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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.

Expect Redemption

motzei Shabbos: parashas Shemot 5782

“Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them: The L-RD, the G-d of your fathers, the G-d of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, hath appeared unto me, saying: I have surely remembered you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt.” – Exodus 3:16, JPS 1917 Tanach

“It was a sign for Israel. When any redeemer would come with this sign, ‘I have surely thought of you,’ they would know that he was a true redeemer.” – Midrash Tanchuma Buber;

A prophecy given to Abraham, speaks of a time that his descendants, “shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years” (Genesis 15:13, JPS). Therefore, this was known well to the Children of Israel, who were enslaved, that towards the end of the allotment of time given in the prophecy, they should begin to expect a redeemer. Now, the time was at hand; so, when Moses returned to Egypt from Midian, he first approached the elders, along with Aaron, who accompanied him: “And Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel” (Exodus 4:29, JPS).

At this pivotal moment in the lives of the Children of Israel, when they heard the words that H’Shem had given to Moses, and saw the signs given him to validate that indeed he was the one who H’Shem sent, they responded in a manner that expressed their hope, trust, and faith in H’Shem, who sent the redeemer: “And the people believed; and when they heard that the L-RD had remembered the children of Israel, and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped” (Exodus 4:31, JPS).

As we look ahead, along the trajectory that this world is heading, the days will approach whereof the light will be diminished by darkness; then, we should lift up our heads and look towards the Final Redemption. Our expectations will increase in direct proportion to our understanding that we can only place our trust in H’Shem. “And it is a time of trouble unto Jacob” (Jeremiah 30:7, JPS). The birthpangs of Moshiach (Messiah), the travails that will be brought upon the world, will precede the Final Redemption (Sanhedrin 97a).

Never Forget

parashas Shemot 5782

And G-d heard their groaning, and G-d remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” – Exodus 2:24, JPS 1917 Tanach

For four hundred years, the Children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt. Upon crying out to G-d day and night, perhaps, they began to wonder when the Redeemer would arrive. The question may be asked, why did G-d permit so many years to pass, before He finally responded? One answer given is because not until the pleas of the Children of Israel were genuinely heartfelt did He answer them. At that time, finally, “they cried, and their cry ascended to the high heavens of the L-rd” (Targum Jonathan on Genesis 22:4, Persistence in prayer, to the point of utmost sincerity, was eventually heard. “The L-RD is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him” (Lamentations 3:25, JPS 1917 Tanach).

How did the Children of Israel become enslaved? Ironically, when Joseph was governing Egypt, second only to Pharaoh, he instituted a system, whereof all of the land was turned over to Pharaoh. When all the people of Egypt became destitute during the famine, they said to Joseph, “there is naught left in the sight of my lord, but our bodies, and our lands” (Genesis 47:18, JPS). “So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for the Egyptians sold every man his field, because the famine was sore upon them; and the land became Pharaoh’s” (Genesis 47:20, JPS). Yet, to what degree this system, wherein the Egyptians became serfs, remained in place over the ensuing years, thus setting the stage for a more fluid transition, when the Children of Israel became enslaved is unclear.

Consider that an entire people, the Children of Israel, a large population of common ethnic origin, could not have been made subject to slavery overnight. Perhaps, their subjugation occurred in a manner akin to the proverbial frog in boiling water. Thus, the temperature of the water is slowly increased, cooking the frog without a reaction from the frog, that would otherwise immediately jump out of the cooking pot, if it had been thrown into boiling water. Although the actuality of the proverb may not be accurate, the saying does serve as a descriptive metaphor. Can this metaphor be applied to the enslavement of the Children of Israel?

If so, perhaps, the narrative could serve as an admonition. In retrospect, a parallel can be drawn to a contemporary historical tragedy. The confinement of the Jewish people, to ghettos and concentration camps in Germany, only occurred after the institution of discriminatory laws, and state-sponsored violence against German citizens of Jewish descent. However, the same principle may conveniently play out in other insidious designs, cast upon an unsuspecting people. Today, more than ever, in acknowledgment of the cultural shifts that eventually brought oppressive regimes into power, within the modern era, we should always remember the past, lest history repeats itself.

note: first published at my blog, Holy Scribbles

Birth of Moses

parashas Shemot 5782

“And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived, and bore a son; and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months.” – Exodus 2:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

Towards the end of Joseph’s life, he explained to his brothers, that G-d would surely visit his people – pekod pekodti – a redeemer shall come. This was the assurance given to his brothers, so that their descendants who would meet with challenging times, culminating in their enslavement in Egypt, would have hope for their redemption down the road. After 136 years of slavery, a redeemer was born, who was named Moses. Torah describes him as טוב – a “goodly” child. Commentary explains that, “When he was born the whole house became filled with light” (Rashi on Genesis 2:2, Sotah 12a;

Additionally, “the meaning of this goodliness is that she saw in him some unique quality which, in her opinion, foreshadowed that a miracle would happen to him and he would be saved” (Nachmanides, Therefore, she took it upon herself to seek a way to save him; and, after three months she placed him in an ark (תבת) that was “made of reeds, and “daubed it with slime and with pitch; and she put the child therein” (Exodus 2:3), and she laid the ark near the reeds, by the bank of the River Nile.  Thus, the prophecy was set in motion, as conveyed by the sages, “that Miriam prophesied, ‘Mother is destined to bear a son who will deliver Israel’” (Nachmanides,

All of this was required, because of the decree that had gone out from Pharoah’s court, “And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying: ‘Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive” (Exodus 1:22). Yet, that day, Pharaoh’s daughter, who was named Batya, was by the river, and saw the child. She brought the child into the court, to raise as her son. Thus, was the redeemer’s life preserved in the very place that the command had been issued against his life. Moreover, Moshe’s sister, Miriam was watching nearby the river to see what would happen; Pharaoh’s daughter, Batya told her to fetch a Hebrew woman to nurse the child; so, of course, Miriam brought the child’s mother to Batya, to nurse him for two years. So, Moshe grew up cognizant of his Hebrew heritage, because of the instruction given to him by his natural birth mother.

motzei Shabbos: parashas Vayechi 5782

havdallah service
parashas Insight on prayer

How to combat two impediments to prayer:

1). arrogance & pride, 2). sin & negative thoughts.

note: based on the teachings of Nachman of Breslov, and his contemporary student, Mohorosh.(Lekutei Mohoron, Part 1, Lesson 97; The Inner Stream: Insights on the Parsha of the Week)

the antidote to arrogance and pride: sur meira (avoid evil) – Self-Abnegation (Bitul)

“For G-d has made me forget all my toil an all of my father’s household.” – Genesis 41:51

the antidote to sin and negative thoughts: asei tov (do good) – Holy Thoughts in prayer

“For G-d has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” – Genesis 41:52

Eternal Presence

Vayechi Yaakov (And Jacob lived).” – Genesis 47:28, JPS 1917 Tanach

When Jacob arrived with his family, having traveled from the land of Canaan to Egypt, to where Joseph, his son greeted him, he and his family settled in the land of Goshen. Jacob spent the last seventeen years of his life there, comforted by his reunion with Joseph, and the bountiful plenty of the most choice land in all of Egypt. The land of Goshen encapsulated an environment, somewhat removed from Egypt proper, therefore, providing an isolated locale for Jacob’s family to preserve the values of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Moreover, goshen, meaning “drawing near” was a place where the twelve tribes of Jacob could “draw near” to H’Shem; so, with this in mind, Jacob “sojourned” in the land of Egypt” (Psalm 105), while setting his hopes on Olam Haba. For to sojourn means to reside temporarily in a place; while, on the other hand, Jacob knew that his true home was with H’Shem.

During years prior, he was able to transcend his circumstances by prevailing upon H’Shem’s covenantal promises to him, thereby triumphing over Laban and Esau. He endured much while working for his Uncle Laban; he also was greatly disconcerted in regard to his encounter with his brother, Esau. Yet, H’Shem was with him in the midst of his trials – this exemplifies H’Shem’s immanence. When moved to tefillah (prayer), he sought H’Shem, whose transcendence, being above nature, is experienced as being more distant to an individual at times.

In the last seventeen years of his life, Jacob was drawing near to his more permanent home, when he would be “gathered to his people” (Genesis 49:29). The “bundle of life,” wherein the souls of the righteous are wrapped up in the light of G-d in Shomayim (Heaven) is implied by this phrase. Therefore, to be gathered to his people means to be blessed with G-d’s presence in Eternity.

Vayechi Yaakov (Jacob lives); for, his soul continues to live, basking in the light of G-d until the time of the Tehillas HaMeisim (Resurrection of the Dead), when souls are restored to their resurrected bodies, at the beginning of Olam Haba (the World to Come).

Exilic Prayer

“Oh my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord’s ears.”

– Genesis 44:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

The divine yearning within ourselves seeks to be consoled by eliciting our concern for the part of ourselves that seeks to unite with the L-RD. Therefore, rather than ignore the natural affinity that the soul has for the Creator, we should acknowledge this vital element in our personal makeup. That is to say, that without nurturing the soul’s need to connect to H’Shem, we deprive ourselves of the true source of our life. Yet, the question remains, how to properly access this source, the root of our essential selves.

In parashas Vayigash, Judah makes an impassioned plea, for the sake of Benjamin, while addressing the Egyptian prince (Joseph) that stands before him. Nesivos Shalom renders the passage in a symbolic manner, ascribing Judah’s words to an imagined conversation with G-d, as if instead of addressing the prince that stands before him as lord, he is addressing H’Shem. Within this framework, we can understand through a nuanced perspective, the essence of prayer during the current exile; inasmuch that our prayers should be for the sake of the Shechinah, Who suffers with us during exile. By seeking to console the Shechinah, we console ourselves as well.

Therefore, in recognition of Joseph’s suffering, as well as the suffering of his brothers – who see the troubles that fell upon themselves in Egypt as divine recompense – as akin to our nisyanos (troubles), during this current exile, we may seek consolation through prayer; and, G-d’s presence will be with us, in the midst of our suffering. Let us speak in G-d’s ears, all that troubles us, offering our very selves as servants, as Judah offered to be a servant in place of his brother, Benjamin. Let us serve as surety for our brethren, K’lal Yisrael (All of Israel), and lead the way, towards redemption from Galus (Exile). Just as Joseph was reconciled to his brothers, may all of Israel be reconciled to H’Shem, through the unity that will be brought only by Moshiach (Messiah).

parashas Vayigash 5782

Suffering and Renewal

“I will go down with thee into Egypt; and, I will also surely bring thee up again.”

– Genesis 46:4, JPS 1917 Tanach

“I am He who in My Word will go down with thee into Mitzraim; I will regard the affliction of thy children, and My Word shall bring thee up from thence, and cause thy children to come up.”

– Targum Jonathan on Genesis 46:4,

Joseph sent for his father, Jacob, to bring him as well as his entire family down to Egypt. On the way to Egypt, Jacob made offerings to G-d in Beersheba. “G-d spoke to Israel in the visions of the night.” Jacob had been disconcerted, wondering about this descent of his family into Egypt; he was concerned about the eventual plight of his descendants. Yet, he was told, “Fear not to go down to Egypt; for I will there make of you a great nation.” G-d further reassured him, “I will go down with thee into Egypt; and, I will also surely bring you up again” (Genesis 46:4).

With the descent of Jacob’s family into Egypt, G-d promises their eventual redemption from the future enslavement that will occur centuries later. With this understanding, “I will go down with thee into Egypt,” pertains to the nisyanos (trials) that the children of Israel later faced in their enslavement. This may also reflect the understanding that G-d was with them, during the entire time of their “spiritual descent,” while living in Egypt: a low point in their lives, spanning several generations. As is written elsewhere, “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9, JPS).

The children of Israel were not abandoned by H’Shem, nor forgotten during their years of servitude in Egypt. Additionally, the people remembered what Joseph had told his brothers, before he passed away, “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 50:25). In like manner, may our lives also be renewed by G-d’s promises, as we look forward to being brought out of the current exile, otherwise known in Hebrew as Galus.

May we place our hope in the Final Redemption.

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.

Engraved Words

“This do, and live; for I fear G-d.” – Genesis 42:18

“The fear of the L-rd is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do his commandments; his praise endures for ever.” – Psalm 111:10

Where to begin on the road to freedom? Elsewhere, it is written, “Serve the L-RD with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11). Here, we see that serving H’Shem in awe and reverence will lead to rejoicing. Yet, not to get too carried away with our rejoicing, we must balance this emotional expression with “trembling,” that will lead to a healthy respect and fear of H’Shem.

Instead of pursuing happiness, by whatever means might be pleasing to us, we are to embrace discipline (Psalm 2). It is important to bring an attitude of sincerity into our hearts, for the sake of remaining within the bounds of the guidelines of life given to us by kitvei kidesh (holy scripture). Then, happiness may ensue, as a result of our devotion to H’Shem. When we put our trust in H’Shem, rather than in the things of this world; pursuing righteousness, instead of material pleasures, then, we will be on the right path towards true freedom.

The sages explain, that the word cherut, meaning to engrave, as in the commandments were engraved on two stone tablets, may also mean freedom, with a slight change in the vowels. The consonants remain the same, forming the shoresh, the root word ChRT.  And, so when we adopt the commandments as an ethical means to approach life, we take it upon ourselves to live the way that G-d intended us to do so. Yet, these are more than a set of ethics, derived by a human source; these are commandments that imply a divine authority as their author.

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 in the footsteps of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as opposed to getting caught up in the idolatrous ways 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.