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ARE YOU IN AN UPSIDE DOWN WORLD?

Friday, 23 January, 2015 - 10:14 am

A retired man moves near a junior high school. He spends the first few weeks of retirement in peace and quiet. However, when the school year begins, three young boys beat on every trash can they encounter every day on their way home from school. The noise and commotion drive the old man mad. Finally, the man decides to take action and walks out to meet the boys. He says, "You kids are a lot of fun. I'll give you each a dollar if you'll promise to come around every day and do your thing." The kids continue to do a bang-up job on the trash cans.

After a few days, the man tells the kids, "This recession's really putting a big dent in my income. From now on, I'll only be able to pay you 50 cents to beat on the cans." The noisemakers are displeased, but they accept his offer.

A few days later, the retiree approaches them again. "Look," he says, "I haven't received my Social Security check yet, so I'm not going to be able to pay more than 25 cents. Will that be OK?"

"A quarter?" the drum leader exclaims. "If you think we're going to waste our time beating these cans around for a quarter, you're nuts. We quit!"

This is an example of an old clever man who understood how to teach these lads that their acts have value and are worth money. This is the theme of our portion this week, Bo.

Nine plagues have devastated Egypt. Pharaoh finally consents to let the Jews leave: both adults and children may go. He only demands that the cattle remain in Egypt. Moses responds:

“And also our cattle will go with us, for we will take from it to worship the Lord our G-d, and we do not know how we will worship G-d until we arrive there."

Then, “G-d strengthened Pharaoh's heart, and he was unwilling to let them out.”

Moses seems to be making a strange argument. What does he mean? Did he really mean that G-d might want more cattle? If not, why did he say that? And why did Pharaoh not tell him to ask G-d how much cattle they need? And why did Pharaoh suddenly have a change of heart yet again and decide to remain obstinate?

Chassidut offers an interesting interpretation. Moses’ words, "We do not know how we will worship G-d until we arrive there” were meant for Pharaoh but also for every Jew in every generation until the end of time. “We do not know how we will worship G-d until we arrive there” means that there is no way we can be aware of what really consists of serving G-d “until we arrive there”—in the world of Moshiach.

We often discredit our small actions and minor victories. We view them as insignificant and “news not fit to print.” We think that a significant action is one publicized on the websites, newspapers, Facebook and Twitter. But that is not always the case: what seems to us as trivial and small, may one day appear as awesome and incredibly impactful.

"We do not know how we will worship G-d until we arrive there.” Service of G-d happens first in the intimate chambers of the human heart. When I control myself from losing my temper and hollering, it may never be reported in the news, but nonetheless it is a true act of serving G-d.

Take the story of Joseph. He was a youngster working in an Egyptian home. His master’s wife tried to seduce him but he steadfastly refused her. We may look at the story and say, “OK, we all have such experiences where we must withstand seduction and temptation. Some of us fail and some of us succeed.” Yet the Torah turns this into a central story in Genesis. Had the Torah not told the story, we may have dismissed it as not very important. But in G-d’s book, it is one of the most important stories of ancient Jewish history.

The Talmud relates the following episode:

Yosef the son of Rabbi Yehosua fell ill, lost consciousness, and came very close to death. Today we call it a near death experience. When he returned to life, his father asked him what he saw “on the other side.” Yosef responded:

"I saw an upside down world: The ones who are prestigious and superior in this world, ended up low in the true world; those who are lowly in this world, are superior in the true world."

His father told him: “You have seen a clear world,” not an upside-down world.

We are the ones who see an upside down world. In our world some things may be extremely important, yet in the other world they are not important at all.

Conversely, in our world we may look at an act and feel it is valueless, but in that world it is this act which holds so much importance.

In Judaism, life is first and foremost about your own intimate relationship with G-d. Thus, each act, word and thought contains profound value and generates deep results.

Pharaoh cannot fathom this. For him, fate is blind, dictated by the semi-gods. Humans are inherent slaves who just fit into a predictable cycle. There is no human choice and creativity. We are all enslaved to an eternal routine. Pharaoh can’t appreciate the truth articulated by Moses that a small step—and act—by man can constitute a giant leap for mankind.

In Moses’ world, every sheep counts. Every act of service is meaningful. Life is about the celebration of our intimacy and partnership with G-d—minute by minute, act by act. It was Maimonides who wrote:

A person must see himself and the world as equally balanced on two ends of the scale; by doing one good deed, he tips the scale and brings for himself and the entire world redemption and salvation.

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

 

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