Monday, 13 Elul

Elul 13 is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad (1835-1909), the renowned Sephardic Halachic authority and Kabbalist, known as “Ben Ish Chai” after his work by that name.

Friday, 17 Elul

Following the failed attempt to dispatch a raven from the ark (see “Today in Jewish History” for Elul 10), Noah sent a dove from the window of the ark to see if the great Flood that covered the earth had abated. “But the dove found no resting place for the sole of its foot” and returned to the ark; Noah waited seven days before making another attempt.

Saturday 18 Elul

Elul 18 is the birthday of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism

Rabbi Israel was born in a small town in Ukraine in 1698. His father, Rabbi Eliezer, who was a member of the secret society of “hidden tzaddikim,” passed away when young Israel was only five years old; his last words to his son were, “Fear nothing but G-d alone. Love every Jew with all your heart and all your soul.”

The young orphan would spend much of his time wandering and meditating in the forests that surrounded his hometown; there, he one day met with one of his father’s compatriots, and eventually joined their society. For many years, he lived disguised as a simple innkeeper and clay-digger, his greatness known only to a very small circle of fellow mystics and disciples. But on his 36th birthday, he was instructed by his master to “reveal” himself and publicly disseminate his teachings.

Drawing from the mystical “soul of Torah,” the Baal Shem Tov (“Master of the Good Name,” as he came to be known) taught about the spark of G-dliness that is to be found in every creation, and about the great love that G-d has for each and every one of His children, scholars and simple folk alike. He emphasized the importance of joy and simple faith in serving G-d, rather than ascetism. Initially, his teachings encountered fierce opposition from the scholarly elite and established leadership of the Jewish community; but many of those very scholars and communal leaders ended up becoming his devoted disciples. When Rabbi Israel passed at age 62 on Shavuot of 1760, the movement he founded was well on the way of becoming one of the most vital forces in Jewish life.

Torah Portion: Ki Tavo
At the end of this weeks Torah portion, the Torah recounts how Moses called to the entire Jewish people and told them:

God has not given you a heart to understand, eyes to see, and ears to hear, until this day.
Deut 28:3

What day was this?


Rashi comments:

I heard that on this day Moses gave a Torah scroll to the children of Levi (his tribe and the tribe responsible for teaching)…. and all of Israel came and said to him, ‘Moses our teacher, we also stood near the Mountain of Sinai, received the Torah, and it was given to us.  Why then do the child of your tribe have possession of it?… It wasn’t (just) given to you (Tribe of Levi) it was given to us!’  Moses was very happy with their words and said, ‘…Today I understand that you are clinging and desire the Omnipresent.


What is the connection between desiring the Torah and God granting the heart to understand, eyes to see….

A thought:

Additional perception can be a dangerous gift.  This idea is expressed in the statement “Ignorance is bliss”.  So advanced perception with out a desire to cling to God could lead a person astray.   God therefore waited till the people had demonstrated a profound love of God before gifting them with “A heart to understand, eyes to see, and ears to hear.”