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

parashas Beshalach 5781

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.

Unravelling Negativity

by Tzvi Fievel Schnee

“Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions; and my sin is ever before me.” – Psalm 51:4-5, JPS 1917 Tanach

Dovid HaMelech (King David) was constantly aware of the sins of his past. This awareness imbued him with humility, in the face of G-d’s righteousness. “Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my supplanters [heels] compasseth me about” (Psalm 49:6, JPS 1917 Tanach). Literally, “the sins of my heels,” referring to the breaking of lesser mitzvoth, that people, figuratively speaking, tend to trample upon, mistakenly thinking that they are insignificant. Yet, even King David, was concerned, that he might be prevented from entering Olam Haba, because of the sins of the heels in his own life.

“Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope” (Isaiah 5:18, JPS 1917 Tanach). As is mentioned in Chok L’Yisrael, based on the Zohar Bereishis 198a, the phrase, “the cords of vanity,” is also likened to the sins of the heels. Additionally, the phrase, “cords of vanity” is reminiscent of the prayer, Ana Bekoach, where we request of H’Shem, that He “untie the bundled sins.” These sins are traditionally understood to be the collective sins of Israel.

On this Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, may we as well as all of Israel (K’lal Yisrael) be forgiven. Effectively, in due time, may this lead to our complete renewal as individuals. Furthermore, as a nation, may Israel’s redemption also be enacted through teshuvah. “And a redeemer will come to Zion, And unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, Saith the L-RD” (Isaiah 59:20, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Redemptive Prayer

B”H 16 Nissan 5780 March 10, 2020 Shiur for Pesach 5780 “And Moses said unto the people: Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the L-RD, which He will work for you to-day; for whereas ye have seen the Egyptians to-day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.” – Exodus […]

Redemptive Prayer — The Olive Tree

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.

The Foundation Stone

B”H

Shiur for parashas Vayeitzei 5780

(Genesis 28:10 – 32:3)

December 7, 2019 — 9 Kislev 5780

“And he lighted upon the place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep.”

– Genesis 28:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

The word lighted, i.e., “and he lighted upon the place,” in Hebrew is vayifgah, from the shoresh (root word), paga. According to chazal, the word implies prayer, hence, the origin of the evening prayer being attributed to Jacob. Therefore, this event in Jacob’s life was the precedent for prayer, the third prayer of the day, that marks the transition from day to night. What significance does this particular prayer serve? Within the context of the evening shema, the prayer draws emphasis on G-d’s faithfulness to Israel; we remind ourselves of His faithfulness to us, because darkness signifies the exile. Yet, He is with us, as He was in the past: “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9).

The stones that Jacob placed around his head, twelve stones, are said in the midrash to have been taken from the mizbeach (altar) made by Abraham. The next morning, Jacob “took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar” (Genesis 28:18). In other words, of the twelve stones that he originally placed under his head he took the stone, one specific stone. Although, according to the midrash, symbolically, the twelve stones became one, representing the unity of the twelve tribes of Israel.

According to Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezer, this stone was given the name evehn shetiyah (the foundation stone), many generations later. This stone symbolizes the center of the world, from where all the earth was created. Jacob poured oil on this stone, so that it could be used as a mizbeach (altar), later, when he would return from his journey to Haran. This location is where the first and second Temples stood, many generations after Jacob. It is also where the third Temple will be built in Jerusalem.

As mentioned above, the maariv (evening) prayer, recited after nightfall, is a reminder of H’Shem’s faithfulness to us, during this Galus, i.e., the current exile. With our hope focused on the time of the Final Redemption, we may look forward to the time when K’lal Yisrael (All of Israel) will be united. “And He will set up an ensign for the nations, and will assemble the dispersed of Israel, and gather together the scattered of Judah” (Isaiah 11:12, JPS 1917 Tanach).

“‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the L-RD of hosts. He shall bring forth the top stone with shoutings of Grace, grace upon it.'” – Zechariah 4:6-7

(In memory of Yaakov ben Dovid)