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Acharon shel Pesach 5776 — 04/30/2016

Acharon shel Pesach 5776 — 04/30/2016

Shemot 13:17-15:26 (7th day = Friday), Devarim 14:22-16:17 (8th day), Maftir:Bamidbar 28:19-25

I believe that in Israel, where there is no 8th day, the reading for the 7th day is still the same as outside the Land, as it is the Song of the Sea, which took place on the 7th day after the Exodus. The reading for the 8th day begins with the commandment to tithe the second tithe, and the commandment to finish all tithing obligations by the end of Pesach every 3rd and 6th year of the Sabbatical cycle, hence the connection with the 8th day. The passage goes on to describe the other agricultural gifts to the poor.

Note: Last week I stated that parashat Bamidbar is always read on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av. That is not correct — it’s parashat Devarim. Just a brain cramp, nothing to be concerned about…

After the miraculous crossing of the Sea, Moshe Rabbeinu leads the people to Marah, where the waters are bitter. Gd shows him a tree which he throws into the waters to sweeten them. The text then goes on to say that there Gd established laws for the nation (this is all prior to the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, which will take place in 6 weeks, at Shavuot time), and there He tested them. And Gd promises that if they pass the test, He will be our Healer. Our Sages tell us that the laws that were given were a sample of the three types of mitzvot:

  • Shabbat is an eidah / testimony – it “testifies” that the world was created ex nihilo in 6 days
  • The Red Heifer is a chok / ordinance – it defies rational explanation by the limited human intellect
  • Honoring parents is a mishpat / judgment – a rational law that we can understand

Each of these laws has myriad details, especially Shabbat, which is the subject of the longest tractate in the Talmud. What was Gd trying to do here – what message was He sending?

As we have mentioned before, water is a common metaphor for the ocean of pure Being that lies at the basis of all life. But that “water” is not much use if it can’t be used to nourish life. We think of the inability of the people to drink the water as caused by the fact that they were bitter. Maybe the fact that the people couldn’t drink is what made the waters bitter – they were bitter to the people because they were, as it were, useless.  [Alternatively, “because they were bitter” means because the people were bitter!]

Gd showed Moshe a tree, which he used to sweeten the waters. The tree is a common metaphor for Torah, which is the knowledge of the structure of creation. Perhaps we can look at Moshe’s throwing the tree into the water in the following way: when the knowledge of the structure of creation is added to pure Being, then that Being becomes lively and can begin to flow into the various channels of creation, The sweetness of the waters lies in the ability of the people to drink them – that is, to imbibe pure Being into their individual lives, sustaining and nurturing them.

Life separated from the Divine is bitter indeed. Gd gave us a foretaste of Torah at Marah, binding us to the Divine through the various practices that are at the basis of our lives as Jews. We just have to make use of our Tradition to taste the sweetness of a close relationship with Gd.

Chag Same’ach and try not to gorge too much on pizza Saturday night!