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This world is filled with treasure hunters—people looking for riches in all of its forms –wealth, power, position and glory.  They search high and low for clues and directional signposts to show them the way            So much of mankind is on a seemingly never ending search for success and fortune, however, at best, their endeavors  produce only transitory gains. This is in contrast to the enduring legacy of our nation which we acquired 3300 years ago when we merited to receive the durable, eternal wealth of our holy Jewish teachings (Torah).

At the giving of the Torah, we were not asked to be searchers seeking out subtle clues and vague directives.  We did not have to explore the heavens and plumb the depths of the seas.  We did not even have to climb to the top of the lowest mountain upon which it was given in order to receive it. It was brought down to us—by our leader and emissary, Moshe Rabbeinu. The question then as now was not how to find it,  but rather how are we to comprehend, appreciate and incorporate its treasured value into our lives?  There are maps and guideposts that are available to help us with this exploration.  All it requires is for us to take a fresh look at some old familiar landscapes.

To start we might wish to consider the place of its presentation. The desert is a place that is separated from the busyness of the world—a place where the world’s standards and distractions do not impinge—a place where we lacked the ability to be self sustaining, but in fact had to rely upon the Creator’s (Hashem’s) kindness and protection.  In this place, greatness is measured in humility rather than in power and wealth for ones’ very survival depended upon the willingness to humbly accept the direction of the Creator of the Universe.  And thus we find our first  prerequisite for “mining” the treasure that is our Torah—that is the ability to allow the Torah to guide us rather than us making determinations that impose our own limitations upon it.

Another key for accessing the Torah’s eternal wisdom and guidance is derived from the fact that it was given from above but was received below.  This alludes to the fact that the Torah emanates from a place that is “above” natural law, but in order for us to benefit from the wealth of our Torah these teachings need to descend into all facets of our lives.

How does this happen? Ordinarily, it is difficult to evoke changes in habits and behavior, therefore perhaps the intense roaring thunder and streaking lightening bolts at Har Sinai may have been much more than just an introduction of the giving of the Torah but actually served to “jolt” the whole nation out of their old mind set in order to elicit the new spiritual revelation that was to follow.  For us it can serve as a lesson reminding us that  before valuable growth in the service of Hashem) can occur, there often comes a challenging “storm” – ie: a difficult situation or person that  jolts us and in so doing actually helps us to realign with Torah directed sensibility and sensitivity.

This perhaps explains the fact that the entire nation experienced a transposition of the senses in which they heard what they saw and saw what they heard. We, who are the beneficiaries of the Sinai revelation, can continue to benefit from this vital experience, if when hearing of some else’s difficult problems – we see what we can do to help them. Likewise when we see someone struggling – if we allow ourselves to hear our inner voice guiding us as to how we can react most sensitively to their needs, we will hopefully bring closer the final redemption (geula), may it be soon in our days.

Chag samach




              It’s the night (lay’l) of Pesach with all the family and guests joined together around the Seder table. After Kiddush on wine the head of the household (Bal HaBais)divides the middle matzah, wraps up the larger piece for the end of the meal (Afikomin) and puts it snugly  behind his pillow.  Later in the evening (seder) someone points to the place of the afikoman and whispers to the child, “Take it now, quickly, while he’s not looking.” The child hesitates, feeling quite shy having been brought up with proper values of respect and honesty. This night everything at the house looks so different. The table is much longer than usual filled with relatives and guests — it’s white and beautiful with lots of shiny glasses, sparkling silver. But then with a little more prodding and a burst of courage he moves closer to the treasured hidden away afikomen, hesitating, until some one prompts him, “Quick, grab it and run.”

  For a second, he feels afraid, but as soon as it is in his hand, he feels an exhilarating surge of excitement and exuberance. Even after hiding it he continues to feel energized and successful. Much later, when the child is asked to return the afikoman, he doesn’t give it right back, being prodded by others to first ask for a nice prize.

    Doesn’t this conduct seem a quite odd?  Here we are seemingly allowing our small untainted children to take something that doesn’t belong to them and on top of that extort a reward for their efforts on one of the holiest nights of the year. How can we possibly understand this conduct?

  Perhaps we can explain this unusual behavior as follows. Usually the selfish inclination (yetzer hara) tries to lure a person into improper behavior through offering feelings of ephemeral thrills and excitement. Even though we want to avoid such conduct, the problem we face is that we simply cannot discard the yetzer hara.  As in the well known book of Medrashim, when the Sages davened to remove the yetzer hara and Hashem answered their tefillos, even the chickens stopped laying eggs. The yetzer hara is necessary but needs to be controlled. The challenge to us is to sur mei ra, avoid evil, yet preserve our enthusiasm and direct it to our ma’asim tovim.  But how do we do this? 

   Perhaps, this is precisely what we are achieving when we encourage our children to take the afikomen.  We are allowing our young pure children to experience the excitement that is usually motivated by the yetzer hara when engaged in risky, dangerous and thrill seeking conduct.  We do this by giving them a controlled dose of the “taste of desire.” As the child grows up, that spiritual inoculation that was administered l’shem Shamayim with love will then continue to act as an antidote against the infectious negative powers of the yetzer hara.  Indeed, that dose of controlled enthusiasm, experienced by the child on lay’l Pesach, will enable him to rekindle those exuberant feelings throughout the year directing them in a positive mode while learning Torah, performing mitzvos and ma’asim tovim.

But how can experiencing this “controlled taste of desire” both act as a vaccine shielding the child from learning mis-conduct, while at the same time inspiring the him with enthusiasm for all things that are Holy? It is because of the setting in which this “taste” is given. Let us remember, the seder night is referred to as – lay’l shemurim, the night of Divine protection – the perfect night for this process to take place as it is a time when negative forces are subdued. 

    You may be wondering, how can this spiritual “inoculation” continue to protect us into our adult years?   Possibly the answer is we use “booster shots”!  Oh, we are not suggesting that this Pesach we grab the afikoman, however we should watch the one who is taking it and allow that “small child” inside each of us to relive and rekindle our own feelings of inner joy and exuberance, thereby rekindling our youthful enthusiasm in the service of Hashem.

May we all merit soon to be able to fulfill the mitzvah of afikoman in Jerusalem at the final geula soon in our days.


   (The attribute of exuberance and excitement was “stolen” (so to speak) by the negative powers (yetzer hora) through the errors of mankind. On the night of Pesach we are able to “re-capture” these sparks of holiness and use them to bring back Divine spirituality into this world Since the yetzer took it through “theft” we re-capture it, through an act that looks like theft, at this time of Pesach when the forces of darkness are vanquished.)



The rain  washed down the windshield in torrents undeterred by the wipers. The driver wiped his bleary eyes and the world swam. Only a few more miles, he thought and I will be able to deliver the medicine from the pharmacy and go home.  He glanced at the directions scribbled on a wrinkled paper.  Here’s the turn.  There’s the house.  He wearily unlatched the car door, hitched his jacket over his head and moved quickly through the Spring storm to the front door.  As the door bell rang , he heard   the sound of small feet running in his direction.

The door opened and he blinked to adjust his eyes to the dim light inside.  He looked and nearly giggled, “It’s nighttime, he thought, “do you know where your children are?”  If you don’t , they are probably here tiptoeing one behind the other in a long uneven line, following a man carrying a candle near to the ground, squinting as he stoops down and peers into the back of a sofa cushion.   No one paid attention to the stranger at the door, except for one small boy who seemed to be motioning him to join in. The young delivery man stood there awkwardly staring at this odd sight, early memories stirring deep within him.

What could he be thinking – this stranger? What could he understand of this Jewish law and time honored custom of (bedikas chumetz) – the searching for any grain product, such as bread and cake, that has risen.  Now, we know what it is all about, we are used to it, we understand it – or do we?

It is  Erev Pesach.   We have just spent weeks cleaning our homes from top to bottom, making certain that not one crumb of chumetz remains anywhere in our realm.  We have scoured  every crevice, turned each pocket inside out and emptied our children’s secret treasure troves of cookies and pretzels.  And just  as we have begun to feel that unique once- a -year feeling, that sense that we really have managed to rid ourselves of every crumb — at that  moment – we assign someone to secretly hide (the custom being ten) pieces of chumetz throughout our homes and possessions. Then specifically in the darkness of  the night we make a candle light “search”– and as we find each piece, we carefully sweep it triumphantly away with the help of a feather and a wooden spoon into a guarded place.

Why are we doing this?  Is it merely symbolic?  What is going on?

What would this soggy stranger think, if we told him that we were regaining our freedom with those ten pieces of bread?

Yet, it is actually true.  The night of bedikas chumetz,  like every other meaningful event in life has three components, the person, that is ourselves,  place and time.  The Creator is referred to as HaMakom , the

Place,  because there is no place devoid of His Presence.  However Hashem has made room for us and allows us and our possessions to exist in His world. When we do bedikas chumetz, we are proclaiming that  it is His world and we are his invited guests.  When we accept this upon ourselves and fulfill the commandment that requires us to  relinquish a kosher, ordinarily innocuous possession , that is when we begin to taste freedom.  This is because it  is difficult to pull away from the lures of this world which can enslave us, and addict us and  remove our freedom of choice. But when Hashem directs us to do so, and we comply, He provides us with the ability to let go.

The third component of this event is time which  plays the major role in our Pesach preparations.  It is only time that separates chumetz from matzah, for they both start with the same ingredients, flour and water.  Chumetz, leaven, is created through a process of fermentation that causes pockets of air to form in the flour and water mixture, expanding the dough and making it grow large.  Like dough, egos can also be inflated.  The leavening agents can be  money, power, vanity or fame, together with the flattery that catalyzes them into a bubbling brew that pumps up our sense of self importance. One extra moment can mark the difference between leavened and unleavened –one moment can be enough to transform  the mixture of flour and water from permissible matzah into forbidden chumetz. And it only takes but a moment of time for us to feel achieved and congratulate ourselves for our accomplishments thus improperly taking personal credit for that which Hashem has given to us.

So as we make our bedikas chumetz or any other mitzvah, we should try to do so with the un-self conscious innocence, inspiration and joy of a child.

Now with a better understanding of the need for the bedika, let us ask but why search in the darkness of night? We might think that it is not such a good idea as evening symbolizes the powers of the dark side- the sitra achra.  However, on this special night, we are given the assignment and ability to enter its realm on a “search and destroy mission”.  In those moments, that ner/candle is a holy spiritual beam that is able to penetrate deeply to expose any sign of ego inflation. In the esoteric tradition the Ner represents a vessel for the – shefa – the holy influence that channels the Divine Radiance thereby illuminating any dark or hidden places, allowing us find, identify and remove any impurities. Through the removal of any “excess baggage” we are then prepared  to receive  the special (kiddusha) holiness that permeates  the night of Passover.

One final thought on the multifaceted value of the bedikas chumetz. The ideal way to perform this minhag is to allow some member of the house or close friend to hide some small portions of bread or mezzonos. Many have the custom of  placing ten pieces for esoteric reasons and also to insure the finding of some chumetz in an already thoroughly clean home.  But this practical reason is not necessarily the only explanation.

This hunt for chumetz is a joint mitzvah that gets everyone involved in an effort to accomplish this task.       So in the years when my children were young, we would use this night to send a not-so-subtle message to them.  Chumetz  would be put in places where old battles were fought.  So, for the child who would leave his shoes in the middle of the room for others to trip over, chumetz would be put in that shoe.  For another

child, a messy closet was the battle ground and she would find a piece of chumetz there.  We would all end our bedikas chumetz laughing over things that frustrated us during the year. Pesach is a time of unity and what better way to nurture this idealistic state than making a bedika  from within and without.

This captivating ritual of bedikas chumetz,  one of the many heart warming mitzvot of Pesach, transforms a mundane cleaning process  into a sacred and mystical rite. This creates the atmosphere in which Pesach is renewed each year – And as Pesach is renewed – so are we. As for the young delivery man who was standing at the entranceway, may that glimpse into the Pesach experience be just the right “prescription” for his transformation.

La Shana Haba bi-Jerusalem  –  La Shana Haba bi-Jerusalem



In a few impacting verses (pesukim) in the beginning of the Book of Exodus (Sefer Shemos) , the Torah sets in motion the political and emotional forces that were to keep the children of Israel in bondage for the next two hundred and ten years.  These same forces have operated as a snare throughout history and are present today, only the stage setting has been specially designed to lure this generations unwary into its web of spiritual bondage. The mindset that led to their subjugation in Egypt was their yearning to be like everyone else – to assimilate into the culture of whatever country they found themselves in. There are those who in their eagerness to be a part of the culture, may mistakenly replace their service of the Creator (Hashem) with loyal service to the governing regime in a manner far beyond and above that which is required by the ordinary dictates of good citizenship.

Pharaoh, who personifies the Jewish nemesis, the yetzer hara, understood that as long as the Jewish people were living in accordance with high standard of spiritual development referred to as the “Children of (Bnei) Israel,” he would not be able to subjugate them.  They were the beneficiaries of Hashem’s promise to Avraham our forefather (Avinu) In order to prevent their assimilation, Hashem transformed the appreciation the Egyptians previously had into a feeling that the Bnei Israel had become a threat to them. Pharaoh, then changed its form, face and presentation in order to subjugate the Israelites and turn them into servants of the state.

To induce the Israelites to participate in their building program, the Egyptians hung a brick kiln around Pharaoh’s neck, inviting the Jews to join him in brick making.  Each man went to work making as many bricks as possible, which thereafter became the expected quota. The Jews thus became willing accomplices in their own enslavement, wooed and won over by this appeal to “love of country.” This technique, oft repeated in Jewish history.

Modern society today poses a different but equally challenging test, by luring its citizens towards the ephemeral standards of the times. Their value scale of success is graded by such “yardsticks” as how wealthy and famous one is. The lifestyle that emerges from this philosophy can be as, if not more, detrimental to spiritual growth than the servitude imposed by the Egyptians.


Addicted to Bondage

By the time the Israelites began to see the futility and hypocrisy of their alliance with Pharaoh, it was too late. The Bnei Yisrael were given the task of building arei miskenos, cities, whose names were Pisom and Ra’amseis. The word miskenos has the same root as the word miskein which means misfortune or poverty.    Pisom means sudden or immediate.  It also can refer to the mouth of the abyss, pi tehom (Midrash Rabba I:10).  Ra’am means loud, like a thunderclap.

In our hectic lives, where sudden and immediate claims upon our time are an all too frequent occurrence, if we are not discerning, we may find that we are building Pisom.  We may also necessarily be building Ra’amses, since these calls to duty are usually loud and very difficult to ignore. One of the ploys of the yetzer hara is to persuade us that we must accomplish everything we have set out to do which can lead to feel overwhelmed. Pharaoh well understood that working without respite on purposeless tasks that could never be completed would weaken the physical, mental, emotional and most importantly spiritual health of the Nation.

Acting too quickly and assuming excessive obligations without enough considered thought as to their value and purpose can make a person feel as if they are enslaved.  The work was kasha, hard.  This word is related to the word for straw, kash, to hint to us that work is hard when it is like straw to us, that is, when it is commonplace and purposeless.   Mortar, chomer, which in Hebrew also means material, represents that which is stripped of spiritual content and inspiration.  Even without purpose and without inspiration we can still produce leveinim, bricks, but when one works under those circumstances they are reduced to field laborers (avoda basadeh) deprived of higher motivation, dignity and joy.



But take heart; there is a way out.  There is an answer that may surprise us.

When we stop and take stock of our options and our strengths, the time we have, the things we must do in order to fulfill our obligations as Jews as opposed to those things that we may be doing to serve some other cultural demand, we may be pleasantly surprised by the result.  We may be able to simplify our lives and our goals and live in greater harmony then we ever thought possible.  The job of the Egyptian taskmasters was to maximize the burdens upon the Israelites which ultimately shortened their servitude and enhanced their purification in the caldron that was Egypt.  It is precisely when the “task masters of time” bear down upon us that we have the opportunity to cull the necessary from the unnecessary and focus upon those matters that are essential to our avoda can be reached by sincerely asking for Hashem’s help in the process.

This will actualize Pharaoh’s fear that we will  “go up [be raised up] from the land.”  “The land” which represents our physical and mental attachment to this world will no longer have a hold on us.  When we cleave to Hashem through His Torah, we will be elevated to a higher level of consciousness referred to as “the children of (Bnei) Israel.”

The Torah teaches us that the more the Jewish nation was afflicted the more they increased and spread out. This means that even during this period when we, as a nation, were far from reaching the perfect service of Hashem, His Divine Radiance was still with us.  In the dark and immoral environment of Egypt, Israelite slaves, who were deprived of all the benefits that culture and civilization are thought to bestow, were being forged into a holy nation.  The very harshness of the bondage actually strengthened the potential in each Israelite, so that when the time was ripe, Hashem would redeem us. The teaching here is very profound. We do not ask for tests, but if they come, they can inspire our best performances. From this spiritual plateau we will not only be free from Pharaoh and Mitzrayim but we will be able to fulfill the will of the Creator in the holy land of Eretz Israel.

May we merit this soon in our days.



It’s just a just time before takeoff, friends have dropped off packages of gifts for their loved ones. We wondered how we were going to fit them all into our bulging suitcases. Before we knew it the car service driver was beeping. We quickly stuffed our cases closed and hoped the zippers would hold out. At the airport, bags in tow we followed an interminable line weaving towards the ticket counter. Upon reaching what was to be the first of many checkpoints the flight security attendant said with a polite, but serious smile:  “How are you today”? Passports and tickets please! Where are going? Is this your first trip there? Where will you be staying? Do you have any relatives there? Oh yes, who? Where do they live? ” He made light conversation but all the while his eyes were locked on ours without a flicker. They felt like x-rays and we got flustered. Somehow we even hesitated over the names of the places are relatives lived.

As the grilling continued all  that was needed was a strong white light focused in our eyes to turn  it  into a full blown interrogation. “Tell me, did any one pack your bags for you? Do you have any electronic equipment inside your bags? Where did you get it? Did you take it from a shelf of the store by yourself or did someone give it to you? Was the package torn? Did anyone give you anything?”

After the initial screening the security officer directed us over to yet another line to have our suitcases ex-rayed in what looked like a giant MRI machine. After our bags came out unscathed with a negative diagnosis, we proceeded to the check in counter. As we struggled to lift our suitcases onto the scales, they seemed to feel quite a bit heavier than they did at home – maybe it’s the gravity at the airport we chuckled. Miraculously the employee did not impose a fine for being overweight and with a sigh of relief we set off to scale our next hurdle.

Moving further along the assembly line we were required to place outer garments, hand bags and all metal possessions on a rolling conveyer belt which passed them through another x-ray machine. Now, hatless, shoeless, jacketless, feeling slightly vulnerable and somewhat intimidated, we walk through the metal archway, which will determine whether we will be “pat searched”. We fortunately passed with good marks but we couldn’t help but notice another frum passenger who was sent to the side for a full blown pat down. Admirably he never lost his pleasant smile as he chatted cordially with the officer, adding after he was exonerated his appreciation for the fine work that the security personal provided. This was a real Kiddush Hashem that both we and that guard will never forget.

Since everything that exists in the world is founded in the Torah, where can we find a Torah source for the interrogation and search of travelers? Yes. The first such search was conducted by Lavan – Jacob’s father-in-law.  When Lavan saw that (Ya’akov) Jacob has taken his family and left , he  chased after them,  bombarded them with a barrage of questions  and then, unsatisfied with the answers, made his own intrusive and thorough search of their possessions – (Parshas Vayeitzei). Some years later, the sons of Ya’akov are subjected to an interrogation and search at the hands of the second most powerful man in all of Egypt, not realizing at the time that that imposing personage was none other than  their brother (Yosef). (Parshas Mikeitz).

What lesson could we possibly learn from these two similar events?  Perhaps the key lies in the intentions of the searchers even more than the search itself. Lavan is the prototype of a clever swindler whose expertise lies in appearing to be superficially (lavan) pure even while his intentions were self-serving and even nefarious. We of course should do our best to steer clear of such people but when unavoidable we should always make the best out of the situation as our forefather Ya’akov did in the house of Lavan.

Of course when well intended loving relatives, true friends and dedicated people “question” our intentions and “search” into our motivations, like Yosef had done with his brothers, we should not resent but actually cherish their words and actions. Now also before Pesach, while we are checking very closely our homes and possessions, let us also check (bodek) every “nock and cranny” of our attitudes for any “leavened” behavior that has become “chumatz  or saor”. This vital search and removal mission is one of the hallmarks of the Pesach transformation that helps free us from the bondage of corporeal constraints and limitations thereby allowing us to travel vertically up the Pesach “ladder”.





On your way to (Pesach) Passover, don’t  pass over Purim.  Ah Purim, how we all appreciate you even though you tantalize us,  mystify us and  laugh with us as we struggle to understand you.   Like Yom Kippur, you help us to reach a destination called forgiveness but what a difference in the trip.  You allow us to atone for our sins with merriment and with eating and with drinking– a lot of drinking.    On Yom Kippur we abstain. On Yom Kippur we remove our shoes, while you get us to put on an extra pair of clown shoes. On Yom Kippur we refrain from anointing ourselves while you allow us to us smear our faces and bodies with extra creams and cosmetics. On Yom Kippur we stay awake and focused while you – Purim – lead us to take an extra drink and or a little extra sleep.  How does this happen?

Maybe we can find an answer using  your mitzvah of drinking wine –everything becomes clearer with a little wine and even clearer with more wine  . . .  Let’s see, where was I ? Oh yes, Drinking can easily bring a person to frivolity and nonsense, yet you, Purim, are (mehapech) the opposite,  you make a switch and the wine we drink takes us up the spiritual ladder towards purity and strivings towards kiddusha.

You’re really clever.  You  fool our (yetzer hora) negative inclination by giving  it just what it wants lots of wine and maybe even some more and then all of a sudden, it can’t connive or deceive any more because (nichnas yayin yotzei sod) once wine goes in, on this unique holy day, then the inner yearnings of our pure Jewish soul come out.

You put masks on us to strip our masks away. All of a sudden we may realize that our regular, ordinary, middle of the road conduct is really the result of our inner battle between these two forces. Now we get a chance to glimpse at our dark side and through the special loftiness of this day can actually laugh at it, with that laughter freeing us from its negative influence hopefully not just for this day, but forever.

When we see beyond the mask, we learn how not to judge. Throughout the year we may be guilty of too quickly evaluating and judging others on a very shallow level. On Purim when a (adel) sweet person puts on a scary mask, we are not frightened because we know that behind the mask is a precious soul.  So, too, in the real world, every Jew has good points which we should focus on and therefore not be so quick to judge anyone superficially.

Ah Purim, you don’t have us simply ask (mechila) forgiveness, of our friends, you tell us to say it with presents.  How so? We give two gifts to at least one friend and minimally one gift to each of two poor people. One of the great Rabbis makes an observation asking why are we obligated to give at least double to a friend and only minimally one gift to each of the poor?  He answers that the poor gratefully accept whatever we offer, but we might have offended our friends over the course of the year and they may continue to harbor resentment. On Purim we are commanded to make a special effort to repair these breaches in all relationships especially those which have weakened. Therefore we should  “redouble” our efforts with sincere gifts and send a clear message to both close friends and  estranged acquaintances  that we are sincerely interested in healing the past and rebuilding the future together. Also we give them gifts that don’t need preparation – ie. ready to eat – to hint to them that they do not have to make any – preparations – changes in themselves – in order for us to accept them as they are.

On Purim, the poor can make us rich.  One reason we are only minimally required to give one gift to each of at least two needy people is because as long as we don’t see the poor as our friends we ourselves are spiritually poor, however, if we see every Jew, including the needy, as our friends, then we will generously lavish them with gifts thereby taking them out of their physical poverty and ourselves our of our spiritual poverty.

Ah Purim, leave us with one more gift, leave us with your special smile which inspires our hearts as we prepare for the next stage of our journey that being the wonderful Pesach transformation.





The days from the Seventeenth of Tammuz through the Ninth of Av comprise a somewhat oppressive and stifling period.  Not because it falls during the summer months, but because it exists in what would appear to be a spiritual wasteland – a devastated landscape created  by the fall out from several  cataclysmic events the first of which, the breaking of the luchos,  was precipitated by the  worship of the golden calf , the cheit ha’egel.  The cheit ha’egel continues to  travel with us down the corridor of time, no less virulent  today than at its inception some thirty three hundred years ago.   Today, as in previous generations, we are compelled to insulate ourselves against its toxic effects, but to do that we must first recognize its virulent potential.

In these spiritually barren times, when science is preoccupied with things that can be measured and recorded, we assume that we  no longer need be  concerned with the attraction that avoda zara, literally, strange worship, may have.  That is, unfortunately not true.  There is a resurgence of interest among the non-religious – perhaps as a reaction to the very spiritual barrenness we alluded to – in the pseudo-mystical and magical.  It has also most recently insinuated itself into our lives by calamitously tainting the sheitels that are sold in our communities.  Understanding the spiritual underpinnings of this phenomenon can serve as our strongest defense against it.


Three Dimensional Sin

So, it is with this goal in mind that we turn our attention to the cheit ha’egel.   Of all the cases of idol worship, the sin of the golden calf was the most spiritually destructive.  It produced seeds that continue to sprout in every generation up to and including our own.  That is because this sin was the result of three grave spiritual errors which affected all three of the dimensions in which we live our lives and thus created spiritual blemishes which implicated every aspect of life.


Untimely Sin

The first mistake that prompted Klal Yisrael to make the egel was their miscalculation of the time of  Moshe Rabbeinu’s expected return to the camp after his sojourn on the mountain. The yetzer hara used the confusion engendered by this error to mislead us with the illusion of Moshe’s passing and Klal Yisrael believed that Moshe Rabbeinu, who faithfully served as an intermediary between Hashem and the nation, had died.  This miscalculation caused the mixed multitude to clamor for a substitute and accept the egel when it emerged from the flames.

The miscalculation which precipitated these events may well have been quite innocent and certainly could have been corrected.  However, prompted by the eirev rav, Klal Yisrael was willing to place too much reliance upon their own calculations rather then to await Moshe’s arrival with calm faith and sincere belief.  This was culpable.

Then as now, we had access to two separate systems for the measurement of time, which unfortunately are not always synchronized. The first is the Creator’s timetable that metes out the minutes, days and years of our lives in accordance with His plan for the world.  The second is our sense of time and of urgency, which causes us to set our clocks in accordance with our idiosyncratic desires. The difference between them is the measure of our impatience which in the case of the egel precipitated this most serious aveira.

This aspect of our worship of the golden calf, was not only a sin of action but of  time, of choosing a replacement for Moshe at a time when no replacement was necessary. By way of contrast, when a new intermediary, a successor to Moshe Rabbeinu was actually required, Hashem chose the time and guided the selection.  Under those circumstances, the yetzer hara was not able to gain any compass.


Choosing a Leader

Thinking their leader was dead, Klal Yisrael reasoned that if even a person as extraordinary as Moshe Rabbeinu could not survive such intense contact with the Creator, certainly, no other human being could successfully replace him.  They, therefore, were willing to consider a different, more durable, intermediary between themselves and Hashem.

Chazal tell us that in their search for a suitable replacement for Moshe, the people looked to the symbolic images Hashem had designated for the four legs of His throne (see Ramban Shemos 32:1).  They understood that those prototypes represented spiritual forces of extraordinary power: The (ari) lion, the (nesher) eagle, the (shor) ox and the face of a person – Yaakov Avinu.

It is not easy for us to conceive of an animal serving as a conduit for spiritual revelation, but we must keep in mind that we are referring to a metaphysical concept and not a physical reality. The four symbols the Creator has chosen to represent the four legs of His throne are metaphors with profound spiritual implications.  To deepen our understanding, we can think of these symbols as functioning, so to speak, like a computer.   The computer is actually an inanimate network of circuits and wires.  Nonetheless, when it is turned on, it seems to come alive with an intelligence all its own.  In truth, it is merely a highly sophisticated tool that channels the inventor’s talents into a software program that animates it so that it is able to serve the user’s purposes.  The Creator, whose control over reality is absolute, can certainly “program” anything He chooses in order to implement His will, be it human, animal, vegetable or mineral.

After Klal Yisrael excluded a human intermediary, they then eliminated  the conduit represented by the lion, recognizing  that its  positive attributes of strength and courage were apt to be bound with arrogance – a highly undesirable and dangerous  trait.   Similarly, they rejected the eagle although it represents the attributes of inspiration and renewal because of its very independent nature which is unsuitable for Heavenly service.   Ultimately, they concluded that the shor, ox, the domesticated beast of labor, which exhibits the attribute of powerful work channeled into developing Hashem’s world, and displays neither arrogance nor obstinacy was the safest and most enduring conduit between themselves and the Creator.

If this was their intention, what then was their error and what was their sin?

It is of course understood that the Torah itself prohibits the creation of a graven image.  However, Aharon’s involvement in creating the egel means that it obviously was not an outright idol.

An answer to this question perhaps lies in the fact that the Torah warns us not to do less than it commands or more then it requires. When Moshe Rabbeinu, the most humble of all men, served as the intermediary between Hashem and Klal Yisrael, his ego-less service neither increased nor decreased the permissible connection between Hashem and Klal Yisrael.  Moshe Rabbeinu, who possessed no egoistic traits that could interfere with his service of Hashem, was able to communicate with Hashem through a clear vision.   Accordingly, under Moshe’s direction, there was no hindrance in the communication of Hashem’s commands to us.  Nor was there any diminution of Klal Yisrael’s capacity to proclaim Hashem’s unity and Absolute sovereignty since Moshe Rabbeinu, representive of the human symbol on Hashem’s throne, was inclusive of all the other spiritual forces represented there.

When the golden calf was substituted in Moshe’s stead, its service impermissibly subtracted from our required service of Hashem because it represented only some, but not all of the positive traits reflected by the symbols on Hashem’s throne.  Thus it provided too narrow a conduit to accommodate our wholehearted devotion to Hashem.


Misplaced Focus

One of the holy names of the Creator is HaMakom, meaning “The Place.” “The Holy One Blessed be He, is the location of the world, but His world is not His location” (Bereishis Rabba 68:4) meaning that Hashem’s Infinite Reality cannot be comprehended or confined in any way by our finite minds in our finite world.   In creating the egel, an object that took up space, the eirev rav, in an act of presumptuous egoism, attempted to exchange the Infinite for the finite and limit Hashem’s presence to one fixed place.  That was great error.  This choice was Hashem’s to make, not theirs.

Here, as in the choice of a successor for Moshe Rabbeinu, when Hashem deemed the time and the circumstances to be right, Hashem created a place for His Shechina to rest by commanding us to build the Mishkan.   In creating the egel, the eirev rav attempted to usurp that prerogative and in so doing committed a grievous sin.


Rectifying the Cheit Ha’egel

The sin of avoda zara is one of the rare instances where thought alone, even without action, is punishable on High.  The sin is thus one of thought as much as of action and its rectification lies in our attitude.  The cheit ha’egel was committed because Klal Yisrael, through the instigation of the eirev rav had too much confidence in their own calculations and too little confidence in Hashem.  Confidence in Hashem translates into self esteem because those who have faith in Hashem and understand that they are tzelem Elokim feel secure and achieved.  Yet, since they realize that their achievements are a gift from Hashem, they have self esteem, but not arrogance.  Those who think that it is they who run the world and not Hashem, are at once frightened and insecure, even as they build idols of gold and silver in a desperate attempt to create order and control their destinies.

In order to insulate ourselves against all forms of  “idol worship,” we are best served by acquiring an attitude that is both self assured and secure yet humble.  This is not as difficult as it may appear. The distinguished professor and the wealthy entrepreneur do not worry about having to prove themselves.  They do not need to flaunt their wealth or their knowledge to increase their self esteem, because they feel achieved. Though we understand that egotistical self esteem is hollow and false, we can adopt their attitude by allowing ourselves to appreciate the fact that Hashem created us betzelem Elokim, in His Image and as a reflection of His will.

The tzelem Elokim within us allows us to renew our battle each day against our selfish and negative attitudes using the eagle’s qualities of inspiration and renewal, the lion’s strength and courage and the shor’s submissive work.  Using these spiritual tools we can learn to accept Hashem’s time frame and see His will in this world and thus fulfill our role in creation.

In order to realize the incredible potential that lies within ourselves, as tzelem Elokim, we can think of the word tzelem as an acronym:  The letter tzaddik of tzelem represents the tzaddik, a symbolic reminder of our pure and  righteousness souls. This is Person.  The tzaddik with his great and ego-less soul is in opposition to the narrowness of the egel.  The lamed of tzelem represents luach, the calendar of the Creator.  This is Time.  The clock and calendar of the Creator teach patience, instructing us to make our needs for gratification subservient to Hashem’s time frame. The mem of tzelem is makom, Place, and is there to help us dissolve the illusion of nature and see the presence of HaMakom in every aspect of this world.  If we are able to keep in mind at every turn that we are indeed, tzelem Elokim, we will have learned an approach that will help to heal the spiritual wound caused by the cheit ha’egel.

With the rectification of our consciousness in, person, time and place, we can truly be prepared for the advent of the final redemption, may it be soon in our days.



[From Atkins to the Zone and] everything in between, diet, nutrition and fitness are the all consuming topics of this generation.  Countless hours are invested in trying to find that perfect combination of food, nutritional supplements and exercise.    In the process, kitchens are transformed into mini-labs complete with scales and measures, herbs and sprout growers, juicers grinders and processors of all sorts.  [Precious space in small apartments has been dedicated to all kinds of exercise equipment.] Books and magazines on health and nutrition crowd the shelves and pantries are filled with nutritional experiments.

Contemporary diet and nutrition programs have, for many, virtually  become  belief systems.  Each dietary path has its devoted adherents – ready to defend their faith to the last spoonful.   How can this be, we wonder?   Health and fitness are purely a physical, factual matter– are they not?  Yet people speak in terms of guilt, shame and taboo when they talk about eating. What is the deeper message in all of this from the Heavenly prospective? Is it only weight control or is there a more profound meaning to this diet revolution?

First, let us take a moment to think about just how many facets of  life reflect occupation or preoccupation with food.  Eating and drinking are primary pleasures that have generated a multi billion dollar industry. Today, there is virtually no taste experience that is not available to the kosher consumer and so all of the  gustatory adventures available to the world at large  are open to observant Jews as well.

Inspired by the media and the merchandizing masters, the average person spends a startling percentage of his or her waking hours, buying, preparing and eating food and drinking beverages.  In reaction, many will then invest additional time learning to resist temptation.  If we add to these figures the amount of time and effort spent on learning to live with  food allergies and combating eating disorders we can easily see how  some enormous percent of  time and energy is spent in these pursuits.

Thus, dieting has a tremendous mass appeal because it meets the diverse needs of large numbers of people.

Let us return to our original question.  What is it about diet –whether elective or mandated by  an allergy or condition–that has become such a preoccupying factor in people’s  lives? Perhaps this phenomenon is a preparatory precursor to the time, in the hopefully not too distant future, when the Creator will impose a new world order known as the “birth pangs” of the world’s redeemer (Mashiach) bringing with it a new state of higher consciousness for all mankind. Yet to achieve this new state of consciousness there will have to be a refocus upon things spiritual.  How can this happen we may wonder when we spend so much time pursuing materialistic goals. How will we ever willingly follow principles that are linked to spirituality which require the dedication of considerable time and effort?

Society’s preoccupation with food and specifically with dieting is perhaps a part of the Divine solution to this question.   For there is nothing like a diet to train a person in the skills needed to  achieve the discipline of following rules established by someone other than themselves  and experience the humility of  trying to overcome obstacles.

Instilling belief:     Dieting works best when the dieter believes in his or her chosen diet.  Changing life long eating habits is challenging and for most  that challenge can only be met when the dieter is persuaded that the diet will completely overhaul and change his or her life.

Disciplined Action:   Once convinced of the virtues of a  particular way of eating, the dieter is willing to weigh every mouthful, go miles out of the way to find certified organic foods,  eat only according to a rigid schedule and learn to tolerate the physiological and psychological challenges that are a  part of the process.

Reaping the Rewards:    When  dieters  painstakingly follow their diet plan, they experience  the  “good feeling”  that comes with  gaining control and mastery over their desires.  Indeed,  weight control may  be their first  experience of  self imposed discipline and restriction which leads them towards personal empowerment.

Let us bring that intuition into focus and look at it more closely.

Towards a Universal Diet:

The new age goals of fitness and  health  are very important to many of us.   Whether prodded by their fears of gaining or losing weight, of becoming ill or of  showing the signs of aging,  many of us are willing to spend time and effort studying and investigating competing dietary claims and adhering to restrictive dietary regimens.  Many are willing to swallow the inflated costs of  buying  organic foods and  nutritional supplements and endure strenuous and often monotonous  exercise regimens.

For the health advocate, a profound yet practical benefit of these programs  is an enhanced awareness of the significance of  these actions.  This awareness  can lead to an heightened level of consciousness that will incorporate self control and discipline into many other facets of  their lives.         However this is only the beginning.  May we soon see the day that we who  had previously weighed and measured our portions,  are weighing  and measuring the consequences of our actions; monitoring and directing our thoughts and emotions  in accordance with the Creator’s guidelines. We will then be able to  “exercise”  our free will to choose to fulfill the Creator’s will (mitzvoth and ma’asim tovim). These acts of Divine service will then serve as spiritual “wings” for us to reach new supernal heights. This elevation of the consciousness will also empower us to resist ephemeral temptations as we will then see life from an ethereal position  and understand the futility of pursuing temporal goals and ambitions as an end unto themselves.

Therefore, we need not despair for  the Creator has already embedded within the mundane activities of this world the potential for reconnecting with Hashem.  May we all  merit to see the final redemption (geulah) soon in our days.





From the metaphysical to the metaphorical, from the mechanical to the medicinal, trees are sources of wonder and joy, nourishment and nurture. Metaphysically speaking, the Torah teaches that the Tree of Life was a link to eternal existence. Metaphorically speaking, the Torah compares mankind to the trees in the field (Devarim 20,19), and indeed, we exist in a symbiotic relationship with them – so much so, that we speak of ourselves as being “rooted” in reality with ideas that “bear fruit.”

In their mechanical and physical aspects, trees are no less remarkable. Did you know that there are almost 247 billion trees of all sizes in the United States? That is a blessing because even a single tree produces some 260 pounds of oxygen per year, and thus two mature trees can supply enough oxygen per year to meet the needs of a family of four. Trees contribute to the water supply, as well, with our national forests serving as the originating point for drinking water used by some 3400 communities and 60 million individuals. Trees provide shade and wind buffering that reduce annual cooling and heating costs by 2.1 billion dollars, reducing the temperature in buildings some 20 degrees in the summer. Trees are an abundant source of raw material in the form of wood and paper. An average family uses about 750 pounds of paper every year, and 95% of the homes built in this country are made of wood. And these figures don’t even begin to speak of the food that comes from trees.

A Season of Silent Celebration

These statistics bear witness to the extremely productive role played by trees in the worldwide ecosystem, yet we celebrate their New Year during their deepest stage of hibernation, in a still and seemingly lifeless period in the midst of the winter when not a leaf is left to rustle or a fruit remains to be plucked. What is it that causes us to remember the tree at the nadir of its yearly cycle, and how can we understand human productivity in this context?

Indeed, lack of productivity makes many of us uncomfortable and is particularly difficult for the “movers and shakers” – the trendsetters and money makers – who spend their lives amidst the constant hustle and bustle of the fast-paced metropolitan hubs.

In this, the fifth or so generation after the birth of the “Industrial Age,” the goal has been and continues to be efficiency – cheap, mass-produced items whose worth is measured in quantity rather than quality. Indeed, progress in every area of life has come to be based upon that end. In this regard, fruits are plucked before they have ripened, and all sorts of services have been “outsourced” or computerized. The secular media mill is expected to churn out new material each day, and therefore often settles for banality and mediocrity in an effort to feed the voracious appetites of readers, listeners and viewers. Children are placed in a school setting which expects students to learn more and faster by bombarding them with an enormous amount of facts and figures, often at the expense of quality, sensibility and balance.

Growing up in this world, it is no surprise that many feel very uncomfortable when faced with periods of dormancy – times when life seems unproductive, torpid and inactive, and when creativity and inspiration are on the wane. Therefore, it behooves us to try to get to the “root” of the matter and then make concerted efforts to reach up to “pluck” potentially “fruitful” insights that can excite our “taste” for and appreciation of those periods in our lives that are relatively “passive” and appear less productive. Let us now discover from the “tree of life” how to reinvigorate our own lives by learning to view this phase of “cyclic hibernation” as an essential stage that prepares us for the next step in our growth and renewal

Growth Beneath the Surface

Although imperceptible to the external observer, on Tu BiShevat, the life-giving sap, hidden deep within the tree’s core, starts flowing upward, triggering the tree’s awakening. Although human growth is not necessarily tied to the seasons, we, too, undergo transformations – spiritual and psychological restorations that occur well beneath the surface, often hidden even from ourselves; and it is apparent that the winter months lend themselves to the kind of solitude and isolation that is conducive to contemplation and inner change.

As our Sages have informed us, “The greatest of blessings comes from that which is hidden from the eye.” Nonetheless, we have been instructed to begin proclaiming at this time the beracha of “Shehechiyanu,” expressing thanks and praise for this auspicious time.

If it is better to keep this transformative process hidden while it does its work, why do we forgo the benefits of concealment by openly declaring the greatness of this period through our berachos? Perhaps we can venture to say that our proclamation of gratitude and total acknowledgment of the true Source of blessing enables us to tap into an even greater beracha of renewal and growth than does our silence. The blessing of Shehechiyanu acts as a catalyst, catapulting us above and outside the realm of teva (nature), and therefore, we no longer need be concerned with remaining concealed. Now, all of our potential mitzvos and ma’asim tovim can unassumingly begin to be revealed, each in its ideal time and appropriate place.

The illusionary forces of stagnation that correspond to the depth of winter only exist in those who don’t recognize from where the “fruit” of their actions evolves. By binding our souls to the Creator with cords (blessings) of praise and sincere appreciation, however, as through the beracha of Shehechiyanu, we can overcome all impediments, thereby clearly recognizing the great value of each and every stage of our existence, sustenance and development. A seed represents potential. Only after sprouting and undergoing a lengthy gestation period does the seed gradually grow and develop until reaching fruit-bearing maturity. So also do we grow and develop in a slow and gentle unfolding from birth to adulthood. Like trees, however, people cannot truly reach maturity until they actualize their potential by producing luscious “fruits,” which are their mitzvos and ma’asim tovim.

Individual Place of Development

There is another insight that can deepen our understanding and appreciation of the different stages of life. Most trees produce their fruits after relatively few years. One notable exception, however, is the olive tree, which does not begin to bear its highly praised and valuable fruit for many, many years. What can we learn from this phenomenon? Perhaps it is to make us cognizant of the fact that each person’s potential for development has a different timetable. Assuming that we are making our best efforts, we should never become frustrated or envious if we see our peers “succeeding” in ways that we have not. There are early bloomers and late bloomers, but if each of us develops our potential, we will, in the proper time and setting, merit to bear exquisite fruits.

In summary, let us approach this season of potential renewal realizing that even during the quiet, seemingly less productive, or even challengingly restrictive periods of our lives, there is hidden within us a reservoir of potential spiritual influx waiting to be tapped, bringing with it an elevating surge of renewal and inspiration. By acknowledging our belief in the absolute governance of the compassionate Creator, we can remove the personal impediments of imagined limitations, thereby enhancing our potential for rejuvenation, change and growth. May we all together raise our voices in thanks, proclaiming Shehechiyanu for our existence, veki’yemanu for our growth and sustenance, and vehigianu for developing and bringing us la’zeman hazeh – to this special moment in time.



“He who recites the chapter of the (Manna) ‘Heavenly bread’, written in Parshas Beshalach  (16: 4-36) every day is assured that he will not lack food” (Gem. Yerushalmi). The Levush explains that this chapter teaches that G-d provides each day’s substance – just as He provided the manna each day in the wilderness.

Would that we could see with the pure eyes of a child for whom the world is filled by Hashem with wonder and delight. Imagine the reaction of the younger members of the generation of the Dor Hamidbar, who only received their nourishment from the “heavenly bread,” entered Eretz Yisrael and saw agricultural produce growing from the ground, they no doubt considered it a supernatural event.  We, on the other hand, see our food as common place taking it for granted, but consider the life support system that provided food, water, and protection to 3,000,000 men, women and children along with their herds and flocks in the desert for forty years that was truly an open miracle.  Yet, both systems are part of Hashem’s miraculous governance of the world –  a hashgacha that can be perceived by us as miraculous if we but choose to take the opportunity to do so.

The Mann was a wondrous source of nourishment. The sustenance provided to us in the midbar did not require the expenditure of physical effort, nor were needed any of the labor intensive tasks ordinarily associated with the growth and production of food and its preparation.  We might, therefore, be tempted to think that the generation of the midbar was not only freed from the obligation of earning a living but absolved of all of the challenges related to this endeavor.  However, such is not the case.

The unique challenge of the Dor Hamidbar lay in the fact that they had absolutely no physical control over their food, water or protection. Thus they were simultaneously confronted with the test of feeling vulnerable to the elements while at the same time experiencing complete dependence upon the benevolence of the Creator.

In fact every single necessity upon which their physical well being depended was not in their “hands”.  They had no fertile land, no rivers teaming with life, no reservoirs filled with water or towering forests to provide timber and game.  They had no homes and no sense of permanency. Although a tremendous surplus of manna fell each day, each person was allowed to collect only what he or she needed for that day alone. With the exception of the extra portion that was allotted for Shabbos, the manna was not permitted to remain for even one extra day for if additional manna was gathered, it would immediately spoil.  Thus they were never able to establish any “physical security” or feeling of independence.

Though it would seem that they were able to obtain  manna without effort or exertion, that is far from the truth. The efforts that the Dor Hamidbar had to make in order to “earn” their food, was a constant “exercise”  in emunah and bitachon at the highest level, as the Sages inform us: “Who is strong? One who surrenders his inclination to the will of Hashem.”

The reward for these efforts was a “spiritual food” that nourished the body by feeding the soul. Like all things spiritual it had no physical limitations or boundaries and was not the subject of the natural laws of cause and effect.  Each person received the same size portion regardless of size or weight and yet each person felt satiated .The message to be found within this phenomenon is very profound in that at the level of pure soul we are all equal and therefore each individual received the same sized portion.  However, there were certain differences that each person experienced dependant on their spiritual level. If the Mann was left close or far away, and the need of preparation and flavor were based on the level of one’s righteousness.

The more virtuous found their portions ready to eat at the entrance of their tent, while the less upright had to search further a field and then prepare it according to their needs. These distinctions served as a daily “bench mark” of one’s spiritual level and thereby served as an incentive to constantly improve.

The whole creation exists within a five dimensional continuum, consisting of the three dimensions of place together with time and soul.  Using these concepts of place, time and soul, we can analyze the distance, placement and preparation of the manna connecting them to specific objectives of spiritual achievement.


The three dimensions of place and their directions, North–South, East-West and above-below are measured in terms of distance or closeness to a given point.  The absolute and constant reference point for place is reflected through Hashem’s Holy Name, HaMakom which means The Place. This conveys the idea that Hashem is that  eternal and unchanging reference point. Distance or closeness to Hashem is reflected in our ability to see Him as everywhere. With this in mind, perhaps we can say that the placement of the portion of the manna at a specified distance from the recipient reflected that individual’s level of awareness of Hashem’s governance, the hashgacha pratis within that person’s life.          The degree of preparedness of the manna can be understood as reflecting the dimension of time.   Moving  along the place-time-soul continuum from the most concrete of concepts—place–  to the most ephemeral—soul– time lies somewhere in between.  Every effort we make can be measured in terms of the time needed for its completion.  Our progress from birth throughout life is measured by age, which is simply another way of  expressing the effect of time.  Though we may see time as a natural phenomena whose passage is measured by the ticks of a clock, time, like distance and soul has its G-dly basis, time is and can be experienced as a function of  and subject to Hashem’s governance. Thus, the amount of time allotted to a person on this earth can be measured in terms of the number of words he or she has spoken. Needless to say words of Torah and words said in connection with the doing of mitzvoth are not included in this countdown.

The amount of time spent in excessive preparation is time lost from its potential supernal enjoyment. Those people who measure time by the inexorable ticking of  the clock will find that  their preparations will take a  “natural” course; while the person who recognizes Hashem’s control  of time can merit “super natural” intervention being able to use this Divine gift to “capture” moments otherwise lost thereby revealing the eternality within each second. We are ready on time for Shabbos, whether the Friday is long or short. All our efforts in preparation for Shabbos, yomin  tovim and other mitzvoth are  synchronized with the Creator’s heavenly clock and thus enjoy an “inspired efficiency”.

Last but not least, the amount of spicing necessary for the mann may well reflect our varying needs for excitement, stimulation and pleasure in this world. For those who have accustomed  their “diet”
to appreciate nuanced “spiritual flavors” of the perfect blend of ahavah and yirah, all of ones activities directed toward the service of Hashem  will  produce supernal joy and pleasure, being able to favorably savor even challenging experiences; while those still far from becoming  “connoisseurs” in “spiritual delights” may find themselves still engaged in a sub-optimal search for “artificial flavors”.

Now perhaps we can understand why Chazal teach us  that those who recite the Perek of the Mann every day are  assured that they will not lack food, because recitation of this chapter is our acknowledgement,  in Divine hashgacha, that it is the Creator who is the true provider for everything in its right place and proper time.