Two by Rabbi Zell

Ever wonder why the Ten Commandments were handed down in two tablet form? All joking aside, wouldn’t it have made more sense, for all Ten Commandments to have been inscribed in smaller letters on one tablet. Perhaps, HaShem could have handed down the Ten Commandments in ten separate forms, much like charms on a charm bracelet. Better yet, if the Torah is likened to a Tree of Life, then the Ten Commandments could have been handed down as a tree with ten branches, with a commandment attached to each branch. What message can we interpret, what sense can we make of the two-tablet format of the Ten Commandments?
The two tablets convey balance. In a variety of ways. Most apparent, are the commandments between Hashem and us, and the commandments between our fellow human beings and us.   The former commandments represent ritual, while the latter commandments encompass ethics and morals. The Ten Commandments appear in two formats: Thou shalt, as well as Thou shalt not. Many of us know them better as positive commandments and negative commandments. For some now, our culture has been emphasizing diet. I couldn’t agree more. But our culture stresses a well-balanced diet only as far as eating. Judaism stresses a well-balanced diet as far as living. Judaism cringes at those of us who focus solely on G-d, but totally ignore other humans; Judaism cringes at those of us who focus solely on other humans, but totally ignore G-d. Whether understood or not, whether acknowledged or not, our mission in life is to bring heaven and earth closer together. Perhaps one tablet should be seen as representing heaven, while the other tablet should be seen as representing earth.
I have no idea whether it is still part of the elementary school curriculum, but back in the day, we were taught that 1 is a whole number. Judaism however is not mathematics, nor does Judaism portend to be. As far as Judaism is concerned, in the world, as we know it, 1 is an incomplete number. That is why  HaShem immediately realized that it was “not good” for Adam, a singular human creature, to be alone. Later on, the sages of the Talmud frowned upon one who does not marry. Judaism views 2 as a whole number. Judaism sees marriage – provided that it a decent match, as taking two “incomplete” individuals and making them whole, by turning them into a unit. Similarly, Judaism (the Talmudic sage, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Prachiah) strongly advises us to acquire a friend. Whether or not Rabbi Yehoshua ben Prachiah felt it was important for a person to get out there and mingle, I have no idea. I do however that the great Talmudic sage saw the importance of having a friend (singular) as opposed to many friends.
An anecdote is told about a person sitting down with a psychiatrist. It is his initial appointment. After pouring out his heart, the patient turns to the psychiatrist and asks for a diagnosis. “I think you’re crazy”, says the psychiatrist. The patient is irate. “I demand a second opinion” he shouts.
“You are also ugly”, says the psychiatrist. Second opinions are not limited to patients. Because we humans are fallible, would do well to seek input from another individual, because humans are fallible, we would do well to run ideas past another individual. American English defines a “significant other” as a person with whom someone has an established romantic or sexual relationship. I define a “significant other” as one who will tell you what you need to hear when you are hurting, as one who will tell you what you need to hear when you are oblivious to necessary information concerning you, as one who will tell you what you need to hear when your entire world has turned upside down. Two is a reminder of our need for a significant other.
As much as our tradition emphasizes the giving of the Torah as we celebrate the festival of Shavuot, let us also emphasize the giving of the two tablets. In doing so, let us recall the need for balance in our existence. Let us understand that 2, not 1 is a whole number, and how incomplete we are if left to ourselves. Let us appreciate the role played in our lives by a significant other.

EVEN IF THE MOST RECENT TRAGEDY HAD NOT OCCURRED

BY Rabbi Zell

While the Jewish world is still numb in the face of the tragedy that occurred in northern Israel last week, with the unimaginable death of 45 innocents from the (ultra-Orthodox) or Haredi community, I find myself in a distinct minority. Even if the most recent tragedy had not occurred, there would have been something gnawing at me for a number of years. It is simply beyond me, why well over a hundred thousand of our people take it upon themselves to make the trip to Meron in northern Israel to mark the yahrzeit of a great sage.
To be sure, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai deserves all the reverence and esteem in the world. In fact, several decades ago, when I devised a course on sages in the Talmud, I devoted an entire section to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Yet, one would be led to believe that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is the sole sage interred in Israel. Nothing could be further from the truth! The soil of ancient Israel is home to the earthly remains of numerous biblical personages and dozens of sages. Why isn’t there a similar-sized crowd at the tomb of Rabbi Akiva in Tiberias, immediately prior to Yom Kippur each year (it is believed that Rabbi Akiva was one of 10 sages who were executed on Yom Kippur by the Romans)? Why don’t Haredi Jews travel to Beit Shearim en masse each year on the 15th of Kislev to commemorate the yahrzeit of Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi? Don’t  Haredi Jews realize, that by according such honor and respect to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, it is at the risk of not showing similar honor and respect to other Talmudic sages, who are no less deserving of esteem and praise?
Many of the Haredi community are in awe because of the belief that like the prophet Elijah, the soul of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot. I am in awe because Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, in defiance of the Romans remained a fugitive from so-called Roman justice. For twelve plus years, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son Eliezer, holed up in a cave, subsisting on a daily diet of carob and water. It was in that cave, that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai disseminated Torah to devoted students who risked being followed by the Roman authorities. However commendable, it is to visit a grave on a yahrzeit,  there is a tradition to dedicate a rabbinic text on a yahrzeit so that the soul receives an “Aliyah” viz. ascends even higher in heaven. It would seem to me, that those so intent on marking a yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai would be well advised to consider joining ten others – thereby assembling a minyan – and heading off to the woods, where they would proceed to study various selections of the Talmud where Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is mentioned, reciting Kaddish D’Rabbanan and then munch on carob, ideally washed down by water or another beverage (despite my misgivings, I would probably cave into liquor, so that a L’Chaim could be made for the soul). As meritorious as a visit to the grave is, I cannot help but feel that my suggestion is far superior. A visit to the grave, recalls that Rabbi Shimon Bar died; a visit to a cave, recalls that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai lived.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai raised civil disobedience to a most high and commendable level. He did not hesitate to speak out against the government. His sole objective in doing so was neither to entice others into rioting nor to stage demonstrations and confrontations. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai merely desired to expose the truth. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was a pragmatist. For Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, it was a matter of Torah over politics. As far as Rabbi Shimon was concerned, Torah trumped politics. His attitude toward the Romans was one of acquiescence, where he had no intention of causing the government any trouble. In return, he did not want the government to cause him any trouble. This was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s notion of “Social Distancing”. It would seem to me that if one’s love and respect for Torah is so great that Torah must be kept pure at all costs, then why sully the Torah by exposing it to politics?  Shouldn’t the clean hands and pure heart mentioned in Psalm 24, also apply to those visiting a grave of a revered rabbi on Lag B’Omer?
May the day come when those who observe the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai consider the following: Are my hands clean enough and is my heart pure enough? Should I not perhaps observe the yahrzeit by focusing on Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s life rather than his death? Shouldn’t I  accord other rabbinic greats the same honor and respect I accord Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai? Observing a yahrzeit in such a fashion would produce a far brighter image for mankind than the flames emitting from Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s chariot when he departed this world.

Brave Men and Cave Men

BY RABBI ZELL

The vocalist Joanie Sommers was onto something in her 1962 hit, Johnny Get Angry. Little did she realize, that when expressing “I want a brave man, I want a caveman” she might very well have been referring to the great sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai spent 13 years of his life as a caveman…out of necessity. Because of the disparaging remarks he made about the Romans, he discovered that a price had been placed on his head by the Roman authorities. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was wanted dead or alive. And so, together with his son Eliezer, he sought refuge in a cage to avoid capture. True,  Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was not the only person to avoid capture by the Romans by hiding in a cave. It is how Bar Yochai, as he is commonly known, managed as a caveman, that lives on in posterity.
Anthropologists tell us that cavemen were exclusively carnivores. Had our heavenly maker intended for cavemen to eat greens, He would have put them on the face of this earth as herbivores. Cavemen would have come into this world as cattle or sheep. The Talmud tells us that such was not the case for rabbinic cavemen. Rabbinic cave men – certainly in the case of Bar Yochai – ate by the grace of G-d, in the most literal sense. Bar Yochai and his son Eliezer subsisted on a strict diet of carob and water, thanks to a carob tree that miraculously appeared outside the door of his cave, and a brook that mysteriously began to flow, mere steps from the opening of the cave. Why any of his many students did not furnish their revered rabbi and his son we do not know, in that Bar Yochai and his son were ancient Israel’s “best-kept secret”, with everyone except for the Romans knowing exactly where to find this rabbinic great and his son. Another thing we know, is that such a meager diet, did not seem to have any ill effects on his physical well-being, as was evident in a conversation we have record of, soon after the Roman authorities eventually dropped all charges against Bar Yochai. 
It’s not the size that counts. At least as far as the human brain. The very same anthropologists who provided us with information about the brain size of cavemen were quick to point out that bigger does not necessarily mean better. Those same anthropologists seemed to think that when it came to intelligence, cavemen left much to be desired. I caution those anthropologists to think again. Cavemen realized that the same animals that provided cavemen with their meals were also well suited to provide cavemen with their clothing. Cavemen dressed in animal hides. These hides – especially the heavier hides – provided excellent protection from the cold. Yet, neither Bar Yochai nor his son would have known from animal hides or any other clothing for that matter because the only clothing that they seemed to have worn was the clothing that they had on their bodies when they entered the cave. No different than their food supply, we do not know whether any student was able to bring along any clothing on the daily visits. What we do know, is that with exception of prayer time, father and son sat naked, covered with sand an entire day while they studied and disseminated Torah. As a result, their skin was completely covered with abrasions and sores because of the inordinate amount of time they sat covered in sand.
A fair question to ask would be, how do those who seek asylum in a cave, while away their time? Perhaps it was through the equivalent of playing games of solitaire or bouncing a ball against the wall of a cave or rigorous exercise. Bar Yochai didn’t have time for any of this. He was much too occupied studying with his son; he was busy teaching his students who made their way to the cave to acquire Torah. The Talmud (Shabbat 33b) tells us that after Bar Yochai left the cave, Rabbi  Pinchas ben Yair, Bar Yochai’s father-in-law began to spread lotion on Bar Yochai’s body to heal the abrasions and sores. As he did so, he began to cry, with the salt of his tears falling on Bar Yochai’s skin, causing Bar Yochai to wince. “Please don’t cry for me”, implored Bar Yochai of his father-in-law. “Had anyone presented me with a problem before going into the cave, I could have provided 12 answers. After all the time I spent in the cave, I can now provide 24 answers to that very same questions”.
As we commemorate Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s yahrzeit this Friday, let us recall, his daily diet, his daily dress, and his daily regimen. Let us take pride in our master and teacher who will always be remembered not only as a caveman but also as a brave man
 

Earth Day

By Rabbi Shawn Zell

The late U.S. Senator and Wisconsin Governor Gaylord Nelson should have consulted a rabbinic authority or an expert in Biblical Hebrew before he introduced Earth Day into our culture. Had he followed this suggestion fifty-two years ago, this coming Thursday may very well have been referred to as Environment Day or Conservation Day, or Reign in Pollution Day. Had Governor Nelson been introduced to Hebrew – particularly biblical Hebrew, he would have realized that he was stirring up a hornet’s nest, in that the term “earth” revolves around much more than a planet.
The opening verse of the Torah teaches us that G-d created Shah’my’im and Eretz. While the former indisputably means “heaven”, one would do well to ask, what does the latter mean. To say “earth” is much too glib and simplistic. To be sure, each time we offer up the Hallel service, we chant: The heavens are the L-rd’s heavens, but the earth He has given to the children of man. Yet, each time we return the Torah Scrolls to the ark on a weekday Festival, we intone The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it. How is this possible? Either the earth was handed over to humans or it wasn’t. Perhaps the opening line of the Torah wishes to teach us that the earth is the converse of heaven. Put differently, heaven is everything that the earth is not. Heaven quakes are unknown entities. Similarly, celestial storms are nonexistent. By the same token, disease and devastation are foreign concepts. Yet,  from time immemorial, the earth has been plagued by all the aforementioned. Heaven connotes bliss and harmony, order, and tranquility. For earth, these four concepts remain elusive ideals.
But wait! There’s more! Soon after the Torah introduced us to the antonymic Shah’my’im and Eretz, it acquainted us with the synonymic Eretz and Adamah. Linguists are quick to point out that even though both Eretz and Adamah can be translated as earth, the former refers to a planet, while the latter refers to the soil. Were it only so simple! One need only bring to mind what is arguably the best-known Hebrew Bracha or blessing familiar to Jews throughout the world – HaMotzti Lechem Min Ha’Aretz or “who brings forth bread from the earth”  (signifying that we are about to indulge in a meal) – to realize that the blessing over vegetables – borei pri ha’adamah or “creator of the fruit of the ground”  –  presents us with a conundrum. Why is there lack of uniformity when it comes to saying, bread and potatoes? Surely both emanate from the soil! Are we to deduce that the soil for vegetables is not the same soil as the soil for bread? Agriculture aside, the answer is “most certainly” Adamah produces a ready-made product, whether it be onions and radishes, peas and corn. Adamah suggests refinement. Not so Eretz.
Eretz is unrefined. That’s why bread, the mainstay of human life does not grow directly out of the ground. The first human, the pinnacle of G-d’s creation, on the other hand, was formed from the Adamah.
The Hebrew language also presents us with Karka as another synonym for earth. Even though Karka does not appear in the Torah, Karka can be found in less than a dozen instances throughout the rest of the Tanach or Hebrew bible. Karka is typically connected with construction. As such Karka appears in conjunction with the Holy Temple. Komaht Karka in modern Hebrew refers to street level of a building. Unlike Adamah, Karka is not necessarily an agricultural term. When it comes to figurative speech, such as being able to find common ground with another person, Karka and not Adamah – as in Karka Meshuteffet is used. Last but not least, when it comes to one’s end-of-life journey, it is Karka and not Eretz or Adamah that is purchased.
Rather than preoccupation with pollution and straining of natural resources, perhaps Earth Day should be a day that recognizes and pays tribute to the three Hebrew words: Eretz, Adamah, and Karka. Earth Day ought to be a day for recognizing that earth is a world apart from heaven. As such, there is much work to be done to be able to meet the G-d given challenge that we have been given. Earth Day ought to be a day that reminds us that just as Adamah is a refined state of Eretz, so too is it incumbent upon us to refine, yet never destroy that has been bequeathed to us by G-d. Earth Day ought to be a day for inviting us to find Karka Meshuteffet or common ground with one another, as well as with G-d. If successful, Earth Day will have shown that we are truly worthy of having been the recipients of earth from our heavenly maker.

THE WOMEN IN PRINCE PHILIP’S LIFE

By Rabbi Shawn Zell

Gossip and rumors aside about Prince Philip’s interest in commoners of the opposite gender, there were a handful of women who proved indispensable, as far as contributing to the life he led. While I very much doubt that mention will be made of those of the fairer sex, save one, permit me to share with you, the debt owed by the gentleman, who served as the royal consort to Queen of England, to this handful of women.
A man should stand in awe of his mother and father (Leviticus 19:3). I honestly do not know whether Prince Philip stood in awe of his mother Princess Alice of Battenberg, but he had good reason to. During World War II, Princess Alice, who had been assisting the Swedish and Swiss Red Cross to help care for refugees, heard of the plight of Rachel Cohen, whose husband Haim had been a member of the Greek Parliament. After the family fled to the north of Greece to avoid deportation by the Nazis, Haim suddenly died. At first, his wife Ruth and her children were hidden by a nun on the outskirts of Athens but soon had to flee. They feared neighbors would turn them over to the Nazis. Princess Alice sheltered Rachel Cohen and her daughter Tilde in a third-floor apartment in the palace. The Cohens remained in the palace for 13 months, with the princess regularly visiting and talking at length with Rachel, also assigning the family two Greeks, who helped the family keep in contact with the outside world. In her will, Princess Alice asked that she be laid to rest in Israel. She is buried at the Church of Mary Magdalene in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem.
Because of his mother’s humanitarian efforts,  Philip was the first British royal to visit Israel, when in 1994, he accepted Yad Vashem’s recognition of his mother as a righteous Gentile and visited her burial site. In doing so, he was the first member of the Royal Family to set foot on Israeli soil. Those who destroy and those who devastate will go from you (Isaiah 49:17). Prince Philip aside, the proverb “the apple does not far from the tree” did not hold true when it came to Princess Alice’s four daughters. Sophie, Philip’s youngest sister, married Prince Christoph von Hessen, who became a director for Third Reich’s Ministry of Air Forces. Theodora married Berthold, Military Governor of Baden, Germany. Philip’s sister Cecilie and her husband George Donatous joined the Nazi party just prior to their untimely death in an airplane disaster. Another sister Margarita married Gottfried, Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, a commander in the German army. Because of their German connections, not one of the sisters was invited to the wedding, when Prince Philip joined hands in holy matrimony with Princess Elizabeth.
A woman of virtue is the crown of her husband (Proverbs 12:4) However true it is that no one knows what goes on behind closed doors, we, the public, have been led to believe, that Her Royal Highness was one incredible wife. From the moment Elizabeth ascended the throne upon her father’s death, she realized that the love of her life would be pushed to the sidelines. But the adoring and devoted wife of Philip would have none of that, regardless of her royal status. As far as Queen Elizabeth was concerned, loyalty would supersede royalty. And so, Queen Elizabeth ordained that her husband be referred to as “first gentleman in the land”, thereby ensuring that her son Charles, Duke of Cornwall not outrank his father. Additionally, Philip was appointed to the highest ranks in the British armed services: Admiral of the fleet, Field Marshal, and Marshal of the Royal Air Force. Aside from all the titles bestowed upon him, Prince Philip received his wife’s esteem and respect. Story has it that during a visit to the United States, the American hosts thought it would be a novelty for the royal couple if dining arrangements were made at the finest restaurant the city had to offer. When these dinner arrangements were suggested to Her Royal Highness, the Queen’s immediate response was “I’ll have to ask my husband”.
In judging Prince Philip’s life, let us leave the term Tzaddik to those expected to exemplify
G-d’s teachings. Thanks to his mother, Prince Philip learned the value of human life. Because of his sisters, Prince Philip learned the value of avoiding strife. Thanks to being the husband of Elizabeth II, Prince Philip learned the value of a loving and loyal wife.

Blood, Fire, and Pillars of Smoke by Rabbi Zell

True, two weeks have passed, since Jews throughout the world sat down to the Pesach Seder, with Haggadah in hand. Nevertheless, I should like to recall an all too often overlooked biblical quote in the Haggadah, that immediately precedes our recounting of the Ten Plagues. I do so because taken out of context, this biblical quote may very well have foretold, our bringing to mind as well as to heart the travesty of the Holocaust, mere days after bidding farewell to the Festival of Matzah. Blood, Fire, and Pillars of Smoke exclaims the prophet, Joel. Close to three millennia later, that threefold vision would evolve into an unfathomable nightmare, that was to plague the world – in particular the Jewish world – arguably making for the darkest period in our people’s history.
“For most Gentiles, Jewish meat is cheap, cheaper than beef, even cheaper than herring,” said the fictitious Ari ben Canaan (played by Paul Newman) in the movie Exodus. Ari ben Canaan could just as easily have substituted Jewish blood for Jewish meat, in that Adolph Hitler was obsessed with purifying Germany of Jewish blood. Accordingly, Hitler spared no effort and expense when it came to tracing Jewish blood. Aryan blood was pure. Jewish blood was debased and would compromise the purity of Aryan blood. With the passage of the Nuremberg Laws in September 1935, German citizens with three or more grandparents born as Jews were considered Jews irrespective of belief, practice, or having abandoned their religious roots. By law, any individual with three or more grandparents born as Jews, was no longer regarded as a citizen but would henceforth be defined as a stain on the German people, as well as their much-coveted culture.
To be sure, one can find both positive as well as negative statements concerning fire espoused by our rabbinic sages. Among the latter, we find: “The fire known to us in this world is one-sixtieth of the fire of hell (Talmud: Pesachim 57b). On November 10th and 11th Jews living in  Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland understood this statement only too well. It began with the burning of objectionable books. It didn’t take long for the fires set on Kristallnacht to spread to synagogues. And when those Jewish houses of worship erupted in flames, firefighters quickly arrived on the scene… to make sure nobody attempted to put out the flames. People – at least in our culture – appear to be mesmerized by burning buildings. Once upon a time in America, people would chase firetrucks to the scene of the fire, only to stand and watch. Apparently, it served as a form of entertainment.  Did the same hold true for non-Jews watching the “Fires of the Fuhrer”? Were they also entertained as they watched deliberately set fires engulf Jewish buildings, especially Jewish houses of worship?
Irene Safran, a survivor of the Holocaust met Josef Mengele, the German physician known for his barbaric and torturous medical experiments performed on Jews in Birkenau (adjacent to Auschwitz) in mid-1944. “Good afternoon, ladies. How are you? Are you comfortable?” he asked us cordially. “When will I see my little girl?” one woman finally mustered the courage to ask. “In a few weeks, don’t worry,” Mengele answered politely and pleasantly.  Of course, the sadistic Mengele meant that we’d see our loved ones in a few weeks when we joined them as we went up in smoke in the chimney of the crematorium.
No doubt, I am in the minority. But when white smoke emanates from the special chimney placed atop the Sistine Chapel, signifying that a new pope has been chosen, I cannot help but contrast it with the smoke rising from the “special” chimneys at Auschwitz. For Catholics, smoke rising from the chimney at the Sistine Chapel represents godliness; for Jews and hopefully, for the rest of mankind, smoke rising from the chimneys at Auschwitz represented nihilism. It was the prophet Joel, who horrifically envisioned the pillars of smoke at Auschwitz, as he foresaw pillars of smoke together with blood and fire.
The prophet Joel’s three plagues proceeding the ten plagues in the Pesach Haggadah provide for a striking contrast. The ten plagues were just desserts visited upon the Egyptians. The three plagues visited upon the Jews should have made mankind sick to its stomach. The ten plagues came from G-d. The three plagues were an affront to G-d. The ten plagues restored human faith in G-d. The three plagues caused G-d to lose faith in mankind. Come Yom HaShoah, let us make an effort to remember as well as to memorialize and help G-d rebuild His faith.

Going Against the Grain by Rabbi Zell

Anglophones have an edge, come the Festival of Unleavened Bread. Thanks to the English Language with its plethora of aphorisms, Anglophones are able to describe Pesach as a Festival that goes against the grain. An integral part of the human race is the need to see that justice has been served. As such, our ancestors in Egypt would have every right to protest slaughtering a sheep or goat, daubing the doorposts and lintels with blood, and roasting that sheep or goat. What about the Egyptian taskmasters as well as those who engineered the entire system of subjugating and enslaving the Children of Israel? What about their just desserts? The slaying of the Egyptian firstborns was hardly comeuppance for a grave injustice committed against G-d’s chosen. Why are the taskmasters not receiving what is due them? Oddly enough,  never is heard a questioning word from the Children of Israel, as they carried out one of the first commandments handed down to them as a nation. Instead of harboring hatred, they were handling hyssop! Doesn’t such behavior defy human nature? Doesn’t such behavior go against the grain? But perhaps going against the grain was the primary requirement of meriting being delivered from enslavement. Perhaps true freedom is recusing oneself from retribution.
Although most of us are unaware or oblivious to the fact that once we became a nation, we were given a phrase word that was intended to mold our behavior as a people.  Nary a day goes past without “Zecher L’Tziat Mitzrayim” being brought to mind. “Zecher L’Tziat Mitzrayim” is translated as “in remembrance of exiting Egypt”. Those three Hebrew words go against the grain. We are neither enjoined to remember the slavery nor adjured to recall the suffering. Other than reading about the suffering of the Children of Israel in the Haggadah at the seder, rarely, if ever, do we give thought to the pain and suffering our people were forced to endure as an enslaved people. Human nature would have us dwell on man’s inhumanity against man. But because we are a people encouraged to rise above human nature and go against the grain, we do not dwell on suffering in Egypt, but rather exiting from Egypt. As G-d’s chosen, we are directed to dwell on liberation rather than subjugation. Perhaps this helps us to understand why in recent history, the government of Israel chose to accept the offer of reparations from Germany. Rather than become ingrained with bitterness and vindication, the government of the then nascent State of Israel knew that it had to go against the grain. Unlike individuals, we as a people, guard against being drawn into feuds.
Perhaps one of the most misunderstood teachings found in the Tanach is the phrase “Vengeance is mine”. Over the centuries, that phrase provided much fodder to anti-Semites who were only too happy to contrast Judaism with Christianity, particularly when it came to divine behavior. While anti-Semitwas touted the benevolent behavior of their savior, they denounce the vindictiveness of the G-d of Israel. Little did those anti-Semites realize, that “vengeance is mine” is divine reassurance that we, the Children of Israel did not let injustices consume us. Ultimately, injustices against us will be addressed. G-d will choose the time, place, and method. And so it was, as far as punishing our Egyptian enslavers. G-d chose the time. It took seven days, the exact same amount of time G-d devoted to creating this world. It took place at a body of water. Just as redemption began at a body of water with an Israelite infant floating in a wicker basket, so too would redemption come to fruition at a (albeit different) body of water. As far as the method?
G-d repays in kind; G-d rewards in kind. The Children of Israel were able to go against the grain when they gained freedom, by occupying themselves with fulfilling G-d requests instead of settling all accounts with their enslavers. The Children of Israel were encouraged to go against the grain by focusing on the leaving from Egypt rather than the suffering in Egypt. G-d chose to repay and reward in kind by having the waters of the Sea of Reeds go against the grain and divide and save the fleeing Israelites only to come together again to drown the Egyptians. In doing so, the Egyptians were served their just desserts while the Children of Israel experienced a phenomenon that would last for all ages.