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Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

Jewish Economics 1.01

Is charging interest moral? Is it economically sound? 

The Torah prohibits you as a Jew from charging a fellow Jew interest on a loan. However, if you do, the money is yours to keep. The point is that if you decide to return the interest, not only are you not obligated to do so, you cannot. You can “gift” it, but not “return” it. 
 
The obvious question is, why? Isn’t loaning money with interest good for business? (We are not talking about loan sharks.) With an interest-bearing loan, both parties agree to the terms – happily. So why does the Torah prohibit such an interaction?
 
Charging interest makes business sense. Since there is nothing wrong with doing so purely from a business perspective, we can extrapolate that the money actually belongs to the lender. 
 
However, from a spiritual perspective, everything that belongs to us, all that we accumulate, has come into our possession for a reason. Nothing happens by mistake and we have to be a good steward with our possessions. 
So although we are interested in making money with our money, there is a law that tells us not to charge interest. This law comes directly from G-d – which isn’t to say that the money does not belong to us, because it does - but for another reason: G-d wants us to be good stewards of the money entrusted to us. Are we willing to help those who are less fortunate than us? As a favor, and not as a business transaction?  If we turn a loan into a business transaction, that is our choice, and the profit is ours. But the opportunity to help our fellow Jew was missed.   

How to Have a Meaningful Day

Some days we jump out of bed with alacrity and on others we need a crane to pull us out of bed. This may be due to the fact that some days we are going to work, while others we are vacationing in the most exotic place on Earth. Perhaps our work is so fulfilling and we love it so much we jump out of bed every day, and while we are at work we have so much stamina that we don’t get tired, and may even forget to take a lunch break. The question is, how do we motivate ourselves on a regular day to give it all that we can to make it fulfilling?

Interestingly enough, this week’s Torah portion starts off with a double usage within the same sentence of the word “say” (something to the Priests). This double use of “say” regards the Priests who served in the Temple, telling them that they should know the laws of how to serve. Yet, Rashi (the famous commentator) interprets the double expression to mean that the elders should teach the youngsters not only how to serve, but to do so with alacrity. The question is then, why does Rashi conclude that it means the elders should teach the youngsters? Maybe it means that the elders themselves should be excited about their own work?

 
We know people whose nature is to always have a jump in their step, always excited to see what the day will bring, always looking for adventure. In general, this is how the Kohen, the Priest behaves (at least in the Temple). In order to guarantee that this kind of commitment and emotion is transferred to the next generation, it is incumbent on the older generation to teach the next. 
 
Children don’t learn on their own, they are taught. We are duty-bound to teach the next generation. When we teach others to put excitement into every step, to be committed to the job that they do, even if it seems to be ordinary, we, too, will gain from that and have a meaningful day.
 
 

Elijah’s Cup

At the Seder table we follow many traditions, several of which are steeped in biblical sources. Others are designed to pique the children’s interest so that they ask questions, which gives us, the adults, opportunities to teach them, as the Mitzvah of the evening is “to teach our children.” One such custom is to drink four cups of wine, representing the four expressions that are mentioned in the Torah, referring to the exodus from Egypt.  However, looking closely at the verses, we actually see five expressions! Why then don’t we drink five cups of wine? 

I can see the scholar within you scratching your head, thinking this must be a debate in the Talmud. You are correct! It is. The compromise of the Rabbis is to fill the fifth cup of wine and sing praises to G-d over the cup of wine, just as we do with the other cups. However, we are not to drink the wine, since the particular verse refers to the ultimate redemption in the future, (entering the Land of Israel), not to the immediate redemption that the Jews were experiencing at the time (leaving Egypt). 
That still leaves us with the question, where does the name “Elijah’s Cup” come from? 
There is a “traditional answer” and an “inspirational answer.”
We have a tradition that whenever there is a question in the Talmud for which we don’t know the answer, the question stands, and we just say “let’s wait until Elijah the Prophet comes with Moshiach, and he will answer all of our questions!” Hence the nickname, “Elijah’s Cup.”
However, this is a bit of a depressing take on the issue. A more inspirational way of looking at this is, let us fill a cup of wine for Elijah to come to our home to usher in the era of Moshiach. This is more exciting, and keeps the kids awake looking at the cup wondering, “can we see Elijah take a sip of wine?” Will this year be the final year that we have to say “Next year in Jerusalem!?” 
Elijah’s Cup changed over time from a question mark to an exclamation point. 
May you have a meaningful Passover. 
Shabbat Shalom 

  
 

Moral Intelligence

There was a big story in the news this week about how the rich were scheming in illegal ways to get their children admitted into the top universities by bribing sports coaches, administrators, SAT officials, etc. 

Let the legal authorities deal with the legalities of the case. My concern is with the kids. What is the message that they received from their parents? What was the “moral education” that they received? Any “higher” education that they will get at any of these top “VIP” schools has been undermined by their parents’ lack of moral behavior – that they were being taught, and definitely learned. Why bother to invest all this money in an education that will not produce a mensch?

This week we start a new book of the Torah, the third book, and many might say, the most boring of the Five Books of Moses, because it lacks the drama of creation, the turmoil of the Jews in Egypt, the challenges to Moses that occur in the Sinai desert, etc. What is discussed in the book of Vayikra, the book of Leviticus, is sacrifices. Sacrifice is a difficult concept for many to relate to. Why did G-d want to have an animal burnt on the altar? What kind of barbaric behavior was that, let alone think that we will do that again one day with the coming of Moshiach? Why should we even spend time learning about it over and over again every year?  Let us just skip book number three. 

Well, my friends, we must answer this question with another question. What makes sacrifice even more interesting is that the Torah says the sacrifices produced a “pleasing” aroma for G-d!  Really? It is one thing to say that G-d gets pleasure from watching us do what he wants – even if it has no meaning to us, whatsoever. But to say that G-d enjoys animal sacrifices and that it is “pleasing” to G-d is ludicrous! What is that supposed to mean?! 

The answer is that we are missing the point; we are putting the emphasis in the wrong place.  G-d knows how uncomfortable we are bringing an animal as a sacrifice. No one wants to do it, including G-d. So why does He ask it of us? G-d wants to see if we can reach deep into ourselves, find that “animal” within us and make a mensch out of it. Can we “sacrifice” our ego on the altar? Can we put our need to send our children to a “VIP” school aside if they cannot earn admission on their own merits?  If we can, then even our “animal” is a pleasing smell to G-d. We don’t need to offer gold and silver. Being rich and famous is useless to G-d if each one of us is not a mensch. Better to be a pleasant-smelling “animal,” a humble mensch, than a stinky cheater.

When we teach our children moral intelligence, it is a pleasing aroma to G-d. The greatest university is right in our own home. That is, if we are not afraid to say the “G” word. When we talk about G-d, when we say blessings on our food, when we elevate the “animal within us” to a higher level and transform ourselves – and those around us – each to become a mensch, we create a pleasant aroma for G-d.    

Action vs. Intention


Often, I am asked what matters more, when I do a Mitzvah with all its details, even if I don’t have the right intention, or if I do it partially, but I have the right intention? 
 
To rephrase this question and put it in perspective: Which is more significant: if I buy a full bouquet of flowers even if I don’t care for half of them and my heart is not in it, knowing my wife would appreciate the whole bouquet, or if I buy just a few well-selected flowers, and though the bouquet is not as big, the few flowers that were chosen are meaningful to me? 
What carries more weight, the action or the intention? 
 
Let’s try to glean some insight from the Torah.
 
In this week’s Torah portion, Moses counts the silver and copper that was donated to the temple. The gold was not counted, however, because once Moses proved that he was trustworthy just by counting the silver and copper, G-d ordered Moses not to count the gold, and the Jews trusted him. 
 
There is more to say on this subject but not for now. 
 
The interesting thing about how the donations were counted was that it was done by weight, not by value. This is fascinating, since one might presume to pay more for a designer piece of jewelry than for a block of silver. So should a donation be considered more valuable if it is a designer piece of jewelry vs. a block of silver—even though they both will be melted down? From an accounting perspective, the bottom line, they are equal. So why did Moses take an accounting by weight and not by value? 
 
From here we learn a fascinating lesson: It is the action that counts, even more than the intention. It is the silver itself that matters, not the artwork, the design, or the intention – the kavanah – that went into the work. Yes, of course all that matters, as that is the icing on the cake. However, what really matters is the essence of it all, and that is the cake – the giving itself.   
 
Imagine you promise a child that you will give them a prize for learning well and getting a good mark on a test. Then when they succeed, you tell them that you “intended” to keep your promise, and you have all the right intentions, but you didn’t act on it. You failed the child. If however, you come through on the promise, even if you were not in the mood to go to the store to pick up the promised gift, the child is still in seventh heaven. Why? Because your actions speak louder than anything else. 
 
There is no question that when our actions mesh with our intention, we have the best of both worlds, and that is what we strive to achieve. However, we have to remember that it is the action that always is more important. 
In modern times this is called “behavior therapy.“ In the Torah it is called, “behaving like a Jew.” 

How to Educate a Child

When it comes to education, there are many theories on best practices, such as how to talk to children, what to say, and so on. Having a preschool at Chabad, I am privileged to witness on a daily basis our teachers talking gently to the children. Not just to the older children, who can talk back and clearly understand what the teachers are saying, but even to the little ones.   

One day I asked Devorah, why do the teachers talk to the little babies telling them what they are going to do, as if they understand every activity that is being done? Devorah explained the reason behind this behavior to me by saying that education is not just about the big things in life, but even about the little things. Focusing on the child as an individual, a world all their own and truly inherently good. An educator’s job is not to change the child but to help them channel their inherent dispositions and personality to be their best selves. It is about “anchoring” a child with a positive disposition and attitude. Immersing and surrounding them with love, kindness and respect which builds a foundation for the rest of their lives. When speaking to a child using a calm and gentle voice, explaining to them everything that is being done to them, the teacher is not talking down to them, but bringing them into the “tent” of learning and experience.
 
Although this made sense to me, it didn’t sink in fully until I learned in this week’s Torah portion about the courtyard walls surrounding the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Torah tells us that the beams were held up with strings tied to anchors, but it doesn’t say whether the anchors were weights that sat on the ground, or were posts sunken into the ground. Rashi infers that the anchors were sunken into the ground. The reason for this is to teach us that even the outermost part of the Mishkan has to be well grounded. There is no part of the Mishkan that can be overlooked.  
 
If we look at a person as a mini-temple, a mini-Mishkan, the lesson is clear. A baby has to be educated to its fullest capacity; there is no part of its education that should be left out, or just sit on the surface. All aspects of their education have to be tended to. Education should be anchored, so that the full benefit of the experience can be taken in.   
Such an education doesn’t stop with the young as a child matures. Attention has to be given to all of a child’s needs, even external ones, since every need is an important one. 

Being Connected

We are people who are moved by visuals. That is why one of the most effective teaching tools is show & tell, using such aids as handouts or books. In business we know that a face-to-face meeting is always better than a phone call, and even more so than just an email. That is why it makes a lot of sense to us that Moses would ask G-d – in this week’s Torah portion - if he can see Him. However, G-d responds with an emphatic, “no!” and goes on to explain why: “No one can see me and live.” However, G-d does show Moses his “back.” 


What does it mean that G-d shows Moses his back (does G-d really have a face and a back)? Rashi, the famous commentator, posits that this means that G-d showed Moses the knot for his Tefillin that sits on the back of G-d’s head. 

Wait a minute: If G-d doesn’t really have a head to begin with, how is He wearing the Tefillin with a knot that Rashi is referring to? 

What is a knot?
 
A knot, by definition, is something that causes two objects to become connected.  Although they might seem to be two independent objects, once they are knotted together they become one. 

Moses did not want to see “G-d’s face” just out of curiosity. Moses wanted to confirm the deep connection that the Jewish people have with G-d. Just like when we look someone in the eye we can see if there is a real connection or not as we are visual people, it is hard to feel this connection by just learning the Torah; we want to see “G-d’s face.” 

However, G-d responded to Moses, “You cannot see my face, but I want you to know that you are still connected to me. See, here is the ‘knot,’ that connection, that you are looking for.” 

There are times in our lives when we are looking, searching, to see G-d. Where is His face? We cannot find Him. We need that confirmation. Then G-d appears to tell us, and tells us, “You will find Me in the knot of the Tefillin.” In the actions that we do, in the Mitzvot that we do, we will find ourselves bound up with G-d. This is what really makes us connected. 

Stronger Together

This week we saw something very interesting in the news. The slogan “Stronger Together,” a unifying message from Hillary Clinton’s campaign, was adapted/borrowed/stolen by President Donald Trump. 

A slogan that was meant to unify the nation, ended up pulling us apart. 

Regardless of your views on the matter, whether this is an infringement on trademark law, a compliment to Hillary, or a sign of true unity, is not for me to say. What I do find fascinating is that this week we also note the concept of “Stronger Together” mentioned – in a more important place than the media – in the Torah. 

This week’s Torah portion talks about the clothes of the High Priest: On his chest he wore a breastplate  made of twelve precious stones, each stone engraved with the name of one of the twelve tribes. The breastplate was held in place with strings. Another set of two stones that sat on each shoulder also had the names of the tribes engraved on them, six on each side.  

The question is: In what order were the 12 tribes listed? Jacob had four wives. Were they listed in the order of birth based on their mothers or based on their father? 

This is not a trivial question. The answer has a lot to do with how we are viewed. Are we made up based on our essence, our nature, which comes from our “father,” the seed? Or are we who we are based on how we developed, our nurture, which comes from our “mother,” the nine months in the mother’s womb? The role of the parents, nature and nurture, continue as a child grows up, but what is the stronger unifying factor? 

We are “Stronger Together” not when we choose the mother or the father, one or the other, but when we realize that we need both.  

That is why it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that looking for the answer as to the order of the names on the stones, we have two opinions because we need both orders, nurture and nature!  

How can we reconcile the two views? Perhaps the nurture order could be worn on the shoulders, and the nature order worn on the breastplate.  

We can be stronger together without arguing. 



Do We Need Synagogues?

There is a lot of chatter in our Jewish community today about how to “measure” one’s involvement in Jewish life, as will be evident in the questions and focus groups of the upcoming Jewish community population study, or as it is being called, “Community Portrait.” Is our connection with G-d a personal affair, such as a family experience that is celebrated at home? Or is it a community connection, such as an event celebrated at a synagogue? Or all of the above?

In this week’s Torah portion the verse says that “They shall make for Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell amidst them.” However, the question is, now that the Temple is no longer standing, what does the verse mean?

We can explain this verse in a few ways.

1-     In Hebrew, the verse says amidst “them” when it should say amidst “it” (the singular, meaning within the Temple). From this we learn that G-d’s presence should rest within each and every one of us.

2-     The verse comes to include even the “mini temples,” i.e., synagogues (hence the plural).

3-     The holiness of the Temple Mount remains, even after the Temple’s destruction.

Based on the first explanation, clearly Judaism starts with us. We must bring G-d into our lives, and into our homes. Our lives and our homes should be infused with Judaism. But we shouldn’t stop there. Once we are living a “Jewish life,” we should want to share it with others. We want to celebrate what we know, what we love, and the joy that we find in our lives with like-minded people. This is done in the “mini-temple” called a synagogue.

In Hebrew, a shul (synagogue) is called a Mikdash Me’ot, a miniature Temple, meaning that although it is not as holy as the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, it does carry a certain aura around it, a holiness, that our homes do not have. That is why it is not enough to celebrate Judaism in our homes, all alone; we go to shul as a community to celebrate together. So, the shul is a tool for us to  strengthen our Judaism, and then bring that strength home, and continue building on it at home.

So we have a cycle. We start with ourselves, it spreads to the family, it spills over to the synagogue and to the whole community, and we bring it back home. And it starts all over again.

May we merit growth in our Judaism and in our connection to G-d, and the verse mentioned above should be fulfilled: G-d will dwell in our midst. G-d should be part and parcel of our lives.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Shaya Deitsch

 

Would you sell your dog?

Would you sell your dog in order to save money?

Let me spell out the hypothetical: Your dog becomes dangerous, biting people and damaging goods. The law in Judaism is that if an animal gores three times – after the owner has been warned each time to watch the animal, yet it became uncontrollable – the owner must pay full damages. Yet the first two times, the owner only pays half the damages.
However, if a person sells their animal so that now it is in a new owner’s hands, the law reverts back to a “natural” statute and the animal is not considered dangerous any longer.
 
In essence, you are not selling your dog to save a few dollars, but to save your dog from having the “title” of a “wild dog,” at the expense of losing ownership. Sometimes, out of love for your animal, it is worth giving up ownership so that you can protect the animal’s dignity.
If the dignity of an animal can be reversed, how much more so can the animal within each of us be reversed!
 
It is explained in Chasidic philosophy that each and every one of us has two souls, a G-dly soul and an animal soul. At times our animal soul can get “out of hand” and must be given away. In practical terms this means that we can transform our “animal soul” into a more G-dly soul by pressing the “reset” button.
 
Perhaps we cannot just “give away” our soul … but we can put in the effort to better ourselves and to utilize our time and energy on good things, even holy things, especially when our animal soul comes knocking.
 
Shabbat Shalom.

The Most Famous Father-in-Law

There are times when it is easier to be a Jew and there are times when it is more difficult to be a Jew.  That is why when one decides to join the Jewish nation, on their own volition, we ask the question: 

Why? 
When times are good for the Jews, when Jews are successful and popular in the world, it is easy to understand why someone might choose to become part of the Jewish people. However, at such times as when Jews were slaves, are persecuted, or are downtrodden, why would someone want to become part of our nation then? 
 
True, we have the Torah, the wisdom of G-d, insight into so many worldly matters, a G-dly perspective on things, and so on, which is all fine and dandy. Don’t get me wrong, I find Judaism very meaningful in good times and bad. Yet for people to choose it on their own is a whole other story. Something must motivate them to do so, and when things are tough, there is good reason not to put themselves in such a situation, to get ridiculed by their friends and family, etc. So why would they choose to follow G-d?
This is the question that bothers us in this week’s Torah portion.  
Moses’s father-in-law, Yitro, is a well-known idol-worshiper. Yet he drops everything – his prestige, his place of honor among his community and friends – to join the Jewish people, a nation of recently freed slaves. Why? Because he heard about a few miracles that G-d performed for the Jewish people? 
 
There must be more to the story.
 
It was not just the miracles that impressed Yitro – yes, they were impressive – but as just mentioned, there is still good reason to stay far away from the Jewish people. What impressed Yitro was the underlying message that the miracles revealed! 
 
Yitro noticed that G-d was empowering the Jewish people to make a difference. We have the ability to uncover the truth, to transform the world and elevate it to a higher and more holy place, to a level that it cannot reach on its own. How can we figure it out? By searching for the truth, we will find the answers.  G-d started the process by splitting the sea, once the sea opened up, we could find the hidden treasures—all that we had to do was to look to discover what was there. Once the secret riches were revealed to us, even after the sea returned to its natural order, we would still have the power and ability to uncover the secrets of the universe. This was appealing to Yitro. It was the same with the war that they fought against Amalek, when Yitro saw the way that they won: He noticed that it wasn’t the power of the soldiers or the ammunition that they carried, but the inner desire to win. 
This transformative ability that exists within each and every one of us is what Yitro saw: For Jews possess the ability to lift themselves up above the foray of politics, of distractions, of the nuances of life, and have the ability to change themselves and to change the world. This is what ultimately makes Judaism attractive to the first convert to Judaism and to every one of us. 

Manna from Heaven!

 The Jews who ran out of Egypt barely had time to make some dough and definitely didn’t have time for it to rise; hence, we have Matzah. But as time went on, they got hungry so G-d provided them with Manna from heaven. Every day they were supplied with one day’s worth of provisions.

 

However, something interesting happened on Friday. They were given a double portion and told that on the next day, Shabbat, they would not receive any Manna from heaven, as Shabbat is a day of rest, “a holy day.”
We don’t have to be scholars to know that the Ten Commandments, which includes the law, “Thou shall keep the Shabbat holy,” was not given for another six weeks, which was seven weeks after the exodus. So why withhold the Manna from the Jews now?
 
It is understandable if things changed after the giving of the law at Sinai, since then we were commanded to rest on the seventh day, but why rest before there was a law requiring the Jews to rest?
 
Therefore, we must say that the idea of resting on Shabbat – law or no law - was an integral part of the Manna.
 
The whole purpose of the Manna was to make life easier for the Jews. They could have traveled to the cities and towns close by to purchase supplies and make food. However, G-d wanted them to have a spiritual experience while in the desert, to not have any distractions from the outside world, so that they could focus on what really mattered. Shabbat is a time of rest, a time to rejuvenate our lives. True, the commandment was not given yet, but G-d had a plan, and he wanted the Jews to put on their training wheels, to get in the zone and start dedicating the seventh day of the week solely to G-d. Not even to go outside and collect Manna.
 
Observing Shabbat is a humbling experience, as is eating Manna. That is why G-d wanted them to keep Shabbat even before the commandment was given.
 
Please click here to see Adam Neuman, co-founder of WeWork, talk about what Shabbat means to him. 
 

Make It Real

When it came to the Ten Plagues, one would have expected the plagues to have been just that, plagues that caused damage to the Egyptians. After all, they were the ones being punished for treating the Jews so harshly.

 
Which makes us wonder about the plague of darkness.
 
A-     How bad could it have been? Every night it gets dark, so it was dark for three straight cycles of 24 hours. It was bad, but it was not destructive.
B-     Why does the Torah have to point out that it did not affect the Jews? Why should we think that it would?
 
Therefore, we must come to the conclusion that there is a deeper message here. 
 
On the surface, it might not have been so “painful” for the Egyptians. However, the Torah is telling us that the Jews were able to see, not only in their homes – that is obvious – but also in the homes of the Egyptians. They didn’t take anything at the time; they just looked and inquired of the Egyptians to know what kind of valuables they had so that when they would leave Egypt in a few days’ time, they could come back and ask for “payment” for all their years of slavery. For the Egyptians to sit there in the darkness and have the Jews snoop around was very painful.
 
This in and of itself begs the question, if the Jews already walked into the homes of the Egyptians, why didn’t they just ask the Egyptians for their payment on the spot? Just taking it would be stealing, so they would have to ask. Why come back at a later date?
 
From here we learn a fascinating lesson that applies to us today.
 
G-d wants us to do a Mitzvah through natural means.
 
If the Jews had taken their payment through a miraculous act, such as during the plague of darkness, then they would be fulfilling G-d’s prophecy to Abraham, that the Jews will leave with “great wealth” not through natural means, which in return would not last. However, when we do G-d’s will naturally, it also lasts. 
 
This is why see throughout Jewish history stories over and over again that although G-d could have performed a miracle, He doesn’t and instead He gives us the opportunity to do the right thing in a natural way. 
 
This way, it is real. 
 
 

How to Influence People

There are many books written about the tricks of the trade of how to influence people. On the surface, it sounds so fake, selfish, and self-serving, like all you want out of the relationship is something for yourself. You want the other person do to what you want. 


But is that really the meaning of “influence?” 

Many people ask this question about this week’s Torah portion, which talks about the story of the ten plagues, and G-d hardening Pharaoh’s heart, making him stubborn and not allowing the Jews to leave Egypt. Was Moses trying to “influence” Pharaoh to let the Jewish people leave Egypt? At the same time, G-d was heartening his heart? What kind of game was going on over there? 

True influence doesn’t come when it is forced on someone, when you make someone do something because you are more powerful than they are, or because you are paying them to do something. 

For example, when you tell an employee, a loved one, or even your attorney to do something for you, if the person doesn’t believe that it is the right thing to do, even if they do it, they are doing it half-heartedly—unless they are convinced, because you influenced them, that that is the right approach. That is why you want to learn how to influence. This is not because you are selfish, because if it were just for selfish reasons you could get them to do it anyway, but because you want the act to be meaningful, and to be done with a full heart.  

The same is true with Pharaoh. G-d could have forced him to allow the Jews to leave Egypt. He could also have just taken the Jews out of Egypt against Pharaoh’s will. Yet, that was not the plan. G-d wanted Pharaoh to want to let the Jews out of Egypt. This way the evilness of Pharaoh would be broken down and not come back to hunt down the Jews. This is a transformation! It is not an easy path, but a path worth taking. 

This is why there is so much advice on how to influence people and to make a change in their lives. Not because you can force them to do what you want. But because you don’t want to force anyone into doing anything. You want them to do things willingly. And happily.

A Healthy Society

So here we go again—Israel has called for early elections. Not since 1988 has Israel’s government served its full term! Now that is what we call a functional government (I am being sarcastic, of course. And we thought that the U.S. government had issues!)

I get it. It is not easy to have all parties from the left to the right on the same page all the time. But to have a government fall apart time after time seems to be excessive.  
 
I am not a political pundit. I should know better and just stick to Rabbinics and not try to understand politics, let alone Israeli politics. So I will do just that and share with you an insight from this week’s Torah portion that perhaps can be enlightening for today’s politicians as well as all of us. 
This week we learn about the famous episode when Moses was still known as a prince in Egypt, not yet as the future redeemer of the Jewish people. He was living in the house of Pharaoh when he observed one Jew hitting another Jew. When he rebuked them, they responded to him, saying, “Are you going to kill us as you have killed the Egyptian?” (Prior to this event, Moses had defended a Jew who was being excessively beaten by an Egyptian and killed the Egyptian. Although Moses should have been respected by the Jews, he was still viewed as an outsider.) 
 
When Moses heard this response, Moses said, “Oh my! ‘The incident’ has become known.” The simple meaning of the verse is that the killing had become known and that soon enough even Pharaoh would hear about it. Hence, Moses left Egypt and went to Midyan, married Tzipora, and didn’t return until G-d sent him back to redeem the Jews. 
 
However, the Midrash teaches us a deeper message here. Moses was saying, “Oh my, listen to the way the Jews are talking badly between themselves about other people. This, in and of itself, is a reason for them not to be redeemed! Why are they doing this? Don’t they realize that the only way for the Jews to win over their enemies is if they stand together? The minute they start talking badly about each other – even about me, an outsider - they are tearing apart the fabric of the Jewish people! There is no way they will come out of this mess. They must unite first.” Moses was afraid that G-d would make the exile harsher, as they were undeserving of redemption. 
 
Eventually, G-d appeared to Moses and convinced him that the Jews were finally worthy enough to be taken out of Egypt and brought to the Promised Land, and that Moses would be the leader to do so.  Moses declined the offer, and it took G-d a week (according to tradition) to convince Moses to take on this job. Then, when Moses went to Egypt to persuade Pharaoh to let the Jewish people go, instead of receiving a resounding yes, in return he got not only a resounding no, but even stricter decrees against the Jews. Moses started to think back to the days when he was a prince. “After all these years, do the Jews still not deserve redemption?” He turned to G-d, totally confused. “I thought you said that you will take the Jews out of Egypt. What is this all about?” To this G-d responded, “Yes, the Jews are deserving to be taken out. … This is just part of the process.“ 
 
The lesson we take from this episode is how important it is to be careful about what comes out of our mouths. We might not agree with everything that our friends and family think – especially when it comes to politics –  and that is ok. However, it is a whole different story when one speaks badly about another person. When we talk negative talk, evil talk, we break down our society and nothing good can come from that. 
Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year.

 

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