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Chodesh Shevat, A message from Rav Chananya Berzon

Parshat Va'eira from Rav Chananya Berzon

What is a slogan? A catchword used to excite, to activate people, to be interested and engaged in a way that the initiator of the slogan intends. Often though, a slogan is taken out of context. For example, a quote might be based in Tanach, the siddur or the Gamara, and when it’s taken out of context, the true message is ignored. This is, perhaps, a major cause for the current phenomena of "fake news" we are experiencing. In essence, a person says or writes something that is subsequently snipped out or copied from their dialogue and used to convey a very different message. Abuse of quotations is a "technique" used by politicians to undermine one another and to push their personal agendas.

In this week's parsha, Moshe Rabbeinu is sent by HaKodesh Baruch Hu to speak to Pharaoh. He stands before the King and proclaims "שלח את עמי ויעבדני", "Let my people go so that they can worship Me". (Shemot 9:13) The Menacheim Tzion points out that many people relay this famous message of Moshe, "Let My People Go", and entirely skip out on the next part of the pasuk which says "so that they can serve Me". This would, of course, imply that people are much more concerned with the freedom aspect of the story than the subsequent servitude to G-d that the Jewish people’s freedom and engendered.

At the time of the plight of the Soviet Union, the Jewish people needed a popular slogan for the struggle of Soviet Jewry. That slogan was "Let My People Go". It fits so well – Moshe had turned to Pharaoh to petition for the Jewish freedom from Egyptian bondage with these exact words! The issue of Soviet Jewry was an important and critical endeavor. It took a while, but eventually it worked. The Iron Curtain fell, and Soviet Jewry was permitted to leave. This, however, created a second issue – we wanted Soviet Jewry in Israel! We didn’t want to send them to the Brighton Beach Boardwalk, or to live under the L train. We wanted Soviet Jewry to integrate as Jews. The ויעבדני was missed by so many who didn’t view themselves as Hashem’s nation. Another example: About forty years ago, the Reform Movement needed something to excite their youth; something that would be secular, but that still fit into the rubric of Judaism. Thus, the slogan was inculcated: tikkun olam. It was a message of fixing and repairing the world. Youth, identifying as Reform Jews were sent to all corners of the Earth to paint park benches and to do other community service acts to beautify the world. The words tikkun olam are taken from the second paragraph of Aleinu L’shabeiach which reads, "עולם במלכות שקי כרות יכרון לתקן", " utterly cut off to perfect the universe through the Almighty’s Sovereignty". The full text was omitted, and therefore, the essence was entirely changed. The true meaning of the verse is that we strive to get rid of the false gods, and cut them off publicly! It is a G-d focused statement to destroy falsehood and usher in the rule of HaKodesh Baruch Hu, not to paint park benches! May we be zoche לתקן עולם במלכות שקי and to שלח את עמי ןועבדני, to kibbutz galiot, so that we can properly be oveid HaKodesh Baruch Hu, am echad b’leiv echad. Amen!

Chodesh Tov,

Rav Berzon


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