shabbos reflection: Tu b’Av

eruv Tu b’AV (fifteenth of the Hebrew month of Av)

This evening begins the lesser known Jewish holiday of Tu b’Av. Most of us are familiar with the 9th of Av, that occurred last week, commemorating the destruction of both the first and second Temples. Contrary to the mournful tone of Tish b”Av, the holiday of Tu b’Av (15th of Av) is a joyous holiday, a welcome change to the mournful Three Weeks that led up to Tish b’Av.

What does the holiday of Tu b’Av commemorate? According to some sources, all of the firewood necessary for the offerings of the new year was gathered by this day. Additionally, this day is when the men courted the women, in an outside gathering. Many Jews today pray for shidduchim (a marriage arrangement) on this particular day, because the day is considered auspicious to receive a favorable reply from H’Shem.

Rafael Fire: Day 17

the Rafael fire: one of the many fires, currently in Arizona

The following information will be continually updated:

The Rafael fire has burned 78,065 acres; increases in acreage coverage are partially due to “controlled burns,” a fire suppression technique used to create a perimeter of containment around the fire. The fire is now 95% contained; the estimated date of (total) containment is July 15th. Areas, mostly around the northern perimeter of the fire were cleared out, using bulldozing, burnouts, and natural boundaries to prevent the fire from further spreading. The creation of those fire breaks, whereof the fire was deprived of any “fuel,” is designated as “containment.” A Type 1 Incident management team arrived a week and a half ago, in order to take over operations. This is a national team, trained to coordinate complex fires, and other natural disasters. This team has now moved on, having contributed to bringing the fire under control. A transition has been made, passing authority back to the Type 3 team.

“And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he bowed himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees. “And he said to his servant: ‘Go up now, look toward the sea.’ And he went up, and looked, and said: ‘There is nothing.’ And he said: ‘Go again seven times.’ And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said: ‘Behold, there ariseth a cloud out of the sea, as small as a man’s hand.'” “And it came to pass in a little while, that the heaven grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain.” – 1 Kings 18:42-45, JPS 1917 Tanach

May the L-RD send rain, and grant shelter to all who might be compelled to seek safety and refuge from the Rafael fire, as well as the other fires in Arizona. Amein.

Omer: Day 34 Tragic Lessons

In light of the recent tragedy at Meron, due in part to overcrowding, I would like to recount some insightful renderings made by others, concerning what can be learned from this tragedy. Any tragedy must be viewed as a significant event, meant to bring us to a greater understanding of ourselves, the condition of the soul, and a greater awareness of our connection to G-d. The insight is not my own, rather it is based on a few responses, given by certain authorities within the rabbinic world as well as a few other reputable sources.

A key thought to keep in mind, is that nobody is immune from judgments that are brought upon us as a people. Teshuvah (repentance) is first and foremost the primary response, in order to acknowledge that could have been us, if things were different. It is meaningful to do teshuvah, in respect to this tragedy, because this will place our response in the proper context, knowing that this is a wake up call to make heshbon hanefesh (an account of the soul) by examining our conscience.

The point was made by another source in the Jewish world, that Rabbi Akiva’s students, almost two thousand years ago suffered a high mortality rate due to a plague, attributed to their inability to respect each other’s viewpoints, thus showing a lack of respect towards each other. Showing respect to others is a basic quality that should be considered as part of our humanity.


It was mentioned that the type of overcrowding that leads to a neglect of acknowlegding the physical boundaries of others has been evident at other events of a similar nature. The worst case scenario of this kind of neglect has tragically occurred; as a result, to make this tragic event meaningful would include, not only doing to teshuvah for the sake of our own souls; also, to consider our own awareness of the physical space we give to others, respecting their boundaries. Of course, if I may add to this, the greater task at hand would be to also respect other people’s emotional and psychological boundaries.


I would not be writing any of this, except to reiterate as respectfully as possible, points already made by others much more qualified than me to make such statements. However, I will conclude with an attempt to connect the the attributes of the day to these lessons. Perhaps, one of the foundations of humility is to recognize that we all share a common humanity with each other. When we see ourselves, more or less on the same level as everyone else, then we will not try to lift ourselves up above others in any manner whatsoever. Thus, we would not disrespect others in our own attempts to fulfill mitzvoth (commandments) or minchagim (customs). Every mitzvah should be performed with the following commandment in mind, “to love our neighbor as ourself.”

Please, pray for healing of all those who suffered from this tragedy. The wounded, as well as the first responders who dealt with the psychological trauma of witnessing the aftermath. Also, for the consolation of the bereaved families and friends of those who lost their lives in Meron. Thank you very much. And, may G-d bless all of us in our endeavors to excel at improving ourselves.

poem: Bother Me

Bother me; I am not bothered.

I am encouraged by your words –

your careworn soulful reflections.

I see your efforts to transcend the mundane,

transform your soul from darkness to light.

I listen to your prayers, both communal,

and those within your own heart.

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.

drash – Avodah: The Inner Work

“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a sabbath of solemn rest to the L-RD.”

– Exodus 35:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

Before giving the commandment to B’nei Yisrael, concerning the terumah (offerings) that are to be brought – silver, gold, and various materials for the building of the Mishkan – a free will offering from the heart of each and every individual – H’Shem instructs Moshe to remind the B’nei Yisrael about Shabbat. The juxtaposition of the commandment to observe Shabbos, with the commandment, concerning the construction of the Mishkan is significant. The significance is that as holy as the project of the Mishkan is, the building of the Mishkan does not supersede the sanctity of Shabbos.

Commentary further explains that acknowledgment of H’Shem, who created the world in six days, and rested on the seventh day, is a greater imperative than the services performed in the Mishkan. Not that belief precludes service; rather, that belief is primary. This is reflected in the teaching, that the first commandment encompasses the belief in H’Shem that is incumbent upon us, before we can accept His commandments as authoritative. That is, in effect, the essence of what is truly necessary: first, a belief in the existence of G-d; then, a desire to draw near to Him through our avodah (service).

Although the Mishkan was the officially prescribed way to serve H’Shem, through the bringing of offerings, today the main way to do so is through the service of the heart, i.e., prayer. And, this may be performed on a communal basis, as well as a personal level. Often, the gathering together at a place of worship is emphasized in the lives of many, while the more personal aspects of heartfelt prayer in one’s own words, within the confines of one’s own home is neglected. This is an unfortunate reality that underscores the nature of service in modern times, where many focus more on community than an actual heartfelt connection to H’Shem.

Both communal and personal prayer are important; yet, it is advisable to strengthen ourselves in regard to the inner dimension of our soul. Moreover, whether we attend communal prayer worship or not, our service towards H’Shem should still take into consideration the sanctity of Shabbos: this is an ideal time to set aside for personal reflection, prayer, and strengthening our connection to H’Shem.

parashas Vayakhel-Pekudei 5781

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.