“If you decide to take pity on yourself and consider your eternal purpose, here is your entire remedy: pay no attention at all to whatever you may be in your own eyes.”

-Reb Nosson of Nemirov, z”l (1780-1844)

(Likutey Halachot – Laws of Reading the Torah 6:17; quoted in Meshivat Nefesh by Rabbi Alter of Teplik, z”l, translated by Avraham Greenbaum as Restore My Soul.)

On Changes in Jewish Liturgy–a book review | Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals

Review of an interesting book by a Modern Orthodox Rabbi examining whether and to what extent the sacred liturgy can be changed according to communal need, and to what extent the exact details are actually halakhically mandated. Looking forward to reading the book….

On Changes in Jewish Liturgy–a book review | Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals.

Parshat Vayakhel: G-d’s Shadow

In this week’s parsha we find the divinely inspired craftsman Betsalel, who is “wise of heart”. Betsalel is put in charge of building the mishkan, the portable tent-temple which was to serve as the holy place for Israel in the desert. Betsalel’s name means “in the shadow of G-d”, which seems to suggest the very close relationship that this inspired artist had with Divinity (for further discussion of divine art see R’ Jonathan Sacks

His name, Betsalel, points to a quality that all of humanity posseses. As it says in the morning ritual for putting on the Talis (prayer shawl):

מַה יָּקָר חַסְדְּךָ אֱלהִים. וּבְנֵי אָדָם בְּצֵל כְּנָפֶיךָ יֶחֱסָיוּן:

Mah yakar hasdecha Elohim uvnei Adam b’tsel k’nafecha y’hesayun

How precious is your kindness, Source of all Powers: the children of Adam in the shadow of your wings will shelter.

(Seder levishat tsitsit, Siddur Avodat HaLev p.128).

The reference here is explicitly to “the children of Adam”, ie. all of humanity. This is not exclusive to those with the holy spirit (ruah ha’kodesh) like Betsalel.

B’tsel c’nafecha: In the shadow of your wings. This imagery seems to combine the sense of a bird being sheltered within the wings of its parent and the sense of a bird flying high above, its shadow falling below as a guide and sign to those beneath it. Here we can read two ways in which being in the shadow of G-d manifests G-d’s kindness.

There is another verse which further develops this idea:

ה’ צלך על יד ימינך

Hashem tsilcha ad yad yeminecha

G-d will be your shadow at your right hand.

This verse, from Tehillim (Psalms), inverts the idea: here G-d is your shadow!  Rabbenu Yonah, z”l, comments:

“This is the meaning of the verse, ‘ה’ צלך על יד ימינך’—’G-d is your shadow upon your right hand.’ Just as a shadow mirrors our actions, so too does G-d act toward us as we act toward Him. If we cry to Him, He is right there crying alongside us. If we distance ourselves from Him, He distances Himself from us. And when we draw near to Him, He draws close to us.”

In what way does this manifest G-d’s kindness? One might wish it was the opposite way: when we pull way G-d pulls closer, giving us encouragement, and when we draw close G-d pulls back, spurring us on.

In Rabbenu Yonah’s image of the shadow dance  G-d’s movements act as a sign to us of our own spiritual state. When we feel the presence of G-d’s shadow- comforting presence and signs- it is a sign that we are drawing closer, when we feel distance and confusion it is a sign that we ourselves have drawn further away. Rabbenu Yonah says this is the way G-d inspires us to grow and change- this shadow dance acts a barometer for the state of our da’at– our consciousness. When we act, think, and speak in certain ways those things which we associate with closeness to G-d- more peace, more joy, a sense of flow and being in the right place, more virtue, more calm, more kindness, and the feeling of being led and being given signs, to name a few- these things increase. When we act, speak, and think in other ways then these same qualities decrease, to be replaced with their opposites. This is a sign to us that we need to do teshuva- return. We need to search our actions and see where we have drawn away from G-d and from ourselves.

Of course it should be remembered that even when the shadow of G-d is distant this is only an appearance.  Rabbi Nachman, zy”a, teaches that “No one should ever give up for himself, however fall they have fallen. Even if she is lying in the very pit of hell, she must never despair of G-d’s help. Even there she can draw close… for ‘the whole earth is filled with divine presence (m’lo kol ha’aretz k’vodo- Isaiah 6:3) ‘ [LM II.72]”. Further, “If a person falls from their level, he should know that it is something sent to him by the hand of heaven. The whole purpose of of this rejection is that she should be drawn closer. The reason for the fall is to awaken this individual so that she steps up her efforts to draw closer… (LM I.261)”. We see from these quotes that according to R’ Nachman G-d’s presence is never actually lessened, only our perception of it, or one might speculate, perhaps the way that G-d is manifest in our consciousness changes.

All of this seems true while we are in a relationship with G-d’ s “mere” shadow, the place where most of us can be found (at the best of times!) It is worth remembering, though, that when we have ascended to a higher level all this will be revealed as Godliness and Holiness. R’ Nachman teaches elsewhere (Sichot HaRan 136) that the “shadow” itself is created by our incomplete awareness and purification: “When you succeed in nullifying the shadow completely, turning everything into absolute nothingness, then G-d’s glory is revealed in the world. There is nothing to hide the light and cause a shadow. And then “The whole earth is filled with divine presence (Isaiah 6:3)”.

This is “the coming of the Messiah”, when “the knowledge of G-d will fill the world like the waters fill the sea” and “G-d will be one and His name will be one”, ie. there will be no perception of distance from, or absence of, divinity. As it says in the Talmud, ” ‘On that day G-d will be one and His name will be one’: is this meant to imply that right now G-d is not one? No, what it means is that in our present state we make a distinction between the different types of experiences that G-d sends us. …but in the time to come we will bless G-d for everything (Pesachim 50a)”.

We can understand this on a global level or as the time of individual attainment of this awareness. As one great tzaddik said (R’ Nachman?), “For me Moshiach (the Messiah) has already come.” This is because for him the boundary between G-d and not-G-d had collapsed, and ha-kol letova, everything was for the good.

These ideas are reflected beautifully in a recent song by Darshan (

As I wait, I will sing

I will take shelter of your wings

please do not be late

don’t delay the spring

we’ll celebrate

both Queen and King

The singer here waits for the full revelation of G-d that comes with the days of Messiah/messianic consciousness, and in the meantime sings (draws closer to G-d). He prays that the spring of renewal of the world/his own consciousness should not be delayed, for then the Queen (the Shekhina/ Shadow/Revealed, Immanent aspect of G-d, Teva/Nature, Elohim) and the King ( The Holy One, Blessed Be/G-d’s hidden, transcendent aspect/ YHWH) will be both celebrated as One.

Speedily in our days, amen.

On Loving Your Fellow As Yourself, pt 2: R’ Pinhas Eliyahu of Vilna, z”l

“The mitzvah to ‘love your neighbor’ means that we should love all people, no matter which nation they belong to or what language they speak. For all human beings are created in the Divine Image…. Our love of humanity should not exclude any nation or individual. For the human was not created for his own sake exclusively, rather, all people exist for the sake of one another.”

(Sefer HaBrit (1797), Section 2, Discourse 13).

On Loving Your Fellow As Yourself: The Alter of Kelm, zt”l

Here is a teaching from the Alter of Kelm, zt”l, paraphrased from a post by R’ Micha Golshevsky (original source link below):

The Alter of Kelm, zt”l, explained that feeling and showing love for one’s fellow is the most important way to develop one’s middos (character). “Our sages famously teach: ‘ואהבת לרעך כמוך’ is a כלל גדול בתורה (“to love your fellow as yourself is the great principle of the Torah”). This means that through loving one’s fellow one is able to truly fulfill the Torah. This is because focus on love for one’s  fellow slowly diminishes arrogance and anger which are the products of negative self-love.”
He added, “This is also why we find that during judgment one will be asked whether you have made your friend a king over yourself. This is the critical factor in determining how much a person accepted the yoke of heaven. This is another way to understand the statement, “אמירתו לגבוה כמסירתו להדיוט”. The more completely one gives himself over to his friend, the more effective his words of Torah and tefilah (prayer) will be.”

Dana and Davenen?

Today I read this post, which discusses the contested roots of the yiddish word “daven”, which means to pray. The author examines a few etymologies and suggests the one he finds the most compelling, an etymology linking “daven” to the Lithuanian word “dovana” (or davana in Latvian), which means “gift”. This is a very compelling etymology for two reasons: 1) The capital of the Yiddish speaking world was Lithuania; and 2) one of the prayer services, Mincha, literally means “gift”. Also the prayer services in general were meant to replace the sacrifical offerings in the Temple.

This reason seems as least as compelling as a relation to the word “divine” or the very unlikely explanation, popular in the last century and accepted by Artscroll, of the Aramaic word “d’avanun”, meaning “of our fathers” (see article above for more discussion).

All of which brings me to my main point: the word for gift in Sanskrit and Pali, the sacred languages of Buddhism and Hinduism, is “daana”. This seems at least possibly connected to the Lituanian/Latvian word “dovana/davana” (many European words are from the same etymological root as Sanskritic words). As a “Jubu” this connection tickles my heart and brain: the possibility that “daven”, the Yiddish word for prayer, is from the same root as “daana”, the Sanskritic word for “gift”. Anyone know anything about the roots of Lithuanian/Latvian?

Bodhisattva from Belarus

Rabbi Menasheh of Ilya (1767-1831) wrote: “What am I in comparison to the many forms of sentient life in the world? If the Creator were to confer upon me, as well as my family members, loved ones, and relatives, absolute goodness for all eternity, but some deficiency remained in the world – if any living thing still were left suffering, and all the more so, another human being – I would not want anything to do with it, much less to derive benefit from it. How could I be separated from all living creatures? These are the work of God’s hand, and these, too, are the work of God’s hand.”

(Author’s Introduction, Ha’amek She’eilah).

-quoted by Rabbi David Sears in “The Oy Vay School of Buddhism”. Reb Menashe was a famous non-Hasidic Rabbi from the Lithuanian dominated Judaism of Belarus, which is now partly Poland and partly Russia.

A Story About Healing From Yitzhak Buxbaum:

You Too Can Heal

The Shpoler Zeyde had a servant named Chelovno who told this story:

There once entered the Rebbe’s room a man with a terrible skin disease that covered him from head to foot, who gave the Rebbe a petition-note. He stayed with the Rebbe for a while and when he left, Chelovno said he saw that the man was normal, without a trace of the skin disease!

After this, Chelovno brought a cup of coffee in for the Rebbe and was astonished to see that the Rebbe’s whole body was covered with the skin disease!”What happened here?’ yelled Chelovno, “Why did the Rebbe do this?”

But the Rebbe did not respond.

Later, Chelovno went in again and saw that the disease had completely disappeared from the Rebbe’s body, and asked the Rebbe to tell him what this was all about.

The Rebbe said, “When that man first came to me, I didn’t have any way to cure him. So I had to take the disease on myself; and he was healed. Afterward, I pleaded before God, blessed be He, ‘What have I done that I should be afflicted with this skin disease?’ Then, they healed me too!”

MiBe’er HaTzaddikim, vol. 2, p. 45

The Rebbe of Sokachav said: “Everyone is able to perform healing miracles for others, provided that the other person’s trouble touches his heart, on the level of  ‘In all their affliction, was He afflicted.’ And he added, ‘It’s not an easy thing to do!'” Abirei HaRo’im, p. 337

-Yitzhak Buxbaum is a talmid of R’ Shlomo Carlebach. For his “Daily Maggid”: (