For the week ending 20 March 2004 / 27 Adar I 5764

The Sentinel

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
Ancient Egypt and the modern world - the connection
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Society has no truer mirror than its advertising.

What motivates people to put their hands in their pockets and pull out their hard-earned cash must appeal to their innermost desires. And what someone wants, what he truly desires is who he is.

Commited To Being Uncommited

Think, for a moment, of all those car ads filmed in the desert. Theres no one for fifty miles in any direction. Climb behind the wheel and you can go wherever you want, whenever you want. You can be whatever you want. Think of all those ads for away-from-it-all vacations (whatever the dreaded "it" might be). They all express the same ideal: the commitment to being uncommitted, the freedom to do what I want when I want, and to change what I want from one moment to the next.

Everywhere Else

Society pays lip service to the ideals of commitment, stability, and fidelity. Advertising, however, gives the lie to that sanctimony and reveals that societys real aspiration is to be free to "go with the flow."

Unfortunately, modern secular man finds his flow severely restricted. At every turn, he is encumbered by commitments: a home, a wife, children, a mortgage, a second mortgage, a second wife. What he would really like to do is to take off and travel the world with a credit card and unlimited credit to follow any, or all, of a myriad of possibilities. The fact that he tolerates responsibility doesnt mean that he has accepted a specific form and purpose to his life. Hed really like to be somewhere else, anywhere else, everywhere else.

From where does this ideology of irresponsibility come? Is this desire for constant change a new phenomenon, or does it have its roots in something much more ancient?

Inconstant As Water

Everything in this world is a combination of matter and form.

By definition, matter has no form. It has an infinite number of latent forms, of different shapes. Matter, ungarbed by form, has unlimited potential uses. In a world that is all matter, everything is still possible. Nothing is fixed. You can "go with the flow." In fact, the epitome of matter is water. Water always takes the form of its container. Itself, it has no shape, no form. For that reason the Hebrew word for water mayim is a plural noun. There is nothing singular about the shape of water. It has an infinite number of shapes.

Water, in the "shape" of the Nile, was the idolatry of the Egyptians. For if ever there was a society that epitomized unbridled matter it was Egypt. Egypt was an entire society dedicated to the pursuit of infinite variety and potential. By definition, such a society is incapable of, and scorns, marital fidelity. Egypt was Shlomo HaMelechs aishet zanunim the unfaithful wife the antithesis of the aishet chayil. Egypt was the faithless spouse constantly seeking a new partner, a new form. She is as inconstant as water. She wants to go with the flow.

Standing opposed in every way to this culture is the Jewish home. The Jewish home represents the ultimate triumph of form shaping matter, of making it unique and unchangeably loyal. The aishet chayil is the woman of valor because of she lovingly and willingly accepts the form that her husband creates.

The Missing Cornerstone

The cornerstone of our belief in G-ds constant involvement and guidance of the world is the Exodus from Egypt. One of the ways that we internalize this belief throughout the generations is by fixing a mezuza to our doorposts.

In the two paragraphs of the Torah that constitute the mezuza, however, you will find not one word about the Exodus. Not one.

If the job of the mezuza is to implant in us a steadfast faith in the miracles of Egypt, shouldnt the Exodus be mentioned in it at least once?

Making The Leap

When the Jewish People were about to leave Egypt, G-d commanded them to place the blood of the Pesach offering on their doorposts and lintels. The word Pesach comes from the root "to skip over" or "to leap." As the Torah teaches, G-d (so to speak) "leaped over," or "passed over" the entrances of the Jewish homes in Egypt.

The Exodus from Egypt was not merely a physical exodus. It was no less than a leap from one world to another a leap from a world of matter to a world of form. And ironically, and inevitably, this leap has to take place while the Jewish People are immobilized in their homes: "And you may not leave your house until morning" The metamorphosis from matter to form which is the essence of the Exodus takes place specifically when they have to stay in the place that is the essence of form, the Jewish home.

The Sentinel

What is left of the blood of the Pesach offering on our doorways in Egypt is the mezuza. The mezuza is the Pesach the leap that is in essence the Exodus from Egypt. The mezuza does not speak about the Exodus for it is the Exodus itself. The mezuza marks the border between "the street" and the home. The street says, "You can go here. You can go there. All things are possible. Nothing is fixed. You can go with the flow." The mezuza stands like a sentinel at the threshold, and states unequivocally that there is no connection between the street and the home. Silently, it proclaims that they are two non-contiguous, irreconcilable entities.

Saying Enough

On the outside of every mezuza are inscribed the letters Shin Dalet andYud . These letters spell one of G-ds names: Sha-dai . Unroll the mezuza, and in that self-same place where that name appears, but on the reverse side, is written another of G-ds names, the ineffable name of four letters Yud and Heh and Vav and Heh.

The name Sha-dai means "the One who said to the world Enough! " When G-d created the world, He did it in such a way that the Creation would have been continuous and unceasing. It would have gone on and on forever, expanding, becoming more and more and more. However, the Infinite Wisdom decreed that the Creation should be contained, limited. G-d said "Dai Enough!" Creation should go this far and no further.

Why are these two Names of G-d juxtaposed on the two sides of the mezuza?

Reach For The Sky

According to Jewish Law, the reshut ha-rabim, the public domain, ascends vertically only to approximately three feet above the ground. Horizontally, it can extend everywhere, all over the world, but it never ascends. The street is trapped within the confines of this world. The rehsut ha-yachid, the private domain, on the other hand, has no upper limit. In the home, the sky is the limit. That is where the ineffable Name, Yud and Heh and Vav and Heh is revealed. It is in the home that a person can ascend heavenward. However, our ascent upwards is proportionate to our limitation outwards. That is why Sha-dai is on the outside of the mezuza, while on the inside is Yud and Heh and Vav and Heh, the Name that has no restrictions.

The mezuza tells us that if we say Dai! Enough! to the street, if we make a strong demarcation between all that the street stands for and the sanctity of the home, then inside, G-ds ineffable name, the name of Yud and Heh and Vav and Heh, can illuminate our homes and our lives.

a leap of faith

in the small box

at the gateway

sits the sentry

unfailing in his vigilance

he will ask you questions

that you cannot answer, like

how big is space?

how large is a place?

how can you get here

from there

with just a leap of faith?

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