Sunday, November 17, 2013

Talk With A Friend - Part I

One of the greatest joys of my life is close friendships with Torah at their core. Last Tuesday night I had one of my favorite kinds of talks with a dear friend. Comedy and day to day stuff came up, but what stands out as I look back is the Torah.

I shared something that I taught today: Ezra3:2 states that the Jews who returned to Bavel rebuilt the mizbeach - וַיָּקָם יֵשׁוּעַ בֶּן-יוֹצָדָק וְאֶחָיו הַכֹּהֲנִים, וּזְרֻבָּבֶל בֶּן-שְׁאַלְתִּיאֵל וְאֶחָיו, וַיִּבְנוּ, אֶת-מִזְבַּח אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל--לְהַעֲלוֹת עָלָיו, עֹלוֹת, כַּכָּתוּב, בְּתוֹרַת מֹשֶׁה אִישׁ-הָאֱלֹהִים. Why does it say the words at the end of the line, stressing that the altar was done as it is written in the Torah of Moshe, the man of G-d? My thought was that we are being told that just like Moshe, a human, became a holy man of G-d, so too that was the nature of the people who returned to Israel. They were people who rose to the occasion, rose to their higher selves.

My friend noted that there are stages in the pasuk: First it says that they did it according to Torat Moshe. This seemingly extra phrase adds something, but perhaps not what I said. This may simply be telling us that they adhered to the mesorah. But then the next phrase, adding that Moshe was a man of G-d, teaches the idea that I suggested- that above just adhering to the law they rose above their averageness and became G-dly people. My friend also noted that the mizbeach is at the center of avodah- divine service, work connected to becoming people of G-d.

My friend also tied in a striking idea: Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch says that when Moshe looked from side to side before smiting the Egyptian it was simply because he was afraid and was checking if anyone saw him. Rav Hirsch says that the man that Moshe was at this moment would not have been able to face Paroh and insist he release the Jewish nation. He grew into that man, into Moshe Rabeinu, over the course of time. He became מֹשֶׁה אִישׁ-הָאֱלֹהִים. (This fits with the idea that when Moshe is first visited by Hashem and chosen he says לֹא אִישׁ דְּבָרִים אָנֹכִי. Over 40 years he transforms into the person who composes - along with G-d - a book of his speeches called דְּבָרִים.)

My friend told me an amazing insight from the Sefer HaChinuch. Word on the street (what a friend of mine calls "Street Torah") is that we don't eat gid hanasheh -the sinew of the thigh-vein - to remember that that's where Ya'akov was wounded in his mysterious wrestling match. If that were the case then the command to not eat the gid hanasheh after simply being told the story, and that he was hurt in that part of his body. But the end of the story, the line hat comes right before we're told not to eat the gid hanasheh is that the sun rose. The law relating to this food serves to remind us that the sun will rise again- and we will move on. (See Breishit 32:25-33.)

I'm trying to recall every wonderful moment of my talk with my friend, grabbing onto pieces as they return to me. Here's one: He threw out the question of how to be positive in hard times. he quoted me back to me, something I didn't remember saying. He said that I once told him that in the hardest times, if we can't be positive, perhaps- we can visualize being positive. he found that intriguing, and potentially helpful and so do I.

My dear friend see the parshiot of Vayeitzei and Vayishlach as models from Yaakov Avinu of how to deal with crises- in the former he sets the example regarding personal crisis and in the latter it's about national crisis.

We spoke of Chesed and my friend gave a name for kindnesses that you do for others without being asked but by sensing the need on your own. He called that active chesed. On the other hand there is passive chesed, where you do what you are told is needed.

We spoke about the importance of gratitude. My friend cited a question of Rav Pam and then gave his own answer. Rav Pam asks why maaser beheimah must be done on every tenth animal and can't just be done in bunches, say 10 after every 100. Rav Pam's practical answer is that the Torah recognizes that it's hard to part with money and says to do it this way because it's easier to give one periodically then to give a lump sum at the end. My friend's thought is that G-d is commanding us here to literally and spiritually count our blessings. We need to stop regularly - it's not effective when done once in a while - and make a manageable list of what we have and then relate to it by, on the spot, expressing our gratefulness to G-d.

I was touched by my friend telling me several things that he quotes me on. One of them surprised me. He likes that every now and then, rather than a full email or call I just send out a brief email with the question, "How are you?"

My friend learned that Yaakov's fight wrestling match represents a thematic fight between angel and men that recurs throughout Jewish holy texts. This is the idea behind the story of Moshe arguing with the melachim about if man deserves the Torah, imperfect as man is. Moshe succeeds in explaining that the Torah is only for humans, not for angels. Though angels are all spiritual they are more similar to animals than to people. Animals are all physical, angels all spiritual, but both are pre-programmed and not by choice. Man is more like G-d than he is similar to animals or angels in that man has free will.

This is some of what my friend and I discussed. More to follow, please G-d.


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