This week we arrive at arguably the single greatest event in human history – the revelation and giving of the Torah at Sinai. From this point on, all the most important discussion of beliefs and values will have to give at least passing recognition to the ideas and values of the Torah that the Jews are entrusted to bring into the world.
Crossposted to Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance
In this week’s sedra we arrive at a moment both exalted and dramatic. What, the plagues and leaving Egypt weren’t enough? As amazing as leaving Egypt was, the events at the Sea of Reeds (Yam Suf/’Red Sea’) brought us to new heights. Our holy sages tell us that even the simplest Jew at the Sea was privileged to experience prophecy beyond that of Ezekiel. Amazing!
Even so, as in all the moments of new growth and development in our relationship with God, there were challenges as well.
There is a well known aggada that is repeated in several sources without much elaboration. The g’mara (Yerushalmi Taanit if you must know), the Mechilta, the Targum Yonatan and Yerushalmi all tell us how our ancestors were torn over the appropriate course of action at the Sea.
The Torah describes (Sh’mot/Exodus 14:9-14) how we arrived at the edge of Sea and turned to see the Egyptians coming up on us! The sea in front, and the enemy behind. What to do?
In honor of the yahrzeit of my father, Avraham ben Haim Simha, which was this week on the 3rd of Sh’vat.
In the very beginning of the Torah, In The Beginning, our teacher Rashi quotes the midrash in the name of Rabi Yitzhak that the Torah could have/ostensibly should have begun with “this month shall be the head month to you, It shall be the first month of the year. (Sh’mot/Exodus 12:2)” This, says Rabi Yitzhak, is the first commandment given to the nation of Israel. This is the commandment to establish a calendar for the Jewish people.
I don’t want to go back and analyze that first and all-important Rashi that opens up all of Torah learning for us. But now that we have finally met up with that first mitzvah that God commanded us for all generations, to establish a unique calendar for the nation of Israel, I’d like to ponder some of the implications.
Why is the mitzvah of establishing a calendar, sanctifying each month as it comes, the FIRST? Why not Shabbat, or kashrut, or prayer, or any number of things? What’s more, didn’t they have calendars already, in Egypt of all places? A society known for it’s sophisticated knowledge of astronomy certainly had a pretty well thought-out calendar. Why not just adopt theirs?
Here we are, at the first point in the Torah where we are commanded a large number of mitzvot in concentration, and the first commandment for all generations to come is a calendar? What’s more, Rabi Yitzhak tells us that it is worthy of starting the entire Torah!
What does a calendar do?
This was cross-posted to the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance.
Vayehezak lev Paroah…Sh’mot/Exodus7:13
“Pharoah’s heart hardened and he did not pay attention to them, as God had predicted.”
The midrash Tanhuma points out that in the first five plagues the Torah tells us that Pharoah’s heart hardened, whereas in the last five the Torah tells us that God hardened Pharoah’s heart.
Rav Yaakov Moshe Harlop asks how is it that Pharoah wasn’t moved during the first plagues? How was he even capable of remaining obstinate (hardening his heart) in the face of what was happening, of Moshe’s warnings of further disaster to come? How could he be unafraid?
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