The Cost of Freedom

“And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the L-RD thy G-d redeemed thee.”

– Deuteronomy 15:15-18, JPS 1917 Tanach

Because the Israelites were taken out of Egypt, having been freed from slavery, we are no longer meant to be slaves in perpetuity. Yet, certain circumstances would lead to a Jewish person having to sell himself as a servant to another person. This included when a thief was unable to make good on a return of the items, monetarily that he had stolen.


And, so, the midrash addresses this circumstance: “the ear which had heard G-d say at Mount Sinai: ‘do not steal,’ and which had heard G-d say: ‘the Children of Israel are My slaves,’ needs to be reminded of this by being pierced after having opted to ignore both of these statements by G-d” (Chizkuni on Deut. 15:17, citing Rashi; sefaria.org).


In other words, it is an insult to G-d as well as oneself, to disregard the status given to us at Sinai, via the covenant. G-d’s people are meant to serve Him; we should not forsake that priority, by serving another. Even so, we should not enslave ourselves to anything, that would deprive of us serving G-d, by way of the commandments.


To voluntarily choose a life that is devoid of acknowledging the One Who brought us out of bondage, is to forsake the purpose of our freedom. Unless careful consideration is given to the reason that G-d brought us out of Egypt, we will not have the full picture.

According to chazal (the sages), after being freed from physical bondage, G-d gave us the Torah, so that we would have a moral compass, in our lives, in order to prevent us from enslavement to sin. Therefore, by serving G-d, we are able to transcend our lower inclinations, that would otherwise compel us to stray from our pursuit of righteousness.

Pesach: V’ga’alti – I Will Redeem You

B”H

Seventh Day of Passover: Yam Suf -Splitting of the Sea

“I will redeem you with an outstretched arm.” – Exodus 6:6

The splitting of the Sea of Reeds, brought forth new potential to the people Israel. A potential to flourish, despite the daily hardships, that now appeared to be past, since they were no longer slaves. Yet, even though slavery was a wrong imposed upon them by Pharaoh; now, as servants to the L-RD, they may have been in a better position to serve Him. That is, because they knew the rigours of being forced to hard labor by their Egyptian taskmasters, they now could look towards Him Who freed them as their new master. A kinder, gentler master; yet, One who was also just.

Moreover, the labor of their past, was of no material benefit to them, per se, because they did not receive any payment. Yet, as far as the conditioning of their souls, the refinement of their character, like Joseph, “until the time that his word came: the word of the L-rd tried him” (Psalm 105:19). And, so, having been bound to the work force of Pharaoh, they were now able to gain strength and determination from enduring physical hardships. So, that now they were being called to serve the L-RD, with all of their heart, soul, and might. Incidentally, B’nei Yisrael did receive renumeration for the intensity of their unpaid labor, when they emptied Egypt of all its wealth, as per the the prophecy given to Abraham, at the Covenant of the Parts (Genesis 15:14).

This newly found wealth was used to build the Mishkan (portable Tabernacle in the wilderness), and all of its acoutrements, including the Ark of the Covenant, the menorah, incense altar, and showbread table, in addition to the altar for the offerings, that was located in the courtyard. Thus, even the wealth that they had acquired, as recompense for what was due to them, was used for a purpose that was designed to serve the L-RD. This transition, into their new lives, was made in effect for the sake of being called out of Egypt, so that G-d could take them as a people, and mold them into an image of Himself (see Exodus 6:6-7).

Passover 5781

Passover is a time of renewal, reflection, and commitment to our heritage, inclusive of the values that were instituted at Sinai after the Exodus. Moreover, the commandment to re-enact the narrative of the Exodus culminates in the acknowledgment of our own identification with our collective past. We are called every year in Nissan, the first of the months, to actually relive our ancestor’s enslavement in Egypt, and our subsequent redemption. Primarily, this experience of empathy with our former lowliness as a people occurs at the seder – a meal of symbolic foods, wherein we recall the narrative of the Exodus, by reading from the Hagaddah, a collection of scripture, commentary, and prayer.

This is unlike any other meal of the year; and, that is exactly the point. Why is this night different than any other? Because on the night of Passover we travel back in time, as if we were actually present at those momentous events that led towards the Geulah (Redemption). Moreover, we look forward to the Geulah Shleimah (Complete Redemption), otherwise known as the Final Redemption. The tradition on the last day of Passover is to hold a Moshiach Seudah (Meal of Messiah) that casts our thoughts towards the day when we are fully re-estblished in the land of Israel, after the rebuilding of the Third Temple. The Messiah will reign from Jerusalem, and Israel will become a light to the nations; and, the Torah will go out from Zion to all peoples.

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.

Individuation

“Now the L-RD said unto Abram: ‘Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto the land that I will show thee.”

– Genesis 12:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

Abraham was called out from his environmental mileu, in order to start a new life, free from the shackles of the past that had chained him to a world of idolatry. In modern psychological terms, he broke free of the conditioning that kept him from pursuing his own identity. Specifically, the term, “individuation” seems apropos in more ways than one.

First of all, Abraham is described as an “ivri,” meaning that he was from ” the other side” of the Euphrates River. The English transliteration would be “Hebrew.” The word also connotes that he was on one side of the moral sphere, while those from Ur Chasdim, whom he left behind were on another.

Today, while many remain entrenched in their familiar environs, others decide to move on to another place, both geographically, as well as spiritually. Part of individuation includes “separating out” what is right for ourselves as individials, from what can no longer be maintained within the framework of our personal worldview.

Additionally, Abraham was called for a specific mission in life: “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing” (Genesis 12:2). Chassidus, a mystical component of Judaism, teaches that every individual has a mission in life. Abraham was given a good idea of his mission in life. However, for those of us living in this modern world, we are challenged, perplexed and sometimes flummoxed at the thought of finding our mission in life.

Our journey to the destination that G-d may ultimately have in mind for us, is often beset by many trials and errors, as well as false starts and wrong paths. Yet, at some point we may be able to reflect upon our past, and be able to see how everything actually led to exactly where we stand today. As the saying goes, “hindsight is golden.”

parashas Mishpatim: The Doorway

B”H parashas Mishpatim It is notable that the parashas begins with the ordinance (mishpat) that a Jewish bondsman may serve his master for six years; however, in the seventh year he goes free. The Children of Israel were slaves in Egypt for 216 years. We received the Torah less than two months after leaving Egypt. […]

The Doorway — Etz Chayim

parashas Shemot 5780 – Out of Egypt

B”H

Shiur for parashas Shemot 5780

“No man repenteth him of his wickedness, saying: ‘What have I done?’ Every one turneth away in his course, as a horse that rusheth headlong in the battle.”

– Jeremiah 8:6, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Ramchal notes in his book, entitled, Mesillas Yesharim – the Path of the Just – that most people, who do not reflect upon the nature of their ways, in thought, speech and deed, are comparable to “a horse that rusheth headlong in the battle” (Jeremiah 8:6), an analogy for those who do not repent of their aveiros (transgressions).

The unrepentant continue in their recalcitrant ways, bringing them closer to the edge of danger, as their misdeeds increase until they are brought face to face with the enemy (the yetzer harah). In contrast, those who do teshuvah (repentance), in stride with the discernment, granted to them by H’Shem, will prevent the occurrence of aveirah upon aveirah (sin upon sin), thus taking the reins of a runaway horse, so to speak, before their animal soul leads them totally astray.

The task of man, b’tzelim Elokim, created in G-d’s image, is to follow a path of righteousness, countering the animal soul, otherwise known as the yetzer hara or evil inclination, that makes an attempt to derail his efforts to serve H’Shem.

Ramchal advocates heshbon hanefesh – an accounting of the soul – to be made every day, in order to bring the conscious individual closer to his true self, by repenting of his sins, and seeking atonement on a daily basis, with a heartfelt attempt to search his soul. Ideally, the search would include minor and major transgressions, as well as what King David referred to as the sins of the heels, the aveiros (transgressions) that most people trample upon, so to speak, that is they disregard these aveiros, as if they are to little to be of consequence. Yet, Dovid HaMelech himself was concerned that these type of sins might keep him out of Gan Eden.

When B’nei Yisrael walked three days into the wilderness after leaving Mitzraim (Egypt),they were faced with the prospect of an immediate encounter with Pharaoh’s army, whose charioteers had caught up to the Children of Israel, encamped at the Sea of Reeds. There was no leeway for hesitation, when a path was provided through the waters of the sea for B’nei Yisrael. They were granted passage along a path upon the seabed, swept dry by an East wind. Likewise, there should be no hesitation in our efforts when we are shown a way to escape from aveiros (sins). The yetzer harah (evil inclination) may pursue us; however, H’Shem will show us the way to freedom.

Where did the path to freedom begin for B’nei Yisrael? A glimmer of light shone upon the darkest days of captivity when “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 1917 Tanach). Despite their harsh circumstances, they found hope in the message of the redeemer, who conferred to them that G-d had surely remembered, otherwise translated as “visited” them – yifkod pekodti – the same words that had been passed along the generations, since the time when Joseph told his brothers that G-d would surely visit them and bring them out of Egypt into the Promised Land (see Genesis 50:25).

In like manner, G-d will answer our heartfelt prayers for help with the challenges we face in life in due time. Along the way, He will bring us into covenant relationship to Him, wherein we may start anew on the derech (path) of righteousness. Like B’nei Yisrael, who had sunk to the forty-ninth level of impurity, before redemption, we can be freed from the muck and mire of our life, by taking the first step, like Nachson who walked into the Sea of Reeds, even before the sea actually parted.