Friday, June 13, 2014

Parashas Beha'aloscha: Getting Close to God

                                            Parashas Beha'aloscha
                                              The Rock of Jethro
                                               Rabbi David Katz

"I guess you had to be there", the old saying goes…in fact, amazingly, one can say that this is the underlying theme of the entire Torah; for our very job description is to believe that somehow spiritually we are/were there. The Torah was written and takes places in a very small gap of time, detailing the struggles of a young and burdened budding nation, striving to achieve and rise up to its identity; its essence would be rooted in strands of history right up until their momentous date with destiny – the redemption that rings synonymous with the Story within the Five Books of Moses. By reading through her pages year after year - even millennia after millennia - Mankind has fallen in love with our selected heroes.  We identify with them, and - in the reservoirs of our hearts and souls – we secretly wish we were there; or at least crave a belief that we are somehow connected in wormholes of time. Yet reality is still undefeated, even among the likes of King David and a Second Temple Era, in that "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas"; i.e. the Torah's contents are the very embodiment of the secret dimensions of the Ancient Text. The job of Man is to live and learn life to the point that one can experience the divine knowledge necessary to reveal the Godliness contained within a lifetime of Moses. The Torah's simple and eternal message is clear: "you had to be there" – otherwise, begin to learn exactly what it was like.  The Torah tradition that emanated from the lips of Moses in that lifetime would serve as the tools, keys, and code to unlock the mystery of the Word of God…a Word that we all speak and argue every day. "O' ye Man, will he ever understand even one simple dialogue amongst whispering men?"

The first major challenge in deciphering the Torah's vast reservoirs of Light takes place in the area of distinction amidst God's miraculous providence. The Ramban Torah commentary distinctly points out two types of miracles: those that occur within nature and through [mazal] the agency of God's power activated through Man via Divine Providence. The second is through Hashem causing this World to stop in its tracks to provide a novel outcome; the former is thus seen to "carry out the original plan" whereas the latter allows for the Master of the Universe to "Be as he may Be" and not subordinate to any system, [Perforce this name of God is above logic, for it clearly goes against all that we know as our fabric of existence – spiritually and physically]. The goal it would seem is that the greater sanctification of God is to have Hashem's dwelling be among Men, and for this we can look to the need and rationale of the Holy Temple, where God's Presence shall rest.  This however is not devoid of debate; for since Torah analysis began, this question has been debated – the nature of how to interpret God's providence;  and all the more so the details concerning the Word of God. The most literal expression of this conundrum is no more than a desire of one's yearning to finally know with confidence "just what reality is" – and that it would invariably be a reality with God as a part of one's life. Whatever the answer may be, this is the very definition of every man's existential angst, and is the qualitative undertone that pulsates within every letter of Torah.

A great example of this duality concept can be played out in a very practical sense – the performance of Mitzvot. One particular Mitzvah that equals the entire Torah is that of conquering the Land of Israel from the local Nations, namely the Canaanites. The rationale of such a breathtaking expanse of this Mitzvah is in the mere fact that all of the Torah's fruits depend on breaking through to the Holy Land and erecting the prophesied temple; this is one of the few places that a grandiose thought of Torah merit is easily perceived without veil to the mortal man. The Ramban comes through again on this obligation of conquering the Land, and he offers a novel view of how to perform successfully the Mitzvah, and he bases it on logic, wisdom, and historical precedent. He states that only in the Land of Israel are the Seven Laws of Noah a demand upon Israel's influence.  Thus, one can conquer the Canaanites through these Laws, and one need not resort to an AK47. The ramifications are resounding, for it relieves Israel of a World-wide burden of being responsible outside the Land; and inside the Land there is a radically shorter and more powerful path towards eternal peace. The Talmud explains that the reason for the Noahide peace process is to ensure that the Torah's edicts can run smoothly.  Especially in areas of commerce, should idolatrous currency exist, the Torah does not operate as well, for her harsher decrees are evoked. Should the Nations achieve knowledge of God, they are embedded into the Covenant of God with Israel [which is the basis of many modern and religious claims resulting from a historical buildup through this precedent] and shall enjoy a full Torah reality on the Land - one that echoes the true Word of God, and consequently sheds Messianic Light on the sacred Land. It goes without saying, that this would be a prescription of Light to the Nations throughout the World.

As this topic dictates one still may choose a lower sanctity, and take issue with an AK 47.  But this would surely require God's assistance, it would arouse a chilul Hashem throughout the World [which is why this form of action is not found in today's active mainstream Judaism], and by historical account through the Book of Joshua, the deeper understanding was that they largely conquered with the Seven Laws. Two powerful results come from this mode of action: we may let an Amalekite live by bringing him through the Seven Laws of Noah [as a form of conquer and even "type of death"; this was realized by King David] and Israel has always used Seven Laws as its aggressive tone when command dictates. Israel has gone to war like any other country, but when it comes to obliteration of a people and/or conquering the Land, Torah is the antidote. From this course of action, Humanity becomes the primal cause of Torah, which explains why King David was able to master the Book and Way of Life through his experience on the Land.  David used his position to master the art of Humanity, the Torah's ultimate secret into the life of Moses and the nature of God's miraculous hand, as witnessed in the Book of Psalms.

Thus, in the Torah, under these conditions, we must ascertain over every instance the nature of its reality, like a natural Pardes/Orchard that is attended to by Gerim [i.e. exegesis on every instance, avoiding making gross over generalizations]. Every miracle told, every encounter between men, every story told – one must understand the life-reality that God is telling through a vernacular that we must master, through knowledge that came from the subject itself – Torat Moshe. One of the Torah's greatest and deeply compelling encounters is the dialogue and exchanges between Jethro and Moses, as takes place in our Parasha. The essence of what has been conveyed thus far applies very nicely to these Men, and not only explains their awkward moments well, but even sheds new light as to their soul quality.

When Moses began his journey of redemption, he was destined to meet Jethro his future father-in-law, as he is passionately referred to in our Parasha. By the time Moses left the house of Jethro, the Torah and commentary makes mention that Moses succeeded in obtaining the staff of Jethro that was embedded upon his soil. This staff would be revealed as miraculous, and be the impetus of which Moses would strike the rock that gives water [the first time, as commanded by God]. The Midrash relates that this took place at Sinai, and by means of Torah exegesis, the verse says [Shemot 17:6] "Behold, I shall stand before you in the Rock of Horeb" – it is learned that any place of a foot impression in stone is a revelation of the Divine Presence, and we must remember that the rock was struck with a "rod." If we are to apply the dynamics of miracles and art of humanity in accordance with God's providence, perhaps one can draw a unique and novel view of this enigmatic data on a seemingly benign passage of Torah.

One source of miracles among Men is made possible by a lesser known reality that man can achieve the angelic quality called "Cherubim" and the Torah's mighty stars all achieved this elevated existence. This, perforce, challenges the reader to always fathom if Hashem causes miracles or if the Men are simply miraculous, as Cherubim, and still within the confines of Nature. To illustrate this point, with the story of Moses, Jethro, and the rock – the Midrash states that the rock that has an impression of the foot contains a resting place of the Shechinah. With that said, this makes for a fantastic story, only does one find such a rock in the World that fits the bill?

The answer is yes there is. At the grave of Jethro in Tiberius lays a famous rock that bears an impression of a foot, and the Druze who attend to the holy site have tradition that the imprint is indeed that of Jethro. And we are to remember, the Torah is miraculous among Man; a little bit of context and an eye that sees, just may yield that missing details that we all need…one step for man really can be a giant leap for mankind…right here on good ole planet Earth. God has said he shall dwell among Man, and perhaps it is time to let go of what man and his creation isn't, in the face of what God and His Creation is. 

Click for Video Class for Beha'aloscha


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