Friday, January 30, 2015
The Ananei Hakavod, the protective Clouds of Glory, sheltered all Bnei Yisrael who lived and traveled within them from enemy attack. Amalek was capable of attacking only "the stragglers behind you" who were expelled from the Cloud on account of their sins (see Rashi on Devarim 25:18). Therefore, Moshe instructed Yehoshua to form an army and "go out and fight against Amalek," as saving these outcasts from Amalek's attackinvolved leaving the protective Cloud, as Rashi explains here.
This explains the Midrash that gives Yehoshua's lineage to Yosef(Yehoshua was from the tribe of Ephraim) as the reason why Moshe chose him to lead this battle. For Yosef's spiritual identity was exemplified in this campaign to save wayward Jews and bring them back into the safe confines of the Ananei Hakavod.
The name Yosef expressed his mother Rachel's prayer for more children: "יֹסֵף ה' לִי בֵּן אַחֵר—May G-d add [yosef] another son for me" (Beraishis 30:24). Notably, her request was not only that G-d grant her an additional child, but that He grant "בן אחר," which literally means, "an other child." Chassidus explains this to mean that Yosef, the bearer of this name, represents the ability to transform even someone who is an "אחר," an "other," into a "בן," a son. Yosef's specialty is affecting even someone for whom G-d seems foreign and who behaves in a manner that is "other" – foreign – to a Jew, bringing him to recognize that he is truly a "son," a child of G-d, and drawing him to live his life as such.
Therefore, it was Yehoshua, from the offspring of Yosef, who was chosen to lead the war against Amalek. For the willingness to leave your own sheltered environment in order to save those who are "outside the cloud" and the ability to bring them back into G-d's miraculous Ananei Hakavod is inspired by and drawn from the spiritual identity of Yosef.
—Likkutei Sichos, vol. 26, pp. 87-88
Thursday, January 22, 2015
The first mitzvah given to the Jews (as a nation) was to determine and sanctify the day that will be Rosh Chodesh, the first of every month, in effect creating the Jewish calendar (see Rashi on Beraishis 1:1). This command lies in the words of the verse quoted above. The words החדש הזה can also be translated as "this renewal," meaning that G-d showed Moshe the crescent moon and said, "When the moon renews itself, it will be Rosh Chodesh for you" (Rashi ad loc.). The priority given to this mitzvah suggests that sanctifying Rosh Chodesh is a model mitzvah, representing the themes that lay at the core of all the other mitzvos as well.
The primary purpose of the mitzvos is to transform the physical world from mundane to holy. By using a particular object to perform a mitzvah, thereby revealing the G-dly purpose for which it was created, that physical object becomes sanctified.
This idea is epitomized in the sanctification of Rosh Chodesh, in whichtime itself is elevated. This mitzvah is observed by Beis Din sanctifying a day that was previously like any other, declaring that it is now Rosh Chodesh; it is no longer a regular weekday, and is replete with special offerings brought in the Beis Hamikdash etc. Furthermore, the workings of the calendar require Beis Din to calculate the constant cycles and patterns of the sun and the moon. Thus, this mitzvah elevates not only the days sanctified as Rosh Chodesh (and by extension, the holidays observed on specific dates within the months,) it also reveals the G-dly purpose within the entire passage of time.
The sanctification of Rosh Chodesh was therefore the first mitzvah commanded, being as it is clearly and obviously an act of sanctifying the mundane, which is essentially the underlying theme behind all the mitzvos.
Furthermore, time is marked by change, which is the "first" and most basic characteristic of every creation: the change from non-existence to existence. Therefore, the mitzvah of declaring Rosh Chodesh is specifically the first mitzvah. Just as time is the very first creation, its sanctification as well is the very first mitzvah.
After guaranteeing that G-d will skip over and spare the Jewish homes fromMakas Bechoros, the Plague of the Firstborn, the Torah adds "and there will be no destructive plague in you." Rashi explains that these additional words address the following query: "What if one of Bnei Yisrael was in an Egyptian's house? I would think that he would be smitten like him. Therefore, the verse states: 'and there will be no destructive plague in you.'"
The Jew who lingered in an Egyptian home on the night of the Exodus was in a shocking spiritual state, one more akin to that of his Egyptian oppressors than to that of his fellow Jews. The Bnei Yisrael suffered miserably at the hands of the Egyptians for many years. Then, everyone witnessed the miraculous plagues with which G-d punished the Egyptians. Finally, the Jews offered the Pesach sacrifice to commemorate their imminent redemption from Egypt, and were commanded "no man shall leave the entrance of his house until morning" (Shemos). At this point, a Jew who still chose to spend the night in the home of an Egyptian, one could assume "would be smitten like him," in Rashi's words.
Yet, out of His love for the Jewish people, G-d Himself descended, as it were, into the homes of the Egyptians in order to single out the Jew who might be among them. "I will go out into the midst of Egypt" (Shemos 11:4), says G-d, to save from Makas Bechoros a Jew who was so spiritually hollow that even on this fateful night he still clung to his Egyptian colleagues.
From here we see the lengths we must go in order to save another Jew spiritually – to draw him nearer to the worship of G-d. Emulating G-d's ways, we must see to reach even the Jew who is so assimilated that engaging him can require sacrificing (within the guidelines of halacha) our own spiritual standards. We must descend even to that Jew for whom a holy environment is utterly foreign, he is still "in an Egyptian home," to rescue him and draw his heart to his Father in Heaven.