Page 16 of 18

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.

dvar Ki Tisa 5781 – the Remedy Prevails

parashas Ki Tisa 5781

B”H

dvar for parashas Ki Tisa 5781

“H’Shem plagued the people, because they made the calf.”

– Exodus 32:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights; during this time, H’Shem spoke with Moses – according to some commentators, Moses received the instruction for the Mishkan at this time. It is mentioned in the Talmud, that H’Shem creates the cure before the ailment. Here, the blueprints for the Mishkan served as the remedy to what had not yet occurred – the idolatry of the golden calf. H’Shem prepared the cure (Mishkan) before the sickness (eigel).

What is the malaise of idolatry? To place anything in our lives above our commitment to H’Shem. This raises up the created above the Creator, G-d forbid. Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for the fear of Heaven (Talmud). Therefore, our conscious effort to make G-d most important in our lives through yiras H’Shem (reverence towards G-d) is incumbent upon us; in effect, we are called upon to crown Him as King – sovereign over every aspect of our lives.

In these challenging days, we also look for the remedy to the various ailments of our lives; yet, even when there seems to be little hope on the horizon, we must maintain a sense of bechirah (trust) in H’Shem, that He has already designated, the time, place, and remedy for each of us to continue on the derech (path) towards righteousness, drawing closer to Him with every step along the way.

Yet, the path is narrow, there are many distractions along the way. It was only when Moshe sought out the forgiveness of H’Shem, on behalf of B’nei Yisrael, that he was able to receive the second set of tablets. We are also given second chances in our lives; however, if we do not even realize the need to improve upon our ways, we may be given a wake up call.

The Mishkan (portable tabernacle in the wilderness) permitted B’nei Yisrael to focus on avodas (worship of H’Shem); we need to do the same, in a manner of speaking, and be ever mindful of H’Shem’s Presence in our lives; then, we can devote our mitzvoth (good deeds) to Him. “I have set the L-RD always before me; surely He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved” (Psalms 16:8, JPS 1917 Tanach).

motzei Shabbos: Tetzaveh 5781

B”H

Motzei Shabbos: parashas Tetzaveh 5781

“And Aaron shall burn thereon incense of sweet spices; every morning, when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn it.” – Exodus 30:7, JPS 1917 Tanach

In like manner that the menorah was lit every evening, the incense were burnt every morning in the Sanctuary. The light may be understood to represent the wisdom of G-d. “Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law” (Psalm 119:18, JPS). The smoke of the incense is symbolic of prayers. We should keep a light burning in our heart, in the evenings; all throughout the night, staying focused on G-d; and, in the morning, ideally to rise early, in order to offer up our prayers to Him.

parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Righteous Clothes

“And this is the thing that thou shalt do unto them to hallow them, to minister unto Me.”

– Exodus 29:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

During Moshe’s forty days on Mount Sinai, the pattern of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was shown to him, complete with all the details necessary to construct a Mishkan on earth, where H’Shem’s Presence – the Shechinah – would dwell. Also, the commandments and details in regard to the Kohein Gadol (High Priest), and the kohein (priests) were given.

Aaron was chosen as the first Kohein Gadol; however, Moshe served unofficially in that position, during the seven-day inauguration, when he brought the offerings. His role was given to him by H’Shem, who said to Moses: “This is the thing [word] that thou shalt do to them [the kohein] to set them apart as kodesh [holy];” i.e., to sanctify them for service to H’Shem.

The verse continues with the offerings, necessary for the inauguration. Also, the commandment is given for the kohein to cleanse themselves in a mikveh. Also mentioned are the garments that Moses will place upon the Kohein Gadol, before anointing him with oil. These garments, referred to previously, are described as “holy garments for Aaron thy brother, for splendour and glory” (Exodus 28:2, JPS).

 “Let Thy priests [kohanim] be clothed with righteousness” (Psalm 132:9, JPS 1917 Tanach ). Righteousness is likened to clothes, because righteous thought, speech, and acts clothe the soul; they have everlasting value, whereby our righteousness will be rewarded in Olam Haba.  

parashas Tetzaveh 5781 – Exilic Faith

parashas Tetzaveh 5781

B”H

Shiur for parashas Tetzaveh 5781

“And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure olive oil [crushed] for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually. In the tent of meeting, [outside] the veil which is before the testimony.” – Exodus 27:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

Behind the veil (parochet), rested the Ark of the Covenant within the Holy of Holies (Kadosh Kadoshim).  Outside of the veil, within the less holy area, called the Kadosh, were the Menorah, Showbread Table, and, the Mizbeach (incense altar), where incense was burned.  Although these three were mentioned in detail, earlier in the Torah, the Menorah is mentioned, specifically, in the beginning of this parashas, with specific regard towards its function. 

Of noteworthy mention is the specific command for all of Israel to bring the specific kind of olive oil reserved for use in the Menorah. In other words, all of Israel contributed to the olive oil that burned “from evening until morning.” It lit up the darkness, conveying in effect the light of G-d, that symbolically illuminates for us in times of darkness and uncertainty. 

According to the sages, when discussing the significance of the phrase, “emet v’emuna (true and faithful),” in the evening prayer, the word, emuna, represents G-d’s faithfulness to us during the exile, inasmuch that it is a reminder that we will be redeemed. So, the nighttime, when this prayer is said, represents exile.  Therefore, the light of the menorah, throughout the night, may also be understood as symbolic of G-d’s faithfulness towards us, during the current exile.

Crushed for the Sake of Purity

parashas Tetzaveh 5781

 “And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure olive oil beaten [crushed] for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually.” – Exodus 27:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

H’Shem instructs Moshe to command B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) to provide the olive oil that will be used for the seven-candled Menorah, residing in the Holy Place of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), outside of the paroches (curtain) that served as a veil, dividing the Kadosh Kadoshim (Holy of Holies) where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, from the Kadosh [Holy], where the Menorah, Showbread Table and Incense Mizbeach (Altar) were placed.

The light of the Menorah represents the light (ohr) that existed at the beginning of Creation; yet, this light was hidden after the sin of Adam, and reserved for the righteous in the Kingdom. Even so, there is a light that shines in the darkness of our lives, despite all of the years of oppression. “I will bear the indignation of H’Shem, because I have sinned against Him; until He plead my cause, and execute judgment for me; He will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold His righteousness” (Micah 7:9).

We are likened to the olives that are crushed, until a drop of pure olive oil is produced, representing the transformation of our brokenness into a purity of heart that only occurs after surviving the many nisyanos (challenges) in our lives. Perhaps, this is why the people themselves were commanded by Moshe to bring the purest olive oil for the light of the Menorah that burns continually, i.e., to emphasize our plight in the world that would reveal the light that shines in the darkness on a continual basis – the ner tamid. For “H’Shem shall be unto thee an everlasting light” (Isaiah 60:19, JPS).

 

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.

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

Yisro’s Belief Words Give Life

weekly Torah reading: parashas Yisro 5782 Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law, an ex-priest of Midian, “heard of all that G-d had done for Moses, and for Israel his people” (Exodus 18:1, JPS). He journeyed from Midian to the encampment at Sinai. He proclaimed, “Now I know that the L-RD is greater than all gods” (Exodus 18:11, JPS).
  1. Yisro’s Belief
  2. Actual Faith
  3. Mishnah Insights: Blessings for Food
  4. Mishnah Insights: Berachos 4:6 & 5:1
  5. Search Within the Darkness

His Presence

parashas Terumah 5781

“The veil shall divide unto you between the holy place and the most holy.”

– Exodus 26:33, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Ark of the Covenant with the tablets, rested within the Kadosh Kadoshim – the Holy of Holies. The cover was designed with two golden cherubim with their wings spanning the breadth of the Ark. The Holy of Holies was separated by the paroches – a veil – a finely embroidered curtain that was placed between the holiest place where the Ark containing the Ten Commandments was kept, and the Kadosh (Holy place), where the menorah, showbread table and copper incense mizbeach (altar) were placed. The holy place was frequented by the Kohein, while the most holy place received one visitor each year – the Kohein Gadol – only on Yom Kippur.

Although the offerings made within the mishkan were facilitated by the Kohein, symbolically, Torah points us in the direction of making ourselves a sanctuary for H’Shem’s Presence. According to the pasuk (verse), “Make Me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell within them” (Exodus 25:8). Therefore, let us consider, that we need to clear away a space inside of ourselves, in order to invite H’Shem to dwell within us. It is not necessary to use a broom and dustpan; although, figuratively speaking, perhaps, a feather to clean our minds and hearts, according to the moral inventory of Torah.

In preparing ourselves to sense H’Shem’s Presence, through the kedushah (holiness) that we create by sanctifying our lives, with respect to our higher aspirations, we remove ourselves from the realm of unholiness. Within our “inner sanctum” – the holy of holies – where only each one of us as sovereign individual of our own soul may enter, there we find H’Shem in the solace of a quiet refuge. “Rest in the L-rd, and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7).

“Who shall ascend into the mountain of the L-RD? And who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart. – Psalms 24:3-4, JPS 1917 Tanach

Yisro’s Belief Words Give Life

weekly Torah reading: parashas Yisro 5782 Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law, an ex-priest of Midian, “heard of all that G-d had done for Moses, and for Israel his people” (Exodus 18:1, JPS). He journeyed from Midian to the encampment at Sinai. He proclaimed, “Now I know that the L-RD is greater than all gods” (Exodus 18:11, JPS).
  1. Yisro’s Belief
  2. Actual Faith
  3. Mishnah Insights: Blessings for Food
  4. Mishnah Insights: Berachos 4:6 & 5:1
  5. Search Within the Darkness