Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Vaeira (Exodus 6:2-9:35) What Does It Take?

The Parsha begins with the Almighty telling Moses that He is the same G-d Who appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that He has heard the cries of His persecuted nation and is aware of His covenant with them.
Therefore say to the Children of Israel, “I am G-d, and I will take you out from under the burdens of Egypt; I will rescue you from their service and redeem you…(Exodus 6:2-6)
Moses did as he was commanded but the Jews did not accept his message of impending redemption due to the tremendous stress and burden they suffered (they were impatient). The narrative continues with G-d commanding Moses to go directly to Pharaoh and tell him to “let the children of Israel go out of his land.” (v. 7:2). The reader feels the tension building for all participating parties (the Jewish people, Moses, and Pharaoh) but, then suddenly, the story strays in an anticlimactic way. There’s a pause in the action seemingly unrelated to previous or subsequent events. The next twelve verses are a mundane record of the genealogy of Jacob and Leah’s first three children, Reuven, Shimon, and Levi. Levi’s lineage is spelled out in greater detail than the other tribes (Moses and Aaron are from Levi). We know everything about Moses and Aaron, their uncles and extended family. Until now, the story is tense, laden with emotion and conflict and after this anticlimactic genealogical break, the excitement resumes. Why does the Torah suddenly drop the action for no apparent reason? What is the significance of placing so many genealogical details at this time?
Rav Shimon Raphael Hirsch (Frankfurt, 1808-1888) sees this as an exposé of a central tenet of Jewish theology. Until now, each attempt made by Moses and Aaron to persuade Pharaoh to release the Jews had been frustrating but from this point onwards, they begin to achieve their goal. They are embarking on a mission which had never been done before or after. The idea of an All Powerful Being coming to the rescue of an afflicted nation wasn’t even fiction in the ancient world. Moses and Aaron would be the emissaries to herald in this event and people might mistakenly attribute divine characteristics to them because no ordinary human would have been able to accomplish the task of leading the delegation against the most power person in the world at the time. In addition, Moses would be the one to bring his people out of the impenetrable Egyptian fortress. It needed to be documented for all time that these emissaries were ordinary human beings, born of a father and mother, and that is why it was so important at this particular time to tell their genealogy.
Right from the earliest times it has occurred that men who have shown themselves quite strikingly to be benefactors to their people on account of their ‘godlike” deeds, have been invested after their passing away from this world with a “godly” origin. We know well enough how, later times, a Jew whose geological table was not available, and because it was not available, and he because he brought the world a few sparks of light borrowed from the man Moses, became to be considered by nations as begotten of G-d, and to doubt his divinity became a capital crime. Our Moses was a man, remained a man and is to remain a man…Moses, the greatest man of all time, was just a man, nothing but an ordinary human being. (Hirsch Chumash 6:13-14)
Judaism’s greatest gift to humanity was monotheism, which doesn’t just mean a Higher Power, more importantly it means a loving G-d, One Who wants to bestow goodness on humans. Some people say they can’t believe in G-d because there’s so much evil in the world. That means they associate G-d with being kind, and all the evil ‘proves’ He doesn’t exist. But where did they get that idea (that He is kind) from? Was is from the Greeks or Romans, whose gods fought, were immoral and had the same vices as humans? According to Greek mythology, Prometheus gave the human race the gift of fire and the skill of metalwork. Zeus punished him by having an eagle eat the liver of Prometheus as he was helplessly chained to a rock. If Zeus is one’s god, it’s no contradiction that there’s evil in the world. The Jews brought the idea of an all-powerful G-d who fights for a persecuted people. It’s the all powerful yet kind, loving G-d that has been such a challenge for people to believe in when they see all the unnecessary suffering and oppression in the world.
Moses and Aaron’s mission was to introduce this “new” G-d to the world but it needed to be done in a way that would be clear that these two were just humans, albeit great humans, like anyone else. G-d placed his trust in humanity but wanted to make sure that people would not deify them and this explains why Moses and Aaron’s genealogy is mentioned here. However, it would have sufficed to tell us who Moses and Aaron’s parents were; why do we also need to have the family of the tribes of Reuven and Shimon, and why do we need to have an elaborate family tree of the tribe of Levi, which tells us who Moses’ cousins were?
Although it has been established that Moses was just a mortal human, another erroneous notion might also be believed. One might think that Moses was just an ordinary guy chosen to lead and given the gift of prophecy.
A man could be known as a complete idiot today, and tomorrow proclaim the word of G-d. The spirit of G-d could suddenly descend upon an ignorant, uneducated person…[this] phenomenon is not without alleged instance in imaginary or pretended prophets in other circles; and then, the more ignorant, the more uneducated the prophet of today was yesterday, the greater the proof of the divinity of the Call that worked this change. [ibid.]
One religion even goes to far as to take pride in the illiteracy of its prophet; the transformation of this person into the transmitter of a work of elegant expression is claimed to be the greatest of all miracles. The Torah lists the genealogy of accomplished people to show that although Moses and Aaron were just humans, they were chosen for the task more than the other tribes and more than the people in their own tribe because they were special; i.e. they had made themselves distinctive. A person must make something of himself or herself before attaining the gift of leadership and prophecy. Only a fully developed mind can understand the word of G-d and transmit it to others.
The take home lesson here is clear: G-d wants humans with all their limitations to help their fellows-and no human is G-d. We are tasked with making the most of ourselves and don’t expect G-d to thrust wisdom our way if we haven’t acquired a great deal of it already. Moses’ job was to free the Jewish people from bondage, ours it to free ourselves from the bondage of self. Sometimes it manifests itself by having us feeling insecure and needing others to validate us and our lifestyle, other times it comes to us in the form of arrogance and not caring for the people in our lives. Whatever the case may be, we can’t expect G-d to make something of us before we make something of ourselves. Yet, we have a loving G-d who places His trust in us (humans) and is there to help us-our job is to do what we can and ask for the rest.
Good Shabbos

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Good Shabbos


Rabbi Oppenheim
Charlotte Torah Center

Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Breishis (Genesis 1:1-6:8) Procreate vs. Soulmate

[Disclaimer: The essay below presents a Jewish perspective on the age-old subject of marriage. Although that word has become shrouded in controversy affecting politics, religion, economics, psychology, and sociology, since time immemorial Judaism has addressed this topic. The goal here is to show depth and understanding into some of the ancient wisdom as it relates to marriage-nothing else.]
This past week, Jews around the world completed the yearly cycle of publicly reading the Torah in shul. This week we begin the cycle again, starting with Genesis. The final beings of creation were Adam and Eve.
And man said, “This time, it is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called ‘ishah’ (woman) because this one was taken from ‘ish’ (man).” Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:23-24)
“Therefore” seems out of place. When therefore is used it means “for that reason,” but that would mean that because woman was taken (from a rib of) man, a man should (therefore) cleave to his wife. What connection is there between where a woman comes from and the instruction that a man should cling to her? The verses above are the first reference to the Jewish concept of sexuality and marriage.
The animals of the world are divided into sexes but, as it is related in Genesis, both sexes came at the same time. Neither the male nor female tiger was created first, they sprang forth simultaneously. So too with the elephant, rhino, weasel and all the other species. Each gender of the species was born with no connection to the other gender. As such, they come together to procreate, but not as soulmates. Male and female animals don’t need each other to fulfill their life’s calling; they need each other to procreate and perpetuate the species.
But humans are different. Both men and women are considered lacking when they don’t come together in a committed relationship called marriage. No doubt, some will take offense at that idea (or even the Frank Sinatra classic, “Love and marriage,” which “go together like a horse and carriage”) but it would be disingenuous to say that historically Judaism espoused anything else. Animals can mate and be done with one another but humans long for meaningful relationships built on commitment. I have spoken with countless singles over the years who are either on the career path of their dreams or have already reached it, who say that they long for a committed marriage partner but I have never encountered someone in a committed marriage who longed to be single. Furthermore, I have asked people who have been divorced-sometimes very ugly and painful divorces-if they had it all to do over again, would they have remained single? I can only relate my personal experience, which has been that no one has ever said they wished they had never been married. They say they would have been more careful in choosing a spouse or how they conducted themselves in the marriage, but even though their attempt at marriage failed, they realized how much they learned about themselves and about life. They would not be willing to give up the uniqueness of the husband/wife relationship even though it didn’t have a happy ending. And how about the people who have the good fortune to have found their soulmate and were wise enough to do their part to make sure the love not only remained but also grew stronger?   Those people will tell you that this is what brings them their greatest joy.
Now we can understand the significance of “therefore” in Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. When a person understands that a man and woman were originally one body, one mind, one soul, and how this was never the case with animals, (s)he will understand the uniqueness of the relationship humans will have. The only way a person can find his soulmate, is to leave his father and mother. That means, you must leave you family if you want to find your soulmate. In fact, the Torah explicitly forbids incest and perhaps the reason why is so that a person leaves his family to find completion. The idea is that a couple must have different characteristics to one another. If they were from the same family, they might have the same virtues but also the same character defects; the same abundancies but also the same deficiencies. Their union might strengthen their good and bad traits, but they would not complement one another. Therefore, one must leave his house; a couple must come from two different homes if they desire to become one flesh.
This idea was succinctly stated by one of the venerable sages of Jerusalem in the mid-20th century, Rabbi Aryeh Levine. Once, his wife felt pain in her foot. They went together to the doctor, who asked, “How can I help you?” Rav Levine answered, “my wife’s foot is hurting us.” Achieving and they shall become one flesh is no easy task but at least we know what we are aspiring for. As long as we have that in mind that we have the potential to find a soulmate-and our completion.
Good Shabbos
(Source: The Hirsch Chumash Genesis 2:24)

Yom Kippur Message

Yom Kippur: Four steps to real change The High Holidays are ironically a season of holidays many Jews aren’t too high about. “Repentance” sounds antiquated and it is a challenge to relate to the atonement process. A few years ago, I submitted the following article to aish.com and it can still be found on their website. It […]

Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Vayelech (Deuteronomy 31:1-30) The Gift of Experience

Imagine the following scenario: Millions of Jews – men and women, small children and their great-grandmothers, scholars and laypeople, all assembled in Jerusalem on the Temple Mount. Suddenly the crowd gets quiet and the Jewish King ascends on to a platform and reads sections of the Torah. The nation is inspired and invigorated. A display of unity and a statement of purpose converge to revitalize this diverse nation. This scene happened every seven years.

Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25 ) Bless for Success

 If one plays basketball, he better be aware of the coach’s existence because it will affect the way he conducts himself at practice and at the game-and even off season. He knows that if he gets involved in an activity the coach frowns upon, it might jeopardize his chance of being successful on the team. The same is true of being in a theatrical production, in the military, a student, or any other endeavor in which there is clearly one person who is in charge, if you are not cognizant of that person’s existence, you will not succeed at that endeavor. This obviously relates to G-d because if we ignore or pretend that He doesn’t exist, how can we be successful in life? Remembering that the world has a Creator and living according to that reality has been a challenge for humanity since Adam and Eve and it seems harder than ever in a 21st century, an age when screen time and social media takes the lion’s share of many people’s waking hours. What is the Jewish approach to remain cognizant of the Almighty’s existence? The Torah has no shortage of mitzvot but there’s one in particular that keeps our minds and hearts in the right direction; blessings.