The Value of Faith and Hope

This week’s haftorah echoes some of the themes found in the parshah of Ki Tissa. Its setting is in Northern Israel at a time after the 12 Tribes had been split into two kingdoms.

What intrigues me in the reading is when Elijah strongly opposes the beliefs of Ahab and Jezebel, the king and queen of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. A foreign wife from the north, Jezebel brought idols into the land of Israel, causing many Israelites to leave Judaism and turn to the worship of the chief idol of Baal.

Jezebel became enraged when she heard that Elijah, a very important prophet of the Lord, was not worshipping the idols and that he stayed true to his belief in the one and only God. She was so furious she went on a rampage and started killing the prophets. Elijah took 100 of them and hid them in a cave, providing them with food, drink and safety.

Many rabbis say that when Elijah acted with such valor, he resembled Moses. As a true leader, Elijah protected the prophets. Moses, similarly, exhibited true leadership by speaking up on behalf of his people in Egypt and, as we read in this week’s parshah, in their defense after the sin of the golden calf.

I feel that Elijah’s firm belief in God took much conviction. He knew that if he defied the king and queen’s religious practices, one of them would become infuriated and want him dead. But even knowing this, Elijah stayed true to God and would not become an idol worshipper.

The lesson here is that even in the worst of times, we can be optimistic. We should not lose faith and hope, even when everything seems to be going wrong. Just like Elijah, who kept his faith and belief in God although many of the Israelites did not, I hope that my faith and belief will help me throughout my life.

For my bar mitzvah project a few weeks ago, I organized a three-on-three basketball tournament fundraiser to benefit the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. As one person, Elijah protected 100 people from the king and queen and their army; the IDF has to protect the small State of Israel against much larger bordering countries. The FIDF’s motto is: Their job is to look after Israel. Ours is to look after them.

I wanted to do something to help “look after them.”

As a result of putting together this fundraiser I learned that by giving some of my time to organize the tournament and raise money I was able to help the Israeli soldiers who look after Israel. If one simply donates a small amount of time, they can help others. By doing so, this person is fulfilling one of the most essential and significant mitzvot in the Jewish religion.

Noah Abrams is a seventh-grade student at Krieger Schechter Day School.

Man Makes the Clothes

There are 54 portions in the Torah. It would stand to reason that if any topic were to dominate any of these parshahs, that topic would be of excessive interest and import to the Jewish people and the world at large. That’s why many are shocked when they realize that this week’s portion is dedicated almost exclusively to describing exhaustingly the outfit the Kohain Gadol — the High Priest — wears when performing his service in the Tabernacle or the Temple.

Many read this and reasonably exclaim: “I really don’t get what the big deal is.”

The go-to answer for most people is that the Torah is telling us that clothes make the man. We all need to dress appropriately in order to represent ourselves and the Jewish people well. We have a personal requirement to make a good and lasting first impression upon everyone around us, and if we don’t, we will never get a second chance.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think it’s fabulous advice. Nevertheless, I can’t help wonder: Is that really the message of the parshah? Did God spend 1/54th of the holiest book that will ever be written in order to tell us that we should dress nicely? And frankly, whereas I agree that it’s a good thing to do, ultimately I think it’s because of the conventions of society and not because it’s inherently good.

What I mean is: It is far better to be a sloppy good person than a well-dressed jerk. And I can confidently say that this is a very fundamental Jewish belief as well.

The wrong thinking is so very damaging. I can’t help but think about the recent controversy surrounding Abercrombie & Fitch. The CEO of the company spoke about how it only markets its clothing to cool, attractive people. Its policy is taken so far that it burns damaged clothing, lest the clothes find their way into some thrift shop and end up being worn by the wrong type of person. (Some were so offended by the CEO’s comments, they actually started a campaign to collect clothing from the Abercrombie & Fitch brand and distribute it to the homeless.)

Clothing has the potential of being nothing but an empty façade. It distracts from the immorality and incompetence of the wearer, and it is surprisingly effective. Those who know the impact can and do abuse the outer shell’s power to promote undeserving advancement.

I think the Torah’s message here is actually the complete opposite: “Mr. High Priest, we’re going to dress you in a regal fashion like no other. You will shine, and the mere sight of you will leave a lasting impression on everyone, even if they just see you for a brief moment. But understand, your personality and character are under the highest levels of scrutiny. We’re not dressing you like this to make you who you are. We’re dressing you like this so you understand how much we expect of you. We expect a personality that will fill this clothing. And we expect character traits so fabulous no one will even notice what’s on the outside.”

Finding The Meaning Behind Seemingly Mundane Laws

There is an almost humorous anecdote mentioned in the Talmud in Tractate Brachot. In describing the possible superficial reality of one’s faith in G-d, the Talmud creates the surreal scene of a thief about to secretly break and enter into his victim’s home, whereupon he utters a silent prayer for success in his forbidden activity: “Please, G-d, just this one time, don’t let me get caught!”

Is this scene that surreal after all? Are there not times when we all might engage in questionable behavior of which we would be quick to accuse another but defend the action when it is our own? And then we pray to G-d, “just this one time, don’t let me get caught.”

The Torah addresses this very human condition in the portions of Yitro, Mishpatim and this week’s Terumah. The main event of Parshat Yitro is, of course, the Revelation at Sinai. The tenets of our religion were founded on the witnessing, by sight and sound, by every Jewish man, woman and child, the declaration by our Creator that “I am the L-rd, your G-d, Who took you out of Egypt.” Yet, at this moment of incredible revelation of Divine Truth, the rest of the Commandments issue forth instructing us how to behave: “Thou shall not murder,” “thou shall not steal,” “thou shall not covet,” etc. Is this not amazingly counterintuitive? Wouldn’t this have been a perfect moment for an intense lesson on the deepest philosophical and ethical issues to be shared by our Creator?

The very next Torah reading, Mishpatim, continues down the same path. We are introduced to the body of laws that detail responsibility for compensation of injury and damages by one person to another or to his property. Could that not wait until after we exhaust the deeper mystical treasures of Judaism?

Then we have this week’s reading of Terumah. The Jewish people are instructed to build a mishkan, a “sanctuary” or “tabernacle” that shall serve as the central place of worship. This is a material edifice with specific dimensions for its construction and precise measurements for the manufacturing of its vessels and their placement. Is this, as well, not counterintuitive? Is not prayer and worship a spiritual function?

Why the need for physical symbolisms and defined spaces? Even to this very day, Jews around the world pray three times a day facing the defined space of our Holy Temple in Jerusalem. If prayer is a service of the heart — and it is — why the need to be focused to a limited geographical area?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory, shares a profound insight: The ultimate expression of our Jewish values is in how we seamlessly weave the deepest ethos of our faith into our day-to-day behavior. The message of Judaism is that there is not one area of our material lives that is not enriched by a Torah value. Even a simple drink of water becomes a moment to bless our Creator. Clearly, therefore, the Revelation at Sinai immediately discusses our very human impulses and teaches us to consecrate the mundane. The laws of torts and civil responsibilities immediately follow the Revelation. And then, this week, we are taught how to elevate the mundane items of gold, silver and copper and use them to build a Holy Temple. After all, in G-d’s world, there really is no mundane. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Rabbi Elchonon Lisbon is the director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Park Heights and Cheder Chabad of Baltimore.

Parshat Mishpatim Using Our Gifts From God Wisely

In studying my bar mitzvah parshah, I delved into the subject of slavery, comparing the Jewish concept of servitude with slavery as it existed in the pre-Civil War South. To find out more on this subject I studied with Rabbi Shmuel Silber, and we reviewed the relevant sections in Parshat Mishpatim, Sefer Hachinuch, Ramban and Masechet Kiddushin. As I found out, these two forms of slavery were more different then I thought.

In fact, the word for the Jewish “slave” is sometimes translated as a servant. The differences could not be more significant. The main difference between these two is how the master relates to his servant.

In the Jewish system of servitude, if a person was experiencing financial hardship he would be able to “sell” himself into service. The “buyer” would then pay off the debt and in return would get a certain number of years of work. This allowed for someone to free themselves from debt without having to accept charity; he could repay his debt and still feel like a productive member of society. According to some of the commentaries, taking a Jewish servant is a form of chesed, of kindness.

There were many ways for the Jewish servant to get out of his servitude. He could complete the required seven years of service; he could buy himself out of the remaining years of servitude by paying off the “balance” to his master; the occurrence of the Jubilee year in the 50-year agricultural cycle would also render him free.

But if a servant does not wish to go free after seven years, he may get his ear pierced as a symbol of his wish to stay. When a servant leaves his master after the duration of his servitude, the master must provide his servant with ha’anaka, parting gifts of oil, wheat and livestock that provides the former servant some “startup” capital to begin this next chapter of his life. The goal of Jewish servitude is to give a person who is having a difficult time in life a second chance to regroup and live successfully.

All of this is extremely different than the slavery that took place in the South, where people were unwillingly put through hard labor, and the only way to get out was to escape. The way that a Jewish servant was treated was the opposite of how a slave in the South was treated. The Talmud says, “Whoever acquired a Jewish servant has in fact acquired a master for himself.” The Rambam writes that if you had only one pillow available, you would have to give it to the servant.

The Hebrew servant is entitled to eat the same type and quality of food as his master. This is extremely contrary to the treatment of the slaves in the South. They were not even treated as human beings. They were regarded as equivalent to cattle.

I believe the Torah is teaching us a very important lesson. When we have power over another, we must take great care not to misuse or abuse it. The Torah commands us to treat our servants as equals and use what we have to build up and not destroy the other. The Jews were given these commandments when they left Egypt and were being warned against becoming just like Pharoah who oppressed them.

Wealth, power and influence can be great gifts from God, but we must learn to use them wisely and for the benefit of the other.

‘Miriam The Robber’

“I can’t believe Miriam is in Mrs. Shepfield’s class with us,” I said to my best friend, as we jumped onto our swings at the park.

“Yeah,” she answered. “Last year, the girls at her old school called her trouble.”

“What do you mean?” I said, shaking my head. “Isn’t that gossip?”

“No!” Sara exclaimed. “Do you know she supposedly stole jewelry from a few of the girls in that school?”

We swung back and forth until our legs ached. All the while I kept thinking to myself, “Miriam the Robber.” But how could she? She’s so nice.

“I wonder how she was caught,” I blurted, as my friend and I jumped off the swings to lie on the grass. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw a familiar face.

“Hi girls!” said Mrs. Shepfield, as she stood up from a bench only a few feet away, behind the swings. We hadn’t noticed anyone siting near us. Mrs. Shepfield pushed her blue baby carriage and exited the park. “See you in class tomorrow!”

I was the first to speak. “I can’t believe that she was behind us.”

“Do you think she heard us?” Sara said. “I’ll feel horrible if she did.”

The very next day in school, I sat next to Miriam in Mrs. Shepfield’s history class. Throughout class we took turns reading out loud. Each time I noticed that Miriam raised her hand to volunteer. I wondered why Mrs. Shepfield never once called on her: “Could Mrs. Shepfield have heard us yesterday?”

After class I ran over to Sara to see if she had also noticed. She wasn’t sure.

One week later, a girl in our class, Leah, noticed that her favorite antique silver charm bracelet was missing. At recess, I noticed Leah asking Mrs. Shepfield to make an announcement.

“Leah is missing her charm bracelet,” Mrs. Shepfield said. Her soft voice now sounded deep like a bass drum. I thought I saw her glance directly at Miriam.

All the girls bent down to search the floor but to no avail.

I looked up and noticed Sara’s eyes open super wide as she glared at Miriam, who was checking the floor near her desk. When the bracelet didn’t show up, Mrs. Shepfield told the class that she would stay late to look for it.

The next day in school, Leah came to class with a big smile on her face. She must have repeated her story over and over about how she had found her bracelet under her bed at home. She was thrilled.

Mrs. Shepfield smiled and spoke to the class. “I’m glad that Leah found her bracelet, and I wonder how many of us thought that maybe someone in our class had taken it.”

My face felt hot, and I glanced at Sara who shrugged.

“Let this incident be a lesson to us that sometimes we might jump to conclusions,” Mrs. Shepfield said.

“And that’s how rumors get started!” Miriam said in a loud voice.

Discussion Questions
The Torah tells us, “Do not be a gossipmonger” (Vayikra 19:16) and, “Do not accept a false Report” (Shemos 23:1).
• How can some relaxed talk among friends turn into a harmful situation?
• How could the girls have stayed clear from the above prohibitions?

Danielle Sarah Storch is a local freelance writer. “Shabbat Table Talk” is a monthly feature synthesizing Torah insights and lessons for children of all ages.

Leadership Requires Being Open to Critique

2013-axler-craigThere can be little doubt that the greatest historic leader of the Jewish people is Moses. The entire Torah becomes known as “The Five Books of Moses” or Torat Moshe; the last lines of Deuteronomy remind us: “Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses.” But what qualities made him a truly great leader?

The arc of his story lends itself to the idea of a great leader: miraculously saved as a baby and raised in Pharaoh’s court — though never really a part of the establishment; a passion for justice that leads to his wilderness exile; the experience of a shepherd, moving the flock and paying attention to those left behind; and being observant enough to recognize revelation at the burning bush. All of these and so many other experiences prepare him to be a leader par excellence.

But one defining moment that is often overlooked occurs in Parshat Yitro, which we read this Shabbat. Jethro, namesake of the portion and Moses’ father-in-law, comes to meet Moses and the Israelites immediately after their deliverance from Egyptian slavery. Observing Moses in his leadership of the Israelite people, Jethro sees the ways the people are becoming frustrated with their leader, and he sees also that Moses is not aware of the distress he is bringing upon his flock. The text tells us: “Next day, Moses sat as magistrate among the people, while the people stood about Moses from morning until evening.”

Jethro, a “priest of Midian,” gives Moses the criticism that can only come from someone who has “been there” as a leader. He asks Moses in a tone that you can read as either accusatory or gently critical: “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone while all the people stand about you from morning until evening?” When Moses counters that he is making known resolutions to disputes or questions for God, Jethro pushes back: “The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. The task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.”

In this moment, Moses transforms from a solitary leader who shoulders the responsibility for the entire people into a collaborative leader, one who recognizes that involving the right team in carrying out the work is crucial to the success of any grand vision. In order to accept and implement this change, Moses had to be open to the criticism levied at him by Jethro; he had to be able to hear the ways in which he, despite all of his success, was failing in one crucial way. And he had to be able to hear this advice from someone whose input he had not solicited (all right, no jokes about in-laws here!).

Rabbi Pinchas Peli writes of the encounter: “The greatness of Moses is seen in the fact that, unlike many leaders who invite expert consultants to advise them and file away their reports, Moses implemented Jethro’s plan.

“Torah tells us that Moses welcomed the suggestions made by his father-in-law. He was not afraid to admit that even he, the celebrated leader and teacher, could learn a thing or two from the world outside his own camp.”

Rabbi Craig Axler is spiritual leader of Temple Isaiah in Fulton.

Hidden Miracles

010314_bergman_nitzan_rabbiThe following comes from a classic piece of Torah commentary authored by Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman. Popularly known as Nachmanides, he was born in 1194 in Girona, Spain, and passed away in Israel in 1270.

What event in Jewish history should we remember more than any other?

Its narrative takes up most of this week’s parshah. The event is the reason why we have tefillin and mezuzot. We remember it every morning and evening in the Shema prayer. Our prayers on Shabbat and Passover recall it, as does the liturgy for the redemption of a firstborn male child.

The Exodus from Egypt is without a doubt the most important event in our history.

Why?

Since G-d will not perform signs or wonders in every generation for all the disbelievers, He commanded that we should have constant reminders and signs of what we saw in Egypt; we are similarly mandated to transmit the wonders of the Exodus to our children throughout the generations. These commandments to remember events of thousands of years ago serve as a testimony through the generations so that they will not be forgotten, so that there will be no room for a heretic to deny G-d.

When one does a simple mitzvah such as affixing a mezuzah and thinks about its importance, he has already acknowledged G-d’s creation of the world, G-d’s knowledge and supervision of the world’s affairs, the truth of prophecy and all the foundations of Torah. In addition, he has acknowledged G-d’s kindness toward those who perform His will, for He took us from bondage to freedom in great honor in the merit of our forefathers.

That is why it says in Ethics of the Fathers to be as careful in performing a minor commandment as a major one, for each is major and beloved. Through the mitzvot, a person is constantly acknowledging his G-d. The objective of all the commandments is that we should believe in G-d and acknowledge that He created us.

This is in fact the purpose of creation itself, for we have no other explanation of creation. And G-d has no desire except that man should know and acknowledge that He created him. The very purpose of communal prayer is that people should have a place where they can gather, acknowledge that G-d created them and publicize and declare before Him, “We are your creations.”

Furthermore, through recalling the great revealed miracles of the Exodus, a person acknowledges the hidden miracles of everyday life that are the foundation of the entire Torah. A person has no share in the Torah of Moses unless he believes that all our interactions and experiences are miracles from Hashem, that there is no independent force of nature regarding either the community or the individual. If one observes the commandments, his reward will bring him success, and if he transgresses them, his punishment will destroy him.

“The Jew, he is the symbol of eternity,” said Leo Tolstoy. “He is the one who for so long had guarded the prophetic message and transmitted it to all mankind. A people such as this can never disappear. The Jew is eternal. He is the embodiment of eternity.” Many Jews know this, but few are able to express what our eternity means and what our prophetic message is. The Ramban’s teachings on the Exodus provide the words.

Rabbi Nitzan Bergman is executive director of Etz Chaim: The Center for Jewish Living and Learning and founder and president of the WOW! program for young professionals.

Mean Mrs. Cohen

“You missed,” Ruthy yelled to Sara, as they played a game of dodgeball in the school courtyard at recess. The sounds of girls giggling and balls bouncing filled the spring air.

Ruthy ran after the ball, as it rolled under the porch of an apartment next door. She looked up to see an old lady with both hands on her hips.

“You woke me up!” she screamed at the top of her lungs from her porch. “Awful.”

Ruthy bent down to pick up the ball, but she couldn’t look the woman in the eyes. She was too scared. Every day at recess, Ruthy noticed that same woman out on her porch waving a fist or yelling. She never understood why. This was the first time she got close enough to hear her words.

Later that day, Ruthy told Sara about the encounter.

“Do you think it’s our fault?” Ruthy said, biting her lip.

“Nah, she’s got some issues. Her name is Mrs. Cohen; just stay out of her way.” Sara said, shaking her head.

Then one evening a few weeks later Sara called Ruthy with some news.

“I heard that Mrs. Cohen, that old lady, had a stroke.” Sara said, as her voice got louder on the phone. “She desperately needs visitors.”

“How do you know?” Ruthy asked.

“My mother knows her family through work.” She said. “Apparently, she doesn’t have any friends, and her family wants visitors right away.”

“The Torah does say that visiting the sick is a big mitzvah, and not visiting the sick is the same as spilling blood — serious stuff,” added Ruthy.

Sara asked, “When do you want to do it?”

The girls planned to visit Mrs. Cohen after school. Sara was excited, but Ruthy felt dizzy at the thought of seeing the mean old lady who had yelled at her. She pushed herself, knowing that it was a big mitzvah.

When the girls arrived they were greeted by a nurse. “Mrs. Cohen would love to see you; she just doesn’t see or hear well.”

“Maybe that’s why she yelled at us,” Ruthy said quietly to Sara.

The girls entered the room. “Who’s there?” the loud voice screamed at the girls. This time the yelling didn’t shake them.

The girls introduced themselves. Mrs. Cohen’s lips stretched into a big smile.

“I haven’t had many visitors. I’m happy you’re here,” she said and then took a deep breath. “Come hold my hand so I can talk to you.”

Mrs. Cohen held the girls’ hands and told them about her difficult life. She smiled as she spoke, and the girls felt so good about their visit. Mrs. Cohen invited them to come back.

On the way home Ruthy and Sara thought about their successful visit and how they almost missed the opportunity to perform an important mitzvah.

Discussion Questions
1. Why is visiting the sick such an important mitzvah?
2. Why is not visiting the sick considered the same as spilling blood?

Danielle Sarah Storch is a local freelance writer. “Shabbat Table Talk” is a monthly feature synthesizing Torah insights and lessons for children of all ages.

Take Time To Ribbit

2013-axler-craig“Frogs here, frogs there, frogs were jumping everywhere!”

So go the lyrics to a truly infectious children’s song for Passover, which focuses comically on the plague of frogs, found in our Torah portion this Shabbat, Va’eira.  A close reading of the beginning of Exodus 8 will point out a linguistic anomaly. The threat made to Pharaoh if he continues to refuse to “Let my people go” is that his entire land will be covered with frogs.  However, when the plague actually occurs, the text tells us “Vata’al hatzfarde’a — and the frog (singular) rose up.”

So, which is it, many frogs or one?

In what I will say is one of the best cases for an animated edition of the midrash, several sources reconcile the plural/singular discrepancy this way: Imagine Aaron stretching out his staff over the Nile and a singular, enormous frog emerging from the water. The panicked Egyptians grab sticks and rush toward the giant frog, beginning to beat it. Suddenly, the frog bursts open, spilling countless little frogs that proceed to cover every surface in all of the land of Egypt, yielding the “plague of frogs.”

If there are any animators reading this dvar Torah, send me a copy of your interpretation of this one. While many commentators make note of this midrash, as the commentator Rashi explains, it also can be interpreted by pointing out that when we talk about a swarm of something, we may refer to the swarming objects in the singular.

Still, there is a deep and important lesson to be learned from this creative interpretation of how the Egyptians reacted to the giant frog. Confronted with some significant problem in our lives, something that looks like it is just so large that we have no idea how we will ever approach it, let alone overcome it, we often react with an irrational and impulsive response.  And the result is as counterproductive as the Egyptians beating the giant frog with their sticks: What was a singular (but defined) problem now becomes a myriad of little problems of which we can’t keep track.

In our personal lives, our political arguments, our institutions and professions, we are tempted to rush in to solve a large and complex problem before we even stand back and assess the issue. Our impulsivity and (sometimes) aggression often lead us to complicate the difficulty further, rather than work calmly toward resolving it. In the Torah’s account of this plague, it is worth noting that the response of the Egyptian magicians to the appearance of so many frogs was to use their magic to do the same thing. In an effort to prove the Pharaoh’s power over God, the magicians actually double the problem by bringing forth even more frogs from the Nile. A sensible demonstration of power might have been to make the frogs disappear.

When next confronted with a significant problem or challenge, take the negative response imagined by the midrash into consideration. Rather than rushing in to attack the problem, take a step back, think and strategize before you approach the “giant frog” and wind up swarmed with even more difficulties.

Rabbi Craig Axler is spiritual leader of Temple Isaiah in Fulton.

Challenging God

My bar mitzvah parsha is Shemot. Shemot is an action-packed parsha. Moses is rescued from the Nile as a baby. Then, he kills an Egyptian taskmaster. God appears to Moses through ancient Skype, a burning bush. Moses is called on by God to speak to Pharaoh on behalf of the slaves. From all of these stories, one verse in particular speaks to me. After Moses asks Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go into the wilderness, Pharaoh responds by increasing their workload even more. As a result, the Hebrews complain bitterly to Moses. Moses turns to God saying, “Lamah hareotah la’am hazeh lamah zeh shelachtani.” Loosely translated, this means, “Why have you made things worse for this nation; why did you send me if it is just going to make things worse?”

This verse stands out to me because it illustrates how in Judaism we are allowed to ask questions to God directly, without an intermediary. I am comfortable praying to God, asking God, blaming God and challenging God, and I am unsure that these opportunities exist in the same way in other religions. In Judaism, rabbis help fellow Jews with philosophical and religious problems and teach as Torah scholars, but we do not need rabbis to form a congregation to worship to God. This is important to me because I do not want to have my rabbi shape the exact nature of my prayers. I value being able to pray in my own way. I can pray in a haiku or in a question; they are all valid prayers in the Jewish religion. It is also important to me that I am allowed to pray to God sometimes with questions. In Judaism, in my family, in my shul, in my school and in my community, questions are praised to foster learning. Moses’ challenge to God shows his leadership skills because having the willingness to challenge God takes massive amounts of chutzpah, a bravery that is important in a leader.

In many places in the Torah, Jews ask God or challenge Him. Jonah goes against God’s instructions. He is supposed to go to Ninveh but instead runs the other way to Tarshish. Even though he runs away and gets punished, he is still comfortable questioning God. The father of our people bargains with God. Abraham negotiates with God not to kill a lot of righteous people in Sodom. He uses very strong language. He says, “Far be it from you to do such a thing.”

We have a tradition that direct communication between individual Jews and God is not only allowed, but something to be encouraged.

All of this is an important lesson for me. This parsha teaches me that we, as a Jewish people, are very lucky to be part of a nation that can ask questions and challenge God and grow to be better people because of it.