For the Sake of His Glory

dvar for parashas Va’eira 5782

“For this cause have I made thee to stand [endure], to show thee My power, and that My name may be declared throughout all the earth.” – Exodus 9:16, JPS 1917 Tanach

“G-d’s name would be declared from generation to generation because of the signs which He performed.” – Ibn Ezra, sefaria.org

H’Shem continually hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he could remain recalcitrant against G-d’s divine plan to free B’nei Yisrael from bondage, and endure the subsequent plagues; thus, this may be understood as enabling Pharaoh to continue in his resistance. As the ruler of Egypt, the world’s leading superpower at that time, Pharaoh was not interested in receiving a higher authority than himself.

Even his so-called gods, the Egyptian deities that his people worshipped, were approached from the perspective of gaining outcomes that would best suit his own ambitions. I would surmise that there was no sense of obedience to these deities, in terms of committing to a set of principles, or guidelines, thusly decreed from a sense of morality; there was only an attempt to appease the wrath of the deities when some natural occurrences were unfavorable to the population – an opportunistic strategy.

Yet, with H’Shem, there is both justice and mercy, above and beyond the understanding of mankind, in regard to His commandments; therefore, He responded with justice upon Egypt, carried out in the form of ten plagues; and, mercy towards the Children of Israel, who cried out to him in their suffering. Elsewhere it is written, “I will be gracious (חנן) to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy (רחם) on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19).

Because of Pharaoh’s unrepentant heart, H’Shem could not show mercy towards him; moreover, by hardening Pharaoh’s heart, he strengthened his position. Rashi explains that the first five times, Torah mentions that “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened,” thus implying an act of self-volition. Only, for the sake of bringing about the fulfillment of the plagues decreed upon Egypt, did H’Shem permit Pharaoh to remain resistant. He was essentially bringing Pharaoh’s unrepentance to fruition for the sake of G-d’s glory, as He was able to demonstrate His sovereignty through the plagues.

Expect Redemption

motzei Shabbos: parashas Shemot 5782

“Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them: The L-RD, the G-d of your fathers, the G-d of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, hath appeared unto me, saying: I have surely remembered you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt.” – Exodus 3:16, JPS 1917 Tanach

“It was a sign for Israel. When any redeemer would come with this sign, ‘I have surely thought of you,’ they would know that he was a true redeemer.” – Midrash Tanchuma Buber; sefaria.org

A prophecy given to Abraham, speaks of a time that his descendants, “shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years” (Genesis 15:13, JPS). Therefore, this was known well to the Children of Israel, who were enslaved, that towards the end of the allotment of time given in the prophecy, they should begin to expect a redeemer. Now, the time was at hand; so, when Moses returned to Egypt from Midian, he first approached the elders, along with Aaron, who accompanied him: “And Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel” (Exodus 4:29, JPS).

At this pivotal moment in the lives of the Children of Israel, when they heard the words that H’Shem had given to Moses, and saw the signs given him to validate that indeed he was the one who H’Shem sent, they responded in a manner that expressed their hope, trust, and faith in H’Shem, who sent the redeemer: “And the people believed; and when they heard that the L-RD had remembered the children of Israel, and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped” (Exodus 4:31, JPS).

As we look ahead, along the trajectory that this world is heading, the days will approach whereof the light will be diminished by darkness; then, we should lift up our heads and look towards the Final Redemption. Our expectations will increase in direct proportion to our understanding that we can only place our trust in H’Shem. “And it is a time of trouble unto Jacob” (Jeremiah 30:7, JPS). The birthpangs of Moshiach (Messiah), the travails that will be brought upon the world, will precede the Final Redemption (Sanhedrin 97a).

Exilic Prayer

“Oh my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord’s ears.”

– Genesis 44:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

The divine yearning within ourselves seeks to be consoled by eliciting our concern for the part of ourselves that seeks to unite with the L-RD. Therefore, rather than ignore the natural affinity that the soul has for the Creator, we should acknowledge this vital element in our personal makeup. That is to say, that without nurturing the soul’s need to connect to H’Shem, we deprive ourselves of the true source of our life. Yet, the question remains, how to properly access this source, the root of our essential selves.

In parashas Vayigash, Judah makes an impassioned plea, for the sake of Benjamin, while addressing the Egyptian prince (Joseph) that stands before him. Nesivos Shalom renders the passage in a symbolic manner, ascribing Judah’s words to an imagined conversation with G-d, as if instead of addressing the prince that stands before him as lord, he is addressing H’Shem. Within this framework, we can understand through a nuanced perspective, the essence of prayer during the current exile; inasmuch that our prayers should be for the sake of the Shechinah, Who suffers with us during exile. By seeking to console the Shechinah, we console ourselves as well.

Therefore, in recognition of Joseph’s suffering, as well as the suffering of his brothers – who see the troubles that fell upon themselves in Egypt as divine recompense – as akin to our nisyanos (troubles), during this current exile, we may seek consolation through prayer; and, G-d’s presence will be with us, in the midst of our suffering. Let us speak in G-d’s ears, all that troubles us, offering our very selves as servants, as Judah offered to be a servant in place of his brother, Benjamin. Let us serve as surety for our brethren, K’lal Yisrael (All of Israel), and lead the way, towards redemption from Galus (Exile). Just as Joseph was reconciled to his brothers, may all of Israel be reconciled to H’Shem, through the unity that will be brought only by Moshiach (Messiah).

parashas Vayigash 5782

Suffering and Renewal

“I will go down with thee into Egypt; and, I will also surely bring thee up again.”

– Genesis 46:4, JPS 1917 Tanach

“I am He who in My Word will go down with thee into Mitzraim; I will regard the affliction of thy children, and My Word shall bring thee up from thence, and cause thy children to come up.”

– Targum Jonathan on Genesis 46:4, sefaria.org

Joseph sent for his father, Jacob, to bring him as well as his entire family down to Egypt. On the way to Egypt, Jacob made offerings to G-d in Beersheba. “G-d spoke to Israel in the visions of the night.” Jacob had been disconcerted, wondering about this descent of his family into Egypt; he was concerned about the eventual plight of his descendants. Yet, he was told, “Fear not to go down to Egypt; for I will there make of you a great nation.” G-d further reassured him, “I will go down with thee into Egypt; and, I will also surely bring you up again” (Genesis 46:4).

With the descent of Jacob’s family into Egypt, G-d promises their eventual redemption from the future enslavement that will occur centuries later. With this understanding, “I will go down with thee into Egypt,” pertains to the nisyanos (trials) that the children of Israel later faced in their enslavement. This may also reflect the understanding that G-d was with them, during the entire time of their “spiritual descent,” while living in Egypt: a low point in their lives, spanning several generations. As is written elsewhere, “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9, JPS).

The children of Israel were not abandoned by H’Shem, nor forgotten during their years of servitude in Egypt. Additionally, the people remembered what Joseph had told his brothers, before he passed away, “G-d will surely remember you, and bring you up out of this land unto the land which he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Genesis 50:25). In like manner, may our lives also be renewed by G-d’s promises, as we look forward to being brought out of the current exile, otherwise known in Hebrew as Galus.

May we place our hope in the Final Redemption.

Pivotal Points

parashas Lech Lecha 5782

“Ten generations from Noah to Abraham, in order to make known what long-suffering is His; for all those generations kept on provoking Him, until Abraham, came and received the reward of all of them.” – Pirkei Avos 5:2, sefaria.org

“Based upon the merit of Abraham, G-d did not destroy again the whole world. Abraham taught them that repentance was possible, and therefore G-d did not destroy the world.”

– English explanation of the Mishnah; sefaria.org

Inasmuch that Noah and his family was spared when “Noah found favor in the eyes of H’Shem,” so, too, according to the mishnah, the world was spared through the merit of Abraham. In light of this comparison, two points become evident. First, the necessity of G-d’s of Attribute of Mercy, as a means of relating to mankind, despite His strict attribute of justice. Second, that in each case, a righteous person was chosen to offer repentance to others, and ultimately to become the means through which a type of redemption would occur for all of mankind.

In the case of Noah, it is evident that G-d favored him for a specific reason. Immediately following “Noah found grace in the eyes of the L-RD,” the Torah  states that Noah was “a man righteous and wholehearted; Noah walked with G-d” (Genesis 6:8-9). As for Abraham, there is no such immediate recognition of his character, when he is called out from the land of Ur, to the land that he would be shown. He is told by H’Shem, that he would become a great nation, that his name would be great, and that the nations would be blessed through him. Before Abraham, Sarah, and his nephew Lot set out for Canaan, there were “persons that they had acquired in Haran.”

These souls are said to be converts to Abraham’s newfound monotheistic faith. It is this faith as demonstrated by his obedience to the L-RD’s calling, that Abraham is considered righteous: For, “he believed in the L-RD; and He counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6, JPS). “O ye seed of Abraham His servant, ye children of Jacob, His chosen ones. He is the L-RD our G-d; His judgments are in all the earth” (Psalm 105:6-7, JPS 1917 Tanach).

motzei Shabbos: Noach 5782

 “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

“Ten generations from Adam to Noah, in order to make known what long-suffering is His; for all those generations kept on provoking Him, until He brought upon them the waters of the flood.”

– Pirkei Avos 5:2, sefaria.org

“In G-d’s long-suffering we can learn a lesson of patience and forgiveness. Even though in the end G-d did decide to destroy the world, He did not do so immediately, but gave the world a chance to repent“ (English Explanation of Mishnah; sefaria.org). Therefore, we can see that G-d is not only just; he is also merciful. It is only fair to give others a second chance in life, as G-d did with the generation of the Flood. On a personal level, although we do not know what the person being forgiven will do in the future, it is up to us to attempt to amend the situation. And, moreover, to caution others against aveiros (sins), and expound upon the importance of teshuvah (repentance), is humane. We can not foresee whether others will do teshuvah or not; yet, we must give others the opportunity to mend their ways.

dvar: parashas Re’eh 5781

“Unto the place which the L-RD your G-d shall choose out of all your tribes to put His name there, even unto His habitation shall ye seek.”

– Deuteronomy 12:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

Moshe explains to the B’nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) that they should not do like the nations in regard to their service to H’Shem. The idolatrous nations worshipped anywhere and everywhere to various so-called deities. However, when entering Eretz Canaan, B’nei Yisrael would be called upon to “destroy all the places, wherein the nations that ye are to dispossess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every leafy tree” (Deuteronomy 12:2, JPS). Rather, Israel is called to worship in “the place which H’Shem your G-d shall choose” (Deuteronomy 12:5, JPS).

The place that H’Shem chose, eventually was Jerusalem. That is where the first and second Temples were built. Moreover, we await the building of the Third temple. Until then, we congregate in assemblies, that are referred to as “small sanctuaries,” as per one interpretation of the following pasuk (verse): “Thus saith the L-rd G-D: Although I have removed them far off among the nations, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet have I been to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they are come” (Ezekiel 11:16, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The original meaning of the verse was meant to convey a sense of reassurance to the exiles, after the first Temple was destroyed, that H’Shem’s presence would still be with them; i.e., that H’Shem would be a sanctuary – a place of refuge for them. This rendering is also apropos today, during the current galus (exile), inasmuch that we believe that His presence, otherwise known as the Shechinah, went into exile with us after the destruction of the second Temple. Although, the return of the Jewish people has already begun at the time of the recreation of the State of Israel, our exile is not officially, over until the third Temple is built in the time of Moshiach (Messiah).

Tish b’Av 5781

“And it shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of the L-RD’S house shall be established as the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the L-RD, to the house of the G-d of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the L-RD from Jerusalem. And He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

– Isaiah 2:2-4, JPS 1917 Tanach

Counting Sheep

shiur for parashas Bamidbar 5781

“Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel.”

– Numbers 1:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

“The literal translation of the above mentioned verse would be, ‘Lift up the head of the entire assembly.” This rendering has two potential meanings: that the people would be lifted up to a higher spiritual status or brought down by their own unworthiness. The phrase suggests either upliftment, if B’nei Yisrael were worthy in G-d’s eyes, or chastisement, if they were not acting in accordance with His expectations of them (Ramban).

The sages note that there were nine times recorded in the Tanach, whereupon a census was taken. According to their rendering of scripture, there will be a tenth census taken in the days of Moshiach (Messiah). “The flocks again pass under the hands of him that counteth them, saith the L-RD” (Jeremiah 33:13, JPS 1917 Tanach). According to the rendering of this verse by the Targum Yonaton, the verse reads, “by the hand of Moshiach.”

The world is judged four times a year; the sages envision the judgment that occurs on Rosh HaShannah, as a census being taken, likened to counting sheep: “On Rosh HaShanah all creatures pass before Him like sheep [benei maron], as it is stated: ‘He Who fashions their hearts alike, Who considers all their deeds’ (Psalms 33:15)” (Talmud, tractate Rosh HaShannah 16a, sefaria.org).

The mashal (parable) of counting the sheep also points towards the final judgment, when all of mankind will be judged. “For I [know] their works and their thoughts; [the time] cometh, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and shall see My glory” (Isaiah 66:18).

“Therefore will I save My flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle. And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even My servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the L-RD will be their G-d, and My servant David prince among them” (Ezekiel 34:22-24, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Omer: Day 17 Tiferes shebbe Tiferes – Back to the Garden

Tiferes shebbe Tiferes: Beauty within Beauty

The epitome of beauty that speaks of harmony and balance within all of creation was present in the beginning within Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden). That harmony was disrupted, when Adam and Chava (Eve) partook of forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Up until that moment, the progenitors of humankind lived in a nondual world of blissful connection to G-d. Their relationship to Him was whole, and immersed in complete Oneness. They were at one with each other, and all of creation as well. Subsequent to their disobedience, the world became an admixture of good and evil.

Throughout history, these two forces often appeared in sharp outlines, discernible even to the casual eye, as well as the more carefully honed conscience. Today, the blur between good and evil that seems to have proliferated in the twentieth century is increasing to the point of concern, whereas the boundaries are no longer clearly marked in society. The prophet’s words apply, “woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that change darkness into light, and light into darkness; that change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter” (Isaiah 5:20, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The words of singer songwriter, Joni Mitchell, during the tumultuous 60’s still ring true, “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden.” How so? Through bringing compassion towards a disharmonious world, beginning with ourselves. For G-d primarily expects His crowning achievement (humankind) to live lives that reflect His image. Mankind has fallen far since the days of yore; yet, recovery for the soul is still possible. With a sincere effort, a response will be elicited from Above.

[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 own personality, for the sake of tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul)].