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Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Halachic Times (Zmanim)
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Jewish History

On this day, King Hezekiah, the greatest of all the Judeaen kings, fell seriously ill, and was informed by the Prophet Isaiah that he would die, for G-d was displeased with the fact that Hezekiah had never married.

Hezekiah had refused to get married because he had prophetically foreseen that his children would lead the Jewish people to sin. He erred, for it is man's job to heed the commandment of procreating, and the rest is in the hands of G-d.

Hezekiah asked the prophet to pray on his behalf, but he refused, insisting that the Heavenly decree was final. The king asked the prophet to leave, saying that he had a tradition from his ancestors that one should never despair, even if a sharp sword is drawn across one's throat. The king prayed to G-d, and his prayer was accepted. G-d sent Isaiah to tell him that he would recover and that his life would be extended for fifteen years. Hezekiah recovered three days later, on the first day of Passover.

The King later married Prophet Isaiah's daughter.

Links:
Hezekiah's Last Years of Reign
The story in Kings II with commentary
More about King Hezekiah

A year following the building of the second Temple in Jerusalem (see Jewish History for the 3rd of Adar) Ezra gathered many of the Jews who had remained in Babylon and began a journey to the land of Israel. Though he certainly wanted to go earlier, his teacher, Baruch ben Neriah was too frail to travel, and Ezra refused to leave him until his passing.

Ezra was the head of the Sanhedrin, who all traveled together with him.

On the 12th of Nissan, Ezra departed from the river of Ahava, the beginning of the long journey to the land of Israel which would last for nearly five months (see Jewish history for the 1st of Av).

Links:
Account of event in Ezra
Ezra the Scribe

Laws and Customs

In today's "Nasi" reading (see "Nasi of the Day" in Nissan 1), we read of the gift bought by the nasi of the tribe of Naftali, Achira ben Enan, for the inauguration of the Mishkan.

Text of today's Nasi in Hebrew and English.

Daily Thought

So it will be, on the heels of you listening to these judgments of Mine and doing them…that G‑d will love you, bless you, increase your numbers, bless the fruits of your womb and the fruits of your land, your grain, your wine, and your oil, the offspring of your animals and your wealth of sheep… (Deut. 7:12-13)

All mitzvahs can be distributed over a wide spectrum between two poles:

There are mitzvahs that we judge to be of practical utility, such as the prohibitions against theft and violence.

Torah calls these mishpatim —judgments —because they engage the discretionary judgment of our minds and hearts.

And then there are mitzvahs whose reasoning is entirely beyond us, even contradictory to our understanding. At this end of the spectrum, you’ll find laws of ritual impurity, most of the laws of forbidden foods, as well as many of the details of otherwise reasonable halachah.

Torah calls these chukim—from the word chakak, meaning “engraved in stone.” We do them as though they are simply built into our hardware, wired into the tough, desensitized skin of our heels.

There’s a beauty to chukim. They allow us to feel connected to something far beyond ourselves, an infinite G‑d who has brought us into His own unfathomable view of His creation and its purpose.

And there’s a hazard to mishpatim. When everything makes sense to us and serves us well, we easily become captives of our tiny reality-bubble and lose connection with the mystery and wonder beyond ourselves.

So Moses tells us to listen with our heels, to connect our minds to our inner hardware, to do mishpatim as chukim.

Because, in truth, every mitzvah, even a simple rule that we would have figured out on our own, is part of a covenant and connection that entirely transcends our limited reality.

And when we make that connection, wiring the most ultimately transcendental into our minds and our hearts and all the way to the tough skin of our heels, the universe follows in concert:

Infinite, divine love expresses itself not only in spiritual forms, but all the way down to the quantifiable physical world—in children, health and material wellbeing.