Wednesday, January 17, 2018

There Are Things You Can Replace; And Others You Cannot (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Althea")

Earlier this past week, after dinner was finished, after I finished cleaning the kitchen, and sundry household chores that my wife needed me to do, and in between helped our 13-year-old with whatever homework he had. He was going to bed, and I figured that our older daughters, being a bit more self-sufficient didn’t need my help. So, at 9:25pm, I stated, for all to hear, that I was going to do my work-out. This meant that for the next 45 – 60 minutes, I had “Dad time”. At 9:30, with my music on low, and my news show on Television, I was on our elliptical machine. Ten minutes doesn’t pass before our fifteen year old bounds down the stairs to our basement, stands in front of the television and comments that the problem being the middle of three children that live in our house means that she never gets the same amount of attention and help as her 17-year-old sister and her 13-year-old brother. Then she turned off the TV and told me that she needed help preparing a mid-term exam.  Her frustration was palpable. I said I would be glad to help but I am not getting off the elliptical machine. She stomped off in frustration. A minute later she returned with a variety of books and pleaded with me to stop my work-out and give her my undivided attention. After about an hour and a half, she was clearly no longer studying at peak efficiency, she wondered aloud why she had multiple assignments due on the same date and multiple exams scheduled for the same day.  Her insight reflected her growing frustration over her lack of control of her own schedule. Time did not belong to them. Suddenly, the concept of time, as embodied by their schedules belonged to those who scheduled their respective mid-term exams. By extension, my time didn’t belong to me, it was allocated to my daughters.  
This week's Parsha is Bo.  The ten plagues culminate with locusts, darkness and finally the killing of the firstborn. On the night of the last plague, God instructs Moshe to tell B'nai Yisroel to recognize and observe Rosh Chodesh, the first day of each month. God instructs Moshe to tell B’nai Yisroel to slaughter a lamb for each family. The blood should be painted upon the door- post. The sacrificed lamb must be completely eaten that night with no leftovers.  The command continues with God instructing Moshe to reiterate this story to the children of each family. The Parsha concludes with the command to sanctify the firstborn, remember this night, remember what God did for B'nai Yisroel, and how B'nai Yisroel eventually returned to the land.
This is perhaps the first Parsha in which God we read of more than one commandment.  Prior to this Parsha, maybe three of the 613 Mitzvot could be derived from all of B’reishit (The Book of Genesis) and the first two Parshiot of Shmot. Now we read both narratives as well as commandments. While the commandment that focus specifically upon Pesach, the commandments such as Korbonot Shel Pesach (Passover Sacrifice), eating the Passover Sacrifice, completely finish eating the Passover Sacrifice, eating Matzah, removing the leaven, prohibiting the uncircumcised from eating the Passover Sacrifice, the prohibitions of eating leaven and seeing leaven and owning leaven, sanctifying the firstborn, redeeming the firstborn and recounting Yetziat Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt to name a few. However, the first Mitzvah, the first commandment that God tells Moshe, Aharon and B’nai Yisroel does not explicitly focus upon the Exodus but rather upon time and keeping track of time. VaYomer Adoshem el Moshe V’el Aharon B’Eretz Mitzrayim Leimor Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon in the Land of Egypt, saying: HaChodesh HaZeh Lachem Rosh Chodeshim Rishon Hu Lachem L’Chadshei HaShana: This month shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year. (Ex 12:1-2) Certainly, all the Mitzvot that follow this commandment, those that focus specifically upon the Exodus, warrant God’s speaking to Moshe and Aharon.             
From a narrative perspective, it makes sense that the Torah tells us that these commandments were issued while they were still in Egypt; B’nai Yisroel had not yet actually left Egypt but rather was making their final preparations. Why is the first commandment issued focused upon counting? This month will be the beginning of months; it will be the first month of the year? How will they know when the next month of begins? Sefer HaChinuch, a 13th-century text written by Pinchas ben Aharon HaLevi of Barcelona clarifies this issue. Sefer HaChinuch (the Book of Education) lists all 613 Mitzvot in order of appearance and corresponding to each Parshah. Also, the author provides a moral and philosophical explanation of each commandment.  Regarding the commandment This month shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year, Sefer HaChinuch says Klomar K’SheTiru CHidosha Shel L’Vana Tikb’u Lachem Rosh Chodesh In other words, when you see the renewal of the moon, you will establish for yourselves the beginning of the month O Afilu Lo Tiruha MiKeivan Shi R’Uyahn L’Heiraot Al Pi HaCHesbon HamKubalor even if you do not see it, once it is due to be seen according to the accepted reckoning. So the moon’s cycle will serve as the indicator of the beginning and end of a month.  M’SHarshei Mitzvah Zo K’dei Shya’asu Yisroel Moadei HaShem BizMaNaMAt the root of this precept lies the purpose that the Israelites should keep the holy days of the Eternal Lord at their proper times… Before God gives instructions about how to observe the Exodus, these soon to be former slaves must be able to control time, or observe time so that they will know the right time to observe God’s festivals.
            The first step towards freedom is to observe the passage of time, mark the passage of time, and declare the right time to observe time-bound commandments. Until now, the master, Egypt, told the slaves when to wake up, when to sleep, when to work and when to eat. Now, these former slavers will have to establish their own schedule and keep their own calendar. Of course, this schedule and this calendar must be for a higher purpose. It cannot be a schedule or a calendar in which there is nothing but rather it must be filled with opportunities to engage and celebrate what is to be free; free to serve God.  Yes, my daughter was tired and frustrated. She sensed that she had become enslaved to her mid-term exam schedule. Despite her frustration, she learned a valuable lesson. Even within that schedule, she had to learn how to find moments of time, time that belongs to them. I pointed out to her, that, ultimately, she decided when to study. Ultimately, I decided when to work out, and later that night when she was finally comfortable with the material, and too tired to continue, she headed off to bed, and I turned on my music, and my news show and, finally, I did.

Rav Yitz

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