Celebrating Confusion

The Torah portion of Teruma seems like quite the opposite of upcoming holiday of Purim (more below): there’s a list of materials and clear instructions how to build something very precise and specific. And still, even there, where everything is “obvious”, if we look underneath the surface, we’ll see it: the temporary is permanent, and the permanent – temporary. Take the Ark, for example: solid wood and “travelable”. Or the Menora made of solid gold – with blossoms.
Rashi in his commentary to Exodus 25:9 says on the verse’s ending – “and so you shall do” – ‘for generations (ledorot – לדורות)’ = forever. How could he say that, challenge other commentators? By the his time, the Tabernacle = Mishkan – משכן was long gone and event both Temples were destroyed. What could he mean by ‘do this for generations’? it can’t possibly be “this” – this exact building, but maybe do this – “a” place. Our materials, design and location might be different; that is all secondary. After all, the first one was mobile and in a desert, but making space for G-d in our life, is something we should always strive to do.

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The day before Rosh Hodesh Adar, horrific headlines fill the news of yet another school shooting, leaving at least 17, mostly young people, dead and who knows how many deeply wounded, physically, emotionally and spiritually. On top of the obvious, we wonder, “Davka today? Don’t we say, mishenichnas Adar, marbim besimcha, when Adar begins, we increase our joy”?
Rabbi Sharki of Machon Meir in Jerusalem teaches that Adar, the month of Purim, is the saddest month of the year. Wait, not The month of Av, with the destruction of the Temple and all its calamities? But, rather, Adar, because this is the time we encourage ourselves and others to “increase joy”, and we only tell someone to “cheer up” when we’re sad.
Why are we sad? Purim is such an exciting holiday!! Eh, for kids. Maybe. As we grow up, the intense confusion and discomfort of the day, is easily felt. We can’t decide who “we’ll be”; we can’t tell who is who – which in some places can offer not only a “discomfort”, but a real risk of safe and security. We can’t tell where G-d is; who’s good and who’s bad. The story also brings no comfort. It starts bad, gets worse and ends up well, bad, not good and definitely not great.
It’s the only book that takes place fully in “chutz-la’aretz”, outside of Israel. We’re in a place where we have little to no control over what’s going on. We are subject to the whims of a weak king and his envious advisor. The clear voice of G-d which is so present in every book of the bible, directing us this way and that, is absent. Attack can come from everywhere; defense is in the most unlikely places. No one behaves as expected: take, for example, the minor case of Mordechai telling about the plot of Bigtan & Teresh to get rid of the king. Imagine, G-d forbid, if our dearest person was captured and taken against her will to be the wife of a powerful, corrupt man we dislike. Now we hear that someone wants to get rid of him. Shouldn’t it be good?? Why is Mordecha saving the person who holds Esther?
Wherever we turn, there is chaos. And all this is exasperated by excessive drinking, loud noise and general mayhem.
How are we to make sense of this story and actually enjoy this day which some say is as holy as Yom Kippur (“KiPurim” literally means “like Purim”)?

The Talmud teaches that “Haman” was already mentioned in the Torah. Where? The easiest source would be “haman” – the manna in Exodus, but that’s not where the Talmud is going. It brings us a verse from the Book of Genesis (3:11): …המן העץ אשר צויתיך did you eat from the tree I commanded not to? asks G-d. Why choose this verse which is barely remotely resembling Haman – using only the letters of the word hamin?
The verse is also strange because it has G-d asking a question. Why should G-d ask questions? Doesn’t He know what’s going on? The serpent of the Garden of Eden mixes and blurs facts with fiction leading to mistakes, fights and separation . This is also Haman’s role in the megillah: Haman is considered part of Amalek, and we saw Amalek do just that only a few Torah portions ago, by launching a war “on the weak, from behind”. Amalek in gimatriya equals the Hebrew word for doubt, safek -ספק. This most destructive force, even without doing much, can turn our world upside down.
And yet.
Despite our best intentions, there is chaos in the world. And not all of it is explainable. In that regard, Purim is most important.
Finding G-d where everything is beautiful and orderly, is one thing. Sitting on top of Half Dome and feeling the wow – or alternatively, in the perfectly constructed mishkan – can make sense. But then there is being reminded that G-d is with us, even in the chaos, even when it’s not obvious, where there is no name or known presence. In spite of the discomfort and maybe irony, that is a much more holistic view of G-d.
Purim is pushing us beyond where we’re comfortable, beyond where we’ve been. There to find new horizons.
The Purim parade is called “adloyada” – עדלאידע as the three Hebrew words: ad lo yada – עד לא ידע “until one does not know”, taken from the Talmud (Megilla 7:b), where it says, “a person is obligated to drink (on Purim) until one does not know (the difference) between cursed Haman and blessed Mordechai”.
We often pride ourselves on Jewish learning. But, what does that mean? Finding answers to everything? Or keeping the questions?? Answers are nice; they give us comfort; the more decisive, the more defined – and confined we become. Questions remove the roof off our heads, leaving us open, vulnerable, searching, reaching for more, helping us grow, knowing we don’t know and we’ll never fully know. That too is ad lo yada, reaching  beyond and some. On Purim we don’t stumble on confusion. we don’t avoid it. We work to create it, enjoy it and celebrate it. May it be a good month!

Shabbat Shalom.

עדלאידע – 1956 ו- 2017

 

 

 

 

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G-d is in the Details

At the end of the day, it’s all about the details.
But, look at the big picture!
I do, and when I look at it really, really closely, I see that it’s made of lots and lots of tiny little dots. Had any one of them been elsewhere, slowly but surely, the whole thing would look differently. The Mona Lisa might not have that semi-smile and Beethoven’s symphony might have just a few disharmonic notes. We’d be sitting in the dark because when we passed our hand on the wall, we missed the light switch by just a little, and on and on.
Parashat Mishpatim is sandwiched between the dramatic Giving of the Law and the commitment of “na’ase venishma” – נעשה ונשמע we will do and we will listen (Exodus 24:7), the People’s confirmation of their acceptance of the covenant. It speaks about servitude, justice, compensations, theft, witchcraft, how to treat animals, loans, produce, lost objects, festivals, food, and more. And more.
You can’t be serious! G-d can’t possibly care about all this! Soon you’ll tell me that He cares how I tie my shoes?!
Just last week we were at Sinai, which our sages have compared it to the wedding of G-d with His People. It was marvelous, with flashy audio-visual effects and an impressive presentation. And yet, most relationships don’t survive on the “once in a…” event. The next day, there are dishes in the sink, and a long list of tedious, conflicting to-do’s. Love is made of the daily care, rather than the “wow”.
Ok, you might say, so we got some laws; “detailed” laws. So what. There were other legal codes at the time of the Torah, each progressive its own right. Hammurabi’s Code for example, also taught what to do with a murderer! Yes, but it dealt with establishing a fair – as humanly possible, organized and orderly society. Only the Torah included G-d in this detailed, legalistic conversation.
Just last week Moses told Yitro, his father in law who came to give him some good advice: “כי יבוא אלי העם לדרוש אלוהים “ – when the people come to me to seek G-d (18:15)… Wait: I thought the people came to him so he can judge between them and each other! What’s this with “seeking G-d”?
From instructions on how we treat a Hebrew servant, the Torah makes it clear that the judicial system is not just a human creation for the humans’ convenience. Rather, it is a conversation between each one of us as individuals and as part of a society, and the Divine, and that conversation goes through everyone and everything around me. The slave, the disadvantaged, the stranger, the one who was wounded; trees, fields, food – nothing escapes it. Our spiritual journey is inseparable from how we treat each other. It is a constant search for G-d’s image within and without, through all we do, and all we meet. Sinai is a turning point, not just because of Sinai but even more so, because of Mishpatim. Even the most minutia discussion, going forward, is going to be joined by a third voice: that of G-d.

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I’ll ask her in the morning…

On the day of her funeral, the sun was shining and the sky was a clear, blue. Funerals’ weather somehow is always meaningful, whether “the sky is crying” or not. For my mom’s, it was a glorious spring day, one of those days, on which she’d get up, bright and early, pull the curtains wide open to the view, take a deep breath, appreciating being alive, and plan to go hiking, or take a long walk along the beach, not before she’d call, check on her grandchildren, and tell me how beautiful the world is, not painless, but ever so beautiful.
On that day, too, the slopes of the green Carmel Mountain were carpeted with wild flowers in all colors. The red anemonies and pinkish cyclamens could be seen even from the cemetery gate, where a large crowd assembled. So much so that I started complaining why “they” schedule two funerals at the same time. “They” didn’t. It was just one. People gathered in a mixture of tears and smiles, condolences and memories. Everybody seemed busy so I walked alone, up the path through the graves to the funeral home, where her body was prepared. I would have liked to sit by her as her “shomeret”, but was not allowed… So many “rules” governed so much of our life, dictating what’s ok and not ok to do, even to that very last minute. “Your mother? I can tell by the palms of her hands, she was a tzadeket and died like the righteous ones, with a kiss”, said the Hevra Kadisha attendant.
I walked down, wondering about the bond between parents and children; about how much we miss, chasing each other through time, and what do we actually know about each other.
The night before the funeral, jet-lagged, sleepless, exhausted, deeply pained and strangely calm, I rummaged through boxes of pictures, binders of the letters we exchanged over many years, postcards in tiny handwriting, little souvenirs from all over the world. Every so often, I’d come across something, a photo of her or someone else I could not recognize (or her with someone else I could not recognize -). I found myself thinking, it’s ok, I’ll just ask her in the morning.
That thought was there throughout the funeral too: ‘I have to remember who came so I can tell her later’, as if this was some event she happened to miss. I could see her raise an eyebrow over her wonderful green eyes, peeking from behind her glasses, and say, nu tof… in her accent (and when I’d comment on that, she’d say, me? haaf an aczent??).
It’s been 12 years. And even before then, we spent many moons with an ocean between us. I inherited the “strength” to manage the daily stuff, and “all is well”. But on Sunday mornings, I still miss the phone ringing. And the thought of what I’d like to tell her, will probably never go away.
יהי זכרה ברוך.

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Dancing together at Sinai

When religious Jews are asked, how are you? they often respond with “Baruch Hashem”, literally meaning, ‘praised be G-d’ or ‘thank G-d’. Turns out, in the Torah this construct is used largely by non-Jews, including, in this week’s Torah portion, no other than Moses’ father in Law, Yitro:
וַיֹּאמֶר֮ יִתְרוֹ֒ בָּר֣וּךְ ה’ אֲשֶׁ֨ר הִצִּ֥יל אֶתְכֶ֛ם מִיַּ֥ד מִצְרַ֖יִם וּמִיַּ֣ד פַּרְעֹ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר הִצִּיל֙ אֶת־הָעָ֔ם מִתַּ֖חַת יַד־מִצְרָֽיִם׃
“Blessed be the LORD,” Jethro said, “who delivered you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh, and who delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians.

Long before him, came Malki-tzedek, the king of Shalem (Genesis 14:19-20); Abraham’s servant upon meeting Rebecca (24:27); Lavan, upon seeing Rebecca’s newly acquired jewelry and the servant standing outside (24:31), and Avimelech to Yitzchak, after settling the disputes over the wells and recognizing Yitzchak’s greatness (36:29), all using the same term or a slight variation.

The Talmud, and especially the Tractate of Avoda Zara, which is currently read at daf yomi, constantly wonders, where is the line between “me” and ”the other”? what can we do together that maintain each identity and what is it that blurs it? What kind of businesses, festivities, interactions? And the answers fluctuate with time, safety, economy, general needs and more.
Yitro, “Kohen Midyan” – the Midyanite priest – introduces this complexity. The sages describe him as someone who tried every idolatrous practice available. He is also Moses’ father in law. The grandfather of Moses’ (and Tzipora’s) children. And knowledgeable in organizational management.
We are so used to the story that we might miss the “wow”: The person who talks to G-d directly at any given moment, who will be the only one to speak with G-d “face to face”, in order to care for G-d’s people better is – not only getting but – taking advice from his non-Jewish father in law.
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G-d and the Children of Israel are often compared to a couple. If so, we might notice that between their “date” at the Splitting of the Sea – everything done to impress and “open up” a new relationship – and their “wedding” at Mt. Sinai – a much more calculate, mature move, with a detailed contract at hand – there is a “dance”. And even music; music which can be “seen” (Exodus 20:15)!
Moses goes up the mountain (19:3). Then down to gather the people (19:7). The people approach as close as possible (19:12)– they should want to be closer and closer. After all, what could be better then being with G-d? But they are given a limit, and warned not to go up any closer. Then Moses goes down again (19:14). Then G-d comes down on Mt. Sinai (19:20), and calls Moses to come up. Moses goes up (19:20) only to be told: go down (19:21), and then: “And G-d said to him [Moses]: Go down and come up again”… (19:24)…
Then and now, there is a constant dance between us and Hashem: when we draw too near, He (for lack of a better pronoun) “withdraws”. If we back-up, we allow “Him” more space to expand and come near us, but then we also feel more remote. Which makes us draw near, as we want to be really really close, but we can only get so close. Then we must catch our breath, and… back up a bit. Which allows G-d more room…
Where are we supposed to be? Close? Closer? Far? How far?
And I think we’re supposed to be “dancing”. For one, we’re expected to be in motion. Too close is like near an endless burning sun. Too far, is cold, lonely, and lifeless. The Torah suggests neither. It tells a love story, and as such, it is fitting to be accompanied – by a dance.

Shabbat Shalom.

Illustration by Menachem Halbershtat in Musaf Makor Rishon 2013

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Shabbat Shira: “There can be miracles”

The image of Miriam of the split sea with her drum is a favorite. So much so that tambourine in Hebrew is called “Miriam’s drum”. Rashi answers for us the question we didn’t think to ask: not like there were music stores on route, so where did they get drums from? “The women were righteous and thus guaranteed miracles, so they brought drums with them from Egypt” (on Exodus 15:20).
Music was always part of my life. I’m especially thinking of our family’s piano which traveled from Germany to Israel in the 1930’s. I admit that as a child, I pretty much took it for granted. It was always there; what’s to think? But one day my kids asked me to describe exactly, how did it make it across Europe to Israel of long ago? ‘What ima, the Nazis came to the door to kick the family out, and your grandma said, ‘just a second, if you don’t mind, the movers will be here soon, and I really hate to leave you the piano’…?
And I’m thinking of the kind of faith that is takes to prepare no sandwiches for the journey, but nevertheless brings along musical instruments…
Then there is the Sea Splitting. The Torah describes how it happened, a phenomenon which scientists have been able to somewhat duplicate:
וַיֵּ֨ט מֹשֶׁ֣ה אֶת־יָדוֹ֮ עַל־הַיָּם֒ וַיּ֣וֹלֶךְ ה ׀ אֶת־הַ֠יָּם בְּר֨וּחַ קָדִ֤ים עַזָּה֙ כָּל־הַלַּ֔יְלָה וַיָּ֥שֶׂם אֶת־הַיָּ֖ם לֶחָרָבָ֑ה וַיִּבָּקְע֖וּ הַמָּֽיִם׃
Then Moses held out his arm over the sea and the LORD drove back the sea with a strong east wind all that night, and turned the sea into dry ground. The waters were split… (Exodus 14:21).

Indeed, around where we think is Yam Suf, there are watery channels that at times, with enough winds, can shift the waters and expose dry land.
Forget the fact that the miracle has to happen in the right time and right length of time, which is already amazing. For the midrash this was not enough. Our sages describe to us a completely different scenario: seeing the confusion – Egyptians from behind, the Children of Israel at a loss, Moses praying — Nachshon ben Aminadav, the future prince of the tribe of Judah, started walking into the water. Step by step. First his toes got wet. I imagine at this point, everyone around was still arguing and crying. Clouds of dust from the approaching horses in the distance could be seen. Then his knees got wet. His thighs. His waist. At this point, some might have noticed already: ‘Hey, Nachshon! What are you doing? Hey! Hey!’ Then his chest. His shoulders. His neck. The shout-outs quiet down; the crowd is silent. What is he doing? The water are up to his nostrils and voilà!! At that moment, the sea splits.
We who know the “rest of the story” think, ah, of course, The Sea Splits, but Nachshon, unlike Miriam, didn’t pack a bathing suit. He just walks.

As slaves, the Children of Israel got their food every day; maybe even 2-3 times a day. It was probably not much – some soup, little bread; maybe some greens, a piece of fish. But it sustained them. And what’s more: it kept them from worrying. Their masters wanted them alive and working so chances are there will be more tomorrow. As they leave for the desert, they reminisced about the “pot of meat” they used to have in Egypt. A careful reading reveals they didn’t miss “meat” – they might not have much, but there was a “pot”, even if only “leftover”, conveying an idea of “security”, a feeling of ‘there will food tomorrow too’.
Then there was “freedom”.
Things turned upside down: water came from the ground, and bread – from heaven (exactly opposite from how we experience it now!) and with it, a strange directive: take only one day’s portion, except for on Shabbat when there will be double.
What was it like to go out at dusk, satisfied, not hungry yet deeply concerned; what if there will be nothing tomorrow? Ah, but there is. And what about the next morrow? How do we learn to trust, to have faith?
Three different situations: those we can prepare for, trusting that one day, the day will come; those that surprise us, but we can do something about at the moment; and those we just to have to ride, breath, hold on, appreciate the present and trust for an unknown, good tomorrow.
The days before Sinai can be described as an intense faith retreat. We’re even attacked by Amalek, the embodiment of doubt, at the end of the parasha. We have to practice our newly learned skills; we’re going to need them every day of our life.

Shabbat Shalom.

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On patience & haste, and what if we were G-d…

Ten whole Plagues. Many days. Weeks. Months of preparations. There was even time to collect gold and silver vessels from the neighbors. Time to get organized and start baking… It seems like this could go on forever. And suddenly, chipazon!! A great and almost frantic rush. Get out! Get out! Never mind the packing, never mind the sandwiches! Just go, go, go!
What’s going on?
We always read the story all too fast, so we forget, things took time. The Exodus was not a surprise. We knew it was coming. There was a “process”. After years of slavery, we were slowly reminded that there is a tomorrow; we started relearning that there is hope; that things can actually get better, that we matter, that we have a place to go and things to do; our very own place and our own things, things that, as slaves, we could not even imagine.
That build up was necessary, and had to be gradual, just like when picking up anyone out of any bad situation (see precious blog)…
But then one day, it’s time to go. And go we must in a rush, in chipazon – חיפזון.
Rabbi Hirsch says the root ch.p.z. ח.פ.ז. means – hasten aimlessly. Aimlessly?? Aren’t we going to freedom??
We’re going, that’s for sure. We don’t yet know where to. G-d says to Moses, to a “land of milk and honey”. Moses says to Pharaoh, it’s just a quick trip to celebrate a festival. The experience of the people must be super confusing: strange things happen all around: the river turns to blood, frogs everywhere, lice, animals… It’s no wonder there is “darkness”.
But then comes a day…
The battered woman who prepared her get-away carefully, waiting for that once in a lifetime window of opportunity – and at the same time, fearing that moment – now must act; Our kidnapped soldier from Chatufim (Homeland) who couldn’t even dream that it’s possible, is now being whisked out secretly with no time for goodbyes – though he’s gotten close to his captives! My grandma has to take her three kids and leaves their longtime Berlin  home never to look back, unsure whether her husband will be able to join; And the Children of Israel, who “all of a sudden” are in such a hurry that they can’t finish baking bread for the trip, must scurry out, and start the journey.
The two Torah portions – the one of patience and the other, of haste – go hand in hand. There is time for the lengthy prep, but then comes the time to just do, to get up and go.
The tension between the two is constant: When to go along and when to step up and out? Ultimately, this is what might define much of our journey.

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If we were G-d and we’re about to start a new nation, what should be the first thing we tell them to do as such? Maybe we’d want them to love us. Or do what we say. Maybe love each other. Or love my Book. Be nice to their neighbors. Give tzedakah. Plant trees. Have a party. Or a holiday.
Creating a calendar might be one of the last things on our lists, but luckily, we are not G-d.
Giving us the power over time is how G-d opts to mark our transition from slavery to nationhood: החודש הזה לכם… This month is to you / for you… (Exodus 12:2), and what a profound way. As if G-d says, I, who created time in the universe, now give you, who were created in my image, authority over your own time. By taking a hold of it, you’ll be free – economically and socially, but also in a much broader and deeper sense. You can decide your comings and goings; you can make time – “yours”. In the most daily, minute way, you’ll be reminded that you’re no longer a slave, but rather, a master.
This difference can be paralleled to the difference between laborer and contractor: the worker must do what he’s told. His time is his boss’s. The contractor on the other hand, takes upon himself (or herself) tasks that s/he manages, that interest him, and handles his own workload. To be clear, we’re not invited to do nothing. Freedom in the Torah is not lazing around. We have a task: “to work and guard (the Garden)” (Genesis 2:15) but how we’re going to do what we do, has just now changed.

And a smile about us and time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0bAcKt6zkA

Shabbat Shalom.

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It’s Almost MLK’s Torah Portion

America is celebrating Martin Luther King Jr this weekend. Had he a Hebrew birthday, it would have been between this week’s Torah portion and the next, the height of the story of the Exodus.
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ג וָאֵרָא, אֶל-אַבְרָהָם אֶל-יִצְחָק וְאֶל-יַעֲקֹב–בְּאֵל שַׁדָּי; וּשְׁמִי יְהוָה, לֹא נוֹדַעְתִּי לָהֶם. 3 and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob as God Almighty, but by My name Y.H.W.H. I was not known to them (Exodus 6:3). We open this week’s reading with a strange statement. G-d introduces Himself as the One who “was seen” to our forefathers as “God Almighty”, but, until now “not known” in his “name” of “Being”, “Eternal Existence”. What is the difference between “being seen” and “being known”? and why the move from active (“I appeared”) to passive (Hebrew structure of nif’al, “was known”, as opposed to i.e. caused someone to know, just like – caused someone to see)?
I think the Torah challenges our way of thinking about acquiring knowledge. God can “appear”, “be seen”, but “being known”, especially in the Biblical sense which implies an intimate connection, takes a different skill. That kind of deep, inner knowledge depends not only on the informer, but also on the one receiving. The knowing can happen only when we are open to knowing; when we do something for it.
So the first step towards freedom is not magnificent plagues, or matza, or packing. Not yet. First, just an internal awareness, a tiny crack to let the Light in. For now, that’s all.
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In Tel Aviv there’s a sculpture: an upside down pyramid expressing the idea of slavery and freedom as mirror images; Sinai and slavery reflecting each other in water. We’re substituting one slavery for another: Freedom means being free to be God’s servants. Not Pharaoh. The two can so easily be mistaken. Only a tiny step between them. And a whole world.

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Reposting last year’s blog:

Undoing the Web of Enslavement

בעשרה מאמרות נברא העולם…
“The world was created through Ten Utterances, our sages tell us” (Pirkei Avot 5:1). And yet, one wonders: The same God Almighty who can create a perfect world in 10 sayings, can do in just one!Why all the extra words? and the extra work?
The journey of a band of slaves becoming a free people, is fascinating, perhaps because it’s something that each person can identify with on many levels. Whether the story of one’s birth, or our struggle with various kinds of mitzrayim – narrow places – of enslavement (physical, emotional, spiritual) and our complicated journey to freedom.
Once again, we read this week, about the first seven of the Ten Plagues, reminiscent of the Ten Utterances as well as the later Ten Commandments; and once again we may wonder, why so many plagues? If G-d – or anyone for that matter- wants to get someone out of a bad situation, why not just go in and get them out? And what about the people themselves? Didn’t they know they were suffering in slavery? Didn’t they groan and moan, crying and wanting to get out??
Rashi, the medieval commentator, points to Exodus 6:9:
וְלֹא שָׁמְעוּ אֶל–משֶׁה מִקֹּצֶר רוּחַ וּמֵעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה –
“and they did not listen unto Moses due to impatience of spirit, and cruel bondage”. Drawing on the unique term “kotzer ru’ach” – literally meaning, shortness of breath, he says that someone whose breath (“ru’ach”, also wind, spirit, soul) is short, cannot have long breathing. Isn’t Rashi stating the obvious?
Rabbi Binyamin Lau explains Rashi: “This is like a person who is experiencing an asthma attack, and seeks immediate relief. As he reaches for his inhaler, someone tells them about an experimental new drug which might be available someday. The patient’s reaction is likely to be – I’m choking here, and you’re talking to me about something long term in the future? Likewise, the rulers of Egypt were pressuring the Children of Israel, leaving them breathless, unable to hear anything”.
Next, G-d explains to Moses the famous stages to the delivery from bondage, using the ארבע לשונות גאולה: Four Expressions of Salvation:
והוצאתי… והיצלתי… וגאלתי… ולקחתי… “and I shall take you out…. And I shall save you…. and I shall redeem you… and I shall take you to me unto a nation” (Exodus 6:6-8), which are the basis for our Four Cups on Passover. And again, we wonder. We can easily understand the asthma patient metaphor, but here we’re talking about G-d! Why not just get the people out already? After all, they were in so much anguish and G-d can do anything!
Inspired by watching “Chatufim”, the Israeli TV drama that was bought in the U.S. and became Homeland, I realized the devastating pattern of enslavement.
Chatufim tells the story of three IDF soldiers who are kidnapped and kept in captivity for 17 years. The complex and highly recommended show, takes a serious look into the psychology of the kidnapped. It shows what happens to someone who is kept in isolation, beaten up (physically and emotionally) and yet, at the same time, fed and cared for. Each one of these three components is critical to the combination, and creates a complete dependency of the kidnapped to his capturers.
This pattern repeats itself in all abuse situations, from that of POW’s, to battered women, to the Children of Israel in Egypt. We’ll see it later, when the Children of Israel will “remember the fish, which we ate in Egypt for free; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic” (Number 11:5). Is their imagination running wild? Are they suffering from heat stroke? Or perhaps, not everything was bad in Egypt? Indeed, contrary to what we teach our kids and to the ridiculous drawings in various hagadot, Pharaoh was not all stupid, and we’re doing ourselves a great injustice for presenting him so. He was stoic, “divine”, inspiring, powerful. If things were simple,  slavery would not have been possible. Too much oppression ultimately begets escape, riots and revolts, or the death of captive, situations the oppressor usually want to avoid. It takes the right mixture of isolation (in this case away from their land; silence from their G-d), harsh labor and torture (as in the backbreaking work and killing of the baby boys,) as well as care (“free food” and a sense of safety, “job security”) to create the ultimate slavery.

When we see people in abuse situation, we often wonder: why doesn’t this person who is in so much pain, just walk out? If living in Egypt didn’t work anymore, why didn’t Jacob’s children travel the relatively short distance home, with the many caravans and merchants who passed by? Similarly, why didn’t the Jews of the 1930’s leave Europe? Why doesn’t the battered woman walk out on her abuser? Why doesn’t our hero in Chatufim cross the border, not even a few kilometers away, even though there are times he can? Why don’t we free ourselves from what’s holding us down internally?
Because from where we stand during these moments, it’s not possible. The successful captor knows it. The successful redeemer must know it too. The carefully constructed web designed to keep one in, must be carefully undone to ensure a complete and safe journey out.
Hayim Sabato in his book “Ahavat Torah” points out that the “Four Expressions of Salvation”, G-d’s plan which He shares with Moses, appear in three verses. Which correspond to the three elements that hold one in (galut, avdut, & inui – exile, slavery and torture), and parallel the three elements needed in the Jewish People’s redemption: The Exodus, the Covenant at Sinai, and the journey to the Land of Israel. These further parallel to the three “regalim”, our holidays that celebrate that journey, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. The journey takes a detailed plan in order to be successful. Yes, it takes a “long breath”.
Likewise, when encountering enslavement, from within or without, maybe we shouldn’t judge too quickly. Even G-d takes time when delivering a band of slaves from their oppressor. We too, have to be patient with the journey ahead.
Shabbat Shalom!

Holocaust Memorial in Tel Aviv by Yigal Tomarkin

 

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