Category Archives: Bat Ayin

Secrets of a Perpetual Student (Yitro)

Secrets of a Perpetual Student (Yitro)

Learning is what most adults will do for a living in the 21st century. -S. J. Perelman

Jethro advising Moses
                           AI-generated Parsha Illustration: Jethro advising Moses by BSpitz

I’m going to get a little more personal than usual in this week’s article. Jethro (Yitro), Moses’ father-in-law, is one of my favorite biblical characters. He doesn’t appear very much, but when he does, it’s a unique role. He is the first recorded management consultant (a role I played for many years). He gives brilliant organization advice to Moses as to how to set up a strong and sustainable judiciary and if you read the narratives carefully, it is only when Jethro departs that things go bad for the nascent Jewish nation.

One amazing aspect is how Jethro had the nerve to give Moses advice at all. Moses had communed with God. Moses had enacted the most powerful miracles ever seen on Earth. What could Jethro, as conventionally distinguished as he was, offer to Moses? And furthermore, why should Moses take him seriously? What could the man of God, Moses, learn from the former idolator, Jethro? What insight could the wayward former idolatrous priest convey to a man who had spoken with God?

The Bat Ayin on Exodus 18:19 finds an answer in the way Jethro frames his advice. At the beginning of the well-organized plan, Jethro states, “Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you!” Why mention God at this stage? The Bat Ayin explains that Jethro is referencing God because of one of the very first conversations attributed to God at the beginning of the Book of Genesis. God states “let US make man in OUR image.” Who is God talking to before the creation of man? Why the plural language? The Bat Ayin quotes a well-known Midrash that states that God was speaking to the angels. It was not that God needed the angels’ permission or even input, but rather it was a demonstration of humility on God’s part, to include the other sentient beings, whom he had already created, in on the planning. So, in essence, Jethro was hinting to Moses that if God would humble Himself to seek the input and theoretically listen to the advice of the angels, then Moses could very well listen to and consider Jethro’s advice.

Moses indeed demonstrates why he was considered the humblest of men, and not only listens to Jethro’s advice, but implements it immediately, to good effect.

May we develop the humility to learn from everyone. Our livelihoods will likely depend on it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the victims of the Turkish earthquake and to the Israeli rescue teams there.

Sinful Doubts (Beshalach)

Sinful Doubts (Beshalach)

At the beginning of every act of faith, there is often a seed of fear. For great acts of faith are seldom born out of calm calculation. -Max L. Lucado

God has pummeled the Egyptian Empire with the Ten Plagues. The nascent Jewish nation has now been freed by its oppressors. It has one stop to make, at Mount Sinai, to receive God’s law, before journeying to the Promised Land of Canaan.

It seems there is a short, direct route to get to their destination, through the land of the Philistines. However, God doesn’t take the Jews through the land of the Philistines. The verse tells us:

“God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer; for God said, “The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt.”

The Bat Ayin on Exodus 13:17 wonders why, after the Jews witness such momentous miracles, would they have any concerns about war and having to return to Egypt. He answers that in fact, there wasn’t a serious threat. God would not have let them come to harm nor would have allowed them to return to Egypt. Nonetheless, in God’s outpouring of love for the Jewish people, He wanted to keep them far from not only any potential harm, but even from thoughts and fear of harm.

He compares the love of God for the Jewish people to that of a parent for their child. God would go to great extremes to protect the Jewish people at this juncture. God wanted the Jewish people’s complete faith in Him and the security He would provide. For them to have any doubts or lack of faith would be a deficiency. Not only would it be a deficiency, but it would also be sinful. In order to prevent this sin of the mind, the sin of doubt in God, God took the Jewish people the long way out of Egypt. He didn’t take them through the land of the Philistines so they would not even contemplate the possibility of war and so not even a sliver of doubt in God would enter their minds in this formative stage of the nation.

May we strengthen our faith in God and remove doubts of His love for us, even when it’s not always so clear.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the memory of the terror victims murdered this past Shabbat in Jerusalem.

Cultivating Calmness (Bo)

Cultivating Calmness (Bo)

Under all speech that is good for anything there lies a silence that is better. Silence is deep as Eternity; speech is shallow as Time. -Thomas Carlyle

Nine plagues have devasted Egypt. There is one more plague coming. But this plague will be the deadliest. It will leave no home unscathed. The Death of the Firstborns. Every firstborn in every home in Egypt would be stricken. This plague would be so rampant, that even the Jewish slaves were warned about it. Even though the plagues had come to Egypt for the purpose of freeing the Jews from their bondage and they had been spared so far from the effects of the plagues, they were nonetheless warned about this one.

God warns the Jews to take a most unusual precaution. They are to slaughter a sacrificial lamb, the Pascual Lamb (Pesach) to be specific. They will take some hyssop, dip it in some of the sacrifice’s blood and spread it on the doorposts and lintels of their homes and not leave their homes the entire night, while the plague would ravage the rest of the country. They would roast and eat of the lamb, together with unleavened bread (Matzah) and bitter herbs (Marror). That moment is what we have celebrated continuously for more than three millennia at the Passover Seder. That moment of devotion and first moment of obedience and worship of God is when a multitude of slaves become the Jewish nation.

The Bat Ayin on Exodus 12:7 delves into the wording of “blood” (dam in Hebrew) and “homes” (Batim). The Hebrew word “dam” has the same etymology as “quiet” or “silent.” He refers us to the description of God’s encounter with Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-12) which uses the same root of “dam” or in this case “demama” to describe the quiet voice:

“And lo, the Lord passed by. There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind—an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake—fire; but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire—a quiet murmuring sound.”

Elijah found God in the quiet. The Bat Ayin explains that whenever a thought occurs to us to speak, our first reaction should be to pause, to be quiet and ponder the impact our proposed words will have. In that pause, in that moment of silence, is where we find God. And there comes the connection between the word “dam” silence and the word “batim” homes. By calmly thinking through what we will say, we build the letters in our mind. We are building homes for those thoughts and words and ideas. We are building a more thoughtful communication that takes the unique advantage of having a moment of divine contemplation.

May we learn the value of quiet and use it to enhance our communications.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the hospitality of the community of Young Israel of Hollywood-Ft. Lauderdale.

Excellent Self-Doubt (Shmot)

Excellent Self-Doubt (Shmot)

Great doubts deep wisdom. Small doubts little wisdom. -Chinese Proverb

Moses confronts Pharaoh BSpitz
Moses confronts Pharaoh, by BSpitz

God appears to Moses at the Burning Bush and instructs him to confront Pharoah and get him to allow the enslaved Jewish people to travel to the desert to worship God. Moses is reluctant and declines the request, citing his unsuitability. After some back-and-forth, God is insistent but tells Moses that his brother Aaron will assist.

Moses and Aaron meet with Pharaoh, however, that first meeting is counterproductive. Not only does Pharaoh not permit his Jewish slaves the respite that is asked for, but he makes their servitude even more grueling. Moses, despondent, complains to God and says, “not only have You not helped, You’ve made matters worse!”

The Bat Ayin on Exodus 5:22 questions how Moses, the father of all prophets, could address God this way. How could Moses have the gall to accuse God of anything, let alone of making anything worse? He answers that if one reads the context of Moses’ seeming accusation, Moses states that “ever since I came to Pharaoh,” things have gotten worse. In essence, Moses is saying that it’s his fault. He’s saying that God couldn’t affect the miraculous liberation of the Jews because Moses was a faulty and unworthy messenger. Moses was filled with self-doubt.

The Bat Ayin explains that it was exactly Moses’ self-doubt that eventually made him an ideal messenger for God. God was not looking for a brash, confident, self-assured intermediary. He was looking for a quiet, humble, bashful messenger. He specifically wanted someone who didn’t think they were worthy. Moses’ outstanding self-doubt is what made him the ideal candidate to speak for God.

Moses thought of himself as lowly and unworthy, and as a result, God bestowed the spirit of prophecy and knowledge of God upon Moses as with no other mortal before or after.

May we use our self-doubts as foundations of humility to ascend to greater knowledge of God.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the 146 new species of animals and plants that were added to our planet in 2022.

The Yoke of Monarchy (Vayechi)

The Yoke of Monarchy (Vayechi)

There is something behind the throne greater than the King himself. -William Pitt The Elder Chatham

Jacob is on his deathbed and calls his sons together for a final farewell. He shares his parting words; some are harsh reprimands, and some are effusive blessings. The son who receives the most fulsome blessings is Joseph, Jacob’s favorite. Following is a part of the blessing

“The God of your father’s [house], who helps you,

And Shaddai who blesses you

With blessings of heaven above,

Blessings of the deep that couches below,

Blessings of the breast and womb.

The blessings of your father

Surpass the blessings of my ancestors,

To the utmost bounds of the eternal hills.

May they rest on the head of Joseph,

On the brow of the elect of his brothers.”

The Bat Ayin on Genesis 47:31 wonders as to why, besides being Jacob’s favorite son, does Joseph receive such a magnanimous blessing and such respect from Jacob, to the point that Jacob bows down to Joseph, indicating that he considered Joseph to have the attribute of Kingship.

He explains that there was something unique about Joseph that led him to such wild success in life, including becoming the de facto ruler of the Egyptian empire, as well as receiving Jacob’s eternal blessings and his deference. What made Joseph stand out is that he always kept in mind that God was his King and nobody else.

When Joseph is seduced by Potiphar’s wife, Joseph remains steadfast and keeps front and center his obedience and allegiance to God. Even when he is miraculously freed from his incarceration and brought before Pharaoh, Joseph doesn’t forget for a moment that God is in charge, nor does Joseph hesitate to state so to Pharaoh. That steadfast devotion to the true Monarch of the World is what ironically liberates him from any other monarch or servitude. By placing himself squarely under the yoke of God, he frees himself from the yoke of labor or human servitude. He no longer needs to worry about his physical sustenance nor human rulers. That is an aspect of Kingship that Jacob saw in Joseph and bowed towards.

May we find ways to increase our service to God and reduce our subservience to material masters.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the British Chief Rabbi, Sir Ephraim Mirvis, on being knighted by King Charles III.

Utter Confusion (Vayigash)

Utter Confusion (Vayigash)

When a man’s knowledge is not in order, the more of it he has, the greater will be his confusion. -Herbert Spencer

Joseph, in his role as Viceroy of Egypt, and still unrecognized by his brothers, has orchestrated an elaborate charade to implicate their younger brother, Benjamin, in the theft of his silver goblet. Joseph announces that Benjamin will remain in Egypt as Joseph’s slave and that the other brothers are free to return home to their father Jacob in Canaan.

Brother Judah, in a great act of repentance for having sold Joseph into slavery, steps forward and confronts the Viceroy/Joseph in an attempt to rescue Benjamin. Judah altruistically offers himself as a slave in place of Benjamin. At this point Joseph, overcome with emotion, reveals himself as their long-lost brother and the family is happily reunited.

The Bat Ayin on Genesis 44:18 examines Judah’s speech to the Viceroy/Joseph and focuses on the part where Judah says to Joseph “because you are like Pharaoh.” The verse is making an equivalence between the righteous Joseph and the (ultimately) evil Pharaoh. The Bat Ayin explains that when Israel is in exile, there is no visible difference between the righteous and the evil. This is in contrast to when Israel is redeemed and in its own land with a greater revelation of God’s presence. In such a reality God more readily shows His pleasure with the righteous and with His more visible blessings they ascend in their righteousness. The evildoers in such a reality descend and are punished more clearly for their sins.

However, the current reality of exile is that God’s presence is significantly hidden. As a result of that, the clearly righteous can be wracked with travails, while evildoers enjoy the blessings and bounty of this world. Our experience is that God can be so obscured that there is no apparent difference between the fate of the righteous and the evil. There is utter existential confusion regarding good and evil, reward and punishment, and God’s involvement in our lives. In such a reality it becomes easy to equate a righteous Joseph with an evil Pharoah.

Nonetheless, the confusion of the world doesn’t absolve us from pursuing good and believing in God’s benevolent presence. Sometimes He even lets us peek behind the curtain and get a glimpse of His handiwork. In fact, the more we believe in Him, the more He shows Himself.

May we get more glances of clarity within the confusion of our times.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the new project of replenishing the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) with desalinated water from the Mediterranean Sea. https://www.timesofisrael.com/pioneering-plan-inaugurated-to-top-up-sea-of-galilee-with-desalinated-water/

Giving the Benefit of the Love (Miketz)

Giving the Benefit of the Love (Miketz)

Love is the affinity which links and draws together the elements of the world… Love, in fact, is the agent of universal synthesis. -Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

At the end of the previous Torah portion, Joseph correctly interprets the dreams of his jail mates, Pharoah’s butler (who is pardoned and reinstated) and Pharaoh’s baker (who is found guilty and executed). In the current Torah portion, thanks to that display of insight, Joseph is called upon to interpret the dreams of Pharoah himself. It’s an opportunity that answers Joseph’s prayers, releases him from incarceration, and elevates him to the role of Viceroy of the Egyptian empire.

Using Joseph’s story as a springboard and looking at the Hebrew etymology of the words butler (saar hamashkim) and baker (saar haafot) the Bat Ayin on Genesis   examines further the divine mechanics of prayers being answered. He differentiates between those who are more deserving like the butler and those who are less, like the baker.

The root for the word butler, shk, is the same as the root for kissing. The root for the word baker, af, is the same as the root for anger. The Bat Ayin explains that when someone is on God’s good side, it’s as if God is “kissing” the person and their prayers are more easily answered. When someone isn’t really listening to God, it incites God’s “anger” and separation from God, making his prayers much less effective. However, the Bat Ayin states that there is a remedy: if one somehow “joins” with all of Israel in one’s prayers.

The most effective way to “join” all of Israel, is to love everyone of Israel. The only way to love everyone of Israel is to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. By giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, it enables the ability to love everyone. When a person loves all of Israel then they are connected to all of Israel, and no matter how undeserving that individual is, they reach the level of “kissing” God and that opens the gateways of prayers, acceptance, and blessings.

May we learn to be more loving as well as giving people the benefit of the doubt.

Shabbat Shalom and Chanuka Sameach,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the lighting of the Menorah of Rabbi Baruch and Rachel Posner of the iconic picture in Nazi Germany. It was lit by their grandson in front of the German Prime Minister and his wife, in his grandparents’ home in Kiel, Germany, where the original picture was taken.

 See below picture and link to article about it:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/dec/18/photo-taken-by-rabbis-wife-in-1931-symbolising-jewish-defiance-of-the-nazis-comes-home

Dangerous Spiritual Success (Vayeshev)

Dangerous Spiritual Success (Vayeshev)

Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose. -Bill Gates

The Torah builds up and then describes a frightening scene of brotherly hatred. Joseph is Jacob’s favorite son. To compound the insult to Jacob’s other children, Joseph describes to them, not one, but two dreams that hint at his eventual leadership of all his brothers. Later, when Jacob sends Joseph to check on the wellbeing of the brothers and their sheep, the brothers plot to kill Joseph as he approaches them.

At the last moment, instead of directly killing him, they throw him into an empty well. The Torah, which is typically thrifty in the use of extra words tells us that “the well was empty, it had no water.” It would seem obvious that if it’s empty, there wouldn’t be any water in it. Many commentaries expound on this seeming redundancy in the verse.

The Bat Ayin on Genesis 37:24 uses the verse as a springboard to discuss some of the ways we fool ourselves into unhealthy behavior, even, or especially, when we start off on the right path. He explains that our evil inclination will start off by having us consider all of our good traits and accomplishments, and that we should be proud of them. However, that is just the beginning of the insidious strategy. The second part is that our evil inclination, having achieved a feeling of pride for our legitimate traits and accomplishments, will then have us develop pride in things that we haven’t reached or achieved. This strategy is hinted at in the description of Joseph in the well. The first part, “the well was empty,” mirrors a person’s spiritual reality and the pride they feel in the success they’ve achieved so far. The second part, “it had no water,” is the delusion we have once we live too much off feelings of spiritual success.

The Bat Ayin suggests that the remedy is to return to a humbler approach, where though we can be happy about and celebrate our successes, we must realize that even our successes are thanks to God and are in His hands and therefore we should circumscribe any undue pride even in successes we’ve achieved.

May we have many successes to be humble about.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for their significant fusion ignition breakthrough.

Antidote to the Seven Deadly Sins (Vayishlach)

Antidote to the Seven Deadly Sins (Vayishlach)

Many of the insights of the saint stem from their experience as sinners. -Eric Hoffer

It seems that the concept of seven deadly sins already existed in Jewish sources and may predate the version popularized by Christian theologians. The Jewish version, according to some opinions, differs minutely from the more popular one and can be listed as follows (based on the Vilna Gaon on his commentary on Tractate Berachot 4b):

  1. Gluttony
  2. Envy
  3. Pride
  4. Stinginess
  5. Lust
  6. Hatred
  7. Sloth

The Bat Ayin on Genesis 33.:3 references that Jacob struggles with “seven evil traits.” The way he overcame them were by the “seven holy traits.” The “seven holy traits” may be more familiar to some and have been popularized by the listing of the “lower” seven Kabbalistic “Sefirot.” A loose translation of them would be:

  1. Kindness
  2. Strength
  3. Splendor
  4. Victory
  5. Glory
  6. Foundation
  7. Kingship

The Bat Ayin suggests that somehow Jacob’s evil twin brother Esau was the embodiment of the seven evil traits and that Jacob was able to subdue those evil traits within himself via his conflict with his brother. The idea is hinted at in the verse which states that “He himself [Jacob] went on ahead and bowed low to the ground seven times until he was near his brother.”

The Bat Ayin explains that ironically, Jacob was able to rise above these evil traits by abjection. By humbling himself, by realizing all the reasons he should be contrite and humble, it allowed him to quash and nullify the evil traits within himself and thus give rise and power to the seven holy traits which cancelled and supplanted the evil ones.

May we beware of all evil traits within ourselves and look to supplant them with holy ones.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To 18forty.org – whose podcasts I’ve recently discovered and found to be outstanding, deep and thought provoking.

Prophetic Vision (Vayetze)

Prophetic Vision (Vayetze)

As a man is, so he sees. As the eye is formed, such are its powers. -William Blake

The encounter with God is often a nebulous affair. It seems that prophetic visions are challenging for most mortals to withstand, let alone fully and deeply comprehend. The sages liken the prophetic experience as seeing someone through a clouded window. The most prominent exception is Moses, who is described as perceiving God clearly, through a “clear window” (Asplakariah Meirah is the term that’s used).

However, between the clear and the clouded visions, there are nuances as to how one achieves prophetic clarity. The Bat Ayin on Genesis 28:10 delves into some of the factors of prophetic vision based on Jacob’s journey.

He explains that the first level of prophecy is achieved by wholehearted fulfillment of God’s commandments. This is the level of entry into the land of Israel and is similar to the level achieved by the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest when he enters the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. The most holy person entering the most holy place on the most holy day of the year. By actively and fully pursuing and fulfilling all of God’s desires one can strive for the initial level of prophecy, the Asplakariah She’eina Meriah – the unclear window into the realm of prophecy.

The next level of prophetic vision is achieved by immersion in God’s Torah. By fully accepting, embracing, and internalizing God’s word, one’s mind and heart are sanctified. The Torah has the power to enlighten and show a person the path they should undertake.

The Bat Ayin draws all of this out from the somewhat repetitive verse “And Jacob left Beer Sheva and went to Charan.” We were just told of Jacob’s journey a few verses before that. The Bat Ayin relates the word Charan to the word Cherut, meaning freedom. Jacob travelled from his earnest and dutiful fulfillment of God’s commands to a level of fully delving into the Torah, thereby reaching a higher level of awe of God, of freedom and of even being able to see the angels, besides the prophetic vision he was granted.

May we, in our own small ways, reach for glimpses of the divine and holy by doing what’s right and learning what God says about it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the memory of one of my rabbinic inspirations, Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu z”l.