Food For the Soul
In the Parsha Va’era (Exodus 6:2-9:35) the slavery in Egypt is approaching its final stages. The ten plagues are beginning to descend upon a hapless Egypt. Though Pharaoh’s reactions are not spontaneous — his reversals and broken promises were foreordained — still, men of free and not pre-determined will, often emulate him.
It was after the second plague, Pharaoh had assured Moses that Israel would be freed, and the plague was in fact lifted. “But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart”1 and repudiated his pledge. His promises were forgotten when the pressure was removed.
G‑d is a refuge in distress, but not if He is otherwise ignored. Pharaoh set the example of promising to do good when he was suffering from a plague, but he promptly “hardened his heart when there was a respite.” The time of respite, that is the test of faith. Suffering, desperation, and calamities may impel one toward religion and G‑d, and they can well mean the start of a truly religious life. But the person whose religion is in direct proportion to his suffering is an apt pupil of Pharaoh, hardly a worthy teacher.
From an article by Rabbi Zalman Posner
The “small” tasks
Some individuals feel that their purpose in life is to revolutionize the world, to revamp society. It is not worthwhile to devote their superior talents to correcting small matters. The “simple” matters of Shabbat laws and Shabbat observance, keeping kosher, the laws of marital life or the details of blessings to be made over food do not befit their exalted status. [But] if the Almighty interests Himself and watches over even the smallest detail of the universe; if bringing lice and hail upon the Egyptians is not too “lowly” a task to be associated with G‑d’s great name—then [we] too should give attention to the smallest detail. It is precisely in the “simple tasks” of teaching [and practicing] the Torah laws pertaining to day-to-day living, that G‑d’s kingly presence finds expression.
Adapted from an article by Rabbi Yitschak Meir Kagan
Mind Over Matter
Illumination, not elimination
Try terminating a bad thought, and you’ll only get more stuck in it. But if you actively exchange the thought for another “track,” it will cease to exist. Not because you’ve won it over, but because you moved on to something better.
The famed Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk put it this way: “I don’t expect my chassidim not to sin. I expect them not to have time to sin.” Moreover, a person constantly involved with good eventually reaches the point where he ceases to sin not only due to a lack of time, but due to a lack of interest; not just in practice, but in principle. Our sages put it so eloquently when they said that the way to dispel darkness is by adding light. Night is banished through the process of illumination, not elimination.
From an article by Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson
“I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt, I shall rescue you from their service, I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments, and I shall take you to Myself for a people… And I shall bring you to the land…” Va’eira 6:6-8
The Messianic redemption, including its highest stage, is inherent already, even now-indeed, ever since the exodus-except that it still needs to become manifest in our physical reality. Consciousness and realization of this fact makes it so much easier to overcome all and any impediments and obstructions, in this world in general, in the era of the galut (exile) in particular, and especially so nowadays, at the very end of the galut, when we are on the threshold of the Messianic age and Moshiach is about to come.
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Faith instills confidence
Charlie Adler, a Canadian Radio Show host, asked why our forbearers, who had less than us, looked forward with optimism, while we, who have more than they ever did, are pessimistic about our future. Daily headlines warn us of market meltdowns and a severe oncoming depression while blogs, magazines and op-eds warn of collapsing empires, environmental calamities and mega terror attacks. Why are we so eager to believe the prophets of doom? What filled our ancestors with confidence and fills us with foreboding?
One caller suggested that it is rooted in our lack of faith. Our grandparents believed in G‑d and were thus imbued with a basic faith about the future. Our generation has relinquished its faith in G‑d and placed its hope in its own resourcefulness. We have replaced the almighty G‑d with the almighty dollar. When our ambition creates a blanket of financial security we can view the future with promise. But when our security blanket wears thin there is little left to buoy us and we fill instead with foreboding.
The religious values that provided comfort and security two generations ago were discarded in the last generation. Religious ethics were rejected as prohibitive and restrictive. Religion and faith were turned in for freedom, peace, humanism and love. Discipline, ethics and values were turned in for indulgence, greed and excess. This carried us for a while. It increased our ambition, enhanced our productivity and we reaped generous reward.
But ambition and creativity alone cannot keep us atop the dynamic forces that buffet us in life for long; we were bound to crash. When the gravy train slowed down it was time to turn back to the values that built our great nation. But by the time we were ready to turn back we found there was nothing to turn back to. We had journeyed so far from our original mindset that return was inconceivable. How do we pull ourselves up, when we have spent decades dragging ourselves down?
The ancient Egyptians were struck with ten plagues. First the waters turned to blood and then the waters filled with frogs. Blood represents warmth, enthusiasm and a love for life. The Nile turning to blood thus symbolized excessive preoccupation with and excitement for materialism. Frogs are amphibious creatures. They are cold blooded creatures, which on a symbolic level represents spiritual apathy. There is an apathetic spectrum which stretches from initial seeds of doubt to full blown antipathy toward all things G‑dly. This spectrum is represented by the frog.
Egypt was not stricken with frogs until after they were stricken with blood. This tells us that religious apathy and breaches of faith do not occur in a vacuum. It is only after we become overly exuberant about our material successes that seeds of religious doubt are planted. When we put too much stock in material achievement and take excessive delight in material indulgence we dull the voice of our soul and its calling of faith.
When faced with a financial downturn we must embrace a posture of confidence in the future. Not a confidence born of bravado, but one rooted in faith. We must remember the values that generated our past success. We must restore our willingness to work hard, our optimistic and hopeful outlook and our serenity born of faith. To accomplish this we must first reverse the plague of blood, our excessive emphasis on material success. Only then can we address the second plague, that of frogs, by replanting our faith and reigniting our passion for G‑d.
When we thank G‑d for crowning our ambitions with success and humbly attribute our wellbeing to His largess we move from narcissism and entitlement to gratitude and commitment. We become willing to work hard and earn our living rather than sit back and demand assistance. We become willing to look after ourselves, rather than demand that others do it for us.
With this internal transformation we lay the bricks of rebuilding. We invest in our children, our communities and our future. We turn to G‑d in humility, but with certainty; in supplication, but with confidence in our success. With this mindset we can avoid a depression and journey on the path of continued growth.
Edited from an article by Rabbi Lazer Gurkow