"If you continue behaving that way, things are not going to go well!"
It's a phrase we used to hear when we were kids, or at least that was the case for me.
Life, and even the people around us, often give us warnings of all kinds expressed through words or situations that show us whether we are on the right path or if we should choose another to avoid harming ourselves or those around us. The truth is that we don't always act considering those warnings.
The text of the Torah shows us how the Holy One, blessed be He, strives to manifest signs, particularly to Moses in the form of the burning bush and to Pharaoh with each of the plagues. One twists Moses' destiny, causing him to escape beyond the desert (achar hamidvar), like that place many of us would like to disappear to when faced with something that seems enormous or impossible to bear. The burning bush, hasne bo'er, was THE sign. And it worked for Moses. It awakened him from his lethargy and set him on the right path.
However, it did not happen that way with Pharaoh.
Although, if we want to be fair to him, perhaps the monarch didn't really have the possibility of change in a contest where the Creator Himself, according to the biblical text, was hardening his heart so that he wouldn't let the people of Israel go. But the truth is that the signs were very clear in his case, and he ignored each of the plagues that punished Egypt.
In fact, our entire Torah is a long succession of warnings about how well our lives will go if we do the right thing and how badly it will go if we transgress the Creator's laws, the mitzvot. Generally, we ignore both.
There is surely another language that our tradition conveys. It's a language that doesn't know warnings. It's the language in which sensitivity and responsibility for our lives, our society, and our environment make us react before and despite the warnings. It's about facing the task without signs of burning bushes or unexpected pre-announced miracles. It's recognizing in every second of life the everyday miracles that give us the real perspective of who we are, what we can give, and of course... receive.
There is an expression in Hebrew, Lamrot Hakol – "despite everything".
Much of this spirit of "despite everything" is found in VAERA, this week's Torah portion. Slavery has been endured for over four hundred years, and in the mission entrusted to Moses and Aaron to achieve redemptive freedom, conditions worsen. While the battle continues between Moses' mandate on one side and Pharaoh and his court on the other, the heart of the latter hardens. Innocent Egyptians suffer, and regarding the Israelites, their lives are not made easier by these varied and dramatic events.
One could argue that Jews and Judaism have survived precisely because there has often been some form of "despite everything."
Despite everything, we move forward. Despite everything, we overcome and build an independent state in Zion, Jerusalem. But also, despite all warnings, we let things happen.
We should find more room for feelings of hope in this moment of darkness, as we cry out for the release of our brothers and sisters kidnapped by Hamas. If we focus on the tenacious and obstinate characteristic of our people, can we hope that this will be the month when all hostages return home after three months of captivity?
It is the first Shabbat of the month of Shevat: whose initials appeal to good news SHenishma-Besorot-Tovot, and a feeling of Lamrot Hakol, despite everything, gives us the strength to hope that this will be the month when all hostages return home after 3 months of captivity.
May we continue to stand united as a people, not only in times of distress, and may we see the warnings that the divisions we create in our communities, in our societies, in Medinat Israel itself, only serve to divide us in harmful ways.
Let's react positively to the signals that life, the Holy One, blessed be He, and ourselves impose on us to turn our actions for the better.
Rabbi Gustavo Geier