Friday, April 21, 2006

Psalm 81: Aiming for Greatness

This psalm charges us to sing out in joy, as God answered our prayers and rescued us from the bondage of Egypt.

"I am Hashem your God Who raises you up from the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide, and I will fill it." [81:11]

What is the connection between acknowledging the redemption from Egypt and "opening our mouths wide" to receive God's blessings?

Perpetual Elevation

A careful reading will note two things about the word hama'alcha, "Who raises you up." First of all, it does not say that God "took you out" of Egypt, but that He "raises you up." It was not merely the act of leaving Egypt that made its eternal impact on the fate of the Jewish nation, and through it, all of humanity. The Exodus was an act of elevation, lifting up the people's souls — "Who raises you up."

Additionally, we may note that the verse is not in the past tense but in the present, "Who raises you up." Does the psalm not refer to a historical event? We may understand this phrase in light of the words of the Midrash [Tanchuma Mikeitz 10] concerning the creation of heaven and earth. The Midrash states that when God commanded the formation of the rakiya, "an expanse in the middle of the water" [Gen. 1:6], the heavens and the earth began to expand, and would have continued to stretch out indefinitely, had the Creator not halted the expansion by admonishing them, 'Enough!' In other words, unless they are meant only for a specific hour, divine acts are eternal, continuing forever. So too, the spiritual ascent of "raising you up from Egypt" is a perpetual act, constantly influencing and uplifting the Jewish people throughout the generations.

There is no limit to this elevation, no end to the attainable heights of our spiritual aspirations. The only restriction comes from us — if we choose to limit our wishes and dreams. But once we know the secret of hama'alcha, and internalize the message of a divine process that began in Egypt and continually raises us up, we can always aim for ever-higher spiritual levels.

It is instructive to note the contrast between the word 'Egypt' (in Hebrew, Mitzrayim, meaning limitations), and "opening up wide." God continually frees us from the narrowing constraints of Mitzrayim, allowing us to aspire for the broadest, most expansive goals.

Now we understand why the verse concludes with the charge, "open your mouth wide." Let us not restrict ourselves. We need to rise above all limitations, and overcome smallness and petty goals. If we can "open our mouth wide" and recognize our potential for greatness, then "I will fill it" — God will help us attain ever- higher levels of holiness.

[adapted from Olat Re'iyah vol. I pp. 219-220]

1 comment:

Fern Sidman said...



As the world commemorated, Yom HaShoa, Holocaust Remembrance Day, we sit and ponder, in our deep and profound sorrow at the loss of six million of our brothers and sisters.
Many of us cannot fathom what it would have been like to live in the time of this unspeakable horror. Many of us cannot conceive of the concept of this mass extermination. Thoughts of the gruesome, heinous and barbaric wholesale slaughter of millions of Jews forces us to recoil in horror.

We have Holocaust museums and memorials we can visit. We have countless films and documentaries that recount the testimony of survivors. We can even visit those places we call 'hell on earth'", the concentration camps of Auschwitz, Maidonek and Dachau to name a few. All of these places can educate us and sensitize us to the collective pain of our ancestors.

And we ask ourselves what we can learn from this dark chapter of Jewish history. We ask ourselves if this chapter can ever be repeated. We ask ourselves what to tell our children and those generations who will follow.

The reality of the Holocaust is that the threat to our very existence as Jews still looms stronger than ever. The world is teeming with Holocaust deniers such as Iranian President Ahmanijahed who denies the veracity of the Holocaust, calling it a hoax and a fraud perpetrated by a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. His vituperative is warmly embraced by eager listeners. The President of Iran is joined in his hate filled rhetoric by the likes of a David Irving,
Prof. Norman Finkelstein ( a Jew), the Institute for Historical Review, and the prolific site of neo-Nazi organizations who are growing in strength.

There is no shortage of those who would keep the memory of Adolf Hitler, Yemach Shemo, alive and well. And if the world will host Holocaust remembrance tributes and stand in silence in recognition of those who perished, we must clearly understand that the signs of peril and danger still remain and those same countries and leaders who pay lip service to dead Jews can easily become perpetrators of a similar scenario.

We must extricate ourselves from the illusions and delusions that the world has foisted upon us. We must break free of our own myopic world and see the stark and brutal reality. The world is not a safe place for the Jew and the Jew has no where to go. No place to seek safe harbor. We cannot rely on civlized Western democracies to stand up for our rights and for our lives. While the State of Israel has it's mammoth share of problems, it is the only place for the Jew. It is his home and it is the place where the G-d of Israel destined us to live.

And to those who shout "Never Again" at the site of a Nazi emblem or at those who would seek our destruction, we must make them understand that "Never Again" does not mean that the Holocaust cannot be repeated. Never Again means that we will not allow the world to annhilate us without the Jew fighting back. Never Again means that from the ash barrels of Auschwitz, a new Jew has emerged, or more accurately the re-creation of the old Jew. The Jew of our Holy Torah. It is the likes of a Jacob, Moses, David, Pinchas who must emulate. It is the Jew who fiercely belives in Hashem and clings to His ways and stubbornly follows the edicts of the Torah. It is the Jew who fears no man, but whose only fear is that of the Almighty.

It is the courage and bravery of the true heros of the Jewish people that we must take comfort in. We must learn the true lesson of Ahavas Yisroel. As Rabbi Meir Kahane, HY'D, ZTK"L said back in 1971, "The Jewish people, wherever they may be; each Jewish individual - wherever he is, whatever his belief, whatever his place of residence, whatever the color of his skin, whatever language he temporarily speaks - All Jews are part of the great body, Israel. All are brothers, all are sisters, and thr love of a brother to a brother and to a sister is the love of one Jew to another. The pain of a Jew, wherever he may be, is our pain. The joy of a Jew, wherever he may be, is our joy.We are committed to going to the aid of a Jew who is in need, without distinction, without asking what kind of a Jew he is."

And let us make no mistake about it. For the Jew who cannot feel the pain of another Jew, then sadly and tragically we must conclude that something inside of him is dead.

Let us remember the words of our rabbis who said: "At a time when Jews are wrapped in sorrow and one of them removed himself from the community, two servant angels come and place their hands on his head, saying: "this individual who removed himself from the community will not merit seeing the comfort of the community". "and we further learned: At a time when a community is wrapped in sorrow let no man say: "I shall go home and eat and drink and I will be at peace with myself...'" (Tannit 11)

Let us loudly and clearly extol this great and virtuous lesson. Let the leaders of the State of Israel hear these words. Let all the self hating and self loathing Jews who control the government of the State of Israel hear this message, as this message is the vanguard of our survival. Our indomitable faith and tenacity comes from our true belief and trust in the Almighty G-d of Israel. As we say every day in our morning prayers, "And to those who cling to Hashem, their G-d, all of you are alive today."

And to those Jew haters, far and wide, we tell them and the world that we have not forgotten the lessons of the Holocaust. We will never forget and we will always keep these lessons in the forefront of our minds. May Hashem give us the strength and coourage to see the truth, to walk in His ways and follow His commandments and to fear Him and only Him. In this merit and this merit alone, may we see with our own eyes, the Final Redemption.