Prime Cause

“What I have wrought [aliyot] upon Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them; that you may know that I am the L-RD.” – Exodus 10:2

“The reason that G’d’s activities are referred to by a word which hints at עילה [connoting pretext] is that He is the prime Cause of everything which transpires. All His actions have been inspired by His original planning when He created the universe and man.” – R’ Bachya, sefaria.org

It is mentioned in Pirkei Avos (Ethics of our Fathers) that the staff of Moses was created, that is to say, that it was amongst ten things first and foremost in His mind, on the eve of the first Shabbat (Pirkei Avos 5:6). Thus, we learn of H’Shems initial intentions and foresight, when creating the world. Inasmuch that he foresaw the captivity and enslavement of B’nei Yisrael, He had already provided the remedy for the ailment (the cure for the sickness).

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Diminished by Sin, Renewed by Teshuvah

“No greenery remained on the trees or the grass of the field in the entire land of Egypt.” – Exodus 10:15

It is as if to say that Egypt was deprived of its finery. Later, the Egyptian people, who had developed a sense of respect toward the Children of Israel, gave them their silver and gold vessels, as well as fine garments; thus was Egypt depleted. This is metaphorically the effect of sin upon our lives, that the corruption within eventually takes on an outward appearance, diminishing our regality as beings created in the image of G-d. Additionally, the external manifestation of sin may appear in a way, and a measure, concomitant with the aveira (sin).

Consider that even though King David was forgiven for his transgression, he was still chastised as a measure of H’Shem’s attribute of justice. Lest we think that teshuvah is too easy of a way to wipe our sins clean, perhaps, like David, we are still chastised, yet, to a lesser degree than we would have been if we were obstinate to the point of not acknowledging our sins. One might say that this is an example of the dynamic interchange of mercy and justice, working in tandem with each other, to a greater or lesser degree; and, we hope that H’Shem will always sweeten the judgment against us, by way of showing His mercy toward us.

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Broken Spirit

motzei Shabbos: parasha Va’eira 5783

 “And Moshe spoke so unto the Bnei Yisroel; but they did not listen unto Moshe because of their kotzer ruach (shortness of spirit, broken spirit), and for avodah kesheh (cruel bondage).”  – Exodus 6:9

Moshe and Aaron approached Pharaoh, concerning the people’s welfare; however, Pharaoh only increased their workload. When Moshe appealed to H’Shem, saying, “why is it that Thou hast sent me?” (Exodus 5:22, JPS), he was disillusioned, because the Chlldren of Israel were now suffering even more, and the redemption seemed further away. Yet, H’Shem responded that Moshe would see the redemption, which would be “with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments” (Exodus 6:6, JPS). Yet, when he took this message back to the people, they were not able to hear the impending redemption as a reality, because they were despondent.

Literally, the Torah records that the people’s spirit was broken, as if they were without hope. This is exactly when H’Shem chose to act on their behalf, for the sake of their freedom; and, He commanded Moshe to return to Pharaoah, “that he let the children of Israel go out of his land” (Exodus 6:11, JPS). So, even though the people seemed to not be on board with this divine program that was about to be enacted on their behalf, thus began the intervention of G-d, on behalf of His people, to bring them out of bondage, in order to serve Him, according to His commandments that were given at Sinai.

This clearly shows the need for redemption from an external source, as opposed to anything that mankind can achieve for himself. We can only do so much to make an attempt to improve ourselves; once we have made an effort, we need G-d to meet us halfway. The Children of Israel had sunk to the 49th level impurity; upon realizing the depth of their descent, their hearts were made contrite by this realization; so, once they acknowledged their lowly condition, G-d acted on their behalf to redeem them.

 “The L-RD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart, and saveth such as are of a contrite spirit.”

– Psalm 34:19, JPS 1917 Tanach

For the Sake of His Glory

dvar for parashas Va’eira 5783

“For this cause have I made thee to stand [endure], to show thee My power, and that My name may be declared throughout all the earth.” – Exodus 9:16, JPS 1917 Tanach

“G-d’s name would be declared from generation to generation because of the signs which He performed.” – Ibn Ezra, sefaria.org

H’Shem continually hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he could remain recalcitrant against G-d’s divine plan to free B’nei Yisrael from bondage, and endure the subsequent plagues; thus, this may be understood as enabling Pharaoh to continue in his resistance. As the ruler of Egypt, the world’s leading superpower at that time, Pharaoh was not interested in receiving a higher authority than himself.

Even his so-called gods, the Egyptian deities that his people worshipped, were approached from the perspective of gaining outcomes that would best suit his own ambitions. I would surmise that there was no sense of obedience to these deities, in terms of committing to a set of principles, or guidelines, thusly decreed from a sense of morality; there was only an attempt to appease the wrath of the deities when some natural occurrences were unfavorable to the population – an opportunistic strategy.

Yet, with H’Shem, there is both justice and mercy, above and beyond the understanding of mankind, in regard to His commandments; therefore, He responded with justice upon Egypt, carried out in the form of ten plagues; and, mercy towards the Children of Israel, who cried out to him in their suffering. Elsewhere it is written, “I will be gracious (חנן) to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy (רחם) on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19).

Because of Pharaoh’s unrepentant heart, H’Shem could not show mercy towards him; moreover, by hardening Pharaoh’s heart, he strengthened his position. Rashi explains that the first five times, Torah mentions that “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened,” thus implying an act of self-volition. Only, for the sake of bringing about the fulfillment of the plagues decreed upon Egypt, did H’Shem permit Pharaoh to remain resistant. He was essentially bringing Pharaoh’s unrepentance to fruition for the sake of G-d’s glory, as He was able to demonstrate His sovereignty through the plagues.

parasha Va’eira 5783

“And moreover I have heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered My covenant.” – Exodus 6:5

            A covenant was made with Abraham, many years before his descendants entered Egypt: “And He said unto Abram: ‘Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years” (Genesis 15:12-13, JPS 1917 Tanach).

           When the time of redemption arrived, H’Shem sent Moshe, whom He spoke to at the burning bush: “‘I have surely seen the affliction of My people that are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their pains; and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians.” (Exodus 3:7-8).

            For H’Shem heard the cry of His people; he “descended to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians” (Exodus 3:8, Complete Jewish Bible, chabad.org).  Such is His love for His children, that he “descended to rescue them.”  Even though, He is thought of in Talmudic thought as sitting on His throne in Seventh Heaven, He heard our cries from there.

            The Talmud further explains that He can even hear the penitent whisper prayers in the synagogue: for He is not only transcendent; He is also immanent.  This explains to some degree how He can be the Master of the Universe, as well as the One who effects miracles to release His people from bondage. 

Expect Redemption

motzei Shabbos: parashas Shemot 5783

“Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them: The L-RD, the G-d of your fathers, the G-d of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, hath appeared unto me, saying: I have surely remembered you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt.” – Exodus 3:16, JPS 1917 Tanach

“It was a sign for Israel. When any redeemer would come with this sign, ‘I have surely thought of you,’ they would know that he was a true redeemer.” – Midrash Tanchuma Buber; sefaria.org

A prophecy given to Abraham, speaks of a time that his descendants, “shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years” (Genesis 15:13, JPS). Therefore, this was known well to the Children of Israel, who were enslaved, that towards the end of the allotment of time given in the prophecy, they should begin to expect a redeemer. Now, the time was at hand; so, when Moses returned to Egypt from Midian, he first approached the elders, along with Aaron, who accompanied him: “And Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel” (Exodus 4:29, JPS).

At this pivotal moment in the lives of the Children of Israel, when they heard the words that H’Shem had given to Moses, and saw the signs given him to validate that indeed he was the one who H’Shem sent, they responded in a manner that expressed their hope, trust, and faith in H’Shem, who sent the redeemer: “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 4:31, JPS).

As we look ahead, along the trajectory that this world is heading, the days will approach whereof the light will be diminished by darkness; then, we should lift up our heads and look towards the Final Redemption. Our expectations will increase in direct proportion to our understanding that we can only place our trust in H’Shem. “And it is a time of trouble unto Jacob” (Jeremiah 30:7, JPS). The birthpangs of Moshiach (Messiah), the travails that will be brought upon the world, will precede the Final Redemption (Sanhedrin 97a).

motzei Shabbos: parasha Vayechi 5783 -Bundle of Life

Vayechi Yaakov (And Jacob lived).” – Genesis 47:28, JPS 1917 Tanach

When Jacob arrived with his family, having traveled from the land of Canaan to Egypt, to where Joseph, his son greeted him, he and his family settled in the land of Goshen. Jacob spent the last seventeen years of his life there, comforted by his reunion with Joseph, and the bountiful plenty of the most choice land in all of Egypt. The land of Goshen encapsulated an environment, somewhat removed from Egypt proper, therefore, providing an isolated locale for Jacob’s family to preserve the values of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Moreover, goshen, meaning “drawing near” was a place where the twelve tribes of Jacob could “draw near” to H’Shem; so, with this in mind, Jacob “sojourned” in the land of Egypt” (Psalm 105), while setting his hopes on Olam Haba. For to sojourn means to reside temporarily in a place; while, on the other hand, Jacob knew that his true home was with H’Shem.

During years prior, he was able to transcend his circumstances by prevailing upon H’Shem’s covenantal promises to him, thereby triumphing over Laban and Esau. He endured much while working for his Uncle Laban; he also was greatly disconcerted in regard to his encounter with his brother, Esau. Yet, H’Shem was with him in the midst of his trials – this exemplifies H’Shem’s immanence. At other times, when H’Shem seems more distant from us, this denotes His transcendence, and should compel us to pray to Him, as did Jacob.

In the last seventeen years of his life, Jacob was drawing near to his more permanent home, when he would be “gathered to his people” (Genesis 49:29). The “bundle of life,” wherein the souls of the righteous are wrapped up in the light of G-d in Shomayim (Heaven) is implied by this phrase. Therefore, to be gathered to his people means to be blessed with G-d’s presence in Eternity.

Vayechi Yaakov (Jacob lives); for, his soul continues to live, basking in the light of G-d until the time of the Tehillas HaMeisim (Resurrection of the Dead), when souls are restored to their resurrected bodies, at the beginning of Olam Haba (the World to Come).

parasha Vayechi 5783

parasha Vayechi 5783

“For Your salvation I wait, O L-RD.” – Genesis 49:18

During Jacob’s prophetic review of the tribes, encapsulated in the blessings given to his twelve sons, his expectation is to gain a glimpse of the final redemption. He predicts that “Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel” (Genesis 49:16). He foresees that Samson will descend from the tribe of Dan; yet, the victory of Samson is short lived; Samson is given his moment in the history of Israel, raised up to defend Israel against the Philistines. Yet, he is not the redeemer who will appear at the end of the age. Rather, as is written in Pirkei Avot, “every man has his hour.”

Upon realizing this, he cries out, “For Your salvation I wait O L-RD” (Genesis 49:18). Targum Yonaton paraphrases, “When Jakob saw Gideon bar Joash and Shimshon bar Manovach, who were established to be deliverers, he said, I expect not the salvation of Gideon, nor look I for the salvation of Shimshon; for their salvation will be the salvation of an hour; but for Thy salvation have I waited, and will look for, O L-rd; for Thy salvation is the salvation of eternity” (Targum Jonathan on Genesis 49:18; sefaria.org).

Why would Jacob be concerned about the final redemption, when he prophetically knew of the impending descent of his descendants into the abyss of Egypt, and their subsequent slavery? Shouldn’t his immediate concern have been in regard to the first redeemer, who would bring the Children of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land? Yet, he himself said, before blessing his children, “‘Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the end of days” (Genesis 49:1).

Jacob’s prime concern was not for a limited historical perspective, concerning only the next five hundred years, nor even the next two thousand years. His ultimate concern was for the eternal salvation of Israel; his vision spanned from the nation, that would arise from his seventy-member family in Egypt, all the way until the “end of days,” when the Final deliverance of that nation would be at hand. “For Your salvation I wait, O L-RD” (Genesis 49:18).

Blessing of Preservation

1st Aliyah parasha Vayechi

5783 – blessing of preservation

Both Manasseh and Ephraim both grew up in the royal household of Egypt. Yaakov, their grandfather, who is partially blind, asks who they are, when Jospeh brings them to him. On a deeper leve, his question may be construed as an inquiry into their character. Are their moral concomitant with the legacy of Abraham? Have they remained in their integrity as the sons of the righteous Joseph, who surely instructed them properly. Despite the surrounding idolatrous environment, are there adherents to the belief in the G-d of Israel? The answer to all of the above is yes, inasmuch that Yaakov’s blessing was for the sake of preservation, that they continue on the derech.

This blessing is performed every Friday evening when parents bless their sons. Implicitly, this blessing is meant to be a safeguard against undue influence from the less than ideal mores of society that are opposed to living a righteous life. Something we all face, in terms of this type of influence, the moreso, depending upon how much interaction we have with outside influences.

Peer pressure, while growing up, especially for those of us who have grown up in the secular world; and, other types of pressure today as adults at work, in social spheres, and at the hands of the misguided social justice warriors who use intimidation and condemnation as their means to compel or cancel others, who do not follow the narrative norm. Yet, Israel is a nation set apart from the nations.

Exilic Prayer

motzei Shabbos: parasha Vayigash 5783

 

 

The divine yearning within us seeks to be consoled, by uniting ourselves with H’Shem. Therefore, rather than ignore the natural affinity that the soul has for the Creator, we should acknowledge this vital element in our personal makeup. That is to say, that without nurturing the soul’s need to connect to H’Shem, we deprive ourselves of the true source of our life. Yet, the question remains, how to properly access this source, the root of our essential selves

Judah makes an impassioned plea, for the sake of Benjamin, while addressing the Egyptian prince (Joseph) that stands before him: “Oh my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord’s ears” (Genesis 44:18, JPS 1917 Tanach). Nesivos Shalom renders the passage in a symbolic manner, ascribing Judah’s words to a conversation with G-d. Rather than the plain meaning, wherein Judah is addressing the prince that stands before him as lord, he is addressing H’Shem. This passage is an allusion to the essence of prayer during the current exile; we seeking to consolation from the Shechinah – the presence of G-d Who dwells with us, for he is with us in the midst of our nisyanos as is written, “I will be with him in trouble” (Psalm 91:15).

.During this current exile, we may seek consolation through prayer; and, G-d’s presence will be with us, even in the midst of our suffering. Let us speak in G-d’s ears, all that troubles us, even offering our very selves as servants, as Judah offered to be a servant in place of his brother, Benjamin. Let us serve as surety for our brethren, K’lal Yisrael (All of Israel), and lead the way, towards redemption from Galus (Exile). Just as Joseph was reconciled to his brothers, may all of Israel be reconciled to H’Shem, through the unity that will be brought about only through Moshiach.