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Home » Life Is Beautiful, Vaeirah

Vaera: The Great Escape

Submitted by on December 26, 2018 – 9:50 amNo Comment | 53 views

The entire Jewish ordeal in Egypt was an effort to escape. What were they escaping from?

The minutia of mundane pleasures. The Jewish people were singled out to receive the Torah at Sinai. They were poised to climb to the precipice, to scale the greatest spiritual heights, but they were trapped in the weeds of the spiritual lowlands. If you enjoy the weeds too much, you will never extract yourself from them and try to climb the mountain. If you never climb the mountain, you will never see the beautiful vistas and gain the heavenly perspective that the mountaintop offers.

How do you break away from the weeds? The answer is to find a way to make the weeds less enjoyable.

Torah

The Torah is the gateway to infinity. G-d invested his thoughts and ideas into the concepts that we study in the Torah. He then provided us with Mitzvos which enable us to take hold of His essence by fulfilling His will. By coming to Sinai and receiving the Torah, we had the opportunity to receive a goodness so breathtaking and rarified as to be indescribable.

Yet, who stands prepared to throw away all the pleasurable pastimes that the Torah forbids in return for a promise that no one can describe? The pleasures forbidden by the Torah are tangible and real, easy to bite into and savor. By contrast, the rewards the Torah promises are surreal and sublime. So, exalted as to be unrelatable. It is hard to break away from the lowly pleasures of the body to access the pleasures of the soul.

The Torah tells us that by avoiding that delicious but non-kosher dish we will receive an eternity of infinite pleasure in heaven. But all I am left with is a promise and the pleasure of the dish that I am being asked to throw away is real. The mouth-watering aromas tempt me, how I am I expected to throw it all away on a promise I can’t even imagine.

The Torah tells us that every moment of Torah study is more pleasurable than a lifetime of bodily pleasure in this world. If we were to take that seriously, we would spend every moment of our day immersed in Torah study. We would take the requisite time to eat, sleep, and work to provide for our families, but every spare moment would be spent in Torah study. But if we did that, we would have no time for relaxation, my hobbies, sport, travel, or touring. And what kind of a life is that?

Of course, if we were to be honest, we would have to admit that the pleasures of travel, sport, and touring, are miniscule compared to the endless value of Torah, but being a tactile people, we enjoy and understand tactile things. How are we meant to escape the weeds for the beautiful vistas of the mountaintop?

Fruit Flies

Have you ever set a trap for fruit flies? You place a little piece of banana into a small cup and you cover the cup in saran wrap. You then perforate the plastic with a toothpick so that it has tiny holes. Place the cup in the middle of the room and before long it will fill with fruit flies drawn by the mouth-watering promise of banana. Now you have thirty fruit flies swarming around a tiny piece of rotting banana when they could have roamed freely throughout the house and enjoyed much better and many more pleasures.

Foolish of them, right? But when it comes right down to it, we are no different. We gather around our televisions and cheer for our favorite team, we spend days immersed in novels, getting emotionally caught up in stories that never occurred, and we spend copious amounts of time and energy preparing gourmet meals. All, while infinite value and eternal pleasure awaits us, and we don’t even notice. So, how do we break away?

The Great Escape

Do you know when people eschew the worldly pleasures that the rest of us worship? After experiencing extreme trauma. When you find yourself in prison where every conceivable pleasure is denied to you including your basic freedoms, you begin to appreciate the important things in life. You realize that you whiled away your time on meaningless pursuits, when important meaningful opportunities passed you by. When you are lying in a hospital bed and your life passes before your eyes, your principles and values come into sharp relief.

When you survive one of those experiences and escape with your life and health intact, you return a changed person. You no longer crave the leisure pleasures of the body. You begin to think about long term and meaningful gain. You think about your mortality and you cast about for purpose. You think about your children, and you rue the time you spent on the golf course instead of putting them to bed.

When our ancestors returned from two centuries of bondage in Egypt, the mundane pleasures offered by worldly pursuits didn’t tempt them. When the Ishmaelites were asked if they wanted the Torah, they turned G-d down because they didn’t want to live without the body’s carnal pleasures that the Torah proscribes. Same with the Edomites and all the other ancient tribes. It was only the Jew, who said yes. And we said yes because our experience in Egypt taught us that worldly pleasures are not as fulfilling as they seem. When you have lived without them, you know how meaningless they are.

When Napoleon invaded Russia, a great debate raged among Jewish rabbis. Would it be better for the Jews, if Napoleon won of if the Czar triumphed? Napoleon would bring the Jews prosperity and freedom; the Czar would bring the Jews deprivation and suffering. The rabbis determined that it would be best for the Jews if Napoleon lost. Because the prosperity and pleasures offered by Napoleon could easily distract us from the path of discipline required by the Torah. As the Torah says, when our heart grows proud, we tend to forget about G-d.

Mashiach

Coming out of Egypt Jews knew how to choose holy pursuits over wordily pleasures. Coming out of our current exile will usher in the very opposite. When Mashiach comes we will be able to enjoy holy pursuits even while we indulge and enjoy physical pleasures.

When we first begin our spiritual journey, we need to be able to shut out distractions so that we can focus. But if we can be distracted from Torah, that tells us that Torah is not our life. It is not who we are. We need to shield ourselves from our real interests to pursue Torah. Ultimately, we want to turn that around and let the Torah become part of us so that we want it and are naturally drawn to it.

Another problem with avoiding distractions is that our physical pleasures never become part of G-d’s plan and G-d wants to be recognized throughout His creation—not just where we shut our worldly distractions. We therefore transition as we make this journey from needing to shield ourselves from distractions to learning how to integrate G-dliness with all the indulgences and delights of this world.

We are slowly getting better at it. We are slowly learning how to integrate comfort and luxury with the eternity and purpose of Torah. We are learning how to enjoy the pleasures of worldly living, while continuing to study Torah without being distracted and without feeling deprived. Today, you see more and more wealthy Jews who use their money for charitable causes. You see more and more prosperous Jews who embrace a life of Torah and Mitzvah.

When we complete this journey and reach full integration, the world will be ready for Mashiach. May he come speedily in our days, Amen.

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