Thursday, January 25, 2007

Golden Calf

This is the shiur I gave yesterday at Midreshet Rachel. It is the second of my series on the six things that we must remember daily (although in the siddur it is actually the fourth one, but I explained in the shiur that the second and third fit in very well with the next two weeks' parshiot so I will do them then).
It deals with the sin of the Golden Calf - what was the issue that the Israelites were trying to fix with the Calf, why a calf and not any other kind of animal/object and how all of this connects with Yosef.
If you enjoy this shiur please go to jblog and rate it (the link is on the side of the page). Also have a look at the three postings on parshat hashavua that i have put up at

To hear the shiur in streaming audio click here
To download this file click here

Wishing everyone a great Shabbat and Happy Tu B'Shvat.
Rabbi Sedley

Friday, January 19, 2007

Remember 6 - Leaving Egypt

This week I gave the first of a series of four shiruim at Midreshet Rachel on the Six things we must always remember. The first remembrance is to remember that G-d brought us out of Egypt. Here is a recording of the shiur which also connects to parshat shavua (and to the next couple of week's parshiot as well).
Click here to hear the shiur in streaming audio.
Alternatively, to download the shiur to your c omputer click here.
I am also just writing up a shiur that I will give on Shabbat at Shapell's. It is entitled 'Hail, Chesed and the Foundation of Scientific Enquiry ' and I will try to send it out with my weekly e-mailing. To sign up for the weekly parsha shiur e-mailing please go to and fill out the form with your e-mail address. I try to send out one e-mail each week with some news and musings and a d'var Torah. If you don't like it you can also unsubscribe very easily, and I won't give out your e-mail address to anyone else.
Have a great Shabbat
Rabbi Sedley

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Parshat Vaera

Here is my d'var Torah for parshat vaera. I will be the in-Shabbos Rabbi at Darche Noam this week, so if you will be there I had better think of something else to say as well.

Here is the link to the pdf version

If you like this summary can you click on this link and vote for it on jblog. Thanks.
click here to JBlog Me (That means vote for me).

Hard Heart or Free Choice?

"G-d said to Moshe: 'Speak to Pharaoh, that he should send the Children of Israel from his land. But I shall harden Pharaoh's heart..." (Exodus 7; 2-3). These verses raise two obvious questions - what does it mean when G-d hardens a persons heart? How does that accord with our understanding of free choice? Furthermore, if G-d has stated that He will harden Pharaoh's heart, what point is there in sending Moshe and Aharon to speak to him? This seems like mockery, asking Pharaoh to do something which has become impossible for him to do.
The Rambam writes (Hilchot Teshuva 5; 1 ff.):
Each person has the opportunity to turn themselves towards the good path and be righteous, or to choose to follow the path of evil, and become wicked. This the meaning of the verse "Behold mankind is like one of us to know good and evil" (Genesis 3; 22). This means that human beings are unique in the world in that through their own intellect they know the difference between good and evil, and do whichever they desire, without anyone (or anything) preventing them. This principle is a foundation of the Torah and commandments for if G-d would decree that a person would be righteous or wicked, or if there were something forcing a person to a certain path, how could G-d command us to act in a certain way, or how could the prophets chastise us and instruct us to improve our actions?
However, it is possible that a person could sin so grievously, or so often, that strict justice dictates that they must be punished for this, and therefore have their free choice removed so that they are prevented from repentance. Therefore the Torah writes "I will harden Pharaoh's heart" (Exodus 7; 3). Since he sinned initially of his own choice, and acted evilly against Israel who were living in his land, justice therefore dictates that he eventually lose the option of repentance. Why then did G-d send Moshe to him to tell him to send the Jews from his land and repent, if that option was already removed from him? If a person should do something of their own free will, G-d may remove from them the ability to repent and they must die in their wickedness.
We have a principle that G-d helps a person to follow the path that they chose. Pharaoh chose to be stubborn and obstinate, therefore G-d caused him to take his path to its conclusion. His decisions to oppress and kill the Jews, and then refuse to listen to Moshe and Aaron, caused G-d to take him to a point where the gates of repentance were sealed before him.
Pharaoh was not the only one to exhibit this trait of stubbornness. G-d accuses the Jewish nation of being 'a stiff-necked people' at the time of the Golden Calf (ibid. 32; 9), and cites this as the reason that His presence will not remain within the midst of the nation (ibid. 33; 3). Yet despite their stubbornness, when confronted with the enormity of their sin they readily repent, as evidenced by their removal of the crowns that they gained at Sinai (ibid. 5).
Rambam writes (Hilchot Gerushin 1; 1) that a bill of divorce (get) may only be written with the voluntary consent of the husband. Yet later (2; 20) he writes that in a case where the law mandates that a husband should give his wife a get and he refuses, the beis din (Jewish court of law) should whip him until he says 'I want to give my wife a get'. The Rambam is telling us that sometimes a person's stubbornness gets in the way of their true intentions. Therefore whipping them removes the stubbornness, and enables them to give the divorce willingly.
In a sense this is what G-d was doing to Pharaoh. He smote him and all of Egypt with plagues to see whether he would repent and let the Jews go voluntarily. Only after the sixth plague, when it was clear that Pharaoh's inner desire was not to repent did G-d actually intervene to harden his heart. By this time if Pharaoh were to repent it would not be in order to bring him closer to G-d, but only to avoid the plagues. He had reached the point where he needed to follow through and see the consequences of his actions, and receive his due punishment.

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Make sure to check for other divrei Torah and a summar of the parsha (you can also sign up for my weekly e-mailing from there if you are interested).
Shabbat Shalom

For a pdf version of this d'var Torah please click here

Today we begin the book of Exodus, which describes the Israelites' passage from the bondage of Egypt to the religious freedom of the Sinai desert that enabled them to receive the Torah, and construct the tabernacle. Every year at Pesach we give thanks to G-d for bringing us out of slavery. Why should we give thanks to G-d for saving us when it was He who brought exile upon us in the first place?
The Egyptian exile is the answer to Avraham's question.
G-d said to Avraham, "I am G-d Who brought you out of Ur Kasdim to give you this land to inherit it." Avraham replied, "My L-rd, How shall I know that I am to inherit it?" And G-d said to Avraham, "Know with certainty that your offspring shall be aliens in a land not their own..." (Genesis 15; 7 - 14).
We see from here that the promise that the Jews would inherit the Land of Israel is dependent on their having been slaves in a foreign land first.
The harsh bondage was intended to kill off the Jews. The irony of the slavery was that it achieved the exact opposite of what Pharaoh planned, "But as much as they would afflict them, so they would increase and spread out" (Exodus 1; 11). The slavery made the Jews so populous, leading to the exponential growth of the nation from 70 souls to millions in only three generations. The only tribe to remain comparatively small in number was the tribe of Levi, who we know from tradition were the only tribe not subject to slavery.
In the same way that the Egyptian exile created the nation numerically, it also led to a national consciousness and identity. Only through slavery were the Israelites able to appreciate the freedom that the Torah offered them, only through having first been slaves to Pharaoh were they able to subsequently subjugate themselves to become servants of G-d.
It also created the nation spiritually. The Talmud tells is that there are three things which were only acquired through suffering, Torah, the Land of Israel and the World to Come (Berachot 5a). Elsewhere (ibid. 8a) the Talmud tells us that affliction cleans away sin. The simple explanation of this is that as long as a person is involved in seeking physical comforts it is very difficult for them to elevate themselves to a point where they can appreciate the spiritual dimensions of life. However, when the Jews were in slavery they had all material comforts removed from them, leading to their search for G-d. This is the meaning of the verses, "The Children of Israel groaned because of the work, and they cried out. Their outcry because of the work went up to G-d and G-d remembered His covenant with Avraham..." (ibid. 2; 23 - 4). Only through this were the Jews able to appreciate and recognise the ultimate redemption from Egypt, and the revelation of G-d's presence then, and at Mount Sinai. The suffering which breaks the body allows the soul to be set free, and search for G-d.
However, afflicting the body to allow the inner spark of spirituality to shine through only works when there is an inner spark of goodness bound and confined within that body. Avraham's total faith created an inner quest for spirituality amongst his descendants. Without that, suffering and exile would be meaningless. This was G-d's answer to "How will I know?" - the exile is proof of an inner spark of sanctity which will guarantee the inheritance of the Land of Israel.
We can contrast this with Esav and his descendants, who were never persecuted or exiled. Rashi (to ibid. 36; 7) explains that Esav left the Land of Israel in order to avoid the obligation of slavery in a foreign land. By renouncing his rights to Israel, he also avoided suffering for his children. Ya'akov understood that the promise of the Land of Israel, and the eternal closeness to G-d which that brings, outweighed the temporary suffering of the Egyptian slavery. Esav, who was concerned only with material possessions saw no point in immediate suffering for what could only be a long term gain.
Only through the crucible of Egypt could they emerge as a nation able to receive G-d's promised rewards.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

I gave a shiur yesterday on the Halacha and Hashkafa of Tzedaka (charity) and specifically the concept of ma'aser kesafim (giving 10% to charity).

Click here to listen to the shiur.

Here are the sources
(in Hebrew) for the shiur.


Rabbi S