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.

Shabbat Shuvah 5782

“And they shall say on that day, ‘Surely it is because our G-d is not in our midst that these evils have befallen us.'”

– Deuteronomy 31:17, JPS 1985 Tanach

“They will be intelligent enough to conclude that all the troubles which suddenly overtook them must be due to G-d having deliberately left their midst.”

– Or HaChayim on Deuteronomy 31:17, sefaria.org

The key word here in this commentary is “deliberately,” as if it is implied that the people realized that their own sins compelled G-d to abandon them. This is an important connection for them to make, whereas without recognizing their own complicity, would only have led to blame G-d for His abandonment of them, as if they had no part in the matter. Consider the attitude of some, in blaming G-d for harsh events in life, holding Him accountable for our suffering, without acknowledging the sins that created the distance between us and Him in the first place. The point being, that it is the wrong attitude to have, a spoiled mindset to think that we deserve better, despite our abandoning Him through our own misdeeds. And, yet, He is compassionate and merciful, inasmuch that hiding His face from us, He desires us to cry out with a heartfelt repentant stance, taking it upon ourselves, to return to Him, in all of our ways, in order to elicit His forgiveness. Thus, it may be seen in regard to what is sometimes called today “tough love,” for example when parents stop enabling their children who exhibit poor behavior, and, rather, deny them assistance, or any kind of monetary support until they correct their errant ways.

And, so, we do not understand G-d to be capricious: rather everything is ultimately designed for our benefit, even the chastisement that is placed upon us, when we go astray of G-d’s commandments. For nothing happens by chance in an ordered world, that is a world whose order is often above our own understanding. Any randomness that appears to occur is only based upon  a perspective that does not have the type of faith in H’Shem that accepts His sovereignty over all events in the world, as well as those that occur to us on an individual level. To understand that everything happens according to G-d’s will, or is permitted by Him, is to recognize His absolute sovereignty in all realms of life. Surely, He is not to blame when bad things happen to good people, for man is responsible for his own sin against his fellow man, and if G-d permits something bad to happen to us, it is for a reason, that we are to attempt to understand. Otherwise, we will fall prey to a lack of faith in Him as sovereign. Furthermore, to be angry at Him for the bad things in our lives is to deny His sovereignty over us. We must return to Him, especially as we feel compelled to do on Shabbat Shuvah (the Sabbath of Repentance), so that we do not hold any grudges against the very one whose wisdom soars above our own.

The Cost of Freedom

“And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the L-RD thy G-d redeemed thee.”

– Deuteronomy 15:15-18, JPS 1917 Tanach

Because the Israelites were taken out of Egypt, having been freed from slavery, we are no longer meant to be slaves in perpetuity. Yet, certain circumstances would lead to a Jewish person having to sell himself as a servant to another person. This included when a thief was unable to make good on a return of the items, monetarily that he had stolen.


And, so, the midrash addresses this circumstance: “the ear which had heard G-d say at Mount Sinai: ‘do not steal,’ and which had heard G-d say: ‘the Children of Israel are My slaves,’ needs to be reminded of this by being pierced after having opted to ignore both of these statements by G-d” (Chizkuni on Deut. 15:17, citing Rashi; sefaria.org).


In other words, it is an insult to G-d as well as oneself, to disregard the status given to us at Sinai, via the covenant. G-d’s people are meant to serve Him; we should not forsake that priority, by serving another. Even so, we should not enslave ourselves to anything, that would deprive of us serving G-d, by way of the commandments.


To voluntarily choose a life that is devoid of acknowledging the One Who brought us out of bondage, is to forsake the purpose of our freedom. Unless careful consideration is given to the reason that G-d brought us out of Egypt, we will not have the full picture.

According to chazal (the sages), after being freed from physical bondage, G-d gave us the Torah, so that we would have a moral compass, in our lives, in order to prevent us from enslavement to sin. Therefore, by serving G-d, we are able to transcend our lower inclinations, that would otherwise compel us to stray from our pursuit of righteousness.

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.

Guard Your Speech

B”H

holy scribbles: parashas Matos Massei 5781

“When a man voweth a vow unto the L-RD, or sweareth an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.” – Numbers 30:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

Although the specific kinds of vows and oaths, referenced in the above-mentioned commandment apply to certain situations, within the context of Judaic law, the general principle is encapsulated, “he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.” Therefore, the premise may be applied to more commonly found issues, regarding the integrity or lack of integrity of speech.

In our own lives, there are many stipulations that could be identified in terms of the words that we speak.  For example, oftentimes what is said in anger is not to be taken seriously.  It is better to acknowledge what may have been said out of anger as inappropriate, making amends for the emotional harm done.  This requires the counterpart of forgiveness by the recipient. 

Any commitments we make to ourselves or others should be kept or not made at all.  The Sages were very skeptical about making vows of any sort, saying that it is better to not vow at all.  The L-RD appreciates a sincere effort in all that we do for His sake; it is better not to boast about our intentions. Bragging will only lead towards a negative consequence, akin to the adage, pride before a fall.

Additionally, all of our words should be chosen carefully, in accordance with humility. Idle chatter will be scrutinized by the heavenly court at the judgment. We will be subject to the consequences of every idle word spoken. Ill-spoken words will also be taken into account, as well as words of judgment against others. Taking all of this into consideration, it is better to remain silent, than to speak without thinking. Let us guard our speech from now on.

“Set a guard, O L-RD, to my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips.”

– Psalm 141:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Tamid Offering

“And say to them: This is the order of the oblations you shall offer before the L-rd; two lambs of the year, unblemished, daily, a perpetual burnt offering.”

  • Targum Jonathan on Numbers 28:3, sefaria.org

Everything was set in order upon the inauguration of the Mishkan, for the sake of the Levitical offerings, and the benefit of the people. Here, in parashas Pinchas is the daily tamid offering mentioned, to be brought in the morning and the afternoon. These two continual offerings denote the daily grind of avodas (worship) instituted in regard to the Mishkan, and later the temple, the central location of worship, as constituted within the framework of the offerings made for atonement, thanksgiving, and personal devotion.

This rigamarole reflects the constant focus on G-d that we should have in our hearts, if not in our daily activities; in other words. Even if we are living in the world, not exactly being engaged all of the time with outwardly godly pursuits, we can still keep our minds on H’Shem; regardless of how much opportunity we have to pray, study Torah, or do good deeds. This is the way of those who may be said to be pious of heart; regardless of externals in one’s life, the internal disposition is what matters most. This is otherwise known as kavannah (intention); although, in modern terms, could be associated with “mindfulness.”

Yet, this does not mean at all to forsake the commandments; all that we do must be within the designated guidelines set down for us in the commandments. The point being, that the righteous are righteous because of their conduct, regardless of vocation. In fact, many of the laws of Torah have to do with business, as well as our own personal conduct. The patriarchs who tended sheep, had plenty of time in isolation, like David to reflect on G-d. So, if we keep our lives simple, our hearts and minds can be on G-d, irrespective of our outward duties.

Response-ability

“Every situation requires a response.”

I believe that every situation requires a response. In reflecting upon, my own indecision, as well as my failure at times to respond at all, whether verbally to what someone else relates to me, or a situation that really requires my attention, I feel the need to articulate a stance. Towards the end of parashas Balak, the zealous Pinchas responds to a dire situation, whereof the Children of Israel were in the midst of being judged for idolatry and immorality; the plague was moving quickly amongst the people. Yet, Pinchas acted without haste, to protect G-d’s honor when a Prince of Israel and a Princess of Moab were flouting the moral integrity and directive of G-d’s divine commandments. In doing so, the plague was stopped, and Pinchas was given “a covenant of peace,” as delineated in parashas Pinchas.

Every situation requires an appropriate response. The Talmud emphasizes the commandment not to stand idly by, while others are in harm’s way. While on the one hand, it is not appropriate to act with zealousness in the manner that Pinchas did; on the other hand, it is necessary to assess every situation in order to reflect on the proper response. Keep in mind the following adage: “All that is required for evil to flourish is for good men [and women] to do nothing” (Elie Wiesel). Above all, discernment is necessary so that the best response may be made, after thoroughly thinking through the consequences of one’s own actions. If nothing else, prayer is paramount, as so many examples from scripture portray.