motzei Shabbos: Eikev 5781

“And thou shalt remember all the way which H’Shem thy G-d hath led thee these forty years in the wilderness, that He might afflict thee, to prove thee, to know what was in thy heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments, or no.”

– Deuteronomy 8:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The children of Israel were subjected to many nisyanos (challenges) within the space of the forty years of wandering in the wilderness. What was the purpose of experiencing these trials? “That He might afflict thee, to prove thee” (Deuteronomy 8:2, JPS). From this perspective, let us consider what is expressly stated, “that, as a man chasteneth his son, so H’Shem thy G-d chasteneth thee” (Deuteronomy 8:5, JPS). This is clarified clearly by Sforno, who comments, “He gives you a superior moral/ethical challenge to help you achieve perfection as seen from His perspective” (Sforno, on Deuteronomy 8:5; sefaria.org). Bear in mind, that this axiom is as true for us today as it was for B’nei Yisrael in the wilderness.

A G-dly Sorrow

parashas Matos-Massei 5781

drash 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,” 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.


Yet, even if they failed, they were given the opportunity to return to Him through teshuvah (repentance). Therefore, there was still no cause to regret, as long as they would be focused on a “godly sorrow,” that would bring them to a place of acknowledgment in regard to their aveiros (sins). This is akin to teshuvah tataah, fostering a contrite spirit, that will elicit H’Shem’s compassion from Above.

On the contrary, a sorrow in the form of yearning for the past, e.g., the comforts of Egypt (Numbers 11:5-6), or provisions other than the manna and water that H’Shem provided in the desert, led to complaining and rebellion. These complaints, and rebelliousness were tantamount to turning away from their divinely inspired goal to enter the Promised Land.

Even so, the goal remained, to enter Eretz Canaan as a people separated from the nations, in order to serve H’Shem, who only had their best interests in mind. And, H’Shem still has our best interests in mind today. He has not forgotten us, nor our individual needs, as we go from one place to another, journeying along throughout the stages of lives; moreover, He has set forth our path towards the Promised Land of Olam Haba (the World to Come).

Shabbos reflection: Drawing Near

As the 17th of Tammuz draws near, the connection seems so relevant to make. In a way, because of the Rafael Fire, burning fifteen miles away, imagining what occurred almost two thousand years ago in Jerusalem on the 17th of Tammuz seems more tangible. That is the day in 70 C.E. when the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem. Fires raged throughout the city; and the Temple was destroyed three weeks later on the 15th of Av.

Rafael Fire, Arizona

Drawing near to G-d seems like the most beneficial endeavor, at this time; and, perhaps, how my concerns about the fire may be channeled into the commemoration of the 17th of Tammuz on the first day of the week. Surely this would have been the only recourse of the pious two thousand years ago; drawing near to G-d at the time of an event that preceded one of the worst tragedies in Jewish history. Hopefully, any tragedies as a result of the Rafael Fire will be averted. H’Shem willing.

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.

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.

dvar: parashas Emor 5781

“You shall not profane My holy name, that I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people – I the L-RD who sanctify you.”

– Leviticus 22:32, sefaria.org

In struggling against the yetzer harah (evil inclination) we confront the part of ourselves that is inclined towards what Freud would call our instinctual drives. His theory, in regard to the id, ego, and superego, explains that without putting a reign on the Id, man would be subject to these drives, to the extent of not being able to function within the limits of societal norms.

Man, himself, is composed of two natures, the godly soul and the animal soul. Freud’s Id represents, to some degree, the instincts of the animal soul; moreover, the ego’s role, from his point of view, is to place the Id in check, according to what he called the Reality Principle. This is done by applying the standards of the superego, an amalgamation of moral values instilled in us through family upbringing and collective societal norms.

Inasmuch that Judaism teaches the significance of following the inclinations of the godly soul, as opposed to that of the animal soul, the standards are raised – Torah calls us to a higher standard. Especially, consider that the values of Austrian society that dominated Freud’s time and place at the time of his psychoanalytic practice (Vienna, from1886 to 1938) are not held in esteem by the majority of the world today. Rather, modernity is influenced, to a lesser or greater degree by norms that would be considered substandard, when compared to those that Freud was familiar with. This decline epitomizes the lack of a substantial claim to consistent values, over the years, within society.  

Yet, the L-RD’s ways, given to us through the Torah do not change. “His ways are higher than our ways; His thoughts are higher than our thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8). We are expected to be righteous to the extent of subduing the inclinations of the “yetzer hara,” akin to the “animal soul,” by way of self-denial. In doing so, we make ourselves an offering, by denying ourselves for the sake of following a higher path, than the one that our animal soul would follow, were we to let it lead (G-d forbid). Shall a donkey lead the rider? Nay, a donkey (chomer) represents the body, which must be guided by the soul. In this manner shall the L-RD’s name be sanctified amongst us: “That I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people – I the L-RD who sanctify you” (Leviticus 22:32, sefaria.org). Through H’Shem’s help, we will be sanctified.

Omer: Day 25 One Life to Live

Netzach shebbe Netzach: Endurance within Endurance:

(The attribute of netzach may also be rendered as “victory” or “eternity”).

The attribute of Netzach carries the weight of eternity on its shoulders, in like manner that Atlas, in the Greek myth, carried the world on his shoulders. In truth, according to a Biblical theme, G-d carries both of these burdens for all of mankind. Yet, we may be made privy to them in a manner that is not burdensome: our place in this world, and our time in eternity is sweetened by the victory of life over death, as mentioned in the Book of Isaiah. “He will swallow up death for ever; and the L-RD G-D will wipe away tears from off all faces” (Isaiah 25:8, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The question is not often asked, what is the ultimate purpose of our lives? Nor, is the answer readily inferred from worldly knowledge; nor, deduced from general knowledge. Yet, G-d has placed eternity in our hearts, so that we might have a glimpse of eternity within us. Therefore, we are able to aspire towards that eternity, having sensed a time and place of continual existence in our heart. Otherwise, what reward will we have at the end of a life well-lived? If we endure the challenges of this life for the sake of monetary gain, pleasure, or posterity, then we are being misled by the false promises of this world.

Consider endurance of each and every day, living our lives for the sake of an eternal reward, knowing that this life is a test. “This world is like a vestibule before the world to come; prepare yourself in the vestibule, that you mayest enter into the banquet hall” (Pirkei Avos 4:21). We are to prepare ourselves, through the refinement of our character, and living a morally upright life, according to G-d’s standard, for the sake of obtaining a good place in Olam Haba (the World to Come). This begins upon our admittance into the coronation banquet of the King, at the beginning of the Messianic Era. For the soul lives on for eternity.