Blog - Torah Insights

Invite Your Neighbor - בא


Invite Your Neighbor 

The Pesach offering, which the Jewish people offered on the day before the exodus from Egypt, was unique in that each household had to offer their own animal, which had to be consumed before midnight. What if there were not enough people in the household to eat the entire animal? The Torah tells us that in that case, they would invite a neighboring family to join them in offering and eating the Paschal lamb:  

Speak to the entire community of Israel, saying, "On the tenth of this month, let each one take a lamb for each parental home, a lamb for each household.

But if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor who is nearest to his house shall take [one] according to the number of people, each one according to one's ability to eat, shall you be counted for the lamb. (Exodus 11:3-4)

In general, societies understand that within every community, there are people who are fortunate, successful, and resourceful, while others are less fortunate. Societies understand that there is an obligation for the people with resources to share their blessings with those less fortunate. For the Jewish people, however, the opposite is true. The model of sharing expressed at the Paschal offering, at the very birth of our nation, is a model that is motivated not by the need of a less fortunate neighbor but by the abundance of the blessing the person has. In other words, the calling to share is in response to the need of the giver, who can't possibly eat the entire offering on their own.  

Inviting someone else to partake in our blessing is the way we transcend our limited human existence and connect to our spiritual core that is interconnected with all other souls. Spiritual freedom is the ability to escape the inner Pharaoh, the inner ego, and experience reality beyond the confines of self. Like in the original Passover celebration in Egypt, we begin our Passover Seder by inviting the poor to our table, "Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat. Whoever is in need, let him come and join in celebrating the Pesach Festival", because we recognize that true freedom is the ability to feel the need and perspective of another. 

We share our blessings, time, and empathy not merely for the benefit of another person but because of our own deep need for transcendence. Allowing us to experience spiritual freedom by transcending our finite self and tapping into our soul, is a part of the infinite reality of G-d. 

Adapted from Rabbi SR Hirsh

Is Freedom Bland or Flavorful? - וארא


Is Freedom Bland or Flavorful?

The sages instituted that we drink four cups of wine at the Passover Seder representing the four expressions of redemption at the beginning of our Torah portion: 

Therefore, say to the children of Israel, 'I am the Lord, and (1) I will take you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and (2) I will save you from their labor, (3) and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. And (4) I will take you to Me as a people, and I will be a God to you, and you will know that I am the Lord your God, Who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. (Exodus 6:6-7)

But if the number four is related to redemption, why do we use three Matzot and not four? 

Both Matzah and wine represent redemption, yet they are very different and even opposite from one another: while Matzah is bland, wine is full of taste and causes great joy and pleasure. 

Redemption is not always enjoyable. In fact breaking free of negative habits and patterns of behavior is often very difficult and, in the short term, can cause deep hurt and pain. Attaining freedom, escaping the inner Egypt, requires a great deal of self-control; ignoring and turning away from the comfort of destructive indulgence. Only after much work, acquiring new habits and developing a taste for positive forms of pleasure, music, knowledge, positive relationships, spirituality, and connection to G-d, can a person internalize freedom and enjoy its blessings. 

When the Jewish people left Egypt, they were still steeped in the negativity of Egypt. G-d hastened to redeem them so that they would not be completely swallowed up by the unholiness of Egypt. Initially, the Exodus was gifted to them from above and not internalized within their personalities. That's why we eat three Matzot, called "bread of poverty", because Matzot have no taste and bring no pleasure, referring to the first three expressions of redemption which refer to the moment of the Exodus brought about by G-d. 

The fourth expression of redemption, "And I will take you to Me as a people", refers to the events at Mount Sinai, when the Jewish people became G-d's people. We, therefore, drink four cups of wine to symbolize that, after weeks of preparation and self-refinement, the people internalized the state of redemption and appreciated the joy and pleasure of their relationship with G-d.  

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 26 Vaera 1 

Why? - שמות


The story of the terrible slavery in Egypt, the subject of this week's portion, raises the resounding question, why? Why was all the suffering necessary? Moses himself, toward the conclusion of the portion, when his initial attempt to persuade Pharaoh to free the Jews failed, asked the question:    

So Moses returned to the Lord and said, "O Lord! Why have You harmed this people? Why have You sent me?

Since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has harmed this people, and You have not saved Your people."

Chassidic teachings explain that everything comprises "light" and "essence". Light is the revealed state of the phenomenon, which can be perceived, measured, and understood. Whereas the "essence" is the core that transcends definition, explanation, and interpretation. For example, the soul possesses "light", the faculties of intelligence and emotion that can be explained and felt, whereas the "essence", the core of the soul, defies description and analysis. 

To survive the state of exile, a person is forced to tap into their deepest core. In the time of exile, when the presence of G-d is neither felt nor perceived, the commitment to G-d requires a degree of self-sacrifice that transcends logic and emerges from the core of the soul, and therefore, touches the essence of G-d. 

Divine light, the expression and revelation of G-d's presence, can be experienced by the soul in the spiritual worlds. Yet, the intimate bond with the essence of G-d occurs not when it basks in the spiritual light but rather when engaging in a Mitzvah commandment, a physical act that radiates no spiritual light, but within it, G-d invests his essence. 

The exile, therefore, is a necessary preparation for the giving of the Torah. The exile is the arena in which the essence of the Jew is revealed within the darkest space, which in turn allows for the giving of the Torah, where the essence of G-d is invested, not in the enlightened soul, but rather by physical action. 

In the Rebbe's own words:   

This is the concept of the exile of Egypt (and exile in general). It is through exile that a Jew's essential bond with Hashem comes to be expressed. This also prepared the Jewish people for the Giving of the Torah. The Torah's purpose is also to draw G-dliness down into physical entities that comprise the lower realm and to make a dwelling for Hashem through Torah and mitzvot. The essence of the Torah is evinced specifically in this way.  

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 16, Shmos-24 Teves 

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