The Weightless Burden

“For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not too hard for thee, neither is it far off.”

– Deuteronomy 30:11

When Moses brought the Ten Commandments down the mountain at Sinai, the actual tablets were not burdensome to him. Their weight was not an impediment at all; nor, was he encumbered by their size. The midrash relates that the task was effortless, because the engraved writing, permitted the tablets to “carry their own weight.” Thus, Moses carried the Ten Commandments engraved upon the tablets, as if they carried him down the mountain. Not until he saw the “state of affairs” at the encampment, at the base of the mountain, did the tablets become heavy. The midrash records, that when the letters “flew off of the tablets,” Moses could not bear the actual weight of the stone tablets; thus, at this point, he shattered the tablets on the ground as an act of disapproval of the idolatrous act of the people, who had built a golden calf, as a concrete means of representing deity. This midrash may be viewed symbolically, as alluding to the letters returning to their heavenly origin, because B’nei Yisrael was not able to receive the commandments at that time.

Not until Moses went back up Sinai, in order to ask for the L-RD’s forgiveness, on behalf of the Children of Israel, was he able to receive the second set of tablets. This teaches us that the commandments may appear burdensome to us, especially when we are in a state of impurity, so to speak, like the Israelites, who had momentarily turned towards idolatry. This occurred when, it appeared to them that Moses was late in returning from the top of Mount Sinai; thus, they turned towards an idol, in lieu of a spokesperson for G-d. The concrete representation of Deity, that was forged in fire, would never be able to supplant an invisible G-d, who sanctifies His children through His commandments. The Torah emphasizes that no images are to be made of anything on heaven or earth; nor, are any images to be made of G-d Himself.

Even today, we would be wise to heed the call of these commandments, instead of turning towards anything that we might inadvertently set up in our hearts as an idol. In regard to the commandments, they should not be a burden to us. Rather, we may keep in mind, in order to remember this teaching, that G’d’s expectations are not too challenging for us, nor are His words far away from us. “The word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it” (Deuteronomy 30:14, JPS 1917 Tanach).

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.

Forgiveness

B”H

parashas Vayechi 5781

“And as for you, ye meant evil against me; but G-d meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”

– Genesis 50:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

Joseph’s perspective, in regard to the events in his life, spanning a period of twenty-two years, was such that he recognized a higher purpose to his suffering: inasmuch that his suffering led to a greater good, for himself, his family, and all of Egypt, as well as the surrounding peoples. Surely, knowing that the challenges that he endured throughout life were part of G-d’s divine plan to provide for the children of Israel, and sustain many peoples, during the seven year famine, compelled him to transcend the causal events that led to this provision.

Therefore, he was in a place of understanding, wherein even the precipitant event, when his brothers cast him into a pit, then sold him as a slave to traders who brought him down to Egypt, could not be viewed through the taint of blame. Nor did he hold his brothers responsible for what ensued, the many further trials that he faced in Egypt, before being placed in charge, second to Pharaoh. Rather, he attributed all, to the hand of G-d, whose design was implemented through a means that only appeared to be human related.

The hindsight gained into the purpose of his undoing, and journey from slave to royalty, permitted him to forgive his brothers, to the extent that no trace of ill will towards them existed in his newfound relationship with them. For, he explained to them, “ye meant evil against me; but G-d meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20, JPS). Therefore, he acquiesced to G-d’s will, without concern for a cause and effect view, that would only render the events of his life as near happenstance, without any greater purpose.

So too, may our lives be viewed, especially with the greater understanding of seeing in retrospect, what may have transpired to bring us to where we are today. No one lives in a vacuum, nor does anyone go unnoticed in regard to G-d’s plan for every individual on the face of the planet. If every star is given a name, denoting its significance, how much moreso is every human being watched over by G-d? By placing our faith in Him, we may be lifted up above the negativity, that could otherwise be amplified by our lower selves.

Often, we may not acknowledge that our suffering may be hinged upon an unknown plan from Above; this type of reasoning usually escapes us, because our perspective is limited. Yet, to at least acknowledge the possibility of a higher plan, could permit us to better endure the suffering for the sake of His intent to bring about something of benefit sometime and somewhere down the road from now.

 “There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.”

– Victor Frankl

Steadfastness

by Tzvi Fievel


“And it came to pass after these things, that G-d tested Abraham, and said to him, Abraham; and he said, [Hineni] Behold, here I am.”

– Genesis 22:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Such is the answer of the pious: it is an expression of meekness and readiness.”

– Rashi, Midrash Tanchuma, Vayera 22, sefaria.org

Abraham was called to bring his son Isaac as an offering to Mount Moriah – the future location of the Temple. He answered, initially, without having specifically been told yet, what commandment he was to fulfill. He answered with one word, “hineni,” “an expression of meekness and piousness.” Meekness denotes humility, in the face of G-d’s greatness. Readiness to serve H’Shem connotes the ideal mindset of a righteous person. Abraham made a committment to carry out G-d’s will, inasmuch that his response was one of unequivocal piety, in regard to the will of H’Shem.

Therefore, it is an even greater accolade to his merit, that upon hearing that he was to bring up Isaac as an offering, he did so without wavering. Consider the ramifications: Sarah was barren for thirty nine years, before G-d fulfilled the promise of a child. Abraham was ninety nine when Sarah gave birth. Isaac was the sole heir to the legacy of Abraham and Sarah, the next in line to fulfill the mission, whereof Abraham was called out from his homeland, to a place that he would be shown. To bring up Isaac as an offering was tantamount to the end of all the hope and aspirations of over fifty centuries of patient waiting.

Yet, both father and son, Abraham and Isaac went willingy up Mount Moriah. Isaac permitted himself to be bound to the mizbeach (altar). Yet, when Abraham reached out for the macholes (knife), an angel stayed his hand, saying, “‘Lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him; for now I know that thou art a God-fearing man, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me’” (Genesis 22:12, JPS). Abraham was further blessed, “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:18, JPS). Perhaps, this may be seen as a segue to Rosh HaShannah, when the entire world is judged; and, H’Shem decides how many blessings we will receieve.

Finding the Good

by Tzvi Fievel

“For I know their imagination how they do even now.”

-Deuteronomy 31:21, JPS 1917 Tanach

“For their evil disposition to which they are yielding today, even before I bring you into the promised land, is known to Me.”

– Targum Yonaton, sefaria.org

G-d knows our proclivity towards aveiros (transgressions). In regard to B’nei Yisrael, He knew that the imagination, i.e., yetzer (inclination) of the people was inclined towards evil. Sforno explains, that the people were about to be brought into the promised land, in order to focus on H’Shem, serving Him through the mitzvot (Psalms 105:44-45); yet, “instead they look forward to gratify their own cravings” (Sforno on Deuteronomy 31:21, sefaria.org) which will lead to an excessive focus on material pleasures, gained from the wealth that H’Shem provides. In other words, they will end up misusing their material goods. By neglecting to focus on H’Shem, after entering the Land, the priorities that were established, “that they might keep His statutes, and observe His laws,” were forgotten (Ps. 105:45).

Although many would like to believe that our natural tendency is to do good, this goes against the grain of understanding. Upon further reflection, we may find that we are inclined to enjoy ourselves, and be entertained by the world, while our efforts to do good are hindered. We may neglect to be kind, considerate, and selfless, unless we seriously strive to do so at all times. As soon as we take our eyes off of H’Shem, especially in this modern world, we might become further distracted, engrossed, and captured by our yetzer hara. Zechirus (vigilance) is of the upmost importance, in order to maintain our sense of deveykus (attachment) to G-d. If we expect to enter into the Promised Land of Olam Haba (the World to Come) with a good place reserved for us there, then, we must keep these points in mind: 1). sur meira, asei tov (eschew evil, do good); 2). show zechirus (vigilance) through constant awareness; and, 3). deveykus (stay connected) to G-d Above, who watches over us from Shomayim (Heaven).

weekly portion: Terumah 5780

B”H Shiur for parashas Terumah 5780 “”Let them make me a sanctuary [mikdash] that I may dwell among them.” – Exodus 25:8 The purpose of the building of the Mishkan (portable tabernacle in the desert) was to provide a sanctuary (mikdash) for the L-RD to dwell amongst the B’nei Yisrael. H’Shem’s presence rested between the […]

weekly portion: Terumah 5780 — Etz Chayim

weekly portion: Terumah 5780

B”H Shiur for parashas Terumah 5780 “”Let them make me a sanctuary [mikdash] that I may dwell among them.” – Exodus 25:8 The purpose of the building of the Mishkan (portable tabernacle in the desert) was to provide a sanctuary (mikdash) for the L-RD to dwell amongst the B’nei Yisrael. H’Shem’s presence rested between the […]

weekly portion: Terumah 5780 — Etz Chayim

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)