baal shem tov

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My Name Is God, and I Am Pleased to Make Your Acquaintance

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth...[1] (Genesis 1:1)   Classical biblical commentators have given the first words of the Torah many different translations and have interpreted them to have many different meanings. That said, one simple aspect has received little attention—that God is introducing Himself to us. If we take poetic license and change the order of the words, the first phrase in the Torah could be loosely translated as: “[My name is] God—[Who], in the beginning, created the heaven and the earth.” God is introducing Himself to us as the Creator of everything—heaven (i.e., the spiritual) and earth (i.e., the material). This interpretation of the first verse in the Torah may be helpful for the following reason. In truth, God is entirely unknowable. The Creator of everything, including [...]

Ki Tisa Hints at the Coronavirus

On the Eve of Shabbat, we received a government mailing containing documents that we were required to fill out and send back to the Census Bureau. The connection between the Census and the plague was not lost on me. The Torah portion we read last Shabbat, Ki Tisa. It begins with the story of the census: When you count the children of Israel according to their numbers, let each one give to the Lord an atonement for his soul when they are counted; then there will be no plague among them when they are counted.” (Exodus 30:12) This verse, linking the census with a plague, was uncanny in view of the COVID-19—Coronavirus pandemic—the modern-day plague, in the midst of which we find ourselves today. Interestingly, the word “count” in the verse above is [...]

Wellsprings from Above and Wellsprings from Below

In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month… all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. (Gen. 7:11)   In calculating the time of the dawn of Messianic revelation, the Zohar writes, And after six hundred years of the sixth thousand there will be opened the gates of wisdom above and the fountains of wisdom below, and the world will make preparations to enter on the seventh thousand as man makes preparation on the sixth day of the week, when the sun is about to set. (Zohar I, 117a) The Zohar calculates this based on the letters of the Tetragrammaton, but brings the verse from this parshah as the mnemonic: “In the six [...]

Shabbat Bereshit – Past, Present, and Future

In the last post, Tishrei—Past, Present, and Future, we discussed how all Tishrei holidays – Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah – are connected by the same thread of time and, more specifically, the unification of past, present, and future. This cluster of Tishrei holidays is culminated and concluded with Shabbat Bereshit, when we start the new annual cycle of reading the Torah. Not surprisingly, Shabbat Bereshit follows the same pattern of unification of past, present, and future. The Torah starts with the creation of the world. The story of Creation, obviously, relates to the past. The word “bereshit,” means, in the beginning. The root of “bereshit" is “reshit” – beginning. Beginning, however, points into the future – to something that will follow the beginning in the future. The Lubavitcher [...]

Forty Two Journeys to the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything

These are the journeys of the children of Israel… (Numbers 33:1) When G-d brought the Jews out from Egypt, He brought them out with the mystery of the 42-letter name, just as He created heaven and earth… (Zohar Chadash) The forty-two “stations” from Egypt to the Promised Land are replayed in the life of every individual Jew, as his soul journeys from its descent to earth at birth to its return to its Source. (Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov)   Torah portion Massei (Num. 33-35) recalls forty-two journeys of the Children of Israel in the Sinai desert after the Exodus from Egypt. This is not the first time the concept of forty-two journeys appears in the Torah.  Commenting on the Biblical verse, "And God said, 'Behold, I Will Cause to Rain Bread from Heaven for You,’” (Ex. 25:5) [...]

Saved by Randomness

In his book, “Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets,” Nissim Taleb argues that the human brain abhors randomness. Our brain is hard-wired to see patterns everywhere. We need to make sense of our surroundings and events around us. Sometimes, an ability to discern a pattern is very useful but, other times, we simply fool ourselves into seeing a pattern where there is none. We just can't deal with randomness. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons why quantum physics—random at its core—is so hard to understand. It is difficult for us to accept that at the core of our reality, there is nothing but randomness. Even Einstein, himself one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, could not accept it. He famously said to Neils Bohr, “God does [...]

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