reflections: Prayer as Remedy

B”H

“Whatsoever plague, whatsoever sickness there be; what prayer and supplication soever be made by any man of all Thy people Israel, who shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house; then hear Thou in heaven Thy dwelling-place, and forgive.”

  • 1 Kings 8:37-39, JPS 1917 Tanach

In the midst of our nisyanos (trials), we need to recognise the condition of our own hearts, and look within towards whatever may be likened to a plague that diminishes the moral quality of our thoughts, speech, and actions, from G-d’s perspective of our character. In His eyes, we need to make amends for our shortcomings, failures to heed doing what we know is right, and our negative character traits that may lead towards unrighteousness. Yet, He will be merciful towards us, and forgive us; and, then, H’Shem willing, healing of mind, body, and spirit will occur over time.

“And Aharon stood in the midst, between the dead and the living with the [incense] censer, and interceded in prayer; and the plague was restrained” (Numbers 17:13, Targum Yonaton, Sefaria.org). When we turn our hearts to H’Shem (the L-RD; literally, the Name), we may take advantage of a tried and true remedy: prayer. In Hebrew, tefillah, from the shoresh (root word), FLL, meaning to judge, implies the use of discernment to differentiate between what is essential and nonessential in one’s life. Sheltering in place brings the opportunity for introspection in regard to what is important in our lives. “Let my prayer be set forth as incense before Thee” (Psalm 141:2, JPS 1917 Tanach.

Reverence Towards G-d

B”H

23 Nissan 5780

April 17, 2020

Shiur for parashas Shemini 5780

“This is it that HShem spoke, saying: Through them that are nigh unto Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.”

– Leviticus 10:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to chazal, Nadav and Avihu are portrayed as righteous individuals who overstepped the boundaries in place for them as kohanim (priests); as they tried to draw closer to HShem, in an unauthorized manner, they were consumed by fire from before H’Shem (Leviticus 10:2, JPS). According to the Talmud, Aaron’s two sons died, only for the sake of sanctifying H’Shems name (Zevachim 115b). Within the same Talmudic passage, another view expresses their deaths in a more nuanced way, specifically, alluding to their transgression, by making the point that they had previously been cautioned against drawing too close to HShem.

Rashi comments that through the execution of judgment upon righteous individuals, yiras H’Shem (fear of G-d) is brought upon the people. Therefore, with respect to Nadav and Avihu, their deaths caused the people to witness how precarious serving G-d may be, if a righteous person is not careful in respect to his avodah (service towards HShem). The deaths of Nadav and Avihu show, by way of an example with a deadly consequence, that HShem needs to be approached with great reverence, awe, and respect.

A harsher condemnation of Nadav and Avihu may be rendered by a perspective that is even more critical of their transgression. They brought “alien fire” from a source other than the fire on the mizbeach. The fire on the mizbeach had its origin from Shomayim (Leviticus 9:24). According to Sifre, fire descended in the shape of a pillar between heaven and earth. Yet, Nadav and Avihu flouted the implicit directive, to draw fire from the outer mizbeach for all of the offerings the original fire that had been initiated by H’Shem.

What could have motivated Nadav and Avihu to take alien fire for their incense offering, instead of the fire that H’Shem had provided? One view critiques them as desiring to usurp the authority of Moshe and Aaron. Since the authority of Moshe and Aaron was given to them from HShem, then flouting that authority would be akin to disregarding the authority of H’Shem. Therefore, it could be inferred that their taking of alien fire constitutes a betrayal of their motives to disregard the sovereignty of H’Shem.

Towards the end of the first Temple period, the people were admonished, “they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13, JPS). The people had sought out other gods – alien gods – to worship, according to their own intentions; thus, they had forsaken H’Shem.

When we approach H’Shem in prayer, our avodah (service), equivalent to “prayer of the heart,” should be done so in reverence. Serving H’Shem, through the performance of the mitzvot, as well as prayer, may also require a rigorous examination of conscience, for the sake of bringing to light ulterior motives, faults, and character defects. Who shall ascend into the mountain of H’Shem? And who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart [lev tahor]; who hath not taken My name in vain, and hath not sworn deceitfully (Psalm 24:4, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Redemptive Prayer

B”H

16 Nissan 5780

March 10, 2020

Shiur for Pesach 5780

“And Moses said unto the people: Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the L-RD, which He will work for you to-day; for whereas ye have seen the Egyptians to-day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.”

– Exodus 14:13, JPS 1917 Tanach

As the Egyptian army approached, Torah records that B’nei Yisrael, encamped near the Sea of Reeds, cried out to H’Shem in great fear (14:10). Commentary notes that the people were divided in their response: 1). Some cried out to H’Shem in prayer, akin to the later writing of the psalmist, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will make mention of the name of the L-RD our G-d” (Psalm 20:8, JPS). 2). Another group of the people, having great trepidation about their circumstances, took the exact opposite approach, expressing their regret for having left Egypt, and complaining to Moshe (see Exodus 14:10-12).

When Moshe responded to the consternation of B’nei Yisrael, in light of their present circumstances, despite the seemingly near danger that was imminent, he said to them, “Fear ye not, stand still and see” (see above). Or HaChayim comments, that the words “stand still” convey the essence of prayer, a reliance on H’Shem, turning to Him in the midst of nisyanos (trials). He notes that the same Hebrew phrase is used in the Tanach, in regard to the prayer of Hannah, Samuel’s mother, who prayed in all sincerity to H’Shem. The picture derived from this understanding is one of a people’s reliance on H’Shem, in hope of seeing His salvation at a time of great need, when Pharaoh’s army was bearing down on them.

That night, an angel of H’Shem protected the people from the Egyptians, a cloud darkened the Egyptian camp, while a pillar of light shined upon the B’nei Yisrael. Moshe stretched his hand over the sea; and, H’Shem caused the sea to part by way of a strong east wind. The Children of Israel passed through the sea; however, when the Egyptians pursued them, Pharaoh and his army were drowned in the sea. Our own expectations of H’Shem for deliverance in our lives, regardless of our circumstances, when made through the prayer of sincerity, may bring results greater than our expectations. Especially, when there is no other recourse to be made, it is then that we may see the grandeur of His salvation.

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 contemplation: Renewal

B”H

March 25, 2020

Today is a day of fasting and prayer in Israel, as well as throughout the world. According to the Hebrew calendar, today is the last day of the year, when the year is reckoned by the monthly perspective, beginning with Nissan, the first of the months.

Today is also Yom Kippur Katan (small Yom Kippur), the day before Rosh Chodesh (the New Month). Yom Kippur Katan, observed almost every month on the 29th of the month, is a day of fasting, prayer, and teshuvah (repentance), in preparation of the New Month.

Even moreso, today, before the month of Nissan; and, especially because the day has been declared a day of fasting and prayer, in lieu of the coronavirus plague. Instead of letting the plague run its course, we pray for its end.

Instead of letting the plague overwhelm our lives, we pray for strength to continue with our daily tasks. Instead of letting the plague divert our attention from what is most meaningful in life, we pray for guidance to focus on what is essential.

Instead of letting the plague compel us towards a mindset of fear, anxiety and worry, we pray for G-d to enlighten us with hope, faith, and peace of mind. Instead of letting the plague contribute to a sense of claustrophobia, we pray for G-d to show us how to use our time wisely.

Amein, and amein.

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 reflection: Groundwork

B”H

March 1, 2020

Below the ground, a structure is rooted in the earth, whereby its stability is secured. The same is true with a more common, natural example, trees, whose roots provide nourishment as well as a secure attachment to the ground. In both cases, what we do not readily see, is the groundwork.

By analogy, the truths of a religious belief and practice are not visible to the eye that does not attempt to see more than what is on the surface. To perceive the underpinnings of belief and practice, the mind must inquire into the groundwork; otherwise, only a superficial understanding is gained.

Dependency on a religious structure, without personal inquiry, study, and observance will not suffice for an understanding that goes beyond the superficial. Only by delving into the details, by connecting to G-d on a daily basis, and inquiring into His ways, can a person be completely, nourished by the roots of religion.

After the Sabbath

B”H

March 1, 2020

“A still small voice.”

– 1 Kings 19:12

Too often, the weekday pace consumes the passage of time, without providing nourishment for the soul. Yet, initiative needs to be taken, in order to preserve the sanctity of the soul, even within the framework of mundane activities. As we prepare for the new week ahead of us, let us keep this in mind; and, try to find solace, within the midst of the daily grind.

“And He said: ‘Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the L-RD.’ And, behold, the L-RD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the L-RD; but the L-RD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the L-RD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire; but the L-RD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.”

– 1 Kings 19:11-12, JPS 1917 Tanach

daily contemplation: Silence

B”H

February 21, 2020

“Be still, and know that I am G-d.”

– Psalm 46:10

When we allow ourselves to rest in the silence, our minds may resist; we may become restless. Yet, persistence in the art of silent prayer, by setting aside a few minutes or more every day, will give way to a rich interior life.

Within that silence, there is an opportunity to rest, not only from our daily concerns, rather, also to rest from the compulsion to be active. This takes practice as well as patience; a helpful method might be to focus on a particular verse from scripture. Not as a mantra; rather, let the words sink into your bones. And, permit the meaning to flow into your mind and heart.

note: this is a repost of my answer to the question,

“Is G-d okay with us praying in silence?” at quora. com