Selected Sermon/Article
2011-01-07 Beyond Twelve Gates (BTG) by Rabbi Zeev Smason
Parshas Bo

Welcome to Beyond Twelve Gates.

Not much good can be said about a blizzard and uncollected garbage.  Not much good, unless one's name is Vangelis Kapatos. The 26-year-old Kapatos had long battled depression and was struggling with a romantic breakup and his parents' declining health when he suddenly faced eviction from his childhood home.  Feeling his world was coming apart, Kapatos tried to jump to his death on Sunday from his ninth floor Manhattan apartment, but was saved by a heap of trash bags that had gone uncollected since last week's blizzard that dumped 20 inches of snow on the city.  He was listed in critical but stable condition.

His aunt, Katharina Capatos, told the New York Post that it was lucky the city had the snow and hadn't cleared the garbage.  But was it simply 'luck'?

George Washington Carver said that when he was young he said to G-d, "G-d, tell me the mystery of the universe."  But G-d answered, "that knowledge is for me alone."  So Carver said, "G-d, tell me the mystery of the peanut."  Then G-d said, "Well, George, that's more nearly your size."    The Torah (Deuteronomy 29:28) reminds us that "The secret things belong to the Lord our G-d."   Such secrets, undoubtedly, as the mysteries of blizzards and uncollected garbage.

Parshas Bo   Exodus 10:1 -- 13:16

This week's portion begins with the eighth plague that G-d brings upon the Egyptians as the land is covered by locusts, destroying all the remaining crops.  After the plague is removed at Pharaoh's behest, he once again refuses to set free the Jewish people, and the ninth plague of darkness encompasses the land.  When that plague ends, Pharaoh becomes even more defiant about not freeing the slaves, at which point Moses warns Pharaoh about the upcoming tenth plague, the death of the firstborns.  The Torah interrupts the narrative here with the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people as a nation -- the sanctification of Rosh Chodesh (the new month), beginning with the month of Nisan.  G-d teaches Moses about the korban Pesach (Passover offering) and the remainder of the laws of the Passover holiday, which Moses then transmits to the Jewish people. 
At midnight of the appointed night, the plague strikes, with every non-Jewish first-born dying, including Pharaoh's own son.  Pharaoh awakes, running through the streets (presumably while still in his pajamas) to tell Moses that he now consents to send the Jewish people from his country.   The children of Israel travel forth in a hurry with the great wealth they have just been given by the Egyptians.  The Torah portion concludes with various mitzvos relating to the  Exodus.

Rabbinic Ruminations

It was 'The rip heard 'round the world.'  In 2006 casino mogul Steve Wynn (born Stephen Alan Weinberg) was offered $139 million for Picasso's Le Reve.  Just days before the celebrated 1932 painting was to be transported to its buyer, Wynn accidentally thrust his elbow through the painting while showing it to a group of shocked friends inside his office at his Hotel Wynn Las Vegas.   After a $90,000 repair, the famous Picasso was evaluated to be worth $85 million.  The purchase was canceled and  Wynn kept the famous Picasso, saying that his errant elbow was a sign not to sell the painting.   Was Steve Wynn's read of the "sign" accurate -- and was it a "sign" at all?

"Sign" interpretation is a tricky business.  Judaism believes in the concept of beshert -- certain things are "meant to be."  And things certainly happen for a reason.   But simultaneously, we're asked to take responsibility for our actions.  When we know the specific cause of a human tragedy or otherwise unfortunate occurrence, there is no need to search for divine decrees or punishments.  Although we constantly receive messages from G-d,  we also have to watch our elbows. 

Quote of the Week

Absence diminishes small loves and increases great ones, as the wind blows out the candle and blows up the bonfire  --  Francois De La Rochefoucald (French author, 1613-1680)

Joke of the Week

Rebecca was a kindergarten teacher. One day, during her art lesson, as she was walking around the class observing the children while they were drawing, she stopped at little Leah's desk.  Leah was working very diligently at her work.  Rebecca said, "What are you drawing, Leah?"
Leah replied, "I'm drawing G-d, teacher."
Rebecca paused and then said, "But no one knows what G-d looks like, Leah."
Without looking up from her work, Leah replied,  "They will in a minute." (Thanks to Chaya Gent Albert for the joke)

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