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Parshas וָאֶתְחַנַן

A Bridge Over Troubled Waters

עָבַר: past

עִבְרִי: Hebrew (person)

מַעַבַר: bridge, crossing

עַבֵירָה: sin, a breach

עוּבַּר: fetus/embryo

 בַּעַבוּר: because of

אֶעְבְּרָה נָּא וְאֶרְאֶה אֶת הָאָרֶץ הַטּוֹבָה אֲשֶׁר בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן הָהָר הַטּוֹב הַזֶּה וְהַלְּבָנוֹן
I will cross over please, and I will see the good land which is across the Jordan, this good mountain the Lebanon.

עָבַר: Past

עָבַר and “over” in English cross over the language barrier in having the same connotation in both languages. What has passed is over, and what is over is in the past.

In this week’s parshah, Moshe implores Hashem with the words אֶעְבְּרָה נָּא/please let me cross over the Jordan River into the Promised Land.

In essence, we are all trying to cross over to the other side.

עִבְרִי : Hebrew

The first one to cross over to the other side was Avraham Avinu. He was the prototype, the trendsetter for the essence of what a Jew is, which is this deep-seated concept of movement, of needing to get somewhere. Avraham was called an Ivri because while the whole ideology of the world in his time was to serve idols, he was able to see though the masquerade and recognize the source of everything — that there is nothing but Hashem, אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדוֹ. Avraham crossed over the so-called river of reality, leaving the rest of the world to its illusionary beliefs. Being Avraham’s decedents, we have inherited this Hebrew ideology in that just like the Hebrew language crosses both worlds, so too our very nature, as an individual and as a nation, is to bridge different worlds. 

מַעַבַר: Bridge, Crossing

All of the world is a very narrow bridge…a very narrow bridge…a very narrow bridge. But the essential thing to know is there is nothing to fear at all.

Chazal compare life to a long sea voyage, where in order to reach our destination, we first have to combat the sometimes very hazardous waters of the high seas. The sea, by its very nature, is a very unsettling place, and since we are open to all the elements, our boat is constantly being tossed around. Hashem gives us the Torah, the navigation tool, which helps us chart the waters safely and steer our way through the ups and downs of life. In essence, the Torah is our bridge over troubled waters, and without it, we would truly be lost at sea.

עַבֵירָה: Sin, A Breach

Hashem has given us clear guidelines on how best to traverse life, how to steer safely across the sometimes very narrow bridge without falling off into the endless depths of the nether world. An עַבֵירָה is when we step over the mark, when we have not paid sufficient attention to the guidelines that have been carefully set for us, and we are in danger of falling. The period of Elul, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur is designed to help us repair the breaches in our bridges so that they will be strong enough, when the time comes, to carry us over and give us safe passage.

עוּבַּר: Fetus/Embryo

The fetus is from the same root because its whole existence is to be given birth to, to cross over from one world to the next.

The Ohr HaChaim in Parshas Mishpatim discusses the idea of the עֶבֶד עִבְרִי/the Hebrew slave who works for six years and goes free in the seventh, as being a mashal to life, where עִבְרִי signifies עוּבַּר/embryo, in that we serve as an עֶבֶד in this world for six years (where each year represents a decade), and in the seventh year, when we approach our seventies, we go out free. We have in effect served our time and we are now free from the confines of this world.

Mashal of the Twins

Twins in the womb are having an argument as to whether there is an afterlife. One of the twins is a staunch atheist, who does not entertain the slightest notion of there being anything other than life in the womb. The other twin is always trying to convince the him that there is more to life than just floating around in space, albeit a narrow, restricted space. One day, as they are in the heat of one of their debates, there is suddenly a tremendous movement like a magnitutde ten earthquake. Everything turns upside down. To the atheist twin, it is most definitely the end. He sees his twin brother disappear in a whirlwind tempest, when all of a sudden he hears the elated voices at the other end shouting, “Mazal Tov!

The nimshal is that just like Avraham, the עִבְרִי, stood alone and recognized that this world is powered by one G-d, so too the words עוּבַּר and מַעַבַר teach us that life is a bridge, an opportunity to cross over to a much higher reality, whereas the atheist only sees what he sees, a life devoid of Hashem without any future existence.

בַּעַבוּר: Because Of

אֲרוּרָה הָאֲדָמָה בַּעֲבוּרֶךָ בְּעִצָּבוֹן תֹּאכֲלֶנָּה כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ
Cursed is the earth because of you, with hardship you will eat all the days of your life.

“Because of you,” because of something you have done in the past. The earth was cursed because of man. If man had listened to Hashem’s command not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of good and bad, then we would then have entered straight into Shabbos and we would have anyway been permitted to eat from the tree. But because of the עַבֵירָה of man choosing to pass over Hashem’s command, we now have to do a tikkun so that we can get back on track. Contrary to conventional thinking, the curse of the earth and the hardship that man has to toil in it was not a punishment but a correction procedure, all for our benefit.

By eating from the Tree of Knowledge of good and bad, the dichotomy of good — which is living with Hashem — and bad — which is living without Hashem — entered into us. In order for us to get back on track, we have to be able to choose between good and bad. In order to facilitate that choice, the earth was cursed, giving man the perfect opportunity to be involved in working for a living. Instead of bread growing on trees, man has to till, sow, and harvest the earth, and is continually involved in all of the processes that finally produce his daily bread. Now man has the perfect choice to look back over the עָבַר/past and recognize that he couldn’t have done it without Hashem, or he could choose to live without Hashem and believe it was all “because of me” and כֹּחִי וְעֹצֶם יָדִי/the strength of my hand.

אֶעְבְּרָה נָּא וְאֶרְאֶה אֶת הָאָרֶץ הַטּוֹבָה אֲשֶׁר בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן הָהָר הַטּוֹב הַזֶּה וְהַלְּבָנוֹן
I will cross over please, and I will see the good land which is across the Jordan, this good mountain the Lebanon.

Torah is our bridge over troubled waters, it helps us see life differently and is the medium that enables us to cross over to the other side of the river, בְּעֵבֶר הַיַרְדֵן, and into the Promised Land. Then, like Avraham Avinu, we will each merit to be an עִבְרִי/Hebrew. We will merit being attached to the good,הָאָרֶץ הַטּוֹבָה /the good land, andהָהָר הַטּוֹב הַזֶּה וְהַלְּבָנוֹן /this good mountain, the Lebanon, which stands for the Beis HaMikdash and is called לְּבָנוֹן because מְלַבֵּן הָאָדָם מִן הַעַבֵירוֹת/ it whitens man from his transgressions.

1 Ibid.,3:25.

2 Likkutei Moharan 2:48.

3 Bereishis 3:17.

4 Devarim 3:25.

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Tzvi Abrahams

Founding Editor at Veromemanu
Rabbi Tzvi Abrahams was raised in The United Kingdom, and emigrated to Israel where he received his Rabbinical ordination. He recently published the book Root Connections In The Torah, and lectures on the beautiful connections of Biblical Hebrew root words. Tzvi lives in Zichron Yaakov, Israel with his wife, children and their friendly dog.

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Tzvi Abrahams