Weekly Torah Commentary. – Bo January 19, 2018

Torah reading: Exodus 10:1 – 13:6

Haftorah reading: Jeremiah 46: 14 – 28

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another; nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings. Then Pharaoh called to Moses and said, “Go, serve the Lord; only let your flocks and your herds be kept back. Let your little ones also go with you.” But Moses said, “You must also give us sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God. Our livestock also shall go with us; not a hoof shall be left behind. For we must take some of them to serve the Lord our God, and even we do not know with what we must serve the Lord until we arrive there.” But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go. Then Pharaoh said to him, “Get away from me! Take heed to yourself and see my face no more! For in the day you see my face you shall die!”  Exodus 10:21-29

darkness

 

The plague of darkness brought upon Egypt was dreadful. Can you imagine living through three days of complete and total darkness, a darkness so thick you could actually “feel” the darkness?  It astonished and terrified the Egyptians. For three long days it remained so that it felt like six interminable nights.  Why did God do this?

One probable reason is that it gave Pharaoh time to consider his next steps. Spiritual darkness is spiritual bondage; while Satan blinds men’s eyes that they see not, he binds their hands and feet, that they work not for God, nor live with an eternal perspective.

So they sit in darkness. The blindness of their minds brought upon them this darkness of the air. Never was a mind so blinded as Pharaoh’s, never was air so darkened as in Egypt. Consider the dire consequences of sin; if three days of darkness were so dreadful, what will everlasting darkness be like?

Meanwhile the people of God had light in their dwellings, manifesting the favor of the Holy One of Israel upon them.  Given the stark difference between the oppressive darkness in Egypt and the light emanating from the homes of the Israelites in Goshen, who in their right mind would not have wanted to align with those who had light?

Is it any different today?  A pall of darkness overshadows much of our world today – a spiritual darkness has pervaded cultures and societies in the east and the west, in the north and the south.  No nation on earth is neutral.  As a matter of fact, the Scriptures know nothing of being “neutral”.  Joshua, you will remember, challenged the Israelites:

Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness….choose you this day Whom you shall serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.  Joshua 24:15

We do not bargain with God Almighty for His terms of reconciliation are so clear, that though men may dispute them, they cannot possibly alter them, or bring them lower. Repentance and a changed life.  That is what God expects and we must submit to His ways; we cannot, we dare not, expect that He should condescend to accommodate our pursuit of selfish pleasures.

Pharaoh had not reckoned with that truth.  He abruptly sends Moses away. Had he forgotten how often he had sent for Moses to ease him of his plagues? And now he dares to threaten Moses with death? Has Pharaoh learned nothing?   Is it not terrifying to behold what hardness of heart, and contempt of God’s word and commandments, can bring men to!

Darkness has crept into our modern world in recent times, slowly but oh, so surely.  That which would not even be spoken of in the last generation is common parlance today, even among our youth.  Honor, respect for one’s elders, integrity and courtesy are quickly becoming forgotten virtues.

In the midst of such darkness, there must be lighthouses.  Places, people who show forth the light of the LORD. Have we not been called by Him to be a “light to the nations”?

In Tune with Torah this week = Are you a light bulb for God?  Is your heart completely His?

The eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth to give strong support to those who hearts are completely His.  2 Chronicles 16:9

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Va’eira December 27, 2013

Exodus 6:2-9:25

Of the multitude of interesting concepts in the story of the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt, perhaps one of the most intriguing is the interaction between God and Pharaoh. Though Pharaoh never actually speaks directly to God, nor God to him, the heart of the story is the ‘battle for supremacy’, as it were, between them. Meanwhile, Moses serves as the intermediary, going back and forth between God and Pharaoh, relaying messages and declaring judgments.

We know that God is, was and will always be the Sovereign. Were it not for Pharaoh’s arrogance and his self-aggrandisement, one could almost feel sympathy for him. From the vantage point of history and of faith, as we read the account we quickly see the absurdity of Pharaoh’s position. The man has no clue Who he is up against! Nor does he entertain the possibility that he could be overcome!

However, Pharaoh doesn’t stand a chance. Not only can the Holy One of Israel turn the Nile into blood, He controls all of nature and can turn it however He deems necessary to set His children free.

The high point of the unfolding drama is when we read that “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.”

Some people ask, “How can that be fair? If God hardened his heart, how can he be blamed for rebelling against Him? And besides, if God gave us free choice as the great gift that it is, how could He violate that law for the purpose of the Divine Plan for Israel?

The cornerstone of biblical thought regarding the nature of man is the gift of free will; or to say it another way, our ability to choose our thoughts, words and actions. According to Maimonides, life without such freedom would be meaningless. If man were simply programmed to perform various actions, he would have no responsibility for those actions, and life itself would be futile at best, inane at worst. We would simply be breathing robots.

But that is not how Hashem created mankind. Each human being has the inestimable gift of free will, the opportunity each day of our lives to choose whether we do good or do evil, whether we use our tongues for inspiration or degradation, whether we focus on that which is positive or wallow in all that is negative. The ability to choose is our greatest privilege….and also our greatest responsibility.

We read in the Midrash: “…when God warns a man once, twice, and even a third time, and he still does not repent, then God closes his heart against repentance so that He should exact vengeance from him for his sins. Thus it was with the wicked Pharaoh. Since God sent five times to him and he failed to heed, God then said: ‘You have stiffened your neck and hardened your heart; well, I will add to your uncleanness.'” (Midrash Rabbah, Exodus 13:3)

Here is the key: the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart by God was itself the punishment, and not, as we assumed, merely the impetus for Pharaoh’s actions for which he was ultimately punished. The punishment Pharaoh actually receives is quite exact, measure for measure. After repeated warnings, Pharaoh closed his heart and ignored God’s messages. Therefore, Pharaoh was punished by losing that sensitivity of heart which he had hardened himself.

In Tune with Torah this week = this is the last Shabbat of the western year 2013. In the next few days many people will be looking forward to a new year, planning and hoping for a better year than the last one. More important than a list of resolutions that often get forgotten by the end of January would be to focus on this very issue that brought Pharaoh’s downfall: How well do I listen to God’s promptings and warnings? Do I ignore that still small voice within or do I listen to the urging of my conscience to do what is right and honorable before God and men? What will I choose in 2014?

May the God of Israel grant that each of us will walk “in tune” with all that He speaks to our hearts and minds in the year to come and that we will choose godliness and righteousness day by day.

Shabbat Shalom