Shevet 1, 5770 SHABBAT
SET APART. Are you? What makes one 'set apart'? Is it clothes? It could be. Is it the way you talk? Yes, that can be a part of it. Is it the way you live and who you choose to associate with? Yes, these can make you set apart. But what is it truly?
We talk about being 'set apart'. We say it is important to be 'set apart'. We 'live in this world but we are not to be a part of it'....but how do we accomplish this?
Our Torah studies or Parashot now and for the next few weeks is in Exodus. We all..or at least most of us know about Exodus. The children of Israel went to Egypt to escape the famine and were welcome there because of Joseph but he died and after a few generations a new Pharaoh came into power and did not care so much for the Israelites who had been fruitful, increased abundantly, multiplied and grew very powerful. This new Pharaoh was fearful of them....thinking they might rise up and in the event of war would ally themselves with Egypts enemies. So he decided they would be forced into hard labor. They became slaves of Egypt.
The children of Israel went from guests....to a powerful people....to slaves. But through it all they kept their identity. And this is where the lesson of being set apart comes into being. Are we not in exile too? Are we not here striving for the day to come when we will be free of the burdens of this life and will live in eternity with our Mashiach?
Many lessons come from the Jewish people being in exile and we can learn from this....through all of our suffering we must always know that God IS in control. 'Though His Presence is unseen, He is working diligently behind the scenes, sowing the future with His mercy and forethought.'
What is the world doing? It is going about its business. Some in it have a thought of god...a higher being..and some say they reverance Him by this but we who are believers know this is false and in its true state, pagan worship. If they are not worshipping, honoring and in obedience to YHVH and truly following Him then they are not of Him at all.
The whole world is under His hand and it suffers and because we are within it we will suffer too but it is how we conduct ourselves during this suffering that will set us apart. 'The sages speak of suffering as 'cleansing' a person of his impurities and of improving him, just as salt----despite its bitterness---improves meat by removing its blood. A person too accustomed to physical comfort and luxery becomes resistant to spiritual stimuli. Someone who learns to enjoy pleasure and satiety finds that there is an increasing conflict between his body and soul, and it is impossible to satisfy the desires of both. One who becomes addicted to pleasure and luxery--and it is very easy for this to happen to anyone--- will battle against the higher calling that demands of him to recognize something higher than profit and pleasure, indulgence and license. Indeed, he will erect a fortress of rationalization to prove that his chosen course is just and proper, and even that it is the high road to the spirit.'
When we suffer...when we are stripped of all our 'things' that we think make us happy...or when we go through an unimaginable test, we will be as Israel was 'when their redemption came, it was clearly, indisputably the hand of God that plucked a hapless slave-nation from the abyss and planted it on a mountain of sanctity and intellect.'
We, just like Israel...'earn our freedom by complete surrender to God.'
We must come to the understanding that the things we go through and the things we strive for not only 'set us apart' but lead us to God. 'For only after purging oneself of infatuation with oneself and one's personal desires and after recognizing that he owes everything to God, can a person elevate himself to a love of Him'
Now, understand what I am about to write...we are His and the Jews were His...Egypt was their world just as this world is our Egypt....that was their temptation....read and grasp the following....get it within you.....the suffering that God brings upon the world, while we may go through it at the same time as it does and suffer the same as those around us...it is for a different reason....'the suffering that God brings upon the Jews (and we as Believers) is of a different order than that that befell the Egypt. The Egyptians were punished for their sins. God's purpose was not to refine or elevate them; it was simply to punish them for their outrages and thereby to sanctify the Name by showing the world that no one can sin with impunity.
Israel's pain is different. Surely God afflicts Israel, but only as a Father afflicts a beloved child---to train him and make him better. God afflicts Israel not as a Punisher, but as a HEALER, to purge them of impurities, so they will become better, purer, holier, more worthy of their sacred calling.
People who have been forced to recognize the futility of striving for the comforts of This World are able to perceive the beautiful light of the spirit when God shines it upon them. God revealed Himself in Egypt, but the Egyptians never 'saw' Him, because they were too sunk in what passed for culture in their perverted, immoral world view. Tragically, there were many Jews, as well, who did not really 'see' God because they succumbed to the life of Egypt, and they never lifted themselves out of Egyptian society.'
It is said there were three kinds of Jews in Egypt. There were some who perceived God in everything; they were not in exile in all the truest sense, because nothing impaired their awareness of God in all things.
At the other extreme, there were other Jews who were equally not in exile because they had so thoroughly assimilated into the beliefs of Egypt that they considered themselves to be Egyptians, albeit enslaved and persecuted. Their goal was not to leave Egypt, but to be accepted by their masters. For such people no redemption was possible, and they died during the plague of darkness.
Finally, there was the mass of Jews in the middle. They WERE in exile because they were not a part of Egypt nor did they wish to be. But they had sunk very low, almost as low as a Jew can sink without being utterly and irreparably lost. For them, the hidden hand of God was truly a healer.
I write this to say to you that I only want the best for you. I only want what our Elohim wants for you...to be a 'set apart' people. To be His people, following His Way.
If you desire in your heart to be close to Him...to know Him...to know His way...He will grant this but you have to be diligent and seek Him. You can't just expect to receive this kind of Revelation and understanding by going to church....no it comes from studying and PRAYING! PRAYING that He reveal Himself to you!
You can glean from others but be careful....we are all not on the same level and sometimes we can take something from someone and maybe it is not quite at the place it should be. AND you must also understand that there will be those who believe they are right and have knowledge from YHVH and they are really not completely inline with Him. This is where it is imperative to seek discernment.
As you embark upon The Way of God...use discernmant because there are many forks in the road and though He calls you to His Path...others will call out that they know the way...be carful. Listen to Him...His sheep MUST know His Voice.
I leave you with this....seek Him with all of your heart, mind and soul. Be set apart! Do not go after what this world has or promises you. Seek His way which is eternal life and is more precious than gold or silver or precious jewels or any of the fancy things the world can offer. His Way is the ONLY WAY.
(All words in italics are from 'The Complete Atscroll Machzor-Pesach.)