Omer: Day 17 Tiferes shebbe Tiferes – Back to the Garden

Tiferes shebbe Tiferes: Beauty within Beauty

The epitome of beauty that speaks of harmony and balance within all of creation was present in the beginning within Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden). That harmony was disrupted, when Adam and Chava (Eve) partook of forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Up until that moment, the progenitors of humankind lived in a nondual world of blissful connection to G-d. Their relationship to Him was whole, and immersed in complete Oneness. They were at one with each other, and all of creation as well. Subsequent to their disobedience, the world became an admixture of good and evil.

Throughout history, these two forces often appeared in sharp outlines, discernible even to the casual eye, as well as the more carefully honed conscience. Today, the blur between good and evil that seems to have proliferated in the twentieth century is increasing to the point of concern, whereas the boundaries are no longer clearly marked in society. The prophet’s words apply, “woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that change darkness into light, and light into darkness; that change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter” (Isaiah 5:20, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The words of singer songwriter, Joni Mitchell, during the tumultuous 60’s still ring true, “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden.” How so? Through bringing compassion towards a disharmonious world, beginning with ourselves. For G-d primarily expects His crowning achievement (humankind) to live lives that reflect His image. Mankind has fallen far since the days of yore; yet, recovery for the soul is still possible. With a sincere effort, a response will be elicited from Above.

[These are my personal reflections on the implications of today’s combination of middot (character traits). These reflections are not meant to be comprehensive, inasmuch that they are not based upon any one particular system. Nor, may these ideas be characterized as authoritative, because I profess to being a student, not a teacher. I hope to inspire others to delve into an exploration of their own personality, for the sake of tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul)].

Omer: Day 11 Netzach of Gevurah – endurance of strength

Netzach of Gevurah

The combination of attributes, netzach within gevurah represents the endurance of strength through maintaining discipline over oneself, and unruly emotions as noted in Proverbs. Scripture, especially the insights found in Proverbs, may serve as a reflection on human behavior, as well as a prescription for right conduct. Thus to paraphrase Solomon, he who rules over his passions is greater than he who is able to conquer a city (Proverbs 16:32). For “he that ruleth his spirit,” through subduing negative emotions may succeed in understanding (Proverbs 16:32, 14:29). Otherwise, one might become like “a city that is broken down, and without walls” (Proverbs 25:28).

Keeping this in mind, it is interesting to note that netzach is also characterized as “victory.” The man Ghandi said, “Be the change that you want to be.” Sometimes it is better to focus on our inner battles, than to seek to be victorious over external circumstances that are beyond our control. I can work on changing myself for the better; hopefully, as a result, I will be in a position to positively effect others in a limited sphere of influence. Beyond that amount of impact, I recognize that I have very little sway over what occurs in the world at large. Netzach, further associated with the idea of “conducting” or “orchestrating” helps to keep me focused on my own sense of place, in relationship to the bigger picture, while recognizing that only G-d has the omnipotence to be all powerful.

drash – Avodah: The Inner Work

“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a sabbath of solemn rest to the L-RD.”

– Exodus 35:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

Before giving the commandment to B’nei Yisrael, concerning the terumah (offerings) that are to be brought – silver, gold, and various materials for the building of the Mishkan – a free will offering from the heart of each and every individual – H’Shem instructs Moshe to remind the B’nei Yisrael about Shabbat. The juxtaposition of the commandment to observe Shabbos, with the commandment, concerning the construction of the Mishkan is significant. The significance is that as holy as the project of the Mishkan is, the building of the Mishkan does not supersede the sanctity of Shabbos.

Commentary further explains that acknowledgment of H’Shem, who created the world in six days, and rested on the seventh day, is a greater imperative than the services performed in the Mishkan. Not that belief precludes service; rather, that belief is primary. This is reflected in the teaching, that the first commandment encompasses the belief in H’Shem that is incumbent upon us, before we can accept His commandments as authoritative. That is, in effect, the essence of what is truly necessary: first, a belief in the existence of G-d; then, a desire to draw near to Him through our avodah (service).

Although the Mishkan was the officially prescribed way to serve H’Shem, through the bringing of offerings, today the main way to do so is through the service of the heart, i.e., prayer. And, this may be performed on a communal basis, as well as a personal level. Often, the gathering together at a place of worship is emphasized in the lives of many, while the more personal aspects of heartfelt prayer in one’s own words, within the confines of one’s own home is neglected. This is an unfortunate reality that underscores the nature of service in modern times, where many focus more on community than an actual heartfelt connection to H’Shem.

Both communal and personal prayer are important; yet, it is advisable to strengthen ourselves in regard to the inner dimension of our soul. Moreover, whether we attend communal prayer worship or not, our service towards H’Shem should still take into consideration the sanctity of Shabbos: this is an ideal time to set aside for personal reflection, prayer, and strengthening our connection to H’Shem.

parashas Vayakhel-Pekudei 5781

shiur Ki Tisa 5781 – Incense and Avodah

parashas Ki Tisa 5781

B”H

shiur for parashas Ki Tisa 5781

“H’Shem said to Moses: Take for yourself – spices – stacte, onycha, and galbanum – spices and pure frankincense.”  – Exodus 30:34

The incense was offered every day in the morning, and in the afternoon.  The incense fragrance connotes the understanding that we are to serve G-d in a pleasing manner; inasmuch that we are His servants, it is our responsibility to serve Him.  Yet, He would like us to develop the inward desire to serve Him.  This is reflected in the two ways of obeying His commandments – out of fear, and out of love.

To observe His commandments out of fear, demands acknowledgment of H’Shem as “the L-rd thy G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2).  In and of itself, this is the first commandment, inasmuch that we are obligated to acknowledge H’Shem as sovereign; once we accept His authority, then the commandments follow as authorative statements; i.e., divine decrees (Baal Halachos Gedolos).  

Yet, some of us are still plagued by our own personal Mitzraim (Egypt): our limitations that prevent us from excelling in our service (avodah) to H’Shem. Others are floundering along the way, in danger of being overcome by Amalek (symbolic of doubt), underappreciating the miracles that H’Shem has done for us, thereby permitting our desire for Him to “cool” down. On Purim, we recall the hidden miracle – how we were rescued from Haman, a descendent of Agag, an Amelekite; and, how we were victorious against the Amalekites who rose up against us within the 127 provinces of King Ahasueros.

Yet, do we recognize the miracles every day in our own lives?  The potential for us to experience His shefa (everflowing grace) is always offered to us when we look towards Him in our struggles.  We should be thankful to Him for these blessings.  Additionally, we should praise Him every day, for He has given us the breath of life; each and every day is an opportunity to lift our voices to Him in appreciation, thanking Him for all that He has given us. 

Lifting up our hearts to Him will help us to develop ahavah (love) for Him. In serving Him out of love, we are commanded to love him with an undivided heart (Sifrei), as is written, “thou shalt love H’Shem thy G-d with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).  Moreover, Maimonides writes, “Once a person loves G-d appropriately, he will fulfill the commandments out of love” (Hilchut Teshuva 10:2).

Yet, both love and fear are necessary, like the wings of an eagle; for without fear (awe, reverence, respect), there is not the proper attitude conveyed towards Him.  Without love, we may not be able to fly towards Him, higher and higher on our journey; yet, we continue climbing, as it is, for we will reach Him with dveykus: constant clinging to His Essence.

motzei Shabbos: Terumah 5781

B”H

Motzei Shabbos: parashas Terumah 5781

“Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.” – Exodus 25:2, JPS 1985 Tanach

The sin of the golden calf preceded the building of the mishkan (tabernacle). The gold used to build the calf, was contributed by the men, who gathered the earrings for the cause of making an idolatrous calf. “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me” (Exodus 32:2, JPS 1985 Tanach). When Moses returned from on top of Sinai, he shattered the tablets upon discerning the idolatrous revelry focused on the golden calf; thus, in effect, the covenant was symbolically broken upon its intended reception (Jeremiah 31:32). Incidentally, the covenant was not renewed, until Moshe spent another forty days on the mountain; and, brought down the second set of tablets.

Yet, first, Moshe pleaded on behalf of B’nei Yisrael for H’Shem to forgive their descent into idolatry. Moreover, it can be understood that even before the actual transgression, the remedy for the sin had already been given to Moshe on the mountain, when he received the instructions regarding all of the details for the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). For, “the Tabernacle was a form of atonement for the sin of the golden calf” (Or HaChayim, JT Shekalim 1:5, sefaria.org).

The collection itself of the materials for the construction of the mishkan served as a form of repentance; inasmuch that the collection was designated as a free will offering; this reflects the nature of teshuvah (repentance). Or HaChayim explains that this is the reason why the collection was not made mandatory; instead, everyone contributed of their own free will, inclination, and what their heart compelled them to give; otherwise, “they would not enjoy the atonement for their participation in the sin of the golden calf” (Or HaChayim, sefaria.org).

The essential nature of the Mishkan reveals a hint as to why this type of repentance led towards reconciliation with H”Shem. The Mishkan is where H’Shem’s presence dwelt, in a visible way when the clouds of glory would hover over the Tabernacle. There is an inherent transition enacted amongst the people, from idolatry to the worship of H’Shem, indicated by the difference between them freely contributing gold for the golden calf; versus giving freely from their heart for the tabernacle that will enable the worship of H’Shem. We may also make that transition in our lives, from the idolatry of the modern world, towards the everlasting values given to us at Sinai.

Sanctuary

B”H

“Speak to the children of Israel, that they take [lakach] for Me an offering [terumah]; of every man whose heart maketh him willing ye shall take My offering [terumah].”

– Exodus 25:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

While H’Shem conversed with Moshe on Mount Sinai, He gave him the instructions for the building of the Mishkan. In order for the Mishkan [portable tabernacle in the desert] to be built, first, a collection was necessary. The collection was a freewill offering of the people for H’Shem, for the sake of building a sanctuary, where H’Shem would dwell. Everyone gave according to what their heart inspired them to give.

The Hebrew word, “lakach” is translated as “take;” although, “bring for Me an offering” would seem more linguistically correct. According to many commentators, the Torah is teaching us that when we bring an offering, we are actually taking for ourselves. I.e., the benefits of giving to a G-dly cause, outweigh the cost. We receive much for our efforts, for we have a reciprocal relationship with H’Shem. When we give, we are blessed with abundance.

For example, regarding the tithes, brought during the first Temple period, it is written, “Bring ye the whole tithe into the store-house, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now herewith, saith the L-RD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall be more than sufficiency” (Malachi 3:10, JPS).

“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show thee, the pattern of the tabernacle.”

– Exodus 25:8-9, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Hebrew word, mishkan [tabernacle], literally means “dwelling place.” The Mishkan, or tabernacle was a structure that served as a Mikdash (sanctuary). Within the Mikdash, or sanctuary, the Ark of the Covenant rested within the inner part of the sanctuary, the Kadosh Kadoshim (Holy of Holies). It was here that H’Shem’s Presence, the Shechinah rested, between the two golden cherubim [angels] on the cover [kapporet] of the Ark.

From this holy place, surrounded by a Cloud of Glory, H’Shem spoke to Moses. After the Revelation at Mount Sinai, H’Shem’s Presence dwelt within the Sanctuary. Yet, According to Sforno, the Shechinah would have rested upon each and every individual, who was at Sinai, because of the high degree of spiritual elevation present. Only because of the sin of the Golden Calf did the Tabernacle become necessary, wherein the Shechinah dwelt in the  Sanctuary.

Blue Dye

Like turquoise, akin to sapphire am I, techeles blue, I am called. As lofty as the throne of Elokim; and, as lowly as the chillazon snail. Encapsulated within a single thread, tied around a religious fringe, reminding the wearer of Shomayim; and, the ocean of wisdom called Torah. Comprising the regal clothing of the Kohein […]

Blue Dye — Breathing Inspiration

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?


Slaves No More

parashas Mishpatim 5781

After receiving the Ten Commandments, the mishpatim (ordinances) were given. The first ordinance given is the designation of freedom a Jewish servant receives after only serving a for a limited amount of time. It is as if the Torah is saying, that the Jewish people are not meant to remain in bondage again, not even as indentured servants.

The only exception appears to be the servant, who after six years, would prefer to remain with his master. He declines his freedom; subsequently, his ear is pierced by an awl on a door to mark his perpetual servitude. This act serves as a reminder that the same ear that was pierced, should have heeded the call to freedom. Yet, according to some commentators, even he is released from bondage upon the arrival of the Jubilee year.

Symbolically, the door represents freedom, because of the blood of the Pesach offering that was placed on the doorposts in Egypt, right before B’nei Yisrael was freed. Ultimately, our actual freedom is through Torah itself. As explained in the following manner:

The commandments were inscribed (cherut) on stone tablets; yet, the Hebrew word cherut, with a different vowelization, means “freedom.” What is the connection? When we observe the commandments of G-d, we are freed from slavery to our yetzer harah (evil inclination).

Omer: Day 17 Tiferes shebbe Tiferes Words Give Life

Beauty within Beauty, otherwise conceived as Harmony within Harmony. The overlap between tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul), and tikkun olam (repair of the world) is brought to light, within the framework of mankind's fall from grace in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden).
  1. Omer: Day 17 Tiferes shebbe Tiferes
  2. Omer: Day 16 Gevurah shebbe Tiferes
  3. Omer Day 15 Chesed shebbe Tiferes
  4. shiur: parashas Shemini 5781
  5. dvar parashas Shemini 5781

Contrasts Reconciled

“And these are the judgments that you shall set before them.” – Exodus 21:1

v’eilah mishpatim – and these are the judgments”

The parashas begins, “and these are the judgments.” In Hebrew, the letter vov, meaning “and,” bears significance here. For the implication can be drawn, that there is a connection being emphasized, between this parashas and the previous one. Immediately following the revelation at Sinai, whereof H’Shem “descended,” amidst the thunder and lightning, in an impressive display of His greatness, the Torah begins to list the mishpatim, a set of commandments that seem pale, mundane, and this-worldly in comparison. A simple question may be asked, in and of itself, what does this juxtaposition of opposites portray in its contrast of a heightened experience at Sinai, to the relatively dry giving forth of commandments having to do with everyday life?

All areas of life are intertwined, as characterized within the framework of Torah. G-d’s divine plan for mankind has as much to do with His appearance on Sinai, amidst the thunder and lightning, as the everyday guidelines given to us in order to regulate our conduct. Although many would conceive of religion, as somehow separate from the mundane affairs of life, this can not be the case. Also, in regard to what is considered as the spiritual realm, wherein, through prayer or hisbodedus (meditation), we may reach great heights of sublime experience that seem “out of the ordinary:” these experiences must not take precedent over our attempts to live a righteous life, in all the manner of details.

Yet, perhaps, it is all to common to focus on the spiritual component, to the exclusion of leading a leading a life based upon G-d’s commandments. Thus, a compartmentalization of spiritual experiences may occur, while conducting oneself in a manner akin to secular standards. Rather, the sublime ways that we connect to G-d should sharpen our acuity to bring down this awareness into every aspect of our lives, encompassing all areas that might otherwise be overlooked, disregarded, or not held up to the light of reason, within the perspective given to us by all of kitvei kodesh (Holy Scripture).

Omer: Day 17 Tiferes shebbe Tiferes Words Give Life

Beauty within Beauty, otherwise conceived as Harmony within Harmony. The overlap between tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul), and tikkun olam (repair of the world) is brought to light, within the framework of mankind's fall from grace in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden).
  1. Omer: Day 17 Tiferes shebbe Tiferes
  2. Omer: Day 16 Gevurah shebbe Tiferes
  3. Omer Day 15 Chesed shebbe Tiferes
  4. shiur: parashas Shemini 5781
  5. dvar parashas Shemini 5781