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.”

Shabbat Shuvah 5781

B”H

Shiur for Shabbat Shuvah

(parashas Ha’azinu) 5781

“If thou, O L-rd, wilt mark iniquities: L-rd, how could we stand before you?”
– Psalms 130:3, embellished

“Concealed acts concern the L-RD our G-d.”
– Deuteronomy 29:28, JPS 1985 Tanach

After Adam and Chava ate from the Tree of Knowledge, H’Shem called to Adam, “Where art thou?” (Genesis 3:9, JPS, 1917 Tanach). He responded, “I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; so I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). Adam’s shame compelled him to hide himself. Yet, G-d is all-knowing, as well as omnipresent (everywhere present). He surely knew where Adam was. Why did He ask, “Where are you?” One answer given, is that G-d was, in effect, asking, Where are you in your relationship with me?

We learn in the Book of Isaiah that sin separates us from G-d (Isaiah 59:2). Adam lost the oneness that he had with G-d; as a result of his transgression, he was was expelled from Gan Eden, along with Chava, who also partook from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Up until that point, everything that they experienced in Gan Eden was in one accord with H’Shem, a nondual perspective. Yet, after eating from the tree that was forbidden to eat from, they became aware of good and evil. For this reason, even today, there is not only good and evil in the world; also, there is an admixture of good and bad in everything we do.

Like Adam and Chava, we can not hide from H’Shem. He knows our “concealed acts.” Sin separates us from Him; the path to return is through actually admitting our transgressions, unlike Adam who circumvented G-d’s questions. During the Ten Days of Repentance, between Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, we are all asked, “Where are you?” G-d is prompting us to reveal our sins to Him. Yet, sometimes, our sins may be hidden from ourselves; in this case, we may ask Him to reveal our sins to us.

“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

Finding the Good

parashas Nitzavim Vayelech 5780

B”H

Shiur for parashas Nitzavim Vayelech 5780

“For I know their imagination how they do even now.”

– Deuteronomy 31:21, JPS 1917 Tanach

“For their evil disposition to which they are yielding today, even before I bring you into the promised land, is known to Me.”

– Targum Yonaton, sefaria.org

G-d knows our proclivity towards aveiros (transgressions). In regard to B’nei Yisrael, He knew that the imagination, i.e., yetzer (inclination) of the people was inclined towards evil. Sforno explains, that the people were about to be brought into the promised land, in order to focus on H’Shem, serving Him through the mitzvot (as mentioned in Psalms 105:44-45); yet, “instead they look forward to gratify their own cravings” (Sforno, on Deuteronomy 31:21, sefaria.org) which will lead to an excessive focus on material pleasures, gained from the wealth that H’Shem provides. In other words, B’nei Yisrael will end up misusing their material goods. By neglecting to focus on H’Shem, after entering the Land, the priorities that were established, “that they might keep His statutes, and observe His laws,” were forgotten (Psalm 105:45).

Although many would like to believe that our natural tendency is to do good, this goes against the grain of understanding. Upon further reflection, we may find that we are inclined to enjoy ourselves, and be entertained by the world, while our efforts to do good are hindered. We may neglect to be kind, considerate, and selfless, unless we seriously strive to do so at all times. As soon as we take our eyes off of H’Shem, especially in this modern world, we might become further distracted, engrossed, and captured by our yetzer hara. Zechirus (vigilance) is of the upmost importance, in order to maintain our sense of deveykus (attachment) to G-d. If we expect to enter into the Promised Land of Olam Haba (the World to Come) with a good place reserved for us there, then, we must keep these points in mind: 1). sur meira, asei tov (eschew evil, do good); 2). show zechirus (vigilance) through constant awareness; and, 3). deveykus (stay connected) to G-d Above, who watches over us from Shomayim (Heaven).

reflections: Redemption

B”H

17 Tammuz 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.” – Exodus 14:13, JPS 1917 Tanach

Is the time drawing near for the sea to part? Is the Geulah (Redemption) at hand? The sages, in all of their sharp acuity, draw a parallel between the First Redemption, and the Final Redemption: akin to plagues that devastated Egypt, before the exodus of the Children of Israel, so will many plagues, even more than those inflicted upon ancient Egypt, precede the final redemption. This is gleaned from the following verse: “As in the days of thy coming forth out of the land of Egypt, will I show unto him marvellous things” (Micah 7:15, JPS). Could the modern day plague of the coronavirus be a foreshadowing of the Messianic Age?

The current exile (galus) of the Jewish people began almost two thousand years ago, when the second Temple was destroyed by the Romans. We were dispersed amongst the nations, as we still are today to some degree. Even though the state of Israel was renewed in 1948, without the Third Temple, we are technically still in exile. This is one reason why we proclaim every year, at the end of our Passover seder, “Next Year in Yerushalayim.” In essence, this does not refer to having the opportunity to fly to Israel via El Al Airlines, in order to make aliyah to our Biblical homeland. Rather, this alludes to the Geulah (Redemption), when Moshiach will reign from Jerusalem.

At that time, “peace on earth,” in all of its splendor will prevail over the unruly forces, that have no interest in recognising G-d’s sovereignty. Needless to say, we are only witnessing the beginning of these forces to potentially impact society in an unprecedented way; the road has been paved ever since the Age of Enlightenment, when the Deity of Reason was worshipped, to the diminishment of a focus on G-d, and religious values. This set the background for the French Revolution.

Behind the facade of a higher cause, these forces hold sway over any godless movement, whose roots are deeper than its claims to higher ideals, human rights, or “power to the people.” It is interesting to note, that as a result of the Bubonic plague of the 14th Century in Europe, “some historians believe that society subsequently became more violent as the mass mortality rate cheapened life and thus increased warfare, crime, popular revolt, waves of flagellants, and persecution” (Wikipedia). As far as I know, excepting self-flagellation, this seems to ring true today, in the face of COVID-19. “If we do not learn from the past, history will repeat itself.”

Am I overconcerned with the state of affairs in the world, and, more specifically, in America today? Others are apparently even more concerned. “In a normal month [Nefesh B’Nefesh] receives several hundred to a few thousand calls,” yet, this past June the Jewish organisation that promotes aliyah from the U.S. to Israel received 25,000 calls (VosIzNeias). For myself, I would only take that step, if and when I would hear the call from H’Shem, as has been mentioned by several fellow Jews in the not so recent past, concerning intuition from Above. Yet, the call to teshuvah, in and of itself, is primary; and, may be viewed the in light Hillel’s adage, “It’s not where you are, but how you are.” And, “if not now, when.”

“And thou shalt bethink thyself among the nations, whither the L-RD thy G-d hath driven thee, and shalt return unto the L-RD thy G-d.”

– Deuteronomy 30:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

Restoration

B”H

Shiur for parashas Nasso 5780

“Speak unto the children of Israel: When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to commit a trespass against the L-RD, and that soul be guilty; then they shall confess their sin which they have done.”

  • Numbers 5:6-7, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to Rambam (Maimonides), this verse is the basis of the importance of confession (vidui), within the context of teshuvah (repentance). “And shall make reparation in full” (Numbers 5:7); this latter part of the pasuk (verse) denotes reparations made to others, if the aveirah (transgression) is against another person. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for reparation is from the same shoresh (root), “shuv,” as teshuvah, meaning to return. Repentance is a return to H’Shem (the L-RD). “Let us return unto the L-RD” (Hosea 5:15, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The Mishkan along with the Levitical system of offerings were meant to restore the relationship of the people with HShem. A restored relationship with HShem begins with vidui (confession), whereby we confess our sins to Him; additionally, we return to Him by not making the same transgression again. We must also increase our mitzvoth, spending more time engaged with G-dly pursuits, and less time in that which could be considered frivolous.

Unless we are conscious of leading a godly life, we may not even realize that a diminished connection to G-d may be a result of our own lack of mitzvot (good deeds). “Your iniquities have separated between you and your G-d (Isaiah 59:2, JPS 1917 Tanach). In order to experience G-d’s presence in our lives, then we need to approach Him in righteousness. If we have not been cognizant of what He expects from us, then we need to educate ourselves, according to His ways. Now is a good time to start.

parashas Nasso 5780

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.

after Shabbat: G-d’s Sovereignty

B”H

Motzei Shabbos shiur for Vayikra 5780

“Let me fall now into the hand of the L-RD, for very great are His mercies; and let me not fall into the hand of man.”

– 1 Chronicles 21:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

In parashas Ki Tisa, a census is taken wherein each person gave a half shekel as an atonement for his soul. The half shekel is described as a ransom for the soul, so that there will not be a plague when the census is taken (Exodus 30:12). The ransom guarantees that there will be no plague, as a result of the collective sins of Israel.

Commentary explains that because at the time of a census, wherein each man is counted, it is as if every man is also scrutinized in regard to his moral status. Inasmuch that deficiencies in thought, speech, and behavior may always be found upon such scrutiny, the ransom of a half shekel is necessary for atonement.

At the time of King David, a census was taken, by way of his directive; however, this displeased H’Shem, so a message was given to David to choose one of three consequences. Rather than be subject to famine, or his foes, David exclaimed that he would prefer to “fall into the hand of the L-RD” (see above).

Thus, G-d sent a plague throughout Israel. He then sent a destroying angel to enact a plague upon Jerusalem, until H’Shem decided out of His mercy to spare Jerusalem from destruction. David and the elders repented, saying, “let Thy hand, I pray Thee, O L-RD my G-d, be against me, and against my father’s house; but not against Thy people, that they should be plagued” (1 Chronicles 21:17).

David’s trust in H’Shem, despite the fact that H’Shem sent the plague, exemplifies the trust of Job, the pious gentile who was inflicted by so much misfortune and physical malaise. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15). Today, in light of the Corona virus, our trust in H’Shem will be tested. Regardless of the spread of this modern day plague throughout the world, acknowledging G-d’s sovereignty over our lives is of the upmost importance.

daily meditation: Refuge

B”H

March 20, 2020

(24 Adar 5780)

“Closing time, every new beginning comes from some other begining’s end.”

– Closing Time, by Semisonic

As we close the doors behind us, and shut ourselves in for the duration of this plague, let us recall the night before our first redemption, when the Angel of Death passed over the homes of B’nei Yisrael.

We who placed our trust in H’Shem, by obeying His commandment to place the blood of the Pesach lamb on our doorposts and lintels, while sheltering behind those doors. The prophet makes reference to this event, while speaking of another day.

“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

The sages liken the final redemption to the first redemption. As Egypt was inflicted by ten plagues, so will the world be subject to an even greater set of plagues. Those of us who trust in H’Shem may seek refuge in Him, within the confinement of our homes at this particular time in history.

By turning our hearts towards Him, we prepare ourselves for the redemption that is at hand. Although this may only be a forerunner of the ensuing judgment upon the inhabitants of the earth, we shelter in expectation of our freedom, when Moshiach will reign.

Additionally, while our hunkering down during this time period, may also only be a prelude to a greater need to seek refuge in H’Shem down the prophetic timeline, we trust that He will safeguard us.

“He concealeth me in His pavilion [sukkah] in the day of evil; He hideth me in the covert of His tent; He lifteth me up upon a rock.”

– Psalm 27:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

Motzei Shabbos: Afterthought

B”H

erev 19 Adar 5780

Motzei Shabbos: Afterthought on parashas Ki Tisa

“When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel, according to their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the L-RD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them.” – Exodus 30:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

The parashas begins with the commandment to take a census; literally, the Hebrew means “to lift up the head.” According to commentary, this connotes the understanding that B’nei Yisrael’s level of ruchniyos (spirituality) was elevated by the taking of the census. As mentioned in the verse, every man was to give “a ransom for his soul.” This ransom is defined in the next verse as “half a shekel.” These coins were contributed ultimately for the sake of the building of the mishkan (tabernacle).

Later in the parashas, after the sin of the golden calf, H’Shem sent a plague amongst the people, as a recompense for their sin of idolatry. Apparently, this may have been enacted, in order to effect retribution upon the particular Israelites who did not overtly worship the golden calf, yet, sinned in their hearts.

“Then hear Thou in heaven Thy dwelling-place, and forgive, and do, and render unto every man according to all his ways, whose heart Thou knowest–for Thou, even Thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men.” – 1 Kings 8:39

Yehi ratzon (may it he His will) that we turn our hearts to H’Shem in sincere teshuvah (repentance), that we may return to Him in all of our ways (Proverbs 3:6). We will receive an elevation of our souls, when we reach out to G-d, through our mitzvot (good deeds), including tsedokah (charity), done in sincerity. Now is the time. “As for me, in the abundance of Thy lovingkindness will I come into Thy house; I will bow down toward Thy holy temple in the fear of Thee” (Psalm 5:7).

Ki Tisa – A Remedy Prepared

B”H

Shiur for parashas Ki Tisa 5780
17 Adar 5780 (March 13, 2020)

H’Shem plagued the people, because they made the calf. ” – Exodus 32:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights; during this time, H’Shem spoke with Moses – according to some commentators, Moses received the instruction for the Mishkan at this time. It is mentioned in the Talmud, that H’Shem creates the cure before the ailment. Here, the blueprints for the Mishkan served as the remedy to what had not yet occurred – the idolatry of the golden calf. H’Shem prepared the cure before the sickness.

What is the malaise of idolatry? To place anything in our lives above our commitment to H’Shem. This raises up the created above the Creator, G-d forbid. Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for the fear of Heaven (Talmud). Therefore, our conscious effort to make G-d most important in our lives is up to us; in effect, we are called upon to crown Him as King – sovereign over every aspect of our lives.

In these challenging days, we also look for the remedy to the various ailments of our lives; yet, even when there seems to be no hope on the horizon, we must maintain a sense of bechirah (trust) in H’Shem, that He has already designated, the time, place, and remedy for each of us to continue on the derech (path) towards righteous.

Yet, the path is narrow, there are many distractions along the way. It was only when Moshe sought out the forgiveness of H’Shem, on behalf of B’nei Yisrael, that he was able to receive the second set of tablets. We are also given second chances in our lives; however, if we do not even realise the need to change our ways, we may be given a wake up call.

The Mishkan (portable tabernacle in the wilderness) permitted B’nei Yisrael to focus on worshipping H’Shem; we need to do the same, in a manner of speaking, and be ever mindful of H’Shem’s Presence. “I have set the L-RD always before me; surely He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved” (Psalms 16:8, JPS 1917 Tanach).