Saturday, January 26, 2008

DVAR TORAH S3: Yitro (Lawlessness & Disorder)

Now that I enter my third year of Divrei Torah I begin to run out of ideas about which to write. Let's see how well I do...

In this week's Torah portion, as mentioned in years past, there are two major events. The first is when Jethro comes with his daughter and grandchildren, the wife and sons of Moses respectively. Along with the mishpacha he also brings a new system of law. Moses has been acting as sole judge, adjudicating for the people all day. He introduces a new system in which there will be other judges in a hierarchical system that is a prototype of the court system we have in the United States and in my home state of California.

The question remains: on what laws was Moses basing his judgments? There must have been some sort of inherent moral law within that you didn't do certain things to your fellow man, however with the advent of the Judical System, it is now possible to create the laws themselves. Therefore it is immediately after this which God sits the people under Sinai and Reveals the famous Ten Commandments (and some say all 613 mitzvot) which will be the basis for the law systems in Judaism and many other religions and governments.

Shabbat Shalom.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

DVAR TORAH S2: Beshalach/Shabbat Shira/Tu Bishvat (Wonder-ous Bread)

Baruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech HaOlam HaMotzi Lechem Min HaShamayim.
"Blessed are you Lord our God, King of the Universe who brings forth bread from the sky."

Thus is recited the prayer upon the manna, the sustenance from heaven which will nourish us for forty years in the desert. In this week's Torah portion we are finally rid of Pharaoh forever. We cross the Sea of Reeds and the first thing we realize is that there is no water. Thus begins 40 years of kvetching in the desert. After being slaves for so many centuries we are unable to care for ourselves so we depend on God. It will be only at the divine providence of God that we will have fresh water in the wilderness, that food will come from heaven and be ready on the ground for us to glean, and that we will be able to defeat our enemies, even Amalek who will attack us from behind in Rephidim at the conclusion of this Parasha.

In my rabbinical school essays I said that God is much like a parent. He provides for us in stages. After Egypt we are a nascent fledgling people and so God pushes aside the obstacles and while He "trains" us for 40 years he also provides for our food and drink and participates in our daily lives. Even though God is incredibly active in our lives at this point, we are going to cry like babies when anything goes wrong "wah, we miss the cholents of Egypt!" (the usual translation is flesh-pots but I think it means cholent...). Once we cross the Jordan River in 40 years, the manna will cease to fall. Yet the blessing remains similar to the equivalent: "Hamotzi Lechem Min HaAretz" "Who brings bread out from the earth". This time we are now part of the process. God sends seed, rain, and sun, but we cannot eat the grain as it comes out from the earth, we must harvest, mill, grind, knead, and bake before it is edible to humans. We were babies as we came out of Egypt with the sustenance from the heavens, but now we make our own bread with the help of God, Partners in God's Creation.

And I think the latter is superior.

In addition, we celebrate this bounty with the holiday of Tu Bishvat which comes this monday where we will enjoy the fruits of Israel, especially appropriate this Sabbatical Shemita year where the produce of Israel is free-for-all. Rich and poor can all legally appreciate the cornucopia of the culinary delights of the land.

Shabbat Shira Shalom and Chag Sameach. I was going to talk about birds, but I forgot. Maybe next year.

On that note, once again we cross the sea, and with Beshalach, I finish my second year of Divrei Torah. Whether or not I continue is dependent upon workload, have any ideas, etc... Thank you for all who read my Divrei Torah and I hope to continue soon.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

DVAR TORAH S2: Bo (Midnight at the Oasis, put lamb’s blood on your door)

Because I am not a member of the Writer's Guild (though I fully support them!), I present another dvar torah, this time for this week's Torah Portion (as I still have a little more flight time, though as I write this intro I am already at home preparing for shabbos...)

Here comes the source for the Passover story… again…

So God is about to nip this Egypt thing in the bud once and for all. He’s played with his food for nine plagues now and he’s going to strike with awesomeness yet again. However this one will be so awful and awesome that it is the last straw for Pharaoh (until he comes after them on the way to the Sea of Reeds, anyway) and so they need to have their escape route planned. But they are not escaping as thieves into the dead of night. They will remain in Egypt until the next morning and will leave with pomp, circumstance, and fanfare, and the Egyptians will willingly lavish them with riches which they so deserve for working as slaves for so many centuries. God needs to give the Israelites (Does it work like the constructs of meteors? Israeloids? Israels?) a game plan. As I mentioned on last week’s torah portion a couple of minutes ago (sigh… still on the plane…), God has been getting glory upon Egypt and her gods. Now it is Israel’s turn to shame the gods of Egypt and their human oppressors. They will tie up the lambs (or goats), sacred to the Egyptians and proceed to bring them in to their dwellings and they will proceed to slaughter them, smear their blood on the doors of their homes and eat the sacred beasts for a festive dinner, all on the night when the Angel of Death (or God as God Himself will claim) visits death upon the firstborn Egyptians. Not only this, but on any house on which there is the blood of the deified beast of Egypt, the Destroyer will pass over and not harm the inhabitants.

We know that in the Seventh Plague that climaxed last week’s torah portion, fiery hail, that anyone who feared God, regardless of religion or ethnicity, should put their livestock and themselves indoors during the duration and they would not be harmed. We learn that there are a number of Egyptians that comply and are saved from the deadly combination of the four elements working in tandem, earth, fire, wind, water (and heart… poor Mati, his Captain Planet power was worthless…). And here there were also Egyptians that believed in God, particularly after many challenged Pharaoh to concede to the God of Israel as having already defeated them and that “Egypt is lost”. Were they given the opportunity or the advanced knowledge of how to avert the plague? If they did would they kill one of their gods to save their own lives? Would it have worked?

And so while there was death all around them, the Jews were to sing. In the future they would spill wine like tears to diminish their joy at what had to happen to the Egyptians, but at this point in time when Israel was still enslaved and whipped and murdered by them this was justified payback. Yesterday we were slaves in Egypt, but freedom will come with dawn.

Beginning to land, gotta go… Shabbat Shalom.

Dvar Torah S2: Va’era (My God can beat up your god!)

Well, a week late but I’ve been out of town. So I am currently flying back to Los Angeles from a week in New York City by way of Atlanta. I’ve been a little busy…

Let’s kill two parshiyot with one Dvar Torah, or the land of Egypt with Ten Plagues. Really both Vaera and Bo are part of a series as I mentioned last year (If memory serves me correctly as I don’t have the internet on the plane).

There is an interesting tradition that would fly in the face of what we tend to conceive of Judaism: that early Judaism is not a bastion of Monotheism but rather is Henotheistic, ie., there are multiple gods, but only One, the single God of Israel reigns supreme. This theory is supported many times in the plaintext in the Torah with examples too many to enumerate. In two weeks (two weeks from Bo, anyway) we read that which is usually rendered as “thou shalt have no other gods before me”, though it doesn’t say that there are no other gods. However the bottom line is that my God can beat up all the other gods, and to quote the psalmist “all the gods of the nations are nothingness but Hashem created the Heavens”. Thus there is a midrash that God was both fighting both earthly pharaoh and his celestial doppelganger, Ra, as well as all which is deified in Egypt: the Nile, cattle, goats, the superior and holier first born. The Necromancers were not denied their ability to use their dark flashy magic, but only to build up to a greater crescendo in the grand finale. God will make Pharaoh and Egypt know, without a doubt, who the real Power is. Pharaoh himself will admit that God is the righteous One and that he and his people are wrongdoers and begs Moses to entreat God to remove the pestilence which He had inflicted. His necromancers who were granted the ability to replicate snakes, blood, and frogs (or as a scarier rendering suggests for tzfardeah: crocodiles), were forced to admit that they could not compete with the God of Israel (or the finger of God/gods, however you interpret it). God says that through these plagues, God’s Name will be famous throughout the world. God’s revenge on Egypt for what they have done to His People will be like nothing that has ever occurred before, terrible and glorious, that his people are distinct and unique and that he is Unique and greater than all other gods and they remain powerless against Him. But there still remain ironclad laws that govern earthly as well as celestial warfare, and Egypt’s sar, guardian angel, will fall and fall hard and then Egypt too will fall and God will lead his chosen people with their heads held high to redemption and freedom.

Shabbat Shalom.