Angelic Protection

shiur: parashas Beshalach 5782

“The pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, departed not from before the people.” – Exodus 13:22, JPS 1917 Tanach

Upon departing from their former lives as slaves in Egypt, B’nei Yisrael was provided with H’Shem’s presence in the form of “the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night.” Upon reaching the edge of the Sea of Reeds, “the angel of G-d, who went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud removed from before them, and stood behind them” (Exodus 14:19, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The Angel of G-d appears to be synonymous with the pillar of fire. One way to view this may be as the Angel of G-d actually standing between the Israelite camp and the camp of the Egyptian army. The pillar of cloud obscured the Israelite camp from the reach of the Egyptians. And, the Angel of G-d provided spiritual protection. Also, the Angel of G-d continued to accompany B’nei Yisrael on their journey through the desert:

“In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and, He bore them, and carried them all the days of old.”

– Isaiah 63:9, JPS 1917 Tanach

parashas Bo 5782

“And the L-RD said unto Moses: Go in unto Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might show these My signs in the midst of them.’” – Exodus 10:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to the Zohar, when Moses entered Pharaohs inner chamber, considered to be the abode of evil, HShems Presence was with him. This is drawn from the translation of the word, bo, as meaning “come” to Pharaoh, instead of “go” to Pharaoh. Because H’Shem said to Moses, in a manner of speaking, come with me, into the abode of the serpent, and My Presence will be with you when you confront Pharaoh. To some degree, what is written in the Zohar seems to imply that this inner chamber was actually a spiritual abode of darkness, as if Moses was brought face to face with the power of the serpent that sustained Pharaoh and all of Egypt. The only reason that this would be necessary is to break that power through G-d’s might.

Moshe may have also felt some trepidation about confronting Pharaoh within the court this time. Having grown up in the previous Pharaoh’s court, he knew full well the level of darkness in the form of idolatry, present within Pharaoh’s inner chambers. The servants of Pharaoh were well skilled in the ways of darkness associated with these deities. Their so-called powers were not from G-d; rather, their strength was dependent upon the sitra achrah, literally, “the other side.” This is why the Zohar refers to Pharaoh’s inner chamber as the abode of evil; for in the absence of G-d, there is only evil.

Yet, H’Shem reassured Moshe, that He would be present with Him, even in this darkest of abodes. At this point, Moses, accompanied by Aaron, delivered the warning for the eighth plague – the plague of locusts. The description of the plague was severe enough that “Pharaoh’s servants said unto him: ‘How long shall this man be a snare to us? let the men go, that they may serve the L-RD their G-d, knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?” (Exodus 10:7, JPS 1917 Tanach). It is the nature of evil, that when it lifts up its ugly head, it does so in insolent pride against G-d – for Pharaoh did not relent.

Connotations of His Name

shiur for parashas Va’eira 5782

Towards the end of the previous parashas, Moshe approached Pharaoh, on behalf of H’Shem, saying, “Let My people go, that they may hold a feast unto Me in the wilderness” (Exodus 5:1, JPS 1917 Tanach).  A people, enslaved, for 216 years in Egypt, were about to be redeemed.  Yet, the redemption did not occur in as expedient a manner as Moshe had hoped for it to be.  Rather, Pharaoh increased the workload, by making the people find straw for themselves to make the bricks.  The elders said to Moses and Aaron that they had made them abhorrent in the eyes of Pharaoh (Exodus 5:21).  In turn, Moshe said to H’Shem that the people were being treated worse, and He had not delivered His people at all (Exodus 5:23).

H’Shem responds at the beginning of parashas Va’eira, “’Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh; for by a strong hand shall he let them go, and by a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land” (Exodus 6:1).  The Sages explain that it was necessary for the full measure of wickedness to be enacted by Pharaoh and the Egyptian people (who were complicit with his decisions), so that the Redemption could begin.  In other words, Pharaoh’s punishment was only meted out, when he showed how cruel he really could be.

H’Shem continues, “I am H’Shem [YHVH]; and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as G-d Almighty [El Shaddai], but by My name H’Shem [YHVH] I made not known to them” (Exodus 6:3, JPS 1917 Tanach).  The name H’Shem [YHVH] conveys an expression of faithfulness towards the covenant that was made with the Patriarchs.  Although the name does appear in the narrative of the Patriarchs, as if He did use that name with them, the intent of the passage is that the actual covenant was not yet brought about to fruition.  Only now, would H’Shem make His name known to Moshe, inasmuch that Moshe and B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) would see the promise of the covenant given to the Patriarchs – inhabiting HaEretz Yisrael  (the Land of Israel) – be brought into reality.

Judah’s Teshuvah

shiur for parashas Vayigash 5782

Joseph, as an Egyptian prince, had arranged a scenario, whereby he was able to take Benjamin captive. He told his servant to place his silver cup in Benjamin’s pack on his donkey. Then, when the brothers were leaving, the servant overtook them, searched their packs, and “found” the cup. “The man in whose hand the cup was found, he shall be my servant” (Genesis 44: 17). Joseph arranged for this “test” to see if the brothers would stand up in defense of Benjamin. Indeed, Judah took the lead in stating his intent to replace Benjamin as a servant to the Egyptian prince (Joseph). “Judah approached him and said, O L-RD, let your servant speak; I beg you, let your servant remain instead of the lad” (Genesis 44: 18-33).

When Judah approached the Egyptian Prince (Joseph) to make an appeal for the sake of Benjamin, he offered himself as a slave unknowingly to the very one whom he had sold as a slave twenty-two years prior to this moment. Joseph was so moved by his self-negation on behalf of Benjamin, that he could no longer contain his emotions. Although his brothers had sold him into slavery so long ago, it was clear to him at this point in the test that they had done teshuvah (repentance) over their transgression against him.

Joseph requested all of his Egyptian servants to leave his presence so that he would be alone with his brothers when revealing himself to them: “And he wept aloud; and, Joseph said to his brothers, I am Joseph” (Genesis 45: 2-3). “G-d sent me before you to give you a remnant on the earth, and to save you alive for a great deliverance” (Genesis 45: 7, JPS 1917 Tanach). Joseph knew that all that had happened to him was ultimately for the good: despite the circumstances of each situation wherein he suffered, he had persevered and saw G-d’s hand at work.

Wisdom of the Ages

shiur for parashas Toldos 5782

“Isaac dug anew the wells which had been dug in the days of his father Abraham and which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham’s death; and he gave them the same names that his father had given them.” – Genesis 26:18, JPS 1985 Tanach

The passing on of traditions from generation to generation, ad infinitum, until Malchus Elokim (the Kingdom of G-d), takes a precedent in our lives, beyond compare, ushering in the Messianic Age. These are the wells of wisdom re-dug, figuratively speaking, in every generation, from where the living waters may be drawn every day, as a fresh supply of life-sustaining spiritual truths.

Each pious individual of the succeeding generations will – H’Shem willing – make an effort like Isaac “to return and dig to the aspect of ‘a well of living water’ through many types of intelligences and great and concealed counsels” (Me’or Einayim, sefaria.org). Thus, Isaac, who re-dug his father Abraham’s wells, that had been stopped up by the Philistines, serves as an example, on a symbolic level for us.

Seeking Meaning

“And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah.” – Genesis 23:1, The Complete Jewish Tanach

Commentary notes that there is a specific reason that the word “years” appears after each component number of the total number of years of her life. Inasmuch as each time frame of her life is to be understood in a certain manner, the following rendering is given: her childhood, young adulthood, and adulthood were all equally good (based on Rashi). Imagine an equanimity of identity, intention, and purpose spanning the entirety of a life – this was the life of Sarah.

This may be contrasted with the lives of many people in modernity. Common language, currently describes different formative years in a negative way, for example, the terrible twos, the rebellious adolescence, and the burdensome task of “finding oneself” given to the young adult. Also, consider the pressure of higher-level education, and earlier, placing the burden of choosing an area of interest upon the student, before he or she may be ready to decide upon a profession. In like manner that so many teenagers and young adults change their image, interests, and friendships; college-bound students and university freshman change their majors.

And what of the often turbulent years of the teenager, as well as the young adult, especially if one’s formative years were actually not so formative? “Train a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, JPS 1917 Tanach). There is a continuum, expressed by Erikson, between “identity cohesion and role confusion,” especially during adolescence; yet, a cohesive identity may be formed as the result of parental instruction and role modeling. Additionally, each child may be brought up in accordance with his or her own personality, and learning style. This is not a task that can simply be relegated to the teachers where the child attends school.

Unless an individual embarks upon a steady path, replete with a moral component, then how can one navigate the vicissitudes of life? Too often, the formula of permitting the youth to experience life for themselves, without providing any clear guideposts, is the one taken by parents who have been influenced by the permissiveness of societal norms. Yet, there is still something to say for those throughout the world who are brought up within a more traditional framework. This would include those within cultures that embrace traditional morality, as well as those that uphold religious values.

The monotheism embraced by both Abraham and Sarah served as a rallying cry for their newfound beliefs, whereof each was committed to a high degree of sanctity in their lives, despite the idolatry and diminished moral sphere of the surrounding peoples of that time. Eventually, the three Abrahamic faiths influenced the world in a manner, whereby many people were called to a higher standard.

Comparatively speaking, as the standard of the world seems to decline in more recent times, it is even more important to plan a trajectory for our own lives, those of our children, and the future of society, even in the midst of societal breakdowns. We need a return to an unadulterated life of stability, purposeful intent, and commitment; instead of the rampant nihilism, experimenting, and seeking of entertainment, so common in modern society. May the pure, devoted, and moral life of Sarah serve as an example for us to seek meaning and the utmost good for our lives.

“Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint; but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

– Proverbs 29:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

Fair is Fair

“G-d heard the cry of the boy, and an angel of G-d called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for G-d has heard the cry of the boy from where he is.”

– Genesis 21:17, JPS 1985 Tanach

The midrash comments on the phrase, “from where he is,” by paraphrasing it as such: “in that condition in which he now is” (Genesis Rabbah 53:14, sefaria.org). As further explained, “He shall be judged according to his present deeds, and not according to those actions which he may do in the future” (Ramban; sefaria.org). Nachmanides further notes that the plain meaning is that G-d would provide water for the boy, in the very place that he was without further ado. And, so G-d opened the eyes of Hagar, whereafter “she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin with water, and let the boy drink” (Genesis 21:19).

Thus, if a generalization can be made, two inferences may be drawn out, one each from these two different interpretations. In the plain sense of the verse, G-d will meet us where we are at, when we call out to Him. In our very present needs, we seek relief from G-d when all else seems to fail. Our nisyanos (challenges) in life are sometimes of this kind. And, H’Shem willing, our help will appear in a manner that may even be unexpected, inasmuch that we had not considered such and such prior to our eyes being opened to the potential source of benefit for our relief.

In the more theological sense of the verse, we are seen by G-d for who we are at the time of need, regardless of who we will become in the future. For, “the L-RD is good to all; and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 149:9, JPS 1917 Tanach). Consider how Lot was blessed through the merit of Abraham, despite Lot’s immoral behavior that expressed itself, later, after he was spared from the fire and brimstone that fell upon Sodom and Gomorrah. It is important to note, that our condition in the future will be judged: if the righteous fall into a life of sin, “none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered.” And, if the wicked turn away from a sinful lifestyle, “none of his sins that he committed shall be remembered against him” (Ezekiel 33:12-16, JPS).

A Test of Integrity

“And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine and he was the kohein (priest) of El (G-d) the Most High.” – Genesis 14:18

“Five possessions did the Holy Blessed One, set aside as his own in this world, and these are they: The Torah, one possession; Heaven and earth, another possession; Abraham, another possession; Israel, another possession; The Temple, another possession.” – Avos 6:9, sefaria.org

“G-d acquired these five possessions to serve as the instruments by means of which He can bestow His kindness and generosity on man, to let him rise to the lofty position of comprehending His greatness.” – Akeidat Yitzchak, sefaria.org

A tenth of all that Abraham retrieved from the five kings was given to Melchizedek; the remainder was considered properly tithed from the perspective of a later Torah injunction; yet, Abraham kept none of this, for his reward has to do with heaven and earth. Therefore, what has any man to offer Abraham? The King of Sodom’s riches would have been devoid of any spiritual blessing, since they would not have been bestowed upon Abraham by G-d; but, rather by man.

While it is true that blessings can be given to someone through men, according to G-d’s design, this would not have been the case, in regard to the loot that was recovered by Abraham, when rescued his nephew Lot, who was captured by the five kings. Why? Because Abraham was righteous, and “disdained profit gained through oppression” (Akeidas Yitzchak; sefaria.org). That is to say, that he forsook the wealth that was rightly his according to custom in order to maintain his integrity.

Every now and then, we may find ourselves in a similar position, not necessarily having to do with possessions; rather, as pertaining to a challenge designed to test the integrity of our convictions. Our belief and practice, as well as the strength of our convictions must be tested, so that we are able to permit these to take root in actuality. The tests designed for Abraham, throughout the narrative of his life, as recorded in Torah, may also be understood this way.

“The L-RD trieth the righteous.” – Psalms 11:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

It’s Covenantal

shiur for parashas Noach 5782

“I will establish My covenant with thee; and thou shalt come into the ark.”

– Genesis 6:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

From the beginning of time, G-d did not plan on catastrophes, turmoil, and strife amongst mankind. Rather, mankind brought this upon themselves. When G-d created the world, He brought into existence human beings that were given free will. Yet, this freedom only exists within the overall construct of consequences, in regard to the types of choices man makes for himself. Freedom is circumscribed by guidelines and boundaries, in order to maintain the truest sense of freedom, that is to say, freedom from subjugation to evil.

Too often, we would like to point the finger at something outside of ourselves, condemning it as inappropriate, wrong, or even evil in and of itself. A sense of injustice, or righteous indignation compels some of us to seek amendments. Try as we may to subdue, suppress, and right the wrongs, we would do better to look within ourselves. This is where the real battle is fought, between the yetzer tov (good inclination) and the yetzer hara (evil inclination).

Through tikkun hanefesh (rectification of the soul), transformation becomes available to all who seek sincere self improvement. As Ghandi said, “Be the change that you would like to see in the world.” Yet, condemnation, shaming, and cancelling out of the other, will only bring a false utopia, that neglects to root out its own evil inclinations. “And the L-RD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5, JPS 1917 Tanach). Yet, Noach found favor in the eyes of the L-RD. And, the L-RD established His covenant with Noach, his family, and all of mankind.

Even so, man continued to rebel, in opposition to G-d; hence, the building of the Tower of Babel, wherein, man attempted to make a name for himself, to the exclusion of His Creator. Thus, a misguided effort was brought to halt through G-d’s intervention. Today, we may ask ourselves, whether we are contributing to the divine blueprint, or an alternative design, that erroneously leaves G-d out of the equation. “Choose this day whom ye will serve” (Joshua 24:15, JPS).

Gentile Flock

shiur for Sukkot 5782

“On the fifteenth day of the seventh month ye shall have a holy convocation: ye shall do no manner of servile work, and ye shall keep a feast unto the L-RD seven days.”

– Numbers 29:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

The festival of Sukkot, as prescribed in Torah, included offerings for the nations for their protection from affliction. There were a total of seventy bulls offered over a period of seven days. This specifically designated amount of offerings corresponds to the primary nations of the world as mentioned in the Torah (Genesis chapter 10). “These seventy bulls, to what do they correspond? They correspond to the seventy nations” (Sukkah 55b; sefaria.org).

In the future, all of the nations will be required to worship in Jerusalem (it is likely to presume that they will send delegates). This is a sign of the Messianic Era, when the Messiah will reign from Jerusalem. “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations that came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the L-RD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles [Sukkot]” (Zechariah 14:16, JPS).

“And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the L-RD, to the house of the G-d of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the L-RD from Jerusalem.”

– Isaiah 2:3, JPS 1917 Tanach