The Foundation Stone

“And he lighted upon the place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep.”

– Genesis 28:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

The word lighted, “and he lighted upon the place,” in Hebrew is vayifgah, from the shoresh (root word), paga. According to chazal, the word implies prayer; hence, the origin of the evening prayer being attributed to Jacob. Therefore, this event in Jacob’s life was the precedent for prayer, the third prayer of the day, that marks the transition from day to night.

What significance does this particular prayer serve? Within the context of the evening shema, the prayer draws emphasis to G-d’s faithfulness to Israel; we remind ourselves of His faithfulness to us, because darkness signifies the exile; yet, He is with us, as He was in the past: “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9).

The stones that Jacob placed around his head, twelve stones, are said in the midrash to have been taken from the mizbeach (altar) made by Abraham. The next morning, Jacob “took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar” (Genesis 28:18). In other words, of the twelve stones that he originally placed under his head he took the stone, one specific stone. Although, according to the midrash, symbolically, the twelve stones became one, representing the unity of the twelve tribes of Israel.

According to Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezer, this stone was given the name evehn shetiyah (the foundation stone), many generations later. This stone symbolizes the center of the world, from where all the earth was created. Jacob poured oil on this stone, so that it could be used as a mizbeach (altar), later, when he would return from his journey to Haran. This location is where the first and second Temples stood, many generations after Jacob. It is also where the third Temple will be built in Jerusalem.

As mentioned above, the maariv (evening) prayer, recited after nightfall, is a reminder of H’Shem’s faithfulness to us, during this Galus, i.e., the current exile. With our hope focused on the time of the Final Redemption, we may look forward to the time when K’lal Yisrael (All of Israel) will be united. “And He will set up an ensign for the nations, and will assemble the dispersed of Israel, and gather together the scattered of Judah” (Isaiah 11:12, JPS 1917 Tanach).

“‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the L-RD of hosts. He shall bring forth the top stone with shoutings of Grace, grace upon it.’” – Zechariah 4:6-7

dvar: parashas Re’eh 5781

“Unto the place which the L-RD your G-d shall choose out of all your tribes to put His name there, even unto His habitation shall ye seek.”

– Deuteronomy 12:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

Moshe explains to the B’nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) that they should not do like the nations in regard to their service to H’Shem. The idolatrous nations worshipped anywhere and everywhere to various so-called deities. However, when entering Eretz Canaan, B’nei Yisrael would be called upon to “destroy all the places, wherein the nations that ye are to dispossess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every leafy tree” (Deuteronomy 12:2, JPS). Rather, Israel is called to worship in “the place which H’Shem your G-d shall choose” (Deuteronomy 12:5, JPS).

The place that H’Shem chose, eventually was Jerusalem. That is where the first and second Temples were built. Moreover, we await the building of the Third temple. Until then, we congregate in assemblies, that are referred to as “small sanctuaries,” as per one interpretation of the following pasuk (verse): “Thus saith the L-rd G-D: Although I have removed them far off among the nations, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet have I been to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they are come” (Ezekiel 11:16, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The original meaning of the verse was meant to convey a sense of reassurance to the exiles, after the first Temple was destroyed, that H’Shem’s presence would still be with them; i.e., that H’Shem would be a sanctuary – a place of refuge for them. This rendering is also apropos today, during the current galus (exile), inasmuch that we believe that His presence, otherwise known as the Shechinah, went into exile with us after the destruction of the second Temple. Although, the return of the Jewish people has already begun at the time of the recreation of the State of Israel, our exile is not officially, over until the third Temple is built in the time of Moshiach (Messiah).

Tish b’Av 5781

“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. And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the L-RD, to the house of the G-d of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the L-RD from Jerusalem. And He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

– Isaiah 2:2-4, JPS 1917 Tanach

Counting Sheep

shiur for parashas Bamidbar 5781

“Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel.”

– Numbers 1:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

“The literal translation of the above mentioned verse would be, ‘Lift up the head of the entire assembly.” This rendering has two potential meanings: that the people would be lifted up to a higher spiritual status or brought down by their own unworthiness. The phrase suggests either upliftment, if B’nei Yisrael were worthy in G-d’s eyes, or chastisement, if they were not acting in accordance with His expectations of them (Ramban).

The sages note that there were nine times recorded in the Tanach, whereupon a census was taken. According to their rendering of scripture, there will be a tenth census taken in the days of Moshiach (Messiah). “The flocks again pass under the hands of him that counteth them, saith the L-RD” (Jeremiah 33:13, JPS 1917 Tanach). According to the rendering of this verse by the Targum Yonaton, the verse reads, “by the hand of Moshiach.”

The world is judged four times a year; the sages envision the judgment that occurs on Rosh HaShannah, as a census being taken, likened to counting sheep: “On Rosh HaShanah all creatures pass before Him like sheep [benei maron], as it is stated: ‘He Who fashions their hearts alike, Who considers all their deeds’ (Psalms 33:15)” (Talmud, tractate Rosh HaShannah 16a, sefaria.org).

The mashal (parable) of counting the sheep also points towards the final judgment, when all of mankind will be judged. “For I [know] their works and their thoughts; [the time] cometh, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and shall see My glory” (Isaiah 66:18).

“Therefore will I save My flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle. And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even My servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the L-RD will be their G-d, and My servant David prince among them” (Ezekiel 34:22-24, JPS 1917 Tanach).

motzei Shabbos: erev Pesach 5781

The redemption of B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) began on Shabbos, specifically, the tenth of Nissan. That Shabbos, later, became known as Shabbat HaGadol. What was so special about the Tenth of Nissan? That day was when the Children of Israel were commanded to bring a lamb into each and every one of their homes. “Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying: In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household” (Exodus 12:3, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Why was this the beginning of the Redemption for B’nei Yisrael? Because the lamb was to be the first national offering, made by each and every family, for the sake of using the blood of the lamb as a sign, placed upon the doorposts and lintels of their homes. The blood would serve as a sign, whereby, “the L-RD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side-posts, the L-RD will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you” (Exodus 12:23).

And, so, the tenth plague, the slaying of the first born, was not enacted upon the Children of Israel. They were spared, because of their emunah (faith) in H’Shem, that compelled them to carry out the commandment, regarding the Pesach lamb. They had been further commanded, “none of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning” (Exodus 12:23).

“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

poetry: Promise

1 Nissan 5781 Running, the tempest behind me, still present in my thoughts and dreams; yet, somewhere on the horizon, I can see in the distance, there is a place serene. Joyous within myself, outwardly smiling, my emotions never surface enough to be visible; perhaps, a trait from my ancestors upbringing, learned men of books, […]

Promise — Breathing Inspiration

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?