Shemitah Year

“And the L-RD spoke unto Moses in Mount Sinai, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a Sabbath unto the L-RD.” – Leviticus 25:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Torah, specifically, mentions that the commandment of Shemitah, wherein the land is to lie fallow every seven years, “a Sabbath unto the L-RD,” was given on Mount Sinai. Why is this particular commandment, singled out, as being given at Mount Sinai? The Sages say, that this serves as a reminder that all the commandments, not only the Decalogue – the Ten Commandments – were given at Sinai. Yet, this still does not answer the question, why is the commandment of Shemitah given prominence?

Shemitah is a commandment that requires strong emunah (faith): for it is the trust in H’Shem to provide enough crops in the previous year, to eat, while the land lies fallow, until the third year, when the harvest arrives. Emunah (faith), the essential element that was initially exhibited at Sinai, when B’nei Yisrael committed to observing the commandments, before actually hearing them (na’aseh v’nishmah) is also required for Shemitah.

This faith is integral to receiving the commandments on Sinai, inasmuch that G-d guarantees that during the seventh year, when the land lies fallow, He provide enough food from the previous year, to last throughout the seventh year, as well as the next year, when the crops are being planted. Yet, the Torah warns of the consequence for not having faith in regard to the Shemitah year:

“And you will I scatter among the nations, and I will draw out the sword after you; and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste. Then shall the land be paid her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye are in your enemies’ land; even then shall the land rest, and repay her sabbaths. As long as it lieth desolate it shall have rest; even the rest which it had not in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it” (Leviticus 26:33-35, JPS).

This chastisement was carried out towards the end of the first Temple period, as is mentioned, “to fulfill the word of H’Shem by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had been paid her sabbaths; for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfill threescore and ten years” (2 Chronicles 36:21, JPS). Thus, failure to observe Shemitah led to the Babylonian exile.

What lesson can be drawn from this example? In today’s hustle and bustle of modern life, especially during the work week, if we focus only on striving for the material benefits, in order to provide for ourselves and our families, then we miss “the bigger picture.”

The Sabbath, is a reminder of the Creator, and his Creation. G-d must not be left out of “the equation” in our lives. For, it is G-d, Who made the heavens and the earth, as well as the seas. We should show reverence towards Him, and recognize His splendor. Especially so, as the hour approaches for our redemption. Let us not be amongst those who forget the Creator.

parasha Emor

“It is a Shabbat for H’Shem, in all your dwelling places.” – Leviticus 23:3

Why does the Torah specify, “In all your dwelling places?” Ibn Ezra comments, “In your country and outside of your country, at home and on the way” (sefaria.org). Sforno writes, that the specification “indicates that the commencement and conclusion of the Sabbath depends on the local times of day and night, not on a central location” (sefaria.org). And, Chizkuni notes that “The Sabbath laws apply regardless of whether you are in the Holy Land or in exile” (sefaria.org). Within the framework of this line of reasoning,  the Sabbath, as Abraham Heschel points out, is a time designation, regardless of place.

Therefore, whereas the moadim are mentioned in the previous verse, some significance can be understood, in regard to the Sabbath. Perhaps, it is as if to imply, that on the moadim, when you travel to Jerusalem, to observe the shalosh regalim, three holidays in Jerusalem, these are considered Sabbaths, and must also be observed as Shabbat, outside of Jerusalem, as well, for all who are unable to make the journey to Jerusalem.

This would have relevancy, in particular, to the Jews living outside of Israel, after the dispersions, beginning with the Babylonian exile, as well as the Roman exile. Furthermore, this has primary relevance for us today, as well. For, only in Jerusalem, do the moadim become holidays observed in both time and place, according to Torah. Even though we observe, for the most part, these holidays in the synagogue today, this was not the original intention, and is only a modern substitute, in lieu of all of the Yehudim being gathered back into Israel. Yet, when Moshiach reigns from Jerusalem, we may all observe the holidays in time and place.

parasha Kedoshim 5782

parasha Kedoshim 5782 – Honest Weights and Measures

“Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure.” – Leviticus 19:35, JPS 1917 Tanach

Regarding the opening verse of parasha Kedoshim, “You shall be holy, because H’Shem your Gd is holy,” this verse serves as a guiding principle, that continues to be expounded upon throughout the rest of the parasha. The principle of holiness is applied even to what might otherwise be considered as the mundane affairs of mankind. For example, the Torah calls for “equal weights and measures.” Although, we are not all merchants, called to right business practices, this specific commandment may be gleaned by the intellect through a symbolic rendering.

In regard to the positive character trait of honesty, an honest person will not try to cheat or disparage others in any manner. When measuring up to others greater than us, let us not rob the other of their status, by demeaning them. Nor, shall a person of integrity make himself out to be better than one actually is, by stacking the weights to his advantage, making it appear that he has more positive qualities than in actuality. Rather, let us make an honest assessment of both are positive negative qualities and attempt to improve ourselves altogether.

Ultimately, we will be judged by G-d Above, at the time of Judgment, so that it would be better to judge ourselves of our own accord today, tomorrow, and the next day, on a continual basis, so that we may repent and change for the better through teshuvah (turning towards G-d). In this manner, we should not have any sins left unrepented; therefore, our judgment will be lighter. Let us seek to be forgiven by H’Shem’s (the L-rd’s) provision for our atonement. For the means for teshuvah (repentance) was formulated even before the world came into existence. Amein. Shabbat shalom.

“Divers weights, and divers measures, both of them alike are abomination to the L-RD.” – Proverbs 20:10, JPS 1917 Tanach

parashas Metzora 5782

“This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing: he shall be brought unto the priest [kohein].” – Leviticus 14:2, JPS

In each case, whether a person’s home, clothing, or body is stricken with a nega (plague), he is brought to the kohein (priest). The kohein determines not only the status of the suspected nega; he also is qualified on a spiritual level to gain insight on the state of the person’s soul. This concept is in line with the understanding of tzarras as a spiritual malaise that manifests as a skin disease.

Tzarras is one type of nega, the other two in question, here, are those that show up on a person’s clothes or the walls of his home. In all cases, as already mentioned above, the kohein is the sole individual, who uses his discernment to ascertain the specific sin that was the root cause of the blemish on a person’s soul, that manifested as a nega (literally, “plague”).

What can we learn from this connection? Because H’Shem is merciful, He is not interested in only chastising us for our sins. Rather, He will send an early warning signal to serve as a “wake up call,” specifically designated for us, so that we may scrutinize our own selves, in search for our misdeeds, character defects, and deficiencies.

The isolation of the metzora is akin to our sheltering in place, amidst the restrictions that began, in an attempt to counter the proliferation of the modern-day plague, the Corona Virus. Like the Biblical leper who is sent outside of the camp, where he is in isolation, for the purpose of reviewing his thoughts, speech, and action, so that he may rectify his ways, we, too, in like manner, may continue spend our time wisely.

In acknowledgment of the fragility of life, and the need to maintain our level of kedusha (holiness) every day, we should examine our conscience, and rectify our faults. Many of us have already had plenty of time to do so, by searching our hearts, and carrying out what is referred to in Hebrew as heshbon hanefesh, literally, an “accounting of the soul.” H’Shem may very well be affecting a judgment upon the world, for the purpose of bringing us to this awareness through a major wake up call.

Modern-day Lepers

“This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing: he shall be brought unto the priest [kohein].” – Leviticus 14:2, JPS

In each case, whether a person’s home, clothing, or body is stricken with a nega (plague), he is brought to the kohein. The kohein determines not only the status of the suspected nega; he also is qualified on a spiritual level to gain insight on the state of the person’s soul. This concept is in line with the understanding of tzarras as a spiritual malaise that manifests as a skin disease.

Tzarras is one type of nega, the other two in question, here, are those that show up on a person’s clothes or the walls of a home. In all cases, as already mentioned above, the kohein is the sole individual, who uses his discernment to ascertain the specific sin that was the root cause of the blemish on a person’s soul, that manifested as a nega (literally, “plague”).

What can we learn from this connection? H’Shem is merciful; He causes afflictions such as negaim (plagues), for the sake of our chastisement, to lead us to teshuvah (repentance). He will send “an early warning signal” as a “wake up call,” specifically designated for us, so that we may scrutinize our own selves, in search for our misdeeds, character defects, and deficiencies. With the help of the light, shining from Above, we may gain insight into our inner selves.

To some degree, we may have all gotten a very real idea of the nature of isolation, while sheltering in place. Yet, sin itself distances us from G-d; and, an even greater sense of isolation may result, until our relationship with G-d is reconciled through teshuvah (repentance). Additionally, even more recent phenomenon of society, is creating outcasts, cancelled out for their views, akin to the Biblical leper who is sent outside of the camp. These are times for all of us to review our thoughts, speech, and action, in order to know where we stand in regard to our own values. And, not to fear being cast out by man; rather, to fear being cast out by G-d.

The Power of Forgiveness

parasha Shemini 5782

“For today the L-RD will appear to you.” – Leviticus 9:4

Upon the culmination of the inauguration of the mishkan and the kohein into the kehunah, certain offerings were brought. These included an offering to atone for Aaron’s role in the golden calf incident. Commentary notes that the offerings were prepared; however, the fire had not yet descended from the sky; so, Aaron grew concerned. His guilt in the sin of the golden calf compelled him to think that the delay was a sign that he had not been completely forgiven. At this point, Moses and Aaron entered the sanctuary.

While no reason is given in the actual passage found in Torah, commentary offers several explanations. One reason mentioned is that Aaron confided in Moses, concerning his shame about his role in the golden calf incident. He felt that, perhaps, H’Shem was still angry with him. Thus, the two of them entered the sanctuary, in order to pray to the H’Shem to forgive Aaron. When they walked out of the sanctuary after praying, the fire descended upon the mizbeach, consuming the offerings.

The power of forgiveness is such that feelings of resentment may linger until a person forgives another for their trespass. Then, all is washed clean, and renewed in that relationship. H’Shem is a righteous Judge; He does not harbor resentment or grudges against us when we sin; only, inasmuch that He calls us towards teshuvah (repentance) does He wait to bestow His compassion upon us, forgiving us completely for our transgressions. Yet, as human beings, we may harden our hearts towards others, even for perceived slights to our honor, status, or ego. We do ourselves an injustice, by closing ourselves off from others, whom we think have wronged us is some way. Only the cleansing waters of forgiveness that refresh the soul, may bring a restoration to our lives, opening the way to increased camaraderie.

Searching the Heart

parashas Tzav 5782

“Fire shall be kept burning u[on the altar continually; it shall not go out.”

– Leviticus 6:6, JPS 1917 Tanach

To connect with the L’RD (deveykus) on a continual basis, we need to engage every facet of ourselves – our thought, speech, and behavior – in an effort to enhance the light within us. This is denoted in the manner that many Jewish people pray while standing, swaying back and forth. Symbolically, this may also be understood to represent the ner tamid – eternal flame that was kept burning on the mizbeach (altar). Thus, we should also keep the fire of devotion lit in our hearts for H’Shem both day and night.

The ner tamid (eternal light), represented by the light above the ark in a synagogue, brings us even closer to an understanding of what H’Shem desires of us. In the Zohar, the “everlasting fire,” that is to be kept continually burning on the mizbeach (altar), alludes to the divine light of the soul (Tikkunei Zohar 74a). As expressed elsewhere, “The spirit [neshama] of man is the lamp of the L-RD” (Proverbs 20:27).

In like manner that a candle may be used to lighten a dark room, when searching for some lost object, man’s spirit is enlightened by H’Shem, in order to search all the inner nature of man, to bring to light faults, and negative character traits, as well as sins that might otherwise go unnoticed. This is of paramount importance, especially in consideration of negative thoughts that may often go unchecked. Akin to the olah offering that could be brought to atone for sinful thoughts, and was kept burning on the mizbeach, we may benefit from a continual focus on guarding our thoughts, subjecting them to the light of truth.

“Above all that thou guardest keep thy heart; for out of it are the issues of life.”

– Proverbs 4:23 JPS 1917 Tanach

Purim Shpiel 5782

I imagine that I will not be the only one attempting a “balancing act” this Purim: balancing joy & sorrow, past & present, and religion & life. Perhaps, there is no need for me to explain, and you, dear reader, are already beginning to get an inkling of what I am about to say. Purim is quickly approaching; yet, my thoughts are preoccupied with a modern-day Purim story, wherein the archvillain is intent on destruction, despite the opposition.

Abraham Heschel advocated for a Judaism that is not wrapped up in its past glory, in spite of the prevailing circumstances of life. How can I celebrate Purim in a joyous manner, knowing that a real-life situation demands my attention, prayer, and support? To go along with Purim-as-usual would create a great disconnect between what is meant to be a living faith in touch with the challenges of life and the actual challenges that present themselves, despite the timing.

The war in Ukraine will not be put on hold for the celebration of Purim. This is the stark reality that many of the Jewish refugees who have managed to cross the border know. And the unfortunate ones, who for whatever reasons are still in Ukraine, sheltering in basements, or fighting to defend their country also know this all too well. The rejoicing in Shushan and the lands of Ahasuerus did not occur until after victory was procured for the Jewish people, who were previously threatened by the evil designs of Haman.

Today, rejoicing over this past victory will in all likelihood be diminished in light of the present reality. Whatever lessons we are able to glean from Purim, I would encourage that these be applied to our response to the events of today. Otherwise, as Heschel wrote, we risk ignoring “the crisis of today,” “because of the splendor of the past” (Heschel, G-d in Search of Man, ch.1).

Spiritual Battles

parashas Pekudei 5782

 “And the opening of the robe was turned inward like the opening of a coat of armor; its opening had a border around it so that it should not be torn.” – Exodus 39:23

The kohein gadol wore eight garments, specially tailored for his role. The seam around the neckline of his robe was to be made with a border, akin to those found in a coat of armor. For the sake of comparison, the kohein gadol, perhaps, in some ways can be regarded as a type of “spiritual warrior.” Thus, his role entailed, serving on behalf of Bnei Yisrael (the Children of Israel), that he seeks atonement for their sins, especially as a nation on Yom Kippur; and, also to reconcile them to H’Shem, through the various offerings made in the courtyard of the sanctuary.

Additionally, the upkeep of the sanctuary where H’Shem dwelt within the midst of the camp of the Israelites. So, his role in a sense included an emphasis on countering the enemy both within and without. That is to say, to seek atonement for the sins of Israel that were committed because of the overpowering enemy within, the yetzer hara (evil inclination). And, to counter the actual enemies of Israel, be seeking advice from H’Shem in times of war.

Today, we seek the help of G-d, in regard to the plight of our brethren in Ukraine. May the L-RD shine His countenance upon all people in the region, who seek shelter, food, and safety in the midst of chaos. Inasmuch that many believe that we are currently in the achronim yomin (end of days), we look forward to the final redemption, where all of Israel will be saved. “O Israel, that art saved by the L-RD with an everlasting salvation; ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end” (Isaiah 45:17, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The Wise-Hearted

“And all the wise in heart made the Tabernacle.”

– Targum on Exodus 36:8

According to Maimonides, although scripture does not specifically state so, Moses related to the builders of the tabernacle, everything in its prescribed order. This gives the impression of a divine blueprint, being explained to the wise-hearted in precise details, according to the order of its intended construction. In light of the creation narrative, bringing order out of chaos, a parallel is also seen here in the building of the Mishkan, that follows the chaotic descent into idolatry at Sinai.

We need to ask ourselves, whether or not our own endeavors are wise-hearted. At a time in history, when chaos seems to prevail, and the world appears to be moving towards dystopia, rather than utopia, we need to make an assessment of our own values. We should focus on the pure unadulterated goodness of G-d’s divine agenda. For, regarding those whose designs are based on a godless blueprint, “do they not err that devise evil? But mercy and truth shall be to them that devise good” (Proverbs 14:22).

The Mishkan (portable tabernacle in the desert) was designed with the inspiration given by G-d’s Spirit, the Ruach Elokim, that imbued Bezalel, the main craftsperson, who built the Mishkan. All the wise in heart contributed. If we would like to contribute to G-d’s overall plan today, then we need to consider what efforts will be required on our part in order to do so. Our commitment to serve G-d with the discernment granted to us from Above is primary. For only G-d is able to bring true order out of chaos, and establish His Kingdom (Malchus HaElokim – the Kingdom of G-d).

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