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Posted January 19, 2018 - 6:11am

Radical New Beginnings

When the God of the Universe gives someone a new beginning, it is a radical one. Our prime example is the Children of Israel in our current Torah portion. He dramatically redeems them from Pharaoh and the house of bondage and transforms them from a horde of slaves into a holy nation of purpose. And to seal this transformation He gave the people He redeemed a new calendar to organize their lives by:

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. (Exodus 12:1–2)

Their redemption was so radical that He wanted them to think of the days of their lives, not according to the seasons, the harvest, or the festivals of the nations around them, but in terms of their transformation. Unlike our secular calendar, every day on this new calendar would point them to a juncture in time where they would re-encounter their Redeemer.

The Children of Israel were redeemed in the Hebrew month of Nisan (also called Aviv, see Exodus 13:4). Nisan is in the spring, corresponding to around March-April. At the time of their redemption, Nisan was the seventh month of their year. The new year began with the fall harvest around September-October. With the redemption from Egypt, however, all religious events were determined by the establishment of this month begin at the head of the religious year. Nisan became the first of the months. Their perspective of time was re-oriented to correspond to their redemption.

Posted January 12, 2018 - 7:09am

The Sacred Name Revealed

If we are paying close attention, we will realize that this week’s portion begins with a rather odd statement that begs for clarification. At first, the opening words of our portion seem contradictory to the basic storyline of what we have learned about God’s relationship with both the patriarchs and with Moses up to this point. Let’s take a careful look at the opening words of our parashah:

God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. (Exodus 6:2-3)

God begins by telling Moses, “I am the LORD.” Our English translations use the word “LORD" (usually all uppercase) to represent the sacred name of God. In Hebrew, this is spelled with the letters yod, heh, vav, and heh (Y-H-V-H). This is the name that God commanded Moses to tell the Children of Israel: “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:15). We often refer to this name as “Hashem,” which simply means, “The Name.” 

Next, God tells Moses, “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty (El Shaddai), but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them.” But wait a minute. Is this even a true statement? Did the patriarchs not know the sacred and holy name of God? Here are three passages that tell us they did:

And there he [Abraham] built an altar to Hashem and called upon the name of the LORD. (Genesis 12:8)

So he [Isaac] built an altar there and called upon the name of the LORD and pitched his tent there. (Genesis 26:25)

Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” (Genesis 28:16)

Posted January 5, 2018 - 5:28am

From Survivors To Thrivers

The beginning of Exodus picks up where the end of Genesis leaves off. After Joseph passes away and his generation is gone the Hebrews begin multiplying in the land of Egypt. It seems like the honeymoon will continue on. However, just a few verses into Exodus we read about a new Pharaoh coming to power “who did not know Joseph.” This is where things begin to turn south for the Hebrews:

Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. (Exodus 1:8–12)

The blessings of Jacob upon Ephraim and Manasseh had come to pass and the Hebrews had proliferated into “a multitude in the midst of the earth” (Genesis 48:16). However, fearing the growing number of these Hebrews, the new Pharaoh came up with a plan to ensure that this growing minority would not overrun Egypt. He “set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens” (Exodus 1:11). Thus began the oppression of the Children of Israel in the land of Egypt.

Posted December 29, 2017 - 5:51am

From My Heart to Your Heart

For the last three portions we have been seeing the story of Joseph unfold. Up until now we have learned the main events of Joseph’s life. We learned about Joseph’s descent into Egypt through the seemingly unfortunate circumstances initiated by his brothers’ hatred toward him. But then we saw how God used this for his own purposes, placing Joseph in a strategic position to be not only the savior of his own family, but of the world as well. We read about the reunion of Joseph and his family, and how he moved his father and all of his brothers down to Egypt so that he could take care of them. Now, in our final portion from the book of Bereisheet (Genesis), we learn about the final days of Jacob and his desire to bestow his blessings upon his children before his passing. The focal point of this portion is the individual blessings he gives to each of his sons, with the adoption and blessing of Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, being an unexpected turn of events.

Within this narrative there are numerous lessons we can learn from a detailed reading of the text. There is, however, one lesson tucked away toward the end of the portion that may easily be glossed over by a surface reading of the text. After Jacob dies, Joseph’s brothers realize that up to this point Jacob may have been the only buffer between them and their brother’s vengeance. They knew how bad they had treated him and fully expected retaliation after their father’s passing. So, they devised a plan. They told Joseph that before Jacob had died, he told them to convey a message to Joseph that he was not to harm his brothers or take revenge on them. When Joseph listened to his brothers, however, he wept. It hurt him to realize that his brothers believed he had malicious intent towards them. He quickly cleared up the matter:

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Latest Book Review

The Magerman Edition

Author: Daniel Rose & Jay Goldmintz
Publisher: Koren Publishers
Year: 2014

The Koren Ani Tefilla Siddur is one of the latest in Koren’s growing collection of siddurim (prayer books) geared towards a specific demographic. Koren describes Ani Tefilla as “an engaging and thought-provoking siddur for the inquiring high school student and thoughtful adult.” Koren says that Ani Tefillah has been developed in order “to help the user create their own meaning and connection during the Tefilla [prayer] experience.” The name of the siddur is connected with its objective. Ani Tefilla means “I pray.” 

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