Friday, January 23, 2015

Which Came First - The Mitzvah or the Exodus?

On the way out of Mitzrayim, Moshe informs the people Jewish about many commandments surrounding their departure. He commands them to take matzah and sacrifice the korban Pesach, among others. He also commands them with the famous phrase, "v'higadita li'vincha," tell your children, the two words which serve as the basis for our annual Seder night.

The words which follow the commandment of "v'higadita li'vincha," the content of what to tell the children is a little less clear. "Ba'avur zeh asah Hashem li b'tzeisi mi'Mitzrayim," because of this G-d has acted on my behalf when I left Egypt (Artscroll). Rashi says that "zeh/this" refers to the mitzvos of korban Pesach and matzah. Seemingly, then, the pasuk is out of order; G-d has acted on my behalf, therefore I am performing these mitzvos.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Will You Will It? - Using Our Free Will Properly

One of the most famous theological questions that arises from the Chumash is based on a story which transpires in our parsha. Time after time, Moshe approaches Pharaoh requesting freedom for the Jewish people, and time after time, Pharaoh refuses. What makes Pharaoh's refusal unique, however, is the lack of choice he seemed to have had in the matter.

Even though Jews believe in free will as a prerequisite for reward and punishment (see for example the Rambam), Hashem repeatedly informs Moshe that "Ani ak'sheh es lev Pharaoh," I will harden his heart. As promised, throughout the ten plagues, the pesukim alternate between "chizak," "kaved," and "hikshah," different forms of stiffening Pharaoh's heart and ostensibly removing his free will. But how could it be?

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Good Life - Which Life?

In Yakov's final beracha to his children, he offers each son unique advice and prophesizes each son's future road in serving G-d. When addressing his sixth son Yissachar, Yakov says "Vayar menucha ki tov v'es ha'aretz ki na'ema, va'yeit shichmo lisbol...", he saw the good of tranquility ("menucha"), and bent  his shoulder to bear. The relationship between the two parts of the pasuk, Yissachar's seeing the good of tranquility and his bending his shoulder, is disputed.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Be a Mentch - The Sin of Yosef's Brothers

Moments after the brothers of Yosef are commanded by incognito Yosef to bring Binyamin down to Mitzrayim, they finally recognize that something is wrong and they are to blame: "Aval asheimim anachnu," We are guilty, they proclaim. Of course they were guilty. The shevatim had committed one of the greatest interpersonal atrocities in our people's history, a crime for which, our Sages say, we are still being punished. They fought with their brother, sold him to a far away land, and lied to their father to cover it all up. Sibling rivalry at its worst. And yet, the end of that same pasuk that begins with their confession does not end with admitting the sin of selling their brother; rather, the brothers conclude, "asher ra'inu tzaras nafsho b'his'chaneno eilenu v'lo shamanu," "We saw his heartfelt anguish when he pleaded with us and we paid no heed" (Artscroll). After committing the grave sin of selling their brother, is it possible that they can only think about the few moments after, watching him beg for his life and ignoring him?

Friday, December 5, 2014

"Dancing" with the Devil - Yakov's Struggle with the Angel

In a vague, yet important incident, Yakov Avinu "fought" another character. Some say it was the angel of Esav, others suggest a different type of angel, and yet others believe it was simply Yakov's own yetzer ha'rah. All interpretations seem to agree that the exchange was meaningful and provides insight for our own lives, particularly when encountering non-Jews as epitomized by Esav.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Slaughtered Like Sheep - Lessons from a Lamb after the Har Nof Massacre

It is unusual to feel the cold winter on the outside and the feelings of Tisha B'Av on the inside. The pain of this week's events is still raw and the wounds are still fresh. Shabbos cannot come soon enough as we beseech G-d "'v'hareinu Hashem Elokeinu b'nechemas Tzion irecha." Until then, we look to the only place we know for comfort: the Torah. Not surprisingly, a subtle point in this week's parsha can provide us with some divrei nechama, words of consolation, and divrei chizuk, words of inspiration.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

What's the Big Steal? - Why Money Matters Matter

Reading through Midrashim, one gets a very clear sense that the people of Noach's generation were extremely wicked. The sins they committed according to our Sages included idolatry, adultery, and murder. Yet, Rashi cites a Medrash that of all their sins, theft caused their fate to be sealed. The pasuk indicates the severity of robbery when, after describing the world's becoming corrupt ("va'tishaches ha'aretz"), the only explicit sin the Torah mentions is "va'timaleh ha'aretz chamas," the land was filled with robbery.

More subtly, when Sedom, Amorah, and their neighboring cities engaged in spiritually corrupt ways, Rashi again cites a Medrash (without explicit reference in the Torah) that assumes interpersonal finances were the "final straw" of G-d's judgment. In this case, it was the lack of charity and the brutal murder of a philanthropist that triggered their ultimate destruction.

Of all the egregious violations these two generations committed, what is unique about theft and charity that brought about their destruction?