Turn Again

“What is meant by, ‘Surely he scorneth the scorners, but he giveth grace unto the lowly’ [Proverbs 3:34]? If one comes to defile himself, he is given an opening; if one comes to cleanse himself, he is helped.”  – Talmud Shabbos 104a

The Sages teach, based on the above Talmudic passage, and the configuration of the Hebrew letter, “hei,” that H’Shem will “give grace unto the lowly” to do teshuvah (repentance) through the narrow way.  This is represented by the small space towards the top of the letter hei – ה – the narrow gate that leads towards teshuvah (repentance). On the other hand, “surely he scorneth scorners” can be understood to mean that G-d will also give occasion to those whose way is stubbornly opposed to following G-d’s word. The scorners are bent on following their own way that leads to “defilement;” for them, the way is broad, symbolized by the broad space at the bottom of the letter hei: ה.

“Know whence you came and to where you are going and before Whom you are destined to give a final accounting.” – Pirkei Avos 3:1

“The whole wide world is a very narrow bridge.”

– R’ Nachman of Breslov

Beyond Trust

“The land the L-RD, our G-d, is giving us is good.” – Deuteronomy 1:25

G-d had previously said, that the land was good, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” Sifrei emphasizes that both Joshua and Caleb asserted that the land was good, even after seeing the land for themselves, despite the ill report of the ten other spies. Their perspective was positive, while the others had a negative perspective; yet, the words of the malcontent “descend into the inmost parts” (Proverbs 18:8), in this case, influencing the people in an adverse manner.

Even to the extent that they claimed that the L-RD hated them, saying that He brought them out of Egypt to die at the hands of their enemies (Deuteronomy 1:27). Fear, as well as their own hatred towards G-d (see Sifrei) compelled them to project their own hatred onto Him, as if they were the hated ones. As if G-d’s design from the beginning was to permit them to be exterminated?

A lack of judgment engulfed them because of the cloudiness of their minds. In Egypt, the Nile allowed for an irrigation system that would distribute the water for farming. Yet, in the land of Canaan, where the Israelites were being brought, only through natural means, by rainfall, allotted to the land by G-d Himself, would their survival depend (Numbers Rabbah 17). Yet, they trusted in the security provided for them in Egypt, and disparaged trusting in the L-RD to provide for them.

Isn’t this like modern man, with all of his comforts, as per the result of civilization, buttressed by the foundation of the industrial revolution, and its counterpart, the age of technology? To consider for ourselves, how much this may be the case, we may ask whether we would be willing to give up our material comforts for a two week camping trip.

Yet, the children of Israel went on “a camping trip” for forty years. During this time, the L-RD provided for them, beyond any means that Egypt could have provided. And if we were faced with the prospect of becoming “enslaved” by technology, would we be willing to leave everything behind us, for the sake of our freedom? Is our emunah (faith) in the L-RD strong enough, that our subsequent trust in His provision for us would foster resiliency in the face of adversity?

“Blessed is the man that trusteth in the L-RD, and whose trust the L-RD is.”

– Isaiah 17:7, JPS 1917 Tanach

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.

Light Will Prevail

B”H

3 Teves 5781

eighth day of Chanukah

Light will transcend the darkness in our lives when we cast our gaze towards the flame of truth, the eish tamid (eternal light) that is symbolized by Chanukah. The light of the Menorah in the temple, lit by the small cruze of oil found amidst the debris in the Temple, is the light of hope and renewal.

A little known midrash connects that small cruze of oil to the renewal of mankind, creation, and the earth itself, after the Mavul (Flood). When the dove brought back an olive branch in it’s mouth, according to the midrash, Noah pressed enough olive oil to place inside a small container. This cruze of oil was passed down to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When Jacob returned to Beth El, he anointed the foundation stone with this oil. Then, according to the midrash, he hid the small cruze of precious olive oil.

This Place (HaMakom) was none other than Mt. Moriah, where the Temple was eventually established. Yes; because of the miracle of light that lasted for eight days from this precious oil, we celebrate Chanukah today. Midrash is not always meant to be taken literally; therefore, a symbolic viewpoint may be rendered from this particular midrash. One explanation, may have to do with the talmudic saying that the cure precedes the ailment.

Thus, one may conclude that G-d, having foreseen the defilement of the Temple by the Seulicid empire, provided the means for its sanctification, shortly after the near destruction of the earth. The oil, “potential light” was passed down, safeguarded across the generations for its eventual use in re-lighting the menorah in the Temple, signifying the triumph of light over darkness.

The message of hope will be like a small flame illuminating the darkness, despite whatever circumstances may cast a shadow over our lives. Yehi ratzon. May it be His will that the light of hope and renewal throughout the ages will always prevail over darkness. Amein.

Yom Kippur 5781

Yom Kippur 5781

B”H

shiur for Yom Kippur 5781

“Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions; and my sin is ever before me.”
– Psalm 51:4-5, JPS 1917 Tanach

Dovid HaMelech (King David) was constantly aware of the sins of his past. This awareness imbued him with humility, in the face of G-d’s righteousness. “Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my supplanters [heels] compasseth me about” (Psalm 49:6, JPS 1917 Tanach). Literally, “the sins of my heels,” referring to the breaking of lesser mitzvoth, that people, figuratively speaking, tend to trample upon, mistakenly thinking that they are insignificant. Yet, even King David, was concerned, that he might be prevented from entering Olam Haba, because of the sins of the heels in his own life.

“Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope” (Isaiah 5:18, JPS 1917 Tanach). As is mentioned in Chok L’Yisrael, based on the Zohar Bereishis 198a, the phrase, “the cords of vanity,” is also likened to the sins of the heels. Additionally, the phrase, “cords of vanity” is reminiscent of the prayer, Ana Bekoach, where we request of H’Shem, that He “untie the bundled sins.” These sins are traditionally understood to be the collective sins of Israel.

On this Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, may we as well as all of Israel (K’lal Yisrael) be forgiven. Effectively, in due time, may this lead to our complete renewal as individuals. Furthermore, as a nation, may Israel’s redemption also be enacted through teshuvah. “And a redeemer will come to Zion, And unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, Saith the L-RD” (Isaiah 59:20, JPS 1917 Tanach).

G’mar chatimah tovah. “May you be completely sealed for the good.”

Heritage – 2

B”H

Matan Torah

“And all the people perceived the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the voice of the horn [shofar], and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled, and stood afar off.”

– Exodus 20:15, JPS 1917 Tanach

When B’nei Yisrael encamped at Sinai as one people, they saw the thunder, as well as the lightening atop Sinai; in other words, their experience brought them to a heightened sense of awareness, beyond the confines of our usual senses. According to the Talmud, when G-d spoke at Sinai, there was no echo of His voice; rather, His words permeated all of creation. The world was saturated with His wisdom, and all creatures were silent at the time of the revelation on Mt. Sinai. The words of Torah were imbued into every soul at the mountain, where G-d chose to reveal His commandments. His wisdom continues to infuse us with the means to govern our lives in a holy manner.

At Sinai, the Children of Israel were instilled with yiras H’Shem (fear of the L-RD), compelling in them a sense of awe, reverence, and respect towards H’Shem. While this essential principal of Judaism has been diminished over the ages, we can still reconnect with the vision at Sinai. Initially, the experience of B’nei Yisrael at Sinai was so intense, that “they trembled, and stood afar off.” Perhaps, the same is true to some extent for us today; something in our lives, may have caused some of us to stand farther away from Sinai than our ancestors did. We may still sense the presence of H’Shem; yet, we may be less inclined to let His words imbue us with a wisdom above and beyond what this world can provide. By standing too far away from Sinai, over the generations, we may not be as impressed with Matan Torah (literally, “the giving of the Instruction”) as our ancestors. Yet, through the ways that we experience, celebrate, and honor our Judaism, we absorb the essence of Sinai in a way more acceptable for us. Even so, we are called every year at Shavuot, to renew our commitment to our heritage.

Heritage

B”H

There is a rich heritage, sparking an inspirational message across the ages, that a Jew has a place, a home, and a refuge within the belief, practice, and traditions found in the realm of yiddishkeit. There is a Jewishness about everything from potato latkes to the peyos (side curls) of an Orthodox Jew. The entire gamut of a Jewish way of life, in all of its kaleidescopic color, consists of a seamless unity from one generation to another. Despite assimilation, some semblance of the original focus (deveykus) and lifestyle of our ancestors, may still be found amongst all of us, from one end of the spectrum to the other. No matter how a Jew is defined, the pintle yid – the essential Jewishness – may always be found in one form or another.

Because the door is always open to explore the various facets of Judaism, from many different angles, opportunity prevails upon us to enter into a world that is replete with sights, sounds and experiences, that may have the effect of rekindling the glowing embers in our heart. With the help of H’Shem, these flames may be fanned into a fire of longing for a closeness to G-d, that will compel us to take that first step through the doorway. Once taken, we are in the hands of H’Shem, who will lead us along the way of our unique path on the road home to Him.

“Turn us unto Thee, O L-rd, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.”

– Lamentations 5:21, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Second Passover

B”H

Pesach Sheini 5780

Thursday night begins Pesach Sheini – the second Passover, for those who were impure, according to the definition of Torah, or were on a distant journey. Pesach Sheini connotes the idea of second chances. The Israelites who were not able to observe Pesach were given a second chance, one month later, in order to do so. Today, the concept may be applicable to the personal instances of our lives, when we were given a second chance of some nature. Traditionally, matzoh is eaten on Pesach Sheini, a one day holiday that will end Friday night as Shabbos begins.

Reflection: Renewal

B”H

26 Nissan 5780

April 20, 2020

“And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.”

– Ezekiel 36:25, JPS 1917 Tanach

The B’nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) had sunk to the 49th level of impurity in Egypt. Had we descended to the 50th level of impurity, according to chazal, we would have been indistinguishable from the Egyptians. From this perspective, we were not brought out of Egypt, based upon our own merit. This is akin to what is mentioned later in Torah, “Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thy heart” (Deuteronomy 9:5).

Thus, we were taken out of Egypt by way of what is called itaruta dil’eyla, an “awakening from above,” wherein H’Shem brings about an effect from Shomayim. From out of the influence of an idolatrous society, B’nei Yisrael was freed from slavery, in order to serve H’Shem.

The 49 day counting of the Omer, between Pesach and Shavuos is a gradual ascent to the 49th level purity. A time to effect a gradual transition to a positive set of character traits, through an itaruta dil’tata, an awakening from below, i.e., from our own efforts. As B’nei Yisrael spent forty nine days on a journey from Egypt towards Mount Sinai, where the Torah was given, so opportunity given the opportunity to prepare ourselves to receive the Torah anew on Shavuot.

Thirst Quenched

B”H February 8, 2020 “O G-d, Thou art my G-d, earnestly will I seek Thee; my soul thirsteth for Thee, my flesh longeth for Thee, in a dry and weary land, where no water is.” Psalm 63:2, JPS 1917 Tanach G-d is still my G-d, that is in season or out of season. In other […]

Thirst Quenched — Clear Horizons