Hevel’s End – Self-Defense is Required (Don’t Let Abusers Free!)

I don’t know about you, but I was very troubled for a long time about the death of Hevel.  The innocent man, striving for spirituality, favored by G-d…and then slaughtered because of that by his brother.  I did not like that narrative.  Why didn’t G-d save Hevel, if he favored him?  Where is the Divine protection?!

Many people erroneously think being frum means choosing victim-hood.  Don’t suspect anyone of wrong doing.  Don’t fight back.  Protect abusers.  You know, that whole shpiel about loving, giving and forgiving.

However, those ideas are NOT rooted in the narrative we learn here.  We are told that Hevel had actually the upper hand in the struggle that was happening.  Kayin wanted to kill him and he fought back like a lion.  Hevel had Kayin pinned to the ground.  And that is when Kayin played Mr. Innocent (as do most abusers).  He said, “I won’t hurt you.  Just let me go.”  And Hevel did just that.  He let Kayin go.  Whereupon Kayin stood up, got the upper hand and slew his brother.

G-d gave us life and safety, and He expects us to guard it and protect it.  We are told “Habah L’Hargecha…if someone comes to kill you, you must get up and kill him first.”  It is your obligation.  You, as man, are given the task with guarding your own life.

That finally made sense for me of the Kayin and Hevel story.  Hevel’s mission when attacked should have been to eliminate his moral-deficient murdering brother.  He didn’t…and got killed because of that.

No, my friends, abusers should not be given the liberty to continue their abuse.

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Terumah — what went into the construction of the Tabernacle

There are various materials the Mishkon is made of:  metals are copper, silver and gold.  Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch explains these metals correspond to: base metal; a metal (silver) that needs refinement; and a metal that begins with more purity (gold) but also undergoes purifying.  As you purify these (through heat), they become purer.  That is what folks are like, needing refinement, and each on our level, based on what we might become, go through heat given by G-d (think life tests) in order to refine us.  Copper and gold, those were voluntary donations.  The silver was, (see RASHI), a set amount per person that had to be given – which was the half-shekel silver piece we talked about last week.

Wool and linen were used to make the clothing and hangings in the Tabernacle.  Wool represents animal kingdom and linen the plant kingdom.  As a general rule, we don’t entwine these two elements together, because both together are the gamut of all physicality and we don’t want to get entirely lost in physicality, steeped in both ends of the spectrum at the same time.  But in the Mishkan, these two elements WERE combined and worn by the Kohain – as a message that these two physical elements are meant to serve G-d, and when we are entirely focused on G-d then it would be okay to make full use of physicality.

Other things collected at this point: leather/skins, oil, spices and precious stones.

Verse 8:

G-d says “and they shall make for Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell among them.”  It should say that G-d will dwell in IT – not in them.  The commentators speak of this, that each person has to treat their bodies as a sanctuary for G-d for there is a G-dliness that dwells within us if we behave properly.

The commandment to build the Aron – the Ark.  It was made of three boxes, one inside the other – the inner one was pure gold, then came a wood, then came another layer of gold.  The Aron held the Luchos, the commandments.  We learn from the construction of the case, that a person who wants to be a vessel for holiness should work on making his outside and inside equally gold.  You can’t have behavior one way and thought another.  Your heart and mind and your actions should the same gold.

Protruding from one of the gold boxes was a “circlet of gold” – the exact wording is Zar Zahav.  Zar really means strange – alienation.  What does the circlet of gold on the Aron have to do with alienation?  In order to protect our Holiness, we do have to enforce some sense of alienation to the outside world – like a sort of fence between the baseness and corruption and that which is holy. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch)

Since the Tabernacle/Mishkan was constructed in the desert during our travels, it was a movable, modular structure.  Many of the vessels had rods used for carrying it that were removed once they set up camp again.  The ark/Aron had four rings on the corners and through these rings were rods used to carry the Aron.  However,  these rods were never taken out, even when the Aron was placed down.    There are few things we learn from this.  The most glaring one is that a Jew must always be ready to carry his values from place to place.  Jews take our values with us from one place of exile to another and we have to always be prepared for that, in how we teach ourselves and our children.

The Chofetz Chaim tells us another wonderful lesson we glean from the fact that the rods never came out.  People who support Talmidei Chachamim are like the rods, carrying the Torah forward by supporting those who learn it.  Therefore, they will never be separated from that Torah – in the next world, they will get equal Schar/reward to those who learned the Torah and understand all the Torah that they enabled to be learned.

The top of the Aron had two Cherubs (Keruvim), faces like children, body like man and woman with wings spread out.   Tzror HaMor says that they represent the children of Klal Yisroel to show us that as long as there are children in Klal Yisroel learning Torah, that merit is like wings protecting us.

The Aron was miraculous in that when we were behaving and had peace in our nation amongst ourselves, the Keruvim faced each other.  When the Jews had infighting, then Hashem was displeased with us and the Keruvim would miraculously face away from each other.  We learn here that Hashem wants us to “look at each other” to support and care for each other and that is precisely when Hashem loves us most. 

The Shulchan was a table that held twelve loaves of bread (“Lechem Hapanim”) representing the twelve Shevatim/tribes.  The breads had to look like it was concerned more with supporting the top bread then with its own shape – the word shulchan from the word shlach  – to send forth – our prosperity should lead us to be more concerned with supporting each other than ourselves.    Yet, there were tubes that kept the weight of one from breaking the others.  Even in our concern for each other, we should never deplete ourselves to empty (Ethics of the Fathers:  If I am not for myself, who is for me – and when I am for myself alone, what am I?).  The Lechem Hapanim had to be baked in pairs  – no one should be a loner in the Jewish world  – we are interdependent.   

The Menorah, which represents learning, had  all branches facing inwards to the one central branch.  All intellectual pursuit and Torah study is not about honing our brains.  It should be facing one center branch, the truth of G-d.

Chapter 26

Curtains and skin coverings.  The boards for the walls were made from the “shitim” wood, a non-fruit-bearing tree.  Buildings themselves have no fruit.  It is what goes on inside of them that gives it productivity.  To just build ornate edifices is not the end goal.

The skins used were from animals called techashim – these were animals that became extinct – -they were only created for the use of building the Mishkan and, once that was done, no longer needed in the world.  They were probably the animal from where secular society got the idea of unicorns.  They had one horn in the middle of their forehead and had fur that was multi-colored.

Chapter 27

The Altar – for the courtyard

There were two Mizbachos/altars in the Mishkan.  One was outside, filled with earth, on which the animals were brought as Karbanos.  It was made of Nechoshes – copper.  Inside the Tabernacle was the Zahav/gold one which was not used for the animal sacrifices.  We have to realize that there is an outside physicality to us and an inner spirituality.  So on a Shabbos, we take care of the physicality, the outside, with food and clothing, just like the outside Mizbayach/altar had animals used to connect to G-d.  However, we can’t forget there was inside another altar used for Ketores, for incense.  Smell is not an outside thing, it’s a taking in to ourselves (intake of breath AHH).  So too, in our Mitzvos there is an inwards part of it, too – and that is the focus and the thoughts.  Shabbos, yes, we have the outside trappings of Challah, but we also have to have an inside service…we have to be thinking of connecting with G-d (intake of spiritual concepts AHHH).


Now that we have no Mishkan or Bais Hamikdash (Temple), we use our homes as a “mikdash Me’at”(a small Temple) – our home is the place where we have to set up an atmosphere to connect to Hashem.  Just as the Mishkan/Tabernacle had to be built with wisdom and with intentions of setting up the best connection to Hashem, each one of us women have to use wisdom in setting up a home atmosphere that promotes a connection with Hashem.    Look around at your home every now and then and do a spot check – is this home housing spirituality?  Can you sense it?  Is it set up in a way to facilitate Mitzvos?


May we, one and all, merit to build small Temples full of spirituality in our homes, so that someday soon, we merit to see the building of the really colossal one.

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Parshas Yisro – The Ten Commandments


And G-d spoke all these “devorim” words.  The ten commandments are called the Asseres Hadibros.  RASHI:  G-d said all ten commandments in one utterance.

[side note, folks, just some food for thought:  ten sefirot, ten utterances to create the world, ten commandments, etc.  Synchronized world.  Why all ten commandments in one utterance?  Don’t try to tease apart your observance and decide which one is “relevant” to you — by doing so you are inherently destroying everything — one cannot be pulled out and ignored — it is “one utterance”]



Acceptance of G-d is the first commandment.


No worship of anything other than G-d.


You can’t swear with G-d’s name for trifling matters and can’t swear falsely.  (that is why Jews who are in a court will say “I affirm” rather than “I swear”)


There are two places in the Bible where the ten commandments are written.  In one place it says, Watch the Shabbos and here it says Remember the Shabbos.  Watch the Shabbos means make sure you don’t transgress the negative commandments associated with Shabbos – such as lighting a fire, etc.   Remember the Shabbos means you need to keep the positive commandments of Shabbos – candle-lighting, Kiddush, Challos, serving delicious foods, wearing nicer clothing, etc.

Don’t do any work:  this means the work that was done to assemble the Tabernacle and is therefore classified as work according to the laws of Sabbath.  We don’t define what is work vis a vis Shabbos.  There are 39 categories of labor that are considered work.

Keeping Shabbos testifies that we know G-d created the world and is master of it.

  • HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.                                                                                     The obligation is to honor and respect.  Note it doesn’t command us to love them.  But honor and respect, take care of them, give them credit for bringing you into this world and nurturing you, that is a total must.

This commandment is only about stealing people, not about stealing possessions.  Stealing is wrong, but is not liable for the death penalty and is not one of the ten commandments.  Not stealing a soul is one of the ten commandments.


Any person transgressing the ten commandments is liable for the death penalty.

The ten commandments work five on each side, the first side is between man and G-d commandments and the second side is between man and man.  The two align.  For example, the first on the first side is “I am G-d.”  The first on the second side is “Don’t Murder.”  Each person is created in the image of G-d – when we murder we are destroying an image of G-d.

The second on side 1 is:  no idol worship – on side 2 the second one is no adultery.  G-d considers idol worship to be like an adulterous relationship.  We are supposed to be in an exclusive relationship with G-d, just as we are to do in our marriages.

Third on side 1 is:  Don’t swear falsely and on side 2 the third is don’t kidnap – a man once came to the rabbi and said “I’m a thief – that is the one thing I won’t change about myself, but I’ll take on any other commandment you tell me to do.”  So the rabbi said, ‘never say a lie’.  The man came back months later, a reformed person, no longer a robber.  When asked why, he said he realized that in order not to lie, he had to stop stealing, because if he were not to lie, if ever he was asked in court whether he robbed, he would have to admit to his crimes and he would be put away for life – so because he would not swear falsely, he knew he could no longer rob.

Side 1, the fourth commandment is the Sabbath – Side 2, the fourth commandment is not to testify falsely.  By keeping Shabbos we testify to the world that we know G-d created the world.  When we don’t keep Shabbos we testify falsely.

Side 1, the last commandment is honor your parents, Side 2 is not to covet – G-d gives each one of us the circumstances, down to the parents we need to have, down to the possessions we need for our own mission in life.   We cannot look at anyone else’s stuff – we have what we need for our own unique mission in life.

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Haftorah to Parshas Yisro: Isaiah 6

This week’s Haftorah begins with the prophetic revelation of Yeshayahu, and describes his vision of the manifestation of Hashem and of the angels singing praises to G-d.

Verse 3:  and one [Seraph/angel] would call out, this one to the other one, and say “Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh Hashem Tziva-kos…Sanctified, Sanctified, Sanctified is G-d…”  Why must they call out one to the other?  RASHI explains “Notlin reshus zeh l’zeh…they give each other permission…sheloh yakdim ha’echad…that no one precedes the other in praising G-d, but rather they say G-d’s praises in unison.”

Ever notice how Jewish dance at weddings has changed.  Where it used to be a group effort centered around the Kallah, now, most times, you walk in and see the young folks each doing their own dance separately.  You even see the Kallah left behind alone as her friends shake it and whoop it up to their heart’s content somewhere across the dance floor.  It seems some dancers today forget they are at the wedding to gladden the bride, too caught up are they in their own body movements and expressions.  When they all figure out how to synchronize, how to dance together in front of and around the bride, well, usually that is a wedding dance well executed and enjoyed.

That is a parable to our world.  Many of us get so caught up in trying to express our own agenda and exhibitionism, we forget how to interact with the rest of our nation in a way that glorifies us and our Creator.  This Haftorah is read attached to the Parsha that recounts the giving of Torah on Sinai.  In the Parsha we read, [19:2] “Va’yeechan Sham Yisrael Neged Hahar…And Israel camped there facing the mountain”  RASHI:  “K’ish Echad B’lev EchadLike one man with one heart.”

Now, before you think this message means we cannot be unique, we go backwards a verse or two where it talks of these angels’ forms.  Yeshayahoo sees them as having six wings.  Two are used to cover their face so as not to gaze blatantly at their Creator.  Two are used to cover their feet out of a sense of modesty and out of love for the Jewish people so as not to highlight a resemblance to the Golden Calf.  Two of the wings are used to fly, soar about and get places.  And the last two wings of each angel, as expounds Rashi, are used to do its unique mission.  Each angel accomplishes great things, goes about and does G-d’s calling.  Each one has a separate mission.

Yet, each mission is centered around one central goal, to be a part and parcel of a comprehensive universal concerto for G-d.  I think we’ve discussed this in past posts, but it is worth understanding again.  Orchestras have many different instruments, but they ought to be playing the same tune, to the same tempo, to be at its best.  Or, better yet, let’s look at Rashi’s explanation of how unified we were at the giving of the Torah – like one body.  The body has toes and ears.  Different appendages.  Yet, a healthy person, the body interacts together, has one purpose and goal which allows the person functioning ability.  When one body part “disconnects” from the others, that is disease and breakdown.

Yah, we all have unique missions and unique aspects to us.  However, we have to figure out where our uniqueness blends in, melds and harmonizes with everyone else in our vast universe so that we can all be part of G-d’s symphony.  It is the matter of focus.   Achdus, Jewish unity, it is so necessary, my friends.

So let us call, one to the other, and ask our friends to join in TOGETHER, not a beat behind, not a beat in front, but in complete synchrony within our efforts to give G-d praise. 

But…but..I hear some people splutter…but others might not want to join in.  We, therefore, turn to the Haftorah again and see Yeshayahoo’s response to this vision he has seen.  He laments, [verse 5] “Oy lee…kee ish t’may sifasayim anochee oo’besoch ahm t’may sifasayim anochee yoh’shayv – woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips and in the midst of a nation of unclean lips I dwell…”  The prophet thinks the revelation he saw of heavenly angels serving G-d right could not apply to mankind, for there is no man who has not sinned, even the great prophet.  And, so he says, ‘how can I sing praises to G-d with my deficiencies and my being surrounded with deficient fellow Jews?’  The answer given him is that an angel takes a coal from atop the Mizbayach [Altar] and touches his lips.  The angel then tells Yeshayhaoo [verse 6] “behold this has touched your lips and removed your sin…”

The coal, we are told, did not burn the prophet.  What then is being done here?  You gotta have a “bren” a burning desire to want to praise and exalt G-d.  You have to be so motivated that the words burst forth, with no holding back.  The glowing coal of the Altar – what was the Altar if not a place where all physicality was channeled and focused toward G-d.  When you get to that place emotionally and spirituality within yourself, the words and desire to serve G-d bubbles out somehow.  That burning desire is imprinted by the angel onto Yeshayahu’s mouth.  Which is why, just a verse later, when G-d asks for someone to do His calling, the prophet doesn’t hold back [verse 8] “Hinenee, Sh’luchaynee – here I am; send me [to talk to the Jews]…”

My blessing to all of us today is to merit to be “touched” with burning coals from the Altar, to get to that heightened sense of spirituality where we feel able to burst forth and call out to our fellow Jew, won’t you join me in singing praises to G-d!


Music postcript on this post…There is a famous Chassidic story about the story of one ignoramus who felt that “bren” one Yom Kippur and wanted to be part of our nation’s prayers, and burst out with no holding back with simple words he was familiar with instead of the formal prayers.  In some versions of the story, you have a little boy playing his whistle as his contribution.  In another version, one man screamed out kukuriku.  And, with a twist on this story, 8th Day sings of that desire within each of us, trying to connect and say the kukuriku, trying to pray along with our nation but with the words we know:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZ2IHqikU4E

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Mt. Sinai a Head Covering for our nation – Parshas Yisro and Kisoy Rosh

In this upcoming week’s Torah portion [Parshat Yisro], we are told of the mountain held above the Jewish nation’s heads as we accepted the Torah at Sinai.  Kinda like a wedding canopy, G-d stretched out and suspended Mt. Sinai.    We are told G-d was trying to make us aware that when we try to base our whole beings around rational expectations, we often miss the spiritual experiences and don’t strive for all we can be in terms of soulful living.  Therefore, G-d suspended the mountain above us and told us we must learn to curb our limited rationalizations and expand our trust in Heaven.

In our individual lives, we do the same, have something above us, trying to remind us of a lesson learned long ago at the giving of the Torah at Sinai. We call this custom Kisoy Rosh – -the covering of one’s head.  For a man, we can learn of some of its significance of what they are doing when donning a Kippah through the word Yarmulka, which is a composition of two words:  Yaray M’elokah – Awed by G-d.   We put the head covering right over our skull which houses our brains to proclaim we know G-dliness and spirituality goes beyond the limits of our brain.  That is why you will see Jewish men proudly sporting all types of head coverings, from knitted kippot to big, furry shtraimels.  It is their tool to focus on G-d.

Yet, for a Jewish woman there is an additional reason to why she covers her head.  That second reason is through covering of the married Jewish woman’s hair she is proclaiming she will be focused on channeling her passion on building a healthy marriage.  Since there are two reasons to a woman’s head covering, there are many Jewish women [especially within the Sefardic and Chassidic groups] who are careful to cover their heads with TWO layers.  This can be accomplished by doing a fold in the scarf so that two layers of scarf covers.  Another way of doing this is by wearing one of the stylish head coverings and wearing either a band or a hat or some other layer right on top of it.  And then there are always those women who have a wig and perch atop of it a little hat or scarf.

Ah, now you know, why some folks have two layers.  And, yes, it is extremely pretty, too!  That, my friend is just the added benefit.

So, as we go through this week, remember that more than a cloth covers a Jewish head.  An awareness of G-dliness must always be there perched right atop our personalities.


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Parshas Yisro – Really Hearing Messages

Verse 1 of this week’s Torah Portion begins with these words, “And Yisro, the father-in-law and priest of Midian, heard all that G-d had done”.  RASHI:  What did he hear that made the impression on him that hecame to join the Jews and convert?    He heard of the splitting of the sea and of the war waged by Amalek.

Was Yisro the only one to hear of the miracles G-d wrought?  No.  All the world heard.  There are two Hebrew words for listening/hearing.  Shema and Haazin.  One, Haazin, is when one listens to something and the words one is hearing has no impact.  The other, Shema, is when one listens and the words sink inside and change the person.

The whole world heard of the miracles, but continued with their own ‘life as usual’.  Yisro heard and said, what does that mean for me – how must I change based on what I heard.  We have to be careful in life not to let the things we are supposed to take to heart just tickle our eardrums without changing us.    A story about this:

The founder of the Chassidic movement was the Baal Shem Tov.  One rabbi heard that the Baal Shem Tov was teaching wonderful new approaches to coming close to G-d so he traveled to him to learn.  When he was there, he was taught by the Baal Shem Tov that everything you hear, no matter where you hear it from, is a message for you from G-d.  The man got upset with this, saying, ‘Hocus pocus.  Don’t tell me G-d would use an ignorant wagon driver or drunk to send me a message.  Exalted messages can only come from exalted people.  This is hogwash what you are teaching. I can’t learn from you, Baal Shem Tov.’  The Baal Shem Tov merely smiled at the confrontational words and said softly, “You can.  You just don’t want to.”  The man replied, “I can’t.”  To which the Baal Shem Tov repeated, “You can, -you just don’t want to.”   The man stormed out of the house and headed down the road.  There on the road lay an upturne dcart and a peasant standing there trying to deal with the situation.  The peasant called out to the rabbi, “please help me right my cart.” Short-tempered and foul-mood snit that he was in, the rabbi was’t feeling very charitable and snapped, “I can’t.” To which the peasant replied, “You can.  You just don’t want to” – the exact same words the Baal Shem Tov had used a few moments earlier.  That stopped that rabbi in his tracks.  This was too close a coincidence for him to ignore that G-d was sending him a message.  He realized the Baal Shem Tov was correct, that G-d makes us hear the admonitions we need in our life, even through the mouths of peasants.   He helped that peasant and then ran right back into the Baal Shem Tov’s study hall to learn like he never learned before.

Yisro heard of the miracles and asked himself, “I’ve heard this, now what do I do practically about what I heard.”  And he answered, “I become a Jew.”

What are you going to do with the messages you hear today?  Will you let it change you and make you a better person?  Or will you ignore those G-dly messages?

If you don’t ignore the messages in life, you, like Yisro, can become a leader among people.

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Stripping Down The Outer Husks

Truth is all I want

the kernel

stripped of outer husks

for You

are within

Another peel removed

is another inroad

to You.

 {notes scribbled:  Klipot are the “husks” that block man’s access to G-dliness and revelation}


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