Thursday, December 27, 2007

Shmos: keeping it secret

Parshat Shmos

In 4:18, after Hashem gives Moshe instructions about going back to Egypt and talking to Pharoah, etc... Moshe goes back to his family and Yisro and he tells them he has to go back to Egypt to see how they are doing there....

Why did he not tell them the truth? Was he afraid they would not believe him? would they try to talk him out of it? would they think he was crazy?

This shows us that when a person has a plan, when he is working on a big project, don't tell people what you are doing. Even those close to you. They will steal your thunder, they will try to talk you out of it, they will ruin it somehow. Get the project rolling and then tell them when they can no longer ruin it for you.


Shmos: gotta know when to hold 'em

Parshat Shmos

Moshe was given a series of three signs (previously mentioned as tricks, or magic tricks) with which to convince the people of Israel to trust in him and follow him. First he would use one sign, and of they still do not believe then the second, then the third.

If the third sign was the mother load and that was so strong it would do the job the first two could not do, why not just use the third sign right away? Why bother with the first two at all?

You never reveal your best hand until it is necessary. Sign #3 represented a very powerful message. It carried a very strong threat to the Egyptians and represented a very bold move by the Hebrews. You do not want to give that away unless it is absolutely necessary.

First try other things, then if it is still necessary, go for the nuclear attack.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Shmos: attacking a national symbol

Parshat Shmos

In 4:9 we find Hashem had just performed two signs for Moshe for him to relate to the people to gain their trust. Now the passuk says, and if they still do not believe you here is a third trick, as He explains to Moshe to turn some water from the Nile to blood in front of them.

if they do not believe after the first two, why would they believe after the third?

And anyways, why would any "magic trick" help to gain their trust - they are living in Egypt. Egypt is the center of the world for magic and black arts. Why should they be impressed just because Moshe can pull off a couple of stunts?

I would say it was not the magic that was important to sway the people. Anybody could do magic. It was the symbols and meanings behind it that were important. The third trick is one where Moshe takes water from the Nile and turns it to blood.

Moshe, by doing that, is openly and brazenly attacking the national symbol of Egypt. Rashi goes further and says Hashem was sending a message by this trick that He would attack and destroy the gods of Egypt first (the Nile was respected as a god).

The idea si that the specific action had meaning and was not just a simple magic trick. Each of the three tricks had increasingly powerful messages, so someone who had more faith might be swayed at the first trick, someone else at the second, and those who still did not believe after two tricks, would definitely be swayed by the third, with the most powerful message. No matter how stubborn they were, they could not ignore message #3.

Moshe being brazen enough to attack Egypt at its national symbol is a powerful message.

Shmos: a land filled with bowling alleys

Parshat Shmos

In 3:8 Hashem contacts Moshe from the Burning Bush and tells him that He hears the cries of the people, and He sees their pain and he will take them out of Egypt. He says "I will bring you to a good land, flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Cnaani, Hiti, Emori, Prizi, Hivi, and Yevusi."

Why mention that it is a place of these people -if he is trying to entice them to follow His lead, he should keep quiet about these nations living there and only tell them later. These nations were hostile - them being in the land means the people know in advance there will be conflicts, wars, and problems as they will try to uproot nations already living there. So why mention it here? It seems counterproductive! This would just scare them off!

Maybe Hashem is mentioning it to show them that He is not bringing them to an empty, desolate land. He is bringing them to an inhabited place. There are homes, there are shopping malls, bowling alleys, baseball fields, everything a person could want. So saying people already live there should not scare them off, but make it even more desirable for them.

Shmos: big brother government

Parshat Shmos

In 2:12-14 we find Moshe going out from the palace to see the people. He sees an Egyptian man striking a Jew. The passuk says, "ויפן כה וכה וירא כי אין איש....כאשר הרגת את האיש" Moshe turned this way and that, saw there was no person around and he smote the Egyptian... Then he bumps into 2 jews fighting with each other. When he attempts to break up the fight, they ask if he is going to kill them like he killed the Egyptian.

What happened - we know Moshe looked all around to make sure nobody was in sight before he did anything, so how did they know about it?

You can never be sure nobody is looking. If you are going to do something sensitive, unless you are in the privacy of your own home, you have to act with the assumption that somebody might be watching. Even if you look around and take all the protection you possibly can, chances are reasonable that somebody might be watching.

Act accordingly. A person should always be aware that somebody is watching. That somebody might only be Hashem, and you should act appropriately, but even if you are doing nothing wrong, that somebody watching might be not just Hashem but someone human as well.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Va'Yehi: knowing your place

Parshat Va'Yehi

In 50:4-5 we find Yosef asking Pharoah for permission to go and bury his dead father.

1. It says Yosef spoke to the house of Pharoah and requested they pass on his request to Pharoah.
Wasn't Yosef the "Second to the King"? Why did he have to go through Pharoah's secretary for this? why could he not just go right to Pharoah and ask for himself? Yosef just spent about 14 years running Egypt and saving it from collapse in the famine, you would think he had Pharoah's ear and could ask him what he wanted when he wanted...

2. Why did Yosef need Pharoah's permission to go bury his father? Yosef just saved Egypt from collapse. He is second to the king. He is responsible for making the most important decisions in Egypt over the past 14 years or so. And Yosef needs to ask permission to go bury his dead father?

My only suggestion is that despite Yosef's importance, when something becomes personal previous relationships do not matter. Pharoah was concerned to let Yosef leave Egypt. He was concerned about letting Yaakov be buried outside of Egypt. These possibilities held a threat, Pharoah perceived at least, to Egypt. So it did not matter how important Yosef was. With Pharoah perceiving a threat, Yosef's importance was insignificant to him. He made sure to let Yosef know that in this regard he could not move without Pharoah's permission.

It is an important lesson about knowing your place and not thinking you have a free pass based on previous actions.

Anybody have something better?

Va'Yehi: why shchem?

Parshat Va'Yehi

in 48:21 Yaakov tells Yosef, "ואני נתתי שכם אחד על אחיך" and Rashi explains that he actually gave to Yosef the city of Shchem which was above his regular portion which he was to receive.

Why Shchem? He could have given Yosef a different city as a gift. Why Shchem? Shchem, if it should have gone to anybody outside his inheritance, should maybe have gone to Shimon or Levi who destroyed it to save their sisters honor. Why would Yaakov give Shchem to Yosef?

Also, I looked at a map (not a great one) delineating the portions of the tribal divisions in Israel. Shchem is inside the portion of Menashe. So it was not really above and beyond the inheritance of Yosef. It was part of his portion anyways? Unless you say that the area of Shchem was not supposed to be part of Menashe (I guess it would have gone to Binyamin whose region borders Menashe's) but more land was included for contiguity between the rest of Menashe and Shchem...


Va'Yehi: letting opportunity slip away

Parshat Va'Yehi

In 48:1, Yosef finds out that his father is nearing the time of his death. He takes his two sons and goes to visit Yaakov and receive brachos from him.

We do not find any of the other sons bringing their kids for brachos, though we do find Yaakov gathering his sons and giving them brachos.

But here we find Yosef doing something none of the other brothers did. Yosef saw an opportunity and realized that it was slipping away. In a little while there would never be this opportunity again. If he wanted it to happen, he had to act right away. If he wanted to make sure his sons would get blessings from their grandfather Yaakov, he had to go right now.

Yosef realized this. Maybe he was the only one of the sons who realized it, or who had the perception to act and to take advantage of such an opportunity.

We can learn from Yosef about the importance of recognizing and being aware of the situation, and not letting opportunity slip away.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Va'Yigash: I wonder

Parshat Va"Yigash

45:26 - I wonder - when they told Yaakov that Yosef was still alive and running Egypt, did they tell him they had sold him and how he ended up in Egypt or did they not come clean? Did they continue the original story by saying Yosef must have gotten away from the wild animal and somehow escaped and ended up in Egypt...

I wonder what they told Yaakov, as the Psukim leave it very vague....

Va'Yigash: a bold offer

Parshat Va'Yigash

45:18 - Yosef told the brothers to come live in the land of Goshen and he would support them. Pharoah went even further and promised that they would be given the best of the Land of Egyp and eat from the fat of the land.

It was pretty bold of Pharoah to promise such a luxurious lifestyle, and it was pretty daring of them to accept such a promise - Egypt was in the middle of the worst famine in its history. Where would they get "the fat of the land" to give the brothers when they barely had enough bread to feed their own citizens?

But they all had complete emunah in Hashem. They all knew the situation was temporary and even though it looked bleak, they knew there was a purpose and would be an end to it.

Pharoah knew, Yosef knew, and the brothers knew.

Therefore because of this great emunah they had, Pharoah was able to make such a generous and bold offer, and they were able to accept it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Miketz: guilt

Parshat Miketz

After the wine steward is released from prison and returns to his job, he forgets to mention Yosef's name as a recommendation for release. After Pharoah has his dreams, the wine steward comes to Pharoah and tells him about Yosef and his ability to interpret dreams.

In 41:9 as he is telling Pharoah about Yosef he says, "I must now mention my sin" [in forgetting to mention Yosef].

Why does he call it a sin to Pharoah. As far as Pharoah is concerned he did nothign wrong. He could have just come to Pharoah and said I know someone in prison who has the skill of interpreting dreams... Yosef did not even really do anything for him - he just interpreted a dream. Even without his having been there, after three days the guy would have been released anyway. Yosef did not cause him to be released. So by forgetting to mention Yosef, he was not really sinning or doing anything wrong, so why did he say here that he must admit his sin?

The wine steward was probably living with a tremendous amount of guilt over the course of the 2 years that have passed since he was released from jail. Yosef, the guy who relieved his nerves by giving him a good interpretation asked for one small favor - just mention my name when you get out. He failed to do that simple favor.

It is even understandable. Upon his release, what should he have done - gone up to Pharoah and say I know another prisoner who I think you should release? That would have been fairly impudent of him, and I doubt he could have even said anything to Pharoah without getting his head cut off. So he kept it inside, even though he felt bad. Then as time went on, it kept nagging him in his head more and more. He kept thinking of Yosef to whom he had made a promise but did not keep. He felt very guilty.

Now an opportunity finally presents itself. Pharoah is looking for someone who can interpret dreams. He jumps at the opportunity and runs to tell Pharoah about Yosef, thereby relieving his guilt. He felt so guilty, in his own mind he had sinned to Yosef and that pushed him to make amends.

Guilt can be a big and powerful motivator.

Miketz: backed into a corner

Parshat Miketz

In 44:25 we find Yosef sending the brothers back home to get Binyamin. When he does, he fills their sacks with food.

Yosef is in the middle of a hostile encounter with them, accusing them of being spies and liars. He just locked one of them up to gaurantee the brothers would return with Binyamin in order to obtain the release of their imprisoned brother. And he gives them the food they want? he should have sent them home and told them to come right back and he should not have given them anything!

Even in a hostile situation, like this one, you should not back your opponent into a corner and not leave him any options. If Yosef would send them home without offering them anything, maybe they would have returned with an army to wage war. Yosef calmed them down by giving them the food even though they were in the middle of a hostile encounter. That practically gauranteed that they would remain fairly docile and not do anything to jeopardize things.