“Relieve Me of the Bondage of Self!”
The Torah says that Moshe left the royal palace and went
out unto his brethren and looked upon their burdens. The Midrash states that he went among the Hebrew slaves and as- sisted them in their hard labor.
While sympathy is a fine trait, it is not enough. Moshe wanted to feel the suffering that his brethren were experiencing.
The Talmud lauds Rav Zeira, “who never rejoiced in the misfortune of others” (Megillah 28a). This is hardly the praise of a great person. Enjoying other people’s misfortune is repre- hensible. The praise of Rav Zeira is that he could not rejoice in his own simchos as long as he knew that there were others living in poverty and distress.
A chassidic rebbe saw his daughter and her friends being merry. He scolded them, saying, “Don’t you know that the bak- er’s child is seriously ill? How can you laugh and be merry when you know that others are suffering?
Addiction is a malady of “selfism.” Recovery requires mutuality.
Pharaoh, the First Addict
Although we all read the Torah, no one understands the saga
of the Exodus as someone familiar with addiction. Pharaoh is warned of serious punishment if he does not allow b’nei Yisrael to leave, but he rejects the warning. Then the punishments begin: The Nile turns to blood, and there is a plague of frogs and lice. Pharaoh promises to release b’nei Yisrael, but as soon as the plague is stopped, he refuses again. This continues for nine punishments, and each time, there is a promise on which he reneges. Only when all the firstborn die
does Pharaoh surrender.
So familiar: “I promise to stop,” followed by continuation of
the addictive behavior. His advisers tell him, “The country is be- ing destroyed,” but Pharaoh turns a deaf ear. Only a disastrous rock bottom brings him to his senses.
I watch people in shul who listen to the Torah and wonder, “Could anyone be so obstinate to fail to recognize that his behav- ior results in destruction?”
Character Defects Inventory
Hashem tells Moshe to instruct b’nei Yisrael on the mitzvah
of redeeming the firstborn. Instead of doing so, Moshe tells them to always remember the enslavement in Egypt and the Exodus, and only thereafter does he dictate the mitzvah of redeeming the firstborn (Shemos 1:15).
The Talmud Yerushalmi says that the amount specified to redeem the firstborn (five shekels) is equivalent to the sum for which the brothers sold Yosef into slavery.
As important as treatment of a disease is, prevention of dis- ease is even more important. We are instructed to redeem the firstborn to commemorate the miracle when Hashem smote the Egyptian firstborn, the rock-bottom phenomenon that brought Pharaoh to his knees.
When Hashem told Moshe to dictate the mitzvah of redeem- ing the firstborn, with the five shekels representing the sale of Yosef, Moshe prefaced this with the episode of the Exodus. How did the Jews end up in Egypt in the first place? Because of the envy of the brothers that led them to the heinous deed of selling their brother into slavery.
Gross character defects can lead to cruel behavior and disas- trous consequences.
Sweet Waters of Being Happy, Joyous, and Free
The Torah relates that b’nei Yisrael came to Marah, “but
they could not drink the waters of Marah because they were bitter” (Shemos 15:23, 25).
We understand the verse to mean that the water was bitter. The Baal Shem Tov said that “they” refers to b’nei Yisrael, not the water. Because b’nei Yisrael were depressed, angry and bit- ter, the water tasted bitter to them.
It is a common phenomenon that if a person is deeply de- pressed, his food may taste bitter to him. B’nei Yisrael were grumbling about leaving Egypt and were dissatisfied with the water available to them.
We tend to feel dissatisfied with things, and we attribute our dissatisfaction to the things we have as being defective. The Baal Shem Tov is telling us, “If you feel dissatisfied with anything — your job, your car, even your spouse — don’t blame them. You are probably unhappy with yourself, and you are projecting your dissatisfaction onto them.”
Never Criticize — Being Helpful Is Our Only Aim
Yisro said to Moshe, “What you are doing is not good. Being
the sole judge for a population of millions is sure to exhaust you. Therefore, develop various levels of judges to assist you.”
The Midrash says that because Yisro advised Moshe to select capable people as judges, he was rewarded by having a portion of the Torah named after him.
But Yisro’s statement began with his pointing out to Moshe that what he was doing was not good and would exhaust both him and the people. Why does the Midrash not mention this?
It is because anyone can criticize and point out faults, but that does not resolve the problem. Yisro is praised for the pos- itive, constructive advice he gave.
Anyone can criticize. If you cannot suggest a solution, it is best to keep silent.
Follow GOD (Good Orderly Directions)
When Hashem gave the Jews the Torah, they said, “Naaseh
v’nishma — We will do and we will listen.” The commen- taries ask, “How can they do before they hear?”
At an AA meeting, a prominent lawyer who was celebrating his fortieth year of sobriety said, “When I first joined AA, I was making meetings, but still getting drunk. I asked an old-timer why the program wasn’t working for me. He said, ‘Fella, I’ve been watching you. You’re trying to understand how this program works. Stop that. Just do as you’re told, and keep your ears open.’
“I was insulted. I am an attorney. I have to understand how things work. But I kept on getting drunk, so I decided to try his way. Now I’m forty years sober.”
That is naaseh v’nishma. Do as you’re told, and keep your ears open.
Give and Take of Recovery
Speak to the b’nei Yisrael and let them take for Me…” (Shemos 25:2). This verse refers to the donations for building the Mishkan. But then, shouldn’t the verse have said “give for Me”? Giving is an important mitzvah, but one must also know how to take.
A woman who completed her first year in recovery confided to a friend that during the frigid weather, her furnace broke down, and she slept in an unheated apartment for three days.
The friend said, “You could have stayed at my house.” But the woman said, “I don’t like to impose on anyone.”
I called the woman and told her that I was disappointed be-cause I had hoped to call on her to help newcomers in recovery. She said, “Please, Doctor, you can call on me any time.”
I said, “Sorry, I can’t. If you are unable to accept help, you have no right to give it.”
It is edifying to give, but one must be able to take when necessary.
Give in Order to Keep
This portion of Torah dictates the mitzvah of kindling the Menorah. Lighting the Menorah in the Mishkan, lighting the Chanukah candles, and lighting the Shabbos candles are all important mitzvos.
Lighting a candle is symbolic. If you light a candle to pro- vide light for yourself, others may benefit from the light, too. I
cannot be confined. On the other hand, if you light a candle for others, you, too, can benefit from the light.
This should characterize all our actions. We should not do things that are so restrictive that others cannot benefit from them, and we should realize that when we do something for others, it is not true altruism, because we, too, will benefit from the act.
his portion of the Torah narrates a tragic event. Within weeks of the greatest spiritual event of history, the Divine revelation at Sinai, the Jews, who had reached a level of angelic holiness, fell precipitously into the idolatry of the golden calf. How could so radical a change occur?
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that when Moshe failed to return at the designated date, after forty days on Sinai, the people thought he had died. They were in a barren desert, with no evident source of water. Their only trust was that Moshe could intercede for them with God, and if Moshe were dead, they would be trapped in the arid desert. They panicked, and in a state of panic, one may lose all ability to reason, and one may commit the most absurd acts.
This is a crucial teaching. Logical thinking can serve us well, but if we panic, we lose the ability to reason logically, and we may do things that are grossly out of line with our spirituality.
We may be subjected to severe stresses, but we must try to avoid panic.
We Will Intuitively Know…
These portions of the Torah complete the account of the building of the Mishkan. The work in the construction of the Mishkan and its appur- tenances required exceptional skills. For example, the curtains were woven so that one side had cherubim and the other side had animals. This was not embroidered. Rather, it was made by artistic weaving, done mostly by women.
Where did b’nei Yisrael develop such exquisite skills? As slaves, they dealt with bricks and mortar. The Ramban says that when they received Hashem’s commandment to build the Mishkan, they were so inspired that it brought out latent skills that they were unaware of.
This is a powerful teaching. We may all be underestimating our abilities. We may have talents and skills of which we are unaware. We should know that when we have a mission to do and a assignment to complete, we have the capability to do so. We just need to motivate ourselves.