Shmot (Exodus 1:1-6:1 )
GOOD MORNING! An atheist was visiting Scotland. While boating on the famed Loch Ness he sees a giant slithering eel-like creature undulating through the water. With a whack of its tail, the creature launches the man and the boat high into the air. What does the atheist yell out? "God, save me!" A miracle! The man is suspended 200 feet in the air. The Loch Ness monster is immediately below him, jaws wide open, ready to swallow. A booming voice comes from Heaven, "Give me one good reason why I should save you. You haven't believed in Me a day in your life!" The atheist replies, "God, please -- cut me some slack. Until five minutes ago I didn't believe in the Loch Ness monster either!"
Many people consider themselves atheists or agnostics. Does it make any difference what a person believes as long as he is a good person? And ... how does a person know or decide what is the right thing?
Many years ago a rabbi sat in an intercity taxi going from Jerusalem to Beersheva. Sitting next to him was a brilliant Jewish man who prided himself on being an atheist and touted his superior morality. The rabbi asked him, "Would you slap the man next to you (on the other side!) across the cheek?" "Of course not," replied the atheist . "Would you slap him if I gave you $10?" "Of course not," responded the atheist, "What do you think I am?" "How about for $100,000?" the rabbi asked. "Of course I would! Just think of the good I could do in the world!" Responded the rabbi, "That's not morality! Morality is having a bottom line of right and wrong. It is wrong to hit the man and it cannot be rationalized."
The problem with Atheism (besides the fact that it has no holidays) is that its morality is flexible. To be good one needs an absolute definition of what is good. If one does not believe in a God given morality, then his sense of morality is adjustable and influenced by society. A societal "morality" can lead to the decision that the greater good for society is "ethnic-cleansing" ... genocide -- gas chambers and ovens.
The Torah sets an absolute standard for right and wrong. We uphold the standard because we believe that the Almighty gave us the Torah and that we are obligated to uphold its standards. (If you want to know the evidence for why we believe in God and why we believe that God gave us the same Torah, I suggest reading Permission to Believe and Permission to Receive by Lawrence Kelemen -- available at your local Jewish bookstore.)
A Jew who believes in God is additionally motivated by both love of God and fear of God. Everyone agrees that doing out of love is far superior to doing out of fear. However, we need both love and fear in life.
Love motivates us to do positive deeds while fear motivates us to refrain from negative actions. A parent will be motivated out of love to buy a birthday gift for his child; but it won't keep him from losing his temper and yelling at his child.
Fear will keep us from coming late to work or blowing up at our boss; it won't motivate us to do something extra to be nice for the boss. Every government recognizes that only by having severe consequences for not paying taxes, will people pay taxes. Fear of consequence is a strong motivator to do the right thing. Fearing God and fearing the consequences in this world and the Next World are important for acting morally.
There are many who scoff at the idea of an absolute morality. "There are no absolutes!" they maintain. Next time someone presents that opinion, ask, "Are you sure?" Likely they'll respond, "Yes!". Then ask, "Are you really sure?" Again, with even more vigor they'll reply, "YES!". And then ask ... "Are you absolutely sure?"
We all want to be good. If asked, "Would you rather be good or rich?" a person will answer "good." If asked, "Would you rather be good or happy?" a person will answer "good." If we so much value being good and want to be good -- doesn't it make sense to study what is good rather than just going according to our society or our gut feeling?
Where does one start to learn what is good? Start by learning the Torah -- the Artscroll Stone Edition of the Five Books of Moses -- it has a 3,000 year track record for setting the standard of morality!
Shemos, Exodus 1:1 - 6:1
This week's portion tells a story often repeated throughout history: The Jews become prominent and numerous. There arises a new king in Egypt "who did not know Joseph" (meaning he chose not to know Joseph or recognize any debt of gratitude). He proclaims slavery for the Jewish people "lest they may increase so much, that if there is war, they will join our enemies and fight against us, driving (us) from the land." (Anti-Semitism can thrive on any excuse; it need not be logical or real -- check out our online seminar "Why the Jews?" at aish.com/sem/wtj -- the seminar will transform the way you view yourself, your people and your history. It's spectacular!)
Moshe (Moses) is born and immediately hidden because of the decree to kill all male Jewish babies. Moses is saved by Pharaoh's daughter, grows up in the royal household, goes out to see the plight of his fellow Jews. He kills an Egyptian who was beating a Jew, escapes to Midian when the deed becomes known, becomes a shepherd, and then is commanded by God at the Burning Bush to "bring My people out of Egypt." Moses returns to Egypt, confronts Pharaoh who refuses to give permission for the Israelites to leave. And then God says, "Now you will begin to see what I will do to Pharaoh!"
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based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
When Moshe was told by the Almighty that he would be the leader to approach Pharaoh to demand freedom for the Israelites, Moshe replied:
"Please my Master, send anyone else" (Exodus 4:13).
Why did Moshe seek to avoid this position of leadership?
The Ramban, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, explains that Moshe told the Almighty to send anyone else because he believed that any other person in the world would be more fitting than Moshe for this mission.
At first glance this is puzzling. How could Moshe sincerely have thought of himself as unworthy? Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin explained that even if a person is very intelligent and wise and has accomplished very much, he nevertheless might not be working as hard as he should. With his talents and abilities he might have accomplished a lot more if he tried harder. On the other hand, a person who has accomplished little is perhaps doing all that he can. This person is reaching his potential while the accomplished person might be far from it.
For this reason Moshe felt he was unworthy. In his humility, he thought that he was further from fulfilling his potential than everyone else.
This is a lesson for two types of people. Those who feel arrogant and conceited because of their great intellect and accomplishments should be aware that perhaps they are far from reaching their potential. This should lessen their inflated feelings about themselves. For this exact same reason, those who are trying very hard and put forth great effort should not feel envious or disheartened when they see others apparently accomplishing more than them.
One's true spiritual level cannot be measured by any mortal. There is no accurate objective means of evaluating any person. The true level of each person is based entirely on effort and this only the Almighty can measure.
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Guatemala 5:37 - Hong Kong 5:46 - Honolulu 5:56
J'Burg 6:44 - London 4:11 - Los Angeles 4:54
Melbourne 8:24 - Mexico City 6:04 - Miami 5:38
New York 4:41 - Singapore 6:59 - Toronto 4:55
Make the most of yourself,
for that is all there is of you
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson