Weekly Shabbat Messages

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, January 29, 2016. Click here to view our archived Shabbat messages.

Rabbi Nachman and this Shabbat’s Torah Portion

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772 – 1810), one of the great Hassidic masters, had a particular interest in a recent Torah Portion, Parashat Bo. This week’s portion continues the story of the ten plagues. We are told:  “And the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Come to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might show these my signs in the midst of them; and that thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son’s son, what I have wrought upon Egypt, and My signs which I have done among them; that ye may know that I am the Lord.’” Then there are the three final plagues: locusts, darkness, and the death of the first born. Each time, we are told that “the Lord hardens Pharaoh’s heart,” and Pharaoh decides not to allow the Israelites to go. Until the last blow, the slaying of the first born, including Pharaoh’s own son, brings about the Israelites’ freedom. Finally, Pharaoh lets the people go. And even then, the Lord hardens Pharaoh’s heart again, and Pharaoh sends his armies to annihilate them. Never-the-less, God punishes Pharaoh and his troops, and all the people of Egypt.

Whoa! Did we hear that right? God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, and then punishes him and all his people because Pharaoh’s heart was hard, and he didn’t release the Israelites. What kind of Justice is that? What kind of merciful God forces Pharaoh to sin, and then punishes him for that sin? This very illogical fact made the portion, in the opinion of Reb Nachman, the MOST difficult to understand of all the portions of the Torah.  It seemed to him that it was the key to both cosmic and personal unfairness in the world. It was a suffering and an evil that wasn’t necessarily deserved, since God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. And for Nachman, it has echoes of the world: why is there injustice in the world? Why do the innocent often suffer? Why do the evil often flourish? This idea of unavoidable evil resonates even in Nachman’s own life. He was a Tzaddik (a righteous person), in fact he considered himself the Tzaddik HaDor, the most righteous person of his generation, and yet he suffered from deep, dark, debilitating depressions. How was that fair? How was that just?

Nachman’s commentary on the story is, in essence, his wrestling with this seeming injustice. In his opinion, God is all good, and therefore such injustice (both cosmic and personal) is impossible. Nachman finds the root of this injustice is, in fact, an exploration of evil in the world. Nachman relates the existence of evil to the mystical Kabbalistic notion of the creation of the world known as “tzimtzum,” contraction. According to this narrative, before the creation of the world, God filled up every cubic inch of the universe. Nothing existed but God. Therefore, in order to create the world, God had to create a vacuum... a void... in the midst of God’s own presence – a kind of empty bubble – in which to create the world. This dark void, then, is by definition a space that is so empty that nothing exists within it – not even God. In this Kabbalistic scheme, then, the world is in the center of the void and is full of God. At the edge of the void too, God exists in all God’s power and glory: this aspect of God is called the Ein Sof, the endless. The Ein Sof, then, extends throughout all time and space. Since that void exists between the world as we know it, and the Ein Sof, that is the place where evil can exist because it is devoid of God. It is, in fact a necessary evil, then, because without that void, God couldn’t have created the world. There would have been no room.

Furthermore, since Nachman thought of himself as the most righteous of his generation, he was able to meditate about the nature of God and truly understand God. However, at some point, his consciousness had to leap from the consciousness of God in the world, to the consciousness of God as the infinite Ein Sof. Because of that, Nachman’s consciousness had to leap through the void. Because of that he experienced the total bleak, dark void. A place without good. A place without God. It was that experience that created the dark depressions of which Nachman was a victim. Believe it or not, my explanation of Nachman’s view of this episode is actually VERY simplified, but it is fascinating. All of Nachman’s profound meditation and deep thought was sparked by the basic theological question posed by our Torah Portion for the week.

Shabbat Shalom

***Note: A more detailed description of Nachman’s interpretation of Parashat Bo can be found in Arthur Green’s biography of Nachman: Tormented Master.

A graphic version of the world of God’s present surround by the dark void between the world and the Ein Sof – the infinite God.

Rabbi Nachman’s grave in the Ukraine.




Past Shabbat Messages

Shabbat & Secret Jews - Friday, April 26, 2013

Out of the Land of Heaven - Friday, May 3, 2013

Almost Shavuot - Friday, May 10, 2013

Cakes on Shabbat - Friday, May 17, 2013

Dressing Up for Shabbat (Part I) - Friday, May 24, 2013

Dressing Up for Shabbat (Part II) - Friday, May 31, 2013

Solomon's Temple and the Shabbat - Friday, June 7, 2013

Shabbat Starts When? - Friday, June 14, 2013 & June 13, 2014

Making Commandments Beautiful: Part I - Friday, June 21, 2013

Making Commandments Beautiful: Part 2 - Friday, June 28, 2013

Making Commandments Beautiful: Part 3 - Friday, July 5, 2013

Crypto Jews and the Shabbat - Friday, July 12, 2013

Shabbat Nachamu... The Sabbath of Consolation - Friday, July 19, 2013

Bialik and Kabbalat Shabbat - Friday, July 26, 2013

Angels and Shabbat - Friday, August 2, 2013

Shabbat in the Land of the Midnight Sun - Friday, August 9, 2013

Shabbat in Jerusalem As Told By Jody-  Friday, August 16, 2013

Shabbat in Jerusalem II As Told By Jody - Friday, August 23, 2013

The Streets of Jerusalem - Friday, August 30, 2013

The Final Heat – Closing in on Rosh Hashanah and Shabbat - Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Shabbat and Yom Kippur - Friday, September 13, 2013

Species, Species and More Species - Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Shabbat Breishit - Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Evening & Morning - Friday, October 4, 2013

Singing and the Sabbath - Friday, October 11, 2013 & Friday, May 9, 2014

The Rainy Season - Friday, October 18, 2013

The Triennial Torah Cycle - Friday, October 25, 2013

The Sabbath and the Temple - Friday, November 1, 2013

It Is All In the Timing - Friday, November 8, 2013

Challah - Friday, November 15, 2013

Why is the Challah Braided? - Friday, November 22, 2013

Shabbat, Thanksgivukkah and Beyond - Friday, November 29, 2013

Carrying on Shabbat - Friday, December 6, 2013

Eruv Art - Friday, December 13, 2013

Celebrating the Sabbath in Darkness - Friday, December 20, 2013

Celebrating the Sabbath in Darkness Continued - Friday, December 27, 2013

The First Shabbat of the Year - Friday, January 3, 2014

Shabbat Shirah - Friday, January 10, 2014

Shabbat and Trees - Friday, January 17, 2014

Strangers in our Midst - Friday, January 24, 2014

The Ten Commandments, Part I - Friday, January 31, 2014

The Ten Commandments, Part II - Friday, February 7, 2014

Shabbat, Babylonians, Tacitus, and the Communists - Friday, February 14, 2014

The Shabbat Umbrella - Friday, February 21, 2014

Lighting Shabbat Candles - Friday, February 28, 2014

Philip Roth and Shabbat - Friday, March 7, 2014

Shabbat Zachor - Friday, March 14, 2014

Shabbat in Amsterdam - Friday, March 21, 2014

Ahad Ha’am and the Shabbat - Friday, March 28, 2014

Shabbat at the JCCA Biennial - Friday, April 4, 2014

Shabbat HaGadol – The Great Sabbath - Friday, April 11, 2014

Challah on the Shabbat During Passover? - Friday, April 18, 2014

Shabbat and the Counting of the Omer - Friday, April 25, 2014

Shabbat and the First Yom Ha’Atzmaut - Friday, May 2, 2014

Sabbaths and Sabbaticals - Friday, May 16, 2014

Light and Dark and theShabbat - Friday, May 23, 2014

Learning on Shabbat - Friday, May 30, 2014

The Shabbat After Shavuot - Friday, June 6, 2014

Shabbat in Outer Space - Friday, June 20, 2014

The Longest Friday of the Year - Friday, June 27, 2014

Shabbat and the 4th of July - Friday, July 4, 2014

The Fast of Tammuz - Friday, July 11, 2014

The Three Weeks - Friday, July 18, 2014

Haftarot for the Three Weeks - Friday, July 25, 2014

The Ninth of Av - Friday, August 1, 2014

Sabbath Peace - Friday, August 8, 2014

All You Need is Love - Friday, August 15, 2014

The Secular Shabbat - Friday, August 22, 2014

Labor Day - Friday, August 29, 2014

Elul - Friday, September 5, 2014

Philip Roth and Shabbat - Friday, September 12, 2014

The Last Shabbat of 5774 - Friday, September 19, 2014

Shabbat Shuvah - Friday, September 26, 2014

Shabbat and Yom Kippur - Friday, October 3, 2014

Species, Species and More Species - Friday, October 10, 2014 

Bialik and Kabbalat Shabbat - Friday, October 31, 2014

Akeidat Yitzchak... The Binding of Isaac - Friday, November 7, 2014

Saving the Jewish People - Friday, November 14, 2014

Shabbat and the Artist - Friday, November 21, 2014

Thanksgiving - Friday, November 28, 2014

Shabbat and the ‘Cello - Friday, December 5, 2014

Short Friday - Friday, December 12, 2014

The Seven Day Week - Friday, December 19, 2014

Celebrating the Sabbath in Darkness - Friday, December 26, 2014

The First Shabbat of the Year - Friday, January 2, 2015

The Kiddush - Friday, January 9, 2015

Bread - Friday, January 16, 2015

Covering the Challah - Friday, January 23, 2015

Shabbat Shirah - Friday, January 30, 2015

A Kind of World to Come - Friday, February 6, 2015

Orchestras on Shabbat? - Friday, February 20, 2015

Shabbat Zachor - Friday, February 27, 2015

The Word “Shabbat” - Friday, March 6, 2015

Shabbat and Daylight Savings Time - Friday, March 13, 2015

Saturday Not Sunday - Friday, March 20, 2015

The Shabbat of Kings - Friday, March 27, 2015

The Seder/Shabbat Confluence - Friday, April 3, 2015

Shabbat: Passover and Not Passover - Thursday, April 9, 2015

Post Pesach Shabbat - Friday, April 17, 2015

Shabbat in Israel - Friday, April 24, 2015

Two Shabbatot: Israel and America - Friday, May 1, 2015

Tabernacle. Temple. Synagogue - Friday, May 15, 2015

Shabbat and Shavuot - Friday, May 22, 2015 

Weekly Torah Portions - Friday, June 5, 2015

Moses Maimonides and the Torah Portions - Friday, June 12, 2015

Reading the Prophets on Shabbat - Friday, June 19, 2015

The Triennial Cycle - Friday, June 26, 2015

Shabbat and the 4th of July - Friday, July 3, 2015

Shabbat in Outer Space - Friday, July 10, 2015

Nine Days - Friday, July 17, 2015

Tisha B'Av - Friday, July 24, 2015

A Taste of the World to Come - Friday, August 7, 2015

Sabbaths of Consolation - Friday, August 14, 2015

Oliver Sacks and the Sabbath - Friday, August 21, 2015

Slichot - Friday, September 4, 2015

The Last Shabbat of the Year - Friday, September 11, 2015

Shabbat Shuvah – The Shabbat of Return - Friday, September 18, 2015

Gefilte Fish - Friday, September 25, 2015

The Sabbath of Sukkot - Friday, October 2, 2015

Shabbat Breishit - Friday, October 9, 2015

Burying the Etrog - Friday, October 16, 2015

Sabbath Peace - Friday, October 23, 2015

The Life of Sarah - Friday, November 6, 2015

Where do lighting Shabbat candles come from? - Friday, November 13, 2015

The Sabbath and the Pushka - Friday, November 20, 2015

Thanksgiving Thursday, Black Friday, Shabbat Saturday, Cyber Monday, and #GivingTuesday - Friday, November 27, 2015

A Winter Tale, Shabbat Style - Friday, December 4, 2015

Shabbat Hanukkah - Friday, December 11, 2015

Public Reading of the Torah - Friday, December 18, 2015

Shabbat and The Haftarah Readings - Friday, December 25, 2015

New Year - Friday, January 1, 2016

Bar & Bat Mitzvah and the Shabbat - Friday, January 8, 2016

A Shabbat for the Birds - Friday, January 22, 2016

Rabbi Nachman and this Shabbat’s Torah Portion - Friday, January 29, 2016