The Ultimate Agent (Chaye Sara)

The Ultimate Agent (Chaye Sara)

The condition of an enlightened mind is a surrendered heart. -Alan Redpath

Sarah has died, Abraham is getting older, and their son Isaac has yet to marry. According to the Midrash, Isaac is forbidden from leaving the land of Canaan, but none of the women of Canaan were considered suitable for Isaac.

Abraham sends his loyal servant, who the Midrash names as Eliezer, to return to Abraham’s hometown, Haran, northeast of Canaan, and find a wife for Isaac. Eliezer dutifully goes to Haran and is immediately successful in finding Rebecca, who happens to be from Abraham’s family (a granddaughter of Abraham’s brother, Nachor – making Rebecca and Isaac first cousins once-removed). Thankfully, Eliezer convinces her resistant family to let her return with him to Canaan to marry Isaac.

The Torah is effusive in its description of Eliezer, calling him “the elder of his house and the one who rules everything that is his [Abraham’s].” The Bat Ayin on Genesis 24:2 wonders as to how Eliezer achieved such distinction as a servant. He explains that Eliezer had such respect and awe for Abraham, that he completely identified with Abraham’s mission and goals and annulled his own desires to the extent that he was the ultimate agent on Abraham’s behalf. The Bat Ayin elaborates that when a servant of the king is so closely identified with the king, then the servant, in a certain respect, is comparable to the king, in his power and majesty.

Eliezer subsumed and annulled his own desires so thoroughly and took on Abraham’s goals so devotedly that he became comparable to Abraham himself. That gave Abraham the confidence to send Eliezer on this most vital mission for the continuity of his family, to find a suitable match for Isaac. Hence, the Torah’s description of Eliezer as “the elder of his house and the one who rules everything that is his.”

By surrendering his own ego and fully accepting the role of a humble servant, Eliezer became the authoritative representative of the great Abraham and the master of Abraham’s entire domain.

May we realize that to serve often means to lead.

Shabbat Shalom,



To NASA’s Artemis 1 launch to the moon.

Questioning Certainty (Vayera)

Questioning Certainty (Vayera)

It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question. -Eugene Ionesco

God commands Abraham to circumcise himself. There is a Midrash that recounts how Abraham asked his friends, Eshkol, Aner and Mamre for their opinion on the matter. Without getting into what their answers were, the Bat Ayin on Genesis 20:1 wonders as to the question itself.

Abraham had received a direct command from God. We have seen, both before this command and after it, that Abraham performed all of God’s commands without question or hesitation. Whether it was to leave his homeland and his family, or to sacrifice his son Isaac, Abraham is the model of enthusiastic and unquestioning divine obedience. So why does Abraham ask the opinion of his friends regarding this command?

The Bat Ayin answers that Abraham had no doubts regarding performing this command. His intention was to fully and immediately fulfill God’s command. However, there’s an added benefit of asking others, even when there is no question or doubt as to what the answer is. The Bat Ayin explains that by asking others a question, even if the answer is clear and obvious, Abraham is involving them in the process and in the answer. By inquiring of others what one should do regarding performing God’s will, one is thereby also involving them in God’s will. They need to pause and think about it. They must consider what it means to be involved in that divine connection. Though the answer may be clear, there’s value in giving it further consideration, of spending more time on thoughts of the divine.

Abraham could have just gone ahead and performed the circumcision without discussing or consulting with anyone. By asking his friends, he involved them in the divine service. He brought them closer to God and to God’s way of thinking; all of that with a simple, obvious question.

May we learn to use questions in our divine service, whether we know the answers or not.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the Beit Yosef community of Las Vegas.

Attracted to Holiness (Lech Lecha)

Attracted to Holiness (Lech Lecha)

A soul without a high aim is like a ship without a rudder. -Eileen Caddy

Abraham is famously directed by God to leave his homeland and venture to the land of Canaan, a land that God would bequeath to Abraham and his descendants. However, what is perhaps less noticed, is that a few verses before God’s directive to Abraham, the Torah tells us how Terach, Abraham’s father, takes his family from their homeland, from Ur of the Chaldeans and heads to Canaan. However, Terach’s journey ends when they arrive in the town of Haran, before entering the land of Canaan. It is only Abraham, later, who successfully enters Canaan.

The Bat Ayin on Genesis 12:1 wonders as to what the cause of the apparent false start was. Why does Abraham’s family, when accompanied by his father Terach head towards Canaan, before God commands it; why are they initially unsuccessful in entering and why later, does Abraham, without Terach, succeed?

He explains that while still in Ur of the Chaldeans Abraham started to perceive the holiness of the land of Canaan. He ventures west, attracted by the holiness of Canaan, independently of God’s command. His father Terach, seeing Abraham’s efforts, is taken up by the spiritual journey and he too seeks the holiness of Canaan. However, upon reaching the town of Haran, in close proximity to Canaan, they realize something that gives them pause. They come to the conclusion that though they’re attracted to the holiness, they don’t feel themselves worthy of entering the land. They are not yet at a level where they could fully connect with the inherit holiness of the land.

It is then, after God’s command, that Abraham redoubles his spiritual efforts and realizes that he needs to divest himself of his material, worldly attachments. Only with a pure spiritual focus can one fully connect to the inherent holiness of the land. Abraham succeeds in reaching that spiritual level, that focus on the transcendent and that connection with God. He is then worthy of entering the land and claiming its spiritual and material bounty for himself and his descendants.

May we take advantage of the road to holiness our forefathers already paved for us and bequeathed to us and connect to the holiness of the land of Israel.

Shabbat Shalom,



To democracy.

Learning from the Sinners (Noach)

Learning from the Sinners (Noach)

Passions are vices or virtues to their highest powers. -Johann von Goethe

Ten generations after Adam arrived on the scene, humanity has descended into moral depravity. God is so disappointed with the work of His hands that he is ready to wipe out all of creation. Every person is sentenced to death due to their evil actions, everyone that is, except for Noah and his family. In a world that has become completely corrupt and immoral, one man stood out for his righteousness, in stark contradistinction to every other person around him.

The Bat Ayin on Genesis 6:9 wonders how Noah was able to remain untainted. How could Noah, immersed in a complete global civilization dedicated to wickedness, stay uncorrupted. He answers that Noah indeed did learn something from all the sinners around him. He learned from their passion.

Noah saw the passion with which his civilization pursued their vices. He saw the passion with which they chased worldly, mundane, and material pleasures. He saw the passion with which they sought physical gratification. He saw the passion with which they sought to help themselves at the expense of others. He saw the passion with which they sought to dismiss, put down, and insult others. He saw the passion with which humanity devolved into a selfish, callous, hateful world of self-serving, arrogant, greedy individuals. All these unbridled passions led to a licentious, thieving, murderous civilization that infected the very planet itself.

Noah saw and learned from this passion. However, instead of focusing on self-gratification, Noah learned to channel that fiery passion into serving God. He passionately sought to do good. He passionately sought to be kind and ethical. He passionately sought to help and care for others. He passionately focused on the spiritual and the sacred. He passionately avoided all the vices, greed and materiality that surrounded him. He passionately clung to God’s directions and will.

Because of his positive passion, Noah and his family merited to be saved from the cataclysmic flood. He merited to be the progenitor of our post-flood civilization and gave humanity a new start.

May we learn from the passion of others and channel those passions for good.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the fascinating research effort of studying the Earth’s magnetic field and using it to further prove the accounts of the Bible.

Angels Can’t Repent (Bereshit)

 We are never like angels till our passion dies. -Sir John Denham

In the beginning, God created the universe. However, according to Kabbalah, our physical universe is the last of a succession of dimensions that God created. The other dimensions are of a spiritual, ethereal nature. The process by which God created all of the dimensions was to somehow undergo a “contraction” of some aspect of Himself to make room for apparently independent, sentient, conscious entities other than Himself.

The dimensions that are “closer” to God’s less-diluted presence, the spiritual realms, feel His presence so strongly that obeying God is much less of an issue, as it would be counterintuitive to do anything against the more obvious presence of God. However, our physical realm is so far removed from God’s clear presence that it becomes quite easy to forget about God, to deny His existence and to outright do the exact opposite of what understanding His existence would prompt us to do.

The Bat Ayin on Genesis 1:1 explains that there is a correlation between spiritual proximity to God and the term we call Holiness (Kedusha). The closer one is or gets to God, the holier they become. However, there is a tradeoff of sorts. The holier one is, the more exacting God is. Thus, the angels who are ostensibly holier and closer to God have no margin of error. There is no repentance for the angels in their spiritual existence. Humans, on the other hand, are very different.

Humans, because of our spiritual distance from God, are able to sin. We are able to ignore the subtle and not so subtle indications of God’s existence. That allows us and gives us the free will to deviate from the path that God would have initially preferred we follow. However, that distance, that propensity to sin, the ability to do wrong is the very reason we can also repent.

In fact, the ability to repent is not just a benefit of being in the mortal, physical realm, but rather a feature. The built-in ability to repent signifies the underlying kindness that God avails us mortals. The spiritual realm is a more justice-oriented dimension. Lacking our physical bodies, we no longer have the opportunity to act, to do, to mend our ways. The spiritual world is the place where we receive, realize, and access the fruit of our actions in the physical world, both the good and the bad.

May we take advantage of all the opportunities in our physical world to do good, to repent for the bad and to partake in the lovingkindness that is the foundation of our material existence.

Shabbat Shalom,



On the marriage of Yoel and Alaina Epstein. Mazal Tov!

Free for the Taking (Vezot Habrachah)

Free for the Taking (Vezot Habrachah)

Only the curious will learn and only the resolute overcome the obstacles to learning. The quest quotient has always excited me more than the intelligence quotient. -Eugene S. Wilson

In Moses’ last words to the nation of Israel, he provides blessings to the nation. The blessings are to the individual tribes as well as to the nation as a whole. This final portion of the Torah starts as follows:

This is the blessing with which Moses, God’s agent, bade the Israelites farewell before he died. He said:

God came from Sinai,

And shone upon them from Seir;

[God] appeared from Mount Paran,

And approached from Ribeboth-kodesh,

Lightning flashing at them from [God’s] right.

Lover, indeed, of the people,

Their hallowed are all in Your hand.

They followed in Your steps,

Accepting Your pronouncements,

When Moses charged us with the Teaching

As the heritage of the congregation of Jacob.

The Chidushei HaRim explains that the “They” in the verse in Deuteronomy 33:3, “They followed in Your steps / Accepting Your pronouncements,” is hinting at a specific group of people.

He explains that it’s describing those who travel from town to town in order to learn Torah. It often happened that the town a person was living in didn’t have a Torah teacher at all, or one that was suitable, or one that a person could effectively learn from. Thus, the frustrated student would be obliged to travel to other towns to find that elusive Torah teacher who was available, disposed and who could successfully teach the prospective student.

Moses is blessing the students who go out of their way, who are willing to go to great lengths, even to relocate, in order to find that live transmitter of Torah. Moses is blessing them that they will be successful in their quest for learning and that it should occur as smoothly as possible.

The Chidushei HaRim adds that at the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai all of existence was silent. It was so quiet that not even a bird chirped. The purpose of the silence was to show that everyone can listen to the Torah. There is nothing stopping anyone from listening to the lessons of the Torah. It is free for the taking.

May we make the important effort to learn Torah however we’re able to.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,



To the Hakhel ceremony, which is celebrated once every seven years during the Sukkot holiday immediately after the Sabbatical (Shemita) year.

Scholarly Arrogance (Haazinu)

Scholarly Arrogance (Haazinu)

In the same way that we need statesmen to spare us the abjection of exercising power, we need scholars to spare us the abjection of learning. -Jean Baudrillard

To learn Torah is one of the best and noblest tasks that a Jew can perform. It is to study and delve into the word and wishes of God. It is to get a glimpse of the divine will and to get a further understanding of God’s plan. Learning Torah can become the foundation of divine service, of refined character and elevated intellect.

Since the time of Moses, there were a select few who dedicated their lives to the study of Torah. They became the sages, the scholars, and the great rabbis of old. They were the religious leaders and spiritual giants of our nation. They constantly sought the good of the people, while always seeking to grow in their learning and understanding of the Torah.

However, the Chidushei HaRim on Deuteronomy 32:15 seems to take issue with individuals who indulge in full-time learning but haven’t used it as a source of either personal development or community service. He tells how the Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of the Hassidic movement, bewailed these arrogant scholars who were satisfied with themselves and their full-time learning schedule. The Baal Shem Tov attributed to these scholars the poetic verses:

“So Jeshurun grew fat and kicked—

You grew fat and gross and coarse —

They forsook the God who made them

And spurned the Rock of their support.

They incensed [God] with alien things,

Vexed [God] with abominations.”

A life devoted to learning can indeed be ennobling and lead to great contributions to people, communities, and the nation. However, when it is laced with arrogance and self-satisfaction, it is most unbecoming, and instead of being a blessing becomes a curse. Instead of being a beacon to others, it becomes alien and abominable.

May all our pursuits lead to blessings for us and those around us.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,



To the protests in Iran.

Yom Kippur thoughts: The Shard (with a nod to Reb Brandon Sanderson)

The Shard (with a nod to Reb Brandon Sanderson)

There is something within us that is older than the creation of the cosmos. It is ancient and elusive, but it is there. It is more durable than the sun and the stars, yet no microscope will ever find it. In fact, it is indestructible. No force on Earth or beyond it can destroy, conquer, or subdue it. It doesn’t age, grow old or wither. It doesn’t fade or disintegrate.

It is indestructible yet alive. It is so alive, that it makes all other life seem paltry by comparison. It is a source of such enduring life, that even the death of its host body won’t extinguish it.

It is indestructible, alive, and powerful. It is so powerful that thunderstorms, hurricanes and even supernovas can’t capture its power.

It is indestructible, alive, powerful, yet subtle. It is so subtle, that most people don’t even realize they carry it. And even when they do know of its existence, it is easily forgotten, ignored.

This indestructible, alive, powerful, subtle thing I will call a Shard. It is a divine Shard. It is an infinitesimal portion of Infinity itself. It contains within it something of the nature, the properties, some compression or condensation or some indescribable aspect of the very force that created and maintains our entire universe.

Yet each part of infinity that is within each of us is somehow unique. At the deepest level, it IS us. This powerful, radiant (again Reb S.), living, elusive, unbreakable, immortal thing is us.

But our breathing, organic, material selves don’t always know, or understand or remember who or what our true selves entail.

Enter Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is among the more unusual and perhaps most powerful of Jewish events.

We try to limit all worldly distractions. We don’t eat or drink. We don’t work. We spend almost the entirety of the day together in prayer and reflection. One of the purposes of this exercise (besides being Biblically mandated) is to reconnect with that forgotten Shard. The noise of life drowns out the voice of our Shard. The constant preoccupation with life, with work, with the demands, pressures, anxieties, expectations, stresses, disappointments, and everything else that life throws our way often makes it impossible to hear ourselves, to listen to our Shard. Yom Kippur is the start of the solution.

Again, the Shard is an inseparable part of us. It is us. And it is right there waiting for us to reconnect. To listen to it. To talk to it. To think about it. To ponder it. Perhaps even to visualize it. To draw strength and energy from it. To draw insight and guidance and perspective and direction from it. To draw life and inspiration from it. To draw power and conviction and courage from it.

Jewish tradition provides some of the scaffolding for such an exercise, for such a journey. It provides an ancient, proven, and successful tradition. It provides the map for us to explore that inner world in a healthy, moral, mature, responsible, and honest way.

Showing up is the first step. Buying in is the next. Going through the motions is extremely helpful. Yet we still need to do the highly individualized and personal work within the prescribed communal framework. And while the general experience may be common to us all, it is an extremely unique and private journey.

May we all find our Shard, hear it, connect with it, listen to it, tap into it, and let us really feel the infinity that is within us.

Gmar Chatima Tova – May we all be inscribed for a good year,


The Harder They Fall (Vayelech)

The Harder They Fall (Vayelech)

Strength instead of being the lusty child of passion, grows by grappling with and subduing them. -James Barrie

Perhaps one of the greatest leaders the nation of Israel ever had, after Moses, is his successor, Joshua. Joshua is prominent early in the biblical narrative. We see Moses selecting Joshua to lead the Israelite armed forces against the Amalekite ambush shortly after the Exodus from Egypt. Throughout the desert journey, we see Joshua at Moses’ right hand, his aide-de-camp, his devoted disciple.

God Himself names Joshua as Moses’ successor when Moses pleads with Him to ensure that Israel will continue to have a mortal leader after God decrees his death. Joshua is the divinely ordained successor to Moses and his subsequently miraculous and powerful conquest of the kings of Canaan prove his suitability for the role.

However, the Chidushei HaRim on Deuteronomy 31:7, wonders as to a particular refrain that is repeated constantly regarding Joshua. Moses and then later God, as well as the nation of Israel, repeatedly tell Joshua “Be strong and of good courage” – Chazak ve’ematz. Why does Joshua, who was clearly a great man, need such repeated encouragement? It would make more sense to offer a weak, untried leader such ongoing support. Why did a proven, accomplished, and seasoned leader such as Joshua require such reassurance?

The Chidushei HaRim posits that it was actually Joshua’s greatness that was his Achilles Heel. Joshua was such a great man, that the slightest infraction might have spelled his doom. When one reaches the level of the fully righteous, the smallest sin stands in stark contrast to their otherwise saintly behavior and can bring with it significant negative consequences.

A greater person is held to a greater standard. The Chidushei HaRim states that if such a person were to deviate as much as a hairsbreadth from God’s directive, it could completely doom them. Therefore, ironically, the greater a person is, the more protection and support they require. Hence the need for the repeated instances of God, Moses and the nation supporting Joshua with the refrain of Chazak ve’ematz, be strong and of good courage.

May we all be providers and recipients of strength and support, no matter what level of greatness we’re currently at.

Shabbat Shalom and Gmar Chatima Tova,



To Eviation’s first test flight of their prototype all-electric airplane.

Marking Renewal (Nitzavim)

Marking Renewal (Nitzavim)

So long as a person is capable of self-renewal they are a living being. -Henri Frederic Amiel

The Torah reading of Nitzavim is generally read around Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. The Hebrew word Nitzavim can be translated as “standing” or “assembled.” The beginning of the reading can be translated as follows:

“You are standing this day, all of you, before your God —your tribal heads, your elders, and your officials, every householder in Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to waterdrawer— to enter into the covenant of your God, which your God is concluding with you this day.”

The Chidushei HaRim on Deuternomy 29:9 quotes the great Rabbinic commentator Rashi, who states that as the nation of Israel was transitioning from one leader (Moses) to a new leader (Joshua) they were made a “Matzevah.” While it’s not exactly clear in this instance what the meaning of Matzevah refers to, it’s interesting to note the etymological similarity between the word Nitzavim and the word Matzevah.

A Matzeva is often a monument, some type of marker to designate the importance of a place or event (Matzeva also means tombstone). The Chidushei HaRim explains that there is a purposeful confluence between Nitzavim, Rosh Hashana and the need for an allegorical marker.

At the end of our year, just as at the end of a reign, it’s important to make an accounting of what was achieved during that time period. What did we do with the time given to us? What did we contribute to the world? What new, positive thought, word or act did we think, speak, or do during the course of the year?

It is important and valuable to go through the exercise of review and introspection and then to somehow mark in our minds and spirits these positive accomplishments. We need to create an internal monument of sorts for all the good we did in the Hebrew calendar year of 5782.

Once we’ve marked the good we’ve done in 5782, we can then more powerfully embark on our new goals, our spiritual renewal for 5783.

May we note and feel all the good we’ve been a part of this year and launch forward into a blessed and successful 5783.

Shabbat Shalom and Ktiva Ve’chatima Tova,



To the five Red Heifers who arrived in Israel. See details here:

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