Established from Above

Upon completing the monumental task of building all of the various components of the Mishkan (portable tabernacle in the desert), the artisans and craftsmen brought everything to Moses, who responded with the appropriate enthusiasm of the leader of B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel). “And when Moses saw that they had performed all the tasks—as the L-RD had commanded, so they had done—Moses blessed them” (Exodus 39:43, NJPS).

The Israelites had done all that was commanded of them; so, of course, they deserved a blessing. Yet, what does a blessing in and of itself constitute, especially for such an enormous amount of work that was done willingly, as a free gift offering by they who committed themselves to the task?

In the modern world, remuneration for services rendered is the norm amongst those who work for a living; and, often we value even our very selves, based upon our profession, and our ability to provide for ourselves and our families. Yet, anyone, including myself, who has worked as a volunteer for some cause knows the reward for doing so; and, to feel a part of a greater whole, for the sole sake of contributing to a good cause is an invaluable estimation of one’s time and effort in the endeavor.

Even so, the greater picture concerns our contribution to the expectations of G-d for the sake of others, as well as ourselves. There is no remuneration that can be measured in terms that would assess the benefits that the soul receives for having been part of G-d’s master plan; for He is the great architect of our lives, as well as the end goal of all human endeavors that are in alignment with His divine blueprint for the world.

The  Mishkan was constructed for the sake of providing a place where G-d’s presence would rest amongst His people. The project required a coordinated effort from the people to build something of lasting value for the sake of maintaining a connection with G-d. We would also do well to consider, that whatever we do will only be established through the blessings of G-d in our lives, whether we realize the nature of those blessings or not. The more we contribute to worthy endeavors that will be approved in His eyes, the greater will be our security. When we place our trust in Him, He will guide us in the right endeavors. “Except the L-RD build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:1, JPS).

“Let the graciousness of the L-rd our G-d be upon us; establish Thou also upon us the work of our hands; yea, the work of our hands establish Thou it.”

– Psalm 90:17, JPS 1917 Tanach

Gold Dust

B”H

Holy Scribbles: Parashas Ki Tisa 5781 – Gold Dust

An often neglected nuanced understanding, in regard to the debacle of the golden calf is as follows: after grinding the golden molten metal calf into dust, Moses throws the dust particles into the water; additionally, he compels the people to drink this. Why? Later in the accounts given in Torah, we learn the reason. This has to do with the sotah – the unfaithful wife who is put to the test, in regard to her innocence. She is compelled to drink water that has a little bit of earth, plus the erased letters of a written punishment if she is guilty of adultery. These words that make up the judgment include G-d’s name; yet, the name of G-d is also erased along with the rest of the passage. If she is guilty, the written curse will be supernaturally enacted.

This procedure is akin to the measures that Moses took, after grinding the golden calf into powder. Israel was guilty of adultery, in a certain sense, as well as idolatry, because to turn away for G-d to another god is a form of adultery. Elsewhere throughout kitvei kodesh (holy scripture), Israel is compared to a wayward wife, essentially an adulteress, because she turned towards all sorts of other gods. Recompense is made for Israel, when they turn back towards H’Shem (literally, “the Name”), thus effectively ending the separation.

This same parallel can be found in our own lives as well, for when we turn away from G-d, whether through neglect of our duties, indifference, or outright sin, a chasm opens up between us and Him. “Your iniquities have been a barrier between you and your G-d, your sins have made Him turn His face away” (Isaiah 59:2, JPS 1985 Tanach). Although we are not made to drink bitter water, the result of our negligence has the effect of bringing bitterness into our lives, until we reconcile ourselves to G-d.

The Light of Reason

The light of reason, unless derived from a godly source, may fail to live up to its illumination. Consider that the deification of reason, within the framework of the Age of Enlightenment, was a status given to an attribute that we only have from the Creator. Removed from its origin, reason becomes an independent quality, capable of deviating from the truth, all in the name of itself. Today, a key component of the same type of thinking, might be the “woke culture,” that prevails upon us in the spirit of liberalism. Cancel culture is the means whereby the voices of its opponents are silenced.

In parashas Tetzaveh, the weekly reading of the Torah that begins with the commandment about the pure olive oil that will be used for the seven branched menorah in the Tabernacle, our attention may be drawn to the specification of this oil, being “pure;” i.e., free from all sediment after the olives are crushed. The light that burned in the menorah in G-d’s Tabernacle was no ordinary light. It is taught that this light represents the original light (in Hebrew, “ohr”) that was created on the first day of Creation. After the sin of Adam and Eve, this light was hidden away, for the righteous in Olam Haba (the World to Come).

How can we obtain that light? Not through our own reason, as is written, “Lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). We may apply our reason, within the framework of truth; yet, too often, we are led away from what is good, by our own reasoning, thus creating a fissure between G-d’s established ways, and man’s utopian vision. In the near future, this division will become more clear, as the goals of a global dystopia become more evident. The choice will be ours to make, whether to draw closer to G-d, by seeking refuge in His sanctuary (Psalm 27:5), or taking shelter in the false promise of security offered by the world. May the true light will continue to show us the way.

The Golden Opportunity

B”H

weekly reading: parashas Terumah 5781 – the Golden Ark

“Overlay it with pure gold—overlay it inside and out—and make upon it a gold molding round about.” – Exodus 25:11, JPS

The Ark of the Covenant was built by Betzalel, who was consigned as artist extraordinaire, in charge of the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and all of its components. Composed of an entirety of three interlocking boxes, one golden box on the inside, one acacia wood box in the middle, and one golden box on the outside, the ark of the covenant was especially suited for containing the two stone tablets with the aseret hadibrot (literally, ten utterances); otherwise, known as the Ten Commandments.

This bears weight upon a conceptual understanding of character development: for as we are on the inside, so should we appear on the outside; otherwise, if we personify an image, while not living up to our image, our inner person will not shine. In fact, only by a strong character, will we truly appear golden to others; otherwise, our hypocrisy will show up somehow, rather than shine from the “golden glow” inside of us.

This also can be understood in respect to what is most important, according to this particular illustration, in regard to the content or source of our character, that is from the Torah’s point-of-view. Thus, we can easily see that such an ornate receptacle was built to carry and house the tablets of stone that contained the engraved writing, in fire from the finger of G-d. The “power source” of the Ark of the Covenant was, and in a sense continues to be, the Ten Commandments. Additionally, all of the other commandments can be categorized within the framework of these ten commandments. As previously mentioned they are also referred to as the “ten utterances;” these words spoken by G-d continue to be spoken throughout the generations.

Ideally, the Ark provides a picture, if not an object lesson of divinity as well, since the Shechinah, G-d’s presence rested between the golden cherubim (angels) on the cover. The opportunity prevails upon us, inasmuch that we can relate to this teaching, that just as His presence rested within the space on top of the golden cover of the ark, so may the Shechinah rest within us, when we are reconciled to G-d. “And let them make me a sanctuary [mikdash], that I may dwell among [within] them” (Exodus 25:8, JPS). The original intent, ideally, is that G-d might dwell within each and every one of us. Let us permit His light to shine through our sincere character.

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

B”H

“And he took the Book of the Covenant and read it within the hearing of the people, and they said, “All that the Lord spoke we will do and we will hear.”

– Exodus 24:7, Tanach, chabad.org

The crux of avodah (service) is built on faith, as is mentioned elsewhere, “the righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4, JPS). When the children of Israel received the commandments at Sinai, they responded, na’aseh v’nishmah – we will do and we will hear. In other words, we will first agree to perform the commandments; then, we will hear from you of what they consist.

Nishmah also translates as “to understand;” therefore, “we will do, and we will understand.” Rather than having to scrutinize the commandments, to get an idea of what was being received, they inferred that over time they will progressively understand the significance of the commandments. Thus, rather than blind faith, in accepting the commandments, they knew that understanding is secondary, to performing the commandments.

These concepts are oft fallen upon deaf ears, so to speak, because of how we are conditioned to think. Today, everything is subjected to the ego of the individual, because we feel compelled to decide for ourselves, whether a teaching, belief, or idea, is in accordance with our way of understanding, before incorporating any aspect thereof, into our overall framework of belief, ideology, or lifestyle. Thus, everything is relative in a postmodern world, where each person is compelled to see him or herself, as the ultimate arbiter of truth, thus relegating truth to being relative, and therefore a moot issue.

Amongst many who consider themselves to be spiritual, one key precept seems to be “mix and match,” in order to create a personally tailored practice, in agreement with the soul’s desires as to what feels right. The result being akin to the nature of the Israelites when they were without a king: “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” A certain amount of objectivity, as well as agreement to the consensual realities of what creates a harmonious society is necessary. No man is an island unto himself, unless he deserts his fellow human beings, choosing a subjective reality, while remaining isolated in his own personal kingdom. This is not the way prescribed for us by H’Shem (the L-RD), the ultimate arbiter of truth, values, and justice.

The Weightless Burden

“For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not too hard for thee, neither is it far off.” – Deuteronomy 30:11

When Moses brought the Ten Commandments down the mountain at Sinai, the actual tablets were not burdensome to him. Their weight was not an impediment at all; nor, was he encumbered by their size. The midrash relates that the task was effortless, because the engraved writing, permitted the tablets to “carry their own weight.” Thus, Moses carried the Ten Commandments engraved upon the tablets, as if they carried him down the mountain. Not until he saw the “state of affairs” at the encampment, at the base of the mountain, did the tablets become heavy. The midrash records, that when the letters “flew off of the tablets,” Moses could not bear the actual weight of the stone tablets; thus, at this point, he shattered the tablets on the ground as an act of disapproval of the idolatrous act of the people, who had built a golden calf, as a concrete means of representing deity. This midrash may be viewed symbolically, as alluding to the letters returning to their heavenly origin, because B’nei Yisrael was not able to receive the commandments at that time.

Not until Moses went back up Sinai, in order to ask for the L-RD’s forgiveness, on behalf of the Children of Israel, was he able to receive the second set of tablets. This teaches us that the commandments may appear burdensome to us, especially when we are in a state of impurity, so to speak, like the Israelites, who had momentarily turned towards idolatry. This occurred when, it appeared to them that Moses was late in returning from the top of Mount Sinai; thus, they turned towards an idol, in lieu of a spokesperson for G-d. The concrete representation of Deity, that was forged in fire, would never be able to supplant an invisible G-d, who sanctifies His children through His commandments. The Torah emphasizes that no images are to be made of anything on heaven or earth; nor, are any images to be made of G-d Himself.

Even today, we would be wise to heed the call of these commandments, instead of turning towards anything that we might inadvertently set up in our hearts as an idol. In regard to the commandments, they should not be a burden to us. Rather, we may keep in mind, in order to remember this teaching, that G’d’s expectations are not too challenging for us, nor are His words far away from us. “The word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it” (Deuteronomy 30:14, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Sooner the Better

B”H


parashas Va’eira 5781 (Exodus 6:2 – 9:35)


Despite our own impatience, in a world of instant gratification, at times, life may convey in no uncertain terms, that situations may get worse, before they can get better. This appears to be the case for the Children of Israel who had been enslaved for several hundred years in Egypt. When the redeemer appeared, he explained that G-d has visited His people. “When they heard that the L-RD had remembered the children of Israel, and that He had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshipped” (Exodus 4:31, JPS 1917 Tanach). Shortly later, Moses and Aaron appeared before Pharaoh, saying, “Thus saith the L-RD, the G-d of Israel: Let my people go” (Exodus 5:1, JPS). Yet, Pharaoh refused to do so; additionally, he increased the burdens of Israel, so that they would not have time to foment rebellion (Zohar).


The Hebrew officers complained to Pharaoh; then they approached Moses and Aaron. “Ye have made our savour to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh” (Exodus 5:21, JPS). The literalism of the Hebrew language, in this case, implies extreme contempt on the part of Pharaoh for the Children of Israel. Moses was blamed, essentially, for his effort to free the people, as if Pharaoh’s recalcitrance, and subsequent aggression towards the people was his fault, inasmuch that Pharaoh made their plight worse than it had been, before the intervention of Moses. Moreover, Moses in turn complained to G-d, because of his own disillusionment at the setback to gaining freedom for the Children of Israel.


Yet, despite all of this, G-d sent Moses back to Pharaoh, to make the assertion a second time, that if he did not let the people go, there would be certain severe consequences. And, so, the plagues ensued in sequential progression, about one plague a month. Each time Moses specifically told Pharaoh what would occur, if he did not relent of his stance against the people; and, each time the plague brought havoc upon Egypt. One point to make is that these plagues did not effect the Children of Israel.


“And I will set apart in that day the land of Goshen, in which My people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there; to the end that thou mayest know that I am the L-RD in the midst of the earth. And I will put a division between My people and thy people” (Exodus 8:18-19, JPS). “All the cattle of Egypt died; but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one” (Exodus 9:6, JPS). “Only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were, was there no hail” (Exodus 9:26, JPS). How remarkable that a hedge of protection was placed around the Israelites in Goshen. Even today, as the final redemption approaches, refuge may be sought in G-d, as the plagues increase.

Forgiveness

B”H

parashas Vayechi 5781

“And as for you, ye meant evil against me; but G-d meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”

– Genesis 50:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

Joseph’s perspective, in regard to the events in his life, spanning a period of twenty-two years, was such that he recognized a higher purpose to his suffering: inasmuch that his suffering led to a greater good, for himself, his family, and all of Egypt, as well as the surrounding peoples. Surely, knowing that the challenges that he endured throughout life were part of G-d’s divine plan to provide for the children of Israel, and sustain many peoples, during the seven year famine, compelled him to transcend the causal events that led to this provision.

Therefore, he was in a place of understanding, wherein even the precipitant event, when his brothers cast him into a pit, then sold him as a slave to traders who brought him down to Egypt, could not be viewed through the taint of blame. Nor did he hold his brothers responsible for what ensued, the many further trials that he faced in Egypt, before being placed in charge, second to Pharaoh. Rather, he attributed all, to the hand of G-d, whose design was implemented through a means that only appeared to be human related.

The hindsight gained into the purpose of his undoing, and journey from slave to royalty, permitted him to forgive his brothers, to the extent that no trace of ill will towards them existed in his newfound relationship with them. For, he explained to them, “ye meant evil against me; but G-d meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20, JPS). Therefore, he acquiesced to G-d’s will, without concern for a cause and effect view, that would only render the events of his life as near happenstance, without any greater purpose.

So too, may our lives be viewed, especially with the greater understanding of seeing in retrospect, what may have transpired to bring us to where we are today. No one lives in a vacuum, nor does anyone go unnoticed in regard to G-d’s plan for every individual on the face of the planet. If every star is given a name, denoting its significance, how much moreso is every human being watched over by G-d? By placing our faith in Him, we may be lifted up above the negativity, that could otherwise be amplified by our lower selves.

Often, we may not acknowledge that our suffering may be hinged upon an unknown plan from Above; this type of reasoning usually escapes us, because our perspective is limited. Yet, to at least acknowledge the possibility of a higher plan, could permit us to better endure the suffering for the sake of His intent to bring about something of benefit sometime and somewhere down the road from now.

 “There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.”

– Victor Frankl

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