Rabbi Rael Blumenthal

“Abba, when I grow up, I want to be famous.”

That was the opening line of a conversation with our kids while driving up the highway from Miami to Boca. The inspiration for the comment was a massive advertisement with a picture of a young child. Of course, the advertisement had nothing to do with that kid. It said “shot on iPhone.” But in the minds of my own children, the child on that billboard was famous. So I followed up:

“Why do you want to be famous?”

“You get to drive cool cars and go to really fun places.”

“Do you think that the kid on the billboard can drive cool cars and go to fun places?”

“Well, maybe not yet. But now that they’re famous, they will be able to whatever they want when they get older.”

As adults we understand the flaw in the logic. But I hear the point; and my kids are not entirely wrong. We live in a society where fame, fortune and fun are usually displayed as a package deal.

My kids, along with most kids today, are growing up in world of YouTubers and Influences. And while we certainly monitor the things that they watch and the media that they consume, it is undeniable that social media personalities are fast becoming the some of loudest voices that they and we hear.

A 2019 survey found that 29% of children listed YouTuber as their first choice of profession. Another study found that 86% of young Americans are willing to post sponsored content for money (and 20% of that group said they would do it even if they didn’t like the product.)

It all makes sense, of course. The job of a social media influencer is simply to live their best life on camera. It is the highest ideal of our society; working out, eating great food, exploring exciting places, driving fast cars... All of it paid for by other people. It would seem that there is no down side.

But while fame might give a person access to fortunes and fun, it comes with a heavy price tag: As more and more of our live are lived in public, the smaller our private lives become. Tragically, many people pay the price without ever getting the things they hope to receive.

As thinking, dreaming, aspiring, yearning Jews, the notion of a steadily shrinking private life is a disaster. But to a large extent, this does not seem to concern people in the world around us. The desire to inhabit a private life is practically countercultural, and perhaps we should explain the centrality of this elusive value.

The western world believes in celebrating our successes; advertising our victories and publicizing anything and everything positive. All of this is wonderful and important. But it comes with painful collateral damage: Almost by definition, anything left in our private, all the parts of our unfiltered and unaired life, are shameful and unworthy of publicity. The only reason to hide something is because it is doesn’t meet our standards. Why else would we hide it?

All this is to say: We have created a reality in which the dividing line between “success and failure” is practically indistinguishable from “public and private”. This leads to a mindset that privacy is embarrassing and publicity is applauded. The drive to “celebrate our success” is healthy and normal; but it also further cements the dark perspective that anything not celebrated not a success.

Little by little we have eroded the very idea of a private life. We have become bifurcated people, split between the world we share, and the world we conceal.

Because of this, the absence of Moshe’s name in Parshas Tetzaveh is seen as some kind of punishment. The Rosh (רא”ש על התורה, שמות כ״ז:כ׳) comments that since the birth of Moshe Rabbeinu, there is no Parsha which does not have the name Moshe – all except this one. Why is his name missing? Why is it that Moshe is denied publicity this Shabbos?

The Rosh, and his son the Baal HaTurim explain: During Moshe’s plea for Hashem to forgive the Jewish people after the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe puts himself on the line, negotiating with the Master of the World: ואם אין מחני נא מספרך אשר כתבת – “If you don’t forgive them, then erase me from the Book which You have written.”

The Zohar HaKadosh explains that everything Moshe Rabbeinu said was meaningful – even if it was only said conditionally. In some way, Moshe caused himself to be “erased” from the Torah. In order to fulfill these words, his name is missing from Parshas Tetzaveh.

This whole story is strange. Moshe was acting with exceptional selflessness; he is the paradigm of Mesiras Nefesh for Klal Yisrael. Moshe is willing to give up everything for the sake of his people. Why on earth should he be punished for this?

But what looks like a punishment and a curse from our perspective was most likely the greatest reward for Moshe himself. We should recall that Moshe did not want to be a leader. He did not want to be famous. He was content to remain a shepherd, spending his life meditating, learning and connecting to Hashem. The only reason he entered the limelight at all was for the sake of the Jewish people. Without them, Moshe had no need for publicity.

Rabbi Moshe Mordechai of Lelov explains that in the deepest way, Parshas Tetzaveh is Moshe’s reward for a life dedicated to Hashem’s people. This Shabbos, Moshe returns to the anonymity he cherished. He returns to the intimacy of those vast open plains, where it was just Him and Hashem alone. Chazal refer to this intimate private world as “p’nimiyus” the world inside.

My Rebbe, Rav Blachman, told us that decades ago in Chabad the greatest insult was to be called a “Chitzoni” – a person concerned with externalities. Becoming a “P’nimi”, was the goal of all of our greatest leaders and teachers.

Hidden far from the eyes of the world, Hashem addresses Moshe as “you” – ואתה תצוה – and “you should command them.” It’s a conversation in the second-person; a direct, face-to-face relationship. This Shabbos we get a glimpse of the private life of the greatest Jew who ever lived.

Rav Kook (שמונה קבצים – קובץ ז’ קסב-קסד) writes that there are revealed Tzadikim, and hidden Tzadikim. But the greatest Tzadikim are those who live in both worlds at the same time. They are revealed and hidden simultaneously.

This Shabbos, we witness Moshe rising to such greatness. For Moshe Rabbeinu, there was no difference in being written in the Torah, or being left out – nothing could change his profound relationship with Hashem, even when he was in public, he never ceased living with p’nimiyus.

Next Shabbos, we return to business as usual. Moshe will once again be thrust into the center of the narrative. But for this moment, this small window in the Torah, Hashem is inviting us to remember the importance of Moshe’s private live, and of our own.

By omitting Moshe’s name, Hashem is asking us who we might be if no-one knew our name? Who are we when no one is around? Are we happy with ourselves? Or perhaps, Chas V’Shalom, the only things that remains private are the things which we are most ashamed of? Is our private life a place to fear and escape, or perhaps to celebrate and enjoy?

If indeed we have fallen prey to the Yetzer Hara of living externally, if we have turned ourselves inside-out, this Shabbos is the moment to begin changing. Parshas Tetzaveh is inviting us to choose to do something great, anything great, and to ensure that we tell no one about it. To do something worthwhile and valuable with the only audience being Hashem. Avoid taking the picture. Do it and don’t tell a soul. Don't post it to social media. Start building your private life; a refuge of personal positivity, a secret hideaway from the insanity.

Welcome to the unspoken world of Moshe Rabbeinu, the world of p’nimiyus.

Dear Ayelet

It’s hard to imagine that you are already a Bas Mitzvah. Twelve years seems both impossibly long and impossibly short. It goes without saying that Mommy and I are so proud of you. You have grown into a thoughtful, kind, modest, mature and capable young lady. We have seen you struggle and succeed; developing self awareness and empathy, and we are constantly amazed by your imagination and creativity.

One of the greatest joys of my life is learning with you and from you. You are insightful, curious and unwilling to accept anything at face value. But it dawned on me in the weeks leading up to this milestone, that almost all of our conversations focus on details.

This is not your fault. As parents, we spend most of our time trying to get the little things right.

From the time a child is born, we are worrying about the little things. Diapers and bottles, brushing teeth and eating nutritious food. As a child grows, we turn our attention to education. Letters become words, words become sentences. Numbers are added and subtracted.

In our pursuit to ensure that you and your siblings are prepared for the world, we spend countless hours working on getting habits right. Do your homework. Clean your room. Share your toys. Be kind to your siblings. Make sure to get a good night’s sleep.

Of course, in the realm of Torah and mitzvos, we progress similarly: Did you wash Netilas Yadaim? That’s muktzah! Don’t touch it... Did you make a Bracha? No, not that bracha; this one is mezonos... I’m so sorry, you ate meat for lunch and the ice cream is milchik. You’ll have to wait a little while longer...

As you have grown closer to becoming a Bas Mitzvah, we have expected more from you. Did you bench? Please remember to set the table for Shabbos. Did you get your baby brother to bed? We have guests for lunch, please remember to make extra chicken...

Ayelet, you and I both know that these reminders are important. But as important as they are, if I’m being honest, I also know that they are annoying.

You are a fiercely independent and strong willed young lady and I know that these reminders feel childish sometimes. That’s a good thing. It means that you are ready for the next piece of the puzzle.

It’s time to talk about the bigger picture.

A Story of Two Stories

One of your greatest loves is your love of reading. It’s a love that Mommy and I know well.

Do you remember learning how to read? I remember sitting with you just a few years ago sounding out letters; practicing words. You learned quickly. But then you discovered that once you mastered the skill of reading there is far more that a page can offer.

Reading offers the possibility of escape from the little things of this world; a chance to explore fantastic worlds. It’s allows us to meet and learn from people beyond our own space and time. In the simple act of reading words on a page, our hearts and minds can be filled with emotion and imagination. We can travel millions of miles and thousands of years.

In the deepest way, when you open up a book, there are two stories taking place. On the outside, we can observe the quiet act of scanning letters with our eyes. It doesn’t look exciting or meaningful. But as you know, the far greater story is taking place inside.

The same is true with your life and with the entire world.

There is a story of your life that describes the little things: waking up, going to school, doing mitzvos, spending time with friends and family, learning, reading, exercising and listening to music. Your days are sometimes filled with annoying things and sometimes with wonderful and important things: Davening, chessed, benching, making brachos.

But this is all on the outside. These actions themselves are still the little things; they are like the words on the page. Within them, however, there are worlds upon worlds of Godliness, of growth and connection. It is the meaning that you discover which makes those same actions great. (For the adults seeשל”ה הקדוש תו”א, בית חכמה יב)

Making food for Shabbos might be a simple act of cooking, or it could be an opportunity to share the magic of Shabbos with a new guest or friend. Davening might be a bunch of words, or a heated negotiation with the King of the world to bring the hostages home. Giving tzedaka could be putting money in a box. Or it could be providing another Jew with love, food and hope.

The same is true of the entire world, and all of Jewish history. On the outside, there is a story of a group of people – our people – who have journeyed through millennia of trials, tribulations and triumphs. But the deeper story of the Jewish nation, they story of what it all means, can only be understood by the people who can see more than the words the on pages of history.

From Reading to Writing

Our story is the greatest story ever told. It’s a tale of mystery, magic, miracles and ancient heroes. From Avraham and Sarah to Moshe, Aharon and Miriam; there have been countless great men and women who braved their fears and built our nation.

These people are not simply our ancestors. Their story is ours; their strength, their power and connection to Hashem and His Torah runs deep in our veins as well.

But the story if not over. Every moment of every day it is being written. It is being written by our brave Chayalim fighting for the State of Israel. It is being written by their mothers, wives, sons and daughters. It is being written by the Talmidei Chachamim, who are dedicating their lives to learn and teach Torah. It’s being written by the great Baalei Chessed who dedicate their lives to looking after other Jews.

As you become a Bas Mitzvah, it will be written by you as well. You are no longer just a reader. Hashem is handing you your own pen, inviting you to join Him in the writing the next chapter of Jewish history.

This Shabbos, the Torah teaches us about the building of the Mishkan, and the work of its chief architect, Betzalel.

Chazal (ברכות נה א) tell us that when Betzalel built the Mishkan, he was not simply constructing a tent to serve Hashem:

אָמַר רַב יְהוּדָה אָמַר רַב: יוֹדֵעַ הָיָה בְּצַלְאֵל לְצָרֵף אוֹתִיּוֹת שֶׁנִּבְרְאוּ בָּהֶן שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: Bezalel knew how to join the letters with which heaven and earth were created.

Betzalel knew that hidden in the threads and beams, the silver and gold, were stories as great as the Creation of Heaven and Earth. With every stitch of his needle and every blow of his hammer he was writing the next chapter in the story of the Jewish people.

With every fibre of our being, the greatest dream of the Jewish people is to escape the words on the page. We don’t want to live as letters and words. We want to transform the story of our nation into our living reality; to build a world that is filled with goodness and kindness. A reality where the world knows that Hashem is as real as water we drink and the air that we breath. The great lesson of the Mishkan is that from wood and rocks we can build a home for Hashem.

Your Chapter

Ayelet, I do not know which chapter Hashem has sent your Neshama into this world to write. But I do know that only you can write it. I don’t know what part of the Mishkan you need to build, only that you’re the only one who can build it.

The Rebbe Rashab wrote to his granddaughter on the occasion of her Bas Mitzvah: You are becoming “עצמאית בחיים הרוחניים שלך” – “independent in your spiritual life.” In other words: You now have the capability to discover a universe of meaning in every action you do, great or small. And because of that, you have the responsibility to do so, to write your chapter in the story of Am Yisrael.

In the world around us, people often get nervous when they hear the word “responsibility”. It’s something they run away from. But you already know that being given a responsibility is a privilege. It’s not as scary as it sounds. Simply put, it means that Hashem believes in you. That’s pretty cool.

The greatest secret to success is to feel Simcha – joy in knowing that Hashem has sent you here to fix His world. He has hired you to do a job that no else can do; which means that waking up every day is a reason to celebrate; to try again, to keep at it.

As Rebbe Nachman explains (ליקוטי מוהר”ן פ״ט:א): When we realize that the King of the Universe, Hashem Himself, has charged us with our mission, there is no greater joy, no greater honor.

Ayelet, Mommy and I are so proud, so excited, so grateful to Hashem for trusting us with the gift of raising you. Twelve years ago we committed ourselves to raise you and your siblings with Ahavas Hashem, Yiras Shamyaim and Ahavas Yisrael, and you have surpassed our greatest dreams.

May Hashem give you the simcha, the courage and the tenacity to overcome all the challenges that lie ahead, to use your God given talents to bring Hashem into the world, and build a life of Torah, Mitzvos and Chessed.

And in the mean time, we’ll keep annoying you 😊

We love you so much. Mazal Tov.

This year, I promised myself I would be better prepared. I had trained a little harder, a little more diligently. I tried to get a little more rest in the days leading up to the Miami Marathon. I was determined to ensure that I would complete the race in better time and better spirits than last year. All things considered, this was shaping up to be a great race... and truthfully, it was. Everything was looking great, that is, with the exception of the the spontaneous heat wave that hit South Florida on Sunday morning.

As sun rose, race officials raised red warning flags, and later reported that it was their hottest race event in 22 years. Myself, and the runners around me, adjusted our pace, reset our expectations, and dug in for the challenging miles ahead.

Despite the heat, I knew there was no turning back. For me, finishing this race was not simply about crossing the finish line. I was running with a difference purpose: Fastened to my back was a sign saying KIDNAPPED, and the face of 84 year old Oded Lifshitz from Nir Oz. Our runners from BRS West, and my team from Team Lifeline were running with more than our own stories. My cap said ”עם ישראל חי”, and I was determined to cross that line in front of thousands of spectators, and announce the world that Am Yisrael is here to stay. I ran with the tefillah that Hashem should give strength to our soldiers, hope to the hostages and courage to all those families waiting for their loved ones to come home.

As the miles continued, I davened that, in some small way, I could remind the world of the horrors our people are facing – and have faced for millennia. I davened that I, my family and my community might serve as a Kiddush Hashem in that moment, and always.

With these priorities occupying my thoughts, the pain in my legs faded into the background. I imagined myself drawing from the wellsprings of generations of Jews who refused to give up on Hashem, His Torah, His People and His Land.

In general, running a marathon for me is a powerful exercise in Mussar. I come back to the hard moments of a run often, reminding myself that if I could harness the strength to persevere there, then I know that I can apply the same relentlessness and resilience to mitzvos, chessed and Talmud Torah. We may be exhausted, but Klal Yisrael is not weak. Quitting can never be an option.

It was these thoughts that echoed in my head as I ran through the final stretch. Thousands of people cheered on the runners completing the race, and I found myself screaming “Am Yisrael Chai! Am Yisrael Chai!” It’s a statement, a truth, and a tefillah. Jews on the side lines, of all persuasions, answered with the same “Am Yisrael Chai!”

Of course, a race like last Sunday, much like the rest of life, is not run on Tefillah alone. We depend on our family, friends and community to support us when we are most vulnerable. In a deep way, running also engenders the humility to realize that our success is due, in no small measure, to the kindness of countless strangers.

There were the strangers who staffed the aid stations, the strangers running beside me, and the dozens of Miami residents who stood outside their homes, with a cheer, a smile and most importantly, a sprinkler and hose pipe. There is nothing more invigorating than a cascade of cold water in the middle of a hot run.

I took full advantage of every such offer of sprinkler and hose pipe in those 26.2 miles.

All except one.

Rounding the corner, clearing through mile twenty, there was a man offering to spray the passing runners with cold water. This man, however, was dressed in full catholic priestly regalia. In one hand, he held a cross, and in the other a small sprinkler of “holy water”. Beside him, two children were handing out race nutrition, in this case, communion wafers. This was, after all, a Sunday morning.

I was shocked to see him, and I was entirely unprepared for my reaction to his offer.

I had only noticed the priest a few feet away, but as he raised his holy water to spray me, a voice rose up from somewhere deep inside of me, and I screamed in horror “No! God Forbid! I’m a Jew!” I’m have no doubt that I sounded like a crazy person.

I don’t know enough about Christian rituals to understand the significance of that water to him. But I knew it was Tameh for me. I wanted nothing to do with it; not a drop.

My scream startled him, and I didn’t hear his reply, but the holy water was quickly retracted. I didn’t mean to offend him, I didn’t mean to yell; it was an instinctive response. This well meaning, religious man, just happened to cross paths with a Jew, a Rabbi, who was three hours into a grueling race, meditating deeply on the journey and challenges of the Jewish People.

It took another mile for me to calm myself from the encounter. With the priest firmly behind me, I began to worry how many Jewish runners had been unwittingly sprinkled by that impure water.

In the days since, I’ve begun to wonder to what extent all of our thoughts, actions and lives have been sprinkled by the waters of other gods, faiths and cultures.

Chazal (כתובות קיא ב) tell us that anyone who lives is Chutz La’Aretz is living as if they are an Idol Worshiper. We are recipients of external influences; tainted by the “holy waters” of the people around us.

I’ve been thinking about this reality as we enter another contentious election cycle in the US. As tensions rise, so many of us seem to gravitate towards some or another political party or persuasion. We find like-minded allies wherever we can. Allies that understand the value of the State of Israel and the dangers of anti-semitism. Allies who also believe in morality and the rule of law. But while we are most definitely grateful for these partnerships; political, religious and social, I keep trying to remind myself that the Torah is above and beyond any secular or political orientation.

Indeed, Rashi (שמות כא א) tells us next Shabbos that even when the Halacha rules identically to secular law, we are obligated to bring our personal disputes to a Beis Din, rather than a secular court.

The Ishbitzer (מי השלוח ח”א יתרו ד”ה אנכי) explains the depth behind this Halacha.

Chazal (שבת קה א) tell us that when Hashem revealed Himself to us on Har Sinai, He gave far more than a simple set of laws. His introductory remark was אנכי – meaning far more than “I”. אנכי is an acronym for אנא נפשי כתבית יהבית – I, Hashem, have inscribed My Soul and given it to you. Even if, by chance or by design, the nations around us accept a rule or a value of the Torah, their laws are still human. The Soul of Hashem cannot be found in secular laws and values.

The Torah is lifeblood of our eternal, immortal existence. It is, quite literally and unfathomably, the will of the Infinite Creator expressed to His finite creations.

When a Jew is seeking clarity and direction in life, we are invited and obligated to seek out that meaning within our own value system. Of course, there are indeed similarities to the values of conservatism or liberalism in the Western tradition. Perhaps we do see eye to eye with some other moral code on certain issues. But that is not who we are; and it certainly does not begin to attempt an understanding of Ratzon Hashem.

As we watch the news, listen to the talking heads and follow our favorite podcast hosts, we all feeling the heat of the world around us. Sometimes (or often) the challenge of moving through this contentious world seems unbearable. So when someone offers us a splash of cool water, a friendship, a partnership, a shared mission, we are tempted to accept their generosity wholeheartedly.

And in those moments, we run the risk of forgetting that a political stance is a far cry from our relationship with the Master of All Worlds; the Giver of the Torah.

This Shabbos at Matan Torah, Hashem reminds us there is only one way to shield ourselves from the encroaching impurity of the world around us: learning and connecting to D’var Hashem. The more we learn His Torah, the more we sensitize ourselves to His Ratzon. Ultimately, the more we will be able to distinguish between cool waters of friendship and Tumah of heresy.

Am Yisrael is neither red, nor blue. Am Yisrael doesn’t trade Torah for talking points. Am Yisrael has far deeper wells than the sprinkles of “holy waters” around us.

On a very practical level, as much as possible, Hashem is inviting us to turn off the news feeds a little more. Use that time to learn more and daven more. To reach out to each other with love, kindness, patience and respect. This will deepen our connection to Hashem, His Torah, His People and His Land.

Our goal is to get to the finish line of this war; the finish line of this Galus. Running through the final stretch, we are all carrying the weight of our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael on our backs. Their pain is our pain, and their victory will be our victory as well. Charging to the end, we will scream Am Yisrael Chai. Hashem should help us that the nation crossing the finish line is still His Am Yisrael.

עם ישראל חי!

Amongst the greatest tragedies of Yetzias Mitzraim is the Medrash regarding the ratio of those who were saved.

Rashi quotes this Medrash at the beginning of our parsha:

וַחֲמֻשִׁים עָלוּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם – חֲמֻשִׁים אֶחָד מֵחֲמִשָּׁה יָצְאוּ וְאַרְבָּעָה חֲלָקִים מֵתוּ בִּשְׁלֹשֶׁת יְמֵי אֲפֵלָה

Now the Israelites went up “armed” out of the land of Egypt – Another explanation of “חמשים” is: only one out of five (חמשה) went forth from Egypt, and four parts of the people died during the three days of darkness.

If only a fraction of Klal Yisrael left Egypt, then Pesach becomes a far more complicated holiday. Without doubt, almost every Jew who crossed the Red Sea had barely finished sitting Shiva for a loved one.

With this ratio of redeemed Jews, everyone leaving Egypt felt like Noach, watching their world flooding behind them. Everyone felt like Lot, feeling the blistering heat of destruction on their back, fleeing Mitzrayim like fleeing Sedom.

They were not simply leaving their Egyptian tormentors, but almost everyone and everything that they knew.

The Ibn Ezra rejects this reading entirely; arguing that if this was the case, Yetzias Mitzrayim would be more of a horrific tragedy than a holiday. Instead, he explains that the word חֲמֻשִׁים means “armed”.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, however, finds common ground between the Ibn Ezra and the Medrash: being armed for battle and being resilient in the face of our cultural enemies are two sides of the same coin.

The Pesach Hagada explains that were certainly Jews who did not wish to be redeemed. Every year, we say about the wicked son “if he were there, he would not have been redeemed.” Clearly, there were those who denied Moshe’s message and Hashem promise. Or perhaps there were those who couldn’t find the courage to charge into the desert when the Nile was the only world they knew.

But imagine the resilience, the tenacity, the mental fortitude of our ancestors who did leave Egypt. Some of them must have been surrounded by families and friends, an entire society who were unwilling or unable to reject the pull of Mitzraim. Against this backdrop, our forebears were the ones who chose leave.

Indeed, the survivors of Mitzrayim were armed; perhaps with weapons, but perhaps with a counter cultural mindset. They were bold, perhaps a little foolhardy and more than willing to chase a dream. The Jews who stayed in Egypt, however, have faded into the dust of history.

...

Sometimes I wonder which camp I fall into.

I’d like to believe that I would not have hesitated to leave Mitzrayim. I’d like to think that I would have followed Moshe enthusiastically into the Midbar, come what it may.

But then again, I’m here in Boca Raton. I am not one of the חֲמֻשִׁים – the brave Chayalim who are armed and fighting.

Those who are giving their lives in Gaza are not only young boys, eighteen or nineteen years old. Many of them are my age, with wives and families. Bnei Torah, Bnei Yeshiva. They are fighting and dying. They are the armed soldiers marching out of Galus, while I am sitting, writing about about them, reflecting on their lives and sacrifices.

Perhaps I’m part of the four fifths who didn’t make it out. Or perhaps not yet. Has the door closed for us here in the USA? For my friends and family in South Africa? What does one need to do in order to merit redemption?

...

Every student of Chumash learns at some point about the two great villains of the Chumash: Dasan and Aviram. Every complaint, issue and rebellion in the desert was spearheaded by these two trouble makers. Indeed, it was these two men whom Moshe saw fighting each other on the day he left Paroah’s palace. It was them who turned him in to the Egyptian authorities after he killed the Mitrzi, and them who sided with Korach years later.

Indeed, the Targum Yonasan in our Parsha notes that they were the ones who told Paroah that the Jewish people had no intention of coming back to Egypt. When the nation escaped, these two stayed behind to inform on them.

There is an obvious plot-hole question that needs addressing: If Dasan and Aviram were still in Mitzrayim when Klal Yisrael left, how did they ever rejoin the nation to cause problems later?

The Beer Mayim Chaim (בשלח ד”ה ובני ישראל) quotes from Chazal:

ובני ישראל הלכו ביבשה וגו'. מיעוט רבים שנים, לומר כי על שנים מישראל לבד נקרע הים והם דתן ואבירם שאמרו חז”ל שנשארו ונקרע הים עליהם לבד.

Even though Dasan and Aviram stayed in Egypt, when they eventually arrived at Yam Suf the sea split again just for them!

It seems a bizarre thought – that Hashem would perform such a miracle for these two Reshaim, but perhaps we could explain it in light of the challenge of the Rosh (שמות י:י)

יש לשאול מ”ש שמתו כל הרשעים בתוך ג' ימי אפלה ודתן ואבירם לא מתו שהיו רשעים גמורים. י”ל אע”פי שהיו רשעים לא נתייאשו מן הגאולה:

One could ask: If those who were truly wicked perished in the three days of darkness, why did Dasan and Aviram survive? Surely they were total Reshaim. However, we can explain: Even though they were clearly wicked people, they were saved, since they never lost hope in the possibility of redemption.

...

It seems then, that the greatest guarantee of eventual Geulah is ensuring that we never give up hope.

This is true for our Chayalim, living through the hell of war. This is true for our hostages, and their tortured families. It’s true for our kids on college campuses and embattled Jews throughout the world.

It’s also true for you and me in Chutz La’Aretz; feeling distant and ineffective. So proud of our nation and our home land, and so ashamed to be so far.

Most importantly, we can now reorient our perspective about other Jews, our brothers and sisters. Perhaps they are not all tzadikim. Perhaps some of them are Reshaim. But so long as we are all yearning, hoping, dreaming and fighting for Geulah, then the sea will split yet again for us and them.

This is the Tefillah of David HaMelech in Tehillim 130, which we have all been saying: נַפְשִׁי לַה’ מִשֹּׁמְרִים לַבֹּקֶר – My soul is more eager for Hashem than watchmen for the morning.

But the Alshich adds: Sometimes, my body is not quite purified yet. Sometimes, only my soul is desperate for you Hashem. But please, redeem me for my soul, remember us for Your sake.

Bring them home. Save them.

Save us. Take us home as well.

The Klausenberger Rebbe once told the story (שפע חיים – מועדים שבת שובה):

Like so many before them, a small group of Rabbis had been kidnapped, accused and imprisoned. Their crime? Being Jewish. They were given options: Either bow to the cross and denounce your belief in Hashem and His Torah, or die. To these Rabbis, the choice was obvious. By the next morning they would be welcomed to the Yeshiva Shel Maalah.

What does one do, knowing that tonight is their last night on earth? How does a Jew prepare to give their life Al Kiddush Hashem?

Pray for a miracle? Arrange a protest? Beg their tormentors for mercy?

No. These tzadikim had a singular concern. In there final hours they would ensure that the Torah they had learned would survive their deaths. Without hesitation, they cut into own their veins, and with the blood of their hands, they wrote on the walls of the prison cell.

*These Talmidei Chachamim were no ordinary scholars. They were Baalei HaTosfos – the brilliant French luminaries from the schools of Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam. And the words that they wrote on that final night of their lives, are the immortalized in Bava Kamma 77a; the big Tosfos which takes up the entire page. The Daf HaYomi for Thursday, 8 Sh’vat 5784.

(The Munkatcher Rebbe (דברי תורה ח:לא) told this story in the name of the Bnei Yissaschar.)

It’s a sobering thought. How much of the Torah that we learn today has been acquired and preserved through the blood and tears of our ancestors and teachers? Generations of people who died as they lived – dedicated to preserving Torah and Mesora. Somehow, through the long and often dark exile, Klal Yisrael has learned that Mesirus Nefesh is the key to our immortality.

Moreover, we have discovered that the capacity to give our lives for Hashem and His People is baked in to the souls of every Jew. As the Baal HaTanya (פרק י”ח) writes:

אֲפִילוּ קַל שֶׁבְּקַלִּים וּפוֹשְׁעֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מוֹסְרִים נַפְשָׁם עַל קְדוּשַּׁת ה׳, עַל הָרוֹב, וְסוֹבְלִים עִינּוּיִם קָשִׁים שֶׁלֹּא לִכְפּוֹר בַּה׳ אֶחָד.

Even the most flippant of flippant, and the transgressors of Jewish people, in the majority of cases, sacrifice their lives for the sanctity of Hashem’s Name and suffer harsh torture rather than deny the one God, although they be boors and illiterate and ignorant of God’s greatness.

Today, we are witnessing the heroism and tragedy of young men, husbands and fathers, risking their lives with unimaginable Mesirus Nefesh for Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael.

An entire country has mobilized to ensure the safety, security and sovereignty of our nation in our homeland. It is clear to me that our Chayalim are drawing from the same wells as the Baalei HaTosfos; those deep waters that run in our collective national soul since the days of Avraham Avinu.

The land upon which our nation lives and the Gemaros that we learn, have both been acquired with the blood of our greatest heroes.

But martyrdom has never been the ideal. It is always a tragedy. We are a people who celebrate life, and our deepest tefillah is that it is time for this heartbreak to end.

The Yid HaKadosh of Pshishcha was once lamenting the great pain that Klal Yisrael would experience just before Mashiach arrives. His Talmid, Reb Simcha Bunim tried to console the Rebbe: “But is it not true that Hashem only gives us challenges that we can handle?”

The Rebbe replied: “Reb Bunim, you have no idea just how much pain the Jewish people is able to handle.”

We have enormous capacities to withstand the pain. But just because we can handle it, does not mean that it’s ok, or that we’re ok.

We’re decisively not ok. This war is not ok. Over 100 days of our brothers and sisters held as hostages in the depths of hell is not ok. The excruciating pain of widows and orphans, of grieving parents and children is not ok.

Every tefillah is a protest to the Ribono Shel Olam. But within these protests there are important questions that we need to address: When the time for self-sacrifice is over, when we can finally live in peace, with safety and security for Jews in Israel and around the world, what will we do with our lives?

When Jews no longer need to die for Torah and Eretz Yisrael, will we be willing to live for these same truths?

The Seforno (שמות יב:ב) explains that this is at the heart of our very first national obligation: the creation of our National Jewish Calendar.

The Torah instructs: “הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים – This month is the first of the months of the year for you.” From now on these months will be yours, to do with as you like – you have My authority to organize your own time. This is by way of contrast to the years when you were enslaved when you had no control over your time or timetable at all. While you were enslaved, your days, hours, minutes even, were always at the beck and call of your taskmasters.

Leaving Mitzrayim means that we could finally decide how to spend our time, and in that new found freedom there is a world of responsibility. What would we do if and when we have the time? Would we fill it with meaning, purpose and growth? Or would we fill it with the pursuit of hedonistic pleasure and apathy?

This is the same question that Hashem is posing to us today: We want the war to end. But why? We want to live securely in our homeland. But why? Why do we want to live? Why do we want to prevail? Of course we want the pain to end; that’s normal and healthy and necessary. But what do we want to do thereafter? What is the purpose of Jewish existence when we can choose to live as we wish?

Hashem is challenging us to look deep within ourselves and ask: Are our soldiers giving their lives so that Klal Yisrael can return to safely binge watching TV and fighting about politics? Or perhaps we are awakening to the truth that if Jews are willing to die for Eretz Yisrael, for Torah and for each other, then these are the things worth living for as well. Perhaps it is time to reengage with the reasons why Klal Yisrael exists at all.

So we continue daven for the safety and success of our Chayalim, the return of our hostages and the refuah (both mental and physical) for all those who are in pain. But beyond this, we should daven for ourselves and our families; that we should merit to choose a life of Mesirus Nefesh as well.

Hashem should help us, that when He takes us out of this “Mitzrayim”, we will know exactly what to do with our lives.

I grew up hearing this story and learning this text. It’s a fundamental pillar of Religious Zionism; a triumphant description of our generation:

“Rebbi Chiyya and Rebbi Shimon ben Chalaphta were once walking in the valley of Arbel and witnessed the breaking dawn as it started radiating. Rebbi Chiyya said to Rebbi Shimon ben Chalaphta: so will be the redemption of Israel; it starts out very little and grows and stronger as it goes on.” – Yerushalmi Brachos 1:1

This is the grand vision of redemption unfolding. The gradual warmth and light of Geulah rising to rescue us from exile. The imagery carries with it a sense of hope and optimism, of fate and destiny. A reality that is impossible to stop, change or destroy. Our national destination is preprogrammed into the fabric of existence itself.

Indeed, the Rambam (הלכות מלכים ומלחמות י״א א) paskens that the coming of Moshiach is not simply a fulfillment of prophecy, but an undeniable truth of the Torah itself:

וכל מי שאינו מאמין בו. או מי שאינו מחכה לביאתו. לא בשאר נביאים בלבד הוא כופר. אלא בתורה ובמשה רבנו.

Anyone who does not believe in him or does not await his coming, denies not only the statements of the other prophets, but those of the Torah and Moses, our teacher.

Forgive my irreverence, but there is a problem with all of this on a visceral, experiential level: When the sun rises, the shadows of night retreat. They do not return sporadically and cruelly, as if the sun was bobbing up and down on the horizon. When the sun rises, there is a predictable increase in light, at exactly the same rate as the decrease in darkness.

What we are experiencing is not predictable. It is not consistent. The shadows are looming longer and darker this year than any other in recent memory.

Ribono Shel Olam! Where’s the Geulah? Where’s the sunrise? Is the road to redemption really supposed to be paved with so much blood and and so many tears? Should we be marching to Yerushalaim or to hospitals and funerals? Is Moshiach supposed to arrive at the end of the shameful scandal of taking Israel to the International Court of Justice? Perhaps You could send him before this Chillul Hashem gains any more libelous steam?

This is the scream that arises from the soul of every Jew. Often times, it feels like we scream alone. But we are not alone. Indeed, we are in the company of Moshe Rabbeinu himself, who levies exactly this question to Hashem in the concluding words of last week’s parsha:

וַיֹּאמַר אֲדֹנָי לָמָה הֲרֵעֹתָה לָעָם הַזֶּה לָמָּה זֶּה שְׁלַחְתָּנִי, וּמֵאָז בָּאתִי אֶל־פַּרְעֹה... הֵרַע לָעָם הַזֶּה וְהַצֵּל לֹא־הִצַּלְתָּ אֶת־עַמֶּךָ׃

“My Lord, why did You bring this harm upon this people? Why did You send me at all? Ever since I came to Pharaoh... he has dealt worse with this people; and still You have not delivered Your nation!”

Moshe Rabbeinu is troubled with October 7th, just as we are. He’s watching the Galus intensify even as Hashem has promised that Geulah is coming.

How does Hashem answer these allegations?

עַתָּה תִרְאֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶעֱשֶׂה לְפַרְעֹה כִּי בְיָד חֲזָקָה יְשַׁלְּחֵם וּבְיָד חֲזָקָה יְגָרְשֵׁם מֵאַרְצוֹ

“Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: he shall let them go because of a greater might; indeed, because of a greater might he shall drive them from his land.”

Is Hashem relenting? Is He caving? What does He mean when He says “now you will see?” The Netziv explains: The pain you are experiencing now is not an indication of Hashem’s absence. Indeed, it is quite the opposite; this pain is a clear sign of the Geulah.

The Beis Yaakov of Izbhitz (פר’ שמות כז) explains:

There are two narratives occurring simultaneously: Our descent into slavery and the birth of Moshe Rabbeinu, the redeemer. One might assume that when Moshe is born, the exile would begin to dissipate. But the opposite occurs. Moshe’s birth heralds harsher sentencing; and his return to Egypt decades later makes the slavery even worse.

But why is this case? How are we to make sense of this mysterious process?

When Hashem begins the process of waking us up from our national sleep in exile, this awakening is felt throughout the world. Klal Yisrael is slowly rising from the ashes of history, and taking our rightful place as a beacon of light to all of humanity. This unfolding dawn is echoed in every person, and every nation. Everyone feels the rising of Hashem’s people. Some are inspired by it, while others feel the desperate need to oppose it, fight it and attempt to squash it.

It is this truth that might help us understand the absurdity of the world’s obsession with Israel. The reality is quite clear: Hashem is forcing each nation, each politician, party and person to take a side. There can be no equivocating.

This is the meaning of the Netziv: When the process of redemption is interrupted by anger, hatred, anti-semitism and aggression, you can be sure that a greater awakening is taking place. In a strange way, it is our enemies, most threatened by our Geulah, who feel it happening first.

Of course, like everything else in our lives, our conflicts, pain and challenges on a national level are happening inside of us as well. In our own hearts and minds there is an awakening to come home to Torah, Mitzvos and Eretz Yisrael. And rising up against this wave of positivity and progress are the feelings of cynicism, narcissism and defeatism.

Make no mistake. The war is being waged on every front and even the smallest of our personal victories lends greater strength to our national mission on the battle fields of Gaza, in the Halls of Congress and on the world stage.

Hashem’s message to Moshe then, and to us now is one and the same: The end is near; that’s why they’re fighting so hard. “Soon you will see...” With Hashem’s help, we will not need to wait much longer.

Most years, as we begin Sefer Shemos, we tend to skim over the beginning. Rightfully so, I guess. It’s never pleasant to focus on the extremities of our suffering under Egyptian tyranny. We’re excited to get to the good stuff: miracles, revelation and redemption. After all, these things make up the bulk of the narrative, and the far more enjoyable parts of the story. But this year, in particular, it’s difficult to look past the pain.

It seems all too familiar. A nation bent on destroying the Jewish people, with a particular hatred of Jewish babies. This year I find myself thinking less about signs and wonders, and more about the impossibly tumultuous anguish of giving birth to a baby slated to die by royal edict.

How did Yocheved feel? How did Amram feel? How did they cope with the realization that there was no way they could protect their son from the cruelty of being thrown into the nile?

With no way of keeping him safe at home, Yocheved builds him a miniature ark; perhaps it might save him from the flood of hatred.

Imagine her exuberance when Moshe was discovered by the daughter of Pharaoh and when Yocheved was then hired to be his nursemaid. And imagine the pain of that day when her baby was once again taken from her, this time to be raised as an Egyptian.

Imagine the sleepless nights as those parents cried, wondering what was happening to their beautiful child. What hatred and lies he might be hearing about his parents and his people. Would they ever see him again? Perhaps, in their darkest moments they wished that none of this had happened. That he might’ve died as Jew, in infancy, rather than become the adopted grandson of their virulently anti-semitic tormentor.

From our vantage point, with the clarity of hindsight, and the detachment of a few millennia, we can examine, investigate and question a little differently. Indeed, thethe Ibn Ezra does just that, asking: Why did Moshe need to be kidnapped and snatched away from his family? Why did he need to be raised in the palace of Pharaoh?

The Ibn Ezra answers: Perhaps this exposure to royalty would teach him how to become a leader, a king, rather than a slave. Or perhaps it would provide him with the necessary distance from his people that might allow them to revere him and look up to him.

But none of this sufficiently mitigates Yocheved’s tears. Not then, and not now. If its not too heretical to say, perhaps we might dare to ask: With the infinite resources of the Almighty, omnipotent God, surely there was another way for Moshe to become Moshe without this immeasurable pain?

And if we are honest, I think that perhaps this is our question right now as well. Deep in the hearts and minds of every Jew there is a tiny, one-person protest: “Hashem, we know that You have a plan. We believe it, we know it with perfect faith. But in all of the wonders of Your Creation, is there not, perhaps, a possibility that Your goals and aims for Klal Yisrael could be achieved without this hell? Whatever it is that You need us to achieve and become, however You are pushing us to grow, did it really have to be like this?”

In the case of Yocheved, the Ibn Ezra concedes that his best explanations are merely suggestions. We cannot ever fully account for Hashem’s designs:

ומחשבות השם עמקו, ומי יוכל לעמוד בסודו, ולו לבדו נתכנו עלילות

The thoughts of Hashem are deep. Who can comprehend their secrets? To Him alone all actions are accounted.

While we might never be able to understand Hashem’s ways, Chazal revealed to us a few hidden details from the life of Yocheved to help us traverse the murky pain of our generation.

The Talmud (סוטה יב א) tells us of Yocheved’s birth:

דאמר רבי חמא ברבי חנינא: זו יוכבד, שהורתה בדרך ולידתה בין החומות, שנאמר: ״אשר ילדה אותה ללוי במצרים״ — לידתה במצרים, ואין הורתה במצרים.

Yocheved’s conception was on the road, as the family of Yaakov descended to Egypt, and she was born between the walls as it is stated: “And the name of Amram’s wife was Yocheved, the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt.” Her birth was in Egypt, but her conception was not in Egypt.

Ok, so Yocheved was born as Yaakov and his family entered Egypt. But what is the meaning of being was born “between the walls?”

The Mabit, writes in his Beis Elokim (שער היסודות כ”א):

It would be the children of Yocheved: Moshe, Aharon and Miriam, who would one day redeem the Jewish people. They were brought into the world by a mother who lived as the connection between exile and redemption. Her conception was in Eretz Yisrael, devoid of any slavery. But she was born “between the walls” of Egypt; meaning: She was born at the exit of Egypt, the place which Klal Yisrael would stand and anticipate their freedom and redemption.

This place was engrained in her personality and perspective. For the rest of her life, Yocheved saw herself as standing, persisting, suffering and surviving at the center of Jewish history. She lived in the fleeting moments between past and future; between exile and redemption. In the deepest way, Yocheved lived with the knowledge that her story, and our story is never over, it is always in the middle. Be definition, this means that we cannot possibly hope to understand our story since it has not yet reached its climactic finale.

The Rama MiPano (מאמר חקור דין חלק ג פרק ד) writes that Yocheved transcended space and time in the same way as the Aron Kodesh “took up no space”. She existed in the infinitesimally small space “between the walls”, where Galus and Geulah could happen at any moment.

Of course, none of this negates the pain. None of this answers the questions of “Why me? Why this? Why now?” But answering questions was never the goal. To be living at the center of all time and space means that Hashem is holding our hands in the here and now. He is partnering with us in writing this sentence in the story of our lives and the life of Klal Yisrael. If it doesn’t make sense, that’s only because we’re still in the middle.

Perhaps, when the final pages of this chapter are written, we will learn the reasons; the why’s and the how’s of Hashem’s Master-Plan for our lives since October 7th. Or perhaps by then we might finally understand the totally of why Moshe Rabbeinu needed to by raised in the home of Pharaoh. Then again, we might never merit to scratch the surface of the infinite depths of Ratzon Hashem.

But no matter what we do or do not understand, we can live between these walls, fully present, with Hashem at our side, yearning for and anticipating the day when we too will march beyond the walls of exile; together with our brothers and sisters in captivity. Living, crying, laughing, and Be’ezras Hashem, soon celebrating.

As we approach the end of Sefer Bereishis, I cannot help but think back to the last time we finished a book of the Torah. For us in Chutz La’Aretz, it was the day after the world changed. As is the custom of Ashkenazim, we completed Sefer Devarim and cried out “Chazak, Chazak V’Nischazek”.

So many of our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael did not hear those words in Simchas Torah; they were hiding in bomb shelters and stair wells. So many will never hear those words again.

The origins of calling out these three words is somewhat murky. They are not written in the Torah. The custom is discussed by the Rishonim, trying to find a reason for our practice in its various forms. Sefardim call out “Chazak U’Baruch”, and some communities call out “Chazak, Chazak, Chazak.”

It appears, however, that according to all opinions, it is deeply rooted in the practice of Jews across the world and centuries that we conclude a Sefer with a cry of “Strength”.

The Pri Chadash (סי' קל”ט ס”ק י”א) notes this this is because the Talmud (ברכות לב א) tells us that four things always need strengthening: Torah, Good deeds, Tefillah and a Career.

Rav Kook explains that despite the obvious values to these endeavors, without constant work, we tend to let things slip. To this end, as soon as we complete a book of the Torah, we immediately declare that we should be strengthened to continue; we are not resting on our laurels.

But the conclusion of Sefer Bereishis appears to carry an additional message. By all standards, this book ends tragically:

וַיָּמׇת יוֹסֵף ... וַיִּישֶׂם בָּאָרוֹן בְּמִצְרָיִם Joseph died... and was placed in a coffin in Egypt.

The cry for strength at this juncture is not simply to encourage future Torah study; it’s a response to the calamity of the parsha. This Great Book of Creation ends with the death of its protagonists, and the exile of their descendants. It’s a depressing narrative to say the least.

Of course, we know that this darkness will eventually give way to the magnificence of Yetzias Mitzraim, the Splitting of the Red Sea and the Giving of the Torah. But not before generations of murder and slavery. Yosef’s death carries with it the full weight of the journey ahead. It is no wonder that we pause at this juncture to rally together and encourage each other to strengthen ourselves.

But this is not the whole story. The truth is that when Yosef dies, the journey has barely begun. At this point, the family of Yaakov was still experiencing some of the greatest prosperity that any Jewish community would ever enjoy. The slavery was still years away, the pain would only begin decades into the future.

On the one hand, Sefer Bereishis ends in exile and devastation, but on the other, it concludes with wondrous success: The reunification of Yaakov’s sons with all the religious and material freedoms they would ever want or need.

Perhaps it is davka this situation that needs the greatest Chizuk; this reality so eerily predictive of the lives which we live today. Drawing connections between Klal Yisrael in Mitzraim and our current circumstance is not my own interpretation; it was first said by the Ramban in our Parsha:

כי רדת יעקב למצרים הוא גלותינו היום ביד החיה הרביעית (דניאל ז ז) רומי הרשעה

Jacob’s descent into Egypt alludes to our present exile at the hand of the “fourth beast,” which represents Rome.

The Ramban continues to explain that our inability to fully return to Eretz Yisrael is not due to a lack of capacity on our part, but rather the intricate political alliances in which we are entangled. We are held back from fulfilling our national mission of reconquering and resettling Eretz Yisrael by the nations of the world; despite the fact that we are now capable.

It is in this complex web that Yaakov Avinu chooses to reveal to his children the vision of the end of time, as Rashi tells us:

בקש לגלות את הקץ ונסתלקה ממנו שכינה

He wished to reveal to them the end of Israel’s exile but the Shechinah departed from him.

Living in such times now, we can certainly appreciate the need for clarity about the future. If only there was a way to know and understand how Hashem is holding our hands and guiding us through this end of the exile. But instead, the Parsha is “closed”. There is no break. We rush from line to line, pasuk to pasuk, word to word, and there is no pause or explantion.

We move from news report to news report, hostage to hostage, story to story, soldier to soldier. There is no pause. No Break. No clarity. No clue when this is going to end. We too wish for Yaakov, for anyone, to reveal the end, but now, just as then, it’s closed.

But the Sfas Emes (ויחי תרל”א) shared the secret of our parsha and our life:

מ”מ כ' בזוה”ק שגילה מה שרצה לגלות רק בדרך הסתר Nevertheless, the Zohar teaches us that Yaakov was able to reveal something of the End in a hidden way.

והפי' ע”י אמונה יכולין למצוא האמת להתברר שהוא רק הסתר כנ”ל. ולכך ויחי יעקב סתום. שזה מקור החיות להיות נמצא גם בא”מ. The meaning of this, is that by our knowing that Yaakov knew, we know that the end is possible. Yaakov lived in Mitzraim; which means that it’s possible to find live and meaning and purpose and clarity even in the darkness of exile.

We know and believe with perfect faith that there is a happy end to the story. We know it because Yaakov knew it; even if he couldn’t share it. We know it because he lived it.

So this shabbos, we will finish Sefer Bereishis; living the same lives as out ancestors. Shrouded in politics, exile and anxiety about the future, but screaming “Chazak, Chazak V’Nischazek”. Despite it all, we can still continue to find strength. Whether we see it or not, the end of the darkness is coming soon.

As we approach the end of Sefer Bereishis, I cannot help but think back to the last time we finished a book of the Torah. For us in Chutz La’Aretz, it was the day after the world changed. As is the custom of Ashkenazim, we completed Sefer Devarim and cried out “Chazak, Chazak V’Nischazek”.

So many of our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael did not hear those words in Simchas Torah; they were hiding in bomb shelters and stair wells. So many will never hear those words again.

The origins of calling out these three words is somewhat murky. They are not written in the Torah. The custom is discussed by the Rishonim, trying to find a reason for our practice in its various forms. Sefardim call out “Chazak U’Baruch”, and some communities call out “Chazak, Chazak, Chazak.”

It appears, however, that according to all opinions, it is deeply rooted in the practice of Jews across the world and centuries that we conclude a Sefer with a cry of “Strength”.

The Pri Chadash (סי' קל”ט ס”ק י”א) notes this this is because the Talmud (ברכות לב א) tells us that four things always need strengthening: Torah, Good deeds, Tefillah and a Career.

Rav Kook explains that despite the obvious values to these endeavors, without constant work, we tend to let things slip. To this end, as soon as we complete a book of the Torah, we immediately declare that we should be strengthened to continue; we are not resting on our laurels.

But the conclusion of Sefer Bereishis appears to carry an additional message. But all standards, this book ends tragically:

וַיָּמׇת יוֹסֵף ... וַיִּישֶׂם בָּאָרוֹן בְּמִצְרָיִם Joseph died... and was placed in a coffin in Egypt.

The cry for strength at this juncture is not simply to encourage future Torah study; it’s a response to the calamity of the parsha. The great book of Creation ends with the death of its protagonists, and the exile of their descendants. It’s a depression narrative to say the least.

Of course, we know that this darkness will eventually give way to the magnificence of Yetzias Mitzraim, the Splitting of the Red Sea and the Giving of the Torah. But not before generations of murder and slavery. Yosef’s death carries with it the full weight of the journey ahead.

It is no wonder that we pause at this juncture to rally together and encourage each other to strengthen ourselves.

But this is not the whole story. The truth is that when Yosef dies, the journey has barely begun. At this point, the family of Yaakov was still experiencing some of the greatest prosperity that any Jewish community would ever enjoy. The slavery was still years away, the pain would only begin decades into the future.

On the one hand, Sefer Bereishis ends in exile and devastation, but on the other, it concludes with wondrous success: The reunification of Yaakov’s sons with all the religious and material freedoms they would ever want or need.

Perhaps it is davka this situation that needs the greatest Chizuk; the eerily predictive reality in which we live today. Drawing connections between Klal Yisrael in Mitzraim and our current circumstance is not own interpretation; it was first said by the Ramban in our Parsha:

כי רדת יעקב למצרים הוא גלותינו היום ביד החיה הרביעית (דניאל ז ז) רומי הרשעה

Jacob’s descent into Egypt alludes to our present exile at the hand of the “fourth beast,” which represents Rome.

The Ramban continues to explain that our inability to fully return to Eretz Yisrael is due to the intricate political alliances in which we are entangled. We are held back from fulfilling our national mission of reconquering and resettling Eretz Yisrael by nations of the world; despite the fact that we are now capable.

It is in this complex web that Yaakov Avinu chooses to reveal to his children the vision of the end of time, as Rashi tells us:

בקש לגלות את הקץ ונסתלקה ממנו שכינה

He wished to reveal to them the end of Israel’s exile but the Shechinah departed from him.

Living in such times now, we can certainly appreciate the need for clarity about the future. If only there was a way to know and understand how Hashem is holding our hands and guiding us through the end of the exile. But instead, the Parsha is “closed”. There is no break. We rush from line to line, pasuk to pasuk, word to word, and there is no pause.

We move from news report to news report, hostage to hostage, story to story, soldier to soldier. There is no pause. No Break. No clarity. No clue when this is going to end. We too wish for Yaakov to reveal the end, but now, just as then, it’s closed.

But the Sfas Emes shared the secret of our parsha and our life:

מ”מ כ' בזוה”ק שגילה מה שרצה לגלות רק בדרך הסתר Nevertheless, the Zohar teaches us that Yaakov was able to reveal something of the End in a hidden way.

והפי' ע”י אמונה יכולין למצוא האמת להתברר שהוא רק הסתר כנ”ל. ולכך ויחי יעקב סתום. שזה מקור החיות להיות נמצא גם בא”מ. The meaning of this, is that by knowing that Yaakov knew, we know that the end is possible. Yaakov lived in Mitzraim; which means that it’s possible to find live and meaning and purpose and clarity even in the darkness of exile.

We know and believe with perfect faith that there is a happy end to the story. We know it because Yaakov knew it; even if he couldn’t share it. We know it because he lived it.

So this shabbos, we will finish Sefer Bereishis; living the same lives as out ancestors. Shrouded in politics, exile and anxiety about the future, but screaming “Chazak, Chazak V’Nischazek”. Despite it all, we can still continue to find strength. Whether we see it or not, the end of the darkness is coming soon.

It’s not something we’re proud of, but we all seem to be running out of steam.

Do you remember the emotions of October 8th, 9th and 10th? Our heightened sense of purpose, our intensity in tefillah, our commitment to Talmud Torah? Do you remember the commitments that we all made? Tehillim ‘round the clock? The desperate hopes that perhaps this was finally the Geulah Sheleima? It’s not pleasant to admit it, but we’re not thinking, feeling and acting in the same way. None of it is quite the same as it was a few weeks ago.

Of course, some of this is the natural course of the year, each and every year. We often feel a powerful sense of direction in the days following Elul, Tishrei and Simchas Torah. By the time we’re lighting the last Neiros Chanukah we are usually pining for a few days of long awaited vacation. We’re looking forward to some down time, a break from the routine.

This year, however, it is difficult to justify our regular indulgences. I’ve heard it from member of our shul, from chaveirim and from colleagues. How can we plan a vacation when our brothers, cousins and nephews are fighting in Gaza, and Rachmana Litzlan, falling in battle? How can we spend money on Chanukah gifts and vacations for our children when hundreds of thousands of Israelis are still refugees? Shouldn’t we just send the money to those who need it far more than us?

But on the other hand, does it really help the situation if we deprive ourselves of rest and enjoyment? Has it not been a difficult year for us as well? Are we narcissists or normal for thinking this way? It’s hard to weigh up each moment of our personal lives with national importance.

At there core, these feelings and conundrums are all approaching a singular truth: We cannot go on like this forever. No one can. It’s simply too much.

So we turn away sheepishly, with overwhelming guilt. We rationalize that Hashem cannot possibly want or expect us to live with the same intensity as we did in the first days and weeks of the war.

In a deep way, we feel that these rationalizations are the words of the Yetzer Hara. We know that our Chaylim are fighting day and night. They are not taking vacations. Their families are not getting the much needed rest that they have undoubtedly earned either. And there’s the guilt again. Can I really not push myself to learn for another few minutes? Can I really not make it to minyan? So we push a little harder. Sometimes. Because none of this guilt changes the reality that carpools, homework, finals, work and family life are all tiring.

We’re caught in a web of wanting to do more, feeling the waves of hopelessness and despondency. So we spiral. Late nights doom scrolling. Constantly refreshing the pages to see if perhaps there is some glimmer of hope. It’s a tough to watch.

We comfort ourselves in the knowledge that we’re winning the war. We know that Tzahal is slowing taking control of Gaza; fulfilling their promise to eradicate our enemies. But that’s not what fills the news feeds. All we see are families of hostages desperate for a joyful end to the most excruciating pain imaginable. And as the days turn to weeks, weeks become months, we see more and more antisemites around the world gathering to call for the annihilation of our homeland and nation. Negotiations for the future of Gaza that never take Jewish safety and sovereignty into account.

Most tragically, the deaths of our precious Chayalim are impossible to process. Slowly we are becoming numb to the pain as we read another list of inconceivable losses. Our children have been exposed to words and worlds that their young ears should never need to hear. They no longer flinch. The word “kidnapped” is now part of life.

All of this raises the question: What does Hashem actually want from us right now?

It dawned on me during a recovery run this week.

Every runner knows that there are long runs, fast runs and hard runs, these are the runs that tax and exhaust us. But then there are recovery runs. These runs exist as a strange paradox. On the one hand, they are still a little tiring; but they are also slow enough and controlled enough that we return after the run with more strength and greater confidence.

Recovery is not just for sick people. The Oxford English dictionary defines recovery as “the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost.” That’s what we’re aiming for here; it’s based on a profound understanding that we are capable of more. It’s an admission that we have oceans of potential that is yet to be uncovered, and that we have work to do to actualize that potential. The ups and downs are part of the training.

A recovery run allows us to keep moving and keep growing even when we are tired. This is the Avoda that we need right now.

In place of unsustainable and anxious anticipation, recovery gives us sometime to do. Something that’s still achievable when we’re tired, burned-out and numb.

What is recovery in Torah and Mitzvos? Perhaps the best translation is Teshuva. Most of the time, we translate Teshuva as “repentance”. Sometimes, we translate it as “return”. All of this centers around sin and failure. But Teshuva is ultimately the process of building greater resilience, of becoming a better person because of the set-backs. That’s real recovery.

The most important feature of recovery is its purpose. It’s slow for a reason: To enable us to get stronger and avoid injury. It is an intentional slowing-down to prepare for harder challenges in the future.

This is our challenge and opportunity right now. If you’re feeling like you need a break, that you’re running on empty and that you just want to stop; this is not the time to give up! Klal Yisrael still needs us. Instead of grinding to a guilt-ridden halt, we can find ways to recover without stopping.

The Avoda is to ask ourselves: What can I in my Avodas Hashem to regain the motivation to push myself a little harder later? What chessed, learning, davening, mitzvah or middah can I work on while getting ready to upgrade the intensity? So what if I’m getting tired?! Thats part of the program. The real question is whether we’re growing or not. Ultimately, the question is: Where can I engage in Teshuva right now?

The Medrash (ב”ר כא ו) notes:

אֵין וְעַתָּה אֶלָּא תְּשׁוּבָה – The word “now” always means Teshuva

Living with purpose here and now is the ultimate recovery. It ensures that we are always getting better, always growing, always developing.

This broader perspective is the seismic shift that Hashem is asking from us right now. For many of us in Chutz La’aretz and in Eretz Yisrael, this war and these tragedies have awakened us to the singular reality that we can no longer live on auto-pilot. Hashem is calling each of us to take control of our lives, to honestly adjust our Avoda to ensure that we are moving forward and making a difference. He is asking us to reevaluate everything, from our daily decisions to our plans for the future. To find ways to live for more than just ourselves; to become the people that He needs us to become.

The world has changed since October 7th. Have you?

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