End of Book Two
As Israel goes through waves and waves of
agony and America embarks on its unknown journey into the
Biblical depths of Middle Eastern tribalism – and we are
all left reeling in uncertainty – we read the conclusion
of book two of the Torah, the book of Exodus.
Though this book begins with the enslavement of
Israel by the Egyptians and their terrible oppression for 210
years, our sages call Exodus the “Book of Redemption,” the “book
in which Israel goes from darkness to light.” Following the
deep exile in Egypt, the continuing chapters of Exodus relate
the account of the redemption of the Jewish people, followed
by their receiving the Torah at Sinai. Finally the book concludes
this week with the erection of the Holy Mishkan (portable Sanctuary),
nearly a year after the Exodus from Egypt.
These three major events – Exodus, Sinai and the
Sanctuary – are the three pillars which define life for us today
and at all times. Especially in cataclysmic times of upheaval,
these pillars serve as secure bearings that can help us find
our way amidst chaos.
Exodus from Egypt opened the door of freedom for
all time. It empowers us with the ability to transcend our limits
Sinai gives us the blueprint to integrate freedom
in each aspect of our lives.
The Sanctuary fulfills the purpose of existence:
“Build me a Sanctuary and I [G-d] will dwell amongst you.” To
build a home for G-d within our material lives.
The Mishkan consummates the Sinai experience which
culminates the Exodus from Egypt. And these three events tell
us how to build our lives today.
In the first Book of Genesis the stage is set.
All the characters that will shape civilization to come are
in place: Abraham, Sarah, Ishmael, Isaac, Esau, Jacob, Joseph
and his brothers (see at length the essay’s of those weeks).
Everything that will transpire in the real world happens in
microcosm in the first book. Everything that happened to
the patriarchs is an indication for their children.
The second Book of Exodus begins life in the real
world, and the seeds planted by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob now
begin to take hold. The tools we inherit from them give us the
power to be freed from all forms of oppression (Exodus), to
be open to receive a higher wisdom than our own (Sinai) and
to build a home for G-d in this physical world (Mishkan). Moses
finishes the process that began seven generations ago with Abraham.
This message is appropriate today more than ever.
As we face the mitzrayim in our lives today
– oppressive enemies from without and within – we can easily
succumb to the natural resignation that life is just too overwhelming.
We can feel powerless amidst all the intense events happening
around us. The enemy within is even more debilitating: When
external chaos creates internal fear, it destabilizes our basic
functional tools and undermines our inner confidence.
Exodus tells us that we can free ourselves from
all forms of mitzrayim. Every type of oppression is named
after mitzrayim, including the staggering events of our
time. Just as we were freed then, we are promised that we can
be freed today.
Hold on to that promise.
But then the question arises: Even when we find
freedom how can we maintain and integrate it in our daily lives?
Every lasting form of freedom begins to erode our determination.
How do we avoid complacency from settling in as we get accustomed
to our freedoms? The answer to this is: Sinai. The Torah offers
us a blueprint for life that keeps us awake and aware to the
true realities around us. It does not allow us to be lulled
into illusions of our own making.
But even if we are aware, what happens with the
world around us? We are not an island to ourselves; as strong
as our resolve may be, we see time and again how the forces
of society bring the most determined to their knees. We begin
our lives being idealistic, we dream of changing the world into
a better place, and then the ‘realities’ of life take over,
turning us into conformists.
How can we prevent that from happening? By changing
the world before it changes you. By influencing others before
they influence you. By building a Mishkan from our material
world. By taking our gold, silver and copper – all our material
possessions, our skills and our opportunities – and transforming
them into spiritual vehicles. The nature of materialism is such
that if you don’t affect it first, it will affect you. Materialism
is like an invisible shroud that slowly envelops and seduces
us into feeling that there is nothing else but this outer layer
This does not mean that the material world is
a bad place. It just tells us the nature of its personality.
“Tevah” is the Hebrew word for ‘nature.’ “Tevah” also means:
Submerged. Like objects submerged in water, the inner, true
nature of our beings, the deeper spirituality within existence,
lies submerged in the natural order of the universe.
We are charged with the mission and power to free
the inner forces. And we do this by building a Sanctuary from
the material world.
Nothing less will allow us the ability to subdue
and control the world’s upheavals.
May we embrace the first two books we are just
concluding as we go from darkness to light. May we experience
true redemption – both personal and universal, with an end to
hostilities wherever they may be.
So, as we close book two, we need to realize that
the events of today are not new. Our present experiences are
not happening in a vacuum. We are midgets standing on the shoulders
of giants. As grueling as today’s events may be, we have the
accumulative power from generations past to overcome any challenge.
Those that came before us prepared the ground well; we need
but hold on to them and their commitments. And then we can also
hold onto their promises.
Close to 4000 years ago G-d promised Abraham that
his children would be as plentiful as the stars in heaven. Turn
the clock four millennia forward and behold: The promise was
fulfilled! As skeptical as you may be, this fulfilled promise
is hard to deny.
And it doesn’t end there. The world battles today
are between the children of Abraham. Doesn’t it make sense then
to find out what G-d told Abraham about these battles and what
we can do about them?
What G-d told him is that I am giving you a system
that will empower you to face any challenge. A system of three
steps: Exodus from oppression, Torah at Sinai, and building
As we conclude book two, we must ask ourselves:
Are we ready to enter book three? Are we ready to begin the
actual service in the Temple, the day to day work of refining
and transforming the material world into a Divine dwelling place?