A taste of olive oil for the Torah portion of Tetzave

The Torah portion of Tetzave opens with the instruction to take olive oil for the menorah’s light. Why olive oil? What is so special about the olive tree and its product? While it’s possible that this was the most commonly used available oil then and there, throughout the generations our sages found additional meanings.

The olive received its fame already early on when the dove brought its branch back to the ark for Noah, as a message of new life after the flood (Genesis 8:11). The olive has been one of the seven species of the Land, nick naming it “—Land of olive’s oil. When King Solomon built the Temple, he paid for its wood in pure olive oil:

וּשְׁלֹמֹה֩ נָתַ֨ן לְחִירָ֜ם עֶשְׂרִים֩ אֶ֨לֶף כֹּ֤ר חִטִּים֙ מַכֹּ֣לֶת לְבֵית֔וֹ וְעֶשְׂרִ֥ים כֹּ֖ר שֶׁ֣מֶן כָּתִ֑ית כֹּֽה־יִתֵּ֧ן שְׁלֹמֹ֛ה לְחִירָ֖ם שָׁנָ֥ה בְשָׁנָֽה׃ (פ)

and Solomon delivered to Hiram 20,000 kors of wheat as provisions for his household and 20 kors of beaten oil. Such was Solomon’s annual payment to Hiram.

We know of the use of olive oil for the Hanukkah menorah. Some use it to decorate the groom’s head on his wedding day. Seeing an olive in a dream indicates good business. The modern State of Israel opted for olive branches around the menorah as a symbol of peace. And much more.

The Talmud (Horayot 13:b) teaches that olives themselves detract from learning while olive oil – helps:

הרגיל בשמן זית מסייע ליה לרבי יוחנן דאמר רבי יוחנן כשם שהזית משכח לימוד של שבעים שנה כך שמן זית משיב לימוד של שבעים שנה:

The Gemara elaborates on the baraita: One who is accustomed to eating olive oil restores forgotten Torah study. The Gemara notes: This supports the opinion of Rabbi Yoḥanan, as Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Just as eating an olive causes one to forget seventy years’ worth of Torah study, olive oil restores seventy years’ worth of Torah study.

This is complemented by another statement (Menachot 53:b):

יצתה בת קול ואמרה לו (ירמיהו יא, טז) זית רענן יפה פרי תואר קרא ה’ שמך מה זית זו אחריתו בסופו אף ישראל אחריתן בסופן

A Divine Voice emerged and said to him the continuation of the verse: “The Lord called your name a leafy olive tree, fair with goodly fruit.” Just as with regard to this olive tree, its final purpose is fulfilled at its end, when its fruit is picked, so too, with regard to the Jewish people, their final purpose will be fulfilled at their end, i.e., they will ultimately repent and return to Me.

The Netivot Shalom (1911-2000) teaches that “an olive is the only fruit that asides from its mere existence as such, hides within it a special power. After it is beaten down and smashed, it reveals a new power stored within it, the power to light a light, grow and sustain a flame. Just like”, continues the rabbi, “our souls, sometimes might need to get “wacked” through life’s “school of hard knocks”, yet often, it’s the trials and tribulations that bring out the best in us too, helping us light a bigger light”.

The olive therefore stands for our continuance growth. Olive trees never lose their leaves. When an olive tree is cut, there might be just a sad stump, but with care, it can come back to life. And while the wood can be used for heat and the fruit for food, the oil is used for light, which symbolizes our soul as individuals and as a nation.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Building a house-tent for G-d – Parashat Teruma

A band of slaves left their servitude to be replaced with another, and the latter is not any simpler or easier: Just two weeks ago we read about the revelation at Sinai. What an event! We barely recovered from that experience to be thrown into a seemingly endless list of intrinsic and complex set of laws last week, and this week, we’re called to build G-d – a home:

וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם׃

And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.

“And they shall make Me a sanctuary”? asked Rabbi Moshe Alshich (1508-1593, Tzefat, Israel) almost horrified: That the ears that hear this (borderline heresy) be saved!! How is it possible for G-d’s immense Divine light to be contained and dwell in a human-made building??”

The whole Mishkan consists of this magical paradox, creating defined space for the infinite G-d of all. This is expressed through every aspect: the materials, colors, artifacts, and more. Any step off the instructions, will land us in idolatry on one hand, and utter nonsense and nothingness on the other. Furthermore: G-d does not need a house at all. Why build it?? In this succinct 5-words-verse, a whole ideology is folded: If we join together to build a place to house the Divine, the Divine will dwell – not in it, but among us.

*******

Ok, fine, we’ll build this “thing”. But how? Should we just use our creative powers, establish committees, brainstorm ideas, get permits, compete for the best drawings, set up an extensive a fundraising campaign??

 כְּכֹ֗ל אֲשֶׁ֤ר אֲנִי֙ מַרְאֶ֣ה אוֹתְךָ֔ אֵ֚ת תַּבְנִ֣ית הַמִּשְׁכָּ֔ן וְאֵ֖ת תַּבְנִ֣ית כָּל־כֵּלָ֑יו וְכֵ֖ן תַּעֲשֽׂוּ׃ (ס)

Exactly as I show you—the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings—so shall you make it.

‘Don’t get creative on Me’, says G-d; ‘do it exactly as I show you’. Which is greater: to do our own thing, “freely” or to do G-d’s thing?? The Torah tends to think it’s much harder to follow directions. In that sense, I think the Torah portions of the construction of the mishkan describe the greatest miracle ever. G-d can always split a sea, shake a mountain, flood the earth and make a bush burn and not be consumed. But for us to follow directions? To work wholeheartedly in unison? To donate what we have? And for all of to come together and turn out to be something amazing and meaningful which houses the Divine? That is a miracle.

But these words – כְּכֹ֗ל אֲשֶׁ֤ר אֲנִי֙ מַרְאֶ֣ה אוֹתְךָ֔ – “Exactly as I show you”-which in English make sense, in Hebrew can have an additional meaning. The text should have said – ככל אשר אני מראה לך– exactly as I show to you, and not with the direct object, אותך – otcha. Accordingly, we can imagine G-d saying to Moshe: ‘the Mishkan, My dwelling place, is going to look exactly like you! Please, stop running around, solving everybody’s problems and sit still for a minute so I can draw you, the closest to perfect being there is on earth, and from that sketch submit the plans for the mishkan’. And Moses said, ‘me??? Look, I didn’t even shave this morning! They’ll see my wrinkles! And all my flaws! How about You pick someone different, maybe one of Aaron’s good-looking sons, or how about my beautiful wife’? And G-d said, ‘don’t get ahead of yourself. You are indeed the closest to perfection but you’re also just like any other human being, and I want My place to remind everybody of the deep, soulful connection between us’. This is why some say that the Mishkan’s artifacts resemble a human being (the altar being a smile and more), and some say that its structure resembles the various levels of the soul, one inside the other, until the inner most holy of hollies which is hardest to access and rarely anyone gets to see.

*******

Rashi based on the Talmud (Sanhedrin 16) comments on the words —- “so shall you make it” –and adds ledorotam”  “forever” / “for future generations”. Does he mean that we will build the same mishkan over and over again? How is it possible? And why would someone who lived 1000 years ago, when this Mishkan was long gone, state that?? Rather, we might not build the same exact tent structure with the same colors, measurements and objects, but we should always aim to build a “mishkan” in our own time, whether at home or elsewhere, for G-d to live among us.

Shabbat Shalom.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Some details of Parashat Mishpatim & my mom

I’d like to think of myself as a “big picture person”, and at the same time, I also know it’s the small details that make that big picture. Had any one of the many dots which make this picture 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 disharmonious notes. We’d be sitting in the dark because when we passed our hand on the wall, we missed the light switch by just an inch, and on and on. 

Parashat Mishpatim, sandwiched between the dramatic Giving of the Law and the people’s famous commitment of “na’ase venishma” (we will listen and we will do -Exodus 24:7), speaks about “details” – 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 G-d cares how I tie my shoes?!

But that is exactly the big news!! Other people had laws for social structure and justice, some not dissimilar to ours; other people spoke of spirituality. The phenomenal “chidush” (newness, renewal) of the Torah is that the two are connected. This is what Moses told Yitro when criticized over his leadership style, that people come to him “lidrosh Elohim” – to inquire of G-d; to find out, not only what they “should” do, but what G-d is asking of them in the details of their day to day encounters, and how to meet G-d not only in the grand, lofty places but davka there.

*******

Which is greater: tzedaka or giving a loan? This week, we speak about loans (Exodus 22:24), and in that regard, we find in Tractate Shabbat (63:a)

(אמר רבי) אבא אמר רבי שמעון בן לקיש גדול המלוה יותר מן העושה צדקה ומטיל בכיס יותר מכולן

Rabbi Abba said that Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: One who loans money is greater than one who gives tzedaka. And the one who places money into a common purse (matil bakis), is the greatest of them all.

How can it be? How is it possible that it’s best for me to invest in a “common purse” which potentially makes me money (that’s the matil bakis)?? How comes it’s better for me to lend money, which will ultimately come back me? Isn’t it better to give selflessly and kindly and feel really bad about the whole world? Turns out, there is an aspect of giving tzedaka that disconnects us from the one gifted, and even makes us haughty: “you know how much I gave? I am just soooo nice”! But more than throwing away money to justify our own self-grandeur, the Torah wants us to get down in the gutters with the “other”, invest together, and grow together.

*******

In the late 1950’s, when Israel was recovering from the mass immigration waves and the tzena era (“austerity”), my mom took one of these giant suitcases, which many years later I used as a coffee table, and “sailed the ocean blues” for the great United States of America, in her own style of “Israeli – post – army” trip. Of course, the “Big Apple” with the cousin she loved, Madison Square Gardens, Central Park, Time Square and most of all, Carnegie Hall were among the highlights, but her destination was really the Blue Ridge Mountains, where, through the miracles of life, she stayed with her childhood friend, working as a lab technician and research assistant. My childhood therefore included stories about sitting in the back of the bus, marches, and the struggle for civil rights, accompanied with music by Paul Robeson on the backdrop of the faraway foggy hills.

My mom was not officially religious. Her motto on this was לא צריך להגזים “lo tzarich legazim” – no need to overdo, but that did not always apply to matters of social justice, kindness and tikun olam. Maybe no wonder that her yahrzeit  is on the week of this week’s Torah portion of Mishpatim. On his facebook, in her memory, my brother shared a commentary by Ba’al Haturim accordingly the word “mishpatim” is an acronym of מצווה שיעשה פשרה טרם יעשה מחלוקת – Mitzvah She’ya’ase P’shara Terem Ya’ase Machloket – one is commanded to work for compromise before dispute. May her memory be for a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom.

Posted in shabbat shalom | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

“It is a Tree of Life to those who hold it”… Yitro, the 5th & Tu Bishvat

We don’t have a Torah portion named “Abraham” or “Joseph”, but we do have one named after a Midyanite priest. And no other than the reading which includes The Ten Commandments. Couldn’t we name this portion something more “Jewish”? I guess not. Further: in this section, Yitro, that Midyanite priest and Moses’ father in law, comes and teaches Moses how to “run the show”. Didn’t Moses know? Growing up in Pharaoh’s palace, he surely saw how an empire is being run. Further: if he needs anything, he can always ask G-d!! He really needs Yitro to come from the desert and tell him that judging hundreds of thousands of people can be exhausting?

And what about the beginning of the parasha: “And Yitro heard”… (Exodus 18:1). What did he hear? Some say, he heard about the Crossing of the Sea and the upcoming Torah being given, and therefore, wanted to join; some say, the Torah was already given and he, the ultimate spiritual searcher, wanted to see what it’s all about.

There is one push-back that Moses has for Yitro:

וַיֹּ֥אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֖ה לְחֹתְנ֑וֹ כִּֽי־יָבֹ֥א אֵלַ֛י הָעָ֖ם לִדְרֹ֥שׁ אֱלֹהִֽים׃ —– Moses replied to his father-in-law, “It is because the people come to me to inquire of God.

Namely, the people don’t come to me simply to seek advise; indeed, anyone can do that, and for that, your suggested structure is great. They come to me to “inquire of G-d”. From this point on, we are G-d’s people, and G-d is involved in everything we do, from great tying one’s shoes, to arguing with a neighbor, to learning about Shabbat.

One way or another, the Giving of the Torah is deeply connected to the presence, not only of the Jewish people, but the nations of the world. By including Yitro’s visit and words of advise in the Torah (18:17-23), we show the kind of relationship we’d like to have in the world – not that of isolationists or hermits, but a constant flow of give and share.

*******

I often say that it’s hard to raise parents. People smile, shrug or look at me with a ‘what’? puzzled face. I believe it with all my heart. There is no real place to learn how to, and it’s not like a job you can quit or a relationship you can just stop texting or file for divorce. It just goes on and on with you your whole life, even after you move away and the parents are dead. The midrash below, attributed to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, says: “when it comes to giving produce and tithing, if you don’t have any, you don’t have to give, but vis-a-vie parents, you always obligated, whether you have or not”.

When a child first meets their parent, they look up with big fresh eyes of amazement, wonder, openness and unknown; the person before them on the other hand, has already had 20-30-40- years of life experience and whole list of set-ways, do’s and don’ts they are ready to unload and unleash on the newborn, often not realizing how much growth they, the parents, have yet left to do, and how blessed they are to have patient children ready to teach them…

This week, the Torah echoes that feeling too: “Honor your father and mother”, says the “5th”; honor, from the Hebrew – ka-bed, which shares its root with ka-ved, heavy. There are many reasons for the Torah to give this instruction. If the “10” are divided (according to some) into two groups – between G-d and human, and between human and each other, honoring parents, surprisingly, comes in the first group, as an earthly “training” path to honoring G-d. But if we took seriously that parents are likened to G-d in this statement, where does that live us?

רשב״י אומר לעולם יזהר אדם בכבוד אביו ואמו, כי גדול כבוד אב ואם שהחמיר בו הקב״ה יותר מכבודו שנאמר כבד את ה׳ מהונך (משלי ג׳ ט׳), בלקט ושכחה ופאה תרומות ומעשרות אם יש לך אתה חייב ואם אין לך אין אתה חייב, ונאמר כבד את אביך (שמות כ׳ י״ב) בין יש לך בין אין לך, אפילו אתה מחזיר על הפתחים.

*******

Last week, we celebrated Tu Bishvat, “New Years for Trees”. The mishna (Rosh Hashana 1) counts it among 4 different “new years”, each for a different season and purpose. Where is the beginning, wonders the subtext? For what, answers the subtext (with a question)?? For some of us it’s ‘don’t talk to me before I had my 2nd coffee’; for some it’s sunrise and for some, even before, when there is just a tiny fraction of a hint of light. Tu Bishvat comes when it’s still dark, but “the sap has begun moving upwards in the trees” (Rashi on the mishna), reminding us that there are processes that are invisible, and happen within, which is due time, will present themselves. This is also why the Knesset, Israeli parliament, was established on Tu Bishvat, to be what the prayer calls -ראשית צמיחת גאולתנו – the beginning of the growth of our redemption. May it be so.

Shabbat Shalom.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bread from above, Water from below & a Tree – Shabbat Shira / Parashat Beshalach

Choice: do we have it or not? A famous midrash – for next week’s Torah reading – tells about G-d holding the mountain over the People’s heads saying, ‘accept my Torah or right here will be your graveside’. It seems like it can’t get any more explicit than that; we have no choice at all, period, end of sentence.

And that’s true. In some cases. Even the most open-minded parent doesn’t stand around with their toddler in front of the car, giving the little one “choices” regarding where s/he’d like to sit, on the hood, in the trunk or perhaps on the roof? It’s usually “get in, buckle up, let’s go”. This often seems to be the mode in the religious world as “Someone” hands out a seemingly precise to-do list. Then again, too many restriction, pressure and coercion breed rejection and rebellion. If anyone, Moses learned it early on, exemplified this week by the story of the manna.

The manna was to rain down daily in just the right amount (Exodus 16:11-35). First Moses gave a general instruction: “gather as much of it as each of you requires to eat”…. And -“The Israelite did so”. The Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till morning” (16:19), and lo and behold, “they paid no attention to Moses” (16:20). They were hoping to come out ahead and instead, had an “experiential learning session”, as the text says: “and it became infested with maggots and stank”. So they learned, and following “they gathered it every morning, each as much as he needed to eat” – and the Torah adds a reason for us, which they learned through experience: “for when the sun grew hot, it would melt” (16:21).

The came Shabbat. No commandments have yet been given regarding Shabbat. Nevertheless, they must have known that this was a special day, because – with no instructions (!), “on the sixth day, they gathered double the amount of food”. How did they know? Who told them? No one. This reflects an idea, that if you just let the people be and allow them to do what’s right – not always! But the Torah trusts that it’s not impossible that they will. In the olden times, it was possible, when in doubt, to learn halacha – Jewish law – from going and seeing what people did in actuality. Note that the elders didn’t like the fact that the Children of Israel assumed authority in “halacha” (16:22), and yet Moses said: “This is what Hashem means: tomorrow is a day of rest, a holy Shabbat….” And according to tradition, taught them cooking and baking laws for Shabbat, and the food was fine. But then, he said, “eat it today…. You will not find it today on the plain…”. As soon as he said, ‘you will not find it’, some people went out to look…. Why are we like that?? But then, maybe now, when they can’t find new food, they are open to hear G-d’s teaching them about Shabbat and now – they know, not only because they were taught, admonished, commanded, threatened, and therefore, “the people remained inactive on the seventh day” (16:30), and thus, Shabbat came into the community.

*******

This parasha usually comes near Tu Bishvat, this year to be celebrated this coming Monday, and surprise, coincidentally, there’s a tree in this reading (15:25:

וַיִּצְעַ֣ק אֶל־יְהוָ֗ה וַיּוֹרֵ֤הוּ יְהוָה֙ עֵ֔ץ וַיַּשְׁלֵךְ֙ אֶל־הַמַּ֔יִם וַֽיִּמְתְּק֖וּ הַמָּ֑יִם…

So he cried out to the Hashem, and Hashem showed him a piece of wood / tree; he threw it into the water and the water became sweet…

The Children of Israel arrived at a place where they finally chanced on water after three days walking, but, the water is bitter. Moshe could have said, ‘so it’s bitter, what can I do?! Bitter water is good for you; it builds character! be thankful for Hashem’s gifts’… and on and on. But instead, Hashem instructs him to throw a tree (or piece of wood, for ease of translation) which makes the bitter water – sweet.

Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra (1089-1167) says that the tree is a pele, a miracle. The midrash tries to guess – was it an olive tree? Pomegranate? Willow? Fig? Ramban (1194-1270) and others emphasize that the tree was bitter, and that it was something bitter which (homeopathically 🙂 made bitter water – sweet!! Beyond trying to figure out which tree and analyze the miraculous (and homeopathic 🙂 nature of the act, we learn that it’s ok to not settle on “bitter”, but ask for sweet.

Shabbat Shalom.

Gathering of the Manna about 1600 Antonio Tempesta (Italian, 1555–1630)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Punxsutawney, Dali, Moses & Aaron – The Torah portion of “Bo”

Bill Murray, playing weatherman Phil Connors, heads to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to cover the Groundhog Day festivities, not in the least hiding his contempt for the assignment, the small town, and the “hicks” who live there. But then, rather than making his report and getting out of there, he’s caught in a blizzard (he didn’t believe would happen), forced to live the same day over. And over. And over. Again. With no way out. He goes from angry to resigned to experimenting with different, sometimes crazy, ideas, but only when he decides to do something positive with life and whatever it throws at him, that he gets a hold on time.

I often my ask, ‘if you were G-d and you just got a bunch of people out of generations of slavery to be “your people”, what would you (G-d) give them as the first commandment’? We tend towards “be nice”, “believe in Me!”, “don’t hurt others”, “don’t give up“, “make aliya”, don’t forget your history” – all excellent! And yet, this is not what G-d tells Moses and Aaron, still in Egypt, awarding them their first mitzvah as a People.

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֣ה וְאֶֽל־אַהֲרֹ֔ן בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם לֵאמֹֽר׃

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:

הַחֹ֧דֶשׁ הַזֶּ֛ה לָכֶ֖ם רֹ֣אשׁ חֳדָשִׁ֑ים רִאשׁ֥וֹן הוּא֙ לָכֶ֔ם לְחָדְשֵׁ֖י הַשָּׁנָֽה׃

This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.

Wait, what? This is it? And why are the seemingly superfluous words “in the land of Egypt” added? Why mention where it was given? The Torah does so very rarely, because usually the location of where a mitzvah is given doesn’t matter. But perhaps here it needs to be emphasized lest we think that this is something we’re going to do only in the Land of Israel. Rather, this is something to take with us everywhere, inside and outside of the land, during our travels, at all times.

It also means that the way to stop being slaves to Pharaoh is have control over time. For a slave it does not matter which day it is. His time is his master’s. But a free human being, whose time is in his or her hands, can look up at the sky and announce, ‘hey, look! A new moon! In two weeks we’re having a holiday’! The calendar is our own boat to float through “the river of time” rather than being swept away by the currents around.

The Jewish calendar is especially fantastic (yes, I am bias), combining months calculated by the moon, and years – seasons – calculated by the sun. We might think it’s convenient: the moon allows to count by gazing at the heavens while keeping track with the sun means the farmers of old will maintain the various harvest holidays in their seasons, which is true, but there’s more. The moon is considered more passive, reflective; while the sun is active, powerful, dominant. This is in line with Jacob, whose first name was Ya’akov, the one “following”, holding his brother’s heel, choosing a more “crooked” path, and also Yisra’el, the one who can struggle with G-d and people and prevail; the one who takes on things head-on; who knows his value and is not shy about being who he is. Which way are we? Yes….

This mitzvah usually appears two month before the Rosh Hodesh it speaks of, that of Nisan, in the spring, but very close to Tu Bishvat, the New Year’s for the trees. Coincidence? We mark a new beginning when things are dark and cold, here, in NY but also in Israel. And yet, this is the time, tell us our sages, that the sap rises inside the trees. There’s a beginning that happens away from anyone seeing it – inside a tree, in the dark, cold, rain. Nevertheless, it’s there and it due time will show its presence.

We often talk about “saving time”, but the truth is, we can’t really “save” it. We can only spend it wisely or foolishly. Creating vessels to hold it and appreciate it, can help with the former.

Shabbat Shalom.

Salvador Dali’s – The Persistence of Memory

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

To Be Seen – the Torah Portion of Va’era

There are three sets of 10’s in our tradition: Ten Utterances with which the world was created, the Ten Plagues, and the upcoming Ten Commandments, and with each one we have to wonder: why couldn’t G-d create the world with one saying (or some other kind of “poof”)? Why “Ten Sayings” / Commandments? And why so many plagues?  After all, if G-d Almighty wants to get someone out of a bad situation, why not just go in and get them out? And the people? Didn’t they know they were suffering in slavery? Didn’t they groan and moan, crying and wanting to get out? And, on top of it all, why do we need Pharaoh’s permission to get out?? We have G-d on our side! Let’s just go!!

There are so many aspects of slavery and freedom packed into this story and all, still as critical and as relevant today as ever, even if we don’t schlep physical bricks in the hot sand. Slavery can come in sorts of other forms, including but not limited to abuse, battery, depression and variety of addictions that pose no less of a torture to those suffering under them, and those hammered down by it, are carrying their own sets of blocks to build someone else’s shrine, one not of their own choosing.   

One of the things we learn here is that things take time. After all, imagine if G-d just swooped down from the heavens and carried the people out to eternal peace and safety in the Promised Land… What would we learn? What would we teach? What would we be? How would we deal with life’s challenges and complexities?

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 1400’s leave Spain? Or those of the 1930’s leave Europe? Why doesn’t the battered woman walk out on her abuser? Why doesn’t the alcoholic leave the destructive pattern? Why don’t each and every one of us just free ourselves from what’s holding us down internally, and grant ourselves everything we “deserve”?

This Torah portion is called Va’era, to be seen. Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi suggests that if we rearrange the letter of ro’e, see, in a different structure, we can get ra’ui – to be worthy. Accordingly, what went wrong is that the people – we – didn’t think themselves worthy of better treatment. That’s the first thing that was needed in the journey. The Children of Israel had to fix their own “breathing”, their own ru’ach, their – our – own ability to see (and hear) that life can – and should – be so much more.

Shabbat Shalom.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments