parashas Va’etchanan 5780


B”H

וְאֶתְכֶם לָקַח יְהֹוָה וַיּוֹצִא אֶתְכֶם מִכּוּר
“You hath H’Shem taken and brought forth out of the iron furnace.”

– Deuteronomy 4:20, JPS 1917 Tanach


Rashi explains, “a כור is a vessel in which one refines gold” (sefaria.org). Moshe’s choice of words, attempts to impress upon the new generation, that the nisyanos (challenges) in Egypt, were meant to serve as a means to refine the people. Consider that when gold is placed in “a refiner’s fire,” the impurities are drawn out; what remains is pure. The soul is also refined, through the challenges of life, in order to be free from taint.

Joseph, serves as an example, who went ahead of the children of Israel into Egypt, endured many challenges, “until the time that His word came to pass; the word of the L-rd had tested him” (Psalms 105:19). His character was refined in the refiner’s fire, in preparation for his role as a leader in Egypt, only second to Pharoah. In this manner, he was tested, until his prophetic dreams were fulfilled by H’Shem, through the circumstances of his life.

Moshe continues, “H’Shem shall scatter you among the peoples, and ye shall be left few in number among the nations, whither H’Shem shall lead you away” (Deuteronomy 4:27). “From thence ye will seek the L-RD thy G-d; and thou shalt find Him, if thou search after Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29).

בַּצַּר לְךָ וּמְצָאוּךָ כֹּל הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה בְּאַֽחֲרִית הַיָּמִים וְשַׁבְתָּ עַד־יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ וְשָֽׁמַעְתָּ בְּקֹלֽוֹ׃

In thy distress, when all these things are come upon thee in the end of days, thou wilt return to H’Shem thy G-d, and hearken unto His voice; for the L-RD thy G-d is a merciful G-d; He will not fail thee.”

– Deuteronomy 4:30-31

“G-d ventured to go and take Him a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, and by wonders” (Deuteronomy 4:34). So too, will he lead us out of exile. As the sages note, the time that will precede the Final Redemption, will mirror the plagues that preceded the first redemption, when B’nei Yisrael was led out of Egypt. As we approach the building of the third temple, during a time of great nisyanos (challenges) for all the world (Daniel 12:2), we shall endure.





parashas: Zealousness

B”H

Shiur for parashas Pinchas 5780

Discord was sown, when the advice that Balaam gave to Balak, was enacted upon the Children of Israel. Although Balak was not able to curse Israel, being compelled instead to bless, he still managed to set up circumstances in an underhanded manner, whereby the kedushah (holiness) and emunah (faith) of B’nei Yisrael would be diminished. He knew that the only way to bring about malfeasance upon Israel was to cause them to sin; as a consequence, G-d would have to respond to Israel’s transgression.
Balak and Balaam conspired against Israel; and they sent out Moabite and Midianite women to entice Israel. “And the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods; and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. And Israel joined himself unto the Baal of Peor; and the anger of the L-RD was kindled against Israel” (Numbers 25:1-3, JPS).
The kindling of H’Shem’s anger resulted in the form of a plague. Although the guilty were hanged after a makeshift court was held with the leaders of Israel residing, and a follow up by the judges of Israel further eliminated those who sinned in this incident, apparently, the plague continued to spread. The children of Israel were weeping, signifying teshuvah (repentance) outside of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Moses and Aaron were present at the Mishkan, when an Israelite prince brought a Midianite princess into his tent, in full view of everyone present outside the Mishkan.
The response was swift: Pinchas executed the Israelite man and his cohort. “So the plague ceased from the people of Israel.” For this zealous act, Pinchas was rewarded with a covenant of peace. As the Talmud explains, “The Holy One, blessed be He said to Moses, ‘Be the first to extend a greeting of peace to him,’ as it is written, wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace; and this atonement [that Phinehas has made] is worthy of being an everlasting atonement” (Sanhedrin 82b) .

Pinchas demonstrated remarkable zealousness towards H’Shem; yet, the action that he took was an exceptional case. Today, H’Shem would like us to show our devotion to Him through our avodah (prayer of the heart), and our ma’asim tovim (good deeds). Shabbat shalom.

parashas Pinchas 5780

reflections: Redemption

B”H

17 Tammuz 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.” – Exodus 14:13, JPS 1917 Tanach

Is the time drawing near for the sea to part? Is the Geulah (Redemption) at hand? The sages, in all of their sharp acuity, draw a parallel between the First Redemption, and the Final Redemption: akin to plagues that devastated Egypt, before the exodus of the Children of Israel, so will many plagues, even more than those inflicted upon ancient Egypt, precede the final redemption. This is gleaned from the following verse: “As in the days of thy coming forth out of the land of Egypt, will I show unto him marvellous things” (Micah 7:15, JPS). Could the modern day plague of the coronavirus be a foreshadowing of the Messianic Age?

The current exile (galus) of the Jewish people began almost two thousand years ago, when the second Temple was destroyed by the Romans. We were dispersed amongst the nations, as we still are today to some degree. Even though the state of Israel was renewed in 1948, without the Third Temple, we are technically still in exile. This is one reason why we proclaim every year, at the end of our Passover seder, “Next Year in Yerushalayim.” In essence, this does not refer to having the opportunity to fly to Israel via El Al Airlines, in order to make aliyah to our Biblical homeland. Rather, this alludes to the Geulah (Redemption), when Moshiach will reign from Jerusalem.

At that time, “peace on earth,” in all of its splendor will prevail over the unruly forces, that have no interest in recognising G-d’s sovereignty. Needless to say, we are only witnessing the beginning of these forces to potentially impact society in an unprecedented way; the road has been paved ever since the Age of Enlightenment, when the Deity of Reason was worshipped, to the diminishment of a focus on G-d, and religious values. This set the background for the French Revolution.

Behind the facade of a higher cause, these forces hold sway over any godless movement, whose roots are deeper than its claims to higher ideals, human rights, or “power to the people.” It is interesting to note, that as a result of the Bubonic plague of the 14th Century in Europe, “some historians believe that society subsequently became more violent as the mass mortality rate cheapened life and thus increased warfare, crime, popular revolt, waves of flagellants, and persecution” (Wikipedia). As far as I know, excepting self-flagellation, this seems to ring true today, in the face of COVID-19. “If we do not learn from the past, history will repeat itself.”

Am I overconcerned with the state of affairs in the world, and, more specifically, in America today? Others are apparently even more concerned. “In a normal month [Nefesh B’Nefesh] receives several hundred to a few thousand calls,” yet, this past June the Jewish organisation that promotes aliyah from the U.S. to Israel received 25,000 calls (VosIzNeias). For myself, I would only take that step, if and when I would hear the call from H’Shem, as has been mentioned by several fellow Jews in the not so recent past, concerning intuition from Above. Yet, the call to teshuvah, in and of itself, is primary; and, may be viewed the in light Hillel’s adage, “It’s not where you are, but how you are.” And, “if not now, when.”

“And thou shalt bethink thyself among the nations, whither the L-RD thy G-d hath driven thee, and shalt return unto the L-RD thy G-d.”

– Deuteronomy 30:1-2, 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.

Passover Reflections

B”H

14 Nissan 5780

March 8, 2020

Passover preparations, ideally performed in a meticulous manner, especially in regard to removing any speck of chometz (leavened products) that might be left after removing items like breads and cereals from the cupboards, may be viewed as a transition from ordinary time into redemptive time.

The seder, a traditional 2-4 hour meal, inclusive of various foods eaten for their symbolic value, plus the reading of the Hagaddah (Exodus narrative, embellished with songs and commentaries), is the way we relive our Redemption from slavery in Egypt. Each food represents part of the experience leading towards Redemption.

The search for chometz, in and of itself, is symbolic. Chometz represents sin, pride, and the yetzer hara (evil inclination). As meticulous as we may be in our search for crumbs, we need to look inside ourselves, as well, in order to bring to light what lurks in the darkness of our personalities. Then, we may transition from being enslaved to our yetzer hara, into the freedom of our redemptive selves, wherein we seek to follow our yetzer tov (good inclination).

“Depart from evil, and do good;

seek peace, and pursue it.”

– Psalm 34:14, 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.

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