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Posts Tagged ‘exodus’

God Has a Sense of Humor

Monday, March 4th, 2013

It’s true, you know. It really is. I believe He lives on a plain far above us all but more, He smiles down on us benevolently and every once in a while, quietly, He plays a bit of mischief on the world, wondering if perhaps they’ll see the irony…they rarely do. There are so many instances of this irony, so many chances God gives us to see that there should be so much more meaning to things than the superficial way in which we interpret events.

Sunday’s news strikes me as one of those times when God is testing us, daring us to draw the lines between the dots. Most won’t…and I know that God knows that too. But still, the dots are there…specks on the horizon…oh wait, perhaps those aren’t specks at all…perhaps they are locusts?

In just under three weeks, Passover is coming. I won’t talk about what I feel about Passover; perhaps later. It comes each year with a mixture of emotions and a ton of work…but this piece of news made me smile. No, I’m not happy about the suffering of others and I can imagine that having a swarm of locusts attack your fields and homes can be disgusting and depressing and more. I’m sorry for the Egyptians suffering this attack of locusts…I am…really. Officials in Egypt have released a statement that they estimate as much as 30 million locusts have swarmed over Egypt causing massive damage to crops.

They are hoping the weather will cooperate and bring winds to blow the locusts into Saudi Arabia. I’m sure the Saudis appreciate the generous offer and wishes of the Egyptians.

No, I don’t smile for the suffering and devastation – that isn’t my culture, my religion. But yes, I do find myself quietly smiling for the irony that one of the ten plagues returns, weeks before Passover, seems to have returned. And I can’t ignore the irony that it comes under the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose anti-Israel stand is clear, as are the words they use to vilify the Jews. I can’t help but remember the Egyptian President calling the Jews “the descendants of apes and pigs.” Oh, and he called us “bloodsuckers” too.

No, I’m not laughing…but come on, locusts? Egypt? Passover?

There has to be a message in there so clear perhaps even the Egyptians will see the irony this time.

No, just kidding. The Egyptians won’t see it…but God knows, I do.

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The Sunday Times Cartoon and the Midrash

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

One aspect of that Scarfe cartoon from Sunday, which has so far, I think, escaped comment.

As my good friend, Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, had written, the Passover festival has a special focus, a

…frequent emphasis on children, especially at the Passover seder…the Bible and the Midrash emphasize that the Egyptians singled out the Jewish children for persecution. Pharaoh instructs the midwives to kill all male children.

The Midrash says that Pharaoh, a leper, bathed in the blood of Jewish children, had the Jewish children burned in Egyptian furnaces, and, if the Hebrew slaves failed to produce their quota of bricks, Jewish children were plastered into the walls to fill the gaps.

The Egyptian strategy was to disrupt Jewish family life and prevent the birth of Jewish children. And, even when Pharaoh (Exodus 10:10) finally agreed to allow the Israelites to worship for three days, he would not allow the children to accompany the adults.

That Jews could be portrayed as placing Arabs, adults and children, into a wall being built when that wall is intended to bring Jews security from Arab terrorism, especially suicide-bombers who destroy themselves in their hatred, is to be so upside-down and backwards a reality that it boggles the minds of all humanists, of which the caricaturist is not.  Nor his editor.

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The Complainers are Alive and Well in America

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

In this Shabbat’s Torah portion, we met the complainers. Among the different types of personalities and personality disorders, there are complainers. There are people who complain about everything. Wherever they are, whatever they’re doing, they always have the need to complain. “This is no good, and that’s no good. This should be done that way, and I could have done the same thing better.”

We meet them right after our incredibly miraculous salvation from the armies of Egypt, as the Egyptians are still drowning in the sea, and our spontaneous song of joy is still echoing over the wilderness mountains, the people started complaining. Not all the people. The complainers.

First they complained that there wasn’t any fresh water – as if King of the Universe, who split the sea five minutes ago, couldn’t give them a little fresh water! Then they complained against Moshe and Aharon, finding fault with the greatest leaders in the world! Then they complained about the menu, which ever since has become a very Jewish thing to do. “Waiter, this steak is too rare.” Or, “Waiter, this steak is well done.” Then, once again in the wilderness, they complained about the lack of water, accusing Moshe of trying to kill them! A little later on, they are going to start complaining about having to live in Eretz Yisrael.

I’m sure you are familiar with the type. For instance, there is no shortage of them amongst Jewish bloggers in America. Surely you’ve noticed. Some are always complaining: “This in Israel is no good, and that’s no good, the country is too secular, or the religious have too much power, you can’t make a living there, the Israelis are rude, and on and on and on and on.”

After reading this Shabbat’s Torah portion, I realized that they’re the modern-day complainers. Apparently, it’s something genetic. It’s not their fault. They can’t help it. I suppose a doctor would call it an obsessive compulsion, and a psychiatrist might term it a neurotic disorder. It could be there are medicines that can help the problem, like the drugs that doctors prescribe for just about everything else. Maybe anti-depressants would work. After all, they don’t seem like very happy people, the way they’re complaining all the time.

The only other thing I can think of that might help them is to learn Emunah, which means faith. Rabbi Kook would always say that Emunah must be learned. True faith in God doesn’t grow on trees in Brooklyn. Every Jew has Emunah deep down inside. But it must be developed. Emunah is more than eating bagels and lox and putting on tefillin. True faith in God requires learning. Not just any type of learning, but learning designed to bring a person to a living connection with God, and to put his life in line with what God wants for the Am Yisrael, the Nation of Israel.

Books like the “Kuzari” and the writings of Rabbi Kook are a good place to start. And a true reading of the Torah is the best place of all. Like they very thing that we are reading about now – how God doesn’t want us to live in foreign countries, and how He even turned the world upside down with the greatest miracles ever, to teach us this lesson and bring us to the Land of Israel where He wants us to live. But the complainers didn’t like the way God was handling things.

For example, the Spies were outstanding Torah scholars, but they were the biggest complainers of all. They believed in some things, but they didn’t believe in others. They agreed to keep Shabbat and put on tefillin, but when it came to making aliyah, they didn’t believe in God, as the Torah says, “In this matter, you did not believe in the Lord your God” (Devarim, 1:32). In the matter of going to live in Israel. They wanted to live in Brooklyn, and Chicago, and Texas instead.

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook taught:

The Gemara talks about types of “Tzaddikim who don’t believe” (Sotah 48B). They choose words of Torah and commandments, saying, “This matter is arranged properly by the Almighty. It’s very nice; it pleases me; it’s easy; I agree to abide. However, this matter is not so good.” This approach to Torah leads to dangerous consequences and heresy. There is a startling saying of our Sages in the Gemara regarding someone who says, “This precept is pleasant, and this one isn’t pleasant; this matter is pleasing to me, and this other matter is not. Everyone who chooses between the mitzvot in the Torah, saying this one he agrees with, this one he doesn’t, loses the richness of Torah” (Eruvin 64A).

‘Third Time, Ice Cream!’

Thursday, January 24th, 2013
There is an interesting phrase used in Israel which is recited when one unexpectedly encounters a person for the second time within a short period:  pa’am shlisheet, glida (“third time, ice cream”).  This is commonly understood to mean:  If we soon run into each other again (the third time), you will buy me an ice cream (since I was the one who said the phrase).
Some believe that the phrase is based on a similar German one.  But the German one doesn’t mention specifically the third time, and refers to a drink instead of ice cream.  Some have suggested that it is based on a British saying “third time, I’ll scream”, which Israelis would supposedly have heard during the British Mandate period about 75 years ago.  However, this too, has been debunked – since there is no British phrase like that!
So, we would like to postulate a new theory, one based on the first three times that the Israelites eat and drink after being freed from Egyptian slavery – all three of which are described in this weeks’s Torah portion of Beshalah.
After the crossing of the Red Sea, the Israelites traveled to a place named Marah, their first campsite following their final escape from the Egyptians (Exodus 15:22-26).  Finding no drinkable water there (hence the name Marah, meaning “bitter”), the people began to complain.  Moses cried to God for help, and God responded by showing Moses a tree.  Moses cast the tree into the bitter water, miraculously turning it fresh and drinkable.  Thus were the Israelites provided with water to drink at their first campsite.
From there, the Israelites proceeded to the oasis of Elim, their second campsite (Ex. 15:27).  There, they found 12 fresh water springs and 70 palm trees.  Thus were the Israelites provided with not only water to drink (as previously), but also dates to eat.
Next, the Israelites trekked toward their third campsite, which was in the wilderness of Sin (Ex. 16:1-36).  Once again they complained, this time about the lack of meat and bread.  And again, God responded by miraculously providing for them:  That evening, a flock of quails covered the campsite, and in the morning, God sent down manna from the heavens – the first occurrence of a miracle that repeated itself every day apart from the Sabbath, for the next 40 years.
Verse 14 describes the manna as being dak ka’kfor (“as thin as frost”).  Onkelos, who lived about 2000 years ago, translated the Torah into Aramaic, the common language of the day.  His translation for the word kfor (“frost”)?  Glida – which in modern Hebrew, is the word for “ice cream.”
With the above in mind, the meaning of pa’am shlisheet, glida (“third time, ice cream”) finally becomes clear:  The first time the Israelites ate or drank after leaving Egypt, they had water.  The second time, they had dates.  And the third time?  Glida – ice cream!
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Why Not Stay in Egypt?

Monday, January 14th, 2013

Since in our weekly Torah reading, we’re right in the middle of the Exodus drama, getting ready to leave Egypt on our way to Israel, we can ask the question – why did the Jews have to leave Egypt? What was so important that they had to pack up all their belongings and go? Why make such a big tumult? Why couldn’t they have just stayed in America, I mean Egypt, where they were?

In fact, as we mentioned in our previous blog, four-fifths of them asked this very same question. They saw no reason at all to pack up and leave. After all, they had gefilta fish in Egypt, kosher bakeries, Empire chickens, plenty of shuls in the neighborhood, local Jewish newspapers, Jewish Community Centers, Federations, mikvahs, and rabbis who told them they didn’t have to listen to Moshe and make aliyah. Plus all of the fleshpots in Egypt were open to them for their enjoyment – what could be better? They enjoyed the best of both worlds. What did they lack?

In the eyes of 80% of the Diaspora lovers , it was one huge headache when Moshe showed up with the news that Hashem wanted them to leave Egypt and return home to the Holy Land. Moshe tried to explain, but they didn’t catch on. They didn’t want to listen. They wanted to stay right where they were in Egypt, and so they all died in the plague of darkness. Four-fifths of the Jews in Egypt missed out on the Exodus because they didn’t want to say goodbye to the exile. Four-fifths of them!

And so, we ask the question they asked – what was so bad with their life in Egypt that Hashem insisted they leave? True, they had to work hard in Egypt, but, from their point of view, they had everything it takes to be good frum Jews.

Well, it turns out that their understanding of being Jewish was different from the understanding that Moshe wanted to teach them. Their understanding of Torah was different from the Torah that Hashem wanted them to follow, a Torah that is not merely a list of private, ritual commandments, but the Constitution of the Jewish Nation, which, in addition to keeping kosher, includes serving in the Israeli army, going off to war, appointing kings and a Sanhedrin, listening to prophets, performing agricultural laws unique to the Land of Israel, and celebrating the Festivals three times a year at the Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem. Hashem wanted the Jews to leave Egypt, because He doesn’t want His People to go to shul, eat glatt kosher, and build the economy of gentile lands. Hashem wants His People to go to shul, and eat glatt kosher while they are building their own land – and that can only be done in the Land of Israel, the special Holy Land that Hashem promised to the Jews. Hashem didn’t want the Jews to stay in Egypt under the rule of Pharaoh, because He wants His People to serve Him as an independent Jewish nation, in its own Jewish homeland, and not as scattered individuals and communities interspersed amongst the goyim around the world. Hashem doesn’t want His People to be frum Jewish Egyptians. Hashem wants them to be the frum nation of Israel in the Land of Israel because that is how His Name is sanctified in the world, when the Jews have their own powerful Torah nation – not when His People are scattered minorities in other people’s lands keeping the few mitzvot they can – even if a Jew is appointed to be Secretary of the Treasury for a few years – whoop-dee-doo!

That’s the meaning of the Exodus. Hashem chose us to be His special Holy nation, and took us out of the exile of Egypt, separating us from the goyim, in order to bring us to His Holy Land, just as He promised He would.

Is that so hard to understand?

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