Category Archives: Sefer Shmos

Parshas Vayakhel/Pekudei: Feel Their Love!

Parshas Vayakhel/Pekudei

Feel Their Love!


“You shall not light a fire throughout your habitations on Shabbos” (Shmos 35:3).

I remember reading the following story. It is not a true story, but it does impart a lesson: A husband and wife lived in poverty. Finally, the wife told the husband to get a bracha from a particular rebbe. The husband told the rebbe about his sad state-of-affairs. The rebbe felt bad and gave the husband a bracha. He said that the first thing that the husband did when he arrived home would be especially blessed. The husband excitedly started dreaming about all the business possibilities that could bring him riches. As soon as he arrived home, he and his wife got into an argument. That was the husband’s first act when arriving home and that act became “blessed”. He and his wife argued for the rest of their lives.

The pasuk in this week’s parsha (Shmos 35:3) says, “You shall not light a fire throughout your habitations on Shabbos”. Most commentators explain this literally, that you may not light a fire on Shabbos. The Shaloh HaKaddosh in his sefer, Shnay Luchos HaBris (as quoted by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin in Love Your Neighbor), says that the word “fire” in the pasuk also alludes to the destructive fire of anger and disputes. Especially on Shabbos, one should be exceedingly careful not to grow angry or become involved in disputes.

Some commentaries say that erev Shabbos, Friday afternoon, is a time when people may get angry more easily, in their rush to prepare for Shabbos. The Talmud (Shabbos 30B-31A) tells a story. Two men made a bet that whoever could make the sage, Hillel, angry would get four hundred zuz. One of the men went to Hillel’s house on erev Shabbos and asked him a nonsensical question. Hillel answered calmly and returned to his erev Shabbos preparations. For a second time, the fellow knocked on Hillel’s door, again disturbing Hillel, with another nonsensical question. This went on once more. Hillel maintained his composure and did not get angry!

Perhaps the following dvar Torah by HaRav Alter Henach Leibowitz zt”l, will help us, in some way, to avoid getting angry at others, especially at our loved ones.

The Midrash Tanchuma (Shmos 12 and 13) says that when all the work of the Mishkan was complete, the only thing remaining to be done was for the Mishkan to be erected. Then Hashem’s Holy Presence would dwell within it. However, no one was able to erect it. Neither the wise men nor Ohaliav or Betzalel, who were in charge of its construction, could do so. Therefore, the Jewish people felt much anguish. The people voiced their frustration to Moshe. They showed Moshe each part of the Mishkan. Moshe agreed that it was all done properly, according to the proper specifications. Therefore, they asked Moshe, “Then why can’t the Mishkan be raised?” Moshe felt their pain. He felt terrible anguish that they could not erect the Mishkan. Why did Hashem cause this failure? Moshe Rabbeinu had felt personal pain that he had not been asked by Hashem to participate in the actual building of this holy structure. In actuality, Hashem had saved the raising of the Mishkan for Moshe to do.

The Rosh HaYeshiva zt”l asked, how could it be that Moshe, with all his wisdom, did not realize that raising the Mishkan would be his share in it? Moshe had felt pain that he had not been actively involved. One would think that Moshe would have felt joy knowing that obviously Hashem was saving this for him. Yet, the Midrash seems to indicate that Moshe only felt anguish but no joy, by the fact that the Mishkan could not be raised. Why was that? The Rosh HaYeshiva zt”l explained that Moshe was overwhelmed by the pain and anguish that the Jewish People felt due to their inability to raise the Mishkan. That pain, for others, so overwhelmed him, that his own personal pain, his desire to participate, was totally dwarfed. How could he feel joy when the Jewish people felt anguish?

Perhaps the reason that Moshe felt the pain of his people to the exclusion of his own personal pain was because of his tremendous love for his people. He loved the Jewish people so much that his personal pain was negligible compared to their pain.

We should make a conscious effort to increase our love for our fellow Jews.

When our hearts are filled with love of them, our own ego and self-love will be reduced.

That will help us to refrain from getting angry at others, even when they seem to deserve it.


Parshas Ki Sisa – The Snake Protected His House!

Parshas Ki Sisa

The Snake Protected His House!


“…no man will desire your land when you go up to appear before Hashem, three times a year.” (Shmos 34:24)

Three times a year, all Jewish males were given the mitzvah of aliya la’regel, to travel to the Beis HaMikdash in Yerushalayim. Rashi says that the purpose was to thank Hashem for His bounty.  Who would remain to protect their property when they would go to Yerushalayim? Hashem said (Shmos 34:24) not to worry. No one would take their land. The Ibn Ezra explains that since the Jews were doing His will, Hashem would undoubtedly guard their land from their enemies. The Talmud (Pesachim 8B) says, “Your cow shall graze in the meadow and no beast will harm it, and your rooster shall peck in the garbage dump and no marten [a weasel-like animal] shall harm it”.

The Midrash (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 7:2) quotes a few stories about this.

Once, someone went to fulfill the mitzvah of being ola la’regel on one of the Shalosh Regalim (Pesach, Shavuos, and Succos). He had not locked the doors of his house. When he returned, he found a snake entwined in the rings of his doors, protecting his house. Another time, a man forgot to bring his chickens into his house. When he returned, he found cats torn to pieces near the chickens while the chickens remained unharmed.  In another story, two wealthy brothers from Ashkelon had wicked, non-Jewish neighbors. The neighbors waited impatiently for the Jewish brothers to go to Jerusalem so that they could break into their home and rob them. The brothers left early in the morning, before the neighbors became aware that they had gone. The neighbors were surprised as it appeared to them that the brothers did not go. What made them think that? Apparently, Hashem had sent angels in the likeness of the brothers. The angels went in and out of the brothers’ houses, going about their daily routines. Thus, the neighbors thought that the brothers had never left. When the brothers returned from Yerushalayim, they brought gifts for their neighbors. Only then did the neighbors realize the miracle that Hashem had performed for the brothers.


The Talmud (Pesachim 8B) quotes Rabbi Ami who learns from this pasuk that any person who has land in his possession is obligated to go to the Beis HaMikdash for the shalosh regalim. However, one who does not have land in his possession is not obligated to go.

Rabbi Yissocher Frand (Rabbi Frand on the Parashah) questions why one, who does not have land in his possession, is not obligated to go to Yerushalayim. “Is this fair? What is the connection between going up three times a year and owning land?”

Rabbi Frand points out that the name used for Hashem in this pasuk is Ado-noi. That name for Hashem is used only twice in the entire Torah. The only other time it is used is also speaking about the mitzvah of aliyah la’regel (Shmos 23:17). Why? The Sforno (Shmos 23:17) says that the title, Adon, Master, is used to indicate that Hashem is the Master of the Land. Using this Sforno, Rabbi Frand explains that the mitzvah of aliyah la’regel is more than celebrating the festivals in the Beis HaMikdash. This mitzvah also emphasizes that everything belongs to Hashem. Therefore, one who goes to Yerushalayim does not have to worry about leaving his property unattended. Because it’s not his property! It is Hashem’s! This message is given to the one who owns land, the one who is rich and thinks that it belongs to him. One who doesn’t own land does not need this message in the same manner.

It is a challenge for all of us, but it is an even bigger challenge for a wealthy person to appreciate that he does not truly own anything; it all belongs to Hashem. He must understand that he is just a custodian of the wealth. Obviously, he can use it for himself. However, his job is to ensure that the wealth is used properly, that it is also given to help others.

One of the richest Jews was a multi-billionaire until he lost $20 billion. He had given a lot of money to many tzedakos. After he lost all his money, his friend asked him how it was possible that he had lost all his money. After all, the Talmud (Taanis 9A) quoting the pasuk of aser ta’aser says that if you give ma’aser money you will be rich. How could such a big giver of tzedakah have lost his money? The formerly rich man told his friend, “Do you think I gave ma’aser properly? I should have been giving billions! That was too great a challenge for me! I regret it and wish that I could have fulfilled the mitzvah properly.”  (Rabbi Yosef Tropper quoting Rabbi Asher Rubenstein zt”l).

Rav Shmuel HaNagid was the treasurer of the sultan in Constantinople, Turkey, 800 years ago. The other ministers, who were Muslims, were jealous of Rav Shmuel. They tried to convince the sultan that Rav Shmuel was dishonest and should not be trusted with the sultan’s money. They finally convinced the sultan to investigate. The sultan asked Rav Shmuel how much money he had. Rav Shmuel replied that he owned 250 golden coins. The sultan was flabbergasted because he knew that Rav Shmuel’s salary was much higher than that. When he challenged Rav Shmuel, Rav Shmuel explained that he had much more money in his vault at home. However, that money was not truly “his” because he could lose it in a moment. Someone could take it from him, or he could die. On the other hand, the 250 golden coins was the sum that he had given to charity. Only that money was truly his and could never be taken away from him. The sultan was so impressed by this answer that he realized that Rav Shmuel was indeed someone who could be trusted (ibid).

All our successes in life are due to Hashem and not because of our shrewdness or brilliance. Everything that we own belongs to Hashem. Hashem graciously gives it to us both for our own use and to benefit others. We are just executors whose job it is to distribute the funds properly. When we can attain this level of belief, it will be easier for us to give more of what we “have” to help others.


Parshas Tetzaveh – Special Purim Issue – The Most Powerful Weapon!

Parshas Tetzaveh – Special Purim Issue

The Most Powerful Weapon!


“Mordechai tore his garments and … cried out a great and bitter cry.” (Megillas Esther 4:1)

The evil Prime Minister, Haman, convinced King Achashverosh to annihilate every single Jew. Rashi (Megillas Esther 4:1) says that Mordechai, who was the leader of the Jews, was told about this terrible decree, in a dream. He was told that the punishment had been decreed because the Jews had bowed to the idol in the days of Nevuchadnetzar, and because they had enjoyed Achashverosh’s feast. Mordechai’s response to this news was, “And Mordechai tore his garments and clothed himself in sack and ashes; and he went out in the midst of the city, and he cried out a great and bitter cry”. The Maharzu and Eitz Yosef (Midrash Rabbah Shmos 38:4) explain that Mordechai’s “crying” refers to tefillah, prayer.

Although the actual decree of annihilation was scheduled to take place in eleven months hence, Mordechai felt that the Jews were in an exceedingly dangerous situation. He sent a message to Queen Esther to immediately approach King Achashverosh and beg him to save the Jewish People. Esther responded that there was a death penalty for anyone approaching the king without first getting permission. If she would go to the king now, she would be placing her life in danger. She felt that it was prudent to wait until the king called for her. She said that he would probably call for her sometime soon, as he had not seen her for almost 30 days. Mordechai felt that the situation was so serious that he told Esther that she should go anyway, despite the danger to her life. Esther agreed to go but requested that the Jews fast for three days beforehand. In that merit she would be successful in her mission. The last day of the fasting was the night of the first Pesach seder. If the Jews would be fasting, that they would not be able to fulfill the Torah requirement of eating matza at the seder. They would also be unable to fulfill the Rabbinic mitzva of drinking the 4 cups of wine and eating marror. Despite that, Mordechai agreed that all the Jews should fast.

Later in the Purim story, there was a turn-around of events. Mordechai was honored greatly while Haman was humiliated. The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 10:4-5) tells us what occurred. “The king said to Haman: Hurry, take the garments and the horse as you have said. Do so to Mordechai the Jew who sits at the king’s gate. Do not omit anything that you spoke of.”

Haman went to Mordechai and told him to put on the royal garments. Mordechai responded, “Why are you dishonoring the monarchy? Is there any man who would put on royal garments without bathing?” Haman went and sought a bath attendant but could not find one. Queen Esther had declared a national holiday, closing all the schools and stores. She wanted everyone to witness Haman’s humiliation. Since there was no bath attendant available, Haman who had previously been a bath attendant, was forced to bathe Mordechai himself. After the bath, Haman told Mordechai to put on the king’s crown. Mordechai said to him, “Why are you dishonoring the monarchy? Is there any man who would put on a royal crown without a haircut?” Haman searched for a barber but could not find one. What did he do? Haman, who had been a barber for many years, gave Mordechai a haircut.  Then Haman told Mordechai to mount the horse. Mordechai said, “I do not have the strength [to mount it], for I am old.” Haman responded that he too was also old.  Mordechai said to Haman that he had brought this upon himself.  Thereupon, Haman bent down on his hands and knees to allow Mordechai to step on him to mount the horse. Then Haman led Mordechai on the horse through the city square, proclaiming, “So shall be done to the man that the king wishes to honor!’” (Megillas Esther 6:10-11)

The Midrash continues that while Mordechai was riding the horse, he began praising Hashem. “I will exalt You, Hashem, for You have lifted me up and have not caused my enemies to rejoice over me. Hashem, I cried out to You, and You have healed me. Hashem, You brought my soul up from the grave. You have given me life that I not go down to a pit.” (Psalms 30:2–4).

Clearly, the tide was beginning to turn. It appeared that Haman’s downfall had begun. When Haman returned home, even his wife and other advisors told him that his downfall was a foregone conclusion (Megillas Esther 6:13). Yet, as soon as Mordechai completed his ride, Rashi says (6:12) that he went back to wearing sackcloth and fasting.

We would think that at this point, Mordechai would not be praying with the same intensity as before. After all, he had experienced the beginning of the tide turning. Yet, the Maharzu comments on the Midrash Rabbah in this week’s parsha (Shmos 38:4) that when Mordechai returned to sackcloth and prayer, he prayed with the same level of intensity as previously.  Mordechai’s prayer at this time, despite the onset of Haman’s downfall, was as powerful as when he had first found out about the harsh decree.


It is amazing that Mordechai was able to pray with the same deep feelings when he clearly saw Haman’s downfall quickly occurring! It is also amazing that he felt the necessity to do so! He understood that the Jews were still in danger, and that Hashem could, just as easily, turn things back around if the Jews were not deserving.


When we are in need, we turn to our most powerful weapon, prayer. Sincere prayer from the depths of our heart is very powerful and productive. Hashem does not always give us the answer that we want. However, our prayers can make a difference now, and for our future generations. Our prayers may even help one of our future descendants in need. Even if we see that our prayers are beginning to help, we must not let up. We must continue praying with the same fervor and intensity as before. We cannot take anything for granted, as situations can quickly change and turn back around.


When, with Hashem’s help, we do see salvation, we must continue our heartfelt prayers, expressing our thanks and appreciation to Hashem.



Parshas Terumah: Hold the Poles and Soar to the Highest Heights!

Parshas Terumah

Hold the Poles and Soar to the Highest Heights!


“The poles shall be in the rings of the ark: they shall not be taken from it.” (Shmos 25:15)

Last year I visited Eretz Yisroel. I spoke with a rav who shared a fascinating, personal story. When he first got married, he was planning to learn in Kollel for a number of years. This was at a time when learning in Kollel was not a common practice. His father, knowing that he would need a means of support, offered to support him for five years even though it was not a common practice in those days. True to his word, the father supported the son for five years. The father died very shortly thereafter. The father had survived a heart attack right before he began supporting his son in Kollel and had a fatal heart attack right after ending his support. The son was told that it was likely that his father had been granted an extra 5 years of life in the merit of having supported his son’s Torah learning, during that time.   

The Alshich (Shmos 25:8) says that Hashem wanted the Jewish people to build a Mishkan in order that Hashem’s Holy Presence could dwell amongst them. The Mishkan was only a symbol for the true resting place of the Holy Presence, namely in the heart of every Jew. The Ba’al HaTurim (Shmos 25:2) says that we can make our heart a Mishkan for Hashem’s Holy Presence by devoting our heart to Torah and Hashem’s service. (The Midrash Says, on Shmos)

Learning Torah and doing mitzvos is our raison d’etre, our reason for living.

The Shulchan Aroch (Yorah Deah, Siman 246) states that every Jew is obligated to learn; be he rich or poor, healthy or suffering, young or old, rich or poverty stricken. All are obligated to set aside time for learning, both day and night. The Talmud (Megillah 10B) says that the Aron, the Holy Ark, miraculously took up no space in the Holy of Holies in the Bais Hamikdash. I believe that Rav Herschel Welcher said that one thing this teaches us is that when we set aside time to learn Torah, it does not take time out of our day. In the merit of our learning Torah, Hashem helps us to accomplish the other things we need to, more quickly than we would have otherwise been able to. Thus, our Torah learning doesn’t take away our time as Hashem facilitates our accomplishing more, in the same time.

Nowadays, even one who does not understand Hebrew can still learn Torah. There are many Torah classes given in English both live and on the internet (such as on There are also many Torah books translated from Hebrew.

At times, there are extenuating circumstances which make it difficult for one to learn as much Torah as he would want to. The Chofetz Chaim zt”l  (Shem Olam, perek 14) says, if that would be the case, then one should support others who are learning. That will help him acquire his share in Torah and it will be considered as if himself had learned Torah.

It says in our parsha (Shmos 25:15) that the poles that were “used to carry the Aron were to remain and never be removed”.  When the Jews were camped and not travelling, the poles were not needed to carry the Aron. Yet, it was forbidden to remove them. The Chofetz Chaim zt”l (Shem Olam, 1:17) says this teaches us that the poles which were used to transport the Aron acquired the holiness of the Aron. It merited to be together with the Aron forever, even when it was no longer needed. Similarly, says the Chofetz Chaim zt”l, when you support someone who is learning Torah, you will merit to be alongside him in a very special place, in Olam Haba, the World to Come (quoted in Be’eru Chofetz Chaim on the Torah by Rabbi Yisroel Yosef Braunstein). Not only that, but when you support someone who is learning Torah, you will also understand the depth of learning just like the Torah learner, in the yeshiva shel malah, the Heavenly yeshiva.

When the Leviim carried the Aron by its poles, it appeared that they were carrying the Aron. The Talmud (Sotah 35A) says that actually, the Aron carried its bearers. Rabbi Nosson Adler zt”l says, this is similar to two people who make a Yissachar-Zevulun pact. In that pact, the “Zevulun” works and shares his salary with the “Yissachar” who devotes his time to learning Torah. Outwardly, it seems as if the “Zevulun” is supporting the “Yissachar”. That is not so. In actuality, the Torah of the “Yissachar” supports the “Zevulun”, just as the Aron carried its bearers. (Talelei Oros by Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rubin)

We are in this world for the sole purpose of learning Torah, doing mitzvos, and perfecting our character.

It is a tremendous merit to support those who are occupied with learning Torah.

We also personally gain great benefits, by doing so.


Parshas Mishpatim: The Secret to Unimaginable Wealth!

Parshas Mishpatim

The Secret to Unimaginable Wealth!


“They beheld G-d, and they ate and drank.” (Shmos 24:10)

Lebron James, the basketball player, earns $44.4 million dollars for the season. He earns $542,378 per game and $11,300 per minute of each game!  If he would take a short, 5-minute nap, while sitting on the bench, he would earn $56,500!

Shimon is a 7th grader who learns Torah. He can say 40 words of Torah per minute. Every single word of Torah is so precious and so invaluable. Using a very low number, we can guesstimate that his Heavenly reward for each word is $1 million. Based on that, every minute he is earning $40 million. If Shimon takes 10 minutes to eat breakfast, he “potentially” could earn $166,666. If he plays basketball at recess for 20 minutes, he can “potentially” earn $3,333,320. While sleeping at night for 7 hours, he could “potentially” earn $69,999,720 for that one night. That is about 70 million dollars!

Why do I say, “potentially”? If Shimon’s intentions are to be able to serve Hashem better, then Hashem considers his eating, his recess break, and even his sleeping to be an actual mitzvah for which he gets rewarded! We should “know” Hashem and “serve” Hashem in all that we do. Even our mundane actions should be done for the sake of Hashem. It says in Mishlei (3:6), “בְּכׇל־דְּרָכֶ֥יךָ דָעֵ֑הוּ וְ֝ה֗וּא יְיַשֵּׁ֥ר אֹֽרְחֹתֶֽיךָ׃” “In all your ways acknowledge Him….” The Metzudas Dovid says, “Know Hashem in all that you do…Think about how your deeds can fulfill the will of Hashem. Then Hashem will guide you on the straight path and you will be successful.”

Two of Aharon HaKohain’s sons were Nadav and Avihu. They were great men; some say that they were even greater than Moshe and Aharon. Nadav and Avihu had been destined to take over the leadership of the Jewish People. At our greatest moment in history, the giving of the Torah, Nadav and Avihu had a vision. They saw the Holy Presence of Hashem. The Torah (Shmos 24:10) says that “they saw [a vision of] the G-d of Israel, and under His feet [there was something] like a brickwork of sapphire, and it was like the essence of heaven in purity.” The next pasuk says, “They beheld G-d, and they ate and drank”. Rashi explains that they had sinned and deserved to be punished. They had gazed at Hashem, feeling some minute degree of arrogance, while actually eating and drinking. Because of that, they were severely punished at a later time. Apparently, their eating and drinking was inappropriate while seeing or sensing a very holy vision. On some level, it was considered arrogance.

The Targum Onkelos has a totally different understanding. He says that Nadav and Avihu were praised for their actions. They did not actually eat or drink. Rather, they felt such elated joy that Hashem had accepted their sacrifice. Their joy was comparable to the joy one feels when eating a delicious meal and then drinking.

How can we compare holiness to physicality? How can we compare their spiritual joy of beholding the Holiness of Hashem to the physical joy of eating and drinking?

The Vilna Gaon zt”l answers this question based on a pasuk in Mishlei (Proverbs 3:6). The pasuk says, “In all of your ways know Him.” The Vilna Gaon explains that one should serve Hashem with both his evil and good inclinations. Even physical acts can be elevated into spiritual acts of service to Hashem, if done with the proper intentions.

Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Sher zt”l was the rosh yeshiva of the Slabodka Yeshiva in Lithuania and Bnei Brak. He was the son-in-law of Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Alter of Slabodka. Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Sher zt”l says that all of the actions of our forefathers, even their physical acts of eating and drinking were on a very holy level. Their eating and drinking were on the level of the service that the Kohain Gadol did in the Beis HaMikdash. Eating and drinking involves many body parts. When done for the sake of Hashem, there is more physical involvement which contributes to more joy and closeness to Hashem. According to Targum Onkelos, this elevated level of joy was what Nadav and Avihu felt.

The Torah says that (Bereishis 27:20) our forefather Yaakov brought our forefather Yitzchak savory food to receive his blessing. The Midrash Rabbah (Bereishis 65:19) says that Yitzchak was suspicious as to how Yaakov could bring the food so quickly. Yaakov replied, “If Hashem summoned a ram to take your place to be sacrificed, then surely Hashem will provide for the savory foods for you to be brought quickly.” When one eats or drinks for the sake of Hashem, one can reach a higher level of holiness than when one offers an actual sacrifice.

When we do a mundane action for the sake of Hashem, we elevate that action to holiness!

Think about which actions YOU can elevate to holiness.


Based on a dvar Torah By Rabbi Alter Henach Leibowitz zt”l


Parshas Yisro: The Mission of a Lifetime!

Parshas Yisro

The Mission of a Lifetime!


“And her two sons of whom the name of one was Gershom, for he had said, ‘I was a sojourner in a strange land.’ And the name of the other was Eliezer, for ‘the G-D of my father came to my aid, and He saved me from the sword of Pharoah.’” (Shmos 18:3-4)

Moshe and Tziporah had two sons. Moshe named his first son, Gershom, because Moshe was a stranger in a strange land. Moshe named his second son, Eliezer, to commemorate the miracle of when Hashem saved him from Pharoah’s executioner.

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l  (Chofetz Chaim On the Torah) asks two questions. Firstly, Moshe should have named his first son Eliezer since chronologically Moshe was first saved before he became a stranger in the land of Midian. Secondly, what was the objective of naming him Gershom, indicating that Moshe was a stranger there?

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l answers, that when Moshe arrived at Yisro’s house, Yisro had not yet converted to Judaism. Obviously Yisro’s deeds were not yet completely refined. Moshe was concerned lest he learn from or be influenced by Yisro’s actions. That is why he called his first son’s name Gershom. Moshe wanted to make a constant reminder for himself that he was a stranger in a strange land. Moshe wanted that reminder so that he should not learn from Yisro’s deeds and certainly not learn from the deeds of the people of Midian. “Now, I am a stranger in a strange land”, thought Moshe. “In the future I will return to my source, dwelling with the Holy Presence of Hashem”. This naming was a vivid reminder to Moshe to be heedful of his actions. He could draw the strength to maintain his holiness by remembering that he was only in MIdian temporarily but eventually he would reside with Hashem.

We find a similar idea expressed by the Shelah in Parshas Va’era. The Torah (Shmos 6:14-16) says, “The sons of Reuvein…”, and then the Torah lists the sons. Then the Torah says, “The names of Shimon …”   and then the Torah states, “And these are the names of the sons of Levi ….” The Shelah questions why the Torah changed the wording when it listed the names of Levi’s sons. The Shelah says something very fascinating. Through Divine inspiration, Levi knew that his descendants would not be subject to the suffering of the enslavement, as the other tribes were. Yet, Levi wanted to show empathy for the Jewish people who would suffer from the pain of slavery. Thus, he named his children with names that would help him focus on the suffering that the Jewish people would soon undergo in Egypt. He named one son Gershon because the Jewish people were strangers in Egypt. He named the next son Kehas because the teeth of the Jews, kahu, would rot from suffering. The third son he named Merari, from the word mar, “bitter”, because the Egyptians would embitter the lives of the Jews. (Talelei Oros by Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rubin)   

 The Chofetz Chaim zt”l  (Chofetz Chaim On the Torah) closes with a beautiful parable. Imagine that you travelled thousands of miles to a different country, to purchase precious merchandise at their fair. This merchandise was not found in your country. Upon your return home, you would sell the merchandise at a nice profit. The money that you would earn would support your family for the year.  Now, imagine that while you were at the fair, involved in negotiations to buy the merchandise, someone approached you. That fellow wanted to show you a fascinating article in the newspaper or invited you to join him in a game. You would tell him in very strong terms to leave and stop annoying you. Every minute that you would waste talking to him would cause you a financial loss. You came, thousands of miles from home, leaving your family behind, to be able to provide for them for the year. You would have no time to waste on trivial, inconsequential things like reading newspapers or playing games.        

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l says that each of our souls was under Hashem’s throne. Our souls came to this world, for a short while, from millions of miles away, to learn Torah and to acquire mitzvos. That “merchandise” will be needed to support us for eternity. The yetzer hara tries to distract us from our mission, with inconsequential things. Every moment that the yetzer hara distracts us, he prevents us from earning all that we could. We must firmly send the yetzer hara away, telling him not to distract us from our life’s mission.      

 With this in mind, we should consciously decide how much time, if any, we want to spend on things like reading newspapers & playing or watching games as versus learning Torah & doing other mitzvos. Each of us must determine if it’s a relaxation to help us do more mitzvos? Or is it a distraction?   

We can use different methods to help us stay focused on our mission.

Let’s think how we can prevent the yetzer hara from distracting us from our important mission in life.

Our mission in this world is to attain as many mitzvos and as much Torah-learning as we can.

Those merits will sustain us for eternity.


Parshas Beshalach: If You Blink, You May Miss Seeing It!

Parshas Beshalach

If You Blink, You May Miss Seeing It!


“The people complained to Moshe saying, “What shall we drink?” He cried out to Hashem, and Hashem showed him a tree; he threw it into the water and the water became sweet” (Shmos 15:24-25)

My wife’s friend just finished sitting shiva for her mother. After her mother passed away, her body had to be driven from Cleveland for burial in New York, late Motzei Shabbos. In the middle of the drive, at about 2 o’clock in the morning, the driver needed to use the restroom. He stopped at a rest-stop. It was totally deserted of cars. The driver was in a quandry. On the one hand, he needed the restroom. On the other hand, there is a very important mitzvah to have someone watch over a dead body the entire time, until burial. The mitzvah is so important that the person watching-over the body is excused from doing other mitzvos that would take him away from this important mitzvah. Just as the driver was considering what to do, a car suddenly pulled-up behind his car. A religious Jew walked out of the car. A coincidence at 2 AM? I think not. The driver was on his way to Lakewood when his engine light went on. He didn’t want to complete the long drive without checking his engine, so he drove into the rest stop. He graciously agreed to watch-over the body while the other driver used the rest room. When the first driver returned, the other driver’s engine light was off. Both drivers continued-on their ways. Interestingly, the engine light of the second driver never went on again.  Clearly, Hashem arranged that the man driving to Lakewood should stop at that specific rest stop at the exact time that he was needed. Hashem’s salvation comes in the blink of an eye, at just the right time.

Rabbi Yissocher Frand (Rabbi Frand on the Parashah 3) says that Parshas Beshalach usually falls out around the time of Tu Bishvat, the New Year for trees. Thus, there must be some parallel between the two. Rabbi Frand quotes the Ziv HaMinhagim who gives a parallel. Why do we celebrate the Rosh Hashanah for trees during the winter months when the trees are dormant rather than in the spring when the trees are in full bloom? The answer is that although the trees look dead, beneath the surface the sap is beginning to flow towards the branches. The beautiful leaves that will appear in the springtime are starting their growth in the dead of the winter. Celebrating the New Year for trees now, teaches us not to give up hope when things seem bleak. Salvation can come speedily.

In this week’s Parsha, the Jews had traveled in the desert for three days without finding water. When they arrived at Marah, they were very frustrated. They found water but it was undrinkable. Things appeared to be bleak. What could they drink? Hashem showed Moshe a certain tree and told Moshe to throw the tree into the water. The bitter water turned sweet and became drinkable. In an instant, Hashem changed a bleak situation into a positive one. Hashem’s salvation came in the blink of an eye.

The Talmud (Pesachim 116B) quotes Rabban Gamliel who explains that we eat matzah at the Pesach seder to commemorate the matzah that baked on the back of the Jews as they left Egypt. The Torah (Shmos 12:39) states further, that the Jewish People had to leave quickly and had not prepared food for the journey ahead.

The question is obvious. The Jewish People were about to go on a journey through the desert. Why didn’t they prepare food for the trip? How could they possibly leave without preparing provisions for the way?

There are several different answers to this question. The Torah has such depth that there are different ways of understanding it. Even when different commentaries have different approaches to answer a question, the answers are not mutually exclusive. They are all accurate.

Rashi says that this showed the Jews’ absolute faith in Hashem to provide them with their needs. Hashem rewarded them for this beautiful show of faith by making them holy to Hashem.

HaRav Naftoli Tzvi Yehudah Berlin zt”l (in sefer Ha’emek Davar) has a different explanation. He says that the Jews purposely did not gather provisions for a long journey to make the Egyptians think that they were only leaving for a short time, to serve Hashem, and would soon return.

The Da’as Zekainim says that they had no time to prepare provisions because the Egyptians were trying to rush them out. The Bekhor Shor says similarly. They should have prepared provisions since Moshe Rabbeinu had already told them that they would be leaving Egypt after this plague. They thought they would have time to prepare, not realizing that they would be rushed out and would not have the time.

Rabbi Yissocher Frand (Rabbi Frand on the Parashah) offers a different insight. Moshe had told the Jews ahead of time that they would be leaving Egypt in the morning, after this last plague. Then why did they not prepare provisions for the long journey ahead? Rabbi Frand posits that perhaps the Jews had given up hope of ever leaving Egypt. After each plague, they had expected to leave Egypt. They probably were all packed and ready to go. Yet they were disappointed, time and time again. Although Moshe had told them that they would be leaving the morning after the plague of the Firstborn, by then they could not get excited because they had experienced so many disappointments. When they were actually redeemed the next morning, it shocked them. They had to leave quickly without time to prepare. They failed to realize that Hashem’s salvation can come as quick as the blink of an eye, so they were totally unprepared when it did occur.

A problem that seemed insurmountable can vanish in thin air, in an instant.

Hashem can redeem us from national problems and personal problems in the blink of an eye!


Parshas Bo: Do You Have the Time? It Can Mean the Difference Between Life and Death!

Parshas Bo

Do You Have the Time? It Can Mean the Difference Between Life and Death!


“This month shall be for you the beginning of the months.” (Shmos 12:2)

On April 26,1986 there was an accident at a nuclear power plant in Chernobyl in the Soviet Union. Radiation from the damaged reactor was dispersed in the atmosphere. Over 150,000 square kilometers in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine were eventually contaminated.

Natalya and Vladimir Dorman, both highly intelligent professors, were in their home with Evgeniy, their ten-year-old son. With a radioactive cloud hovering over their neighborhood, Natalya said sadly that they may all be dead in three days from the radiation. She said, “We have led meaningless lives. We have little to show for ourselves. Let us become elevated people in our last days on earth.” She took out a Jewish book that a friend had given her, called the The Midrash Says. Slowly, Natalya began reading to her family about Hashem and Creation. Evgeniy was fascinated and was especially moved by the idea that the Torah was the blueprint of the world. He said, “If I could learn Torah, whatever that is, I could understand how this universe works…. How wonderful!” The Dormans did not die. Now that they were aware that they were so spiritually ignorant, they immigrated to Israel where they could learn Torah.  Years later, Evgeniy, known as Yehudah, became an accomplished Torah scholar. (The Grandeur of the Maggid by Rabbi Paysach Krohn)

Before the plague of the killing of the first born, Hashem gave the Jewish People a mitzvah. The very first mitzvah that they received, as a nation, was the mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon. The Jewish calendar and all the holidays depend on this mitzvah.

Why is this mitzvah so significant that it was the first one that Hashem gave? Rabbeinu Bachya says that it forms a basis of our faith. When we see the new moon and say a bracha on it, we are testifying to Hashem’s renewal of creation. If Hashem would not constantly renew creation, the world would be destroyed. That is a foundation of belief in Hashem.

The Sforno says that Hashem was sending the Jewish people a very important message with this mitzvah. From that time onwards, the months belonged to them, and the Jews could do whatever they wished with their time. When they had been enslaved, their time had not been their own. They had been at the whim of their masters who could have bothered them at any time – day, or night. Hashem was telling them that now their time was their own.

Rav Avrohom Pam zt”l says, “Only when a person is in control of his time can he be a מְצוּוֶה וְעוֹשֶֹה, one who is commanded to fulfill a mitzvah. Therefore, as a prelude to their new obligations to uphold the Torah, Klal Yisrael was given this specific mitzvah which is the key to all the other mitzvos.”

The Beis Din, the Jewish court, sanctifies the months. However, it is the task of every single Jew to sanctify the gift of life that he has been given through proper utilization of time. Every person is given a predetermined amount of time on earth. Everyone’s responsibility is to make the optimum use of this gift.

In Pirkei Avos (3:1) Akavia the son of Mehalel says that one can be dissuaded from sin if he realizes that he will eventually have to give Hashem justification and reckoning for his deeds. The Vilna Gaon zt”l explains that “justification” refers to the futile attempt one will make to justify his misdeeds. “Reckoning” refers to the reckoning that one will have to make for the time one misused by sinning. Instead of sinning, he could have used that time well, by doing mitzvos. The Pirkei Avos Treasury by Rabbi Moshe Lieber illustrates this with a beautiful parable. A merchant sold defective seeds to farmers. When the seeds yielded no produce, the farmers were very upset. They demanded to be reimbursed for price of the seeds AND for the profit that they would have earned from the fields, had the seeds not been defective.

A Jew knows that his life has a profound purpose, and his soul has descended beneath the Heavenly Throne to this earth to accomplish a mission that only he can fulfill.  He was not placed on this earth just to “kill time”.  Whatever he accomplishes in his life on this earth will be what must sustain his soul for all eternity.

(Rav Pam on the Chumash by Rabbi Sholom Smith)


(dvar Torah based, in part, on Rav Pam on the Chumash by Rabbi Sholom Smith)


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.


Parshas Shmos: Suffer No More!

Parshas Shmos

Suffer No More!


“Come let us deal wisely with him. Lest he increase so much, that, if there is war, he will join our enemies and fight against us, driving us from the land.” (Shmos 1:10).

I read the following story: A man once visited the Maggid of Mezeritch. He said that he couldn’t understand the Talmudic dictum that we are supposed to bless Hashem for the bad times just as we bless Him for the good times (Brachos 54a). The Maggid told him to go visit his student Reb Zusha, who would explain it to him. The man went to Reb Zusha’s house and was astonished at the family’s dire poverty. They had almost no food, the family members were sick, and they had many other challenges. Yet, Reb Zusha welcomed him warmly and cheerfully. The visitor told Reb Zusha why he had come. Reb Zusha responded that he was not sure why the Maggid had sent the visitor to him. Reb Zusha said that he did not know about suffering since he had never experienced anything bad.

Oy! Too many are in pain! There is too much suffering and too much sorrow, nowadays! We really need Hashem to send Moshiach and bring an end to all our challenges and difficulties.

We must realize that Hashem loves us even more than a parent loves a child! When we are in pain, Hashem is also in pain! Yet, Hashem Who is All-Knowing, knows that when we see the entire picture, after our lifetime, we will understand why the suffering was beneficial for us. With that in mind, if we can bear the suffering, it will be a great merit for us.  Rabbi Yisroel Brog, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Tiferes Avigdor, quotes an Ohr HaChaim. The Ohr HaChaim (Shmos 1:1) adds that when one is willing to accept suffering, that acceptance takes the place of the actual suffering! Those members of Yaakov’s family who accepted their destiny to endure exile and willingly arrived in Egypt with that knowledge, did not experience slavery. The enslavement did not start until after they had died.

The Jewish People, in Egypt, were multiplying in great numbers. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 106A) says that that the king had three advisors who helped him determine how to handle the ever-increasing number of Israelites. The advisors were Bilam, Iyov, and Yisro. “Come let us deal wisely with him. Lest he increase so much, that, if there is war, he will join our enemies and fight against us, driving us from the land.” (Shmos 1:10). Bilam advised that the male, Jewish babies be drowned. Meanwhile, the Egyptians oppressed the Jews with slave labor and embittered their lives. “וַיְמָֽרֲר֨וּ אֶת־חַיֵּיהֶ֜ם בַּֽעֲבֹדָ֣ה קָשָׁ֗ה… ” ,“The Egyptians made the lives of the Jews bitter, with harsh labor involving mortar and bricks, and all kinds of work in the fields. All the work they made them do [was intended] to break them” (Shmos 1:14).

The Vilna Gaon zt”l (sefer Kol Eliyahu) explains that the cantellation marks (the musical notes) on the words, “And they embittered their lives” are “קַדְמָא וְאַזְלָא”. The definition of those two words is “to go early”. The exile was supposed to last for 400 years. The Jews left early, after 210 years, because the work had intensified. Because the Jews suffered more, their exile lasted 190 years less. Their intensified suffering was ultimately for their benefit. Interestingly, the gematria of “קַדְמָא וְאַזְלָא” is 190 (Every Hebrew letter has a numerical component. ק=100, ד=4, מ=40, א=1, ו=6, א=1, ז=7, ל=30, א=1. The sum is 190). Our intense suffering, nowadays, can be the cause for a quicker redemption for us individually or for the Jewish People as a whole!

Midrash Rabbah (Shmos 1:9) states how Hashem punished Pharoah’s three advisors. Bilam, who advised to drown the Jewish babies, was killed. Iyov, who remained silent, was afflicted with suffering. Yisro, who ran away in protest, merited to have Jewish descendants who were very distinguished.

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz zt”l, the late Rosh HaYeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva, comments on this Midrash (Sichos Mussar, year 5731, Parshas Va’era). He says that obviously, Bilam’s punishment had to be more severe than Iyov’s, since Bilam was the one who suggested the evil plan of killing the Jewish babies. Iyov had remained silent, intimating his agreement to the plan. Yet, it seems that Iyov received the harsher punishment?! Bilam was killed by the sword while Iyov was punished with severe suffering.

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz zt”l quotes the Talmud (Kedushin 80B). There is a pasuk in Eichah (3:39), “Why then does a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins”? Rashi explains the pasuk, “By what right does a man have to complain about what has been meted out to him? It is enough for him that I have granted him the gift of life and not death. A man has no right to complain about the misfortunes that befall him, in view of the overriding kindness that I have shown him by allowing him to live”.

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz quotes a parable about a man who just won a large sum of money in a lottery. At the same time, his pitcher or barrel broke. Would he be saddened and upset about the barrel breaking or would his happiness of winning the lottery overshadow that? Wouldn’t his satisfaction and happiness overshadow other daily suffering that he may have been having? Similarly, Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz zt”l says that we should focus on Hashem’s great kindness to us, of giving us life. That should make us tremendously happy to no end. If we can feel that happiness and joy, that would help us bear the suffering and challenges that we face. Even such terrible sufferings as Iyov had, can become “nonexistent” if we focus on this great gift of life.

We should value our great gift of life and use our time properly by learning Torah and performing mitzvos.

There are 4 coping strategies that help us when suffering through difficult challenges.

  • We should realize that Hashem’s love for us surpasses even the love of our close ones. Hashem does things for our ultimate If we understand that and accept our suffering, it will be a very great merit for us.
  • If we are willing to accept our suffering, that can take the place of the actual suffering.
  • We should understand that intense suffering can be the cause of our personal and national redemption coming more quickly.
  • We can overcome the intense pain of suffering and challenges by focusing on the greatest gift that Hashem has given us, the gift of life.