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)].

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.

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.

poetry: Promise

1 Nissan 5781 Running, the tempest behind me, still present in my thoughts and dreams; yet, somewhere on the horizon, I can see in the distance, there is a place serene. Joyous within myself, outwardly smiling, my emotions never surface enough to be visible; perhaps, a trait from my ancestors upbringing, learned men of books, […]

Promise — Breathing Inspiration

Purim 5781

hester panim – the hidden face (of G-d)

In the Book of Esther, the narrative that is read on Purim, the name of G-d is not found even once; rather, His divine guidance is hidden within the framework of coincidental events within the narrative. G-d’s providence is already at work, in order to provide for a yeshua (salvation) for the Jewish people, even before the initial threat arises as recorded in the narrative. First of all, Queen Vashti is deposed after she disobeyed her husband, king Ahasueros, who is king of 127 provinces from India to Ethiopa. The sets the stage for a beauty pageant, won by Esther, whose beauty resides within as well as without. The king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight” (Esther 2:17, JPS). Moreover, she remained obedient to her Uncle Mordechai; and, as he instructed her, she did not make “known her kindred nor her people” (2:20).

As recorded at the end of chapter two, Mordechai had overheard a plot against the kind by two of his servants; so, he informed Esther, who told the king in his name; thus, his good deed was recorded in the chronicles of the king (Esther 2:21-23). This preceded a threat that rose up from Haman, who in the next chapter is raised up to a position of power. Therefore, both the position of Esther as Queen, and Mordechai’s deed for which he will be honored later in the narrative, as the ensuing events unfold, are as seeds of redemption waiting to ripen in due time.

It is Haman, whose new position demanded that all bow down to him. Mordechai, a Jew who is a Benjamite will not bow down to him. It is interesting to note that our of the twelve sons of Jacob, Benjamin is the only one who did not bow down to Esau when he approached Jacob and his family. This is because Benjamin was still in the womb of his mother. Therefore, Mordechai exhibits this trait, if you will, by not bowing down to Haman, who is a descendant of King Agag, who was a descendant of Amalek. In turn, Amalek was the son of Eliphaz, the son of Esau. So, Haman’s hatred of Mordechai, went beyond his refusal to bow to him: rather, this was an ancient hatred that manifested in Haman’s ire, and insistence as well as determination to destroy all of Mordechai’s people.

Yet, as mentioned in the Talmud, the remedy precedes the sickness, specifically, “The Holy One, blessed be He, does not smite Israel unless He has created for them a healing beforehand” ( Megillah 13b, Soncino edition). Therefore, when Mordechai learns of Haman’s decree to destroy the Jewish people, he sends word to Esther, requesting that she appeal to the king on behalf of her people. “Who knoweth whether thou art not come to royal estate for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14). Her response is one of mesiras nefesh (self sacrifice). “So will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish” (4:16).

Additionally, on a night that King Ahasueros is not able to sleep, he decides to peruse through the chronicles of the king: here he finds mention of Mordechai’s good deed, whereby a plot against the king was thwarted. In the morning, when Haman happens to be in the King’s court, Ahasueros asks him, what shall be done for the man whom the king would like to honor. Haman, in his self conceit, thinks that king wants to honor him, so he replies:

“Let royal apparel be brought which the king useth to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and on whose head a crown royal is set; and let the apparel and the horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king’s most noble princes, that they may array the man therewith whom the king delighteth to honour, and cause him to ride on horseback through the street of the city.” The king responds, “‘Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew” (Esther 6:8-10). So, there is a reversal of fortune, whereby Mordechai is now honored, while Haman is humiliated.

At Esther’s second banquet for the King, of which Haman is also invited, when reveals the plot to the king:  “We are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish” (Esther 7:4). He asks, “Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to do so?” (Esther 7:5). She responds, An adversary and an enemy, even this wicked Haman” (Ester 7:6). Additionally, the kings servant points out that this Haman had made a gallows “for Mordecai, who spoke good for the king” (Esther 7:9). Thus, Haman’s fate is sealed, and the decree against the destruction of the Jewish people is countermanded by a second decree.