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 Tetzaveh 5781 – Exilic Faith Words Give Life: Torah for the Soul

The light of the menorah represents G-d's presence in our lives, even during the current exile. In times of darkness, the light may always found, if we search for its illumination in our lives.
  1. parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Exilic Faith
  2. parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Crushed for the Sake of Purity
  3. parashas Terumah 5781 – The Central Focus
  4. parashas Terumah 5781 – His Presence
  5. parashas Mishpatim 5781 – Slaves No More

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).

parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Exilic Faith Words Give Life: Torah for the Soul

The light of the menorah represents G-d's presence in our lives, even during the current exile. In times of darkness, the light may always found, if we search for its illumination in our lives.
  1. parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Exilic Faith
  2. parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Crushed for the Sake of Purity
  3. parashas Terumah 5781 – The Central Focus
  4. parashas Terumah 5781 – His Presence
  5. parashas Mishpatim 5781 – Slaves No More

parashas Yisro 5781 – Mattan Torah

B”H

d’rash for parashas Yisro (Exodus 18:1 – 20:23) 5781 – Mattan Torah

“And He said: ‘Certainly I shall be with thee; and this shall be the token unto thee, that I have sent thee: when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve G-d upon this mountain.” 

– Exodus 3:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

“I promise thee that when thou hast brought them forth from Egypt ye will serve Me upon this mountain — i.e. that ye will receive the Torah upon it.” – Rashi, sefaria.org

When G-d spoke to Moshe at the burning bush, Moshe asked, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11, JPS).  G-d assured Moshe, despite his own doubts, that he would know that he was chosen as the Redeemer of B’nei Yisrael, when he would “serve G-d on this mountain.” In other words, that B’nei Yisrael “would serve Him at the very spot Moses was standing on at that moment” (Or HaChayim, sefaria.org). For this was the culmination of the Exodus from Egypt – the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.  “And it came to pass on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of a horn [shofar] exceeding loud; and all the people that were in the camp trembled” (Exodus 19:16, JPS). 

The impressive array of fireworks was more than a celebration of the liberation of a people from slavery.  Rashi explains that H’Shem preceded the people, by appearing on Mount Sinai first, even before Moshe went up to receive the commandments. He explains that usually a teacher does not wait for the pupil; however, H’Shem’s august Majesty preceded Him, and His Presence alighted on the mountaintop.  “Now mount Sinai was altogether on smoke, because the L-RD descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly” (Exodus 19:18, JPS).  “And the L-RD came down upon mount Sinai, to the top of the mount; and the L-RD called Moses to the top of the mount; and Moses went up” (Exodus 19:20, JPS 19 Tanach).

Moshe, who had previously “hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon G-d,” when H’Shem appeared to him at the burning bush, must have gained some confidence since that time.  Only Moshe was permitted to climb Mount Sinai, to speak with G-d.  Furthermore, he was told by H’Shem to “charge the people, lest they break through unto the L-RD to gaze, and many of them perish” (Exodus 19:21, JPS 1917 Tanach).  For as is written elsewhere, “G-d is a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24).  He is to be approached with awe and respect. “Thou shalt fear the L-RD thy G-d; Him shalt thou serve; and to Him shalt thou cleave [deveykus]” (Deuteronomy 10:20, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The Torah given on Mount Sinai is eternal.  It was given to the B’nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) as a ketubah (a marriage contract) between G-d and Israel.  This is why when a synagogue receives a new sefer Torah, it is placed under a chupah (a marriage canopy), and paraded around, while people celebrate.  At Sinai, the people entered the covenant with great awe and respect.  And, even before receiving the commandments, they said, “na’aseh v’nishmah,” we will do and we will understand. In other words, first we will do, then we will understand; only after performing the commandments, will we begin to fully understand their value, meaning, and intent. This was the commitment that B’nei Yisrael made, in regard to the commandments given by the L-RD our G-d, who redeemed us from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 20:2).

Reflections: A Balancing Act

B”H

When our environs do not bring us peace and contentment, what is the proper course of action? Where is the remedy to be found? I believe that within the midst of our nisyanos (troubles), G-d must be sought out for solace; otherwise, our peace of mind would be relative – dependent upon ever changing circumstances. What other resource is as potent as the Omnipotent?

There is a maxim, expressed in various forms, that happiness is to be found within ourselves. Yet, I prefer to reframe this adage, “true contentment is found within our connection to G-d.” This becomes more apparent, considering the overall inability of anyone to remain completely stable, having a disposition of equanimity towards all things, in every situation.

At least, I can certainly speak for myself, inasmuch that it is not within my own power to be the cool, calm, and collected kind of person that I once used to be. Hence, I seek out G-d in every moment, in order to connect with His higher wisdom. I also seek out lesser means, such as good music to comfort the soul, journaling to express my emotions and inner feelings about this, that, and the other in life; and, additionally, I make sure to exercise, in order to work out the stress that manifests in my body.

My own personal discontent with certain circumstances in my life, may only be a reflection of my spiritual impoverishment. Perhaps, in the past, before my religious, aka, “spiritual journey” began, I may have been more content with worldly endeavors and creature comforts. Yet, as is demonstrated by Moshe’s own personal encounter with G-d, as well as other scriptural narratives, the way to ruchnius (spirituality) is opposed to gashmius (materiality), despite any attempt to reconcile the two; otherwise, the endeavor is compromised, and the soul remains in stasis, along with the status quo.

Case in point, if there is a constant struggle between the yetzer hara (literally, evil inclination) and the yetzer tov (good inclination), each inclined towards its corresponding realm of preference, then the soul is subject to one or the other at any given moment; those who are unaware of this battle, nor the presence of these two inclinations, are at a disadvantage, as dominance is given to the yetzer hara by default, otherwise known as the “animal soul.”

Chassidism teaches that there needs to be a balance between the “godly soul,” and the “animal soul;” yet, this seems like a compromise to me; besides, I have never been able to find that balance. Rather, I am compelled to make a sharper delineation between the two, than is often mentioned in certain chassidic sources.

The balance to be found is then relegated to the peace of mind that results, by staying focused on H’Shem; also, to look towards Olam Haba (the World to Come), instead of becoming entangled in Olam HaZeh (This World), to the extent that we can not see the forest for the trees.

daily contemplation: Spiritual Evolution

B”H

March 23, 2020

“It’s the end of the world as we know it.”

Michael Stipe, R.E.M.

The popular myth, floating around within the perimeter of the New Age Movement and elsewhere, based in part on the theology of Teilard de Chardin connotes the idea of a type of spiritual evolution. This gained ground in its primitive form with the pseudoscience of the 100th monkey theory.

In a nutshell, the hundredth monkey effect posits that their will be a shift in human consciousness that occurs, when a critical number of people reach a certain awareness of some spiritual truth. This realization is not passed to others in the usual way through word of mouth, books, or other forms of media, rather, from “mind to mind.” Unfortunately, this fantastic idea is a myth based on a misrepresented study of Macaque monkeys by Japanese scientists in 1952.

Teilard de Chardin’s theology centers on what is referred to as the Omega Point, wherein the biological evolution of the earth coincides with G-d’s plan for the Universe. Accordingly, the consciousness of man progresses with the evolution of the earth itself as part of one overall process. The end goal is when consciousness becomes divine, at a certain point in history – the Omega Point – when this occurs as a natural outgrowth of a type of quasi biological-spiritual evolution. This fits in well with New Age thinking, including Gaia (seeing the earth as a living being).

The truth of the matter is that Teilard de Chardin’s writings were initially viewed as heretical, by the Catholic church. Yet, now they have been accepted by many non traditional spiritual thinkers in belief and practice. Thus, this departure from Biblical truth continues to gain momentum amongst New Agers.

Therefore, it is especially important at this time, to clear off the smorgasboard of delights that taste delicious, yet have no substance, nor nutritional value. Nor, can they provide nourishment for the soul. Spiritual growth is dependent upon the individual effort of every person, in conjunction with G-d’s help, as He provides the true nourishment for the soul.

There is no indication given anywhere in the Bible, that everything will naturally progress to a higher level of reality for all inhabitants of the earth. Rather, we are all called to follow a distinct path of righteousness, as predicated by G-d’s commandments. There is no automatic plateau that humanity en masse will arrive at in the future. Rather, “The L-RD knoweth the days of them that are wholehearted; and their inheritance shall be forever” (Psalm 37:18, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Meditation: Periphery

B”H

March 18, 2020

In the small corner of the world where I live, Corona virus has not yet hit the city, nor the county. Yet, initially, I had been taking the immanent threat more seriously than others in the community. Now, others should feel more compelled to do so, because of new restrictions being implemented within the city.

Coincidentally, I have arrived full circle within the framework of my belief and practice. Having been through many defining moments on my derech (path), I am at the footstep of the door of new beginnings in the midst of uncertainty. A place where opportunity prevails, and creativity coexists with an acceptance of the way life is at any given moment in time, including national crises.

For myself, I foresee that the traditions of my religion will play an even more important role during these troubling times of “hunkering down.” For amidst the chaos, these will continue to bring a sense of structure to my life. I will avail myself of them.

Additionally, I am learning that when nisyonos (trials) increase, I feel more drawn to G-d, replete with a compelling inclination to seek that place of tiferes (harmony) within myself, having been created in G-d’s image, as all mankind is. Yet, the responsibility to adhere closely to godliness is ours.

So, while I may remain on the periphery, as all of us may experience, within the confines of our solitude, I reach out to Shomayim (Heaven). And, I remain confident in my bitachon (trust) in H’Shem (the L-RD), that all will proceed according to His ratzon (will).

“Out of heaven He made thee to hear His voice, that He might instruct thee.”

– Deuteronomy 4:36, JPS 1917 Tanach

daily reflection: Comfort Zone

B”H

March 3, 2020

Everyone wants to believe what they want to believe; and, nobody wants to believe anything unseemly. Anything that would cause a person’s views to shift, this way or that way, away from one’s comfort zone is avoided. As if there is a “do not enter” sign placed before them, when an incongruous idea is presented.

I appear to be no different in that respect, whereas I hold onto the traditional values of my religious belief and practice. Yet, others, would not tread upon this territory, even though, similarities in thinking may prevail over differences. Somewhere, there is still room for conversation.

daily reflection: Illumination

B”H

March 2, 2020

“And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually.”

– Exodus 27:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

Only the purest of olive oil was sanctioned for use in the seven-branched menorah (candelabra) in the Sanctuary. The specifications given in Torah, concerning this requirement, point towards a teaching. Only the first droplets of oil from the olives could be used for the illumination of the menorah. By analogy, when our lives are under pressure, our best efforts are brought forth to meet the challenges designed for us from Above, for the sake of our spiritual growth.

daily reflection: Groundwork

B”H

March 1, 2020

Below the ground, a structure is rooted in the earth, whereby its stability is secured. The same is true with a more common, natural example, trees, whose roots provide nourishment as well as a secure attachment to the ground. In both cases, what we do not readily see, is the groundwork.

By analogy, the truths of a religious belief and practice are not visible to the eye that does not attempt to see more than what is on the surface. To perceive the underpinnings of belief and practice, the mind must inquire into the groundwork; otherwise, only a superficial understanding is gained.

Dependency on a religious structure, without personal inquiry, study, and observance will not suffice for an understanding that goes beyond the superficial. Only by delving into the details, by connecting to G-d on a daily basis, and inquiring into His ways, can a person be completely, nourished by the roots of religion.