This week's Torah portion begins with God commanding Moses : "And these are the ordinances that you shall set before them." Rashi comments that God instructed Moses not to teach the Israelites by rote, but to explain the reasons for the laws. If the people had the opportunity to study the reasons behind the laws, they would more likely internalize and fulfill them.
Angel for Shabbat
Q. What is the text of an Emergency Alert sent out by a Jewish Organization?
A. Start worrying! Details to follow.
This joke reflects an ongoing reality of Jewish life. There always seems to be something to worry about, some crisis that is about to erupt, some threat to our survival. Even when we don't yet know the details, we are called upon to get into the worrying mode.
The ancient and so-far uncured disease of “anti-Semitism” is reflected in this week’s Torah portion. Pharaoh tells his people: “Behold, the people of the children of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come let us deal wisely with them …lest they join themselves unto our enemies and fight against us…” (Shemot 1:9-10). Pharaoh’s description of the situation is not only wrong, but reflects wild paranoia.
After 22 years of separation, Jacob was finally to be re-united with his beloved son Joseph. Rashi, citing a Midrash, explains Jacob’s lack of demonstrativeness on their reunion: Jacob did not embrace Joseph or kiss him, because Jacob was reciting the Shema! Couldn’t Jacob have recited the Shema a few minutes earlier? Did he really need to recite the Shema at the very moment when Joseph was hugging him?
Pharaoh was incredibly stubborn. He had a hard heart. He could not be dissuaded from his misguided policies even in the face of plagues and calamities. He was not interested in what his advisers said. Pharaoh knew best.
When leaders of societies and communities follow the wisdom of the first Pharaoh, the people are well served. When leaders of societies and communities succumb to the egotism of the second Pharaoh, disaster is sure to follow…not only for the people, but for the leaders themselves.
Human greatness often entails loneliness and alienation. It is nurtured by successes and failures, by trials and errors. It is fostered in an environment of quiet thoughtfulness. The greatest people often are the most humble and self-effacing.
Professor Alan Brill recently noted: “Consumerism has turned the church [and synagogue] from an ‘ocean-liner’ designed to move people from point A to point B (connecting people with God), to a ‘cruise ship’, that is, in itself, the destination.” (“The Emerging Popular Culture and the Centrist Community,” in Developing a Jewish Perspective on Culture, ed. Yehuda Sarna (New York: Yeshiva University Press, 2014), pp. 31-32.)
After their glorious victory and rededication of the Temple, the Hasmoneans established the holiday of Hanukkah to be celebrated by Jews for all future generations. The festival of lights is an occasion for thanksgiving to God, celebration of Jewish pride, remembrance of the importance of religious freedom.
It is sometimes heard in Orthodox Jewish circles that Thanksgiving Day is a "non-Jewish holiday" and should not be observed by religious Jews. This view is historically wrong and morally dubious. This national holiday belongs to Jews as to all other Americans.