Sukkot 5782 – Shabbat Chol HaMoed

Exodus 33:12 – 34:26

“The L-RD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light.” – Exodus 13:21, JPS 1917 Tanach

When B’nei Yisrael was seemingly ensconced at the Sea of Reeds, as the Egyptian army approached, “the angel of G-d, who went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud removed from before them, and stood behind them; and it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel” (Exodus 14:19-20, JPS). Thus protection was assured to B’nei Yisrael, sheltered by the Cloud, and illuminated by the Pillar of Fire (synonymous with the angel of G-d); yet, the Egyptians remained in darkness.

After crossing through the Sea of Reeds, the Cloud of Glory continued to shelter B’nei Yisrael in the journeys through the wilderness, and the pillar of fire continued to provide illumination at night. During Sukkot, we remind ourselves of the existential nature of these journeys, by dwelling in temporary structures known as sukkoth, similar to the makeshift tents that provided shelter from the physical elements for B’nei Yisrael in the wilderness. Yet, on another level, these structures are meant to remind us of the Clouds of Glory that sheltered the Children of Israel.

In reviewing the parashas, I was struck by the use of a word, very similar to the Hebrew word, sukkah. Both words share two common letters in their shoresh (root word), the letters shin and kof. The word sukkah, basically means, tent or booth, as per the temporary structures built in the wilderness journeys. The word sakoti means cover or covering, and is found in the following verse: “And it shall come to pass, while My glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover [sakoti] thee with My hand until I have passed by” (Exodus 33:22, JPS). So, perhaps this is at least one connection found to Sukkot in this parashas chosen as the reading.

What might this similarity imply? In the context of the pasuk (verse), H’Shem’s hand, figuratively speaking, shields Moshe from His brilliance, thereby protecting him from the overwhelming glory of H’Shem. One might say that H’Shem’s hand serves as a temporary sukkah, encompassing Moshe, while He passes by; yet, surely, some of the brightness of H’Shem is still visible to Moses, since a hand would not serve to totally encapsulate and block the light. This is comparable to the skach, the roof of a sukkah that leaves visibility of the stars and sky above.

Moshe received a fuller revelation of H’Shem at that time; he also heard the thirteen attributes of mercy proclaimed as “H’Shem passed by before him” (34:6, JPS). These are the same attributes of mercy that are recited in the prayers for the holidays. We seek H’Shem’s mercy, not only in anticipation of forgiveness, leading up to Yom Kippur; additionally, according to the Zohar, we may still seek His mercy through repentance, prayer, and charity until the the gates are completely closed for the year’s decrees on Hoshannah Rabbah – the seventh day of Sukkot.

Let the Loudness Cease

motzei Shabbos: parashas Haazinu 5782

As the evening wanes, and the new day waxes (“and the evening and the morning were the first day” of the week), I am at a standstill with the circumstances, not knowing how to proceed. For anyone who relies on the customary protocol of Yiddishkeit, such as the routine at the end of Shabbos that comprises a peaceful and meaningful transition from sacred time to mundane time, it is of the upmost importance to carry out these traditions. Yet, to do so without the proper kavannah (intention) would be disrespectful to the Sabbath Queen (the Shechinah – G-d’s immanent presence). And, so, I am taking to writing out my thoughts and feelings, in hope that this will serve as a catharsis, because I do not want to let my negative emotions affect my solemn testimony to the parting of the Sabbath.

Truth be told, this may sound trivial on my part, however, I am thoroughly saturated with annoyance over the volume of the music being played in a neighbor’s apartment. As I would not enter the Sabbath, feeling annoyed, frustrated, or otherwise sullied by negativity, so shall I not depart from this sacred twenty-five hour-period that I look forward to every week. Perhaps, I’ll wait another two hours and twenty minutes until 10:00 p.m., designated as “quiet time,” at the apartment complex where I live, in hopes that he will at least turn his music down some.

Meanwhile, rather than delivering an insightful essay on the weekly reading from the Torah, with some concluding remarks as the new week approaches, I am serving up a rant. My apologies. Moses was not permitted to enter the promised land, because of a prior transgression: he was only granted a view of the land from atop of a mountain. Whatever I have done to deserve this constant interruption to my Shabbos, it is such that although sometimes I am able to enter the sacred time, beginning on Friday evening, that privilege does not always seem to last. So, who am I to complain, if everything is truly somehow from H’Shem, because He is sovereign? (I am but dust and ashes).

Our Transcendent Nature

“Give ear, ye heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew; as the small rain upon the tender grass, and as the showers upon the herb.”

– Deuteronomy 32:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

Every day a Bas Kol (literally, “Daughter of a Voice”) goes out from Sinai, saying, “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, for contempt of the Torah” (Pirkei Avos 6:2). However, the voice goes unheard by mankind. Yet, the Besht points out that the voice is heard intuitively. Therefore, on some level, when the inner ear of a person resonates with that voice, a person is inspired to do teshuvah (return to G-d through repentance. Consider, if you will, that often when someone is compelled by his or heart to return to the ways of G-d, the motivation may be unseen if not unexplainable, even by the person moved to do so. Therefore, there appears to be some verifiable experience that supports this midrash; in other words, the intuitive nature of a call to teshuvah.

According to Nesivos Shalom, the opening pasukim (verses) of parashas Haazinu may be viewed in light of this midrash. One way to reckon, “Give ear, O you heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth,” is to compare the heavens to our “heavenly selves,” and the earth to our “earthly selves.” Thus our higher selves seek the inspiration of heavenly pursuits, and the influence of those pursuits upon our godly soul. While our lower nature is more inclined to be drawn to more mundane activities, and materialistic endeavors. This is the difference between ruchniyos (spirituality) and gashmiyos (corporeality). Both are necessary to some extent; yet, both must be regulated by the words flowing forth from Heaven.

We are called to permit ourselves to be permeated by the words of Torah, in both our lower and higher natures. Moreover, ultimately our lower nature should be drawn towards more noble endeavors through our focus on the higher pursuits of our godly soul. Thus, even as our lower nature, sometimes described in chassidus as the “animal soul,” needs to be tamed and regulated by Torah, and our godly soul should be modified in its higher aspirations according to G-d’s words, the emphasis should always be placed to some degree on our higher selves. The reason being is because as human beings, we are meant to transcend our lesser selves, by living in accord with the greater spiritual propensity provided for by our godly soul.

“Thy lovingkindness, O L-RD, is in the heavens; Thy faithfulness reacheth unto the skies. Thy righteousness is like the mighty mountains; Thy judgments are like the great deep; man and beast Thou preservest, O L-RD.”

– Psalms 36:6-7, JPS 1917 Tanach

Give Ear to the Word

 “Give ear, ye heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.”

– Deuteronomy 32:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

As Moshe prepares to pass on his leadership to Joshua, he focuses on the conclusion of his speech to B’nei Yisrael. H’Shem explains to Moshe that at some point after being established in Eretz Canaan, on the other side of the Jordan River – the land that will be called Eretz Yisrael – the people will “go astray after the foreign gods of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake Me, and break My covenant which I have made with them” (Deuteronomy 31:16, JPS). Therefore, H’Shem instructs Moshe to teach them a song – to be remembered – that will serve as a witness against them in future generations.

Moshe calls upon the heavens and the earth to serve as witnesses, since they will outlast the generations, always serving to remind Israel of this song. On another level, according to Rashi, the heavens and earth would actually play an active role in chastising Israel – the nourishing rains of the heavens would diminish, and the produce of the earth would be withheld. On a more subtle note, not only the words of this song reverberate throughout the heaven and earth; even H’Shem’s words, intent and guidance span the continents and the skies, reaching out to all who will listen intently for His voice.

Measure for Measure

parashas Haazinu 5782

“Give ear, ye heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew; as the small rain upon the tender grass, and as the showers upon the herb.” – Deuteronomy 32:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

Moses taught the Children of Israel a song that would serve to remind them, at some point in the future, of their failures, hopes, and redemption. Both Heaven and earth were called upon as witnesses to the words of Moses. Rashi adds that both heaven and earth would also serve to carry out the chastisement of Israel when they turned away from H’Shem: Heaven would withhold its rain, and the earth would withhold its produce.

Incidentally, almost as a sidenote, there is a reciprocal relationship between heaven and earth: “as above, so below.” Whatever we do on earth, causes a response in heaven. For example, when we pray, G-d will respond in a manner concomitant with our faith, and the nature of our prayer. Additionally, when we show kindness to others, we will find that in some unexpected way, we are rewarded for our kindnesses in due time, according to G-d’s wisdom.

This principle can also be found in the haftorah: “With the merciful Thou dost show Thyself merciful, with the upright man Thou dost show Thyself upright, with the pure Thou dost show Thyself pure; and with the crooked Thou dost show Thyself subtle” (2 Samuel 22:26-27, JPS 1917 Tanach). The principle is otherwise known as middah k’neged middah, “measure for measure.”

The Hidden Order of Things

motzei Shabbos: parashas Vayelech 5782

“And they shall say on that day, ‘Surely it is because our G-d is not in our midst that these evils have befallen us.’” – Deuteronomy 31:17, JPS 1985 Tanach

“They will be intelligent enough to conclude that all the troubles which suddenly overtook them must be due to G-d having deliberately left their midst” (Or HaChayim on Deuteronomy 31:17, sefaria.org). The key word here in this commentary is “deliberately,” as if it is implied that the people realized that their own sins compelled G-d to abandon them. This is an important connection for them to make, whereas without recognizing their own complicity, would only have led to blame G-d for His abandonment of them, as if they had no part in the matter.

Consider the attitude of some, in blaming G-d for harsh events in life, holding Him accountable for our suffering, without acknowledging the sins that created the distance between us and Him in the first place. The point being, that it is the wrong attitude to have, a spoiled mindset to think that we deserve better, despite our abandoning Him through our own misdeeds. And, yet, He is compassionate and merciful, inasmuch that hiding His face from us, He desires us to cry out with a heartfelt repentant stance, taking it upon ourselves, to return to Him, in all of our ways, in order to elicit His forgiveness.

So, we do not understand G-d to be capricious: rather everything is ultimately designed for our benefit, even the chastisement that is placed upon us, when we go astray of G-d’s commandments. For nothing happens by chance in an ordered world, that is a world whose order is often above our own understanding.  Any randomness that appears to occur is only based upon a perspective that does not fully comprehend His sovereignty over all events in the world, as well as those that occur to us on an individual level. To understand that everything happens according to G-d’s will, or is permitted by Him, is to recognize His absolute sovereignty in all realms of life.

shiur: Shabbat Shuvah 5782

“Concealed acts concern H’Shem our G-d.”

– Deuteronomy 29:28, JPS 1985 Tanach

After Adam and Chava ate from the Tree of Knowledge, H’Shem called to Adam, “Where art thou?” (Genesis 3:9, JPS, 1917 Tanach). He responded, “I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; so I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). Adam’s shame compelled him to hide himself. Yet, G-d is all-knowing, as well as omnipresent (everywhere present). He surely knew where Adam was. Then, why did he ask, “Where are you?” The answer often given, is that G-d was challenging Adam’s own awareness, in effect, asking, Where are you in your relationship with me?

We learn in the Book of Isaiah that sin separates us from G-d (Isaiah 59:2). Adam lost the oneness that he had with G-d; as a result of his transgression, he was expelled from Gan Eden, along with Chava, who also partook from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Up until that point, everything that they experienced in Gan Eden was in one accord with H’Shem, a nondual perspective. Yet, after eating from the tree that was forbidden to eat from, they became aware of good and evil. For this reason, even today, there is not only good and evil in the world; also, there is an admixture of good and bad in everything we do.

Like Adam and Chava, we can not hide from H’Shem. He knows our “concealed acts.” Sin separates us from Him; the path to return is through actually admitting our transgressions, unlike Adam who circumvented G-d’s questions. At this time of year, during the Ten Days of Awe, and especially on Shabbat Shuvah (the Sabbath of Return), we are all asked, “Where are you?” G-d is prompting us to reveal our sins to Him. Yet, sometimes, our sins may be hidden from ourselves; in this case, we may ask Him to reveal our sins to ourselves.

Shabbat Shuvah 5782

the Significance of Teshuvah

“And H’Shem, He it is that doth go before thee; He will be with thee, He will not fail thee, neither forsake thee; fear not, neither be dismayed.”

– Deuteronomy 31:8, JPS 1917 Tanach

Moshe encouraged Joshua and the people, for they were about to cross into the Promised Land.  He told them that H’Shem would go before them; so they should not fear, for He would be with them.  To have emunah (faith), in this respect, is to trust that H’Shem would strengthen them, so that a dependence on Him could be fostered, rather than relying on their own strength.  In this way, their enemies would be defeated – through H’Shem.

The same is true today, that H’Shem would like us to return to the simplicity of faith, by looking towards Him in all things. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5, JPS 1985 Tanach). For He will lead us forward through the nisyanos (challenges) of our lives.

When we are in a quandry, not able to see the light, there is a narrow path through which we may return to Him; thereby, stepping out of the mire that we may be in because of our own negligence and transgressions.  So, teshuvah is the element that allows us to seek Him again when we have made the wrong choices in our lives, having turned away from the Torah given at Sinai. 

“Turn Thou us unto Thee, O L-RD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.”

– Lamentations 5:21, JPS

motzei Shabbos: parashas Nitzavim 5781 – Choose Life

“See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil.”

  • Deuteronomy 30:15, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Behold, I have set before you this day the way of life, wherein is the recompense of the reward of good unto the righteous, and the way of death, wherein is the retribution of the wages of evil unto the wicked.” – Deuteronomy 30:15, Targum Yonaton


Sforno comments, “eternal life, not just life on earth” (sefaria.org). Likewise, the opposite is mentioned “eternal oblivion” (Sforno, ibid.), not only physical death. These are the destinations of the two paths, delineated in Torah – the way of life, and the way of death, corresponding to our two inclinations, the yetzer tov (good inclination), and the yetzer hara (evil inclination). In the modern world, it is not always clear what choices we make will lead us down one or the other road. This is mostly because, there are no signposts to be found, showing us which way we are headed. The world would like us to believe that all roads lead to Rome, Nirvana, or G-d. However, nothing could be further from the truth.


In the Torah, G-d is explicit, concerning the path we are to follow, and the path that we are not to follow. “Behold, I have set before you this day the way of life, wherein is the recompense of the reward of good unto the righteous, and the way of death, wherein is the retribution of the wages of evil unto the wicked” (Targum Jonathan on Deuteronomy 30:15, sefaria.org). If we make an effort to follow our good inclination, by listening to the conscience, and doing what is right, then we will be rewarded for our efforts. Yet, if we give in to the evil inclination, adhering to our “lesser instincts,” falling prey to sin, then we will receive retribution for actions. It is more challenging to do good, than to be lured into temptation by the desires of the heart. For this reason, we can only conquer the yetzer hara with the help of G-d.

Thou Shalt Return

parashas Nitzavim 5781

Thou Shalt Return

“And it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, – thou shalt bethink thyself among all the nations, wither the L-RD thy G-d has driven thee, and shalt return unto the L-RD thy G-d, and hearken to His voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul; that then the L-RD thy G-d will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the peoples, whither the L-RD thy G-d hath scattered thee.

– Deuteronomy 30:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The promise of return to the Land of Israel includes a reassurance of teshuvah; in other words, that the Jewish people will be moved by H’Shem to do teshuvah (repentance).  The commandment to repent is phrased in the future tense, rather than in the imperative command form, because G-d wanted it to be an assurance to the Jewish people that in due time we would repent. Thus, as Rosh HaShannah approaches, we are reminded of the inevitable call towards teshuvah (repentance).

Commentary relates that the phrase vahasheivosa ell’vavecha (then you will take it to your heart;” Deuteronomy 30:1) conveys the understanding that, an intellectual knowledge alone, concerning the importance of the service of G-d, is not enough; rather, it is necessary to bring this awareness into one’s heart – the seat of the emotions. As a result of this endeavor, repentance will follow.

The sense of renewal within the context of the ingathering of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisrael hints at the level of teshuvah that will occur at this time.  The prophet Ezekiel spoke of an unprecedented restoration when we will be gathered in from the nations where we have been scattered:  

“And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh; that they may walk in My statutes, and keep Mine ordinances, and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their G-d.”

– Ezekiel 11:19-20, JPS 1917 Tanach

As we approach Rosh HaShannah, we will soon hear the sounds the shofar. This may serve to remind of the time of the ingathering, “All ye inhabitants of the world, and ye dwellers on the earth, when an ensign is lifted up on the mountains, see ye; and when the horn [shofar] is blown, hear ye” (Isaiah 18:3, JPS 1917 Tanach)