Stewardship

drash for parashas Noach 5782

“All the springs of the great deep were split, and the windows of the heavens opened up.”

– Genesis 7:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

The judgment upon mankind was enacted through the natural forces of both the earth and the heavens. What can be gleaned from this occurrence, that destroyed mankind, except for the eight who were spared? Even the various species of plants and animals, fish and birds were only preserved through the efforts of Noach and his family. They may be said to exemplify what is meant by stewards of the earth. For the sake of mankind, all of the earth was created; so, stewardship cannot be separated from this truth. Is being environmental sanctioned by the Blueprint (Torah) of life? I believe so; yet, the underlying philosophy of radical environmentalism (deep ecology) borders on a type of “natural religion,” irrespective of Creation with a capital “C.”

Gan Eden Essentials

parashas Bereishis 5782

“The L-RD G-d took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden, to till it and tend it.”

– Genesis 2:15, JPS 1985 Tanach

Adam was given the responsibility to avdah (work) and shomer (guard) the garden of Eden. Yet, not until after Adam and Chava were expelled from Gan Eden, was he commanded to till the earth outside of the garden. The question may be asked, what was the essential difference between his responsibilities in regard to Gan Eden, and what comprised his role, once expelled?

A union with G-d (yichud, in Hebrew) constituted the existential nature of life in Gan Eden. Yet, that perfect relationship of oneness with G-d was broken by disobedience, having partaken from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. When both Adam and Chava had partaken of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, they became self-aware, because the unity with G-d was interrupted.

As a result, existentially outside of Paradise, even before being officially expelled, their existence was disrupted by their own sin. In other words, they no longer were within the domain of perfect correspondence with the various components of Gan Eden. Sin, shame, and rebellion had entered into the picture, thereby disrupting peace and contentment.

Thus, within the garden, prior to the aveirah (sin), a G-d centered focus permeated every act, in regard to their endeavors. As explained elsewhere, that avdah refers to perfection of the soul, as per man being described as a nefesh chaya (literally, living soul; Ibn Ezra). Thereby, the refining of one’s personality is tantamount to the service that is concomitant with gan eden, when doing so under the guidance of H’Shem.

Yet, having been expelled, their lives subsequently encompassed, a self focused reality, wherein one attempts to improve himself, according to his own design, irrespective of the original blueprint. Having already given in to temptation, and partaken of the forbidden fruit, mankind was now subject to the challenges of dealing with his own unruly nature that had been unleashed.

The only way back to the garden is through acknowledgment of our own misguided attempts to continue on the path of independence from G-d; then to realize over time that these attempts are vain, and return to the original blueprint for our lives. This blueprint is known as the Torah, meaning “instruction.” All of kitvei kodesh (holy scripture) is of benefit for this endeavor, as well as listening to our conscience; for, G-d has given us an inner guidance system, with a homing beacon, called the soul.

In the Beginning

dvar for parashas Bereishis 5782

וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃

“Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of G-d hovered over the face of the waters.” – Genesis 1:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

“The throne of Divine Glory was standing in space, hovering over the face of the waters by the breath of the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He, and by His command, even as a dove hovers over its nest.” – Rashi, sefaria.org

In the beginning of Creation, “when G-d began to create heaven and earth” (Genesis 1:1, JPS 1985 Tanach), the earth was tohu vavohu (formless and empty). As summarized by R’Bachya, “At the beginning G’d created a minute amount of matter out of absolute nothingness. This contained within itself the potential and energy to expand into what we call “heaven and earth” (R’ Bachya on Genesis 1:2, sefaria.org). Doesn’t this sound familiar?

Prior to the 1950’s, science adhered to the Aristotelian belief that the Universe always existed. Yet, when the discovery was made that the universe was expanding, science proffered that there was a distinct beginning, ex nihilo – something out of nothing. In other words, it only took several thousand years for science to “catch up” with the creation account in Torah, as R’Bachya so deftly explains. Incidentally, R’Bachya lived between 1255 and 1340 C.E.

A similar account is found in the Zohar:

“With the beginning of the manifestation of the King’s will, that is, when the King desired to emanate and create the world, a hard spark made an engraving upon the supernal light. This hard spark [matter], which emanated from the most concealed of all concealed things from the secret of the Endlessness Light took a shapeless form. The spark was then inserted into the center of a circle [from here, it expanded outward]” (Zohar 15a, sefaria.org). That spark is called reishis (first).

Rashi comments upon the Ruach haElokim (the Spirit of G-d), that hovered over the surface of the waters upon the earth, that this phenomenon was akin to “a dove hovering over its nest.” The primordial material, according to R’Bachya is called tohu, while the first formations of that material into something distinct is referred to as vohu. Yet, essentially, “the earth had been in a chaotic state,” and the Ruach haElokim hovered over the mayim (waters) that may have represented the so called primordial soup from where all life began. Thus, it is clear that a divine force was at work, in conjunction with the elements of the universe that would become all life on earth.

Gentile Flock

shiur for Sukkot 5782

“On the fifteenth day of the seventh month ye shall have a holy convocation: ye shall do no manner of servile work, and ye shall keep a feast unto the L-RD seven days.”

– Numbers 29:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

The festival of Sukkot, as prescribed in Torah, included offerings for the nations for their protection from affliction. There were a total of seventy bulls offered over a period of seven days. This specifically designated amount of offerings corresponds to the primary nations of the world as mentioned in the Torah (Genesis chapter 10). “These seventy bulls, to what do they correspond? They correspond to the seventy nations” (Sukkah 55b; sefaria.org).

In the future, all of the nations will be required to worship in Jerusalem (it is likely to presume that they will send delegates). This is a sign of the Messianic Era, when the Messiah will reign from Jerusalem. “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations that came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the L-RD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles [Sukkot]” (Zechariah 14:16, JPS).

“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.”

– Isaiah 2:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

Bikurim (First Fruits)

parashas Ki Savo 5781

drash for parashas Ki Savo 5781

Ki Tavo begins with the commandment of bikurim (first fruits). This commandment was to be performed after B’nei Yisrael entered Eretz Canaan, after taking possession of their inheritance, and living in the Land of Israel. This means that it was only incumbent upon them to observe the mitzvah of bikurim, after they were well established in the land. It was to serve as a reminder of their heritage. The declaration that is made at the time, encapsulates our history, beginning with Jacob, who went to Egypt with his entire family, during the famine, when Joseph provided for them. And, how we became slaves in Egypt; yet, H’Shem redeemed us, and we became His people, bound by covenant to the Torah.

This declaration, made after bringing a basket of the first fruits of one’s harvest to the Kohein, concerns our history, how we began as a small people, and became populous. And, after our redemption from slavery, were brought into “a land that flows with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy 26:9). Therefore, bikurim is an expression of gratitude to H’Shem, as well as a tribute to His powerful redemptive act of bringing us out of Egypt, and a reminder of our past bondage. Our humble origins as a people, had to do with the sobering recollection that we were once enslaved in a foreign land. And, the import of this declaration brings to light all of the provisions bestowed upon us since that time.

The bikurim (first fruits) were brought to Yerushalayim, between Shavuot and Sukkot, the harvest season. The seven species from which they were selected were wheat, barley, figs, pomegranates, olives, grapes, and dates. Today, these grains and fruits serve to remind us of our connection to the Land of Israel. We may enjoy these foods, especially at certain times, according to tradition, in the same spirit that B’nei Yisrael was called upon to rejoice in Yerushalayim, when they brought the bikurim.

motzei shabbos: shoftim 5781

“Judges and officers shall you appoint at your city gates.” – Deuteronomy 16:18

“The human body is a city with seven gates—seven portals to the outside world: the two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and the mouth. Here, too, it is incumbent upon us to place internal “judges” to discriminate and regulate what should be admitted and what should be kept out, and “officers” to enforce the judges’ decisions.” – Siftei Kohen, Shoftim parashas in depth, chabad.org

drash: parashas Re’eh 5781

parashas Re’eh 5781

“For thou art a holy people unto the L-RD thy G-d, and the L-RD hath chosen thee to be His own treasure out of all the peoples that are upon the face of the earth.”

– Deuteronomy 14:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The children of Israel are an am segulah – a treasured people – unto the L-RD. As a people, we are still His treasure, that He values “out of all the peoples that are upon the face of the earth.” In the words of the Targum, “a people more beloved than all the peoples who are upon the face of the earth” (Targum Jonathan; sefaria.org). Within the overall context of the passage, wherein this verse is found, this is the reason given for the children of Israel not to disfigure yourselves as is the custom of the nations to do when mourning. Additionally, as follows in the passage, also, not to eat anything considered to be an abomination.

This is the basis of holiness, whereas the Hebrew word translated as “holy” is kadosh, having the basic meaning of “to be separate,” as in separated unto the L-RD, or separate from the nations. According to Rashi, one reason for this spiritual status is because of the merit of our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moreover, it is the children of Israel that H’Shem appeared to at Mt. Sinai; and, He gave us the Torah, when He made an eternal covenant with us. The eternal nature of this covenant is expressed as follows:

“Thus saith the L-RD, Who giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, who stirreth up the sea, that waves thereof roar, the L-RD of hosts is His name: If these ordinances depart from before Me, saith the L-RD, then the seed of Israel shall cease from being a nation before Me for ever. Thus saith the L-RD: If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, then will I also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the L-RD.” – Jeremiah 31:35-37, JPS

In other words, our relationship with H’Shem is as sure as the heights of heaven and the foundation of the earth; by signifying our bond to H’Shem by way of this comparison, it is made clear to us that we are truly a treasured people unto the L-RD, despite all of our transgressions against Him. Even so, we are called to turn our hearts to Him, through sincere teshuvah (repentance), a heartfelt confession of our sins, with a commitment not to repeat them; rather, that our lives may be changed for the good.

shiur: parashas Re’eh 5781

 “Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse.”

 – Deuteronomy 11:26, JPS 1917 Tanach

“See, I set before you this day,” in other words, perceive that I present before you this very day, the significance of blessings and curses in your lives. According to Rabbeinu Bahya, the so-called, “mental eye” of the spiritually sensitive is able to see the effects of the blessings and curses, on an individual basis, in their own lives. Incidentally, the blessings originate with the Attribute of Mercy, whereas the curses are derived from the Attribute of Justice.

R. Bahya makes reference to the pasuk (verse), “I have seen great wisdom and knowledge” (Ecclesiastes 1:16). As a direct result of our being aware of the blessings and curses in life, we may obtain great knowledge, concerning the causal relationship between our thoughts, speech, & actions, and their consequences. This may lead towards wisdom, having to do with how H’Shem Elokim guides us – each and every person, according to hasgachah peratis (divine guidance), weaving a tapestry of events and consequences in our lives, dependent upon the nature of our conduct.

Additionally, consider the words of King David, who wrote, “Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4, JPS); he was assured through H’Shem’s guidance and correction, that he would remain on the derech (path). H’Shem’s guidance, as represented by a staff (a shepherd’s crook) and His correction, as symbolized by a rod. This is akin to the understanding that blessings can be understood as signs that we are on the right path; and curses are a form of chastisement meant to correct us, whenever we go astray. Shabbat shalom.

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).

motzei Shabbos: Chayei Olam

“Ye are the children of the L-RD your G-d: ye shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead.” – Deuteronomy 14:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

B’nei Yisrael is cautioned against desecrating their bodies through mutilation, as a sign of mourning; although a practice of the heathen nations, cutting oneself out of grief, an expression of pain for the loss of a loved one, is forbidden. Moreover, the prohibition against marring the flesh in regard to mourning, implies that there is no need for the Children of G-d to despair, in regard to the passing away of a life, because H’Shem extends His promise of eternal life (Sforno). “I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life [eternal life]” (Deuteronomy 30:19, JPS; Sforno).

Why else is B’nei Yisrael forbidden from certain customs that would mar the body? (The sign of circumcision is an exception because it is not considered a marring of the body; rather, it is the removal of that which is superfluous). “G-d said: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness'” (Genesis 1:26, JPS). Man is created in G-d’s image (tzelem); that image should not be desecrated in a physical manner; neither should that image be tainted in the sphere of morality.

“Then the L-RD G-d formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7, JPS). Our lives are not finite – there is an eternal nature of the soul. The Hebrew word for man, “adam,” is almost identical to the word for earth, “adamah.” The body of man, composed of the same elements of the earth, returns to the earth. Yet, the soul of man returns to G-d.

 “The dust returneth to the earth as it was, and the spirit returneth unto G-d who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7, JPS). At  the time of the Tehillas HaMeisim (the Resurrection of the Dead), the soul is restored to the body. “And many of them that sleep in the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence” (Daniel 12:2, JPS).