Posts Tagged With: shema

Paro’s (Pharaoh’s) Hard Heart–Giving–New Years

Picture it!  Egypt!  1200 (ish) BCE!  Moshe comes to Paro, repeatedly, demanding in the name of G-d to, “Let my people go, that they may worship me!”Ex 17:16 and further.  From the start, however, we are told that “I [G-d] will harden Paro’s heart.”  This would at first seem to be a violation of free will, for, how can a man choose if G-d has changed his heart to not choose?  The twelfth century torah scholar, Rabbi Shlomo Itzhak (Rashi), offers up an interpretation.  He tells us that at first, Paro was presented with the choice of letting b’nei yisroel (the children of Israel) go, lest Egypt suffer plagues.  He refused to do so, and even said at points that he would and then turned on such a declaration to retain them.  After he had chosen time and again to not make the choice proper for him and his people, as well as b’nei yisroel, he gave up his right to choose.

I think that we have all had moments in which we have done this.  I know that I have had arguments in which the point of the issue didn’t even matter anymore, rather, the only thing that mattered was to be right–or in some cases just that the other person wasn’t.  After a while of back and forth, its as if an external force takes over and there is no choice left, life just continues to happen with or without your input!  I have seen the same thing happen time and again in regard to many different quarrels or misunderstandings, and the outcome is almost always devastating, and usually for both parties involved.  Think of the bad divorce that you had, when you didn’t even want the house, car, or–G-d forbid this should be the case–kids, but you so wanted to show how badly you were hurting that you took the whole ship down with you, and didn’t even offer any lifeboats.

We must be very careful about hardening our hearts, in all circumstances.  Sometimes, perhaps, we must temper them though.  I once had a friend, who I would work for at times, we would work on cars, our families would hang out together; we had gotten pretty close.  He and his wife divorced, and he started seeing a friend of mine from high school.  Everything seemed great!  They had a wonderful time together–or so it seemed at least–and eventually moved in together.  We fell out of touch for a couple of years, as they had moved away from the area, but as far as we knew everything was fine with them.  Now, this friend had been called many things, by many different people over the years, and I had always defended him, even if passively.  My friend who he was seeing contacted us one day, after they had broken up.  As it turned out, this “friend” of mine who I had so steadfastly defended on so many occasions, actually was crazy.  Clinically crazy!  He was suicidal, manipulative, and perhaps even homicidal.  He ended up in prison, for something or other, and I have never heard from him again.  This is not the first case in which a tempered heart–one that is not closed in apathy, but one which heeds the input of others–would have been very healthy.

On the other hand, I have had people whom others derided often, who have ended up being very good and close friends, and nothing like what others would have led me to believe if I had listened.  So we see that this pendulum can swing either way.  IF we harden our hearts to everyone, we will have no one to care for, and no one who cares for us.  And even worse, doing something with frequency breeds habit in it.  Perhaps this is the real lesson of G-d hardening Paro’s heart.  If, for those of us who believe in G-d, we are to say that G-d bestows upon us the knowledge of right and wrong, we must say that it is by virtue of a relationship with the Creator that we are given this gift, after all, gifts aren’t given in any way shape or form without some kind of a relationship.  But if we deny the blessing of warning, time and again, we might as well resign ourselves to failure–or, insanity, as is often said, “repeating action in expectation of different outcome is the definition of insanity.”

By now you may be wondering what any of this has to do with “giving.”  It is simple: in order to exercise a non-hardened heart, we must give.  We must give of ourselves, our hearts, our souls, and our resources.  The Shema, the central jewish prayer declaring the oneness of G-d, says this almost exactly.  “And you shall love the Lord your G-d with all you heart, and with all your soul, and with all the goodness that is to you.”  That last part is difficult to translate, but it has come to be taught by the rabbis that it refers to “all your monetary resources.”  Now, this does not mean that you should give away everything you have, for if you do that you will have nothing more to give.  We can give to others by supplying our own needs, so that we do not use the resources of those who need them more, and at the same time dedicate portions of “the goodness that is to us” to helping others.  If you see a person with a sign out, why not give them the change in your pocket?  Sure, they might use it to go and buy booze or drugs, this is always a possibility–then again, there is a possibility that you may do this with the majority of your paycheck!  There is also the possibility, however, that they will use it to buy food, medicine,  shelter, or even to help others.  Now, perhaps there is something to be said for not giving over and over again, to the same person with a sob story which never changes.  But one thing is almost certain: if you harden your heart and don’t give, before long you will find plenty of reasons not to give, even if your conscience is telling you you should.

And really, what is a few dollars anyway?  In fact, I firmly believe that EVERYONE should set aside ten percent of their income (and money gifted them) to give to those in need.  This needn’t be a homeless person, or even an official charity.  How about paying for somebody’s groceries?  When you are paying your utility bill and the person in front of you is trying to bargain with the company just to get the lights back on, put some money toward their account after they leave (so as not to embarrass them).  Give of your time too.  Take time out of your day to listen to that sob story, and don’t just offer a few coins, but give some kind words too.  Take it from one who has been in a lot of tough places, not all sob stories are untrue.  Life is hard sometimes!

So this is my request for world as we enter 2014 in the secular calendar:  Give!  I promise you, no matter how small the action seems, if we all do love G-d by loving our fellow man with “all your heart, and all your soul, and all the goodness that is to you,” we will make this world a better place.

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Time, Humans, God.


My posts have been very long.  I am usually quite wordy when I write something, and I don’t know if that is a good thing or not.  I have been up way too late recently, sometimes writing blog posts, sometimes doing other things, but I need to get to sleep earlier.  In that vein, I am going to attempt the impossible: to write a post in under twenty minutes so I can still get to bed before midnight!  It is 11:38 right now.

The night before last, I heard some noise from the loft in our house (where my fourteen year-old sleeps).  I called up, “Patrick?  Whatcha doing?”

“I’m getting dressed.” He responded, in a bit of a snippy tone.

A pause.

“What time is it?” He asked, sounding frustrated.

“11:15 at night.”

“Nevermind.”  He said. “I’m not getting dressed.”

Another story:

A few years ago, I spent the beginning of pesach (passover) in Brooklyn.  We had just finished services at the yeshivah, and I went into the coat room to get my coat.  A man was in there, mid fifties I’d say, great big black beard.  With him was another man who I assume was his father, who had a great big white beard.  The younger man said to me, “It is so nice to see you again!  How long has it been?”

“Many years.” I said to him, with no air of sarcasm.

The older man then said,  “What is time?  A year is but a month, a month is but a week, a week is but a year.”

As we walked back to the house, I told the rabbi and his son what had been said, and they looked at me a bit sideways when I related my response.  “I was meaning in terms of a few thousand years…since we were all at Sinai.”

In Jewish tradition, the soul of every Jew–dead, living, yet to live, and even those who would convert–was present at Sinai.  Every Jew heard the declaration from Hashem (G-d), and accepted the covenant there.  In a way, it had been only a month, a week, a day.

What is time, anyway?  Time doesn’t really exist, except in our minds.  Time is a system of measurement that gauges our productivity in this world.  In fact, if not for the fact that we live within a society that demands that we give our time to it, we would have no need for it.  My son, when he awoke in the middle of the night, heard me awake downstairs and assumed that it was time to get up for the morning.  He had been a little under the weather the previous day, and so he had already slept a lot.  When he woke up, he must have been fairly rested, therefore it must have been morning.

Where does time come from?  Where does our need to set time come from?  In Judaism, the earliest example of time known to man comes from the dictate from G-d to set holy days, and to call off the seasons and months.  We are to usher in rosh hodesh (the head of the month) with trumpets.  Rosh hodesh, in fact, is a minor holiday in Judaism…something that most jews–I think–either forget or never knew.  We are also commanded to bring offerings at particular “seasons” of the day, if you will.  There is a dictate to bring the morning, afternoon, and evening offerings.  Our prayer times are set around these three offerings, and the dictate to twice a day recite the words of the shema, “love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, all your soul, and all your capacity,” etc, in Vayikra (Leviticus) and Devarim (Deuteronomy).  This is to be recited, “when you lay down, and when you rise,” and so there are certain times to do this which correspond to the appropriate times to bring the offerings of morning and evening.

What did this man really mean with his question, “What is time?”  Perhaps he was referring to the way in which Hashem experiences time.  We believe that Hashem (G-d) is outside of time, omnipresent.  If Hashem is omnipresent, then the past, present, and future must all be blended–a synergy of time–and so time does not really exist.  A year truly is a month, a month a week, a week a day.  When Moshe Rabbeinu AHS (Moses our teacher, peace be upon him) meets Hashem for the first time, and Hashem tells him to go to his people and bring them out of bondage, Moshe says (paraphrased) “What’s your name?  When I go to the Israelites, who shall I tell them is their G-d?”

Hashem replies saying, “I will be that which I will be.” Again, Moshe asks, and Hashem responds with a curious word as a name.  This name is so holy, that we don’t even speak it, though many have tried to decode its pronunciation.  He takes the words for “was,” “is,” and “will be,” and squishes them together into one word, the ineffable name of G-d.  What is he telling Moshe at this point?  I think that what he is saying is, “I exist outside the realm of your comprehension.  I exist outside of time and matter, yet intrinsically intertwined with both.  There is no name that can apply to me.”  Further, he seems to be saying, “You can’t put me in a box.  You humans think you are so smart!  First you name something, then you can subjugate it, then you can rule it.  But I cannot be named!  I cannot be ruled!”

The Hasidic Jews of the Breslov movement have a way of describing this that may not immediately make sense in this context.  They say, “I am nothing.  You are nothing.  Only Hashem is.”  In other words, everything that we see.  Everything that we count as being “real,” is really just temporal existence.  All matter will change, all beings will die.  The earth will someday cease to exist, but still the essence of the universe, the mysterious energy that animates all atoms in it, it will continue to be.  Why?  Because that which we cannot see, touch, taste, measure, or quantify, that IS.  Everything else “is nothing.”

So what of time?  Time cannot be seen, touched, tasted, smelled.  Time can be quantifiable–is quantifiable–yet we can never make more of it.  In fact, it is such a finite resource for us, that we often feel loathsome toward the prospect of “burning” time.  But how can we be so concerned with losing time, that we drive ourselves insane?  Perhaps it is because we have attempted to take that which is inconceivable, and ineffable, and put it in a box.  But with all our gears, and levers, the only thing that we can actually measure is our place within time, as it wends its way around our collective consciousness.

It is 12:37 now.  I am 38 minutes “late.”  I have not made my goal of time.  I have not, however, finished late.  Neither do I ever finish my tasks early.  I finish precisely when I am meant to.

Torah of Time

By: Natan Zalman
Is time as it seems?
What is a thousand years to a soul?

It is not as it sounds. A thousand are but a hundred,-a hundred

but a dozen-a dozen but one; a year is but a month-a week-a day-an hour-a second frozen

in cryogenic suspension.


My soul does not lack for patience,

it does not even know the necessity for such things.
A heart is but a pound of flesh. What is time to the heart?

Exactly as it seems. A second,       an hour,                 a day——all are excruciatingly

long as a thousand years.”

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