The main event is finally here. The giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai from G-d to the Jewish people is a most compelling narrative found in this weeks parsha. Arguably, this is the most crucial passage in the Torah in which G-d communicates His divine message and challenge to mere mortal beings about how to live a life with more meaning and purpose. This was quite unique in terms of this being a national experience in which millions of men, women, and children gathered at a simple mountain in a desert and heard the word of G-d, and it has penetrated the heart and soul of the Jew ever since. The highlight of the message and indeed of what is found in this weeks parsha is what is known as the Ten Commandments.
The first commandment states ”I am the Lord your G-d who took you out of the Land of Egypt from the house of slaves.” The basic understanding of this mitzvah is that one must have faith and believe in G-d. This is easier said than done as many of us are challenged with issues of faith especially when we perceive things to be unfair in life, and we have been taught that G-d rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked and the reality doesn’t always reflect that. Furthermore, the mitzvah/commandment appears to be quite top down in the sense of you must believe in Me. As we know in matters of faith, it is not always so simple to believe in G-d, and many people struggle with G-d and Judaism on various levels.
There is an insight I have heard from the rabbis that sheds a whole new light on this first mitzvah/commandment. G-d is saying I am the one who took you out of Egypt from the house of slaves. It’s interesting that from all of His accomplishments and contributions for the benefit of mankind, it is the emancipation from the house of slavery that was selected. Furthermore, the biblical commentaries highlight the fact that the Hebrew grammar suggests that G-d is addressing the individual and not the masses. The rabbis concluded a fundamental lesson from here, and that is that G-d is addressing the individual and saying “I am the Lord your G-d” who saved you from your oppressive situation. While we may not be in Egypt in a geographical sense, we all experience stressful and even oppressive situations. For some of us, it may be financial, health issues or family dynamics. These matters take an increasing toll on us, and we wonder when G-d will come through for us. That is precisely the message of the first mitzvah/commandment. G-d is telling each and every individual, I am not a G-d who dwells up high and is disconnected but rather I am listening to you in your dire situation, and I will take you out of that stressful situation. The reality is that the first mitzvah/commandment is teaching us something far more compelling than for us to believe in G-d. It’s teaching us that G-d believes in us, understands our challenges and will lift us up from these difficulties.
Friday, January 18, 2019
We live in times in which conventional realities have been turned upside down. It has been pretty much a given that someone's employment was more secure in the public sector than in the private sector. A job that one has in a company in the corporate world is frequently vulnerable and may be subject to layoffs that can be caused by a variety of headwinds in the climate of Wall Street and Main Street. On the other hand, a job in the public sector has been associated with stable pay, generous benefits and lucrative pensions. Well, that narrative has flipped with the most recent shutdown of our federal government. Regardless, of one's personal political views, the shutdown is a harsh reality for many employees of the federal government. The number of federal employees working without pay stands at about 450,000 -- but that number could top half a million in the coming days, as the government continues to recall tens of thousands of workers after almost four weeks of shuttered doors at vital agencies. Additionally, there are far-reaching consequences that are affecting other areas of the economy. For example, people that had qualified for small business loans are now being put on hold since the Small Business Administration has stopped approving routine small business loans that the agency backs to ensure individuals have access to much needed funds. This compounds the anxiety one can have about earning an adequate salary to pay all the bills and can be rather debilitating at times. With the cost of living rising annually and our paychecks not keeping up with that pace, it continues to weigh on our minds in all hours of the day and night. Not to mention the costs of the Orthodox Jewish family that include the high cost of Jewish Day School tuition and kosher food!! I believe the lesson of the manna in this weeks parsha should provide us some cause for reflection. The Jewish people were at their wits end. After all, they were in the desert, and they did not have any food to eat. That’s millions of men women and children without a morsel! That must have been one unhappy kiddush! The next morning, Moshe told them to go outside, and G-d would deliver the manna, and it was waiting for them outside their tents. They were in disbelief as they saw the Manna falling from heaven! One might say, how is that story that took place over 3,300 years ago relevant today? Is there manna falling from heaven in 2019? How exactly do we see the hand of G-d today in the grind of the daily economy? I believe we have to open our eyes. G-d keeps on opening new opportunities for the world which was unheard just several decades ago. It may not be the actual manna, but He is the ultimate provider and will continue to provide new avenues of growth for humanity which will include new opportunities for revenue. There are burgeoning industries that are employing millions of people. For example, the tech industry in the United States alone employs several million people. Amazon itself is employing over half a million people in the United States. Every generation experiences a different form of Manna. It has varied in shape, sizes, and color over the years. In the not uncommon moments of economic anxiety, it would be worth recalling who delivers parnassa for every generation.
Friday, January 11, 2019
I was honored to be invited to the inauguration of our new Governor Ron DeSantis this week in Tallahassee. Additionally, this was the inauguration of the Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer, and Agriculture Commissioner. I traveled to our state's capital on Tuesday with my son Yehoshua for this occasion. There were a few shul members there as well. Of course, much pomp and ceremony was surrounding the affair, but there were a couple of thoughts that I was reflecting on as I was participating in the inauguration that day.
We are living in a period of hyper-partisanship, and our state's race for governor was not immune from it. There was a lot of negativity and low points throughout the campaign. The election itself was very close with one candidate able to eke out a narrow victory. The remarkable thing about our democracy is that following the election, we can have a peaceful transition of power. Despite the political differences that we may have we are blessed to live in a state and country in which we can transition from one president to another and one governor to another without any violence or military uprising. That cannot be said for many other parts of the world in which rival political factions frequently descend into rioting in the streets or even civil war. This point was not lost on me as I watched from a few feet away as I saw our new governor place his hand on the Bible and swear that he will support, protect, and defend the Constitution and Government of the United States and the State of Florida.
Another significant moment at the inauguration not only for all Floridians but for all Jewish Floridians was the oath of office taken for Agriculture Commissioner by Nikki Fried. The oath taken by Nikki Fried was on the oldest Hebrew Bible in the United States which is currently housed in the library of the University of Florida. Nikki Fried, the first Jewish woman to serve in the post in the Sunshine State, called the University of Florida, her alma mater, to ask if there was a special Bible she could use for the occasion. Well, she was in luck since the library at UF owns a two-volume Hebrew Bible dating to 1814, one of about 100 remaining that were published in Philadelphia that year using fonts from an older edition printed in Amsterdam. The first volume contains the Torah, and the second includes the remaining 19 books of the Prophets. So on a gloriously sunny morning at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fried laid her hand on the Tanach and took the oath of office. I couldn’t help but feel how proud and fortunate we are to be living in this great country and state. Our people have suffered for so many thousands of years in many countries and were not able to advance politically or have religious freedom. Let us not take this blessing that our generation has for granted.
Have a great Shabbos,
Rabbi Yaakov Fisch
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