he sought H’Shem, whose transcendence, being above nature, is experienced as being more distant to an individual at times.

In the last seventeen years of his life, Jacob was drawing near to his more permanent home, when he would be “gathered to his people” (Genesis 49:29). The “bundle of life,” wherein the souls of the righteous are wrapped up in the light of G-d in Shomayim (Heaven) is implied by this phrase. Therefore, to be gathered to his people means to be blessed with G-d’s presence in Eternity.

Vayechi Yaakov (Jacob lives); for, his soul continues to live, basking in the light of G-d until the time of the Tehillas HaMeisim (Resurrection of the Dead), when souls are restored to their resurrected bodies, at the beginning of Olam Haba (the World to Come).