We have reached a new level in our weekly Torah portion. From the Book of Genesis through last week’s Torah portion, in which Israel receives the Torah at Mount Sinai, the Torah portions have been narrative, beginning with the epic story of Creation, the formation of the Nation of Israel, and culminating in the redemption from Egypt and the (literally) earth-shaking meeting between G-d and His Chosen People at Mount Sinai.
Now the work begins.
Having attained the exalted status of those who are close to the Ruler of the Universe, the Children of Israel must now work to sustain and deepen that relationship. This never-ending spiritual endeavor refines our souls and propels us ever upward toward the World of Truth. But because we are “basar v’dam… flesh and blood,” human beings in whom a soul and body coexist, we have an endless task: elevating the soul so it subordinates and guides the cravings of the body. As we say every morning, “Let the evil inclination not dominate us. Distance us from an evil person and an evil companion. Attach us to the Good Inclination and to good deeds and compel our Evil Inclination to be subservient to You.”
The willingness to engage in this lifelong spiritual endeavor sets the Children of Israel apart from all other nations. Israel has had to work for their status as the Nation which represents G-d. Our great rabbis and leaders labored ceaselessly to elevate themselves to the highest spiritual levels.
In the surrounding culture, people expect to achieve their desires without exertion. I say “desires” because it is unlikely they even have clearly defined roles in mind. They want to believe that life is a lottery and one must only purchase a ticket to “win.” In fact, nothing whatsoever can be achieved that way.
In this vein, I was amazed and gratified over the last few weeks by the reaction to a speech I made in several locations. It is one thing when my wife and I tell our personal story. A good story is easy to hear, giving encouragement and hope to the listener. Our personal story concerns two people who grew up in the spiritual desert. We needed the Truth, and were satisfied only when we discovered Torah. People are encouraged by this true and exciting story.
But we speak on other topics, also. The topic I am referring to was the state of affairs in today’s pre-Messiah world. The current scene is dangerous to the point of explosion. In fact, each day one hears new aspects of the situation which attest to the dangers which surround us. However, it is vital to understand that this explosive mix contains within it the seeds of redemption. As it says, “there was … a heavy cloud on the mountain … and Moses ascended.” (Exodus 19:16)
Even more to the point, perhaps, is the famous passage, “Behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the wicked people and all the evildoers will be like straw and that coming day will burn them up, saith G-d, Master of Legions, so that it not leave them a root or branch. But a sun of righteousness will shine for you who fear My Name, with healing in its rays, and you will go out and flourish like calves fattened in the stall.” (Malachi 3: 18ff)
I believe it is imperative to understand contemporary events, because people are afraid of them. It is imperative to understand that behind the dark, heavy cloud is the Presence of G-d and the redemption we have all been awaiting. How will we gain the courage to live in the current environment? Moses heard the voice from within the cloud. “G-d summoned Moses to the top of the mountain….” (Exodus 19:20) We also want to ascend the mountain! In order to do so, we must realize that G-d is indeed calling us from within the cloud.
In order to do this, we have to understand how imbued we have become with the values of exile. We have grown up believing that we have a “right” to live in a state of protection. A woman said to me the other day, “We demand that G-d should take care of us.”
Indeed? Do we have the right to “demand” anything?
We live in the world of “9-1-1.” If someone threatens us, we pick up the phone. Perhaps the United States was attacked on 9-11 to remind us that 9-1-1 is false security. What would happen if that system broke down? What would happen if you dialed 9-1-1 and no one was there?
I was speaking on this topic recently to a community of retired people whom I would have expected not to want to think about this, to avoid this issue. But I felt responsibility to speak about it, because Jews in a state of danger must learn to cry out to G-d the way our ancestors cried out in ancient Egypt and throughout history: “Ana Hashem hoshia na… Please G-d, save us now!”
Something remarkable happened: people thanked me. Someone said, “Everyone is thinking about these subjects, but no one is speaking about them. Everyone is afraid to think about this because we see no way out. You did us a favor by showing us legitimate grounds for hope!”
I also discussed this topic in a community of newly-religious Jews, and they too were grateful.
My friends, we are currently experiencing Chevlei Moshiach, the birth process through which redemption will come to the entire world. Just as the Jewish People becomes very serious at the beginning of the week’s Torah portion, just as we take upon ourselves the responsibility of G-d’s commandments and begin to devote ourselves assiduously to studying Torah, so now, during this time of testing before the arrival of the Messiah, it has become our responsibility to contemplate with hope and courage the tests with which we are confronted.
Behind the cloud is the brilliance of the day “which will be completely Sabbath.” May we soon be rewarded by “ohr chadash, a new light,” which will banish all evil and usher in the eternal reign of sanctity throughout the world.