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afterthought: Challah

B”H

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shiur for motzei Shabbos parashas Shelach 5780

“Of the first of your dough ye shall give unto the L-RD a portion for a gift throughout your generations” (Numbers 15:21, JPS 1917 Tanach). The commandment, regarding the requirement to first take from the dough being used to make bread for personal consumption, and give a portion to the kohein is given. This is to be a commandment “throughout your generations.” Specifically, as mentioned elsewhere, “the first of your dough, to cause a blessing to rest on thy house” (Ezekiel 44:30). This portion is referred to as “challah.”

It is interesting to note that symbolically, the first portion of dough represents K’nesset Yisrael, “the world’s tithe” to H’Shem (commentary on Numbers 15:20, R. Bachya, sefaria.org). The descendants of Abraham are meant to be a blessing to the world. “In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:3, JPS). At current, much of the world fails to see, or appreciate the Jewish people as a blessing. Yet, the tides will turn for the good, in fulfillment of prophecy. “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” (Isaiah 2:2, JPS).

Incidentally, today, the entire loaf of bread made from the dough in the kitchen before Shabbos is referred to as challah. Pious Jewish women will separate a small portion, symbolically as terumah, a gift or offering; although, without the opportunity to bestow this gift upon a kohein, as in the times of the Beis HaMikdash (Temple), this small amount of dough is left in the oven to bake separately. Yet, the entire loaf retains the name of the original offering; it is as if to say, symbolically, like the challah, that we ourselves should make every aspect of our lives an offering to H’Shem, for the sake of good deeds, remaining wholehearted, rather than only offering up a small part of our lives to H’Shem.

parashas: Perception

B”H

Shiur for parashas Shelach 5780

In parashas Shelach, ten out of twelve men of great reknown, leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel, fall prey to a negative perception of themselves, in contrast to the local inhabitants, who were like giants. The ten spies perceived themselves to be like grasshoppers, “in their own eyes;” hence, they thought that they must also look like grasshoppers in the eyes of the giants. Deeming themselves, nor the people of Israel as no match for the inhabitants of Cannan, they returned, and spoke ill of the mission to enter the long awaited promised land of Eretz Yisrael.

It is interesting to note that the preceding passage to the incident of the spies concerns lashon hara, whereof Moshe’s sister Miriam spoke ill of him. She was chastised with leprosy, until Moshe prayed on her behalf for H’Shem to heal her. If these two events are in chronological order, then the spies did not learn the lesson. Instead, their own lashon hara demoralized the entire people, and elicited consequences that would last for forty years; that entire generation, except for Joshua and Caleb passed away in the wilderness, excepting the women and children.

Lashon hara is a transgression that the Torah indicates is committed by the best of us; yet, this does not make it excusable in anyway; rather the prolific contagion, as demonstrated by the people’s acceptance of the spies’ ill report of the land shows how easy it us to succumb to this transgression. Today, lashon hara, and its counterpart, retzilus (gossip) are so widely accepted, so as to be said to be institutionalized within the greater part of society; also the widespread use of the Internet intensifies the bane.

Yet, how can the proliferation of what is considered the norm be interrupted? By the realisation of consequences that stem from what goes unchallenged. If only we could see the consequences of our own actions ahead of time; by thinking, before we act, we can visualize the potential ramifications of our decisions in life. Instead of speaking impulsively, we should reflect more on our words, before voicing our own thoughts.

parashas Shelach 5780

reflections: Vision

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B”H

“Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint; but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

– Proverbs 29:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

A greater vision, somewhere upon the horizon, waits for realisation to take hold in our hearts; in order to see beyond, reach past, and fly over this wilderness, hope must take root in our souls. Yet, even without hope, “Surely the L-RD’S mercies are not consumed, surely His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23, JPS 1917 Tanach). G-d’s faithfulness towards us, reveals the promise of a new day. “The path of the righteous is as the light of dawn, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18, JPS).

We are welcome to board this ship to a brighter tomorrow; so, let’s prepare ourselves for the journey. Rambunctious disregard of G-d’s words will only lead us further astray; the aseret hadibrot (ten utterances) are meant to resonate within our being, in like manner that they were received at Sinai. “If the L-RD delight in us, then He will bring us into this land, and give it unto us—a land which floweth with milk and honey” (Numbers 14:8). “For the L-RD taketh pleasure in His people; He adorneth the humble with salvation” (Psalm 149:4). “To-day, if ye would but hearken to His voice” (Psalm 95:7).

movie review: Three Identical Strangers

B”H

“The L-RD is slow to anger, and plenteous in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation.” – Numbers 14:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

The pivotal question to keep in mind, during the entirety of this documentary, has to do with the perennial Nature vs. Nurture controversy, that was a focal point of psychological research and debate, especially throughout the years the movie narrative covers, until more recently when it was decided that both nature and nurture influence the development of a human being, without giving superiority to one or the other.

Individual insights, in regard to the nature vs. nurture question, from persons interviewed in the documentary are shared at the end of the movie; certainly, their comments are reflective on the experience of the three brothers, separated at birth, for the purpose of studying this question. An experiment that was admitted to be unethical, in retrospect, by a research assistant, who participated in collecting information for ten months, during the years the experiment was in effect, between 1960 and 1980.

As another person, who was a personal assistant of the psychiatrist, who carried out the twins study, explains at the end of Three Identical Strangers, psychology in the 1950’s and 60’s was a blossoming science, held in much regard, because of its potential to aid in better understanding human beings; yet, this does not take into account the potential negative ramifications upon the lives of the human beings that are being studied. The documentary cleverly reveals, midway into a movie that seems to celebrate the ongoing joy of the triplets reunion, how there was another facet of the story that speaks of the darker side of human nature.

All three triplets exhibited disturbing behaviors in their respective cribs, after being adopted by three different families. This is attributed to the separation anxiety that they must have felt being separated from each other at such an early age. Each triplet was placed in a home environment different from the other two, inclusive of socioeconomic differences and differing parenting styles. The intent as disclosed by the research assistant was to determine the influence of parenting styles.

This seems to be the focus of the study, to gain an understanding of nature, predetermined genetic character traits, vs. nurture, in the form of parental upbringing and family environment. Yet, as the documentary follows the persistence of all those concerned, as well as an investigative journalist, who covered the story at the time, this may only scratch the surface of the intent of the study; it seems that another factor may have been predisposition to mental illness.

Some of the insightful comments revealed at the end of the documentary appear to be in favor of the primacy of nurture, as well as the opportunity to overcome negative character traits through free will. Human beings may assess their own behavior, and make changes for the good. This position is implied in a stance derived from Torah, that negative qualities may be passed down for three to four generations; however, they can be changed by the continual efforts made by an individual, who seeks to change, regardless of the influence of genetic character traits (nature) or any observational learning that may have occurred in the family environment (nurture).

movie trailer

reflections: Prayer as Remedy

B”H

“Whatsoever plague, whatsoever sickness there be; what prayer and supplication soever be made by any man of all Thy people Israel, who shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house; then hear Thou in heaven Thy dwelling-place, and forgive.”

  • 1 Kings 8:37-39, JPS 1917 Tanach

In the midst of our nisyanos (trials), we need to recognise the condition of our own hearts, and look within towards whatever may be likened to a plague that diminishes the moral quality of our thoughts, speech, and actions, from G-d’s perspective of our character. In His eyes, we need to make amends for our shortcomings, failures to heed doing what we know is right, and our negative character traits that may lead towards unrighteousness. Yet, He will be merciful towards us, and forgive us; and, then, H’Shem willing, healing of mind, body, and spirit will occur over time.

“And Aharon stood in the midst, between the dead and the living with the [incense] censer, and interceded in prayer; and the plague was restrained” (Numbers 17:13, Targum Yonaton, Sefaria.org). When we turn our hearts to H’Shem (the L-RD; literally, the Name), we may take advantage of a tried and true remedy: prayer. In Hebrew, tefillah, from the shoresh (root word), FLL, meaning to judge, implies the use of discernment to differentiate between what is essential and nonessential in one’s life. Sheltering in place brings the opportunity for introspection in regard to what is important in our lives. “Let my prayer be set forth as incense before Thee” (Psalm 141:2, JPS 1917 Tanach.

reflections: Home, Sweet Home

B”H

Home, Sweet Home

While spending a few hours writing at my desk, I noticed that the battery charge level on my electronic device was below 10 percent; so, I left my kasha on the kitchen countertop, that I had prepared, for a brief interval between writing endeavors, and went to my travel backpack, where I keep everything that is essential to me. My backpack is a top loading pack with a drawstring, and, when I was reaching inside to find my charger with its cord, I saw that my double layered cotton mask was about to drop out of the bag. So, I quickly reached with my left hand to grab the mask, accidentally jabbing my right hand with the only fingernail, that I hadn’t pared well on the previous Wednesday.

Now, even as I type out these letters on the keyboard, forming words in front of my eyes on the page, I have a hermetically sealed latex free bandaid, wrapped around the part of my hand below the thumb. A constant visible reminder of what would not have been a concern to me five months ago. Yet, I know from a scientific animation in a documentary produced by the Epoch Times, about the origins of the coronavirus, how the virus enters the human body, unlocking the entrance to a human cell by binding to its receptor sites; and, I am repulsed to think about how easy it could be, within my imagination, for one germ to get into my very small open wound and change my life forever (G-d forbid).

So, instead of venturing out to the health food store, along the sidewalks of this coronavirus laden town, like all other towns and cities across the States, I decided to stay right at my desk, behind my screen, where I usually am virtually twenty-four seven. Perhaps, I am one of the few people who chooses to remain sheltering in place, despite the lessening of restrictions several weeks ago; and, the percentage of positive cases is up from 5% at the time the restrictions were still in place, to 12% in the state, since that time. Incidentally, the statistical scenario is similar for other states as well. Need I attempt to defend my voluntary hermitage with any other statistic? I have remained adamant, knowing that I am Biblically mandated to stay right where I am:


Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, And shut thy doors about thee; Hide thyself for a little moment, Until the indignation be overpast.

  • Isaiah 26:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

If everyone in America could be impacted by the realisation that G-d is sovereign, then we could all chill out, knowing that G-d is in charge, even of something as catastrophic as a global pandemic. And, His recommendation to all of us is to relax, until the plague passes from this earth. The verse is likened by rabbinical commentary to the experience of the Children of Israel, during their last night in Egypt, when the Angel of Death was wreaking havoc in the streets of the metropolis. They stayed inside their homes, until the precise time of their redemption. And, who knows whether the above mentioned verse could be rendered as a prophetic statement, also reaching across the generations to this very time?

poetry: Renewal

B”H

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With arms wide open,
I embrace the Source of creation,
seeking His renewal for my soul,
my highest calling.

Yet, if I am only for my own tikkun,
then of what avail am I to anyone?

And, unless I seek to reach out
to family, friends, and strangers,
then, who will share words of wisdom with me,
when my soul needs to be refreshed?

Care in the heart of a man boweth it down;
But a good word maketh it glad.

Proverbs 12:25

And, if I wait patiently, to hear with my own ear,
the right word spoken to me from mankind,
or the enlightening passage on a page,
turned to the most opportune spot,

then, I will wait in hope and expectation,
until my heart learns what is needed to know.

Bringing forth joy in the moment,
to have my spirits uplifted,
and my soul restored,
through divine coincidence.

Kindle the Lights

B”H

“You will kindle and prepare the lamps.” – Tanchuma Behalotecha 3

When Aaron grew concerned, that the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel brought offerings to inaugarate the Mishkan, yet, he was not called to contribute in like manner, H’Shem told him that he would have a greater responsibility. He was placed in charge of lighting the menorah that rested in the Mishkan. This would be a detailed procedure that culminated in the light of the menorah being kept lit during the night, and foreshadow the role of his descendants, who rededicated the Temple, after its near destruction by the Hellenists; hence, the celebration of Chanukah every year, even unto this day and age.

According to the Talmud, ‘He is required to light the lamp until the flame rises by itself” (Shabbat 21a). Thus, he had to make sure that each wick was lit well enough, that the flame would continue to grow, until it remained steady on its own. A lesson is mentioned in commentary, concerning this commandment, that the same is true for ourselves, when we help others. We must make sure to properly guide others, in order for them to continue to grow spiritually on their own.

Aaron would also clean out the menorah, preparing it to be lit again each and every day. Another lesson, for ourselves, to keep in mind, is that everyday, we must clean out the “soot and ash,” figuratively speaking, in our own lives. This was one of the tasks of Aaron, necessary, before placing the new wicks in each lamp, and lighting the Menorah. To keep the light glowing in our lives, we must also prepare ourselves everyday to receive that light from H’Shem. We are each a light sent by G-d into this world, that we may also light up the lives of others.

Seek the Light

B”H

“Towards the face of the menorah shall the seven lamps cast light.”

  • Numbers 8:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The “seven lamps” shall cast their light towards the face of the menorah. Seven lamps, towards the face (p’nei). Commentary explains that the six lamps, three on either side of the center lamp, had their wicks tilted towards the center lamp. Yet, this begs the question, if the verse mentions that all seven lamps shall cast their light towards the p’nei (face) of the menorah, then the Hebrew word, p’nei must represent something other than the center lamp, since it is only one of the seven. Therefore, what does the Hebrew word p’nei represent in this verse?

An answer may be given by focusing on another verse from Kitvei Kodesh (Holy Scripture), wherein a clue may be found. “In Thy behalf my heart hath said: ‘Seek ye My face’; Thy face, L-RD, will I seek” (Psalms 27:8, JPS 1917 Tanach). Consequently, the verse about the menorah could be rendered as having the light of the seven lamps glowing towards the “face of G-d.” And, what may be learned by this understanding? The light of the lamps can be seen as symbolic of our avodas (service) towards H’Shem, seven days a week. All our efforts in avodas are to culminate in seeking the face of G-d.

parashas Beha’alosecha 5780

poetry: Concealment

B”H

Listen to other people’s truth, with a lower case “t;”
yet, abide in the Truth that was taught to thee.

From the revelation at Sinai, to the Temple in Yerushalayim;
from ancient Israel, to the diaspora throughout the world.

We will survive in a world inharmonious with the words of Torah,
because our sanctity is reishis – from the beginning of G-d’s creation.

A spark of truth can be found everywhere,
to remind us of the the promises of H’Shem.

Revealed in antiquity through the prophets,
and carried into effect throughout history.

Even today, we are witnessing the footsteps
that will pave the way towards redemption.