THE JERUSALEM JEWISH VOICE
THE WEEKLY TORAH READING -- A FIRST GLANCE
VAEIRA-- "I APPEARED"
THE STORM BEFORE THE CALM
To Go or Not to Go, to Lectures-- that is indeed a ? (see "A" below; add "the Good Lord Willing" to the following scheduled events)
THIS STUDY IS SPONSORED IN MEMORY OF ZEV VOLVE BEN DOVID MOISHE, WHOSE YAHRTZEIT IS 27 TEVET, BY MR. & MRS. PHILIP MACHNIKOFF-- THEY LIVE IN GREAT NECK, NY, BUT THEIR SOULS ARE BOUND TO THE TRUE GREAT NECK, BINDING HEAVEN AND EARTH-- GOD'S TEMPLE, MAY IT BE REBUILT SOON (see Rashi, Gen. 45:14, 46:29)
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We join the entire nation of Israel in mourning Zevulun Hammer, a truly great leader, who lived, with passion, the ideals of religious Zionism. Rav J. Soloveichik used to call him "a very nice young man".
A. FOR WHOM DOES THE LECTURER LECTURE?
I cannot see that lectures can do so much good as reading the books from which the lectures are taken (a silly statement in Boswell's Life of Johnson, I:315).
Thank God, today we Jerusalemites are blessed not only with it's eternal holiness, even when desolate, but by a plethora of talks and events. We're also blessed by an even greater plethora of books, articles, tapes, videos, disks and CD Roms on almost every subject, both Jewish and universal. So why leave the comfort of our homes and spend money, at least carfare, to attend a lecture?-- we can pursue the words of God Himself, the Besht and the Rambam, Einstein, Freud and Stephen Jay Gould, l'havdil squared, at home? Why, indeed, go to lectures?
1) Some folks, unfortunately, live in rather unpleasant environments; their homes may be too hot, cold, ugly, noisy or crowded. Escape to a pleasant environment makes life more bearable.
2) Others, while well-to-do, with nice homes, may suffer from loneliness, due either to living alone, or living with aloof and/or unpleasant intimate others, family or flat mates; for them too, a lecture or event, shared with affable pleasant folks, is a welcome escape. Some such folks may be bored by the lectures, and only show up at the end, for food and company!! They may even "attend" a few events a night!
3) But many people, thank God, have both pleasant environments and pleasant companionship at home; yet they may still go out to lectures, often together. Why?-- one reason is that our Torah is a living Torah; its essence may indeed be the oral Torah, rather than the written; true, it had to be written down, lest it be lost amidst constant persecution and expulsion of the Jews; but it is to be transmitted by live sensitive and passionate people to their fellows-- I'm to experience God's Torah thru the minds, hearts and souls of its masters in my own time and space; God put us together for our mutual growth and benefit; I don't get the full flavor, the nuances, of great Torah personalities just by reading their writings, not even just by hearing their tapes and watching their videos, tho they're far more alive than books. Only in their presence do I fully sense their heart reaching out to mine; a talmudic rabbi said that he understood his master's teachings far better than his colleagues, for he could see his back, not just hear his voice, at the crowded lectures; had he seen his face, he would have understood much more; conversely, someone, whose writings may turn us on, may disappoint us in the flesh; our image of authors is often false and limited; so Heinrich Graetz, later a famous Jewish historian, became disillusioned with S. R. Hirsch, when he lived with him, after being inspired by his writings; The 19 Letters may have been directed to him. Nevertheless, I'll take a chance-- I'd like to meet my readers!
But some academic lecturers simply read their lectures from a prepared text, often in a dry lifeless manner, a ludicrous custom of secular academics (unfortunately, some Jewish university lecturers do this too, rather than becoming a Jewish model of inspired teaching); we could just as well read such talks, much quicker, at home, unless we're there to meet and eat; therefore I try to recommend those speakers who put their heart and soul into their talks, resonating with our own, who passionately pursue truth. But, while they grip, even entertain, us, they also may lull us into friendly gemutlich acquiescence to their ideas and conclusions-- especially if they don't entertain public ?? after their lecture. It's very important to review, preferably in a dispassionate fashion and with others, the information and ideas propounded by such speakers, especially those to whom we most enthusiastically respond.
Last year I heard Rabbi Simcha Hochbaum teach at the Jewish 1/4's very fine and healthily balanced Reshit Yerushalayim Yeshiva- Simcha is an unusual type of rabbi, mostly found in Kiryat Arba and Chevron-- both a Shlomo Carlebach fan and a Meir Kahane groupee (see Tova Reich's absorbing novel about the American fringes with fringes of that society, The Jewish War)! But this interesting combo is also dangerous-- the genuine good will and joy engendered by his singing Shlomo songs and dancing with his students can also lull them into complacency when he spouts Kahane's ideas-- no one raised any ? or registered any protest in the class I attended, unlike other classes at the Yeshiva. But a perceptive student whom I met on the bus claimed that they're fully aware of his problematic ideas, but just do not wish to disturb the peace.
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B. EXILE & REDEMPTION
Redemption, like a livelihood, must be earned each day (Eleazer, Gen. Raba 20:9).
We drink 4 cups of wine at the Passover seder, to relive Vaeira's 4 stages of Jewish redemption from exile:
"1)... I'll take you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
Israel sank deeply into Egyptian exile, a prototype for all subsequent Jewish exiles. Ex. 1:1 uses the present tense-- "These are the names of the children of Israel who ARE COMING to Egypt". Whenever Jews were driven out of Israel, by famine, economic collapse or military defeat, they arrived as strangers in alien lands (cf. Hester St., L.A.). As their new industries and family life prospered, Israel receded into the background. After the old Patriarchs died, the Jews gradually drifted apart and wound up living dispersed among non-Jews. The great majority slowly, but surely (... ARE COMING to Egypt), adopted the customs, values and patterns of thought of those around them. The only brake on their road to spiritual alienation and assimilation is inevitable, tho gradual, rejection by their host society, culminating in slavery, torture and persecution (is the polyarchic, polygenetic, polyplastic, polymorphous and polygenous USA different?). As Rav Gafni notes, slavery is the ultimate loss of one's identity, one's name, in this Book of Names, the culmination of assimilation to an alien culture.
But those who want to influence assimilated Jews, before its too late and a new Pharoh or Farrahan arises, must approach them with respect, understanding and kindness; they must know well the world they live in, and understand how such Jews think and feel. Those rabbis who absorbed secular learning and culture in depth, e.g. S. H. Hirsch, A. Y. Kook, S. Riskin, J. Sacks, M. Gafni, D. Landes and Irving Greenberg, have the greatest impact on our lost folk. Even Moshe had to be raised in Pharoh's court, not exactly a cheder, to lead Israel back to Israel (cf. Herzl; Hirsch went to public school, rather than cheder; he, Rav J. Soloveichik and Rav Dr. Y. Twersky never attended a Yeshiva). So the 20th century's 2 great Torah leaders of all Jewry (not just the "orthodox"), Rabbis J. Soloveichik and M. Shneerson, who stood united against the "old bucharim" club", also possessed high level secular education; cf. Rambam-- Shachian isolationists are uncomfortable when Jews study his works en masse.
Unfortunately, the religious establishment, including some allegedly Zionist chief rabbis, often exhibits a mentality detached from both knowledge of, and concern for, this world-- their counterproductive fulminations against heresy and heretics reflect their lack of secular savvy and knowledge (e.g. taking away Jerusalem's Bernstein Hostel's hechsher some years back); a true Sanhedrin must, collectively, know all "70 languages".
Observant Jews, who want to rescue their assimilated intellectual sisters and brothers, should read Anne Roiphe's exploration of her Jewish identity in Generation Without Memory-- A Jewish Journey in Christian America-- here's a poignant sample:
"Once my mother accepted a Christmas tree in the house, that moved me further along the assimilation line toward the Christian mainstream, and while I still say I am Jewish, the Jewishness of my children has been so washed out as to have reached near invisibility. If I am some mongrel creature, they will have been deracinated altogether. In fact this matters to me... if belief systems, culture itself, are like the child's precious blanket, a kind of transitional object that represents the union with mother, as one permits oneself to fall asleep into the darkness, from which one must trust there will be an awakening (cf. death), then I recognize that we need those blankets"-- cf. Dorothy's final conclusions in George Orwell's first novel, A Clergyman's Daughter; in a great South African short story, A Friend of Her Father's, similar isolated ingenue Valerie, raised to be a proper English girl of her parents' obsolete generation, opens up when exposed to a liberal British household; but she frees them from domination by the opposite extreme outlook, foisted upon them by their dominant, arrogant, atheistic, intellectual, and debunking prog (progressive) father.
"He was a stocky, active man with a quiff, bright darting eyes and horn-rimmed spectacles. He had a very active brain, he was garrulous and a bit cocky, thought he knew everything, and never doubted that his own opinions were right-- and yet one could not help admiring him and even liking him; there was something vital and warm about him. She didn't want to know about the boring Spanish Civil War at all, but he wanted to show her that he knew ALL about it! Oh how he did love explaining!" In the end, Valerie married his nephew, after inducting him into the church, and his son Monday marries a clergyman's daughter; Valerie concludes that "nobody is so conventional as the unconventional" (Wm. Plomer, Selected Stories, Africasouth Paperbacks, 1984, edited by Stephen Gray).
Rophie continues: "We need... to belong to tribes, with particular distinguishing marks. We need to be involved with ritual activity of some sort. We will go blind from staring directly into the bright sun of meaninglessness. We simply need those illusions Freud spoke of. There is probably some kind of ecological balance in the human psyche. We suffer if we are closed in, imprisoned, limited (cf. Meah Shearim), but, at the same time, there is an intolerance for universality. We sicken w/o specific structures. We languish with too much freedom. We grow ugly and empty, if each generation claims the world is new and the past invalid (cf. teenagers' discos). Technology has made us universalists. Our biology, moving at its own pace, keeps us tribal, as we were in the beginnings... only a minute ago in evolutionary terms.
"What is not true, and what some Jews might be tempted to believe, is that you need to be Jewish to have a deep moral position and commitment in this world... (YF: see The "Rabbi" Who Lost His Faith... and Found Judaism, about our fine reader, Chuck Snow, by our fine reader Yossi Klein HaLevi-- JR, dated, 2 weeks early, 1/23/97). Max Brod has written a touching story of a little boy made to study long hours and forbidden the pleasures of nature and free recreation. That little boy's mind in his cheder is being stunted and deformed in ways just as crippling as was the binding of Chinese little girls' feet (YF: the elitist, cool and disciplined Rambam only got daddy's approval due to his top level intellectual performance; the spontaneous, loving and joyful Baal Shem Tov frequented forests). Am I just weary of trying to figure out everything on my own? Am I trying to find a way to abandon personal responsibility by hiding within a group life (YF: cf. returnee yeshivot)?... I am certain that the promise of Americanization... has gone sour. Is it because of materialism? Is it because it happened too quickly? I don't feel a real part of this nation, because, at bottom, I am a Jew. After Germany, only in Israel can a Jew feel really connected, and I am not enough of a Jew to go to Israel...
"If everything is random, accidental and disordered, and the wise man is not the mystic, who sees the harmony and balance of things, but rather the one who stares unflinching at the accidental motions of chemicals, then in such a lonely grim landscape, how can anyone proceed with work or pleasure? Why begin? Why continue? Where and how to take courage? How diminished is the private self, when one has amputated the support of ancient tribe and its communal destiny. It is true that I, ex-bohemian, beatnik, Leftist, also need ceremonies to mark the marriages of my children, to mark the burials, initiations, transitions, to shape the seasons of the year, to grant a specific time to rest and appreciate those around us... of course, there is something dreary and offensive about suggesting that life within the Jewish nation should be lived because it is good for your mental health (cf. Eric Fromm's Religion and Psychoanalysis). It won't work that way. Some new mental health fad will come to take its place... It is a comment on the bleakness of our times that I have almost come to the point of making just such a suggestion. From the humblest tailor in the shtetl to the court Jews... there have been errors in the Jewish way... But, taken all together, the nationhood is a landscape of incredible grandeur, and the culture itself, the more one knows of it, well, the more it shines with radiance."
After the Jews again feel alone and isolated, and turn and cry out to God, their gradual redemption can begin.
Stage 1 -- "I'll take you out...", is simply physical separation and departure from the unclean land, Egypt (see G.).
Stage 2 -- "I'll deliver you"..., may refer to Jewish inner liberation from alien values and perspectives; Jews begin to cut their ties with Egypt by putting blood of Egypt's silly sheep god outside on their door posts. True, the plagues got the Jews out of Egypt, but it's much harder to get Egypt out of the Jews-- cf. 20th century Secular Zionism and the Xmas tree and Sylvester parties at Heretical U..
Stage 3 -- "I'll redeem you...", may be the return to Jewish values (cf. the Hecht Synagogue and Jeff);
Stage 4 -- "I'll take you to me", is God's connecting us to Himself, to the essence and the purpose of reality, via His Torah; human potential can only be fully realized by union with its Creator. Finally, when we've straightened ourselves out, we're ready to build a model "kingdom of priests and holy nation" (Ex. 19:6) in the holy land.
Stage 5 -- "I'll bring you to the land"-- as Torah will then go forth from Zion and the word of God from Jerusalem (Is. 2) to the whole world, all evil will be gradually exposed and transformed into good, as redeemed mankind returns to itself and Eden.
Eugene Borowitz (How Can A Jew Speak of Faith Today?) posits that Jews never bought "God is Dead (God forbid!)" "theology", for there's no morality without Him, no objective basis for condemning Hitler and the Holocaust and praising Arye Levin, A Tzadik In Our Time; so Avraham tells Avimelech that he indeed expects the worst moral turpitude from advanced Philistine (Western) Civilization, for: "...there's no awareness of God in this place..." (Gen. 20:11). Unfortunately, Borowitz contradicts himself when he denies the existence of objective words and rules of God, assuming that all morality is subjective, flowing out of an undefined experience of God; it's indeed far-fetched to assume that God gives man objective insight into science, His manifestation in Nature, from grand principles to minute details, but ignores man's even greater need, an objective guidebook for his own conduct, as he/she's tossed to and fro by waves of primal drives and emotions. Rav S. R. Hirsch claims that we'd have to seek a God-given Torah to guide our free will, if we didn't already have one! No other detailed objective Divine guide to life exists.
Rav J. Soloveichik claims that modern Jewish man, e.g. Borowitz, apes Christianity in stressing only the emotional-aesthetic aspects of religion, not its equally or more significant "scientific" side, halacha. True-- great Torah scholars may indeed decide that a law's purposes will not be achieved in a given situation, and temporarily suspend it (see our Shoftim study); but this is no way resembles Borowitz's chaotic anarchic Reform Judaism, where whim or popular sentiment of ignoramuses determines law, even against basic Torah principles-- e.g. calling perversions "alternative life styles" today, and the early Reform rejection of our prayers and efforts to return to Israel and Jerusalem; Reform has few clear beliefs, e.g. unfeminine feminism. But there are signs of tshuva within Reform-- their rabbinic students must spend a year in Israel and they rejected Reform UAHC affiliation of a secular humanist "congregation" about a year ago.
FAITH & ACTION: Many difficult obstacles block each step of return. Man can redeem every realm, but only if he really wants to take, and takes, appropriate and effective energetic initiative-- "God, your Lord, will bless you (only) IN ALL THAT YOU DO (Deut. 15:18)"; but if one sits idle, God won't bless him (Sifrei). Jews who sacrificed and fought to rebuild the State of Israel, true Zionists, indeed had their prayers answered-- "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition". Their success, and that of the Jewish Labor movement, caused many to turn away from traditional Judaism, and its watered-down splinter movements, which offered little to solve Jewish national and social crises (J. Neusner); modern Orthodoxy tries hard to integrate Jewish tradition with full participation in today's world, the truly traditional Jewish approach, from Avraham to today, tho briefly interrupted by the distorted insular traumatic life of Eastern Europe. God's world contains cures for all diseases, solutions for all needs. When men expend intense effort to find them, they're revealed. Otherwise they stay hidden. There's enough food-- actual and potential-- for everyone to have lots of babies and feed them well. But mankind doesn't share food. Huge quantities are destroyed to keep prices up, as children continue to die of malnutrition (read Jean Mayer and Barry Commoner on this subject). So--
Rav Shlomo Aviner discussed Divine Redemption and Human Initiative in B'ahava Ub'emuna a year ago. He claims that the terms of nationalism, teshuva and redemption must be related to in their universal context, not merely in their narrow Jewish context. Jewish national redemption is a gateway to universal tshuva. Biblical heroes are constantly settling and developing the land, based on rational thinking and action, w/o relying on miracles. Rav A. Kook explains that we crept into an imaginary world while in exile, a dream world. Instead of acting, we dreamt (not necessarily derogatory-- the prophets dreamt true world-redeeming dreams). Rav Kook wrote: "The sleeping status of a living organism, more so in man, gathers all his powers within; logic does not act, the senses do not work... and the imagination runs w/o interruption... we slept a heavy sleep in exile; our national senses were hardly utilized at all; the tools of action and work, of logic and knowledge, in relation to the nation at large, had no purpose... amongst the masses, the imagination ran wild in a number of pleasant and bitter dreams". Aviner goes on to discuss how religious zionists avoided conflict between their practical action and their ultimate messianic dreams, either by separating the two, or by seeing our era as the beginning of the redemption.
Rav Kook viewed the Messianic process as a partnership between God and Man. The Divine course of events flows thru human causes. The source of redemption is the Master of the Universe, tho it appears thru us, and from within us-- and is happening now. Believing in the Master of the Universe is not an excuse for laziness. One must moisten the national revival with the dew of revival of sanctity-- this was Rav Kook's special mission, to inject a soul into the body of national revival.
So Rambam writes: "... Know, my masters, that no man should believe anything unless attested by one of 3 principles-- 1) rational proof as in math; 2) perception, by one of the 5 senses; 3) tradition, derived from the prophets and the righteous (cf. today's haredi weltanschauung-- `our grandfathers, especially "G'dolim" and rebbes, are always right'; cf. the Emperor's new clothes, Christianity; truly traditional Jews, e.g. Rashbam and Baalei Tosafot, constantly disagree with Rashi, their teacher and grandfather-- Rav M. Gafni)... some misguided people wrote 1000's of books on the subject (astrology), and many ignorant people wasted their precious years poring over them, mistaking vanity for knowledge, and ascribing consummate wisdom to their authors. There seems to be a chronic disease... to the effect that whatever is found in books is instantly accepted as truth, especially if the books are ancient... (e.g. Sefer Raziel Hamalach, and Rambam's own scientific works today-- see Dear Maimonides, written by Andrew Sanders in the beginning of his return to Judaism).
"Involvement in false astrological works, whose notions are essentially pagan, led to loss of our kingdom, destruction of our Holy Temple and extended the exile to today (an appeal to political Zionism?). Our ancestors... strayed after false notions... while neglecting the art of marital defense and government... all assumptions of astrologers, forecasting impending events, or determining one's destiny by the constellation at his birth, are irrational superstitions, devoid of any scientific basis;" Rambam adds that Greek and Persian thinkers never made the mistake of calling astrology a science, unlike Chaldeans, Egyptians and Canaanites; only simpletons and charlatans (Ibn Ezra too?) adhere to it, unlike valid scientific astronomy (Letter to the Jews of Marseilles, 1194, trans. by L. Stitskin).
Tho our sins destroyed our peaceful prosperous Israeli existence, God gave us natural military and political means to retain or regain our land; the huge effort and self-discipline involved (e.g. Tzahal) may itself induce repentance, curbing our wild egotistic fantasies of pleasure and power (cf. Oslo and our increasing awareness of the relationship between chemical unbalance and emotional disorder).
Yet faith is a prerequisite of sustained action-- one can't strive forward and sacrifice herself unless convinced of ultimate hope and purpose, that life is not in the hands of an abusive or oblivious God, that it is not just a big Darwinian-Freudian accident; the latter view leads one downhill into modern existentialist pessimism. Why bear children to have them cast into the river by the Egyptians? (or to wind up washed out in the hip drug scene of L.A. or T.A.?)
FAITH & ECOLOGY: Rav Berel Wein spoke on Jew, Trees, and Nature this week at The Israel Center; he claims that the basis of all ecology is the recognition by most religions, especially Judaism, that nature, including man/woman, is created by God, to be used, but not abused, by us, its custodian-- why respect that which ultimately is but a series of accidental mutations? Yet we must never worship nature itself, only the Creation, not the Creator, despite its sacred and awesome power and glory-- a message proclaimed by Israel every Shabbat. The Torah, God's guide for human behavior, does not attempt to teach us science, leaving that task for all mankind, using their God-given intelligence and the scientific method to gradually reveal more and more of God's wonderful world. Wein claims that two outmoded, dangerous and baseless doctrines of secular faith, Marxism and Darwinism, are responsible for much of what ails the word today. He compares Darwinism, even the New Darwinian Theory, to a slaughtered chicken, still writhing in its death throes.
But, as we showed last week, modern Darwinism is both very sophisticated and very alive (see Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden-- A Darwinian View of Life; yet it still seems far fetched to me, that only 1% of the species in the alleged evolutionary chain, 30 million out of 3 billion, have survived; indeed, if evolution is a very gradual accretion of minute mutations, there should be no species at all, only an almost infinite chain of growth from amoeba to man; thus we have not even 1%, but only the tiniest fraction of 1%, of that chain extant! A common designer, Body by Fisher, seems to be a much simpler and far more reasonable explanation of the similar, but increasingly complex, clearly defined species of biological life; a Cadillac is not an accidental mutation of a Chevrolet, not even of a Buick, despite their common denominators and design-- YF). Rav Kook indeed found in Darwin's vision inspiring scientific confirmation of the essence of Torah, asserts Samuel Hugo Bergman (in Faith and Reason-- Modern Jewish Thought):
"The separation of the world from God was brought about by Adam's sin. Man was caught in what Rav Kook calls the `net of forgetfulness'; he forgot his true origin as a creature and erroneously ascribed autonomy to himself and the world. Man's separation from God can be overcome by tshuva, repentance, Man's `repentant return'. There are two types of tshuva: tshuva can be general, involving the spiritual elevation and moral improvement of the world, or it may be the `return' of the individual, who seeks to improve and elevate his life. The repentant return of every individual affects the whole world; at the same time, every improvement of civilization, of the social and economic order, is part of the repentant return. Hence, tshuva is an act that has moral, religious, social and cosmic connections at one and the same time. `The power of tshuva in all worlds makes everything return and reunite with the full reality of divine perfection'.
"The return of everything to its Divine Source is the completion of the cosmic evolutionary process. Thus Rav Kook gives a cosmic-religious interpretation and endorsement to Darwin's theory of evolution, which, in his judgment, comes closer to the spirit of Jewish mysticism than any other concept developed by modern science. Rav Kook vigorously rejects the religious objections, which have often been raised against Darwin's theory, because of its seeming incompatibility with the account of Creation found in Genesis. He points out that even the ordinary man in the street knows that the creation story cannot be taken literally, and that it requires interpretation in symbolic and mystical terms to yield its mysteries (Orot HaKodesh I, p. 560). Like Darwin, Rav Kook feels that there is a force behind the evolutionary process, which pushes it ceaselessly forward. Unlike Darwin, however, who conceives the blind struggle for survival as the force driving all creatures forward, Rav Kook sees the moving force in the yearning of all that exists for the full discovery of God, and for the return to Him.
"Thus the world of reality is neither a blind mechanism, nor a lifeless machine, which is gradually winding down, until it will be arrested in motionlessness. The real world is full of light and life; it is not static, but dynamic; it is not standing still, but advancing, aspiring, filled with a drive for perfection. This inner current of creativity, which fills the world, unlike Bergson's elan vital, is not blind, spontaneous, undirected. For Rav Kook, the divine flow has purpose and direction; it derives from God and impels all creation onward and upward toward perfection and the reunion with God, as the final goal of human and world history.
"Man's yearning for God develops ever new forms... Rav Kook maintains that `there is nothing old under the sun'. Evolution is ascent, involving all creation. No entity can isolate itself from this ascent; everything strives toward the one great aim-- return to God. The whole of creation is an organic unit; one life pulsates in all reality. Dormant in the minerals, already awakened in the plants, fully alive in the animals, it pervades all reality, including men, despite their political and racial divisions, and even touches the angels on high. All creatures are fragments of the one world-soul, which is the source of all being and orders the world with wisdom. The higher the degree of evolution, the more does the organic character of the world become manifest; and the evolutionary process will have reached its goal when all men will unite their will with the will of God, and God's name will be acknowledged and revered in all the world. Rav Kook never tires of describing, in ecstatic and poetic language, mankind's hours of grace and fulfillment, when the separation from God will be ended and the whole of creation will be infused with God's light of holiness.
"Altho the whole of creation is an organic unit, man occupies a special place within the organic unity of all creatures. He stands in the center of the universe. The fact that the earth is only a tiny particle of matter in the vast expanses of the universe, which modern astronomy has been unfolding, does not detract from man's special position and `the centrality of his soul in relation to all being' (Orot Halacha I, 447). For Rav Kook, man is the center of the expanding, growing, aspiring universe. Man can dominate and shape the natural forces of his environment. Above all, nature lifts itself to ever higher levels thru man, striving, thru him and together with him, to come ever closer to its divine source.
"Man is not left unaided on his road to holiness and sanctification. He is guided by the inspiration of some rare individuals, men whom Rav Kook calls `princes of holiness' and `giants of faith' (adirei ha-emuna). Their personality embodies the spirit of holiness and, therefore, they stand in the very center of the cosmic drama of redemption:
"`There are giants of faith, great souls, whose actual attachment to God-- devekut-- is continuous. These men are the pillars of the world... Their merit has preserved wisdom for mankind and has transformed it into a living, beneficial force which enhances and enriches mankind until it will ultimately reach perfection' (Orot Halacha I, 354)"
BACK TO EGYPT-- Faith, Amidst The Birth of the Blues, Engenders The Birth of the Jews
Hope seemed absurd. Yet Egyptian Jewesses had great faith in the God of ultimate love and kindness, even before Revelation; they seduced their pessimistic husbands and continued to bear children (see Rashi Ex. 38:8). Suddenly, God appeared (6:2), telling Moshe that He Himself will intervene and redeem His people, as He promised the Patriarchs; He'll bring them up to Israel, where they'll establish a unique nation, based on His covenant-- God is Israel's sole true hope and source of survival-- yet they must act first.
Moshe & Aharon's initial efforts brought worse oppression, increased labor (as just before childbirth, a sign that redemption was near-- cf. The Shoah, just before The State of Israel); Israel gave up. God now orders Moshe & Aharon to start the fireworks-- 10 plagues-- to puncture the balloon of Egyptian culture and civilization. The Torah suddenly seemingly interrupts its tale with the genealogy of Yaakov's sons, abruptly stopping with Levi (6:14ff), whose descendants now lead Israel-- older Reuven & Shimon have been rejected by Yaakov (see our Vayechi study); Yehudah and Yosef's leadership is temporarily suspended, until Jews return to worldly life in Yehoshua's State of Israel; so the Jews were often led by other-worldly "Levi-like" rabbis, thruout their long diaspora desert; they could transcend the Exile's horrid stark realities only by escaping into eternity. In our Messianic return to a real State of Israel, however, our leaders should be more down to earth, like Yehuda and Yosef, beautifully combining Torah study with "the way of the earth" (cf. Motti Alon, Zvulun Hammer-- perhaps only rabbis who have served in Tzahal should be appointed chief rabbis in Israel today).
Levites Moshe & Aharon now take charge. If they still have any of Levi's wild angry aggressive energy, condemned by Yaakov, they use it to patiently fight Egyptian evil. Power's dangerous, tho exercised "in the name of God"; Levi overreacted-- first re Sh'chem, then re Yosef; zealous persecution of the infidel quickly shifts to one's own brethren, who dream different dreams; so Levi's descendants, Hasmonean priests, ruled Israel in God's Name; their non-Davidic royal dynasty deteriorated within a few generations, as they became corrupt egocentric power seekers, themselves neo-Hellenists.
Thus the Torah now reveals what it had concealed: in 2:l, an unnamed "man of Levi" took an unnamed "woman of Levi", fathering Moshe. They're now identified-- Amram, Levi's grandson, married his father's sister, Auntie Yocheved, Levi's daughter. This is a perversion, a prohibited Jewish marriage, per Lev. l8:l2, rendering any children from it illegitimate (mamzerim), tho not prohibited before Sinai's covenant; once God and Moshe gave Israel, chosen to become God's unique kingdom of priests and holy nation (Ex. 19:6), its special extensive laws of life, Moshe must tell the new Jews to "return to their tents" (Deut. 5:27), that they may continue such existing marriages (tho now prohibited) with close relations-- their new status is "converts", whose previous family relationships are legally irrelevant. Similarly, all mamzerim will be made "kosher" when God appears a second time and gives us the inner secrets of Torah and life (see Rav N. Lopes Cardozo's TOP video on "mamzerut"). Yes, even Moshe and Aharon need such a "skeleton in the closet" to humble them at the moment of their receiving history's greatest leadership task (see our Shmot study, Chizkuni).
Let's apply these eternal truths to Israel today. Political freedom, tho necessary to achieve our national destiny, is only a means. Our hope of thousands of years was not merely to be "a FREE people in our land", but also "a HOLY people in our land" (from TOP's IMPROVED HATIKVA-- buy and display our bumper stickers). We must expect and overcome terrible obstacles and setbacks on the long slow path towards salvation. The inner fortitude developed from this outlook kept us going thru 2OOO years of exile. May it also preserve us during the painful present beginnings of our Messianic national rebirth.
C. THE BACKGROUND, AND AN OVERVIEW, OF VAEIRA
Even Moshe bitterly complained to God about his initial setback, Pharoh's increased oppression of Israel; the Lord replied: NOW YOU'LL SEE WHAT I'LL DO TO PHAROH (6:1)... Because Moshe didn't transcend that sad moment in Jewish history, he'll die in the desert and not see Israel's future victories in Canaan-- Shmot Raba 5:23, reading "(ONLY) NOW...". Yet Moshe, despite prior reservations about his mission, now brings 10 plagues upon Egypt without hesitation, difficulty, or compunctions; pacifists encourage violence by letting evil run rampant (Oslo's Peace Plan?). But Rav J. Soloveichik doesn't view Exodus as Moshe's true mission; he only serves as God's messenger and plague-initiator. His own true "sign" or mission is to educate Israel, to get their hearts and spirits in shape for Sinai-- to worship God and accept His Torah, only 7 weeks after their escape from slavery (3:12); this task, as the Patriarchs', is no easy job-- it's fraught with continual frustration and heartbreak. The Rav adds that great accomplishment always requires great sacrifice; conversely, that which comes easy is worth little (cf. true accomplishments, e.g. marriage and child-bearing and rearing, mastery of Torah and nature, and aliya, with trivial achievements, e.g. gourmet food, a BMW, sport competitions, and high fashion). Many more folks will organize a charity ball for retarded kids than will help them brush their teeth, bathe and use the lavatory (Greer Fay Cashman).
D. A SYNOPSIS OF VAEIRA
THE LORD (of nature and justice) SPOKE (firmly) TO Moshe AND SAID (softly) TO HIM: "I'M GOD (of both empathy and transcendence-- Maharal; of intervening Providence-- Sporno). I APPEARED TO AVRAHAM, TO YITZCHAK, AND TO YAAKOV AS "THE ALMIGHTY POWER", BUT WAS NOT KNOWN TO THEM BY MY NAME, "GOD". INDEED I SET UP MY COVENANT WITH THEM, TO GIVE THEM THE LAND OF THEIR SOJOURNINGS AS STRANGERS... (6:2-4).
"GOD" denotes His fulfilling his promises, the "ALMIGHTY" His ability to EVENTUALLY do so. He laments the long-gone Patriarchs, who, UNLIKE Moshe, didn't question His promises of Israel, tho they never saw them fulfilled; they were but wandering strangers, at the mercy (or lack of mercy) of the Canaanites. So they never really "knew" (i.e. experienced) the name "God", though they heard it (Rashi; Gen. 15:7, 28:13). So today we see before our eyes the fulfillment of God's promises to revive the dry bones of Israel in Israel; but without the faith of our forefathers, who never saw it, we wouldn't be here (Rav S. Riskin). Ramban concludes that God didn't do unnatural miracles for the patriarchs; unlike Moshe, they only saw Him as the Almighty, solving their crises via natural means (cf. '48, '67). As Lord of judgment, God starts to address Moshe harshly, but then immediately addresses him mildly, revealing Himself as "God of mercy"-- He understands that Moshe's frustration stems from love of his and His oppressed folk (Alshich; per R. Akiva, Moshe couldn't accept the fate of Jews already immured in the buildings, despite his faith in God's imminent redemption-- Ex. Raba 5:22; cf. the Shoah).
So God continues: "And I ALSO heard the groaning of the people of Israel... (6:5); what is "ALSO"? While the simple meaning is that He's giving another reason for Divine Intervention, besides His covenant with the patriarchs, Chatam Sofer suggests that "I also" indicates that God responded to their misery only when they responded to each other's misery, despite their own pain (from B'ahava Ub'emuna, which still doesn't have an english title for their english study sheet). About a week ago, hassidic boys came to watch Jewish action videos in our center, instead of attending their Yeshivot-- they were the only Jews in these parts celebrating the Orthodox Xmas as "Nittel Nacht", by not learning Torah on Jesus' alleged birthday, that he not merit thereby! They cited the Chatam Sofer as a source for this bizarre custom!
Rav Gafni notes that one's theology and theodicy must never overcome his love and empathy for his fellow man; one who truly believes in God is truly troubled to the very core of his being, when he confronts a world so seemingly at variance with his conviction of God's justice-- so Avraham and Moshe plead for Sodom and the Golden Calfians. Gafni cites Psalm 44, where David protests that the Jews have done no wrong, despite their great suffering; but Hirsch interprets the Psalm as proclaiming Israel's residual faith in, and devotion to, God, DESPITE all their sins; thus they're not completely destroyed. Hirsch rejects simplistic narrow Bible critics, who refuse to acknowledge David's prophecy, and claim that the Psalm, reflecting Israel's exile, must have been written after its exile to Babylonia; he claims that the events described are indeed happening in our days, not in ancient Babylonia, so that we must interpret the psalm prophetically. One Midrash posits that THE ALMIGHTY (literally meaning "it's enough!") denotes God setting limits to nature and humanity; the greatest egotist is also bound by the limits of natural law-- e.g. sleep, illness, birth and death (see Rav Riskin, JP, 1/26/90).
God then promises Israel's 5-stage redemption (6:6-7 above), concluding... I'LL BE A LORD TO YOU. YOU'LL DEEPLY KNOW I'M GOD YOUR LORD WHO TAKES (present tense-- today too!) YOU OUT FROM UNDER "SIVLOS MITZRAYIM", THE BURDENS OF EGYPT (6:7; or FROM TOLERATING EGYPT-- Chidushe Rim in Sfat Emes 5636). The Jews, short of spirit and overworked, ignored the message. God then ordered Moshe to tell Pharoh, KING OF EGYPT, to send the Jews out! Moshe pleads that this will be futile AFTER THE JEWS IGNORED THE MESSAGE, and that he's inarticulate (6:12). Rav David Stavsky paraphrases for today's Jews-- "How can I speak to non-observant Jews about my faith, my belief, my God, my Torah, when I can't communicate with my fellow Orthodox Jews?... who wish to remain ignorant and unmoved... Synagogue leaders, in particular, dare not remain ignorant of the great treasure entrusted in their hands... only a knowledgeable Jew can be a truly committed Jew". God then sends along Aharon, commanding him and Moshe to order both THE JEWS AND Pharoh to remove the Jews from Egypt!
The Torah now gives a partial list of Yaakov's progeny-- the household heads of Reuven and Shimon's tribes are listed, including Shaul son of a Canaanite Ms. The family tree of Levi follows, Amram marrying Auntie Yocheved, siring Moshe and Aharon. Aharon's wife and sons are listed with the heads of Levite houses. We're then told this is THE SAME MOSHE AND AHARON, whom God appointed to take the Jews out of Egypt WITH ORGANIZED GROUPS, who SPEAK to Pharoh re exodus, and who ARE(!) MOSHE AND AHARON (6:26-7)! The extensive Levite family is portrayed to show that Moshe & Aharon are human beings, developed in an extended family setting, not gods: "a Levite MAN took a Levite WOMAN" (2:1; Hirsch); so Miriam, not yet a leader, isn't mentioned. Per Sporno, Levi, who overcame his sin, religious over-zealotry, and produced great descendants, is next in line for leadership-- Reuven and Shimon, declared unfit by Yaakov, produced no one of greatness, and don't even merit a distinct share in the Land (Shimon's scattered, Reuven's in Jordan). So only Levi's descendants, embodying his good traits, are called his "generations (toldot)", not just his "families" (6:14-19; cf. the recent discovery of the lack of the YAP genetic marker in 98.5% of Aharon's descendants, the cohanim-- see JR, 1/23/97; JP, 1/2/97). Only Amram, Aharon, and Elazar have children born "to them"-- to continue their greatness (6:20-5; cf. Gen. 41:50).
As we resume our saga, GOD AGAIN SENDS MOSHE TO PHAROH; AGAIN MOSHE PLEADS INCOMPETENCE. God tells him he'll be as the Lord to Pharoh, and Aharon will act as his "prophet", to convey his messages (God speaks TO a prophet, not from WITHIN his own ecstatic soul-- Hirsch, vs. Borowitz above). God will do wonders and finally take His army, His people, the Jews, from Egypt with great judgments. Egypt will really know God, when the Jews are taken from THEIR MIDST. Moshe's 80, Aharon 83; tho old, ready to retire, even in those days of longevity, both undertake God's mission with renewed zeal (Sporno); per Ibn Ezra, only they start to prophesy in their old age and transmit the eternal Torah; other prophets simply reprove and predict; cf. A PRAYER OF MOSHE-- Ps. 90:10: THE DAYS OF OUR YEARS IN THEM ARE 70 YEARS OR, WITH GREAT EFFORTS, 80-- see Ibn Ezra ibid. Per Yev. 64b, David, not Moshe, wrote this verse; per Strashun, B.B. 14a, young Moshe wrote this psalm and other works to inspire the oppressed Jews.
God gives them a sign for Pharoh-- a stick which turns to a snake when cast before him; this is replicated by Pharoh's professors of magic, tho Aharon's reconstituted stick swallowed theirs! Pharoh remained obstinate-- God told Moshe to GO to him IN THE MORNING DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE, with the rod (not to fish!). He's to warn Pharoh that the Nile will turn to blood and stink from dead fish. Aharon hit it, affecting ALL extant bodies of water in Egypt, after Pharoh ignored God's demand-- that the Hebrews leave to worship Him. Pharoh's magicians used magic too-- perhaps they were able to change the bloody mess back into ordinary water. Otherwise, we must say they got used to it-- we have no record of Pharoh even asking Moshe to change the waters back.
Moshe shouldn't strike the river which once saved him! Tho the river probably has no feelings, his sense of gratitude would be weakened were he to do so; so we cover the challot when making kiddush, not to "embarrass" the bread-- we mustn't, even inwardly, slight bread, a necessity, for wine, a mere luxury, reversing our sense of priorities; bread, of course, has no feelings-- Rav J. Soloveichik. Pharoh remained stubborn and went home. The Egyptians had to dig 7 days for clean water (did they make the Jews do it?).
God then told Moshe to COME TO Pharoh and warn him that God orders him to free His people to serve Him; otherwise, the plague of frogs will come. Aharon stretches his hand over the waters of Egypt, upon Pharoh's non-compliance; Egypt's then inundated with frogs-- when the magicians try to remove them by copying Aharon's actions, more come up (Hirsch).
THE FROG (singular) CAME UP AND COVERED THE LAND OF EGYPT (8:2)-- R. Akiva said that one frog bred prolifically and filled the land. R. Eliezer b. Azaria told him to stick to his halachic expertise, e.g. leprosy signs, and avoid interpreting agada-- the true meaning is that one frog croaked for the others to come! This discussion, amidst Roman persecution and Bar Kochba's rebellion, suggests a veiled attempt to discuss the origin and nature of evil, e.g. Roman, societies. Does an evil charismatic anti-semite, e.g. Hitler or Luther, arouse hatred of God and/or the Jews in "civilized" German society OR does the corruption and perversion of such a seemingly civilized society (cf. "Cabaret") automatically find such a leader to express its sick soul (cf. Elvis, Madona, Israel TV)?
Pharoh promises to send the people out to SACRIFICE to God, if Moshe & Aharon pray to God for the frogs' departure. Moshe tells him to set a time and frogs will then remain only in the river! They agree on the morrow-- Moshe CRIES TO GOD and the frogs die on schedule, piled up in stinking heaps. Pharoh, relieved, hardened his heart and ignored Moshe & Aharon, as God predicted. Then God told Moshe to tell Aharon TO STRIKE dust of the earth, filling Egypt with lice on man and animal. Moshe owed a debt of gratitude to the earth too, and shouldn't strike it-- it concealed the Egyptian, whom he killed. The magicians told Pharoh this was GOD'S FINGER! Pharoh never seeks relief from the lice; they apparently became part of Egypt's lousy scene (cf. Israeli ganim). Pharoh hardened his heart and wouldn't listen, just as God predicted.
God told Moshe TO RISE EARLY IN THE MORNING and stand before Pharoh, AS HE GOES TO THE WATER; His message is: "Send forth My people and they shall worship me" (alien cultures keep Jews far from God). Otherwise all Egypt will be filled with AROV, meaning either flies or a generous assortment of wild animals-- except for Goshen, where the Jew's STAND (a miracle!); thus Pharoh will know that GOD is in the MIDST OF THE LAND.
After that plague, Pharoh tells Moshe & Aharon to go to sacrifice to their Lord IN THE LAND (of Egypt-- 8:21). Moshe tells him it's impossible-- the Egyptians will stone them for sacrificing Egypt's revered animals; they must go 3 days into the desert. Pharoh agrees, but tells them not to go far and asks them to PRAY for him. Moshe agrees only to raise his hands toward God, enough to insure departure of the xarov tomorrow; he no longer CRIES OUT-- perhaps he feels less empathy with Pharoh, as Pharoh's stubbornness increases. He warns Pharoh not to renege, once relieved, but he does. Then God told Moshe to COME TO Pharoh and to pass on again God's order to let the people go away to worship Him (God's now called "the Lord of the IVRIM"). Otherwise, all NON-JEWISH Egyptians' animals will be plague-stricken; so it happened; Pharoh checked it out, but did nothing. God then told Moshe & Aharon to take a handful of soot; Moshe should throw it into the sky in front of Pharoh-- dust will fall, causing boils or sores on man and beast, throughout Egypt. Egypt's magicians, also attacked, couldn't even stand before Moshe. GOD STRENGHTHENED PHAROH'S HEART and he ignored them (cf. Saddam Hussein).
God then told Moshe to get up EARLY IN THE MORNING, STAND BEFORE PHAROH, and tell him that God, LORD OF THE HEBREWS, orders him to let His people go to serve Him. Otherwise, He'll send all His plagues (referring to the death of Egypt's firstborn?) against Pharoh's very heart and all his people-- then he'll really know there's none like God in the whole world! He's only survived that God may proclaim His strength and fame.
"HAIL, HAIL, THE GANG'S NOT HERE..." An extraordinary hail, the likes of which Egypt never saw, will wipe out all humans and animals outdoors. Some of Pharoh's servants, who had God-awareness, brought their animals and servants inside; only those inside were spared, besides Goshen, as the hail, mixed with fire, destroyed all vegetation. Pharoh called Moshe & Aharon and told them: "I SINNED THIS TIME! GOD'S THE RIGHTEOUS ONE & I & MY PEOPLE ARE EVIL! Pray to GOD! Enough Divine thunder and hail! I'll send you out without delay!" Moshe acquiesces, but tells Pharoh that Egypt still lacks God-awareness. He again only lifts his hands to God, to halt the hail. The wheat and spelt, late bloomers, hadn't yet been destroyed. Pharoh continued to sin when he saw that Moshe had stopped the plagues; he and his servants HARDENED THEIR HEARTS. The Jews again weren't sent out, just as God predicted.
E. FIRST THOUGHTS
PONDER the words in CAPITALS or bold; they suggest ???, e.g.: Why are the Jews themselves commanded to take the Jews from Egypt (6:13)? When does God take the Jews out of THE BURDENS OF EGYPT, & when out of SLAVERY? If God "hardens Pharoh's heart", why punish him? Why make so many drawn-out plagues? Are there "plague patterns"? Why mention Aharon & Eliezer's wives? Why give the Jews a message they ignore? Why's Pharoh down at the riverside early each morning ("going out to the waters")? Is Egyptian magic real? Why doesn't Pharoh kill Moshe & Aharon? Does God ever judge Egypt's gods as He said He would? Were the Jews now in Goshen? Who are the Ivrim? Why does God speak of WORSHIP, and Pharoh of SACRIFICE, to God?
F. SECOND THOUGHTS
The JEWS mustn't put their fellow JEWS "back into EGYPT", enslaving them (identifying with the oppressor), after Exodus. Jeremiah (34:13) rebukes them for violating GOD'S command at Exodus-- to release Jewish servants after 7 years. We find no such verse, except 6:13, where Moshe is ALSO to tell THE JEWS to take the Jews out of Egypt!-- Meshach Chochma; he claims that the Torah now focuses on Reuven, Shimon, and Levi, as these were free and wealthy tribes in Egypt-- they too owned Jewish slaves, whom they now had to free. Per Rashi (6:13), God now tells Moshe HOW to address Israel and Pharoh in order to take the Jews out of Egypt-- the former with gentleness and patience, to overcome their fears of escaping their masters, the latter with respect and dignity; so great Rav Advocate Moshe Rosen dramatically improved Communist Romania's Jews' conditions and brought most of them to Israel, acquiring international respect and aid for Romania in the process (see Diaspora, H. Sachar, 356f).
Perhaps God just "strengthens Pharoh's heart" enough to enable him to retain free will, DESPITE the plagues. The plagues are spaced to help Egypt repent. Per Abarbanel, each set of 3 plagues has a pattern: #1 is preceded by warning to Pharoh at his nature god, the Nile, which he claims to have created. God shows him that only He truly controls nature, of which Pharoh himself is but a part. #2 is preceded by a warning in Pharoh's palace; God's also the sole ultimate power in man's societal organization-- KING OF KINGS OF KINGS. #3, bodily affliction, occurs w/o warning-- only God determines man's unknown fate and future. The greatest of men can only function as their unpredictable health permits. The mnemonic note of the groups-- DATZACH, ADASH, BACHAV-- was allegedly inscribed on Aharon's stick; the 10 plagues and Aharon's transmutable crocodile stick were "the wonders to be done before Pharoh" (4:21, 7:8); Moshe's other signs of leprosy, bloody water and his convertible snake stick were to be performed only before Israel (4:2f; Ex. Raba 5:6-- see Rashash, Radal). Tho preoccupation with their suffering prevented the Jews from heeding Moshe's message, it entered their souls, preparing them for Exodus-- so may our seemingly ignored messages enter our teenagers' hearts (R. Bachye says that they do, despite their protests)!
Tho Egypt's old black magic is real, it can't match Moshe & Aharon's Divine magic. A. B. Yehoshua shows how the plagues destroyed the credibility of Egypt's gods, e.g. the Nile, Pharoh and frogs (see Jacobson, Meditations on the Torah). Aharon & Elazar's wives are mothers of great children, unlike Ms. Moshe. Pharoh relates to God only as a power to be placated, not as the source of life's meaning & purpose. Via hail, he momentarily realizes not only the danger, but that he's on a WRONG path (9:27; cf. Ps. 24 re levels of God-awareness; a recent e-mail Judaism & Psychology group discussed the effects of early and later environment upon faith). Per Ramban, Ivrim are Canaanites, who spoke Hebrew, Ivris. Perhaps Moshe & Aharon were too popular among the Egyptians, for Pharoh to kill them and spoil his USSR-like simulation of decency. The Jews may have been re-ghettoized in Goshen, under the new Pharoh, after they spread thruout the land-- cf. the German Nazis. God now miraculously redeems the Jews at their nadir, as he did to Yaakov, who completed the gradual deterioration in the patriarchs' status-- Avraham was a prince, Yitzchak persecuted, and Yaakov a serf in Aram, later dying in Egyptian exile (Hirsch).
G. THE HAFTARA, EZEKIEL 28:25-29:21 to here
Blessed be Egypt, My people, and Assyria, My handiwork, and Israel, My inheritance (Is. 19:25).
Y'chezkel predicts a later destruction of Egypt, by Nevuchadretzer of Babylon-- after a 40 year exile, Egypt will return, tho it will be a lowly nation; but God will fully restore and purify the land and people of Israel. God's response to Egypt's continuing boundless corruption also teaches Israel that faith in anything other than God, e.g. Egypt, will ultimately let them down (cf. falls in Israel's unofficial currency, the $, the "god In Which Many Trusted". Rav A. Y. Kook prophesied and warned that Britain would lose her empire for fighting Israel's return to Israel); Israel shall know God, their Lord, when he brings them back to Israel and destroys their surrounding enemies; they'll then be able to pursue and fulfill their Divine mission as a "KINGDOM OF PRIESTS AND A HOLY NATION" (19:6) in peace. Perhaps peace is conditioned upon their accepting their Divine Mission; otherwise, it may be but a prelude to assimilation into the Middle East.
H. EGYPT, MITZRAYIM, IN JEWISH TRADITION
There is no nation so despised of the Holy One as Egypt (Zohar, 1278, Ex. 17a).
Our first encounter with Mitzrayim is Cham's son, Mitzrayim, in Gen. 10:6. He is Noach's only grandson whose name ends with the masculine plural IM. All his sons' names are similar: LUDIM, ANAMIM, L'HUVIM, NAFTUCHIM, PASRUSIM, KASLUCHIM, FROM WHOM "WENT OUT" P'LISHTIM AND KAFTORIM (10:13). All of these names denote ugliness and corruption (Shmot Raba). Except for two of Yavan's sons, KittIM and DodanIM, no name of Noach's many other great-grandsons has such an ending. Perhaps Mitzrayim's tragic flaw and unconquered temptation is a world view of PLURALITY, LACK OF CONNECTION, as opposed to a holy holistic perspective of UNITY, of ONENESS. This leads to Egypt's chief corruptions-- idolatry and promiscuity; the former views the world as directed by competing non-integrated forces, and the latter separates body and soul in human relationships-- sex becomes a snack, rather than a way to enhance Divine intimacy and ultimate human unity, via family. So the rabbis teach that PlishtIM and KaftorIM WENT OUT from the other tribes, being the product of wife-swapping and incest, yielding to the cheap sensuality of their cursed ancestor Cham.
Ibn Ezra and Ramban ascribe the plural ending to nations stemming from these individuals, who simply took their names. But why would such a style of nomenclature prevail only among this group? Also the descendants of Canaan, whom we do know of as nations, do not bear this suffix-- they all end with "i": the Y'vusI, the AmorI, the GirgashI, etc. (10:15-6). Mitzrayim IS indeed a plural nation, comprised of two distinct parts-- the desert-like North, called LOWER EGYPT, and the fertile South, called UPPER EGYPT, among other names; for many centuries, these were separate kingdoms. The root of the name, Mitzar (Misr in ancient Semitic languages), denotes narrowness, affliction and entrapment, all of which characterize in many ways (hence the plural suffix) Egyptian society, as depicted in Exodus. The rabbis indeed said that MITZRAYIM generically describes all kingdoms which AFFLICT Jews (Lev. Raba 13:4; thus Isaiah predicts that God will redeem the Jews who are "pushed down in THE LAND OF MITZRAYIM (Egypt)" in the Messianic era; tho few Jews are left there, Iran and Syria would be today's MITZRAYIM. Similarly the other group, "those lost in the LAND OF ASHUR (Assyria)", aren't the few Jews left there today, but the many lost, assimilated, Jews in the Western lands of ASHUR-- happiness and prosperity, e.g. the USA, England and South Africa.
Going from Gen. 10:13 to 13:10, Lot picks his real estate in exclusive Peyton Place Jordan Plain: "...ALL WELL WATERED... AS THE GARDEN OF GOD, AS THE LAND OF MITZRAYIM" (cf. pre-war Berlin). Per Exodus Raba 18:6, this was a reward for Egypt's future good treatment of Yosef and Yaakov (cf. England's Balfour Declaration); when Egypt turned around and abused their descendants, God then turned their land into a desert-- EGYPT SHALL BE A DESOLATION (Joel 4:19; cf. the late British Empire's White Papers, The Exodus ship). So God PASSES THRU, i.e. REVIEWS, the land of Egypt. The Garden of the Lord was praised for its trees, Egypt for its down to earth cereals-- the Jordan Plain had both (Gen. Raba 41:7 on Gen. 13:10). Israel gets its water directly from heavenly rain, Egypt from flooding of the muddy Nile (Sifre Shlach 115).
I. THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC
Who practices magic will be harassed by magic (Levi, Ned. 32a).
KESHAFIM (magic) is part and parcel of Egypt's close connection to earthiness; it counters the plans of the "Divine Family" of heavenly agencies (Rashi; e.g. bringing death to those destined for life-- cf. the uses of science). First century scholars often referred to Egypt as homeland of the magic arts. 10 KABIM OF MAGIC DESCENDED TO THE WORLD-- EGYPT TOOK 9, THE REST OF THE WORLD 1 (Kid. 49b-- Israel took 90% of wisdom, Jerusalem 90% of beauty, and women 90% of chatter!-- all positive?). THERE'S NO MAGIC LIKE EGYPTIAN MAGIC (Ad'RN 288-- cf. "there's no business like show business..."). Ben Stada smuggled out this occult lore, via incisions on his flesh; he was eventually executed on the eve of Pesach for enticing the Jews to idolatry (see uncensored editions of Shabat 104b and San. 67a; some, as Herford, equate him with Jesus-- per Derenboris, this view confuses him with a similar 2nd century false prophet, born of the adultery of his mother Miriam). The Talmud discusses magic in San. 67b. A Jew who practices true magic (as that of Egyptian magicians, in replicating the plague) incurs the death penalty. Illusory magic is merely forbidden; yet magic shows are performed in traditional venues, e.g. NCSY, when they're understood to be only sleight of hand. Rav Grossman denies that he permitted the NCSY disco, an effort to bring Russian youth closer to Judaism.
J. WHITE MAGIC
Who abstains from magic is closer to God than angels (Ahaba b. Zera, Ned. 32a).
But using God's own formulae for Creation, embodied in Sefer Hayetzira, is perfectly OK, at least according to the kabbalistic tradition! The text is engraved on Moshe's Divine rod, per tradition. R. Chanina and R. Oshaia studied it each eruv shabbat, creating a third grown calf for their shabbat meal (cf. the Golem)! Malbim so explains THE CALF THAT AVRAHAM MADE, which could thus be served with milk! Black magic, however, can't deal with small entities, such as lice, leading the magicians to exclaim: THIS IS THE FINGER OF GOD! (R. Eleazer ibid; R. Papa claims that they don't even CREATE bigger items, only gather them together magically). Everything in Alexandria was suspect of being created magically, dissolvable in water; the Jews in this huge assimilated community were likewise steeped in the occult (cf. some Southern Californian and Australian aboriginal cultures-- see Labumore Elsie Roughsey's An Aboriginal Mother Tells of the Old and the New).
K. THE MORAL
Pride in religious activity affects people more readily than all other injurious influences (Bachye, Chovot HaLevavot, 1040, introd. to 6).
I am glad that I am guilty of some sins, else I might be guilty of one of the greatest sins of all-- conceit (M. Hurwitz, Imre Noam, 1877, 4b).
In GROWTH THROUGH TORAH, Rav Zelig Pliskin derives morals and life messages from the Torah. He quotes Rav Chayim Shmuelevitz-- the rabbis explain that Pharoh relieved himself only early in the morning at the Nile, to preserve his image as a god without normal bodily needs; people who seek honor do so, even tho it leads to irrational, even insane, behavior. Imagine how much discomfort Pharoh suffered to keep up his facade of being a god. Each day he suffered. He gained very little. He already had unlimited power. He just got a bit more honor at a very costly price. How do YOU (or I) cause yourself needless suffering by seeking honor and approval? So many sacrifice so much to conform to the latest "fashion", arbitrarily dictated by superficial shallow souls. The Dutch soar above the rest of Europe with sensible, comfortable and individualistic garb, often bought at street corner used clothing stands.
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