During the Revolutionary War, the colonists wore camouflage to ambush the British but the British soldiers were easily spotted due to their bright red uniforms. So, too, with French soldiers at the beginning of WW I. The French army was wearing the stylish red pants and blue coats that had been their uniform for centuries. […]
I had intended on writing about a different subject but a profound experience Wednesday morning has led my mind in a different direction. We are in Pittsburgh because my close friend and colleague Rabbi Alisar Admon is being honored at a dinner this evening. I can’t remember the last time I went to an institutional […]
Linguists are at a loss to find an origin for the word “bribe.” It is first used in 14th century old French but it means “steal.” By mid-15th century its meaning had shifted to “gift given to influence corruptly.” No one knows where “bribe” came from or how it ultimately came to have the meaning we use […]
The first sentence in this week’s Parsha begins, “And Yitro (Jethro), the priest of Midyan, THE FATHER IN LAW OF MOSES, heard…” The Torah explains that Yitro heard of the miraculous events surrounding the Exodus and the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Yitro, therefore, traveled to join the encampment of the Jews, and as […]
One of the miracles of the 20th century was the Jewish people taking control of their ancestral land when they won the Independence War in 1948. Part of the miracle was that a large segment of the army was composed of Holocaust survivors; WWII had just ended three years earlier. When looking at pictures of the […]
Many people will tell you, “it’s all in the Torah, you just have to know where to find it.” In Genesis, there are stories giving moral lessons; in Exodus we are introduced to some of the mitzvot (commandants), as they relate to us as individuals and as a nation. When people think of Jewish practices, they associate […]
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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After being told by G-d to return to Egypt and command Pharaoh to release the Jews, Moses says: ‘Please G-d, I am not a man of words, also not since the day before yesterday, nor since You first spoke to Your servant; for I am heavy of mouth and heavy of speech.’ (4:10) Is Moses […]
What Will Your Desk Say About You? There is significance to how the Torah is broken up into the sections we read each week. The name of the Parsha (weekly section) is usually the first word (or can be found in the first few words) of any given Parsha. This week’s reading is Yayechi-“he lived;” it […]
We have finally reached one of the dramatic scenes in the entire Bible. Joseph’s brothers had tossed him into a pit, then some passing merchants brought him out and sold him into slavery. When Reuven, the oldest brother retuned to the pit, it was empty. The brothers thought he (Joseph) was dead and didn’t know […]
Then there was an opportune day when he entered the house to do his work-none of the household staff were in the house-that she caught hold of him by his garment and said, “Lie with me!” But he left his garment in her hand and fled. (Genesis 39:11-12) This week’s Parsha contains one of the most […]
I read a story of an encounter that took place almost sixty years ago between American Rabbi and a wealthy congregant, who was bemoaning the lack of Judaism in his life. With deep nostalgia, he recalled the blissful days of his childhood in the shtetel (small village in Eastern Europe). There was a lump in his throat […]
Abraham and Sara as well as Isaac and Rebecca had difficulty having children but their grandson/son Jacob was the opposite. In a short period of time, he fathers many children (who ultimately become the Tribes of Israel). When Jacob’s wife Leah had her fourth child, she named him Yehuda (Judah), which means “thanks.” That means […]
And these are the generations of Isaac the son of Abraham; Abraham begot Isaac. (Genesis 25:19) For the past three weeks, the main character in each Parsha has been Abraham. This week, Isaac hits center stage but his appearance is enigmatic. Our first exposure to Isaac’s world is framed by his being the son of Abraham. […]
Abraham had a faithful assistant, Eliezer, who was so competent and trustworthy that he was put in charge of every aspect of Abraham’s household and possessions, and was the only one Abraham could trust to find a spouse for Isaac. Eliezer asks for Divine assistance in this endeavor. And he said, “G-d of my master […]
Question: Who is the oldest person in the Bible to have been circumcised and how old was he? Answer: Abraham was 99 years when he circumcised himself. Even though he was in a lot of pain, he was distressed that no visitors were coming his way. Finally, he noticed three people at the entrance to his […]
Abraham is instructed to leave the comfort of his hometown and go to a place, which has not been revealed to him. So Abram went as G-d had spoken to him and Lot went with him; Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and Lot, his brother’s son, […]
[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.
(Source: The Hirsch Chumash Genesis 2:24)
Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: V’zos HaBracha Rejoice in the Book And this is the blessing, wherewith Moses, the man of G-d, blessed the Children of Israel before his death (Deuteronomy 33:1). Why is Moses called “the man of God” in this verse? The Midrash answers that, “Moses was not called ‘the man of God’ until he spoke […]
One of the most basic foundations of Judaism is expressed in this week’s Parsha. It is the idea that G-d’s judgements are just. The Rock [G-d] — perfect is His work, for all His paths are justice… (32:4) This concept is mentioned in the Jewish mourning process when the mourners are required to recite the verse […]
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 […]
This week’s Parsha is a continuation of the speech Moses gave before he died. He reiterates the choice G-d has given the Jewish people, a choice that each generation has made ever since. Will we stay true to Judaism or will we get absorbed in the host nation in which we find ourselves? The fact […]
[Note: We no longer can identify who the biological decedents of the ancient Egyptians are and therefore the commandment in this verse below no longer applies. Nonetheless, its underlying lessons are as applicable as ever.] …Do not despise the Egyptian, for you were a stranger in his land.(Deuteronomy 23:8) The Egyptians had enslaved Jews for […]
Do not plant an idolatrous tree – any tree – near G-d’s altar… (Deut. 16:21) Sacrifices occupy an outsize position in the Torah and are easily misunderstood. We reject the notion that these offerings give G-d anything. How could they? A perfect G-d cannot be made more perfect. We cannot “feed” or “sustain” Him. The Hebrew […]
You are children of the Almighty, your G-d. You shall neither cut yourselves nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead. For you are a holy people to the Almighty, your G-d …(14:1, 2) There is a Torah prohibition to against cutting oneself or tearing out one’s hair when grieving over the loss […]