Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Bo by Reb Jay

In this week’s parsha are the final three makkos: arbeh, choshech and makkos bechoros.

The Zohar Hakadosh writes (2, 184a) that there is no light except for that which comes from darkness. That is why the world was started from evening and not morning. This is also true on a personal level. This is the reason that a person’s principal inclination when he is young is the yetzer hara. Only when a person matures (for a boy thirteen years of age, and a girl twelve) does their yetzer begin to develop. (This does not mean that children below these ages cannot do good things. What it means is that at these ages it is a child’s natural tendency to be self-centered, and only through inculcation of positive character traits will their good inclination begin to assert itself.)

And this is certainly true on a national level, that Klal Yisrael will undergo much darkness, till they will experience light.

What is this concept coming to teach us?

There are three distinct ways that we can look at suffering. The first, and least productive way, is to see it as an obstacle to what we are trying to accomplish in life. The second way is that we see problems and suffering as things that make us stronger, and overall, we are better for the experience. This is a positive way of viewing obstacles.

But there is a third way. This way is to see problems and suffering not as obstacles but as an integral part of us. For example, when a person loses his job. To see the loss of the job as a positive thing, as a sign that this job was not for him and to make the most of his new opportunity.

And for us as Jews to see all our suffering in our many dark exiles, not as something we had to undergo to achieve the final redemption, but as part and parcel of the final redemption. That we are who we are not in spite of our trials, but because of them.

So when Hashem was finishing up the ten plagues, He specifically chose to end with darkness and the killing of the first born. This was to show that the darkness (killing of first born also is darkness to a large degree), is really part of the light of our redemption from Egypt and our receiving of the Torah.

In order for us to truly appreciate this concept, that light comes from darkness, we must observe the twists and turns of our history. When we look at it honestly, it will lead us to believe in and trust Hashem, and to see that all that He does is for the best.

Bo by Rabbi Ganzweig

by Rabbi Naftali Ganzweig

ואמרתם זבח פסח הוא לה' אשר פסח על בתי בני ישראל במצרים ואת בתינו הציל ויקד העם וישתחוו

You shall say: “It is a meal of deliverance performed through a halting passing over dedicated to G-d, Who Paused as He passed over the houses of The Children of Israel in Mitzrayim (Egypt) when He struck Mitzrayim mortally and rescued our houses!” And the people bowed and prostrated themselves.

Asks R’ Moshe Leib Sassover why does the Posuk say that Hashem paused - passed over on the houses of the Yidden with the phrase al botei Bnei Yisroel on the houses of the Jews it should say that Hashem passed over the homes of the Jews? Says R’ Moshe Leib of Sassov that when Hashem went through Mitzrayim during makas bichoros and he passed over the house of a Jew he danced on the house, “This is the house of a Yid”. When R’ Moshe Leib was at the table of The Rebbe R’ Elimeilech of Lizensk and he said this vort he (R’ Moshe Leib) burst into a enthusiastic dance on the table “Doh voint ah Yid, Doh voint ah Yid - here lives a Jew, referring to the great tzaddik (and his elevated holiness).

A Jewish home is a dwelling place of the Shechina (divine presence). Many seforim say that when Moshiach comes, homes that attained the status of a mikdash m’at by filling them with Torah and mitzvos will also go to Eretz Yisroel, just as shuls they too are a dwelling place of the Shechina.

R’ Elya Lopian would say that one who eats with the intention to gain energy to serve Hashem his meal is honored as a seudas mitzvah.

The Mishnah in Avos 3:4 says three that eat and do not say Divrei Torah it is as if they had eaten from sacrifices of the dead, but three that sit on one table and speak words of torah it is as if they ate from the table of Hashem.

The Rebbe of Parshischa once asked his disciples; had it not been already said by Hashem that the Jews will be in bondage in Egypt. Therefore why did Hashem bring the makos on Paroh?
To which he answered that the Jews do all the commandments to fulfill the will of Hashem with fear and fondness. Not so Paroh that slaved and tortured the Jews because of his own evilness and wickedness and he did not say I am doing this for the sake of Hashem. (No l’shaim yichud was said!)

From this we can learn that by being mamlich (carnating - crowning) Hashem on all our actions we are elevating them to be mitzvos, the will of Hashem and we are thus glorifying the name of Hashem in this world.

As a result our homes are not mundane dwellings, but houses of spiritual elevation on which Hashem rejoices “Here lives a Yid”.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Vaera by Reb Jay


In this week’s parsha, Moshe and Aron come to Pharoh to plead the case of the Jewish people. Hashem instructs them to show Pharoh a sign by turning their staff to snakes. Pharoh scoffs at what he views as “unimpressive magic”. He even brings in schoolchildren to prove the Egyptian people’s proficiency in magic. Aron then turns the snake back into a staff, and his staff eats all the other staffs in the room. Pharoh was also unmoved by this sign.

What is the meaning of this story? What is the significance of the staff?

The staff possessed by Moshe and Aron had been handed down since the time of Adam the first man.Within the staff there was a duality. On the one hand the staff had the four letter name of Hashem on it attesting to the mercy of Hashem. Also inscribed on the staff, however, was the acronym of the ten plagues, attesting to the aspect of Hashem’s judgement. ( Although the ten plagues had yet to take place, the acronym was the concept expressing Hashem’s dominion over the entire creation which wass the purpose of the ten plagues. The first three expressing Hashem’s dominion on things below the ground, the middle three expressing His dominion on the ground, and the last four expressing His dominion above ground. Thus the acronym was a prediction of the expression of Hashem’s power.)

This duality also spoke to a much deeper concept. We know that free will is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of creation. Without it, there would be no possibility of true good, because there would be no choice. Thus, evils role in the world is as a necessary option so that one may exercize one’s free will to be good. However, the question still remains: if Hashem is pure good, how can evil come from a source which is pure good?

The answer is that evil was not created, rather it was made possible. If we do what is right the world remains in its good state. If we pervert the world though, we turn that evil possibility into reality.

Rav Moshe Shapiro explains that this idea is signified through the staff. The word for staff in Hebrew is mateh. The word mateh can be used in a couple of different ways. It can mean to bend, and it can mean to extend or stretch out from the source, i.e., like a branch from a tree (which is what a staff is). The word mateh can also mean a tribe, which is what the twelve tribes were:extensions of Yaakov. This staff had originally been given to Adom—the first man. It was meant to stand as a junction between heaven and earth. Hashem told Moshe and Aron to turn the staff into a snake to signify that Pharoh was bending the world, much as a snake moves in a bent form, and the snake is a metaphor for the evil inclination, which causes man to desire to bend the world.

Pharoh laughs at this message. Moshe and Aron counter his laughter by having the staff eat the other staffs. This is display demonstrates that the straightness of the staff, when it is used as an extension between the heaven and earth, will always be able to overcome its use for evil. Thus the staff ideally symbolizes Hashem’s attribute of mercy, but when need be, symbolizes His attribute of judgement.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Vaera by Reb Oizer

Parsha Potpourri
Parshas Vaeira – Vol. 2, Issue 9
Compiled by Oizer Alport

בני ראובן ... ובני שמעון ... ואלה שמות בני לוי לתלדתם גרשון וקהת ומררי (6:14-16)
After listing the sons of Jacob’s two oldest sons, Reuven and Shimon, the Torah records, “And these are the names of the sons of Levi in order of their birth: Gershon, Kehas, and Merari.” Why does the Torah emphasize that it is stating the names of Levi’s sons, a point which isn’t mentioned with regards to the sons of Reuven and Shimon?
The Shelah HaKadosh answers based on Rashi’s comment (5:4) that the tribe of Levi wasn’t included in Pharaoh’s enslavement of the Jews and therefore lived relatively easy and comfortable lives. It would have been easy for them to isolate themselves in Goshen, learning Torah all day and turning a blind eye to the plight of their brethren.
In order to combat such natural feelings, Levi specifically gave his children names which would eternally remind them of the suffering of the rest of the Jews. The name Gershon alludes to the fact that the Jews were considered foreigners and temporary dwellers in Egypt, not fitting in and belonging there no matter how easy life may have been in Goshen. K’has hints to the fact that the backbreaking labor set their teeth on edge, and Merari refers to the bitterness of the Egyptian enslavement.
So many times we hear of pain and suffering – with illness, jobs, finding a spouse, raising children, or in Israel – and our first reaction is to dismiss it as not germane to our comfortable lives, but Levi teaches that the suffering of every single Jew is indeed relevant and we must feel their plight!
The Chofetz Chaim’s wife once panicked when she awoke in the middle of the night to find his bed empty. Upon finding him sleeping on the floor, he explained to his puzzled Rebbitzin that with World War I raging all around them and Jews being chased from their houses all across Europe, how could he possibly allow himself the comfort of sleeping in a comfortable bed?
Similarly, when a great fire once ravaged most of the Jewish section of the town of Brisk, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik (the Rav of the town, whose house was spared) insisted on sleeping in the synagogue together with the rest of his homeless congregants in order to share in their suffering. Not at all surprising, considering that the Chofetz Chaim was a Kohen and Rav Chaim a Levi, and they clearly learned well the lessons of their great-great grandfather!

הנה אנכי מכה במטה אשר בידי על המים אשר ביאר ונהפכו לדם (7:17)
לפי שאין גשמים יורדים במצרים ונילוס עולה ומשקה את הארץ ומצרים עובדים לנילוס (רש"י)
After tempting Chava to eat from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge, the serpent was punished and cursed that it will travel on its stomach and eat dust all the days of its life (Bereishis 3:14). In what way does this represent a curse, as other animals must spend days hunting for prey, while the snake’s diet – dust – is to be found wherever it travels?
The Kotzker Rebbe explains that this point is precisely the curse. Other animals are dependent on Hashem to help them find food to eat, while the snake slithers horizontally across the ground, never going hungry, never looking upward, and therefore totally cut off from a relationship with Hashem, and therein lies the greatest curse imaginable!
Rashi writes that the first plague (blood) was directed against the Nile, which had been deified by the Egyptians because it never rained in Egypt and their only source of water was the rising Nile. Rav Shimshon Pinkus symbolically explains that just like the serpent, the Egyptians were a totally “natural” people. It never rained in their country, so they never had to look skyward to see what the clouds foretold.
In doing so, their hearts also never gazed toward the Heavens, thus effectively cutting them off from perceiving any dependence on or relationship with the Almighty. Everything which occurred in their lives could be explained scientifically, appearing to be totally “natural.” In light of this, the Exodus from Egypt wasn’t merely a physical redemption from agonizing enslavement, but it also represented a deeper philosophical departure. The book of Exodus, then, is the story of exchanging a worldview devoid of spirituality, through which everything is understood and explained according to science and nature, for one in which we confidently declare that Hashem runs every single aspect of the universe and of our daily lives, and we are proud to be His chosen people.

ויאמר ד' אל משה אמר אל אהרן נטה את מטך והך את עפר הארץ והיה לכנם בכל ארץ מצרים (8:12)
לא היה העפר כדאי ללקות על ידי משה לפי שהגין עליו כשהרג את המצרי ויטמנהו בחול (רש"י)
Rashi writes that Moshe was commanded to have Aharon bring about the first two plagues because he had gratitude to the river which had protected him when he was placed there as an infant, and it was therefore inappropriate for him to strike the water. This sense of appreciation is understandable, as the water indeed sheltered him, and it was there that Pharaoh’s daughter discovered and rescued him.
However, regarding the third plague, lice, Rashi’s explanation that it was inappropriate for Moshe to strike the same ground which protected him by hiding the body of the Egyptian he slew is difficult to understand. Although Moshe thought that nobody saw the killing, in reality Dasan and Aviram witnessed the murder and informed on him to Pharaoh, who would have killed Moshe if not for a miracle that saved his life (Rashi 2:14-15). Practically speaking, the ground did absolutely nothing to benefit or assist him in any way, so why did he feel gratitude toward it, and why couldn’t he strike it himself to bring about the plague of lice?
The Maharzu suggests in his commentary on the Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 10:7) that the ground did indeed help Moshe by providing him temporary peace-of-mind by allowing him to think for at least the first day that his killing would go unnoticed. However, I would like to suggest that the Torah is coming to teach the fallacy of a common English expression.
If we give of our precious time, energy, and heart in an earnest attempt to help somebody out, only to have our efforts fail, the average American will tell us, “Thanks, but no thanks,” indicating that he owes us no debt of gratitude for our efforts and not-so-subtly suggesting that next time we should just mind our own business. Yet the Torah teaches that because the ground was willing to help, and tried to be of assistance in doing its best to cover up the taskmaster’s corpse, Moshe was obligated to show his appreciation for its good-faith efforts and was unable to strike it to bring about the plague of lice.
So many times a spouse, a child, a friend, a shadchan, or a co-worker will volunteer to try to help us out of a jam or just to lend a helping hand around the house. Unfortunately, to say the least, these efforts don’t always lead to the results we were hoping for. The next time it happens, instead of taking it out on them and rubbing the failure in to somebody who already feels badly enough, let us remember the lesson of Moshe and the ground, and express our sincere appreciation for their time and good intentions.

ותהי הכנם באדם ובבהמה כל עפר הארץ היה כנים בכל ארץ מצרים (8:13)
A number of our greatest Rabbis (Rambam, Rabbeinu Yonah, Meiri, Vilna Gaon) write in their commentaries on Pirkei Avos (5:4) that during the plague of lice, the lice also infested the land of Goshen where the Jews lived, just that they didn’t cause them the suffering that they did to the Egyptians.
The Mishmeres Ariel brings a strikingly simple proof to this astonishing fact. One of Yaakov’s reasons for requesting that Yosef not bury him in Egypt was to avoid the lice which would be crawling throughout the ground (Rashi Bereishis 47:29). If, however, the lice were nowhere to be found in the land of Goshen, then Yaakov could have simply made Yosef swear to bury him there and not burden him to carry his body all the way to the land of Israel. From the fact that he made him do so, it must be that he knew this wouldn’t suffice as the lice would also be present in Goshen!
Rav Chaim Kanievsky suggests the reason for this peculiarity was that in the first two plagues, Pharaoh’s magicians were able to replicate the actual plague. As such, the only proof that Moshe’s plagues were caused by Hashem and not by sorcery was the fact that they miraculously stopped at the borders of the Jewish land of Goshen. In the plague of lice, on the other hand, Pharaoh’s magicians were unable to copy the plague and freely admitted that it had been performed by Hashem, in which case there was no need for the additional miracle of preventing the lice from entering the land of Goshen, just that Hashem prevented them from causing actual pain or inconvenience to the Jews living there.

ויעש ד' את הדבר הזה ממחרת וימת כל מקנה מצרים וממקנה בני ישראל לא מת אחד וישלח פרעה
והנה לא מת ממקנה ישראל עד אחד ויכבד לב פרעה ולא שלח את העם (9:6-7)
The Vilna Gaon is bothered by several apparent inconsistencies in the Torah’s description of the damage done by the plague of pestilence. Initially, the Torah states with regard to the animals of the Jews that not a single one died, but in the second verse the wording indicates that while not more than one Jew lost animals, one did indeed suffer at the hands of the plague. Additionally, the first verse discusses “the animals of the children of Israel,” while the latter refers simply to “the animals of Israel.”
Finally, as difficult as Pharaoh’s actions throughout this entire period are difficult to understand, there is generally some minimal logic to his stubbornness. Here, however, the Torah seems to indicate that hearing that the plague didn’t affect the animals of the Jews somehow caused him to further harden his heart, which seems quite counter-intuitive.
The Vilna Gaon brilliantly explains that the resolution to all of these difficulties is based on a single piece of information. Rashi writes (2:11) that one of the Egyptian taskmasters set his eyes on a Jewish woman by the name of Shulamis bas Divri. One night he ordered her husband out of the house and entered pretending to be him, and from that union was born a child. However, the Ramban (Vayikra 24:10) quotes an opinion that before the Torah was given, a person’s identity was determined by his father, which means that the son of the taskmaster and Shulamis was considered a non-Jew.
Although the first verse states that among the children of Israel – proper Jews – no animals died, the animals of Shulamis’s son were indeed stricken together with those of the Egyptians, and it is to them that the second verse refers in hinting that one Jew – somebody viewed as a Jew even though in reality he wasn’t – was afflicted. Upon hearing that the Jews weren’t completely spared, Pharaoh attributed the entire episode to a big coincidence, and not surprisingly hardened his heart and refused to free the Jews!

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) In last week’s parsha, Moshe expressed his reluctance to serve as Hashem’s agent to free the Jewish people due to his severe speech impediment, to which Hashem replied that his brother Aharon would assist him as his spokesman (4:15-16). Why did Moshe repeat the exact same worry (6:30), and as the reply that he received was identical (7:1-2), in what way did it reassure him any more than what he had already been told previously? (Meged Yosef)
2) Hashem told Moshe (7:3) that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he would refuse to free the Jewish people. Does this mean that Pharaoh completely lost his free choice to repent his ways even if he changed his mind and wished to do so? (Rambam Hilchos Teshuvah 6:3, Radak Shmuel 1 2:25, Chofetz Chaim, Rav Chaim Berlin quoted in Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha)
3) As private citizens, why weren’t the Egyptians and their animals exempt from the punishment of the plagues which should have been meted out exclusively to Pharaoh for his cruel role in enslaving the Jewish people? (Taima D’Kra Parshas Vayigash, M’rafsin Igri)
4) After Moshe caused all of the water in Egypt to turn to blood, Pharaoh’s magicians duplicated the feat and therefore he wasn’t impressed (7:22). If all of the water had turned to blood, from where did they obtain water to turn into blood? (Rabbeinu Bechaye, Paneiach Raza, Tosefos Rid)
5) The word in the Torah containing the most letters is in this week’s parsha. What is it?
6) Which of the plagues was the harshest and most unbearable for the Egyptians and why? (Seichel Tov and Be’er Yitzchok quoted in Shaarei Aharon, Taam V’Daas)
7) Rashi writes (9:14) that just prior to the 7th plague, Moshe warned Pharaoh about the plague of the slaying of the first-born, which was so severe as to be considered equivalent to all of the other plagues combined. Why did Moshe choose to warn Pharaoh at this time about a plague which wasn’t yet imminent? (Moshav Z’keinim, Tosefos Rid, Rabbeinu Bechaye, Abarbanel, Minchah Belulah, Gur Aryeh, Chavatzeles HaSharon, Torah L’Daas Vol. 9)

© 2007 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to parshapotpourri@optonline.net

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Shmos by Reb Oizer

Parsha Potpourri
Parshas Shemos – Vol. 2, Issue 8
Compiled by Oizer Alport

הבה נתחכמה לו (1:10)
The Gemora in Sotah (11a) records that three of Pharaoh’s advisors were consulted regarding his worries about the Jewish population. Bilaam suggested the wicked plan and was killed, Iyov remained silent and was punished with tremendous afflictions, and Yisro disagreed with the plan and fled and was rewarded with descendants who were righteous Torah scholars and judges. Why did Bilaam, who presumably deserved the most severe punishment for his active role in Pharaoh’s diabolical scheme, get off relatively easily with an instant death, while Iyov sufferedortuous pains throughout his life?
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz answers that this question stems from a fundamental error, as Rashi writes (Kiddushin 80b) that being alive is the greatest present and kindness that Hashem could ever give a person, regardless of what difficulties may transpire in his life. In fact, Dovid Hamelech – who was no stranger to suffering – expressed this idea explicitly (Tehillim 118:18): יסר יסרני ק-ה ולמות לא נתני – Hashem afflicted me greatly, but at least He didn’t give me over to death.
Therefore, the unimaginable and excruciating pain and agony of Iyov is still considered infinitely preferable to the quick, relatively painless death of Bilaam due to the sheer fact that he remained alive. As we all suffer various difficulties and setbacks throughout our lives, it would behoove us to recall and focus on this lesson, perhaps every time we recite the aforementioned verse during Hallel, that we must be eternally grateful to Hashem for the wonderful gift we call life!

ויבן ערי מסכנות לפרעה את פתם ואת רעמסס (1:11)
The Gemora in Sotah (11a) explains that the names of the cities Pisom and Raamses allude to the fact that the earth there was completely unsuitable for building, and whatever the Jewish slaves would build would immediately be swallowed up by the unstable ground. Rav Avrohom Yaakov Pam questions why Pharaoh, who had an entire nation available to serve him as slaves, didn’t choose to have them work in a more appropriate location where they would be able to build for him beautiful palaces and buildings which would bring honor and glory to his kingdom?
Rav Pam suggests that no matter how overwhelmingly difficult a person’s task may be, he is still able to feel good about his accomplishments as long as he feels there is a purpose in his efforts, regardless of whether he will ultimately benefit in any way from the finished product. If Pharaoh had put the Jews to work building splendid edifices, even though they would never be allowed to set foot in them, they would still feel a sense of purpose in their suffering and would take pride in the fruit of their labors. The diabolical Pharaoh was willing to forego all potential benefits to himself and to his kingdom from working them under more suitable conditions in order to afflict them with crushing harshness.
Rav C. once had a son born very prematurely and severely underweight. The doctors and nurses in the hospital went beyond the call of duty, putting in tremendous efforts over the course of two months until the baby was finally healthy and strong enough to return home. Rav C. searched far and wide for an appropriate gift demonstrating his gratitude toward the medical staff, but couldn’t find anything suitable.
In frustration, he turned to his Rebbe, Rav Elya Svei, who suggested that the doctors didn’t need any more fountain pens or paperweights. Rather, he suggested that each year on the baby’s birthday, Rav C. should bring his son to the hospital to show the doctors and nurses the fruits of their efforts. So many times medical professionals put in tremendous energy, fighting an uphill battle, only to become dejected when they lose more often than not. The best gift of gratitude would be to strengthen them by reminding them that their efforts make a difference and are eternally remembered and appreciated.
While most of us hopefully haven’t had such extensive interactions with the hospital staff, we have all benefited greatly from the Herculean time and energy invested in our education and upbringing by our parents and teachers, and it behooves us to give them the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment they deserve by letting them know what a difference they made in our lives and how appreciated they are.

והיה אם לא יאמינו לך ולא ישמעו לקל האת הראשון והאמינו לקל האת האחרון
והיה אם לא יאמינו גם לשני האתות האלה ולא ישמעון לקלך ולקחת ממימי היאר
ושפכת היבשה והיו המים אשר תקח מן היאר והיו לדם ביבשת (4:8-9)
The Tosefos Yom Tov (Demai 7:3) writes that there are those who ask a powerful question based on the verse in Chaggai (2:9) גדול יהיה כבוד הבית הזה האחרון מן הראשון – the glory and honor of the last Beis Hamikdash will be even greater than that of the first. This verse is referring to the 2nd Temple, and yet it refers to it as the “last” one, seemingly indicating that there won’t, G-d forbid, be another.
He answers that many times the word “last” doesn’t mean the final one, but rather it refers to the last one vis-à-vis the first one, even though there may indeed be others which come after it. Although this sounds a bit foreign grammatically, he cites two places where the Torah indeed uses such language, one from our verses (the other from Bereishis 33:2) in which Hashem tells Moshe that if the Jews won’t believe the first sign, they will trust in the last sign. Hashem then adds that if they won’t believe the “last” sign, they will surely believe the third one in which Moshe will turn the water of the river into blood!
The Kehillas Yitzchok and Imrei Noam bring a clever hint to this proof from 12:13, והיה הדם לכם לאות על הבתים, which literally means that the blood from the Passover-sacrifice will be a sign on the doors for Hashem to skip over that house. However, it can also be understood as stating that the blood (which was the 3rd proof of Moshe’s legitimacy) will be a sign for you regarding the Temples, as if anybody attempts to prove from Chaggai 2:9 that the second Temple was the final one, we may now answer that the blood mentioned in our verse proves that it isn’t so!

כי כבד פה וכבד לשון אנכי (4:10)
Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein was once asked by a heavily speech-impaired person regarding the legal permissibility of a new treatment that was suggested to him. An expert in the field had experienced remarkable success at treating such problems by completely isolating the patient for one month and not allowing him to speak or hear a single word during that time, after which he then begins the arduous process of re-teaching the letters and their proper pronunciations from scratch. The questioner was concerned that enrolling in this treatment would require him to miss all of his prayer obligations, including the Biblical requirements of the twice-daily recitation of Shema and Kiddush on Shabbos.
Rav Zilberstein answered that a decision of the Avnei Nezer in a similar case is also applicable in this one. The Avnei Nezer was asked if a person is obligated to be circumcised in a case where the doctor says that doing so will leave him with a permanent limp. The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 756:1) that a person is only obligated to spend up to one-fifth of his possessions in order to perform a positive commandment. He therefore ruled that if the value to the man of walking without a limp is greater than one-fifth of his estate, he is exempt from the mitzvah of circumcision. Similarly, Rav Zilberstein opined that if curing his severe speech impediment is monetarily equivalent to more than one-fifth of his possessions, he may proceed with the treatment even even at the expense of his prayer obligations.

ויאמר פרעה מי ד' אשר אשמע בקולו לשלח את ישראל לא ידעתי את ד' (5:2)
The Darkei Mussar notes the striking contrast in Pharaoh’s actions over the span of just a few short years. In Parshas Mikeitz, Pharaoh had no problem accepting all of Yosef’s interpretations and recommendations, even though Yosef made it clear that his explanations emanated from Hashem while Pharaoh himself was an idolater. Yet a short while later, the very same Pharaoh had completely forgotten Hashem’s existence and all of the benefits that he had received through Yosef.
There was once a rich businessman whose associates received word that his entire inventory had been lost at sea. Unsure about how to inform him, they went for guidance to the local Rav, who volunteered to break the news himself. The Rav called in the businessman and engaged him in a lengthy discussion about trust and faith in Hashem, as well as the insignificance of temporal, earthly possessions relative to the infinite, eternal reward of the World to Come.
At this point, the Rav asked the man what would happen if he were to receive word that his entire fleet had sunk in the ocean. The businessman, inspired by the insightful words of the Rav, answered that he could accept it. Assuming that his plan had worked, the Rav informed him that this had indeed occurred. Much to the Rav’s surprise, the man promptly fainted. After awakening the businessman, the Rav pressed him for an explanation. The man replied that “it’s much easier to have faith and trust in a G-d Who could wipe out my possessions than in one Who actually did.”
Pharaoh was a wicked idolater to the core who never believed in Hashem from the beginning. Nevertheless, it was easier for him to “believe” in a Hashem Who sends His agent (Yosef) to bring him satiety and riches than in a Hashem Who sends His agent (Moshe) to order him to free millions of slaves.
The Medrash says that Hashem figuratively rides over the righteous, as the Torah states (28:13) regarding Yaakov והנה ד' ניצב עליו – and behold Hashem was standing over him. The wicked, on the other hand, view themselves as superior to their gods, as the Torah relates (41:1) ופרעה חולם והנה עומד על היאור – and Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing over the river, and the Nile River was one of the Egyptian idols. When we recite Krias Shema twice daily and accept upon ourselves the yoke of Heaven, let us focus on genuinely placing Hashem above us and truly accepting His will, whatever it may be.

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) In Sefer Bereishis, Onkelos renders the word עברי – Hebrew – into Aramaic as עבראי (see e.g. Bereishis 41:12), but beginning in Parshas Shemos he changes and translates it as יהודאי – Jews. Why the sudden change? (Be’er Moshe, Pardes Yosef, Eebay’ei L’hu)
2) Rashi writes (2:14) that Moshe killed the Egyptian who was striking a Jewish slave by saying Hashem’s Ineffable Name. If somebody does kills another person in this manner, is he considered a murderer? (Halachos Ketanos 2:95, Maaseh Rokeach Hilchos Shabbos 24:7, Shu”t Yehuda Ya’aleh Orach Chaim 1:199, Kehillas Yaakov Bava Kamma 45)
3) Hashem was revealed to Moshe while he was shepherding the sheep of his father-in-law Yisro (3:1). A disproportionate number of our greatest ancestors – Hevel, Avrohom, Yitzchok, Yaakov, Moshe, Dovid, and Shaul – were shepherds. Why is this profession uniquely suited for one destined for spiritual greatness? (Rabbeinu Bechaye)
4) Hashem told Moshe (3:8) of His intention to redeem the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt and to bring them to the good and wide land of Israel. In what way is the narrow land of Israel considered wider than the land of Egypt? (Taima D’Kra, M’rafsin Igri)
5) Rashi writes (4:24) that an angel sought to kill Moshe because of his negligence in circumcising his son Eliezer. As circumcision is merely a positive commandment and there is no source which states that failure to perform this mitzvah incurs the death penalty, why was Moshe almost killed as a result of not doing so? (Maharsha Nedorim 31b, Chasam Sofer in Toras Moshe, Zahav MiSh’va, Chavatzeles HaSharon, M’rafsin Igri)
6) Rashi writes (4:24) that an angel sought to kill Moshe because of his negligence in circumcising his son. The Targum Yonason ben Uziel explains that Yisro wouldn’t allow him to do so, as the Medrash states (Yalkut Shimoni 169) that Yisro and Moshe had agreed that Moshe’s first child should be an idolater. How is it possible that Moshe agreed to allow one of his sons to be an idol-worshipper? (Shu”t Radvaz 6:2168, Taima D’Kra, Chavatzeles HaSharon)
7) According to the opinion that a woman is unfit to perform a circumcision, the Gemora in Avodah Zara (27a) states that although the verse (4:25) seems to indicate that Tzipporah circumcised her son, one must say either that she began the circumcision and Moshe completed it. As the Shulchan Aruch invalidates (Yoreh Deah 2:10) a ritual slaughter which is begun by somebody who is unfit to do so and completed by a person whose slaughter is valid, why is a circumcision performed in such a manner any different? (Kli Chemda, Chavatzeles HaSharon, M’rafsin Igri)
8) What did Pharaoh do wrong in refusing to accept orders (5:2, 4-5) from Moshe and Aharon, two total strangers, who suddenly appeared in his palace and began demanding that he should immediately set free an entire nation of slaves, something that no rational person would have considered normal? (Nesivos Rabboseinu)

© 2007 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to parshapotpourri@optonline.net

Friday, January 05, 2007

Vayechi by HaChoson Oizer

Parsha Potpourri
Parshas Vayechi – Vol. 2, Issue 7
Compiled by Oizer Alport

ישימך אלקים כאפרים וכמנשה (48:20) בך יברך ישראל לאמור
As a fulfillment of Yaakov’s blessing to Yosef, fathers bless their sons on Friday night that they should grow up to be like Ephraim and Menashe. Of all of our ancestors, why do we specifically bless our children to be like Ephraim and Menashe and not Avrohom, Yitzchok, Yaakov, Yosef, or any of the other tribes? If there is something unique about them, why don’t we just choose one of them to mention; what is the intent of blessing our sons to be like both of them?
The Mikdash Mordechai, Meged Yosef, and Rav Eliezer Sorotzkin answer that almost from the beginning of time, there has been a problem of sibling rivalry. It was responsible for the first murder in history, when Kayin killed his brother Hevel as he was jealous that his brother’s sacrifice found favor in Hashem’s eyes and his own did not. Yishmael had to be sent away to protect Yitzchok, and Yaakov had to flee for his life from his brother Eisav. Certainly Yaakov’s children were no strangers to jealousy, as they almost killed Yosef for being their father’s favorite child.
On the other hand, Yaakov blessed the younger Ephraim to be greater than the older Menashe, which certainly would have been grounds for fighting and anger, yet we find no hint of ill will between them. As the Shabbos Queen comes to permeate our houses with an atmosphere of peace and tranquility, we specifically bless our sons that they should go in the ways of Ephraim and Menashe and there be only peace and harmony between them always.

יששכר חמור גרם רובץ בין המשפתים (49:14)
Rav Tzvi Markovitz questions why the tribe of Yissochor, whose descendants are known for their dedication to Torah study, is specifically compared to a donkey as opposed to any other animal. He posits that while the Torah scholars also “carry a load” similar to a donkey, this parallel isn’t sufficient, as there are other animals – such as horses – which are also capable of transporting heavy burdens.
Rather, Rav Markovitz points out that all animals carrying loads must inevitably stop to rest, but there is a critical difference in how they do so. When horses stop for a break, their burden must be removed until they are ready to continue, as opposed to donkeys which are able to lie down and rest even while still carrying the weight on their backs.
It is specifically to them that the tribe of Yissochor is compared, as those who “carry the load of Torah” must also periodically stop to recharge, but the distinguishing characteristic of true B’nei Torah is that even at these moments, they conduct themselves in accord with their year-round behavior, never casting off their “burden” for a moment.
This can be contrasted to a well-known, if perhaps apocryphal, story which is related about Artistotle. As the story goes, in between lessons his students once bumped into him “on the wrong side of town,” in an area known for its immoral activities. Unable to reconcile his current behavior with the lofty philosophical teachings he espoused during his lectures, they asked for an explanation (what they were doing there has never been established). He allegedly answered them, “When class is in session, I am the great Aristotle, and I share my pearls of wisdom with the world. At other times, I am not the Aristotle with whom you are familiar,” a concept which the Torah hints to us is entirely foreign to our way of life.

וירא מנוחה כי טוב ואת הארץ כי נעמה ויט שכמו לסבול ויהי למס עובד (49:15)
Prior to his death, Yaakov gathered together his 12 sons, who represented the 12 tribes from which all Jews would be descended, and gave each of them a blessing which was uniquely suited for his unique role within the Jewish nation. In blessing his son Yissachar, whose descendants are traditionally associated with the study of Torah, Yaakov noted that “he saw that peaceful serenity is good and that the land was enjoyable, and he bent his shoulder to bear a heavy load.”
Rav Yerucham Levovitz, the great Mashgiach (spiritual supervisor) of the Mir yeshiva in Europe, points out an apparent contradiction in the verse. It begins by referring to the comfortable life of tranquility and the pleasant land enjoyed by the tribe of Yissachar, something which we can relate to and envision with little difficulty. However, just as we begin dreaming about the tropical pleasures that Yissachar must have had, Yaakov continues and describes his life of tranquility as one in which he bent his shoulder to work hard and carry a weighty burden, which hardly matches the mental images we would associate with Yissachar’s lot based on his initial description.
During World War II, all of European Jewry was under attack and in shambles. Even those who managed to hide or escape lived daily with the fear that numerous family members were unaccounted for and may not have been as fortunate. In the midst of all of this unprecedented destruction and uncertainty, the students of the Mir yeshiva stuck together and fled across Russia to Japan, China, and ultimately to freedom in the United States.
During one stage of their flight, they were on a boat which encountered choppy waters. As if they didn’t have enough to worry about regarding the plight of their brethren back in Eastern Europe, many of those on the boat became quite anxious as the boat was tossed and turned, wondering if they would ever reach their intended destination. Meanwhile, the illustrious Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, was oblivious to the situation around him, completely absorbed in the difficult book Shev Shmaitsa that he was studying. Somebody approached him for guidance and comfort, asking “Where are we holding?” As he was referring to the plight of the boat, he was quite taken aback when Rav Chaim, completely engrossed in his studies, took it as a question about the book and innocently responded, “Shmaitsa Gimel (Chapter 3)!”
Rav Yerucham explains that Yaakov was coming to teach us that the true definition of peace and tranquility is the exact opposite of what people are accustomed to thinking. The American attitude is that true calm and serenity can only be had on a quiet beach, curled up with a good book and a martini, enjoying the backdrop of gentle waves crashing and the sun warming our bodies, with nobody around to disturb us (not even our Blackberries).
While this is indeed a pleasant and appealing mental image, it by definition restricts our inner state and makes it dependent on external factors beyond our control, implying that if we are unable to be in the situation and circumstances that we would ideally prefer, then inner bliss is unfortunately unattainable at that moment. After a bit of reflection, we should realize that this could hardly be the meaning of true inner tranquility and satisfaction.
The Torah comes to teach us that our mission in this world is to rise above whatever situations life may throw our way, not to focus outward but inward. If we carry within ourselves an untouchable reserve of inner joy and serenity, then we will be able to remain happy and calm throughout life’s journeys and tests, the circumstances of which are all too often beyond our control. By blessing Yissachar and his descendants to carry within themselves the yoke of studying Torah and doing mitzvos, Yaakov was revealing to them – and to us – the key to true simchas ha’chayim (happiness and peace).

וזאת אשר דבר להם אביהם ויברך אותם איש אשר כברבתו ברך אותם (49:28)
The Torah seems to indicate that Yaakov blessed each and every one of his sons. This is difficult to understand, as Rashi seems to explain his words to Reuven, Shimon, and Levi more like words of rebuke than of blessing. In what way was his harsh criticism considered a blessing?
Rav Uri Weissblum answers that we must redefine our understanding of a blessing. If somebody is sick but doesn’t realize it, or perhaps knows that he is sick but is unable to diagnose his illness, a doctor who comes along and points out to him his sickness and clarifies its treatment is indeed offering him a tremendous gift. Similarly, if a person’s friend has a large pot with a hole in the side, rather than giving him gifts to put in the pot which will only fall out and leave him with nothing, the preferable option would be to bring the hole to his attention so that he may fix it, at which point he will then be able to retain his future acquisitions.
Therefore, Yaakov felt that the most appropriate “blessing” he could offer to his 3 eldest sons was to point out to them characteristics which needed improvement (Reuven’s impetuosity and Shimon and Levi’s anger). Calling their spiritual illnesses to their attention would allow them to “plug the holes,” become whole, and ready for future blessings.
Rav Yisroel Salanter points out that everybody has his own personal “holes” which need fixing, and he suggests that this is the intent of the Mishnah in Avos (4:2) ובורח מן העבירה – a person should flee from “the sin.” He explains that every person has within himself one bad middah (character trait) which forms the root of his personal issues and difficulties, which of course the yetzer hara (evil inclination) will attempt to hide and disguise so as to prevent its cure. By calling their personal weak spots to their attention, Yaakov was indeed giving them a tremendous blessing.
However, Rav Dovid Feinstein adds that the rebuke can only be considered a blessing if one indeed accepts it and learns from it. Rav Shimon Schwab notes that although Yaakov referred to Shimon and Levi as “brothers” (49:5) and seemed to equate them in all of their actions, Levi’s descendants became one of the tribes of Torah scholars while Shimon’s descendants included Zimri who sinned publicly with a Midianite woman (Bamidbar 25:6, 14).
Rav Schwab posits that the difference between them was that unlike Shimon, Levi accepted the rebuke, internalized his father’s words, and uprooted his negative character traits, and indeed it was Levi’s descendant Pinchas who would kill Shimon’s offspring Zimri for his sin. We may derive from here that it is not one’s sins or what happens to a person that is critical, but rather what he makes of them. Yaakov teaches that if a person learns from his flaws and difficulties and repents his ways, he can turn even his biggest mistakes into the greatest of blessings.

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Rashi writes (47:29) that in requesting Yosef to place his hand under his thigh, Yaakov was requesting him to take an oath not to bury him in Egypt. The Ramban (26:5) writes that the Avos only observed the mitzvos when they were in Eretz Yisroel, and therefore Yaakov was permitted to marry two sisters when he was outside of Eretz Yisroel. If so, what was the purpose of Yosef swearing not to bury his father in Egypt, as he took the oath outside of Eretz Yisroel and according to the Ramban it wasn’t binding? (Chida, Shu”t Avnei Nezer Yoreh Deah 2:306)
2) It is customary to quote the blessing which Yaakov gave to his grandchildren (48:20) as fathers bless their sons every Friday night that they should grow up to be like Ephraim and Menashe. While doing so, should one place only one hand on his child’s head or do so with both hands? (Siddur Yaavetz, Vilna Gaon quoted in Torah Temimah Bamidbar 6:23 footnote 131)
3) The blessing which Yaakov gave to Yehuda (49:8-12) contains all of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet except for one. What letter is missing, and what is its significance? (Rabbeinu Bechaye)
4) Rashi writes (49:13) that the tribe of Zevulun engaged in commerce and shared their profits with the tribe of Yissochor in order to allow them to be free to engage in the study of Torah. For enabling this Torah learning, the tribe of Zevulun receives half of the reward for the study that occurs as a result of their financial support. Is the reward given to Zevulun deducted from that which the Torah scholars of Yissochor will receive for their learning? (Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh Shemos 30:13, Chiddushei HaRim Avos 2:12, Vilna Gaon quoted in Taam V’Daas, Shu”t Igros Moshe Yoreh Deah 4:37, Chavatzeles HaSharon)
5) Other than before going to bed, when is a person supposed to say לישועתך קויתי ד' – I await Your salvation, Hashem – part of the blessing Yaakov gave to Dan (49:18)? (Mishnah Berurah 230:7)
6) When Shimi ben Geira cursed Dovid HaMelech, Dovid ordered that he not be punished for doing so, explaining (Shmuel 2 16:11) that “Hashem told him to curse me.” Before his death, why did Dovid then command his son Shlomo (Melochim 1 2:9) to hold him accountable for his actions and avenge the curse by using his wisdom to bring Shimi down to the grave in blood?

© 2006 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to parshapotpourri@optonline.net

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Vayechi by Reb Jay

This parsha, the last in the Book of Bereshis, closes out the story of Yaakov and his children. Yaakov, realizing it is near the time of his death, wishes to bless his children. Before he does this though, he calls over Yoseph and his two sons--Ephraim and Menashe--and gives them a special brocha. This brocha is so special that for all future generations, when parents bless their sons, it will be done using the names of Ephraim and Menashe, as Yaakov says before giving them the brocha: “By you shall Israel bless” (Bereshis 8:20; Girls are blessed using the names of the 4 mothers: Sorah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah.)
What was so special about Ephraim and Menashe, that for all future generations, boys would be blessed to aspire to be like them?
Yaakov knew that Klal Yisroel is destined to spend much of its existence in Golus (this is a quality that makes us unique among the nations, as what other nation/culture has spent more of their exsistence in exile, then in their own land?). Yoseph was the first person in the nation of Israel to rear his children in a foreign land.
When Yaakov saw that Yoseph had risen to the challenge and raised children in golus who were worthy of being part of Beis Yaakov, he used them as the standard bearer for all future generations. To show that the foundation of Klal Yisroel is not based on location, but on Torah. As Rav Sa’adya Gaon wrote in Emunah V’Daos, “our nation is a nation only by virtue of the Torah”.
To rear children anywhere is a difficult task, but particularly in a country as morally corrupt as Egypt. Nonetheless, Yoseph ensured that his sons were reared in the paths of his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. This great act of rearing children properly in such adverse conditions would not only imbue future generations of Jews with the spiritual DNA to resist assimliation, but would also be a lesson of how to go about doing so.