The leadership of Israel did not emerge among people who lived sheltered and insulated lives. Rather, it devolved specifically on Joseph and Moses who faced deep challenges and who had to experience conflicts with their fixed ways of seeing the world. The challenges stimulated them to think creatively and courageously.
Angel for Shabbat
Imagine how modern media might report charges of war crimes in the biblical story of Egypt and the Israelites. Here is how Pharaoh’s position might be presented.
When we seek freedom and the fulfillment of our spiritual natures, we need to draw on our inner youthfulness and on our anticipated elderly mature vision. Seeing our own lives through the prism of our past and our future helps us to live righteously and happily in our present.
A prevalent custom in Ashkenazic synagogues is for the congregation to stand when the Ten Commandments are read from the Torah. Among Sephardim, the widespread custom is to remain seated during the reading of the Torah, including during the recitation of the Ten Commandments. One should follow the custom of the synagogue which he/she attends.
The idea of payment in proper measure applies not merely to monetary matters, but to life in general. The Mishna (Sotah 1:7) teaches that “bemidah she-adam moded kakh modedim lo,” i.e. a person will be subject to the same standard of judgment that he/she uses in judging others.
What makes holiness is not merely the physical structure or priestly garments or technical ceremony: holiness is evoked by the spirit of reverence which people bring to the sanctuary. If the ingredient of holiness is missing from the participants in the service, then the physical beauty and splendor become empty shells.
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.
We cannot rely on Somebody Else, on “the rabbis”, on “the community” on “the synagogue” to do what needs to be done. Each of us has a role to play. Each can give of our talents and resources to the best of our ability. Each can take personal responsibility and realize that Somebody Else isn’t available to do the work that needs to be done.
When we ultimately must come before the heavenly court and stand in judgment for our lives, what will we be asked? According to the Talmudic sage Rava (Shabbat 31a), a serious question will be: "did you conduct your business dealings faithfully?"
This week's maftir portion includes verses commanding us to obliterate the memory of Amalek, the classic arch-enemy of the people of Israel. Yet, the Torah also lists other peoples who oppressed the Israelites. The Egyptians enslaved us for centuries; the Edomites and Moabites harmed us--yet only Amalek is singled out for our eternal enmity.