Category Archives: Scripture

Want to Have Clarity About Your Everyday Attitude?

“And G-d spoke to Moses saying: Speak to the Children of Israel saying: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the Festival of Succos, seven days for G-d.” (Vayikra/Leviticus 23:33, 34). G-d commands a seven-day long period of celebration for the festival of Succos/Booths.

Want to Have Clarity About Your Everyday Attitude?

This coming Sabbath we read Parshas Emor.  It sets forth the standards of purity and perfection for a Kohen, specifies the physical requirements of sacrifices, what must be done with an offering that has a blemish, and proclaims the Sabbath, Passover, Shavuos, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Succos to be holidays.  Also, it discusses the pure olive oil for the Menorah and loaves of bread, known as the Showbread, for the Table. It ends with the story of a man who blasphemed G-d's name with a curse.

For ten verses preceding the ones quoted above, the Torah explains the awesomeness of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. As a result, it is not possible to understate the importance of these two holy days. Nor can we miss that someone who fails to fast on Yom Kippur will be spiritually excommunicated. So it would be reasonable to assume that our normal standard of behavior should be like how we act on these formidable days.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch notes that according to the Torah, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated for only one day (two in our time for certain practical reasons), as is Yom Kippur whereas Succos is seven days long. Thus, while there are two somber days for atoning and fasting, there are more than triple that for being joyful and celebrating.

Rather than be bowed down with remorse at not having lived up to our potential, the Torah teaches us that our normal mood should be joyousness for the bounty G-d has given us. We should enjoy our possessions, but more importantly, we should revel in performing our duty to G-d.

Question – How do/would you fulfill the command to be joyous?

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Why Public Acclaim Can Harm Self-Respect

Vechol adam lo yiyeh be’ohel moed bevo’o lechapeir bakodesh ad tzeiso. “And any person will not be in the Tent of Meeting when he comes to cause atonement in the Sanctuary until his going out.” (Vayikra/Leviticus 16:17). When the Kohen Gadol goes into the Holy of Holies to perform the incense service he must be completely alone.

Why Public Acclaim Can Harm Self-Respect

This coming Sabbath we read a double Parshah, Acharei Mos and Kedoshim.  The first one tells about the confessional service (from which we get the expression “scapegoat”) and Yom Kippur, the prohibition against eating blood, forbidden relationships, and the holiness of the Land of Israel.

Kedoshim tells about a range of mitzvahs including gifts to the poor, honest business dealings, loving your fellow as yourself, forbidden mixtures, and the penalties for engaging in forbidden relationships.

Imagine: the Kohen Gadol was the one out of hundreds of thousands of Israelites chosen to perform the atonement service on the holiest day of the year. Undoubtedly people treated him with the utmost respect, perhaps even awe.

Despite being the personification of spirituality and discipline, the Torah tells him no one will be in the Tent of Meeting when he enters it. In order to properly perform the service and connect with G-d on this holiest of days he had to put aside all thoughts of honor. G-d calls on him to act as if no other people exist. By visualizing himself completely alone, he is free from seeking the approval of others.

This is a very important lesson for us. So often we get wrapped up in what other people think of us. Such endless worry or excessive self-consciousness can become debilitating. If, even for a short time, we can imagine a world in which other people do not exist we can free ourselves from this anxiety and enhance our self-respect.

Further, such concerns are illusory. In reality, people do not think about us nearly as often as we think they do. To the extent they are thinking about us it actually makes no real difference in our lives. For people who habitually judge us, in most cases, we cannot get their approval even if we tried.

Better to follow the Torah’s advice. When we feel unduly concerned about our public image, imagine a world devoid of other people and press forward with our spiritual growth, indeed all facets of our lives, free from the need to be honored. In this way, we build a firm foundation for our self-respect.

Question – What dangers do you see in being completely dissociated from public opinion?

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Learn How to Create Better Relationships

Uva asher lo habayis vehigid lakohein leimor; kenega nirah li babayis. “And will come, that to him that is the house, and explain to the kohen saying, ‘something like an affliction has appeared to me in the house.’” (Vayikra/Leviticus 14:35). Depressed areas of deep red or green appear in the walls of a house and the owner seeks guidance from a kohen.

Learn How to Create Better Relationships

This coming Sabbath we read a double Parshah Tazria-Metzora. They tell about how a woman becomes tahor after giving birth; how to verify when a person has a tzara’as, baheres or s’eis affliction on one’s body or tzara’as affliction of a garment; how a metzora and a house with tzara’as become tahor; and how a zav, zavah, and niddah become tahor. Wrongly translated as leprosy, tzara’as is a spiritual affliction that manifests itself physically but is not communicable like leprosy. Like tumah, it interrupts one’s connection with G-d.

Imagine one day you walk into your house and find a portion of a wall is sunken in with a dark red or green color (presumably not the color of the paint). Would there be any doubt in your mind that something was wrong? Indeed, having read this week's parsha that describes tzara’as of a house, is seems to me you could not come to any other conclusion than that your house was so afflicted. Why does the Torah require you to equivocate and say, “something like an affliction has appeared . . ?” What else could it be?

Rashi notes that even if you are a great Torah scholar and know with certainty what it is you must still use this language. Why?

According to Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz, in Daas Torah: Vayikra, whatever words you were to use, the priest will come and inspect the house. Rather the Torah is giving a practical lesson on how to speak. In the Talmud, (Brochos 4a) our Sages tell us we should become accustomed to saying, “I do not know.” Likewise, instead of speaking with certainty, we should develop the habit of saying, “It appears to me,” or “I think perhaps that.”

So often we are sure we are correct. Only later do we find out we have perceived things incorrectly, drawn a mistaken inference, or received inaccurate information from someone else. If we are conscious of how often we are in error, we will see the necessity of qualifying ourselves with “it seems to me” and similar phrases. By doing so we will find it much easier to correct our mistakes, keep our relationships intact, and most importantly retain our bond to G-d.

Question – What downside do you think there might be in speaking less certainly?

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Why Humility is an Important Accomplishment

Vayomer Moshe el-Aharon, kerav el-hamizbeach . . . “And Moses said to Aaron, draw near to the Altar.” (Vayikra/Leviticus 9:7). Moses has just explained to Aaron how to bring the offerings. Why does he have to repeat his instructions?Why Humility is an Important Accomplishment

This coming Sabbath we read Parshas Shemini.  It tells of the offerings Aaron will bring; how his sons Nadav and Avihu bring an offering G-d has not requested and are killed as a result; the prohibition against the Kohanim drinking wine; which mammals, fish, birds, and creeping things the Israelites may eat; and what to do if a vessel becomes tamei/spiritually contaminated.

Through the whole ordeal with Pharaoh Moses never had to tell Aaron what to do a second time. Citing Toras Kohanim, Rashi notes that Aaron was too afraid and embarrassed to approach the Altar. Being a man of such tremendous humility he could not reconcile to being chosen as the High Priest. Moses tells his brother this very feeling of unworthiness is what qualifies him for the job.

As we develop humility, one thing we notice is how little we know about so many subjects. Nonetheless, opportunities for accomplishment and to lead arise. Despite feeling unqualified we must embrace these occasions since we serve other people and by taking ourselves out of our comfort zone grow our own spirits too.

Our humility will make us better teachers and leaders since we will be open to advice, input, ideas, and criticism from those with whom we engage, enriching everyone’s experience.

Question – What holds you back from worthwhile accomplishments?

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How to Improve Your Character a Step at a Time

Passover is upon us so this coming Sabbath the Torah reading is drawn from Parshas Ki Sisa, which I wrote about the end of February.

How to Improve Your Character a Step at a Time

During the time the Temple in Jerusalem stood, on the second day of Passover the Omer, an offering of barley, was brought after which the new crop of grain could be eaten. Today, we commemorate the Omer through a practice known as Sefiras HaOmer, Counting the Omer. It lasts for forty-nine days. A period of semi-mourning, during this time 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students died due to their lack of unity. The day after the count ends is Shavuos, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

In the course of this seven-week period five events take place: Yom Hashoah, a remembrance day for the Holocaust; Yom HaZikaron, the Memorial Day for those who gave their lives in defense of the State of Israel; Yom HaAtzmut, Israeli Independence Day; Lag BaOmer, a break in the semi-mourning observed during the Counting; and Yom Yerushalayim, the anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.

Counting the Omer is a very powerful tool for self-renewal. Each week has as its theme a character trait on which we work. The first week is dedicated to Chesed, loving-kindness. For the seven days of the week, we work on attributes of this quality. The first day is pure loving-kindness. The second day is loving-kindness balanced by Gevurah, justice and discipline. The third is loving-kindness enhanced by Tiferes, harmony and compassion. The fourth is Netzach, endurance in loving-kindness. Day five is Hod, humility in loving-kindness. Day six is Yesod, bonding through loving-kindness. And the seventh day is loving-kindness in Malchus, sovereignty and leadership. Succeeding weeks follow this pattern.

We should be very intentional about practicing each trait each day of the count. To help I have created a worksheet so you can see the characteristic on which you should work. Each day fill in the task you did so you can keep track of your progress. Please click here to get the worksheet: CountingOmer

We can make the world a better place by improving ourselves. But expecting our characters to develop without purposely changing our behavior only leads to frustration. Counting the Omer gives us the opportunity to elevate our spirits while having a positive impact on those around us. Indeed is this not that for which Our Creator yearns?

Question – When you decide you want to change your behavior what steps do you take to do so?

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