Tag Archives: End of Days

The Origins and Meaning of ‘Lecha Dodi’

The Haftarah for this week’s parasha, Shoftim, has several phrases that are very familiar from our prayers, such as hit’oreri hit’oreri (התעוררי התעוררי), uri uri (עורי עורי), and hitna’ari m’afar kumi (התנערי מעפר קומי). We recognize these words, of course, from the Friday evening Kabbalat Shabbat song of ‘Lecha Dodi’—but they are originally adapted from the prophecies of Isaiah. The first letters of the eight main stanzas of ‘Lecha Dodi’ spell Shlomo haLevi (שלמה הלוי), alluding to the author of the song, Rabbi Shlomo haLevi Alkabetz (c. 1500-1576).

Rabbi Alkabetz was born in Salonica (present-day Thessaloniki, Greece) to a Sephardic family. He was a student of the great Rabbi Yosef Taitazak (1465-1546), who was among the Spanish Jewish exiles of 1492 and settled in Salonica. Rabbi Taitazak would become the “father” of the Tzfat Kabbalists, for many of his students (including Rabbi Yosef Karo, 1488-1575) were from, or settled in, Tzfat and transformed it into the capital of Jewish mysticism. Another one of Rabbi Taitazak’s students was Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (the “Ramak”, 1522-1570), who was the brother-in-law of Rabbi Alkabetz. Together, the Ramak and Rabbi Alkabetz famously popularized the ancient mystical practice of staying up all night to study Torah on Shavuot.

Tzfat in the 19th Century

Rabbi Alkabetz settled in Tzfat in 1535. One of the notable practices of the Tzfat Kabbalists was to go out into the fields on Friday evening to welcome the “Sabbath Queen”. This is based on the Talmud (Shabbat 119a), which says that Rabbi Chanina would do so, as did Rabbi Yannai, who would also call out bo’i kallah, bo’i kallah. In another place, the Talmud (Bava Kamma 32b) adds that some would say to go out likrat Shabbat, kallah, malkata, to welcome the Sabbath Bride and Queen. The Tzfat Kabbalists resurrected this ancient practice. Rabbi Chaim Vital (1543-1620), the preeminent student and scribe of the great Arizal (Rabbi Isaac Luria, 1534-1572), records in his Pri Etz Chaim (Sha’ar Shabbat) the Arizal’s precise procedure for Kabbalat Shabbat:

He would go out into the fields and first recite Psalm 29 (‘Mizmor l’David’). Then he would say bo’i kallah three times, followed by Psalm 92 (‘Mizmor Shir l’Yom haShabbat’). That was it! The Arizal would then return home, and had another set of rituals around the meal table. One of these was to recite the words Zachor v’shamor b’dibbur echad ne’emru, to recall the mitzvah of Shabbat in the Ten Commandments. Recall that in the first passage of the Ten Commandments in the Book of Exodus, God says zachor et yom haShabbat, to “commemorate” the Sabbath day, while in the second passage of the Ten Commandments in the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses recorded it as shamor et yom haShabbat, to “safeguard” the Sabbath day. Our Sages explained that God had said both words simultaneously—the people heard zachor v’shamor b’dibbur echad, to “commemorate” and “safeguard” in a single utterance.

The Arizal passed away in 1572, while Rabbi Alkabetz outlived him and passed away in 1576 (or 1580 according to alternate sources). We do not know for certain when Rabbi Alkabetz wrote ‘Lecha Dodi’, but it is quite possible that it was composed in his final years, as the Kabbalah of the Arizal was already spreading. A major clue is that Rabbi Alkabetz incorporated the Arizal’s practice of reciting Zachor v’shamor b’dibbur echad into his song (though it is possible that the Arizal had himself adopted the practice from earlier Tzfat Kabbalists). Rabbi Alkabetz also included the key words from the Talmud, and the phrases from this week’s Haftarah about the Final Redemption and rebuilding of Jerusalem, among other Biblical verses. Encrypted into the popular song are some fundamental and profound ideas. Let’s take a deeper look into what the verses of ‘Lecha Dodi’ really mean. Continue reading

Israel’s Greatest Enemy: The Erev Rav

At the end of this week’s parasha, Bo, the Israelites are finally free and set forth out of Egypt. We are told that along with the Israelites came out an Erev Rav (Exodus 12:38), a “mixed multitude” of people that joined them. Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Itzchaki, 1040-1105) explains that these were non-Jewish people that wished to convert and become part of the Jewish people, having seen such great wonders and miracles. Ibn Ezra (Rabbi Avraham ben Meir ibn Ezra, c. 1089-1092) adds that they were mostly Egyptians, and Shadal (Rabbi Shmuel David Luzzatto, 1800-1865) says they were Egyptians that had intermarried with Jews. He proves it from Nehemiah 13:3, where the non-Jewish “erev” were separated out of the returning Jewish population. The Zohar (II, 291a) states that many of the Erev Rav were Egyptian magicians, witches, and wizards, who would perform their tricks in the erev ravrava, the “great evening”. The time between sunset and midnight is when the impure forces are most active, hence a “great evening” for those wicked people.

The Zohar teaches that God warned Moses not to accept the Erev Rav, for they would cause nothing but trouble, but Moses had a hard time keeping them away and thought that perhaps they could be redeemed. Not surprisingly, God was right. The Erev Rav went on to cause havoc and mayhem both to the Exodus generation itself, and throughout all of Jewish history, until the present. As we shall see, they orchestrated the Golden Calf and the Midianite catastrophe, among other calamities. While the term “Amalek” is reserved for Israel’s external nemesis, the Erev Rav is the far more dangerous enemy from within. It is of them that the prophet Isaiah said “…those who destroy you and ruin you emerge from within you.” (Isaiah 49:17) Now, more than ever, we need to understand: Who is the Erev Rav? How can we identify them today? And, most importantly, how do we stop them? Continue reading

Dever: Understanding the Plague

‘The Fifth Plague of Egypt’ by J.M.W. Turner (1800)

In this week’s parasha, Va’era, we read about the first seven of the Ten Plagues that God struck ancient Egypt with. The one that is particularly of interest today is dever, pestilence. While in Egypt, it primarily affected the livestock, the word dever can refer to any kind of pestilence. One of the big questions here is why the plague is called dever (דבר), a term we typically associate more with “speech” and “words”, davar. Perhaps one way to understand it is that a plague that is especially virulent, like the one in ancient Egypt—and the one we are in the midst of currently—can be spread even through speech. The plague (dever, דבר) is invisible and airborne, like a word (davar, דבר) itself.

Another way to understand it is to remember that the Tanakh often tells us that the world exists only through God’s Word. King David wrote poetically that “By the Word [davar] of God the Heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all of their hosts.” (Psalms 33:6) Even more relevant for us now, Moses told us that God “subjects you to hardship” and sends us difficult challenges “in order to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but on all that comes out of the Mouth of God does man live.” (Deuteronomy 8:3) In times of plague, this is a vital message—and while it might be a most difficult one to accept, it is undeniably true nonetheless—that ultimately, who lives and who dies is decreed by the Word of God.

Each person must do their hishtadlut, their effort in proactively preserving health. That means staying active, eating right, reducing stress, and maintaining positive relationships. It means reducing exposure to toxins and mutagens as much as possible, switching to more natural products, installing a good water filter (especially for drinking water), and spending time out in the great outdoors with plenty of fresh air. It also means, in times of plague, to be vigilant of surroundings, wear personal protective equipment when appropriate, maintain the highest standards of hygiene, and do the research in determining which medications are effective and safe. The rest remains in God’s Hands, and there is no need to panic. As the Prophet promised us, “Blessed is the man who trusts securely in God, and God will be his security.” (Jeremiah 17:7)

When it comes to our current pandemic, every person has had a different experience. Some have lost loved ones, others have not. Certain communities have been hit particularly hard while others went entirely unscathed. There are many views regarding how to deal with the plague and the proper way to get out of it. There have also been absurd conspiracy theories pushed on the one hand, balancing out the illogical and unreasonable measures enacted on the other. In fact, perhaps the key problem has been the constant torrent of misinformation, both mainstream and alternative. People don’t know what to think anymore! So, let’s try to honestly sift through the confusion and come to at least a few undeniable facts that everyone can agree on at this point.

A year ago, we were told that the new vaccines are up to 95% effective, and if all we did was take a couple of shots the virus would go away and the pandemic would be over. Here we are now, on the cusp of a third or even fourth shot, and nothing’s changed at all. The restrictions are still in full force, with new lockdowns on the horizon. Despite the high vaccination rates of most western countries, the pandemic has not receded whatsoever. Now, the majority of COVID cases are among the vaccinated. Here in Ontario today, 10436 new cases were reported, of which a whopping 8221 were fully vaccinated! The majority of people hospitalized are also fully vaccinated. In Israel, meanwhile, the first death from the Omicron variant was reported today—and it was a triple-vaccinated woman. Yet, unbelievably, the powers-that-be are still pushing us to vaccinate with even more boosters! As Albert Einstein purportedly once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The data really speaks for itself: vaccines have done little to stop the pandemic besides for reducing symptoms. We were initially told the vaccines would stop transmission, but that message has changed. The vaccinated are undoubtedly transmitting, too. On that note, the push to vaccinate children was primarily made on the argument of not having them transmit it to the elderly, who are most susceptible. But everyone now agrees that the vaccine does not stop transmission! So, what is the point of vaccinating children? Kids are not very susceptible to COVID, and no one disputes that the vast majority of children, with rare exceptions, take it mildly or are entirely asymptomatic.

Worse yet, evidence is building that the spike protein which the mRNA vaccines code for is itself carcinogenic (here is a peer-reviewed study in a scientific journal, and here is another). Why give little children multiple doses of a potentially harmful carcinogen when the virus itself is mostly harmless to them? What might be the horrific long-term consequences of repetitive mass-vaccination? It may very well end up being an enormous crime against humanity.

Finally, regardless of how you feel about the virus and the vaccine, or which side you are on, the new “mandates” being introduced by governments worldwide should concern everyone. People have lost their jobs and livelihoods for simply exercising the right to their own bodies. No one should be coerced into a medical procedure they do not want—especially when the data behind it is so poor, as we’ve seen. Meanwhile, fundamental rights are being stripped for all people, regardless of vaccination status. Freedom of movement? Highly restricted. Freedom of speech? Be careful what you say lest you lose your license! Freedom of religion and belief? Every single person I know who’s applied for some kind of religious exemption or conscientious objection has been denied outright.

You might think it’s okay because desperate times call for desperate measures. However, once these “rules” are in place, it will be almost impossible to repeal them, and they will remain long after the pandemic. Want to go to a restaurant? Let’s see your private medical records! Want to go on vacation? You will first have to take this invasive medical test before and after (and in between)! Want this job? Not if you don’t take multiple doses of a new “treatment” required for all employees! We are setting dangerous precedents and descending ever further down a treacherous slippery slope. Meanwhile, the World Economic Forum is openly pushing a “digital ID” for everyone that will store a person’s private information and biometrics, linked to their vaccinations, and bank accounts, too. (See here on their own website.) Is this the future we want?

Let’s not forget what happened to the Israelites in Egypt. How did Pharaoh manage to convince an entire populace to turn on its Jews? The answer is simple, and relayed clearly in the Torah. Pharaoh saw an opportunity, and said: “let us outsmart them!” (Exodus 1:10) He engineered a crisis, and used fear-mongering and propaganda to convince everyone that Israel was the dreaded enemy. Did it happen overnight? Not at all. In fact, our Sages say that the Israelites gave up their rights willingly, one small “harmless” step at a time. This is the meaning of the famous statement that Israel was enslaved b’farekh (בְּפָרֶךְ, Exodus 1:13), meaning b’pe rakh (בְּפֶה רַךְ), with a “soft mouth”, gradually, through a set of small “gentile” mandates (Sotah 11b). It was for the good of society after all! It took thirty years until they were fully enslaved. By then, it was too late to go back.

We are now seeing the same playbook of fear-mongering followed by incremental restrictions. Now is the time for everyone—across the social and political spectrum, vaccinated or not—to stand up and fight to preserve freedom. The more people that speak out, resist (peacefully), and refuse to comply, the better it will get. The government needs to be sent a clear message, for the government is only as powerful as the governed allow them to be. If people do not speak out, or continue to stay silent for fear of ostracism, things will only get worse. And then, again, it will be too late.

We began by exploring the connection between dever and davar, the plague and the Word of God. Here may lie the real core of the matter. The test right now is one of faith in God. As our Sages taught, “All is in the hands of Heaven, except the fear of Heaven.” (Berakhot 33b) The question is who is aligning with God’s Will, and who is not. (It is worth mentioning that the mystical term for the Will of God is Keter which, when translated into Latin, is literally “corona”.) It could very well be that the challenges we are facing now are meant to strain out those who have faith in God, think for themselves, and put Torah law first, from those who have faith in men, let the media think for them, and follow the corrupt laws and mandates of wicked people. Long ago, the prophet Zechariah (13:8-9) foresaw that a day would come when

Throughout the land—declares God—two-thirds shall perish, shall die, and one-third of it shall survive. That third I will put into the fire, and I will smelt them as one smelts silver, and test them as one tests gold. They will invoke Me by Name, and I will respond to them. I will declare: “You are My people.” And they will declare: “Hashem is our God!”

We have a general rule in Judaism that a negative prophecy does not have to be fulfilled, since it is given as a warning. Unfortunately, the warning usually falls on deaf ears, and the prophecy is realized anyway. If Zechariah’s prophecy is fulfilled, only a third will survive the coming calamity, and it is the third that trusts in God. Still, it will not be easy for that third, as they will be put through tremendous tests. We should learn from this that no matter what happens in the coming days, and how excruciating it might get, we must only strengthen our resolve and continue to declare loudly: “Hashem is our God!”