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 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, 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 great 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). Like Moshe, regardless of whatever unfulfilled dreams we may have in our own lives, G-d will grant an even greater reward to us, if we remain faithful to Him.
Tikkun HaNefesh: Renewal of the Soul
Our entire lives may serve as an opportunity to seek tikkun hanefesh – a renewal of our souls, wherein every day may constitute an effort to rectify our personal past, within the framework of our individual lives. This is the essence of teshuvah, a returning to our unadulterated selves, not confounded by our attachments to the impermissible, nor confused by conflicting feelings, ideas, and behavior. Rather, a return, albeit, a continual progression, towards ourselves, as intended from the original blueprint of life. This path of an inner focus, differs much from the pervasive trend to point the finger at others and society. If we do not first make a concerted effort to change ourselves for the better, then we have no right to attempt to change others or society.
Additionally, because teshuvah (repentance) was created before the creation of the world, we are given continual second chances in life, despite our errors, faults, and foibles. Inasmuch that this gift is freely given to us, isn’t it right to also give others a second chance through a heartfelt expression of forgiveness? Yet, the relentless pursuit of “social justice” through the condemnation of others fails the test of human goodness, because of its incessant focus on human weakness, and redefined evils of mankind, without any offering of redemption to those who are being judged by others, who are also flawed, as we all are, myself included. A society does not become better in its overall national character through condemnation; rather, only through a natural bond of compassion towards all.
Acceptance of His Sovereignty
“The L-RD said to Moses, “Ascend to Me into the mount and be there; and I will give thee the tables of stone, and the law and the commandment, which I have written, that thou mayest teach them.'” – Exodus 24:12
“The voice of the L-RD cleaves with shafts of fire.” – Psalm 29:7
(His words sprang forth like fire, when inscribed on the tablets)
Even before receiving the commandments, B’nei Yisrael cried out, naaseh v’nishmah (we will do and we will hear. It is a profound statement: the saying connotes a willingness to follow the commandments, before hearing (understanding) them. This denotes the emunah (faith) of B’nei Yisrael, inasmuch that they were committed to following the commandments without fully comprehending their significance. Today, in the modern world, most people would prefer to consider, according to their own understanding, whether it makes sense to take such and such a course of action. This is because of our reliance on our own ability to reason.
Ever since the Age of Reason, belief in the Divine is relegated to the back burner, as man places himself on the Throne. Yet, we still have a choice, everyday in our own individual lives, to place the L-RD on the Throne, or place ourselves on the Throne. The daunting realization should be that even if we appear to place ourselves on the Throne, as if we were G-d, this is only a delusion. He, the Blessed and Holy One, is always in His Makom (place) on His Throne in Seventh Heaven. To truly accept His Sovereignty (Malchus), we must step down, so to speak, from the illusion that we are in charge of every facet of our lives.
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
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.
Hear Ye, Hear Ye
“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.
“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.
(Genesis 37:1 – 40:23)
“And he made him a coat of many colors.”
– Genesis 37:3, JPS 1917 Tanach
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.”
– Lamentations 3:26, JPS 1917 Tanach
“And Jacob was left alone.”
– Genesis 32:25, JPS 1917 Tanach
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 (nefesh ha’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).