Head, not Tail (Ki Tavo)

Head, not Tail (Ki Tavo)

Think like a man of action, and act like a man of thought. -Henri Bergson

Moses blesses the Nation of Israel with detailed, flowing, prophetic blessings that includes the following verse:

“And you shall be for a head and not for a tail, and you shall be up and not be down.” – Deuteronomy 28:13

The Berdichever calls our attention to the extraneousness of the phrases “not for a tail” and “not be down.” If you’ll be a “head,” it would seem obvious that you won’t be a “tail.” Likewise, if you’re “up,” you won’t be “down.” So why the redundancy?

The Berdichever explains that there is a deeper meaning to the repetitiousness of “head” versus “not tail” and “up” versus “not down.” It has to do with the three different worlds that we inhabit: the world of thought, the world of speech and the world of action.

The world of action is the most physical, the one we perceive with our senses, the one we interact with most. We are present in the world of action. We act on people and things and they likewise act upon us.

The world of speech is a bit more sublime. There may not be strict physical interaction, but speech is the medium whereby we convey our needs, desires and ideas to one another.

The world of thought is the most sublime of all. It is dominated by our internal thoughts, ideas, musings. It is our internal dialogue, our mental landscape, and it is only limited by our imagination.

According to Kabbalah, the “lowest” of all worlds is the world of action. The world of action is the furthest away from our true essence, from our spiritual reality. “Above” the world of action is the world of speech. Speech does start to capture the uniqueness of being an articulate human spirit, but it is often a clumsy tool, not always able to encapsulate or convey our true thoughts and feelings. The highest world is the world of thought. Our unadulterated thoughts have the closest contact with our spiritual selves.

The Berdichever details that the “head” of the world of action is equivalent to the “tail” of the world of speech. Similarly, the “head” of the world of speech is the same as the “tail” of the world of thought. However, there is nothing “above” the “head” of the world of thought.

Hence, the blessing is that we should be a “head”, the very “head” of the world of thought, with nothing “above” us. That is when we are closest to infinity.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Israeli democracy.

1000 days of Torah Tweets

Today I hit a learning milestone. I’ve been writing Daily Torah Tweets for 1,000 days. That’s 7,000 nuggets of highly distilled and concentrated Torah content, each squeezed into 140 characters or less. There are currently hundreds of people from multiple countries and a spectrum of backgrounds who are reading them.
For this upcoming new year, if you want to add a different, enticing, stimulating and sometimes cryptic 30 seconds of Torah learning to your day, subscribe to my TweetYomi list/group. You can get it via email, I can add you to my WhatsApp group and/or you can follow me on any of the below platforms. Let me know.
Thanks and Shabbat Shalom!
Ben-Tzion
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Sample of text tweets:

Thursday / 12-Sep-19 / 12 Elul 5779                                  #999
#ParshaYomi #KiTetze 5: Unhappy w/ wife, gave bill of divorce; she marries 2nd man, he dies or divorces her; she can’t ever return to 1st.
#MishnaYomi #Avot 4:1 BenZoma: Who’s wise? learns from every man; Mighty? subdues inclination; Rich? happy with lot; Honored? honors others.
#DafYomi #Kritut 22: If blood was on a loaf of bread, one may scrape off the blood and then consume the bread.
#RambamYomi #Mikvaot 3:24 When immerse laundered clothes, the water must penetrate through them to the extent that air bubbles arise.
#HalachaYomi OC 566:8 All public fasts have priestly blessings (Birkat Kohanim) at the afternoon prayer (Mincha), except for Yom Kippur.
#TanyaYomiM 12Elul: Strange verse “God’s eyes on (land) from start of year until its end.” Should say forever. Means each year new light.
#EmunaYomi 207: Believe that everything in life has a reason and a purpose, and that there are no tribulations without transgression.
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Elevating Joy (Ki Tetze)

Elevating Joy (Ki Tetze)

To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven. -Johannes A. Gaertner

 

 

The Torah reading of Ki Tetze has a seemingly eclectic grouping of commandments. One of them, a biblical precursor to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations, states as follows:

When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it. – Deuteronomy 22:10

As he typically does, the Berdichever reads deeply into the verse and comes up with some interesting revelations about joy and the ideal form of enjoying joy.

Just as one may experience joy when building a new house, so too, any new joy that one experiences, can be built up, and elevated. It starts with the realization that it all comes from God and we need to demonstrate gratitude to Him.

And just as one might build a parapet on the highest point of the structure, the roof of a house, so too, there is a way to circumscribe and direct our highest emotions of joy to gratitude. The Berdichever explains that the way to connect our joy to its divine provenance is by articulating gratitude; it is by using words of Torah, of prayer, of songs and praises to God.

The Berdichever adds that the power, the force behind the words of praise we use is also God (or God’s name to be more specific) and that in Hebrew, the numerical value of God’s name (26) is identical with the numerical value of “your roof” (26) showing the deep linkage between these concepts. We extend, enhance and elevate our joy by articulating and exhibiting gratitude, using holy words directed to God.

May we always have the state of mind to experience joy and elevate it by being grateful to its ultimate source.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the incoming students of Midreshet Torah V’Avodah and their newly appointed Rosh Bet Midrash, Rabbanit Dr. Tamara Spitz!

Thoughts bounce back as consequences (Shoftim)

Thoughts bounce back as consequences (Shoftim)

A human being fashions his consequences as surely as he fashions his goods or his dwelling. Nothing that he says, thinks or does is without consequences. -Norman Cousins

Moses, at the beginning of the Torah reading of Shoftim, commands the nation of Israel to appoint judges and officers, and to place them at every “gate” (meaning, every town) to judge the nation with righteousness.

However, the Berdichever explains that this injunction also reveals some of the basic elements of divine justice.

God is the ultimate judge. However, the judgments we mortals receive from above are heavily influenced by our own very human judgments below. Strict justice can be mollified by mercy and compassion. But that compassion must be present on earth. God needs to see that we are merciful if He is to temper His justice with mercy.

If God sees that we are merciful in our lives, then he will likewise be merciful with us, even if by the pure logic of justice, we might have been deserving of stricter and harsher punishments.

It is clearly understandable how if we act compassionately with others, God will act compassionately with us. However, the Berdichever takes this concept a quantum leap forward, by explaining that it’s not only our acts that are mirrored and paid back upon us, but that even our thoughts are held against us or stand to our benefit.

He states that when we judge people favorably, meaning when we think well of others, even if it is a completely internal dialogue in our minds, God will actively judge us and reward us in very real and concrete ways. Giving others the benefit of the doubt forces God to likewise give us the benefit of the doubt. It makes God find some favor, lean towards being more merciful, spare us from deserved punishments and treat us with a compassion that mirrors our own compassionate thoughts.

May our own positive thoughts of others be rewarded with positive outcomes for ourselves and for those around us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the memory of Rabbi Binyamin Tabory zt”l. A great teacher in Israel. May his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Daily Clarity (Reeh)

Daily Clarity (Reeh)

In wisdom gathered over time I have found that every experience is a form of exploration. -Ansel Adams

Moses, on the eastern bank of the Jordan River is addressing the nation of Israel in his epic swan song. Before they enter the land of Canaan, to conquer it under the leadership of his disciple, Joshua, Moses continues his final lecture that we know as the Book of Deuteronomy, the fifth and final book of the Five Books of Moses.

Moses has delved into our history, our sins, as well as God’s deliverance. Moses discusses the laws we need to keep, the ethics that underlie God’s commands and now, in the Torah reading of Reeh, he touches on a recurring theme, that of free-will, where he implores us to choose wisely.

In the first verse of the reading of Reeh, Moses declares: “See, I place before you, today, blessing and curse.”

The Berdichever wonders as to the emphasis in this verse on the word “today.” He explains that God renews all of creation on a daily basis. The world we are living in on Tuesday is a completely different world than the one we inhabited on Monday. Likewise, the world we experience on Tuesday is different from the world we will encounter on Wednesday. God, in His infinite power, somehow recreates, rebuilds, reanimates the entire cosmos every single day. Every star, every planet, every molecule and every subatomic particle is brought into existence again and again by God’s will every day.

And just as the universe is renewed on a daily basis, we humans are also granted a daily renewal. That daily renewal includes the capacity of greater clarity. We are given the ability to see the world with a new set of eyes every single day. We have the capacity to see better, deeper, clearer than we did yesterday.

That in and of itself is a recurring blessing. We can perceive, apprehend and understand what we couldn’t understand the day before. By realizing the newness, the freshness of the new day, we also concretize the new blessings that accompany that day. “Today” and every day is a blessing. Each and every day is a new blessing. Each and every day we receive new blessings. Each and every day God is personally bestowing on each and every one of us new blessings.

The more we realize the extent of the blessings, the more we receive, the more we appreciate, the more we enjoy.

May our days be filled with ever-growing clarity and blessings.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

On the weddings of my nephews: Saadya (Stephen) to Addi, and Avrumi to Liba Ahuva. Mazal Tov!!

Appropriate Pride (Ekev)

Appropriate Pride (Ekev)

If one takes pride in one’s craft, you won’t let a good thing die. Risking it through not pushing hard enough is not a humility. -Paul Keating

In the Torah reading of Ekev, Moses asks rhetorically, “What does God want from you?” He answers, “Only this: to revere God your God, to walk only in His paths, to love Him, and to serve God your God with all your heart and soul, keeping God’s commandments and laws, which I command you today, for your good.” – Deuteronomy 10:12-13.

That’s it. That’s all God asks. The commentators spend a lot of time analyzing this verse, understanding the phrase “Only this,” and is it really as easy as that, or is it only easy from the perspective of Moses, who had a unique closeness and relationship with God?

Moses’ question is reminiscent of a different rhetorical question by the prophet Micah: “He has told you, O man, what is good, and what does God require of you? Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk modestly with your God.” – Micah 6:8

The Berdichever takes his commentary on Moses’ question in the direction of the principle of humility and being humble in all our ways and actions. He reiterates the prime importance of a humble bearing, of being humble in our lives. But he adds a caveat. There is one exception. There is one area of life where we cannot be humble. Indeed, we are meant to pursue that aspect of our lives with an appropriate measure of pride: In our service of God. In our service of God we cannot remain humble. We are allowed and even enjoined to be proud of our divine service.

The Berdichever brings two reasons for the importance of having pride in our fulfillment of the commandments: it’s what God wants, and it gives God pleasure.

Were we to demonstrate humility regarding our performance of the commandments, it would in essence be declaring that they’re not important – and there is nothing further from the truth.

Our performance of the commandments is of prime, vital importance and when we do so, we give tremendous pleasure to God. We need to know when and in what circumstance we should demonstrate pride and pursue things with pride. The Mitzvot, the commandments, are the place.

May our pride be reserved for the truly good things that we do.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Major Moshe, Rivka, Tamar, Batsheva and Yudi. Thanks for the wonderful hosting!

DafYomi: Summary of Tmura’s 5th chapter

5th Perek Summary: “Keitzad Maarimin”: An embryo of an animal can be consecrated. A mother and embryo can be consecrated for two different sacrifices. A single “exchanged” animal can receive consecration for two different sacrifices, and when it receives a blemish, it is sold and the proceeds are split for the two sacrifices. What one utters has legal standing, especially in consecration where ones utterance is the only form of acquisition.

An Exploration of Classic Jewish Texts

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