Yom HaAtzmaut: Israeli Independence Day

May 14, 1948

“Who hath heard such a thing? Who hath seen such things? Is a land born in one day? Is a nation brought forth at once? For as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.”

– Isaiah 66:8, JPS 1917 Tanach

“And He will set up an ensign for the nations, and will assemble the dispersed of Israel, and gather together the scattered of Judah from the four corners of the earth.”

– Isaiah 10:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

We thank You for the heroism, for the triumphs, and for the miraculous deliverance of our ancestors, in other days and in our time. In the days when Your children were returning to their borders, at the time of a people revived in its land as in days of old, the gates to the land of our ancestors were closed before those who were fleeing the sword. When enemies from within the land together with seven neighboring nations sought to annihilate Your people, You, in Your great mercy, stood by them in time of trouble. You defended them and vindicated them. You gave them the courage to meet their foes, to open the gates to those seeking refuge, and to free the land of its armed invaders. You delivered the many into the hands of the few, the guilty into the hands of the innocent. You have wrought great victories and miraculous deliverance for Your people Israel to this day, revealing Your glory and Your holiness to all the world.

– Al HaNisim for Yom HaAtzmaut, Siddur Sim Shalom, by Jules Harlow

Yom HaZikaron: Israeli Memorial Day

May G-d remember the valiant men and women who braved mortal danger in the days of struggle prior to the establishment of the State of Israel and the soldiers who fell in the wars of Israel.

May the people of Israel cherish them in their memory; let them mourn the splendor of youth, the altruism of valor, the dedication of will and the dignity of self-sacrifice which came to an end on the battlefield.

May the loyal and courageous heroes of freedom and victory be sealed forever within the hearts of all Israel, in this generation and forevermore.

  • – Israeli Ministry of Foreign affairs, mfa.gov.il

Pesach: Seventh Day 5781

“And the L-RD said unto Moses: ‘Wherefore criest thou unto Me? Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.'” – Exodus 14:15, JPS 1917 Tanach

The seventh day of Pesach, Nissan 21 corresponds to the day on the Hebrew calendar when the Sea parted: The Children of Israel hesitated. Moshe cried out to G-d. H’Shem told him to “Speak to the Children of Israel, that they go forward.” Having already prayed for deliverance, the time was at hand; there was no further need for prayer, despite the imminent threat of the Egyptian army, poised opposite the encampment of B’nei Yisrael at the Sea of Reeds.

An east wind from H’Shem caused the sea to part, and dried the floor of the sea for the safe passage of the Children Israel. Of this miracle, Melchita notes, as commentary to the Children of Israels words in the song of Moshe, “this is my G-d, and I will exalt Him” (Exodus 15:2), that even the lowliest handmaid saw in terms of HShem’s revelation through the forces of nature, what the prophets, later in Jewish history did not see.

Additionally, the level of kedushah (holiness) that they received after crossing through the Sea, and the sublime experience at Sinai, when H’Shem revealed Himself to them, brought them to a level, where as a cleansed vessel, the Shechinah could dwell within them. The sea served as a mikveh (receptacle); and, tevillah (immersion) in the waters of the sea signified the beginning of a new start, a renewal of mind, body, and spirit; in essence, a rebirth, through purification in a mikveh, and the indwelling of the Shechinah, as mentioned in Exodus Rabbah 23:12.

dvar: Pesach – the Seventh Day

B”H

d’var for the Seventh Day of Pesach 5781

While in bondage in Mitzraim , the B’nei Yisrael had sunk to a low level of impurity, having neglected to distance themselves from the surrounding environment of idolatry. The Midrash records that when about to cross through the Sea of Reeds, the angels questioned their merit, saying both these and those – the Children of Israel and the Egyptians – were both idol worshippers. Why should these be spared, and the others not? Yet, H’Shem honored the covenant that he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in order to bring His newly acquired nation out of bondage, and into covenant relationship with Him through Torah.

H’Shem brought us out of Egypt, to Mount Sinai, where He gave us the Torah. He had said to Moses, “This shall be the token unto thee, that I have sent thee: when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve G-d upon this mountain” (Exodus 3: 12, JPS 1917 Tanach). The revelation of Mount Sinai was the pinnacle of the redemption. Why? “The tables were the work of G-d, and the writing was the writing of G-d, graven upon the tables” (Exodus 32: 16, JPS). The Hebrew word for engrave is charut. The Sages note that the word cherut, “freedom” is from the same shoresh (root word). This implies that our true freedom is derived through Torah.

B’nei Yisrael was enslaved to sin in Egypt, having assimilated, to some degree, to the immorality of Egypt at that time. Although freed from slavery in Egypt , we were still slaves to sin; so, H’Shem gave us the Torah to free us from bondage to the yetzer harah (the evil inclination). May we all break through the limitations of our own personal Mitzraim (Egypt), so that we may also pass through the Yam Suf (Dividing of the Sea), into the freedom of responsibility – the ability to follow our yetzer tov (good inclination), for the sake of choosing a righteous path on a daily basis in all of our endeavors.

drash: Shabbat HaGadol 5781

Shabbos HaGadol, the Sabbath before Pesach (Passover) commemorates the tenth of Nissan: “Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying: In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to their father’s houses, a lamb for a household” (Exodus 12:3, JPS 1917 Tanach). This lamb was to be without blemish (Exodus 12:4). And ye shall keep it unto the fourteenth day of the same month” (Exodus 12:6).

The sages explain that this Passover lamb was tied to the bedposts in the homes of the B’nei Yisrael in Egypt. The lamb was inspected for four days for blemishes. On the afternoon of the fourteenth of Nissan at dusk the lamb was slaughtered; its blood was placed upon the doorposts and lintels as a sign. “The blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and there shall no plague be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 12:13).

What is the significance of Shabbos HaGadol today? In other words, why do we commemorate this day in particular? The tenth of Nissan was on a Shabbos, preceding the redemption. Therefore, its commemoration is always on the Shabbos that precedes Pesach, irrespective of the actual date on the Hebrew calendar. For example, the tenth of Nissan was on Tuesday, whereas this Shabbos will be the fourteenth of Nissan.

Because the lamb was a deity to the Egyptians, they were none to happy about being told, when they asked their Jewish neighbors about the lambs each family obtained, that the lambs would be slaughtered. Yet, despite their angst, we proceeded, with H’Shems protection on the Great Sabbath. The redemption was put into motion, in its final stage. Those four days that passed served as a countdown to the Exodus. The blood of the lamb protected the Jewish homes from the plague of death; and, procured our redemption through the demonstration of our emunah (faith) towards HShem.

Slaves No More

parashas Mishpatim 5781

After receiving the Ten Commandments, the mishpatim (ordinances) were given. The first ordinance given is the designation of freedom a Jewish servant receives after only serving a for a limited amount of time. It is as if the Torah is saying, that the Jewish people are not meant to remain in bondage again, not even as indentured servants.

The only exception appears to be the servant, who after six years, would prefer to remain with his master. He declines his freedom; subsequently, his ear is pierced by an awl on a door to mark his perpetual servitude. This act serves as a reminder that the same ear that was pierced, should have heeded the call to freedom. Yet, according to some commentators, even he is released from bondage upon the arrival of the Jubilee year.

Symbolically, the door represents freedom, because of the blood of the Pesach offering that was placed on the doorposts in Egypt, right before B’nei Yisrael was freed. Ultimately, our actual freedom is through Torah itself. As explained in the following manner:

The commandments were inscribed (cherut) on stone tablets; yet, the Hebrew word cherut, with a different vowelization, means “freedom.” What is the connection? When we observe the commandments of G-d, we are freed from slavery to our yetzer harah (evil inclination).

Joseph‘s Trials Words Give Life

weekly Torah reading: parashas Vayeishev 5782 “Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a coat of many colours.” – Genesis 37:3, JPS 1917 Tanach
  1. Joseph‘s Trials
  2. The Deference of Jacob
  3. Immanence and Transcendence
  4. Sins of the Heels
  5. The Bundle of Life

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. 

Passover Reflections

B”H

14 Nissan 5780

March 8, 2020

Passover preparations, ideally performed in a meticulous manner, especially in regard to removing any speck of chometz (leavened products) that might be left after removing items like breads and cereals from the cupboards, may be viewed as a transition from ordinary time into redemptive time.

The seder, a traditional 2-4 hour meal, inclusive of various foods eaten for their symbolic value, plus the reading of the Hagaddah (Exodus narrative, embellished with songs and commentaries), is the way we relive our Redemption from slavery in Egypt. Each food represents part of the experience leading towards Redemption.

The search for chometz, in and of itself, is symbolic. Chometz represents sin, pride, and the yetzer hara (evil inclination). As meticulous as we may be in our search for crumbs, we need to look inside ourselves, as well, in order to bring to light what lurks in the darkness of our personalities. Then, we may transition from being enslaved to our yetzer hara, into the freedom of our redemptive selves, wherein we seek to follow our yetzer tov (good inclination).

“Depart from evil, and do good;

seek peace, and pursue it.”

– Psalm 34:14, 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).