Friday, December 28, 2007

In The Best Of Times and The Other Times ...

When making the grand impression on Moshe, Hashem chooses a nondescript thorny shrub to appear out of. Couldn't He have chosen a more stately botanical entity ?

Rashi tells us that no, He couldn't have - because this was Hashem's way of showing us that He also participates in our sorrows. Simply put, this means that when His people are being enslaved Hashem will not flaunt honor and majesty, but rather, make do with something more humble.

The Kli Yakar, however, suggests two explanations that are very far from this one.

What Rashi may possibly be hinting at is the desire of Hashem to convey information about this current crisis to Moshe. The thorny shrub actually symbolizes Pharaoh and the Egyptians and the fact that it wasn't consumed is indicative of the staying power Hashem will grant the Egyptians to withstand all ten plagues !

Alternatively, the thorns represent the discord found amongst the Jewish nation ( as was evidenced by the incident with Dosson and Aviram that sent Moshe fleeing Egypt in the first place ) and the crackling of the fire is meant to represent the subtle whisperings of lashon hara !

What message is Hashem giving Moshe ? What about hope ? What about believing in the people he is going to be sent to redeem ?

Possibly this is the most important lesson to absorb. Especially for an up and coming leader of the Jewish people.

There are always troubles. The national destiny of the "chosen" people is one that is marked out for suffering. But that shouldn't convince us that there is no G-d, chas veshalom. The opposite is true. This revelation at the burning bush is instructive for just that reason. It is precisely when we are outnumbered, bruised and (seemingly) hopelessly enslaved that Hashem's hand in the world is felt the most. You see, any other nation wouldn't survive this kind of treatment - they would just turn over and die. But the Jews, Hashem's people, live on - this is the greatest revelation of our G-d.

This is also the message Hashem seeks to impart to Moshe when they speak. "I will be with them in all their troubles" says Hashem.

And what of the people ? Why appear in a bush crackling with the fires of lashon hara ? Because this too is a powerful testimony, not just to Hashem but also to His people.

The story is told of a man who turned to bitterness by his horrific experiences in the holocaust. He remarked by way of explanation, that he saw, in the camps, a man who charged half a slice of bread for use of his smuggled siddur. When he saw such contention and selfishness, the bitter man just turned off. What he didn't focus on, however, was the line of people who would sacrifice their bread for the opportunity nonetheless. It is specifically through our small-mindedness and contentiousness that our nobility shines through. Not in the display of these negative traits - but in the strength of character that is displayed in rising above them.

Let us learn from this example. Let us, when faced with adversity, struggle to see Hashem's hand - specifically in our troubles. And let us be shining examples - not of the fires of slander and negativity - but of the shrub that continues to exist and thrive despite being beset by this plague.

Hatzlacha !

Friday, December 21, 2007

Do I Count ?

A rather radical transition takes place for the Jews in this week's parasha. They go from royal kin to a rather low caste in Egyptian society.

Both Yaakov and Yosef foresee this downshift and prepare for it in their own ways.

Yaakov, before going down to Mitzrayim, sacrifices "zevachim" in Beer Sheva [see Bereshis 46:1]. And Yosef, on his deathbed, commands his children with the following haunting message.

" .... V'E-Lokim Pakod Yifkod Eschem ...." [Bereshis 50:24]

Literaly, "Hashem will surely remember you ...". But the word "Pakod" isn't just remeber - that would be "zachor". The word "pakod" means remembering enough to count. It's as if Yosef is telling the Jews that they will not only be the subject of divine nostalgia, so to speak, they will actually currently matter to Hashem.

This is Yosef's command to the Yidden descending into galus and this is the heralding cry we still need to march to. The much spoken about "Jewish Continuity" isn't an issue of whether future generations will be Jews. Yosef Hatzaddik taught us that in reality, the issue is whether we are Jews. If we live our lives so our children can be Jewish we are actually showing our kids that we are "setting them up" into a system. But, if we live life as Jews because we believe that we count as Jews then our children will, be'ezras Hashem, be filled with same strong self identity as Yidden as we are.

Hatzlacha !

Friday, December 14, 2007

Wagons Of Righteousness

When the brothers come back to Yaakov with news of Yosef's continued existence and success in Egypt - Yaakov is unwilling to believe them. Only once he sees the "wagons" that Yosef sent along for the journey does Yaakov's spirit return.

What was it about the wagons and what, exactly, didn't Yaakov believe ?

The question is discussed by many authorities. Most agree that Yaakov had no trouble believing that Yosef was alive. What he doubted was the quality of his life - was Yosef spiritually intact or had he lost much of the stature he had held in Yaakov's house. Twenty two years in the hedonistic, idolatrous culture of Egypt could certainly do that to you.

The Kli Yakar suggests ( based on the Medrash ) that the wagons were an allusion to the last mitzva that they had learnt about together, the Calf of the Severed Head ( עגלה ערופה ). The wagons symbolized this by indicating that Yosef observed the commandment to escort his guests - a commandment that is derived from the statements required of the beis din in the case of the Calf of the Severed Head.

Rav Zev Leff discusses the implication of the wagons as a vehicle for decending to Egypt. By Yosef sending enough wagon space to transport Yaakov and all his possessions - Yosef is hinting that he knows that the key to maintaining high spiritual standards is to insulate yourself against the outside world with your own 'daled amos' of yiddishkeit. And if need be, transport them with you, wherever you go.

I would like to offer my own humble suggestion. Self Identity. As the Viceroy to the emperor - Yosef would be completely within his rights in sending whatever inferior transportation to pick up his father and maintaining the best for himself - after all - he has the honor of a throne to uphold. As viceroy - that logic is sound. As a Jew - he has an obligation to his fellow Jews and certainly his father. By sending the very best wagons he had - and making due with less in the meantime - Yosef demonstrates that he has not forgotten who he is. A Jew. With the responsibilities incumbent therein.

So when life finds us in our own little 'Egypt', when we have to live with our public face forward - we must never see that face when we look in the mirror. To ourselves, we must always be our true selves, a Yid.

Hatzlacha !

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Lights, Camera ... More Lights !

As we light our menorahs and gaze beyond the lights into the darkness outside ... remember - that only takes one little candle to dispel the darkness.

But in order to work it has to be real. A picture of a candle just won't do it. A fantastic sculpture with perfect likeness and coloring - also won't get the job done. It has to be real.

For our Torah learning to give 'light' and meaning to our whole day - it has to be real. Borne of a true desire to serve Hashem by connecting to his words. But if we can manage this little slice of 'lishma' - it can make a major difference. Like the difference between a walk in the dark and a walk with a lighted candle.

May we all be zocheh to illuminate our days (and nights) with the words of the Holy Torah and may our dedication to this lofty goal hasten the geulah sheleimah, amen.

Hatzlacha !