Sunday, June 20, 2010


The Lebanon is the mountain range most frequently mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. The Torah tells us that Moses... as he looked out over the Promised Land, mentioned the Lebanon Mountains specifically (Deut. 3:25). One can’t help but wonder if Moses knew that the Cedar Trees growing in the fertile ground of the Lebanon Mountains… would play such a major role in the purification process of Israel.

There were various ways in which the Cedar Trees of Lebanon were used in Biblical times. Cedar wood was used by Solomon in building the Temple (1 Kings 6:18), as a matter of fact the inside of the Beis HaMikdash was all of Cedar, no stone being visible. In addition, the outer courtyards were adorned with beautiful Cedar wood as one walked the corridors (1 Kings 7:12). The Altar was made of the same wood (I Kings 6:20)… and Cedar was also used in an ingredient for making the Holy Incense (Exodus 30:34). Cedar wood was used in many purification rituals and as an ingredient for the accompaniment to various offerings (Lev. 14:4,49,51,52 Num. 19:6). Later, Cedar was employed in building the Second Temple as well (Ezra 3:7). Because the Cedars of Lebanon played such a multi-faceted and central role in the Beis HaMikdash and its service, the Psalmist employs this imagery when referring to the “Righteous person” who is "planted in the House of HaShem."

Psalm 92:13-15
"The Tzaddik (those who are "careful" with the commandments of HaShem) will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a Cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of HaShem, they will flourish in the courts of our
G-d. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, "HaShem is upright; He is my Rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him."

Why were we to become consciously aware of the varied imageries of the Cedars of Lebanon when entering the Beis HaMikdash? The term “Erez b’Levanun” or “Cedar of Lebanon” literally means the “power to make white” or the “strength to purify and make clean.” Thus the assorted modes in which Cedar wood was used became the actual agents in which purification could be attained. Because Cedar wood was used in a wide variety of applications within the Temple and its service, those who were "careful" to listen to the essential message of the Torah - became acutely aware of the many methods HaShem provided to cleanse the soul. While in the “courts of HaShem” one was surrounded by the visually stimulating sights of its architecture as well as the meaningful rituals it provided. A person would undoubtedly be challenged on many levels, to take advantage of the wide-ranging methods of purification the Temple offered. If the heart availed itself - the Torah Jew rested in the fact that HaShem was unlimited… as to the methods He used to “atone” or “purify” from the impurities left behind by our mistakes (Lev. 16). The imageries of the Temple teach us that these methods were as numerous and diverse as the ways Cedar wood was to be used in the “House of HaShem.”

Today, every Torah Jew longs for the re-building of the Beis HaMikdash and the level of purity it once provided. However, until that time, it is important for us to remember that in the times of the Beis HaMikdash… the raw natural materials for our purification grew "outside" of the Temple in the Mountains of Lebanon. Thus the raw natural materials that grow out of our Torah-centered lives in exile, retain the power to purify us from any impurities resulting from our current exile (1 Kings 8:46-53).

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Do you have questions about G-d? Well... Torah Judaism is unique in its approach to questioning. Listen to Rabbi Chaim Richman as he delves into the benefits of questioning....

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Jewish tradition describes the essence of every Jewish soul, as "an actual part of G-d above (Gen. 2:7)." This defines the fundamental personality of a Jew. Unless a Jew is guilty of idolatry...a person’s failure to manifest this dimension of his personality in his actual conduct does not affect this essential connection. A Jew always remains a Jew. Thus Maimonides rules that every Jew, even one who denies their Jewish identity, in reality "wants to be part of the Jewish people and desires to fulfill all the mitzvos... thus separating himself from sin. And it is only his Evil Inclination which forces him to do otherwise." So what does a Jew really desire?... To fulfill G-d’s will... solely as a TORAH Jew (Deut. 4:1-10).

Sunday, May 23, 2010


The atonement process as described in the Torah contained many nuanced elements. Essentially, after a person repented, forgiveness was fully granted — for the core of repentance as required by the Torah is simply the abandonment of sin (Deut. 4:27-35; Deut. 30:1-6; Isaiah 55:6-7; Hosea 14:2-3). In addition, it is important to note that a crucial element found within the Torah definition of "repentance" is to demonstrate a change in the attitudes that made possible... the initial violation of HaShem’s command.

So why was sacrifice sometimes a part of the atonement process? In some cases, certain specific sins were so “damaging” — the added step of offering a sacrifice was required… in addition to receiving forgiveness. The Hebrew word “cheit” often translated as “sin” can have many shades of meaning within the sacrificial system…such as with the “sin” offering. In this context, the term “cheit” is not always understood as “sin” in the Torah. Sometimes “cheit” should be defined as “purify” or “cleanse” — such as when the Altar in the Sanctuary was “purified" — "vaychatei” for use by HaShem (Lev. 8:15; Lev; 14:49; Lev 16; Numbers 19:9).

In light of this meaning we can now answer the question “why sacrifice?” Some sins leave a “blemish” or “stain” on the essential part of a person. Thus, the “damage” referred to above becomes evident in a persons “personality.” In other words, with certain sins a person lessons their own spiritual self worth, leaving a “blemish” on their original “personality” or “core being” — thus impairing one’s own spiritual integrity (Psalm 51).

In truth, while a person is forgiven for their sin through heartfelt repentance (Isaiah 40:1-2; Isaiah 55:6-9; 2 Samuel 13; 1 Kings 8:46-53)— the “personality” can remain “stained” by the sin. So the sacrificial process added to the forgiveness already received, by “purifying” the “personality” thus restoring it to its previous pure status. Therefore, the meaning of the root word for “sacrifice” or “korban” actually means to “draw near” to HaShem (Ecclesiastes 4:17) via the “cheit” or “purification” of our “core being” (Ezekiel 36:22-29). This is why the first steps taken in understanding the “sin” offering — should first be by grasping its fundamental nature... as a “purification" offering.

It is important for every Torah Jew to remember that there were numerous other steps and details involved in the atonement process… beside the death of an animal (Isaiah 1:11-20). So every sincere step taken in the process was considered a step upward. In reality, the atonement process is the Heavenly opportunity to journey into one’s soul, thus turning the service of the Altar… into the service of the heart (Eccl. 4:17-5:6).

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Rabbi Chiam Richman explores the saying: "Woe to the nations of the world who have lost the true meaning of the sacrificial system!"...

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Since our knowledge of G-d is usually derived from our human frame of reference… and is based on the experience of our physical senses, the Torah speaks to us in physical terms in reference to G-d. This is illustrated by the Torah’s usage of references to HaShem “seeing” and “hearing”…as well as many other physical descriptions.

Regarding these physical descriptions, it is important for us to understand that these terms…when used to describe HaShem, are merely vessels to express a particular power found within HaShem. Because we are created in His image...these same "powers" are also mirrored in the Jewish soul. While we see and hear with physical organs, the Jewish soul has been given the additional capacity to have G-d "like" sight and G-d "like" hearing. These qualities are realized within us as we live a Torah centered life…through which we elevate our intellectual and emotional faculties.

In addition, for the Torah Jew who continually serves HaShem selflessly and with joy…these same qualities can take on an entirely different dimension. This new dimension was vividly illustrated when every Jewish soul stood before HaShem at Mt Sinai. We read in Exodus 20:15 that;
“…all the people could see the sounds…” as HaShem spoke.

What are we to learn from the Torah’s depiction of the Jewish people… “SEEING SOUNDS?” We are taught from the text that they were so engulfed by the Divine presence… physicality and spirituality merged within the Jewish soul in perfect unity… and the definitions that their physical experiences provided in the past… no longer applied. So they SAW what is normally HEARD!

Our sages teach us that if we whole heartedly and selflessly accept the will of HaShem in our lives each day, even the limitations of our G-d "like" sight and G-d "like" hearing can be elevated to a new spiritual dimension.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


A schematic is sometimes defined as; “A sketch or diagram representing the proposed intent of the designer.” Generally, this definition can apply to philosophy and spirituality as well. However, specifically when it comes to Torah Judaism, Torah schematics play a vital role in determining the “intent of the Designer”.

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan sums up the importance of Torah schematics this way;

“There are a number of ideas that literally form the backbone of Torah Judaism. Without knowledge of these ideas, it is virtually impossible to know how Torah Judaism came to be as it is today, or how it functions. Unfortunately, however, the more important the idea, the less the average person knows about it.”

When an average Jew begins their return to Torah Judaism… the necessary paradigm shift needed for the transition… can only occur as they come to understand the “intent of their Designer.”

Monday, May 10, 2010


When one reads about the sacrifices that were offered in the Temple, one is challenged by the apparent barbaric nature of the sacrificial service. However, this idea quickly fades if one understands that the Jewish people were on a elevated spiritual plain due to their connection to HaShem …and through the holiness of the Temple. As a result they were able to see the pure spiritual essence of the entire Temple service, especially the sacrificial system. However, as a result of intentional sin there was a dulling of their spiritual senses and the mitzvah of the Temple service was transformed into mere lifeless ritual…thus concealing the goodness of HaShem (Amos 5:21-27). This was something HaShem could not allow, therefore the Temple was taken away and the sacrifices stopped. In the same way, we suffer from the same spiritual deficiencies. Because our spiritual senses are so dulled we don’t always perceive the true essence of a mitzvah. It is in this context that the prophet Hosea speaks to us in our currant exile;

“For many days the children of Israel will sit with no king, no officer, no sacrifice… Afterward the children of Israel will return and seek HaShem their G-d and David their King, and they will tremble for HaShem and for His goodness in the end of days (Hosea 3:4-5).”

The exile is designed to correct our spiritual deficiency... as we seek to reveal what has been concealed . Ironically, this soul correction will be a result of living momentarily...WITHOUT a temple or sacrifice. In our exile we are poised to catch a glimpse of Torah… as it really is. By returning to HaShem in exile we are afforded the opportunity to see through Heaven’s eyes. One day ALL of us will perceive the true nature of a mitzvah (Jer. 31:30-33)…. “And we will tremble for the goodness of HaShem.”

Sunday, May 9, 2010


So the question is…while in exile, without a Temple or sacrifice…how should a Jew respond to such a monumental loss? The evil inclination…with its self preserving tendencies might respond by seeking a replacement for what was taken away. HaShem new that human reason might say… "since offering a sacrifice is such an important spiritual mitzvah… lets replace them by offering our own sacrifice…a sacrifice of our choosing… maybe we will find a so called “better” sacrifice.” However, as we said in our previous discussion, exile is for our benefit... and is for correcting the deficiencies that led to our spiritual decline when the Temple stood. HaShem new that we might think that replacing the sacrificial system is a logical step to take. However, this is why the Torah gives us an additional mitzvah… the mitzvah of NOT offering… or accepting any sacrifice that was offered outside of the Temple (Lev. 17:1-9). A Chassidic story illustrates a resolution to this apparent paradox;

"The two brothers, famed Rabbi Elimelech of Lyzensk and Rabbi Zushe of Anipoli, often wandered about together posing as simple beggars. They would mingle with the masses; listening, teaching, speaking, helping and guiding whomever and whenever they could.

Once while traveling with a group of vagabonds, members of the group were accused of being thieves, resulting in the entire bunch being thrown into jail. Confident of their innocence and eventual release, the two brothers sat quietly.

As the afternoon progressed, Rabbi Elimelech stood up to prepare himself to pray the afternoon service. "What are you doing?" his brother asked. "I'm getting ready for afternoon prayers," replied Rabbi Elimelech. Reb Zushe then advised, "HaShem being the same one who commanded you to pray — also commanded you not to pray in a room unfit for prayer!""Dear brother," Reb Zushe continued, "it is forbidden to pray in this cell because there is a pail that serves as a toilet nearby, making the room unfit for prayer." Dejected, the holy Rabbi Elimelech sat down. Soon after, Rabbi Elimelech began to cry. "Why are you crying?" said Rabbi Zushe. "Is it because you are unable to pray?" Reb Elimelech answered affirmatively. "But why weep?" continued Rabbi Zushe. "Don't you know that HaShem being the same one who commanded you to pray, also commanded you not to pray when the room is unfit for prayer? By not praying in this room, you have achieved a connection with HaShem. True, it is not the connection that you had sought. Yet, if you truly want to achieve a connection with HaShem, you would be happy that HaShem has afforded you the opportunity to obey His law at this time, no matter what it is."

"You are right, my brother!" exclaimed Rabbi Elimelech, suddenly smiling. The feelings of dejection banished from his heart and mind, Rabbi Elimelech took his brother's arm and began to dance from joy as a result of performing the commandment of not praying in an inappropriate place. The guards heard the commotion and came running.

Witnessing the two brothers dancing—with their long beards and flowing tzitzit—the guards asked the other prisoners what had happened. "We have no idea!" they answered mystified. "Those two Jews were discussing the pail in the corner when all of a sudden they came to some happy conclusion and began to dance.""Is that right?" sneered the guards. "They're happy because of the pail, are they? We'll show them!" They promptly removed the pail from the cell—The holy brothers then prayed afternoon prayers undisturbed."

In exile a Jew can perceive the spiritual implications of not only DOING what HaShem asks…But also REFRAINING from doing what HaShem sometimes asks. We discover the inner joy of DOING a mitzvah when given the opportunity…as well as the joy of NOT doing a mitzvah when the opportunity is taken away. This is just one important piece of the puzzle that will one day… end our exile.

Friday, May 7, 2010


The Torah defines how a Jew serves, and thereby cleaves to HaShem (Deut. 11:22). This goal is achieved through Torah learning and observing the commandments. If a Torah Jew unintentionally neglects these privileges, a sense of personal failure, disconnection, and displeasure from Heaven could result. When a Jew does not understand what the Torah teaches about sin... one could misinterpret these “feelings” and any negative experiences that may follow as “punishment.” Israel’s neighbors responded to their personal misfortunes with fear , believing heaven was angry and exacting punishment. As a result...much like today...they established religions that helped them cope with their feelings of displeasure from heaven... including the belief that sacrifices would appease their gods. However, for the Jew, the Torah paints a different picture (Exodus 34:6-7; Psalm 51:16-19; Micah 6:6-8).

Thursday, May 6, 2010


To lay a foundation... as we seek to understand what the Torah teaches us, one must first try to grasp the general purpose for the giving of the Torah for the Jew. Jewish tradition explains that the Torah‘s source originates in HaShem’s Wisdom (Proverbs 2-4). As a result, when interpreted and applied properly, Torah’s purpose is realized within the Torah Jew through the transformation of thought, speech and action. By it, a person aims at completely ridding oneself of all idolatrous thoughts, concepts, beliefs and behavior (Deut. 30:11-20)...thereby revealing the one true G-d. Through the Torah, a Jew learns that HaShem is totally “other” than anything found within the material world (Deut. 4:12-20; Deut. 12: 29-31; Deut. 14:1-2).

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


A basic lesson any Jew can discern from the Torah is this... Practically, the Torah consists of both positive and negative commandments that are designed to govern EVERY aspect of one’s life (Deut 4: 1-10). Metaphorically, these commandments are a 613 strand rope that literally connects the Jew to HaShem. While one broken strand represents a severed connection in one specific area, the Torah Jew should always remember that 612 strands are intact and the rope remains strong. The mending of a broken strand is accomplished through sincere heartfelt repentance and a renewed commitment to the performance of the commandments (Ezekiel 18; Isaiah 58-59). For the Jew, the Torah was not merely given “from” Heaven, instead the Torah is considered to actually “be” Heaven. In other words, HaShem “gives Himself” within the Wisdom of His Torah (Proverbs 8; Proverbs 6:23; Psalm19:8-13).