Category Archives: Sefer Shmos

Parshas Vaykhel: 7 Is My Lucky Number!

Parshas Vaykhel

7 Is My Lucky Number!

 

“…These are the things that Hashem has commanded you to do”. (Shmos 35:1)

Rabbi Yaakov Kranz zt”l, the Dubno Maggid, said a beautiful parable. Shmuel had to move far from home. He was always anxious to hear the latest happenings from his home and his family who he had to leave behind. Whenever a stranger came to his town, Shmuel asked if he happened to have come from his old hometown. After many months, Shmuel finally found such a person. When he started asking the stranger questions, the stranger said that he did not have the time to answer them since he had to spend the entire day begging for money. Shmuel offered to pay the beggar a full day’s wages, in advance, if he would spend the day with him and tell him about all the happenings in his former hometown. The beggar agreed. He started talking but fell asleep in the middle. When he awoke, he said that he did not have the strength to answer questions because he was so hungry. Shmuel gave him a hearty meal. The beggar then said that he had such a heavy meal that he needed to take a nap before answering any questions. Shmuel lost patience with the beggar. The day was almost over. Shmuel told him that he had paid him for the day and had even given him a sumptuous meal. All that Shmuel wanted was news from his hometown. Yet, all the beggar did was eat, drink, and sleep on a day that should have been totally devoted to Shmuel. (The Maggid of Dubno and his parables by Benno Heinemann)

Hashem gave us the day of Shabbos as an opportunity to devote ourselves to Torah learning and to our families. The physical rest on Shabbos is not a means into itself. It is to give us the strength to use this day as we should. If all we do is eat, drink, and sleep then we have wasted-away the purpose of the day.

At the end of last week’s Parsha, Moshe descended Har Sinai, on the day after Yom Kippur, holding the new set of Luchos. That action signified Hashem’s forgiveness for the sin of the Golden Calf. This week’s Parsha begins with Moshe gathering all the Jewish People. Moshe said to them, “These are the things that Hashem has commanded you to do” (Shmos 35:1). In the very next pasuk, Moshe tells the Jewish People to observe Shabbos on the seventh day of the week. Then Moshe discusses the materials that the Jews were asked to donate to the Mishkan (Tabernacle) as well as the request for volunteers to help make the different parts of the Mishkan.

The Ramban asks why Moshe preceded the discussion of the Mishkan with the law of Shabbos. The Ramban answers that it was to teach the Jews that they should work on the Mishkan during the six days, but not on the seventh day which is holy to Hashem.

The Ohr HaChaim has a different approach as to why the laws of Shabbos are repeated at this point. The Talmud (Horayot 8A) says that one who serves idols is considered as if he had violated all the mitzvos. By serving idols he is implying that he denies the authority of Hashem and His Torah. The Jewish People had been guilty of this sin because they had served the Golden Calf. They needed to rectify this sin and compensate for all the 613 commandments which they had violated. This would have been very difficult, if not impossible. Therefore, Hashem offered them an opportunity to rehabilitate themselves by means of the observance of Shabbos. How would observing the Shabbos properly help them to achieve this forgiveness? The Talmud (Shabbos 118) says that even a person who had been guilty of idolatry is forgiven for his sins when he observes Shabbos according to its laws. The Ben Yehoyada explains that this refers to one who is happy to observe Shabbos, feeling that Shabbos is special and not a burden.   

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l quotes the Talmud (Shabbos 10B):  Hashem told Moshe, I have a special gift in my treasure house called Shabbos and I want to give it to the Jews. Please tell them about it. The Chofetz Chaim zt”l says that If a bride returns the gifts given to her by her groom it indicates she no longer wants him and the shidduch is off. Similarly, if we don’t keep Shabbos, it is as if we are returning the gift of Shabbos that Hashem had given us. We are showing that we no longer want to have that connection with Hashem.

The Zera Shimshon (Zera Shimshon by Rabbi Nachman Seltzer) adds that observing Shabbos is very powerful and serves to protect us against our enemies.

Hashem gave us a gift that He treasures, the gift of Shabbos. Let us make the most of this gift by using the day of Shabbos to study Torah and devote ourselves to our families, fostering their spiritual and religious growth.

 

 

Parshas Tetzaveh: My Locker Number is 147!

Parshas Tetzaveh

My Locker Number is 147!

 

“This is the matter that you shall do for them [the kohanim] to make them holy in order to serve Me” (Shmos 29:1)

One year, there was a class of students who were so unruly that two different teachers got burned-out from teaching them.  One teacher took early retirement and the other decided to permanently stop teaching.  This class was so bad that substitute teachers refused to teach them.  The district administrator called a teacher who had previously applied for a teaching job.  She eagerly accepted. The principal decided not to warn the teacher about the class, afraid that she would be scared off if she heard what she was up against.  After the new teacher had been on the job for a month, the principal sat in on a class.  To his amazement, the students were well-behaved and enthusiastic.  After the students had filed out of the classroom, the principal stayed behind to congratulate the teacher on a job well done.  She thanked him but insisted that he deserved the thanks for giving her such a special class for her first assignment.  The principal hemmed and hawed and told her that he really didn’t deserve any thanks. She laughed and told him, “You see, I discovered your little secret on my first day.  I looked in the desk drawer and found the list of the students’ IQ scores. “I knew I had a group of exceedingly bright children. I realized that I would really have to work to make school interesting for them.”  She slid the drawer open, and the principal saw the list with the students’ names and the numbers 136, 145, 127, 128, and so on written next to the names. He exclaimed, “Those aren’t their IQ scores–those are their locker numbers!”  Too late.  The teacher had already expected the students to be bright and gifted–and they had responded positively to her positive view and her positive handling of them. (Positive Expectancy by Bill O’Hanlon)

The Midrash Rabbah (Shmos 38:2) discusses the prophet Chabakuk’s complaint against Hashem. The prophet said, “[Hashem], You said that we [the Jewish People] should be holy to You (Vayikra 19:2)”. Furthermore, You [Hashem] said, “This is the matter that you shall do for them [the kohanim] to make them holy in order to serve Me (Shmos 29:1)”. Chabakuk said that no Jew should ever die! It would not be fitting that someone who is holy should ever die and be removed from the world. Hashem should remove death from the Jewish People who are so holy. Hashem answered that the Jews had to die since that was already the way of the World. The decree of death had been placed upon the world due to the sin of Adam, the first man.

This discussion is eye-opening! The prophet Chabakuk felt the Jews are so holy that they should never die. Hashem agreed!! Hashem said that there was no recourse since death had already been decreed on Mankind. Had death not already been decreed, Hashem agreed that a Jew should never die. This is even more amazing when we realize the time-period when Chabakuk lived. He lived in the era, right before the destruction of the First Beis HaMikdash (Temple). He saw the multitude of sins done by the Jews. They committed so many sins that they were destined to be exiled by Nevuchadnetzar, the King of Babylonia. At this very “low-point” for the Jewish People, Chabkuk still questioned Hashem, since the Jews are holy, they should never die. Even when we sin terribly, our essence is very holy! Hashem concurred, that even at our “low-point”, our essence is so holy that, technically, we should never be removed from this World by dying!

If we can appreciate the powerful holiness of every Jew, we will be more motivated to grow spiritually and come closer to Hashem. One who knows and values his true potential will strive harder to reach that wonderful potential.

 

Based on a dvar Torah by Rabbi Henach Leibowitz zt”l

 

Parshas Terumah: Will He Live to Eat the Figs?

Parshas Terumah

Will He Live to Eat the Figs?

 

“And these are the gifts that you shall accept from them…. and acacia wood [a type of cedar]” (Shmos 25:3,5)

There is an interesting story quoted in the Midrash Tanchuma (Parshas Kedoshim, paragraph 8): On his way to a battle, the Roman Emperor Hadrian passed through the Land of Israel. There, he saw an old man digging holes in the soil, about to plant fig saplings. Looking at the old man, the emperor wondered if he had to work hard in his old age because he had not worked when he was younger. The old man told the emperor that in fact, he had worked when he was younger, and he would continue to work hard, for as long as Hashem gave him the strength.  The emperor was astounded. Why was this old man working so hard when he likely would not live to see the tree bear any fruit? Hadrian said to him, “You are an old man. [Why are you] persisting in taking the trouble to toil for others?” He said to Hadrian, “My lord king, here I am planting. If I am worthy, I shall eat of the fruit of my saplings; but if not, my children will eat.” Three years later, Hadrian returned from war. Surprisingly, the old man was still alive. He brought Hadrian a basket of figs from the tree that he had planted. Hadrian was so impressed that he took the figs and refilled the old man’s basket with gold coins.

 

The Midrash Rabbah (Shmos 35:1) says that people did not deserve to benefit from a few of the things that Hashem had created. Therefore, Hashem hid the “Light of Creation”. Hashem put it aside in Gan Eden for a future time, to benefit the tzadikim. Similarly, gold and cedar wood should also have been hidden at the time of Creation. However, they were not hidden because they were going to be used to honor Hashem during the future building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and Beis HaMikdash. Our forefather Yaakov knew prophetically that cedar wood was going to be used in the building of the Mishkan. Therefore, when Yaakov was on the way to Egypt to see Yosef, he first stopped in Be’er Sheva (Beraisis 46:1) to get the cedar trees that Avraham had planted there. The Eitz Yosef asks, if Yaakov’s destination was Egypt, which was in the south, why did Yaakov go out of his way to Be’er Sheva which was in the north? The Eitz Yosef concludes that Yaakov must have gone there to collect the cedar trees that Avraham had planted. Yaakov planted those trees in Goshen, Egypt. This “secret”, that the cedar trees were to be used in constructing the Mishkan, was passed down from Yaakov to his children and grandchildren. Therefore, Yaakov’s descendants took those trees when leaving Egypt.

The Midrash Rabbah (Bereishis 85:3) says that generally, Hashem punishes one who starts a mitzvah but does not complete it. Yehudah was punished because he started to save Yosef but did not complete the task. The Yefe Toar explains that one is not punished if he does not complete the mitzvah due to circumstances beyond his control. In fact, he is given full reward as if he had completed the mitzvah. However, the mitzvah won’t be called his. Rather, the mitzvah will be called by the name of the one who actually completed it. An example of this occurred with Moshe Rabbeinu. Before leaving Egypt, the Jewish People were busy collecting wealth from their Egyptian neighbors (as Hashem had commanded them to do). Moshe, however, was involved in the mitzvah of looking for Yosef’s coffin, to bring it out of Egypt (Shmos 13:19). The Talmud (Sotah 13A) says that Moshe’s actions displayed an appreciation for the preciousness of the mitzvah. Yet, when Yosef’s body was buried in the Land of Israel, the pasuk in the navi Yehoshua (24:32) says, “”The bones of Yosef, which the Children of Israel had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem.” The Yalkut Shimoni (35:5) as well as the Midrash Rabbah (Bereishis 85:3) ask why the pasuk says that the children of Israel brought Yosef’s bones from Egypt when in fact Moshe did so? They answer that Moshe had not completed the mitzvah. Therefore, the mitzvah was recorded in the names of those who did complete it. The Midrash Rabbah continues, that Moshe was not punished since he was unable to complete the mitzvah, as he was forbidden to enter the Land of Israel.

Obviously, our forefather Yaakov knew that he would not be alive long enough to complete the mitzvah of taking the cedar wood out of Egypt to construct the Mishkan. However, since the mitzvah was precious to him, he did as much as he was able to, by bringing the wood to Egypt.

We learn from our forefather Yaakov to fulfill mitzvos even when we must go out of our way to do them.
We also see that we should start doing a mitzvah even if we will be unable to complete it.
We should do that mitzvah lovingly, even when we know that the glory will be going to another person.

 

 

Parshas Mishpatim: Hang-In There- The Reinforcements Are On The Way!

Parshas Mishpatim

Hang-In There- The Reinforcements Are On The Way!

 

“Behold, I am sending an angel before you to guard you on the way….” (Shmos 23:20)

Hashem orchestrates certain events to provide us with the opportunity to be rewarded for doing a specific mitzvah. That reward will then protect us from a future calamity.

In the early 1800’s, the Jews of Poland were harassed by the military, abused by the nobility, and killed by the peasants during frequent pogroms. Once, the local governor summoned the head of the Jewish community, telling him that the Polish army was planning to train in their area. By the king’s orders, every member of the Jewish community would be obligated to house one or more Polish soldiers in their homes, providing them with food and lodging. The people of the town were devastated when they heard the decree. Their houses were not large, and food was not plentiful. Where would they find space in their homes for the soldiers to sleep? How would they be able to feed another person? A worse problem was their concern about the influence that these non-Jewish soldiers would have on their families. The leaders of the town convened a meeting but were unable to find a solution to this problem. One of the leaders suggested that they ask for a blessing from a rebbe who was known as a miracle worker. They decided that this was their only solution, so they sent a delegation to the rebbe. When they arrived, the rebbe was very busy. He was involved in the mitzvah of pidyon shvuyim (redeeming Jews). It was the common practice of Polish landowners to charge their Jewish tenants large sums of money. If the money wasn’t paid on time, they would often throw the entire family into dungeons, providing little or no food. The rebbe felt that time was of the essence. He had to save the Jewish family before they died in the dungeon.  After some discussion, the rebbe told the delegation that he needed a large sum of money to free the Jewish family. If they would provide him with that money, he would pray for them and in the merit of their fulfilling this special mitzvah of pidyon shvuim, their town would be spared from the King’s decree. They returned to their town and raised the money to save the Jewish family. Some of the townspeople had been hesitant to donate such a large sum of money because they were skeptical that the rebbe’s prayers would help. The town leaders told them that they would return the money if the decree was not lifted.

Time passed and the soldiers did not come to their town. They found out from the local governor that the king had sent him a letter stating that there was a change of plans, and the soldiers wouldn’t be coming to their town after all. The townspeople rejoiced! It seems as if the rebbe’s prayers had helped them. However, when they saw the letter of reprieve, they noticed that it was dated two weeks before they had gone to see the rebbe! If that was the case, then they had not needed the rebbe’s help! Those townspeople who had initially balked about paying so much money wanted the town leaders to return their money. They decided to bring their case to a din Torah (Jewish court of law). They brought their question to Rabbi Shlomo Kluger zt”l, the chief dayan and rav. Although a din Torah often tries to bring about a compromise, the people told Rabbi Kluger that they wanted the din Torah to be adjudicated without any compromise. Rabbi Shlomo Kluger told them to return the following morning. The following morning, Rabbi Kluger gave his ruling, based on an episode in Tanach.

The Book of Shmuel II (perek 6 psukim 1-9) discusses the following episode: King David had hand-picked 30,000 men who joined him to escort the Holy Aron (Holy Ark which contained the 10 commandments) from the house of Aminadav to bring it to Yerushalayim. King David and the men danced in front of the Aron, displaying honor to Hashem. Many various instruments were played. An accident occurred, and Uzza, one of Aminadav’s sons died at the hands of Hashem. (The story is further elaborated upon in the Navi. Some commentators explain that although Uzza was killed, he went straight to Gan Eden). King David was very distressed at this turn of events and decided it best not to bring the Aron to Yerushalayim, at this time.

The Ohr Hachaim says (Devorim 28:1-6) that after seeing what had happened to Uzza, the people were afraid to house the Holy Aron. Oved Edom Hagitti (from the tribe of Levi) agreed to house the Aron.  As a result of his graciousness, Hashem blessed his entire family. The Talmud (Brachos 63B-64A) tells us the blessing. Oved Edom’s wife and his eight daughters-in-law each gave birth to six children. This occurred during the time that the Holy Aron was in the house of Oved Edom, which was only three months!

Based on this story from the Neviim and the Talmud, Rabbi Shlomo Kluger ruled that the money did NOT have to be returned. If the nine women all gave birth during the three months that the Aron was in Oved Edom’s home, then obviously, the pregnancy of these women began months before. 

Hashem had prepared the reward for Oved Edom, even before he had performed his good deed. Hashem had set events into motion so that if Oved Edom would perform the good deed and house the Holy Aron, he would merit the reward that was coming to him. Similarly, although the army’s change of plans had occurred two weeks before they had approached the rebbe, it was possible that it was due to the mitzvah of pidyon shvuim that they had performed as well as the prayers of the rebbe. Hashem, who knows the future, sets the process of the salvation in motion, in advance, waiting for us to act.

If we are facing challenges, we should not be discouraged or depressed. Salvation may already be on the way.

Hashem is just waiting for us to daven and/or do some good deed, to bring the salvation to fruition.

This dvar Torah is based on Torah Wellsprings, Vayeshev, from Rabbi Elimelech Biderman shlita, compiled by Rabbi Boruch Twersky

Parshas Yisro: My Dear Watson, Your Logic Is Not So Logical!

Parshas Yisro

My Dear Watson, Your Logic Is Not So Logical!

 

“…The name of the first was Gershom, because he said, ‘I was a stranger in a strange land’”. (Shmos 18:3)

When I was an elementary school student in yeshiva, some of my classmates used to find amusing a sign that was posted just outside the bathroom. It was an ancient Jewish blessing, commonly referred to as asher yatzar. It was supposed to be recited after one relieved oneself. For some grade school children, there could be nothing more strange or ridiculous than to link acts of urination and defecation with holy words that mentioned G-d’s name. Blessings were reserved for prayers, for holy days, or for thanking G-d for food or for some act of deliverance, but surely not for a bodily function that evoked smirks and giggles. In my second year of medical school, I began to understand the appropriateness of this short prayer. I began to no longer take for granted the normalcy of my trips to the bathroom. Instead, I started to realize how many things had to operate just right for these minor interruptions of my daily routine to run smoothly. After seeing patients whose lives revolved around their dialysis machines, and others with colostomies and urinary catheters, I realized how wise the rabbi had been to institute this blessing… There was one unforgettable patient whose story reinforced the truth and beauty of the asher yatzar for me forever. Josh was a 20-year-old student who was in a motor vehicle crash. He nearly died from his injuries. He was initially totally quadriplegic. A long and difficult period of stabilization and rehabilitation followed. But Josh continued to require intermittent catheterization. I know only too well the problems and perils this young man would face for the rest of his life because of a neurogenic bladder. The urologists were very pessimistic about his chances for not requiring catheterization. They had not seen this occur after a spinal cord injury of this severity. Then the impossible happened. I was there the day Josh no longer required a urinary catheter. I thought of the asher yatzar prayer. Pointing out that I could not imagine a more meaningful scenario for its recitation, I suggested to Josh, who was also a yeshiva graduate, that he say the prayer. He agreed. As he recited the ancient bracha, tears welled in my eyes. Josh is my son.

Article by Kenneth M. Prager, M.D.  of Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, New York

Moshe’s father-in-law, Yisro, brought Moshe’s wife and two sons from Midian to the desert, to meet Moshe. The Torah repeats the names of Moshe’s two sons. Moshe named his first-born Gershom, which means that I was a stranger there. He did so “because he said, ‘I was a stranger in a strange land’”. Moshe named his second son Eliezer which means, My G-D helped me, by saving me from Pharoah. He did so “because the G-D of my fathers rescued me from Pharaoh’s sword”.  The Bal Haturim questions why the Torah added the extra words, “he said” when he named Gershom. Those words were not used when describing the naming of Moshe’s second son. The Bal Haturim explains that these words refer to the Midrash in Parshas Shmos (2:22). Moshe had arrived in Midian after escaping from Egypt with his life. Yisro permitted Moshe to marry his daughter Tziporah on the condition that Moshe permit his first-born son to become an idolatrous priest. Moshe agreed for two reasons. He was a stranger in a strange land and could not refuse Yisro. Furthermore, Moshe was confident that he could convince Yisro of the truth of Judaism and persuade him to convert. The Bal HaTurim says that the words “because he said” refer to Yisro. Yisro had told Moshe that he was a stranger in a land that was not his, and that he did not have the option to refuse Yisro’s demand to send Gershom to learn to become an idolatrous priest.

When Moshe first came to Midian, after escaping from Egypt, Moshe had rescued Yisro’s seven daughters (Shmos 2:16-17). As shepherds of their father’s sheep, they drew water in the troughs to water their flock. The other shepherds drove them away until Moshe interceded.  Firstly, why were Yisro’s daughters the shepherds of his flock? Couldn’t Yisro have hired men to be in charge? Furthermore, why did the shepherds drive Yisro’s daughters away? According to the Ramban, Yisro’s daughters even went to the effort of drawing water and filling-up the water trough. Yet, before their sheep had a chance to drink, the other shepherds came and drove them away. Why? The Midrash Rabba (Shmos 1:32) explains that Yisro had been the head of the idolatrous priests. He came to the realization that all idols are false. He told the townspeople that he was too old to be the priest. They understood that his intent was to renounce the idols.  Consequently, the townspeople excommunicated Yisro and his family. That was why he was unable to get anyone to shepherd his flock and that is why his daughters were driven away from the well.

The question is, if Yisro was no longer an idolatrous priest, why did he demand that Moshe send his first-born son to become an idolatrous priest? It doesn’t make sense!

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt”l, Rosh HaYeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Yerushalayim, offers an insightful answer. Yisro first learned about the different types of idolatry and rejected them all, before arriving at understanding that the Torah was unquestionably the truth. (According to the Maharshal quoted in the Sifsei Chachamim in Shmos 2:16, Yisro did not yet espouse Judaism until he heard about the miracles that Hashem had performed.) Yisro wanted his grandson to follow his path by first learning about all the idols, then rejecting them after realizing that the Torah was the truth. However, Yisro’s idea was flawed. We don’t follow the laws of the Torah because we feel that it is the truth. Rather, we fulfill the mitzvos because Hashem commanded us to do them, and we are Hashem’s servants. As Rabbi Frand says, When the prohibition is Divine, it is absolute.” 

One can totally misconstrue the Torah when he ignores the divinity of the mitzvos and fulfills them solely because he feels that they are the true and logical path in life. For example, the Torah prohibition against murder is very logical. However, there is a danger if one would accept the Torah’s laws only due to logic. One might erroneously decide that it is not considered murder to permit assisted suicide and to allow the elderly to die to save medical resources for those who are younger. In fact, according to the Torah, each moment of life is so precious, and we do all we can to preserve life. (Certain medical issues do come up, such as discussions about end-of-life, issuing a DNR or DNI directive, or palliative care and/or hospice services. There are different considerations depending upon specific circumstances. To find out the proper course to follow according to the Torah, one should contact their orthodox rabbi or the rabbis from the organization Chayim Aruchim [718-278-2446, 24 hours]).

We do not fulfill the mitzvos because they make sense to us.

We do so to follow the will of Hashem!

This dvar Torah was based on Rabbi Frand on the Parashah

Parshas Beshalach: Nearer Can Be Further!

Parshas Beshalach

Nearer Can Be Further!

 

“…Hashem did not lead them by way of the land of the Plisthim, although it was nearer.…” (Shmos 13:17)

In pre-war Europe, many traveling salesmen would go from city to city. They would spread their wares on a table, in the corner of the local shul, to sell them. One such salesman entered the Polish city of Stavisk and entered the beis medrash of Rabbi Chaim Leb Mishkovsky, who was the head of the beis din (Jewish court) in the city. The salesman spread out his wares. He had siddurim, tzitzis, tefillin and mezuzos, among other things. Rabbi Chaim Leb noticed that the salesman also put out books that were well known to be heretical. Rav Chaim Leb quickly grabbed the pile of books and threw them into the nearby furnace. The salesman complained that the rav caused him a monetary loss. Furthermore, he explained to the rav that he needed to sell those types of books to make a living. He couldn’t make enough money just selling religious items. Rabbi Mishkovsky responded that, of course, he would pay for the loss of money that he caused. He also told the salesman that it was forbidden to make a living by selling heretical books to Jews. Rabbi Mishkovsky told him that he would find him another job by the next morning. The next morning Rabbi Mishkovsky told him about the job that was available. The local priest needed someone to ring the church bells every day. The salesman was shocked. He told the rav that he would never work for a priest who espoused idolatry! The rav responded. You are too uncomfortable to ring the church bells to awaken the gentiles to go to church to their avodas zara. Yet, you have no compunction selling heretical books to Jewish youth to try to entice them to serve idols! It is forbidden for a Jew to sell these items!     

(Yalkut Lekach Tov by Yaakov Yisroel Beifus)

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l explains that when the Jews left Egypt Hashem had two options. Hashem could have led them through the desert or through the land of the Plishtim. Each choice had an advantage and disadvantage.  If the Jews would go to Eretz Yisroel via the land of the Plishtim, they would be able to buy food. On the negative side, that route posed a great danger. The Jews who left Egypt had sunk to the 49th level of impurity. If they would pass through the land of the Plishtim, they might be further affected by the impurities of the Plishtim and might not want to go to Har Sinai to receive the Torah. If the Jews would travel through the barren desert, they would not be affected by the impurities of an idol worshipping people. However, they would not have food available.

Hashem determined that it would be better to lead the Jews through the barren desert rather than chance them sinking to the 50th level of impurity by having some association with the Plishtim. Hashem decided that it would be more important to avoid having the Jews sink spiritually even though that would necessitate Hashem performing open miracles to provide food for them.

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l learns from this that a person should not be involved in a livelihood that is contrary to Torah values. He should not be concerned how he will manage financially if he avoids an improper job. (Chofetz Chaim Al HaTorah) I know of someone who quit his job, before even having a replacement job, to avoid being a part of dishonest business practices. Eventually, he was offered a better job at a reputable company.

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l continues, If Hashem could provide sustenance for 600,000 men in the desert, then certainly Hashem could provide sustenance for the person who is following the dictates of the Torah.

 

Parshas Bo: There is a Sheep in My Bed!

Parshas Bo

There is a Sheep in My Bed!

 

“You shall keep watch over it [the sheep] until the fourteenth day of this month; and all the assembled congregation of the Jews shall slaughter it at twilight” (Shmos 12:6).

Yaakov visited a spice shop and remained there for a few hours. When he left, his clothes retained the aromatic smell of the spices.

Yosef’s jacket was left in a room that was destroyed by fire. Although his jacket wasn’t burned, the smell of smoke was so intense that it lasted for weeks.

A family arrived in New York from the Soviet Union. JEP offered to enroll the children in yeshiva. The parents were disinclined. They felt that their children would learn English better in a public school, ESL setting. Meanwhile, JEP enrolled the children in a Jewish summer camp. The children had a very positive experience in the atmosphere of the Jewish camp. They felt welcomed by the religious children and comfortable in the Jewish surroundings. To their parent’s delight, they learned English by spending time in the English-speaking environment. As a result, the parents were excited to enroll their children into yeshiva. That decision started a chain-reaction. When this family’s relatives emigrated from the Soviet Union, they allowed JEP to place their children in a yeshiva. This story took place about 25 years ago. The children are married and have religious homes. They send their own children to yeshivos.

 

Hashem instructed Moshe to tell Bnei Yisroel to slaughter an animal as a Pesach offering. Hashem gave Moshe a long list of instructions of what to do and how to do it. Rabbi Levi ben Gershon, the Ralbag, (Shmos 12:1), explains that there was a significance to all these instructions. The Jewish People had been influenced by their environment, being amongst the Egyptians. The Jews were steeped in idol worship. Therefore, they had to perform many actions to remove their belief in idols and in the power of idols. Hashem told them to take a sheep to sacrifice, to agitate the Egyptians who considered a sheep as a god. Other actions that they were instructed to do to the sheep showed the Jews that it had no real power as an idol. They took a male sheep which was considered a choice animal. It was slaughtered publicly, in front of all the Jews. It was slaughtered in the middle of the day when the zodiac of the sheep was at its “full power”. It was publicly roasted, whole. Its blood was placed on the doorposts. It was eaten by groups of Jews. The sheep-god was thought to punish by fire. Therefore, it was roasted by fire, to show that it was powerless to respond. Each sheep had to be taken by a Jew and tied to his bed for four days before slaughtering it. This caused the Jewish People to contemplate and realize that the sheep, the Egyptian god, was totally powerless.

The Jews had been profoundly affected by their environment. The alleged power of idols had seeped into their systems. Every single action that Hashem required them to do with the sheep, was needed to remove this deep-rooted influence. Had they left out any one of these actions, they would have been left with a trace of belief in this false idol.

We see how much a person can be influenced by one’s environment.

Every small, positive action that one does, can remove a portion of that negative influence.

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

 

Parshas Vaera: Don’t Take the Fresh Bread Away from Me!

Parshas Vaera

Don’t Take the Fresh Bread Away from Me!

 

“I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov as Kell Shakkai, but I did not make Myself known to them by My name, Hashem.” (Shmos 6:3)

As WWII was ending, the Nazis attempted to promote a positive image of themselves to the outside world. They sent a truck carrying fresh loaves of bread to one of the concentration camps. They also sent a camera crew to video the prisoners receiving the bread. They wanted to show how well they treated their prisoners, that they gave them fresh bread daily. When the Nazis announced to the prisoners that they were giving fresh bread, huge lines immediately formed. The smell of the fresh bread was so tantalizing. Reuven joined a huge line in eager excitement. He hadn’t eaten a piece of fresh bread in years, let alone a warm piece. He couldn’t stand still as he imagined himself eating a piece of warm, fresh bread. As the line moved closer, Reuven saw that the supply of fresh bread was dwindling. He kept davening to Hashem, “Please let there be a loaf left for me”. When he reached the head of the line, there were two loaves of bread left. He did get a loaf. Thank you, Hashem! He took the loaf and ran into the privacy of his bunkhouse to eat his new treasure. As he was about to take a bite out of the bread, a non-Jewish prisoner came into the bunkhouse and demanded the bread. Reuven refused. Reuven thought, “Hashem I have been strong in my belief up until this point. If I lose this bread, I am finished believing in you!” The non-Jewish prisoner started beating him. Hashem, Why are You doing this evil to me?!” Reuven would not let go of the bread. Even as he was being beaten and bloodied, he still did not let go of his bread. Only after was he was beaten into unconsciousness, did the bread slip out of his hands. Reuven awoke hours later. He left his bunkhouse to go outside. It was eerily silent. Reuven went a little further and saw why it was so quiet. He saw dead bodies strewn all over. The cruel Nazis had poisoned the bread. They had gotten the video footage that they had desired. They had never intended to be kind to the prisoners. Thank you, Hashem, for taking away my bread and saving my life!

Before Moshe even went to Egypt to free the Jewish People, Hashem had already told him that Pharoah would initially refuse to do so. Hashem had said that Pharaoh would not send the Jews free until Egypt was totally punished (Shmos 3:19-20). However, Moshe did not expect the strait of the Jews to become more dire due to his coming. Yet, that is what happened. Pharoah commanded that the Jews would henceforth have to find their own straw to make bricks, without reducing the number that they usually made (Shmos 5:7-8). This added burden disturbed Moshe who asked Hashem, “Why have You done evil to this People, why have you sent me?” (Shmos 5:22). Hashem responded (Shmos 6:2-3) that He had appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, and they never criticized Him the way Moshe had.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 111A) explains the circumstances that could have caused the Avos to criticize Hashem. Hashem had promised Eretz Yisroel to Avraham (Bereishis 13:17). However, Avraham was unable find a place to bury Sarah until he purchased it for four hundred silver shekels. Hashem had told Yitzchak that Hashem would be with him and bless him (Bereishis 26:3). Yet, whenever Yitzchak’s servants dug a well, the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with them and said that the water belonged to them (Bereishis 26:20). Hashem had promised the land to Yaakov (Bereishis 28:13). Yet, Yaakov could not find a place to pitch his tents until he purchased land for one hundred coins. In all those circumstances, each of the Avos did not question Hashem.

The Midrash Yalkut Shimoni (Chapter 176) and the Midrash Rabba (Shmos 6) indicate that Hashem was unhappy with Moshe’s criticism.  The Attribute of Strict Justice wanted to punish Moshe for it. This is alluded to by the first two words in the pasuk, “Vayedaber Elokim” (Bereishis 6:2). Elokim refers to Hashem’s attribute of strict justice. Hashem understood that Moshe’s motivation was the pain he felt for the Jewish People at seeing this harsh turn of events. Therefore, The Attribute of Mercy was invoked, and Moshe was spared. This is alluded to by the later words of that pasuk, “Vayomer Ani Hashem”, indicating kindness and mercy.

Rashi says that Moshe was punished by losing the opportunity to bring the Jews into Eretz Yisroel.

I was bothered by two questions. Firstly, what was the meaning of Hashem’s complaint that the Avos never criticized Hashem whereas Moshe did? What was the comparison? The complaints that the Avos could have potentially had, were monetary. The Avos had to pay excessive money for something that had been promised to them. Thus, they could have felt that they should have received it for free. Moshe was complaining about the added torture and pain to Klal Yisroel. Isn’t a concern about another’s pain a stronger complaint than one about money?

Furthermore, according to some commentaries, Moshe had a basis for his complaint! According to the Talmud (Sanhedrin 111A. See Rashi and Chidushei Aggadot), Pharoah’s decree was not only that the Jews would have to find their own straw. They would have to produce the same number of bricks as before, and if they couldn’t, then Jewish babies would be taken and crushed into the bricks! In addition, other Jews were killed by the sword. These events only occurred after Moshe had come to tell Pharoah to free the Jews. Therefore, Moshe criticized Hashem saying, “Why have you done bad with this People…”?! (Bereishis 5:22)

The Midrash Rabba (Shmos 6:1) explains Moshe’s error. In doing so, my questions are also answered. How can any human being ever question the wisdom of Hashem’s actions which were already done? Every action of Hashem is precise. In fact, Hashem explains all His actions to the Heavenly Court, and they testify to its righteousness. How could Moshe think that he knew better than Hashem? The Midrash considers Moshe’s thoughts as foolishness. In fact, the Ben Yehoyada says that the added intensity of the servitude that occurred after Moshe’s coming to Pharaoh was beneficial! The added pain allowed the Jews to be redeemed sooner than they would otherwise have been.

Hashem runs the world in a precise and well-thought-out way, that is beyond human understanding.

Many things occur that we do not understand. We want to cry out to Hashem, “Why are you treating me badly?!” We must stay steadfast in our faith and must always remember that Hashem has a plan, for our ultimate benefit. What we perceive as bad, can, in fact, become our salvation.

These thoughts can help us weather life’s challenges.

 

Parshas Shmos: No Pain, YES Gain!

Parshas Shmos

No Pain, YES Gain!

 

“And he [Moshe] said [to Hashem], “Please my Lord, send through whomever You will send!’” (Shmos 4:13)

It was the early 1900’s. Della and her husband, Jim, were very poor. Expenses had been greater than expected. Della had been saving every penny she could for months to buy a present for her husband. All she could save was one dollar and eighty-seven cents. She cried in front of the mirror. Then she looked at her hair which was very long. She came to a difficult decision. She went to a wig store and offered to sell her hair. The proprietor offered her $20 for it, which she quickly accepted.  Her hair was cut very short, yet she was happy. Now she had enough money to buy a silver chain for her husband’s watch, which he had inherited from his father and grandfather. When Jim came home from work and saw his wife, he stared at her with an odd expression on his face. She told him that she had sold her hair to buy him a nice present, but he just stared. Then he gave her a package, containing a gift that he had bought for her. He had bought her beautiful combs, made of shells, with jewels at the edge, to wear in her beautiful hair. They cost a lot of money, she knew, and her heart had wanted them without ever hoping to have them. And now, the beautiful combs were hers, but the hair that should have touched them was gone. Then Della took the gift that she had bought for Jim. “Isn’t it wonderful, Jim? I looked all over town to find it. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.” Instead of obeying, Jim fell on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled. He told her that he didn’t have the watch anymore.  He had sold his gold watch to get money to buy the set of combs for her hair. (The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry)

Both Jim and Della thought about how to make each other happy. Each was willing to sacrifice something very meaningful and dear to them, to give to the other.      

Moshe saw a spectacular sight, a burning bush that was not being burnt. When Moshe went to investigate, Hashem called to him.  Hashem said that it was time to free the Jewish People from the oppression of the Egyptians. Hashem wanted to send Moshe to be their redeemer and savior. The Torah (Shmos 4:13) states Moshe’s response to Hashem. Moshe told Hashem to ask someone else to do it. That seems to be a strange answer to tell Hashem. The Midrash Yalkut Shmoni (paragraph 172) explains Moshe’s refusal. It wasn’t that Moshe did not want to go. Rather, Moshe felt if he would be the redeemer, it would be disrespectful to his brother Aharon. Aharon had been the leader and prophet for the Jews for the past 80 years! How could Moshe come and take over the mantel of leadership?! Moshe felt that it would cause Aharon pain. Therefore, Moshe refused to go. Hashem told Moshe that Aharon would not feel any pain. Not only that, but Aharon would feel true, heartfelt joy for Moshe (Shmos 4:27). According to the Zeis Ranan, Aharon’s joy would be so great that it would not be able to be described in words. In fact, Aharon would be rewarded for this love with an addition to the priestly garments that he would wear in the Beis HaMikdash, when serving as the Kohain Gadol. He would merit to wear, on his heart, the urim vetumim in the choshen, the breastplate. (The urim vetumim was an inscription of Hashem’s holiest name, which was placed inside the choshen. By virtue of the power residing in Hashem’s name, the letters inscribed upon the stones of the choshen would light up to reveal the answer to the question that the Kohain Gadol would present.).

HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l, known as the Alter of Slobodka, in the sefer Ohr Hatzafon, questions Moshe’s actions. Hashem wanted Moshe to redeem the Jewish People, freeing them from debilitating servitude. The Jewish People would then become a holy nation, would receive the Torah, would enter Eretz Yisroel, and would build the Bais HaMikdash, where Hashem’s Holy Presence would reside. Moshe would be saving an entire nation and bringing them to achieve the goal of Creation. Furthermore, Moshe loved the Jewish People so intensely and completely that he had tried to help bear their burden even when he was still a prince in Pharoah’s palace. Moshe was being given the opportunity and the eternal merit to save his beloved People and to be instrumental in bringing them to the pinnacle of the purpose of Creation. Aharon would feel overjoyed that the Jews were being redeemed. Would he feel pain that he wasn’t leading the redemption? Yet, Moshe was willing to give up all of that and say no to Hashem, out of concern, lest it cause some, even minimal, pain to his brother Aharon.

What a lesson for us! We must be so careful, to consider the feelings of others. How careful we must be to avoid causing even a minimal hurt, even during a monumental moment. The Alter of Slobodka zt”l says that everyone was created in the image of Hashem and causing pain to someone else is tantamount to causing pain to Hashem!

 

Parshas Vayakhel/Pekudei: How To Succeed!

Parshas Vayakhel/Pekudei

How To Succeed!

“Take from yourselves a portion for Hashem, everyone whose heart motivates him shall bring it …” (Shmos 35:5)

The Rabbi of the synagogue had just finished speaking. The president stood up and started announcing the pledges for the building fund, for the new synagogue building. Shmuel was very wealthy, yet he was not planning on giving a large donation. The president announced, “Yaakov Cohen pledges $10,000, Reuvein Weiss pledges $10,000, Bernie Gol pledges $10,000, ….” Shmuel heard the names of his wealthy friends pledging large donations. He thought to himself, “How would it look if I am the only one of my friends that does not contribute generously?” Begrudgingly, he raised his hand, also pledging $10,000.

Moshe assembled all the Jewish People telling them that Hashem was giving them the privilege of constructing the Mishkan, the Tabernacle that would contain G-D’s Holy presence. Moshe told them all the materials that were needed and added that “everyone whose heart motivates him shall bring it”. The Kli Yakar explains that apparently, this was a prerequisite. If you did not donate graciously and whole-heartedly, it was not accepted. A donation such as Shmuel’s would not have been accepted.  Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin zt”l in his commentary on the Torah, Ha’emek Davar says that the words “he shall bring it” teach us that the donor must bring his donation personally. He may not send it with someone else. The reason is that those who are collecting the donations must ascertain that this donation is being given graciously and wholeheartedly and not due to peer pressure.

Why was it necessary for the donation to be given wholeheartedly? The Chasam Sofer says, everything that we have is from Hashem. When the Jews donated their wealth, it was only as if they were returning what Hashem had given them. The only thing that the Jews could give Hashem was their “hearts”, by donating lovingly and wholeheartedly.

The Ohr HaChaim gives a different explanation. He says that Hashem also donated something to the construction. Hashem gave something intangible, something holy, which brought together all the contributions, sustaining the Mishkan and enabling it to stand. The donor had to elevate his gift to a high, spiritual level so that it could merge with Hashem’s donation.  If the human donor did not possess the graciousness that the Torah describes, then the gift of such a person had no chance of merging with Hashem’s gift.

I had another thought that perhaps may explain why it was necessary for the donation to be given wholeheartedly. The Talmud (Bava Metzia 85B) quotes a story about Rabbi Chiya. Rabbi Chiya told Rabbi Chanina that he was working to ensure that Torah not be forgotten. What did he do? He planted flax. When the flax grew, he would harvest it and would weave it into nets to trap deer. When he caught the deer, he would feed its meat to orphans and would turn the deer skins into parchment. He would write each of the Five Books of the Torah on separate parchments and each of the Six Orders of the Mishna on separate parchments. He would go to a town where there was no one to teach Torah. There, he would teach five children.  He would teach each child one of the Five Books of the Torah. Then he would teach the Six Orders of the Mishnah to six other children. When he completed teaching them, he told them to teach each other, until he returned. Each child eventually learned all the five Books of the Torah as well as the Six Orders of the Mishna. This way, he ensured that the Torah would not be forgotten by the Jewish people.

Why was it necessary for Rabbi Chiya to go to all this trouble to plant, harvest, make nets, catch deer, etc…? Why didn’t he just buy parchment and write the Torah on it? The Maharsha answers that Rav Chiya was starting a new project for the sake of the Torah. He wanted to do every single action for the sake of Hashem and to imbue each action with greater holiness, ensuring a greater chance for success. 

Perhaps, each person donating graciously, added to the holiness of Mishkan as it was being built for the first time.

When we embark on a new project, our thoughts and intentions impact the success of the project.
If all of the required actions are done totally for the sake of Hashem, we have a better chance at success.