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Rabbi Levin's Blog

Va'eria


This week we read about the beginning of the redemption of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.  The first seven of the ten plagues are recounted in this week’s Parsha.  Did you ever wonder why Hashem needed to bring ten plagues onto the Egyptians?  The omnipotent G-d could have just told the Jews to leave and there would be nothing that Pharaoh and his people could do to stop them.  Or Hashem could have gone straight to the tenth plague, the death of the firstborns, and that would be the end of the exile.  Or how about the ninth plague, seven days of darkness?  The Jews could have just slipped out then.  Or a myriad of other ways Hashem could have taken care of business without needing to perform all those miracles over the course of almost a year.  There are many explanations.  Here is one that explains the first two plagues, and also carries a powerful message along the lines of what I wrote on Chanukah about the Beit Hillel approach to conquering darkness.

In addition to the literal story of the Exodus that happened as described in the Torah, there is a spiritual “exodus” that each of us can and should go through every day.  It is a Biblical Mitzvah to mention and remember the Exodus not only at the Seder, but also every day of our lives, primarily for this reason.  We live in a world filled with evil and challenges to holiness and goodness.  This world closes in on us, due to the environment around us, the pressure to conform to the society and to follow the norms in making money, and internally our own habits and egos that can lead us astray.  Exodus in this sense is the ability to rise above all of this and allow the full expression of who we really are at our core, our soul.  How best to approach this?

First was the plague of blood, the waters of the Nile were transformed into blood.  What does that mean to us in our spiritual struggle?  Water is cold and blood is hot.  One of the biggest impediments to spiritual growth is the coldness and apathy toward anything holy.  Even for someone who grows up following the Mitzvot, apathy is like throwing cold water on everything.  So the first step is to get excited about matters of the soul.  Learning about the meaning of the Mitzvot and understanding our mission on earth, as well as observing Mitzvot with feeling and attention, can bring us excitement in our connection to Hashem and help warm us up to our soul and its purpose.  This is the first step toward overcoming our personal exile and moving toward spiritual Exodus.

Then came frogs.  Frogs are cold-blooded animals, and as the Torah tells us they swarmed all over Egypt and even went into the hot ovens.  Apathy to holiness is one problem, another problem to spiritual pursuits is excitement for the wrong things.  The more excited we are about mundane things, the less likely we are to pursue higher, spiritual matters.  The frogs in the oven represents cooling down the heat of all of the world’s distractions and removing the hot pursuit of empty or forbidden pleasures.  This cooling down process, the cold shower if you will, prepares the way for us to get excited about our soul’s desires and express our true essence.

The order of these two plagues is very interesting.  A person might think that if he or she is involved in unholy or even anti-holy activities, before we can approach Torah and Mitzvot we must first “clean up our act” and get out of the negativity in our lives.  This is also based on the verse (Tehillim 34:15) “Shun evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.”  First we must shun evil, and then we can do good.  While this is certainly an appropriate approach in the best of circumstances, the Torah is teaching us here that in a time of exile and spiritual challenge, the best approach is the other way around.  First of all, let’s get excited about doing a Mitzvah.  Warm up the cold Nile and get some spiritual enjoyment going.  This will in turn make it easier to cool down the negative excitement and the heat of negative pursuits.  A single Mitzvah, especially when fulfilled with warmth, sets the tone for more Mitzvot and more light, which in turn leads to a cooling of the negative fires.

This is certainly the approach for today, as we have seen in our generation.  Of course we have to move away from those things that move us off the path of Jewish life.  The way to approach it is by reaching up to Torah.  The Torah is telling us: No, it is not above you and you are not too far from it.  Don’t be afraid to approach Torah.  Do a Mitzvah and it will warm you up.

 

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