parashas Va’eira 5781

“And moreover I have heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered My covenant.” – Exodus 6:5

            A covenant was made with Abraham, many years before his descendants entered Egypt: “And He said unto Abram: ‘Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years” (Genesis 15:12-13, JPS 1917 Tanach).

             H’Shem sent Moshe, whom He spoke to at the burning bush: “‘I have surely seen the affliction of My people that are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their pains; and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians.” (Exodus 3:7-8).

            For H’Shem heard the cry of His people; he “descended to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians” (Exodus 3:8, Complete Jewish Bible, chabad.org).  Such is His love for His children, that he “descended to rescue them.”  Even though, He is thought of in Talmudic thought as sitting on His throne in Seventh Heaven, He heard our cries from there.

            The Talmud further explains that He can even hear the penitent whisper prayers in the synagogue: for He is not only transcendent; He is also immanent.  This explains to some degree how He can be the Master of the Universe, as well as the One who effects miracles to release His people from bondage. 

Joseph: The Continuing Saga

parashas Vayigash 5781


Joseph’s identity, hidden from his brothers, was revealed to them in a moment of time, wherein they had a private audience with the Egyptian ruler, who knew them, yet, they did not recognise him. Previously, up until that moment, they had seen him as a cruel ruler, who held his authority over them, inasmuch as he could do as he pleased: through intimidating them by placing them in jail three days; demanding that they return with their youngest brother; otherwise, they would not be able to see him, thereby obtaining necessary food during the famine; and, finally, taking Benjamin as a servant, under false charges. Their perception of him changed, when he said, “I am Joseph” (Genesis 45:3).

Joseph himself had previously told them, in regard to the incident whereof, he kept Simeon as a hostage, until they return with Benjamin, instead of keeping them all in prison, that he fears G-d. No light statement from an Egyptian ruler; yet, the brothers may not have accepted this statement as sincere. Now, they see his sincerity demonstrated, inasmuch that he shows them kindness, forgiveness, and mercy, the very qualities valued in Abrahamic legacy. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do his commandments; his praise endures for ever” (Psalms 111:10, Tanach Bible).

When Jacob arrived in Egypt with his family, his son, Joseph, harnessed his chariot and went out to greet him. Joseph provided for his family to live in the land of Goshen – a land removed from Egypt proper. As a consequence of their living in this location, they were isolated to some extent from the rest of Egyptian society. They had more freedom to follow the patriarchal ways of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and foster the character traits that they represented, as opposed to getting caught up in the idolatrous ways, and immorality of their neighbors.

Yet, even in the midst of the uncertainty, doubt, and fear, that settled in years later, after the children of Israel became enslaved in Egypt, there was the promise of hope in the redeemer. Before Joseph passed away, he told his brother, pekod pekodti, a redeemer will reveal himself to you. “G-d will surely remember you, and bring you up out of this land unto the land which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Genesis 50:24). The first redeemer, Moses, freed us from the shackles of Egypt, and brought us to Sinai, where through the covenant, we became obligated to to following the commandments, the first step in becoming a people unto G-d.

Mikeitz 5781

parashas Mikeitz 5781

According to the Zohar, for every descent, there is an ascent: apropos to this weeks parashas, we see Joseph, whose feet were placed in fetters, His person was laid in iron; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the L-RD tested him (Psalm 105:19, JPS). Josephs descent to Egypt, and eventually into prison, began with his literal descent into the pit that his brothers callously cast him. He was then sold to Midianite traders, who brought him down to Egypt. He became the servant of Potiphar, who put Joseph in charge of his estate; yet, he was wrongfully accused by Potiphars wife; as a result, he wound up in prison.

Even in prison, Joseph flourished; the L-RD was with Joseph, and showed kindness unto him, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison (Genesis 39:21, JPS 1917 Tanach). He gained notoriety as an interpreter of dreams, after correctly interpreting, b’ezrach H’Shem (with the L-RDs help) the dreams of two prisoners who had been in stewardship in Pharaohs court. When the cup bearer, who was restored to his position in Pharaoh’s court, two years later, saw how disconcerted Pharaoh was about his own dreams, he recommended Joseph to Pharaoh.

And Pharaoh said unto Joseph: Forasmuch as G-d hath shown thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou’ (Genesis 41:39, JPS 1917 Tanach). Pharaoh was so impressed with Josephs interpretation, that he elevated him to second in command of Egypt, thereby charging him to care for Egypt during the famine, by developing a means to store food during the seven years of plenty, to be subsequently distributed during the famine that would ensue, according to Pharaohs dream. Thus, Josephs ascent followed his descent, all for the sake of others. Joseph models the qualities of endurance, patience and self-giving.

Reflection: Renewal

B”H

26 Nissan 5780

April 20, 2020

“And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.”

– Ezekiel 36:25, JPS 1917 Tanach

The B’nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) had sunk to the 49th level of impurity in Egypt. Had we descended to the 50th level of impurity, according to chazal, we would have been indistinguishable from the Egyptians. From this perspective, we were not brought out of Egypt, based upon our own merit. This is akin to what is mentioned later in Torah, “Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thy heart” (Deuteronomy 9:5).

Thus, we were taken out of Egypt by way of what is called itaruta dil’eyla, an “awakening from above,” wherein H’Shem brings about an effect from Shomayim. From out of the influence of an idolatrous society, B’nei Yisrael was freed from slavery, in order to serve H’Shem.

The 49 day counting of the Omer, between Pesach and Shavuos is a gradual ascent to the 49th level purity. A time to effect a gradual transition to a positive set of character traits, through an itaruta dil’tata, an awakening from below, i.e., from our own efforts. As B’nei Yisrael spent forty nine days on a journey from Egypt towards Mount Sinai, where the Torah was given, so opportunity given the opportunity to prepare ourselves to receive the Torah anew on Shavuot.

Behind Closed Doors

B”H

14 Nissan 5780

Lev Emes: The Heart of Truth v.1, 3

“It is good that a man should quietly wait for the salvation of the L-RD.”

– Lamentations 3:26

In expectation of redemption from this modern day plague, I wait, knowing that there is a purpose to everything, including my waiting. This time of isolation is valuable beyond words, not only for me, rather, for others as well. If only we are able to use this time in a meaningful way, without stressing, or becoming inundated by the news. I carefully sift through articles, only reading what is accurate, relevant, and essential. For each person this may differ, depending upon various circumstances. However, the so-called “shared” common experience, is that most of us are spending a lot of time behind closed doors.

Yet, what kind of world will we have to look forward to after the plague is eradicated? The world is already being transformed. We can not expect a continuation of “business as usual.” If anything, we are seeing the beginning of the birthpangs of Moshiach (Messiah). Our eyes should be cast towards Shomayim (Heaven). Few may understand, what lies ahead. According to the sages, the Final Redemption will be like the First Redemption. The plagues in Egypt will not compare. “As in the days of thy coming forth out of the land of Egypt will I show unto him [Israel] marvellous things” (Micah 7:15, JPS 1917 Tanach).

3,332 years ago, the Israelites ate the Pesach meal, in their own homes, behind closed doors, while the the tenth plague was enacted upon the Egyptian homes. The Destroying Angel roamed the streets of Egypt, taking the first born of every home, except for the homes wherein the blood of the Pesach lamb was placed upon the lintels and doorposts. This Passover will very closely resemble the original Pesach – the last night before our freedom ensued. Most of us will be behind the closed doors of our own homes. Although there is a mitzvah (commandment) to invite others into our homes, the only guest that we will be inviting, towards the end of the seder is Elijah the Prophet.

May we all be able to say together in spirit, and in expectation of the our Redemption, at the end of the seder, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Moreover, it is interesting to note, that in Jerusalem they say, “Next Year in Rebuilt Jerusalem.” This pertains to the rebuilding of the Third Temple in Jerusalem. That is the true significance of the phrase, that we are looking forward to the Messianic Redemption.

daily meditation: Refuge

B”H

March 20, 2020

(24 Adar 5780)

“Closing time, every new beginning comes from some other begining’s end.”

– Closing Time, by Semisonic

As we close the doors behind us, and shut ourselves in for the duration of this plague, let us recall the night before our first redemption, when the Angel of Death passed over the homes of B’nei Yisrael.

We who placed our trust in H’Shem, by obeying His commandment to place the blood of the Pesach lamb on our doorposts and lintels, while sheltering behind those doors. The prophet makes reference to this event, while speaking of another day.

“Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee; hide thyself for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast.”

– Isaiah 26:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

The sages liken the final redemption to the first redemption. As Egypt was inflicted by ten plagues, so will the world be subject to an even greater set of plagues. Those of us who trust in H’Shem may seek refuge in Him, within the confinement of our homes at this particular time in history.

By turning our hearts towards Him, we prepare ourselves for the redemption that is at hand. Although this may only be a forerunner of the ensuing judgment upon the inhabitants of the earth, we shelter in expectation of our freedom, when Moshiach will reign.

Additionally, while our hunkering down during this time period, may also only be a prelude to a greater need to seek refuge in H’Shem down the prophetic timeline, we trust that He will safeguard us.

“He concealeth me in His pavilion [sukkah] in the day of evil; He hideth me in the covert of His tent; He lifteth me up upon a rock.”

– Psalm 27:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

daily contemplation: Shifting Values

B”H

February 16, 2020

“I will redeem you with an outstretched arm.”

– Exodus 6:6, JPS 1917 Tanach

There is a saying, concerning the departure from Egypt, that B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) had a much more challenging task ahead of them: removing Egypt from their hearts. They were brought out through the strength of G-d, Who redeemed them “with an out stretched arm.” Yet, the greater effort on their part, was incumbent upon themselves to make the changes in their new approach to life, effectively, leaving their past ways behind.

Although help from Above, through G-d’s intervention, may serve as a catalyst to change, our response is required, with the upmost discipline, to heed the call to freedom on a daily basis. Although B’nei Yisrael was freed from slavery, they became servants of G-d through matan Torah (the giving of the Commandments). True freedom is embracing the yoke of Heaven, so that we may be free from the burden of chet (sin).

Passages

B”H

B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) were slaves in Egypt for 216 years; yet, they were not forgotten by G-d, who eventually heard their cries. Didn’t G-d hear their cries all of those years of bondage in Egypt? Of course, He did; however, all of the circumstances for their deliverance did not fall into place until that time.

Moreover, it is written, as revealed to Abraham when he enacted the covenant of the parts, that B’nei Yisrael would not be brought into Eretz Canaan, until the iniquity of the Amorite was full (see Genesis 15:16). In other words, G-d could not reasonably displace a people until the full measure of their immorality was brought to light by their sinful conduct. Only then could G-d permit the Israelites to enter the land, that was previously occupied by an iniquitous nation.

“Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thy heart, dost thou go in to possess their land; but for the wickedness of these nations the L-RD thy G-d doth drive them out from before thee, and that He may establish the word which the L-RD swore unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

  • Deuteronomy 9:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

Regarding the circumstances of our lives, when we pray for something that will make a major impact for us, we need to fully place out trust in G-d, knowing that through His wisdom, the timing and manner of actualization of our prayers is best placed in His hands, and not our own. Otherwise, we may even run the risk of thwarting His plans for us. This was the case of the Ephraimites, who attempted to leave Egypt thirty years prior to the Exodus. They were defeated in battle by the Philistines.

So, when we look to G-d to provide safe passage for us, as He did for the Israelites at the Sea of Reeds, into some place of renewal in our lives, let’s acknowledge that this is only possible through complete emunah (faith) in Him, despite whatever the circumstances are in our lives – His timing is perfect. He can even change a negative situation into a positive one, like He did when B’nei Yisrael appeared to be trapped at the Sea of Reeds, when Pharaoh’s army approached.