Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A bitter lesson

Parshat B'Shalah

After the sea split and went back to normal, the Jews move on through the desert and they encounter a place with only bitter water. In 15:22-23 the pessukim tell us, "ויסע משה את ישראל...ויבאו מרתה ולא יכלו לשתת" - Moshe urged the Israelites to travel... and they came to Marah and they were not able to drink...

Rashi tells us that Moshe had to push them to travel from the edge of the sea. He explains that all the jewels and wealth of Egypt washed up on the bansk and the people were busy scavenging the wealth and they did not want to leave. Moshe had to tell them that enough was enough and it was time to move on.

I find the contrast stark. They finish the story of splitting the sea and immediately begin the story of the bitter waters.

I think, maybe, part of the reason hashem took them to Marah right now was specifically because of the greed they displayed at the edge of the sea. They preferred to sit there collecting money and Moshe had to force them to move.
Hashem brought them to Marah to show them that all that money they were so worried about does them no good anyway. All the money in the world could not buy them a drink of water. They needed to improve their emuna and be less concerned about the money.

Thinking about this some more, I developed it a bit further....

After the events at the splitting of the sea and then the bitter waters, the rest of the parsha deals with a number of other stories; the manna, the fowl (slav), the water coming from the rock, the battle with Amalek.

All these are events that are completely dependant on emunah. They were all there to teach Bnei Yisrael emunah in Hashem and that even when they put forth effort it is really Hashem making their efforts successful.

So, they showed their greed by preferring the money. Hashem showed them the money is not the most important. Then hashem taught them multiple lessons in emuna.

showing compassion

Parshat B'Shalah

After Moshe leads Israel in songs of praise after the splitting of the sea (az yashir), Miriam leads the women in similar song.
The passuk in 15:20 says, "ותקח מרים הנביאה אחות אהרון את התף" - And Miriam the prophetess, sister of Aharon, took the drums in her hands, etc..

Why does the Torah relate to us that she is the sister of Aharon? We know who she is.

Rashi explains that she said her prophecy before Moshe was born so it relates her to Aharon, along with a second explanation that Aharon risked his life for her when she had tzoraas, so it relates her to him.

That is very nice, but does not explain why it needs to be said at all. That explains why she is considered Aharon's sister and no mention of Moshe.

But why say anything? We know who she is!

The Ramban says an answer that we already have seen Moshe leading Israel in songs of praise, now we see Miriam doing the same. The only one we do not see is Aharon. So the Torah relates Miriam to Aharon so he would not feel left out.

I find it funny that the Torah would say that just so Aharon does not feel left out. Is this a personal family diary that the author needs to be concerned with hurting one members feeligns over another?

I asked this question to someone and he suggested that it is teaching us a lesson. He said that if the Torah showed concern and compassion for someone who might feel left out when his brother and sister got all the attention, how much more so do we need to show compassion to others and be concerned for their feelings.

fear and belief

Pasrhat B'Shalah

The sea has been split. The Jews go through while the Egyptians are washed away. The passuk tells us in 14:31, "וירא ישראל את היד הגדולה...וייראו העם את ה' ויאמינו בה' ובמשה עבדו" - Israel saw the great hand that which Hashem had done to Egypt and the nation feared Hashem and they believed in Hashem and in Moshe His servant.

Did they not believe in Hashem prior to this? After all they saw HAshem do to get them out of Egypt, only now do they believe in Him?What is different now that we say they believed in Hashem rather than the blief they had before?

I suspect my rebbe Rav Gamliel Rabinovitch would say that why they did not have emuna before this is not what matters. Rather, he would say, if the Torah says they have emuna now and not before, after everything they have seen and experienced, how much more so would we be considered people without emuna and how much more do we need to work on improving our emuna.

To answer the question though, it must be a different level of emuna based on what they just saw in how Hashem took out His wrath and vengeance on the Egyptians, relative to what they saw before which was much less. This level of emuna is based on their fear of Hashem, as it immediately attributes it to that by saying "They feared Hashem and they believed...".

Prior to this they might have believed based on what they saw, but it seems like they did not have the yirah that they have now.

Any suggestions?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

the familiar tzorres

Parshat B'Shalah

The Jews are leaving Egypt. The route seems a bit roundabout, so the passuk describes in 13:17 that Hashem did not lead them through the short route via the land of the Philistines, lest they should see the potential for a war breaking out and that would frighten them to running back to Egypt.

Why would they want to go back to Egypt? After all the suffering they went through, after the beatings, the hard work, the oppression, etc. They have finally broken out and are free, yet we are still concerned that they might want to go back at the slightest threat of violence?

Also, let's say they went via the land of the Philistines. Let's say they would be afraid of battle. Woudl they want to go back and not trust Hashem after all they have seen Hashem do until now? Was it really such a concern that they would want to return to Egypt? Would they not think Hashem could/would help them be victorious?

People prefer what they are familiar with. In Egypt they had their routines. True, it was not pleasant. But they knew what to expect. They had gotten used to it.

To go into the desert and find yourself in a situation of possible war, they very well might prefer the evil with which they were already familiar rather than the new concerns.

Because of that, Hashem had to be concerned they might want to go back, despite all that He had already done for them.

pleasant weather in the desert

Parshat Bo

At the end of the parsha this week Moshe tells the Jewish people that they should remember this day that they are leaving Egypt and not eat chametz, etc.. He then says in 13:4, "היום אתם יוצאים בחודש האביב" - This day you are leaving in the month of the spring.

Rashi points out that we already know when they are leaving, so why does it need to be siad specifically in this fashion?

Rashi explains that it is telling us the great chessed that Hashem did for them that He took the nation out in the spring when the weather is pleasant, rather than in hot or cold weather when it would have been less pleasant.

My question is, why is this such a big chessed - we know the Jews were encircled and protected by the ananei hakavod - the clouds of glory - and they were a form of climate control. We know they were not affected by the weather and elements because of the clouds. So who cares what the weather was like when they left?

My initial thoughts are that while it is true that when they left Egypt they were not affected by the weather, however they did not know that would be the case. They knew they were about to leave Egypt and maybe they were nervous that they were running out in the heat or cold. So Moshe, to allay their concerns told them that Hashem scheduled it as a chessed that they are leaving in pleasant weather. Even though the facts are that it would not matter later. It was to calm their fears.

Answer: I still think there might be something to the above answer I suggested, I now have a better answer.
My 7 year old son gave me an answer that I think is correct. I asked the question at the shabbos table and he answered right away.
The ananei hakavod were only put into place when bnei yisroel travelled from Sukkos, which at the beginning of parshat B'Shalach we see was on the second day after having left Egypt. The first day they travelled from Ra'amses to Sukkos and did not yet have the clouds of glory or the pillars of fire.
That being the case, they needed the good weather for that cloudless day.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

no logic or rationale

Parshat Bo

At the height of the final plague, the plague of the firstborn, Pharoah calls Moshe and Aharon and tells them he agrees to let the Jews leave Egypt unconditionally. Before they leave, one of the things needed to be done is to acquire the wealth of Egypt. Moshe tells the Jews to go to their Egyptian neighbors and borrow/take their jewellery from them. In 12:36 the Torah says, "וה' נתן את חן העם בעיני מצרים וישאלום" - Hashem gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, and they lent to them [their jewels].

Why was this חן necessary? The Egyptians would have given the jews whatever they wanted at that point, just to get rid of them!
The חן does not even make sense - the Jews were just responsible for the decimation of Egypt and the Egyptians culmiating in the horrific death of a large percentage of Egyptians and all of the sudden they find favor and like the Jews? For Hashem to do that seems to have no purpose nor any logic and rationale!!??

Any ideas?

whose team are you on?

Parshat Bo

What was the purpose of putting blood on the doorposts? The common (mis)perception is that it was to differentiate between Jewish and egyptian houses, so Hashem would only slay the firstborn in Egyptian houses, but not in Jewish ones.

Did Hashem really need their assistance in order to differentiate the houses? Would Hashem not know which house belonged to a Jew and which to an Egyptian?

That can't be the reason for the blood. On the verse in 12:13 "ולא יהיה בכם נגף" Rashi explains to us that if an Egyptian firstborn was in a Jewish house, that would not protect him and he would still be smitten and a Jew in an Egyptian home would not be harmed..

So what was the purpose of the blood on the soorposts?

Rashi says the blood was to show Hashem that they were busying themselves with the mitzvos and then Hashem would skip over them.

There are times where a person can just quietly do his thing and move along. There are other times where that is not enough. One, sometimes, needs to stand up and be counted. One needs to say out loud which team he is on and who he is loyal to.

This is one of those times. Put the blood on your doorpost. That will show Hashem that you are declaring you are on Gods team.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The end-game is near

Parshat Bo

By the plague of חשך - darkness, the plague brings thick darkness for three days. Then Pharoah calls Moshe and tells him that he has reconsidered and is letting them go to pray in the desert, but only with the animals they need for sacrificing to God. The rest of the cattle needs to stay behind in Egypt (sort of a gaurantee that they will come back). Moshe rejects that and insists that they be allowed out with no restrictions.

In 10:27, one verse later, Hashem hardens Pharoah's and Pharoah no longer wants to let them go, and then throws Moshe and Aharon out of the palace.

This whole discussion between Moshe and Pharoah must have taken place after the plague had already concluded. During the plague itself, we know nobody was able to move, so this could only have taken place after the plague had finished.

This is different than by all the other plagues. In the other plagues, while it was ravaging Egypt, Pharoah pleaded with Moshe to remove it, and he agreed to let them out and then changed his mind after the plague. Or Moshe removed the plague on his own and then brought a new plague, with no discussion between him and Pharoah.

For Pharoah to agree to his demands (in theory) after the plague had concluded is something new.

By the other plagues it was clear he was agreeing to let the Jews go just as a way of gettng the plague cancelled. When the plague was no longer, he was then open to having his heart hardened and change his mind.
This time is different as the plague concludes, then Pharoah agrees to Moshe, then he changes his mind. There is no change from when he agreed to when he changed his mind.

It is clear from the plague of darkness that all semblance of "free will" is gone. While Hashem has been hardening Pharoah's heart, until now He has done it in a way that looks natural. Now he is dropping all appearances. The end-game is near. The level has been ratcheted up a couple of notches. We are in the bottom of the ninth and it is time to get serious.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

making Pharoah a friar

Parshat Va'Eira

In Chapter 9 we encounter Moshe bring upon the Egyptians the plague of "Dever" - plague/disease . Moshe approaches Pharoah and warns him that if he refuses to "Let my people go" he will bring about the next in the series of plagues. He goes on to describe it saying the hand of God will smite your cattle, horses, etc., a very serious plague. In 9:4 we see Moshe add a discrimination. he says, "Hashem will distinguish betwene your cattle and the cattle of the Jews and none of the Jews' cattle will die".

Why did he have to add this remark? He never added it by any of the previous plagues, so why now? Anyway, Pharoah probably aready realized that no Jew would be affected, just as they were not affected by any of the previous plagues. So why did Moshe have to mention it this time?

After seeing Pharoah change his mind after each of the previous plagues, Moshe felt it was time to up the ante. Killing animals might not even have been such a big deal in Pharoahs eyes. Sure it is bad, and the financial loss could have been devastating, but thinking of what the Egyptians had already suffered through and were going to suffer through, the animals dropping dead does not seem like such a big deal.

It might well have been easier, at least psychologically, for Pharoah to have gotten through this one than any of the others.

So Moshe "dug it in". He rubbed salt in Pharoah's royal wounds. He told Pharoah that not only are your cattle and animals going to drop dead, but the Jews will not lose even a single head of cattle. That is an infuriating thing to be told. It would have enraged Pharoah. In today's terms, nobody wants to look like a "friar" and that is exactly what Moshe is doing to Pharoah.

That statement of Moshe's might have been even worse than the actual plague.

get rid of the pain

Parshat Va'Eira

Why did Pharoah agree to allow the Jews to leave and then change his mind, after a number of the plagues?

It is true that Hashem hardened his heart and made him unreasonably obstinate, as the passuk says. But why did he agree and then reverse his decision? Why not have his obstinacy all the way through the plague and never agree at all to let them go, rather than saying yes and then changing his mind?

When the plague was in progress, when we are in distress over something, it might be too much to handle and we need to make the problem go away. Sometimes we will even agree to anything just to make the pain go away. Just to get rid of the problem.

But once the pain subsides, once the troubles are gone, the memory fades. In hindsight, it does not seem like it was really that bad.

Only after the troubles have past, when one is in a calm state of mind with relative tranquility can he then think back and say it was not such a big deal and then reverse his decision. During the time it happens, he just wants to get rid of the pain.

another day

Parshat Va'Eira

Moshe and Aharon bring upon Egypt the plague of the frogs. It gets to be so bad that Pharoah calls Moshe and orders him to beseech from Hashem that He stop the plague. Moshe asks when he would like the plague to be cancelled. In 8:6 Pharoah responds and says, "ויאמר למחר" - - And he says Tomorrow.

Pharoah had the oppotunity to say stop it right now and Moshe would have. Yet he chose to request Moshe only cancel the plague the next day. Why did he do this? Why did he want to suffer for another day with the frogs?

The various commentaries tell us that Pharoah suspected Moshe was possibly a magician. If he would say cancel it right now, Moshe would be able to. By saying canel it tomorrow, he is making it more difficult and maybe Moshe would not be able to and he would prove Moshe to be a fraud.

Look at how destructive and harmful גאוה, haughtiness, can be. Pharoah was willing to suffer with the horrid frogs for an extra day just on the chance that he might be able to prove Moshe to be a charlatan and not a messenger of Hashem.

And don't think the plague was not so bad, not such a big deal, that he could just put up with it for another day. It must have been pretty horrible. It already brought Pharoah to his knees and made him agree to Moshe's demands. For that to have happened, it must have been pretty bad.

Yet despite that, he is willing to suffer for another day...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

time to move on

Parshat Sh'mot

In 1:8 we are told a new king arose who did not know Yosef.

Rashi brings two opinions as to what that might mean. One, that it was actually a new king and he did not know Yosef. The second, that after Yosef's death the old king simply changed his decrees and acted as if he did not know Yosef.

How could the Pharoah ignore Yosef like that? Even if it was a new king, how could he have been unfamiliar with Yosef - the guy who ran Egypt for so many years and saved it from famine and was responsible for it becoming a great empire? He had to know Yosef!

And if it was the same old king, how could he ignore Yosef? After all that Yosef had done for him, he simply wipes it all away as if it never happened?

Yosef died. He was no longer a political force. He was not someone to be reckoned with any longer. Once Yosef died, the attitude seems to have been that all previous alliances, all deals, all favors owed, etc.. are no longer relevant.

As soon as it was necessary, the (maybe new) Pharoah simply made all his new alliances with others and his new decrees. Nothing from history mattered, as it was time to move on.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

new blog

As you can see in my sidebar, I have started a new blog, in addition to the two I am currently writing. If you are a reader of this blog, you will probably also enjoy the new one.

The new one will have less frequent posts and is dedicated to, usually, one question I have on the parsha of the week (maybe occasionally there will be more than one) that I ask at the shabbos table.

I debate the answer with my kids going over various possibilities until my kids get sick of it. We try to find an answer that makes most sense to us, often it is inconclusive.

Postings will usually be either Thursday/Friday or after Shabbos. I do not always think of the question I am going to raise for discussion until Shabbos itself, so i cannot promise posting the question before Shabbos.

Check it out at http://parshaquestions.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Parshat VaYehi

Yaakov passes away and the brothers get nervous. They fear that now that their father is no longer around, Yosef will take advantage and finally get his revenge for what they had done to him.

Yosef realizes their fears and he says in 50:20 "ואתם חשבתם עלי רעה אלקים חשבה לטבה" - you planned to do to me evil, yet Hashem turned it around for good.

Yosef, according to Rashi, was assuring them that they had nothing to worry about. He will not do anything to them anyway because only what Hashem wants can happen. If hashem wants bad to happen to you, he will find a way, and if He wants good so even if I plan bad it will not be successful. Just like when you planned bad for me and it turned out good.

Yosef learned an amazing lesson from a tragic story that happened to him. he was treated horribly by his brothers. yet he held no ill feelings toward them because he realized they were only the middle men involved and it was really from Hashem. Because of that there is not even a point in trying to harm someone else, because it is all up to Hashem.

Yosef had an amazing level of bitachon.

My boys

Parshat VaYehi

In 45:8-9 we find Yosef bringing his two sons, Menashe and Efraim, to be blessed by Yaakov before he passes away. They approach Yaakov and Yaakov asks, "ויאמר מי אלה? ויאמר יוסף אל אביו בני הם" - Yaakov said Who are they? an Yosef said to his father They are my sons.

Rashi explains that Yaakov asked how he could have such descendants as Yeravam, Ahab and Yahu from Efraim and Menashe, and maybe because of these descendants they are not worthy of the blessings.

Yosef responded to Yaakov by saying "בני הם" - they are my sons.

What happens later does not matter. For better or worse they are still our children, and therefore deserving of our love - deserving of your brachos.Leave the later problems for later, do not deny them the brachos just because of things that will happen later.