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.

reflections: Home, Sweet Home

B”H

Home, Sweet Home

While spending a few hours writing at my desk, I noticed that the battery charge level on my electronic device was below 10 percent; so, I left my kasha on the kitchen countertop, that I had prepared, for a brief interval between writing endeavors, and went to my travel backpack, where I keep everything that is essential to me. My backpack is a top loading pack with a drawstring, and, when I was reaching inside to find my charger with its cord, I saw that my double layered cotton mask was about to drop out of the bag. So, I quickly reached with my left hand to grab the mask, accidentally jabbing my right hand with the only fingernail, that I hadn’t pared well on the previous Wednesday.

Now, even as I type out these letters on the keyboard, forming words in front of my eyes on the page, I have a hermetically sealed latex free bandaid, wrapped around the part of my hand below the thumb. A constant visible reminder of what would not have been a concern to me five months ago. Yet, I know from a scientific animation in a documentary produced by the Epoch Times, about the origins of the coronavirus, how the virus enters the human body, unlocking the entrance to a human cell by binding to its receptor sites; and, I am repulsed to think about how easy it could be, within my imagination, for one germ to get into my very small open wound and change my life forever (G-d forbid).

So, instead of venturing out to the health food store, along the sidewalks of this coronavirus laden town, like all other towns and cities across the States, I decided to stay right at my desk, behind my screen, where I usually am virtually twenty-four seven. Perhaps, I am one of the few people who chooses to remain sheltering in place, despite the lessening of restrictions several weeks ago; and, the percentage of positive cases is up from 5% at the time the restrictions were still in place, to 12% in the state, since that time. Incidentally, the statistical scenario is similar for other states as well. Need I attempt to defend my voluntary hermitage with any other statistic? I have remained adamant, knowing that I am Biblically mandated to stay right where I am:


Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, And shut thy doors about thee; Hide thyself for a little moment, Until the indignation be overpast.

  • Isaiah 26:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

If everyone in America could be impacted by the realisation that G-d is sovereign, then we could all chill out, knowing that G-d is in charge, even of something as catastrophic as a global pandemic. And, His recommendation to all of us is to relax, until the plague passes from this earth. The verse is likened by rabbinical commentary to the experience of the Children of Israel, during their last night in Egypt, when the Angel of Death was wreaking havoc in the streets of the metropolis. They stayed inside their homes, until the precise time of their redemption. And, who knows whether the above mentioned verse could be rendered as a prophetic statement, also reaching across the generations to this very time?

Path of Kindness

B”H

Our proficiency as human beings is ultimately limited in comparison to the artistic rendering of Creation by G-d. Yet, many artists over the ages, as well as more contemporary artists, even photographers, and graphic artists have made the attempt, and continue to make a concerted effort to capture the essence of G-d’s creative expression. Additionally, all of us created beings should endeavor to imitate and internalize the qualities of G-d, in respect of our character, especially the thirteen attributes of mercy.

“And the L-RD passed by before him, and proclaimed: ‘The L-RD, the L-RD, G-d, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.”

– Exodus 34:6-7, JPS 1917 Tanach

By adhering to these attributes in our lives, the world will become a better place; personal changes, the ones shaped within ourselves, first influence the inner person, as well as one’s immediate surroundings, for example, family, friends, and community, before having an impact further outside that social and environmental milieu. The ripple effect, could permit even one act of kindness to make waves that effect others in ways that we may never know.

The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, mentioned in scripture, are part of the liturgy for the Holy Days, requesting G-d’s forgiveness, as well as His mercy upon us. However, the prayer of the Thirteen Attributes has been added to the daily services, being performed three times a day at the Western Wall, specifically, to combat the plague of the corona virus. This prayer is considered to be a segulah – a remedy in times of dire need. Incidentally, this prayer is traditionally only said at the time of a minyan – quorum of ten.

Yet, these actual characteristics of mercy may be reflected in everyone’s life who takes the time to make the effort to imitate G-d with respect to His qualities. This may be done through forgiveness of others, a calm forebearance towards those who we find hard to bear, and mercy towards those whom we may feel do not deserve to be shown kindness. When we forgive and forget other people’s wrongs, as well as perceived slights against our character, we permit change to occur in ourselves and others for the good. A bruised ego, set aside, makes for the potential to overlook other’s faults.

“It is the discretion of a man to be slow to anger, and it is his glory to pass over a transgression.”

– Proverbs 19:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

Behind Closed Doors

B”H

14 Nissan 5780

Lev Emes: The Heart of Truth v.1, 3

“It is good that a man should quietly wait for the salvation of the L-RD.”

– Lamentations 3:26

In expectation of redemption from this modern day plague, I wait, knowing that there is a purpose to everything, including my waiting. This time of isolation is valuable beyond words, not only for me, rather, for others as well. If only we are able to use this time in a meaningful way, without stressing, or becoming inundated by the news. I carefully sift through articles, only reading what is accurate, relevant, and essential. For each person this may differ, depending upon various circumstances. However, the so-called “shared” common experience, is that most of us are spending a lot of time behind closed doors.

Yet, what kind of world will we have to look forward to after the plague is eradicated? The world is already being transformed. We can not expect a continuation of “business as usual.” If anything, we are seeing the beginning of the birthpangs of Moshiach (Messiah). Our eyes should be cast towards Shomayim (Heaven). Few may understand, what lies ahead. According to the sages, the Final Redemption will be like the First Redemption. The plagues in Egypt will not compare. “As in the days of thy coming forth out of the land of Egypt will I show unto him [Israel] marvellous things” (Micah 7:15, JPS 1917 Tanach).

3,332 years ago, the Israelites ate the Pesach meal, in their own homes, behind closed doors, while the the tenth plague was enacted upon the Egyptian homes. The Destroying Angel roamed the streets of Egypt, taking the first born of every home, except for the homes wherein the blood of the Pesach lamb was placed upon the lintels and doorposts. This Passover will very closely resemble the original Pesach – the last night before our freedom ensued. Most of us will be behind the closed doors of our own homes. Although there is a mitzvah (commandment) to invite others into our homes, the only guest that we will be inviting, towards the end of the seder is Elijah the Prophet.

May we all be able to say together in spirit, and in expectation of the our Redemption, at the end of the seder, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Moreover, it is interesting to note, that in Jerusalem they say, “Next Year in Rebuilt Jerusalem.” This pertains to the rebuilding of the Third Temple in Jerusalem. That is the true significance of the phrase, that we are looking forward to the Messianic Redemption.

The Tenth Plague

B”H
erev 11 Nissan 5780
Motzei Shabbos Shiur

The redemption of B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) began on Shabbos, specifically, the tenth of Nissan. That Shabbos became known as Shabbat HaGadol. What was so special about the Tenth of Nissan? That day was when the Children of Israel were commanded to bring a lamb into each and every one of their homes. “Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying: In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household” (Exodus 12:3, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Why was this the beginning of the Redemption for B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel)? Because the lamb was to be the first national offering, made by each and every family, for the sake of using the blood of the lamb as a sign, placed upon the doorposts and lintels of their homes. The blood would serve as a sign, whereby, “the L-RD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side-posts, the L-RD will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you” (Exodus 12:23).

And, so, the tenth plague, the slaying of the first born, was not enacted upon the Children of Israel. They were spared, because of their emunah (faith) in H’Shem, that compelled them to carry out the commandment, regarding the Pesach lamb. They had been further commanded, “none of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning” (Exodus 12:23).

“Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, And shut thy doors about thee; Hide thyself for a little moment, Until the indignation be overpast.”

– Isaiah 26:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

Special Edition: The Heart of Truth

B”H

5 Nissan 5780

March 30, 2020

Lev Emes: The Heart of Truth

“Let us reason together.”

– Isaiah 1:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

Three days after Purim, a national emergency was declared in the United States in response to the growing threat of the Corona virus. Two weeks later, the U.S. had the highest number of cases out of all other countries in the world, surpassing both China and Italy. This is a plague that is spreading exponentially, despite any false hope being instilled by those who are too optimistic; it is a false optimism. In the time of the first Temple period in Israel there were many institutional prophets who were favored by the king; yet, they only prophesied what sounded good for the benefit of Israel. The true prophets, like Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel spoke the the unadulterated truths that the king and the people did not want to hear. The prophets of the king’s court were false in their words. “The prophets prophesy in the service of falsehood” (Jeremiah 5:3). The verse continues, “what then will you do in the end thereof?”

When optimism prevails over the factual evidence of science in the battle against the Corona virus, a false hope ensues. Yet, as the Bible shows, people would rather hear good news that is false, than bad news that is true. In the time of Isaiah, Israel was warned of the dire consequences of their sinful ways, inasmuch that Jerusalem’s destruction was at hand; yet, the people refused to listen. It is important to learn from the mistakes of our ancestors. Theirs and our optimism must be viewed as a human failure to be realistic in the face of danger. They, as well as us would much rather go on with our normal lives as much as possible, without concern for the immediate consequences, that will ensue as a result of our irresponsibility.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. What will be the end thereof, when there is no end in sight in the immediate future? A Corona virus study and report from the Imperial College in London predicts that a twelve to eighteen month lockdown may be necessary, dependent on finding a vaccine. Until that time, serious restrictive measures would need to remain in place, in order to diminish the spread of the virus. Various news sources have made reference to this study, noting that both the U.K. and the U.S. are basing their policies on this report. “Optimistic projections about life returning to normal and the economy getting back on track appear to be unrealistic in light of this model” (Times of Israel). We are in this for the long haul, and should be buckling up for a roller coaster ride that will be no source of amusement.

Weekly Edition: The Heart of Truth

B”H

4 Nissan 5780

March 29, 2020

Lev Emes: The Heart of Truth

“Let us reason together.” – Isaiah 1:18

There is no cause for false hope. Our real hope is in H’Shem (The Name). While gaining a realistic perspective on what is happening in the world, especially in the U.S., where we live, we can still read accurate news, without feeling inundated by the conflicting presentations. Yet, more importantly, we should reflect upon where our strength derives from, in this time of national crises, and global pandemic. From the Source of Creation, all continues to flow, both the good and the bad. H’Shem, the Almighty’s Will be done. Irrespective of our weaknesses, we may turn to Him in the midst of the chaos. He will eventually bring order, healing, and renewal.

With Pesach approaching, a test of faith is upon us, concerning the commandment to remove all chometz from one’s place of residence. For Ashkenazi Jews, this includes kitnios, inclusive of various types of foods, such as rice and beans. While many consumers are stocking up on basic food items, if not resorting to hoarding food, we are cleaning out our homes from basic food items, that we consume throughout the rest of the year. This requires placing one’s trust in H’Shem, that we may be provided for both during Passover, and after Passover, when we will restock our own shelves.

“And the L-RD will take away from you all sickness, and none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which you knew, will he inflict on you” (Deuteronomy 7:15). “In any plague, and in any disease, in any prayer or supplication offered by any person among all Your people Israel – each of whom knows his own affliction – when he spreads his palms towards this House, oh, hear in Your heavenly abode, and pardon and take action. Render to each man according to his ways as You know his heart to be – for You alone know the hearts of all men – so that they may revere You all the days that they live on the land that You gave to our Fathers ” (1 Kings 8:37-40, JPS 1985 Tanach).

“Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee; hide thyself for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast.”

– Isaiah 26:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

daily meditation: Uplifting Others

“And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed.”

– Exodus 17:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

During the war with Amalek, with Joshua at the helm, Moshe stood on a hill and prayed. How did he pray? He lifted up his hands; actually, he held the staff above his head for hours upon hours. So much of a burden was this that two men, Aaron and Hur “stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady, until the going down of the sun” (Exodus 17:12).

Amalek was weakened, because of the divine effort made on the part of Moshe, combined with the actual battle wherein Joshua led the Children of Israel. Yet, Aaron and Hur also deserve credit, inasmuch that they supported Moshe as he prayed to H’Shem. One can also imagine the people, seeing Moshe on the mountain, continuously lifting “the staff of G-d” (Exodus 17:9) above his head, gathering strength from this inspiring show of encouragement.

The people on the front line of this battle were supplemented in their war against Amalek by the continuous prayer of Moshe. This serves as an example to us; for many are battling against this modern day plague of Corona virus, that can even be likened to Amalek. For the inhumanity of Amalek manifested in their attack upon the most vulnerable of the population, who were as stragglers at the rear of the procession from camp to camp.

Therefore, our heartfelt prayers as well as our contributions in other ways may serve as behind the scenes support in this battle against a plague that mostly inflicts serious injury to the elderly, as well as those with preexistent medical conditions. Yet, recent statistics show that even those between 20 and 54 are being seriously afflicted by Corona virus. It is time to pray, heartfelt prayer to H’Shem, until the sun sets on this plague, when it is banished from the world.

“Be Thou exalted, O L-RD, in Thy strength; so will we sing and praise Thy power.”

– Psalm 21:13

after Shabbat: G-d’s Sovereignty

B”H

Motzei Shabbos shiur for Vayikra 5780

“Let me fall now into the hand of the L-RD, for very great are His mercies; and let me not fall into the hand of man.”

– 1 Chronicles 21:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

In parashas Ki Tisa, a census is taken wherein each person gave a half shekel as an atonement for his soul. The half shekel is described as a ransom for the soul, so that there will not be a plague when the census is taken (Exodus 30:12). The ransom guarantees that there will be no plague, as a result of the collective sins of Israel.

Commentary explains that because at the time of a census, wherein each man is counted, it is as if every man is also scrutinized in regard to his moral status. Inasmuch that deficiencies in thought, speech, and behavior may always be found upon such scrutiny, the ransom of a half shekel is necessary for atonement.

At the time of King David, a census was taken, by way of his directive; however, this displeased H’Shem, so a message was given to David to choose one of three consequences. Rather than be subject to famine, or his foes, David exclaimed that he would prefer to “fall into the hand of the L-RD” (see above).

Thus, G-d sent a plague throughout Israel. He then sent a destroying angel to enact a plague upon Jerusalem, until H’Shem decided out of His mercy to spare Jerusalem from destruction. David and the elders repented, saying, “let Thy hand, I pray Thee, O L-RD my G-d, be against me, and against my father’s house; but not against Thy people, that they should be plagued” (1 Chronicles 21:17).

David’s trust in H’Shem, despite the fact that H’Shem sent the plague, exemplifies the trust of Job, the pious gentile who was inflicted by so much misfortune and physical malaise. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15). Today, in light of the Corona virus, our trust in H’Shem will be tested. Regardless of the spread of this modern day plague throughout the world, acknowledging G-d’s sovereignty over our lives is of the upmost importance.

daily meditation: Refuge

B”H

March 20, 2020

(24 Adar 5780)

“Closing time, every new beginning comes from some other begining’s end.”

– Closing Time, by Semisonic

As we close the doors behind us, and shut ourselves in for the duration of this plague, let us recall the night before our first redemption, when the Angel of Death passed over the homes of B’nei Yisrael.

We who placed our trust in H’Shem, by obeying His commandment to place the blood of the Pesach lamb on our doorposts and lintels, while sheltering behind those doors. The prophet makes reference to this event, while speaking of another day.

“Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee; hide thyself for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast.”

– Isaiah 26:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

The sages liken the final redemption to the first redemption. As Egypt was inflicted by ten plagues, so will the world be subject to an even greater set of plagues. Those of us who trust in H’Shem may seek refuge in Him, within the confinement of our homes at this particular time in history.

By turning our hearts towards Him, we prepare ourselves for the redemption that is at hand. Although this may only be a forerunner of the ensuing judgment upon the inhabitants of the earth, we shelter in expectation of our freedom, when Moshiach will reign.

Additionally, while our hunkering down during this time period, may also only be a prelude to a greater need to seek refuge in H’Shem down the prophetic timeline, we trust that He will safeguard us.

“He concealeth me in His pavilion [sukkah] in the day of evil; He hideth me in the covert of His tent; He lifteth me up upon a rock.”

– Psalm 27:5, JPS 1917 Tanach