Abraham, the Hebrew – Part Two

motzei Shabbos: parashas Vayeira 5782

There is an added dimension of Judaism that can be learned from the example of Abraham, when he is not cast in the light as being the first Jew. Words have connotations that can sometimes be misleading when the word is applied in a more general manner than its normal usage. Case in point, in regard to Abraham, who led an exemplary life, about four hundred years, before the Torah was given. How was he able to live in a manner that exceeded the level of morality of that generation? One answer is found in the phrase, derech eretz (literally, “way of the land”), that connotes being a mentch (good person), inclusive of basic ethics, a sense of responsibility, and consideration of others. In fact, this is considered to be a prerequisite for the observance of mitzvoth (commandments, as per found in the Torah). So, the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob serve as examples of derech eretz, whereof we can learn the basic positive character traits that G-d would expect of us, before we even place ourselves, figuratively speaking, of course, at the base of Mount Sinai, where the Torah was given.

Yet, if Abraham is cast in the framework of being the first Jew, as if being Jewish were synonymous with the observance of the mitzvoth, then we will totally miss the point of what the moral legacy of Abraham has to offer us. Furthermore, above all else, Abraham exemplified emunah in the form of his faithfulness towards H’Shem, as demonstrated by his obedience to H’Shem’s directive, when tested ten times throughout his life. Torah specifically states, about Abraham, “And he believed in the L-RD; and He counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Therefore, let us not forget the primacy of emunah (faith) in our lives, when considering our own relationship to H’Shem. Is this faith also a prerequisite to the observance of Torah? If we consider the nature of the first commandment, then faith is primary, as stated, “I am the L-RD your G-d,” a declarative statement that according to commentary implies that the first commandment is the directive to believe in G-d; only then, to receive the mitzvoth based upon the authority of the One who  gave us the commandments at Sinai.

The Journey

dvar for parashas Mattos – Masei 5781

“These are the stages of the children of Israel, by which they went forth out of the land of Egypt.”

– Numbers 33:1 , JPS 1917 Tanach

The forty-two journeys of the Children of Israel, “their goings out according to their journeys by the commandment of H’Shem” (Numbers 33:2), were seen from the perspective of G-d, each one as a significant journey of progress, according to His plan. Each time they set out on a journey to the next encampment, there was no need for regret, if they accomplished, learned, and advanced in character development, according to G-d’s will. Lessons learned, although, often from past mistakes, should also compel us anew to be more circumspect in our lives.


Thus, here is the segway to the applied application of Torah, from the passage that lists the forty-two journeys of B’nei Yisrael through the desert: each journey was a necessary stage, paving the way for the next advancement on the overall path from Mitzraim (Egypt) to Eretz Yisrael, as the Children of Israel are transformed into a G-d fearing people in alignment with the will of H’Shem, as given through His commandments.


Our own life journeys, from place to place mirror the template: the 42 journeys of the Israelites through the wilderness. They were brought out of a place of tumah (impurity), namely Mitzraim (Egypt), crossed through the Sea of reeds that parted for them, symbolic of immersion in a mikveh, and continued for forty years in the wilderness until reaching a place of kedushah (holiness) in the Land of Israel.


This journey serves to remind us of one of the main purposes in life: to move away from a sense of spiritual impurity to greater kedushah (holiness) by repairing our character defects and turning away from sin. In a similar manner that the Children of Israel were encompassed on all sides by tumah (impurity) in their environment, we should also be aware of the negative influences in our environment.

Our individual paths are designed by H’Shem to guide us through the various challenges we face in life. Once we learn the lesson, we may move on to the next place or situation that has another inherent challenge for us. Each stage may serve as a tikkun hanefesh, a repairing of the soul. The ultimate destination of the Israelites was the Promised Land; so, too, in a way, for us, inasmuch that Israel, under the reign of Moshiach (Messiah) is our ultimate inheritance.

“The path of the righteous is as the light of dawn, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”

– Proverbs 4:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

Omer: Day 49 Culmination

Malchut shebbe Malchut: Kingship within Kingship

Today’s middot (character traits) are malchut shebbe malchut (autonomy within sovereignty). This may be compared to the goal of self-actualization as found within a psychological framework. Finding a meaningful path to pursue in life will lead to personal fulfillment; in other words, the culmination of the soul’s mission in life. Under G-d’s directive, through His hasgacha peratis (divine guidance) that is placed upon us all, we are guided to what will steer us in the right direction.

In the Biblical sense, Solomon simplifies the essence, the underlying goal, to focus on, namely, “the sum of the matter, when all is said and done: Revere G-d, and observe His commandments; for this applies to all mankind” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, JPS 1985 Tanach). By staying on course, within the framework of G-d’s commandments, including all of the guidance that stems from them, one’s potential as an individual may be fully garnered, along the way towards the Kingdom.

The path is a unified one, inclusive of the soul in relationship to G-d. Moreover, to think in terms of self actualization, as well as directing ourselves to be in accordance with G-d’s expectations of us, is not incongruent. Although, in the strictest psychological sense, Maslow may have intended self actualization an expression of inner potential; within the light of a divine plan, it is ultimately through the negation of self to a higher cause, that the self may realize its fullest potential within G-d.

On Shavuot (the fiftieth day), the culmination of the forty-nine day journey through self renewal, by way of examining our character, reaches its goal. As the L-RD said to Moses, “when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve G-d upon this mountain” (Exodus 3:12, JPS 1917 Tanach). We receive the Torah anew, in the very present moment of our lives. H’Shem willing, the refinement of our soul over the past seven weeks has brought us closer to the fulfillment of peace and wholeness in our lives.

“The path of the righteous is as the light of dawn, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”

– Proverbs 4:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

Omer: Day 48 – Being Oneself

Yesod shebbe Malchut: Foundation within Kingship

In regard to yesod, a strong foundational belief system is necessary in order to maintain a sense of autonomy (malchut). Without reference points, in regard to one’s identity, it would be too easy to be swayed by this, that or the other opinion, trend, or viewpoint. A tenacious adherence to a set of values and beliefs, as well as an overall conception of oneself will be a fence around an individual’s autonomy.

There is a teaching from Zusha, who taught that when he gets to Shomayim (Heaven), he isn’t going to be asked why he wasn’t like Moses. He will be asked why he wasn’t like Zusha (himself). Everyone is an individual, who will best relate to truth in the manner that G-d will show to him or her. Therefore, the spiritual achievements, past education, or knowledge of others should only inspire us. For G-d designates unto each and every individual, according to his own capacity.

A foundational belief and practice is really integral to the overall spiritual health of every human being; otherwise, we could potentially drown, so to speak, in a sea of nihilism, where values ultimately do not matter, and life has no directive towards an ultimate purpose. G-d forbid. Therefore, to cling to the truth through deveykus (attachment) is paramount not only to connect to G-d, but to also remain steadfast on the derech (path) of life.

note: this was recorded and posted before Shabbat.

Omer: Day 47 – Humble Mountain

Hod shebbe Malchus: Splendor Within Kingship

Hod, may also be reckoned as “humility.” Humility is a necessary ingredient of character, inasmuch that any attempt to raise oneself above a modest estimation of one’s abilities should be placed in check by a fair analysis of oneself. Lowliness of spirit is a deterrent against pride. Morever, showing deference to others helps to foster a sense of humility.

Yet, ultimate deference should be shown to G-d, through obeisance of His commandments, as well as an acknowledgment of His greater wisdom (Isaiah 55:8-9). The middah (character trait) of hod is also reckoned as “splendor.” This type of splendor is the resultant state of humbling ourselves before G-d. “Before honor goeth humility” (Proverbs 15:33). When we bow to G-d in our heart, He will bestow his shefa (divine flow) upon us. 

B’nei Yisrael received the Torah at Sinai. Why was Mt. Sinai chosen from all of the other mountains? Because Sinai was not the highest of mountains; this teaches us the importance of humility. Only when we humble ourselves before G-d in full acknowledgment of our own limitations, may we receive the Torah anew within the quietude of our hearts.

“The reward of humility is fear of the L-RD” (Proverbs 22:4, JPS 1917 Tanach). When we humble ourselves, we can begin to appreciate our relationship to the L-RD, acknowledging Him with awe, reverence and respect. His sovereignty over our lives becomes easier to accept, when we recognize that we are limited beings, without all of the answers in life.

Omer: Day 46 – Gemstones

Netzach shebbe Malchut: Endurance within Kingship

Netzach, most commonly associated with “victory” may also be reckoned as success and accomplishment. In combination with malchus (sovereignty, autonomy, self-worth), one topic that might be relevant is the relation of success to autonomy. For example, what is the effect of success on the autonomy of an individual? Success in any endeavor would strengthen one’s sense of autonomy.

Accomplishments are akin to gemstones in the crown of a king, each one sparkling in its place. Another metaphor, a crown of laurels, received by those who are honored. Yet, there is a saying, that it is not wise to rest on one’s laurels.

Another way to symbolize accomplishments is like fruit on a tree. According to scripture, man is likened to a tree. In like manner that a tree is able to bear fruit, man, through his mitzvot (good deeds) may also bear fruit. Continuing the metaphor, fruits on a tree may be partaken of by all who enter the orchard. Therefore, following the metaphor, accomplishments that benefit others are even more like fruits on a tree. The yield of fruit is seasonal, and may be continually renewed year after year.

On another note, I would prefer not to speak about “success” as an abstract attainment, as if it is a level that one reaches, or a pinnacle that one stands upon. I am more inclined to speak about success in terms of actual individual accomplishments. A substantial amount of good deeds done for the sake of others will bear fruit in the lives of the recipients.

The value of these mitzvot will accrue over time, gaining interest as they continue to influence others in a positive way. In this sense, any measure of overall success would be dependent upon how much good we have done in this world.

note: The counting of the Omer serves as a spiritual journey. We are called upon to leave our own personal limitations behind us, as we travel on the path of freedom, away from the influence of negativity in our lives. This is a forty-nine day journey, a self improvement plan, between Passover and Shavuot. Each of the seven weeks corresponds to one of the seven middos (character traits) that we will have the opportunity to improve upon in our lives.

My personal reflections on each day’s combination of middot are not meant to be comprehensive; they are not based upon any one particular system. Nor, may my insights be characterized as authoritative, because I am a student, not a teacher. I simply hope to inspire others to delve into an exploration of their own personality, for the sake of tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul).

Omer: Day 45 – Appreciating Others

Tiferes shebbe Malchut: Harmony within Kingship

Tiferes represents harmony, beauty, and compassion. In relation to malchus (sovereignty), tiferes may be rendered as the amount of compassion expressed towards others, when honoring another person’s autonomy, dignity, and self-worth. A healthy respect for the autonomy of others includes an appreciation of who they are as unique individuals.

Additionally, in order to appreciate the other, it may be necessary, to step out of the “egoic shell.” A preoccupation with self will not allow an individual to see beauty in the lives of others. To be sovereign over oneself, to the extent that the door is closed to others, has the propensity to leave an emptiness, devoid of the vicissitudes of life – the ever changing moments. In other words, self autonomy should not preclude vulnerability; for, as is mentioned by the poet, John Donne, “no man is island.”

note: The counting of the Omer serves as a spiritual journey. We are called upon to leave our own personal limitations behind us, as we travel on the path of freedom, away from the influence of negativity in our lives. This is a forty-nine day journey, a self improvement plan, between Passover and Shavuot. Each of the seven weeks corresponds to one of the seven middos (character traits) that we will have the opportunity to improve upon in our lives.

My personal reflections on each day’s combination of middot are not meant to be comprehensive; they are not based upon any one particular system. Nor, may my insights be characterized as authoritative, because I am a student, not a teacher. I simply hope to inspire others to delve into an exploration of their own personality, for the sake of tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul).

Omer: Day 44 Gevurah shebbe Malchut

gevurah shebbe malchut: power within kingship

G-d’s sovereignty is made known through His commandments; his gevurah (strength, justice, severity) through his judgments. On the other hand, His attribute of chesed (mercy) is exhibited through His kindness. These two attributes work in tandem.

If He did not let His judgments be known through His interactions within the affairs of the world, He would appear to be tolerant of mankind’s shortcomings to the extent of a permissiveness that would convey a lax attitude on His part, as if any behavior on our part is acceptable. Yet, when we turn our hearts towards Him, He will bestow kindnesses upon us.

Moreover, He will help us improve ourselves, so that we will not fall under judgment. Because His expectations of us are clear, as represented by His commandments, His judgment is valid. Yet, often His judgment is in the form of chastisement, designed to compel us to return from our errant ways.

“For whom the L-RD loveth He correcteth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.”

– Proverbs 3:12

Omer: Day 43 Kind Autonomy

Chesed shebbe Malchus: Love within Kingship

Today begins a seven day focus on malchus (sovereignty), in combination with the other six emotional attributes. The first of these to be explored in relationship to malchus is chesed (kindness, mercy, love). Malchus (sovereignty) may also be rendered as autonomy. Human beings are created in G-d’s image, so we are obligated by our godly nature, at least to make an attempt to reflect His attributes. We were also given free will; therefore, to varying degrees, we may seek an autonomous stance in life; yet, to see ourselves as independent of G-d would only be self-deception.

In our quest to seek autonomy in life, when defining ourselves, we should add a measure of kindness. It is not necessary to shout, “this is who I am;” rather, simply to assert ourselves in regard to our personal viewpoints. Be kind to others; allow them to express their own viewpoints; regarding shared thoughts about life, the universe, and G-d. (In today’s current climate of divisiveness and cancel culture, this is even more important than ever). Healthy respect for the autonomy of others also includes permitting enough space for others to share; moreover, spiritual growth thrives when given room to grow. This may require silence, so that the underappreciated ability to listen may be fostered.

Omer: Day 37 Ma’oz Tzur

Omer: Day 37 Gevurah shebbe Yesod

Gevurah shebbe Yesod: Power of Foundation

Otherwise rendered as the strength of foundation.

What is the strength of my foundation? Will my foundation stand on its own? Or do I need additional support from other sources? I would be the first to admit, that my foundation sometimes seems weak and wobbly. Other times, my foundation appears sturdy enough to keep me safe and secure. I do not always seek extra support; nor, do I consistently build upon my foundation, in order to strengthen it against adversity ahead of time. Yet, prevention measures are important, knowing that the storms of life will not cease to occur from time to time.

In regard to my chosen derech (path) in life, the terrain ahead of me is full of challenges. Yet, my foundational beliefs will sustain me, if I make every effort to increase my understanding day by day. Ultimately, my source of strength is from G’d, because my own power is limited. In recognition of the greater strength of G’d, I know that my foundation rests upon solid ground. When the tides of change will make waves strong enough to sweep away the unwary, I will stand upon a Rock. Ma’oz Tzur.