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Parshat Shemot

 

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Last week, I had the opportunity to play Mommy and Daddy for five days. My wife had gone to NYC to visit her parents, thankfully taking our six-month-old baby with her, but leaving me alone with five energetic and lovely children, and a house that doesn’t have a self-cleaning setting. Oh, and one more thing; we were slated to have eleven guests for Shabbos dinner.

It was an educational weekend for me. I learned that you can spend five straight hours in the hot and humid kitchen on a Friday afternoon and still not be ready. I learned that when you don’t do loads of laundry, clean freshly folded clothes don’t appear in drawers on their own. I learned that even with our Ukrainian cleaning help (1-800-BABUSHKAS-R-US), the house still needs straightening up before it’s presentable for guests. Most of all, I learned that I can never thank my wife enough for all that she does, being a mommy is far harder than being a daddy.

When doing double duty as Mommy and Daddy, my parenting style switches to crisis management. Call it Parenting Whack-A-Mole if you will, a challenge presents itself, you try your best to pummel it down, and turn around to deal with the next challenge to pop up. This experience also gave me an entirely new level of respect for single parents who have to take care of their children on their own all the time, and can’t do Parenting Whack-A-Mole because that only works for the short term (or at least that’s what I told myself!).

Let’s start with Wednesday night, my first night alone with the kids. I’m not much of a cook, but there is one thing I make really well; reservations. I picked up my delicious ones from school and headed down town to Wayne State, which fortunately has a kosher cafeteria. It’s an all you can eat buffet, and I was able to feed six of us for under $30! The kids love the cafeteria; they can roam around loading their plates with pizza, pasta, and salad items they likely won’t eat. They can have soda and Shabbos cereal (sugary cereal), they make themselves waffles in the nifty waffle machine, the cooks make them grilled cheese on special order, and there is ice cream for dessert!

It is a controlled chaos scene. Kids running up and down the aisles between college students trying to have a quiet dinner (at least my kids…), a steady stream of “Can we have…,” repeated explanations that a restaurant is a place where we use our library voice, and lots of napkins to mop up spilled soda or maple syrup. But a good time was had by all. Mommy-Daddy was looking not too bad for a few moments.

Food taken care of, it was time to head home. We left through the emergency exit which was closer to our car. We stepped out into 34 degrees and drizzling. It was quite cold and windy, but that was manageable. Ten seconds after the emergency exit locked behind us, the heavens opened up with a torrential downpour! We’re talking about near freezing raindrops the size of marbles and lots of them. My three-year-old starting crying in shock, so I scooped him up in my right hand, my left hand clumsily trying to get his hood over his head. “Let’s run!,” I called to the rest of the gang, but they were already doing that!

We ran for about 30 seconds, just pausing long enough to hold my five year old’s hand while crossing the street. I opened the passenger doors of the minivan with my remote, and after sprinting the last fifty yards, I deposited my three year old on the first seat, and then ran around to the driver’s side, yanked the door open, jumped in, and slammed it behind me. The rest of the family had tumbled into the various doors and closed them, and there we were sitting, 6 Burnhams in a minivan, soaked to the bone, shivering with cold, and out of breath.

Then something amazing happened. Less than fifteen seconds after getting into the van, the torrential rain decided it had enough, and it just went away, replaced by the light drizzle that was there before it showed up. The entire duration of the downpour was the time the Burnham family was outside, nothing more nothing less. It started when we got locked out of the place we were coming from, and ended as soon as we got to safety! It seemed unbelievable, but my sopping wet suit and shirt were there to reassure me that it did happen. What was going on? Why did this happen?

I immediately pointed out to my children the strangeness of the situation, and said that clearly Ha-shem was sending us some sort of message. Sometimes His messages are clear, sometimes they are nebulous, but when something like that happens, it is meant as a message. You have to stop and ask, what is the meaning of this? Nothing happens randomly in this world, and definitely a custom tailor-made Burnham torrential downpour didn’t happen by chance, it is G-d speaking to us through nature.

A week later, I’m still struggling to figure out what it meant (feel free to respond if you have an idea). One theory is that when you got through a harrowing situation with people, you feel a survivor kinship with them. It might be that G-d was giving us a little help so that we would feel this connection and pull together for the weekend where we would have to take care of ourselves without the help of our mother/wife? Could be G-d was reassuring us, by telling us that while being mommy-less was real challenge, it would be over in short order and all would go back to normal? I really don’t have confidence in any one answer, but I know with great certainty that G-d was talking to us that night.

This week’s parsha tells us of a similar story. We read about how the greatest Jewish leader, Moshe, was chosen. The Torah tells us that Moshe was shepherding sheep in the wilderness when one of them got away and starting running. Moshe followed it, and after scooping it up, he suddenly saw a burning bush. Moshe turned to go investigate it, and that was where G-d called out to him, and asked him to lead the Jews out of Egypt. According to some commentaries, the bush had been burning there for years, and most of the locals just thought it was a cool/weird phenomena. No one stopped to investigate until Moshe came along. He knew that when something strange happens, it’s not meant to simply be a “Hey that’s weird!,” moment, but rather an introspective “Why am I seeing this?,” moment.

It was only when G-d saw that Moses understood that everything in the world is intentional, and there for us to learn from it, that He called out to him, and asked him to be the leader of His people. Leadership comes from those who don’t simply follow whatever happens to them, but from those who use the events of their life to look for meaning.

We need to learn from Moshe to look at the world with a curious and inquisitive mind. There are messages being left for us all the time, most of them never picked up. The string of green lights while we’re rushing to work, that’s a message. The string of red lights? Also a message. The flood in our basement, the unexpected new client that should bring a flood of cash, a child getting meningitis out of nowhere, the rise of ISIS, these are all ways of G-d talking to us. We need to tune in and try to decipher what the message is.

What is G-d trying to say to me today? What message did he send me? If we could take a minute every evening and look back at our day and find at least one moment where G-d was talking to us, we would live different lives. We would always be on the lookout for the messages, and we would see them much more easily. We wouldn’t need torrential downpours, a light drizzle would be enough. We would see winks of approval or disapproval, we would be able to read the subtle fingerprints G-d leaves for us, and we’d become greater by following them.

This week, let’s try for the next seven days to see one message in each day, and let’s ponder what it means for us, and our direction. We may just find that a downpour of rain when you are overloaded with kids and concerns for a weekend without your wife is really G-d’s wink, saying you can make it through a little bit of short term stress, you’re not going to melt. We may find that G-d is saying, I’d like to hear from you a bit more, ask me for help, and I can help you get through this!

When we open our eyes to a bigger reality, the world is a greater place, a place filled with messages tailor made just for us.

Parsha Dvar Torah

This week’s dvar torah is a continuation and fleshing out of the idea mentioned above in the first piece!

In this week’s portion we witness G-d designating the greatest leader the Jewish people ever had, Moses. Let’s see if there is a lesson we can learn about what kind of person merits leadership roles. The Torah tells us of the events leading up to G-d’s appointment of Moses:

Moses tended the sheep of his father-in-law Jethro, priest of Midian. He led the sheep to the edge of the wilderness and he came to the mountain of G-d, in the area of Choreiv. An angel of G-d appeared to him in the heart of a fire in the midst of a thorn-bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was on fire but the bush was not being consumed. Moses said, “I will turn aside and see [investigate] this great sight. Why doesn’t the bush burn?” When G-d saw that he turned aside to see, El-him called to him from the midst of the thorn-bush, and said, “Moses, Moses.” (Exodus 3:1-4)

The Medrash Tanchuma says that what set Moses apart from everyone else was that when he saw something as irrational as the burning bush, it didn’t merely catch his fancy for a few moments before he moved on, it was something he realized must be investigated. He was inspired by what he saw, and he left the path he was on, to investigate this new reality. He was willing to step out of the heady rush of life, to look into something that could provide him with more meaning. Only after G-d saw that Moses turned off his regular path to investigate the matter, did He call out to him and offer him the leadership role.

Many times people see things that are very powerful, but it does not cause any significant change to their lives. America was rocked by 9/11. Everyone is moved by the situation in Gaza. But for many, the novelty wears off and soon life continues as usual.

The father of a close friends of mine taught me the importance of taking immediate action when something dramatic occurs. His son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren were in a boating accident in the Kinneret Sea. Despite having life jackets, the frigid waters could have been deadly, and some of them developed hypothermia. It was only through a great amount of Divine Providence that they were located and saved just in the nick of time.

Immediately after finding out about the accident, he saw the episode as a gift from G-d and wanted to do something concrete to show his gratitude. He started by waking up an hour earlier every day to set aside time to study Torah. He committed to facilitate the building of a neighborhood synagogue that was years in the planning but long in the coming. Three years later, the synagogue was built, he was still keeping his Torah study regimen, and his entire life was changed – all because he seized the moment when he saw a message from G-d.

In his commentary on Song of Songs (2:7), Nachmonides (1194-1270) discusses the importance of translating inspiration into some physical action. Inspiration is a fleeting emotion which on its own, has a very short lifespan. Putting inspiration into action gives it staying power. If we hear about a soldier who was just wounded in Israel, we can feel terrible, but how much more meaningful is it if we can say a small prayer for that soldier. When we wake up and walk outside into a glorious morning with the sun shining brightly and the air crisp and refreshing, we can think about what a nice day it is, or we can say thanks to G-d for giving us such a beautiful day. And when we hear on the news about yet one more rocket attack on Sderot, we can commit to studying ten minutes of Torah every day on behalf of our brothers and sisters living through such difficult times.

We all have good eyes, but the true leaders amongst us, are those whose eyes and body are strongly connected.

Parsha Summary

This week’s parsha, Shmos, is the first one in the Book of Exodus. This book deals with the story of the Jewish people’s enslavement in Egypt and their subsequent miraculous redemption. One of the reasons it is so important is because the Egyptian ordeal is the spiritual root of all the exiles the Jews have endured, and learning about it helps us understand how we can best navigate life in Diaspora.

The parsha starts off by listing the original people who came down to Egypt, and then mentions that Yosef and all his brothers passed away. This is key, as exiles always begin when we experience detachment from the previous generations, and an abandonment of their ways. Soon after the death of the last son of Jacob, a new Pharaoh arose in Egypt. Some say he was a new king and others say that he put out new decrees, but according to both opinions he didn’t bode well for the Jews.

Pharaoh convened his council and decided that the Jews, who were becoming numerous and prosperous, were a threat to his nation, and thus he began subjugating and enslaving them. Not only that, but based on his astrologers’ predictions that a male Jewish savior was soon to be born, he commanded the two Jewish midwives to kill every Jewish male infant. Luckily for me, they didn’t listen, but, au contraire,  helped nourish the babies and keep them alive and healthy. For this brave and heroic act, G-d rewarded them by giving their children the Kehuna, the priesthood, and Malchus, the kingship.

Then Pharaoh kicked it up a notch by decreeing that the Egyptians throw every Jewish male into the Nile River.Eventually, as the astrologers’ predictions got more ominous, he decreed that all male children, Egyptians included, be thrown in the water.

When the decrees came out, a leader of the Jews named Amram declared that Jewish couples should separate to spare themselves from the horror of watching their sons thrown into the water. His daughter Miriam pointed out to him that his declaration was worse than Pharaoh’s, because at least Pharaoh was allowing Jewish girls to live, whereas Amram’s declaration was spelling doom for the entire Jewish people! Heeding his daughter’s wise words, Amram remarried his wife Yocheved, and six months later they had a son.

When their son was born, the house filled with light, and they saw that he was born circumcised, so they knew they were dealing with a special baby. They hid him in the house for 3 months, because the Egyptians were expecting the baby to be a full term baby (9 months for those who didn’t know that) and after three months they put him in a little waterproof cradle,  in the Nile, with his sister watching from a distance. At that exact time, Basya, the daughter of Pharaoh, was going to the Nile to bathe and she saw the child, drew him out, had pity on him and decided to keep him. She named him Moshe.

Although Moshe grew up as a prince,  he would go out and see the hardships of his brethren, and would take part in their labor. One day he saw an Egyptian beating the life out of a Jew and, after ensuring that no one was looking, he killed the Egyptian. This event became known to Pharaoh, and Moshe was forced to flee to Midian.

In Midian, Moshe met his wife, the daughter of Midian’s ex-High Priest who had rejected the Midianite Gods, and he settled down to life as a shepherd. One day, while tending to the sheep, he saw a burning bush. Upon approaching it, G-d called out to him from the bush and told him that He had chosen him to lead the Jews out of Egypt. Moshe protested, saying he wasn’t worthy, but eventually G-d convinced him to go. G-d gave him three miracles to show the Jews as a sign that he was G-d’s messenger, and Moshe headed back to Egypt. In Egypt, he showed the signs to the Jewish elders, who believed it was G-d’s sign of a coming redemption

Moshe appeared before Pharaoh with his brother acting as his interpreter since his speech was hindered by a burning experience he had had as a child. The pair demanded that Pharaoh let the Jews go to serve G-d in the wilderness. Pharaoh claimed to not know of the Jewish G-d and flat-out refused. Not only that, he decided to force the Jews to work harder in order to prevent them from wasting their time with foolish hopes of redemption. The people complained to Moshe that after promising them salvation, he actually made their lives harder. The Parsha closes with G-d assuring Moshe that not only will Pharaoh let the Jews go, he will beg them to leave!

 

Quote of the Week:  A problem that is not worth praying about is not worth worrying about. ~ Charles Grossberg

Random Fact of the Week: Honeybees have a strange type of hair on their eyes!

Funny Line of the Week: “And then at the end of the letter I like to write PS- This is what part of the alphabet would look like if Q and R were eliminated.”

 

Have a Majestic Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

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