Acceptance of His Sovereignty

parashas Mishpatim 5782

“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. 

It’s Covenantal

parashas Yisro 5782

“Now mount Sinai was altogether on smoke, because the L-RD descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.” – Exodus 19:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

“He bowed the heavens also, and came down; and thick darkness was under His feet.” – Psalm 18:10

The L-RD descended upon Mount Sinai, in the midst of fire and smoke. Later, the Torah records the phenomenon that surrounded His awesome presence, inclusive of thunder, lightning, and the sound of ram’s horns (shofars). How was the L-RD, who sits on His throne in Seventh Heaven, as a transcendent G-d, able to descend upon Mt. Sinai, demonstrating His immanence? “He bowed the heavens,” stretching the heavens towards earth, so that He could simultaneously continue to reside in Heaven while appearing on Mt. Sinai. This may be understood as figurative language, inasmuch that the human mind can not comprehend this magnanimous feat.

And, yet, the language of “bowing down the heavens,” may very well in and of itself, describe something that took place beyond our understanding. There are of course examples of visions, amongst the prophets, who saw G-d in Heaven; yet, this was G-d’s actual presence arriving upon Mt. Sinai. The Revelation at Sinai is the pivotal event in the lives of the Children of Israel, who as former slaves were brought into an official covenant relationship with G-d, when the commandments were given at Sinai.

Thus, we became His people, and He became our G-d, inasmuch that this covenant stands today within the framework of a continuous relationship with the L-RD; this covenant is extant today for Israel, as well as all, who like Yisro sought to join with Israel. “And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took a burnt-offering and sacrifices for G-d; and Aaron came, and all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before G-d” (Exodus 18:12, JPS). Thus, foreshadowing, entrance into the covenant through faith (Exodus 18:11).

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.

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).

Perspective

parashas Vayechi 5782

“When Joseph saw.” – Genesis 48:17

When the time arrived for Jacob to give his blessings to his children, he began by blessing his two grandchildren, Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Because his father’s eyesight was dim, Joseph specifically arranged the children for the blessings: Manasseh, the older son, he placed toward Jacob’s right hand; the younger son, Ephraim, he placed toward Jacob’s left hand. He intended that the primacy is given through the right hand to the older son as would be the custom; however, Jacob changed his hands, placing his right hand on the head of Ephraim, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh.

“When Joseph saw” this rearrangement, he was displeased, and said, “Not so, my father, for this is the first-born; put thy right hand upon his head” (Genesis 48:18). Yet, his father explained, “‘I know it, my son, I know it; he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; howbeit his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations’” (Genesis 48:19). Moreover, he established the tradition that Israel shall bless their children “saying: G-d make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh” (Genesis 48:20).

At that moment, Jacob was given prophetic insight: he foresaw the greatness of the descendants of the younger brother Ephraim. And, so, aided by the power of the Ruach HaKodesh, he was able to see beyond the expected scenario. Additionally, by instituting the blessings given to Jewish children, he has empowered us to accept ourselves, regardless of our status. While Joseph’s perspective is akin to our own commonplace understanding of events in our lives, the perspective of Jacob reaches higher towards an outcome even beyond expectations.

Furthermore, from another viewpoint, intending to place primacy upon Manasseh, whose name alludes to the verb “forget” (Genesis 41:51), Joseph was emphasizing putting his past sufferings behind himself. Yet, what we can learn by the name of Ephraim, is to be “fruitful” in regard to performing mitzvot (good deeds), so that we may flourish, despite our sufferings. For, it is not enough to put our past sins and negative character traits behind us (sur meira); we must also focus on holiness, through asei tov (doing good). “Turn from evil and do good” (Psalm 34:15).

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Divine Orchestration

parashas Vayigash 5782

“And he fell upon his brethren, and wept upon them; and after his brethren talked with him.” – Genesis 45:15

One can only imagine the conversations that ensued, after Joseph had revealed himself to his brothers. Twenty-to years had passed, since Joseph had been thrown into a pit, and sold to traders passing by Shechem, where his brothers conspired against him. Yet, he explained, after revealing his true identity, “be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that you sold me here; for G-d did send me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5). Therefore, upon reconciling himself to his brothers, Joseph acknowledged the divine guidance of the L-RD, Who arranged Joseph’s descent into Egypt, and subsequent ascent to the viceroy of Egypt for a higher purpose.

All things work for the good, according to the divine guidance of G-d’s master blueprint. It is only that for the most part, the suffering that may occur along the way obscures our understanding of the plan. For Joseph and his brothers, only after a little more than two decades, were the events that were set in motion so many years ago, reach fruition as the fulfillment of Joseph’s dreams, according to G-d’s wisdom. Therefore, we would do best to reserve our own critique of the events in our lives, when they do not seem to be going according to our plan; and hope that if we subjugate our will to His will, it will all work out for the best.

Whatever conversation that may have ensued, after Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, was not the typical “catching up,” so to speak, of brethren who have not seen each other for years. I would like to imagine that the conversation was focused on what the L-RD did through his own hasgacha peratis (divine guidance), to bring about the desired end, for the sake of Joseph’s entire family, that they would be preserved through the worst years of the famine and provided for in the land of Goshen. Joseph further explains to his brothers, “it was not you who sent me here, but G-d” (Genesis 45:8). Thus, Joseph acknowledges the divine footprint of G-d, who was the One Who orchestrated these events. Whatever role his brothers played in that divine orchestra, were negligible, when compared to the role of the Divine Composer.

parashas Mikeitz 5782

parashas Mikeitz 5782

“And He called a famine upon the land; He broke the whole staff of bread. He sent a man before them; Joseph was sold for a servant; 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. The king sent and loosed him; even the ruler of the peoples, and set him free.” – Psalm 105:16-20, JPS 1917 Tanach

Joseph’s redemption from prison was procured by divine decree. After interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, he ascended to second in command of Egypt. For Pharaoh had been so impressed with Joseph’s interpretation, and subsequent advice on how to preserve food in light of the seven year famine that was on the horizon, that he put Joseph in charge. This was the beginning of the fulfillment of Joseph’s own dreams of ascension that indicated his rulership, and the bowing down of his brothers to him.

When Jacob sends his (ten) sons, excepting Benjamin, to Egypt in order to purchase food during the famine, the brothers encounter Joseph, who they do not recognize. He decides to take them prisoners, under the pretense that they are spies, in order that one of them would go back to Canaan, to bring Benjamin to Egypt. This would justify their claim that they were all the sons of one man.

However, he states that he “fears G-d,” so he will only keep one of the brothers in prison, send the rest back to their father Jacob with food, and expect their return. When their food supply runs dry, Jacob sends the brothers back to Egypt with Benjamin in order to procure more food. When they return with Benjamin, they all bow down to the Egyptian prince (Joseph). Thus the first dream is fulfilled.

Reuben’s Grief

parashas Vayeishev 5782

“He tried to save him from them. He said, ‘Let us not take his life.” And Reuben went on, ‘Shed no blood. Cast him into that pit in the wilderness, but do not touch him yourselves’ – intending to save him from them and restore him to his father.” – Genesis 37:21-22, JPSN

Reuben had every ill-conceived reason, to oppose Joseph’s ascendancy via the implications of dreams, as well as the lesser ascendancy given to him, as symbolized by his “multi-colored coat.” For, prior to Joseph’s being raised to fill the shoes of the role of the firstborn Reuben had lost the rights of the firstborn, because of his transgression against his father, when he cohabited with his father’s concubine, Leah’s maidservant, Bilhah (1 Chronicles 5:1). Rather, because he was the eldest, he knew he would be held responsible for the fate of Joseph; as a result, his responsibility prevailed over any resentment he might have had towards Joseph, or to his circumstances in general.

He had hoped to rescue Joseph from the pit where had been thrown; yet, when he returned, Joseph had already been sold to the caravan of traders was passing through Shechem. Where did he return from? The Torah does not indicate where he was during that time. Yet, it is obvious that he had left, sometime after Joseph had been thrown in the pit. Where did he go? I would surmise that he left before the brothers sat down for a meal; because, in the plain understanding, how could he eat? The Targum explains further:

“And Reuben returned to the pit; for he had not been with them to assist when they sold him, because he had sat fasting on account that he had confounded the couch of his father; and he had gone and sat among the hills, that he might return to the pit and bring him up for his father, if haply he might avert his anger. But when he had returned, and looked, and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit, he rent his clothes.” – Targum Jonathan on Genesis 37:29, sefaria.org

One implication that may be drawn from the Targum, is that Reuben’s conscience was immediately twinged when he initially heard his brother’s conspiring against Joseph. He had not been jealous of Joseph, who had secured the rights of the firstborn (Berachos 7b). Nor, would he dare take part in Joseph’s demise; so, instead, he fasted in penitence for his past transgression, perhaps, with the intent of gaining some clarity on the situation,, in order to form a response, and plan of action to save Joseph. Even so, he may have been primarily motivated by his having to answer to his father, for whatever fate Joseph would have met. This would account for his words, upon returning to the pit and seeing that Joseph was gone, when he said, “’The boy is gone. Now, what am I to do?’” (Genesis 37:31, JPSN).

Yaakov and the Angelic Messengers

parashas Vayishlach 5782

After a treaty was made with Laban, Jacob’s Uncle who would have done him harm were it not for H’Shem’s intervention, when He appeared to Laban in a dream saying, “do not speak to Jacob either good or evil” (Genesis 31:24), Jacob encountered angels of G-d (Genesis 32:2). “When he saw them, Jacob said, ‘this is G-d’s camp.’ So he named that place Mahanaim” (32:3). The Hebrew word, mahanaim means two camps: “the one consisting of the angels ministering outside the Holy Land who had come with him thus far, the other, of those ministering in the Land of Israel who had come to meet him”(Midrash Tanchuma, Vayishlach 3; Rashi, sefaria.org).

So, Jacob received a new band of angels to accompany his entourage. This sets the stage for the next verse, that begins parashas Vayishlach: “Jacob sent messengers ahead to his brother Esau” (32:4). The Hebrew word translated here as “messengers,” is malachim. This word can also mean “angels.” Or HaChaim comments that in all likelihood, Jacob actually sent angels. The reason given is that “since Jacob had already met with these angels and they had obviously come to help him, he was permitted to use them as messengers for a task that human messengers might prove inadequate for” (Or HaChaim on Genesis 32:4, sefaria.org).

The implication of the commentary is that Esau might not have received human messengers with all the due respect of a peaceful diplomatic mission. Rather, he might have responded in a less than civil way; and, perhaps even would have brought harm upon the messengers. Yet, angelic messengers would have a more impressive appearance; and, hopefully, would elicit the proper awe and respect that they would deserve as divine beings. While it is that man was created in G-d’s image, and, therefore, all of mankind should respect his fellowman for this reason alone, perhaps, this truth would not compel Esau to do so.

Nobody can argue against the impressive nature of an angel’s appearance; the connection to the divine is obvious. Yet, to be able to see the divine spark within another human being is not an easy task, for the divinity is less apparent. Chassidus teaches to see past the outer “shell,” so to speak, of a person; that is to say, to see beyond appearances. Because Esau was able to set his resentment towards his brother Jacob aside, when he did eventually meet him after twenty-two years, he demonstrated that his humane affections for his brother were still intact. As Torah records, “And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him; and they wept” (Genesis 33:4, JPS 1917 Tanach).

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