And the Eternal said to Moses, Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may be felt. And Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days; they saw not one another, nor any rose from his place for three days. But Israelites had light in places where they lived (Exodus 10:21-23).
This commentary is entirely based on the Terumah commentary from:
“On the Other Hand: Ten Minutes of Torah” with Rabbi Rick Jacobs podcast
Tell the people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him. (Exodus 25:2)
How can a building project work like this? For those of us involved in any building project, be it a home, a business, or in this case, a sanctuary, after the designs are created, you know where the money for the project is coming from. This desire by God to have the Mikdash in the desert built according to all the very specifications with the assurance that the people’s “gifts of the heart” seems at best crazy!
We know, for synagogues especially that there are very complicated development and philanthropic schemes that have to be created to assure you ask the right people in the correct way and that you honor the donors in a way that befits the size of their donation for all of this to work.
Then the Eternal One said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh. For I have hardened his heart… so that I may display My signs among them, and that you may recount … how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them—in order that you may know that I am the Eternal” (Exod. 10:1-2).
Though our text says that God is the One Who hardens Pharaoh’s heart, I suspect that we know the truth here. Pharaoh, again and again, is doing this to himself. His obsession with his own power over the people and his belief in his own ideas as being true – these are what harden his heart.
Pharaoh stands as the symbol for the hardening of our heart. Pharaoh is the energy in us that closes us down; that causes us to fear, and consequently reject, exclude, deny, or repress; the energy that might see almost anything that is not “us” as a plague and an attack on our perception of the world.
This past Monday, we all missed an opportunity to hear a leading modern orthodox rabbi provide the invocation for the Republican National Convention. Members of his religious community, alumni of the yeshiva he formally directed, and individuals and members of Jewish organizations from around the country pressured Rabbi Haskel Lookstein not to lend his voice to the Convention. All I can say is shame on everyone who participated in preventing this religious scholar from offering prayer, from allowing him to create a connection between the political world and the world of divine values.
The petition, signed by over 600 alumni of the Ramaz Orthodox Day School, read in part: “We, the undersigned, are outraged that Rabbi Haskel Lookstein … has decided to lend his blessing to Donald Trump and speak at the Republican National Convention.”
In this week’s Torah portion, Sh’lach-L’cha, we relive the events of the 12 spies sent to reconnoiter the Promised Land and report back to Moses what they have discovered.
We came to the land you sent us to; it does indeed flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit (grapes, pomegranates and figs). However, the people who inhabit the country are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large (Numbers 13:27 ff.).
Caleb hushed the people before Moses and said, ‘Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it’ (v. 30).
But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We cannot attack that people, for it is stronger than we.’ Thus they spread calumnies among the Israelites about the land they had scouted, saying, ‘The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw in it are men of great size; … and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them’ (v. 31).
The people are terrorized by the report of the majority of the spies. The main cause of panic was that Moses would die, to be succeeded by Joshua. The people couldn’t imagine they would be able to conquer the giants and the fortified cities without the leadership of Moses.