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.

parasha Kedoshim 5782

parasha Kedoshim 5782 – Honest Weights and Measures

“Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure.” – Leviticus 19:35, JPS 1917 Tanach

Regarding the opening verse of parasha Kedoshim, “You shall be holy, because H’Shem your Gd is holy,” this verse serves as a guiding principle, that continues to be expounded upon throughout the rest of the parasha. The principle of holiness is applied even to what might otherwise be considered as the mundane affairs of mankind. For example, the Torah calls for “equal weights and measures.” Although, we are not all merchants, called to right business practices, this specific commandment may be gleaned by the intellect through a symbolic rendering.

In regard to the positive character trait of honesty, an honest person will not try to cheat or disparage others in any manner. When measuring up to others greater than us, let us not rob the other of their status, by demeaning them. Nor, shall a person of integrity make himself out to be better than one actually is, by stacking the weights to his advantage, making it appear that he has more positive qualities than in actuality. Rather, let us make an honest assessment of both are positive negative qualities and attempt to improve ourselves altogether.

Ultimately, we will be judged by G-d Above, at the time of Judgment, so that it would be better to judge ourselves of our own accord today, tomorrow, and the next day, on a continual basis, so that we may repent and change for the better through teshuvah (turning towards G-d). In this manner, we should not have any sins left unrepented; therefore, our judgment will be lighter. Let us seek to be forgiven by H’Shem’s (the L-rd’s) provision for our atonement. For the means for teshuvah (repentance) was formulated even before the world came into existence. Amein. Shabbat shalom.

“Divers weights, and divers measures, both of them alike are abomination to the L-RD.” – Proverbs 20:10, JPS 1917 Tanach

Modern-day Lepers

“This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing: he shall be brought unto the priest [kohein].” – Leviticus 14:2, JPS

In each case, whether a person’s home, clothing, or body is stricken with a nega (plague), he is brought to the kohein. The kohein determines not only the status of the suspected nega; he also is qualified on a spiritual level to gain insight on the state of the person’s soul. This concept is in line with the understanding of tzarras as a spiritual malaise that manifests as a skin disease.

Tzarras is one type of nega, the other two in question, here, are those that show up on a person’s clothes or the walls of a home. In all cases, as already mentioned above, the kohein is the sole individual, who uses his discernment to ascertain the specific sin that was the root cause of the blemish on a person’s soul, that manifested as a nega (literally, “plague”).

What can we learn from this connection? H’Shem is merciful; He causes afflictions such as negaim (plagues), for the sake of our chastisement, to lead us to teshuvah (repentance). He will send “an early warning signal” as a “wake up call,” specifically designated for us, so that we may scrutinize our own selves, in search for our misdeeds, character defects, and deficiencies. With the help of the light, shining from Above, we may gain insight into our inner selves.

To some degree, we may have all gotten a very real idea of the nature of isolation, while sheltering in place. Yet, sin itself distances us from G-d; and, an even greater sense of isolation may result, until our relationship with G-d is reconciled through teshuvah (repentance). Additionally, even more recent phenomenon of society, is creating outcasts, cancelled out for their views, akin to the Biblical leper who is sent outside of the camp. These are times for all of us to review our thoughts, speech, and action, in order to know where we stand in regard to our own values. And, not to fear being cast out by man; rather, to fear being cast out by G-d.

The Power of Forgiveness

parasha Shemini 5782

“For today the L-RD will appear to you.” – Leviticus 9:4

Upon the culmination of the inauguration of the mishkan and the kohein into the kehunah, certain offerings were brought. These included an offering to atone for Aaron’s role in the golden calf incident. Commentary notes that the offerings were prepared; however, the fire had not yet descended from the sky; so, Aaron grew concerned. His guilt in the sin of the golden calf compelled him to think that the delay was a sign that he had not been completely forgiven. At this point, Moses and Aaron entered the sanctuary.

While no reason is given in the actual passage found in Torah, commentary offers several explanations. One reason mentioned is that Aaron confided in Moses, concerning his shame about his role in the golden calf incident. He felt that, perhaps, H’Shem was still angry with him. Thus, the two of them entered the sanctuary, in order to pray to the H’Shem to forgive Aaron. When they walked out of the sanctuary after praying, the fire descended upon the mizbeach, consuming the offerings.

The power of forgiveness is such that feelings of resentment may linger until a person forgives another for their trespass. Then, all is washed clean, and renewed in that relationship. H’Shem is a righteous Judge; He does not harbor resentment or grudges against us when we sin; only, inasmuch that He calls us towards teshuvah (repentance) does He wait to bestow His compassion upon us, forgiving us completely for our transgressions. Yet, as human beings, we may harden our hearts towards others, even for perceived slights to our honor, status, or ego. We do ourselves an injustice, by closing ourselves off from others, whom we think have wronged us is some way. Only the cleansing waters of forgiveness that refresh the soul, may bring a restoration to our lives, opening the way to increased camaraderie.

Searching the Heart

parashas Tzav 5782

“Fire shall be kept burning u[on the altar continually; it shall not go out.”

– Leviticus 6:6, JPS 1917 Tanach

To connect with the L’RD (deveykus) on a continual basis, we need to engage every facet of ourselves – our thought, speech, and behavior – in an effort to enhance the light within us. This is denoted in the manner that many Jewish people pray while standing, swaying back and forth. Symbolically, this may also be understood to represent the ner tamid – eternal flame that was kept burning on the mizbeach (altar). Thus, we should also keep the fire of devotion lit in our hearts for H’Shem both day and night.

The ner tamid (eternal light), represented by the light above the ark in a synagogue, brings us even closer to an understanding of what H’Shem desires of us. In the Zohar, the “everlasting fire,” that is to be kept continually burning on the mizbeach (altar), alludes to the divine light of the soul (Tikkunei Zohar 74a). As expressed elsewhere, “The spirit [neshama] of man is the lamp of the L-RD” (Proverbs 20:27).

In like manner that a candle may be used to lighten a dark room, when searching for some lost object, man’s spirit is enlightened by H’Shem, in order to search all the inner nature of man, to bring to light faults, and negative character traits, as well as sins that might otherwise go unnoticed. This is of paramount importance, especially in consideration of negative thoughts that may often go unchecked. Akin to the olah offering that could be brought to atone for sinful thoughts, and was kept burning on the mizbeach, we may benefit from a continual focus on guarding our thoughts, subjecting them to the light of truth.

“Above all that thou guardest keep thy heart; for out of it are the issues of life.”

– Proverbs 4:23 JPS 1917 Tanach

The Wise-Hearted

“And all the wise in heart made the Tabernacle.”

– Targum on Exodus 36:8

According to Maimonides, although scripture does not specifically state so, Moses related to the builders of the tabernacle, everything in its prescribed order. This gives the impression of a divine blueprint, being explained to the wise-hearted in precise details, according to the order of its intended construction. In light of the creation narrative, bringing order out of chaos, a parallel is also seen here in the building of the Mishkan, that follows the chaotic descent into idolatry at Sinai.

We need to ask ourselves, whether or not our own endeavors are wise-hearted. At a time in history, when chaos seems to prevail, and the world appears to be moving towards dystopia, rather than utopia, we need to make an assessment of our own values. We should focus on the pure unadulterated goodness of G-d’s divine agenda. For, regarding those whose designs are based on a godless blueprint, “do they not err that devise evil? But mercy and truth shall be to them that devise good” (Proverbs 14:22).

The Mishkan (portable tabernacle in the desert) was designed with the inspiration given by G-d’s Spirit, the Ruach Elokim, that imbued Bezalel, the main craftsperson, who built the Mishkan. All the wise in heart contributed. If we would like to contribute to G-d’s overall plan today, then we need to consider what efforts will be required on our part in order to do so. Our commitment to serve G-d with the discernment granted to us from Above is primary. For only G-d is able to bring true order out of chaos, and establish His Kingdom (Malchus HaElokim – the Kingdom of G-d).

Shabbos Zachor: Ki Tisa 5782

“The L-RD said to Moses: Take for yourself – spices – stacte, onycha, and galbanum – spices and pure frankincense.”  – Exodus 30:34

The incense was offered every day in the morning, and in the afternoon.  The incense fragrance connotes the understanding that we are to serve G-d in a pleasing manner; inasmuch that we are His servants, it is our responsibility to serve Him.  Yet, He would like us to develop the inward desire to serve Him.  This is reflected in the two ways of obeying His commandments – out of fear, and out of love.

To observe His commandments out of fear, requires acknowledgment of H’Shem as “the L-rd thy G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2).  Accepting the sovereignty of H’Shem is primary; once we accept His authority, then the commandments follow as divine decrees (Baal Halachos Gedolos).  

Lifting up our hearts to Him will help us to develop ahavah (love) for Him. In serving Him out of love, we are commanded to love him with an undivided heart (Sifrei), as is written, “thou shalt love H’Shem thy G-d with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).  Moreover, Maimonides writes, “Once a person loves G-d appropriately, he will fulfill the commandments out of love” (Hilchut Teshuva 10:2).

Yet, both love and fear are necessary, like the wings of an eagle; for without fear (awe, reverence, respect), there is not the proper attitude conveyed towards Him.  Without love, we may not be able to fly towards Him, higher and higher on our journey; yet, we continue climbing, as it is, for we will reach Him with dveykus: constant clinging to His Essence.

This Shabbos we also read parashas Zachor, concerning Amalek. We flounder on the path at times, perhaps, symbolically, because of Amalek (representative of doubt), letting our avodah (service) to H’Shem cool down. Yet, we are reminded to persevere despite the challenges in our lives. Soon we will celebrate Purim and recall the hidden miracle: our deliverance from Haman, a descendent of Agag, an Amelekite; our victory over the enemy who rose up against us within the 127 provinces of King Ahasueros.

Around this time, we are especially called upon to recognize the miracles in our own lives.  The potential for us to experience shefa (everflowing grace) from H’Shem is always offered to us when we look towards Him in our struggles. We should be thankful to Him for the blessings that we receive every day. Additionally, we should praise Him every day, for He has given us the breath of life; each and every day is an opportunity to lift our voices to Him in appreciation, thanking Him for all that He has given us. 

Carry On

parashas Tetzaveh 5782

“And thou shalt make staves of acacia-wood, and overlay them with gold. And thou shalt put the staves into the rings on the sides of the ark, wherewith to bear the ark. The staves shall be in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it.” – Exodus 25:13-15, JPS 1917 Tanach

On the commandment, “they shall not be removed from it” (Exodus 25:15), R’ Hirsch comments that because the poles that were placed in rings on the sides of the Ark of the Covenant were to always remain there, to carry the Ark, symbolically, this represents that the Torah itself is not bound to any one place; rather, wherever one goes, the teachings are meant to accompany him or her. Thus, G-d’s words are meant to be our companions, so to speak, even as we look towards His presence to guide us.

I would proffer, that the same idea holds true, chronologically, that the veracity of Torah carries its own weight, and holds true across the ages. Thus G-d’s commandments should be no less compelling today, then they were on the day that they were given at Sinai. Yet, even so, many forces in society tug at the heartstrings of the average human being, attempting to lure one’s understanding away from the truth. We are challenged to remain steadfast, by not going along with the zeitgeist; rather, that we remain loyal to G-d, even though many people may view the commandments as passé, a relic of the past.

G-d’s words through Moses and the prophets, as well as all throughout all of kitvei kodesh (holy scripture) are a moral compass, especially in times of tumult and confusion. Without the express knowledge of the pure unadulterated truth, how can mankind even know left from right, up from down, or good from evil? In general, we would not even know what direction we are headed, unless we have the “divine blueprint of life” to guide us along the way. So, let us not stray from the path, nor err in our judgment, as we encounter various elements in society that are not in accord with the truth. For, truth is not relative; rather, truth is an essential constant, like a compass always pointing in one direction.

Sanctification of the Self

parashas Terumah 5782 – A Model of Sanctification

The sanctification of our lives is dependent upon recognizing the difference, not only between sacred and mundane, rather also between sacred and most sacred. Therefore, in light of a godly perspective, we may characterize these aspects of our lives in the following manner: In accordance with the template for our lives, as per this discussion, the Mishkan contains two spaces within. The Kadosh Kadoshim (Holy of Holies), where the ark of the covenant was kept; and, the Kadosh (Holy), where the incense mizbeach, menorah, and showbread table were contained.

These three components within the Kadosh, may be said to represent prayer, wisdom, and kitvei kodesh (holy scripture). Inasmuch that it is written, “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of G-d,” we may view bread as symbolic of the word of G-d. The light of the seven-branched menorah was maintained by seven oil lamps on the top of each branch. In kitvei kodesh, both light and olive oil represent wisdom. And, finally, the smoke of the incense mizbeach (altar) is indicative of our prayers rising up toward Heaven.

These three components were essential to the avodah (service) of the Mishkan, performed by the Levites. And the corresponding attributes are key for our avodah (service) to G-d. Primarily, if we “feast” upon the word of G-d, especially on Shabbos (the Sabbath), which was when the twelve loaves on the showbread table were eaten by the kohanim (priests), then we are providing ourselves with a rich banquet of truth, and the values derived thereof, in order to nourish our soul. Through abiding in the word, we will acquire wisdom; and our prayers may be based on scripture as well. The three aspects of the accoutrements in the Mishkan are part of the whole.

Continuing on with the extended metaphor for sanctification, we find the significance of the Kadosh Kadoshim (Holy of Holies), such that the ark is the repository for the commandments of G-d, that we are to follow, in order to obtain a level of morality in accordance with what was prescribed from Above. These are unchanging, a certain guide in the storms of life, and not subject to the shifting sands of modernity. They are the backbone of our uprightness in the eyes of G-d. As such, they also represent the crux of our thought, speech and action – directives for the guidance of the soul. Moreover, because G-d’s presence rested upon the kapores (cover) of the ark, we are reminded of G-d’s presence within us, when we make ourselves tabernacles.

So, while on the one hand, it is well known that we need to keep ourselves from becoming entangled in the mundane affairs of the world, in order to focus on what is sacred in our lives. We need to also recognize the role of the Most Sacred in our lives, the potential to remain in G-d’s presence, as long as we maintain a constant diet of the word, enlighten our souls with the wisdom of G-d, and pray in all sincerity, so that are prayers are lifted up to Heaven.

The inner sanctum of our souls, where only we may reside, along with G-d’s presence, is a place where G-d may communicate to us as individuals. Whether through our intuition, insight, or other kinds of influence, this is our refuge, where others may not enter. We do not need to take everything about ourselves outside of the holy place within us, for others may not always understand. Yet, G-d is our Counselor, and Guide, whom we should be able to communicate with, from the depths of our heart. He serves this role for all who seek Him, because as human beings we are limited in our ability to shoulder all of our burdens on our own. And, while others may help us, scripture tells us, “Cast thy burden upon the L-RD, and He will sustain thee” (Psalms 55:23, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Acceptance of His Sovereignty

parashas Mishpatim 5782

“The L-RD said to Moses, “Ascend to Me into the mount and be there; and I will give thee the tables of stone, and the law and the commandment, which I have written, that thou mayest teach them.'” – Exodus 24:12

“The voice of the L-RD cleaves with shafts of fire.”  – Psalm 29:7

(His words sprang forth like fire, when inscribed on the tablets)

Even before receiving the commandments, B’nei Yisrael cried out, naaseh v’nishmah (we will do and we will hear. It is a profound statement: the saying connotes a willingness to follow the commandments, before hearing (understanding) them.  This denotes the emunah (faith) of B’nei Yisrael, inasmuch that they were committed to following the commandments without fully comprehending their significance. Today, in the modern world, most people would prefer to consider, according to their own understanding, whether it makes sense to take such and such a course of action.  This is because of our reliance on our own ability to reason.

Ever since the Age of Reason, belief in the Divine is relegated to the back burner, as man places himself on the Throne.  Yet, we still have a choice, everyday in our own individual lives, to place the L-RD on the Throne, or place ourselves on the Throne. The daunting realization should be that even if we appear to place ourselves on the Throne, as if we were G-d, this is only a delusion. He, the Blessed and Holy One, is always in His Makom (place) on His Throne in Seventh Heaven.  To truly accept His Sovereignty (Malchus), we must step down, so to speak, from the illusion that we are in charge of every facet of our lives. 

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