Wednesday, January 23, 2008

But Would You Say It To My Face ?

In the second of the Aseres HaDibros Hashem instructs us to " ... not have any foreign Gods before Him" [Shemos 20:3]

Simply put - you should not consider any foreign deity to be more worthy of worship than G-d.

While the simple meaning holds, the Ramban gleans from this particular phraseology an additional insight. We should never worship, or even consider another diety because - after all - we are in the constant presence of Hashem !

To make a mismatched comparison when all you have to compare is the memory of one item versus the other in the flesh ( pun intended ) - is excusable, maybe. But to botch up the choice between a living G-d and useless fake gods when the living one is right before you ?!?!


Hashem is not only prohibiting certain practices - He is also giving us the tools to see such false practices for what they are.

This is perhaps best expressed in the dictum "שיוויתי ד' לנגדי תמיד" "I have placed G-d before me always". When we realize that we are constantly in His presence - it's not an intimidating "big brother" thing. It's more of a constant reminder that we have the real thing.

Like a child who is toddeling will constantly look back at the parent - just to make sure that they are still watching.

Hatzlacha !

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sweetness is in the Eye of The Beholder

Following an incredible divine revelation at the Yam Suf - the Jewish people journey for three days without water. They finally come upon an oasis, but - as its name "Marrah" suggests - the water is too bitter to be drunk. The people cry to Moshe who in turn cries out to Hashem. Upon His instructions a tree is tossed into the water, rendering it drinkable.

Huh ?!

Certainly there is more going on here. And there is.

Chazal teach us that the three days were not actually bereft of water, but of Torah - which is compared to water. The people were punished because they allowed their lofty spiritual status to fade - instead of nurturing it with Torah thoughts. This, however, doesn't explain the bitter waters. If the issue was that the people didn't engage in Torah study - then Hashem should have withheld water (the physical representation thereof ) from them entirely until they repented - why give them water but make it too bitter to be of any use ?

To answer this - let us ask another question ( that's so Jewish ! ). We have learnt that G-d deals with man in an infallibly fair fashion. How, then, do we explain the following measure of divine interaction :
"אם תעזבני יום - יומיים אעזבך"
"If you depart from me for a day, I will be distant from you for two."
The %100 inflation seems a little steep, doesn't it ?

The answer lies in the exact fairness of it. Hashem says that if man decides to walk a day's journey away from Him ( figuratively speaking ) - He will journey a day's worth in the opposite direction - exactly mirroring the action ! The result, however, is a two day distance gap that must be closed before man regains his place with G-d ( so as to speak ). We see, therefore, that when we choose other pursuits over our spiritual ones it isn't just a matter of deciding to come back - we must close the gap that we created.

This is why the water was bitter - the Torah that Bnei Yisrael ignored for three days was bitter. They had taken a three day break from it and couldn't just expect it to be laying there, ignored and disgraced until they had the good sense to pick it up.

This is also why they made amends with the tossing of the tree. The Kli Yakar explains that one opinion has it that it was actually a bitter tree, an olive tree. This tree has symbolized in the past ( the olive branch that the dove returns to Noach after its experimental flight from the ark ) that we would rather taste bitterness from the hand of G-d than sweetness from the hand of man. The major part of our penance to Hashem was demonstrating that we now recognize the importance of Torah and of the divine connection it affords us. This enabled us to "bridge the gap" and, once again, enjoy the sweetness of Torah.

May we all merit to 'Tap into Torah' on a regular basis - not just for the sweetness it provides us - but for the service of G-d which we perform by learning his wisdom. May our steadfastness never waiver, but if it does - may our subsequent "gap" be bridged speedily and quickly, amen.

Hatzlacha !

Friday, January 11, 2008

Is the cup half empty or what ?

The difference between the world view of Moshe and Pharaoh can be summed up in the following passuk:
"ראו כי רע נגד פניכם"
"... behold an evil star greets you" [Shemos 10:10]

Pharaoh feels that the Israelites would be foolish to leave, for there is an evil star that rises against them in the desert, a star that signifies bloodshed. Why isn't Moshe worried about the star ? Why does Pharaoh place so much trust in his astrology ?

Despite having his kingdom and country turned upside down by several plagues - some of them too supernatural to contemplate - Pharaoh still thinks that he has the right idea abut how the world runs. He's not all that far off - the evil star does foretell bloodshed. This is where Pharaoh gets caught. He is convinced that if there is an omen of bloodshed that it means that his enemies will suffer.

Moshe isn't worried about the star because he knows the larger truth. Yes - there is an omen for bloodshed - but that won't interfere with Hashem's plan ! Who do you think put the blood star up there in the first place ?! In fact, Hashem does neatly deviate the bloodshed from the Jews to the blood of bris milah.

Pharaoh says to Moshe - the laws of nature are immutable - even your G-d won't save you now ! Moshe calmly responds - even when it seems as if the laws of nature are ranged against us, and even if G-d won't alter the laws outright - Hashem is never bound by those laws.

Every day day the opportunity to choose between Moshe's philosophy and Pharaoh's presents itself. When something doesn't go our way - do we consider it just an unfortunate incident ? A star that just happened to rise against us ? Or can we achieve a slice of Moshe rabbeinu's emunah ? We might not know why it happened but it is certainly all for the grandest master plan there is.

Hatzlacha !

Friday, January 04, 2008

What's Your Destiny ?

Hashem tells Moshe that despite having several names ( Avigdor, Avi Socho ... ) He will only refer to him by the name that the daughter of Pharaoh gave him. The medrash comments on the resulting lesson of the awesome power of gemillus chasadim. Because of her mesirus nefesh, Bisya bas Pharaoh merited to name Moshe Rabbeinu.

But why does a name mean so much ? "A rose by any other name would still have thorns ..." or something, right ?

If Moshe's name is really "Drew" - because he was drawn from the water then, as the Kli Yakar points out, the proper grammar conjugation of Moshe should be 'Mashui'. But it isn't. Moshe's name actually reflects his destiny - which is why Hashem was so upset at him for refusing to accept his role as the harbinger of redemption - Moshe means the drawer or 'One who draws' because he was destined draw the people out of mitzrayim.

And all this was made possible by the courageous acts of Bas Pharaoh. She went down to the Nile to toivel, having been disgusted by the idolatry that was redolent in her father's house. She saw a Jewish child, and under sure pain of death, raised him as her own! For this act of chessed and bravery she is given a glimmer of ruach hakodesh that names Moshe Rabbeinu - who in turn now possesses a destiny to free the entire nation !

In this light we must reflect - what important decisions have come our way ? How did we fare ? Maybe, just maybe, we will have the opportunity to be in the right place - propelled by our desire to do the right thing - and set up an event cascade that will result in the final redemption, bimhayra beyameinu, amen.

Hatzlacha !