131221 – Parshat Shemot

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VbeshalachORTIFY YOURSELF

Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT SHEMOT

Shemot (Exodus) 1:1-6:1

Haftarah: Isaiah 26:6-28:13, 29:22-23

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What’s in a name? “And the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, the name of the first was Shifra and the name of the second was Pu’ah…” (Shemot 1:15).

RaShI says that: “Shifra is YoCheved (the mother of Miryam, Aharon and Moshe), because Sh’miShaferet – she beautified the new born babies. And Pu’ah is Miryam, because Sh’Po’ah – she cries and speaks and coos at the child in the manner of women who try to sooth the crying babe.”

So, when we are introduced to Moshe’s mother and sister we find that they are not referred to by their given names, but, rather, by the names that described them not only as midwives, but as protectors of new born Hebrew babies.

Similarly, though we know baby Moshe by the name given to him by the daughter of Pharaoh because: “Moshituh – I drew him from the water,” Our Midrash teaches us that Moshe had many Hebrew names. The Me’am Lo’ez on Shemot 2:10 quotes a number of Midrashic sources and provides us with an amazing teaching: “Our sages have taught that Moshe was called by many names.

  • His father Amram called him Chaver, because of him [Moshe] he was “NitChaber – he was reunited” with his wife (RaShI to chapter 2 verse 1). And this was a worthy name because he also “reunited” Israel with their Father in heaven.
  • “And his mother YoCheved called him YeKuti’el, because, I had “Tikvah – hope” that Hashem would return my womb for birthing.
  • “His sister Miryam called him Yered, because she “YaRda – went down” to the Nile and saw what was to become of him. That name was also worthy because “HeReed – he brought down” the Torah to Israel from the heavens, also because the Manna “came down” in his merit. She also referred to him as Tuvya, because he was Tov – good.
  • “And his brother Aharon called him Avi Zanu’ach, because “Avi Zanach – my father abandoned” my mother and remarried her and Moshe was born. And this name was also a worthy one because he caused Israel to “abandon” their idolatrous ways and also because his prayers caused Hashem to “abandon” His punishment of Israel (after the sin of the golden calf).
  • “His nursemaids called him Avi Socho because he was the “father of the prophets” who are referred to as Sochim – agents.
  • “His grandfather Kahat called him Avigdor because in his merit Pharaoh “Gadar – restricted” his decree to throw the male children into the Nile.
  • “And the Children of Israel called him Shemaya for in Moshe’s days did Hashem “Shema – hear” our cries.
  • “And from all these names, he was called by the name Moshe, which was given to him by the daughter of Pharaoh.”

None of the [above mentioned] names are mentioned in the five books of the Torah. And even Hashem referred to him only as Moshe. This is suggestive of Pharaoh’s daughter’s greatness, for she is considered as if she was his mother. And from this we learn that an orphan that is raised in a home that does not embitter him with harsh words is considered as if he was born to that house. “And Hashem said to the daughter of Pharaoh: Even though Moshe was not your son, you treated him as one, so will I treat you accordingly. I will call you Batya – the daughter of G-d.”

The names in both the written and oral Torah aid or deepen our understanding of the people that these names describe. We have just seen how the true characters of Yocheved, Miryam and Moshe are revealed by the choice of names that are given to them. The metamorphosis that took place when Avram became Avraham, or YeKuti’el became Moshe is an important link to our perception of who these people really were.

Likewise, the names that are attributed to Hashem are very significant. At the beginning of next week’s Parsha Va’Eira, (Shemot 6:1-2), Hashem says to Moshe: “…I am Hashem. I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’acov as Kel Shakai, but with My Name Hashem I did not make myself known to them.”

Why the different names of Hashem? Kel Shakai or Elokim denotes the Master of Justice and/or the Master of Nature. Bereishit Bara Elokim Et HaShamayim V’Et HaAretz – In the beginning Elokim [the Master of Nature and Law] created the heavens and earth). Up to this point in Jewish history, Hashem was the Creator and He kept His word precisely. But then Hashem revealed another aspect of Himself. The four letter name of Hashem (which we never pronounce) denotes timeless mercy. In His redemption of Israel from Egypt, whether or not Israel deserved it, Hashem exhibited a side of Himself that even the Patriarchs were unaware of.

Our Parsha alludes to this new side of Hashem when He reveals Himself to Moshe at the burning bush (chapter 3). He explains that He will now fulfill all the promises that He swore to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’acov, and that Moshe will serve as the agent of His benevolence. In verses 13 and 14 we find the following conversation: Moshe said to Hashem, “Behold when I come to the Children of Israel and say to them, ‘The G-d of your fathers has sent me to you, ‘and they say, ‘What is His name?’ – what shall I say to them?” Hashem answered Moshe, Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh – I Shall Be As I Shall Be.” And He said, “So shall you say to the Children of Israel, ‘I Shall Be’ has sent me to you.”

This cryptic name of G-d has been pondered often by students of the Torah. The interpretation that speaks closest to my heart I found in a book called Orchat Tzaddikim – The Ways Of The Righteous. The (anonymous) author writes in the chapter called The Gate of Truth, that the word Eheyeh – I Shall Be appears in the Five Books of Moshe 21 times, and its Gematriya (numeric value) is also 21. Aleph = 1, Hey = 5, Yod = 10 and Hey = 5. The total numeric value of all the word Eheyeh in the Torah appear 21 times 21 the Gematriya of Eheyeh, equals a total of 441. The Hebrew word Emet (truth) also equals 441 (Aleph = 1, Mem = 40, and Tav = 400).

Hashem said to Moshe that when the Children of Israel ask you what Hashem’s Name is, tell them “Truth” has sent me to you, and they will understand.

Just as scientists have discovered that DNA carries pieces of our personalities and behavior patterns, so too, do our Hebrew names carry a world of unfulfilled potential for us to release.

What’s in a name, everything, personality, character, essence and even hope. Let us all live up to our names and the true traits and potentials that are contained in each of them.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

130824 – Parshat Ki Tavo

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

imagesReb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT KI TAVO

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 26:1-29:8

Haftarah – Isaiah 60:1-22

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This week’s Parsha is one of those in which Moshe reviews the commandments, forewarnings and events of the previous forty years. At the very end of the Parsha, almost as a by–the–way, he refers to a miracle which seems to have been unannounced and not mentioned previously. In verse 29:4, Moshe says to the people: “…I have led you forty years in the wilderness, your clothes have not grown old upon you…” Of course, we can simply take this at face value, namely, that there was a miracle that over the previous 40 years the people’s clothes did not wear out and fray. However, two points argue for more analysis.

  1. Most miracles involve an action (such as the manna falling from heaven, the Reed Sea parting, etc.) rather than something that doesn’t happen.
  2. The people Moshe is speaking to were presumably children forty years previously and would no longer fit into the clothes they were wearing then!

To what, then, could Moshe have been referring? At least two other incidents in the Torah seem to resonate with this scene and may allow us to add another dimension to Moshes statement.

The first of these involves Ya’acov (Jacob) and his followers after the rescue of his daughter Dinah from the city of Shechem (Bereishit [Genesis] 34:25). As a result of that rescue, the women and children of the city had been absorbed into Ya’akov’s family (Bereishit 34:29). HaShem then spoke to Jacob and told him to rededicate his people to G-d.

In doing so, Ya’acov says: “To all that were with him… put away the strange gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments,         and let us arise and go up to Bethel…” (Bereishit 35:2-3). We find a strange emphasis on the changing of clothes, a single detail of preparation out of the hundreds of important details involved in moving Ya’akov’s camp.

Not only that, but why change garments before the journey rather than at the end of the journey, prior to the rededication ceremonies? Arguably then, the changing of the garments symbolizes the changing of belief systems and the acceptance of Israelite practice.

In the second incident, the Children of Israel, having just escaped from Egypt, are standing at Mount Sinai, about to receive the Ten Commandments. HaShem said to Moshe: “…go unto the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments…” (Shemot [Exodus] 19:10). Again, emphasis on a small detail, but more understandable if we read it as a “cleaning of the slate,” preparing to receiving a unique set of commandments and a whole new lifestyle.

In both of these incidents, references to people’s clothing are in fact references to their belief systems. Following this line of reasoning, we can now read our original quotation from Moshe as saying, “…I have led you forty years in the wilderness; the beliefs which you adopted at Sinai have not grown old upon you…”

We also have had our own Sinai experiences and traveled through our own wildernesses. And as we go into the Rosh Hashanah season, perhaps an appropriate prayer is for Moshe’s miracle to again be repeated, that we will rid ourselves of our old clothes for the new year, or, that the new clothes we might try on for the first time, shall not grow old upon our backs.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

121229 – Parshat VaYiChi

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Menorah 02

VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT VAYICHI

Bereishit (Genesis) 47:28-50:26

Haftorah I Kings 2:1-12

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This week we read the final chapters of the Book of Bereishit. In the synagogue, prior to the reciting of the last few words of the Pasha, the congregation rises and when the reading is completed, they call out in unison, Chazak, Chazak, V’NitChazek – Strengthened, strengthened, may we be strengthened.

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The running debate throughout much of Jewish history has been the heated battle about who is the authentic Jew – Sadducees or Pharisees; Kabbalists or Rationalists; Chasidim or Mitnagdim; Reform, Conservative or Orthodox.

Some see this as a threat to Jewish unity, while others claim that it is a necessary lubricant and built–in guarantee assuring that no one group in particular becomes dominant.  No one group should risk the malady of success and its symptoms of laziness, self–righteousness and triumphalism and self-destruct. Some contend that pluralism or the presence of different expressions in Jewish life is necessary to maintain the vitality of the Jewish experience.

Watching how these struggles align themselves on the battlefield of Jewish history is a fascinating exercise, because so much of the tension and the excitement in modern Jewish life is the discovery of parallels between NOW and THEN. We might be able to take some comfort in seeing that that the fissure in the Jewish community today it is nothing new, and that history is but repeating itself.

In watching the battle from the sidelines, I often come away with the feeling that due to assimilation, apathy and indifference, the Yeshiva and Chassidic worlds, where so much of the outside world is held suspect, are surprisingly predicted to still be Jewish by the year 2,050 and all others will disappear.

The fact is that whatever little enters into this world from the outside, is either a modern convenience or a course of study that will yield a good living. The philosophy of Torah and Madah (literally, Torah and Science – the religious philosophy of the “Rav” – Rabbi Yosef Soloveitchik of Yeshiva University, a philosophy that embraces areas of worldly knowledge), does not sit well with much of the Yeshiva world. Latin, Greek philosophy and English literature, for example, are not subjects that the typical Yeshiva trained individual tries or cares to master.

Yet we find in the Gemara (Tractate Shabbat 75a), the statement: “Anyone who is able to study astronomy and does not do so is chided by the prophet who says about him, `the world of the Lord they do not explore, and the creation of His hands they do not see.‘”

Every Friday night, Jewish parents bless their children with the time–honored blessing, “May HaShem make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.” This is the blessing given to a daughter. But to our sons, we say, “May HaShem make you like Ephraim and Menasheh” (48:20). Of course, we know that Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah are the four matriarchs, the founders of our people. But why are Menasheh and Ephraim, the two sons of Yosef, cited in this blessing and therefore seen as the paradigms of Jewish manhood?

One interpretation is that Menashe and Ephraim were the first of the family of Ya’acov to have been born and brought up outside of Eretz Yisra’el and outside the home of Ya’acov, second–generation Diasporians; yet they remained true to the traditions of their faith, despite their exposure to animals gods, the cult of the dead, and the other enticing and inviting elements of Egyptian decadence.

Note for a moment how Ya’acov actually blesses his grandsons. He places his left hand on the head of the older, Menashe, and his right hand on Ephraim, giving the younger son precedence in the blessing. Yosef, for a moment, thinks his blind and ailing father has made a mistake, but Ya’acov actually knows what he is doing and he tells Yosef that the younger boy will, in the end, be greater (48:19). The Midrash explains and resolves this issue with the comment: that when the people of Egypt approach Yosef to buy wheat, there was a translator, and that man was Menashe, a sophisticated linguist, a cosmopolitan PHD we might say, from the Nile University. And Ephraim? Well, he is the unnamed figure who brings Yosef the news that his father is ill. He is the one who, from the time that Ya’acov first arrived in Egypt, devotes himself exclusively to the study of Torah with his grandfather, and sits at his feet and cleaves to the message of his elder. Thus, from the positioning of the hands, we understand exactly why Ya’acov chooses to rearrange the blessings. Ephraim comes first, because without Torah, without a grounding in religious life and ethical teachings, everything else turns into the tools of cruelty. But Ya’acov also blesses Menashe because he values his work and his achievements in the court of Pharaoh.

So, my friends, we parents on Friday night pray to HaShem that our sons should be the synthesis of both Ephraim and Menashe – growing to be people capable of combining Torah learning with worldly wisdom. In this manner, they become full and integrated individuals who are able to appreciate the world and what it has to offer, all the while diverting that knowledge and wisdom through the lens of Torah teaching. Indeed, it is Torah which gets top billing, for it has the capacity to take the best of the material world and sanctify it, ennoble it and transform it; but only if we take Torah and spread its message and its relevance to the academies of science, and politics, to the humanities and the arts. Only then will we have fulfilled the vision which Ya’acov dreamed.

I say this with all due respect to other approaches which might take exception to my feelings on this matter. Nonetheless, I feel that this is a bona fide definition and representation of what it is that we should strive for to be authentic Jews. Perhaps one can embellish and amplify this point by looking back for a moment to the Menorah, the centerpiece of our recently celebrated Chanukah festival. In one of the Torah’s several descriptions of the Menorah lighting procedure, we are told that: “when the flames are kindled, they should light up the central staff of the Menorah, and thus shall all seven lights be illuminated” (Numbers 8:2). This verse gives primacy to the center light; it is the essential Menorah, flanked by the other six lights, three on each side.

Evidently, the six side lights were oriented in such a way as to cast a reflection onto the center. And most of the classical commentaries accept this approach. Rabbi Ovadiya Seforno of 15th century Italy expands this explanation by likening the three lights of the right to those who concern themselves with “eternal matters,” and the three lights of the left to those who are involved with “temporal matters.” Seforno teaches that both of these groups have an overriding and compelling responsibility to turn inward toward the center staff, so that the illumination of the Menorah can be complete. We urgently need this message of the Menorah today, when we see so pronounced and obvious the divisions that exist between the various factions of Jews and the rancor that we hear and read of in the public press.

The center of Torah Judaism has been obscured within the shadows of infighting, to the extent that the entire Menorah may be cast into darkness. Not for this did the Maccabees struggle in the past, and not for this have our ancestors struggle in their efforts to perpetuate Jewish life and provide for its future. And not for this have we come so far in our efforts to build a thriving Jewish community in Israel and in the Diaspora.

So, when looking for inspiration, for enlightenment, one should be able to feel and appreciate the warmth of this approach to Judaism. By no means should the primacy of Torah be diminished, but the realization that Torah can interface and intersect all levels of life. In this way, we bring meaning to our existence and honor our spiritual mission.

Chazak, Chazak, V’NitChazek – Strengthened, strengthened, may we be strengthened.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

121117 – Parshat Toledot

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“VORTIFY YOURSELF”

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

E-mail: rebyosil@gmail.com

Parshat Toldot

Bereishit 25:19 – 28:9

Haftarah: Malachi 1:1 – 2:7

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Of the three patriarchs, Yitzchak is the most cryptic. Much of his life is clouded in mystery, for in contrast with his father Avraham and his son Yitzchak, relatively little space in the Torah is dedicated to the details of his life. And even when the events of his life are described, he is usually not the main character in the episode. The Akeidah, for example, is recalled more commonly to dramatize the greatness of Avraham rather than that of Yitzchak.

One story the Torah does tell us can be found in this week’s Parsha and on the surface is seemingly insignificant. The event deals with when Yitzchak re–opens the wells that his father had once dug (Bereishit 26:15): “For all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of Avraham, his father, the Pelishtim (Philistines) had stopped them and filled them with dust.” On the surface, this event gives us little insight into his personality; its relevance is somewhat questionable as to the necessity of its inclusion in the text.

Nonetheless, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik of blessed memory argues that the amount of text dedicated to Yitzchak should be viewed not as a diminution of his greatness, but rather as an indication of his unique service to HaShem. Mystical tradition actually assigns one of HaShem’s attributes to each of the patriarchs: Avraham represents Chesed (kindness); Yitzchak represents Gevurah (strength); and Ya’acov represents Emet (truth).

Rav Soloveitchik points out that Avraham’s trait of kindness, expresses itself in expansion. Kindness is a movement away from oneself and towards others, and clearly Avraham succeeded in this regard. Yitzchak’s trait, that of strength, by contrast, is a retreat into a private world, with HaShem as his companion. Yitzchak remained in private communion with HaShem for much of his life. He was withdrawn, and because much of his life was concealed from the masses, the Torah tells us little about him. The shortage of text actually reflects the privacy of the man.

Then Yitzchak marries Rivkah. Yitzchak waited until after the Akeidah to marry, because until that moment he belonged exclusively to the Almighty. Once he was offered on the altar, his relationship with HaShem reached its peak, and the man of strength could expand outside his insular world. At this point, explains Rav Soloveitchik, Yitzchak begins to be less of a private individual. He still retains his strength, his sense of inner strength and staying power, but now an element of kindness, that particular trait which so defined his father, becomes apparent in his own person.

The Torah tells the story of the wells, the RaMBaN (acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman [Nachmanides] Gerona, Spain, Israel, 1194-1270) explains, that it appears to be of little benefit or value to the reader or to the honor of Yitzchak. And yet with deeper probing, the significance of this account becomes clearer and reflects an added dimension to Yitzchak’s personality. It speaks of his ability to mature and expand beyond the earlier confines of his character.

When Avraham lived among the Philistines, he had dug many wells, but the Philistines plugged up those wells. Yitzchak not only re–opened the wells, and restored a great good to his society, but he also restored their names according to the names which Avraham had originally given them. Yitzchak’s actions in this one instance signified his transition to a more public role and position, continuing the legacy of his father. Yitzchak moves from his focus on his inner spiritual self to a greater sense of his outward workings.

In addition, Yitzchak also dug three new wells, and the Philistines objected to the first two, and so he called them Eisek, meaning “contention,” and Sitnah, meaning “enmity.” But the third well caused no controversy, and he called it Rechovot, meaning “spacious” or “expansive.” These three names allude to the three Temples, explains the RaMBaN. The first two were destroyed by our enemies because of contention and enmity, but the third will be built with no opposition, and then HaShem will make our borders more spacious and more expansive. So the once–private Yitzchak not only reached out to a spouse, but he also offered hope to countless generations through his generous character and noble actions.

It was his expansiveness of character, something which he came to perhaps later in life, once he became a householder and fashioned a family with Rivkah, that allowed Yitzchak to see something special in Eisav (Esau) and to recognize the modicum of worth in his hunter son, where others had readily dismissed him out–of–hand and discounted his value. We can apply this message of expansiveness of character to the need for us to expand beyond the inner chambers and inner recesses of our private lives, to encompass and include others.

And so it wasn’t simply that Yitzchak opened up the wells and made three new ones, but that he thought of others. He combined his inner strength with the important ingredient for just living, the element of Chesed. He thought of the accomplishments of his father which he sought to restore to his day and age, and he thought of the need to give to others and to extend himself beyond his own personal purpose, and involve himself in the larger world – to correct and perfect the world under HaShem’s dominion.

This offers us an opportunity to reach for goals that are beyond our natural abilities, to involve ourselves in a projection of a greatness that appears larger than life and yet wholly attainable. This is the legacy of our ancestors, Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivkah and Ya’acov and Rachel/Layah, this is our legacy to carry through to the rebuilding of the third Temple which will be built with no opposition, and whose borders HaShem will make more spacious and more expansive through our spacious and expansive outreach.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

120406 – Dayenu-Passover

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

Pesach – First Day

Torah Reading: Shemot (Exodus) 12:21-51

Maftir: BaMidbar (Numbers) 28:16-25

Haftarah Reading: Joshua 3:5-7, 5:2-6:1, 6:27

Pesach – Second Day

Torah Reading: VaYikra (Leviticus) 22:26-23:44

Maftir: Numbers 28:16-25
Haftarah Reading: II Kings 23:1-9, 21-25

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One of the great songs that is the “hit” of every Passover Seder I have ever attended, is the singing of Dayenu. Whatever way it is sung, whether each verse is sung by an individual with all joining in the chorus, or, everyone singing together, it is always a joy to participate in this wonderful connection to our history and culture.

Of course the meaning of the song is very profound. Each of the fifteen stanzas relates to another level of obligation that we as a nation recognize as our indebtedness to the Holy-One-Blessed-be-He. If all He did was take us out of Egypt and He would have stopped there, then we as a nation would have been forever bound in service to His will and expectations. At least that’s what I thought.

With gradual maturity and learning, pieces of the puzzle of Jewish consciousness began to fall into place and I discovered an insight to the Torah and the Seder as a whole that was very profound and I would like to share that with you before Passover.

The Haggadah explains that while we must remember the Exodus from Egypt, there will one day be a great and final redemption launched by the Mashi’ach (taught in the Haggadah by Reb Elazar ben Azaria, Ben Zoma and the Chachamim). In our generation we believe and yearn for this Messianic period and the prophetic signs that surround us all; the ingathering of the exiles to Israel, the revitalization of the once desolate land of Israel and the hostility of the nations towards Israel (both to the land and the people). This yearning for the King Messiah has been a full-time job for the past 2,000 years.

The following story at the end of Tractate Makot provides us with a new key to understanding. Rebi Akiva was walking with Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Yehoshu’a on Mount Scopus when they saw a fox scurrying out from between the ruins of the Temple. Mindful of the prophesy: “On desolate Mount Zion, foxes will roam” (Lamentations 5:18), the sages began to cry and mourn the destruction of our Holy Temple. Rebi Akiva however, laughed.

When the Rabbis asked how he could laugh at such a sight, Rebi Akiva reminded them that the entire prophesy had two parts, the first half of the prophesy dealt with destruction, the second, with redemption. If the part dealing with the destruction came true exactly as foretold, then the rest must also be true and our redemption is at hand. The Rabbis replied, “Akiva you have comforted us; Akiva you have comforted us” (Tractate Makot 24b).

The Haggadah declares that the God of Israel is trustworthy and that He should be blessed for having kept his promises to our ancestors. As proof, it sets the scene at the Brit Bayn HaBetarim – the Covenant made between God and Avraham and his future descendants. “And He said to Avraham: `You should know for certain that your descendants shall be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and treated harshly for four hundred years; but I will also judge the nation that they serve, and afterwards they shall come out with great wealth’…And in the fourth generation, they (the Israelites) shall return here…” (Bereishit [Genesis] 15:13 – 16). This of course is an allusion to both the Egyptian exile and the events that led up to the Exodus from Egypt.

The Haggadah then declares that in all generations there are tyrants who will attempt to destroy Israel, and that the same promise for salvation from Egypt would apply to any and all future situations. An example of this promise is given by the events that led Ya’acov and his family to descend to Egypt.

The Haggadah quotes a passage from Devarim (Deuteronomy) 26:5 which tells us of the treachery of Lavan “the destroyer” who plotted to destroy not only against Ya’acov (his son-in-law), but also against his own daughters and grandchildren. Ya’acov and his family would journey to Egypt, there to become a great, mighty and prolific nation.

Interestingly, this quotation comes from a section of the Torah that describes events to take place after the eventual conquering of the land of Israel and the building of the Temple. We are informed that when the Temple is finally completed, each Israelite farmer should bring his first fruits in a basket to the Temple and give it to a Kohen – priest, while at the same time, quoting that very passage about Lavan.

“And it shall be, when you come in to the land which HaShem your God gives you for an inheritance, and possess it, and live in it; That you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, which you shall bring of your land that HaShem your God gives you, and shall put it in a basket, and shall go to the place which HaShem your God shall choose to place His Name there. And you shall go to the priest who shall be in those days, and say to him, I declare this day to HaShem our God, that I have come to the land which HaShem swore to give to our ancestors. And the priest shall take the basket from your hand, and set it down before the altar of HaShem your God. And you shall speak and say before HaShem your God, ‘An Aramean tried to destroy my father, and he descended to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; and there he became a nation – great, mighty and numerous; And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid hard slavery upon us; And when we cried to HaShem, God of our ancestors, HaShem heard our voices, and looked upon our affliction, and our labor, and our oppression; And HaShem brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, with great awesomeness, with signs and wonders; And He has brought us to this place, and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Devarim 26:1 – 9). I believe that in the context of Passover and in regards to the life of the Israelites in the ancient land of Israel, this quotation is a reflection of our Jewish destiny.

The Covenant made between God and Avraham had two distinct parts to it. The first part promised an eventful exile to Egypt and of a breathtaking exodus. The second part foretold of their return to Eretz Yisra’el at another period in history, “And in the fourth generation they (the Bnei Yisrael) shall return here” (Bereishit 15:16).

The celebration of the original Passover in Egypt was in commemoration of a promise made to Avraham. In truth, the prophesy was only partially fulfilled. Entry into the land of Israel, conquering the land and the building of the Temple would not occur for another 487 years (40 in the desert and 447 until the temple was built), yet the evidence of these future events occurred during the Exodus from Egypt. The span between prophesy and completion would be a matter of time, not fact.

“Blessed-is-He who keeps His promises to Israel” (Passover Haggadah). Even though only a part of the total prophesy had taken place, the Israelites knew that God is always true to His word. Everything foretold to Avraham would occur in the future (a total of 917 years from beginning to end).

This knowledge allows us to now understand a hidden aspect of the famous Passover poem Dayenu – it would have been enough for us. While recalling the many favors that God granted us in the process of His redemption, we end each verse with the word Dayenu – it would have been enough for us. Meaning, by doing us this particular service it would have been enough for us as a nation – to be indebted forever to Him.

However, if we now view this poem in terms of prophetic redemption, we could read it as follows: If He had brought us out of Egypt, but had not executed judgment upon them, Dayenu – It would have been enough for us (to know that all the rest will come about).

If He had given us their wealth, but had not divided the sea for us, Dayenu – It would have been enough for us (to know that all the rest will come about).

If He brought us before Mount Sinai, but had not given us the Torah, Dayenu – It would have been enough for us (to know that all the rest will come about). (This continues until finally…)

If He brought us into the land of Israel, and had not built the Temple for us, Dayenu – It would have been enough for us (to know that all the rest will come about).

But He did all these things for us. 1. He brought us out of Egypt; 2. He punished the Egyptians; 3. He smote their gods; 4. He slew their firstborn; 5. He gave us their wealth; 6. He split the Sea for us; 7. He led us through it on dry land; 8. He drowned our foes in it; 9. He sustained us in the desert for forty years; 10. He fed us with Manna; 11. He gave us the Sabbath; 12. He brought us to Mount Sinai; 13. He gave us the Torah; 14. He brought us to Israel; 15. He built the Temple for us.

It is for this reason that the Israelite bringing his first fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem is required to quote from a strange passage that reflects a history that began in Mesopotamia, moves to the Land of Canaan and is then directed to Egypt and the Exodus. “The Aramean (Lavan) attempted to destroy my father. Then he [Ya’acov] descended to Egypt and sojourned there, with few people; and there he became a nation – great, mighty and numerous” (Devarim 26:5). Each step in that process is part of a grand plan. Some will never fathom what they are witnessing. Others, will only get a glimpse of one piece of the plan and there will be those, who seeing only glimmers of evidence, will know with all surety that the remainder of the prophesy will surely take place.

The Jewish slave in Egypt didn’t know when the rest of God’s prophesies would occur. But when he experienced the Exodus, or crossed the Red Sea, or witnessed any of the many other wonders included in Avraham’s prophesy, then that former slave knew that all the rest would likewise take place. He was witness to a piece of prophesy that substantiated the whole. A glance at truth reveals truth.

So it is with our generation, who has seen so much: from the fires of Auschwitz, to the return to Zion; from the cry of the Soviet refuseniks, to the fall of communism. We have not yet witnessed every aspect of the “End of Days“, but enough miracles have occurred in our lifetimes for us to surely say, Dayenu – it is enough for us to know that all the rest will come about.

Rebi Akiva was walking with Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Yehoshu’a on Mount Scopus when they saw a fox scurrying out from between the ruins of the Temple. Mindful of the prophesy: “On desolate Mount Zion, foxes will roam” (Lamentations 5:18), the sages began to cry and mourn the destruction of our Holy Temple. Rebi Akiva however, laughed. This Passover as we collectively sing Dayenu – lets us count the many blessings that we have received from above knowing full well that the laughter will soon begin.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Samei’ach,

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig


Parshat Acharei Mot/Shabbat HaGadol/Pesach

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

Parshat Acharei Mot

VaYikra (Leviticus 16:1-18:30

Shabbat HaGadol

Haftorah Malachi 3:4 – 24

PESACH

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SHABBAT HAGADOL

Shabbat HaGadol is the Shabbat before Pesach (Passover). Traditionally, this was one of the few times of the year that a Rabbi gave a lengthy sermon. The sermon was usually about preparations for Pesach, and this special Shabbat commemorates a preparation for the original Pesach in Egypt. Shabbat HaGadol (The Great Sabbath) commemorates the 10th day of Nissan, when the Hebrew slaves took the lambs that they were going to offer for Pesach and tied them up outside their homes, to keep until they offered it on the 14th (Ex. 12:3-6). According to tradition, this was a dangerous thing to do, because Egyptians worshipped sheep and goats, but miraculously, instead of slaughtering the Hebrews, the Egyptians instead fought with each other over whether the Hebrews should be sent away already.

The special Haftarah reading for this Shabbat is Malachi 3:4-24. This messianic prophecy regarding the end of days and the return of the prophet Elijah is read at this time because it is believed that Elijah will return at Pesach. This is why we include a cup for him in our Seder rituals.

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One of the great moments that are the “hit” of every Passover Seder that I have ever attended is the singing of Dayenu. However done, whether each verse is sung by an individual with all joining in the chorus, or, everyone singing together is always a joy to participate in and/or observe this wonderful connection to our history and culture.

Of course the meaning of the song is very profound. Each of the fifteen stanzas relates to another level of obligation that we as a nation recognize as our indebtedness to the Holy One Blessed be He. If all He did was take us out of Egypt and He would have stopped there, then we as a nation would have been forever bound in service to His will and expectations.

At least that’s what I thought. Then, with gradual maturity and learning, pieces of the puzzle of Jewish consciousness began to fall into place and I discovered an insight to the Torah and the Seder as a whole that was very profound and I would like to share that with you before Passover.

The Haggadah explains that while we must remember the Exodus from Egypt, there will one day be a great and final redemption launched by the Mashi’ach (taught in the Haggadah by Reb Elazar ben Azaria, Ben Zoma and the Chachamim).  In our generation we believe and yearn for this Messianic period and the prophetic signs are all around us; the ingathering of the exiles to Israel, the revitalization of the once desolate land of Israel, the hostility of the nations towards Israel – the land and the people. But yearning for the Messiah has been a full-time job for the past 2,000 years. The following story at the end of Tractate Megillah provides us with the key.

Rabbi Akiva was walking with Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Yehoshu’a on Mount Scopus when they saw a fox scurrying out from between the ruins of the Temple.  Mindful of the prophesy: “On desolate Mount Zion, foxes will roam” (Lamentations 5:18), the sages began to cry and mourn the destruction of our Holy Temple. Rabbi Akiva however, laughed.

When the Rabbis asked how he could laugh at such a sight, Rabbi Akiva reminded them that the entire prophesy had two parts, the first half of the prophesy dealt with destruction, the second, with redemption. If the part dealing with the destruction came true exactly as foretold, then the rest must also be true and our redemption is at hand.  The Rabbis replied, “Akiva you have comforted us; Akiva you have comforted us.” (Makkot 24b)

The Haggadah declares that the G-d of Israel is trustworthy and that He should be blessed for having kept his promises to our ancestors.  As proof, it sets the scene at the Brit Bayn HaBetarim – the Covenant between G-d and Avraham and his future descendants.

“And He said to Avraham: `You should know for certain that your descendants shall be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and treated harshly for four hundred years; but I will also judge the nation that they serve, and afterwards they shall come out with great wealth’…And in the fourth generation, they (the Israelites) shall return here…” Bereishit (Genesis) 15:13 – 16.

This of course is an allusion to both the Egyptian exile and the events that led up to the Exodus from Egypt.

The Haggadah then declares that in all generations there are tyrants who will attempt to destroy Israel, and that the same promise for salvation from Egypt would apply to any and all future situations.  An example of this promise is given by the events that led Ya’acov and his family on their descent to Egypt.

The Haggadah quotes a passage from Devarim (Deuteronomy) 26:5 which tells us of the treachery of Lavan “the destroyer” who plotted not only against Ya’acov (his son-in-law), but also against his own daughters and grandchildren. Eventually, Ya’acov and his family would journey to Egypt, there to become a great, mighty and prolific nation.

Interestingly, this quotation comes from a section of the Torah that describes events to take place after the eventual conquering of the land of Israel and the building of the Temple.  We are informed that when the Temple is finally completed, each Israelite farmer should bring his first fruits in a basket to the Temple and give it to a Kohen – priest, while at the same time, quoting that very passage about Lavan.  I believe that in the context of Passover and in regards to the life of the Israelites in the land of Israel, this quotation is a reflection of our Jewish destiny.

The Covenant made between G-d and Avraham had two distinct parts to it.  The first part promised an eventful exile to Egypt and of a spectacular exodus. The second part foretold of their return to Eretz Yisra’el at another period in history, “And in the fourth generation they (the Bnei Yisrael) shall return here” (Bereishit 15:16).

The celebration of the original Passover was in commemoration of a promise made to Avraham.  In truth, the prophesy was only partially fulfilled. Entry into the land of Israel, conquering the land and the building of the Temple would not occur for another 460 years.  Yet, the evidence that these events would occur was realized 400 years before, during the Exodus from Egypt.  The separation of the prophesy from its reality would be a matter of time, not fact.

Blessed is He who keeps His promises to Israel” (Passover Haggadah).  Even though only a part of the total prophesy had taken place, the Israelites knew that G-d is always true to His word.  Everything foretold to Avraham would also occur in the future.

This knowledge allows us to now understand a hidden aspect of the famous Passover poem Dayenuit would have been enough for us.  While recalling the many favors that G-d granted us in the process of His redemption, we end each verse with the word Dayenu – it would have been enough for us. Meaning, by doing us this particular favor it would have been enough for us as a nation – to be indebted forever to Him.

However, if we now view this poem in terms of prophetic redemption, we could read it as follows:

If He had brought us out of Egypt, but had not executed judgment upon them, Dayenu – it would have been enough for us, to know that all the rest will come about.

If He had given us their wealth, but had not divided the sea for us, Dayenu – it would have been enough for us, to know that all the rest will come about.

If He brought us before Mount Sinai, but not given us the Torah, Dayenu – it would have been enough for us, to know that all the rest will come about.

(This continues until finally…)

If He brought us into the land of Israel, and not built the Temple for us,

Dayenu – it would have been enough for us, to know that all the rest will come about.

But He did do all these things for us.

He brought us out of Egypt;

He punished the Egyptians;

He smote their gods;

He slew their firstborn;

He gave us their wealth;

He split the Sea for us;

He led us through it on dry land;

He drowned our foes in it;

He sustained us in the desert for forty years;

He fed us with Manna;

He gave us the Sabbath;

He brought us to Mount Sinai;

He gave us the Torah;

He brought us to Israel;

He built the Temple for us.

It is for this reason that the Israelite bringing his first fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem is required to quote from a strange passage that reflects a history that began in Mesopotamia, moves to the Land of Canaan and is then directed to Egypt and the Exodus.

“The Aramean (Lavan) attempted to destroy my father.  Then he [Ya’acov] descended to Egypt and sojourned there, with few people; and there he became a nation – great, mighty and numerous” (Devarim 26:5).

Each step in that process is part of a grand plan.  Some will never fathom what they are witnessing.  Others, will get a glimpse of a tiny piece of the plan and there will be those, who seeing only glimmers of magnificence, will know with all surety that the remainder of the prophesy will undoubtedly take place.

The Jewish slave in Egypt didn’t know when the rest of G-d’s prophesies would occur.  But when he experienced the Exodus, or crossed the Red Sea, or witnessed any of the many other wonders included in Avraham’s prophesy, then that former slave knew that all the rest would likewise take place.  He was witness to a piece of prophesy that substantiated the whole.  A glance at truth revealed truth.

So it is with our generation, who has seen so much, from the fires of Auschwitz to the return to Zion, from the cry of the Soviet refuseniks to the fall of communism.  We have not yet witnessed every aspect of the “End of Days”, but enough miracles have occurred in our lifetimes for us to surely say, Dayenu – it is enough for us to know that all the rest will come about.

Rabbi Akiva was walking with Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Yehoshu’a on Mount Scopus when they saw a fox scurrying out from between the ruins of the Temple.  Mindful of the prophesy: “On desolate Mount Zion, foxes will roam” (Lamentations 5:18), the sages began to cry and mourn the destruction of our Holy Temple. Rabbi Akiva however, laughed.

This Passover as we collectively sing Dayenu – lets us count the many blessings that we have received from above knowing full well that the laughter is about to begin.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Samei’ach,

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig