“Parsha and Purpose” – Va’era 5782
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha
“Sacrifice Comes Before Success”
Parshat Va’era (Exodus 6:2 -9:35)
“Sacrifice Comes Before Success“
In this week’s Torah portion, as Moshe begins to take on the mantle of leadership, he is told by God, ‘I am going to redeem the Jewish people’.
And God uses four statements of redemption [Exodus 6:6-7] –
“Ve’hotzeiti” – I will take them out.
“Ve’hitzalti” – and I will save them.
“Ve’ga’alti” – and I will redeem them.
“Ve’lakachti” – and I will take them as a people.
Each one of these statements is a redemptive process on its own. As the Jerusalem Talmud says, “Arba Ge’ulot” – “four redemptions”. [Jerusalem Talmud, Pesachim 10:1]
Therefore, each one of these statements represents a different experience on Passover night.
The first cup of wine, “Ve’hotzeiti” – a person can only sanctify something if they themselves are free, and therefore the first cup of wine is connected to Kiddush, the sanctification of the moment.
The next cup of wine, “Ve’hitzalti”, is focused on telling the story of the Haggadah, of the Redemption, of how the Jewish people were saved.
The third cup of wine is connected to Birkat Hamazon – “Ve’ga’alti” – because Birkat Hamazon is all about redemptive experiences that happen to the Jewish people, and therefore it is connected to the statement that focuses on redemption.
“Ve’lakachti” – and God announces that He will take us as a people. The final experience on the Haggadah is the singing of Hallel, celebrating the unique relationship that God has with the Jewish people.
Yet, there is a very unique halacha that is found regarding the four cups of wine, that is only found with one other mitzvah, and that is, unlike any other mitzvah, be it matza, be it tefillin, whatever positive mitzvah you can think of, there is no obligation to go into debt, or even to spend your last penny, to fulfill the commandment.
A person has to borrow money, and we have to be willing to give that person money to fulfill the obligation. That is not true when it comes to matzah or any other positive mitzvah, but these four cups of wine require sacrifice.
And the reason for that is because they represent sacrifice.
They represent the initiative of the Jewish people to go through the redemption process.
God doesn’t redeem us alone; God needs us to be involved in the redemption process.
The United States Army may have opened up some of the concentration camps, and to that, especially as a child of a survivor, I am indebted to them forever.
But at the same time, it is those who walked out of the concentration camps or were carried out of the concentration camps, who were willing to sacrifice to begin lives again, and to build again, that that also needs to be celebrated – the willingness to sacrifice, to be redeemed.
Therefore, baked into this mitzvah is the requirement to borrow, to sacrifice for the four cups of wine, because it represents sacrifice.
This is an extremely important message for us. Because the bottom line is whether I’m interested in improving my spirituality; If I’m concerned and I want to improve my family, or my mental health, or my physical health – none of those things happen on their own – they happen only with sacrifice.
Anything important requires sacrifice.
Therefore, etched in this mitzvah that celebrates redemption is the recognition that sacrifice is necessary to achieve greatness, and therefore this mitzvah requires sacrifice, even if that is necessary to fulfill it.
Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Va’era (Exodus 6:2-9:35) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –“And I will bring you into the land that I promised to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you as a morasha (heritage): I am the Lord.’” (Exodus 6:8) It is only natural for parents to want to leave a …
Was Pharaoh Really Denied his Free Will? Adv. Tamar Oderberg is a legal advocate at Yad La’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt” (Shemot 7, 3). These words evoke immediate astonishment, as they seem …
“Parsha and Purpose” – Va’era 5781
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha
“Our Role in this World: Creating Light and Magnifying God“
“Our Role in this World: Creating Light and Magnifying God“
What is the role of the Jewish People in the world? What is the significance of our existence as a people?
This week’s Torah portion, Va’era, begins with a perplexing conversation between God and Moshe that I believe will help us understand our role and our relationship as a People with God.
“וידבר אלוקים אל משה ויאמר אליו אני ה’ וארא אל אברהם אל יצחק ואל יעקב בקל שקי ושמי ה’ לא נודעתי להם” (שמות ו, ג)
“And אלוקים, the God of power, spoke to Moshe and He says to him I’m not just the God of אלוקים, of power, I’m also YKVK, an intimate God and I have appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with the name קל שקי but the name of YKVK I have not made known to them.” (Exodus 6:3)
What does this mean that he has not made the name YKVK known to them? It was written no fewer than 144 times in the Book of Bereishiet, and is actually used several times by God in communicating with our Patriarchs!
What is the message that God is communicating to Moshe?
I’d like to offer the following approach.
Throughout the first book of the Torah, the Book of Bereishiet, the focus of God’s relationship is with individuals; Adam and Chava, Noach, Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Yaakov and Yosef.
These individuals all have a personal relationship with God.
However, in this week’s Torah portion, we find a transition to God having a relationship with the Jewish people.
When God states ושמי ה’ לא נודעתי להם, I have not made the name YKVK known to them, He means, “Until now I have never revealed Myself to a nation. Until now, I’ve only had an intimate relationship with individuals.
Now, the paradigm is now changing, as we see in the continuation of the verse:
“וְגַם הֲקִמֹתִי אֶת בְּרִיתִי אִתָּם”
“And I also established My covenant with them,” I want to engage with the nation, to set up My covenant with them. Exodus 6:4
It is in this week’s parsha that God informs Moshe that His own presence is linked with the actions and destiny of the Jewish people.
The Talmud tells us when the Jewish people are in exile, when the Jewish people are suffering, that God imposes suffering also upon Himself – the concept of “שכינתא בגלותא” – that when the Jewish people are in exile, God is in exile as well. Megillah 29a
But the flip side is also true: when the Jewish People create light in this world through the observance of the mitzvot, then God’s presence is magnified!
Rav Kook ztz”l commented on the fact that God is already whole and is therefore unable to grow. He explained that God exists simultaneously in two paradigms: He is, on the one hand, whole and complete. But at the same time, when the Jewish People develop and actualize their potential, His presence is more profoundly seen in the world.
This week we learn that we are an extension of God, created in His image with the capacity – and responsibility – to create light that empowers both ourselves and God.
Shabbat Shalom: Va’era (Exodus 6:2 – 9:35) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel -“But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh” (Exodus 9:12) One of the more difficult theological problems raised in the book of Exodus is precisely this verse, in which the Bible declares that it was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart to be impervious …
“Pharaoh, Frankl & Maimonides: Choose Your Way”Viktor Frankl, a psychologist and therapist, wrote books that are considered to be among the most powerful works of the twentieth century. He lived from March 26, 1905, to September 2, 1997, and survived at least four concentration camps. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, pp 65–66 he wrote:
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom.”Frankl is talking about what our rabbis called bechira chofshit: free will. In this week’s parsha, Parshat Va’era, God tells Moshe something extraordinary. “VeChizakti et lev Par’o,” “I am going to harden Pharaoh’s heart.” He is not going to allow you to leave Egypt of his own free will. Maimonides, in his eight-chapter introduction to the six chapters of Pirkei Avot asks this very question. “How can Pharaoh be held accountable if he lacks free choice? How can a person be punished if he cannot determine his own actions? “ His answer: Pharaoh was not punished for refusing to free the Jewish people once God hardened his heart. All of his punishment, including the hardening of his heart, is due to his criminal acts. He lost his ability to choose because of the way he interacted with the Jewish people prior to that point. The loss of free will, the loss of his humanity, was the first stage of his punishment. Free will is what makes us uniquely human. If we act inhumanely, we lose our ability to make moral choices. Our humanity becomes eroded. Viktor Frankl, a concentration camp survivor, reminds us that whatever challenges we face in life, unlike Pharaoh, God does not harden our heart. Even if we have health challenges, financial challenges, familial challenges, we can decide how we respond to the crises and the opportunities in our lives. Parshat Va’era reminds us that the greatest gift that God has given us is free will. Not even God can intervene with that. Viktor Frankl realized that, while the circumstances of our lives may sometimes be beyond our control, our response to them is our own choice, and, please God, let us engage and face our challenges in a way that will truly celebrate the greatest gift that humankind has, the gift of free will.
Parashat Va’era: The Plague of Boils (Shechin), the Book of Job, and an Ironic Allusion Rabbi Shmuel Klitsner is the chairman of the Susi Bradfield Institute for Halakhic Leadership at Midreshet Lindenbaum, and lecturer in Bible and Philosophy of Halakha. The plague of Boils (Shechin) appears thirteen times in the Tanach, in various passages. Five …
Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Vaera (Exodus 6:2 – 9:35) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – What makes Moses Moses? He is certainly the consummate prophet, the man of G-d whose vision of ethical monotheism was expressed in a moral code of law which commands to this very day, more than 4000 years later. He is …
Parashat Vaera: Nature, Human Nature and the Power of Flexibility By Rabbi Shmuel Klitsner, Chairman of OTS’s Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership At times, difficulty in interpreting a specific issue in the verses of the Torah can allow us to explore a broader issue in Jewish teachings on life. I feel that this …
This week’s “Shabbat Shalom” has been dedicated in memory of Florence Bryskin, Tziporah bas Mayer Yitzchok on the occasion of her yahrzeit – 22 Tevet Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Va’era (Exodus 6:2-9:35) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “And God spoke to Moses and said unto him, I am the Lord, and I appeared unto …