Wisdom of the Ages

shiur for parashas Toldos 5782

“Isaac dug anew the wells which had been dug in the days of his father Abraham and which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham’s death; and he gave them the same names that his father had given them.” – Genesis 26:18, JPS 1985 Tanach

The passing on of traditions from generation to generation, ad infinitum, until Malchus Elokim (the Kingdom of G-d), takes a precedent in our lives, beyond compare, ushering in the Messianic Age. These are the wells of wisdom re-dug, figuratively speaking, in every generation, from where the living waters may be drawn every day, as a fresh supply of life-sustaining spiritual truths.

Each pious individual of the succeeding generations will – H’Shem willing – make an effort like Isaac “to return and dig to the aspect of ‘a well of living water’ through many types of intelligences and great and concealed counsels” (Me’or Einayim, sefaria.org). Thus, Isaac, who re-dug his father Abraham’s wells, that had been stopped up by the Philistines, serves as an example, on a symbolic level for us.

shabbos reflections: Tradition

As Shabbos approaches, I have already said, “amein” after my mother lit candles, on Zoom according to halachic time on the East Coast. After welcoming Shabbat, I recited kiddush, we partook of motzei and ate our meals quietly, as if two thousand miles were condensed into two feet across the table. Now, back in my own time zone, so to speak, I am making the most of three hours until Shabbos begins. This would not have been possible, without the many circumstances that led to this new tradition. The Coronavirus is not without its blessings; although, I would not intend to diminish the overall tragic consequences for many people that have occurred in its wake.

Yet, for myself, I carry on, introvert that I am. For, my self-imposed shelter in place policy 24-7 provided much time for reflection. And, a prolific abundance of writings that I have mostly posted on my blogs. Overall, there is no way to measure these times, except within the framework of the big picture. As incident rates of Covid-19 decrease, we will not necessarily be entering the “new normal,” unless our minds are complacent. Rather we are already entering what is more akin to a brave new world, promoted by the technocracy, i.e., the means to manage the infrastructure, ideology, and economic system of the future. This will not lead to an utopia, rather, a dystopia; therefore, I will continue to cling to G-d, Torah, and acts of kindness, instead of the “new normal.”

The Menorah

“Towards the face of the menorah shall the seven lamps cast light.”

  • Numbers 8:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The “seven lamps” shall cast their light towards the face of the menorah. Seven lamps, towards the face (p’nei). Commentary explains that the six lamps, three on either side of the center lamp, had their wicks tilted towards the center lamp.

Yet, this begs the question, if the verse mentions that all seven lamps shall cast their light towards the p’nei (face) of the menorah, then the Hebrew word, p’nei must represent something other than the center lamp, since it is only one of the seven. Therefore, what does the Hebrew word p’nei represent in this verse?

An answer may be given by focusing on another verse from Kitvei Kodesh (Holy Scripture), wherein a clue may be found. “In Thy behalf my heart hath said: ‘Seek ye My face’; Thy face, L-RD, will I seek” (Psalms 27:8, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Consequently, the verse about the menorah could be rendered as having the light of the seven lamps glowing towards the “face of G-d.” And, what may be learned by this understanding? The light of the lamps can be seen as symbolic of our avodas (service) towards H’Shem, seven days a week. All our efforts in avodas are to culminate in seeking the face of G-d.

Holy Fear

“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 exceeding loud; and all the people that were in the camp trembled.”

– Exodus 19:16, JPS 1917 Tanach


“G-d hath so made it, that men should fear before Him.”

– Ecclesiastes 3:14, JPS

At Mount Sinai, the people in the camp trembled at the awesome display of H’Shem’s Presence, amidst the thunder and lightning. The people’s sense of yiras H’Shem (fear, awe, and reverence towards the L-RD) was elicited by the spectacular display, when the Commandments were given to B’nei Yisrael through Moshe (Moses). This may serve as an example for us, when we gather ourselves together, in order to receive the Torah anew in our lives on the day of Shavuot. The thunder and lightening that humbled the people at Sinai, demonstrate the importance of yiras H’Shem for our own lives. “The fear of H’Shem is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10).

When we seek to develop awe, reverence, and proper respect towards H’Shem, we are planting a foundation within us that will bring wisdom and understanding into our lives. “And knowledge of the holy is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). G-d seeks to bring our heart into alignment with His ways, by compelling us to seek teshuvah (repentance), that we may truly start anew. The powerful reminder of thunder is a natural occurrence that should serve as a wake-up call. According to the Talmud, thunder was created for this very purpose (Berachos 59a). On Shavuot, we stand once again, ready to leave our personal Mitzraim (Egypt) behind us, as we renew our commitment to keep the Covenant made at Mt. Sinai with B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel).

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.

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

Joseph‘s Trials Words Give Life

weekly Torah reading: parashas Vayeishev 5782 “Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a coat of many colours.” – Genesis 37:3, JPS 1917 Tanach
  1. Joseph‘s Trials
  2. The Deference of Jacob
  3. Immanence and Transcendence
  4. Sins of the Heels
  5. The Bundle of Life

Wisdom Like Water

parashas Toldos 5781

“And Isaac digged again the wells of water, which they had digged in the days of Abraham.”

– Genesis 26:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

Meor Eynayim explains, that these wells are symbolic of G-d’s wisdom that flowed during the lifetime of Abraham; yet, after his death, his wells were stopped up by the Philistines, representative of the powers of darkness and ignorance, inasmuch that they also impeded the spread of this wisdom (Meor Einayim, Toldos 19; sefaria.org). Symbolically, when Isaac redug the wells of his father, Abraham, he also reopened the flow of divine wisdom into the world.

The wellsprings of wisdom, must be dug within ourselves, until we reach the place where the source of the wisdom flows. This is the essence of the teaching from Meor Einayim. In reference to the verse, “they have forsaken me, the source of living waters (Jeremiah 2:13), he explains that “Blessed G-d is the source from whom comes the flow of life-force to all living things in all manners” (Meor Einayim, Toldos 18; sefaria.org).

Thus, the source of life continually flows from G-d; yet, as the result of sin, we cause a blockage of that source, and are likened to “broken cisterns.” Consequently, we are unable to connect to our “upper root,” the source above us that nourishes our soul. Additionally, our own ignorance compels us to search elsewhere in this world for the truth; yet, here is much spiritual malaise as the result of sin in this world. Our own path should be to turn from the the darkness, towards the light, so that our souls may be renewed with G-d’s wisdom.

Tradition teaches that preceding the time of Moshiach (Messiah), there will be a decline in spiritual understanding, as a result of sinking to “the fiftieth level of impurity.” However, at the beginning of his reign, “it shall come to pass in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem” (Zechariah 14:8). Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer, explains that in the future, within Jerusalem, a newfound well that will arise of its own accord, will water all of the surroundings. “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the L-RD, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Wisdom Imparted from Above

B”H

Motzei Shabbos:

Acharei Mos – Kedoshim 5780

Like a spiritual blessing, that manifests in some unknown form, so is the quality, reward, and consequence of following the mitzvot (commandments). Kedushah (holiness) is the tonic of the soul, that may permeate our lives, when we remain committed to an observance of all that the Torah entails, for the sake of our benefit. Regarding the words of wisdom that are the essence of the mitzvos, they are the essential element of our lives. “Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thy heart. For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh” (Proverbs 4:21-22, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Wisdom imparts truth, guiding us through the challenges of our lives. H’Shem is the Source of all life; therefore, He is like a flowing stream of crystal clear water that nourishes our souls. To turn anywhere else, in our misguided attempts to live life without the constraints that only serve to sanctify our lives, is to jeopardize receiving the kedushah available to us. Although intangible, kedushah may be felt, especially on Shabbos, and Yom Tov. To be aware of the state of kedushah upon ourselves, is to live above our lower nature, in a state of perpetual aliveness.