Integrity’s Origins

“And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine; he was priest of G-d the Most High.” – Genesis 14:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

A tenth of all that Abraham retrieved from the five kings was given to Melchizedek; the remainder was considered properly tithed from the perspective of a later Torah injunction; yet, Abraham kept none of this, for his reward has to do with heaven and earth. Therefore, what has any man to offer Abraham? The King of Sodom’s riches would have been devoid of any spiritual blessing, since they would not have been bestowed upon Abraham by G-d; but, rather by man.

While it is true that blessings can be given to someone through men, according to G-d’s design, this would not have been the case, in regard to the loot that was recovered by Abraham, when he rescued his nephew Lot, who was captured by the five kings. Why? Because Abraham was righteous, and “disdained profit gained through oppression” (Akeidas Yitzchak; sefaria.org). That is to say that he forsook the wealth that was rightly his according to custom in order to maintain his integrity.

Every now and then, we may find ourselves in a similar position, not necessarily having to do with possessions; rather, as pertaining to a challenge designed to test the integrity of our convictions. Our belief and practice, as well as the strength of our convictions must be tested, so that we are able to permit these to take root in actuality. Otherwise, how would we know whether we have what it takes to act upon our convictions?

Although we have potential, whether from inborn traits or learned moral qualities that we have acquired along the way, some of these may only be in a potential resting state, until activated by the challenges in our lives. Everything in our lives that is presented to us as a challenge, obstacle, or hurdle, has a reason, concomitant with our purpose in life. It is our integrity that is born out of the way we meet these existential realities; and, if we handle them well, then we may increase in moral strength and character.

Clouds of Glory

Sukkot 5782 – Shabbat Chol HaMoed

Torah reading: Exodus 33:12 – 34:26

The word sakoti, similar to sukkah, means cover or covering, and is found in the following verse: “And it shall come to pass, while My glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover [sakoti] thee with My hand until I have passed by” (Exodus 33:22, JPS 1917 Tanach). Perhaps, this is at least one connection found to Sukkot in the parashas chosen as the reading for Shabbat Chol HaMoed.

Returning to the One

“And thou shalt bethink thyself among all the nations, whither the L-RD thy G-d hath driven thee, and shalt return unto the L-RD thy G-d, and hearken to His voice according to all that I command thee this day.”

– Deuteronomy 30:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The call of teshuvah (repentance) is to return from our own errant ways, in order to embrace the ways of G-d. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the L-RD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9, JPS).

Therefore, when we acknowledge our own sense of spiritual poverty, we may aspire to a greater understanding through the word of G-d. For “man doth not live by bread alone, but by every thing that proceedeth out of the mouth of the L-RD doth man live” (Deuteronomy 8:3, JPS).

The phrase vahasheivosa ell’vavecha (“then you will take it to your heart,” Deuteronomy 30:1) conveys the understanding, that an intellectual knowledge alone, concerning the importance of the service of G-d, is not enough; rather, it is necessary to bring this awareness into one’s heart – the seat of the emotions. As a result of this endeavor, teshuvah (repentance) will follow.

In the modern world, we are conditioned to believe that whatever choices we make in our lives, are more or less acceptable, as long as we are tolerant and considerate of others. While tolerance and consideration are important, without formulating guidelines of some sort for ourselves, we will continue to be without principles to rest our sense of morality upon.

Ultimately, adopting the values inculcated to us in the words of G-d, will bring a sense of consistent truths into our awareness, so that we may truly live in accordance with the designs of the Creator, Who only has our best interests in mind.

The Value of a Tree

“For is the tree of the field man, that it should be besieged of thee?”

– Deuteronomy 20:19, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Torah warns against the desecration of trees, when in the heat of battle, as if one would start chopping down trees that were in the line of battle, perhaps, out of an overzealous nature. Especially important to consider, is the value of fruit trees. Although, trees that do not bear fruit would be permitted for use as bulwarks in a siege. However, above and beyond these practical considerations, is the inherent comparison of a man with a tree, implying a likeness.

 A tree, part of G-d’s creation is not permitted to be destroyed without a specific purpose in mind that is constructive, bringing benefit to others. G-d’s creation, in some respect, may be viewed as “resources” to be used wisely. If left standing, rather than being chopped down indiscriminately, a fruit tree will bear fruit, according to its design. Man, who is able to stand upright (yashar) in righteousness, according to G-d’s intentions for him, is also, figuratively speaking, able to bear fruit.

Moreover, just as a tree needs roots to draw sustenance, and be grounded with a foundation, permitting it to stand, so does man need roots in his heritage, values, and community. All human beings are designed like unto trees, inasmuch that we need a solid foundation in life to thrive. Without strong roots, the storms of life can not be weathered. Just as a tree’s branches reach outwards, we also need to reach out to others, and even more importantly to stretch out our hands in prayer, and reach out to the heavens.

Nothing in life is superfluous; therefore, just as trees are to be valued for their benefits, so are we to draw appreciation in life from all whom we encounter. There are many trees in a forest. We can walk from end of a forest to another, assuming that we do not get lost along the way, without even paying attention to the many varied kinds of trees in the forest. We can unfortunately do the same in life, from beginning to end, without appreciating the many people we pass by day by day, without a second thought given to their uniqueness. Or, we can acknowledge our own uniqueness in G-d’s eyes, and therefore appreciate the other, too.

For Your Own Benefit

“And now, Israel, what doth the L’RD thy G’d require of thee, but to fear the L’RD thy G’d, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the L’RD thy G’d with all thy heart and all thy soul; to keep for thy good the commandments of the L’RD, and His statutes, which I command thee this day?” – Deuteronomy 10:12-13, JPS 1917 Tanach

Nachmanides explains, that “He does not require anything of you for His sake, only for your sake,” as is written, “to keep for thy good.” (Ramban on Deuteronomy 10:12-13; sefaria.org). He continues to explicate on this rendering, by comparing the following verse: “If thou be righteous, what givest thou Him?” (Job35:7). In other words, righteousness, in and of itself, benefits the one who seeks to conduct his life in a righteous manner, thereby, permeating all of his ways with kedushah (holiness).

According to Sforno, “all of this G’d asks only for your own good, so that you will qualify for eternal life in the hereafter.” Thereby, he points toward the ultimate benefit of serving the L’RD, with awe, respect, and reverence, in regard to the commandments, with all of the heart and soul. The verse is akin to the commandment, to love the L’RD thy G’d with all of thy heart, soul, and might (Deuteronomy 6:4).

If we only knew to what extent the soul benefits, by acknowledging the sovereignty of the L’RD in our lives; instead, keeping the commandments sometimes seems like a burden, being performed because of expectations or obligations. Yet, the well-being that we seek in our lives is dependent upon abiding in the word of G’d. All of us upon the earth, are called upon to “hear the word of the L’RD” (Jeremiah 22:29).

Vanquished Dreams

Moses, who lost out on permission to enter the land, pleaded one last time with H’Shem. He did not expect to change the L-RD’s mind, based upon any merit that he might claim for himself; for, it was precisely his demerit, having struck the rock, instead of speaking to the rock, that compelled G-d to decree that neither Moses, nor Aaron would enter the Land. Yet, try and try again, for the sake of making an appeal to the L-RD, Who on several occasions in the past, relented from strict judgment against the Israel.

To no avail, Moshe’s pleas only brought the retort that the L-RD had heard enough, he would not change his mind. Why, we may ask, when Moses acted on behalf of the people, the L-RD forgave them, and lessened the judgment; yet, in asking for himself, he is refused? Although I am not prone to speculation, one answer could be because of the high level of expectations the L-RD had of him, as well as Aaron, because of their leadership positions. For, as a scriptural premise, more is expected of those who have greater responsibilities to others.

Yet, consider, that all was not lost upon Moses, for his error; rather, as Rashi comments, his “consolation prize,” so to speak, was permission to enter Olam Haba (the World to Come). And, this, in all estimation, is really the greater reward – one that we should also look forward to in expectation. For, this world is like a corridor, where we prove ourselves to the L-RD, so that we may enter the banquet hall, symbolic of the World to Come (Pirkei Avos 4:21). Therefore, regardless of whatever unfulfilled dreams we may have in our own lives, G-d will reward us, if we remain faithful to Him.

Daily Potential

“The L-RD your God has blessed you in all your undertakings. He has watched over your wanderings through this great wilderness.” – Deuteronomy 2:7, JPS 1985 Tanach

While journeying from place to place in the wilderness, the L-RD provided the Children of Israel with sustenance, in the form of water from the well, manna from the sky, and quails, on that one occasion, that they ate for a month. Over a period of forty years, the fledgling nation of Israel was guarded, guided, and provided for by the L-RD. Although, this time was also used to test them, when provisions seemed to run scarce, or they had growing temptations about returning to Egypt, where there was not only more variety of food, rather, also, security in knowing where food would come from every day to put on their table. Their provisions in Egypt, even as slaves, seemed more sure, than the day to day trust that they needed to place in the L-RD, who only provided for them on a daily basis, as opposed to provisions that could be stored, after procuring what seemed sufficient for a week or two.

Perhaps, the adage, “one day at a time,” really seems significant, with respect to the way they lived their lives for forty years. And, the same adage can be applied to our lives today, with respect towards a trusting in the simplicity of life, when we focus on needs, as opposed to wants. For, only inasmuch that we can depend on the provision of the day, for both our material and spiritual nourishment, can we live in appreciation of each day, as a unique, unrepeatable basic unit of time, that brings certain opportunities for our growth as individuals. There is a teaching that each day has its potential that is offered in its own time. This is akin to the offerings of the moadim (appointed times), “each on its own day” (Leviticus 23:37). So, that in regard to the days of our lives, we may achieve what G-d’s expectations are for us, adding day upon day, in order to accumulate understanding, experience, and wisdom.

Kings HWY

“We will go along the king’s highway, we will not turn aside to the right hand nor to the left” – Numbers 20:17, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Children of Israel were ready to enter the Land. This was the generation after those who had believed the ill-report of the Spies. Yet, the shortest route into Eretz Canaan would pass through the territory of Edom. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau. Moshe appealed to the king of Edom, reminding him of the oppression of the Children of Israel, when enslaved in Egypt. Perhaps, he would have a moderate amount of compassion towards his brothers.

Moshe explained, that the Children of Israel would pass through Edom, travelling upon the king’s highway, neither deviating to the left nor to the right, as if to say, that the people would not enter the fields, nor the vineyards, and would pay for any consumption of water. (Incidentally, this is an excellent standard, for the lifetime journey of keeping to the straight and narrow). However, the king of Edom’s response was harsh; he refused passage through his kingdom. He backed up his refusal, saying that if they tried to pass, he would go against them with the sword. (His refusal represents the many obstacles in the way, on the derech towards Malchus Elokim).

The Sages emphasize that this is the way of Esau, based upon the blessing that his father, Isaac had given to him, “By your sword shall you live” (Genesis 27:40). On the contrary, Isaac, who was blind, said, “the voice is the voice of Jacob,” when his son, Jacob came to him for a blessing. The Sages infer that these words connote the value of prayer in regard to Jacob (Bereishis Rabbah 65:20). For, the sword of Esau is contrasted against the prayers of Jacob. Prayer is highly regarded as an effective means of seeking assistance from th L-RD. The sincere prayers of Israel will evoke a response from G-d (Rashi).

Positive Controversy

“Every controversy that is in the Name of Heaven shall in the end lead to a permanent result, but every controversy that is not in the Name of Heaven shall not lead to a permanent result. Which controversy was that which was in the Name of Heaven? Such was the controversy of Hillel and Shammai. And that which was not in the Name of Heaven? Such was the controversy of Korah and all his company.”

  • Pirkei Avos 5:20


After the incident of the spies, whereof the people were demoralized by the ill report of the land, H’Shem decreed that generation would wander in the desert for a total of forty years. The people were none too happy about this consequence of their lack of faith; plus, there was further discontent sown by Korach, who took advantage of their general malaise, in order to foment an outright rebellion against Moses and Aaron. Yet, Moses was clear about the implications of Korach’s agitation, “you and all your company are gathered against the L-RD” (Numbers 16:11).


Although the intentions of Korach were to take the position of Kohein Gadol for himself, only the rightfully chosen persons are placed in their position of leadership by H’Shem.”The L-RD will show who are His, and who is holy; and will cause him to come near to him; him whom He has chosen will cause to come near to him” (Numbers 16:5). Both Moses and Aaron, as well as the Levites were chosen by H’Shem for their respective positions. When Korach disputed their authority, he was challenging G-d’s authority.


Only “controversy” in the Name of Heaven, i.e., discussion for the sake of reaching a greater understanding of G-d, scripture, and prophecy, will flourish because the means to a common goal is justified by the intent of the participants to further their own appreciation of heavenly things, from a godly perspective. As one mind may benefit from another, because of the heightened level of discernment attained as a result of the combined effort.

A Balanced Perspective

parashas Beha’alotecha 5781

Moses was shown the shown pattern for the menorah (seven branched candlestick) that was to be made for the Mishkan (Sanctuary). He received a vision of the heavenly menorah, as if made of light. “The Holy One, blessed be He, showed him the pattern of it in a candlestick of fire (Rashi, Menachot 29a; sefaria.org). “And see that thou make them after their pattern, which is being shown thee on the mount” (Exodus 25:40, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Symbolically, many meanings may be drawn out from the menorah. One such explanation is given by Sforno, who comments, “that only by the ‘right’ side representing preoccupation with eternal values, life in the future, working together with the ‘left’ side which represents the concerns with physical life on our planet, will we be able to attain our purpose on earth” (Sforno on Numbers 8:2, sefaria.org).


This is a timely message, for the implied essence of the teaching is that there needs to be a balance between ruchniyos (spirituality), and gashmiyos (materiality). If humankind is compelled to only focus on materialistic concerns, without giving heed to the Creator, then there is a clear imbalance in values, that will eventually lead to dystopia. Yet, G-d has given us hope, in order to transcend the mundane, even while recognizing the inherent value in leading a godly life on earth. If we continue to cast our eyes towards Him, we will succeed with our endeavors.


“I am ever mindful of the L-RD’s presence” (Psalms 16:8). Those who are already led astray by the deceits of socialism, have fallen prey to an ideology that will not produce fruit. Rather, through pursuing righteousness, blessings will abound, both in this world and the next. “And He will do thee good” (Deuteronomy 30:5, JPS 1917 Tanach). “G-d will redeem my soul from the power of the nether-world; for He shall receive me. Selah” (Psalm 49:16, JPS).