Weekly Torah Commentary – Pekudei March 11, 2016

As the book of Exodus draws to a close, a cloud envelops and fills the newly completed Tabernacle.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.  Moses was not able to enter the Tabernacle because the cloud had settled on it and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.  Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the Tabernacle, the children of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the Tabernacle day by day and there was fire on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.  Exodus 40:34-38

We may not have noticed but the cloud has been a major element throughout the book of Exodus.

cloud

When the Israelites first left Egypt, the cloud accompanied them:

The Lord went before them by day with a pillar of cloud, to guide them along the way. By night it appeared as a pillar of fire, providing them with light. They could thus travel day and night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire at night from before the people.  Exodus 13:21-22

From the day they left Egypt, like a brooding mother, the cloud protected them. It separated their encampment from that of the Egyptians, it led them through the sea and at the appropriate time, God Himself descended on Mt. Sinai ‘in a cloud’ which the people could see.

God said to Moses, ‘I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that all the people will hear when I speak to you. They will then believe in you forever.’ Exodus 19:9

When God called Moses to the top of Mt. Sinai, he had to make his way through that cloud:

Then Moses went up the mountain and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord rested on Mt. Sinai and the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud.  And to the eyes of the sons of Israel, the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountain top. Moses entered the midst of the cloud as he went up to the mountain.  Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. Exodus 24:15-18

These verses bear a striking resemblance to the verses quoted above describing the completion of the Tabernacle. The key concept in both is the ‘cloud’.

Think back to the incident of the golden calf. The people became impatient and confused; they felt abandoned due to Moses’ lengthy stay on top of the mountain. While that is understandable in the natural, the sin of the golden calf was the fruit of their lack of appreciation for God’s Presence in the midst in the form of the cloud. Because they turned a blind eye toward the ever-present manifestation of God, taking the ‘cloud’ for granted, they fell into sin.

Herein lies a key that applies to every person in every generation.

Though we may not see with our physical eyes, the ‘cloud’ of God’s presence with us by day and by night, the truth is that He is just as present today as He was then for He is the same – yesterday, today and forever.

Holy men and women throughout the centuries have taught the importance of living each day mindful of God’s presence with us.  That consciousness serves to protect us just as much as the cloud in the desert protected the Israelites.  When we do not take the ‘cloud’ for granted, as they did, we recognize more quickly the danger of entertaining temptation to do wrong and choose instead the ways of righteousness more readily.

In simple terms, cultivating the awareness of God’s presence with us at all times is a deterrent towards falling into sin, like a child who chooses to behave properly in his father’s presence while in the father’s absence may be more likely to transgress his parents’ instructions.

In Tune with Torah this week = look back over the past week and consider: how often have I been aware of God’s presence with me?  Are there times when I acted or spoke in ways that would not meet with the Lord’s approval?  If I had stopped then to consider His presence with me, would I have spoken or acted differently?   Let us be like David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, who declared:

I have set the Lord continually before me. Psalm 16:8
Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayeshev December 11, 2014

Genesis 37-40

And the wife of his master lifted up her eyes to Joseph and she said ‘Lie with me.’ And he refused, and he said to the wife of his master ‘behold my master does not know anything with me in the house (i.e. he places his full trust in me) and all that is his he has put into my hand. There is no one greater in this household than me (i.e. he has given me the highest authority) and he has not withheld anything from me besides you in as much as you are his wife, and how could I do this great evil and I will have sinned to the Almighty (Gen. 39:7-9).

From this passage we learn from Joseph a profitable insight in how to deal with temptation.

The wife of Potiphar, lusting after Joseph, challenged him face to face.  Keep in mind that Joseph was a young man in his prime, a young man who’d been deeply hurt by his brothers’ betrayal.  He’d suffered the humiliation of being sold as a slave, but by now had been living for some time in a lavish home, enjoying the prestige of being the household manager of one of Egypt’s high-ranking officials, far from the moral and spiritual atmosphere of the home of his father.  This kind of advance by a forbidden woman could easily have swayed a weaker soul.

But what did Joseph do?

Notice his first response to her appeal: “And he refused…” Joseph’s moral compass, his inner integrity remained intact; pain and humiliation had not dimmed the clarity of his convictions.  When faced with this overt temptation to do wrong, his first response was a resounding “No.”

Joseph’s response to temptation stands in stark contrast to Eve in the Garden of Eden. Her mistake was the one we so often make: to engage in a discussion. The moment we allow ourselves to entertain thoughts such as, “Oh, but it will be so nice….Yeah, but you know it’s wrong…Well, maybe just this one time…But how could you do that to…Oh, but I just can’t shake off the desire to…” we position ourselves for failure. Once our desire overrules our resolve and we begin to ‘negotiate’ with ourselves, it becomes much more difficult to do the right thing.

Therefore, our most effective strategy when facing temptation is to avoid the battle altogether as Joseph did.  This can only happen if we have established firm boundaries regarding our personal behavior.  Joseph’s immediate and firm “and he refused…” is our model.

Once that was established, Joseph then points the woman’s attention back to her husband. This is a young man who knows the pain of betrayal.  He isn’t about to do to his beneficent boss, a man who has placed complete trust in him, what was done to him by his brothers. His ‘explanation’ had a very specific purpose.

Joseph understood the principle that winning a single battle does not always mean you’ve won the war.  He knew she would try again and therefore, his exhortation to her is critical and delivered very diplomatically.  He did not accuse her of seeking to betray her husband but the message was clear.  If he would not, surely she shouldn’t.  If she was willing to accept the lesson, her attempts at seduction would cease. But first, she had to hear his non-negotiable, determined refusal.

Unfortunately, his admonition fell on deaf ears as we read in later verses that she pursued him “day after day”. When the day finally came that they happened to be alone in the house and she grabbed his shirt, Joseph wriggled out of it and ran from the house into a public area.  (Gen. 39:11-12)  The time for words was over; he removed himself from the scene immediately.

Joseph’s example applies in every area of life.  Whether we struggle with anger or lustful desires, with bodily discipline or curbing our tongue, the strategy is the same.  Having our personal boundaries clear in our mind and heart enables us, like Joseph, to declare our own firm “no” when faced with compromising those principles.

In Tune with Torah this week = consider any area of your life where you struggle to do the right thing or make the right choices.  Is it because you haven’t established clear boundaries? Self-discipline only works when there is a clear standard by which we have chosen to live.

This is a time of year when many people are thinking about “resolutions” for the new year. It is legendary that most such “resolutions” don’t last.  As we approach 2015, perhaps the only “resolution” we should be considering is that of establishing clear behavioral boundaries, particularly in areas of past struggle.

Shabbat Shalom