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.

parashas Shemot 5782

parashas Shemot 5782

Humble Origins, Humble Beginnings

“And the woman conceived, and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months.” – Exodus 2:2

Enslaved, at the bottom of the pyramid of the social structure, and strangers in a land that is not their own (Genesis 15:13). The words of Joseph, pekod pekodti – G-d will surely remember you – drifted across the generations, in the hearts of young and old. The redeemer, foretold, who would free the captives, and bring them to a land of milk and honey. And, he, himself, is born a slave, like unto his brethren, so that from this lowly start, he may serve as interlocutor between G-d and man (Exodus 20:19, Deut. 5:5, Psalm 106:23).

Thus, he enters the world at a time of darkness, when the ruler seeks to prevent his birth. For, Pharaoh had been told by his prognosticators, that a redeemer would be born. Pharaoh makes a drastic attempt to prevent the redeemer from fulfilling his role, by making a decree against all male infant children. Yet, the infant Moses, through divine guidance, is spared from this decree in a remarkable way.

“And when she could no longer hide him, she took for him an ark made of reeds, and smeared it with tar and pitch, and put the child inside the ark; she placed the ark in the river, near the bank, within a clump of reeds.”

– Exodus 2:3

Pharaoh’s daughter, who traditionally is named Batya, found the babe, had compassion towards the Hebrew child and raised him as her own son in the palace. Moses grew up cognizant of his heritage as a Hebrew, because he was nursed by his natural birth mother. Moreover, this awareness remained with him, in terms of having a clear sense of his own identity as a Hebrew.

And, so, he went out amongst his brethren one day, in his adult years, he sympathized with their persecution. He fled Egypt, because he attempted to foment a rebellion of the Hebrew slaves against Pharaoh. In Midian, he married, and herded sheep for his father-in-law; until one day, he saw something very surprising – a vision of sorts. A bush in flames; yet, the bush was not consumed. An angel appeared to him in the bush; and, G-d spoke to him.

Moshe received his mission from G-d, to serve as the redeemer of his people, the children of Israel. Yet, Moshe, the humblest man alive at the time, as recorded later in Torah, hesitated to take the mission. The L-RD assured him that his older brother Aaron would help him along the way with the mission; and, so, he set out riding on a donkey to Egypt, where his brethren were still enslaved.

“And Aaron spoke all the words which H’Shem had spoken unto Moses, and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed; and 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 4:30-31, JPS 1917 Tanach).

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.

Myopic Vision

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

Cleansing the Soul

“And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights.” – Genesis 7:12

“And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high mountains that were under the whole heaven were covered.” – Genesis 7:19

A predetermined time was given for the floodwaters to cover the earth.

No one escaped the devastation that G-d sent upon the earth, except for eight people intended to repopulate the earth, and an array of animals meant to rebuild the animal kingdom. Even the seeds of many different types of herbs, plants, and other vegetation were preserved on the Ark built by Noah. In order for the renewal of G-d’s creation to take place, every effort was taken to preserve the necessary elements of life that would provide a second chance for humanity.

In our own lives, we are also given second chances: G-d designed the means for our own renewal to take place, even under the most dire of circumstances. When the flood waters in our own personal lives seem to prevail, inundating all that we know, and are familiar with, we may turn to Him with all of heart, soul, and might, seeking Him as our place of Refuge.

“Save me, O G-d; for the waters are come in even unto the soul” (Psalms 69:2, JPS). The churning, chaotic waters of our lives that threaten to engulf us, if we are not wearing a life preserver, so to speak, are those that enter our mind, manifest as cares and worries. Yet, we can guard the gates to our most precious treasure – the soul – thereby preventing negativity to seep in to our “inner sanctum.”

Also, noteworthy to mention is that, concerning the door to the Ark, as the waters began to build up around ark, G-d Himself closed the door (see Genesis 7:16). Concomittantly, once we make our own best efforts, if we fully place our trust in Him, our soul will be sealed. This is necessary in order to block out the tumult of the world, for our place of secret refuge within will provide comfort and safety, throughout the storms of life. Instead of getting drenched, the soul will be cleansed. Figuratively speaking, our boat will not capsize; nor, will we ever fear drowning in a sea of chaos and confusion.

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