Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ki Seitzei: honesty

Parshat Ki Seitzei

In 25:15 it is talking about keep honest weights and scales. The passuk says "So that you will extend your days on the land that I have given you".

Why does your fair scales and weights affect the life in Eretz Yisrael? What is the connection between the two? Yes, the next passuk calls it an abomination, but the Torah does not punish us with being thrown out of Eretz Yisrael for transgressing other sins called abomination? Why this? Why not just say it is an abomination so don't do it?

The warning, as it is given, shows us how serious the issue of honesty and fairness is. Whether you keep honest scales or not is something nobody else will ever know. It is something you have to have your own integrity about.

If you set out to deceive others by keeping dishonest scales, and they will never know about it, you are undermining the foundation of society. For that, for living lives of dishonesty, where we make others think we are being honest (which makes it much worse), we lose our right to live in Eretz Yisrael.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Shoftim: pointless killing

Parshat Shoftim

In Perek 21, it discusses the concept of Egla Arufa - a person was found dead outside a city and the elders have to bring a calf to the nahal, kill it by breaking its neck and say they did not spill the blood of the man.
What does killing a calf have to do with this mans death? We find killing for a korban, killing for food, killing for punishment - but since when do we kill something, specifically in a way it cannot then be eaten, for no specific reason?

Whenever you take a life, whenever you kill (let's talk about killing an animal not a person), it affects you in some way. True, the killing is allowed, and even required, but it still affects you to spill the blood and take a living being and kill it. Perhaps it makes you consider the fraily of life, perhaps it makes you consider the necessity to repent (as it should when bringing a korban), perhaps other thoughts would be aroused. But it somehow affects you.

When you kill this calf, it has to affect you. Even more so because there is no direct reason this calf is being killed - it is not being eaten, it is not being punished for something it did wrong, it is not being offered as a korban. The elders will be affected by the killing of this calf.

And that is the desired goal. They will see the killing of this calf and consider what a waste of a life. They will regard the useless, pointless loss and take it to heart. They will compare it to the loss of the person's life, that it too was useless and pointless, and only happened simply because they did not treat him properly (escorting him, as chazal say).

They will learn the lesson, by "pointlessly" killing this calf, that people need to be treated with some base level of respect.

Re'aih: a blessing for nothing special

Parshat Re'aih

In 15:18 it says that when you release the servant, it should not be difficult for you... and Hashem will bless all that you do".

Why? Why should you be blessed for letting him go? You bought him for 6 years and the 6 years is up. He is a free man. Why do you deserve a blessing for this?

Some meforshim say, including Rav Hirsch, that this blessing is not referring to this passuk, rather to the previous passuk of drilling his ear, that you will get the blessing...

Not to argue with the meforshim, but to take it more along the actual pshat - the passuk says the blessing on the verse of not feeling bad about letting him go. I think the Torah is telling us an important lesson - that even though it is not up to us, even though it is something we have to do, we still might not want to do it.

It is very natural that the owner will feel bad - he has gotten close to the servan perhaps, he has gotten used to having a sevrant take care of his needs, etc. Even though he has to let him go, he might feel bad about it. He might even try to prevent it, or convince the servant to sign on for more time, or maybe not at all but still feel bad abou tit.

The Torah is giving the blessing to the owner for, despite the natural feelings, not doing anything to prevent the slave from leaving.

Eikev: one way or the other

Parshat Eikev

In Perek 9, Moshe tells the nation that they should not think it is because they are so worthy that is the cause of Hashem choosing them and to place them in Eretz Yisrael. He then goes on to remind them of all the bad things they have done and all the ways they have upset Hashem.

I think the lesson being given here is an important one. It is similar to the way Moshiach can come. The passuk says "Be'ito Achishena" and chazal explain that as indicating their are two ways moshiach can coem - either because we are so worthy and then his arrival will be hastened or despite our not being worthy, and then he will come at a certain time and we will experience certain trials and tribulations.

The same thing here. Moshe is telling them don't let it get to your head. Don't think this validates your behavior until now. There are two ways this can go down. Either you can be good, and then your migration into Israel will be smooth and simple, or you can be pains in the neck and then your migration will be difficult.

It is going to happen anyway. You might as well get on the train and make the trip smoothly rather than difficult..
Time to catch up with posts I never posted... sorry for the delays...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Vaeschanan: 2 parts to a mitzva

Parshat Va'eschanan

In 7:1-3 the Torah commands us to wipe out the nations already residing in the Land of Israel. It then commands us to not allow them to continue living there, and to not intermarry with them....

If we already have to wipe them out, then why is it necessary to have secondary commandments of not letting them buy property and not intermarrying?

It is true that if we would fulfill our obligation of wiping out these nations, then the secondary commandments will have become moot and pointless. The problem is if we do not fulfill our obligations and we do not wipe them out completely. The Torah seems to be predicting that we will not fulfill ourobligations so it is letting us know what the natural results of such inaction will be.

If we let them stay, they will end up demanding rights. They will buy property, they will integrate. They will become a part of society. If we allow them to remain, natural relationships will develop.

Therefore the Torah has to command us to not allow those relationships.

By not fulfilling the first part of the mitzva, the second part becomes necessary.

Vaeschanan: being proactive

Parshat Va'eschanan

In 5:12, as Moshe is transmitting the second set of the 10 Commandments, he says, "שמור את יום השבת" - Guard the day of Shabbos to keep it holy.

Rashi brings the famous question that in the first set of Commandments the word used for keeping Shabbos is 'Zachor' - 'remember', while here in the second set it uses the term 'Shamor' - 'Guard'. Why the change? and Rashi explains that both words were said at the exact same moment, and they were divided up between the two sets of commandments for us.

Yet the question still remains why 'Zachor' was chosen to be immortalized in the first set of commandments and 'Shamor' in the second set? Why not write both both times, or write the opposite order? Why write first 'zachor' and then 'shamor'? If both were said, then both should be written in the surviving luchos!

I do not have an answer to explain why it chose to write 'zachor' and one and 'shamor' in the other. But perhaps we can understand that once it did shoose to break it up and seperate the two words into the two tablets, why it chose to write 'zachor' first and 'shamor' second.

I would suggest that this order points us to an understanding of our history and of our approach to Judaism and mitzvos.

'Zachor' - remembering, is a passive approach to Judaism and mitzvos.
'Shamor' - guarding, is a more active, and proactive approach to Judaism and mitzvos.

Being passive has a danger to it; the danger that you will miss something, you will not perceive a threat to your lifestyle, you will not react to a threat, etc.You might not recognize the time has come to act.

At first, the passive approach was dominant. The Jews were mostly living a life, in the early desert years, of everything being done for them. Moshe broke the luchos because he saw where their passivity had brought them.

The second luchos say 'shamor' becausenow God demands a much more proactive approach to Judaism and to mitzvos. Don't just remember shabbos, but guard it.

'Shamor' is written in the surviving set of luchos, because in order to survive, as a people, as a nation, as Jews, we have to be proactive in our service of God.

Va'Eschanan: entering Eretz Yisrael

Parshat Va'eschanan

Moshe reviews the experience of the giving of the Torah, and how it happened. It raises the question - why did Hashem give the Torah in Chutz La'aretz? Why not take the Jews right into Eretz Yisrael and give the Torah there?

There can be a number of answers to this question, but I would like to suggest one. In 4:14 Moshe gives us an indication of why this was done ni chutz la'aretz. He tells the nation "וְאֹתִי צִוָּה יְהוָה, בָּעֵת הַהִוא, לְלַמֵּד אֶתְכֶם, חֻקִּים וּמִשְׁפָּטִים: לַעֲשֹׂתְכֶם אֹתָם--בָּאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם עֹבְרִים שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ" - "And Hashem commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and ordinances, that you might do them in the land where you go over to possess it. "

The Torah had to be given over in chutz la'aretz, because you cannot just go into Eretz Yisrael. You have to prepare yourself, you have to educate yourself, before you can go into Eretz Yisrael. The Jews, in order to be able to successfully acclimate to Eretz Yisrael, had to be taught the Torah prior to their having entered the land.

Only with proper learning, only with proper preparation, could they go into Eretz Yisrael. Only with proper knowledge of the mitzvos, only with a solid relationship with Hashem, only with that could their entry into Eretz Yisrael possibly be successful.

So had they entered Eretz Yisrael and then been given the Torah, perhaps it would have been a failure. They would have looked at the holiness of the land differently, and they would have perhaps looked at the goals of the Torah differently, and that would have led to their abandoning the Torah and the Land.

The parsha starts out with Moshe davening to Hashem to be allowed in to Eretz Yisrael, after he had been punished and banned from the land. He even davens just to be allowed to pass through quickly to see it. yet his pleas are rejected by Hashem.

Chazal ask why Moshe wanted so badly to go into Eretz Yisrael. What is the big deal? Hashem said no, so no. Was it so important that he needed to see the sights?
Chazal say that Moshe's strong desire to go in was because he wanted the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvos ha'tluyos ba'aretz. Again, it was for the relationshiup with Hashem that had been developed in Chutz La'aretz. It could be brought to new heights, but only in Eretz Yisrael could it reach the pinnacle.

It is a tremendous zchus to be able to go into Eretz Yisrael, and even more so to be able to live there. Even the great Moshe, our greatest Navi ever, could not get in, and could not get Hashem to change His mind on this one topic. Yet we can go there with ease. We have a tremendous opportunity and a tremendous zchus that Eretz Yisrael is so accessible to us. But we have to go in with the proper education and preparation.

Dvarim: the most important lessons

Parshat D'Varim

Moshe reviews the events and lessons that they encountered and experienced in the desert.

Why does he go into great detail when discussing the more recent events, such as the battles they had just fought, which are probably still fresh in their minds, while the more distant events, such as events that they experienced 30 or 40 years ago, events whose details might no longer be so fresh in their minds, those he just mentions briefly. Why? Perhaps more time should be spent reviewing the older, more forgotten events?

Moshe's goal here was not just to review what they had experienced in the desert. Rather it was to teach them the lessons they would be required to glean as they are about to embark on a new life in a new country. The greatest of those lessons was the lesson mentioned in the last few psukim of Parshas D'varim - that they should know when they enter the Land of Israel that Hashem will always be there fighting their battles and protecting them.

That lesson is mostly derived from the more recent events, and therefore those are the ones Moshe dwelled on, for the most part.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Masei: women of great fortitude

Parshat Masei

In 36:10-11, it says the daughters of Tzlafchad did as Hashem had commanded Moshe and they married their cousins.

From the fact that it says this only after the representatives of Menashe petitioned Moshe on the subject, and from how it says it here that they did as Hashem commanded and married their cousins, I would suggest that we can deduce that the girls originally intended to marry out of the tribe and not marry their cousins. Perhaps that is why the reps of Menashe felt the urgency in suddenly petitioning Moshe - they were about to lose that portion.

The passuk here testifies that they did as Hashem commanded. They did not come forward with counter-arguments. they could have argued that they should not be limited, they could have said the case was already decided with no such condition, etc. They could have put forth a number of arguments. but they did not. They did as Hashem commanded, and married their cousins.

This is a testimony to their great fortitiude, and to their integrity in the sense that they were all along really just trying to do the right thing, and not personally profit from the loophole. They changed their plans, they cancelled their plans with whomever they were considering marriage, they made no peeps or complaints about it. They simply did what Hashem said to do.

We should all be so honest and deal with such integrity in our dealings.

Masei: righting a wrong

Parshat Masei

In 35:5-6 the representatives of the tribe of Menashe come complaining that by giving Tzlafchad's portion in Israel to his daughters, they are hurting the tribe of Menashe - the girls will marry out, and the land will follow them to the husbands tribe.

Moshe agrees and makes a stipulation that the girls should only marry within the tribe of Menashe.

Why did Moshe not respond to them that it is too late - they should have argued this when he first brought the issue up before God? Nobody mentioned such an issue then, so what right do they have to limit the girls now after the case has already been decided and closed?

A person has to not be afraid to do the right thing. Even if that means re-visiting something previously decided. Even if it means looking at something previously discussed in a new light. If something was done unjustly, it should be fixed. The wrong must be righted. If there is a way to do so, if the wrong can possibly be righted, even if it seems unfair, like to impose conditions on Tzlafchad's daughters well after they were given their freedom, a person must have the courage to step in and right that wrong.

That is what Moshe did. Yes, he had already told the girls the inheritance is theirs. Now he heard of a new issue and had to find a way to make sure his previous decision did not hurt the greater community, and that required imposing a new condition. It is never too late to right a wrong.

Masei: affecting others

Parshat Masei

In 35:34 it says, "ולא תטמא את הארץ... אשר אני שכן בתוכה כי אני ה' שכן בתוך בני ישראל" - do not defile the land... that I dwell within it, for I Hashem dwell amongst Israel.

We live in a global village of sorts. Nothing we do is contained and limited to our own sphere of influence. Everything has an affect on the greater community.

Hashem says don't defile the land that you live in, because I live there too.

In other words, your actions do not affect only you, but other people as well. And Hashem as well. So when doing things, any thing, one must consider the ramifications of his actions, and not just the ramifications that will be to him, but how it will affect other people as well...

Friday, July 25, 2008

Matos: not making them resent you

Parshat Matos

One point, among the many, that jumps out at me from the discussion between the tribes of Gad and Reuven and between Moshe is this - the impression of being unified. Of feeling, and knowing, that everyone is contributing to the whole of the nation equally.

the whole problem with their taking the parcel of land in the Eiver HaYarden was that the rest of Israel would think they do not want a part of the land, and that they are trying to avoid fighting in the wars alongside the rest of Israel.
Moshe is concerned the people will see them setting up their homes while they themselves are about to embark on a lengthy battle to conquer the Land of Israel, and he knows that they will come to resent Gad and Reuven. They will call them shirkers. They will say they are living off our backs and blood.

The whole discussion, and the agreement they worked out, was based on this premise; to avoid a situation where the rest of Israel would resent them, even if only because of a false impression.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Pinchas: public and private sin

Parshat Pinchas

In 27:3, as the daughters of Tzelafchad ae presenting their case why they should be allowed to inherit the lands of their deceased father, they say, "[Our father] was not among the congregation..."

Rashi explains their words that Tzelafchad had died for a private sin, not for participation in the sin of Korach or that of the complainers.

The daughters of Tzelafchad are making a very important distinction for us. There is a big difference between doing something in public and between doing something in private.

What is the difference? Either way it was a sin whose punishment was that of death!

They are telling us that when a sin is committed in public, where it can possibly influence other people, that is so much more serious. When done in private, it is between man and God and nobody else is involved or influenced.

Therefore a private sin, while still deserving of death, will have less serious consequences and ramifications.

And ultimately their claim was accepted by Hashem

Pinchas: The Nobel Peave Prize for violencc

Pashat Pinchas

In 25:12 Pinchas gets rewarded with Hashem saying, "הנני נותן את בריתי שלום"

Pinchas received the Nobel Peace Prize, so to speak, from Hashem for his actions.

It is ironic that the award of Peace is given to Pinchas when his action, righteous as it was, was one of extreme violence. The award would perhaps have been more appropriately called something else, perhaps the Plague Prevention Award or the Standing up for God Award, or whatever. But the Covenant of Peace?

שלום is not necessarily pacifism - always looking to talk through your disputes and arguments. Sometimes to achieve peace, a violent act might be needed.

It takes a bold and daring man to recognize that. Pinchas recognized that this situation, this public defilement of the nation, could not be resolved by discussion and persuasion. Only by one method would the situation be resolved. His violent act killed two people, but it spurred the Jewish people on to renewing their relationship with Hashem.

That is why Pinchas, despite, nay - because of, his violent act, won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Balak: Is our faith as strong as Bilaam's?

Parshat Balak

When Balak first tried to persuade Bila'am to join him and curse the Jewish people, Bila'am tried to make very clear that he would only be able to do whatever it is that hashem wants him to do.

Later, after Bila'am's multiple failed attempts, in 24:13, Bila'am, again, says, "If yo give me a house full of gold and silver, I would not beable to go against what Hashem wants me to do..."

I am no ba'al mussar, but I find this situation striking. Bila'am Ha'Rasha, who claims to know how to manipulate Hashem and find the moment He gets angry and take advantage by cursiong the jews at that very moment, he stands up and says that no sum of money, no matter how great it might be, will allow him to act against Hashem.

What about us? How often do we, for even just a small monetary gain, allow ourselves to be lax and derelict in our obligations towards Hashem?

How great it would be if we would have the wherwithal of Bila'am to be able to say with full confidence that no amount of money will make a difference in our allegiance to Hashem!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Balak: we quote Bilaam every day during davening

Parshat Balak
Sheva Brachot Drasha

The following is what I said last night when speaking at a 'Sheva Brachos' we were hosting for a cousin who got married.

מה טובו אהליך יעקב משכנותיך ישראך. Bilaam gave this bracha to the Jews, he had this insight about the Jews. I never really understood why we start of our day, every single day, saying, as one of the first things we say in the morning, this verse of Mah Tovu. Bilaam Ha'Rasha said this about the Jews. No matter how good it was, couldn't we find a better quote from someone a little less evil, and quote that everyday? Couldn't we find something that a tzaddik said that we could quote every day?
Why quote this from Bilaam, every day as we start the day?

How is it that Balak pressed on wqith his aim to curse the people. When he saw that his attempts were futile, why did he not give up, realizing that Hashem would not let him curse the Jews, and send BIlaam home - so they would not be cursed, but at least they would also not be blessed! Why did he not just give up and go home?

Truthfully I do not really have an answer to this question why Balak did not just give up. But I do think it provides us with an insight as to how the human mind works.

Balak and Bilaam were totally dedicated to their cause of cursng the Jews. They were focused, and they were determined to acheive their goal. Had they paused, taken a step back for a moment to re-evaluate the situation and look at it objectively, they might have said something like, "This is crazy - let's just go home, have a beer and watch the football game". but they did not. Because they were so focused and dedicated, they did not understand what was happening around them.

This type of devotion and dedication is what Bilaam saw in the Jews when he said Mah Tovu. He saw that despite their hardships - the slavery, the exodus, the travels in the desert, never having enough food and water (at least constantly complaining about it), the Golden Calf, the Spies, and more - they were dedicated to living their family lives in holiness with modesty. He recognized their determination to remain steadfast in their lifestyle of Tznius.

That si why, possibly, we quote Bilaam every day. Because he recognized that in us, and we want to start our day off, every day, reminding ourselves that as a nation our success comes, in part at least, because we are so careful with building our families modeled on tznius and living wih kedusha.

Balak: his own reality

Parshat Balak

Balak and Bilaam go out a few times to try to curse the Jews. Each time Bilaam tries to curse, it comes out as a blessing. Each time, Balak gets increasingly more upset at Bilaam, screaming at him more and more.

Why did Balak keep trying. Bilaam told him he can only say what Hashem allows himm and after seeing that Hashem would only allow Bilaam to bless, not curse, Balak should have said let's go home and have a beer instead. Why did he keep trying?

The events show that a person can get caught up in what he sees as reality because of his personal interests. He can completely ignore everything else, because he is completely focused on one thing.

Balak was so determined to curse the Jews that he completely blocked out any objective evealuation of the situation. He did not even see that he had no chance of success and that he was accomplishing the exact opposite of his goal. He fooled himself into thinking he could still do it.

Balak: 2 sides to every story

Parshat Balak

In 22:5 Balak says to Bilaam, "הנה כסה את עין הארץ" - that Sichon and Og, both of whom we relied upon for protection, were defeated by the Jews, so we would have no chance against them.

So just be peaceful and let the Jews pass and don't make trouble! The Jews did not start up with Sichon and Og - Sichon and Og attacked them! So if you are afraid of the Jews, just leave them be. If you do not attack them, they will ignore you as well. Why look for a better way to defeat them?

Eveybody lives in their own reality. We look back to Parshas Chukas and find the Jews making their way peacefully to Eretz Yisrael when Sichon and then Og both start up and attack them. Balak's reality was that the Jews were powerful warmongers, starting up with all the nations they come into contact with. They aleady defeated them, and we are next in line.

There are two (or three!) sides to every story. Everyone has their own reality and their own perspective, and they act based on their own reality.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Chukas: sitting in the getaway car

Parshat Chukas

Hashem tells Moshe and Aharon to speak to the rock, and it will give forth water. Moshe hits the rock. Hashem punishes them by not allowing them to enter Eretz Yisrael.

What did Aharon do wrong? He stood there while Moshe hit the rock. He did not do anything. So why did he get punished at all, or at least why the same as Moshe?

We see from here that being an accomplice to a crime is just as bad as having committed the actual crime.

Aharon was the guy in the getaway car. If someone goes in to rob a bank, and his partner sits outside waiting for him in the getaway car, they are both equally responsible for robbing the bank.

So Aharon was like that guy in the getaway car. He was Moshe's accomplice. He stood by Moshe's side while Moshe hit the rock. So sure he did not actually hit the rock himself, but he is equally as guilty.

We have to be very careful with whom and with what we associate ourselves. Just being associated with bad, makes us equally as guilty, even if we did nto actually do anythign wrong.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Chukas: resting on your laurels

Parshat Chukas

The Parsha concludes with how the Jews smote Og and took over the land of Bashan. Then it concludes with one last passuk, that is even the first of a new perek, and says they traveled to Arvos Moav.

Why does it not conclude the parsha with the battle of Og and start the next parsha with the travel to Arvos Moav? Anyway that is really relevant to the parsha of Balak and Bila'am and not to us in this parsha, so why did chazal make the portion break after that last passuk and not before?

I do not ask why the perek is begun with this passuk rather than the one after it, because the chapeters were delineated not by Jewish sources, so that has less meaning. But the portion itself (the paragraph markers, so to speak) is marked after this passuk, and the parsha concludes with this last passuk. Why?

I would suggest that they could have stopped after what was definitely a big battle with Og. they could have stayed a while and rested, enjoyed a bit of respite, before they moved on.

But no - it says the nest passuk right away to tell us that they right away moved on. They went to Arvos Moav right away and continued on the journey to Eretz Yisrael.

They refused to sit on their success. One must always continue progressing.

Korach: Are Egypt and Israel equal?

Parshat Korach

In 16:13-14, Dasan and Aviram are giving their response to Moshe who had called upon them to come talk with him. He was trying to sway them to drop out of the fight. They respond by saying (passuk 13) that he took them out of a land flowing with milk and honey... and (passuk 14) he did not even bring them into the promised land flowing with milk and honey.

Chazal broke up the aliya right in between those two psukkim. That is very unusual - to break an aliya in the middle of a sentence. Really it should even have waited, possibly, to break it up after Moshe's response, but at least wait until Dasn and Aviram finish saying what they were saying?

I would suggest that the reason Chazal put the break there is to cause us to think about what they were saying. Dasan and Aviram used the same exact words to describe Eretz Yisrael and Egypt. They described both as being the land flowing with milk and honey. They were equating the two lands - you took us from one, bring us to the other.

Chazal are making us think about that and saying stop. Dasan and AViram want to equate Eretz Yisrael and Egypt, but you cannot. they are not equal. We will make a division between them to show that.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Shlach: why were the people destined to die in the desert?

Parshas Sh'lach

In 14:28-38, Hashem announces the punishment for the sin of the spies. - the spies themselves would die in a plague, and the people would be forced to wander the desert for 40 years (1 year per day of the spies trip through Israel), and the people would die in the desert and not enter the land - only their children would be able to.

I do not udnerstand what the people did so bad here to deserve the punishment they received. If one looks at the psukim, all we see is the spies returning, giving their report of the land and their recommendation, even a demand, that they refuse to enter the land.

The people then complained that Hashem brought them up just to kill them in the desert and maybe they should go back to Egypt.

Is this the first time the people complained? Is this the first time the people suggested they return to Egypt? They have been complaining non-stop since they left Egypt, constantly talking about how good they had it!

The punishment of the spies I understand. But the punishment of the people perplexes me. What did they do so bad to deserve what they got? Why is the complaining this time different than any other time?

No answer I have thought has been satisfactory, so if you can suggest anything, I would appreciate it....

Shlach: why Moshe really could not get into the Land of Israel

Parshas Sh'lach

In 14:13 it says "וישמעו מצרים" and Rashi explains that they would then say that "Hashem was able to beat us in war and take the Jews out, but He is not strong enough to beat the יושבי האארץ".

Moshe was calling Hashem out and warning Him that if he kills them out, if He does not let them into the land, then He will have caused a chillul Hashem of sorts.

I would like to suggest that this might be why Moshe later gets punished by not being allowed into Israel upon striking the rock.

Over there it is explained that Moshe did not really do anything wrong, per se. Rather, he could have effected a greater kiddush Hashem by talking to the rock, but he struck the rock instead.

But why is that so bad? So he caused only a smaller kiddush Hashem? For that he deserves such a harsh punishment?

I would suggest that it is a sense of tit for tat. Mida k'negged mida. He got the punishment over there for not effecting a greater Kiddush Hashem, because over here by the spies he used that argument against Hashem to protect the jews. He said "Don't destroy the jews because the Egyptians will say You were not strong enough." By destroying the Jews, You will be preventing the greater Kiddush Hashem of taking them into the land and everyone will recognize Your strength..

Because Moshe used that argument here, so later when he prevented the greater kiddush Hashem, he had to be punished via the argument he introduced here - by not entering the land.

Sh'lach: why only Menashe

Parshas Sh'lach

In 13:8 the passu tells us the name of the spy from the tribe of Efraim - "למטה אפרים הושע בן נון", and then in passuk 11 it tells us the name of the spy from Menashe - "למטה יוסף למטה מנשה גדי בן סוסי".

Why by Menashe does it associate back to Yosef, but not by Efraim?

Monday, June 16, 2008

B'Haaloscha: giving it all up for the truth

Parshas B'Haaloscha

In 10:30 the people had asked Yisro to stay with them but Yisro responds that he will not stay but he will go back home to his land and to his birthplace.

Yisro's response stands, in my mind, in stark contrast to the response of Avraham who was also implored (albeit by God Himself in that case) to leave his family, his birthplace and his land to go to the Land of Israel.

Avraham, as we know, did so because he had found the truth and knew he had to follow it.

Yisro found the truth as well, but he could not give up his personal needs and preferences to follow it. When push came to shove, despite his being so great, and even the father of the Jewish Judicial System, he could not take that step to throw his lot in with that if the jewish People. He could not give up everything to follow and be a part of the truth.

This shows that mo matter how great a person might be, everybody still has negios. They have preferences with internal conflicts that are often difficult to overcome. When they do overcome them, it shows how great that person and his dedication really is.

Naso: each individual counts

Parshas Naso

Why at the end of the Parsha does it spend so much time and space detailing all the dedications of the various leaders of the various tribes. they were all exactly the same. The Torah should have detailed one, and then said in some way that each one brought his dedication on his appropriate day. Or something similar to that.

So why does it detail each one seperately?

I would suggest that this shows how important each individual is. Yes, they each gave the same thing, but each gave it seperately. Each one put his heart into his gift.

the Torah details each one because it wants to show us that the gift of each individual, the service of each individual, is important in its own right, and not just as part of the group.

Bamidbar: when does protexia get applied?

Parshas Bamidbar

In 1:49 Hashem tell Moshe not to count to tribe of Levi. Rashi explains that Hashem knew that all those counted here would eventually receive a punishment of death in the desert. So why not Levi? because Levi is special. Levi did not sin by the Golden Calf. Levi stepped up to the plate and batted on God's side.

Why is that a reason - did we not learn by the children of Aharon the concept of "בקרובי אקדש" - that Hashem's name gets honored more when people see those who are close to Him being punished?

I am not saying Levi deserved death, but why do they get this special protection just because they were more purely dedicated to God, when we see others do not get that "protexia"?


Bamidbar: Love is a double edged sword

Parshas Bamidbar

Love. A double edged sword.

In B'cchukosai we read from the Torah the portion of the threats and curses of punishments that will befall us if we do not follow Hashem and the Torah properly. So this week, in Bamidbar, we start out right away with Hashem telling Moshe to count the Israelites, with Rashi explaining it is because Hashem loves us so much that He counts us. Counting us is an expression of love.

But this love is dangerous. Moshe is then told to not count the Levite tribe. Rashi explains the reason to be because Hashem knows that all those counted will later be condemned to die in the desert and not enter the Land of Israel.

So do not count the Leviim because even though counting is an expression of love, it also is a marker for who will later be condemned to death.

So which is it? an expression of love or a sign of condemnation?

anybody have any ideas?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

B'chukosai: remaining positive

Parshas B'Chukosai

At the end of the portion of the Tochacha, it says that we will be chased out of Eretz Yisrael and dispersed among the nations, the foreign lands will consume us, etc.Then it says, in 26:44, that despite that, even while we are in the lands of the enemy, I will not break my promise and I will not destroy you.

Why mention this while delineating all the punishments and curses? It seems counterproductive? Harsh warnings, but don't worry so much. Doesn't make sense!

Maybe the Torah is offering a light at the end of the tunnel. Any period in which these curses are actually brought upon us, would be a very dark period. That can lead to despair and depression. People will give up hope and think there is no way to come out of it, personally or nationally.

The Torah says, despite all that, despite all the curses, I will never break My promise. I will never destroy you. You have a future. Keep trying to improve. There is still hope. Remain positive.

B'chukosai: a person's worth and value

Parshat B'Chukosai

Someone asked me last night why the section on Erchin (donating one's value to the Temple) comes immediately after the section of the Tochacha and curses? What si the connection between the two?

While other answers were offered, I suggested two possible answers:

1. The Torah is saying that after you have gone through all the curses and admonishment, a person can go into a depression. The Torah then immediately presents the portion on the values to say that despite the curses, despite the admonishment, don't get into a depression. Every person has inherent value. Don't think life is not worth living, you are nobody because you do not do enough mitzvos, etc.
You have value. We all have value.

2. Extending the first thought... somebody poor should not think he is a nobody and somebody rich should not think he is so great and better than other people. At the end of the day we are all worth the same (assuming the same gender and age group). The rich person should say "that poor guy is worth as much as me" and the poor guy should say "I am worth as much as the rich guy".

That will temper any form of depression because you think you are worth less than others, and any form of haughtiness in thinking you are worth more than others.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

B'Har: keeping yourself in line

Parshat B'Har

It says a number of times in the Parsha
(25:17, 25:36, 25:43), regarding various instructions of behavior, "And you should fear your God" - ויראת מאלקיך.

Every time it says that, it is referring to a situation in which it is difficult, or even impossible, to know whether the persons actions were done with good intentions or with self-serving motives. In these situations, the Torah reminds us that Hashem knows all and knows what is in our hearts, so even if other people don't know, Hashem still does, so we should do it for the right reasons.

It is easy to be frumm when everyone is looking at you and watching what you are doing. As a matter of fact, it is a common phenomenon that some people who are very frum, when they go away on vacation are much more lax and do things they would never even consider doing back in their own community. This is because they are comfortable with the idea that nobody is watching them and seeing them in this "less frum environment".

That is really when you need the fear of God - the Yiras Hashem. When you are away from your normal setting, around people who don't know you or care what you do. If you have yiras hashem, you will stick to your ideals even then.

Yiras hashem is what keeps you on the line, even when nobody else knows what you are doing.

Emor: earning your keep

Parshat Emor

The Torah talks about the obligations of the farmer to leave in his field various forms of charity for the poor - the fallen stalks, the corner of the field, etc.

Why are we obligated to leave the grains in this fashion?
what is wrong with the normal method of giving tzedaka where we give the charity to the poor fellow? Why here is the landowner not allowed to pick it up and distribute, rather he has to leave it for the poor to take?

Nowadays, most of us are not farmers and do not have fields within which we can leave the corner for the poor, so what lesson can we learn from this mitzvah?

Many give an answer to the above question by saying that this is a form of anonymous giving. The poor man can come in the night and take it, when nobody can see. It saves him the embarrassment.

That answer does not seem complete, because even with giving money there are ways it can be done anonymously, even with giving grains the owner could pick it up and do it anonymously. Also, it is not really anonymous. All the poor come together and try to be the first to take the grains. We even see by Boaz that this was the case, as the Megillas Ruth says that Boaz was impressed by how he noticed Ruth wait until the others had finished scavenging and she only took what was left at the end. So these forms of tzedaka are often not really anonymous.

I have an answer I would like to suggest. I think the method is used here to allow the poor man some dignity. We give tzedaka in other ways, with money or chesed. But those forms of tzedaka are, while necessary in order to support the poor, also prone to shame, even if done in the best of ways and with the best of intentions. Nobody likes to take charity, and the poor only do it because they have to.

By setting up this method, we offer the poor charity in a way that is dignified. In this situation, they are working for their food. Not just taking a handout. Here the poor man can go home proud of what he accomplished. He can say he put in a hard days work and earned his bread on that day.

For whatever reason, bad mazal, this fellow is poor. Maybe he lost his job, maybe he has bad health, whatever. he wants to earn his own keep. Everybody does. This gives him an opportunity to feel as though, at least on that day, he has not just taken a handout, but actually earned his keep.

And this can be a lesson to us today as well. Yes, we have to give tzedaka, both of our time and of our money. We are obligated to. But maybe, in addition to that, we can also find ways to help the poor while allowing themselves to feel like they accomplished. Help them find jobs, offer them to work, when appropriate, even on small odd-jobs, and the like. Let him feel proud that he has earned his bread one day.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

K'doshim: being ehrlich

Parshas K'doshim

In 19:14 it says "Do not place a stumbling block before a blind man... and fear God..". Rashi explains that the reason it says here "Fear God" is because people cannot really know what your real intentions are - whether to help him or to help yourself. Only if you "fear God" will you definitely be honest and give this person the appropriate advice for him, as Hashem knows what your true intentions are.

The Torah recognizes that people have personal interests and they sway a persons actions. People are not perfect. People will falter in their decision making, because they will often put their own interests first.

A person has to be ehrlich. When the situation arises in which a person has this conflict where he can manipulate it to attain his own goals, he has to be extra careful and ensure he made hsi decision for the right reasons and with the right motivations.

B'Shalach: from the splitting of the sea to Mara

Parshas B'Shalach

After reading the portion of Az Yashir, we continue to read one more piece - the arrival of the Jews in a place called Mara after they complained they had had no water for a few days, before the aliya is broken down.

The whole piece is about the splitting of the sea, so why do we not just stop the reading at the conclusion of that portion? Why do we continue and read about the events at Mara and not put them in the next aliya?

The splitting of the sea was the height of inspiration. I can try to picture the water rising up into a wall. I can try to picture the water crashing down on the Egyptians behind the fleeing Jews. I can try to imagine the awesomeness of it. I think of Niagra Falls and find that amazing. Think of a sunset or any natural phenomenon that you find inspiring, and the splitting of the sea was that a million times multiplied. It even says a maid servant was more inspired at the splitting of the sea and had a higher level of prophecy that did the greatest of the later prophets, Yehezkal ben Buzi.

But inspiration is not enough. They were so greatly inspired, but right away they started kvetching again as soon as things got uncomfortable.

What happened to the great emunah they had attained and displayed by the splitting of the sea that the passuk even describes ויאמינו בה' ובמשה עבדו? What happened to the great inspiration? They were without water and suddenly forgot the power Hashem has to provide? They forgot all they saw at the splitting of the sea and in the desert leading up to it and in Egypt?

They wasted the experience of the Kriyas Yam Suf. They were inspired, but they let it slip away. Inspiration is nice, but it must be actualized into some sort of concrete improvement. They let the inspiration slip away, so Hashem brought them to Mara. He showed them that they had immediately sunk back to their previous level and that He does have the power to provide, as He performed the miracle with the water and the tree. And he gave them a series of mitzvos. he made it concrete this time.

no more "inspiration". Now you get inspired and you take something with you. You find a way to actually improve yourself and act on it.

That, maybe, is why we read more than the splitting of the sea and add the parsha of Mara. because it completes the splitting.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Tazria: old wounds don't heal

In 13:10-17, the passukk says if a nega tzoraas is brought to the kohein, and he sees it and it has raw flesh, the tzoraas is old in the flesh, the kohein (declares it) impure, and iof it flourishes and covers the skin, etc etc etc..
Parshat Tazria

Rashi says "tzoraas is old" means it is an old wound that looks healed but underneath it is full of pus, you should not say because on top it is healing so it is tahor, but it is still tamei..

If you get into an argument, for example, with someone (your wife, husband, friend, etc.), and you let it slide. You let it go, maybe 5 years, 10 years 20 years, a week, whatever. So you have built over it many new experiences and relationships. You might think that because on top everything looks good and healthy, so everythign is fine.

but that is not true. Until the original wound is actually dealt with and repaired, it is beneath the surface festering,. You can only ignore it for so long.

The tzoraas is tamei despite the signs of healing above, because the original wound was never dealt with.

If you fight with your spouse and move on without repairing that wound, you will always bear some ill will. Even if it looks like everythign is healed, that is only on the surface, but down below the wound is festering. You have to get rid of it at the source and nip it in the bud.

Tazria: creating a rift

Parshat Tazria

At the end of tazria, the passuk in 13:46 says "All the days he has the Nega, he will surely be impure, he shall sit isolated, outside of the camp will he sit."

Rashi on the passuk says that he has to be isolated even from other people who are tamei sitting outside the camp. Even outside the camp he is by himself. Rashi asks what is different about the tzoraas that he cannot even be with other tamei people?

Rashi brings from Chazal that because he spoke Lashon Ha'Ra, thereby causing a division between husband and wife (and between person and friend), he therefore has to sit isolated, separate from others.

A husband and wife are meant to be together. Even if they do not always agree on everything, and they will not, there should not be a division among them. Despite different opinions on some matters, they need to work together for a unified purpose. They are one.

Anything that comes between that, anything that causes a division between them and makes a break in their unity, anything that causes a rift between them, has to be rejected.

And that is why Rashi says a Metzora is so bad. Because he caused a rift between man and wife. He broke that unity that is so essential for marriage, for Jewish continuity.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

VaYakhel: two types of donors

Parshat Va'Yakhel

In 35:21, it says, "כל איש אשר נשאו לבו וכל אשר נדבה רוחו אותו הביאו"

There seems to be two different types of people donation to the Mishkan. There are those who are donating from their heart, and those from their spirit.

Those donating from their heart, the passuk says, "whose heart leads him" - it is an emotional donation. He is being overly generous, giving more than he otherwise would.

Those donating from their spirit are giving more in control - he wants to give but has to limit it.

The passuk equates these two types of people - It is not important how much one gives, but how one gives. The person who can allow himself to donate with no limit, just because he wants to is great. If a person gives wholeheartedly, even if he can only give less, but he gives what he can and he really wants to, he and his donation are just as important as the guy who gives millions, and even better than the guy who gives begrudgingly.
ובלבד שיכוון לבו לשמיים

NOTE: After I thought of this, I found the first part, describing the two different types of people donating explained on the Ohr HaChaim, much more eloquently than I could explain it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ki Tisa: not accepting Lashon Ha'Ra

Parshat Ki Tisa

In 32:19 Moshe gets down the mountain and is shocked by what he sees.

Why is he shocked? Hashem told him what was going on..he already davened on their behalf, so why the surprise and anger?

Even though he had acted on the info on their behalf, he did not really believe it. he could not believe it. In a sense it was Lashon Ha'Ra. No matter how reliable the info, how reliable the source, you cannot accept Lashon Ha'Ra except "l'toeles".

Moshe had a "toeles" - he had to daven for them. So he accepted it for that much, so he could daven for them. But that is it. To actually believe it, which had no other toeles, he had to assume it was not so bad or there was a mistake or something.

therefore he was surprised when he actually saw what was going on.

Ki Tisa: calm down first

Parshat Ki Tisa

In 32:11 Moshe begins davening on behalf of the people. He had not yet even seen what they did. he simply heard from Hashem that they had done bad and he right away begins pleading for them.

What chutzpah. How can he ask for forgiveness on their behalf when he does not even know what they did? he has not seen the extent of their sin but he is already asking for mercy???

You do not need to delay your assistance just to find out details. if there is a way to help immediately, do so and worry about the details later.

Moshe first davened. he offered his immediate solution to calm the situation. Only after the tension is broken does he need to go get the details and deal with the specifics.

Ki Tisa: upper management

Parshat Ki Tisa

In 32:10, Hashem tells Moshe, "Leave me alone and let my anger consume them. I will destroy them and make a great nation out of you."

Why does Hashem need Moshe's advice or permission? Moshe had not been pleading with him at that point. It was Hashem who came to Moshe, as if Moshe was not allowing it and Hashem wanted to convince Him to allow it...?

Unilateral actions are never good. You do not just do something and spring it on your people. Share the information. Consult. Ask advice. Invite the participation of others in the decision making process.

No matter how powerful a person is, such as the CEO of a company or the manager of a division or whatever, you have to confide in your managers before making big moves. That is what Hashem did with Moshe.

Ki Tisa: Question: what is shabbos a sign for?

Parshat Ki Tisa

In 31:13 it says about Shabbos that it is a sign "Between Me and you... that I have made you holy (separate)".
In 31:17 it says about Shabbos that "Between Me and Israel it is a sign forever.."that I created the world in 6 days and on the 7th day I rested".

So what is Shabbos a sign for? That God rested on the 7th day or that the Jews are a holy and separate nation?

Ki Tisa: not standing on ceremony

Parshat Ki Tisa

In 30:18 It says, "And you should make the basin (for washing) from copper".

All the vessels in the mikdash were made from gold. Why is the washing basin the exception? Why copper?

The Seforno asks why this vessel is mentioned here at the beginning of Ki Tisa when all the other vessels were mentioned in Teruma (and a couple in Tetzaveh)?

The Seforno explains that this vessel, the washing basin, did not have the purpose of effecting Divine Presence in the Mishkan, as did all the other vessels. The basin was simply for the Kohanim to be able to prepare for the service. It was functional. Therefore, it is not mentioned with the others - because it has a different purpose.

This idea also answers my question.. The basin did not have the same purpose as the others.

The other vessels all had to made of gold because they were effecting השראת השכינה - Divine Presence. We know "there is no destitution int he place of wealth" which is why they had to be very strict about not using broken vessels, using only gold, etc.. so as not to give the appearance of any level of "עניות" - because in the process of effecting the Divine Presence, a certain level of כבוד was needed, and that required the vessels to be made of gold.

Yet the basin did not have that as its purpose. The basin was simply functional. It was not there for glory and respect. They simply had to wash their hands and feet. To do that, the basin did not have to be gold.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Trumah: acheiving wisdom

Parshas Trumah

In 25:32 it says, "מקשה תיעשה המנורה" - the Menorah should be made of a solid piece.

Rashi explains that you should not make it in pieces that you then attach together, but from one solid piece.

The menorah is symbolic of wisdom - Torah knowledge. חכמה, wisdom, cannot come from partial information, knowledge in piecemeal fashion, putting things together. If you have bits and pieces of information, you might know some things, but that does not make you into a חכם.

You have to work hard and get the whole picture. learn it all, get the whole Torah, get the whole of whatever it is you are studying, understand it completely, the whole concept.

That is the way to acheive wisdom, just as the Menorah had to be of one piece.

Trumah: promises of donations

Parshat Trumah

In 25:3 it says, "וזאת התרומה אשר תקחו מאתם" - this is the donation that you should take from them.

Rashi comments that it was all בנדבה - given generously. If that is the case, why does it keep says "Tikchu" you should take from them? they are donating it? They are coming and giving it to Moshe, so why does he have to go take it?

People make donations, during an appeal in shul for example, but they are lazy about actually getting around to making good on it. The Treasurer has to remind people that they have not yet paid. He has to keep nudging and even to take it from them.

When you are building the Beis Hamikdash, the Mishkan, a Shul, a Tzedaka project, etc., you cannot just sit back and rely on the promises people make as to whether they will donate and how much. If you rely on their promises, your project will never get off the ground.

You have to go get the money. Make them actually pay up. People promise to donate, but when they have to pay, they get reluctant,. It is difficult to pay out.

They donated generously, but you still have to go take it from them.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mishpatim: temporary positions

Parshas Mishpatim

In 24:14 it says, "והנה אהרן וחור עמכם מי בעל דברים יגש אליהם" - Behold Aharon and Hur are with you. Whomever is part of a dispute should approach them.

Moshe was not going away for a long time. He was going for 40 days. Couldn't they just wait until he got back if they would need a beis din? They probably would have no need for it anyway, because "theyw ere all camped as one" - they were not fighting.. so whyw as it so important for Moshe to appoint Aharon and Hur as the people in charge?

A leader cannot leave things vague.

If Moshe was away and was needed, it would create chaos among the people. He had to be very careful to appoint replacements, even though his departure is only temporary and short-term. Even if just for appearance sake, so the people would know that they have not been abandoned.

A leader has to make sure the people are taken care of, and he has to make sure the people feel they are being taken care of.

Mishpatim: Don't play with fire

Parshas Mishpatim

In 22:5 it says, "כי תצא אש ומצא קוצים ונאכל גדיש..." - When a fire goes out and finds thorns and the silo will be consumed....

When you light a fire, it is going to do damage. It will find something to burn.

A person has to be careful with his anger, and with his fire. As soon as he lights it, as soon as he lets his anger get out, it is very hard to control. Once let out, it is sure to do damage.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Yisro: coveting for its own sake

Parshat Yisro

In 20:13-14 the Torah says, "לא תרצח לא תנאף... לא תחמוד" - do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal.. do not covet that which belongs to others.."

I would think that "do not covet" should be placed earlier in that list. After all, coveting somebody else's stuff is what leads to stealing, it can lead to murder and adultery... so why is "do not covet" mentioned last? In order it should be first!?

The Torah is giving us a value - do not covet that which is in someone else's possession.
If the Torah would write that first, a person could understand that coveting is bad because it leads to theft, murder and adultery. In other words, if he feels strong enough to withstand, or if he puts safeguards in place to control himself, he will allow himself to covet as he knows he will not steal.

So the Torah puts it on its own. Do not steal, do not murder, do not commit adultery... and do not covet. Even if coveting will not lead you to the other transgressions, on its own it is bad.

Yisro: second or first

Parshat Yisro

In 18:4 it says "ושם האחד אליעזר" - the name of the one is Eliezer. Eliezer was the second child, so why does it not say "the name of the second was Eliezer"?

Even though in the order of children he was born second, but Eliezer was not "second" to Gershom in any respect. The Torah gives equal importance to both children, to both Gershom and Eliezer.

We should treat all our children with equal respect and not treat was as "number one" and another as being "second" No child should feel as if he is second class.

Yisro: perspective or fact

Parshat Yisro

In 18:3-4 the Torah tells us about Moshe's two children. It says, "אשר שם האחד גרשם כי אמר... ושם האחד אליעזר כי אלקי אבי"

Why by Gershom does it say "And ones name was Gershom because he said..." while by Eliezer it says his "name was Eliezer because God saved us.." why not "because he said" by Eliezer as well?

There is a difference between perspective and fact.

By Gershom's birth, Moshe felt like an outsider. he felt like a stranger in a strange land. Even if he had received citizenship and had been there for a long time and was not considered a stranger, he still felt like a stranger. So he named his child Gershom because he said he was a stranger in a strange land. It was based on his perspective.

When he named Eliezer, it was based on fact, not perspective. Moshe said, I was n danger and Hashem saved me. So he named his kid Eliezer. It was not a matter of perspective, so it is not his viewpoint that is the basis for the name.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

B'Shalah: watching from the sidelines

Parshat B'Shalah

After the splitting of the sea, the pasusk tells us in 14:31 "ויאמינו בה' ובמשה עבדו" - and they believed in Hashem and Moshe His servant.

It took them this long to come to the level of believing in Hashem? Only now do they see His strength because He split the sea - what about the various plagues they witnessed with all the relevant miracles? What about specifically the Plague of the First-Born where Hashem's tremendous strong hand was on display?

Why only now?

There is a difference between watching something and being a part of it.

Until now, with all teh plagues, all the signs, all the discussions, the Jews were on the sidelines. They were watching God take it out on the Egyptians. Sure they had faith in Hashem because of all they had witnessed.

By the splitting of the sea it was a whole new experience. They were part of it. They were being chased. They walked through the split sea. It was not just watching something happen to someone else. They were now a part of it. they experienced the "strong hand" first hand. Now they came to a whole new level of recognition and faith.

Being active, being part of an experience is different than just watching it happen from the side. That is what brought them to the level of emunah now that it says "And they believed in Hashem and Moshe His servant"

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bo: the mighty hand

Parshat Bo

In 13:3,9,14,15,17, etc. the passuk says "For with a mighty hand I brought you out of Egypt".

Why keep repeating so many times that He took us out with a mighty hand? we got the point already! And why is it so relevant? The Torah is giving us a few mitzvos, why not just say "remember I took you out of Egypt, why the "mighty hand" so many times?

Strength is obviously an important facet of rule and leadership. Strength is deterrence. That strength is what kept most of the hostile nations away from attacking the Jews in the desert. the strength had to be stressed to keep everyone else at bay.

Strength is important, and not just to the outside. It is also important internally. People rally around and follow a strong leader. In the psukim here it is being used internally. It is being used to explain the reason for the mitzvos being given here; tefillin, redeeming the first-born, Pesach. We need to see the strength of our leader and that gives us what to follow. Nobody wants to follow a weak leader. By knowing that we put on tefillin because of the strong hand, it gives us reason to continue putting on tefillin.

Bo: Let my people go!

Parshat Bo

Why did Moshe need to keep using the cover story of "Let us go out to the desert for three days to worship our God" - why not just say "Let us go free", or the more popular "Let my people go!"?

Pharoah knew what Moshe really wanted as he said in 10:11 that only the men should go - he knew they really just wanted and were planning to leave under the guise of religious ceremony, and Moshe probably knew he knew. So why the game of "let us go serve our God for three days"?

I can understand initially they asked for three days because maybe then asking to leave was too much and there was no way Pharoah would have ever approved. But now, after a number of plagues have already decimated Egypt? After so much hositility? Just say "Let my people go!"???


Thursday, January 03, 2008

Va'Eira: hakaras hatov is forever

Parshat Va'Eira

Hashem told Moshe that Aharon should strike the ground. Rashi says the reason is because the ground had protected Moshe so it would be inappropriate for Moshe to strike the ground.

Was gratitude to an inanimate object so important that the leadership situation had to be altered, even temporarily, because of it? The plagues could have been considered such an important goal and need that perhaps that should have overridden the necessity of gratitude? I am sure, anyways, that had they been asked, the Nile and the ground would have agreed to allow Moshe to perform the plagues, considering how important the job was.

Hakaras Ha'Tov, gratitude, is not just "Thank you" and then you move on with your life. Hakaras HaTov is forever. Hakaras Ha'Tov creates a new relationship - it is something that cannot be ignored, even if there is somethin g important happening.

Moshe could not strike the ground, he could not strike the water, even though the purpose was very important. He could not do it because he had this unique relationship with those that had saved him.

If something needed to be done that is in contrast and conflict with that relationship, he could not just ignore the relationship and perform the act, an alternate method had to be found.

Va'eira: the graveyard is full of people who thought they were irreplaceable

Parshat Va'eira

We find that some of the plagues and earlier tricks used to sway people and/or Pharoah were performed by Aharon rather than by Moshe. Hashem specifically told Moshe on those occassions that Aharon should be the one to effect the specific plague.

It is true that these situations were symbols of gratitude - the earth had protected Moshe when he struck the Egyptian, so he hsould nto strike the earth. The Nile had protected Moshe when he was a baby, so he should not strike the waters, etc.. So Aharon performed those.

But it also shows us that the specific person is not so important. Moshe, in this case, was chosen to lead Israel out of Egypt because of specific qualities he had within him. But Hashem bringing these plagues via Aharon instead of via Moshe shows that Moshe was just as replaceable as anyone else. Hashem was not bound to Moshe.

The saying goes, "The graveyard is full of people who thought they were irreplaceable" (it is sourced as "Unknown").

Moshe was important and was an important part of the plan and an important part of the exodus from Egypt. But Hashem shows that if necessary, other people can fill the spot. It was not dependant on Moshe.

Aside from this being a lesson to Moshe or to each one of us individually that we are replaceable, it was a message to Pharoah that Moshe is leading the show here, but he is not really so important. If you think you can knock Moshe off and derail the whole thing, he is easily replaced.

Va'Eira: never pay in advance

Parshat Va'Eira

During the plagues, a number of times Pharoah acquiesced to letting the people leave Egypt due to the harshness of the plague. He would call in Moshe and say "Fine, I will let you go pray to your God" or "I will let you go free" then he would say "Just pray to get rid of the plague".

Moshe would then beseech Hashem to remove the plague. Subsequently, Pharoah would rescind his initial agreement.

I see 2 lessons in this:

1. An agreement arrived at under duress is easily reversed. Aftyer Pharoah rescinded we do not find Moshe goign to protest and saying but you agreed, etc. Pharoah rescinded claiming he was forced to agree, and there was nothing to protest.

2. Never pay in advance of receiving the goods and services. Moshe would pray, the plague would be removed, and Pharoah would not let them out. Moshe should have said "I will pray for you when we are two days away", but he prayed first and then relied on Pharoah's goodwill to keep his word, which he never did.

Va'Eira: choosing to be blind

Parshat Va'Eira

When Moshe and Aharon brought forth the various plagues, we sometimes find that the Egyptian wizards performed the same plague so as to show that Moshe's plague was just plain witchcraft rather than an act of God.

We find examples of this in 7:22 and 8:3 among other places.

People choose to be blind. They choose to reject what they see and understand, if it is not convenient. Moshe and Aharon were not performing magic tricks. They were not saying look how pwerful we are, we can do this trick or that trick. They were transmitting messages from Hashem and the specific magic "tricks" they performed were messages, signs and warnings for Pharoah.

Yet Pharoah chose to ignore it all simply because his magicians were able to replicate some of the specific tricks.
Note that they were not able to reverse the "magic" and turn the Nile River back into water from blood, or remove the frogs. Just the fact that they could replicate, at least in part, the "magic" that allowed Pharoah to remain in denial and choose to ignore what he saw.

The old adage "Seeing is Believing" is not really true. A person sees what he wants to see and hears what he wants to hear. Hashem can be sending you direct messages, but if you refuse to open your eyes and your mind, you can deny having ever received them.