Atonement

“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, 1917 JPS Tanach

The translation of Acharei-Mot Kedoshim, the names given to the double parashas reading, is After Death, Holiness. How profound a statement, if taken on a literal level as such: after death, will holiness prevail in the afterlife? This question may be approached in the following oblique manner:

The deaths of Nadav and Abihu are mentioned, before describing the Yom Kippur service. The question is asked by the Sages, why are their deaths mentioned in connection to Yom Kippur? The answer given is because as Yom Kippur serves as for an atonement, so do the deaths of the righteous act as atonement.

From this Talmudic commentary, it is understood that upon death of the righteous, it as if a greater level of holiness is bestowed upon the kedoshim (holy persons), that will prevail in having the effect of atoning for other’s sins. The status of the tzaddikim (righteous persons) after death, is raised to the level of sanctity, that will serve on the same level of an offering brought to atone for sins.

Consider the following statement from the Midrash. “Will not a time come upon when Israel will have neither Tabernacle nor Temple? What will happen to them (as regards atonement)?’ He replied, ‘I will take a righteous man from amongst them and make him a pledge on their account, and I will atone for their iniquities” (Midrash on Exodus 35:4).

What hope do we have to reach the level of holiness that the L-RD requires? Aside from doing our best to look towards Torah as a means to live in accordance with G-d’s expectations, if we fall short of the mark, who will make up the difference for us? We may seek holiness in this life, and obtain a good place in Olam Haba (the World to Come), through the Tzaddik Yesod Olam (Righteous Foundation of the World).

parashas Tazria-Metzora 5781

“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? H’Shem is merciful; He is not interested in simply punishing 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.

While sheltering in place, amidst the restrictions that began, in an attempt to counter the proliferation of  the Corona Virus, we are very much like the metzora, 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.

Many of us have had plenty of time to do the same, 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 effecting a judgment upon the world for this very purpose. We should compel ourselves, in all sincerity, to continue to use our time wisely.

parashas Shemini 5781

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

Upon completion of the (tabernacle), offerings were brought for its inauguration: these included an offering to atone for Aaron’s role in the golden calf incident. Commentary reads, 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 was not completely forgiven.

At this point, Moses and Aaron entered the sanctuary. While no reason is given on the actual passage found in Torah, commentary offers several reasons. One reason given is that Aaron confided in Moses, concerning his felt shame over his sin. Thus the two of them entered the sanctuary, in order to pray to the L-RD to forgive Aaron. When they walked out of the sanctuary after praying, the fire descended upon the mizbeach, consuming the offerings.

Pesach: V’ga’alti – I Will Redeem You

B”H

Seventh Day of Passover: Yam Suf -Splitting of the Sea

“I will redeem you with an outstretched arm.” – Exodus 6:6

The splitting of the Sea of Reeds, brought forth new potential to the people Israel. A potential to flourish, despite the daily hardships, that now appeared to be past, since they were no longer slaves. Yet, even though slavery was a wrong imposed upon them by Pharaoh; now, as servants to the L-RD, they may have been in a better position to serve Him. That is, because they knew the rigours of being forced to hard labor by their Egyptian taskmasters, they now could look towards Him Who freed them as their new master. A kinder, gentler master; yet, One who was also just.

Moreover, the labor of their past, was of no material benefit to them, per se, because they did not receive any payment. Yet, as far as the conditioning of their souls, the refinement of their character, like Joseph, “until the time that his word came: the word of the L-rd tried him” (Psalm 105:19). And, so, having been bound to the work force of Pharaoh, they were now able to gain strength and determination from enduring physical hardships. So, that now they were being called to serve the L-RD, with all of their heart, soul, and might. Incidentally, B’nei Yisrael did receive renumeration for the intensity of their unpaid labor, when they emptied Egypt of all its wealth, as per the the prophecy given to Abraham, at the Covenant of the Parts (Genesis 15:14).

This newly found wealth was used to build the Mishkan (portable Tabernacle in the wilderness), and all of its acoutrements, including the Ark of the Covenant, the menorah, incense altar, and showbread table, in addition to the altar for the offerings, that was located in the courtyard. Thus, even the wealth that they had acquired, as recompense for what was due to them, was used for a purpose that was designed to serve the L-RD. This transition, into their new lives, was made in effect for the sake of being called out of Egypt, so that G-d could take them as a people, and mold them into an image of Himself (see Exodus 6:6-7).

Passover 5781

Passover is a time of renewal, reflection, and commitment to our heritage, inclusive of the values that were instituted at Sinai after the Exodus. Moreover, the commandment to re-enact the narrative of the Exodus culminates in the acknowledgment of our own identification with our collective past. We are called every year in Nissan, the first of the months, to actually relive our ancestor’s enslavement in Egypt, and our subsequent redemption. Primarily, this experience of empathy with our former lowliness as a people occurs at the seder – a meal of symbolic foods, wherein we recall the narrative of the Exodus, by reading from the Hagaddah, a collection of scripture, commentary, and prayer.

This is unlike any other meal of the year; and, that is exactly the point. Why is this night different than any other? Because on the night of Passover we travel back in time, as if we were actually present at those momentous events that led towards the Geulah (Redemption). Moreover, we look forward to the Geulah Shleimah (Complete Redemption), otherwise known as the Final Redemption. The tradition on the last day of Passover is to hold a Moshiach Seudah (Meal of Messiah) that casts our thoughts towards the day when we are fully re-estblished in the land of Israel, after the rebuilding of the Third Temple. The Messiah will reign from Jerusalem, and Israel will become a light to the nations; and, the Torah will go out from Zion to all peoples.

Established from Above

parashas Vayakhel-Pekudei 5781

Upon completing the monumental task of building all of the various components of the Mishkan (portable tabernacle in the desert), the artisans and craftsmen brought everything to Moses, who responded with the appropriate enthusiasm of the leader of B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel). “And when Moses saw that they had performed all the tasks—as the L-RD had commanded, so they had done—Moses blessed them” (Exodus 39:43, NJPS).

The Israelites had done all that was commanded of them; so, of course, they deserved a blessing. Yet, what does a blessing in and of itself constitute, especially for such an enormous amount of work that was done willingly, as a free gift offering by they who committed themselves to the task?

In the modern world, remuneration for services rendered is the norm amongst those who work for a living; and, often we value even our very selves, based upon our profession, and our ability to provide for ourselves and our families. Yet, anyone, including myself, who has worked as a volunteer for some cause knows the reward for doing so; and, to feel a part of a greater whole, for the sole sake of contributing to a good cause is an invaluable estimation of one’s time and effort in the endeavor.

Even so, the greater picture concerns our contribution to the expectations of G-d for the sake of others, as well as ourselves. There is no remuneration that can be measured in terms that would assess the benefits that the soul receives for having been part of G-d’s master plan; for He is the great architect of our lives, as well as the end goal of all human endeavors that are in alignment with His divine blueprint for the world.

The  Mishkan was constructed for the sake of providing a place where G-d’s presence would rest amongst His people. The project required a coordinated effort from the people to build something of lasting value for the sake of maintaining a connection with G-d. We would also do well to consider, that whatever we do will only be established through the blessings of G-d in our lives, whether we realize the nature of those blessings or not. The more we contribute to worthy endeavors that will be approved in His eyes, the greater will be our security. When we place our trust in Him, He will guide us in the right endeavors. “Except the L-RD build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:1, JPS).

“Let the graciousness of the L-rd our G-d be upon us; establish Thou also upon us the work of our hands; yea, the work of our hands establish Thou it.”

– Psalm 90:17, JPS 1917 Tanach

Gold Dust

B”H

Holy Scribbles: Parashas Ki Tisa 5781 – Gold Dust

An often neglected nuanced understanding, in regard to the debacle of the golden calf is as follows: after grinding the golden molten metal calf into dust, Moses throws the dust particles into the water; additionally, he compels the people to drink this. Why? Later in the accounts given in Torah, we learn the reason. This has to do with the sotah – the unfaithful wife who is put to the test, in regard to her innocence. She is compelled to drink water that has a little bit of earth, plus the erased letters of a written punishment if she is guilty of adultery. These words that make up the judgment include G-d’s name; yet, the name of G-d is also erased along with the rest of the passage. If she is guilty, the written curse will be supernaturally enacted.

This procedure is akin to the measures that Moses took, after grinding the golden calf into powder. Israel was guilty of adultery, in a certain sense, as well as idolatry, because to turn away for G-d to another god is a form of adultery. Elsewhere throughout kitvei kodesh (holy scripture), Israel is compared to a wayward wife, essentially an adulteress, because she turned towards all sorts of other gods. Recompense is made for Israel, when they turn back towards H’Shem (literally, “the Name”), thus effectively ending the separation.

This same parallel can be found in our own lives as well, for when we turn away from G-d, whether through neglect of our duties, indifference, or outright sin, a chasm opens up between us and Him. “Your iniquities have been a barrier between you and your G-d, your sins have made Him turn His face away” (Isaiah 59:2, JPS 1985 Tanach). Although we are not made to drink bitter water, the result of our negligence has the effect of bringing bitterness into our lives, until we reconcile ourselves to G-d.

The Light of Reason

The light of reason, unless derived from a godly source, may fail to live up to its illumination. Consider that the deification of reason, within the framework of the Age of Enlightenment, was a status given to an attribute that we only have from the Creator. Removed from its origin, reason becomes an independent quality, capable of deviating from the truth, all in the name of itself. Today, a key component of the same type of thinking, might be the “woke culture,” that prevails upon us in the spirit of liberalism. Cancel culture is the means whereby the voices of its opponents are silenced.

In parashas Tetzaveh, the weekly reading of the Torah that begins with the commandment about the pure olive oil that will be used for the seven branched menorah in the Tabernacle, our attention may be drawn to the specification of this oil, being “pure;” i.e., free from all sediment after the olives are crushed. The light that burned in the menorah in G-d’s Tabernacle was no ordinary light. It is taught that this light represents the original light (in Hebrew, “ohr”) that was created on the first day of Creation. After the sin of Adam and Eve, this light was hidden away, for the righteous in Olam Haba (the World to Come).

How can we obtain that light? Not through our own reason, as is written, “Lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). We may apply our reason, within the framework of truth; yet, too often, we are led away from what is good, by our own reasoning, thus creating a fissure between G-d’s established ways, and man’s utopian vision. In the near future, this division will become more clear, as the goals of a global dystopia become more evident. The choice will be ours to make, whether to draw closer to G-d, by seeking refuge in His sanctuary (Psalm 27:5), or taking shelter in the false promise of security offered by the world. May the true light will continue to show us the way.

The Golden Opportunity

B”H

weekly reading: parashas Terumah 5781 – the Golden Ark

“Overlay it with pure gold—overlay it inside and out—and make upon it a gold molding round about.” – Exodus 25:11, JPS

The Ark of the Covenant was built by Betzalel, who was consigned as artist extraordinaire, in charge of the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and all of its components. Composed of an entirety of three interlocking boxes, one golden box on the inside, one acacia wood box in the middle, and one golden box on the outside, the ark of the covenant was especially suited for containing the two stone tablets with the aseret hadibrot (literally, ten utterances); otherwise, known as the Ten Commandments.

This bears weight upon a conceptual understanding of character development: for as we are on the inside, so should we appear on the outside; otherwise, if we personify an image, while not living up to our image, our inner person will not shine. In fact, only by a strong character, will we truly appear golden to others; otherwise, our hypocrisy will show up somehow, rather than shine from the “golden glow” inside of us.

This also can be understood in respect to what is most important, according to this particular illustration, in regard to the content or source of our character, that is from the Torah’s point-of-view. Thus, we can easily see that such an ornate receptacle was built to carry and house the tablets of stone that contained the engraved writing, in fire from the finger of G-d. The “power source” of the Ark of the Covenant was, and in a sense continues to be, the Ten Commandments. Additionally, all of the other commandments can be categorized within the framework of these ten commandments. As previously mentioned they are also referred to as the “ten utterances;” these words spoken by G-d continue to be spoken throughout the generations.

Ideally, the Ark provides a picture, if not an object lesson of divinity as well, since the Shechinah, G-d’s presence rested between the golden cherubim (angels) on the cover. The opportunity prevails upon us, inasmuch that we can relate to this teaching, that just as His presence rested within the space on top of the golden cover of the ark, so may the Shechinah rest within us, when we are reconciled to G-d. “And let them make me a sanctuary [mikdash], that I may dwell among [within] them” (Exodus 25:8, JPS). The original intent, ideally, is that G-d might dwell within each and every one of us. Let us permit His light to shine through our sincere character.

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