Page 2 of 18

It’s Covenantal

shiur for parashas Noach 5782

“I will establish My covenant with thee; and thou shalt come into the ark.”

– Genesis 6:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

From the beginning of time, G-d did not plan on catastrophes, turmoil, and strife amongst mankind. Rather, mankind brought this upon themselves. When G-d created the world, He brought into existence human beings that were given free will. Yet, this freedom only exists within the overall construct of consequences, in regard to the types of choices man makes for himself. Freedom is circumscribed by guidelines and boundaries, in order to maintain the truest sense of freedom, that is to say, freedom from subjugation to evil.

Too often, we would like to point the finger at something outside of ourselves, condemning it as inappropriate, wrong, or even evil in and of itself. A sense of injustice, or righteous indignation compels some of us to seek amendments. Try as we may to subdue, suppress, and right the wrongs, we would do better to look within ourselves. This is where the real battle is fought, between the yetzer tov (good inclination) and the yetzer hara (evil inclination).

Through tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul), transformation becomes available to all who seek sincere self improvement. As Ghandi said, “Be the change that you would like to see in the world.” Yet, condemnation, shaming, and cancelling out of the other, will only bring a false utopia, that neglects to root out its own evil inclinations. “And the L-RD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5, JPS 1917 Tanach). Yet, Noach found favor in the eyes of the L-RD. And, the L-RD established His covenant with Noach, his family, and all of mankind.

Even so, man continued to rebel, in opposition to G-d; hence, the building of the Tower of Babel, wherein, man attempted to make a name for himself, to the exclusion of His Creator. Thus, a misguided effort was brought to halt through G-d’s intervention. Today, we may ask ourselves, whether we are contributing to the divine blueprint, or an alternative design, that erroneously leaves G-d out of the equation. “Choose this day whom ye will serve” (Joshua 24:15, JPS).

Behold, the Covenant

dvar for parashas Noach 5782

After Adam and Chava (Eve) partook of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, an admixture of good and evil occurred; thus, evil had entered the world through the original sin, compromising the integrity of Gan Eden. Evil became mixed in with good; since, prior to the first aveirah (sin), only good existed in Gan Eden. Yet, increasingly, over time the yetzer hara (evil inclination) seemed to gain the upper hand amongst almost all of mankind. “And the L-RD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5, JPS 1917 Tanach).

A perplexing dilemma arises, in relationship to G-d’s omniscience; knowing past, present, and future, G-d knew that man would fall as a result of temptation, when seduced by the serpent. Yet, the nature of the free will bestowed upon mankind, is such that at the time, G-d excluded his foreknowledge of man’s fall, from deterring Him with following through on the divine plan. Moreover, as a safeguard, teshuvah (repentance) was also part of the divine plan from the beginning in fine print, so that would give mankind the ability to seek reconciliation with G-d.

Once fallen, mankind would need to be guided toward an everlasting covenant, despite the original sin, so that G-d’s ultimate intentions for man would remain intact. When mankind had gone too far off from the blueprint, G-d sought to find a reason to not entirely destroy His creation. “The L-RD looked forth from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any man of understanding, that did seek after G-d” (Psalm 14:2, JPS 1917 Tanach). “Noah found grace in the eyes of the L-RD” (Genesis 6:8, JPS). For, “Noah was in his generations a man righteous and wholehearted; Noah walked with G-d” (Genesis 6:9, JPS). The Targum paraphrases, “in the fear of the L-RD walked Noah” (Targum Jonathan on Genesis 6:9, sefaria.org).  “I will establish My covenant with thee; and thou shalt come into the ark” (Genesis 6:18, JPS).

motzei Shabbos: Bereishis 5782

parashas Bereishis 5782

parashas Bereishis, plus a brief introduction to Noach.

G-d’s Divine Attributes, Imitatio Dei, mankind’s raison d’etre.

Middos (character traits); both negative and positive examples,

as exemplified within the narrative of the Book of Genesis.

Gan Eden Essentials

parashas Bereishis 5782

“The L-RD G-d took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden, to till it and tend it.”

– Genesis 2:15, JPS 1985 Tanach

Adam was given the responsibility to avdah (work) and shomer (guard) the garden of Eden. Yet, not until after Adam and Chava were expelled from Gan Eden, was he commanded to till the earth outside of the garden. The question may be asked, what was the essential difference between his responsibilities in regard to Gan Eden, and what comprised his role, once expelled?

A union with G-d (yichud, in Hebrew) constituted the existential nature of life in Gan Eden. Yet, that perfect relationship of oneness with G-d was broken by disobedience, having partaken from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. When both Adam and Chava had partaken of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, they became self-aware, because the unity with G-d was interrupted.

As a result, existentially outside of Paradise, even before being officially expelled, their existence was disrupted by their own sin. In other words, they no longer were within the domain of perfect correspondence with the various components of Gan Eden. Sin, shame, and rebellion had entered into the picture, thereby disrupting peace and contentment.

Thus, within the garden, prior to the aveirah (sin), a G-d centered focus permeated every act, in regard to their endeavors. As explained elsewhere, that avdah refers to perfection of the soul, as per man being described as a nefesh chaya (literally, living soul; Ibn Ezra). Thereby, the refining of one’s personality is tantamount to the service that is concomitant with gan eden, when doing so under the guidance of H’Shem.

Yet, having been expelled, their lives subsequently encompassed, a self focused reality, wherein one attempts to improve himself, according to his own design, irrespective of the original blueprint. Having already given in to temptation, and partaken of the forbidden fruit, mankind was now subject to the challenges of dealing with his own unruly nature that had been unleashed.

The only way back to the garden is through acknowledgment of our own misguided attempts to continue on the path of independence from G-d; then to realize over time that these attempts are vain, and return to the original blueprint for our lives. This blueprint is known as the Torah, meaning “instruction.” All of kitvei kodesh (holy scripture) is of benefit for this endeavor, as well as listening to our conscience; for, G-d has given us an inner guidance system, with a homing beacon, called the soul.

In the Beginning

dvar for parashas Bereishis 5782

וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃

“Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of G-d hovered over the face of the waters.” – Genesis 1:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

“The throne of Divine Glory was standing in space, hovering over the face of the waters by the breath of the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He, and by His command, even as a dove hovers over its nest.” – Rashi, sefaria.org

In the beginning of Creation, “when G-d began to create heaven and earth” (Genesis 1:1, JPS 1985 Tanach), the earth was tohu vavohu (formless and empty). As summarized by R’Bachya, “At the beginning G’d created a minute amount of matter out of absolute nothingness. This contained within itself the potential and energy to expand into what we call “heaven and earth” (R’ Bachya on Genesis 1:2, sefaria.org). Doesn’t this sound familiar?

Prior to the 1950’s, science adhered to the Aristotelian belief that the Universe always existed. Yet, when the discovery was made that the universe was expanding, science proffered that there was a distinct beginning, ex nihilo – something out of nothing. In other words, it only took several thousand years for science to “catch up” with the creation account in Torah, as R’Bachya so deftly explains. Incidentally, R’Bachya lived between 1255 and 1340 C.E.

A similar account is found in the Zohar:

“With the beginning of the manifestation of the King’s will, that is, when the King desired to emanate and create the world, a hard spark made an engraving upon the supernal light. This hard spark [matter], which emanated from the most concealed of all concealed things from the secret of the Endlessness Light took a shapeless form. The spark was then inserted into the center of a circle [from here, it expanded outward]” (Zohar 15a, sefaria.org). That spark is called reishis (first).

Rashi comments upon the Ruach haElokim (the Spirit of G-d), that hovered over the surface of the waters upon the earth, that this phenomenon was akin to “a dove hovering over its nest.” The primordial material, according to R’Bachya is called tohu, while the first formations of that material into something distinct is referred to as vohu. Yet, essentially, “the earth had been in a chaotic state,” and the Ruach haElokim hovered over the mayim (waters) that may have represented the so called primordial soup from where all life began. Thus, it is clear that a divine force was at work, in conjunction with the elements of the universe that would become all life on earth.

Action Potential

parashas Bereishis 5782


That inevitably fleeting moment of expectation, that seems even more tangible, right before the expectation bears fruit, so to speak, passes into oblivion upon the fulfillment of whatever one was anticipating in the first place. Alas, that feeling was only the means to carry a person forward, in a focused manner, placing the attention upon whatever it may be that a person held in anticipation. Once realized, the feeling that served as a catalyst of sorts, vanishes without a trace; this seems akin to the so called “action potential” of a neuron.

The seemingly interminable state of perpetuation, that may precede the prolonged expectation of something, only increases the fulfillment of that moment once arrived. However, in the case of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Chava were devastatingly let down by the lie of the serpent, that deceived them into thinking that upon partaking of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they would achieve enlightenment, wisdom, and immortality. The exact opposite occurred.

True enlightenment is given from Above, and does not stem from our own expectations. The beginning of wisdom is fear, in the sense of awe, reverence, and respect towards G-d. And, immortality is only a possibility, when granted chayei olam (eternal life), after the Techiyas HaMeisim (Resurrection of the Dead), dependent upon our laboring for righteousness, all the days of our life. As the saying goes, there are no shortcuts in life.

motzei Shabbos: Sukkot Chol haMoed 5782

And Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba also said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Had there been left open a crack so much as the size of small sewing needle in the cave in which Moses and Elijah stood when G-d’s glory was revealed to them, as it is written: “And it shall come to pass, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in a cleft of the rock” (Exodus 33:22), and: “And he came there to a cave…and, behold, the L-rd passed by” (I Kings 19:9–11), they would not have been able to endure due to the intense light that would have entered that crack, as it is stated: “For no man shall see Me and live” (Exodus 33:20).

– Megillah 19b; sefaria.org

Sukkot 5782 – Shabbat Chol HaMoed

Exodus 33:12 – 34:26

“The L-RD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light.” – Exodus 13:21, JPS 1917 Tanach

When B’nei Yisrael was seemingly ensconced at the Sea of Reeds, as the Egyptian army approached, “the angel of G-d, who went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud removed from before them, and stood behind them; and it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel” (Exodus 14:19-20, JPS). Thus protection was assured to B’nei Yisrael, sheltered by the Cloud, and illuminated by the Pillar of Fire (synonymous with the angel of G-d); yet, the Egyptians remained in darkness.

After crossing through the Sea of Reeds, the Cloud of Glory continued to shelter B’nei Yisrael in the journeys through the wilderness, and the pillar of fire continued to provide illumination at night. During Sukkot, we remind ourselves of the existential nature of these journeys, by dwelling in temporary structures known as sukkoth, similar to the makeshift tents that provided shelter from the physical elements for B’nei Yisrael in the wilderness. Yet, on another level, these structures are meant to remind us of the Clouds of Glory that sheltered the Children of Israel.

In reviewing the parashas, I was struck by the use of a word, very similar to the Hebrew word, sukkah. Both words share two common letters in their shoresh (root word), the letters shin and kof. The word sukkah, basically means, tent or booth, as per the temporary structures built in the wilderness journeys. The word sakoti means cover or covering, and is found in the following verse: “And it shall come to pass, while My glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover [sakoti] thee with My hand until I have passed by” (Exodus 33:22, JPS). So, perhaps this is at least one connection found to Sukkot in this parashas chosen as the reading.

What might this similarity imply? In the context of the pasuk (verse), H’Shem’s hand, figuratively speaking, shields Moshe from His brilliance, thereby protecting him from the overwhelming glory of H’Shem.* One might say that H’Shem’s hand serves as a temporary sukkah, encompassing Moshe, while He passes by; yet, surely, some of the brightness of H’Shem is still visible to Moses, since a hand would not serve to totally encapsulate and block the light. This is comparable to the skach, the roof of a sukkah that leaves visibility of the stars and sky above.

Moshe received a fuller revelation of H’Shem at that time; he also heard the thirteen attributes of mercy proclaimed as “H’Shem passed by before him” (34:6, JPS). These are the same attributes of mercy that are recited in the prayers for the holidays. We seek H’Shem’s mercy, not only in anticipation of forgiveness, leading up to Yom Kippur; additionally, according to the Zohar, we may still seek His mercy through repentance, prayer, and charity until the the gates are completely closed for the year’s decrees on Hoshannah Rabbah – the seventh day of Sukkot.

*According to Ibn Ezra, some commentators translate kappi (hand) as clouds. Thus the rendering is that the cloud covered Moses, in like manner as the Cloud of Glory, symbolized by a sukkah.

Let the Loudness Cease

motzei Shabbos: parashas Haazinu 5782

As the evening wanes, and the new day waxes (“and the evening and the morning were the first day” of the week), I am at a standstill with the circumstances, not knowing how to proceed. For anyone who relies on the customary protocol of Yiddishkeit, such as the routine at the end of Shabbos that comprises a peaceful and meaningful transition from sacred time to mundane time, it is of the upmost importance to carry out these traditions. Yet, to do so without the proper kavannah (intention) would be disrespectful to the Sabbath Queen (the Shechinah – G-d’s immanent presence). And, so, I am taking to writing out my thoughts and feelings, in hope that this will serve as a catharsis, because I do not want to let my negative emotions affect my solemn testimony to the parting of the Sabbath.

Truth be told, this may sound trivial on my part, however, I am thoroughly saturated with annoyance over the volume of the music being played in a neighbor’s apartment. As I would not enter the Sabbath, feeling annoyed, frustrated, or otherwise sullied by negativity, so shall I not depart from this sacred twenty-five hour-period that I look forward to every week. Perhaps, I’ll wait another two hours and twenty minutes until 10:00 p.m., designated as “quiet time,” at the apartment complex where I live, in hopes that he will at least turn his music down some.

Meanwhile, rather than delivering an insightful essay on the weekly reading from the Torah, with some concluding remarks as the new week approaches, I am serving up a rant. My apologies. Moses was not permitted to enter the promised land, because of a prior transgression: he was only granted a view of the land from atop of a mountain. Whatever I have done to deserve this constant interruption to my Shabbos, it is such that although sometimes I am able to enter the sacred time, beginning on Friday evening, that privilege does not always seem to last. So, who am I to complain, if everything is truly somehow from H’Shem, because He is sovereign? (I am but dust and ashes).

Our Transcendent Nature

“Give ear, ye heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew; as the small rain upon the tender grass, and as the showers upon the herb.”

– Deuteronomy 32:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

Every day a Bas Kol (literally, “Daughter of a Voice”) goes out from Sinai, saying, “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, for contempt of the Torah” (Pirkei Avos 6:2). However, the voice goes unheard by mankind. Yet, the Besht points out that the voice is heard intuitively. Therefore, on some level, when the inner ear of a person resonates with that voice, a person is inspired to do teshuvah (return to G-d through repentance. Consider, if you will, that often when someone is compelled by his or heart to return to the ways of G-d, the motivation may be unseen if not unexplainable, even by the person moved to do so. Therefore, there appears to be some verifiable experience that supports this midrash; in other words, the intuitive nature of a call to teshuvah.

According to Nesivos Shalom, the opening pasukim (verses) of parashas Haazinu may be viewed in light of this midrash. One way to reckon, “Give ear, O you heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth,” is to compare the heavens to our “heavenly selves,” and the earth to our “earthly selves.” Thus our higher selves seek the inspiration of heavenly pursuits, and the influence of those pursuits upon our godly soul. While our lower nature is more inclined to be drawn to more mundane activities, and materialistic endeavors. This is the difference between ruchniyos (spirituality) and gashmiyos (corporeality). Both are necessary to some extent; yet, both must be regulated by the words flowing forth from Heaven.

We are called to permit ourselves to be permeated by the words of Torah, in both our lower and higher natures. Moreover, ultimately our lower nature should be drawn towards more noble endeavors through our focus on the higher pursuits of our godly soul. Thus, even as our lower nature, sometimes described in chassidus as the “animal soul,” needs to be tamed and regulated by Torah, and our godly soul should be modified in its higher aspirations according to G-d’s words, the emphasis should always be placed to some degree on our higher selves. The reason being is because as human beings, we are meant to transcend our lesser selves, by living in accord with the greater spiritual propensity provided for by our godly soul.

“Thy lovingkindness, O L-RD, is in the heavens; Thy faithfulness reacheth unto the skies. Thy righteousness is like the mighty mountains; Thy judgments are like the great deep; man and beast Thou preservest, O L-RD.”

– Psalms 36:6-7, JPS 1917 Tanach