Saturday, January 23, 2010

Shemot: Parshat Bo: Got the Message?

Through the reading of last week's parsha and this week's parsha - we see the awesome hand of G-d in the everyday lives of the Egyptians and Hebrews (Jews) through the plagues brought upon Egypt.

In the 6th aliyah/reading of Parshat Bo, we find the death of the first-born:
12:29 It was midnight and G-d struck down every first-born son in the land of Egypt, from the first-born son of Pharaoh sitting on his throne, to the first-born son of the captive who was in the dungeon, as well as every first-born animal.
12:30 Pharaoh arose at night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians, and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was no house where there were no dead.

Where was Pharaoh when death was dealt to Egypt? In 12:30 we see that he "arose at night". Rashi expands on this to bring us an amazing point... Pharaoh "arose" - from bed. What's the big deal? If it's the middle of the night - where else would he be?

Generally this would be true. However, we know that Pharaoh and the whole of Egypt was forewarned by Moses about this terrible plague back in 11:4-6.
...About the time of midnight, I will go out in the midst of Egypt. Every first born in the land of Egypt will die, from the first-born of Pharaoh sitting on his throne, to the first-born of the slave girl, behind the mill stones, and every first-born animal. There will be a great cry throughout the land of Egypt, the likes of which there never was and like there never will be.

Pharaoh knew that all the other plagues that Moses had foretold had come true -- wouldn't it worry him that all first-born males in Egypt were about to die? What about his own first-born son at least?

Rather than staying up worrying - Pharaoh got into his pajamas and went to sleep. Not a care in the world. Why would he do that?

He missed the message. Pharaoh was so firmly entrenched in his own faulty world view - no matter how clear the message was - he missed the message. After the nine other plagues had destroyed the land of Egypt, he was still blind to the path he needed to take. Pharaoh was willing to sacrifice his own child in order to maintain his world view.

We shouldn't miss the message. We must make sure to periodically re-evaluate our short-term and long-term goals. We should look for and find G-d in our everyday lives. Unlike Pharaoh, we shouldn't be sleeping when it comes to realizing the messages that are sent our way.

Shavua Tov - Have a good week.

Thank-you to Rabbi Felder of Shomrai Shabbos for this concept. Majority of this is his - I have changed it some. Any mistakes are mine.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Parshiot Shemot and Va'eira: Looking for Inspiration

Last week we read Parshat Shemot - the beginning of the Egyptian Exile. This exile was the forerunner of all the exiles the Jewish People have experienced - and the redemption from that Exile is the forerunner of the ultimate Redemption.

The period of Egyptian slavery began when the 12 Brothers/Tribes were no longer in the Land of Israel and after the brothers had died. The Hebrews (as they were called at the time) were no longer surrounded by the holiness of the Land, their environment had changed. The same way the Hebrews had to deal with being outside the Land and in exile, so do we.

In the era of exile...G-dliness is hidden, and we are presented with many obstacles to our observance of the Torah and its mitzvos. We can no longer rely on our environment to deepen our feelings for G-dliness. Instead, our focus must become internal. In this manner, exile arouses our deepest spiritual resources, and strengthens our connection to G-d.
In the Garden of the Torah, vol. 1 pg. 76.

In todays world we are all looking for inspiration in our Judaism. We feel limited [Mitzrayim is Hebrew for Egypt meaning boundaries/limitations] by ourselves and our environment. We each have busy schedules, keeping us running from when the sun comes up until it sets. It's hard to see past our everyday routines - and attempt to do more with our Judaism. Whether our Judaism is practiced by rote, or not practiced at all we face the same challenges... we need inspiration.

What is inspiration? The inspiration I speak of is the type that we see in this week's parsha of Va'eira. Seeing G-d in our lives. The Jews enslaved in Egypt were finally able to see G-d's hand in their lives - through the bringing of the plagues on Egypt. We too are in exile - unable to see G-d's plan for us. We are hamsters on the wheel of life.

...any setting in which a person lives creates an inertia that resists change. To borrow an expression from our Sages: "A person in fetters cannot set himself free." Since every person's thought processes are today shaped by the environment of exile, many find it hard to see past that setting.
In the Garden of the Torah, vol. 1 pg. 82.

This is the challenge of exile - to be caught in the inertia of the mundane. The solution is inspiration - a jolt of G-dliness to shake us up in order to see past the routine. But once we have that jolt we must do something solid to hang onto that inspiration before it slips away from us.

Where do we find inspiration? Some might find it in nature. Some might find it watching a child at the zoo. I'm afraid that I am not that good. I personally believe in going to lectures by Torah teachers. A week ago I went to hear Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz - speaking about finding happiness. I believe he is one of the best speakers I have heard, no matter the topic he is worth hearing his perspective. That lecture got me to thinking about how I approach life's challenges.

The challenge, once you feel inspired, is to do something solid - to make a physical change in the world. To add something Jewish into your life. To bring the G-dliness that you felt into the physical world. To remove those limitations that keep you from exploring and bringing more meaning into your life.

These parshiot are about exile and redemption. We are all in exile - an exile that seems to make it difficult to connect to G-d. But it is that same exile that forces us to search for and depend on our own internal resources - to find and build that connection. To look for that inspiration. To find that inspiration.

That inspiration should bring us to connect with G-d, to bring spirituality into our lives and to improve the world around us. To make a world a dwelling place for G-d.

To learn more about Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz take a look at his website. To read his articles and get free MP3s of his lectures - click here and enjoy.