shabbos reflections: Tradition

As Shabbos approaches, I have already said, “amein” after my mother lit candles, on Zoom according to halachic time on the East Coast. After welcoming Shabbat, I recited kiddush, we partook of motzei and ate our meals quietly, as if two thousand miles were condensed into two feet across the table. Now, back in my own time zone, so to speak, I am making the most of three hours until Shabbos begins. This would not have been possible, without the many circumstances that led to this new tradition. The Coronavirus is not without its blessings; although, I would not intend to diminish the overall tragic consequences for many people that have occurred in its wake.

Yet, for myself, I carry on, introvert that I am. For, my self-imposed shelter in place policy 24-7 provided much time for reflection. And, a prolific abundance of writings that I have mostly posted on my blogs. Overall, there is no way to measure these times, except within the framework of the big picture. As incident rates of Covid-19 decrease, we will not necessarily be entering the “new normal,” unless our minds are complacent. Rather we are already entering what is more akin to a brave new world, promoted by the technocracy, i.e., the means to manage the infrastructure, ideology, and economic system of the future. This will not lead to an utopia, rather, a dystopia; therefore, I will continue to cling to G-d, Torah, and acts of kindness, instead of the “new normal.”

shiur Nasso 5781

“Speak unto the children of Israel: When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to commit a trespass against the L-RD, and that soul be guilty; then they shall confess their sin which they have done.”

– Numbers 5:5-7, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to Rambam (Maimonides), this verse is the basis of the importance of confession (vidui), within the context of teshuvah (repentance). “And shall make reparation in full” (Numbers 5:7); this latter part of the pasuk (verse) denotes reparations made to others, if the aveirah (transgression) is against another person. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for reparation is from the same shoresh (root), “shuv,” as teshuvah, meaning to return. Repentance is a return to H’Shem (the L-RD). “Let us return unto the L-RD” (Hosea 5:15, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The Mishkan along with the Levitical system of offerings were meant to restore the relationship of the people with H’Shem. A restored relationship with H’Shem begins with vidui (confession), whereby we confess our sins to Him; additionally, we return to Him by not making the same transgression again. We must also increase our mitzvoth, spending more time engaged with godly pursuits, and less time in that which could be considered frivolous.

Unless we are conscious of leading a godly life, we may not even realize that a diminished connection to G-d may be a result of our own lack of mitzvot (good deeds). “Your iniquities have separated between you and your G-d (Isaiah 59:2, JPS 1917 Tanach). In order to experience G-d’s presence in our lives, then we need to approach Him in righteousness. If we have not been cognizant of what He expects from us, then we need to educate ourselves, according to His ways. Now is a good time to start.

Heritage: Part Three

Why were the Commandments given in a desert? Because of its scarceness, wherein there was nothing to interfere with the receiving of G-d’s commandments. Had the commandments been given within civilization, there would have been too many competing factors, vying for the attention of B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel). This brings to mind, how it is all too true today, that there are many distractions, ideologies, and belief systems, that vie for our attention. With the proliferation of the Internet, the Age of Information has the potential to overwhelm the sensibilities of man’s soul, and spirit. We live in a different kind of wilderness than the desert, wherein B’nei Yisrael received the Torah; we live in a wilderness wherein the light of truth can hardly shine through the fabric of ideas woven into our existence, by way of pixels, optic wires, and Internet cables.

Every year, we stand on the precipice of Shavuos, the culmination of an intense focus on ourselves in light of the self renewal, that we hope to obtain over a period of forty-nine days between Passover and Mattan Torah (the Giving of the Torah). Yet, even after our personal experience at Sinai, we may continue to receive Torah anew, each and every day of our lives, inasmuch that we have the opportunity to increase our understanding of G-d every day. He reveals Himself, within the everyday events of our lives; additionally, He guides us through our intuition, and the various circumstances that we encounter throughout our lives, even on a daily basis, if we are able to tune in to our inner vision. There is a heightened sense of awareness that may be gained, when we take the time and make the effort for every day to count; moreover, that every moment has the potential to reveal what was previously unseen. “I answered thee in the secret place of thunder” (Psalm 81:8, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Heritage: Part Two

“And all the people perceived the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the voice of the horn [shofar], and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled, and stood afar off.”

– Exodus 20:15, JPS 1917 Tanach

When B’nei Yisrael encamped at Sinai as one people, they saw the thunder, as well as the lightening atop Sinai; their experience brought them to a heightened sense of awareness, beyond the confines of our usual senses. According to the Talmud, when G-d spoke at Sinai, there was no echo of His voice; rather, His words permeated all of creation. The world was saturated with His wisdom, and all creatures were silent at the time of the revelation on Mt. Sinai. The words of Torah were imbued into every soul at the mountain, where G-d chose to reveal His commandments. His wisdom may continue to infuse us with the means to govern our lives in a holy manner, when we heed the call.

At Sinai, the Children of Israel were instilled with yiras H’Shem (fear of the L-RD), compelling in them a holy sense of awe, reverence, and respect towards H’Shem. While this essential principal of Judaism has been diminished by many, we can still reconnect with the vision at Sinai. How so? Consider that initially, the experience of B’nei Yisrael at Sinai was so intense, that “they trembled, and stood afar off.” Perhaps, the same is true to some extent for us today; something in our lives, may have caused some of us to stand farther away from Sinai than our ancestors did. Even so, we may still sense the presence of H’Shem; yet, we may be less inclined to let His words imbue us with a wisdom from above and beyond what the zeitgeist has to offer.

By standing too far away from Sinai, over the generations, we may not be as impressed with Matan Torah (literally, “the giving of the Instruction”) as our ancestors were. Through the individual ways that we experience, celebrate, and honor our Judaism, we absorb the essence of Sinai in a way that is often more acceptable for us, yet, less substantial. Yet, we are still called every year at Shavuot, to renew our commitment to our heritage.

Heritage 5781

There is a rich heritage, that carries 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 can have the effect of rekindling the glowing embers in our heart. With the help of the L-RD, 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 the L-RD, 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.”

– Lamentations 5:21, JPS 1917 Tanach

Holy Fear

“And it came to pass on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of a horn exceeding loud; and all the people that were in the camp trembled.”

– Exodus 19:16, JPS 1917 Tanach


“G-d hath so made it, that men should fear before Him.”

– Ecclesiastes 3:14, JPS

At Mount Sinai, the people in the camp trembled at the awesome display of H’Shem’s Presence, amidst the thunder and lightning. The people’s sense of yiras H’Shem (fear, awe, and reverence towards the L-RD) was elicited by the spectacular display, when the Commandments were given to B’nei Yisrael through Moshe (Moses). This may serve as an example for us, when we gather ourselves together, in order to receive the Torah anew in our lives on the day of Shavuot. The thunder and lightening that humbled the people at Sinai, demonstrate the importance of yiras H’Shem for our own lives. “The fear of H’Shem is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10).

When we seek to develop awe, reverence, and proper respect towards H’Shem, we are planting a foundation within us that will bring wisdom and understanding into our lives. “And knowledge of the holy is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). G-d seeks to bring our heart into alignment with His ways, by compelling us to seek teshuvah (repentance), that we may truly start anew. The powerful reminder of thunder is a natural occurrence that should serve as a wake-up call. According to the Talmud, thunder was created for this very purpose (Berachos 59a). On Shavuot, we stand once again, ready to leave our personal Mitzraim (Egypt) behind us, as we renew our commitment to keep the Covenant made at Mt. Sinai with B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel).

Shavuot 5781

For well over a year, many of us have been “camped out” within our own personal deserts; yet, it would be good to consider that the desert is where the Torah was given to B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel). The desert is a place where the mind is unhindered from distractions, and solace may be found in the stillness of Sinai. In the desert, there is an opportunity for spiritual growth; and, room for a shift in perspective.

Moreover, if we have not been placing an emphasis on ruchniyos (spirituality), the opportunity still prevails. I strongly believe that without an emphasis on ruchniyos, human beings, myself included, may too easily get caught up in gashmios (materiality). Yet, we may always reach out towards H’Shem (the L-RD), so that we may be simultaneously 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, concealed within the hardships, trials and tribulations.

We may ask ourselves, when will the clouds part, and the light begin to shine in our lives? Perhaps, there will be no parting of the clouds, until we learn how to transform 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 life, 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, waiting to descend and step back into the world.

The Crown of Creation

Mankind is the crown of creation. All of creation was created first, then mankind was created on the sixth day. Paleontology records show the same natural progression of life on earth. Obviously, mankind could only flourish in an environment with suitable conditions towards life; so, those conditions were created before placing Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Whether this is viewed as a myth, parable, or symbolic explanation of creation, it is meant to show how man’s place in the world is significant. We were made to be stewards of the earth: (Genesis 2:15). Therefore, mankind is not only part of G-d’s overall creation; rather, the crowning achievement, and reason for creation itself. In order to bring about the full divine plan encapsulated throughout the Bible.

There is a teaching in Judaism that on the one hand the world was created for every individual on the face of the planet. While on the other hand, we are only part of the greater whole. These two perspectives exist in actual life in tandem with each other. As the story goes, Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pesicha carried two notes in separate pockets. One read, “the world is created for you.” the other note read, “I am mere dust and ashes.” The teaching is profound, and conveys the dual nature of life. On the one hand, each person is a unique individual created by G-d. Everyone may view his or her life from a self-centered perspective, as if the world and all it contains is for his or her benefit. On the other hand, in order to remain humble, and not overstep one’s boundaries, or raise oneself up in pride, it is important to remember, “I am but dust and ashes.”

Additionally, I would like to mention that G-d has a plan for each and every person on the dace of the planet. It is written in Psalms that G-d numbered all of the stars, and gives names to all of them” (Psalms 147:4). How much more so does He take note of each person’s plight on earth, through what is called hashgacha (divine guidance)? Whether we realize G-d’s influence in our lives or not depends in part of how cognizant we are of the tapestry being woven over time, that creates the bigger picture of how various events in our individual lives connect to form a greater whole. Meaning can be derived from our own existence, personal responsibilities, and dignity in how we approach the challenges of life. Human beings are thinking, talking, autonomous beings to some extent; yet, also subject to G-d’s sovereignty. Life is meant to bring us to the awareness of our place in the Universe, as individuals, who are created in G-d’s image. Ultimately, we are obligated to live up to that image: imatatio Dei.

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 31 Kaleidoscopic Splendor

Omer: Day 31 Tiferes shebbe Hod

Tiferes shebbe Hod: Beauty within Splendor

(Otherwise rendered as harmony within humility).

As explained elsewhere, only through bowing down in our hearts to the splendor of the L-RD, may we also acquire splendor, by way of reflecting His Splendor. Therefore, we may find through harmonizing ourselves enough to show deference to G-d, we may bear the light bestowed upon us through our reconciliation with Him. By way of harmonizing ourselves, I mean to bring the soul into alignment with truth, by sifting through the various inconsistencies in character, called from a psychological perspective, “cognitive dissonance.” Ideally, the result would be like viewing the shapes combined into patterns within the kaleidoscope of our soul. Imagine all of the variegated shapes being lit up by light in the background; this effect would be akin to G-d’s splendor being reflected by our souls.

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).