Choose Life

 dvar Nitzavim 5782

“See, I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity.”

– Deuteronomy 30:15, JPS 1985 Tanach

To accept this statement, it can be said, requires an acknowledgment of an omniscient G-d, Who has the good in mind, for our well-being. To be reliant on His discernment, of what is life-affirming and prosperous for us, versus what is destructive to the soul and adverse to our moral growth, is to accept standards that are given by a Higher Wisdom than mankind can contrive on his own.

Thus, G-d not only gives us the consequences of choosing life or death (to follow what is good for us, and avoid what is bad) according to His commandments, He also encourages us to choose life, so that our soul may flourish, and ultimately be granted chayei olam (eternal life). Sforno comments that “life” refers to “eternal life, not just life on earth,” and death refers to “eternal oblivion” (see Sforno’s commentary on Deuteronomy 30:15, sefaria.org).

Yet, mankind cannot design a set of principles, consisting of rules and regulations, concerning what is permissible vs. what is impermissible, and in doing so, guarantee our personal well-being, let alone our entrance into Olam Haba (the World-to-Come).  This can be clearly demonstrated by most of mankind’s inability to govern his own passions. That being the case, anyone unable to tame his own unruly nature, is certainly not fit to govern others.

The Torah takes this into consideration, by requiring a King of Israel to not only write his own Torah scroll, but to have the Torah with him at all times, in order to discern right and wrong from its instruction. That is to say, that a king, according to G-d’s requirement, is not above the law. The Torah “shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life; that he may learn to fear the L-RD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them; that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren” (Deuteronomy 17:19-20).

First Fruits

parasha Ki Savo 5782

The commandment of bikkurim (first fruits) was to be performed after B’nei Yisrael entered Eretz Canaan and received their inheritance. It was only incumbent upon them to observe the mitzvah of bikurim, after they were established in the land. It was to serve as a constant reminder of our heritage. The declaration that is made at the time, encapsulates our history, beginning with Jacob, who went to Egypt with his entire family. And, how we later became slaves in Egypt; yet, H’Shem redeemed us, and we became His people, bound by covenant to the Torah given at Sinai.

The declaration, made when bringing the basket of the first fruits of one’s harvest to the Kohein, concerns our history, how we began as a small people, and became populous, and were brought into “a land that flows with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy 26:9). It is an expression of gratitude to H’Shem for our redemption, and a reminder of our humble origins as a people.  Also, the import of this declaration brings to light all of the provisions bestowed upon us since that time.

A stark reminder that G-d provides, and has done so since Gan Eden. Yet, today, society is so far removed from the harmony in the Garden before Adam and Chava partook from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Today, good and evil are being redefined by mankind, if not essentially reversed. The prophet Jeremiah warned of this: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that change darkness into light, and light into darkness; that change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter” (Jeremiah 5:20, JPS).

The direct personal relationship of Adam and Chava (Eve), has, for the most part, within secular society, been replaced with a connection to “everything under the sun.” Mankind seeks to become the ultimate arbiter good and evil, proclaiming truth relative, by way of subjectivism. In an immoral world, let us stand up for our values, as given by the Creator. Our heritage, as preserved through the declaration of bikkurim, and other traditions, provides us with a foundation as a people. Even if the world’s foundations crumble, let us hold on to ours.

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Examine Yourself

As Rosh HaShannah approaches, when we begin to weigh our lives in the balance, during the month of Elul, determining for ourselves by way of “examining our conscience,” whether we have been living according to H’Shem’s standard, we will benefit from the endeavor when we do not cheat ourselves. For example, it may be too easy to weigh our good deeds against our faults, tipping the scale to the positive by ignoring some of the negative aspects of ourselves. Yet, on the other hand, if we focus too much upon the negative in regard to ourselves, we may risk bringing our emotional levels down too low. Rather, we should seek an honest account and balance the scale, with the help of H’Shem.

Ideally, we should focus on acknowledging our sins without hiding any iniquity from ourselves. “I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid; I said: ‘I will make confession concerning my transgressions unto the L-RD, – and Thou, Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin” (Psalm 32:5, JPS). For, H’Shem will search our souls, as is written, “The spirit of man is the lamp of the L-RD, searching all the inward parts” (Proverbs 20:27, JPS).

We need to do a thorough cleansing before the Day of Judgment, when we pass before H’Shem, like sheep being counted by a shepherd, so that we will only be judged favorably by H’Shem, because we have judged ourselves first in a thorough manner. Our value-response to the moral code that H’Shem has given us, within the framework of the Commandments is integral in this endeavor. Unless we respond in a positive way to the moral law, these laws remain detached from our daily conduct. H’Shem requires a commitment on our part to respond to His call.

May we take an honest look at ourselves, not tipping the scale in either direction, for if we ignore our positive qualities, we may end up depressing ourselves, as mentioned elsewhere. Even so, this is more than an assessment of “strengths and weaknesses.” Rather, this should be a consolation to the soul, to be cleansed of guilt and sin, before standing in the presence of the King. For, if we confess our sins, H’Shem will faithful to us, and forgive our aveiros (sins). May our prayers ascend to G-d at the sound of the shofar, carried upon the merit of the Redeemer (see uva l’tziyon, Isaiah 59:20):

“And a redeemer will come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the LRD.” – Isaiah 59:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

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 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, 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 great 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). Like Moshe, regardless of whatever unfulfilled dreams we may have in our own lives, G-d will grant an even greater reward to 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

holy scribbles: parashas Matos Massei 5782

“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

Spiritual Plague

parasha Pinchas 5782

“They were weeping at the door of the tent of meeting.”

– Numbers 25:6, JPS 1917 Tanach

Our allegiance belongs to the L-RD. If we displace our devotion to H’Shem onto something other than Him, then we are inadvertently heading in a direction that will ultimately not be of benefit to us. Even if we appear to benefit for some time, in the material sense, our spiritual compass will be amiss as a result. Thus, in terms of the values, that we inevitably promote in our own lives whether consciously, or unconsciously, we should choose wisely.

When B’nei Yisrael fell prey to the influence of the Midianites, resulting in immediate acts of idolatry and immorality, their connection with H’Shem was diminished. Their emunah (faith) and kedushah (holiness) plummeted. Only through the selfless act of mesiras nefesh on the part of Pinchas, who put his own life at risk to make an atonement for their sins (Numbers 25:13), were the people reconciled to H’Shem. So, the brief national diversion that had swept through the encampment was staid; and, the plague was stopped.

Yet, it is not so today, in regard to the rampant spread of a pseudo-morality known as Wokism. It’s permeation into every facet of American society is increasing substantially. Thus, like a modern-day plague, that differs from Covid, because it is namely a spiritual plague, Wokism manifests as a cultural movement. Essentially, it is a form of cultural Marxism; its ideological roots go back to Hegel, Marx and the Frankfort School.

The remedy might very well be to stand up for the truth, as revealed through G-d’s Will, via the commandments and the traditional values inherited from our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. To “live not by lies” propagated by the pseudo-morality of Wokism, and implemented through a system of soft-totalitarianism, heading towards a technocracy. We are not called to the level of zealousness exhibited by Pinchas; yet, we may very well be called to some form of mesiras nefesh (self-sacrifice) in our individual lives.

parasha Balak 5782

weekly Torah reading: parasha Balak 5782 – Integrity

“G-d is not man to be capricious, or mortal to change His mind. Would He speak and not act, promise and not fulfill?” – Numbers 23:21, JPS

The importance of remaining true to our word, character, and belief system. So integral to the cultural climate today, whereas voices are already being silence, within the framework of cancel culture, Wokism, and the rise of soft-totalitarianism.

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Tikkun HaNefesh: Renewal of the Soul

Our entire lives may serve as an opportunity to seek tikkun hanefesh – a renewal of our souls, wherein every day may constitute an effort to rectify our personal past, within the framework of our individual lives. This is the essence of teshuvah, a returning to our unadulterated selves, not confounded by our attachments to the impermissible, nor confused by conflicting feelings, ideas, and behavior. Rather, a return, albeit, a continual progression, towards ourselves, as intended from the original blueprint of life. This path of an inner focus, differs much from the pervasive trend to point the finger at others and society. If we do not first make a concerted effort to change ourselves for the better, then we have no right to attempt to change others or society.

Additionally, because teshuvah (repentance) was created before the creation of the world, we are given continual second chances in life, despite our errors, faults, and foibles. Inasmuch that this gift is freely given to us, isn’t it right to also give others a second chance through a heartfelt expression of forgiveness? Yet, the relentless pursuit of “social justice” through the condemnation of others fails the test of human goodness, because of its incessant focus on human weakness, and redefined evils of mankind, without any offering of redemption to those who are being judged by others, who are also flawed, as we all are, myself included. A society does not become better in its overall national character through condemnation; rather, only through a natural bond of compassion towards all.

parasha Shelach 5782

“My servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed Me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it.” – Numbers 14:24, JPS 1917 Tanach

When the Torah records that Caleb “had another spirit,” one view holds that he had two spirits, the one that he outwardly professed, while in the company of the ten spies, and the one that he held within his heart. According to Rashi, “in his heart he had the intention to tell the truth” (Rashi; Midrash Tanchuma, Sh’lach 10; sefaria.org).

This dual reality, of adherence to one’s inward voice, while making a pretense for the sake of self-preservation is not, on the part of Caleb, disingenuous, because of his intent to speak his mind, once he returned from the mission with his compatriot Joshua, who was also like-minded, in regard to encouraging the people with a positive report of the land. In other words, Caleb, spoke the truth in his heart, and he waited until the appropriate time to reveal that truth.

In our own lives, if we are clear on what we personally believe, then despite circumstances that might attempt to compel us in a different direction, we may remain steadfast and true within ourselves. One dramatic historical example concerns the anusim, who were forced to convert under duress to Catholicism, yet, secretly maintained their Judaism. Many anusim today, are returning to their Judaism in a prolific manner.

Currently, in modern society, there is pressure from many sides, “to toe the line,” in regard to the pseudo-morality of Wokism, and it Leftist agenda. While some have openly challenged this movement, others, concerned for their reputation or livelihood, have remained silent; the threat of intimidation, or being cancelled is real.

Yet, eventually, a line may need to be drawn, in the sand, so to speak, for each person, dependent on our willingness to remain true to our belief and practice. Thus, like both Caleb and Joshua, we may feel compelled to speak our truths, irrespective of the consequences (see Numbers 14:6-10).

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