Omer: Day 41 Divine Blueprint

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 likened 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 middah (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. Strengthening ourselves, renewing our souls, and seeking guidance from the Master Architect, will help us to more closely follow the divine blueprint of life.

Pesach: Seventh Day 5781

“And the L-RD said unto Moses: ‘Wherefore criest thou unto Me? Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.'” – Exodus 14:15, JPS 1917 Tanach

The seventh day of Pesach, Nissan 21 corresponds to the day on the Hebrew calendar when the Sea parted: The Children of Israel hesitated. Moshe cried out to G-d. H’Shem told him to “Speak to the Children of Israel, that they go forward.” Having already prayed for deliverance, the time was at hand; there was no further need for prayer, despite the imminent threat of the Egyptian army, poised opposite the encampment of B’nei Yisrael at the Sea of Reeds.

An east wind from H’Shem caused the sea to part, and dried the floor of the sea for the safe passage of the Children Israel. Of this miracle, Melchita notes, as commentary to the Children of Israels words in the song of Moshe, “this is my G-d, and I will exalt Him” (Exodus 15:2), that even the lowliest handmaid saw in terms of HShem’s revelation through the forces of nature, what the prophets, later in Jewish history did not see.

Additionally, the level of kedushah (holiness) that they received after crossing through the Sea, and the sublime experience at Sinai, when H’Shem revealed Himself to them, brought them to a level, where as a cleansed vessel, the Shechinah could dwell within them. The sea served as a mikveh (receptacle); and, tevillah (immersion) in the waters of the sea signified the beginning of a new start, a renewal of mind, body, and spirit; in essence, a rebirth, through purification in a mikveh, and the indwelling of the Shechinah, as mentioned in Exodus Rabbah 23:12.

shiur: Pesach 5781 – the Seventh Day

B”H

Shiur for the Seventh Day of Pesach 5781

“And Moses said unto the people: Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the L-RD, which He will work for you to-day; for whereas ye have seen the Egyptians to-day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.”

– Exodus 14:13, JPS 1917 Tanach

As the Egyptian army approached, Torah records that B’nei Yisrael, encamped near the Sea of Reeds, cried out to H’Shem in great fear (14:10). Commentary notes that the people were divided in their response: 1). Some cried out to H’Shem in prayer, akin to the later writing of the psalmist, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will make mention of the name of the L-RD our G-d” (Psalm 20:8, JPS). 2). Another group of the people, having great trepidation about their circumstances, took the exact opposite approach, expressing their regret for having left Egypt, and complaining to Moshe (see Exodus 14:10-12).

When Moshe responded to the consternation of B’nei Yisrael, in light of their present circumstances, despite the seemingly near danger that was imminent, he said to them, “Fear ye not, stand still and see” (see above). Or HaChayim comments, that the words “stand still” convey the essence of prayer, a reliance on H’Shem, turning to Him in the midst of nisyanos (trials). H notes that the same Hebrew phrase is used in the Tanach, in regard to the prayer of Hannah, Samuel’s mother, who prayed in all sincerity to H’Shem. The picture derived from this understanding is one of a people’s reliance on H’Shem, in hope of seeing His salvation at a time of great need, when Pharaoh’s army was bearing down upon them.

That night, an angel of H’Shem protected the people from the Egyptians, a cloud darkened the Egyptian camp, while a pillar of light shined upon the B’nei Yisrael. Moshe stretched his hand over the sea; and, H’Shem caused the sea to part by way of a strong east wind. The Children of Israel passed through the sea; however, when the Egyptians pursued them, Pharaoh and his army were drowned in the sea. Our own expectations of H’Shem for deliverance in our lives, regardless of our circumstances, when made through the prayer of sincerity, may bring results greater than our expectations. Especially, when there is no other recourse to be made, it is then that we may see the grandeur of His salvation.

dvar: Pesach – the Seventh Day

B”H

d’var for the Seventh Day of Pesach 5781

While in bondage in Mitzraim , the B’nei Yisrael had sunk to a low level of impurity, having neglected to distance themselves from the surrounding environment of idolatry. The Midrash records that when about to cross through the Sea of Reeds, the angels questioned their merit, saying both these and those – the Children of Israel and the Egyptians – were both idol worshippers. Why should these be spared, and the others not? Yet, H’Shem honored the covenant that he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in order to bring His newly acquired nation out of bondage, and into covenant relationship with Him through Torah.

H’Shem brought us out of Egypt, to Mount Sinai, where He gave us the Torah. He had said to Moses, “This shall be the token unto thee, that I have sent thee: when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve G-d upon this mountain” (Exodus 3: 12, JPS 1917 Tanach). The revelation of Mount Sinai was the pinnacle of the redemption. Why? “The tables were the work of G-d, and the writing was the writing of G-d, graven upon the tables” (Exodus 32: 16, JPS). The Hebrew word for engrave is charut. The Sages note that the word cherut, “freedom” is from the same shoresh (root word). This implies that our true freedom is derived through Torah.

B’nei Yisrael was enslaved to sin in Egypt, having assimilated, to some degree, to the immorality of Egypt at that time. Although freed from slavery in Egypt , we were still slaves to sin; so, H’Shem gave us the Torah to free us from bondage to the yetzer harah (the evil inclination). May we all break through the limitations of our own personal Mitzraim (Egypt), so that we may also pass through the Yam Suf (Dividing of the Sea), into the freedom of responsibility – the ability to follow our yetzer tov (good inclination), for the sake of choosing a righteous path on a daily basis in all of our endeavors.

Omer Count: Day 3 – the Harmony of Kindness

18 Nissan 5781

March 31, 2021

Omer Day 3 – 5781
tiferes within chesed (beauty within love)

The nature of tiferes, in terms of its expression as a middah (character trait), can best be designated as “harmony.” Therefore, one question for today could be construed as whether or not one’s acts of loving-kindness are performed in a way that denotes a harmonious balance to all concerned in the endeavor. Moreover, in our own personality makeup, where is the harmony within that can promote feelings of kindness to others? For, is it not so that sincere kindness should ideally flow from a peaceful, harmonious place within our very selves?

Tiferes also represents balance; by contrast an imbalance in the personality could be rectified through tiferes. Are you able to envision your heartfelt acts of kindness bringing harmony to the lives of others? Or do you think of your kindnesses only as a small drop in the bucket? If so, consider that the ripple effect may be greater than you can imagine. Otherwise, further reflect upon the realization that your answer as to how potent an act of kindness may be, reflects your own perspective on self worth, and how efficacious your efforts may be for the sake of others.

Tiferes also has to do with “centeredness;” therefore, if we are not in harmony with ourselves, we may not feel inclined to show kindness towards others. Sometimes, moving past any hesitancy to give of ourselves to others, will help to transcend our egos, our personal limited selves, thereby surpassing any need in the moment to remain constricted. An act of kindness in and of itself may lift our hearts up in joy as the resultant feeling of performing that act. This can be understood in the adage, “change the behavior and the feelings will follow.”

Furthermore, consider the commandment to love G-d with all of our heart, soul, and might. Being commanded to love may seem like a conundrum, if we only perceive love as a natural felt feeling that we either have or do not have. However, the Hebrew word for love is “ahavah,” and has the connotation of giving. To give of ourselves to G-d, based upon the commandment of our responsiblities to do so, will increase our love towards Him over time.

The same is true in our relationships with others. For example, as youth, everyone remembers being asked to take out the garbage or do some other chore that our parents asked of us. To perform that chore is to willingly accede to the requirement of “love,” that is to “be giving.” Although, unwillingness to give may precede an act of giving, the feelings may follow, whereas one will feel better for doing so. This may also be seen in the adage that “it is better to give than to receive,” because the giver actually does receive the positive feelings that result from giving.

[These are my personal reflections on the implications of today’s combination of middot (character traits). These reflections are not meant to be comprehensive, inasmuch that they are not based upon any one particular system. Nor, may these ideas be characterized as authoritative, because I profess to being a student, not a teacher. I hope to inspire others to delve into an exploration of their personality, for the sake of tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul)].

Omer Count: Day One – Overview

The Road to Spiritual Improvement


overview, weekly synopsis, day one

16 Nissan 5781
March 29, 2021

The Omer Count – counting of the Omer – may serve as a spiritual journey of sorts from Egypt to Sinai. We are called upon to leave our own personal mitzraim (Egypt; from metzeir, meaning “limitations”) behind us, as we travel on the path of freedom, away from the influence of the yetzer hara (evil inclination). This is a forty-nine day journey, aka self improvement plan, that begins on the eve of the second day of Passover. 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.

The first week is devoted to the middah of Chesed: primarily love, expressed as kindness, mercy, and compassion. The expansiveness of chesed is opposite the constrictive quality of gevurah. Chesed has to do with an openness of personality, as well as a friendly attitude towards others. From a psychological perspective, chesed would be akin to a high rating on the The Big Five personality traits to agreeableness. When we give from the heart to others we are giving with chesed.

Day 1 – chesed within chesed

What follows consists of my personal reflections on the implications of today’s combination of middot (character traits). These reflections are not meant to be comprehensive, inasmuch that they are not based upon any one particular system. Nor, may these ideas be characterized as authoritative, because I profess to being a student, not a teacher. I hope to inspire others to delve into an exploration of their personality, for the sake of tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul).

The amount of kindness that we show to others, despite other traits that might be less conducive to friendliness, is dependent on how we view and treat ourselves. Genuine kindness is from a place of empathic consideration for the other. The mercy that we show to others, in times of weakness, when we might otherwise respond in a harsh manner, is a way of transcending the egotistical drives that fashion us as human beings, instincts that are mostly focused on ourselves. Yet, being truly human means to go beyond our comfort zone, by not giving in to our lesser inclinations and selfishness.

motzei Shabbos: erev Pesach 5781

The redemption of B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) began on Shabbos, specifically, the tenth of Nissan. That Shabbos, later, became known as Shabbat HaGadol. What was so special about the Tenth of Nissan? That day was when the Children of Israel were commanded to bring a lamb into each and every one of their homes. “Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying: In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household” (Exodus 12:3, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Why was this the beginning of the Redemption for B’nei Yisrael? Because the lamb was to be the first national offering, made by each and every family, for the sake of using the blood of the lamb as a sign, placed upon the doorposts and lintels of their homes. The blood would serve as a sign, whereby, “the L-RD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side-posts, the L-RD will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you” (Exodus 12:23).

And, so, the tenth plague, the slaying of the first born, was not enacted upon the Children of Israel. They were spared, because of their emunah (faith) in H’Shem, that compelled them to carry out the commandment, regarding the Pesach lamb. They had been further commanded, “none of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning” (Exodus 12:23).

“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

drash: Shabbat HaGadol 5781

Shabbos HaGadol, the Sabbath before Pesach (Passover) commemorates the tenth of Nissan: “Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying: In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to their father’s houses, a lamb for a household” (Exodus 12:3, JPS 1917 Tanach). This lamb was to be without blemish (Exodus 12:4). And ye shall keep it unto the fourteenth day of the same month” (Exodus 12:6).

The sages explain that this Passover lamb was tied to the bedposts in the homes of the B’nei Yisrael in Egypt. The lamb was inspected for four days for blemishes. On the afternoon of the fourteenth of Nissan at dusk the lamb was slaughtered; its blood was placed upon the doorposts and lintels as a sign. “The blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and there shall no plague be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 12:13).

What is the significance of Shabbos HaGadol today? In other words, why do we commemorate this day in particular? The tenth of Nissan was on a Shabbos, preceding the redemption. Therefore, its commemoration is always on the Shabbos that precedes Pesach, irrespective of the actual date on the Hebrew calendar. For example, the tenth of Nissan was on Tuesday, whereas this Shabbos will be the fourteenth of Nissan.

Because the lamb was a deity to the Egyptians, they were none to happy about being told, when they asked their Jewish neighbors about the lambs each family obtained, that the lambs would be slaughtered. Yet, despite their angst, we proceeded, with H’Shems protection on the Great Sabbath. The redemption was put into motion, in its final stage. Those four days that passed served as a countdown to the Exodus. The blood of the lamb protected the Jewish homes from the plague of death; and, procured our redemption through the demonstration of our emunah (faith) towards HShem.

Reflections: Important Findings

B”H

April 13, 2020 (19 Nissan 2020)

The Intermediate days (Chol HaMoed) of Pesach occur within the of the yom tov (festival days; literally, “good days”) of Passover. The first two and last two days of Passover (outside of Israel) are like bookends for Chol HaMoed. These intermediate days have less holiness; yet, they are still part of the overall holiday of Passover.

I think that this is less known by many who do not celebrate Passover. Outside of Israel, there are eight days of Passover. Even of those amongst us, who celebrate Passover, there are some who may be less aware of maintaining a certain level of respect towards the Intermediate days. Honoring Pesach goes beyond having a seder, or two for the more observant. And, we all continue to eat matzoh for a full eight days.

The Biblical consequence for not doing so is strict: kares. This Hebrew word means to be cut off, as in to be cut off from one’s people. Yet, the exact implication is not necessarily to be somehow cut off from one’s people in this world (Olam HaZeh); rather, according the chazal (the sages), kares means to be cut off in the next world (Olam HaBa). In other words, the consequence is eternal separation.

Many of us who receive the modern day understanding of Judaism as a religion that focuses primarily on this world will miss the point. There are eternal consequences for our actions. What we do in this world will influence our place in Olam HaBa (the World to Come). Therefore, abstaining from chometz (leavened foods) on Pesach is crucial.

Additionally, there must be some understanding beyond the surface of this commandment. According to various rabbinical commentaries, chometz represents sin, pride, and the yetzer hara (evil inclination). Removing these from our lives is integral to our souls. We may abstain from aveiros (transgressions) by being aware of what constitutes sin. We may humble ourselves, to lessen our sense of self importance. And, we may diminish the influence of our yetzer hara by focusing on H’Shem and mitzvot (good deeds).

In like manner that we search for and remove all remaining chometz from our homes, before Passover starts, so should we look for the hidden faults in our character and way of life, not only during Passover, rather, also throughout the entire year. Finding out our own deficiencies is necessary in order to make a change for the better. May our resultant level of kedusha (holiness) prepare us to receive Moshiach (Messiah). Next Year in Jerusalem.

Redemptive Prayer

B”H

16 Nissan 5780

March 10, 2020

Shiur for Pesach 5780

“And Moses said unto the people: Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the L-RD, which He will work for you to-day; for whereas ye have seen the Egyptians to-day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.”

– Exodus 14:13, JPS 1917 Tanach

As the Egyptian army approached, Torah records that B’nei Yisrael, encamped near the Sea of Reeds, cried out to H’Shem in great fear (14:10). Commentary notes that the people were divided in their response: 1). Some cried out to H’Shem in prayer, akin to the later writing of the psalmist, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will make mention of the name of the L-RD our G-d” (Psalm 20:8, JPS). 2). Another group of the people, having great trepidation about their circumstances, took the exact opposite approach, expressing their regret for having left Egypt, and complaining to Moshe (see Exodus 14:10-12).

When Moshe responded to the consternation of B’nei Yisrael, in light of their present circumstances, despite the seemingly near danger that was imminent, he said to them, “Fear ye not, stand still and see” (see above). Or HaChayim comments, that the words “stand still” convey the essence of prayer, a reliance on H’Shem, turning to Him in the midst of nisyanos (trials). He notes that the same Hebrew phrase is used in the Tanach, in regard to the prayer of Hannah, Samuel’s mother, who prayed in all sincerity to H’Shem. The picture derived from this understanding is one of a people’s reliance on H’Shem, in hope of seeing His salvation at a time of great need, when Pharaoh’s army was bearing down on them.

That night, an angel of H’Shem protected the people from the Egyptians, a cloud darkened the Egyptian camp, while a pillar of light shined upon the B’nei Yisrael. Moshe stretched his hand over the sea; and, H’Shem caused the sea to part by way of a strong east wind. The Children of Israel passed through the sea; however, when the Egyptians pursued them, Pharaoh and his army were drowned in the sea. Our own expectations of H’Shem for deliverance in our lives, regardless of our circumstances, when made through the prayer of sincerity, may bring results greater than our expectations. Especially, when there is no other recourse to be made, it is then that we may see the grandeur of His salvation.