Category Archives: Bat Ayin

Humbly Eternal (Behaalotcha)

Humbly Eternal (Behaalotcha)

Death is a commingling of eternity with time; in the death of a good man, eternity is seen looking through time. -Johann von Goethe

Old Ghost

Moses appears to go through an existential crisis, however we can understand such a thing of a man who spoke “face to face” with God. The burden of leading the complaining nation of Israel proves to be too much for Moses at one point and he cries out to God. As a solution, God gifts other leaders of Israel with the power of prophecy. However, as a side-effect of this sharing of prophecy, there are two men who start to offer unsanctioned prophesies in the Israelite camp.

Joshua, Moses’ disciple, is offended on Moses’ behalf and suggests that these rogue prophets be apprehended. Moses is neither offended nor threatened. He has the opposite reaction and wishes that all of Israel would carry the gift of prophecy.

The Bat Ayin on Numbers 11:28 explores some of the characteristics that made Moses so great. He explains that even though Moses reached the pinnacle of human potential he still considered himself lowly. He further states that such a person who is great yet considers himself lowly is at a higher level than the angels. And just as the angels don’t die, so this humbly great person doesn’t die.

He quotes a Talmudic dictum that states that a person “doesn’t die and half of his desires are in his hand,” which conventionally is understood as saying that a person dies before half of his desires are fulfilled. The Bat Ayin explains the dictum as saying that a person doesn’t die if they see themselves as not having reached half of their spiritual desires in serving God. Meaning, a person who is objectively accomplished in their spiritual life and activities yet feels as if they haven’t done half of what they wanted to do, such people don’t die. Such people are higher than the angels, and even when their physical shells are no longer with us, their lives are transformed into eternal lives, into lives that illuminate their families, their communities, and the entire nation for generations to come.

May we understand what true, healthy humility means and work on it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the memory of Mrs. Yael Shterntal z”l. May her family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Degrees of Exile (Naso)

Degrees of Exile (Naso)

What makes loneliness an anguish is not that I have no one to share my burden, but this: I have only my own burden to bear. -Dag Hammarskjold

Levels of Exile

The Torah reading of Naso, among many other things, touches on exiling people of different status from the encampment of Israel. The verse states:

“Instruct the Israelites to remove from camp anyone with Tzaraat or a discharge (a Zav) and anyone defiled by a corpse. Remove male and female alike; put them outside the camp so that they do not defile the camp of those in whose midst I dwell.”

The Bat Ayin on Numbers 5:2 analyses the various types of statuses and notices that each has a different level of exile in relation to the different levels of the Israelite encampment in the desert. The innermost camp is the Machane Shechina, the camp where God’s presence is most concentrated, namely the Tabernacle that was in the center of the camp. The second level is the Machane Leviya, the Levite camp, which immediately surrounded the Tabernacle. The third level is the Machane Yisrael, the Israelite camp, which is the remainder of the tribes of Israel who were camped outside the perimeter of the Levite camp.

A person who was afflicted with Tzaraat, typically associated with grave interpersonal sins, like gossip-mongering, is exiled from all three camps. They are completely exiled from the tribes of Israel. A person who sins in that fashion, at the time of sinning is as if they are saying “I have no part in Israel.” Hence, their symbolic physical exile from the dwelling place of the nation. That is until they repudiate their sin, repent, and return to the camp of Israel.

A person who has an impure discharge, a Zav, is exiled, or more practically, not allowed in the Levite camp. The Bat Ayin explains the comparison to a person who isn’t necessarily actively sinning but is not engaged with either Torah or good deeds. They are still part of Israel but don’t merit entering the more exalted Levite camp.

A person who has come in touch with a corpse is allowed in the Levite camp, but is not allowed in the Machane Shechina, in the area of the Tabernacle. This person is compared to someone who is not an active sinner and is engaged in Torah and good deeds. However, their mind and their spirit are not in regular communion with God. Only a person who has God constantly on their mind merits to dwell in the innermost camp of God.

That level of communion is hinted at in Psalms 16:8 “I will place God in front of me, always.” It is achieved by understanding the façade of our physical reality and realizing that God is ultimately behind everything. It is achieved by having faith in God and comprehending what our true responsibilities are. It is achieved by remaining focused on what acts have eternal significance and which are of fleeting value.

May we strive to get as close to the inner camp as possible.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Shavuot Sameach,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the memory of Rabbi Seth Mandel, my friend and teacher. May his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

The Trap of Sustenance (Bamidbar)

The Trap of Sustenance (Bamidbar)

It is too difficult to think nobly when one thinks only of earning a living. -Jean Jacques Rousseau

Sustenance Trap

At the opening of the Book of Numbers, we have a noteworthy confluence of space and time. The Torah describes how God spoke to Moses. It tells us that it was in the desert of Sinai, in the Tabernacle, starting from the more general geographic description (desert) and then giving us the very specific location (Tabernacle). The verse continues to tell us that it was on the first day of the second month of the second year of the Exodus, namely the very specific day of the month, followed by the more general month of the year and the even more general year.

The Bat Ayin on Numbers 1:1 wonders why in describing space, the Torah starts with the general coordinates and narrows to the more specific location, but in describing time, it starts with the specific day and expands outward to the more general markers of month and year.

He answers that it has to do with man’s ongoing challenge of making a livelihood.

He explains that there is a trap laid in front of every person, the trap of having to make a living. We are ensnared by the belief that “the strength of my arm” is what provides sustenance. Believing exclusively in our own efforts, our own intelligence and our own guile, easily leads to the temptation of cutting corners, be it ethical or legal. The constant pressure of having to provide for ourselves and those in our charge makes it very easy to justify immoral behavior. If my income, my livelihood, and my family’s financial security are wholly dependent on my winning in the capitalistic game we find ourselves in, then the ends may justify the means, and we allow ourselves to lie, cheat, steal or otherwise engage in corrupt activities.

The solution, the Bat Ayin suggests, is hinted at in the structure of the verse. The nation of Israel starts off in the desert of Sinai, where they demonstrate the first stages of faith, of believing in God, and a willingness to accept and follow His commandments. They then progress to the next stage of building a Tabernacle for God to dwell amongst them. The order of the dates in the verse makes similar hints. The second month reminds us of the second month of the first year of the Exodus, when Israel receives the heavenly bread, the Maan, on a daily basis. That starts to build Israel’s confidence and reliance on God. The second year is when the Tabernacle is built, and having a tangible sense of God’s presence creates an even greater level of confidence.

Hence the solution to the trap of sustenance is to increase our faith and confidence in God, in stages. When we realize that it is God who ultimately determines our success and part of His desire is for us to be ethical, law-abiding citizens, then we can be more relaxed in our material pursuits. God has brought us to the specific place and circumstances we find ourselves in. We need to make our own responsible efforts, but ultimately, God decides as to the results of those efforts.

May we develop our faith and confidence in God’s sustenance, step by step.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To my friend, Rabbi Alan Haber, on the launch of his new educational initiative, Am Levadad. Highly recommended.

https://rabbihaber.net/am-levadad/

Divine Israeli Meals (Behar-Bechukotai)

Divine Israeli Meals (Behar-Bechukotai)

The act of putting into your mouth what the earth has grown is perhaps your most direct interaction with the earth. -Frances Moore Lappe

The Seven Species

The reading of the Torah portion of Behar introduces us to the laws of the Sabbatical year, Shmita, when farmers in Israel are biblically mandated not to work the land. The Bat Ayin on Leviticus 25:20 gets philosophical and wonders as to why God would make such a materialistic world in the first place and make us humans so vitally dependent on physical sustenance to survive. If God ostensibly wants us to focus on our spiritual development and connection to the metaphysical, why would He create a system that has us preoccupied with food and material survival throughout the day and which creates the real possibility of us transgressing multiple commandments if we aren’t careful with what and how we consume things?

He answers that it has to do with the land of Israel. There is some intrinsic holiness to the land of Israel. Furthermore, the land of Israel has seven species of produce for which it is praised, namely wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. He explains that when a person consumes from these seven species (including Israeli bread, wine, olive oil and date honey) in purity and purpose, it’s a fast track to a correction of the seven traits of the soul and to somehow connect to God. He further states that it is more challenging to improve these traits and connect to God without the assistance of these seven species and the transcendent thoughts we should ideally have when consuming them.

However, he does provide two other remedies for those who don’t have easy access to Israeli products. The Shabbat meals, when eaten with the proper preparation and intention can have the same power as eating from the produce of Israel. The other remedy is that when eating any other food that is not of Israeli origin, to have in mind the land of Israel. It is no wonder that the Birkat Hamazon, the Grace after Meals that we recite after eating, makes notable mention of the land of Israel.

So, in summary, God purposely made a very material world, but gave us some avenues, through the very physical act of eating, to connect with Him. With the proper intention, just eating from the seven species of Israel can enable that connection. Additionally, a Shabbat meal and thinking of the land of Israel can likewise assist us in bridging Heaven and Earth.

May we remember that even the basic act of eating is something that can be elevated.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To my friend, Rabbi Jonathan Snowbell, on his new Bible Tour Guide initiative. See below for more details.

 

Holy Daughter, Sister, Mother (Emor)

Holy Daughter, Sister, Mother (Emor)

Other things may change us, but we start and end with family. -Anthony Brandt

Daughter Sister Mother

The Torah portion of Emor discusses the roles and rules regarding the Kohen, the newly formed priestly caste of Israel. It also highlights some of the guidelines relating to the High Priest, the Kohen Gadol.

The Bat Ayin on Leviticus 21:10 delves into the Talmudic statement (Tractate Horayot 9a) that “if the Kohen Gadol doesn’t have anything, he is to be aggrandized.” The Talmud expounds the statement as instructing that if the Kohen Gadol is poor, his Kohen brethren contribute funds to him until he can be considered financially wealthy. However, the Bat Ayin reads another aspect into the Talmud’s explanation.

He elaborates that when the Talmud states that the Kohen Gadol doesn’t have anything, it can also mean that he has no arrogance, and that rather he is fully possessed of the trait of humility. If the Kohen Gadol is indeed a humble servant, then he reaches a higher level of service than his brothers.

The Bat Ayin further develops that there are three general levels in one’s possible connection to God: “daughter,” “sister,” and “mother.”

The simplest level is that of “daughter” and it is founded on the trait of awe and fear of God. The middle level is one of “sister” that is predicated on love of God and is the level of Israel and the Kohens. The highest level is the level of “mother,” and it is one of divine bounty and transcendence and is represented by the Kohen Gadol, who due to his great humility serves as a conduit for abundance and holiness from above that reaches all of Israel.

May we appreciate the different levels of relationship with God, whether it’s daughter, sister, or mother, and may we build from awe of God, to love of God and finally to divine abundance and transcendence.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the Mizrahi organization for their extremely successful inaugural World Orthodox Israel Congress.

Sorcerous Overconfidence (Acharei-Kedoshim)

Sorcerous Overconfidence (Acharei-Kedoshim)

Sorcery is the sauce fools spoon over failure to hide the flavor of their own incompetence. -George R. R. Martin

Coins by Wall

There is a fascinating Midrash connected to the Torah reading from last week, which relates that the Canaanites would hide their wealth and treasures in the walls of their homes. After the conquest of Canaan, the young Israelite nation took over their houses. Some of these houses developed Tzaraat, an unusual discoloration of the walls. Following the commandments of the Torah, and after careful inspection by the Kohen, the discolored stones from the wall were removed. And lo and behold, the new Jewish occupants of these houses discovered treasure and wealth in those walls.

The Bat Ayin on Leviticus 18:3, which states that we should not do acts like the Egyptians or the Canaanites, asks why the Canaanites didn’t take their wealth with them when fleeing from the Israelite invasion. He answers that the Canaanites had among them powerful sorcerers. These sorcerers may have been from the same school or group as the ones in Pharaoh’s employ during the showdown with Moses and the onslaught of the plagues that devastated Egypt. In any case, the Canaanites were so confident in their sorcerous power and so unbelieving in God or in God’s ability to harm them that they couldn’t imagine being overrun by the approaching mass of former slaves. Hence, they kept their treasure hidden inside the stone walls of their homes. When the Jewish nation finally did conquer Canaan, as promised by God, it was too late for the Canaanites to retrieve their hidden wealth.

The Torah states how the Canaanites were a highly corrupt people. Besides for their corruption, their promiscuity and their idolatrous practices, the Canaanites apparently believed in their superiority, sorcerous prowess, and control of their world. They didn’t believe in an omnipotent God who may have other plans. Their overconfidence and hubris caused them to underestimate the non-sorcerous Jewish people approaching them. Not only did they lose their homes and their lands, as God promised, but they also lost their portable wealth.

May we be wary of our own overconfidence in the works of our hands or our belief in the extent of our control of the world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the community of Congregation Beth Torah for their fantastic hospitality and a wonderful Shabbat.

Idolatrous Self-Gratification (Tazria-Metzora)

Idolatrous Self-Gratification (Tazria-Metzora)

Mankind are an incorrigible race. Give them but bugbears and idols — it is all that they ask; the distinctions of right and wrong, of truth and falsehood, of good and evil, are worse than indifferent to them. -William Hazlitt

Mirrored Idol by BSpitz

The Torah readings of Tazria and Metzora delve into what may seem arcane laws of ritual impurity and the treatment of the physical-spiritual skin malady called Tzaraat (popularly mistranslated as leprosy). The Bat Ayin on Leviticus 14:34 explores some of the attitudes that a Jew may have in observance of these commands. While it is clear that the commands need to be observed, he explores what some of the inner motivations might be. One of the highest levels of service of God is to do so out of pure love and awe of God. It is God’s desire and that is motivation enough for a fully devoted servant.

It is still good, though not an ideal motive, to perform the commands because God will provide a reward to those who perform His commandments. There will be a reward both in our current world and in the world to come.

The Bat Ayin explains that even the performance of commandments for what might appear to be a transactional reward is still vastly different and superior to the idolatrous belief that there is no reward or punishment or that there is even a Creator who is involved continually in our lives. The idolatrous belief is centered around self-gratification, with little regard for truth, ethics, or compassion. An idolatrous belief is that as long as it makes them feel good, that defines their moral compass.

May we appreciate God’s presence and intervention and may we feel it more strongly.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Rabbi Leo Dee and the inspiration he is providing.

A Kosher Pig? (Shmini)

A Kosher Pig? (Shmini)

Hateful to me as the gates of Hades is that man who hides one thing in his heart and speaks another. -Homer

The Torah reading of Shmini introduces us to the laws of keeping kosher. It details what type of animals we can eat and which we must avoid. We can only eat fish that have scales and fins, so any other type of fish, including shellfish, is prohibited. There is a long list of birds which we are told are forbidden. The common denominator is that they are all birds of prey. Interestingly, the tradition that has been passed down as to what birds are in fact kosher is relatively scant, leaving us with a limited selection of kosher fowl. Perhaps best known are the distinguishing features of kosher mammals. They need to be mammals that have split hooves and that chew their cud.

The most infamous non-kosher animal is most likely the pig. What is interesting about a pig is while it doesn’t chew its cud, it does have split hooves. The Bat Ayin on Leviticus 11:7 quotes the Midrash that states that a pig typically likes to display its hooves, as if to say “Look at me! I have the hooves of a kosher animal!” even though it knows that not chewing its cud makes it non-kosher. What is perhaps even more interesting is that there is a Kabbalistic idea, that in Messianic times, the pig will become a kosher animal when it will start to chew its cud.

The Bat Ayin compares the status of the pig to our own behavior. Just as the pig shows one thing on the outside, the kosher symbol of the split hooves, but possesses a non-kosher trait on the inside, the lack of chewing its cud, how many of us present a certain façade of righteousness to the world but our inner reality is vastly different? Do we pretend a certain behavior in public, but in private prove ourselves to be hypocrites? Do we show false friendship and flattery to those we want to impress or connect to, but privately despise them? These are all traits of the pig.

The Bat Ayin then flips the cause and effect of the transformation of the pig into a Kosher animal in Messianic times. It is not the final redemption that transforms the pig, but rather the transformation of the pig that brings about the redemption. Only when the inside of the pig matches its outside, can the Messiah come. Only when the pig is somehow purified of its hypocritical nature, when it becomes completely pure, can the world be redeemed.

Similarly, only when our noble exterior is matched by a similar internal reality can we expect to reach both personal and universal redemption. May it happen speedily and in our days.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the memory of Lucy Dee and her daughters, Maya and Rina, may God avenge their blood.

The Two Portals (Tzav)

The Two Portals (Tzav)

I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it. -Morpheus

Two Portals (AI-generated parsha illustration by BSpitz)

The Torah portion of Tzav has God telling Moses to command his brother Aaron, the High Priest, as to the service of the Tabernacle sacrifices. The Bat Ayin on Leviticus 6:2 wonders why the stronger term “Tzav” (command) is used, as opposed to “Daber” (speak).

The Bat Ayin explains that it has to do with the very creation of existence. God created the universe with an underlying attribute of justice. The firm foundation of justice is reflected in the stronger language of “command.” However, God saw that the world could not continue to run exclusively with strict justice, so He also introduced the attribute of mercy and kindness. Justice is reflected in the awe or fear one should have of God, while kindness is reflected in the love we should have for God.

By way of explanation, the Bat Ayin references a Talmudic dictum that states: “A person should always enter two doorways into the synagogue” (Tractate Berachot 8a). The Talmud itself finds the statement to be unclear. What does it mean to “enter two doorways”? How does one enter two doorways? What if the synagogue has only one doorway? The Talmud explains the line to mean that a person should enter at least the length of two doorways into the synagogue. One should not hang around by the entrance as if either isn’t sure they want to stay or is ready for a quick departure.

The Bat Ayin, however, focuses on the original language of the dictum, that there are indeed two separate portals that a person should go through to approach God. The correct entry to God is through two different doors. There is the door of awe and there is the door of love. That is what it means that one should always enter into the synagogue through two doorways. We need to feel proper awe, respect and trepidation when approaching God. At the same time, we need to seek closeness, tenderness, and love, when coming close to the Almighty.

By entering these two portals simultaneously, we increase the chances of that divine connection occurring.

May we increase both our awe and love of God.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To The Dragon Haggadah. A new, experimental Haggadah designed for Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) players and their families. It weaves some light roleplaying, riddles, puzzles and D&D action into the text and rites of the Seder night. First draft and free for download. Please share with people who would be interested.

Two Illuminations (Vayikra)

Two Illuminations (Vayikra)

There are two kinds of light — the glow that illumines, and the glare that obscures. -James Thurber

Moses Squints at Sun

At the beginning of the Book of Leviticus, in the Torah portion of Vayikra, God calls out to Moses twice. He uses two different verbs. The first is “Vaykira,” to call, and the second is “Vayidaber,” to speak. The Bat Ayin on Leviticus 1:1 explains that there are a number of parallels and lessons to learn from the duality of God communicating to Moses in apparently two different fashions:

He compares the first level of communication to both the creation of the world and to the sun. The creation of the world is something that is “hidden” from mortal perception and easy to not believe in, or to not believe in a Creator. Relatedly, the sun is difficult to look at directly and to truly perceive. In a sense, the true essence of the sun is something that is not really visible to mortals. So too, God’s higher level of communication and revelation is something sublime and only perceptible to a few people.

The second level of communication is compared to both the Egyptian Exodus and to the moon. The Exodus was a loud, public event, clearly visible to all. It was felt and witnessed directly by the Egyptians and reverberated throughout the region, if not the world. Similarly, the moon, even at its most brilliant, is fairly easy to see.

The Bat Ayin then compares the two levels of communication to two additional phenomena: clouds and fire. Clouds relate to the first, higher level. They are indistinct, obfuscating, hard to see through. Fire is the second, lower level of communication. Fire is bright, illuminating, distinct.

The Bat Ayin then brings our attention to the fact that the Jews in the desert were exposed to both of these phenomena. A pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire were both present at the Tabernacle. God, in essence, was revealing Himself and communicating with the young nation of Israel at both levels of communication. He was communicating via the hidden, sublime, barely perceptible channel, and he was concurrently communicating in a more open, direct, and discernible way.

It was a confluence of a certain closeness, attachment, identification and even transcendence that permeated the people of Israel during that special, formative period of our nation.

May we find further moments of closeness and transcendence in our own lives.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To having five planets in view next week.

https://www.thrillist.com/news/nation/planetary-alignment-how-to-see-march-2023