Month: January 2018

Parashat Va-eira • Exodus 6:2−9:35

Why do we drink four cups of wine during our commemoration of Passover? A historian might point out the parallels between the Greek symposium and the Passover seder, suggesting four cups was the ideal number to spark vigorous discussion without devolving into inebriation. A talmudist might guide us to the volume of consumption necessary to fulfill the mitzvah (four olive’s worth; Mediterranean olives, not pizza olives). A rabbi would suggest the answer is found in this week’s Torah portion.

“I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians,” we read in this week’s Torah portion, the first of four promises made to the Israelites in Exodus 6:7-8. “I will deliver you from their bondage;” “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm;” and “I will take you to be My people,” round out these promises. In honor of God’s covenant with the people, we consume a glass of wine for each of these promises. A careful reading of the text, however, notes a fifth and final promise in the very next verse: “I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to your ancestors.” Our Passover seder, then, uses five cups of wine and not just four. The fifth cup, of course, is poured for Elijah the prophet, herald of the promises in this Torah portion!
– Rabbi Aaron Meyer

Parashat Sh'mot • Exodus 1:1−6:1

“A new king arose over Egypt who knew not Joseph,” we read in this week’s Torah portion, Shemot, beginning both a literal new book of Torah and a metaphoric new chapter for the Israelites. While the first eight verses of the portion continue the narrative of Genesis, enumerating those families sojourning in Egypt, verse nine renders Joseph’s assistance to the Egyptian people and subsequent rise null and void as the new ruler sought to impose harsh new restrictions. “So they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor; and they built garrison cities for Pharaoh, Pithom and Raamses.” It is a dramatic narrative device from which we might learn an important lesson.

Jews are natural story tellers, born perhaps of our long and rich history. Tales of “your grandmother did this” or “your crazy uncle did that” not only build resilience among our people but ensure the lessons of previous generations are not forgotten. Compare this to verse nine of our Torah portion, where history and prior success are ignored. Not only is this model presented as distinctly non-Jewish, it is also quickly shown to be ill-advised. Let us continue telling the stories of our tradition, turning them and turning them again, for important lessons have yet to be fully grasped.

–  Rabbi Aaron Meyer