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Parashat Shemot 5779 — 12/29/2018

Parashat Shemot 5779 — 12/29/2018

Shemot 1:1-6:1

Come, let us deal wisely with them. (1:10)
The enslavement of the Israelites is not Pharaoh’s endgame. While the king clearly intends to benefit from the forced labor the Hebrew slaves will provide, he will ultimately be satisfied with nothing less than this fledgling people’s total destruction. Genocide, however, even when mandated by a mighty Pharaoh, cannot be perpetrated in a vacuum. (R. Goldin)

I actually have no fancy commentary this week. I will follow R. Goldin’s description of what Pharaoh did to us, and in some cases draw the obvious parallels with what the Nazis did less than a century ago, and with what the Arab world and its Western enablers are doing (non-Jewish, and in some cases Jewish as well), or attempting to do, to the Jewish people right now. It should also be clear that other leaders have used and are using the same tactics against other minority groups. My primary objective is to deal with the current campaign of de-legitimization and demonization of Israel and the Jewish people.

The first stage R. Goldin identifies is propaganda, and it has two purposes. The first is to prepare Egyptian “public opinion” to accept the extermination of another people. People are generally, by nature, loathe to kill another individual human being. Therefore, the target must be dehumanized by constant repetition of lies and slander. The second purpose of the propaganda is to sap the victims’ will to resist, to convince them of their worthlessness, their own lack of humanity.

The Nazis were masters of this, comparing Jews to “vermin,” animals that can, and should, be exterminated. Of course, in all their efforts the Nazis had almost 2000 years of Roman and Church propaganda that labeled the Jews deicides, perverters of scripture, and worse, and blamed them for all the failings of society, so the Nazis’ seeds were falling on fertile ground. The Arabs have learned well from their Nazi mentors (during WW II this mentorship was quite out in the open, but even afterwards, the lessons have carried on). Jews are called “descendants of pigs and monkeys” (by the Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, inter alia, so this is not just a fringe phenomenon), and the PA, in the face of all evidence, systematically denies all Jewish connection to the Land of Israel to the contrary. Israelis are accused of all kinds of war crimes, not just by the Arabs who put their children in harm’s way, but also by Western journalists who should know better.

The point of all this propaganda is not that it is blatantly false, but it serves to separate its victims from the rest of humanity. Nobody has any qualms about squashing a cockroach. The purpose of the propaganda is to make us seem like cockroaches in the eyes of the world. For some reason it appears that it works very well in advanced cultures – Pharaoh’s Egypt, 1930’s Germany. We see that nobody is immune, least of all ourselves. As R. Goldin puts it, “…the king knows that lies, boldly spoken, will be readily accepted by those who want to believe them.” Goebbels proved it to be the case and the current discussion about Israel’s legitimacy is proving it again.

R. Goldin identifies stage two of Pharaoh’s plan as Isolation. The Israelites are given specific projects and kept away from the rest of the population: And they built storage cities for Pharaoh, Pitom and Raamses (1:11). I would add that this isolation is a further dehumanizing step. Every brick in the wall that identifies an individual or a people as “other” is a further step that makes murdering that person no longer murder, but something more akin to squashing a bug. The Nazis’ use of the yellow star had the same effect, as did their boycott of Jewish businesses. The Arab boycott of Israel, beginning in 1948, was much less successful, and the aims of the current BDS movement are the same – to destroy Israel economically. BDS has had almost no success in the economic sphere, and has focused its efforts on isolating Israel academically and culturally, where it has had a few successes. But the aim is the same – isolation and then destruction.

Stage Three is degradation. The Israelites were given degrading, useless work to do, so they would not even have the satisfaction of completing a task. The Midrash tells us that men were given women’s work and vice versa, so that nobody was doing anything appropriate to their own talents. It further tells us that the walls of the “store cities” that the Israelites built were purposely placed on sand, so that the labor of the day would fall and crumble overnight. One is reminded of the Greek myth of Sisyphus. The Nazi slave labor camps on occasion had actual products, often ordnance, which was worse than useless to the slaves, as it could be used to harm loved ones. (On the other hand, it gave the slaves a chance to sabotage the German war effort.) In the current conflict over Israel, it is fortunate that the Arabs do not have control over our bodies, but the way they portray the victims of their terrorist attacks, the brutality with which those attacks are carried out, and the praise and money that are showered on the perpetrators are degrading enough.

Finally, Stage Four is murder. This is the end game. The population is so whipped up with hatred that when the order comes to throw all male babies into the Nile (including Egyptian babies! – see Ex 1:22) they willingly complied – even at the expense of their own children. People wouldn’t sacrifice their own children on the altar of Jew-hatred, would they?

The point of this comparison is to demonstrate that the events surrounding the Exodus did not occur long ago in a galaxy far away. It is occurring right now, and, left unchecked, will cost many, many Jewish lives. For our own sake and the sake of our offspring, we need to fight against the evil that is directed against us as best we can and wherever we can. Pittsburgh is just the tip of the iceberg.

Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Shemot

In this parshah, Gd speaks to Moses from a burning bush, tells him to go to Pharaoh, and tell Pharaoh to let my people go. How could Moses know that this was Gd, Totality, One without a Second, and not some partial power of Gd deluding itself and seeking to delude Moses into idolatry?

Perhaps the power Gd displayed from within the burning bush was so great that Moses was overwhelmed and had no choice but to accept that Gd spoke truth when Gd said, “Ehyeh asher ehyeh”, (“I am without equal” is a good way to translate it, although it can be translated many ways.).

Perhaps we can we find this event as a process in the human physiology, personality, an event in which some aspect of the physiology/personality is being tuned to some quality of the physiology/personality which is the deepest, transcendental and unifying value within which every aspect of the physiology/personality exists and which has complete control so that every part has no choice but to surrender.

The point of departure is Rabbi Resnick’s observation on that Torah compares humans to trees and that we humans have a fire within us, a yearning for fulfillment.

We’ve been looking at the parshahs from the standpoint of Teshuvah, in the lives of individuals as members of society, devotees of Gd. We’ve found some descriptions of historical figures such as Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the Children of Israel who seem to have been experiencing Teshuvah. Noah was described as “righteous, perfect, walking with God”. Abraham was given by Gd “every blessing”, which he gave to Isaac.

With this Parshah, we will explore the event of Gd, Moses and the Burning Bush from a Kabbalistic perspective as events that take place in the physiology, the mind and feelings, and the soul. Eventually, we hope to explore all of Torah this way, exploring the symbolism of Biblical figures as representing different aspects of the human physiology and the overall story of Creation, travelling, settling, moving to the Promised Land, moving out of the Promised Land to Egypt, brief prosperity, enslavement, exodus, and back to the Promised Land as describing stages in the process through which the human physiology and personality gain perfection, Teshuvah, restoration of Primordial Oneness.

One source we will particularly draw on is a book by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburg, “Body, Mind and Soul: Kabbalah of Human Physiology, Disease and Healing”. The book begins with a quote from a letter by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to Rabbi Ginsburg, saying it would be proper for him to publish this book.

In this book, Rabbi Ginsburg explores the connection to the human physiology, mind and soul from the standpoint of Gd’s four letter name, the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the 10 sephirot.

Although in this book, Rabbi Ginsburg doesn’t say anything about the Burning Bush, the Promised Land or Egypt, he does associate Gd who speaks with humans with the lower level of the Sephira “Da’at” and with the brain posterior. He associates Moses with the Sephira “Netzach” and with the endocrine system, which brings messages from the brain to the rest of the physiology, just as Moses brought messages from Gd to the rest of the Jewish people – and to Pharaoh.

Rabbi Ginsburgh does say something which we can tentatively apply to the appearance of the Burning Bush within which Gd speaks (or, as which Gd speaks) and whose fire does not go out.

He associates the power of sight with the inner point of the pupil, which when activated by light from outside, activates “the eye’s innate power to emanate its own spiritual light…” Perhaps it is Gd’s Light that shines within this light (the rods and cones of the eye are the Burning Bush) and enlivens the endocrine system, Moses, enlivening it to send messages to heal the rest of the physiology – Israel in exile.

This can be a stage in the healing process which, according to Rabbi Ginsburg begins with correcting with forgiveness and gratitude the disease caused primarily by an imbalance in the immune system in turn caused by unkind words spoken, lack of gratitude, lack of forgiveness, an imbalance in the Sephira of Hod – thanksgiving.

This is a preliminary venture into exploring how the estrangement which begins when Heaven and Earth are perceived as separate from each other and from Gd becomes balanced with the return to the Promised Land, even a glimpse of the Promised Land, and the Kiss of Gd (as happens to Moses in the last Parsha of the Five Books of Torah.

Something to consider in this light is that the event took place/takes place in Midian and “Midian” is the name of a son of Abraham and Keturah, a name derived from the word “madon,” strife.

Thus, between the land of Egypt/Mitzrayim/Restrictions and Canaan/Synchronicity/Wholeness we have Midian/Strife which unloosens the restrictions, something which Gd commands Moses to be an instrument through which this happens.

Baruch HaShem.