Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Hang It Up And See What Tomorrow Brings; Other Times I Can Barely See (Robert Hunter, Phil Lesh, Bob Weir,& Jerry Garcia - "Truckin'")

My wife and kids were in San Francisco last week. Upon their return, my wife expressed exasperation with our son and getting him to put on Tefillin and pray in the morning. I chuckled, and I told her to start by leaving him alone and not hock him. Putting on Tefillin and praying should not sound like and receive the same visceral feeling as being told to do homework or clean up one’s room.  So my wife said she wouldn’t hock him. Then I spoke to our son about it. He explained that he puts on Tefillin, he prays and quite often he feels nothing.  He explained that he has been taught how he should feel when he puts on Tefillin and when he prays, that if he doesn’t feel that way, he thinks maybe he doesn’t believe. Clearly he was upset telling me this because he was afraid that I would be upset. I laughed and explain that I don’t always believe, certainly I didn’t when I was 13. I didn’t really start believing until I became a parent. We talked, and I explained that maybe he should stop listening to everyone tell him how he is supposed to feel and instead focus upon an activity, a moment, something that will give him a sense of God’s presence. Maybe such a “revelation” occurs at sunrise, or sunset. Maybe it occurs when studying something difficult and ultimately understanding it. Maybe it occurs during a moment of sublime peace like sharing a moment with a loved one. Regarding the last possibility, I asked if he planned to cuddle with me and watch the college championship football game between The University of Georgia and the University of Alabama.
This week we read from Parsha Va’Eira. In this Parshah, God reassures Moshe after Pharaoh mocked and dismissed both he and Aharon. God explains that he will cause Pharaoh’s heart to harden after each plague, but eventually Pharaoh will capitulate and free the Hebrew slaves. God explains the various stages of redemption to Moshe. The plagues begin. We are supposed to understand that each of these first seven plagues is more severe than the previous plague: Blood, Frogs, Lice, Wild Beasts, Animal plague, Boils, Hail. Moshe requests that Pharaoh permit B’nai Yisroel to worship God for three days. At times, Pharaoh acquiesces and there are moments he changes his mind. Sometimes he asks Moshe to pray on his behalf and sometimes he doesn’t. One thing is clear, that whenever Pharaoh gets his way (a plague ceases), something that would clearly indicate the power of God, Pharaoh behaves like a petulant child. He returns to his arrogant self-centered nature. It seems that Pharaoh is operating under an alternative set of facts regarding Hashem’s authority and power. By the Parsha’s conclusion, the plague of Hail has devastated the land and killed anything that was outside, Pharaoh expresses the evolution of his belief system based upon facts, not alternative facts nor upon an incorrect interpretation facts.
Two men, Moshe and Pharaoh, two groups, Hebrew slaves and Egyptian task masters, experience a type of revelation. Moshe is told by God, “Ani Adoshem VaEira el Avraham El Yitzchak v’ El Yaakov B’Eil Shaddai U’Shmi Adoshem Lo Nodati LaHem – I am Hashem, I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai, but with My Name Hashem, I did not make Myself known to them (Ex. 6:2) With Signs and Wonders, God wanted Moshe and B’nai Yisroel to know exactly who God is.  V’Yadu Mitzrayim Ki Ani Adoshem, BinToti et Yadi Al Mitzrayim V’Hotzeiti et Bnai Yisroel MiTochamAnd Egypt Shall know that I am Hashem, when I stretch out My hand over Egypt; and I shall take the Children of Israel out from among them (Ex. 7:5). With each ensuing plague, God wanted Pharaoh and Egypt to know and accept, as fact, of God’ existence and God’s authority.  What is being transmitted? Ani Adoshem – I am Hashem, the fact that Hashem exists and has a covenantal relationship with his people.  How is this fact transmitted? VaieraI appeared through signs and wonders or as a harbinger of plagues. It depends who is experiencing the appearance and how that experience is perceive. For the Egyptians, God displays God’s presence through plagues. For Bnai Yisroel, God displays God’s presence through signs and wonders. That is to say each interprets Gods presence according to their values, their perceptions, their world view and their place within the world.
Clearly God made himself known to Abraham Isaac and Jacob. However that revelation was not in the same capacity as it was with Moshe Rabeinu. Clearly Pharaoh experienced a type of revelation as well. As my daughter realized over the course of our discussion, we all experience some type revelatory experience. As he is beginning to find out, he needs to be open minded and open hearted about it. It may occur in a comfortable familiar manner, and it may occur in an unanticipated unfamiliar manner. As our son realized, not engaging in the activity guarantees that there will be no possibility of sensing God’s presence He smiled and realized that putting on Tefillin was just an activity that might allow for a possibility. I smiled back and reminded him that it’s the same as cuddling with your dad watching the ball game. Maybe the feeling of sublime peace and calm, that everything is right in the world at this moment is indeed, a revelatory experience.
Rav Yitz

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