parashas: Avadon

B”H

Shiur for parashas Korach 5780

“So they, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit [Sheol]; and the earth closed upon them, and they perished from among the assembly.” – Numbers 16:33, JPS 1917 Tanach

Korach gathered the adus (congregation) against Moses and Aaron, in an attempt to overthrow their authority by means of an outright rebellion (Numbers 16:1-3). It was an opportune time for rebellion, inasmuch that the people were already disgruntled, because of the decree proclaimed by H’Shem that the men, over twenty years of age would all pass away in the wilderness, during the course of the next thirty-nine years, as a consequence of their lack of trust in H’Shem, when they neglected to enter the land at the designated time.

Korach, Dathan and Aviram were the ringleaders of the uprising. As a result of their insurgency, Korach perished (AVD), along with his family, and Dathan and Aviram, with their families, when they were swallowed up by the earth. Incidentally, the Hebrew word yov’du, translated as “perished,” derives from the shoresh (root word), aleph-beis-dalet. The word, avadon, is also derived from the same shoresh. Avadon refers to a place of destruction similar to Sheol, possibly Gehinnom. Additionally, the two hundred fifty men of renown, who followed him were consumed by fire from H’Shem, when they attempted to offer up incense, individually, every man his fire pan.

Both punishments were clearly by way of divine intervention; yet, the people ignored this. They still had a complaint against Moshe: they claimed that Moshe was responsible for the deaths of Korach’s two hundred fifty followers. The people themselves had been rallied by Korach against Moshe and Aaron; now, their enthusiasm was piqued by the loss of these men, who supported the rebellion. In response, to subdue another uprising, H’Shem sent a plague amongst the people, wherein 14,500 perished, before Aaron intervened at the urgent insistence of Moses.

“And Moses said unto Aaron: ‘Take thy fire-pan, and put fire therein from off the altar, and lay incense thereon, and carry it quickly unto the congregation, and make atonement for them; for there is wrath gone out from the L-RD: the plague is begun’” (Numbers 17:11, JPS 1917 Tanach). The response was immediate: “And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed” (17:13). Symbolically, the burning of incense represents steadfast prayer; perhaps, prayer may serve today as an effectual means to combat the current pandemic.

parashas: Perception

B”H

Shiur for parashas Shelach 5780

In parashas Shelach, ten out of twelve men of great reknown, leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel, fall prey to a negative perception of themselves, in contrast to the local inhabitants, who were like giants. The ten spies perceived themselves to be like grasshoppers, “in their own eyes;” hence, they thought that they must also look like grasshoppers in the eyes of the giants. Deeming themselves, nor the people of Israel as no match for the inhabitants of Cannan, they returned, and spoke ill of the mission to enter the long awaited promised land of Eretz Yisrael.

It is interesting to note that the preceding passage to the incident of the spies concerns lashon hara, whereof Moshe’s sister Miriam spoke ill of him. She was chastised with leprosy, until Moshe prayed on her behalf for H’Shem to heal her. If these two events are in chronological order, then the spies did not learn the lesson. Instead, their own lashon hara demoralized the entire people, and elicited consequences that would last for forty years; that entire generation, except for Joshua and Caleb passed away in the wilderness, excepting the women and children.

Lashon hara is a transgression that the Torah indicates is committed by the best of us; yet, this does not make it excusable in anyway; rather the prolific contagion, as demonstrated by the people’s acceptance of the spies’ ill report of the land shows how easy it us to succumb to this transgression. Today, lashon hara, and its counterpart, retzilus (gossip) are so widely accepted, so as to be said to be institutionalized within the greater part of society; also the widespread use of the Internet intensifies the bane.

Yet, how can the proliferation of what is considered the norm be interrupted? By the realisation of consequences that stem from what goes unchallenged. If only we could see the consequences of our own actions ahead of time; by thinking, before we act, we can visualize the potential ramifications of our decisions in life. Instead of speaking impulsively, we should reflect more on our words, before voicing our own thoughts.

parashas Shelach 5780

Kindle the Lights

B”H

“You will kindle and prepare the lamps.” – Tanchuma Behalotecha 3

When Aaron grew concerned, that the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel brought offerings to inaugarate the Mishkan, yet, he was not called to contribute in like manner, H’Shem told him that he would have a greater responsibility. He was placed in charge of lighting the menorah that rested in the Mishkan. This would be a detailed procedure that culminated in the light of the menorah being kept lit during the night, and foreshadow the role of his descendants, who rededicated the Temple, after its near destruction by the Hellenists; hence, the celebration of Chanukah every year, even unto this day and age.

According to the Talmud, ‘He is required to light the lamp until the flame rises by itself” (Shabbat 21a). Thus, he had to make sure that each wick was lit well enough, that the flame would continue to grow, until it remained steady on its own. A lesson is mentioned in commentary, concerning this commandment, that the same is true for ourselves, when we help others. We must make sure to properly guide others, in order for them to continue to grow spiritually on their own.

Aaron would also clean out the menorah, preparing it to be lit again each and every day. Another lesson, for ourselves, to keep in mind, is that everyday, we must clean out the “soot and ash,” figuratively speaking, in our own lives. This was one of the tasks of Aaron, necessary, before placing the new wicks in each lamp, and lighting the Menorah. To keep the light glowing in our lives, we must also prepare ourselves everyday to receive that light from H’Shem. We are each a light sent by G-d into this world, that we may also light up the lives of others.

Seek the Light

B”H

“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.

parashas Beha’alosecha 5780

Restoration

B”H

Shiur for parashas Nasso 5780

“Speak unto the children of Israel: When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to commit a trespass against the L-RD, and that soul be guilty; then they shall confess their sin which they have done.”

  • Numbers 5:6-7, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to Rambam (Maimonides), this verse is the basis of the importance of confession (vidui), within the context of teshuvah (repentance). “And shall make reparation in full” (Numbers 5:7); this latter part of the pasuk (verse) denotes reparations made to others, if the aveirah (transgression) is against another person. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for reparation is from the same shoresh (root), “shuv,” as teshuvah, meaning to return. Repentance is a return to H’Shem (the L-RD). “Let us return unto the L-RD” (Hosea 5:15, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The Mishkan along with the Levitical system of offerings were meant to restore the relationship of the people with HShem. A restored relationship with HShem begins with vidui (confession), whereby we confess our sins to Him; additionally, we return to Him by not making the same transgression again. We must also increase our mitzvoth, spending more time engaged with G-dly pursuits, and less time in that which could be considered frivolous.

Unless we are conscious of leading a godly life, we may not even realize that a diminished connection to G-d may be a result of our own lack of mitzvot (good deeds). “Your iniquities have separated between you and your G-d (Isaiah 59:2, JPS 1917 Tanach). In order to experience G-d’s presence in our lives, then we need to approach Him in righteousness. If we have not been cognizant of what He expects from us, then we need to educate ourselves, according to His ways. Now is a good time to start.

parashas Nasso 5780

Counting Sheep

B”H

Shiur for parashas Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1 – 4:20) 5780

“Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel.”

– Numbers 1:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

“The literal translation of the above mentioned verse would be, ‘Lift up the head of the entire assembly.” This rendering has two potential meanings: that the people would be lifted up to a higher spiritual status or brought down by their own unworthiness. The phrase suggests either upliftment, if B’nei Yisrael were worthy in G-d’s eyes, or chastisement, if they were not acting in accordance with His expectations of them (Ramban).

The sages note that there were nine times recorded in the Tanach, whereupon a census was taken. According to their rendering of scripture, there will be a tenth census taken in the days of Moshiach. “The flocks again pass under the hands of him that counteth them, saith the L-RD” (Jeremiah 33:13, JPS 1917 Tanach). According to the rendering of this verse by the Targum Yonaton, the verse reads, “by the hand of Moshiach.”

The world is judged four times a year; the sages envision the judgment that occurs on Rosh HaShannah, as a census being taken, likened to counting sheep: “On Rosh HaShana all creatures pass before Him like sheep [benei maron], as it is stated: ‘He Who fashions their hearts alike, Who considers all their deeds’ (Psalms 33:15)” (Talmud, tractate Rosh HaShannah 16a, sefaria.org).

The mashal (parable) of counting the sheep also points towards the final judgment, when all of mankind will be judged. “For I [know] their works and their thoughts; [the time] cometh, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and shall see My glory” (Isaiah 66:18).

“Therefore will I save My flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle. And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even My servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the L-RD will be their G-d, and My servant David prince among them” (Ezekiel 34:22-24, JPS 1917 Tanach).

parashas Bamidbar

six thousand years of history

B”H

Shiur for parashas Behar-Bechukosai 5780

“Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the produce thereof. But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath unto the L-RD; thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard.” – Leviticus 25:3-4, JPS 1917 Tanach

What is more important, the symbol or what the symbol conveys? The sages say that on Shabbos we get a glimpse of Olam Haba (the World to Come). While we look forward to a day of rest every week, the greater import is its likeness to Olam Haba. Therefore, both the weekly Shabbos, a twenty-five hour period of rest, and what the Shabbos conveys have significance. We enjoy our day of rest in this world, and are inspired, even reassured by the forthcoming thousand year Sabbath, that actually precedes Olam Haba, in the next world, when the new heavens and the new earth appear (Isaiah 65:17, 66:22).

A similar question, what is more tangible, the symbol or what the symbol points toward? Regarding Shabbat, it seems quite apparent that three festive meals, two of them preceded by Kiddush, are well worth waiting for throughout the previous six days of week, and very tangible realities. Yet, they are ephemeral; and, after havdallah, although our souls are somewhat comforted by the smell of the besamim (spices, usually cloves), we still have the mundane weekdays ahead of us. So, Olam Haba, is described in the negative, because we cannot conceive of the World to Come. Rather Kitvei Kodesh (Holy Scripture) describes Olam Haba as a place in time, whereof no eye has seen, nor ear heard of its delights (Isaiah 64:3). Therefore, although Olam Haba may seem less tangible, from our perspective in Olam HaZeh (This World), Olam Haba will last forever. Food for thought.

The commandment of Shemitah, wherein the land lies fallow every seventh year, is also symbolic of the Millennial Shabbos. The first six years, wherein the land was worked represent the six thousand years of history mentioned in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 98). In the seventh year, the land lies fallow, pointing towards the thousand years of peace. Thus, the implied message may be taken as that there is a reward for our efforts in this world, on a spiritual level, so that the souls that are written in the Book of Life, may partake of eternal life at the Tehillas HaMeisim (Resurrection of the Dead).

“This world is like a corridor before Olam Haba; prepare yourself in the corridor, so that you may enter the Banquet Hall.” – Pirkei Avot 4:21

weekly reading: Sanctification

B”H

Shiur for parashas Emor

The Sanctification of H’Shem’s Name

“I will be sanctified among the children of Israel.”
– Leviticus 22:32

Selfless behavior could be defined as akin to mesiras nefesh – self-sacrifice. Mesiras nefesh may be viewed as an ongoing act in the sense of subduing the yetzer hara (the evil inclination), for the sake of sanctifying H’Shem’s name. The resultant reward is that we ourselves become sanctified, every time that we do not give in to our own character weaknesses. This is a challenge that appears in many circumstances on a daily basis; therefore, it is best to be on guard against temptation, by strengthening ourselves through constant vigilance.

To be selfless, in respect to mesiras nefesh on the level of morality, is to actively engage in diminishing our own will in favor of the ratzon (will) of H’Shem. When we negate ourselves, we renew ourselves for the sake of H’Shem who sanctifies us. This is a two way street of reciprocity; otherwise, like two sides of the same coin. Whereof, we are sanctified by H’Shem, through our own efforts to become holy. When we separate ourselves from unholiness, we are blessed with an equal measure of kedushah from H’Shem. By serving H’Shem, we bring glory (kavod) to H’Shem.

“You are my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”

-Isaiah 49:3

Imatatio Dei

B”H

7 Iyar 5780

1 May 2020

Shiur for parashas Acharei-Mos – Kedoshim 5780

“Ye shall be holy, for I the L-RD your G-d am holy.”

  • Leviticus 19:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

We are created b’tzelem Elokim – in the image of G-d – as is written, “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them” (Genesis 1:27, JPS). We are to imitate G-d, in a sincere effort to live up to that image. In specific, we should focus our efforts on an attempt to approach His level of holiness, even if this may not be within our own power to do so.

Consider, Nadav and Abihu, who raised themselves up above their status as kohanim, sons of Aaron (see Leviticus 10:1-2). They did not recognize the boundaries placed before themselves and H’Shem. Therefore, they served as a negative example to maintain a high level of respect, awe, and reverence towards H’Shem, regardless of our calling to be like unto Him.

In parashas Kedoshim, H’Shem tells Moshe, “Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them: Ye shall be holy; for I the L-RD your G-d am holy” (Leviticus 19:2, JPS). A question may be asked, relevant to the theme of kedushah (holiness): how are we able to even approach the level of G-d’s holiness? Again, this is an ideal standard, that we are to simply set as our goal. Yet, it’s attainment is by no means simple, nor even possible without H’Shem at the helm of our ship, guiding our way upon the ocean of life.

weekly reading: Sanctity

B”H

Shiur for parashas Tazria-Metzorah 5780

The Sanctity of Life
“Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: if a woman be delivered, and bear a man child.”

– Leviticus 12:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to Torah, the miracle of life, from the beginning, is addressed within the framework of sanctification. That is, both the mother and the child are taken into consideration, in terms of their purificaion. Specifically, the mother as well as child are given a means to commemorate the birth. This is akin to a life cycle tradition. When a male is born, the mother’s temporary state of impurity is only for seven days; this permits her to be present on the eighth day for her son’s circumcision.

The parashas continues with the laws, in regard to tzarras, a skin affliction, often mistranslated as leprosy. The metzorah (person who contracts tzarras) is diagnosed and quarantined. Because the metzorah has contracted tzarras as a result of lashon hara (literally, evil speech), being isolated outside of the camp provides time for reflection upon the harm done to the recipient of his gossip. H’Shem willing, the metzorah will be able to return to society, as a result of his tikkun (rectification).

The concept appears within the framework of the sanctity required to approach H’Shem. Since H’Shem’s presence dwells within the mishkan (tabernacle) at the center of the camp, the metzorah is separated by way of not being permitted to be in the vicinity of the mishkan. Thus the sanctity of the camp is preserved; and, the metzorah is given the opportunity to do teshuvah (repentance), turning his heart back to Elokim (G-d).