Friday, March 19, 2021


For many years I hadn’t heard about Ted Talks. Once I did, I soon realized many people talk too much and often for no good reason at all. A couple of years ago an article came out based on a TED Talks series “How to Be a Better Human” which postulated that we say “sorry” way too often. It reasoned that apologies “make us appear smaller and more timid than we really are, and they can undercut our confidence.” And of course in a society where everything revolves around how the “I” feels, why should one walk around feeling like a small “i” so that you can feel like a big YOU? The only problem with that way of living life is that it is Godless. In the preservation of the “I” and in our mania to foster it, everything and everyone becomes a casualty. The article posited that even apologizing for bumping into someone, is one sorry too many. However, that entire philosophy most certainly steps on God’s “foot,” which leads to this week’s Parasha, Vayikra and many reasons to be sorry.

Without having to ask “Can you hear Me now?” for the third time in the Torah it is written that God “called” Moses. Once again it was to assume a momentous duty. So important is this new duty that the entire book of Leviticus is titled Vayikra, which means, “He called.” Leviticus opens with God instructing Moses how the Israelites should “say sorry,” to atone for their sins through sacrificial service. They were to atone not only for sins against God, but for sins against each other. They were to atone not only for sins they did, but also for their sinful thoughts. They were to atone not only for clear violations of the commandments, but for sins they were not certain they even violated. They were to atone not only for sins they did on purpose, but for ones they committed accidentally. Why? Because God takes “sorry” very seriously. Yes Moses got the “call,” but who’s sorry now?

The sages teach that thought, speech and action are garments of the soul. We need to clean those garments when they become sullied by sin. The sacrifices provided the remedy to purify those “garments.” And let’s not keep this so sterile. The act of sacrificing involves slaughtering a living animal, cutting it into pieces and sprinkling blood, etc.; It’s gory even if it is for a holy end. But be sure that those who brought sacrifices were cognizant of one thing: that the animal before them was dying in their stead. Since it is the animal soul of man that causes him to sin, “atonement comes about only through blood” (Zevachim 26b).

But there is one thing that even sacrifices cannot do for us, and that is to say sorry to one we have wronged, hurt, lied to or from whom we’ve stolen (which includes stealing time, reputation, manipulating, etc.) Until we make good, God won’t forgive us. Even our fasting on Yom Kippur absolves only our sins toward God not those perpetrated against others. When we try and preserve the “I”, our ego makes no room for God, for goodness, for apologies or forgiveness. And luxuriating in our own imagined greatness will bring us to sin. The word for “I” in Hebrew is “ani”;  when the same letters are rearranged they spell the Hebrew word “ayin," which means nothingness. Moses was the most humble person in history because he rearranged the letters, perceived his nothingness and in a profound unfathomable way he lived beyond the “I.”  That made him the worthy recipient and teacher of God’s Torah.

In this generation of selfies and excessive self-love, the challenge for us all is ever harder. The “I” has been exponentially fortified, digitized, glamorized and monetized, but scantily spiritualized. Unfortunately, the third Temple has yet to be rebuilt and we can’t throw some poor sheep on the fire to atone for us. But saying sorry to God, to our neighbors and to ourselves is still possible through prayer, charity and repentance. If God loved Moses for being the most humble man on earth then we can deduce, even though we are no Sherlock Holmes, that God must hate the arrogant and prideful. And indeed it is written in the Talmud that where the arrogant reside, God cannot dwell. So don’t be too "proud" and cool to wear a kippa and to ask for a kosher meal; don’t be too haughty to say I think I will stop working on Shabbat; don’t be too cosmopolitan to say I am a Jew and I love Israel.  To be a Jew means to make sacrifices and take risks in our lives for God, for our Homeland, for our people and for all humanity.

Forget about all the self-help books which expire like old medicine and the Ted Talks promising to make you the best YOU; God’s eternal book will make you the best JEW and therein you’ll find the best you. In that destined role you will truly find who you are. "Just as physical light influences plants to grow, spiritual and intellectual light [Torah] prods man to achieve his potential." (Rabbi Michael L. Munk). So, yes, be sorry. Be very very sorry if tomorrow you are not a better person and better Jew than you were today. And if you think saying sorry to God or to man makes you “small”, then I’m very sorry to tell you, you weren’t all that much to begin with.   Shabbat Shalom!

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Friday, March 5, 2021

I'm Looking for the G-d in Me--Have You seen Him?

From catastrophes to quarantines, from synagogues to supermarkets, if you believe in G-d then you must know that He is everywhere. “And where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the grave, behold, You are there.” (Psalms 139:7-8)  But the sages teach us that there is one place that G-d is not, and that is with the arrogant. G-d said: “[The arrogant] and I cannot dwell together in the world. (Sotah 5a) As physicists teach, two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time. A dense ego makes no space for G-d.


And it thus becomes so clear why Moses was the ideal recipient and deliverer of G-d’s TorahThe greatest man in history had zero ego nor delusions of self-importance. With pure clarity he understood that there is nothing but G-d, ein od milvado. It is not surprising that the word “humility” in Hebrew, anava, starts with the letter ayin because the ayin has no sound of its own. Its sound depends completely on the vowel attached to it.  Moses was known to be the most humble person that ever lived, in a manner, a man of silence. He too had no “sound” of his own, i.e., no ego. He tells G-d: “I am not a man of words, neither from yesterday nor from the day before yesterday….” (Shemot 4:10) 

And so, unlike most of us today who would love to get our name on the cover of a bestselling book, Moses tells G-d in this week’s Torah reading, that if He is to destroy the Children of Israel for the sin of the Golden Calf, then G-d should remove his name from the Torah. It was when Moses was ready to be erased from history that he became worthy of being remembered forever. Not only does G-d NOT erase Moses from His book, nor destroy the entire nation, but G-d then goes on to honor Moses and reveal aspects of His essence to him as He had never done prior to or since: “You may see My ‘back,’ but My ‘face’ may not be seen.” (Exodus 32:33)


In our own lives too, we have to get out of our own way if we want Hashem to be in our midst, to hear our prayers and to have a relationship with us. Just as the sapphire stones yielded part of themselves so that G-d’s word, the Ten Commandments, could be engraved in them, we too must make space within ourselves for G-d. I find it an interesting thought that in life people add precious stones to add beauty to things, i.e., crowns, rings, etc, but in this case a precious stone became infinitely more precious when its mass was diminished and G-d’s word entered instead. We should take note.


Another lesson in humility that we learn about in this week’s Torah reading involves the national census; the Jews were tabulated by giving half a shekel, as a blatant reminder that we are not whole in and of ourselves. We become one only when join together with our nation, our G-d and His Torah. It is also interesting that the Hebrew word for “giving” the shekel, V’natnu, is a palindrome, meaning the word reads the same way backward and forward,  like the word wow.  It is meant to teach us that when you give in service to G-d, you always get back. Some call it karma, some say, “What goes around comes around.” The Torah calls it G-d, a G-d that metes out justice and rewards the adherents of His Law.


Sad that after all G-d did for the Israelites to liberate them for Egypt and all the miracles He performed, Moses still had to intercede on their behalf, identify them and remind G-d: “But see that this nation is Your people.” By looking at them, they hardly appeared to be G-d’s nation as they so quickly turned to sin. Nothing about their behavior appeared Jewish. I often write that being a cardiac Jew, having G-d in your heart is not enough. We see in the introduction of the parasha that service to G-d is a full body, full sensory experience from head to toe. When G-d looks down upon you from His heavenly throne, would He recognize you as one of His people or would Moses have to identify you too?


The sages teaches us that there are 248 limbs in the body corresponding to the positive commandments and 365 tendons corresponding to the negative commandments equaling 613, which comprise the entire commandments in the Torah. My question to you is how many of your body parts are acting in service to G-d? If the parts make the whole, then how much of you is acting Jewish? What is your movement to mitzvah ratio?


How have your hands been Jewish lately? Have they picked up a prayer book, lit Shabbat candles, or dug into your pocket for charity? How has your mouth been Jewish? Have you prayed to G-d, defended your people, watched your language and abstained from gossip? How have your feet been Jewish? Have they jumped up to stand in prayer or to help your parents or others in need? How has your mind been Jewish? Your eyes?  These are the means through which we make space for G-d. One body united under G-d. If we had X-ray vision where would we find G-d inside you? 

Shabbat Shalom


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Monday, March 1, 2021

Some thoughts about Moses

 If only we could all be inspired by Moses' humility. In a generation where we all vie for the headlines and even the bylines, Moses is prepared to have his name blotted out from the greatest "book" in history, the Torah, in defense of the Jewish nation. It is no wonder that Hashem chose him to be the deliverer of His precious Divine teachings and commandments. Moses had no ego. For a person with a demanding ego makes no room for God: the law of physics says that two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time. We must learn from Moses and work on making room inside ourselves for God, for our fellow Jews and indeed for humanity. We can be a light among the nations, just as Moses literally shone, if we'd only stop blocking the light with the adoration of "me, myself and I."