The Central Focus

parashas Terumah 5781

“Make its seven lamps—the lamps shall be so mounted as to give the light on its front side.” – Exodus 25:37, sefaria.org

“Their light should be directed in the direction of the front of the central branch which forms the candlestick proper.” – Rashi, sefaria.org

“Inasmuch as the lights symbolized spiritual “enlighten-ment,” the lesson is that in all our efforts at obtaining such enlightenment, and during all the digressions that the pursuit of such disciplines necessarily entails, we must never lose sight of the direction in which we are striving and keep this central idea of such enlightenment resulting in us becoming better servants of the L-rd, constantly in front of our mental eye.’” – Sforno, sefaria.org

The seven-candled menorah, that rested in the mishkan (sanctuary), was lit in a manner, whereof the lit wicks, set in oil on top of six of the seven branches, faced the lit wick of the central branch. They illumined the light that shone in the middle of the menorah with their own light. In a manner of speaking, they reflected back the glory of the center light, with their own. Symbolically, the central branch represents Shabbat, while the six other branches represent the weekdays.

Therefore, we can learn from this to let our efforts during the week, enliven the quality of our Shabbat. The weekdays must be “directed” towards the sanctity bestowed upon us on Shabbos from Above. The mundane days of the week require our own efforts at dedicating the hours of each day towards higher spiritual purposes, despite their mundanity. This will also benefit the level of tangible kedushah (holiness) that we will experience on Shabbos. Ultimately, all of our thoughts, speech, and conduct should reflect the kavod (glory) of G-d.

“How abundant is the good that You have in store for those who fear You.”

– Psalm 31:20, JPS 1985 Tanach

parashas Ki Tisa 5781 – Gold Dust Words Give Life: Torah for the Soul

The incident of the golden calf conveys within the narrative, an allusion to the law of the sotah – the wayward wife – whereof a woman suspected of adultery is tested by way of drinking "bitter water." Israel is likened to the sotah, in this case, because the people, in a sense, committed adultery by turning away from H'Shem, and worshipping another god.
  1. parashas Ki Tisa 5781 – Gold Dust
  2. parashas Ki Tisa – Incense and Avodah
  3. parashas Ki Tisa 5781 – the Remedy Prevails
  4. parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Exilic Faith
  5. parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Crushed for the Sake of Purity

motzei Shabbos: Mishpatim 5781

Imagine what the first Shabbos was like, after G-d created the heavens and earth. A project like none other that existed at that time; a project that will only be given a complete renewal upon the appearance of the new heavens and the new earth (Isaiah 65:17). Abraham Heschel explains that when we observe Shabbos, we are celebrating the creation of the world, to the extent that we may even take part in the renewal of the seventh day. Perhaps, this may be envisioned as actually entering that space that Heschel refers to as “an island in time.”

In parashas Mishpatim, a reminder to keep the Sabbath is given, immediately following the commandment about the Shemitah year. The juxtaposition of this reminder with the commandment in regard to the Shemitah cycle is important: what is the implication? The seventh year when the land is permitted to lie fallow, follows six years of work on the land. This cycle is akin to the day of rest that follows a six day work week. Both of these observances point towards the Millennial Sabbath, that follows six thousand years of history.

In like manner that during the first six years of the Shemitah cycle, the land is sown, and produce is gathered, the same may be true in regard to the six thousand years of history. G-d’s divine plan is continuously sown through His words, and hashgacha (guidance). The Shemitah year may be likened to the abundance of blessings that will be poured out upon us, when we are gathered into the land of Israel. The Sabbath also points towards these blessings, inasmuch that chazal explain we can even get a glimpse of Olam Haba (the World to Come) on Shabbos.

Redemption Price

parashas Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1 – 24:18) 5781

parashas Mishpatim 5781

“And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and gather in the increase thereof; but the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie fallow.” – Exodus 23:10-11, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Six days thou shalt do thy work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest” – Exodus 23:12

“For a thousand years in Thy sight are as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.”
– Psalms 90:4, JPS 1917 Tanach

For six thousand years of history shall pass; then, the sabbatical millenium according to traditional Jewish thought. This understanding is based upon the shemittah cycle as well as the weekly Sabbath, and other commandments mentioned in parashas. The Shemittah year, the seventh year whereof the land lies fallow, follows six years of work on the land, whereof the land is sown with seed, and the produce is gathered (see above, Exodus 23:10-11). The weekly Sabbath is a day of rest, following a six day work week; the seventh day being when G-d rested from creating the world, we are commanded to rest as well.

Thus, a comparison may be drawn, based upon these examples, pointing towards the six thousand years of history that will be followed by a thousand year rest, an era of peace and prosperity. “For a day is like a thousand years, and thousand years is like a day to Elokim G-d.” After the sabbatical millenium, when the natural cycle of seven days is completed, the new heavens and the new earth will appear. “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered, nor come into mind” (Isaiah 65:17, JPS).

“If thou buy a Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve; and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing” (Exodus 21:2). A remez (hint) to the Messianic Redemption, can be found in the commandment in regard to a Hebrew servant who serves another Hebrew. He is redeemed from bondage at the end of six years; a Hebrew who was a slave in Egypt is not meant to be a perpetual slave again. At the completion of six thousand years of history, the Geulah (Redemption) occurs, bringing a restoration to Israel, & the Malchus Elokim (Kingdom of G-d).

Additionally, another commandment obligates a fellow Hebrew to redeem a brother who had been sold as a servant to a gentile. In this case, he is redeemed by a relative, through a redemption price, given to the gentile. “Any that is nigh of kin unto him of his family may redeem him” (Leviticus 25:49, JPS 1917 Tanach). The relative who redeems his brother is called the goel. The Hebrew word goel (redeemer), may also be understood as a reference to the Moshiach (Messiah).  He is like the goel who is obligated to redeem his Jewish brother from slavery. How much more so is He sent to redeem his Jewish brethren?


afterthought: Challah

B”H

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shiur for motzei Shabbos parashas Shelach 5780

“Of the first of your dough ye shall give unto the L-RD a portion for a gift throughout your generations” (Numbers 15:21, JPS 1917 Tanach). The commandment, regarding the requirement to first take from the dough being used to make bread for personal consumption, and give a portion to the kohein is given. This is to be a commandment “throughout your generations.” Specifically, as mentioned elsewhere, “the first of your dough, to cause a blessing to rest on thy house” (Ezekiel 44:30). This portion is referred to as “challah.”

It is interesting to note that symbolically, the first portion of dough represents K’nesset Yisrael, “the world’s tithe” to H’Shem (commentary on Numbers 15:20, R. Bachya, sefaria.org). The descendants of Abraham are meant to be a blessing to the world. “In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:3, JPS). At current, much of the world fails to see, or appreciate the Jewish people as a blessing. Yet, the tides will turn for the good, in fulfillment of prophecy. “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” (Isaiah 2:2, JPS).

Incidentally, today, the entire loaf of bread made from the dough in the kitchen before Shabbos is referred to as challah. Pious Jewish women will separate a small portion, symbolically as terumah, a gift or offering; although, without the opportunity to bestow this gift upon a kohein, as in the times of the Beis HaMikdash (Temple), this small amount of dough is left in the oven to bake separately. Yet, the entire loaf retains the name of the original offering; it is as if to say, symbolically, like the challah, that we ourselves should make every aspect of our lives an offering to H’Shem, for the sake of good deeds, remaining wholehearted, rather than only offering up a small part of our lives to H’Shem.

six thousand years of history

B”H

Shiur for parashas Behar-Bechukosai 5780

“Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the produce thereof. But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath unto the L-RD; thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard.” – Leviticus 25:3-4, JPS 1917 Tanach

What is more important, the symbol or what the symbol conveys? The sages say that on Shabbos we get a glimpse of Olam Haba (the World to Come). While we look forward to a day of rest every week, the greater import is its likeness to Olam Haba. Therefore, both the weekly Shabbos, a twenty-five hour period of rest, and what the Shabbos conveys have significance. We enjoy our day of rest in this world, and are inspired, even reassured by the forthcoming thousand year Sabbath, that actually precedes Olam Haba, in the next world, when the new heavens and the new earth appear (Isaiah 65:17, 66:22).

A similar question, what is more tangible, the symbol or what the symbol points toward? Regarding Shabbat, it seems quite apparent that three festive meals, two of them preceded by Kiddush, are well worth waiting for throughout the previous six days of week, and very tangible realities. Yet, they are ephemeral; and, after havdallah, although our souls are somewhat comforted by the smell of the besamim (spices, usually cloves), we still have the mundane weekdays ahead of us. So, Olam Haba, is described in the negative, because we cannot conceive of the World to Come. Rather Kitvei Kodesh (Holy Scripture) describes Olam Haba as a place in time, whereof no eye has seen, nor ear heard of its delights (Isaiah 64:3). Therefore, although Olam Haba may seem less tangible, from our perspective in Olam HaZeh (This World), Olam Haba will last forever. Food for thought.

The commandment of Shemitah, wherein the land lies fallow every seventh year, is also symbolic of the Millennial Shabbos. The first six years, wherein the land was worked represent the six thousand years of history mentioned in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 98). In the seventh year, the land lies fallow, pointing towards the thousand years of peace. Thus, the implied message may be taken as that there is a reward for our efforts in this world, on a spiritual level, so that the souls that are written in the Book of Life, may partake of eternal life at the Tehillas HaMeisim (Resurrection of the Dead).

“This world is like a corridor before Olam Haba; prepare yourself in the corridor, so that you may enter the Banquet Hall.” – Pirkei Avot 4:21

daily contemplation: Fanning the Flames

B”H

February 18, 2020

“He that kindled the fire shall surely make restitution.” – Exodus 22:6, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Torah instructs that if a fire, lit by a person burning off his own field, gets out of control, and consumes grain in storage, stalks of corn, or a neighbors field, the person who is responsible for tending the fire is held accountable. He must make restitution for the damage incurred to his neighbor’s property.

How much more so for the individual, who is not able to keep his anger in check? We need to make amends for harsh words spoken in times of disquietude. How so? One recommendation is to stop fanning the flames of discontent. Instead of permitting ourselves to get worked up over something, we should douse the flames of anger with understanding and compassion.

“Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day.”

– Exodus 35:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

It is forbidden to kindle a fire on Shabbos. According to Abraham Heschel, this would include “the fire of righteous indignation” (Heschel, The Sabbath). On the Sabbath, there is a sense of acceptance of the provision of G-d. This is symbolized by the two portions of manna, that B’nei Yisrael received on Friday mornings, while in the desert for forty years. There is no room for being upset about perceived personal injustices, insults, or displeasures, on the day that symbolizes wholeness, completion, and rest.