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Snack ideas children can make themselves, even on Shabbat,* taken from the weekly parsha. Use as an opening to a lesson, or as an end in itself!

Do we Still have Choices if the Choices are Made for Us?

Torah

Tetzaveh / תצוה : SHMOT (EXODUS) Exodus  27:20-30:10 (link to the text on Sepharia)

Reading through Parashat Tetzaveh brought to my mind two things issues that frequently occupy my thoughts:  The push-pull relationship we have with G-d, and how to know what G-d wants from us.

My very favorite part of the Torah comes right before we enter into Israel.  When Moshe Rabbeinu conveys how the land is to be distributed, Tzlofchad’s daughters protest.  They say their father died without sons, but of natural causes; he was not a rebel.  They state that by distributing the land only to males, their father’s memory would be blotted.  Moshe Rabbeinu takes the matter directly to G-d, and returns with an amendment to the rules.  Not only would Tzlofchad’s five daughters inherit, but the laws of inheritance would be forever changed:  the property of men dying without sons would be inherited by their daughters.[i] (Bamidbar / Numbers 27:1-11).  And, when the Torah ends, and the book of Joshua begins, it is immediately noted that Tzlofchad’s daughters, indeed, received the land they were promised. (Yehoshua / Joshua 17:3-4).

This is a change in law that came directly from G-d.  How much courage must it have taken to protest?  How much wisdom to do so in a respectful way?

It is this that always comes to mind when I read about ways G-d gave us to communicate with G-d, and, more importantly, to receive clear answers.  Moshe Rabbeinu communicated directly, and G-d gave many the wisdom of prophecy.  And, it is said, that G-d gives wisdom to judges in order to help them to find the right solution in the event of a trial.  But the Urim and Tummim, which were within the Choshen, were said to have enabled us to receive actual, concrete answers.

In general, though, we have been on our own with regard to figuring out what we are to do and how Halacha was to develop, and we did so by studying the texts, and learning the Oral Torah that was passed on from generation to generation.  In fact, we got used to this, and, in fact, are very proud that it became OUR job to determine Halacha.  See the story of Rabbi Eliezer Hagadol.

Not to place myself above the great sages of the days in which Halacha was being developed, but I often wonder:  had we been more willing to listen to G-d, had we not taken the direct connection and answers for granted, how would we have developed as a people?  Do we even want that? 

Throughout the Exodus, G-d remained a constant, felt presence.  We entered into the desert through columns of water that stood on their own.  We were constantly accompanied by and led by pillars of fire and smoke that existed and moved on their own, only through the will of G-d.  We had food drop from the heaven, every day, without fail.  And yet… we were frightened the minute G-d’s presence was even slightly distant from us, hence the infamous Golden Calf incident.

We needed to gain confidence in ourselves.  We needed to be forced to WORK to understand what G-d wants from us, in order to appreciate G-d, as opposed to feeling resentful of G-d constantly telling us what to do.  And we had to gain confidence in our own ability to make decisions.  After all, in Eden we (ok, just Adam and Eve, but still) were given everything, but we did not even know the difference between right and wrong.  What would have been the point of G-d giving us the ability to know right from wrong, if we never exercised that knowledge?

Still… while the Torah was placed in our hands, to learn and to interpret, during the formative years of development of Halacha, not every group had a seat at the table.  And then, when we no longer had a “high court,” we lost the ability to overrule prior precedent.  What would have been different if we still could obtain answers directly from G-d, both for our personal lives, and for the larger, community questions?

Would we make better decisions?  Or would we still be children, frightened the moment Mommy and Daddy are out of our direct line of vision?

Talya Bernstein Galaganov


[i] Note that fathers also gave dowries to their daughters when they married, which remained theirs in the event of divorce or the death of their husbands, and that the estate of a man who dies must support unmarried daughters and provide them with dowries. 

Though it is a matter for another discussion, it is important to note how extremely revolutionary and feminist the Torah and its rules are, especially considering the time and the context.  Jewish women thousands of years ago had MORE RIGHTS than women in many other countries TODAY. Women had property rights, and could not be married without consenting.

One response to “Do we Still have Choices if the Choices are Made for Us?”

  1. Ilana Pomeranz Pomeranz Avatar
    Ilana Pomeranz Pomeranz

    Such an amazing article with so much food for thought. You are stimulating my thinking.
    Yishar Koach!!!!!
    Ilana Pomeranz

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