Early in the Haggadah, we read of the gathering in B’nei B’rak of Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon. “They were reclining and discussing the exodus from Egypt all through the night until their students came to them and said: ‘Our teachers! The time for reciting the morning Shema has arrived.’”
Angel for Shabbat
Arrogant and egotistical people are not essentially interested in truth. Rather, they engage in propaganda, mind-control, and stubborn adherence to their own opinions regardless of how erroneous, biased, or dangerous. They would rather suffer than admit personal error.
Each individual is expected to draw on his/her best strengths and talents in order to fulfill his/her distinctive mission in life. If one internalizes the feeling of having been chosen to accomplish great things, one can live with vision, energy and sense of purpose.
This week’s Torah portion deals with the malady of “tsara’at” which our sages understood as a punishment for “lashon hara,” negative language. The word “tsara’at” may be related to the word “tsar”—meaning narrow. It may have the connotation of narrowing/diminishing the value of others. When one diminishes others, the punishment is self-diminishment.
People fail in life not because they don't have the power to change and to grow; but because they inwardly resist change and growth. People succeed in life because they have the strength to learn, to grow, to see life as an unfolding adventure which should be lived with courage and vitality.
A Talmudic passage (Sotah 11a) offers an imaginary scenario relating to Pharaoh's decision to enslave the Israelites and murder their male babies. Bilam advised in favor of these evil decrees and ultimately died a violent death. Job remained neutral, and was later punished with horrible sufferings. Yitro opposed Pharaoh’s decrees, had to flee, and was ultimately rewarded.
Everyone needs to be reminded of the Divine commandments relating to upright and honest dealings. Why? Because people sometimes have tendencies that lead to dishonesty and immoral behavior. The Torah gives a powerful reminder to rise above negative tendencies, and to live honest lives.
The Revelation at Mount Sinai was a national experience for all the people of Israel—but it also was very personal. Each Israelite heard the same words—but in different ways!
The Midrash teaches (Shemot Rabba 29:1) that God spoke “bekoho shel kol ehad ve-ehad,” according to the individual abilities of each listener. The universal message of Torah was made direct and personal. The miracle at Mount Sinai was not only the Revelation of God to the nation of Israel, but the individualized Revelation to each and every Israelite man, woman and child.
Instead of experiencing the reality of the moment, people experience life mediated through cameras, cell phones, i-pads and other technology. People are so busy trying to record and remember everything, that they miss the actual thing they’re supposed to be trying to remember.
Perhaps this is the message implied by the names of Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur. We begin in darkness, we move to light; but we then strive to live in the shadow of God, a world of shadows and hidden meanings, a world of wisdom and aestheticism, a world of reality and soulfulness.