Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Come The Rocking Stroke Of Midnight, the Whole Place Is Gonna Fly (Bob Weir - "One More Saturday Night")

 It is New Year's Eve.  With my wife and children enjoying Southern California, I am here in a rather contemplative mood.  Soon I will call my wife and children and in the course of a second, I will be in a place where it will be the next year, 2014 but they will still be in the year 2013. Of course three hours later, while I am sleeping, it will become 2014 in Southern California as well. This passage of time is very precise. We watch a ball in New York City drop during the final 10 seconds of 2013 and when the Ball lands it is the first seconds of 2014, "Happy New Year". There is no such thing as “about” the New Year. It is an exact idea. One second its 2013 and the next second we have started something new.  In reality, except for our awareness of this one second, nothing changed. We don’t necessarily feel as if we have started something new and different.  My children, wife and I, because of the three hour time difference are acutely aware of this.
This week Parsha is Bo. God will bring the final plagues upon Egypt, finally convincing Pharaoh to let Bnai Yisroel leave Egypt.  Before the final plague, God will explain to Moshe and Moshe will explain to Bnai Yisroel the details and the importance of the acknowledging this historical moment by celebrating the Pesach offering. God explains that a lamb is to be chosen, slaughter, and consumed along with unleavened bread. Bnai Yisroel is commanded to put blood upon the doorposts of their homes so that they will not suffer from the final plague. God explains that this moment is to be transmitted to each generation by telling each successive generation what happened at this moment.  Then as Moshe predicted, final plague begins. the Egyptian first born are killed and the Parsha concludes with the children of Israel being commanded to wear Tefillin as sign that God outstretched arm bringing Bnai Yisroel out of Egyptian bondage.
Unlike the precise moment when the New Year changes from one year to the next; redemption from Egyptian bondage was not so precise. Certainly from God’s perspective, the moment of when freedom would arrive was as precise as the U.S. Naval Observatory Master Clock.  Yet Moshe Rabeinu doesn’t offer a precise moment when Bnai Yisroel leaves slavery and enters freedom. VaYomer Moshe And Moshe said, Ko Amar Adoshem KaChatzot HaLailah Ani Yotzei B’Toch Mitzrayim So said Hashem, ‘At about midnight I shall go out in the midst of Egypt' (Ex. 11:4) Why does Moshe Rabeinu tell Pharaoh and Egypt, “about midnight”. Wouldn’t it have been more awesome and impressive if he gave a precise time when the entire Egyptian world and Jewish world would have changed? Rashi explains that Moshe purposefully gives a vague time as opposed to an exact time because if Pharaohs astrologers miscalculate the time the Moshe said then it would be wrong. So even thought first born Egyptians would still be dying, the Magicians would claim Moshe a fraud since it wasn’t “exactly” midnight. Whatever faith they might have developed with the onslaught of the previous plagues would be lost.
However there is another reason why Moshe is less than precise with Pharaoh. By telling Pharaoh that this last plague was “about midnight”; Moshe was signaling something else to Pharaoh. Some things are beyond us. Yes we can be precise about many things, including countdowns and the passage of time – down to the second.  Faith is not so precise. The human transitions from one phase to the next is not so clean and not so neat. While it may happen at a precise moment, the reality of the change or the reality of transition is not exactly the same time as the “Happy New Year” moment.  Pharaoh was entitled to know that around midnight a horrible plague would happen. It takes faith to prepare for “about” as opposed to an exact time. Yet faith teaches us that we need to be able to be ready for “about” as well as exact.
Rav Yitz

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