Thursday, January 26, 2006

It is not enough to do the right thing. One must also do it the right way.

Mashnayot Shekalim

The Mishna in 3:2 says The one donating the shekalim should not come in to the shekalim chamber in various modes of dress such as with shoes or with teffilin or wearing a long cloak. The Mishna explains the reason so that people should not suspect the he possibly stole money from the chamber and hid it in his cloak or these other items. What is wrong with that? The Mishan explains that if he should possibly at some point become poor they will say that it is a punishment for having stolen the money from the chamber. if he became rich they will say it is because he stole that money. The Mishna then proves from some pesukim that one must always be conscious of his good reputation amongst people, just as he is careful about his actions in relation to Hashem.

It is not enough to do the right thing. One must also do it the right way.

This does not mean that one should cater to everyone's preferences. Just because some people feel something should be done one way over another, etc. you do not have to do what they want. What I am saying as an explanation of the Mishna is that you should be careful to do the right thing (as you understand it or with the psak and advice of your Rabbonim) and you should be careful to do it with honesty and integrity in a way that nobody can suspect you of having done something wrong.

What happened to Par'oh?

Parshat Va'Era

By all the plagues the Torah describes in fairly thorough detail what happened and how Moshe warned them and how they beseeched Moshe to remove the plague. The 2 exceptions to this seem to be dever and sh'chin. The description of the actual plague and how Moshe delivered it is fairly descriptive, but after describing it the Torah then just simply tells us that Par'oh "hardened his heart" and did not send out the Jews.

Why did he not beseech Moshe to remove these plagues, as he did in the plagues prior to those and he will do in the plagues after those? Were these plagues not so bad that he did not feel the need to beg Moshe to reverse the plague? Did he not or was the Torah just using brevity as a style of writing? If the Torah was being brief, why only in these 2 plagues?

I do not, at this point, have a satisfactory answer to these questions.

If you have an answer, put it in the comments, or email me at

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

self sacrifice for ulterior motives

Parshat Va'Era

In the second plague, Moshe and Aharon bring frogs forth from the water to disturb the Egyptians. Par'oh calls Moshe and Aharon and pleads with them to pray to Hashem to remove the frogs. Moshe says fine and asks when he should ask for them to be removed. par'oh responds they should be removed the next day.
That is very weird! He should have said daven to get rid of them right now. I want them gone in 10 minutes! Why did he only say to remove them "tomorrow"?
Par'oh, it seems was really angling to set up Moshe. The commentaries say Par'oh really thought Moshe was using some form of magic to do this and he had to do things within certain time parameters. Par'oh felt that by askign for him to do it tomorrow, Moshe would not be able to do it because it was outside of the time window and that would prove Moshe wrong.

Look at that. Par'oh was willing to suffer for at least another day, if not longer (if Moshe would not be able to do it "tomorrow", Par'oh would have to wait until the next time window, whenever that would come. He was willing to continue suffering (and make his people suffer) just for the slight chance that he could have an opportunity to prove Moshe wrong. Look how strong the motive of revenge is. What happens to me is not important, as long as I prove him wrong.

Grasping at Straws

Parshat Va'Era

After Moshe and Aharon bring the first plague (of turning the waters of Egypt to blood) upon Par'oh and the Egyptians, we are told that the wizards of Egypt did so as well and Par'oh hardened his heart and did not listen to Moshe's pleas.
The question discussed among the various commentaries on this point is: where did they get water to magically turn to blood? All water was already blood turned so by Moshe and Aharon!! What did the Egyptian wizards do?
There is a wide array of answers proposed as solutions to the above problem. The answer I like is suggested by a few commentaries, most notably the Ohr Hachayim: We know that the Egyptians could attain water and not have it turn to blood. The way they could do this was by buying water from a Jew. Any such purchased water would remain water. The wizards purchased water from the Jews and then proceeded to turn that water to blood.

Look how ridiculous that is! Moshe turns all the water of Egypt to blood. In order to replicate the event, Par'oh greatest wizards have to first purchase clear water from a Jew and then turn it to blood. If they were such great wizards, they should have turned some blood back to water (and then turned it back to blood again)!! They had to purchase the water from a Jew and then turn it to blood. Yet Par'oh used that as a basis for being obstinate and not believing in Gods might and Moshe's request. Par'oh was graspign at straws in order to not believe Moshe. Ridiculous!

A person's stubbornness can be his downfall. If he can learn to look at something objectively and evaluate the situation, he will be able to deal with it in a rational manner. When a person lets his subjectivity get in the way he cannot look and deal with it rationally. He needs to step back and look at it again and see what makes sense.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Step up to the Plate

Parshat Va'Yechi

After Hashem gives Moshe instructions about going to Par'oh, he goes back to Egypt and is greeted by Aharon. They speak together and then convene the Council of Elders of Zion (!) (the zekainim) and Moshe and Aharon tell them what they are going to do and show them the signs from Hashem. They believe and respond positively. The Torah then says that Moshe and Aharon then went to Par'oh.
Rashi tells us that the Zekainim all disappeared on the way to Par'oh and that is why they are not mentioned here where they should also have been. They were so afraid of Par'oh's reaction that they slipped away (thinking they were not going to be missed) and by the time Moshe and Aharon got to the palace, none of the zekainim were left. They were paid back for this later when the Torah was given at Sinai, the zekainim were not allowed to approach the mountain with Moshe.
There are times when a person, and especially leaders, have to step up to the plate. There was a great need for leadership and they could not perform, preferring instead to slip away. If one shows that he is unworthy of stepping up to the plate and being the leader people can rely on, you will get what you deserve. When you want the glory, you won't be part of it then either.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Do the right thing..

I heard a great vort last night in the name of Rav Yankele Galinsky from Bnei Brak:
It is brought down in the midrash (which Rashi quotes) that Leah was supposed to have another son. She knew that Rachel would be distressed that she would not even have as many sons as the maids (she would then only have 1 son to their 2 each) so she davened that Hashem should give the son to rachel. Rachel was subsequently blessed with a son to be named Yosef and leah's pregnancy was changed to a girl named Dina.
Not only was she so righteous as to give up a son and tribe of Israel to save the honor of her sister, but then Dina went ahead and married Shchem. After all that Leah ends up with a son-in-law like Shchem? Where is justice in the world?
Rav Galinsky explained that everybody gets what is coming to them. Sometimes you need patience, as things do not happen right away. Leah gave up Yosef to Rachel, but look how it happened. Leah had Dina who married Shchem. Together they had a daughter named Osnat. They sent Osnat down to Egypt who eventually married Yosef, the ruler of Egypt under Par'oh. Together they had 2 sons, Menashe and Ephrayim, who were given by Ya'akov the status of 2 Tribes.
She did a righteous kindness and gave up one tribe, but was paid back by eventually having 2 tribes in that one's place. God always pays back what's coming to you. Sometimes you just have to wait, and Hashem makes it worthwhile.

After hearing this vort, I was thinking about it and realized that really Leah owed everything to the kindness of Rachel. Rachel had been sensitive to Leah's feelings and allowed her to marry Ya'akov in her place. Leah was returning the favor, so to speak. One could easily say from these messages that it is more important to be sensitive to another's feelings and needs than to deman what is coming to you. Don't worry about Gods cheshbonot (accounting practices). You do the right thing and you will get what you deserve and more.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

What makes him evil?

Parshat Shemos

Moshe as a young man goes out of the palace to see what is happening with his brethren in the outside world. He goes out one day and kills an Egyptian taskmaster. He goes out the next day and sees two Jews fighting. he approaches the aggressor and says. "Rasha Lama Takeh Re'acha" - evil one, why do you hit your friend!?
Rashi says he called him evil because someone who lifts a hand to hit another person is a rasha. The question is that the word "Re'acha" - your friend, indicates equality. in other words, he was saying the second guy is a rasha just like the first. What did the second guy do to deserve being called a rasha? How did Moshe know he was evil and deserving of such a title?

I suspect what happened was that Moshe knew he was a rasha because of the company he kept. They were obviously not fighting out of hatred each had for the other, as they immediately afterwords stood together accusing Moshe. I would even posit that they perhaps had staged the fight in order to lure Moshe in so they could show him what they knew.
Moshe could easily tell that they were in it together and scheming and conniving how to make trouble. he happened to witness only one of them raise his hand, but by virtue of association and context he was able to discern the second was equally evil.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

mensch trocht und gott lacht (sp?)

Parshat Va'Yechi

Yaakov dies and (for a reason unknown to me) the brothers suddenly suspect Yosef of planning to take advantage of the death and pay them back for how they had treated him many years earlier. Yosef is shocked at the suspicion they have of his intentions and he says to them not to be afrain and I am not in the place of God [to judge and punish you for that]. He then adds, "You planned to do evil to me and Hashem turned it around to good"

My grandfather used to say mensch trocht und gott lacht. Man plans and God laughs. Meaning we all do things and we have hopes and intentions and all sorts of plans how things will work out based on our actions. God's plans do not always coincide with ours (or should that be said differently - our plans do not always coincide with Gods). We forget that God controls the world and we think that if we do x then the result will be y. Hashem can and does change the way things work out for the purpose of His master plan so that the chips will fall into place properly.

Why did Yosef make them swear?

Parshat Va'Yechi

We know why Yaakov made Yosef swear to bury him in Eretz Yisrael rather than Egypt, as the meforshim tell us a number of reasons, mainly to allow Yosef an excuse for Par'oh why he had to do it (meaning Par'oh would try to convince Yosef to not go and Yosef would say I swore and if I do not keep my oath, I do not need to keep my oath to you either).
At the end of the parsha, Yosef is dying and calls in his brothers and makes them swear that they will remove his bones and take them to Eretz Yisrael. Why did he need to make them swear? Could he not rely on them to do it for him without an oath?

I do not at this point have a satisfactory explanation.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Cursed be their Anger

Parshat Va'Yechi

Yaakov calls his children to his bedside to bless them and tell them what will be at the end of days. When he gets to Shimon and Levi, he castigates them for their actions in the murder of the inhabitants of Shchem. Yakkov says, "Arur Apam..." Cursed be their anger..

Rashi tells us that even during his tochacha to them he never cursed them, rather he only cursed their anger. Another example of this idea is something we say daily in davening, " V'chol Ha'risha K'rega Tovaid" - and all the evil you should instantly get destroy. We do not say get rid of the wicked man, rather get rid of the evil.

In modern day psychology it is believed that it is wrong for a parent to criticize a child by saying, "Bad boy!" or anything to that effect where the action is directly associated to the child. It is better to say "What you did was bad (or wrong or whatever)" thereby not creating a stigma in the child that he is bad.
This modern psyche lesson is something the Torah already tells us from the days of Yaakov.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Relations with your Non-Religious Relations

Parshat Va'Yechi

Yosef learns [from Ephrayim his son] that Yaakov is nearing his death. He rushes to Yaakov's bedside and brings his 2 children. During the discussion, Yaakov asks who they are. Yosef replies they are his children and requests that Yaakov bless them.

The obvious question is how did Yaakov not know who they were? This is what prompts Rashi to tell us that Yaakov saw with Ruach HaKodesh the future descendants of Yosef, namely Achav and Yeravam ben Nevat, who would be sinners and cause Israel to sin. He therefore asked who are they, referring to those future descendants.

This leads to my question. That being the question Yaakov asked Yosef, Yosef's response does not seem to answer the question (Rashi does not explain Yosef's response in reference to Yeravam and Achav). Yaakov asked about Yeravam and Achav and Yosef answered about Ephrayim and Menashe! What is going on??!!

I was thinking about this and considered that Yosef's response was regarding the future generations. He was saying that despite the fact that they will be sinners, they are still my children. Just for that fact they are worthy and deserving of your blessings. They are Jewish children and have holiness as Jews and despite their iniquities, they still deserve to be blessed and taken in by you.
Later, I found the Kli Yakar say just exactly that pshat (maybe the pshat was in the back of my subconscious from learning the Kli Yakar many years ago) . The Kli Yakar adds some other ideas that maybe I will elaborate on later.

The lesson for us is that we should not estrange our children who decide to not be religious. They are Jews and worthy of our attention and love just for that fact alone.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Yosef's Sensitivity to Others

Parshat Va'Yigash

At the end of the Parsha, Yosef has taken all the Egyptians money for Par'oh's coffers, all the animals and possessions, all the land and finally the people themselves as servants to Par'oh, all in exchange for bread. Yosef then puts the Egyptian nation through a massive upheaval by forcing people to leave their cities for new cities.
Rashi tells us that the purpose of this was to show them that they are no longer the landowners, rather they are all subservient to Par'oh and where he tells them to live is where they must go. Rashi adds that this is testament to Yosef's greatness, as his whole intent in moving the Egyptians around was solely for the benefit of his Jewish family. Now that everyone else was moved around, people could no longer deride the family of Yaakov for being strangers and and exiles - now everybody was.
Kli Yakar further explains Rashi that the idea was strangers are always ill-treated. Yosef moved everyone around so they would all be strangers and would know what it felt like to be oppressed as a stranger. Having felt that, they would then leave the Jews alone and not oppress them.

Yosef's sensitivity is a lesson to us. He put all those people through hardship just so a few Jews would not be picked on. We must be sensitive to the needs and feelings of out brother Jews.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Act in accordance with your stature

Daf Yomi
Eruvin 85b-86a:
The gemara relates a story that the son of Bunias (a very wealthy man involved in real estate) came before Rebbe and they announced to make a respectable amount of place for an important person. Somebody else came in and they announced to make even more space (indicating the second person was wealthier). Reb Yishmael said to Rebbe that Bunias owns 1000 boats in the sea and 1000 cities on land (meaning he was much wealthier than the second fellow). Rebbe responded" from the way he is dressed I could not tell. Tell his father next time he sends his son to dress him appropriately and not in these clothes that do not make him appear so wealthy.

A person deserves a certain amount of respect, each according to what he does and his success. (everybody deserves respect as a human being, but above that level of respect there is a level of respect relative to a persons success). A person has to know his place in life and act and dress appropriately. If a person is wealthy, he should not appear as a regular person (not to say he should dress ostentatious, but he should dress accorsing to his stature).

The gemara continues and says Rebbe respected wealthy people because Hashem gave them wealth because they must have used their money to give tzedaka (as we had in an earlier gemara in eruvin that to retain ones wealth one should do mitzvos with his money). A person has success because Hashem is rewarding him for good deeds done and has expectations of that person for the future (more good deeds). If the person realizes that, he will not become haughty with his success, but will continue to do good deeds.
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