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Counting Weeks and Days

There is a Biblical Commandment to count the days between the Passover and Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks (a.k.a. Pentecost). We start counting on the second day of Passover (the first day of the barley harvest in the land of Israel, when the wave-offering of the omer, i.e., “sheaf,” of ripe barley was made in the Jerusalem Temple) and finish on the eve of Shavuot—the day when two loaves of bread made of wheat were offered at the Temple. There are exactly seven weeks (forty-nine days) between these two holidays; we are commanded to count the weeks and the days. These forty-nine days are called days of Sefirat HaOmer (the ays of “counting the Omer”) or simple days of Sefirah. This commandment is given in the following verses of the Torah: And ye shall count [...]

The Puzzle of Pi

March 14 is celebrated by nerds around the world as the Pi Day. When written in digits, 3/14 represents first three digits of the number traditionally represented by the Greek letter “π” (pronounced pi) – 3.14. Pi Day is celebrated by eating pie and discussing the significance of π. Some folks who have too much time on their hands compete at memorizing decimal digits representing the value of pi. The record presently stands at 67,890 digits! While eating pie is optional, discussing the significance of π is truly mandatory. So, what is π and why is to so important? π is arguably the most famous mathematical constant, expressing the ratio between the circumference of a circle and its diameter. If you take a circle with a diameter of 1, the circumference of this [...]

Passover Seder—The Arrow of Time

The Passover Seder is called seder, i.e., "order" not without a reason. It is a highly structured and orchestrated ceremony that follows the ancient script—Passover Haggadah. The Seders is a play in four acts: Kiddush (sanctification), Magid (telling the story of the Exodus), Shulchan Orech (the festive meal), and Nirtzah (Hallel—the prayer for the Messianic redemption). This sequence sets the natural arrow of time past-present-future. The Past. During the Magid part of the Seder, we retell the story of the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt—the narrative of our history. Eating of the matzah, drinking four cups of wine and other "simonim" (symbols) of the Seder table—bitter herbs, an egg, a bone, charoset, etc.—are all symbols that have historical significance. This part of the Seder clearly represents the past. The Present. During [...]

By |2019-04-14T16:45:56-04:00March 30th, 2018|Passover (Pesach), Time, Uncategorized|1 Comment

Dreams of Pharaoh—a Lesson in Symmetry

In the Torah portion Miketz, Pharaoh sees two dreams. He wakes up agitated and calls on all wise men of Egypt to interpret his dreams. Nobody is able to come up with an acceptable interpretation, so they fetch Joseph from a prison and he successfully interprets dreams of Pharaoh—there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Joseph proceeds to instruct Pharaoh on how to prepare for the seven years of famine. In the previous posts, Interpreting Dreams and Joseph—the Master of Time—we already explained how Joseph was able to interpret dreams in terms of units of time and why Pharaoh appointed Joseph as the Viceroy of Egypt. This story, however, is still puzzling. Perhaps it can teach us more lessons… In Talmudic and Kabbalah literature, Joseph is called [...]

Joseph teaches Pharaoh a lesson in fundamental forces

This week, we read in the Torah portion Vayigash (Gen. 44:18–47:27) about Joseph revealing himself to his brothers and Jacob coming to Egypt with his family. This storyline culminates by Joseph presenting his brothers and his father to Pharaoh. A curious thing, though—instead of presenting all eleven brothers, Joseph presents only five. This fact does not escape the attention of Rashi, who comments as follows: Joseph chose the weakest of his brothers to avoid conscription of the brothers to the military service in the Pharaoh’s army. This explanation always left me dissatisfied. Even if it explains why Joseph presented fewer than all of his brothers to Pharaoh, it does not explain the number—why five? Why not one, or two, or three? The number five in Hebrew is represented by the letter Heh. I submit to [...]

Balak – Interference of Souls

Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. Moab became terrified of the people, for they were numerous, and Moab became disgusted because of the children of Israel. Moab said to the elders of Midian, "Now this assembly will eat up everything around us, as the ox eats up the greens of the field. Balak the son of Zippor was king of Moab at that time. He sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor, to Pethor, which is by the river of the land of his people, to call for him, saying, "A people has come out of Egypt, and behold, they have covered the 'eye' of the land, and they are stationed opposite me. So now, please come and curse this people for me, for [...]

The End of Days I

In this Torah portion, Vayechi, Jacob, gathers his children to reveal to them “Ketz HaYamim”–“the End of Days.” Rashi explains that Jacob’s intention was to reveal the date of the coming of Mashiach (Messiah). Jacob called for his sons and said, "Gather and I will tell you what will happen to you at the end of days. (Gen. 4:1) However, he proceeds rebuking his sons without revealing to them the Ketz — End of Days. Rashi says that Jacob looked into the future and saw his children being in exile for a long time. Rashi says that the word “ketz” (end)—spelled in Hebrew Kof-Tzadik—has the numerical value of 190. (Kof=100, Tzadik=90. 100+90=190). Jacob gazed 190 years into the future and saw his children still enslaved in Egypt. He became depressed and Shechinah (Divine Presence) left him. [...]

From Purim to Passover

The Shulchan Aruch – the Code of Jewish Law – states that 30 days before Pesach (Passover) one needs to start learning the laws of Pesach. The simple meaning of this directive is clear – the laws are many and complicated and there is a lot to learn – so one needs to start early. There may be a deeper meaning in this, however. Let us recall that Pesach and Purim are exactly 30 days apart. To start learning about Pesach 30 days before, means to start learning about Pesach on Purim. Or, perhaps, the message is that from Purim we can learn about Pesach. The word Purim means “lot.” The story of Purim is about throwing lots. Evil Haman threw one lot to choose a month for the pogrom against Jews of [...]

Splitting of the Sea

Do you like riddles?  Here is a riddle – what do these two figures represent in the context of Exodus?   No Idea?  How about a hint? Still no idea? Okay, here is the answer: Yes, the first figure represents two doorposts and the lintel marked with the blood of Passover sacrifice, as it says: וְלָקְחוּ, מִן-הַדָּם, וְנָתְנוּ עַל-שְׁתֵּי הַמְּזוּזֹת, וְעַל-הַמַּשְׁקוֹף--עַל, הַבָּתִּים, אֲשֶׁר-יֹאכְלוּ אֹתוֹ, בָּהֶם And they shall take of the blood, and put it on the two side-posts and on the lintel, upon the houses wherein they shall eat it.  (Ex. 12:7) The second picture is of the splitting of the sea, as it says: וַיָּבֹאוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּתוֹךְ הַיָּם, בַּיַּבָּשָׁה; וְהַמַּיִם לָהֶם חוֹמָה, מִימִינָם וּמִשְּׂמֹאלָם And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground; and the [...]

It’s the time, stupid!

There is a continuous thread about the mastery of time that weaves through the last chapters of the book of Bereshit (Genesis) and continues through the beginning of the book of Shemot (Exodus). The story of Joseph’s incarceration ends with his successful interpretation of the dreams of the Pharaoh’s chief butler and the chief baker. Joseph's genius was not only in interpreting ordinary objects (tendrils of grapes and baskets of bread) as symbols of the units of time but in understanding that the engagement in time (manifested in the chief butler’s personally squeezing the grapes into the cup and placing the cup in Pharaoh’s hand) symbolized life for the chief butler and the passivity of the chief baker (who dreamt of baskets of bread sitting on his head, with birds eating from the baskets) [...]

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