Parasha with Rabbi Benji is a unique and interesting approach to the weekly Parasha, bringing different ideas through one-minute videos, and texts available as downloadable PDFs.
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 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.
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.
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.