motzei Shabbos: Tetzaveh 5781

B”H

Motzei Shabbos: parashas Tetzaveh 5781

“And Aaron shall burn thereon incense of sweet spices; every morning, when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn it.” – Exodus 30:7, JPS 1917 Tanach

In like manner that the menorah was lit every evening, the incense were burnt every morning in the Sanctuary. The light may be understood to represent the wisdom of G-d. “Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law” (Psalm 119:18, JPS). The smoke of the incense is symbolic of prayers. We should keep a light burning in our heart, in the evenings; all throughout the night, staying focused on G-d; and, in the morning, ideally to rise early, in order to offer up our prayers to Him.

parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Exilic Faith

parashas Tetzaveh 5781

B”H

Shiur for parashas Tetzaveh 5781

“And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure olive oil [crushed] for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually. In the tent of meeting, [outside] the veil which is before the testimony.” – Exodus 27:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

Behind the veil (parochet), rested the Ark of the Covenant within the Holy of Holies (Kadosh Kadoshim).  Outside of the veil, within the less holy area, called the Kadosh, were the Menorah, Showbread Table, and, the Mizbeach (incense altar), where incense was burned.  Although these three were mentioned in detail, earlier in the Torah, the Menorah is mentioned, specifically, in the beginning of this parashas, with specific regard towards its function. 

Of noteworthy mention is the specific command for all of Israel to bring the specific kind of olive oil reserved for use in the Menorah. In other words, all of Israel contributed to the olive oil that burned “from evening until morning.” It lit up the darkness, conveying in effect the light of G-d, that symbolically illuminates for us in times of darkness and uncertainty. 

According to the sages, when discussing the significance of the phrase, “emet v’emuna (true and faithful),” in the evening prayer, the word, emuna, represents G-d’s faithfulness to us during the exile, inasmuch that it is a reminder that we will be redeemed. So, the nighttime, when this prayer is said, represents exile.  Therefore, the light of the menorah, throughout the night, may also be understood as symbolic of G-d’s faithfulness towards us, during the current exile.

Blue Dye

Like turquoise, akin to sapphire am I, techeles blue, I am called. As lofty as the throne of Elokim; and, as lowly as the chillazon snail. Encapsulated within a single thread, tied around a religious fringe, reminding the wearer of Shomayim; and, the ocean of wisdom called Torah. Comprising the regal clothing of the Kohein […]

Blue Dye — Breathing Inspiration

Rosh Chodesh Adar 5781

B”H

Rosh Chodesh Adar 5781

On Shabbos Mevarchim for Rosh Chodesh Adar 5781, this past Shabbat, I reflected on the blessing for the new month, traditionally recited on the Sabbath before Rosh Chodesh:

I noticed how this Adar will bring the globe, as well as, Jewish communities around the world full circle; inasmuch, that it will have been about a year since the proliferation of the coronavirus. May H’Shem have mercy on us; may He bless our lives, family, friends, and communities. May He preserve us during the days that will follow. Amein.

For myself, I have been sheltering in place, virtually twenty four – seven. I have much opportunity for reflection, writing, and kavanah (intention). Yet, the days are somewhat bittersweet, since my thoughts turn pensive, akin to the required seriousness necessary for the sake of heshbon hanefesh (literally, an accounting of the soul). To examine one’s conscience in this manner, will only lead to joy down the road, after rooting out unhealthy maladaptive behaviors, negative character traits, and making an effort to do better. Additionally, I count the hours of each and every day, until evening, when I hope to have fulfilled the day’s tasks, that are expected of me from Above. May we all be productive in divinely inspired ways. Amein,

Focusing on what is essential, as the restrictions let up, I wonder how often will newly found essentials continue to be important in my life, and the lives of others down the road. To revert back to former ways would only prove to be detrimental, if what has been learned at this slowed down pace of life, simply gives sway to momentum, approaching the previous standards of the often frenetic pace of society. Yet, positive societal change should be the result of individuals focusing on retaining the lessons learned during these challenging times. May we all continue to grow in our understanding of what is important in life. Amein.

The Hebrew month of Adar is traditionally associated with joy (Taanis 29a).

May our joys in life increase, despite the challenges ahead. Amein.

Contrasts Reconciled

“And these are the judgments that you shall set before them.” – Exodus 21:1

v’eilah mishpatim – and these are the judgments”

The parashas begins, “and these are the judgments.” In Hebrew, the letter vov, meaning “and,” bears significance here. For the implication can be drawn, that there is a connection being emphasized, between this parashas and the previous one. Immediately following the revelation at Sinai, whereof H’Shem “descended,” amidst the thunder and lightning, in an impressive display of His greatness, the Torah begins to list the mishpatim, a set of commandments that seem pale, mundane, and this-worldly in comparison. A simple question may be asked, in and of itself, what does this juxtaposition of opposites portray in its contrast of a heightened experience at Sinai, to the relatively dry giving forth of commandments having to do with everyday life?

All areas of life are intertwined, as characterized within the framework of Torah. G-d’s divine plan for mankind has as much to do with His appearance on Sinai, amidst the thunder and lightning, as the everyday guidelines given to us in order to regulate our conduct. Although many would conceive of religion, as somehow separate from the mundane affairs of life, this can not be the case. Also, in regard to what is considered as the spiritual realm, wherein, through prayer or hisbodedus (meditation), we may reach great heights of sublime experience that seem “out of the ordinary:” these experiences must not take precedent over our attempts to live a righteous life, in all the manner of details.

Yet, perhaps, it is all to common to focus on the spiritual component, to the exclusion of leading a leading a life based upon G-d’s commandments. Thus, a compartmentalization of spiritual experiences may occur, while conducting oneself in a manner akin to secular standards. Rather, the sublime ways that we connect to G-d should sharpen our acuity to bring down this awareness into every aspect of our lives, encompassing all areas that might otherwise be overlooked, disregarded, or not held up to the light of reason, within the perspective given to us by all of kitvei kodesh (Holy Scripture).

parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Exilic Faith Words Give Life: Torah for the Soul

The light of the menorah represents G-d's presence in our lives, even during the current exile. In times of darkness, the light may always found, if we search for its illumination in our lives.
  1. parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Exilic Faith
  2. parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Crushed for the Sake of Purity
  3. parashas Terumah 5781 – The Central Focus
  4. parashas Terumah 5781 – His Presence
  5. parashas Mishpatim 5781 – Slaves No More

Chayei Sarah 5781

“The L-RD, the G-d of heaven, who took me from my father’s house, and from the land of my nativity, and who spoke unto me, and who swore unto me, saying: Unto thy seed will I give this land; He will send His angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife for my son from thence.”

– Genesis 24:7, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Therefore, I know that He will send His angel to make Your way prosper, to fulfill His promise to me.”

– Rashbam, sefaria.org

When the time arrived for Abraham to find a wife for his son, Isaac, Abraham sent his trusted servant Eliezar on the mission, back to the land where Abraham had lived. Abraham explained to Eliezer that H’Shem would “send his angel” before him on the journey. When Eliezer arrived, he prayed, “‘O L-RD, the G-d of my master Abraham, send me, I pray Thee, good speed this day, and show kindness unto my master Abraham” (Genesis 24:12, JPS 1917 Tanach). In this manner, he prayed in the merit of Abraham, as per the tradition even today, regarding the prayers of the chassidim, in the merit of their Rebbes.


What is fascinating to note, is that within this parashas, there is another mentioning of prayer in the merit of a righteous person. Preceding Eliezer’s return, “Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide; and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, there were camels coming” (Genesis 24:63, JPS 1917 Tanach). Tradition infers that the field where Isaac meditated, i.e., “prayed,” was the field of the cave of Machpaleh, where Sarah was buried. Therefore, commentary speaks of him, praying in the merit of his mother (the matriarch of the Jewish people) for Eliezer’s mission to be successful.


“The angel of the L-RD encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them.”

– Psalm 34:8, JPS 1917 Tanach

reflections: Prayer as Remedy

B”H

“Whatsoever plague, whatsoever sickness there be; what prayer and supplication soever be made by any man of all Thy people Israel, who shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house; then hear Thou in heaven Thy dwelling-place, and forgive.”

  • 1 Kings 8:37-39, JPS 1917 Tanach

In the midst of our nisyanos (trials), we need to recognise the condition of our own hearts, and look within towards whatever may be likened to a plague that diminishes the moral quality of our thoughts, speech, and actions, from G-d’s perspective of our character. In His eyes, we need to make amends for our shortcomings, failures to heed doing what we know is right, and our negative character traits that may lead towards unrighteousness. Yet, He will be merciful towards us, and forgive us; and, then, H’Shem willing, healing of mind, body, and spirit will occur over time.

“And Aharon stood in the midst, between the dead and the living with the [incense] censer, and interceded in prayer; and the plague was restrained” (Numbers 17:13, Targum Yonaton, Sefaria.org). When we turn our hearts to H’Shem (the L-RD; literally, the Name), we may take advantage of a tried and true remedy: prayer. In Hebrew, tefillah, from the shoresh (root word), FLL, meaning to judge, implies the use of discernment to differentiate between what is essential and nonessential in one’s life. Sheltering in place brings the opportunity for introspection in regard to what is important in our lives. “Let my prayer be set forth as incense before Thee” (Psalm 141:2, JPS 1917 Tanach.

Reverence Towards G-d

B”H

23 Nissan 5780

April 17, 2020

Shiur for parashas Shemini 5780

“This is it that HShem spoke, saying: Through them that are nigh unto Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.”

– Leviticus 10:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to chazal, Nadav and Avihu are portrayed as righteous individuals who overstepped the boundaries in place for them as kohanim (priests); as they tried to draw closer to HShem, in an unauthorized manner, they were consumed by fire from before H’Shem (Leviticus 10:2, JPS). According to the Talmud, Aaron’s two sons died, only for the sake of sanctifying H’Shems name (Zevachim 115b). Within the same Talmudic passage, another view expresses their deaths in a more nuanced way, specifically, alluding to their transgression, by making the point that they had previously been cautioned against drawing too close to HShem.

Rashi comments that through the execution of judgment upon righteous individuals, yiras H’Shem (fear of G-d) is brought upon the people. Therefore, with respect to Nadav and Avihu, their deaths caused the people to witness how precarious serving G-d may be, if a righteous person is not careful in respect to his avodah (service towards HShem). The deaths of Nadav and Avihu show, by way of an example with a deadly consequence, that HShem needs to be approached with great reverence, awe, and respect.

A harsher condemnation of Nadav and Avihu may be rendered by a perspective that is even more critical of their transgression. They brought “alien fire” from a source other than the fire on the mizbeach. The fire on the mizbeach had its origin from Shomayim (Leviticus 9:24). According to Sifre, fire descended in the shape of a pillar between heaven and earth. Yet, Nadav and Avihu flouted the implicit directive, to draw fire from the outer mizbeach for all of the offerings the original fire that had been initiated by H’Shem.

What could have motivated Nadav and Avihu to take alien fire for their incense offering, instead of the fire that H’Shem had provided? One view critiques them as desiring to usurp the authority of Moshe and Aaron. Since the authority of Moshe and Aaron was given to them from HShem, then flouting that authority would be akin to disregarding the authority of H’Shem. Therefore, it could be inferred that their taking of alien fire constitutes a betrayal of their motives to disregard the sovereignty of H’Shem.

Towards the end of the first Temple period, the people were admonished, “they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13, JPS). The people had sought out other gods – alien gods – to worship, according to their own intentions; thus, they had forsaken H’Shem.

When we approach H’Shem in prayer, our avodah (service), equivalent to “prayer of the heart,” should be done so in reverence. Serving H’Shem, through the performance of the mitzvot, as well as prayer, may also require a rigorous examination of conscience, for the sake of bringing to light ulterior motives, faults, and character defects. Who shall ascend into the mountain of H’Shem? And who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart [lev tahor]; who hath not taken My name in vain, and hath not sworn deceitfully (Psalm 24:4, JPS 1917 Tanach).

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.

daily contemplation: Renewal

B”H

March 25, 2020

Today is a day of fasting and prayer in Israel, as well as throughout the world. According to the Hebrew calendar, today is the last day of the year, when the year is reckoned by the monthly perspective, beginning with Nissan, the first of the months.

Today is also Yom Kippur Katan (small Yom Kippur), the day before Rosh Chodesh (the New Month). Yom Kippur Katan, observed almost every month on the 29th of the month, is a day of fasting, prayer, and teshuvah (repentance), in preparation of the New Month.

Even moreso, today, before the month of Nissan; and, especially because the day has been declared a day of fasting and prayer, in lieu of the coronavirus plague. Instead of letting the plague run its course, we pray for its end.

Instead of letting the plague overwhelm our lives, we pray for strength to continue with our daily tasks. Instead of letting the plague divert our attention from what is most meaningful in life, we pray for guidance to focus on what is essential.

Instead of letting the plague compel us towards a mindset of fear, anxiety and worry, we pray for G-d to enlighten us with hope, faith, and peace of mind. Instead of letting the plague contribute to a sense of claustrophobia, we pray for G-d to show us how to use our time wisely.

Amein, and amein.