DEDICATION: To my husband Bill, may his healing be full and complete.
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WOW -- it has been the longest break in writing these divrei that I have taken since I started this practice. For those who don't know what happened, my husband was hospitalized at the end of December and was very ill. I almost lost him. Fortunately, he is doing much better and is recovering. He was recently released from the hospital and appears to be making progress every day.
While I still studied, I was too distracted to put much of what I was doing into one of these divrei. (Plus I don't have a laptop and there was no computer in his hospital room).
I am working at getting things back to my "normal" crazy pattern and getting back on track for this year. And it has been an interesting time, as well. We just got our furnace repaired yesterday (yes, it is below freezing in Ohio) after being without a furnace for more than two days. Another lesser excitement was a blown tire (I was doing 65). I now have four relatively new tires on my little van (two were bought right after the last flat and the other two just now).
So, it has been an interesting time -- I do understand the curse of "may you live in interesting times". And so I think of the Talmud class where we talked about suffering and the Rabbis who became ill said that the Holy One could keep both the suffering and its rewards. And the answer of those attending them was Shamati -- I hear. Because that, in the end, is often all that any person CAN do. And I want to publicly thank EVERYONE that took the time to listen to me, especially in those deep days around the secular new year when I was hurting the worst, or to read my short and terse emails.
I would also like to apologize to anyone that had a weird or short call or email from me as I tried to keep up with the electronic beast. My tone was not your fault -- it was a reflection of where I was at the time.
One thing I have learned from this time and that is how wonderful the people are with whom I work and study -- THANKS! You have been a comfort.
I wonder who comforted whom in the days of the Parsha? Who could Moshe call when things weren't going well? How about Pharaoh? How about all of the people who lost a first-born child? With so much going on, how did people cope?
How do we cope when the world becomes dark and plagues are everywhere? Torah says that the Holy One strengthened Pharaoh's heart against them so that B'ney Yisra'el could see the Wonder and the great Power of the One.
1. Parsha details: Gen 44:18- 47:27 [Haftorah Ezekiel 37:15-28 ]
2. Questions and a few observations
Summary: The Parsha concludes the plagues: Locusts, Darkness and Death of the First Born and the first Pesakh (pass-over offering). And the drama continues. Moshe and Aharon and Pharaoh go through their diplomatic dance and the first Pesakh and the B'ney Yisra'el leave....
These last plagues and the political dance between Moshe and Pharaoh are so similar to the various conflicts/violence we see all over the world, still. In many ways, we have not learned much. We have not learned that we are ALL the same.
We are rapidly approaching the holiday of the New Year of the Trees. Trees came before us and are ALSO alive and also suffer the plagues. Now they surely didn't have hard hearts. And neither did the animals that lost their first-born. Torah doesn't make a big deal about animal emotions, but I can tell you that the dogs in my house are very subject to the emotional array that we deal with.
One of the dogs in my house, LB, could be described, perhaps, as a bit slow. She certainly does not appear to guess/learn new things as quickly as most, but she does learn things in time. She is also very timid and was probably in a home where either she or small children were abused. At one time, she became pregnant and had two puppies. As luck would have it, we managed to find homes for these adorable puppies very quickly and both homes wanted the puppies as soon as possible, so we placed them both on the day they turned eight weeks. The puppies appeared happy with their new homes, but LB was devastated. The grief she felt as she caved into herself was SO PALPABLE we vowed NEVER to do that to a mother that way again. We could do NOTHING to comfort her except hold her close to us -- it was days before she would even eat.
I have also seen fear, anger and love expressed both between dogs and between dog and people. So if dogs can be like this, it goes without saying that people are also subject to these emotions. Only we're supposed to be smarter.
So how do we take the lessons of something like the this Parsha to our children that they can truly learn the lessons here? Can we teach them that political gaming and posturing always hurts everyone? At one point Pharaoh's servants turn to him and say "Do you not know yet that Egypt is destroyed?" And that was before the locusts and the darkness and the death of the first-born.
But was Pharaoh to blame? Didn't the Holy One say that his heart was "hardened" (made heavy, strong would be a better translating, I think). Can you read this account and not also see how Moshe and Aharon are almost baiting Pharaoh into a stiff posture where he could not back down and "save face"? Now perhaps this was not hard, probably wasn't.
How do we look at those on "opposite sides" of issues important to us and NOT "other" them into "wicked Pharaohs"? Was there a way that B'ney Yisra'el could have left Mitzrayim on peaceful terms? Perhaps, but not with where our heads were at back then.
Back then, we had to be "expelled", spit out of Mitzrayim so that we could be born into a people -- we had to have NO CHANCE of going back to Mitzrayim if we were going to do the difficult "growing up" that our people needed to do before we could enter the land. And even with all of this stuff, the yearning to go back to Mitzrayim will keep raising its head whenever the going gets a little rough.
So we had to be so odious to the Egyptians that they left us no choice but to leave quickly and fully "in one night".
What is it about us that makes it virtually impossible to open to the One before we and those around us are brought to such low places? Why do we keep making it necessary to bring low both ourselves and others so that we can see the Wonder of the One?
We are told that the Holy One chided the angels who sang at the sea because the Egyptians, also God's children, had to be destroyed to save B'ney Yisra'el. I challenge all of you to take this Parsha and read it as an Egyptian.
We are all vulnerable, we all hurt, and we all suffer, and we are all loved. And we can all be hardened, blinded and angry. If we take just a little time and attention to notice the Wonder of the One today and tomorrow, does that mean we can move one step closer to peoplehood with a little less damage to the rest of the universe?
3. Some Observations
Pharaoh is personally and egotistically involved in the dance with Moshe and Aharon. His servants and the people have no problem with B'ney Yisra'el, and yet Pharaoh does. We get some insight into his view from chapter one (v 9,10) where Pharaoh says: "Behold, the people of B'ney Yisra'el are more and greater than we; Come, let us make ourselves wise with them; lest they multiply, and it may happen, that, if any war is upon us, they will join our enemies, and fight against us; and then go out of the land." And so he puts in measures designed to weaken the people (killing sons, leaders, etc)
He is already afraid that B'ney Yisra'el will leave, and with us, the taxes and services we gave to the government (him). Tradition teaches that we were quite "assimilated" and quite wealthy -- that would fit Pharaoh's concerns. We must still have had a strong sense of separateness and "Yisra'el" or Pharaoh would not have called us a people. The threat we represented was a loss of income because we would not accept the burdens as necessary and "part and parcel" to being under Pharaoh's rule/protection.
We are part of Mitzrayim and not. That is always our history and always perceived of as a threat. I was listening to a son of a Jew raised in Poland -- he wanted to revive the Jewish community in Poland because it was "home" to him. We have always had a place in our hearts for the Land, we have also called other places home -- even when that place considers us 'other'. Of course, this brings to mind a Soviet (1972) immigrant I knew in Jerusalem. He often complained that in the USSR, all his life he was a "Jew" and now, in Jerusalem, he was a "Russian". I wonder which he called home.
And what have we learned? Have we learned how to make the Light shine from Tzion with a New Light? We certainly have a spot light on how we do things in the Land right now. Have we learned how to make it envelope everyone in a way that all can hear the word of YHVH? Can we even demonstrate that we hear it? Perhaps that is why we need to tell ourselves at least twice a day to hear it and to love.
Maybe if we do listen and hear and take it in, the darkness whereby people do not see each other will leave and we will no longer be sacrificing anyone's first-or-other-born. May I hear it just a little clearer each day. May it never be necessary that someone else suffer so that I can see the Wonder and the outstretched arm of the One.
4. Balancing Expansion
This week is about Balancing Expansion. The kindness that flows from the balancing of strength and grace. The very essence of the One's being, where love is knowing that too much of either extreme is not key. It is the glorious view of a purple violet blossoming on a grass-covered hill.
So how can plagues be so beautiful, loving and soft? Isn't this Parsha about God's strength and outstretched arm? Only so long as we look only to the heavens for the answers. For the violet blooms on the grassy hill and can only survive there when we do not tread on its fragile petals. And even its petals are held together in delicate balance within a green cup of protective leaves. Held strong against the winds and nourished from inside in the life force that keeps its own little fire burning without consuming it.
And so we can chose to look only to the blue skies for an answer and we will see the plagues -- or we can choose to look for the expansion that is balanced in how we and others grow together and among ourselves. And within our own Self.
1. Darkness: Sit in a dark room or outside on a dark night. Put a thick cloth over your eyes so that you cannot see anyone else. Feel the darkness as it surrounds you and penetrates you. Quiet yourself and your inner self and just feel the darkness and the isolation. Listen to and feel your breath as it enters and leaves you. From that quiet, dark, alone place, feel the fire of the One glow deep inside. Focus on that fire and notice the warmth it spreads throughout you. Let it grow to light you from inside until it brightens every part of you. When you can no longer contain that fire and light, remove the cloth and notice the Wonder of your breath.
2. Green: Look outside at the winter day. Look for a bit of green and then for another. Notice all the green things, even on a winter day. Imagine a world without any green. Thank the One for green. Do the same with purple and then other colors. How bright and colorful the world is, even on a winter day.
3. Other: Imagine the face (or look at the face) of someone with whom you have had a disagreement. Notice their eyes and their nose and their mouth. Can you smell the smells they are smelling? Can you taste the things they are tasting? Can you see the things they are seeing? Can you feel the feelings they are feeling? Can you see that they are also loved and have hurt? Can you see the Spark within them and how it and your light up so much more when they are held close together?
ADS: ALEPH -- the Alliance for Jewish renewal. www.aleph.org If you aren't a member yet, please give very serious consideration to joining. The magazine, New Menorah, alone, is worth whatever you give. (Plus it helps pay for the rabbinic program where I am studying!)
You can order the Torah Cards and my jewelry through Mercaz at (216)595-0707 -- ask for Larry)
There are many traditional interpretations of the parsha that I neither talk about nor mention. That is done from a position of space. I trust that the average reader is either familiar with these or can find many of them easily in other commentaries readily available.
Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part. If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!
And to the people giving me feedback thank you so much! I enjoy all of it. (Including the typos) You have made this weekly practice wonderful.
(c) 2001 Candy Lobb All rights reserved