Weekly Torah Commentary – Balak July 7, 2017

Torah reading: Numbers 22:2 – 25:9

Haftorah reading: Micah 5:6 – 6:8

This week’s reading in the prophet Micah ends with this verse:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8

This well known verse is a unique summary of what biblical obedience is all about.  Let’s get something straight from the very beginning.  Obedience according to biblical texts is not about meticulously complying with endless man made rules. It is, rather, an attitude of heart which recognizes the eternal love and compassion of the  Holy One of Israel towards us as our Father and our King (Avinu Malkenu) with the result that we want to honor, magnify and emulate Him.  You shall be holy for I am holy.  (Leviticus 19:2)

Over the centuries ‘holiness’ has been described primarily in terms of outward submission to commandments or instructions.  In all of the major religions of the world, issues such as manner of dress, style of worship, and conformity to doctrine and tradition have created the misconception that ‘holiness’ is measured by outward appearance.  Nothing could be further from the essence of biblical holiness.  Even a modern secular quote agrees: ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’

One of the most outstanding examples in the prophets that illustrates this principle is in I Samuel 16.  After the LORD had torn the kingdom of Israel from Saul because of his disobedience, He told the prophet Samuel to go to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem and anoint a new king from among Jesse’s sons.  Interestingly, the LORD didn’t tell the prophet which son. Jesse had several.

When the first son, Eliab, appeared before Samuel, the prophet looked at him and thought, Surely the LORD’s anointed is before Him. I Sam. 16:6

But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’  I Samuel 16:7

Apparently Eliab ‘looked’ like the perfect candidate but he wasn’t.  The ‘appearance’ of religiosity can be deceiving for mankind has a unique tendency to act one way outwardly while thinking just the opposite internally.  This is the definition of hypocrisy!

humility2

God chose the most unlikely of Jesse’s sons – the youngest, David, who was just a teenager at the time…but what a teenager!  David tended his father’s sheep, a lonely and boring task which David transformed into a consistent opportunity for worship.  He sang to the LORD on the hillsides, meditated on God’s Word while the sheep grazed, and wrote the most beautiful songs of praise and worship, the Psalms, which we enjoy to this day.  God called David, ‘a man after my own heart.‘ Wow – imagine such a compliment from the LORD!

 

David wasn’t a perfect man, but he had the qualities of heart that God loved and which Micah speaks about in this week’s haftorah.

First there is justice. Justice is a willingness to stand up for what is right. From justice comes moral integrity, honesty, a holding to God’s values. Those who are just make sure that all people are seen as valuable in God’s eyes, because they make it a point to look at everyone as created in God’s image and likeness.

The second character trait in Micah’s description is mercy.  When we are merciful we respond to hurts in peoples lives, without deepening their wounds. This motivates us to show forgiveness to those who have hurt you and done you wrong, just as God freely forgives you when you repent of your sins and failures. It also means forgiving yourself for past failures.

The third trait is humility. Humility is not about being a ‘doormat’, neither is it weakness, but it is that quality of heart that recognizes God for who He is.  The humble heart then wants to do all that God asks of you, because of who He is. It requires that we obey God even when our desire is to do otherwise. God’s will comes before our own. Humility also thinks of others more than oneself.  It is not haughty or arrogant but looks for and appreciates the good in other people.  It is the polar opposite of someone who is regularly critical, judgmental and harsh towards other people.

We could say it this way: there’s a major difference between perfectionism and excellence.  Perfectionism is concerned with doing things right (outward observance).  Excellence is concerned with doing the right thing (heart motivation).

In Tune with Torah this week = God has not called us to ‘perfectionism’ but to excellence.  We are not here to ‘perform’ before others in order to be applauded by them.  We are here to serve the living God from the depths of our hearts, loving Him, desiring what He desires and being occupied with His interests above our own.

Keep in mind that the fundamental meaning of the word ‘hypocrite’ is ‘an actor’ – someone who pretends to be someone he is not.

Let us walk before God as Micah urges: being just, showing mercy and living humbly.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Lech Lecha October 23, 2015

Genesis 12 – 17

This week’s reading opens with the striking call of God to Abram: “Get going out from your land and from your relatives and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation, to bless you, to make your name great so that you may be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, but whoever curses you I will curse and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” 12:1

Just imagine hearing a message from God like that! The text does not elaborate on Abram’s feelings or thoughts. It simply continues: “So Abram went, just as the Lord had spoken to him.” 12:3

He was 75 years old at the time and his wife, Sarai, was 65. Quite an undertaking at that age, don’t you think? Can you picture it?

“Sarai,” Abram says to his wife. “We’re moving.”

“Moving? Where? Why?” she replies.

“I’m not really sure, Sarai. The Almighty spoke to me and said we are to leave here and go. He’ll show us the way.” Did Sarai roll her eyes??? Would you if your husband came to you with such an announcement?? Have you ever wondered what their relatives thought?
Did they try to dissuade them? Did they think Abram was deluded, foolish, even crazy?

Sometime later after they had arrived in Canaan, God spoke again to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward…..He [God] took him outside and said, Look up now at the sky and count the stars if you are able to count them. Then He said to Abram, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ Then he [Abram] believed God and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.” 15:1, 5-6

To this day, Abram, whose name God changed to Abraham on another occasion, is honored as the undisputed FATHER of the chosen people, the Patriarch, the first Hebrew. He was not given the Torah, as Moses was. He was not crowned king, as David was. There was no hierarchy, no Tabernacle or Temple, no developed religious system he was charged to oversee.

He believed God and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.

FAITH was the legacy he passed on to his son, Isaac and his grandson, Jacob. FAITH sustained his great-grandson, Joseph when he was betrayed by his brothers and imprisoned on false charges. FAITH inspired a mother of the tribe of Levi to hide her infant son that he might live. FAITH motivated that son, when he was grown, to leave behind the wealth and prestige of his upbringing in Pharaoh’s court in order to identify with his own people.

For some four centuries, FAITH was the essence of the first descendants of Abraham the righteous. It was only much later that the Torah was given through Moses so that the generation of Abraham’s descendants whose FAITH was nearly obliterated by the oppression of Egypt could find their way back to the kind of relationship with God that their father Abraham had enjoyed.

Contrary to what some may think, the essence of biblical Judaism is FAITH – relationship with the Holy One of Israel expressed in uncompromising trust in His revealed Word. This in no way minimizes the importance of His Torah; it actually defines it more clearly.
The instructions in the Torah teach us HOW to express and apply our living FAITH in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To obey God’s commandments from a heart of FAITH is what Mt. Sinai was all about. It was FAITH that earned Abraham the right to be called Avraham Avinu, Our Father Abraham.

In Tune with Torah this week = Faith in God and love for Him motivates us to obey His commandments. Simply to follow ‘tradition’ because ‘that’s what we do’ is not Abrahamic faith; it’s religion without relationship. What God wanted with Abraham was a relationship; what God wanted with Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David was relationship.
It’s what He wants with you, too.

Shabbat Shalom

Torah Commentary – Rosh Hashana September 24-26, 2015

At sundown this evening, September 24th, Jews around the world will pause; the women will light the holiday candles and the family will gather for a celebratory meal to usher in the new Hebrew year, 5775.

Someone asked, “If Rosh Hashana is the annual day of Judgment, why do we celebrate it?”

The answer is fundamental to a personal relationship with God which is precisely what He desires with all of us.

I liken Rosh Hashana to the corporate “annual review”. Once a year, God conducts an “annual review” of each of us. What have we done with the blessings and challenges that have come our way in the past year? Have we grown from them? Have we learned valuable lessons? Have we progressed in holiness?

Has our lifestyle of the past year shown the kind of promise that will move God to invest even more in us during the year to come? Good question!

The day of judgment, Rosh Hashana, is for our benefit, not for God’s. Through it, our Father in heaven demonstrates that He cares about everything we do and say. We are so important to Him that He, like a father tracking his child’s progress, constantly watches us. He is concerned with our every move. We are the beings endowed with choice and with the responsibility to shape the world into a better place. On Rosh Hashana we are reminded that every little thing we do matters to Him.

Is there any better reason to celebrate the Day of Judgment? We rejoice that our God cares deeply about our actions and our words. We delight in the fact that our lives have significance.

Indifference is the worst type of treatment in any relationship. Ask any marriage therapist and he’ll tell you that as long as a couple is still fighting, there’s still some life in the marriage. It’s when indifference sets in that the end is inevitable. So too, the fact that God personally cares about all of our actions, for good and for bad, means He loves us.

The danger of “religion”is the tendency to substitute a personal relationship with mechanical outward observances. That is not to say that observances are intrinsically wrong – not at all. What’s wrong is when they become the essence of our relationship with the Almighty and little to no attention is paid to developing a personal love relationship with Him. It is out of such a relationship that observances should flow.

Imagine for a moment a wife who keeps the house spotless, cooks delicious meals, does the laundry promptly and cares for the material needs of her children but never – ever – takes an evening or an afternoon to spend time just with her husband, talking with him, sharing with him, listening to him and devoting her energy to deepening their bond. Her “performance” is flawless but I guarantee you that if that is all there is to the marriage, the love that once was there will grow stone cold.

So it is with God. Yes, He desires our obedience to His commandments but not like robots. In fact, the prophets rebuked Israel at times for observing the festivals while their hearts were far from God.
The prophet Isaiah wrote:“This people honors Me with their lips but their heart is far from me.”

As we enter into Rosh Hashana, ask yourself: ‘How is my personal, private relationship with my Father, my King? Do I speak with Him every day in my own words? Do I turn to Him for guidance and wisdom? For understanding and direction? Is He on my mind as I go about my days? Can I truly say that He is my Best Friend as well as my Father, my Redeemer, my King, my Rock and my Fortress?

During the Ten Days of Repentance, between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we have a special period of time to zone in on these very questions. What have I done with what God invested in me during the past year? Have I given Him a ‘return’ on investment? Have I grown closer to Him? Have I been kinder to my family?
Have I been a little less selfish than I was the previous year?

My prayer for all of us is that we will understand God’s personal love and care and recognize that His “annual review” (judgment) on Rosh Hashana is a beautiful blessing.

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In Tune with Torah this week = pondering our own spiritual state, repenting as needed and resolving to enter then new Hebrew year with a commitment to serve Him and our fellowman from a pure heart.

As we say in Hebrew: Shana Tova u Metuka – May you have a good and sweet year!

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Weekly Torah Commentary – Nitzavim-Vayelech Sept. 18, 2014

Nitzavim/Vayelech Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30

See I have placed before you life and good, and death and evil … I have placed life and death before you, blessing and curse; and you shall choose life so that you and your offspring will live.

This key verse in the Torah reading for the last Shabbat before Rosh Hashana emphasizes God’s gift to us of free choice; the ability to choose between life and good or death and evil. Free choice is the fundamental human trait that enables us to serve God effectively.

The choice between good and evil is familiar to us all. Though morality has suffered decline in many contemporary societies, nevertheless, good and evil are fairly well recognized and our choice to do good and avoid evil is evident.

However,in the verse cited above, we are also given the ability to choose between life and death. At first glance that seems a bit strange. Other than those embroiled in terrorist philosophies, who would choose death? Why did God feel it necessary to command us to “choose life…”

When the Torah speaks of ‘death’ we need to understand that it is not referring solely to the state of no longer being alive on this earth. God is warning us against what death represents. Perhaps the easiest way to grasp this concept is to take a closer look at ‘life’.

Life in the Torah is much more than breathing; life is a journey, a process of growing into a spiritually mature person, developing moral character and becoming a viable ‘ambassador’ of God’s presence in the world. He created us in His image and His likeness; life is about growing into that very image and likeness so that people would learn what God is like by knowing you.

Being spiritually alive is about taking responsibility; facing challenges and problems and through them becoming better rather than bitter. That being the case, we can deduce that ‘choosing death’ is related to irresponsibility, laziness in dealing with issues, rejecting discipline and hard work and failing to mature. To live ‘spiritually dead’ is to choose comfort over effort, an easy life over a life full of challenge and growth.

We must also realize that choosing ‘death’ also impacts the way we serve God. Obeying His commandments and statutes mechanically or routinely without seeking an ever more intimate relationship with Him quickly degenerates into ‘dead’ religion. The greatest commandment is this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your resources.” Every action, every good deed, every choice to obey God’s Word becomes powerless if not flowing from a heart of devoted love for the God of heaven.

This message is particularly appropriate as we approach Rosh Hashanah in the coming week. On these Holy days we are not only judged on our words, deeds and choices during the past year, we also face an evaluation on who we are as individuals.

It is possible to live an essentially lazy, comfortable life in a ‘religious’ way; following rules, traditions and customs on the outside without a flow of love pouring out of the heart. As we approach Rosh Hashana, the call to our souls is for an authentic spiritual connection that teaches us how to live from a position of overflowing grateful love towards God day by day.

In Tune with Torah this week = on this last Shabbat before Rosh Hashana, it behooves us all to seriously examine ourselves, not with endless questions and lists but with one simple thought: am I closer to God now than I was last year at this time? Am I following Him more nearly than I was last year?

Shabbat Shalom to all of you.

If you’re looking for a Rosh Hashana gift for a friend or family member, allow me to recommend the volume entitled IN TUNE WITH TORAH, a collection of past year’s commentaries on the Torah.

Click here:

Weekly Torah Commentary — Bamidbar May 23, 2014

BAMIDBAR/NUMBERS 1:1 – 4:20

This week we begin reading the fourth book of the Torah. Numbers” is the name by which the fourth of the Five Books of Moses is commonly called in English Bibles, but in the Hebrew original it is known as Bamidbar, or “In the Wilderness.” Of particular interest is the fact that this is the Torah portion always precedes the Festival of Shavuot, the celebration of the giving of the Torah. Why is that?

We know that Israel is called to be a ‘light to the nations’; we are called to ‘be holy as I am holy, says the Lord’, Consequently, Shavuot is not just a celebration of an historical event, not just a remembrance of that awesome day when God Himself descended on Mt. Sinai and gave us His Torah. As great as that is, Shavuot is more than that.

God could have chosen to give the Torah to Avraham. He didn’t. He could have given it to Jacob and his twelve sons. He didn’t. He could have given it in the holy city of Jerusalem. He didn’t. He chose the wilderness, the desert, as the suitable place for this awesome event.

THe desert is a no-man’s land. It is ownerless and barren. Just as a desert is empty and desolate, so does each of us need to know that we are but an “empty vessel.” Humility is an essential character if we are to successfully absorb the divine wisdom in the words of Torah – and those of the prophets as well.

As long as we are full of ourselves and our preconceived notions, we will not be able to integrate the essence and spirit of the Torah into our hearts and lives. Even when we think we know a good deal about the sacred writings, the truth is, as the old proverb describes, “the older I get, the less I know” or as one of the Sages wrote, “as much as you know, you are still an undeveloped wilderness.”

Another reason we can consider to answer the question, Why did God give the Torah in the desert?, is that an ownerless wilderness is open to anyone. No person or group of people has a monopoly on Torah. It belongs to each and every single Jew, not just the rabbis or the yeshivah students, or the religiously observant. “The Torah that Moses commanded us is the heritage of the entire Congregation of Jacob” (Deuteronomy 33:4). Add to that, the multitudes of descendants of Jewish ancestry that in our day are making their way home; those described in the prophet Ezekiel, as the ‘house of Israel’ are being reunited with the ‘house of Judah’ though they have lived as Gentiles because of past generations’ assimilation under persecution. It is an astonishing and inspiring phenomenon as we today witness, for example, literally thousands of descendants of the generation of the Inquisition in Spain, Portugal and France, re-connecting to that holy spark of their ancestors and returning to the Torah, for the Torah is also theirs.

While we acknowledge that there is much hard work ahead of us if we are to acquire the Torah and make it ours, we also know that with diligence and effort we can succeed. Some of Judaism’s finest Torah scholars throughout the generations have emerged from the simple, ordinary folks; shepherds, tailors, cobblers and the like.

Now, while this holy Torah, given in the wilderness, is available to all, it is those who embrace it with love, who let go of preconceived notions and attitudes, and the inclination to ‘pick and choose’ among the commandments, who progressively discover a living relationship with the God of Israel, the joy of which is un-equalled by any other relationship or experience. Rightly did David cry out, “In Your presence is fulness of joy; at Your right hand, are pleasures for evermore.” Psalm 16:11

For this, in fact, is the heart of Shavuot: that the the God of Israel ‘married’ the people of Israel and the Ketubah (marriage contract) is the Torah. The Torah was NOT given to establish a religious system, contrary to what some may think. The Torah was given to establish a living, breathing, pulsing, joyful and intimate relationship between God and His people.

This statement does not in any way demean Judaism as a religion; rather, it is intended to highlight the GOAL of Judaism – to provide a framework where His chosen people, learning and living according to the Torah, would become a community, a nation, that would demonstrate the incomparable beauty of a living relationship with the Almighty. To observe the mitzvot and the traditions of Judaism without the inner, personal relationship with God misses the mark entirely.

As Maimonides has commented on this verse: Behold, I have take the Levites from amongst the children of Israel… and the Levites shall be Mine (3:12)

“Not only the tribe of Levi, but any man of all the inhabitants of the earth whose spirit has moved him and whose mind has given him to understand to set himself aside to stand before G-d to serve Him, to worship Him, to know G-d and walk justly as G-d has created him, and he casts from his neck the yoke of the many calculations that men seek–this man has become sanctified, a holy of holies, and G-d shall be his portion and his lot forever, and shall merit him his needs in this world, as He has merited the Kohanim and the Levites.”

In Tune with Torah this week = may the very title of this week’s reading, “Bamidabar/the Wilderness”, and the significance of it which we have briefly discussed, give us ample food for thought as we prepare ourselves for the upcoming Festival of Shavuot, which will be observed from sundown, June 3 through sundown, June 4th. May we embrace the Torah anew with joy and earnestness, so that this important festival will be both memorable and meaningful.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Tetzaveh February 22, 2013

TETZAVEH Exodus 27:20-30:10

While last week’s reading discussed the materials needed to construct the Tabernacle and its utensils, this week, our attention is turned toward the kohanim – Aharon and his sons.

And take to you Aharon your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, that he may serve me as a kohen; Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, Elazar and Itamar, Aharon’s sons. And you shall make holy garments for your brother Aharon for splendor and for glory. (Shmot/Exodus 28:1-2)

The Torah then describes the clothing of the kohanim:

And these are the garments which they shall make; a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and an embroidered tunic, a turban, and a sash; and they shall make holy garments for your brother Aharon and his sons, to serve me as kohanim. And they shall take gold, and blue, and purple, and scarlet wool, and fine linen. (Shmot/Exodus 28:4-5)

Very interestingly, these instructions include a combination of materials that is prohibited in all other garments:

You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with mixed seed; nor shall a garment mixed of linen and wool come upon you. (Vayikra/Leviticus 19:19)

Why would something which is forbidden in one context be deemed not only permissible, but a crucial part of divine service, in another context? Why would Hashem declare the combination of linen and wool to be inappropriate in every day clothing yet approve of it in the Divine Service? What underlying truths are contained in both the prohibition and its exception? Perhaps if we try to understand why the Torah prohibits making garments from a mixture of wool and linen, we will be better able to understand why that prohibition is set aside for the priestly clothing.

However, we have a problem because this commandment is included in the list of those instructions whose rationale is beyond our understanding! While the reasons behind laws of this type, called hukim in Hebrew, are not expressly stated in the Torah, our sages have offered some suggestions for our consideration.

In general, “Mishpatim” are laws which might logically or naturally spring from the necessity to regulate and organize human interaction. Devoid of any divine imperative, people could have or would have created laws similar to those categorized as mishpatim. Their rationale is logical, clear, and would likely have been dictated by human nature and the necessity for a “social contract”. Laws prohibiting murder, theft and adultery would easily fit into this category.

“Hukim” are laws which operate on different strata; often, they are symbolic representations of larger ideas. These laws are not intuitive, nor would human intelligence alone enable us to anticipate their necessity. However, we must not dismiss them as impenetrable or beyond our understanding. And in these verses we have a perfect example of why: Wool comes from the animal kingdom, while linen grows from the ground. Early writings explain that these two divergent sources represent two individuals, who at the dawn of history delved into these two respective realms.

And she (Eve) again bore his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.

Cain was a farmer, and his brother Abel was a shepherd. Each of them, apparently independently, attempted to bring an offering to worship God. This is the first time in history that men initiate sacrifice as a means of coming closer to God.

And Cain brought some of his crops as an offering to God. Abel also offered some of the firstborn of his flocks and from the fattest ones, and God paid heed to Abel and his offering. And to Cain and his offering God paid no heed, and Cain became furious and crestfallen. (Bereishit/Genesis 4:3-5)

Although each of the brothers hoped to serve God in his own way, jealousy plagued their relationship, and soon Abel became the victim of his brother’s rage. The Midrash explains that as a result of this senseless murder a new law was introduced – a law that preserves and separates the two different realms of Cain and Abel, represented by wool and linen.

One of the suggestions given for our meditation is that Cain’s offering of agricultural produce that he had personally cultivated expressed an inner attitude that said: “Look at the results of my hard work and bless me. I deserve it.” Abel, on the other hand, took a tender lamb from the flock that he tended, presented it to Hashem with an inner attitude that said: “You created this world and all that is within it, including this lamb. I give him back to You as an expression of my gratitude for all that You have provided.” In other words, Cain’s offering was motivated by personal gain; Abel’s offering was motivated by love and gratitude.

When the High Priest entered the Temple, he did so in holiness and for Divine Service. Therefore, it was entirely appropriate for him to bring into the presence of Hashem both ‘wool and linen’ – representing the gifts of creation as well as the work of man’s hands.

However, in our day to day life, we are challenged to reconcile those two aspects, a challenge we often find difficult. Therefore, we are told to avoid ‘mixture’.

We work hard at our profession and complain when the recognition we think we deserve is not forthcoming. In our better moments, we joyfully give thanks to Hashem for all that He has given us – health, family, friends, etc.

Could it be that the prohibition of mixing wool and linen in day to day garments is intended to remind us that in ALL things and at ALL times, our hard work is to be elevated to the status of Divine service by a consistent attitude of joy and thanksgiving, even when external circumstances would dictate otherwise?

You see, circumstances don’t give meaning to your life; you are to give meaning to your circumstances. Whether you live your life as a scoundrel or a saint has nothing to do with your theology and everything to do with your inner integrity.

Daily life is not meant to be clothed in ‘mixture’. Singleness of purpose, clarity of direction, simplicity of expression are all part of the outward manifestation of a pure soul.
Too many people live conflicted lives in which motives, decisions, actions and words betray an inner disagreement. We say what we think someone else wants to hear instead of what we truly think. We worry more about what others think about us than living out of an inner honesty. The ‘mixed multitude’ is not just a group of people who came out of Egypt long ago.

The ‘mixed multitude’ is us.

In Tune with Torah this week = are we living from an inner sanctuary of truth, wholeness and simplicity? Does our outer person reflect the inner person? Or are we actors on the stage of life?

Shabbat Shalom

Parshat Tetzaveh describes the clothing worn in the Temple, and these clothes are necessarily different from our normal attire. Ours is a world steeped in petty jealousy and hatred, a world driven mad by the confusion between good and evil. The prohibition against shaatnez is a symbolic reminder of the confusion that leads to death. As we are diligent in our dress, and we take care to maintain the distinction between the realms represented by wool and linen, we make a symbolic commitment. Through observance of the laws of shaatnez in our daily comportment, we remind ourselves that the hatred and jealousy between Kayin and Hevel resulted in fratricide, and we commit ourselves never to repeat this sin.(7)

Life within the confines of the Temple is quite different. The Temple is our meeting place with God. Here, as we approach God, confusion is dispelled. Within the Beit HaMikdash, wool and linen can be combined, must be combined. Here, sanity reigns; clarity triumphs. The Temple is a place of unity, straddling the territories of Yehuda, son of Leah, and Binyamin, son of Rachel.(8) Here, brothers are united; here, even Kayin and Hevel can exist side by side. This unity is the defining trait of Mordechai:

There was a man of Yehuda in Shushan the capital, and his name was Mordechai, son of Yair, son of Shim’i, son of Kish, a Benjaminite. (Esther 2:5)

Like the Beit HaMikdash itself,(9) Mordechai is both of Yehuda and of Binyamin. Mordechai represents unity and harmony, reconciliation and clarity. He was uniquely capable of seeing through the confusion. He was a symbol of the Temple, and of the Kohen Gadol. Like the incense that brought about forgiveness for the people, Mordechai was an agent of healing. He was the rightful owner of the ‘garments of splendor and glory,’ the rightful heir of the Kohen Gadol who used incense to dispel the confusion that causes sin. In truth, the holy clothing in which he was eventually adorned were an expression of his own inner ‘splendor and glory.'(10)

Weekly Torah Commentary — Bresheit/Genesis October 12, 2012

This week we begin a new cycle of Torah study. After considerable and prayerful thought, I’ve chosen a theme for this year based on the words of the famed Sage, Rabbi Hillel: “What you would dislike for someone to do to you, do not do unto others. This is the entire Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study.” (Shabbos 31a)

In the first chapter of Bresheit, in verse 27, we read: “And God created man in His own image; in the image of God, He created him.”

Our universe is vast, immense beyond our imagination, extending for billions of light years. Each of us is one of several billion inhabitants on a planet which is but a speck of matter in the cosmos. Humbling, to say the least.

BUT…when we realize that of all of creation, ONLY man was created in the image and likeness of the Creator, each individual is no longer insignificant or inconsequential but is a being without parallel in the entire universe. That is who you TRULY are…that is who your neighbor TRULY is.
Though seemingly miniscule, the human being is the pinnacle of God’s creation.

“In His own image, He created him…” What does this mean but that man has the ability to emulate God Who bestows kindness (chesed) upon mankind, upon the deserving and the undeserving alike! In fact, the very survival of the human species is dependent on God’s kindness, on divine chesed. It is our singular privilege to emulate God and learn to become individuals who love kindness and actively look for opportunities to practice it. When you and I act kindly towards someone else, we are reflecting the nature and goodness of God. To say, ‘Why should I care about others? Why should I help them’? is to deny the very purpose for which we were created and put on this earth.

Consider the words of the prophet Micah, “He has told you, o man, what is good and what does God require of you – to act justly, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” 6:8

To love kindness is to look for opportunities to be helpful, to smile, to be gentle, to be gracious towards others. It means that we do not wait to help until we are asked and have no acceptable way out of it! Rather, we live ‘on the alert’ to recognize the many opportunities that come our way to show kindness in one way or another.

Even the smallest act of kindness is a mitzvah; for example, if someone is sleeping, move quietly so as not to disturb them. Don’t thoughtlessly slam the door! It takes just a little attention to be aware of those around you so you can choose to act in ways that show them respect and thoughtfulness.
When the girl at the checkout looks tired, grumpy or depressed, smile and wish her a a good day. It’s amazing what a genuine smile can do for someone else, have you noticed?

Ber. 2:7 “…and man became a living soul…” In Hebrew a “nefesh chaya” which literally means ‘a soul that can speak’. It is the ability to speak that elevates us above the animals; however, this is true only when speech is used for righteous and worthy purposes. We learn this from the fact that it is apparent in the creation narrative that the snake lost his power of speech after seducing Adam and Eve to sin. The Sages derive therefore that someone who misuses the power of speech is considered lower than a beast. Have you ever heard someone say, “he’s just a snake…”?

In Tune with Torah this week: early in this new year of 5773, I’d like to propose that we choose SHOWING KINDNESS as a theme for this year and that our kindness be expressed in actions, but also in our words.