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.