Where’s God In All This?

As Elul, the month when we say HaMelech b’Sadeh, the King is in the Field, winds down and we look forward to the great renewal of Rosh Hashana, I am still searchng to find God. And now, ten days later, waiting for the entry of Yom Kippur, even more so……He ramains so elusive. Facing another year of the unknown in terms of Covid and global health, weather disasters everywhere, chaos and violence seeming to run rampant even in those places we thought were safe and calm…… Such a long, often self-contradictory list of mandatory instructions to do our part to solve each crisis, too long to successfully complete even half.

On top of all that, there is all the spiritual preparation for Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Some of us have been waking early for the entire months to say Selichot, other just started a couple weeks ago. There are also those of us for whom the multitude of words, once a bridge, has now become an obstacle. Is God in the silence or is He in the words, so many of which are intricately structured into a poetry we rarely understand, can barely remember?

Netzavim, read just before Rosh Hashana, is usually the fifty-first parsha read in the yearly cycle (which begins on Shimini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, a few weeks beyond). Thus it normally follows the fiftieth parsha. Fifty, represented by the letter Nun, is the one after forty-nine which represent the forty-nine Shaarei Bina, Gates of Understanding. By the time we read this very enigmatic parsha, we have presumably achieved our years understanding and Torah wisdom. Vayelech, just before Yom Kippur, presents us an enigmatic poem where we must face our multi-dimensional relationship with God and our prayers and hopes for the new year.

The Ishbitzer discusses the verse that tells us that He is not hidden away in the Heavens where someone need sor far distance, across the sea. Rather, He is right here, in our hearts and minds, in our ears and eyes. He also tells us we can have the relationship of a son to a father, who despite our faults gives us conditional love, if we examine the relationship of a prospective father-in-law who wants the best for his daughter, a son-in-saw who can provide everything that is needed (please don’t get bogged down in the difference in historical social organization–transcend that to see the beautiful point drawn from what was then everyday-life).

Without crippling ourselves with the “soft prejudice of low expectations”, we can also free ourselves from the opposite emotional devestations of being terrified of failure. We do our best and known that even though it will never be perfect, God will never Turn His Face away from us in rejection.

These holy days we experience every year have so much potential, both to reinforce and strengthen us, but also to fail. As we’ve been told the last few weeks in various Torah readings, choose life.

It’s so easy to get distracted by all the ritual, all the requirements, for all the halacha which is supposed to bring us close to The Creator, to present the path for us to walk, to hide Him instead. All the prayers and pleading can end up only emphasizing how far away we are.

Especially these years, in Eretz Yisrael, where our Jewish Neshamot can freely display and express themselves, where we don’t need any schtick to overcome our secular rulers who, millennium after millennium, century after century, generation after generation have made us so fearful to just be who we naturally are, but can sit quietly, or walk thoughtfully, gently breathe in the Divine Presence so that every exhalation reveals Him to us and we see that, following the hint of Rabban Gamliel, who required (TB Brachot) that each Jew be tocho k’baro, his inner self just like his outer self, and baro k’tocho, his outer self transparent to in inner self, that we can finally properly meet God, Creator and sustainer of the Universe, in the same manner as did Moshe Rabbeinu, Panim el Panim, face-to-face.

Keyn yehi Ratzon. May it be His will.

G’mar Chatima Tova

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

First Thoughts On Rosh Hashana 5782

I’m not sure that Tshuva has much to do with forgiving. Or, at least, our forgiving, and I’d argue that we shouldn’t pro-actively forgive anyone who’s truly harmed us before they ask. Not to be disrespectful, but that sounds a lot more like “Turn the other Cheek” Christianity, which is so understandable since most of us grew up under a mixed fabric of Judeo-Christian Ethics, which for all it’s fancy title, really had little to do with traditional Jewish values and teachings.

In terms of Halacha, we’re supposed to ask forgiveness from everyone we harmed over the past year. Once asked, although we’re not commanded to, it’s advised that, given certain criteria, we do forgive. But I would argue that forgiving someone who hasn’t actually asked you, rather than being generous, steals the mitzvah of asking from them. It reminds of of how my great teacher, Rabbi Shloime Twerski zt”l would never let someone walk through the congregation with the tzedaka pushka even though that’s standard practice in almost every shul I’ve ever been in. He felt that at least part of why someone would give in that situation is because someone is standing there, asking, rather than walking up on your own because your heart calls you to give.

In another directions, we’re instructed to try to imitate The Creator, and The Creator will always forgive (but only if it actually benefits the one who’s asking—blanket “amnesty” can encourage people to “sin” because they know it will be wiped away….). And My ways are not your ways—we aren’t equipped to understand why God does anything.

The subtleties of Chazal, our sages, are so deep.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Lust

Everyone celebrates when rhapsodic love becomes a joyous wedding, but what of a wedding based on lust? And when that lust isn’t mutual, but only one-sided (what if the lust, chas v’shalom, crosses the line to rape?) When that already-inadequate flame dies or, even worse, flips to contempt? 

We celebrate a birth created in love, but what of the baby conceived only in lust or in hate? What when an unloved child becomes a dangerous sociopath (not a guaranteed outcome, but all too common a story)? Even a monstrous criminal was once a tiny baby, but what if they must be put to death? Where is God in all this?

Eyn Od Milvado, there is nothing that isn’t God, that isn’t, in it’s deepest nature, God. And when we assume, as taught by the Ramchal (Derech Hashem 1:2) that the pre-visioned, end-purpose of Creation, from the formation of the universe all the way to our individual deeds and thoughts, is L’Hativ MiTuvo, Yitbarach Sh’mo, L’Zulato, to benefit from His Inifinte Good a being other than Himself, it becomes one of our most important challenges to find that goodness in everything that occurs. Even when that netzuzt, spark of goodness, seems so tiny, almost invisible/non-existent, so hidden, how do we decipher the message embedded in it, teaching us how to continue the search, to eventually find that nugget of pure good?

Before proceeding, it’s important to empahsize that Torah of this incredible depth and perception isn’t meant to be taken literally. By no stretch of the imagination am I or authentic Jewish Tradition advocating, approving or even accepting either rape or aggressive wars. I’ll explain as we go.

The Ishbitzer refers us to the opening of Parshat Ki Tetze, |When you go out to war”. As he strings together the early topics into a chain of events, based on just a very few pasukim, verses, the subject goes from joining a war, becoming so attracted to a female captive who catches his eye (to the point of convincing himself that she is his beshart, his truly destined mate, and that taking her for a wife is practically mandated, no longer optional), resisting the temptation by making her appear unattractive in his eyes, starting a family with complete faith it will become a bayit ne’eman b’Yisrael, a holy family participating in Israel’s ultimate destiny and responsibility of revealing God’s Light and Holiness to the world, but finding that his love isn’t so strong afterall, that he favors children from a different wife, leading that unloved son to become a Ben Sorer U’Moreh, a parents’ worst nightmare of a sociopath whose end is to put to death by a court (remember that capitol punishment in Judaism was/is so rare (The State of Israel has executed only one person in all it’s existence, Adolf Eichman) that a Bet Din, court who administers the death penalty once in seven or seventy years was considered a blood-thirst court, and in reality it was probably never actually carried out.) the court was commanded to bury the body almost immediately and to not let it hang from a tree (as was a typical warning in medeival courts) overnight because of the inherent dignity of a human being, no matter how horrible its actions in life.

So, we see that when we take God’s essense, love, and degrade it and degrade it and degrade it further, leading to terrible consequences for all involved, the initial involvement of The Creator predicates at least a netzutz, a holy spark of good and purity that will endure.

We’re commanded, even in the darkest night, to find that spark of light and to incorporate it in ourselves and thus to restore it to the Pure Light Of The World.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Crimes Against Humanity

In the midst of horrific heatwaves throughout much of the world, one should plant trees, as many and as fast as possible. You don’t intentionally torch forest and field.

When you so love a land, a land you’ve been exiled from for two millennia, especially a land that’s been deliberately deforested, a land turned from lush garden to desert and swamps, you plant trees, you don’t wantonly destroy them. If you honestly desire that land for a home for your children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, you build up that land, you don’t trash it, foul its water table or fill it’s air with the stink of ashes.

The latest arson-terror attacks we’ve endured in Israel in recent days (in recent weeks, in recent months, in recent years–they don’t seem to end) are not blows against a made-up “colonial occupier” or other such bullshit jargon.

They are nothing less than Crimes Against Humanity, crimes against every man, woman and child living on Planet Earth.

Would’t it be wonderful, wouldn’t it signal a universal change of Humanity United for Life, if the world doesn’t, once again, give terrorists a free pass since they only targeted Jews?

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Judgment

At the end of the day, it seems to me that unless we’ve intentionally tried to live the most selfish and destructive lives we can, we shouldn’t fear, but rather should welcome the upcoming Yom HaDin, Day of Judgement, Rosh Hashana. Likewise, even though our own individual values are a work-in-progress, the word and concept “Judgemental” need not be condemned as small-minded, selfish and vindictive. Especially during this time in the Jewish Calendar, we praise, rather than curse, God as The Almighty Judge.

Not every value-system is equal, nor are all the actions we might choose to take. The Mei HaShiloach teaches us deep insights in his comments to Parshat Shoftim. He compares the opening of this parsha, “Shoftim v’Shotrim Titeyn L’cha B’Chol Sha’arecha…..V’Shaftu Et HaAm Mishpat Tzedek” (Appoint for yourselves Judges and Magistrates in all the Gates of Your Dwellings….And They will Govern the Nation with Justice), with a verse from Isaiah, 33:22, (Ki) Hashem Shofteinu, Hashem M’chakakeynu, Hashem Malkeinu, Hu Yoshienu (Because Hashem is our Judge, Hashem is our Decreer, Hashem is our King, He will redeem us).

God is our Judge, he explains, that He will shine into the mind of Man so we will understand which of the paths (choice) before us is best, even when our heart is not yet prepared to follow God’s Will. Next, that God will engrave (the word, חק, Chok is the root of both Decree and Engrave) the passionate desire in man’s heart so we will begin to ask for help and advice just how to find in the Torah (just exactly how each of us, as individuals, will perform the mitzvot in that unique way that sings to our unique Neshama, soul), so that we will understand that there is no other path to reach this goal–it’s all contained within Torah

God will lead (lamedchof, the final two letters of the root mem-lamed-chof, מלך, is also the root for לך, lech, to walk) Man’s will to match up with The Divine Will, even without our being aware of the manipulation–in the beginning we will think that we’ve reached this level of wisdom on our own. Eventually, I’ll  realize that I was unable to evaluate even the superficial without the deeper structure of Torah (in all its depths).

Finally, in a state of Ultimate Redemption, I will realize that all this seeming manipulation (including all the difficulties we go through in life which nudge us from side to side, always correcting our course) is entirely for our benefit. That no matter how difficult the path, the pain and loss along the way, Sof Sof, at the very end of the day, it’s all been to bring us to the pinnacle of our potentials.

Perhaps this is the deepest expression of faith–that rather than evaluating and critiquing step-by-step, we have some trust the The Creator knows what He is doing, that He, indeed, Created the Heavens and the Earth and everything within them, including (primarily) us, in order to benefit a being “outside” (as it were) of Himself.

Shabbat Shalom

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Rejecting Enlightened Cynicism

 Facing all the challenges of today’s round of Covid, perhaps yet another lockdown in Israel, finally revealed to be planned for the Jewish Holidays because that has the least financial impact on the economy, in the middle of a heat wave that just won’t quit–it’s been weeks since the daily high in Jerusalem was below 90 (33 Celcius), it’s the easiest thing in the world to throw our hands up in despair. The climate is irreparable and we’ll soon become extinct. The world will no longer be able to support the Human species. The Environment has permanently changed to the point that we can no longer survive. And if that isn’t enough, Covid will kill us all within the next couple years. And all of our religious mumbo-jumbo will go for naught, if we’re even given a chance to replay our Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur rituals anyhow (at least here in Israel, supposedly the epicenter and “power center” of all our rites and customs.

It seems that suicidal depression or chaotic depravity might be the only reasonable responses a thinking person might have left. Even the Frum  knee-jerk refrain of Do More Mitzvas seems empty, at best.

What all these responses share is the fallacy that we are able to even fathom the reality of The Creator and that the limits of our imaginations actually limit His Reality. Ishbitz offers a completely different way of approaching all of this.

The Mei HaShiloach, illuminating Parshat Re’ah, begins quoting the first few words of the parsha, “Look! (Pay attention to what’s before your eyes, look at this unavoidable truth) I place before you today Blessing and Curse”. He goes on to explain that everything, הכל, HaKol, the inclusive every thing, is from God. In other words, there is no other source for anything that exists or occurs in the universe. Think about that for a moment.

He continues to point out a very telling behavioral/psychological truth. Hard-wired into our very beings, the very nature of humanity is reflex to cry and shout, זעוק וצעוק, za-ok v’tza-ok to God about what He made, in our times of pain. But when He showers only good upon us, we plaster טח tach our eyes shut rather than to see (and admit) that God brought that into our lives. Rather, we, lamely, declare that whatever good there is in the world is a product of our very own work and effort. Indeed, it seems we’re pre-programed to view the world with “Eyes Wide Shut”.

Furthermore, he goes on to explain that whenever God brings Good, Bracha, blessing, to man, he disguises it “to deceive the eye” in order to appear the very opposite of Good. This is in order to enlist our participation, to enable us to transform what originally appears to be a curse into what is truly a blessing, Bracha. In other words, God Creates, but leaves it in our hands how everything is going to manifest. Perhaps the most ennobling project mankind as a whole, and each person individually, can embark on is to read everything that comes into our lives, no matter how challenging, how initially disastrous and evil, rather as an opportunity to transform bad into good (in the words of medieval non-Jewish Cabbala, to transform lead into gold). It’s well known in our tradition that the darkest dark merely conceals (temporarily) the brightest light.

When faced with seeming disasters, especially when on the scale we seem to now experience, it’s equally wrong to lose ourselves to despair as it is to pollyanna-ishly deny the threat and danger, but rather to take the moment that God gives to us and places us in as the most sublime challenge. This will allow us to underestand the otherwise baffling halacha that we’re commanded to bless the bad that happens to us, exactly the same as the good that comes our way. Because all is directly from God, Hodu l’Shem ki tov, ki l’olam chasdo, Give thanks and praise to God because he is Good, because his loving-kindness is eternal.

At some time in the future, may it be not too far away, when we look back at the challenges facing us today, and they are, indeed, mighty challenges (including climate-based disasters, impending nuclear weapons let loose among evil people, new and frightening pandemics, urban violence throughout the United States and much of Western Europe, and more, not to mention famine and plague which even in the “enlightened” twenty-first century which effect billions of our fellow humans), we’ll also be able to look back and see how we transformed every single apparent curse into untold blessings.

For that is why were were created. To partner with The Creator by bringing this world to perfection. In fact, it’s only through these urgent challenges that we put our hand in and take up our true work.

Shabbat Shalom

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Man, Not Superman

When you’ve spent enough years of your life living with Gemara, the Jerusalem Talmud, you take it for granted that the sages who participated in this several-centuries-long project were a diverse group. Most held a variety of jobs to, often barely, support their families. They found themselves in family dramas, communal quarrels, political power struggles and, always, a search for non-trivial truth, not just in interpreting and selecting which halacha to apply in any given situation, but also in describing Jewish History and deciding to disclose and share tiny slices of our spiritual tradition. They didn’t back away from argument and controversy, didn’t hesitate from irony and sarcasm, but were unafraid to admit folly and to ask forgiveness.

No one of them ever knew, or even claimed to “know it all”. At the very best, one could contribute but a tiny part of the overall picture, and all would immediately admit that it was impossible for any human being to have a complete picture of reality.

Nonetheless, or perhaps in merit of all this, these great holy scholars, quarrelsome and closed-minded as they occasionally are, were trusted with fragments of Universal Meaning (the Meaning of the Universe). Because of Man’s very imperfection he has a relationship with an equally imperfect world. (Rashi points out (Breishit 1:11) that the Creation Process itself was defective (and this can only have been intentional!). On the third day when the earth is commanded to bring forth fruit trees bearing fruit (Eitz pri oseh pri), the world responds by creating only trees bearing fruit (Eitz oseh pri–verse 12). From its very beginning, the Torah goes out of it’s way to remind us of that very imperfection of the world which allows us, in our own imperfection, to completely engage with our world in order to do those things we were created to do.

If a man were, somehow, perfect, he would no longer be worthy of mastering and understanding the world as we are mandated to do. We are able to partner with The Creator in perfecting this world only because we, like the world itself, were born defective. And only through this process can we transcend ourselves, recreating ourselves in accordance with The Divine Wisdom, as we also re-create the world to it’s originally-intended perfection, thus fixing all the cascading disasters, both physical and spiritual, which followed.

Keyn yehi ratzon, May it be His will.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Armour To Withstand The Exile/More Thoughts on Tisha B’Av 2021

The Tikkunei Zohar is a major section of the Zohar and portions of it (mianly Petach Eliyahu (the end of the second introduction) have made their way into the daily liturgy for many Sephardim and some Chassidim as well. The main text comprises seventy drashim (explanations/insights/poems/explorations/meditations) on the first word of the Torah, בראשית, Bereishit, each drash original, unique and inspiring, each a universe of its own.

Composed after the main text of the Zohar, after Rabbi Shimon and his son emerged from their cave and foreseeing the two-millennia Galut, exile, about to commence, Rabbi Shimon had to prepare Am Yisrael, The Jewish People, to be scattered among the nations of the world, cut off from their land and roots, he armed us to survive through our only permanent possession, the Holy Torah. With this secret knowledge, he filled the Torah with a portable and permanent spiritual energy, based on the understanding of The Creators connection, through this Torah, refused by all other people, with Yisrael.

It is this connection, and only this connection, which has allowed us to survive genocides, persecutions and ethnic cleansings, the seemingly unending exile and alienation, filled with poverty and struggle, discrimination and universal hate. Shattering all rules and logic, miraculously and finally on the road home after all these years. Many of us are back in the Holy Land, some of us even privileged to live in Jerusalem. The return journey home isn’t over, but as far as we’ve come, often our only hope has been that memory of the eternal connection The Creator has made with The People and The Land of Yisrael.

(A millennium-and-a-half later, another mystic, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto, composed seventy meditations, Tikkunim Chadashim (New Tikkunim) on the final pasuk, verse, of the Torah, beginning to collect wind up and return this energy back to it’s source, returning us to our source, may it be soon in our days.)

With the destruction of the Holy Temple, the Shechina, the Divine Presence was scattered, as were each of the six hundred thousand soul roots of the Jewish People. How can they possibly find their paths to reunite? How can they, in the chaos of the world, now thrown off its axis identify each other.

The Torah begins with the word Bereishit, which Rabbi Shimon divides into two parts, ב, Bet and ראשית, Reishit,  and he then explores the Bet, ב, open on one side, closed on three, like a door or gate, Sha’ar L’Hashem Tzaddikim Ya’vo-u, God’s gate through which only Tzaddikim, the righteous, can pass.

How does the Tzaddik, how does the Jewish Soul find its way back to The Creator? How do we identify our place in Spiritual Space, that reunites us with God? How does The Shechina, the Feminine Divine Spirit, return to Zeir Anpin, the Sefirotic manifestation of The Divine Name, God the Creator? How will they recognize each other and reconnect?

If we imagine a Sofer, a holy scribe, writing a scroll for the Tefilla shel Yad, the Tefillin we place on our arms, inking the Divine Name on a kosher parchment. First he visualizes, then solidifies that visualization as an outline, he fills it in until he finally applies the ink and the image, until now completely hidden, manifests. 

The Tikkun refers to Shir HaShirim, Song of Songs, 6:8, “Set me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm, for love is fierce as death”. The daily ritual of Tefillin, placed on the arm, against the heart, each day brings us closer to a reunion which can overcome Death, even generations of Death.

A first step to understanding the end of Exile is the daily, step-by-step, as it were, slow progress returning home, powered by a love which even when it is faint, is fiercer than death. It will, eventually, return us to the Sha’ar, gate to The Creator, which our daily devotions, developing in us the the capacity of Tzaddikim, the Righteous, will return us to the Holy Shechinah, which never really left.

May it be soon in our days, Bimheyra b’Yameynu. May this be our last fast of mourning.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tisha B’Av 2021

When I made my first Aliyah (I actually immigrated officially to Israel twice, once in the 1980s and again in 2016) I thought I was one of a group of friends in Los Angeles who all planned to make a life together in Israel. Actually, I wasn’t the first one to make the move–there was a couple who had recently gotten married who arrived a few months before. There were several couples and several singles. We had dreams of a life shared together, perhaps in the Galil, maybe by the sea…..

Every time I returned to the US for a visit, all of my friends, still in LA, declared how much they “just love Israel”. After a year or two, the first couple returned to the US. Supposedly to clear up some work-qualifications (Israel, almost 40 years later, does continue to pile up obstacles to foreign (read that “American”)-trained professionals to work in their fields here. Thus the tremendous shortage of doctors we have here and the inexcusable disincentive for your “nice Jewish Doctor” to make Aliyah. For many years, until I fell out of touch with just about everyone in this group, I was constantly reassured that they JUST LOVED ISRAEL.

A few years after that, I, too, returned to the US. Initially if was a two-year sabbatical, but the years piled up and I found that I, too, JUST LOVED ISRAEL. Believe me, it took me close to 30 years, leaving behind all the people I truly love in this world, to return home. I know it’s not a simple thing.

But I also know that all the fasting, all the Lamentations, all the services sitting in candle-light on the floor didn’t mean a thing. Israel and Jerusalem remained deficient and I remained in Exile, a spiritual orphan.

I’m home now, for my fifth Tisha B’Av this time around. Jerusalem and Israel are still deficient, but even though the third Temple, the House Of Prayer For All The Nations, the yet unbuilt and unoccupied home for the Shechina, the Divine Presence, looms in our hearts and in the Heart of the World, at least one tiny piece of the puzzle has clicked back into place.

But so many other, absolutely necessary and beloved souls remain in self-willed Exile, a painful and self-numbing state of alienation, are just empty place-holders here now. These essential building blocks to the restored Bet HaMikdash, to a fully-functioning Kodesh HaKadoshim, Holy of Holies, to the reunited and re-integrated Highest Potential of humanity, remain longed-for, deeply missed, still awaited.

L’Shana HaBa’a B’Yerushalayim. May these times of mourning come to a close, soon, please God, soon.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Honesty

Both a family friend from much earlier and one of my two mentors when I first began my journey to become a rabbi, Rabbi Daniel Goldberger, of blessed memory, was, in my day, the most beloved rabbi in my hometown of Denver in the 1950s. With a brilliant and decisive mind, what really struck people was his humility and openness. He taught me to respond to most questions with, “I don’t know. Let’s look into this together”. When after many years of internal back and forth, I finally decided to pursue smicha, I went to his house to ask his advice.

He looked me in the eye for a couple minutes and then he said, “Zeitlin, the one luxury I never afforded myself has been Absolute Certainty. About anything.” After that he asked about my parents, with whom he and his Rebbetzin, Ida, were close friends, indicating that he gave me the advice he thought I needed.

As it turns out, that piece of rabbinic wisdom is something I think about every single day, as I have since that day so long ago.

One of the requirements and frequent functions of an orthodox rabbi is to answer halachic questions. Most of our early training is mastering the reasoning techniques presented in the Talmud. And one of the first things that should strike anyone after even a brief glance at a daf Gemara (a page of Talmud) is that brilliant, highly trained experts, often disagree. There is rarely one “right” answer to just about any question. Of course, as a practical matter, both the rabbis in those days and in ours need to reach a practical, ad hoc solution. But no one ever thought, or ever should think that they are declaring eternal, indisputable TRUTH. Disputes, after all, are the very warp into which the weave of Oral Torah is woven.

The Ishbitz Rebbe (Rabbi Mordechai Leiner 1801-54), whose thought has very much captured my heart and mind of late, writes in Mei HaShiloach on this week’s parsha, Korach, that Korach’s rebellion, a major challenge to the authority of both Moses and Aaron, was based on, of all things, the mitzva of Tzitzit, a special garment worn daily, distinguished by strings tied to each of the four corners. One of these strings at each corner is mandated to be a specific shade of blue called techelet, and we’re instructed (both in the mitzva, commandment, itself to wear tzitizt, and also to determine when we can begin our morning prayers (Talmud Bavli Berachot 1:2) to meditate on the difference between this unique color and the white of the garment itself, or perhaps between it and dark green. This mitzva had just been presented at the very end of the previous parsha, Selach and Korach immediately asks a question, what might well be an impertinent question–usually the garment itself is white, but what if the entire garment itself was dyed techelet? Would it require the added string(s) of techelet?

Less intersted in resolving that ancient dispute, and also not really interested in describing the political feud and it’s background, the Mei HaShiloach takes a different tack and discusses Techelet itself. He tells us that this color, seen kabbalistically/spiritually, represents the quality of Yirah, usually badly translated as fear (as in “fear of God”). In addition to that, we learn that the word, taken literally from its root, R-A-E, is based on seeing, seeing deeply and truly. (The concept of fear enters as a result of seeing God’s presence everywhere and in everything. At least superficially admitting our own imperfection, we realize that we’re certainly going to “sin”, at the very least, when we don’t measure up to The Creator’s expectations for us. As we turn our focus in that direction, and notice that we’re actually focusing our attention on ourselves and no longer on God!, we put ourselves deeper and deeper into the vicious cycle of guilt and ever-worse decisions!)

However, if we return our focus, our Yirah to God, we’re quickly faced with an apparent contradiction that even when we sin, even egregiously, even when we seriously hurt ourselves and/or others, God, allowing it, gives at least his implied consent. Which brings us to the “unthinkable” idea that all the evil that exists in this world is also part of God’s Will, Ratzon Hashem.

The key to this highly distressing contradiction is the word “Unthinkable”. But that word is also the key to understanding all these seeming dilemmas. Perhaps among the most challenging difficulties is to face the insult to our egos, that we are Man, not God. As Issaiah teaches (55:8), Ki Lo Machshavotei Machshavoteychem, “My Thoughts are not your thoughts”, V’Lo Darcheychem Daracei, “Nor are you ways My Ways”. God reveals to humanity only a part of His Divine Wisdom, His Divine Will. (And what He reveals to each individual is, necessarily, much less to what He Reveals to all humanity.) And all of this resides in God’s Wisdom and Purpose, not in our curiosity nor in our arrogance. 

Thus it’s not “mere” humility to say, “I don’t know”, but rather a statement of one of the highest and most sublime truths. In fact, it’s certainly one of the greatest intellectual and spiritual heights a person can reach to begin to be even slightly aware of the magnitude of God’s Wisdom and Will and how unapproachable on any real level it is to us.

Immediately after offering our thanks and gratitude to The Creator every morning when we say, “Modeh/ah Ani L’fanecha” we then remind ourselves that Reishit Chachma Yirat Hashem, the beginning of wisdom is awareness of God’s presence, reminding us that only God is God, and we’re not. And that way we begin our day telling the truth to ourselves of who we are. A very good beginning, if you ask me.

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments