A Singular Effort

B”H

Shiur for parashas Ki Seitzei 5780

“Thou shalt not wear a mingled stuff, wool and linen together.”

  • Deuteronomy 22:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Seeing that the first two human beings who were born on earth were of different species, (Kayin and Hevel), one being the result of the evil genes of the serpent, the other that of Adam’s divinely inspired spirit, and we are commanded to keep our distance from the spirit of impurity, mixing the species has been forbidden for us as we have learned the fatal consequences which this could have.”

  • R. Bachya, commentary on Leviticus 19:19, sefaria.org

The fundamental differences between Kayin (Cain) and Hevel (Abel) are reflected in the nature of the offerings that each brought to H’Shem. “Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the L-RD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the L-RD had respect unto Abel and to his offering; but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect” (Genesis 4:3-5 JPS). A qualitative difference between Abel and Cain’s offerieng is inferred. Cain’s offering was linseed (Midrash Tanchuma, Bereishis 9), whereas Abel brought the choicest of his flock.

If Abel brought from his sheep, then this could correspond to the wool, mentioned in the previous commandment, while Cain’s offering would be represented by linen. The commandment forbids “wool and linen together.” This rendering would reinforce the underlying differences between Cain and Abel. If we are to be more like Abel, giving the best of ourselves as an offering to H’Shem through our good deeds, then, we should not compromise our standing with H’Shem by following the poor example of Cain at all. Rather, we should maintain excellency in all of our endeavors, both towards G-d and man.

parashas Re’eh 5780

B”H

parashas Re’eh: Blessings & Curses

Shiur for parashas Re’eh 5780

“Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse.”

  • Deuteronomy 11:26, JPS 1917 Tanach

“See, I set before you this day,” in other words, perceive that I present before you this very day, the significance of blessings and curses in your lives. According to Rabbeinu Bahya, the so-called, “mental eye” of the spiritually sensitive is able to see the effects of the blessings and curses, on an individual basis, in their own lives. The blessings originate with the Attribute of Mercy, whereas the curses are derived from the Attribute of Justice.

R. Bahya makes reference to the pasuk (verse), “I have seen great wisdom and knowledge” (Ecclesiastes 1:16). As a direct result of our being aware of the blessings and curses in life, we may obtain great knowledge, concerning the causal relationship between our thoughts, speech, and actions, and their consequences. This may lead towards wisdom, having to do with how H’Shem Elokim guides us – each and every person, according to hasgachah peratis (divine guidance), weaving a tapestry of events and consequences in our lives, dependent upon the nature of our conduct.

Additionally, I would mention that King David wrote, “Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4, JPS); he was assured through H’Shem’s guidance and correction, that he would remain on the derech (path). H’Shem’s guidance, as represented by a staff (a sheperds crook) and His correction, as symbolized by a rod. This is akin to the undestanding that blessings can be understood as signs that we are on the right path; and curses are a form of chastisement meant to correct us, whenever we go astray.

“Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law.”

  • Psalm 119:18, JPS, 1917 Tanach

reflections: Vision

https://unsplash.com/@bamagal

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).

Shavuot 5780

B”H

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger from Pexels

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’aseh v’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.

Shavuos 5780

Groundedness

B”H

yesod shebbe yesod

(foundation within foundation)

Below the surface of the earth, rests the foundation of a building, the support of an infrastructure. In the same manner, man is like a tree, whose roots provide a reinforcement against the storms of life. “And he shall be like a tree planted by streams of water, that bringeth forth its fruit in its season, and whose leaf doth not wither; and in whatsoever he doeth he shall prosper” (Psalm 1:3, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The sefirah (attribute) of yesod may be understood as portraying foundational beliefs and attitudes, corresponding to what is most important in our lives. Within the context of a daily existence, some people are more intentional, with regard to living in accord with clear beliefs that generate proper conduct, based upon a specific set of truths. Others, upon examining themselves, may find that their beliefs, attitudes, and behavior are derived from various sources; whereupon, these sources may be disparate, not constituting a consistent worldview.

We should ask ourselves upon examination (heshbon hanefesh – an accounting of the soul), whether our underlying assumptions are able to withstand the harsh realities of life that may pour down upon us. Will our prevailing attitudes about life enable us to weather the various storms that we may encounter along the road of life? If not, then we should consider adding a little more support to our foundation.

Omer – 41 Days

Reflection: Renewal

B”H

26 Nissan 5780

April 20, 2020

“And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.”

– Ezekiel 36:25, JPS 1917 Tanach

The B’nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) had sunk to the 49th level of impurity in Egypt. Had we descended to the 50th level of impurity, according to chazal, we would have been indistinguishable from the Egyptians. From this perspective, we were not brought out of Egypt, based upon our own merit. This is akin to what is mentioned later in Torah, “Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thy heart” (Deuteronomy 9:5).

Thus, we were taken out of Egypt by way of what is called itaruta dil’eyla, an “awakening from above,” wherein H’Shem brings about an effect from Shomayim. From out of the influence of an idolatrous society, B’nei Yisrael was freed from slavery, in order to serve H’Shem.

The 49 day counting of the Omer, between Pesach and Shavuos is a gradual ascent to the 49th level purity. A time to effect a gradual transition to a positive set of character traits, through an itaruta dil’tata, an awakening from below, i.e., from our own efforts. As B’nei Yisrael spent forty nine days on a journey from Egypt towards Mount Sinai, where the Torah was given, so opportunity given the opportunity to prepare ourselves to receive the Torah anew on Shavuot.

daily contemplation: Acknowledgment

B”H

February 23, 2020

“As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us.”

– Psalm 103:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

The derech (path) I tread is imperfect, when I walk in fear, doubt, or lack of emunah (faith). Yet, this acknowledgment in and of itself, may very well be an honest assertion, capable of rendering a sense of truth about myself. Although my transgressions may be atoned for on a daily basis, this only clears the way for greater clarity, in regard to who I am as a human being. This does not make me perfect; rather, wiping the slate clean, permits me to see more clearly my imperfections.

Everyday, we must maintain the necessity of cleaning the window of the soul. There may be many smudge marks; however, every morning brings a new opportunity to gaze into the looking glass, in a new light. Each day, it is our responsibility to work on improving our character; if not, we may fall by the wayside.

A journey, from east to west, from morning to evening; and, at nighttime, we are reminded of our personal exile, the challenges we face, as we make our way closer to the person who G-d wants us to be. “The path of the righteous is as the light of the dawn, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18, JPS 1917 Tanach).

daily contemplation: Chasing Shadows

“Surely His salvation is nigh them that fear Him.”

– Psalm 85:9, JPS 1917 Tanach

Looking forward in time, I have a vision for the near future. Yet, there is a certain derech (path), for me to arrive at the destination. There is a specific manner, that outlines how to get there. The road whereon I may accomplish my goals, step by step, in an incremental manner, is fraught with hazards. Even so, this has been provided for, that I may reach the heights of spiritual growth in my life in due time.

Only when I begin to consider sheker (falsity) as real, do I compromise the effort being made: chasing the shadows of my past, instead of following the dreams of my future, I may falter on the way. Wherein lies the reconciliation of my previous footsteps, along the road to freedom with my present-day life? Shall I let the sands of time drift, and cover over my footsteps? Or shall I retrace my steps, in order to analyze, learn, and grow through my introspection?

The ever-present risk is the potential to get sidetracked; yet, I can not move forward without knowing where I came from. If I do not recover my past, in a manner that gives me a foundation for the future, then the future that I envision for myself will crumble. My heritage, family roots, and future of my people, all play a role, that forms a necessary part of the overall equation. With G-d at the helm of the ship, so to speak, keeping everything on course, shall I falter?

Inner Calling

B”H February 9, 2020 “How long, O L-RD, wilt Thou forget me for ever? How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me?” Psalm 13:2, JPS 1917 Tanach The concept of hester panim (G-d’s hiding his face) from man, speaks of the need to find Him within the circumstances of our lives, despite His apparent […]

Inner Calling — Clear Horizons