The Light of Reason

The light of reason, unless derived from a godly source, may fail to live up to its illumination. Consider that the deification of reason, within the framework of the Age of Enlightenment, was a status given to an attribute that we only have from the Creator. Removed from its origin, reason becomes an independent quality, capable of deviating from the truth, all in the name of itself. Today, a key component of the same type of thinking, might be the “woke culture,” that prevails upon us in the spirit of liberalism. Cancel culture is the means whereby the voices of its opponents are silenced.

In parashas Tetzaveh, the weekly reading of the Torah that begins with the commandment about the pure olive oil that will be used for the seven branched menorah in the Tabernacle, our attention may be drawn to the specification of this oil, being “pure;” i.e., free from all sediment after the olives are crushed. The light that burned in the menorah in G-d’s Tabernacle was no ordinary light. It is taught that this light represents the original light (in Hebrew, “ohr”) that was created on the first day of Creation. After the sin of Adam and Eve, this light was hidden away, for the righteous in Olam Haba (the World to Come).

How can we obtain that light? Not through our own reason, as is written, “Lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). We may apply our reason, within the framework of truth; yet, too often, we are led away from what is good, by our own reasoning, thus creating a fissure between G-d’s established ways, and man’s utopian vision. In the near future, this division will become more clear, as the goals of a global dystopia become more evident. The choice will be ours to make, whether to draw closer to G-d, by seeking refuge in His sanctuary (Psalm 27:5), or taking shelter in the false promise of security offered by the world. May the true light will continue to show us the way.

The Golden Opportunity

B”H

weekly reading: parashas Terumah 5781 – the Golden Ark

“Overlay it with pure gold—overlay it inside and out—and make upon it a gold molding round about.” – Exodus 25:11, JPS

The Ark of the Covenant was built by Betzalel, who was consigned as artist extraordinaire, in charge of the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and all of its components. Composed of an entirety of three interlocking boxes, one golden box on the inside, one acacia wood box in the middle, and one golden box on the outside, the ark of the covenant was especially suited for containing the two stone tablets with the aseret hadibrot (literally, ten utterances); otherwise, known as the Ten Commandments.

This bears weight upon a conceptual understanding of character development: for as we are on the inside, so should we appear on the outside; otherwise, if we personify an image, while not living up to our image, our inner person will not shine. In fact, only by a strong character, will we truly appear golden to others; otherwise, our hypocrisy will show up somehow, rather than shine from the “golden glow” inside of us.

This also can be understood in respect to what is most important, according to this particular illustration, in regard to the content or source of our character, that is from the Torah’s point-of-view. Thus, we can easily see that such an ornate receptacle was built to carry and house the tablets of stone that contained the engraved writing, in fire from the finger of G-d. The “power source” of the Ark of the Covenant was, and in a sense continues to be, the Ten Commandments. Additionally, all of the other commandments can be categorized within the framework of these ten commandments. As previously mentioned they are also referred to as the “ten utterances;” these words spoken by G-d continue to be spoken throughout the generations.

Ideally, the Ark provides a picture, if not an object lesson of divinity as well, since the Shechinah, G-d’s presence rested between the golden cherubim (angels) on the cover. The opportunity prevails upon us, inasmuch that we can relate to this teaching, that just as His presence rested within the space on top of the golden cover of the ark, so may the Shechinah rest within us, when we are reconciled to G-d. “And let them make me a sanctuary [mikdash], that I may dwell among [within] them” (Exodus 25:8, JPS). The original intent, ideally, is that G-d might dwell within each and every one of us. Let us permit His light to shine through our sincere character.

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

B”H

“And he took the Book of the Covenant and read it within the hearing of the people, and they said, “All that the Lord spoke we will do and we will hear.”

– Exodus 24:7, Tanach, chabad.org

The crux of avodah (service) is built on faith, as is mentioned elsewhere, “the righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4, JPS). When the children of Israel received the commandments at Sinai, they responded, na’aseh v’nishmah – we will do and we will hear. In other words, we will first agree to perform the commandments; then, we will hear from you of what they consist.

Nishmah also translates as “to understand;” therefore, “we will do, and we will understand.” Rather than having to scrutinize the commandments, to get an idea of what was being received, they inferred that over time they will progressively understand the significance of the commandments. Thus, rather than blind faith, in accepting the commandments, they knew that understanding is secondary, to performing the commandments.

These concepts are oft fallen upon deaf ears, so to speak, because of how we are conditioned to think. Today, everything is subjected to the ego of the individual, because we feel compelled to decide for ourselves, whether a teaching, belief, or idea, is in accordance with our way of understanding, before incorporating any aspect thereof, into our overall framework of belief, ideology, or lifestyle. Thus, everything is relative in a postmodern world, where each person is compelled to see him or herself, as the ultimate arbiter of truth, thus relegating truth to being relative, and therefore a moot issue.

Amongst many who consider themselves to be spiritual, one key precept seems to be “mix and match,” in order to create a personally tailored practice, in agreement with the soul’s desires as to what feels right. The result being akin to the nature of the Israelites when they were without a king: “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” A certain amount of objectivity, as well as agreement to the consensual realities of what creates a harmonious society is necessary. No man is an island unto himself, unless he deserts his fellow human beings, choosing a subjective reality, while remaining isolated in his own personal kingdom. This is not the way prescribed for us by H’Shem (the L-RD), the ultimate arbiter of truth, values, and justice.

parashas Mishpatim 5781

The Weightless Burden

“For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not too hard for thee, neither is it far off.”

– Deuteronomy 30:11

When Moses brought the Ten Commandments down the mountain at Sinai, the actual tablets were not burdensome to him. Their weight was not an impediment at all; nor, was he encumbered by their size. The midrash relates that the task was effortless, because the engraved writing, permitted the tablets to “carry their own weight.” Thus, Moses carried the Ten Commandments engraved upon the tablets, as if they carried him down the mountain. Not until he saw the “state of affairs” at the encampment, at the base of the mountain, did the tablets become heavy. The midrash records, that when the letters “flew off of the tablets,” Moses could not bear the actual weight of the stone tablets; thus, at this point, he shattered the tablets on the ground as an act of disapproval of the idolatrous act of the people, who had built a golden calf, as a concrete means of representing deity. This midrash may be viewed symbolically, as alluding to the letters returning to their heavenly origin, because B’nei Yisrael was not able to receive the commandments at that time.

Not until Moses went back up Sinai, in order to ask for the L-RD’s forgiveness, on behalf of the Children of Israel, was he able to receive the second set of tablets. This teaches us that the commandments may appear burdensome to us, especially when we are in a state of impurity, so to speak, like the Israelites, who had momentarily turned towards idolatry. This occurred when, it appeared to them that Moses was late in returning from the top of Mount Sinai; thus, they turned towards an idol, in lieu of a spokesperson for G-d. The concrete representation of Deity, that was forged in fire, would never be able to supplant an invisible G-d, who sanctifies His children through His commandments. The Torah emphasizes that no images are to be made of anything on heaven or earth; nor, are any images to be made of G-d Himself.

Even today, we would be wise to heed the call of these commandments, instead of turning towards anything that we might inadvertently set up in our hearts as an idol. In regard to the commandments, they should not be a burden to us. Rather, we may keep in mind, in order to remember this teaching, that G’d’s expectations are not too challenging for us, nor are His words far away from us. “The word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it” (Deuteronomy 30:14, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Myopic Vision

parashas Beshalach 5781

Was Pharaoh deceived? Or did he deceive himself? G-d led the Children of Israel in a roundabout way to the Sea of Reeds, so that they would not have to be confronted by the Philistines, when passing by their territory. Otherwise, they might have fled back to Egypt at the prospect of war. Having escaped the frying pan, they ostensibly entered into the fire. For H’Shem had a strategy in mind, in order to bring about the demise of Pharaoh, and his army who had pursued the Israelites into the wilderness. In order to lay a trap for Pharaoh, H’Shem brought B’nei Yisrael to a gorge at the edge of the sea. As Pharaoh’s army closed in on them, the Children of Israel began to panic. Yet, Moshe said to them, “Do not fear, stand still, and see the salvation of the L-RD, which He will show to you today” (Exodus 14:13, Israeli Bible).

As for Pharaoh, he apparently thought that Israel was indeed trapped at the Sea of Reeds, as if one of his own gods, whose idol stood there as a towering giant near the gorge, were somehow powerful enough to bring Israel like prey into the hands of Pharaoh, so that he could retrieve what he and his people still considered to be “their slaves.” His perception, based in his trust in the deities that he worshipped, contributed to his deception. For there is only one Master of the Universe, Who has prominence over the affairs of mankind. Pharaoh’s shortsightedness prevented him from seeing the situation in any other way, than what appealed to his sense of self, pride, and intransigence.

Additionally, Pharaoh had been shown the sovereignty of the Almighty’s hand, Who proved Himself to be more powerful than the Egyptian gods. Yet, he remained recalcitrant, unable to perceive reality through any other lens, other than his own. And, he suffered greatly for this myopia, inasmuch that he himself was doomed to be drowned in the Sea of Reeds, along with his army. Why were the Egyptians as well, unable to see the truth that was set before their very eyes? Trying to explain away the plagues, and even the splitting of the sea, as natural phenomena, instead of the hand of G-d, they remained stuck in their myopic vision, unaware of the false nature of their gods, and the limited reality of their worldview.

“Go and see the works of G-d, awesome in His deeds toward mankind. He turned the sea into dry land.” – Psalms 66:5-6, The Complete Jewish Tanach, chabad.org

Inner Spark

“All the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.”

– Exodus 10:23, JPS 1917 Tanach

Three days of darkness fell upon Egypt, as the ninth plague was enacted. Yet, there was light in the dwellings of the Children of Israel, who lived apart from the Egyptians in the land of Goshen. This is in accord with the declaration made several times, in regard to the plagues, that the L-RD would differentiate between the Egyptians and Israel. Perhaps, this is the most striking example, whereof somehow B’nei Yisrael had light in Goshen, whereas the rest of Egypt experienced utter darkness for three days. How can this be explained?

The Targum infers that the light served the purpose of enabling the righteous to be occupied with good deeds within their dwellings (Targum Yonatan, Exodus 10:23, sefaria.org). Or HaChayim alludes to the origin of this light as having to do with the righteousness of the Children of Israel. By this allusion, in all likelihood, he was referring to the idea of the pintele yid – the inner spark.

Despite a person’s best efforts, we often fail to even live up to our own standards of righteousness, let alone G-d’s standard; yet, there is flame within that may always call us to return to Him. This is the pintele yid, the inner essence, wherein the flickering flame of divinity, yearns to be kindled by acts of righteousness (mitzvoth).

“For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light.”

– Proverbs 6:23, JPS 1917 Tanach

Sooner the Better

B”H


parashas Va’eira 5781 (Exodus 6:2 – 9:35)


Despite our own impatience, in a world of instant gratification, at times, life may convey in no uncertain terms, that situations may get worse, before they can get better. This appears to be the case for the Children of Israel who had been enslaved for several hundred years in Egypt. When the redeemer appeared, he explained that G-d has visited His people. “When they heard that the L-RD had remembered the children of Israel, and that He had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshipped” (Exodus 4:31, JPS 1917 Tanach). Shortly later, Moses and Aaron appeared before Pharaoh, saying, “Thus saith the L-RD, the G-d of Israel: Let my people go” (Exodus 5:1, JPS). Yet, Pharaoh refused to do so; additionally, he increased the burdens of Israel, so that they would not have time to foment rebellion (Zohar).


The Hebrew officers complained to Pharaoh; then they approached Moses and Aaron. “Ye have made our savour to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh” (Exodus 5:21, JPS). The literalism of the Hebrew language, in this case, implies extreme contempt on the part of Pharaoh for the Children of Israel. Moses was blamed, essentially, for his effort to free the people, as if Pharaoh’s recalcitrance, and subsequent aggression towards the people was his fault, inasmuch that Pharaoh made their plight worse than it had been, before the intervention of Moses. Moreover, Moses in turn complained to G-d, because of his own disillusionment at the setback to gaining freedom for the Children of Israel.


Yet, despite all of this, G-d sent Moses back to Pharaoh, to make the assertion a second time, that if he did not let the people go, there would be certain severe consequences. And, so, the plagues ensued in sequential progression, about one plague a month. Each time Moses specifically told Pharaoh what would occur, if he did not relent of his stance against the people; and, each time the plague brought havoc upon Egypt. One point to make is that these plagues did not effect the Children of Israel.


“And I will set apart in that day the land of Goshen, in which My people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there; to the end that thou mayest know that I am the L-RD in the midst of the earth. And I will put a division between My people and thy people” (Exodus 8:18-19, JPS). “All the cattle of Egypt died; but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one” (Exodus 9:6, JPS). “Only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were, was there no hail” (Exodus 9:26, JPS). How remarkable that a hedge of protection was placed around the Israelites in Goshen. Even today, as the final redemption approaches, refuge may be sought in G-d, as the plagues increase.

Never Forget

parashas Shemot 5781

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, sefaria.org). Persistence in prayer, to the point of upmost 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 nought 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 contenporary 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, we should always remember the past, lest history repeats itself.

Forgiveness

B”H

parashas Vayechi 5781

“And as for you, ye meant evil against me; but G-d meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”

– Genesis 50:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

Joseph’s perspective, in regard to the events in his life, spanning a period of twenty-two years, was such that he recognized a higher purpose to his suffering: inasmuch that his suffering led to a greater good, for himself, his family, and all of Egypt, as well as the surrounding peoples. Surely, knowing that the challenges that he endured throughout life were part of G-d’s divine plan to provide for the children of Israel, and sustain many peoples, during the seven year famine, compelled him to transcend the causal events that led to this provision.

Therefore, he was in a place of understanding, wherein even the precipitant event, when his brothers cast him into a pit, then sold him as a slave to traders who brought him down to Egypt, could not be viewed through the taint of blame. Nor did he hold his brothers responsible for what ensued, the many further trials that he faced in Egypt, before being placed in charge, second to Pharaoh. Rather, he attributed all, to the hand of G-d, whose design was implemented through a means that only appeared to be human related.

The hindsight gained into the purpose of his undoing, and journey from slave to royalty, permitted him to forgive his brothers, to the extent that no trace of ill will towards them existed in his newfound relationship with them. For, he explained to them, “ye meant evil against me; but G-d meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20, JPS). Therefore, he acquiesced to G-d’s will, without concern for a cause and effect view, that would only render the events of his life as near happenstance, without any greater purpose.

So too, may our lives be viewed, especially with the greater understanding of seeing in retrospect, what may have transpired to bring us to where we are today. No one lives in a vacuum, nor does anyone go unnoticed in regard to G-d’s plan for every individual on the face of the planet. If every star is given a name, denoting its significance, how much moreso is every human being watched over by G-d? By placing our faith in Him, we may be lifted up above the negativity, that could otherwise be amplified by our lower selves.

Often, we may not acknowledge that our suffering may be hinged upon an unknown plan from Above; this type of reasoning usually escapes us, because our perspective is limited. Yet, to at least acknowledge the possibility of a higher plan, could permit us to better endure the suffering for the sake of His intent to bring about something of benefit sometime and somewhere down the road from now.

 “There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.”

– Victor Frankl

Joseph’s Revelation

B”H

parashas Vayigash 5781

“Ani Yoseph (I am Joseph).” – Genesis 45:3

Joseph had devised a test of his brother’s loyalty towards their brother Benjamin, who was Joseph’s full brother; their mother was Rachel, Jacob’s first love. He created circumstances whereof he was able to take Benjamin as a servant, because of his alleged guiltiness in the incident of the goblet. Judah steps up to the plate, so to speak, to defend Benjamin, offering to take his place as a servant to Joseph. When Joseph sees the sincere offer on the part of Judah, the very one who had sold Joseph into slavery, Joseph now realizes that indeed their is a change in character demonstrated by Judah’s noble offer. This was all he needed to know, for the culmination of his plan, in order to uncover the intentions of the brothers, to determine if they had regretted their prior transgressions against him.

The climax of the narrative, pertaining to Joseph and his brothers in Egypt, occurs immediately following Judah’s respectful plea to Joseph, who stands as an Egyptian prince before him. Now, as recorded in the narrative, “Joseph not could refrain himself before all those who stood by him” (Genesis 45:1). He caused all of his Egyptian courtiers to leave his presence, so that he could reveal his true identity to his brothers in private. At first his brothers stood in front of the Egyptian prince in disbelief. Could this really be Joseph? Twenty two years had passed since the brothers conspired against him, and sold him as slave to a caravan of traders passing by Shechem on their way to Egypt. Yet, he spoke in Hebrew, and beckoned them to draw closer to him: “And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt” (Genesis 45:4).

He explains to them that what occurred so many years ago was for a higher purpose: “And G-d sent me before you to give you a remnant on earth, and to save you alive for a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but G-d” (Genesis 45:7-8, JPS). According to the Chafetz Chayim, all of the events that transpired over that duration of time, were brought clearly into perspective when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers. Additionally, he explains that in the (near) future, when H’Shem reveals Himself through His presence in Jerusalem, everything that has happened in history will become clear. Perhaps, this holds true for the events in our individual lives, so that while the duration of our journey on earth may sometimes appear similar to a view of the back of a tapestry, with all of the tangled threads, and loose ends, throughout the cloth, the woven pattern on the other side will finally be revealed in all of its beauty and splendour.

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