Monthly Archives: July 2019

Vow to Wed Yourself to Judaism, and Life

by Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo

Illustrative photo of a Jewish wedding canopy in front of the Mediterranean Sea . January 11, 2018.
Photo: Mendy Hechtman/Flash90.

The great Chassidic leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, complaining about the Jews’ detachment from Judaism, once said that when a bridegroom stands under the chupah (bridal canopy) he can say “You are betrothed” hundreds of times to his future bride, but these words are meaningless until he adds one more Hebrew word — “Li” (to me). Only then is there a marriage.

All the family and friends may be present, the rabbi officiating, the music playing, the food served, and the new home ready; but nothing has happened until the word Li has been uttered.

The crucial word in life is Li — to me. Only when things stand in relation to the sum total of man himself is there meaning. A commitment like that is not partial but total: “Till death do us part.”

When a Jewish couple gets married, they don’t only marry each other. They also marry Judaism as the foundation of their relationship. They make a mutual pledge to build a Jewish home, imbued with Jewish values, ceremonies, and mitzvot. And just as there is a need to continuously grow in a marriage, so it is with Judaism. One needs to work on one’s commitment. Both the spouse and Judaism need to become the ultimate priority in our lives.

“Till death do us part…”

This is perhaps the most crucial message for Jews around the world today. The Jewish community may be involved in many issues of Jewish concern, and may struggle with problems of survival, but as long as it does not inspire Jews to say Li, to feel a personal and total commitment to authentic Jewishness, it will not create favorable conditions for continuity and renewal. Just as a marriage can’t be sustained when the commitment of both parties is lukewarm and academic, so there cannot be real loyalty to a living Judaism when it is partial and halfhearted. What is required is sacrifice, grace, and willingness to walk the fiery trails of life and come out unscathed.

When observing the state of Jewish commitment today, we see a great amount of scholarship within the world of academia. Comparative studies between Judaism and other religions, archeological studies to investigate Jewish history, and philological studies keep tens of thousands of Jewish students busy at the best universities in the world. Text books and magazines publish important studies on questions such as: Are the Jews a race, a cultural entity, or a religious group? But all such studies are of limited value if the student does not add the word Li. It’s like studying man as a collection of protoplasm, a complex robot, or a social mechanism. It’s forgetting that man is an inner being of spiritual wholeness in which all of his dimensions become one.

Studies like these do not touch on the most important aspect of human existence: What does it mean to be a human being … to be a Jew? What is the purpose of our existence, what is our task and mission, and in what way can we contribute to human dignity? Such questions involve our whole being; no component is left out. They are the ultimate Li in our lives. They should haunt us, and there must be no escape.

Indeed, how much value is there in all of this scholarship if it doesn’t lead to becoming personally connected to one’s inner soul? It is spiritual relevance that is of the utmost importance. Crucial to that is Li.

To understand what it means to be a Jew, one must move beyond these important studies. To be a Jew is to be a messenger; to be God-intoxicated; to teach mankind the art of spiritual transformation; to be dissatisfied with just being cultured. And so it is with marriage; it will not succeed by the parties just being polite.

Judaism is about stirring emotions that we have never experienced before. It is about allowing our souls to surprise us, instead of being bored. Just like great works of art, Judaism does not produce but rather inspires unanticipated visions and the deepest forms of authentic self-expression.

The tragedy of Jewish life today is that many lack the courage to confront their inner being as Jews. They observe the Jewish people and Judaism as a sociological phenomenon to be studied from without. It is for this reason that they do not hear the music of Judaism and then complain that such music is absent. Like the student who takes a musical instrument, dismantles it, and then complains that he cannot find the music, so it must be faulty. It seems that in certain academic circles people consider it their duty to keep their studies artificial. While these studies, in and of themselves, have tremendous value, they are often used as an escape mechanism enabling some students to ignore what they most need to discover.

Li also symbolizes the recognition that one’s own group has a singular and distinctive contribution to make to the world. If this is not developed and cultivated, it is not only the group itself that loses out but the whole world suffers as a result.

The late British philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin, at the end of his famous essay “Two Concepts of Liberty,” tries to convince us — quoting the words of Joseph A. Schumpeter — “to realize the relative validity of one’s convictions and yet stand for them unflinchingly.” There is, however, a lot of truth in political philosopher Michael Sandel’s bitter critique: “If one’s convictions are only relatively valid, why stand for them unflinchingly?” Indeed this kind of liberalism, with all its beauty, keeps the Li out of our lives and turns us into outsiders looking in.

Albert Camus once stated: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” Great Jewish thinker Abraham Joshua Heschel disagreed: “May I differ and suggest that there is only one really serious problem: Is there anything worth dying for?”

This is indeed the ultimate question for Jews today. Only when we will once again realize that our Jewishness is worth dying for (without trying to become a religious martyr by killing or hurting others!) will we be able to actually live it. Similarly, with a Jewish marriage, only when we are prepared to die for it can we live it.

Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo is the Founder and Dean of the David Cardozo Academy, as well as the author of 13 books and numerous articles in both English and Hebrew. Hailing from the Netherlands, Rabbi Cardozo is known for his original and often fearlessly controversial insights into Judaism.

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Posted by on July 19, 2019 in Uncategorized


Isaac Newton y el judaísmo

Isaac Newton y el judaísmo
por B. Gordon

Los manuscritos privados del científico recientemente descubiertos revelan su profunda reverencia hacia la antigua sabiduría judía.

Isaac Newton fue uno de los más grandes científicos de todas las épocas. Algunos de sus descubrimientos más destacados incluyen las leyes ópticas, las tres leyes del movimiento, la ley de gravedad y el cálculo. Él también es famoso por su Principia Mathematica, la obra científica más leída de todos los tiempos, en donde explica los movimientos de los planetas en un simple sistema matemático. Newton nació en una era que abrazó el racionalismo y rechazó la autoridad religiosa, y fue considerado un héroe de su época. Sin embargo, la reciente difusión de los manuscritos personales de Newton desafía todas las suposiciones habituales sobre su verdadera identidad.

Las creencias privadas de Newton

Las creencias privadas de Newton se mantuvieron fuera del radar durante cientos de años, quizás debido a su recepción poco favorable. El libro de Bernard Cohen, “Franklin y Newton”, analiza lo que ocurrió la primera vez que los científicos descubrieron los manuscritos personales de Newton. Él cita a John Maynard Keynes, el gran economista británico: “Luego de su fallecimiento en 1727, se descubrió en su habitación una gran caja de papeles poco comunes. Le pidieron al obispo Samuel Horsley (quien también era un científico) inspeccionar la caja con el objetivo de publicar su contenido. Él se horrorizó ante el contenido y cerró la caja”. La reciente revelación de los manuscritos privados de Newton reveló que estaba muy lejos de ser el racionalista arquetípico que originalmente todos supusieron.

Una página del manuscrito de Newton donde se ve la plegaria en hebreo: “Bendito sea Su Nombre para toda la eternidad”.

Tras haber estado escondidos durante 200 años, finalmente los manuscritos de Newton fueron subastados en 1936. La mayoría fueron comprados por Keynes, la familia Babson de los Estados Unidos y el profesor israelí Abraham Shalom Iehudá, quienes los donaron a bibliotecas universitarias de todo el mundo. Estos manuscritos sólo fueron accesibles al público durante los últimos 25 años.

Los “extraños” intereses de Newton

No sorprende que tanto los científicos cristianos como los laicos que originalmente reverenciaron a Newton sintieran poco incentivo por publicitar sus hallazgos. Los manuscritos de Newton revelan que él tenía un profundo interés por la “arcaica” sabiduría judía. El conocimiento que tenía Newton del pensamiento judío no era superficial. Él se refiere a obras rabínicas tales como la versión en arameo de Ester, Vaikrá Rabá, los comentarios de Saadia HaGaón, Ibn Ezra, Rashi, Sifra, Rav Aharón ibn Jaim, Seder Maamadot (sobre los sacrificios diarios), Bartenura y pasajes talmúdicos del Talmud de Babilonia y del Talmud Ierushalmi en Latín. Uno de los manuscritos de Newton se titula: “Sobre Maimónides”, y allí cita en latín traducciones de la obra Mishné Torá del Rambam.(1)

Pero el contenido de las notas de Newton no debería ser tan sorprendente teniendo en cuenta la colección de obras que había en su biblioteca. Newton tenía allí cinco de los ensayos de Maimónides.(2) También poseía un comentario en latín sobre Maimónides con referencias a Moré Nevujim, La Guía de los Perplejos, la obra del Rambam que reconcilia la Torá con la ciencia y la filosofía. Al parecer, esta obra en particular tuvo un significativo impacto sobre la filosofía de Newton. La armonía entre la Escritura y la ciencia era un tema subyacente a lo largo de muchas obras de Newton, y un medio a través del cual él llevó adelante sus emprendimientos teológicos y científicos.(3)

Las creencias de Newton finalmente reveladas

Maynard Keynes, el erudito que estudió los manuscritos de Newton, resumió sus descubrimientos en honor al 300 aniversario del fallecimiento de Newton. Keynes explicó que las creencias de Newton se vieron influenciadas por la filosofía de Maimónides. Keynes describe a Newton como “un monoteísta judaico de la escuela de Maimónides”. De hecho, en su obra Principia, Newton rechazó el concepto de la deidad por una creencia que refleja de cerca el concepto judío monoteísta de Dios. (Newton incluso cita un elemento de las enseñanzas de Maimónides: que sólo se puede aprender de Dios de forma indirecta, a través de Sus actos y de Su dominio).(4)

Escritos teológicos de Newton en la Biblioteca Nacional de Israel en Jerusalem, Octubre 2014. (Foto: AP Photo/Sebastián Scheiner)

La tendencia de Newton no se limitaba a la esfera intelectual, y al parecer él cumplió con los siete mandamientos de los hijos de Noaj que la Torá dio a los no judíos. Citando sus propias palabras en Manuscritos Teológicos: “Aunque los preceptos de Noaj no son tan perfectos como la religión de la Escritura, son suficientes para lograr la salvación… De hecho, (como enseñaron los Rabinos), los judíos han admitido dentro de sus portones a paganos que aceptaron los preceptos de Noaj sin haberse convertido a la Ley de Moshé”. Newton afirmó que el mandamiento que prohíbe comer “la carne” o “la sangre de los animales (vivos)” se debe “a que esta religión obliga a los hombres a ser misericordiosos incluso hacia las bestias salvajes”.(5)

Las obras científicas de Newton y Maimónides

Lo que debe haber molestado a los científicos más que las creencias y las prácticas privadas de Newton puede haber sido la forma en que él aplicó estas creencias a sus estudios teológicos y científicos. Los paralelos entre la filosofía de Newton y las enseñanzas de Maimónides están entrelazados en sus manuscritos. Por ejemplo, Newton utilizó las “Leyes de santificación de la luna nueva” de Maimónides en sus notas sobre “consideraciones respecto a la rectificación del calendario juliano”.

Newton estudió las medidas del Templo de Salomón y del Tercer Templo para llegar a un mayor entendimiento de las dimensiones de la tierra. Él entendió que el Templo era un microcosmos de la tierra y “revelaba las obras de Dios”, el mejor arquitecto del mundo.(6)

Con este fin, Newton citó extractos de la traducción al latín de Maimónides, De culto divino, donde explica las medidas del Templo.(7) Newton también se dedicó a estudiar el codo judío o amá (la medida utilizada en la construcción del Templo, del Tabernáculo y sus utensilios) y las medidas de la Gran Pirámide de Guiza, que él creía que derivaba del codo judío. No estaba simplemente jugando con las matemáticas; la exactitud de su análisis de la circunferencia de la tierra y su teoría de la gravedad dependieron de estos hallazgos. Él registró sus cálculos sobre el codo judío en su obra Una disertación sobre el codo sagrado de los judíos y el codo de diversas naciones.(8)

Muchos científicos cuyos sentimientos son mucho menos que favorables hacia las creencias de Newton y su método de estudio lo consideran un tonto que incursionó en el misticismo y la pseudociencia. En respuesta a los críticos, John Maynard Keynes escribió: “Hubo un método extremo en su locura… Todas sus obras no publicadas… están marcadas por un estudio cuidadoso, un método exacto y una extrema sobriedad en las afirmaciones. Ellas (sus obras controversiales) fueron escritas casi en su totalidad durante los mismos 25 años de sus estudios matemáticos”.(9)

Gran parte de la vida privada de Newton, así como algunos de los borradores de sus obras científicas, siguen estando ocultos a nuestros ojos. Quizás no es sorprendente que él ocultara su verdadera identidad y sus medios de estudio al público. Probablemente lo hubieran condenado al ostracismo y sus descubrimientos científicos hubieran sido descartados de inmediato. Sarah Dry, autora de Los manuscritos de Newton, señala que ciertos espacios vacíos en su borrador original de Principia sugieren que él los ocultó deliberadamente. Dry afirma: “Se debe a que Newton no quería que la gente supiera cómo había llegado a ese entendimiento. Yo creo que esto puede tener relación con sus creencias religiosas”.

Los extraordinarios descubrimientos de Newton lo distinguen como una de las mayores influencias científicas de todos los tiempos. Quizás ahora podemos agregar su intento de reconciliar la antigua Escritura con la ciencia como otro logro singular, aunque no suficientemente valorado, de Isaac Newton.


(1) Newton, Maimonides, and Esoteric Knowledge, Faur Jose, Cross Currents,
(2) Essays on the Context, Nature and Influence of Isaac Newton’s Theology, por James E.Force y Richard H. Popkins, Kulwar Academic publishers, página 3
(3) Newton, Maimonides, and Esoteric Knowledge
(4) Essays on the Context, Nature, and Influence of Isaac Newton’s Theology, página 4
(5) Newton, Maimonides, and Esoteric Knowledge
(6) Isaac Newton’s Temple of Solomon and His Reconstruction of the Sacred Cubit, Tessa Morrison, Springer Science and Business Media, página 36
(7) Judaism in the Theology of Sir Isaac Newton, Matt Goldish, Springer Netherlands,
(8) The Newton you Never Knew. Ver también nota al pie 6
(9) The Essential Keynes, por John Maynard Keynes, Penguin Random House.

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Posted by on July 18, 2019 in Uncategorized


The Power of the Mind to Create Blessings

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“Love covers up all iniquity.”

— Proverbs 10:1

by Hanna Perlberger

From a Curse to a Blessing

How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, thy dwellings, O Israel.” Ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov mishkenotecha Yisrael. Read the Hebrew words, and for anyone who has been to Jewish camp or Jewish anything, the melody just pops into your head. This verse is said upon entering a synagogue, it’s part of the daily Morning Prayer and even if you don’t recite it, you may know it because it’s one of the most famous verses in the Torah, and it’s in the Torah portion, Balak.

And so one would think that these words of praise were uttered by G‑d or by Moses, or at least by someone “very holy.” And yet, these words emanated from the mouth of a notorious Jew-hater, Bilaam, who was hired by Balak (the newly appointed King of Moab) to curse the Jewish people in the desert.

Three times, Bilaam tried to curse the Jewish people, and yet each time, he blessed them instead. Now prior to the first two attempts, Bilaam and G‑d had a “conversation,” whereby G‑d either instructed Bilaam what to say or put the words directly into his mouth. And so despite his utmost intentions and hatred, Bilaam could only utter words of blessing and praise for the Jewish people.

Therefore, before the third and final attempt, Bilaam decided to take a different tack since these “conversations” with G‑d were not going his way. This time, Bilaam concentrated on the so-called faults and transgressions of the Jewish people, trying to discredit them so as to overcome G‑d’s benevolence and whip up a host of spiritual negativity against the Jewish people.

A G‑dly Lens

And so, after he was all fired up, Bilaam lifted his eyes to blast the Jewish people with his “evil eye.” But when he lifted his eyes and looked—truly looked—Bilaam noticed how the placement of the tents was designed for the utmost respect of privacy and dignity. He saw order. He saw righteousness. He saw goodness. And he was moved. The Torah states, “Balaam saw that it pleased the L‑rd to bless Israel” (Numbers 24:1). And in so doing, even if it was a very temporary shift, Bilaam saw a new reality, a G‑dly reality, and his curses were transformed into blessings.

So the question is, how could such words of praise come out of Bilaam’s mouth and of his own accord?

It’s a not-funny joke that if a notorious anti-Semite says something nice about the Jews, then it must be true. It’s just human nature; we have a hard time believing certain ideas when they originate from sources very close to us. How credible is it when we sing our own praises? And so, if a non-Jew praises the Jewish people, that’s good. But if a Jew-hater effusively praises us? Wow! What could be better?

Loving Ourselves

Now let’s take a deeper look and find a lesson we can apply to our own lives. Besides our tendency to discount positivity from close sources, I think that most of us have a hard time being kind and benevolent to ourselves.

When is the last time you checked in on the inner dialogue in your head, and your running thoughts and feelings about yourself? I decided to pay attention to my inner voice the other day, and I was shocked at how intolerant and cruel I can be to myself.

How often do we become our own Bilaams—in effect, cursing ourselves. I can assure you, however, with 100 percent certainty that shame and blame are never the paths to sustained change or growth. So what is?

When Bilaam decided to “change his mind to be like G‑d,” that’s when the transformation happened. That’s when the curses turned to blessings. I believe that’s the key. In our Morning Prayers, we acknowledge that the soul G‑d placed in us is pure. Further, we are made in the image of G‑d, and we have G‑dly souls.

Seeing Is Believing

Ponder this. The more I love myself—my real self, my G‑dly self—and the more order, righteousness and good that I see when I look inside, the more I will naturally align my actions to be congruent with that vision. Then, I can make conscious choices that honor my core being, where growth and change naturally occurs. So I suggest the following …

Step One: Notice the toxic inner talk. But please don’t criticize the critic, or you’ll stay in the same loop. Have compassion and understand that it’s a habituated form of thinking. Don’t get hooked; it’s not you. It’s a bad and unconscious habit. Increasing your awareness of this bad habit will help you break it.

Step Two: Counteract the negativity with positivity—lots of it. We weigh negativity more than positivity, and so to maintain loving, benevolent and thriving relationships, we must offset critical or negative comments with three to five positive ones, or suffer the consequences. I never realized that it applies to our own self-talk as well! And so every time you hear yourself making a negative comment to yourself, offset it with three to five positive and realistic comments that are constructive.

Step Three: Give yourself permission to see yourself with G‑dly reality. No one is going to see anything in us that we don’t see. Allow yourself to recognize how good you really are.

When we can live from this joyful place, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. Imagine a world where all curses were transformed into blessings, where we looked with inner and outer eyes that only saw order, righteousness and good—not for an inspired moment, but as the natural state of continuous connection to our Source. In fact, let’s start now.

Internalize & Actualize:

  1. Using the steps above, every day this week write down every negative thought you have about yourself. At the end of the week, look in the mirror and read them aloud. Pay attention to the language you use and the way you speak about yourself. If you wouldn’t say these statements to someone else, stop saying them to yourself.
  2. Look through the statements you wrote down from the week. Take one that kept repeating or that was harshest. Now counteract it with three to five positive statements. Write them below. Ideally do this for every negative statement you made during the week.
  3. This one may be hardest, as this may not yet be your reality. But the more you start to envision it, the sooner that shift will change. Write down how you want to see yourself and to do so, envision that you are speaking to yourself as a soul and not who you are in your body. If you could speak to your essence before you even came into this world, in your perfected state, what would you see and say?

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Posted by on July 7, 2019 in Uncategorized


Islamic Waqf inaugurates new mosque at the Temple Mount’s Mercy Gate

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by Naomi Kahn

Because a petition to the High Court of Justice to halt illegal construction and restore the status quo at the site was rejected, construction continues and Israeli sovereignty is being trampled.

Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced back in February that he had instructed authorities to prevent the opening of a new mosque at the Temple Mount’s Gate of Mercy, the Islamic Waqf has continued construction work at a feverish pace, causing irreparable damage to the ancient structure.

Israeli nongovernmental organization Regavim petitioned the High Court of Justice on the eve of Jerusalem Day, renewing its earlier call to prevent the opening of the mosque. Regavim submitted an urgent request to the court for a temporary injunction that would close the structure, in an attempt to restore the status quo at the site. The petition, based on documentation of the waqf’s recent activities at the site, proves beyond a doubt that the waqf has taken steps to permanently turn a historic structure at the Gate of Mercy into a mosque, carrying out construction work that has irreparably damaged the ancient building, in flagrant violation of Netanyahu’s instructions to enforce the closure of the building.

Regavim’s first petition was submitted in March, but Supreme Court Justice Menachem Mazuz allowed the government and the waqf 90 days to respond – all the time the waqf needed to transform the site into a Muslim-only compound.

The defense establishment identified radical Islamist activity at the site, orchestrated by Hamas operatives, and the government requested a court order to shut down the site, which was duly issued by the Jerusalem Magistrates’ Court. The waqf ignored the court order and continued its construction project – in broad daylight and in flagrant disregard for the law.

In light of the ongoing construction work and the government’s failure to enforce the closure order issued at its own request, Regavim petitioned the High Court of Justice to shorten the 90-day period granted to the state and the waqf to respond to the earlier petition. In its response to this petition, the government argued that the relevant authorities “are taking steps to regulate an overall approach for dealing with the Gate of Mercy compound; there is, therefore, no need for a temporary injunction to be issued at this stage.”

Not surprisingly, Justice Mazuz rejected Regavim’s request for a temporary closure order; even less surprisingly, despite the government’s claim that it was tending to the matter, the waqf continued to carry out illegal construction work on the Mercy Gate structure, installing ceiling fans, lighting, furniture, and room dividers – permanent changes that have harmed the ancient structure, all without any oversight of the Israel Antiquities Authority as required by law.

The exclusive use by Muslim worshippers of this building turns it de facto into a mosque, which creates a security threat of the highest order – one that security experts warned against in no uncertain terms. This was precisely the scenario the government foresaw when it asked for (and received) the Magistrates’ Court’s closure order.

Netanyahu declared at the end of February that “Israel has not given its consent to opening the mosque on the Temple Mount.” A statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office at the time declared that Netanyahu had given instructions “to enforce the court order without compromise and to ensure that the site remains closed,” but in practice, it appears that the work that is turning the site into a mosque has passed the point of no return.

“It is impossible to overstate the massive damage that has been done to the rule of law in this case: Lawbreakers do whatever they please at a holy site that is of indescribable religious and archaeological significance, in violation of a court order,” said Yakhin Zik, director of operations at Regavim. “Without a temporary injunction, the illegal seizure of the compound and the illegal construction work will continue. The bottom line is that on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s watch, Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem is being trampled.”

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Posted by on July 6, 2019 in Uncategorized


¿Por qué es tan difícil definir la muerte?


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Aunque esto puede sonar bastante franco, la mayoría de las personas no lo comprende. Hasta los grandes pensadores se pierden en la espesura de lo físico, al punto que no son capaces de distinguir entre ellos y la forma que ocupan temporalmente. Como ejemplo, uno de los grandes debates morales dentro de la medicina del tiempo presente es la definición de la muerte. ¿Acontece cuando el corazón deja de latir? ¿Es cuando ya no hay actividad de ondas cerebrales? ¿Y qué sucede con una persona en estado vegetativo durante diez años que es mantenida viva a través de un respirador? ¿Está viva o muerta?

La muerte no debe ser difícil de definir. Es cuando el espíritu, la esencia de la persona, ya no ocupa su cuerpo. Mientras estés ocupando tu cuerpo, estás vivo. Una vez dejas el cuerpo, estás muerto. ¿Qué tiene de complicado?

La razón por la que la muerte es difícil de cuantificar es porque la ciencia es muy efectiva al medir las propiedades físicas. ¿Cuánto tiempo? ¿Qué tan denso? ¿Qué tan caliente? ¿Qué tan distante? Pero tú no eres físico. Tu cuerpo es físico. Tú no. Estamos tan acostumbrados a mezclarnos con nuestros cuerpos que nos cuesta trabajo recordar que son entidades separadas. Entonces al final terminamos aplicando medidas físicas a algo que no existe en esa dimensión.

Es como intentar pesar la luz. Si alguien te preguntara: “¿Cuántos kilos pesa un rayo de luz?”, lo mirarías de forma extraña. Podemos medir la luminosidad. La candela es una medida estándar conveniente de referencia. Pero el peso es un criterio equivocado para medir la luz. Del mismo modo, no podemos utilizar atributos físicos para medirte a ti. No podemos poner “tu esencia” dentro de un tubo de ensayo, agregarle colorante rojo, calentarlo y observar de qué color se tiñe. El cuerpo es medible en términos físicos. La presión sanguínea es cuantificable. La eficiencia respiratoria puede ser calculada. Los niveles de gas en la sangre pueden ser determinados. Pero, ¿qué pruebas puedes hacer para saber si  aún estás ahí? Tú no eres físico, y cualquier intento por medir tu yo con algún criterio físico fallará. Por tanto, así como el peso no es relevante para la luz, la muerte no es aplicable para ti. La muerte se aplica para la vida física. Así que mientras el cuerpo muere, tú permaneces vivo.

Yo no soy el cerebro

Sin embargo, hay un paso más que debemos dar para comprender totalmente este concepto. Cuando comenzamos este proceso de relacionarnos con nuestro cuerpo y con nosotros mismos como entidades separadas, mucha gente se queda con la mirada en blanco, ya que estas ideas son tan extrañas para ellas como el polvo de la luna. Después de un tiempo, comienzan a relacionarse con sus cuerpos como una capa exterior, una funda, una herramienta que utilizan. Entonces llega el momento del ¡Ajá! Como un foco de luz que se enciende, sus rostros se iluminan de emoción y gritan: “¡Ya lo entendí! ¡Ya lo entendí! Yo no soy mi cabeza. No soy mi pecho. No soy mi espalda. ¡Ni siquiera soy mi corazón! Finalmente lo entendí. ¡Yo soy mi cerebro! ¿Correcto?”.

¡Incorrecto! Cuando entierran al cuerpo, el cerebro es enterrado con él. Justo como tú no eres la cabeza ni el pecho, tampoco eres el cerebro. El cerebro es el órgano con el que tú piensas. Es algo que utilizas para filtrar tus experiencias, pero no eres tú. Este es un paso muy significativo. Hasta tu cerebro es físico.

Un flashazo de intuición

¿Alguna vez has tenido un destello de intuición? Fue difícil de explicar; simplemente supiste algo. Quizá fue una corazonada, una idea, pero estaba ahí. Entonces tuviste que pasarlo por ese concreto proceso llamado pensamiento. “Déjame ver… lo que quise decir es que…”. Este es un ejemplo de saber algo y luego tener que procesarlo mediante tu cerebro. El cerebro es lento y grueso; lento para entender y rápido para olvidar. Cuando dejas esta gruesa capa de materia física que llamamos cuerpo, tú ya no estás limitado a pensar mediante el cerebro. En ese momento todo llega en un brillante resplandor. Tú percibes. Tú entiendes. Y tú recuerdas cada acción, cada conversación y cada pensamiento que tuviste, desde que fuiste un infante hasta tu último respiro. Todo está ahí, accesible, porque tú y tus pensamientos son uno.

¿Alguna vez te has preguntado qué sucede con un gran estudioso de Torá quien, al final de sus días, sufre de la enfermedad de Alzheimer? Él pasó toda una vida acumulando sabiduría y ahora no puede acceder a ella. ¿Qué sucede cuando se va de este mundo? Como un anciano, es incapaz de recordar la Torá que estudió porque el órgano físico llamado cerebro no está funcionando adecuadamente. Su cerebro está dañado, pero él, su esencia, recuerda todo. Cuando termine su vida, todo volverá de regreso a él.

Esta tendencia de vernos a nosotros mismos como entidades físicas constituye un pensamiento severamente limitante, e inhibe nuestro crecimiento. En el nivel más simple, si no comprendemos quiénes somos y de qué estamos hechos, es seguro que nuestra vida no tendrá sentido. Tendremos muchas, muchas preguntas y no habrá respuestas.

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Posted by on July 5, 2019 in Uncategorized


¿Tiene más valor hacer las cosas sin sentirlas, o sentirlas sin hacerlas?

Image result for signo de no
por Elizer Shemtov

¿Qué vale más en la vida judía, la acción o los sentimientos? En otras palabras, ¿tiene más valor hacer las cosas sin sentirlas o sentirlas sin hacerlas?

Muchas veces escucho el argumento por no cumplir con tal o cual precepto: “porque no lo siento”. También se escucha el argumento, “No tengo que cumplir con los rituales ya que siento a D-os en mi corazón y con esto me alcanza”.

Me hace recorder la historia de un Rabino que estaba caminando por la calle y vio a un hombre gordo fumando.

“¿Por qué fumas?” preguntó. “¿No sabes que hace mal para la salud?”

“Resulta que comí mucho y el fumar me ayuda con la digestión,” respondió.

Al rato se cruza con un flaquito que está fumando. “¿Por qué fumas? ¿No sabes que el fumar hace mal para la salud?”

“Resulta que hace días no como y el fumar me ayuda a calmar el hambre,” respondió.

Levantó el Rabino sus ojos al cielo y dijo: “¡Amo del Universo! ¡¿Por qué no le sacas un poco al gordo y se lo das al flaco y así ninguno tendrá necesidad de fumar?!”

Diferentes perspectivas

La verdad es que todos somos diferentes y todos tenemos nuestros desafíos particulares. Para alguno el desafío es no conformarse con los sentimientos y para otros el desafío es no conformarse con la acción.


La semana pasada leímos en la Torá sobre los doce espías que Moisés envió a recorrer la tierra de Canaan en preparación a su conquista. Volvieron con un informe negativo. “Es una tierra que traga a sus habitantes,” dijeron. “No la vamos a poder conquistar.” Citamos las enseñanzas jasídicas que explican que su preocupación no fue por el lado físico, ya que presenciaron tantos milagros que no tenían porqué dudar de un nuevo milagro. Su preocupación fue más bien por el lado espiritual. Los judíos en el desierto no tenían preocupaciones materiales y podían dedicarse a la vida espiritual. Temían que al entrar a la tierra fértil de Canaan iban a ser tentados a explotar su potencial y la vida espiritual iba a ser relegada a segundo plano o hasta ignorado por completo.

Su error fue que el objetivo por el cual D-os creó al mundo no fue para que se ignore el aspecto físico y material, sino para que se “conquiste” y encause hacia el objetivo por el cual ha sido creado: servir como herramienta por medio de la cual poder plasmar la dimensión Divina también en el plano terrenal.

El episodio de los espías y sus consecuencias crearon las condiciones para el episodio con el cual abre la lectura de esta semana, Kóraj1

Kóraj era un personaje respetado dentro del pueblo judío de aquel entonces. Se sintió ofendido por el hecho de que Moisés y su hermano Aarón ocuparan posiciones tan altas dentro de la sociedad. “Todos los integrantes de la congregación son sagrados y D-os se encuentra en ellos,” dijo. “¿Por qué se elevan uds. por encima de la congregación de D-os?”

La queja de Kóraj en su esencia fue: Si el servir a D-os fuese una tarea nada más que en el plano espiritual, podría entender en qué son superiores Moisés y Aarón. Su nivel espiritual es indiscutiblemente superior al de los demás. Pero si lo principal en el servicio a D-os está en el plano físico, como se vio en el episodio de los espías, ¿dónde está la diferencia entre Moisés y Aarón y el resto del pueblo, ya que en el plano de la acción somos todos iguales?

En otras palabras: las dos historias de los espías y de Kóraj representan dos argumentos diferentes. Los espías argumentaban que lo principal es el nivel espiritual de uno y la entrada a Israel iba a perjudicarlo y Kóraj argumentaba que si lo principal es la acción, ¿qué importancia hay en el trabajo espiritual personal?

Moisés les contestó que la designación de Moisés y Aarón a sus respectivos cargos no era por su iniciativa personal, sino por la iniciativa de D-os. “Esperen hasta la mañana y entonces D-os hará saber a quien ha elegido,” dijo.

“Mañana” vs. la mañana

Para ver el final de la historia, lo invito, querido lector, a leerlo en el original. Lo que quiero compartir aquí es la respuesta de Moisés: “Esperen hasta la mañana…”. ¿Por qué los hizo esperar hasta la mañana? El comentarista bíblico Rashi trae dos explicaciones: 1) quizo darles la oportunidad para arrepentirse y retractar su rebelión; 2) quizo señalarles que así como no se pueden anular los límites que D-os puso entre el día y la noche, de la misma manera no se puede anular el cargo que D-os le dio a Aarón.

El Rebe pregunta: ¿Cómo queda respondida la pregunta de por qué les hizo esperar “hasta la mañana”, no podía haber logrado lo mismo diciéndoles que esperaran hasta la noche?

Explica que aquí yace un mensaje más profundo. Moisés quiso hacerles entender que el objetivo del cumplimiento de las Mitzvot es 1) manifestar la presencia de D-os en el plano físico 2) de una manera evidente.

Si bien tener diamantes es algo valioso, no alcanza; deben ser pulidos y deben brillar.

Enseñanza práctica

La enseñanza que el Rebe extrae de todo esto para cada uno de nosotros:

1) No alcanza con sentir a D-os en el corazón; hace falta también expresar Su presencia en el plano de la acción.

2) No alcanza con sólo hacer con perfección las cosas que D-os quiere que se haga en el plano físico; hace falta también asegurar que dichas acciones “brillen”, que irradien una luz espiritual que sirva para iluminar al mundo que nos rodea y para inspirar a todos que vienen en contacto con dicho comportamiento.

Aplicado a la vida cotidiana:

El hombre se compone de alma y cuerpo y la tarea es descubrir y manifestar la dimensión Divina inherente en ambos.

Para algunos el desafío está en cumplir las cosas “religiosas” en la práctica, ya que se conforma con “sentirse muy judío”. Para otro el desafío está en crecer personal y espiritualmente, y que sus actitudes para con el prójimo y el mundo que lo rodea brillen, más allá del cumplimiento práctico de las Mitzvot.

Nadie puede zafar de esta doble responsabilidad. Hay que ser y también “parecer”.

En términos futbolísticos:

Según el Prof. José Ricardo de León hay dos canchas en las cuales se juega el partido, la cancha de “abajo” y la cancha de “arriba”. Yo lo entiendo como queriendo decir que el desafío está tanto en el plano de los pies, la técnica, como en el plano de la cabeza, la actitud.

Lo mismo ocurre en el partido de la vida: debemos atender a ambas canchas, la terrenal y la espiritual.

Notas al Pie

1.Números, 16:1 – 18:32

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Posted by on July 5, 2019 in Uncategorized


La perspectiva judía sobre la naturaleza del elemento divino que existe en el ser humano.

Tu alma divina: Una introducción
Rav Dr. Aryeh Leibowitz

La Torá cuenta que la humanidad adquirió un alma (una neshamá), cuando Dios la “insufló” dentro del hombre en el momento de la creación.

“Y Dios formó al hombre del polvo de la tierra, e insufló en su nariz aliento de vida, y el hombre se volvió un alma viviente” (Génesis 2:7)

¿Por qué la Torá utiliza esta imagen peculiar de la respiración para describir la forma en que Dios le dio el alma al hombre?

Nuestros Sabios explican: “Todo el que respira, respira algo de su interior”.1 La respiración requiere que se exhale el aire desde lo más profundo de nuestro ser. Cuando la Torá dice que Dios “insufló” un alma al hombre, nos enseña que Dios le dio al hombre algo de Él, por así decirlo. La respiración de Dios le dio al ser humano una esencia espiritual, trascendente, algo de origen divino.

La idea abstracta de un elemento divino que existe dentro del hombre es difícil de entender en términos concretos. Por eso, nuestros Sabios tomaron prestados términos tales como “luz” o “energía” divina al referirse a este elemento divino del hombre. Cuando la divinidad del alma del hombre se actualiza e ilumina a la persona con luz divina, el hombre se considera “sagrado” o “santificado” (kadosh). La santidad existe cuando lo divino se revela en una entidad física.

Su ubicación y asignación

La energía divina del alma es tan intensa, tan espiritual, tan fuera de este mundo, que no puede habitar por completo dentro del ser físico de la persona. Simplemente es demasiado para que un cuerpo humano pueda contenerla. Por esta razón, sólo una pequeña parte del alma del hombre reside en su interior. El resto permanece afuera o “por encima” de él.

El potencial humano para la espiritualidad es mucho mayor que lo que podemos sentir.

Esto significa que el potencial humano para la espiritualidad es mucho mayor que lo que podemos sentir. Como la engañosa punta de un iceberg que apenas asoma sobre la superficie del océano, pero que oculta por debajo una gigantesca masa de hielo, el alma divina del hombre apenas encuentra un punto de apoyo en el hombre. La mayor parte de su luz divina permanece más allá del alcance del hombre, su fuerza y su iluminación imperceptible para la persona misma. (Sin embargo, toda la divinidad del alma del hombre es parte de él. Dios se la entregó y forma parte de su identidad personal, a pesar de que una gran parte de ella en verdad no entre en su cuerpo físico).

Sin embargo, la asignación del alma divina no es algo fijo e inactivo. Es posible que la persona incremente el flujo de energía divina hacia su ser físico. Cuando esto ocurre, la persona se vuelve más espiritual, más sagrada, más divina. Lo mismo ocurre a la inversa. La energía divina del alma del hombre puede fluir hacia el exterior de su cuerpo físico. Esto hace que la persona sea menos espiritual, menos sagrada y menos divina, porque la energía del alma regresa al depósito de energía divina que existe fuera de la persona, oculta del mundo físico.2

Un sistema de tres partes

Debido a esta relación entre la parte del alma del hombre que existe fuera de él y la que reside en él, los Sabios describen que el alma está compuesta de tres partes.

La primera parte del sistema es la parte “más baja”. Es la parte del sistema más unida con el ser físico del hombre, y es el receptáculo dentro del cual él puede recibir la luz divina y guardarla en su interior. En hebreo esta parte se llama nefesh, una palabra que deriva de la raíz que significa “reposar”, porque a través de ella la luz del alma divina “reposa” o habita dentro del hombre e ilumina su cuerpo con santidad.

En el otro extremo se encuentra la parte “más elevada” del sistema. Este es el depósito que contiene la parte del alma del hombre que es incapaz de entrar a él debido a su intensidad y su incapacidad de contenerla. Esta parte se llama neshamá, un término que se utiliza para referirse a todo el sistema.

La parte final de este sistema es el agente que conecta a las otras dos partes. Es el canal que conecta el recipiente interior del hombre que puede albergar la divinidad, con el depósito de divinidad que se concentra fuera de la persona. En otras palabras, es la “cañería” que permite que exista un flujo entre las dos partes del alma del hombre. Este facilitador de flujo divino se conoce como ruaj.

La parábola clásica de este sistema es una vela de aceite.

1. La llama desafía lo físico y por lo tanto representa el depósito de luz divina que existe fuera del hombre.

2. La mecha es un objeto físico y representa al cuerpo humano. La mecha tiene el potencial de ser iluminada por la llama, pero también puede consumirse debido a la intensidad del fuego.

3. El aceite es el agente que lleva la llama a la mecha de tal forma que pueda residir dentro de la mecha, es decir, que ilumina la mecha sin consumirla.

Juntos, el aceite, la mecha y el fuego producen una vela de aceite encendida, lo que representa el flujo exitoso de la luz divina hacia el hombre y la iluminación resultante de su ser físico con espiritualidad, santidad y divinidad.

Incrementar el flujo de divinidad

La cantidad de luz divina que puede entrar al hombre y residir en él depende de él mismo. Cuando comienza la vida, la persona tiene una mayor identificación con su ser físico y está, por naturaleza, alejada de la santidad. Por lo tanto, sólo una cantidad muy pequeña de divinidad puede entrar inicialmente y residir en su interior. Pero a través de un gran esfuerzo, el hombre puede elevarse a sí mismo y mejorar su receptáculo interno de divinidad.

La cantidad de luz divina que puede entrar al hombre y residir en él depende de él mismo.

Es importante recordar que para introducir más luz divina en su ser físico, la persona no tiene que “crear” luz divina. La luz de su alma ya le fue entregada y está esperando poder fluir hacia ella. Simplemente tiene que convertirse a sí misma en un recipiente mejor para poder contenerla.

Consideremos una parábola simplificada (desde un punto de vista eléctrico) del sistema eléctrico en el hogar. En nuestra parábola, el cuerpo humano es comparado con una habitación a oscuras. El foco de luz que hay en la habitación forma parte de la habitación. Afuera de la habitación, hay una fuente de electricidad, como una central eléctrica local. Entre el foco de luz y la fuente de energía hay cables eléctricos que transmiten la energía hacia el foco e iluminan la habitación. Si alguien usa cables muy gruesos, el flujo eléctrico desde la fuente es maravilloso. Si los cables son delgados, el flujo eléctrico es menor y también hay menos luz.

¿Cómo se puede iluminar mejor una casa oscura? El foco de luz ya está colocado en su lugar, listo para iluminar. La electricidad está acumulada en la central eléctrica, lista para fluir a la casa. En este punto, la iluminación sólo depende del tendido eléctrico.

La misión del hombre es trabajar sobre su “cañería” (o en nuestra parábola: la capacidad de su cableado), y en incrementar el flujo de energía divina hacia sí mismo. Al incrementar su capacidad de energía divina, el hombre se ilumina todavía con más luz divina y emerge como un ser más espiritual. Cuando esto ocurre, el hombre comienza a cambiar su existencia puramente física por una existencia espiritual, un reflejo de lo divino.

Esto es lo que la Torá le ordena al hombre (Levítico 19:2): “Serán sagrados”. El hombre tiene que tratar continuamente de incrementar la cantidad de luz divina que hay en su interior, y a través de esto incrementar su nivel de espiritualidad, santidad y divinidad.

Esto es un extracto del libro de Rav Aryeh Leibowitz: “The Neshamah: A Study of the Human Soul”.


1. Sefer Ha-Peliá s.v. שאל משה, Ver también el comentario del Rambán sobre Bereshit 2:7; Shiur Komá de Rav Moshé Cordevero cap.51 y Likutei Amarim Tania, cap. 2.

2. Los conceptos básicos de este artículo se encuentran en la literatura judía, pero se analizan con mayor profundidad en el pensamiento jasídico. Una breve introducción a algunos de los conceptos básicos aquí expuestos se puede encontrar en Sheloshá Maamarim, de Rav Kalonimus Kalmish Shapira, maamar 1.

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Posted by on July 5, 2019 in Uncategorized


Why Ketoret Incense in Temple?

By Yehuda Shurpin

And what exactly was it anyway?

The ketoret (incense) offering was perhaps the most prestigious service in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and in the Holy Temple. The ketoret consisted of a special blend of herbs and balms whose precise ingredients and manner of preparation were commanded by G‑d to Moses.

Throughout the year, the ketoret was burned twice daily on the golden or “inner” altar that stood within the inner section of Temple, distinct from the outdoor copper altar upon which animal sacrifices and libations were brought.1 Additionally, the highlight of the Yom Kippur service was the High Priest entering the Holy of Holies with a pan of smoldering coals in one hand and a ladle filled with ketoret in the other, and then placing the ketoret over the coals and leaving once it was filled with the fragrant smoke.2

The Torah describes an episode in the desert when the Israelites were struck with a plague due to their complaining and blaming Moses and Aaron for the deaths of Korach and his cohorts. Moses tells Aaron to take a firepan with incense and go among the congregation and atone for their sins. Aaron does this and stands “between the living and the dead,” and the plague is halted.3

So what was the ketoret and why was it such a significant part of the Temple service?

What Was It?

The incense offering was prepared every year. Just preparing it was a divine commandment, as the verse states: “And you take spices . . .”4 There were 11 spices, four of which are explicitly mentioned in the Torah, and the rest of which were communicated orally to Moses and are part of the Oral Tradition.

But although the Talmud lists the names of the ingredients of the ketoret, there are differing opinions as to what herbs these names refer to. The English translation below is mostly based on Maimonides’ description and list in his Mishneh Torah of the ingredients in Arabic. (The list of Hebrew names is from the Talmud. The first four items are named in the Torah itself.)

Hebrew nameIdentification Based on MaimonidesQuantity (1 maneh = approx. 1 pound)
הצריbalsam oil70 maneh
הצפורןonycha70 maneh
החלבנהstorax70 maneh
הלבונהfrankincense70 maneh
מורmusk16 maneh
קציעהcassia516 maneh
שבולת נרדspikenard16 maneh
כרכוםsaffron16 maneh
הקושטcostus12 maneh
קלופהcinnamon6 3 maneh
קנמוןagarwood79 maneh

In addition to the 11 spices that would be measured out by exact weight, they would also add salt of Sodom and Jordanian amber. Another two ingredients (vetch lye and “caper wine”) were used in preparation of the tziporen (onycha) spice.

There was also a special herb, referred to simply as maaleh ashan (“makes smoke rise”), that would produce a pillar of smoke that rose straight up rather than spread out. The identity of the herb was a secret that was closely guarded by members of the Avitnus family, who made the incense based on the tradition of their ancestors.

(These final ingredients did not produce aromas of their own and are therefore not counted among the 11 spices.)

The 11-ingredient mixture was finely ground, and then a fourth of a kab (a volume equal to approx 1376 cc8 ) of the salt of Sodom and a small amount of Jordanian amber and the smoke-raising herb were added. A maneh of it was burned every day on the golden altar—a half a maneh in the morning, and another half toward the evening.

There were 365 maneh in each batch, corresponding to the 365 days of the year.9 On the day before Yom Kippur, the three remaining maneh were finely ground once again, and the High Priest would take a handful to offer on Yom Kippur.

Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity

The Talmud relates that since offering the incense would bring blessings of wealth to the one who offered it on the altar, it was decided that as many different priests as possible should have an opportunity to do this service. Thus, no priest was assigned this task more than once in his lifetime.10

What is the Reason for the Incense?

Maimonidies writes that since many animals were offered in the Holy Temple, the Temple would have smelled like a slaughterhouse if nothing had been done to counteract it. They were therefore commanded to burn incense there twice every day, in the morning and in the evening, in order to give the place and the garments of those who officiated there a pleasant odor. This, he adds, also “boosted the dignity and respect of the Temple. If there had not been a good smell, let alone if there had been a stench, it would have produced in the minds of the people the reverse of respect; for our heart generally feels elevated in the presence of good odor, and is attracted by it, but it abhors and avoids bad smell.”11

However, as many point out,12 this could hardly be the main reason for the ketoret, especially in light of the fact that the Torah warns of severe punishment for replicating the exact specifications of the ketoret and burning it outside of the Temple. This implies that there was something deeper to this holy incense.

Getting Rid of the Odor of the Animal Soul

The mystics explain that the animal offerings in the Temple represent the person’s offering of his own animal soul to G‑d—the subjugation of one’s natural instincts and desires to the divine will. To be sure, the animal soul of man possesses many positive traits that can be directed toward positive ends, but at the same time it is also the source of many negative traits. When a person brings his “animal self” to the Temple of G‑d and offers the finest parts of it upon the altar, there is still the foul odor—the selfishness, the brutality and the materiality of the animal in man—that accompanies the process. The burning of the ketoret possesses the unique capability to sublimate even this “bad odor” of the animal soul within its heavenly fragrance.13

But there seems to be an even deeper reason. After all, it is one thing to explain that the ketoret was brought in the Temple to take care of the “bad spiritual odor” left over from the offerings of the animal soul to G‑d, but why is the ketoret brought into the Holy of Holies, a place where no animal sacrifices were offered, a place of pure holiness?

One With G‑d

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that while the Hebrew word for “offering” is korban, which means “close,” the word for “incense,” ketoret, reflects the Aramaic word keter, which means “bond.” Although an offering brought one close to G‑d, being close doesn’t necessarily mean you bonded; you can be a separate entity that is merely close to G‑d. With the ketoret, one would bond and be connected to G‑d.

When one brought an offering in the Temple, in essence he was uplifting the mundane and physical to the Divine. Hence, he brought a physical animal or meal offering on the altar. With the incense, the purpose was for the person himselfto connect to the Divine through the ketoret.

In other words, the offerings reflected the uplifting and rectifying of the more outer dimensions of the person—thought, speech and action—and directing them to the service of G‑d, while the sublime fragrance of the ketoret represented the inner and essential connection that we all have to G‑d. When this connection is revealed, then automatically all of our other aspects, including thought, speech and action, are directed and become connected to the Divine.

Thus, the ketoret represented nothing less than the essential connection we each have with G‑d.14

For more on this, see Ketoret.

Reciting Ketoret Every Day

In line with the verse “We will render [the prayer of] our lips in place of [the sacrifice of] bulls,”15 the sages write that it is very advisable to recite daily the verses that include the passages pertaining to the various offerings in the Temple, including the verses pertaining to the ketoret. This is typically done before morning and afternoon services, as outlined in the siddur (prayerbook).16

The Zohar associates many merits and blessings with the reading of the ketoret each day and states that “whoever occupies himself with reciting it every day with sincerity and comprehension will have a share in this world and the next, and will be spared from the forces of impurity, negativity and judgment, and will be linked to the source of life.”17

1. Exodus 30:1, 34-38
2. Leviticus 16:12-13
3. Numbers 17:9-15
4. Exodus 30:34.
5. “Cassia” is just a Hebrew loanword used in English text. Maimonides in his Commentary to the Mishnah (Keritot 1:1) says that he cannot identify this spice. Some have identified it with cassia, an aromatic bark, similar to cinnamon, but differing in strength and quality.
6. See the following footnote regarding agarwood.
7. Maimonides writes that it is “al-oud,” an Arabic word, meaning, agarwood. Others translate it as cinnamon. They would then identify kelufah as either a different type of cinnamon or simply as “aromatic bark.”
8. Based on Shiurei Torah by Rabbi Chaim Noah. According to others, it was approximately 2400 cc.
9. In an ordinary lunar year, there are 353, 354, or 355 days. Hence, at the end of the year, there was a certain amount left over. On the first of Nissan, the remainder of the incense was redeemed and then given back to the craftsmen who prepared it. Afterwards, it was repurchased from them. It was done this way so that if a leap year would be declared, there would still be enough ketoret.
10. Talmud, Yoma 26a.
11. Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed 3:45.
12. See, for example, Rabbeinu Bechayeh on Exodus, ch. 30.
13. See, for example, Sefer HaMaamarim 5664, p. 193.
14. See Likkutei Sichot, vol. 32, pp. 98-105.
15. Hosea 14:3.
16. Some have the custom of having the verses about the incense written on a piece of parchment and reading from it daily as a segulah for financial success (see, for example, Rabbi Chaim Plagi in Kaf Hachaim 16:18). Others, however, are of the opinion that writing just these verses without the rest of the Torah on a piece of parchment may be problematic (see Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in his responsum Yabia Omer, vol. 9, Yoreh De’ah 23).
17. See Zohar 1:230a, 2:218b.

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Posted by on July 4, 2019 in Uncategorized


Losing Miriam

by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

It is a scene that still has the power to shock and disturb. The people complain. There is no water. It is an old complaint and a predictable one. That is what happens in a desert. Moses should have been able to handle it with ease. He has been through far tougher challenges in his time. Yet suddenly at Mei Meriva (“the waters of contention”), he exploded into vituperative anger: “‘Listen, you rebels, shall we bring you water out of this rock?’ Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff” (Num. 20:10–11).

In past essays I have argued that Moses did not sin. It was simply that he was the right leader for the generation that left Egypt but not the right leader for their children who would cross the Jordan and engage in conquering a land and building a society. The fact that he was not permitted to lead the next generation was not a failure but an inevitability. As a group of slaves facing freedom, a new relationship with God, and a difficult journey, both physically and spiritually, the Children of Israel needed a strong leader capable of contending with them and with God. But as builders of a new society, they needed a leader who would not do the work for them but who would instead inspire them to do it for themselves.

The face of Moses was like the sun, the face of Joshua was like the moon (Bava Batra 75a). The difference is that sunlight is so strong it leaves no work for a candle to do, whereas a candle can illuminate when the only other source of light is the moon. Joshua empowered his generation more than a figure as strong as Moses would have done.

But there is another question altogether about the episode we read of this week. What made this trial different? Why did Moses momentarily lose control? Why then? Why there? He had faced just this challenge before.

The Torah mentions two previous episodes. One took place at Mara, almost immediately after the division of the Red Sea. The people found water but it was bitter. Moses prayed to God, God told him how to sweeten the water, and the episode passed. The second episode occurred at Rephidim (Ex. 17:1–7). This time there was no water at all. Moses rebuked the people: “Why are you quarrelling with me? Are you trying to test God?” He then turned to God and said, “What am I to do with this people? Before long they will stone me!” God told him to go to a rock at Horeb, take his staff, and hit the rock. Moses did so, and water came out. There was drama, tension, but nothing like the emotional distress evident in this week’s parsha of Chukat. Surely Moses, by now almost forty years older, with a generation of experience behind him, should have coped with this challenge without drama. He had been there before.

The text gives us a clue, but in so understated a way that we can easily miss it. The chapter begins thus: “In the first month, the whole Israelite community arrived at the desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried. Now there was no water for the community…” (Num. 20:1–2). Many commentators see the connection between this and what follows in terms of the sudden loss of water after the death of Miriam. Tradition tells of a miraculous well that accompanied the Israelites during Miriam’s lifetime in her merit.[1] When she died, the water ceased.

There is, though, another way of reading the connection. Moses lost control because his sister Miriam had just died. He was in mourning for his eldest sibling. It is hard to lose a parent, but in some ways it is even harder to lose a brother or sister. They are your generation. You feel the Angel of Death come suddenly close. You face your own mortality.

Miriam was more than a sister to Moses. She was the one, while still a child, to follow the course of the wicker basket holding her baby brother as it drifted down the Nile. She had the courage and ingenuity to approach Pharaoh’s daughter and suggest that she employ a Hebrew nurse for the child, thus ensuring that Moses would grow up knowing his family, his people, and his identity.

In a truly remarkable passage, the Sages said that Miriam persuaded her father Amram, the leading scholar of his generation, to annul his decree that Hebrew husbands should divorce their wives and have no more children because there was a 50 per cent chance that any child born would be killed. “Your decree,” said Miriam, “is worse than Pharaoh’s. He only decreed against the males, yours applies to females also. He intends to rob children of life in this world; you would deny them even life in the World to Come.”[2] Amram admitted her superior logic. Husbands and wives were reunited. Yocheved became pregnant and Moses was born. Note that this Midrash, told by the Sages, unambiguously implies that a six-year-old girl had more faith and wisdom than the leading rabbi of the generation!

Moses surely knew what he owed his elder sister. According to the Midrash, without her he would not have been born. According to the plain sense of the text, he would not have grown up knowing who his true parents were and to which people he belonged. Though they had been separated during his years of exile in Midian, once he returned, Miriam had accompanied him throughout his mission. She had led the women in song at the Red Sea. The one episode that seems to cast her in a negative light – when she “began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife” (Num. 12:1), for which she was punished with leprosy – was interpreted more positively by the Sages. They said she was critical of Moses for breaking off marital relations with his wife Tzipporah. He had done so because he needed to be in a state of readiness for Divine communication at any time. Miriam felt Tzipporah’s plight and sense of abandonment. Besides which, she and Aaron had also received Divine communication but they had not been commanded to be celibate. She may have been wrong, suggested the Sages, but not maliciously so. She spoke not out of jealousy of her brother but out of sympathy for her sister-in-law.

So it was not simply the Israelites’ demand for water that led Moses to lose control of his emotions, but rather his own deep grief. The Israelites may have lost their water, but Moses had lost his sister, who had watched over him as a child, guided his development, supported him throughout the years, and helped him carry the burden of leadership in her role as leader of the women.

It is a moment that reminds us of words from the book of Judges said by Israel’s chief of staff, Barak, to its judge-and-leader Deborah: “If you go with me, I will go; but if you do not go with me, I cannot go” (Judges 4:8). The relationship between Barak and Deborah was much less close than that between Moses and Miriam, yet Barak acknowledged his dependence on a wise and courageous woman. Can Moses have felt less?

Bereavement leaves us deeply vulnerable. In the midst of loss we can find it hard to control our emotions. We make mistakes. We act rashly. We suffer from a momentary lack of judgement. These are common symptoms even for ordinary humans like us. In Moses’ case, however, there was an additional factor. He was a prophet, and grief can occlude or eclipse the prophetic spirit. Maimonides answers the well-known question as to why Jacob, a prophet, did not know that his son Joseph was still alive, with the simplest possible answer: grief banishes prophecy. For twenty-two years, mourning his missing son, Jacob could not receive the Divine word.[3] Moses, the greatest of all the prophets, remained in touch with God. It was God, after all, who told him to “speak to the rock.” But somehow the message did not penetrate his consciousness fully. That was the effect of grief.

So the details are, in truth, secondary to the human drama played out that day. Yes, Moses did things he might not have done, should not have done. He struck the rock, said “we” instead of “God,” and lost his temper with the people. The real story, though, is about Moses the human being in an onslaught of grief, vulnerable, exposed, caught in a vortex of emotions, suddenly bereft of the sisterly presence that had been the most important bass note of his life. Miriam had been the precociously wise and plucky child who had taken control of the situation when the life of her three-month-old brother lay in the balance, undaunted by either an Egyptian princess or a rabbi-father. She had led the Israelite women in song, and sympathised with her sister-in-law when she saw the price she paid for being the wife of a leader. The Midrash speaks of her as the woman in whose merit the people had water in a parched land. In Moses’ anguish at the rock, we sense the loss of the elder sister without whom he felt bereft and alone.

The story of the moment Moses lost his confidence and calm is ultimately less about leadership and crisis, or about a staff and a rock, than about a great Jewish woman, Miriam, appreciated fully only when she was no longer there.

Shabbat Shalom

[1] Rashi, Commentary to Num. 20:2; Ta’anit 9a; Song of Songs Rabbah 4:14, 27.

[2] Midrash Lekach Tov to Ex. 2:1.

[3] Maimonides, Shemoneh Perakim, ch. 7.

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Posted by on July 4, 2019 in Uncategorized


Ancient DNA Solves Age-old Mystery of Philistine Origin

por Ariel David

Excavating at the Philistine cemetery in Ashkelon
Melissa Aja / Courtesy Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

Analysis of skeletons in the Philistine city of Ashkelon answers the elusive question of just where the Israelites’ biblical archenemies came from

Science has made a huge leap forward in dispelling the mystery that surrounds the Philistines, the biblical archenemies of the Israelites who suddenly appeared on the coasts of the Levant more than 3,000 years ago.

The origins of this ancient population have eluded scholars for centuries. Now, an analysis of DNA extracted from skeletons unearthed at Ashkelon, on Israel’s southern coast, confirms the theory that the earliest Philistines had at least some European ancestry, most likely from the south of the continent. This supports the long-held theory by some scholars, based on clues from ancient texts and similarities in archaeological finds from the two regions, that the Philistines hailed from the Aegean

“This is pretty critical evidence that we are on the right track in understanding the Philistines as a people who came out of the Aegean and reached places like Ashkelon as immigrants,” says Daniel Master, a professor of archaeology at Wheaton College and co-director of the dig at Ashkelon.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, shows that these early European settlers quickly intermingled with the local population. Within a couple of centuries the Philistine genome became virtually indistinguishable from that of the Levantine peoples among whom they dwelled.

The new research appears to confirm what ancient texts, including the Bible, tell us about the origins of the Philistines. More broadly, it sheds light on the enigmatic Sea Peoples, a loose coalition of marauding groups – which included the Philistines – who have often been blamed, perhaps unfairly, for singlehandedly causing the sudden destruction of major civilizations during the so-called Bronze Age Collapse.

Since the early 19th century, when hieroglyphics were first deciphered, scholars have identified the biblical Philistines with the “Peleset” described in Egyptian records as one of the Sea Peoples who came from “their islands” and attacked Egypt during the reign of Ramses III, in the first half of the 12th century B.C.E.

The Sea Peoples were barely repulsed, but Egypt was diminished, losing its empire in the Levant. Meanwhile, the Philistines settled on the southern coast of Canaan just as other great civilizations of the Eastern Mediterranean, including the Myceneans and the Hittites, disappeared entirely. Questions of what role the Philistines and the other Sea Peoples played in this collapse, whence they came from any and why they swept through the Mediterranean have been hotly debated by researchers

Burial of Philistine infant, Ashkelon Ilan Sztulman / Courtesy Leon Le

But pots and pans can be traded or imitated, and there is an opposing school of thought arguing that the Philistines themselves were not Aegean. Some researchers believe their origins should be traced to the Levant, possibly to southern Anatolia, where a kingdom with the Philistine-sounding name “Palasatini” or “Palastin” emerged after the collapse of the Hittite empire.

While it is possible that European settlers or their influence also reached the northern Levant, it is no longer feasible to theorize that the Philistines were simply a local cultural variation, say the archaeologists behind the new study.

“The DNA shows that no, these were new people who came in and brought with them their own culture and traditions,” says Adam Aja, an archaeologist from Harvard University and assistant director at the Ashkelon dig.

Philistine altar, Kibbutz Revadim

The researchers sequenced the genomes of Ashkelonites from different periods in antiquity, comparing them to each other as well as to ancient and modern DNA samples from across the Middle East and Europe.

While humans share about 99 percent of their DNA, there are some parts of the genome that are more variable and prone to change because they don’t have a biological function, explains Michal Feldman, a Ph.D. student in archaeogenetics at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

“Within these sites of the genome you can find differences between various populations if they were relatively isolated from each other for a long period of time,” says Feldman, who is the lead author on the study published in Science Advances. “Using statistical methods we can compare different groups, and place these individuals on the genetic map to know which groups they are closer to.”

Europeans were here

Philistine cemetery in Ashkelon Philippe Bohstrom

Out of 108 bones sampled at Ashkelon, only 10 yielded sufficient amounts of DNA. The earliest subjects were three individuals who lived between the 18th-16th centuries B.C.E., long before the Philistines arrived, when the city was a Canaanite settlement. These people’s genome is closest to that of modern-day Near Easterners and to Bronze Age samples from across the Levant and Anatolia, the study says.

But things change when looking at the DNA of four infants found buried underneath houses dated to the late 12th century B.C.E., just after the Philistines are known to have settled in Ashkelon, at the dawn of the Iron Age. These babies (who were unrelated to each other) could count European hunter-gatherers amongst their distant ancestors, according to the study.

Aerial view of the Philistine city of Gath Griffin Aerial Imaging

“In the future, as we get more samples from across the region, we will be able to speak more precisely about the source than we can do now,” says Master, the lead archaeologist on the study. But the genetic modeling, coupled with the archaeological evidence already tips the scales heavily in favor of the Aegean hypothesis.

Still, the study does not provide the last word on the origin of the Philistines. For one thing, it is based on a very small sample and on DNA taken from one city, Ashkelon, rather than from the multiple sites in the region that the Philistines occupied, says Aren Maeir, a professor of archaeology at Bar-Ilan University who did not take part in the study.

Even the genetic data recovered from the four early Iron Age infants cannot be unequivocally interpreted as indicating that these people had a single point of origin, says Maeir, who directs the excavation at Tel es-Safi, once known as the Philistine city of Gath

“The Philistines used to be understood as a monolithic culture that invaded from somewhere the coastal plain and took over,” says Maeir. “Today many people argue that when you look at the early Philistines you don’t see a single culture but what we call an ‘entangled’ culture, one formed by contributions from many peoples, with influences from Cyprus, Anatolia, Greece and other places that are all mixed in with local elements to form this Mediterranean salad: and this is what we see in the material culture and in the ancient DNA.”

Whatever the statistical significance of the samples from Ashkelon, Tthere is one more twist in this story, which comes from the DNA of three skeletons recently uncovered in a Philistine cemetery at Ashkelon that were was dated to the 10th-9th centuries B.C.E. 

In these individuals, who lived just a couple of centuries after the Philistines first arrived, the European genetic component is almost undetectable. On average their genome resembles more that of the Canaanite Ashkelonites from the Bronze Age than their chronologically closer ancestors in the early Iron Age.

This means that those European migrants very quickly “intermixed with the local people and became the local people, genetically indistinguishable, even as some of the traditions they brought with them were carried on,” says Aja.

Excavating at the Philistine cemetery in Ashkelon Melissa Aja / Courtesy Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon

We don’t know for sure whether this means that the new arrivals interbred just with the original population of Ashkelon and its nearby towns, or if they also mingled with members of other local groups, including the ancient Hebrews. But in any case, this finding is fairly in line with what archaeologists have uncovered so far about this long-lost culture.

Going native

The Philistines disappeared from history when the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II conquered them (soon to be followed by Judah and the rest of the Levant) at the end of the 7th century B.C.E. Since they have left us very few inscriptions, the only primary historical sources we have about them are from their adversaries – Egyptians, Hebrews, Assyrians and Babylonians – some of whom may have been prejudiced in describing them as barbaric outsiders, says Master.

In reality, the archaeological record shows that the Philistines were sophisticated traders and their culture very quickly became completely Levantine in character, just like the genome of their people. For example, the few Philistine inscriptions that have survived show that early on they used a Cypro-Minoan script, but in later periods switched to a writing that is almost indistinguishable from ancient Hebrew and other local Semitic languages, Master explains.

There is also plenty of archaeological evidence that the cultural borders between the Philistines and their neighbors were fairly permeable. 

And the Bible itself, while casting aspersions on the “uncircumcised” and polytheistic Philistines, does suggest that intermarriage with them was not unheard of. Even Samson, the biblical bane of the Philistines, attempts to marry one at the beginning of his adventures (Judges 14-15).

“So beneath all the antipathy in the ancient texts, you sense that there is something going on,” notes Master. “People were going back and forth, and even though there was an obvious political difference and a lot of rhetoric, on the ground there was also a lot of interaction.”

Examples of Philistine-type pottery, Kibbutz Revadim משה גלעד

The relatively rapid pace at which the Philistine genome – and culture – went native also tells us something about those early European settlers who started it all. Archaeologically, it has been difficult to determine whether their takeover of Ashkelon and other sites on the coastal plain was a violent or peaceful affair – it may have varied from place to place.

But the genetic study proves that the new arrivals must have been fairly small in number compared to the population they eventually merged with.

“It’s not as if they come and establish a beachhead and continue to talk with the people back home,” says Master. “This is a one-time influx of people who are not being replenished and are cut off from wherever they came from: they are on their own.”

They just wanted to live

The scarcity of their numbers suggests that the first Philistines may have been small groups of refugees fleeing from some catastrophe, or even bands of pirates and mercenaries, as they and the other Sea Peoples are often described in ancient texts.

But whatever their nature, it is becoming increasingly difficult to credibly see them as a large mass of barbarians that swept through the Mediterranean and were solely responsible for the Bronze Age Collapse.

They may have been aggressive in their search for a new home – there is no reason to doubt Ramses III’s claim that they attacked Egypt – but it’s hard to believe that on their own they could bring down multiple great empires.

Research on the period has already been going in this direction for a while. Studies like those of historian Eric Cline suggest the Bronze Age Collapse was not sparked by a single cause but by multiple systemic and environmental factors that caused a domino effect among polities that were deeply interconnected. Climate change may have been a major contributor, as scientists studying the pollen record in the Sea of Galilee have shown that between 1250 and 1100 B.C.E. the entire region went through a period of severe droughts, which would have caused famine, unrest and population displacement. 

“The Philistines were probably reacting to their environment, either the movement of other people or environmental stresses,” says Aja. “There must have been a very dramatic reason for them to leave their homes and migrate over what was then a fairly large distance. Why did the leave? Why did they come to the Levant to start from scratch and create new families?”

Answering such questions is important not just to illuminate the Bronze Age Collapse, but to understand the underlying problems that can undermine civilization at any time – especially today, the archaeologist says.

“These are very timely questions when you look at the movement of people in the world today as a reaction to conflict or environmental pressures,” he says. “People will go to great lengths and put themselves in great danger to move because, they want to have better lives, they want to live.”

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Posted by on July 4, 2019 in Uncategorized