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.

Returning to the One

“And thou shalt bethink thyself among all the nations, whither the L-RD thy G-d hath driven thee, and shalt return unto the L-RD thy G-d, and hearken to His voice according to all that I command thee this day.”

– Deuteronomy 30:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The call of teshuvah (repentance) is to return from our own errant ways, in order to embrace the ways of G-d. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the L-RD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9, JPS).

Therefore, when we acknowledge our own sense of spiritual poverty, we may aspire to a greater understanding through the word of G-d. For “man doth not live by bread alone, but by every thing that proceedeth out of the mouth of the L-RD doth man live” (Deuteronomy 8:3, JPS).

The phrase vahasheivosa ell’vavecha (“then you will take it to your heart,” Deuteronomy 30:1) conveys the understanding, that an intellectual knowledge alone, concerning the importance of the service of G-d, is not enough; rather, it is necessary to bring this awareness into one’s heart – the seat of the emotions. As a result of this endeavor, teshuvah (repentance) will follow.

In the modern world, we are conditioned to believe that whatever choices we make in our lives, are more or less acceptable, as long as we are tolerant and considerate of others. While tolerance and consideration are important, without formulating guidelines of some sort for ourselves, we will continue to be without principles to rest our sense of morality upon.

Ultimately, adopting the values inculcated to us in the words of G-d, will bring a sense of consistent truths into our awareness, so that we may truly live in accordance with the designs of the Creator, Who only has our best interests in mind.

parashas Ki Seitze 5781

“When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a parapet for thy roof, that thou bring not blood [guilt] upon thy house, if any man fall from thence.”

– Deuteronomy 22:8, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Roofs of houses in the ancient Near East were flat and were regularly used for a variety of purposes: drying and storing produce, strolling and socializing, and sleeping in warm weather.”  (p.201, The JPS Commentary Deuteronomy).  The danger of falling off the roof was a constant risk unless a parapet was put in place around the perimeter of the roof.

The literal translation of the verse is “lest a fallen one should fall.” How can that be? How can one be fallen, even before he falls? The phrasing implies that the one who might potentially fall was already a sinner. Therefore, the fallen one is due punishment from H’Shem, for some sin that had already been committed.

Yet, we are commanded to build a parapet so this “fallen one” does not fall and injure himself on our own roof. Following the commandment, prevents the punishment from being enacted upon a “fallen one,” through neglect, were the homeowner otherwise not as conscientious to put a protective fence in place.

That is to say, that bad things happen through the instrumentation of others who are lacking in character. Yet, G-d’s people are called towards righteousness, in all of our ways. Moreover, we have the responsibility of being considerate, for the sake of others. If something negative occurs, let it not be on our watch.

The Value of a Tree

“For is the tree of the field man, that it should be besieged of thee?”

– Deuteronomy 20:19, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Torah warns against the desecration of trees, when in the heat of battle, as if one would start chopping down trees that were in the line of battle, perhaps, out of an overzealous nature. Especially important to consider, is the value of fruit trees. Although, trees that do not bear fruit would be permitted for use as bulwarks in a siege. However, above and beyond these practical considerations, is the inherent comparison of a man with a tree, implying a likeness.

 A tree, part of G-d’s creation is not permitted to be destroyed without a specific purpose in mind that is constructive, bringing benefit to others. G-d’s creation, in some respect, may be viewed as “resources” to be used wisely. If left standing, rather than being chopped down indiscriminately, a fruit tree will bear fruit, according to its design. Man, who is able to stand upright (yashar) in righteousness, according to G-d’s intentions for him, is also, figuratively speaking, able to bear fruit.

Moreover, just as a tree needs roots to draw sustenance, and be grounded with a foundation, permitting it to stand, so does man need roots in his heritage, values, and community. All human beings are designed like unto trees, inasmuch that we need a solid foundation in life to thrive. Without strong roots, the storms of life can not be weathered. Just as a tree’s branches reach outwards, we also need to reach out to others, and even more importantly to stretch out our hands in prayer, and reach out to the heavens.

Nothing in life is superfluous; therefore, just as trees are to be valued for their benefits, so are we to draw appreciation in life from all whom we encounter. There are many trees in a forest. We can walk from end of a forest to another, assuming that we do not get lost along the way, without even paying attention to the many varied kinds of trees in the forest. We can unfortunately do the same in life, from beginning to end, without appreciating the many people we pass by day by day, without a second thought given to their uniqueness. Or, we can acknowledge our own uniqueness in G-d’s eyes, and therefore appreciate the other, too.

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.