Category Archives: Torah

Parshat Nitzavim – The life and the blessing

Share This:

See, I have set before you this day the life and the good and the death and the evil” (Deut. 30:15)

Moses speaks to the People in the name of God, before they enter the Promised Land. He explains to them in clear cut words what free will is about. Not only does he explain, but he sets before them the simple truth: we don’t have any other option, but to choose. It is a kind of contradiction: we must choose and we lack the option of not choosing. This is the contradiction; this is the reality. We have before us the life and the death and the good and the evil. Even if we do not choose, we have decided, chosen, not to choose. Maybe we have chosen the negative option, the evil, the death.

Together with the explanation, there’s an advice: “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you: I have set before you the life and the death, the blessing and the cursing: choose life, that both you and your seed may live” (Deut. 30:19). Blessing and curse have been added here to the list. Even though we cannot choose not to choose, the contents of the choice is not defined – it depends only upon us. We have now many options: life, death, good, evil, blessing, curse. The advice is: “choose life”.

Why not to choose the blessing? Why not the good? When we choose blessing, aren’t we choosing life? And if we choose the good, aren’t we choosing therefore life? Life is afterwards a fact – if we choose, it is because we live! Blessing and good are active choices and not simple facts: if there’s no blessing in our hands, if there’s no good in our deeds, we may choose them! But life, we’re in it already. So, why should we choose life?

Well, good and evil, blessing and curse, they have two characteristics: 1) they are subjective; 2) they deny other possibilities.

They are subjective because the definition of good changes according to the person and to the situation. The same happens with evil, blessing and curse. If somebody is hungry, a piece of bread from the day before yesterday is good; but for somebody satiated this would be a bad choice. For a simpleton, mediocre knowledge is a blessing, while for a wise person it isn’t anything but insufficient and even bad, because it may lead to error. Illness may be bad for the sick person, but a blessing for others. Sometimes it is good even for the sick person him or herself!

We see then, good, evil, blessing, curse are subjective concepts. They depend on the human being, on his or her situation and the context.

They deny other possibilities because they don’t include in them but themselves. If something is blessed, it is not cursed at the very same time (and the contrary is also true). If something is good, it is not bad for the same person at the same moment. If there’s death, there’s not life. There’s the eternal life, the future and distant life. But life is not part of death.

Life, on the other hand, includes everything, even death. Only those who live may die.

Life – it is the only concept in this list of options in Hebrew that is expressed in the plural, “lives=hayim”. There is even no singular form of it in Hebrew. Life (lives) is complex, multiple, diverse, full of opportunities and options, full of challenges and possibilities to change, to make better, to become better. In the blessing the curse, the good or the evil there is something final, fixed, even static. The positive thing about choosing them is the possibility of choosing again time after time. But doing it only once (“I’ve already chosen the blessing”), the choice become fixated, it stops, it does not develop and it disappears as time goes by. Even when you choose the good, or the blessing.

Life (lives), on the other hand, means choosing movement, change, choice after choice, another possibility if we erred, strengthening if we were right.

To choose life includes in itself choosing the good and the blessing, as well as choosing to distance ourselves from evil and curse. This is a choice that requires from us to actively choose all the other options, all the time. If you have chose blessing, you stop there. If you have chose life (lives) you have to deal with your choice and to test it again and again to strengthen it, to make it better, to make yourself better.

May we always choose life with its complexity, multiplicity, its challenges… its life.

Parshat Shoftim – Is it just justice?

Share This:

“Justice, justice you must pursue”. This is one of the first mitzvoth in our Parasah. A short and powerful sentence, clear words, things are pretty understood: all what you have to do is justice; never capitulate – you must pursue it.

Is it so clear, indeed?

What justice really is?

And why pursue it and not, let’s say, search for it? (some translations of the Bible render “follow”, but this is not the exact sense of the original Hebrew “tirdof”, which means pursue or chase).

Justice? Let’s say it is doing what is good and right, giving to each one what each one deserves, acting with truth and for the sake of truth. And doing it according to the principles of equality.

All this is true. But what is right for you, is it necessarily right for me? What is good for me, is it so for you? If you deserve something, maybe has it been taken from somebody else? And what about equality? Is it that we both are to have the same thing? What if you worked hard and I did nothing? Maybe I did nothing because I couldn’t? Maybe you haven’t worked as hard as you may have done? And if we both get it, does it mean that a third one, or a forth one will get it, too? And if it si not possible for everybody to get it? Then nobody gets anything of it, following a strict equal way? Does the good prevail here?

The definition of what is good and right, of what each one deserves, of truth and equality is different for each person. If the definition is to be general and not individual, then the individual will feel that this is not justice. He or she may take it as a forced justice, but not as a just justice.

It is then very difficult to get justice.

A clear example of this is the “Judgment of Solomon”, where two women claim a baby to belong to each one of them. The King decides to split the baby in two, each woman receiving half of the child. One of them begs the King not to kill the child and she gives up her rights for the sake of the other one. The other woman says: “It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it!” King Solomon declares finally the merciful woman, who didn’t want the baby to be killed, to be the real mother and gave her the child (see Kings I 3:23-27).

Where is the justice here? One woman considers that dividing equally is justice – everybody loses, but there is equality. The other woman considers justice giving up the rights for the sake of the baby’s life – she does good to the other one, but no good to herself. The King considers justice to give to the one who gave up – it is not equality, but it is the right thing to do.

For us it is completely clear that justice was made in this case. As for the other woman, however, she considers it to be a great injustice, since she was ready to give up the baby on the condition that the other one gives up, too (it may had been given in adoption, instead of being killed, for example).

So, this justice is not perfect. It is good, but it is neither perfect, not complete.

There’s no possibility of arriving to a complete justice. Even if we hypothetically do arrive to it, it will not last. It will solve one problem, but soon another injustice will come up in another area, another place, another situation.

Should we then desist and stop our efforts for arriving to justice?

God gives us as a mitzvah: “You must pursue it”. Pursue justice because it evades you, because it never stays with you. At the very moment you find it, it evades you and you must search for it again. Pursue it! Never capitulate!

Justice must be an ideal in your society. The eternal quest for it, this pursuit, this not being satisfied by having found it once, this not stopping and declaring “I’ve done justice, I’ve already done what I had to do”, this is what allows you to live and to inherit the land: “Justice, justice you must pursue; so that you will live and inherit the land the Lord your God is giving you”. (Deut. 16:20)

There’s no society that is just. There is a society that tends to justice and checks itself permanently so as to regain the justice that has evaded it.

A society that defines itself as being just isn’t anything else but pretentious and it becomes at that very moment a society of injustice. A society that considers itself as the only one which really knows what justice is and that blames other societies of being unjust, isn’t but getting away from what is good, right and correct.

Let’s continue discovering justice at every moment, because even if “it is not your responsibility to finish the work, you are not free to desist from it either” (Pirke Avot 2:16).

Parshot Mattot-Massa’e

Share This:

These two parashot close the period of the desert. Final preparations to enter the Promised Land, closing unresolved matters from desert times, last Moshe’s government actions – all these are the elements that make up the general atmosphere at the end of the book of Numbers.

Here finishes, in fact, the process of the Exodus from Egypt. Leaving Egypt wasn’t only about quitting the place itself. It included all the period during which the Children of Israel did not enter the land of Canaan, they were in “stand by” in that wilderness prolonged corridor. Physically they weren’t in Egypt any more, but spiritually they had to go on leaving; the desert represented for them Egypt’s long arm. It represented their belonging to that old reality of oppression, exploitation, slavery, dependence, idolatry, social injustice. As long as that space related them to Egypt, they were still in the Exodus process. Only now, after forty years of challenges and drastic changes, they are ready to stop leaving and begin entering the Promise Land to start there a new society.

As part of this closing process, the Torah summarizes in a list the places where the Children of Israel wandered in the desert.

The verse that opens the list has a strange formulation. Maybe because of this oddity, it is full of meaning:

And Moses wrote their departures to the their journeys as commanded by the Lord; these are their journeys to their departures” (Num. 33:2)

Departures to journeys… OK; but journeys to departures?? Why repeating the issue? Why in inverse order? We’d have expected a text to say “their journeys to their destinations” or something telling the objective. But a journey to a departure? The Torah says they traveled to a place from where they will travel to a place from where they will travel to a place from where… and so on and on!

Well, in fact, that is what they actually did. They didn’t journey to those places in order to establish themselves there. It was part of their going out from Egypt. All those places were “exits”, instead of “goals”.

The journey is the essential element; during it we learn, we change, we grow. The goal of the journey, says the Torah, is the point from where we may go on without stopping or becoming stagnant. Regarding the verse I quoted upper, Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, the Gerer Rebbe during the second half of the 19th Century, wrote: “For the Human Being is called ‘walker’ and he must always go from one stage to another” (Sefat Emet B’midbar, Massae [5645])

He who encourages stopping and becoming fixated is like somebody who is not ready at all to leave Egypt and prefers to stay in the desert, even if he does so under the excuse of being closer to Mount Sinai.

In every generation a person must regard himself as though he himself came out from Egypt”. In this way, his journeys will be to his departure points, and these departure points will allow him continuing his journeys.

Parshat Korah

Share This:

The issue with Korah and his revolt against Moshe and Aharon is important, in my view, because of the reaction of the People of Israel to his words.

There is no doubt that we can understand Korah’s complaint. His question is apparently simple and thought provoking: “all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” (Num. 16:3).

He demanded Moshe to stop ruling and to share the power equally with all the people. He demanded democracy, because everyone can and has the right to govern.

It is a just demand, not only in our modern eyes, but it should have been so also for Moshe. He did not accept Joshua’s government zeal and did not stop Eldad and Meidad, who were prophesying in the camp, while Moshe and the seventy elders were outside. He rebuked Joshua, indeed: “Are you zealous for my sake? May all the Lord’s people be prophets!” (id., 11:29).

So, equality and democracy. What’s wrong with that?

The problem is that Korah’s sentence isn’t more than a kind of news headline. The contents of what he really demanded appears when Moshe calls him to order: “Is it a small thing to you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel… And are you seeking the priesthood also?” (id. 16:9-10).

Korah really wanted more power for hiself and his comrades. It was none of his business whether the people has or lacks equal rights to govern. He wanted to be both Levy and Priest.

However, in the public opinion he was regarded as a hero who sacrifices himself for the sake of the People. His speech and his actions were those of a demagogue, who takes advantage of the emotional and unrestrained reaction of the masses to arrive to his personal goals.

The people went astray by what was apparently just. It did not really examine the situation. If it is apparently so, then it is definitely so.

This is the core of the problem presented in our parashah. Because a quick judgment like this one, that seals the fate based on a superficial impression, bodes disaster. And it happened, indeed – death and destruction.

Why the Korah affaire comes right after the paragraph commanding the tzitzit (the fringes in the garments)? There is a midrash explaining that Korah took a tallit, a garment, made completely of t’khelet, the product with which only one thread of the tzitzit had to be colored. He then asked Moshe if it had to have tzitzit also, since it was completely made of t’khelet. When Moshe answered positively, Korah treated him with disdain. (Jer. Tal. Sanhedrin 10:5, B’midbar Rabbah Korah 18:3)

We must nevertheless remember that one of the central points in the commandment of tzitzit is “that you may not go about after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go astray” (id. 15:39). The heart, in the Bible represents the thinking. Do not let your thinking go astray after what your eyes see. Examine, inspect, discern. That is what holiness is about. That is what we are commanded to do.

The story in Korah, the reaction of the People to demagogic addresses, is the opposite example of what the Torah expects from us, of what God commanded us to recall in and by the tzitzit. “Do not go about”, but they did. They let themselves be influenced by the headlines their eyes saw, they were captivated by the nice voice of the populist tyrant who sweetens his words with nonsense that sounds good. Nonsense quickly absorbed and that stands in the way of good sense, of logic and of reality testing.

May all the Lord’s people be prophets! Prophets, but not a flock following the Siren’s song.

Parshat Terumah

Share This:

In parshat Terumah, the Torah presents us a difficult spiritual and intellectual challenge: the anthropomorphism related to God. This is neither the first nor the last time we find this difficulty in the text. We read of God’s “image and likeness”, He “appears” many times to our forefathers, the seventy elders saw like a pavement made of sapphire under God’s “feet”, and so on.

But at the beginning of parshat Terumah there is the commandment of building a sanctuary and He will dwell [“shokhen“, in Hebrew] among us. “They shall make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell [v’shakhanti] among them” (Exod. 25:8). It is as if He will live, He will be placed among the children of Israel like a human being dwelling with them.

This were not so difficult, we wouldn’t find in the Torah the negation of all anthropomorphism and embodiment of God. “You heard the sound of words but saw no shape… just a sound.” (Deut. 4:12), “you did not see any shape on the day God spoke to you in Horev from the fire” (idem, 15).

This negation of anthropomorphism continues in the words of King Solomon and of Isaiah. In his prayer at the dedication of the Temple he built, Solomon declares: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27). Isaiah asks in a sarcastic or surprised tone: “The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: which is the house that you build me? Which is the place of my rest?” (Isaiah 66:1).

Many Jewish interpreters and thinkers tried to explain the words “I will dwell among them” in ways that move away any thought of embodiment or anthropomorphism. Rabbi Moshe Alshich opens his exegesis to this verse stating: “Preserve my ears from hearing such a strange thing! How will the light of His presence dwell in this earth, in a sanctuary made by humans?” Rabbenu Bahaye and the Baal haTurim prefer to read the word “v’shakhanti” [I will dwell] in a different form. It does not speak of God, but of the Temple: “They shall build a sanctuary that will remain TI (410 in gematriyah), i.e. 410 years [v’shakhan – ti]”

Maimonides explains the verb “to dwell”, when related to God, as a metaphor: “It is known that the sense of this word is to remain in a place (…) and it is used figuratively regarding things that are not living creatures, but that are stable and remaining. (…) in this sense it is used figuratively regarding God, denoting the perseverance of His protection” (Guide for the Perplexed, Sec. I Ch. 25).

Why all this sophistication? If we are to understand from the Torah that God has no from, no image, no body parts, that He does neither dwell nor rest… why are there so many examples of anthropomorphism?

On the other hand, if God is depicted with human attributes (He has a hand, a finger, feet, He gets angry, He loves, He is jealous, He is merciful, He is seen and He speaks), why should we believe He is abstract?

The Torah not only speaks the language of humans, but also speaks in feelings, in doubts and in introspections of humans. God is abstract, but we cannot grasp Him like that. We need the translation into the concrete and the corporeal so as to understand Him in our minds and feelings.

However we must not fall in the temptation of transforming Him in a Human Being, in something physic, in a body. We must not get confused between our need to translate His essence into human categories and His real essence. The latter is beyond any human feeling and intellectual comprehension.

That is why the Torah expresses these two levels together: the abstract God together with the translation into a tangible state.

In this way, the Torah makes us face our spiritual tension produced by our will and our need to grasp God, to apprehend Him in a tangible way and His demand of us not to be tempted to believe that He is indeed physical. It is the tension between “I will dwell among them” and “which is the house that you build me”, because “you did not see a shape of any kind on the day God spoke to you”.


Parshat Yitro

Share This:

The ten expressions. Not the ten commandments. Words… expressions.

We are used to think that in the Revelation at Mount Sinai, God dictated commandments to be fulfilled.

But the Torah speaks of “words”: “And God spoke all these words, saying” (Exod. 20:1). If we still have doubts, some chapters later, in parshat Ki Tissa, the Torah explains that what is written in the Tables of the Covenant are indeed ten expressions [words], but not ten commandments: “And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten words [aseret ha-diberot]” (Exod. 34:28).

Why such a fundamental and important issue is not presented as a commandment, as a mitzvah? Moreover, we generally think of these expressions as commandments.

But they are not. Why so?

Is it possible that “Thou shalt not murder”, “Thou shalt not steal”, “Honour thy father and thy mother”, “Thou shalt not covet…” and all the other sentences are not commandments, indeed?

In this section they are not. Not at the Revelation encounter. Not at the first contact between God and the People.

The commandments related to these themes appear elsewhere in the Torah, but not in the list of the ten fundamental sentences.

A mitzvah, important as it may be, does not generally bring forth responsibility in the person. It is a very strong law. We have to obey it without reasoning. The matter of the mitzvah is important, but it is not the cause for its fulfillment. The mitzvah has a dimension of mechanic response.

The Human Being has free choice, of course. He or she can decide either to obey or not. But not fulfilling a mitzvah is a kind of rebellion or resistance against the Commander. In the mitzvah, in the commandment, there is a relationship of authority: there is One who says what to do and the other who either obeys or rebels.

On the contrary, in the words, in the expressions, in the sentences, there is a dimension of advice, of wish, of invitation. They call the person to put into practice his/her responsibility, reasoning, thought and desire concerning the contents of the sentence.

The ten expressions do not speak of the prohibition of murder or theft. They are rather an invitation to understand deeply in the soul why murdering or stealing is bad. They are an invitation to make of these fundamentals an inseparable part of the soul: so as no person should even think of a declaration like: “Wasn’t it forbidden, I would murder”.

It is about a deeper spiritual layer that demands of us the full commitment and involvement of our soul.

That is why they are called “words of the covenant”: in a covenant there are two parties standing at the same level. As if it were that God said: “You are My partners and I propose you to accept these fundamentals, since it is by them that you will build a sound spirit within a positive person”

The commandments will come, yes. But we should not become obeying machines who fulfill mitzvot for the sake of fulfilling. We should develop into Human Beings who understand the depth and the wisdom of the mitzvoth in the Torah.

Parshat B’shalah

Share This:

After having crossed the Yam Suf safe and sound, the children of Israel bursted into song and praise: “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spoke, saying: I will sing unto the Lord, for He is highly exalted; the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea.” (Ex. 15:1).

The terrible enemy, the Egyptians who sought their ruin, were drowned in the sea and the danger disappeared. The natural response is joy – the euphoria is a perfectly expected reaction.

Nevertheless, there is midrash stating that God does not rejoice in the death of the wicked ones: “Rabbi Yohanan says: Why is it written ‘ and the one came not near the other all the night’ (Ex. 14:20)? The angels wanted to sing a song of praise and God said to them: ‘My creatures are drowning and you want to sing?'” (TB Meguillah 10b and TB Sanhedrin 9b).

There is hence another stance on the same incident in the Yam Suf, on the very defeat of the cruel and merciless enemy. This stance teaches that even though there is deliverance here, there is loss there. Even though it relieved the persecuted one, the situation is far from being perfect. The joy and happiness cannot be the only manifestation when there is loss in lives, albeit this loss is unavoidable when there is no other way to stop the evil.

Rabbi Yohanan’s opinion expresses a deep spiritual understanding that the respect of God’s creatures is a fundamental principle in the Torah. It follows the call in Proverbs (24:17): “Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thy heart be glad when he stumbleth“.

The joy after salvation is natural, but we must learn to regulate it when the death appears as the cause of this salvation. We are happy and joyful because of the deliverance, but we are not happy on the death of other human beings.

It is better if the situation was different, if there were no cruel people who wish to humiliate, annul and even annihilate others. It would be better if evil was nonexistent and if every person knew how to respect the lives of the others. But the naiveté of this ideal is not a reason for celebrating the death of the enemy.

The joy is for the salvation and not for the death.

We have learned this is a spiritual lesson in the course of many generations. The Song of the Sea still expresses the primordial human reaction: an exultant joy on the death of the enemy and the end of his threat of killing us. Nevertheless the Torah demands us to transcend the animal level. And we arrived to understand that we must rejoice life and not celebrate death. There may not be another way to get rid of a persistently cruel power but to destroy the source of evil, notwithstanding this is not a reason to rejoice, but to increase the motivation for transforming the human destructive nature into a constructive and positive power.

This understanding finds a strong expression in Purim. The festival does not fall on the date when we were forced to kill in order to defend ourselves. We do not celebrate the bloodshed and the death of our enemies. On that day we fast – it is a time for the accounting of the soul. We rejoice in the deliverance and we celebrate it the morrow of the battle, because we are happy for having been saved, but not because our enemies were killed.

There is a tension between the drive to rejoice when our enemy falls and the respect of life the Torah demands of us. We have to live and to cope with this tension so as to elevate our souls to the level sanctity and to induce ourselves and our fellow persons to build a humankind worthy of sharing God’s likeness.

Parshat Va-Era

Share This:

If God is omniscient, how does it come that the Human Being has free will?

This question stands before us in the first quarter of Parshat Va-Era and will go with us all along the next parshiot, until the crossing of the Yam Suf. God said to Moshe: “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. Pharaoh will not hearken unto you, and I will lay My hand upon Egypt” (Ex. 7:3-4). Pharaoh has apparently no possibility of accepting Moshe’s request. Even if he would have wanted to do that, God’s would harden his heart. Where is there the justice, here? God not only requires something the person cannot possibly accomplish, but He punishes him because of the stubbornness God Himself causes!

The interpreters dealt extensively with this problem. There are some who say that Pharaoh would have had to resist God’s decree, since the Human Being has the power of changing a little what is innate (Ibn Ezra, commenting on Deut. 5:26). Others consider there is no strict fate here, but a plain prophecy, as if saying: “You shall see, this is exactly what he is going to do, I know him”. (Pesika Zutarta, Midrash Sekhel Tov). Another group of interpreters think that Pharaoh was being punished because of former sins (Rashi, Rav Hayim Paltiel).

In midrash Shmot Rabbah (13:3) we are told in the name of Shimon ben Lakish: “[God] warns him once, twice, thrice, but if he does not reconsider his deeds, God closes the gates of repentance”. Resh Lakish teaches us here that the person has many opportunities to do well and to chose a positive way, one of construction and of respect of his/her fellowmen. The person has many opportunities to amend his/her mistakes and to change the destructive choices he or she has made by good and constructive choices. It is the personal experience of Resh Lakish, who demonstrates, not only by means of theory, but by concrete facts, that one may transform a life of destruction into one of building. He did it himself. He does not speak from the arrogant heights of a preacher moralizing according to a perfect theory, but from the practical experience that illuminates the abstract idea.

However, when the person stubbornly remains in a closed position that does not respect the others, a position of powerful egocentrism; he or she loses the capacity of change. At a certain point the decline is inevitable and unstoppable. The strongest of the wills shall not succeed in modifying the trend of destruction and loss – of self destruction and loss.

This is what happened to Pharaoh. His bullheadedness, his obduracy, led him to lose the capacity of overcoming and managing his destructive tendencies. He turned into an automaton and conducting himself and his followers into a catastrophe.


Parshat Shemot

Share This:

How can we know that a messenger and his word come from God?

This question troubles the human being since the time the first person came and said: “God has sent me to you”.

In times of distress, hopelessness, vital problems and of lack of absolute values, the temptation of believing in someone who assures God has spoken to him to convey the secret of joy and happiness in life, is an irresistible temptation.

Most of the times, this person happens to be an insane. But some times the person convinces a crowd, fascinating people with charming futile words and misleading them. In the past and today, as well, we hear of putative heavenly messages related to religion, politics, economy, health and so on. The consequences are at best the perpetuation of a delusion and of false hopes. But in the worst case it may case destruction, death and devastation.

How can we verify that the one who speaks in God’s name is really His messenger?

This is a central question in parshat Shmot. Moshe expresses it in different ways: “[I] say to them ‘your forefather’s God has sent me to you’. They will ask me ‘What is His name?’, what shall I say to them?” (Ex. 3:13), “They will neither believe me, nor listen to me, saying ‘The Lord did not appear to you‘ ” (Ex. 4:1). Pharaoh, too, raises doubts about Moshe’s prophecy: “Pharaoh said: ‘Who is the Lord that I should heed Him?” (Ex. 5:2).

This parashah shows us, in fact, how to distinguish between a heavenly message and words produced by the pretentious soul of an indomitable ego. It requires two conditions: the personality of the prophet and the accomplishment of the message.

The prophet’s personality? Moshe declines the task. He does not consider himself worthy. He asks a basic question, that will follow him all his life long: “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and to free the Israelites form Egypt?” (Ex. 3:11). He never considered himself being the first, the worthy, the knowledgeable. His humbleness is a ratification of his being a prophet.

The accomplishment of the message? This is, perhaps, the core of the distinction between a divine message and one that is not. “This will be the sign that I have sent you: while freeing the people from Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain” (Ex. 3:12). The sign that he has been sent to free Israel from Egypt will come only after having accomplished the task! We discover that the message came from God once we have reached the goal. In the meanwhile, the message is not divine, but human.

The message is neither the miracle, nor in it. It is built during the process and is verified in the results. “March towards freedom, arrive to Mount Sinai and while worshipping God you will understand that all this came from Him; not before that”.

The real prophet, the real messenger of God, remains humble even after the verification of his word and the achievement of the task. This is a sine-qua-non element of the sign that verifies the divinity of the message. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch comments: “Once the redemption completed, thou wilt not be the people’s ruler, but you will worship: you, thou and the people, will approach this Mountain as God’s servants” (Sh.R. Hirsch, Shmot 3:12). A prophet that becomes an omniscient ruler because he hears God’s word is not really a prophet. His message is not God’s, but his own.

Let us not wait for a divine message and an emissary that will lead us by miracles. It is by doing, by building and by a positive spiritual development that we will arrive to concrete goals of freedom and of respect of God’s Creation. After arriving there, we will discover that all this came from God.

Parshat Vaiyehi

Share This:

Yaakov is approaching his last days. He asked Yosef to bring his two children, Menashe and Efraim, so he could bless them.

Yaakov is old. He does not see well any more.

Yosef places Menashe at his father’s right side, while Efraim stays at the left side. Yaakov, however, puts his right hand on the head on the second son, Efraim. On the firstborn’s head, on Menashe, he puts his left hand.

Yosef tries to correct the situation. His father does not see well; maybe he didn’t realize, or he got confused. Perhaps he has mistaken Efraim by Menashe.

But Yaakov answers: “I know, my son. I know”.

He’s well aware of what he does. He is not confused, he is not mistaken. He sees something that Yosef cannot see.

He feels in Efraim something that goes beyond the perception of physical senses. Yaakov is open to understand something that is not within the boundaries of the consensus, that is not the acceptable thing “because this is the way it always was, because this is what has to be and will be”.

He has always dared try what had never been tried before. He has always had the courage to break the mould because he understood that the person is not fixed according to a rigid pattern. The Human Being builds himself and changes. There are basic conditions, he or she have limitations, indeed. But the person is not fixed.  With the basic conditions and the space enabled by the limitations, the Human Being changes, renews himself, surprises.

Yaakov does not want to establish the foundation as structure. In other words, he does not want that the primary conditions (or the known conditions established by a preconception) set one only development option for the person, be it the physical or the spiritual development.  That’s why Efraim is not the second, even though he was originally the second. And Menashe is not the first only because at the base he was the first. They developed differently and Yaakov understood that. He expressed this understanding in the way he chose to bless his grandchildren. Grandchildren that he declared his own children, since the original evidence of being Yosef’s children does not prevent them to develop into Yaakov’s spiritual sons.

We, his descendants, we are called to open our spiritual eyes as he did, to see what is unexpected in the Human Being, what is not fixed in the Human Being, what is not defined.

We are called not to surrender to a simple and automatic repetition, but to dare find the person veiled by the masks of predefinitions.