Friday, January 16, 2009

Divrei Torah Parshas Shmos: illusions and reality

At what point in Sefer Shmos would you say that the geulah of Bnei Yisrael began? Did it start with the plagues? With Moshe's return? With Hashem's appearance to Moshe in the burning bush? Maybe even earlier with Moshe's awakening to the plight of his people? The Sefas Emes in the name of the Ch haRI"M places the start of geulah all the way back at of the second chapter of the Sefer where we read that the old Pharoah died and the Jewish people suddenly bewailed their fate, "VaYei'anchu Bnei Yisrael min ha'avodah". The S.E. explains that until there was a realization that life was intolerable, that things cannot go on under these circumstances, then there was no real sense of galus and therefore no real longing for geulah without which change would never happen. The BeSH"T interprets the double language of "haster astir" used to describe hester panim to mean that G-d will be hidden and, sadly, we will not even realize that he is hiding from us. The first step to getting out of galus is realizing that we are in one. As winter vacation approaches and the advertisements appear for kosher cruises with all the glatt kosher food and sushi you can eat and daf yomi to boot, it makes one wonder. If this is galus, that (chas v'shalom) who needs a geulah?

At his meeting with G-d at the burning bush Moshe challenges G-d and says that the Jewish people will not believe him, an argument that seems unbefitting to the character of a tzadik and defender of the Jewish people, and which therefore has been reinterpreted in various ways. The Ishbitza (among others) as always is worth looking at, but I am going to risk suggesting an approach that is almost the opposite of his reading but follows along the lines of the Ohr haChaim. The Noam Elimelech in a different context in this week's parsha (d"h vayomer Hashem) writes that when a tzadik speaks words of Hashem it is impossible for these words not to penetrate and break into the hearts of the listeners. This was undoubtedly true in Moshe's case, for Hashem had specifically promised, "V'sham'u l'kolecha" (3:18). Therefore, there was no doubt in Moshe's mind that his words uttered in G-d's name would be heard and would uplift the Jewish people. But is that called "emunah", belief? One may have no choice but to listen and obey when the tzadik is speaking, but what about the doubts that may linger when the speech is over? We can all ask the same question about ourselves. A person hears a great mussar speech or derasha and feels uplifted and elevated and motivated in avodas Hashem, and then days, hours, or sometimes even minutes later it wears off. Who is the "real" me? Is the "real" me the person on a high of avodah who then unfortunately slips and falls and needs a little spiritual help to keep reaching for those heights, or is the "real" me the person sinking into the avodas parech of the mundane and those moments of spiritual seeking were the aberration?

Hashem answers Moshe through the signs, first transforming Moshe's staff into a snake. The Tiferes Shlomo (Radomsker) writes that this was the special staff with the name of Hashem engraved upon it later user to perform the plagues; it was an article invested with kedusha. Yet, when tossed to the ground, it appeared as the most lowly of animals. Hashem was telling Moshe that Bnei Yisrael in reality are the most exalted people, but when tossed to the ground, when submerged in the decadence of Egypt, there is no wonder that they appear lacking. The same is true of water which was taken from one of the four rivers of Eden (I do not know the T.S.'s source of this) but when poured to the ground looked like blood.

Moshe is told to grab hold to the tail of that snake and lift it and it will turn back to the holy staff -- grab hold of the tail end of the lowliest member of Bnei Yisrael and lift that Jew up and you will discover his true character. The "real" Jew is not the snake slithering on the ground, but is the holy staff of Hashem -- he/she just needs someone to grab and lift.

The Rambam (Hil Geirushin ch 2) writes that a Jew who is coerced by Beis Din to perform a mitzvah is not acting against his will even if he screams in protest, because innate to every member of the Jewish people is a desire to obey G-d. Belief is the reality of a Jew by definition; everything else is pretense and pretend.

Similarly, the question of how the Torah can command love of G-d when love is an emotional response -- you can't force a person to love what he is repelled from -- is not a question. A Jew has an innate love of G-d by his/her very nature and it is only external forces which cover up that love and even go so far as to make us thingkwe don't have it.

And so we come back to the Sefas Emes. Our psyche has been warped by 2000 years of exile into thinking galus is a natural state for the Jew and geulah is some miraculous occurrence outside the bounds of nature. We have been trained to think of the snake as real and the staff as an aberration, a miracle that is imposed upon the true nature of things. The key yo geulah is reversing that thinking. The staff is real and the snake is the illusion. 2000 years of existence in exile is the unexpected miracle; living in Eretz Yisrael with toras Eretz Yisrael and a Beis haMikdash in all its glory is reality. We all believe it deep down inside because a Jew by definition believes; all the rest is just pretend. When we are sick of pretending, when we get to the point of "VaYe'anchu", becoming sick of galus, sensing the hester panim that exists even if you can learn daf yomi on a kosher cruise, then undoubtedly geulah will be hastened.

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