Moving Beyond

“The children of Israel went on dry land in the midst of the sea, and the water was to them like a wall from their right and from their left.” – Exodus 14:29, JPS 1917 Tanach

Passing through the Sea of Reeds, B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) walked along a corridor created by a wall of water on their left and their right. The path towards the other side of the sea, where a safe haven could be found, was their road to freedom; in a sense, this is also, figuratively speaking, the path presented to us. Our walk with G-d compels us not to deviate to the left, nor to the right, thus permitting only a small margin of error as we journey along the path of life.

The road towards freedom, where we are able to transcend the limited constructs of our worldly existence, requires an effort to leave behind our personal Mitzraim (Egypt), by moving past our limitations in life to greater freedom. For, the shoresh (root word) of mitzraim means “limitations.” Therefore, we may apply this idea to our own weaknesses, negative character traits, and maladaptive behavior that limit our service to G-d, as well as our own personal development in life.

The truth is that our greatest limitations are often brought to our attention, for the most part, when we encounter the various nisyanos (trials) that the yetzer hara (evil inclination) elicits in our everyday lives. Yet, we should not give heed to these machinations on the part of our yetzer hara; rather, it is better to walk the narrow road to freedom, by not deviating towards the right or the left. Moreover, learning how to improve our character; for this will compel us to move beyond our limitations.

In like manner as B’nei Yisrael, the road to freedom is straight and narrow, and more challenging to walk upon, than when we give in to our “lesser selves,” by cruising through life on autopilot; yet, when we follow our “G-d given conscience” by doing what is right, we may excel even beyond our current level of connection to G-d; subsequently, there will be an increase in the positive effect of our choices, resulting in the elevation of our character to a greater degree than was previously known.

Crossroad to Freedom

parashas Va’eira 5782

“I am the L-RD. I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements. And I will take you to be my people, and I will be your G-d.” – Exodus 6:6, JPSN

Out of the four types of redemption that would be successively enacted, for the benefit of the B’nei Yisrael (Children of Israel), “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm” refers to the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. Thus, after the burdens of slavery ceased, and they were brought out of Egypt, they passed through the Sea of Reeds, dry-shod, crossing over to their freedom.

Yet, the purpose of this newfound freedom was not to have free reign over themselves, as if now they were free to live in accordance with their own designs and proclivities; rather, this freedom was for the sake of becoming G-d’s people, as opposed to being slaves of Pharaoh. Thus, in effect, upon becoming G-d’s people at Sinai, through the covenant made with G-d, as ratified by Moses through offerings, they acquired the responsibilities that the covenant entailed.

This new life was a transfer of purpose from serving a foreign master for the benefit of his people and country, to becoming servants of G-d, for the sake of His Kingdom. So, the transition of power over their lives was one that brought them out of bondage to a meaningless existence, into the glorious promises of the One who would provide for all of their needs in the wilderness, while encouraging them to adhere to the requirements of a covenant that brings purpose and fulfillment.

For, in Egypt the Children of Israel were compelled to build structures for Pharaoh in swamps, that led to the sinking of those structures, thus causing their work to be fruitless. Yet, the work of the Kingdom brings fruition to all of mankind, who are compelled to enter into covenant relationship with the G-d of Israel. Truly remarkable is this journey from darkness to light.

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.”

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