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 (Ramban; Sforno). “I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life [eternal life]” (Deuteronomy 30:19, JPS).

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).

drash Eikev: yiras H’Shem

parashas Eikev 5781

“Everything is in the hands of G-d, except for the fear of G-d.” – Berachos 33b

 “And now, Israel, what doth the L-RD thy G-d require of thee, but to fear the L-RD thy G-d, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the L-RD thy G-d with all thy heart and with all thy soul; to keep for thy good the commandments of the L-RD, and His statutes, which I command thee this day?”  – Deuteronomy 10:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

Yiras H’Shem (fear of G-d) is a major component of one’s relationship to G-d; fear, in the sense of awe, reverence, and respect. The Torah records, “What doth the L-RD thy G-d require of thee, but to fear the L-RD thy G-d?” The quality of yiras H’Shem is what will determine the level of kedushah (holiness) in a person’s life. For our response to constant acknowledgment of G-d, will compel us to watch our own thoughts, speech, and behavior at all times, thereby elevating our level of kedushah.

Our response to H’Shem’s directive, through His commandments, requires giving Him the due respect that He deserves as our King. As a consequence of our reverence towards Him, we bring kedushah (holiness) into our lives through our obedience. We become sanctified through His commandments; every aspect of our lives may become sanctified (made holy). “Happy is everyone that feareth the L-RD, that walketh in His ways” (Psalm 128:1, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Va’etchanan 5781

parashas Va’etchanan 5781

“Ye that did cleave unto the L-RD your G-d are alive every one of you this day.”

 – Deuteronomy 4:4, JPS 1917 Tanach

During Moshe’s speech that lasted thirty-seven days, he prepared B’nei Yisrael to enter the Promised Land.  He cautioned them, admonished them, and reminded them in a tactful way of previous sins.  Rather than naming the sins, he would mention the place where the transgressions occurred.

One such instance that appears a little more direct is when he mentions the matter of Baal-peor, whereof H’Shem punished “all the men that followed the Baal of Peor [the deity of the Midianites]” (Deuteronomy 4:3).  He further mentions that those who cleaved to H’Shem, rather than follow the deity, “are alive every one of you this day” (Deuteronomy 4:4, JPS 1917 Tanach).

This juxtaposition makes it clear that those who did not transgress through idolatry and licentiousness were preserved by H’Shem because they “cleaved” to Him.  The Hebrew word used for “cleave,” in this instance, is “deveykut.”  The word connotes a clinging to H’Shem in the sense of one who is dependent on Him for his sense of well-being.

Deveykut is necessary for hitbodedut (Jewish meditation).  Within the practice of hitbodedut, one pours out his heart to H’Shem, hoping for an answer to all of his prayers.  Yet, in complete deveykut, one lives his life in constant acknowledgement of the L-RD.  Furthermore, he is able to speak to H’Shem from within in his heart in the quiet moments of the day. May we avoid the secular deities of modern society, so that we can cleave to the L-RD in our own lives.

Our Ingathering

B”H

וְאֶתְכֶם לָקַח יְהֹוָה וַיּוֹצִא אֶתְכֶם מִכּוּר

 “You hath the L-RD taken and brought forth out of the iron furnace.”

 – Deuteronomy 4:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

Rashi explains, “a כור is a vessel in which one refines gold” (sefaria.org). Moshe’s choice of words, attempts to impress upon the new generation, that the nisyanos (challenges) in Egypt, were meant to serve as a means to refine the people. Consider that when gold is placed in “a refiner’s fire,” the impurities are drawn out; consequently, what remains is pure. On the level of practical application, the soul is also refined, through the challenges of life, in order to be free from taint.

Consider the following as well, Joseph, who went ahead of the children of Israel into Egypt, endured many challenges, “until the time that His word came to pass; the word of the L-rd had tested him” (Psalms 105:19). His character was refined in the refiner’s fire, in preparation for his role as a leader in Egypt, only second to Pharoah. In this manner, he was tested, until his prophetic dreams were fulfilled by H’Shem, through the circumstances of his life.

Moshe continues, “The L-RD shall scatter you among the peoples, and ye shall be left few in number among the nations, whither the L-RD shall lead you away” (Deuteronomy 4:27). “From thence ye will seek the L-RD thy G-d; and thou shalt find Him, if thou search after Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29). These words are addressed to the current generation; this is denoted by the phrase, “the end of days,” wherein we currently are on the Biblical timeline.

בַּצַּר לְךָ וּמְצָאוּךָ כֹּל הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה בְּאַֽחֲרִית הַיָּמִים וְשַׁבְתָּ עַד־יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ וְשָֽׁמַעְתָּ בְּקֹלֽוֹ׃

“In thy distress, when all these things are come upon thee in the end of days, thou wilt return to H’Shem thy G-d, and hearken unto His voice; for the L-RD thy G-d is a merciful G-d; He will not fail thee.” – Deuteronomy 4:30-31

“G-d assayed to go and take Him a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, and by wonders” (Deuteronomy 4:34). So too, will He lead us out of exile. As the sages note, the time that precedes the Final Redemption, will mirror the plagues that preceded the First Redemption, when B’nei Yisrael was led out of Egypt. “There shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time; and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book” (Daniel 12:1, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Pleading for an Undeserved Favor

“And I besought [implored] H’Shem at that time, saying: ‘O L-rd G-D, thou hast begun to show Thy servant Thy greatness, and Thy strong hand; for what god is there in heaven or on earth, that can do according to Thy works, and according to Thy mighty acts?  Let me go over, I pray Thee, and see the good land that is beyond the Jordan, that goodly hill-country, and Lebanon.'”

– Deuteronomy 3:23, JPS 1917 Tanach

Moshe was considered the humblest man alive; yet, he spoke in anger, and transgressed at the waters of Meribah when he struck the rock instead of speaking to it as H’Shem had commanded; therefore, he was not permitted to enter Canaan.  Moshe pleads for H’Shem’s mercy in an attempt to ask Him to annul His decree that he would not enter the Promised Land.  However, he is only permitted to view the Promised Land from the top of a mountain (see Deuteronomy 3:26). According to Rashi, even though Moshe was denied entrance into Eretz Yisrael, he was received into Olam Haba .

Vaeschanan – I implored.  Rashi further comments that the verb chanan, signifies a gift given out of kindness or grace. “Although the righteous might make a claim to reward depend upon their good deeds, yet they solicit from the Omnipresent only an ex gratia gift” – a gift given out of kindness, not dependent upon merit (Rashi on Deuteronomy 3:23, sefaria.org). In looking at ourselves, we should acknowledge our lowliness, and our own need to seek G-d’s mercy. If we were to consider all of the ways that we offend H’Shem, how can we even stand before Him? “Not in the merit of our righteousness do we cast our supplications before you, but in the merit of Your mercy” (morning prayers).     

 

A Very Present G-d

The Decalogue Revisited: (Deuteronomy 5:1 – 26)

“The covenant made between G’d and the people at the time did not only include the generation which was an eye-witness to the revelation but that it included all the subsequent generations of Jews throughout the ages.” – R’ Bachya, on Deuteronomy 5:1, sefaria.org

“Future generations who were not present at the time this covenant was made will consider it binding for themselves and conduct themselves accordingly.”

– Sforno, on Deuteronomy 5:3, sefaria.org

פָּנִ֣ים ׀ בְּפָנִ֗ים דִּבֶּ֨ר יְהֹוָ֧ה עִמָּכֶ֛ם בָּהָ֖ר מִתּ֥וֹךְ הָאֵֽשׁ׃

“Face to face the L-RD spoke to you on the mountain out of the fire.”

– Deuteronomy 5:4, JPS 1985 Tanach, sefaria.org

According to Sforno, the words פנים בפנים that are translated above as “face to face,” may be rendered, ”I have spoken to you revealing many different facets of Myself” (Sforno, on Deuteronomy 5:4, sefaria.org). Thus, perhaps, we may infer that this may be understood as a prooftext for the midrash (textual interpretation), concerning how it is “as if” the L-RD appeared at Sinai to the Children of Israel, like a many-faceted diamond, figuratively speaking, like a “vision within a vision” (R’ Bachya, on Exodus 33:11, sefaria.org).

The teaching inferred from this metaphor, for, indeed, there is no image that can be made of G-d, is that the Words of the L-RD that day were heard by the ears of the multitude of Israel at Sinai, according to the capacity of each individual to receive what was being said. Thus, we have a model, for the manner that we are able to receive the words of scripture today, as if each individual may receive what needs to be learned for the edification of the soul; consequently, this is like receiving a personalized message from G-d.

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

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

Steady Course

“There are eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of mount Seir to Kadesh-Barnea.” – Deuteronomy 1:2

The book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) was previously known as Mishneh Torah, Repetition of the Torah, because the book is mostly an account of the journeys of B’nei Yisrael and reiteration of certain laws. The reason being that Moshe sought to rebuke, instruct, and inspire the new generation that would be entering Eretz Yisrael.

The account mentions that there is an eleven day journey from Horeb, the general area where Mount Sinai is located, to Kadesh-Barnea, passing around Mount Seir to get there. Kadesh-Barnea is where B’nei Yisrael gathered, before being commanded to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 32:8). “Behold, the L-RD your G-d has set the land before you; go up and possess it, as the L-RD G-d of your fathers has said to you; fear not, nor be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 1:21).

However, the next verse after the eleven day journey from Mount Sinai to the edge of Eretz Canaan, states, “And it came to pass in the fortieth year…that Moses spoke to the people of Israel” (Deuteronomy 3:3); and, thus begins Moshe’s thirty-six day discourse. By contrasting the eleven day journey to Kadesh-Barnea, with the fact that now it is the fortieth year after leaving Egypt, attention is drawn to the point that had it not been for the debacle of the spies, B’nei Yisrael would have entered the Land from Kadesh-Barnea, only eleven days after leaving Sinai.

Yet, thirty-nine years  transpired since that time; and, this is the new generation that is being prepared to enter the Promised Land after the many years of wandering in the desert. This teaches us that not all who wander are lost. For H’Shem remained faithful to the Children of Israel and brought them into the land despite the many delays, nisyanos (tests), and detours.

He will also bring us into the Promised Land, as long as we do not stray; rather, that we should always seek Him as our Guiding Light. Inasmuch that the pillar of fire provided light for B’nei Yisrael at night, the L-RD will provide us with light in the darkness of our lives; despite the challenges in our lives, G-d will lead us to the Promised Land.

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