Moses, who lost out on permission to enter the land, pleaded one last time with H’Shem. He did not expect to change the L-RD’s mind, based upon any merit that he might claim for himself; for, it was precisely his demerit, having struck the rock, instead of speaking to the rock, that compelled G-d to decree that neither Moses, nor Aaron would enter the Land. Yet, try and try again, for the sake of making an appeal to the L-RD, Who on several occasions in the past, relented from strict judgment against the Israel.
To no avail, Moshe’s pleas only brought the retort that the L-RD had heard enough, he would not change his mind. Why, we may ask, when Moses acted on behalf of the people, the L-RD forgave them, and lessened the judgment; yet, in asking for himself, he is refused? Although I am not prone to speculation, one answer could be because of the high level of expectations the L-RD had of him, as well as Aaron, because of their leadership positions. For, as a scriptural premise, more is expected of those who have greater responsibilities to others.
Yet, consider, that all was not lost upon Moses, for his error; rather, as Rashi comments, his “consolation prize,” so to speak, was permission to enter Olam Haba (the World to Come). And, this, in all estimation, is really the greater reward – one that we should also look forward to in expectation. For, this world is like a corridor, where we prove ourselves to the L-RD, so that we may enter the banquet hall, symbolic of the World to Come (Pirkei Avos 4:21). Therefore, regardless of whatever unfulfilled dreams we may have in our own lives, G-d will reward us, if we remain faithful to Him.
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.
“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.
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.
The favored son received “a coat of many colors,” that served as a designation that some of the responsibilities of the first born would be placed upon Joseph. Because Reuben had lost the rights of the firstborn, due to an earlier indiscretion, Jacob chose Joseph, who showed both spiritual qualities and intellectual capacities that deemed him fit for that role (Zohar). Yet, his brothers were jealous of this status conferred upon him. When Joseph dreamed a dream, wherein he and his brothers were binding sheaves in a field, and their sheaves bowed down to his sheave that was standing upright, they asked, “Shalt thou indeed reign over us?” (Genesis 37:7-8, JPS). And, he dreamed a second dream, wherein “the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to” him (Genesis 37:9, JPS). This implied that not only his brethren, rather, also his parents would bow down to him. “And his brethren envied him; but his father kept the saying in mind” (Genesis 37:11, JPS 1917 Tanach).
These dreams originated from a divine source; yet, his brothers may have felt that Joseph’s imagination, and ego generated the literal content of the dreams. The latent content, i.e., the meaning of his dreams was clear to them. Inasmuch that his father, Jacob “kept the saying in mind,” this may indicate his recognition that the dreams would one day be fulfilled. For Jacob himself knew very well the power of dreams. Apparently, the spiritual qualities that connected him intimately to G-d, were now manifest in his son, Joseph. Perhaps, this was even a sign that Jacob had made the right decision in choosing Joseph to take on the responsibilities of the first born. Hence, he sent Joseph to check up on his brothers, who were tending sheep in Shechem. “Go now, see whether it is well with thy brethren, and well with the flock; and bring me back word” (Genesis 37:14, JPS).
Thus begins Joseph to set out on a journey that will soon include a major detour, bringing him down to Egypt. For when his brothers saw him, they proclaimed, “behold, this dreamer.” “And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stripped Joseph of his coat, the coat of many colours that was on him; and they took him, and cast him into the pit” (Genesis 37:23-24, JPS). Joseph was sold to traders that were passing by on the main thoroughfare; he was taken to Egypt, where he was sold as a slave.”His feet they hurt with 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 105:18-19, JPS).
“It is good that a man should quietly wait for the salvation of the L-RD.”
Jacob, who had recently acquired a family, as well as a secure livelihood, after twenty years of working for his Uncle Laban, was finally returning home. Yet, he would have to face the consequences of unfinished business with his brother Esau, who may have still been harboring a grudge against him after all of the years. More significantly, Jacob will find that he first needs to face himself, in acknowledgment of his own character. Was he the deceiver, who reappropriated the blessing of the first born that should have gone to his brother Esau? Or was he the right man to have obtained the blessing, because he truly represented the values that were destined to be passed on to his descendants?
If the blessing had gone to Esau, then the Abrahamic legacy may have been squandered, made less substantial by a lack of spiritual vision on the part of the recipient. For, Esau was primarily focused on Olam HaZeh (This World), where instant gratification, hedonism, and the base desires of the animal soul (nefesh habehamit) prevail over the godly soul (nefeshha’elokit), unless reined in under the guiding principles of higher values, such as those found in the lives of the patriarchs and matriarchs, as well as those inculcated by the commandments, and all throughout kitvei kodesh (holy scripture).
Although Jacob upheld those higher values, he had to know within himself, whether or not he was truly worthy of having received the blessing. His deference towards Esau exemplifies a change in his character. Jacob sent generous gifts ahead of him, in order to appease the anger of Esau; later, he will bow seven times as he approaches Esau. Yet, before that meeting, he was left alone at night with himself, his conscience, and the prospect of losing everything he had obtained in life the next day. One can only imagine what thoughts were occupying his mind at this pivotal moment in his life; for, the burdens of his past must have weighed heavily upon him.
The Torah records that “there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:35, JPS). This man was really an angel, sent to detain Jacob until the morning, when he would have to face Esau; as the Rashbam explains, Jacob had considered fleeing, to avoid the confrontation with Esau. Yet, during the wrestling match that ensued, Jacob prevailed, thus showing that he indeed realized his weight in gold, not the gold found in the earth, rather the gold of spiritual value, in the eyes of G-d. As confirmation of his integrity, the angel informed him, that he would no longer be called Jacob (heel, deceit); he was given the name, Israel (uprightness, integrity).
“And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of G-d ascending and descending on it.”
– Genesis 28:12, JPS 1917 Tanach
After the debacle of Esau’s temper, became known, Jacob was sent away to find a wife in Haran, amongst his own kindred. Essentially, he left in flight from the simmering wrath of his brother, Esau, who was furious about not receiving the blessing of the firstborn. Jacob sets out penniless, travelling by foot to the land of his mother’s brother, Laban. Along the way, he grows weary towards evening; so, he rests at a certain place, where he places stones around his head, before going to sleep. There, he dreams of a ladder between heaven and earth; there are angels ascending and descending upon the ladder.
We would expect that the angels would first descend from heaven, then ascend back to heaven. However, the wording is specific, the angels were “ascending and descending.” One explanation given is that the angels are angelic messengers of prayers. The angels are even likened to the actual prayers, ascending to Heaven as requests to G-d; then, descending as specific replies to those requests. It is as if the angels are standing by on earth, ready to take our prayers to Heaven; at some point later, they are answered in one form or another. Perhaps, not many of us stop to ponder how our prayers reach G-d anyway; so, this could be as viable an explanation as any other. Elsewhere it is written that our prayers obtain wings like angels, enabling them to ascend on high to G-d.
The place that Jacob dreamt about the ladder, connecting heaven and earth is described by him, when he awakes, as “none other than the house of G-d, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17, JPS). It is feasible, to think of a unique place upon the earth, whereof there is a direct connection to G-d, a sort of umbilical cord between heaven and earth. The place where Jacob dreamt his dream is thought to be Mount Moriah, where eventually, much later in time, G-d’s House was indeed built, initially by King Solomon. Although, since Beis-El is ten miles north of Jerusalem, where Mount Moriah was located, the connection between Beis-El and Mount Moriah may be more symbolic.
Regardless, the “Temple Mount,” where the “House of G-d stood,” is currently in the midst of Jerusalem. For the Jewish people, this is the holiest place on earth. Although access to the Western Wall, part of the complete wall that surrounded the entire location where the Temple once stood, is limited because of restrictions put in place during the pandemic, people from around the world would usually flock here to pray. This does not imply that G-d is unable to hear our prayers, wherever we live upon the face of the earth. Even though, according to tradition, He sits on His Throne in Seventh Heaven, He is still able to hear our whispered prayers, even the prayers in the silence of our hearts.
“And the boys grew; and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.”
– Genesis 25:27, JPS 1917 Tanach
Jacob received his name, from the root word eikev meaning “heel,” because when born he was grasping onto Esau’s heel. “Jacob’s holding on to the heel of Esau may symbolize that values which Esau would stamp his foot on would be the very ones Jacob would cherish” (Akeidat Yitzchak). The comment points toward the differences that appeared in the personalities of Jacob and Esau as they grew up. Esau was an ambitious hunter who spent all of his time in the field, while Jacob is described as an ishtam (wholesome man), who quietly devoted himself to raising sheep, and reflecting upon the nature of G-d.
The two were somewhat diamatrically opposed to each other. Thus their relationship can be seen as representative of the two opposing spirits of man: the yetzertov (good inclination), and the yetzerhara (evil inclination). These two inclinations battle against each other within the soul of every human being. Yet, not everyone may be aware of the prolific conflict that occurs, especially if leeway is constantly being given to the less moral impulses of one’s character. Only when opposing baser instincts, does an individual begin to feel the tension between doing what is right, or giving in to inferior behaviors.
Yet, to consistently take the path of least resistance, permitting inertia to influence the soul to the point of sluggishness, and simply “going with the flow,” without considering where the course of one’s path will lead, is to remain subject to what is otherwise referred to as “the animal soul,” the part of ourselves that favors our natural inclinations. Rather, true “spirituality,” in accord with the quest for perfection, and the human endeavor to excel, must be focused on uplifting our souls, above the realm of commonality with animals. We breathe, eat, and sleep; yet, our purpose of existence goes beyond the mundane; true happiness can only be derived from pursuing a “higher goal” in our lives.
“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
What an interesting way to denote the years of Sarah’s life. 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 that 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. The language, currently describes different formative years in a negative way, for example, the terrible twos, the rebellious adolescence, and the task of “finding onself” given to the young adult. Otherwise, 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, 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). While there is a continuum, expressed by Erikson, between “identity cohesion and role confusion,” especially during adolescence; perhaps, a cohesive identity may be formed as the result of parental instruction and role modeling. Each child should be brought up in accordance with his or her own personality, as well as learning styles. This is not a task that can simply be relegated to the teachers where the child attends school.
My personal opinion is that 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 himself, without providing any clear guideposts, is the one taken by parents who have been influenced by the permissiveness of liberalism, that has given sway to a subtle form of nihilism. There is still something to say for those throughout the world who are brought up in a more traditional framework of life. This would include those within societies that embrace traditionalism, as well as those families and communities that uphold certain religious values.
The monotheism embraced by both Abraham and Sarah served as a rallying cry for their newfound beliefs, whereof each were 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. Having steered a little bit off topic, I would encourage that there be 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 to anyone seeking meaning and the upmost good for their own lives, as well as the lives of others.
“Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint; but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”
Abraham was in communion with G-d, while sitting at the entrance of his tent. If he could be pictured there, in silent contemplation, perhaps, with his eyes closed, he might appear as if he was meditating. At some point, he lifted his eyes, being stirred out of his deep personal experience of being in G-d’s presence; and, he perceived three men standing nearby him. What did he perceive? He may have perceived that they were angels; he may have also immediately realised that they had been assigned to carry out a mission from Above. He hurriedly tended to their needs.
Then, he and his wife Sarah who had been barren for thirty nine years were told that they would have a son one year from the time of their appearance. After the message was delivered, Sarah laughed at such an extraordinary proclamation. She was mildly reproached for laughing, as if she doubted what she heard. Yet, “Is anything to hard for the L-RD?” (Genesis 18:13-15).
Next, two of the angels walked towards Sodom and Gomorrah, while G-d explained to Abraham what was about to take place. The cries of these two cities had reached the heavens; judgment was about to occur from the heavenly realm (see Genesis 18:20-21). Yet, Abraham tried to persuade G-d to spare the cities for the sake of any righteous people, who may have also been living there. Before an indiscriminate pouring down of fire and brimstone would overturn the cities, Abraham asked, “Would you destroy the righteous with the wicked?” Shall not the judge of the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). Abraham takes G-d to task, entering into a dialogue with him, on behalf of the righteous. If there were only ten righteous people in the cities, G-d agreed that he would spare those cities.
Yet, apparently, there were not even ten righteous persons living amongst the wicked occupants of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot, and his immediate family were evacuated by the angels in an urgent manner. His wife, hesitated, longing for her married daughters who had stayed by their disbelieving husbands. Perhaps, she had also turned back, because she did not want to leave behind her a life of security, comfort, and contentment. She turned into a pillar of salt; perhaps, because of exposure to the fire and brimstone. A stark reminder of the consequences of immobility, in the face of urgent action required during a catastrophic event.
“And it came to pass, when G-d destroyed the cities of the plain, that G-d recalled Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in which Lot lived.” – Genesis 19:29