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.

It’s Covenantal

weekly Torah reading: parashas Noach 5782

“I will establish My covenant with thee; and thou shalt come into the ark.”

– Genesis 6:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

From the beginning of time, G-d did not plan on catastrophes, turmoil, and strife amongst mankind. Rather, mankind brought this upon themselves. When G-d created the world, He brought into existence human beings that were given free will. Yet, this freedom only exists within the overall construct of consequences, in regard to the types of choices man makes for himself. Freedom is circumscribed by guidelines and boundaries, in order to maintain the truest sense of freedom, that is to say, freedom from subjugation to evil.

Too often, we would like to point the finger at something outside of ourselves, condemning it as inappropriate, wrong, or even evil in and of itself. A sense of injustice, or righteous indignation compels some of us to seek amendments. Try as we may to subdue, suppress, and right the wrongs, we would do better to look within ourselves. This is where the real battle is fought, between the yetzer tov (good inclination) and the yetzer hara (evil inclination).

Through tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul), transformation becomes available to all who seek sincere self improvement. As Ghandi said, “Be the change that you would like to see in the world.” Yet, condemnation, shaming, and cancelling out of the other, will only bring a false utopia, that neglects to root out its own evil inclinations. “And the L-RD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5, JPS 1917 Tanach). Yet, Noach found favor in the eyes of the L-RD. And, the L-RD established His covenant with Noach, his family, and all of mankind.

Even so, man continued to rebel, in opposition to G-d; hence, the building of the Tower of Babel, wherein, man attempted to make a name for himself, to the exclusion of His Creator. Thus, a misguided effort was brought to halt through G-d’s intervention. Today, we may ask ourselves, whether we are contributing to the divine blueprint or an alternative design, that erroneously leaves G-d out of the equation. “Choose this day whom ye will serve” (Joshua 24:15, JPS).

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.

Creation as Witness

weekly Torah reading: parashas Haazinu 5782

“Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach thou it the children of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for Me against the children of Israel.” – Deuteronomy 31:19, JPS 1917 Tanach

Moshe teaches B’nei Yisrael a song that will serve as a witness against the people, when they turn away from H’Shem in the distant future.  The song connotes the response of Creation to the mitzvoth (good deeds) and aveiros (transgressions) of B’nei Yisrael. 

The idea, as explained in commentary, is that all of Creation will respond in proper accordance, to both the good deeds and sins that are committed in the future. Thus, the children of Israel would be held accountable, so to speak, by all aspects of G-d’s creation found in the biosphere.

This is really an amazing condition, that seems nothing short of what might be called mystical, or at least spiritual in its fulfillment. Yet, in theological actuality, this simply has to do with G-d’s sovereignty. For He is L-RD over all of His creation; and, furthermore, his moral law is as if interwoven into the very fabric of creation.

Some aspects are already clear, as mentioned previously in Torah; for instance, an abundance of rain for the crops when Israel is in obedience to Torah vs. the withholding of rain when Israel transgresses. Yet, overall, the imagination can only wonder how else the promises would be fulfilled. Additionally, whether this actuality may apply to our own lives today, is wondrous to ponder upon.

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