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).

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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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).

parasha Behaalotecha 5782

B”H

“And the mixt multitude that was among them felt a craving: and the children of Israel wept, and said, if only we had meat to eat.”

–  Numbers 11:4

A perfect example of how a smaller component of a population, can influence, in this case, not for the good, the greater whole. The erev rab (mixed multitude) that accompanied B’nei Yisrael out of Egypt, instigated a general complaint. According to Chizkuni, this occurred within the first three days after they had travelled out from Mt. Sinai, as if already, the kedushah (holiness) that they had acquired there began to wear off.

Rashi asks, how can it be that they did not have any meat? He references the pasuk (verse), “And, also a mixed multitude went up with them, with flocks and herds” (Exodus 12:38). Since, in all likelihood, they still had “flocks and herds,” then, according to Rashi their complaint was only offered as a pretext. “A pretext to abandon the L-RD” (Sifrei Bamidbar 86).

From here, it can be deducted that the instigators attempted to compel B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) to abandon the L-RD. This is evidenced by their lament, “if only we had meat… we remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic” (11:4-5, JPS). Did they eat better as slaves, and, in their hearts, prefer to return to Egypt?

How could gashmiyos (material concerns) be more important to them than the spiritual path they were upon? When G-d’s people are unduly influenced by those who do not recognize the same values instilled in us by His wisdom, then we must seek to renew our faith in Him. G-d granted the request of the people, sending quails to feed them for a month; however, He also struck them with a plague. Let us learn from this lesson, and guard ourselves against undue influences.

Shavuot 5782 – Renewal of the Faith

At Sinai, B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) encamped as one. To the eyes of the nations at the time, this massive throng of people, trekking through the desert, may have appeared to be a behemoth, compared to oxen that tear out the roots of the grass they eat, thus completely destroying a field, without its possibility of growing back; yet, from the vantage point of heaven, the people were a divinely chosen nation, being guided into their destiny, via the many tests and trials in the wilderness.

Thus, from an external perspective, based only upon outward appearances, the two-million-person multitude may have appeared somewhat disordered, and haphazard in its wandering through the wilderness. Yet, not so, from H’Shem’s perspective, nor from the understanding of Moses, the leader of this people.

The continual march of the Jewish people throughout history as well, has not been haphazard. The prophets foresaw our destiny, and paved the way for our understanding, so that we know that our return to Israel had a lot more to do with divine intention, than from political maneuverings. On Shavuot, we recall the giving of the Torah at Sinai, the same commandments that are in effect today, as our national constitution, so to speak, as a nation.

parasha Emor

“It is a Shabbat for H’Shem, in all your dwelling places.” – Leviticus 23:3

Why does the Torah specify, “In all your dwelling places?” Ibn Ezra comments, “In your country and outside of your country, at home and on the way” (sefaria.org). Sforno writes, that the specification “indicates that the commencement and conclusion of the Sabbath depends on the local times of day and night, not on a central location” (sefaria.org). And, Chizkuni notes that “The Sabbath laws apply regardless of whether you are in the Holy Land or in exile” (sefaria.org). Within the framework of this line of reasoning,  the Sabbath, as Abraham Heschel points out, is a time designation, regardless of place.

Therefore, whereas the moadim are mentioned in the previous verse, some significance can be understood, in regard to the Sabbath. Perhaps, it is as if to imply, that on the moadim, when you travel to Jerusalem, to observe the shalosh regalim, three holidays in Jerusalem, these are considered Sabbaths, and must also be observed as Shabbat, outside of Jerusalem, as well, for all who are unable to make the journey to Jerusalem.

This would have relevancy, in particular, to the Jews living outside of Israel, after the dispersions, beginning with the Babylonian exile, as well as the Roman exile. Furthermore, this has primary relevance for us today, as well. For, only in Jerusalem, do the moadim become holidays observed in both time and place, according to Torah. Even though we observe, for the most part, these holidays in the synagogue today, this was not the original intention, and is only a modern substitute, in lieu of all of the Yehudim being gathered back into Israel. Yet, when Moshiach reigns from Jerusalem, we may all observe the holidays in time and place.

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