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Posted January 26, 2018 - 11:42am

The Mouth of Freedom

At the end of last week’s Torah portion we experienced the incredible deliverance of the Children of Israel from Egypt. Our reading concluded with the inauguration of the various ceremonies surrounding Passover and how these ceremonies are to assist in commemorating the exodus from Egypt. According to the beginning of chapter 13, the focal point for remembering the events of the exodus does not seem to be as much about eating a lamb year-by-year as eating matzah, unleavened bread, for an entire week of the year. Moses instructs the Children of Israel:

Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the LORD. Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen with you, and no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory. You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt. (Exodus 13:6–9)

Besides the removal of leaven, there are two main components in this passage: 1) eating matzah for seven days and 2) telling the story of the exodus. Both of these tasks are accomplished by means of the mouth. These instructions are almost immediately followed by an interesting statement in our current portion:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi‑hahiroth (Exodus 14:1–2)

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.


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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