Shavuot 5780

B”H

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger from Pexels

This year, as Shavuot approaches, my imagination is captured by recent events, going back to Purim: a long and arduous journey of the soul, from rejoicing, to solitude, and now the figurative climb in preparation of receiving the Commandments anew in our lives. Let me explain. On my personal journey from rejoicing at a Purim celebration, that turned out to be the last time that I attended a religious community event. Solitude, as I mostly hunkered down into an almost overly self imposed shelter-in-place existence. The spiritual climb, having the solitude to focus on my derech (path), into the wilderness, so that I might be refined b’ezrach H’Shem (with G-d’s help) enough to na’aseh v’nishmah – perform, and understand – over time the significance of the commandments anew.

We are mostly all camped out within our own personal deserts; yet, the desert is where the Torah was given to B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel). A place where the mind is unhindered from distractions, and solace may be found in the stillness of Sinai. Plenty of opportunity for spiritual growth, if our perspective in life can shift in that direction, even moreso than if and when we already have in the past. By “the past,” I do not only mean, before the corona virus, I mean even if we have never considered are ruchniyos (spirituality) throughout most of our lives. Because, without a godly focus to some extent, human beings, myself included, are too easily caught up in gashmios (materiality). However, we have the opportunity to reach out towards H’Shem, so that we may be drawn to Him.

When Moshe entered “the thick cloud” (Exodus 19:9) on Sinai, he was called even further, he “drew near unto the thick darkness where G-d was” (Exodus 20:18, JPS 1917 Tanach). This serves as an example for us in our quest to grow closer to G-d. He is found within the darkness of our lives. We may ask ourselves when will the clouds part, and the light begin to shine in our lives again. Yet, perhaps, there will be no preemptive parting of the clouds, not until we learn how to bear the challenges in our lives by using them as opportunities to seek G-d, so that His presence, may comfort us during our nisyanos (troubles). Then, we may enter back into the world, renewed with godly strength and vigour, as a result of our own personal Sinai experience, no matter how many days we may actually be on the mountain.

Shavuos 5780

Jerusalem Day

B”H

May 22, 2020

A poem: Perhaps

Perhaps someone knows,
where the fire still glows.

Perhaps, the stars still shine
over the lives of distant relatives.

Somewhere, in the darkness of the past,
perhaps, they returned home at last.

Today, I continuously search,
within the ashes of the Shoah.

Searching for my lost family members,
whose fate is unknown.

Yet, the light from Shomayim
will always protect their souls.

Wrapped up in the Bundle of Life,
they are preserved forever.

by Tzvi Fievel Schnee

Lag b’Omer 5780

B”H

Today is the 33rd day, four weeks and five days of the counting of the Omer. Today is known as Lag b’Omer, in commemoration of the Talmudic figure, Shimon bar Yochai. The authorship of the Zohar, a Jewish mystical work is attributed to him; however, according to scholarly research, the Zohar has been shown to have been written by Moses de Leon, a Spanish Rabbi and kabbalist, who lived during the thirteenth century.

Many in Israel light bonfires on Lag b’Omer [although, perhaps, not this year] especially in Meron, where Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is buried. Although an actual person, who is mentioned in the Talmud, he has become somewhat of a legendary figure, because of the Zohar, where he is the main character. He is honored as having revealed the secrets of the Torah, while Moses de Leon is assigned a lesser seat amongst rabbis, memoralized in relative obscurity.

The day is also the day when the plague that had been taking the lives of R’ Akiva’s students stopped, after decimating twelve thousand pairs of his students. In fact, the historical Shimon ben Yochai is said to have been amongst the few who remained alive at the time. He is credited with superhuman feats in the Talmud, thus sparking the beginning of his legendary status through the Zohar. Yet, instead of viewing the bonfires as symbolic as the light of wisdom emanating from him, I prefer to perceive the flames of the bonfires as representative of the light of Torah.

All the same, on Lag b’Omer, many have barbecues, in lieu of bonfires; and, I must admit that I have been craving a kosher hamburger, as well as a kosher hot dog or two ever since lunch time today. One last point, as food for thought, regarding the students of R. Akiva. According to the Talmud, the reason attributed to their deaths was a lack of respect towards each other. By way of a negative example, we can learn through the serious repercussions of their disrespect, to focus on our relationships with others, especially family and friends, with respect, tolerance, and forbearance to the other, in full recognition of their positive qualities and contributions as unique persons.

The Second Passover

B”H

Pesach Sheini 5780

Thursday night begins Pesach Sheini – the second Passover, for those who were impure, according to the definition of Torah, or were on a distant journey. Pesach Sheini connotes the idea of second chances. The Israelites who were not able to observe Pesach were given a second chance, one month later, in order to do so. Today, the concept may be applicable to the personal instances of our lives, when we were given a second chance of some nature. Traditionally, matzoh is eaten on Pesach Sheini, a one day holiday that will end Friday night as Shabbos begins.

Chanukah lights

B”H

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Each day of the eight days of Chanukah, a candle is lit, successively, so that on the first day – one candle is lit, then two candles on the eve of the second day, and so on. Yet, if you look at a menorah designed for Chanukah, there are nine candle holders. (Unless the menorah uses oil with tiny wicks, then there are nine repositories for the oil). The reason for a total of nine, is to have a place, usually in the center of the menorah, for the shamash (servant) candle, that is used to light all of the other candles. This candle is lit first; then, it shares its light with the other candles.

The tradition is reminiscent of the pasuk (verse), “In Thy light do we see light” (Psalm 36:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). H’Shem is the source of life, that bestows light upon us; we are connected, even dependent upon Him for every breathe we take. “For Thou dost light my lamp; the L-RD my G-d doth lighten my darkness” (Psalm 18:29, JPS). At the darkest time of the year, may we hope to be enlightened by H’Shem, by way of His emes (truth), and chesed (mercy), two key components of Chanukah; for His truth led us in the darkness against our enemies; and, through His mercy the few were able to defeat the many.