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.
Joseph’s identity, hidden from his brothers, was revealed to them in a moment of time, wherein they had a private audience with the Egyptian ruler, who knew them, yet, they did not recognise him. Previously, up until that moment, they had seen him as a cruel ruler, who held his authority over them, inasmuch as he could do as he pleased: through intimidating them by placing them in jail three days; demanding that they return with their youngest brother; otherwise, they would not be able to see him, thereby obtaining necessary food during the famine; and, finally, taking Benjamin as a servant, under false charges. Their perception of him changed, when he said, “I am Joseph” (Genesis 45:3).
Joseph himself had previously told them, in regard to the incident whereof, he kept Simeon as a hostage, until they return with Benjamin, instead of keeping them all in prison, that he fears G-d. No light statement from an Egyptian ruler; yet, the brothers may not have accepted this statement as sincere. Now, they see his sincerity demonstrated, inasmuch that he shows them kindness, forgiveness, and mercy, the very qualities valued in Abrahamic legacy. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do his commandments; his praise endures for ever” (Psalms 111:10, Tanach Bible).
When Jacob arrived in Egypt with his family, his son, Joseph, harnessed his chariot and went out to greet him. Joseph provided for his family to live in the land of Goshen – a land removed from Egypt proper. As a consequence of their living in this location, they were isolated to some extent from the rest of Egyptian society. They had more freedom to follow the patriarchal ways of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and foster the character traits that they represented, as opposed to getting caught up in the idolatrous ways, and immorality of their neighbors.
Yet, even in the midst of the uncertainty, doubt, and fear, that settled in years later, after the children of Israel became enslaved in Egypt, there was the promise of hope in the redeemer. Before Joseph passed away, he told his brother, pekod pekodti, a redeemer will reveal himself to you. “G-d will surely remember you, and bring you up out of this land unto the land which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Genesis 50:24). The first redeemer, Moses, freed us from the shackles of Egypt, and brought us to Sinai, where through the covenant, we became obligated to to following the commandments, the first step in becoming a people unto G-d.
According to the Zohar, for every descent, there is an ascent: apropos to this weeks parashas, we see Joseph, whose feet were placed in fetters, His person was laid in iron; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the L-RD tested him (Psalm 105:19, JPS). Josephs descent to Egypt, and eventually into prison, began with his literal descent into the pit that his brothers callously cast him. He was then sold to Midianite traders, who brought him down to Egypt. He became the servant of Potiphar, who put Joseph in charge of his estate; yet, he was wrongfully accused by Potiphars wife; as a result, he wound up in prison.
Even in prison, Joseph flourished; the L-RD was with Joseph, and showed kindness unto him, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison (Genesis 39:21, JPS 1917 Tanach). He gained notoriety as an interpreter of dreams, after correctly interpreting, b’ezrach H’Shem (with the L-RDs help) the dreams of two prisoners who had been in stewardship in Pharaohs court. When the cup bearer, who was restored to his position in Pharaoh’s court, two years later, saw how disconcerted Pharaoh was about his own dreams, he recommended Joseph to Pharaoh.
And Pharaoh said unto Joseph: Forasmuch as G-d hath shown thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou’ (Genesis 41:39, JPS 1917 Tanach). Pharaoh was so impressed with Josephs interpretation, that he elevated him to second in command of Egypt, thereby charging him to care for Egypt during the famine, by developing a means to store food during the seven years of plenty, to be subsequently distributed during the famine that would ensue, according to Pharaohs dream. Thus, Josephs ascent followed his descent, all for the sake of others. Joseph models the qualities of endurance, patience and self-giving.
Light will transcend the darkness in our lives when we cast our gaze towards the flame of truth, the eishtamid (eternal light) that is symbolized by Chanukah. The light of the Menorah in the temple, lit by the small cruze of oil found amidst the debris in the Temple, is the light of hope and renewal.
A little known midrash connects that small cruze of oil to the renewal of mankind, creation, and the earth itself, after the Mavul (Flood). When the dove brought back an olive branch in it’s mouth, according to the midrash, Noah pressed enough olive oil to place inside a small container. This cruze of oil was passed down to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When Jacob returned to Beth El, he anointed the foundation stone with this oil. Then, according to the midrash, he hid the small cruze of precious olive oil.
This Place (HaMakom) was none other than Mt. Moriah, where the Temple was eventually established. Yes; because of the miracle of light that lasted for eight days from this precious oil, we celebrate Chanukah today. Midrash is not always meant to be taken literally; therefore, a symbolic viewpoint may be rendered from this particular midrash. One explanation, may have to do with the talmudic saying that the cure precedes the ailment.
Thus, one may conclude that G-d, having foreseen the defilement of the Temple by the Seulicid empire, provided the means for its sanctification, shortly after the near destruction of the earth. The oil, “potential light” was passed down, safeguarded across the generations for its eventual use in re-lighting the menorah in the Temple, signifying the triumph of light over darkness.
The message of hope will be like a small flame illuminating the darkness, despite whatever circumstances may cast a shadow over our lives. Yehi ratzon. May it be His will that the light of hope and renewal throughout the ages will always prevail over darkness. Amein.
“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).
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?
There is a rich heritage, sparking an inspirational message across the ages, that a Jew has a place, a home, and a refuge within the belief, practice, and traditions found in the realm of yiddishkeit. There is a Jewishness about everything from potato latkes to the peyos (side curls) of an Orthodox Jew. The entire gamut of a Jewish way of life, in all of its kaleidescopic color, consists of a seamless unity from one generation to another. Despite assimilation, some semblance of the original focus (deveykus) and lifestyle of our ancestors, may still be found amongst all of us, from one end of the spectrum to the other. No matter how a Jew is defined, the pintle yid – the essential Jewishness – may always be found in one form or another.
Because the door is always open to explore the various facets of Judaism, from many different angles, opportunity prevails upon us to enter into a world that is replete with sights, sounds and experiences, that may have the effect of rekindling the glowing embers in our heart. With the help of H’Shem, these flames may be fanned into a fire of longing for a closeness to G-d, that will compel us to take that first step through the doorway. Once taken, we are in the hands of H’Shem, who will lead us along the way of our unique path on the road home to Him.
“Turn us unto Thee, O L-rd, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.”
This year, as Shavuot approaches, my imagination is captured by recent events, going back to Purim: a long and arduous journey of the soul, from rejoicing, to solitude, and now the figurative climb in preparation of receiving the Commandments anew in our lives. Let me explain. On my personal journey from rejoicing at a Purim celebration, that turned out to be the last time that I attended a religious community event. Solitude, as I mostly hunkered down into an almost overly self imposed shelter-in-place existence. The spiritual climb, having the solitude to focus on my derech (path), into the wilderness, so that I might be refined b’ezrach H’Shem (with G-d’s help) enough to na’asehv’nishmah – perform, and understand – over time the significance of the commandments anew.
We are mostly all camped out within our own personal deserts; yet, the desert is where the Torah was given to B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel). A place where the mind is unhindered from distractions, and solace may be found in the stillness of Sinai. Plenty of opportunity for spiritual growth, if our perspective in life can shift in that direction, even moreso than if and when we already have in the past. By “the past,” I do not only mean, before the corona virus, I mean even if we have never considered are ruchniyos (spirituality) throughout most of our lives. Because, without a godly focus to some extent, human beings, myself included, are too easily caught up in gashmios (materiality). However, we have the opportunity to reach out towards H’Shem, so that we may be drawn to Him.
When Moshe entered “the thick cloud” (Exodus 19:9) on Sinai, he was called even further, he “drew near unto the thick darkness where G-d was” (Exodus 20:18, JPS 1917 Tanach). This serves as an example for us in our quest to grow closer to G-d. He is found within the darkness of our lives. We may ask ourselves when will the clouds part, and the light begin to shine in our lives again. Yet, perhaps, there will be no preemptive parting of the clouds, not until we learn how to bear the challenges in our lives by using them as opportunities to seek G-d, so that His presence, may comfort us during our nisyanos (troubles). Then, we may enter back into the world, renewed with godly strength and vigour, as a result of our own personal Sinai experience, no matter how many days we may actually be on the mountain.