“These are the names of the sons of Yisrael who came to Egypt with Yaakov, each coming with his household” Shemot 1:1
I want to share some insights passed down by Rebbe Nachman in Likutey Moharan II, 73 –
The final letters of the first five Hebrew words in this verse:
“Ve’eileH shemoT bneI YisraeL haba’iM” (Hey, Tav, Yud, Lamed, Mem) can be arranged to spell TeHiLIM (Psalms).
The final letters of the next five words in this verse:
“MitzrayimaH eT YaakoV iSH u-veit-O” (Hey, Tav, Vet, Shin, Vav) can be arranged to spell TeSHUVaH.
Moreover, the names of Yaakov’s 12 sons are composed of 49 letters, corresponding to the 49 gates of repentance (teshuvah). Rebbe Nachman teaches that all of this indicates that when a person recites Psalms, his prayerful words are directed to the specific gate of repentance that he requires.
I found this particularly interesting and encouraging, as it is confirmation to me of the power the Psalm’s possess. If we only understood the spiritual implication of simply reciting the Psalms! Although this might be a really interesting fact, I hope and pray it encourages you to open the amazing book of Psalms and begin to read these powerful prayers on a daily basis.
Now, I want to share another important concept from this week’s portion based on the following verses:
“Some time after that, when Moshe had grown up, he went out to his kinsfolk and witnessed their labors. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsmen. He turned this way and that and, seeing no one about, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.” (Shemot 2:11-12)
Moshe grew up. Ok, good to know. Doesn’t everyone? Why did the Torah have to tell us that Moshe had grown up? The Midrash speaks of his stature, and how he grew very tall. But I want us to consider what the Maharal teaches about growing up, (as explained by Rabbi Ozer Alport in “Parsha Potpourri”). He explains that although all children naturally grow up and become physically bigger, the Torah is teaching us that the true meaning of “growing up” is the ability and willingness to share in the pain and suffering of others and to alleviate it whenever possible.
Many people desire to achieve greatness, to become an “adam gadol” (a great person). But let me ask you this: what constitutes an adam gadol?
* The size of one’s bank account?
* The respect one commands from others?
* The acts of kindness one does for others?
* The amount of Torah knowledge one possesses?
The Maharal is telling us that it is none of those things, but rather a great person, is one who can empathize with the pain of another. The Midrash Rabbah to Shemot explains that “empathy is a fundamental attribute of righteousness, the catalyst of many forms of virtue.” It goes on to explain that there are three levels of benevolence: tzedakah (charity), chesed (kindness) and empathy. Tzedakah is the practice of supplying the needy with things they lack. Acts of Chesed are motivated by the desire to benefit other people, even when such help does not fill an actual need. And empathy, the highest level and most difficult to attain, is described as giving to one’s fellow more than just money, objects or help; it is giving of oneself; surrendering one’s own identity to feel his fellow’s pain or joy, and to share in it as if it were his own. Moshe possessed a deep reservoir of empathy. When he observed the burdens and abuses of others, he didn’t hesitate to act on their behalf. This is a sign of spiritual maturity, and the behavior exhibited by an adam gadol.
This kind of maturity seems to be lacking in the guf haMoshiach. Too many believers remain emotionally and spiritually immature, and never seem to grow up. We seem to be plagued with Peter Pan mentality.
“I don’t want ever to be a man. I want always to be a little boy and to have fun.” – Peter Pan
We live in a society full of Peter Pan’s. People who exhibit emotionally and spiritually immature behaviors on a daily basis. Like Peter Pan, many people refuse to grow up. They remain boastful and careless boy-men (or girl-women). And like Peter and his fellow “lost boys”, they hate mature adults.
I see people dabbling in a Jewish lifestyle, yet being unwilling to stay focused on becoming sufficiently expert at anything. The sad fact is that many people just don’t really care enough to succeed. It takes too much effort and sacrifice. They really just want to live in Neverland forever. Like Peter and the lost boys, they never self-correct themselves, and do not want to grow up. Shirking away from responsibility and focusing their energy on finding pleasure in life, lost boys are lazy and immature. Worried only about their own needs and feelings, they certainly don’t care about the burdens of others.
Are you a spiritual Peter Pan? Ask yourself some difficult questions. Do you assume responsibility for your actions? Or if something goes wrong, are you quick to blame others? Are you genuinely giving any effort to your spiritual growth? Do you work at it? Or do you continue in the same destructive cycles year after year? Do you expect everyone around you to support your immature, destructive lifestyle? Do you encourage unity or do you leave a path of destruction wherever you go? Are you really concerned with others burdens or are you so self-absorbed that you don’t have time to notice, more-less concern yourself with someone else’s burden. When others hear about “drama”, does your name seem to pop into their thoughts?
I think it is time we all work a lot harder at “growing up”. We need to leave Neverland, and mature into spiritual adults. Remember, the true meaning of “growing up” is the ability and willingness to share in the pain and suffering of others. As long as we remain self-absorbed lost boys, emotional and spiritual children, we will be stuck in Neverland. Lost boys don’t share in the pain and suffering of others, they are often the cause of it. With their sword at the ready, they are always ready for and welcoming to a good battle.
“We have much to say about this subject, but it is hard to explain, because you have become sluggish in understanding. For although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the very first principles of God’s Word all over again! You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who has to drink milk is still a baby, without experience in applying the Word about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by continuous exercise to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:11-14)
Spiritual maturity should be a priority for us. We cannot be content to remain children. Sluggish, immature lost boys (and girls), ruled by the yetzer hara, and exhibiting negative behavior, need to begin to grow up. It is not sufficient for someone just to have elevated thoughts and feelings. Positive behavior allows for possibilities of growth.
“There is another approach for spiritual growth. That is through prayer. Prayer brings you to dvaikus (cleaving) to levels above your present one. Through prayer, a path is opened before you to reach above your present understanding. When you pray, you speak directly to the Almighty” (Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler as recorded in “Consulting the Wise” by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin).
That brings us back full circle to the opening thought, based on Rabbi Nachman’s wisdom. If we want to mature, a good place to start might be praying the Psalms and giving careful consideration to each word we utter. This will bring us to teshuvah, and open the path to spiritual maturity.
May you be blessed, be mature and be a blessing by sharing in the suffering of another,