The following thought on this week’s Torah portion comes from Rabbi Aharon Darmon of Jerusalem:
“The first verse of this week’s Torah portion contains a powerful approach to facing formidable challenges in our lives: “The Lord said to Moses: Come to Pharaoh.”
Many of us may feel that there is something that blocks our way in life, some kind of ‘Pharaoh’ that enslaves and stymies us. But instead of confronting this Pharaoh, we escape and occupy ourselves with other things and thus postpone our personal Exodus from Egypt.
The parasha is clearly telling us this: come to Pharaoh. Go directly to your adversary, do not avoid your problem. Don’t run away, don’t look for distractions, cope directly with whatever distresses you. This is relevant both to single and married people, regardless of the issue, it’s easier for us to run away from problems in our lives and do something else. There is always something to look at on WhatsApp, there are always dishes in the sink, it’s always possible to stay several hours later at work. The parasha is telling us: come to Pharaoh, look your adversary in the eye, take responsibility. Only in this way can you begin your personal Exodus from Egypt.”
Chodesh Tov! (Have a good month)
Our pulse quickens when we realize the many joyous days, starting today with the new month of Shevat, that appear on the calendar in the months ahead. Two weeks from today, it’s Tu B’Shvat; two weeks later, the month of Adar begins and two weeks after that we celebrate Purim. Two weeks after Purim, the month of Nissan arrives and two weeks after that the week of Passover starts as we hold the Seder (first of two if you live outside Israel). Fittingly, the weekly Torah portions during this period describe events surrounding the Exodus, our redemption from slavery to freedom. We don’t want to miss out on the abundance that’s in the air during this time, as reflected not only in the celebration of many joyous days but in the exuberance of nature itself as winter gradually loses its grip with the arrival of spring.
The month of Shevat that commences today includes the special holiday of Tu B’Shvat, the new year of the trees. Rav Kook, Israel’s first Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi, in a discussion of all the months of the year, wrote about this month as follows: “Orchards of fruit trees in the Holy Land blossom with the hopes of every generation.” We may take the blossoming of trees in the land of Israel for granted, but for thousands of years the fervent hope of our people was to witness this spectacle. Thus, when we look around at the trees and flowers in our land, we should not take what we see for granted. Shevat is not only a month of blossoming and renewed growth, but the realization of a dream that persisted throughout the generations.
We survived Pharaoh, but now what?
There is one line written by singer Meir Ariel that people quote when they are faced with a challenging difficulty: “We survived Pharaoh, we will survive this too.” This is a comforting thought that testifies to a positive attitude: We have lived through greater challenges than this and we can draw strength from history and the sense of proportion that it brings. The fact is that we faced greater crises in the past and managed to get through them.
But this is not enough. The question is not only will we survive some difficulty, but also where we will find ourselves after it passes. Before the Exodus from Egypt, the people reacted to the harsh reality of slavery in this manner: “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread.” In other words, the more the people were afflicted, the more they grew in numbers, realized success, and flourished. Our purpose is not just to survive a difficult challenge, but rather to learn from it and gain strength – to blossom, develop, and grow.
In the midst of every kind of distress and challenge, it’s worthwhile to remember that “we survived Pharaoh, we will survive this too.” But it is also possible to examine the treasures and blessings that might be found within a difficult time, and to utilize the situation at hand in a way that brings about positive change and empowerment.
Translation by Yehoshua Siskin