Category Archives: Parshas Vaera

Parshas Vaera: Stop And Think! Before It’s Too Late!

Parshas Vaera

Stop And Think! Before It’s Too Late!

“Moshe spoke [these words] to B’nei Yisrael, but they would not listen to Moshe because of [their] shortness of breath and hard labor.” (Shmos 6:9)

In the 7th plague, of barad, hailstones would rain down and kill all the people and animals that remained outside. Before beginning the plague, Hashem told Moshe to warn the Egyptians to protect themselves and their animals by staying indoors. The Torah (Shmos 6:9) says, “He who feared the word of Hashem among Pharaoh’s servants, made his servants and his livestock flee into the houses but he whose heart did not heed the word of Hashem, left his servants and his livestock in the field.”  Apparently, only those Egyptians who feared Hashem heeded this warning.

It is very strange that all the Egyptians, after seeing the damage that occurred during the first six plagues, did not listen to the warning, deliberately exposing their livestock and servants to death by hail. The Ohr HaChaim (Shmos 9:21) says that the Egyptians did that as an act of defiance to Hashem.

Rabbi Yissachar Frand (Rabbi Frand on the Parashah) quotes the Midrash Rabbah (12:2) that “He who feared the word of Hashem among Pharaoh’s servants” refers to Iyov. The Eitz Yosef adds that it was not only Iyov. Rather, it was also other Egyptians who followed Iyov’s advice to bring their servants and animals inside before the plague of hailstones.  Targum Yonasan ben Uziel says that the one who didn’t fear Hashem and left his property outside, was Bilaam.

Rabbi Frand says that although Bilaam was brilliant, he was so focused on himself that he paid no attention to what was going on around him. Many years later, Bilaam mounted his donkey, on the way to Balak, to curse the Jewish People. Bilaam’s donkey acted strangely, going off the trail, then squeezing between a narrow opening, and then stopping completely. Each time, the donkey ignored Bilaam’s beatings. Then Hashem miraculously allowed the donkey to speak to Bilaam. “Am I not the very same donkey that you have been riding on all your life until this very day? Was it ever my habit to do this to you?” And he [Bilaam] said, ‘No.’” (Bamidbar 22:30)

The donkey was basically telling Bilaam that its actions were atypical and Bilam should have realized.

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l (Biurei Chofetz Chaim on the Torah by Yisroel Yosef Braunstein) says that the entire episode of Bilaam that is written in the Torah appears as one long narrative, without any breaks (called psuchos and setumos). The Sifra (Vayikra perek 1) says that the purpose of the breaks throughout the Torah was to give Moshe Rabbeinu a chance to stop to think, reflect, and understand the Torah that Hashem was teaching him. The Chofetz Chaim zt”l says that Bilaam, on the other hand, never stopped to think about what he was doing or the wisdom of his actions.

Rabbi Frand says that when Moshe gave the warning about the impending hailstorm, Bilaam couldn’t “be bothered” to consider Moshe’s words. Bilaam was absorbed in his own thoughts. He did not stop to reflect and think.

Pharoah employed a similar strategy against the Jews. Moshe came to the Jews with a message that Hashem was going to redeem them from Egypt. “…but they would not listen to Moshe because of [their] shortness of breath and hard labor.” (Shmos 6:9) The Ibn Ezra explains that the Jewish People did not pay attention to the words of Moshe because of the length of their exile and the hard labor which had recently been imposed upon them. The Ramban says that the taskmasters pressed them and hurried them, giving them no chance to hear anything and think about it. They had no time to stop to reflect and think.

The Mesilas Yesharim (perek 2) tells us that this is the strategy that the Yetzer Hara, evil inclination, uses with us. The Yetzer Hara knows the powerful effect that contemplation and reflection of our actions can have in our avoiding sin and improving our actions. The Yetzer Hara knows that if we would find a few moments to think about what we are doing or have done, then we would immediately start regretting our misdeeds and eventually abandon them. To thwart us from doing this, the Yetzer Hara keeps us exceedingly busy with our many burdens and responsibilities. We are so distracted with our daily routine and all the extra burdens, that we don’t stop to contemplate our actions and our life’s goals.

A businessman once approached Rabbi Yisroel Salanter zt”l. He said that he was so busy with his business affairs that he only had 15 minutes a day to learn Torah. The businessman wanted to know what he should learn during that time. Rav Yisroel zt”l told him to learn mussar (sefarim on character refinement) and then he would realize that he actually had even more time to learn Torah than he had initially thought.

The years of our lives pass quickly. We are so busy with life that we don’t always stop to think and to reflect. Are there important goals that we want to accomplish, that we are “too busy” to think about, no less fulfill. Are there family relationships that we want to nurture? Are there topics in the Torah that we still want to learn? Are there areas in which we want to improve as a human being?

The Yetzer Hara tries to keep us so busy that we don’t take the time to think. It’s time to stand-up to the Yetzer Hara and say I WILL!  I WILL take 10 minutes every day to stop, reflect, and improve. I WILL start doing some of those things that I want to, by going forward slowly, perhaps spending only a few minutes every day. I WILL become a better person and I WILL be happier for it!


Parshas Va’era: Turn Off the Gas Before the Pot Boils Over!

Parshas Va’era

Turn Off the Gas Before the Pot Boils Over!


“Aharon extended his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frog emerged and covered the land of Egypt.” (Shmos 8:2)

King Shlomo wrote, “A soft reply repels anger.” (Mishlei 15:1)

Rabbi Yoffin zt”l was the Rosh Yeshiva in the Novardok yeshiva. Since there was no dormitory, the students rented rooms in nearby buildings. One of those buildings had more than 20 rooms that were rented to the students. The owner of the building was a widow who lived with her very young son. The widow was not nice to the students. She ridiculed them, and at different times shut off the water or the electricity. One by one, the yeshiva students moved out. Only one student, Yosef Geffen, remained. One morning, as Yosef was returning from shul, the woman saw him and started yelling at him. “You must be crazy! How can you still stay in my building? All the other boys have moved out. Why do you insist on staying?”  A normal reaction to hearing someone screaming angrily at you, is to respond in anger. That is not how Yosef responded. Yosef said softly to the woman, “I stay here for your sake. I fear that one night you may fall or become ill and call out for help and there would be no one to hear your cries. I understand that when you yell at us you are merely letting out your frustrations.…” The woman was shocked by the response. She expected to hear an angry retort. She was so touched by Yosef’s concern that she begged for forgiveness. From that moment onward, her entire personality changed. She only said kind words to the yeshiva students that she met. Word got around that now she was nice, and soon all the rooms in her building were again filled by the yeshiva students. (Around the Maggid’s Table by Rabbi Paysach Krohn)

Moshe had warned Pharoah about the second plague. Frogs would swarm throughout the land of Egypt. They would go into all the houses, ovens, and even inside the Egyptians’ bodies. When the plague started, the Torah says, “And the frog emerged and covered the land of Egypt.” The commentaries discuss why the Torah says “frog” in the singular and not in the plural. The Chizkuni says that it means swarms of frogs emerged. The Chizkuni points out that in other places the Torah does indicate a multitude even though it uses a singular term. There was a plague of snakes, yet the Torah uses the term, “snake” (Bamidbar 21:7). Alternately, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 67B) quotes Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya who says that one frog came and gave a shrill scream. Frogs from all over the world heard the cry and converged all over Egypt. Rashi gives yet another explanation based on the Midrash (Midrash Rabbah Shmos 10:4). He says that one immense frog emerged from the Nile River. When the Egyptians hit the frog, it split into swarms of frogs.

 The question is obvious. Each time the Egyptians hit the frog, it split into swarms of frogs until there were so many that they converged over the entire country. Why did the Egyptians keep hitting the frog? Didn’t they realize that their actions were causing more frogs to come? Why didn’t they stop?

The answer is also obvious. The Egyptians were angry. The more frogs that swarmed, the angrier they became. They were controlled by the emotion of their anger, blocking their sensible reasoning which would have told them, “STOP!”

The Talmud (Nedarim 22A) quotes Rabbi Yonatan who says that one who gets angry, all kinds of Gehinom (Hell) rule over him. The Rosh explains that anger is destructive to one’s health as if he were inflicted by many different punishments of Gehinom. Another explanation is that anger controls one’s actions. Therefore, he will sin and be punished in Gehinom. Rabba bar Rav Huna says that when one is angry, at that moment, even the Divine Presence is not important to him. Rabbi Yirmeya of Difti says that anyone who gets angry, forgets his learning, and increases his foolishness.

The Orchos Tzadikim (in the Gate of Anger) says that we often see that one who is in a fit of anger and persists in his anger, is not conscious of what he is doing. He will do things that he would never do had he been calm. The Jews in the desert were somewhat disrespectful when asking for water. According to Rashi, Moshe Rabbeinu felt the ever-slightest tinge of anger. Moshe Rabbeinu responded, “Listen, you rebels! Can we extract water from this rock for you?” Due to this slight, slight amount of anger, Moshe erred and hit the rock that was supposed to produce water, instead of speaking to it (Bamidbar 20:10).

The trait of anger can ruin relationships. It can result in a person losing his job. Anger is physically unhealthy and spiritually unhealthy. Realizing and understanding that everything that occurs to us is from Hashem may help us avoid getting angry. After all, the person who angered us is just a pawn in the hands of Hashem! For whatever reason, Hashem felt that this person’s actions were beneficial to us.

When we do feel anger stirring-up inside us, there are some techniques to control it. Silence nullifies anger. We should remain silent until we feel calmer.  A soft voice nullifies anger. We should speak in a low tone to prevent anger from increasing and to help calm our emotions.  When we are angry at someone, we should not look at him straight in the face because that can increase our anger. Other popular suggestions are to count to 10, take a drink of water and leave it in your mouth, or go to the bathroom. There are over 40 other suggestions that can be found in, Anger The Inner Teacher by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin.

Anger is a normal reaction. But the more we control it,

the happier we will be, both physically and spiritually.