At the pinnacle juncture of the creation story, God states what seems to be a flaw ‘…it is not good for man to be alone’, and at that time, woman is created to be man’s ezer k’negdo or ‘helper opposite him’. Embedded in this strange contradiction in terms, and hidden behind the different names used to describe man throughout the story of creation (adam, ish), are profound paradigms for all humanity. Within the story of the creation of the first human beings, the iconic Adam and Eve, lies a blueprint for the development of interpersonal relationships that will remain relevant for all of eternity.
Noah, the ‘righteous man’, is acclaimed for following God’s instructions in the most meticulous of ways. Yet is simply following God’s commandments enough? The story of Noah and his demise from ‘righteous man’ to ‘man of the earth’, suggests that passive adherence to God’s word is not the ideal for which we should strive. Indeed, it is praiseworthy, but in order for our relationship with God to mature and grow, we need to push ourselves beyond simply following orders, and striving for an active, engaged, two-way relationship.
The twenty-first century presents technological advances that offer an unprecedented level of instant gratification. This reality raises expectations and chips away at our ability to learn patience. One might easily and mistakenly assume the same expectations of immediacy with regard to one’s relationship with religion – providing us with a quick fix and yet in parashat Lech Lecha, God teaches Abraham the importance of perspective and the value of patience in a unique way.
With ten generations between them, two of our iconic ancestors – Noah and Abra- ham - exemplify contrasting physiological responses for coping with crisis. These responses are today described as the ‘Fight, flight or freeze’ phenomenon. Noah responds to the flood by metaphorically ‘fleeing’, and Abraham, in contrast, responds to the destruction of Sodom by ‘fighting’. In any given moment between stimulus and response, lies the opportunity for us to choose. And each of these choices – to freeze, to flee, or to fight – whether we model Noah or Abraham, ultimately dictates the reality we create for ourselves.
Our lives are an endless pursuit of happiness, and many mistakenly link happiness to having ‘everything’ that elusive concept that can be interpreted in so many ways. A brief glimpse into Abraham’s life, and the blessings that he receives from God and shares with his offspring, presents a unique lens through which one can understand the concept of ‘having everything’, and through which one can conclude that the greatest gift of all is the gift of giving itself.
All too often we may despair and get disappointed with the blows that life throws our way. It is not an easy ride, and it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture, the knowledge that everything is part of a greater plan. Hidden within an unusually detailed description of Isaac digging wells, we find a profound message of faith, that offers hope and perspective to all of humankind.
During the mad bustle of everyday life, we are often blissfully unaware of anything other than the immediate needs of each individual moment. But flickering past us in our state of semi-oblivion are many potential moments of meaning, growth and opportunity. These missed moments can often lead to an acute sense of painful regret. Jacob’s dream and the sudden realization of his missed opportunity, serve as a wake-up call to us all.
Joseph bursts into our scene in a perplexing manner. Is he immature or is he wise, a shepherd or is a youth? The colourful and sometimes
contradictory manner in which the Torah introduces Joseph alludes to the unique skill set that he has for doing just that – connecting with everyone, each at their own level, and drawing out the best in them.
Joseph represents the epitome of success. Rising from the depths of the pit, to becoming viceroy of the mighty Egyptian empire and his profound trajectory of growth seems to pivot around a recurring theme in his life, his dreams. As he grows up and matures, so does his
understanding of dreams, until eventually it seems that his astute perceptions and interpretations carry his compatriots and lead him to his ultimate redemption.
Often we can build up a picture of a situation in our minds to such a degree that we essentially dictate our perception of reality. Joseph’s brothers have a clear-cut absolute memory of their brother as a bedraggled dreamer at the bottom of a pit. In this context, when they encounter the viceroy of Egypt, despite a considerable number of clues – some explicit, some implicit – they cannot entertain the idea in any way whatsoever, that this leader standing before them is their long-lost brother. This cognitive dissonance, caused by their blinding sense of perception, serves as a reminder to us to continuously review, analyse and check in on our beliefs.
We often automatically assume that the purpose of a commandment is either to strengthen our relationship with God or for the benefit of the subject of our good deed. Less focus is given to the common thread underlying all the commandments – that of the indelible imprint that every good deed, leaves on the soul of the one performing it. This reflexive impact of the
commandments is alluded to by Joseph in his final encounter with his elderly father, to whom he lowers his head in respect despite the fact that his father’s eyes have failed him and he therefore cannot see Joseph’s final act of respect towards him.
Moses sees an Egyptian taskmaster killing a Hebrew slave, checks that no one is around and steps forward to intervene. The following day, a further encounter with two Hebrews reveals to Moses that someone had in fact seen him killing the Egyptian the previous day. Beneath the surface of this seeming contradiction within the story, lies the basis of a common psychological phenomenon regarding the duty upon each of us to act upon a sense of moral and social responsibility.
In the description of the birth of Moses, the Torah seems to leave out the names of his parents.
Later, however, they are mentioned by name and this delay holds the key to an important lesson for all of us, vis a vis where our focus should be when carving out the path of our own destiny.
In today’s free world, the concept of being a servant to anything goes counter to the values of freedom and liberty. And yet in order to be a religious Jew, the expectation is to act as a servant of God. A cruel and strategic move on the part of
Pharaoh when dictating the slavery of the Jewish people in Egypt, sheds light on a liberating perspective of theological freedom. h
Amidst the epic events of the Exodus, the Torah’s words are triumphant, celebratory and truly joyous in describing redemption from Egyptian servitude. Yet embedded within these verses, is a short and often overlooked episode, ‘Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had firmly adjured the children of Israel, saying, “God will surely remember you, and you shall bring up my bones from here with you."
Standing at the foot of Mount Sinai, the Children of Israel are on the brink of receiving the Torah. One would expect this momentous unparalleled event in history, to be highlighted as special, with a majestic name relating to its historical and significant meaning. Yet our sages choose to name this section of the Torah, Yitro. This puzzling choice presents profound insights into the type of mindset that the Jewish Nation needs to develop as a prerequisite for receiving the Torah and embarking on a relationship with God.
Throughout our daily lives we are tasked with sanctifying the mundane moments. We make blessings over food, we sanctify that which we earn by giving charity and we sanctify our time through celebrating the festivals, to name but a few. It is clear that our everyday life needs to be infused with spirituality. One could ask, however, whether that formula also works in the opposite direction, with a duty upon us to infuse the Holy with the mundane. A brief episode where, immediately following the Revelation at Sinai, we find the elders of the Jewish people sitting eating and drinking while gazing at God, sheds interesting light onto the art of juggling the sacred with the mundane.
The Torah seems to make a grammatical error in its description of the sanctuary, revealing the ultimate places where God dwells.
In a stark contrast to what one would normally expect, the Torah goes into immense detail when describing the clothing of the high priest. Does every thread, bell and colour really matter that much? And does that not go completely against the grain of the famous teaching not to look at the container, but rather what it contains? Woven throughout the threads of the priestly garments are underlying messages for us that hint to the priorities we should be setting within our relationships.
Details relating to the hand washing rituals of the priests ahead of their service in the Tabernacle present us with a strange and unexpected connection to the venomous snakes encountered by the generation of the wilderness. Connect the dots, fast forward to our lives today and we discover a basic daily ritual that serves as a stark reminder to us all of the punishment that befell our biblical ancestors when they failed to appreciate the holiness around them.
We identify the head as the seat of intellect, and the heart as the source of emotion. Wisdom can generally be attributed to those who refine their intellect and kindness generally attributed to those who work on their hearts. In that context, when the Torah unusually and repeatedly weaves these two concepts together in its use of the term wise-heart it leaves us wondering what deeper underlying message it might behold.
It is generally natural to view the world through a polarized lens that draws a clear distinction between the holy and the profane. A very subtle distinction however, between the blessing Moses gives the people upon their completion of building the Tabernacle and the promise that God gives the people upon
commanding them to build it, actually teaches the opposite and highlights the value in appreciating the delicate tango that exists in the world between the sacred and the secular.