This week, the Shabbos before Purim, is Shabbos Zachor, on which we fulfill the Torah-level mitzvah of Remembering Amalek. We do this during the maftir Aliyah where we read about King Shaul’s command to fulfill the mitzvah of wiping out Amalek, which he himself failed to do  by having too much mercy and saving the king of Amalek, Agag’s, life, as well as by giving in to the people’s demands for keeping their livestock. For this folly King Shaul lost the opportunity to bequeath the kingship to his children.
The Ralbag in fact says: “It appears to him that the intention when wiping out Amalek was in a fashion that Hashem commanded the Jews not to get any benefit at all from their possessions in this way to show that Hashem’s intent was to exact revenge on what Amalek did to the Jews on the way out from Egypt, when he struck from behind those who were the weakest in order to show others who want to come and do the same bad thing. The intention of this war was not to take booty and benefit from their possessions. Now when Shaul and the Jews did take the booty they showed that their intentions were not for the sake of revenge but for their own benefits and this was the opposite of Hashem’s intent. It would seem for this reason the Jews had to restrain themselves in the times of Mordechai and Esther from the spoils of their enemy who were Amalek as the megila tells us, that they didn’t take any of the spoils.”

Amalek confronted us from behind, at our weakest point, in order to cause us harm on the way out of Egypt; therefore they are deserving of revenge and total annihilation, down to the last man, woman, and child, as well as all their possessions. On the flip side, Yisro went out to pay homage to Moshe Rabbeinu, the leader, and the rest of the Jewish people for their great escape from Egypt and Amalek. For this the Navi says in our haftorah: “Shaul said to the Kennim, ‘Go withdraw, descend from among the Amelekim lest I destroy you with them; for you performed kindness with all the children of Israel when they went up from Egypt.’ The Kennim withdrew from among Amalek” (Shmuel Alef 15:6).
It would seem that if not for the kindness the Kennim did for the Jewish people as they left Egypt, they too might have deserved to be wiped out along with Amalek, for the sin of living with them many years later. What kindness did the Kennim do to the Jewish People to deserve to be saved?

The Ralbag answers: “This kindness was when Yisro (The ancestor of the Kennim) came to Moshe in the desert and showed that he was overjoyed over the success of the Jews and he also gave advice to Moshe to set up judges over the nation as described in the Torah portion of Yisro.” (CLICK here, here, here and here for Hebrew text.)

Yisro’s descendants were saved from being destroyed by Shaul when he fought against Amalek because of the two acts of kindness Yisro performed for Moshe and the Jewish people many years before. It is understandable why the kindness of giving advice to set up a court system to unburden Moshe from all the daily questions and cases that came to him is a tremendous chesed. Also, the Jews didn’t have to wait in long lines to be answered by one Judge. That’s an incredible chesed (kindness) that obviously affected everyone. But what was the big deal about showing joy over the success of the Jewish people? What did it add? They were already ecstatic about leaving the clutches of Egyptian bondage. What does congratulating them on their success do for an already joyful group of people?

We see from here how important it is to share in the joy and success of another. It is a chesed which adds to the recipients’ joy, and makes for a difference. It deserve reward no less than the impact of relieving the burdens of responsibility on others. Indeed, it resulted in saving the lives of his descendants.

We can’t underestimate the impact we can have on a person when giving them a hearty yasher koach or mazal tov after one got an aliyah to the Torah, davened, or just had a baby, wedding, bar mitzvah or even a birthday. Congratulating someone is a chesed! It’s an opportunity to enhance someone’s joy. That, like any other kindness is one of the pillars of the world which deserves much reward.

Just as our Torah portion of Teruma discusses the collection of material needed to build the Mishkan, our haftorah discusses the collection and building of the first Beis HaMikdash by King Shlomo. The haftorah begins: “Hashem gave wisdom to Shlomo, as He had told him, and there was peace between Hiram and Shlomo, and the two of them made a peace pact” (Melachim Alef 5:26).
The Haftorah goes on to relate that Shlomo sent 30,000 Jews to Lebanon, where Hiram was king, as part of an effort to cut down cedar trees and haul them to Yerushalayim for the building of the Beis HaMikdash. In addition, they hew stone from mountains to bring back for the foundation of the Beis HaMikdash.

What does Shlomo’s wisdom have to do with this collection? Why is it relevant at this point? The Ralbag answers: “[The pasuk is] telling us that the abundance of wisdom which Shlomo had was the reason why there was peace amongst Shlomo and Hiram, for because of his wisdom Hiram loved him.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Hiram, King of Lebonan, had every right to be suspicious of King Shlomo and at the best make a flimsy peace treaty based on bribes or power. This is because King Shlomo’s father, King Dovid, was a mighty warrior who even conquered Syria, which was neighbors with Lebanon. Therefore, Hiram would have a right to suspect that his country would be next, especially if King Shlomo were to send 30,000 men into his country to, apparently, tear it apart, knocking down forests of the strongest wood and carving out mountains. Why wouldn’t Hiram be afraid of a plot to conquer the country?

Yet the pasuk relates that Hiram wholeheartedly made a peace treaty with King Shlomo, which was altruistic, out of pure love and friendship. Why? Because he was very impressed with Shlomo’s wisdom. Not his knowledge of facts, but his ability to think, to express himself in a very logical and profound manner.

Shlomo’s wisdom was the charm that Hiram identified and fell in love with, to the extent that he was not suspicious at all of bad intent on King Shlomo’s part. For this he and his country merited to have a special part in the building of the Beis HaMikdash.

Wisdom is not unique to Shlomo. His level of wisdom, being one of the smartest people in the history of mankind, was G-D given; but anyone can work on their wisdom, exercise their brains and strengthen their thinking muscles. Not only in Torah, but in worldly matters, math, physics, Sudoku, anything that makes a person think. And the deeper one has to think and the more precise and clear ones thoughts get, the smarter one becomes. People enjoy and appreciate wisdom; it is a way to make friends, and it can bring peace to the world. Ignorance is not bliss - wisdom is bliss!

This week is the first of the special Shabboses that leads up to Pesach, called Shabbos Shekalim. On this Shabbos we read the maftir from parshas Ki Sisa which talks about the donation of the half-shekel to the Mishkan. In the Haftorah we read from Melachim Beis, perek 12, which discusses the revamping of the donation process to the Beis HaMikdash in the days of King Yehoash. The Navi relates that the money collected was firstly used to pay the workers and for material needed for the upkeep of the foundation, and structural repairs for the Beis HaMikdash.

The Ralbag observes that we can learn a lesson, which is actually mentioned in the Mishna in Shekalim; namely, that we should not enforce or put authority over money handling for tzedakah with less than two people. We see this in the Haftorah, for when they had kohanim watching over the money chest there were two, and when they took the money out of the chest once it was filled the Kohen gadol and scribe of the king was in charge of that. They also appointed more than one person to hand out the money to workers as payments for doing their job in the upkeep of the Holy Temple. The Kehati, commentary on the Mishna, says the reason why at least two people should be appointed for authority over money is because of the honor of the congregation. It would be a lack of respect to the public if only one person would be in charge of tzedaka (See Ralbag toeles 35 in our haftorah and Kehati on Mishnayos Shekalim 5:2).

We don’t find anywhere in the Talmud and its commentaries that these treasurers and money collectors need to be set up in pairs of two or more in order to avoid dishonesty and pocketing money. It is also not indicated that only very righteous people, who are known to be absolutely honest with no lust for money, are allowed to take the job. So why are they trusted?

In fact our Haftorah says: “They did not make an accounting with the men into whose charge they gave the money to expend for the workmen, for they acted with integrity” (Melachim Beis 12:16). The Ralbag comments on this pasuk: “That the people giving out the money to the workers, should not be questioned whether they gave all the money to the workers or not, for they definitely did their job faithfully because holy matters separated them from it (pocketing the money.)” The Ralbag later state as his 36th lesson (which he learns from this portion) is to inform us that we shouldn’t make an accounting on those who are appointed over hekdesh (holy contributions) and the like, for they do their job honestly, since dealing with hekdesh is very serious to them. This is what the above pasuk is referring to, and the Ralbag concludes that he thinks this rule even applies to any gabbai tzedaka [tzedaka collector for a worthy cause]. (click here, here, and here for the Hebrew text.)

Nowadays, we hear a lot about the need for transparency. Records should be scrupulously taken and open to the public to make sure people are not pocketing money, whether in business, charities, government, etc. However we see from here that when it comes to tzedaka collections and other holy matters that we aren’t allowed to suspect the collectors of embezzlement. The reason being is not because they got the job for being super honest and righteous; they could have been normal people who enjoy living, who have to take care of a family, who need to make a living themselves. But, being cognizant of what they are dealing with and appreciating the severity and unique holiness of a mitzvah, will presumably keep them away from trouble to the point that one cannot suspect him or her of any dishonesty. If anything is found out to be misappropriated it must be that the person was not focusing on or cognizant of the severity of what he or she was dealing with.

This is the magnitude of a mitzvah and holiness. It has the power to distance a person from any lust towards the natural pull of money and wealth.

This week’s Haftorah of Yisro begins with Yeshayahu having a revelation of the Heavenly Court: “In the year of the death of King Uzziah, I saw Hashem sitting on a high and exalted throne, and His lower extremity filled the Temple. Seraphim (angels) stood above for Him, six wings, six wings to each one; with two he would cover his face, and with two he would cover his legs, and with two he would fly” (Yeshayahu 6:1, 2).
The next pasuk is one of the most famous verses in all of Na”ch; we say it at least four times a day in our prayers, and it is one of the ultimate sanctification of Hashem’s Name: “And one will call another and say: Holy, holy, holy is Hashem, Master of Legions, the whole world is filled with His glory” (Yeshayahu 6, 3).There are many explanations of why the word “holy” is said three times. The Targum Yonasan, which we say every day in Uva Litzion, says that the first holy refers to: “Holy in the most exalted heaven, the abode of His Presence.” The second holy refers to: “Holy on earth, product of His strength.” The third holy refers to: “Holy forever and ever is Hashem, Master of Legions, the entire world is filled with radiance of His glory.” Another interpretation listed by the Radak is that each holy refers to three worlds: The upper world which is comprised of angels and souls, the outer world, which is comprised of the planets and stars, and the lower world which is this world. The most honorable in this world is man, and this is saying that Hashem who is holy, exalted, and elevated above all three worlds, is sanctified and exalted in the two upper worlds as well as in the lower world by man.

There is a medrish which says that the angels say kadosh all at the same time, for if one would start before the rest he would immediately be burnt up from the heat of his mouth. The Chofetz Chaim points out that there is no mention of the one who starts late. He says it must be that because of all the drive the angels have to sanctify Hashem’s Holy Name in the celestial sphere then there is only an issue of starting early; no one would start late. Angels act with zeal (zrizus) and there is a deep moral lesson (mussar haskel) we can take away from them.

Along these lines we find a very simple but profound understanding of this pasuk in the first interpretation of the Radak. The Radak says: “I heard that each saraf (angel) would call to each other and they would speak to each other in a motivating manner (derech ziruz). They would call each other ‘Kadosh, Kadosh’ like a person would say to his friend ‘sir, sir’ and they would announce ‘sanctify Hashem’s name together.’ Then they would say, ‘Holy is Hashem, Master of Legions, for He is the master of legions on high and the legions below. The whole world is filled with His glory, for He created everything and upon everything any logical thinking being shall glorify Him.’” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

There is a misnomer that zrizus refers to performing mitzvos quickly, with zeal, without wasting time. That is not entirely accurate. Zrizus is better defined as alacrity, doing something in a timely and optimal manner not too slow but not too fast, just at the right time in a manner which is thorough and accurate. This takes motivation, whether self-motivation or motivation by others to be sure it is done correctly.

In our case we find that the angels motivate each other to act in unison to praise Hashem. Angels are intelligent beings who are simply so close to Hashem that their fear of Hashem is so constant that they realize, as clear as day, that they should always be doing the right thing. It would seem, though, that with their zeal to want to do the right thing there are times when a false start might happen and consequences are paid. In order to motivate each other to start in unison, a call to attention before they start praising Hashem, they first call each other and announce that the time has come to praise Hashem.

If one looks closely at how this is done, the angels don’t say to each other ‘Michoel, Gavriel, Rephael get ready get set go!’ Rather, they speak to each other with respect, calling each other “Kadosh” (Holy). This seems to be an extra added motivator to act with zrizus and start in unison.

Angels are constantly self-motivated to serve Hashem with alacrity, through their fear of the awesomeness of Hashem’s Glory. Being that they are so close to Him, it is undeniable; but it would seem that added motivation is needed when praising Hashem to do it in unison, and the best motivation is positive reinforcement, treating one another with respect.

All the more so we can learn from the angels that when we want someone to do something for us or we want to motivate others to serve Hashem properly we should show proper respect to them. Refer to them as Mr., Mrs., Dr., Rabbi, or My Brother or My Sister, etc.; by speaking to them in a formal manner they will be more attentive and moved to listen to what you have to say.

This Dvar Torah is dedicated in memory of Rebbetzin Miriam Guttman, Miriam Devorah bas Shaul Chaim a"h. May her neshama have an aliyah.

The haftorah of this week’s Torah portion of Bishalach depicts a leader of the Jewish people equated with Moshe Rabbeinu, who even sang her own song just like Moshe did after the defeat of the enemy and the salvation of the Jewish people. Her name was Devora.

The beginning of the haftorah relates: “Now Devora was a woman prophetess, the wife of Lapidot; she judged Israel at that time. And she sat under the palm tree of Devora, between Ramah and Bet-El, in the mountain of Ephraim; and the children of Israel came up to her for judgement. And she sent for and called Barak the son of Avinoam out of Kedesh-Naftali. And she said to him, ‘Indeed Hashem, G-D of Israel, commanded, Go and draw towards Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men of the children of Naftali and of the children of Zevulun. And I shall draw to you, to the brook of Kishon, Sisera, the chieftain of Yavin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will give him into your hand’” (Shoftim 4:4-7).

The Medrish asks: Why was Devora the Judge and prophet at the time if the great zealot, Pinchas ben Elazar, Aharon’s grandson, was alive and the Kohen Gadol? The medrish answers: “May heaven and earth testify about me (referring to Hashem) that whether it is a non-Jew or Jew, man or woman, servant or maidservant, anyone according to a person’s deeds shall the Holy Spirit rest upon them.” The Tanna D’Bei Eliyahu says that Devora’s husband was an am ha’aretz, an ignoramus, who probably had learning disabilities, which made it hard for him to be knowledgeable. In fact, his given name was Barak, but he was also called by two other names: Lapidot and Michael. The Tanna D’Bei Eliyahu relates that he merited marrying Devora because since he served Yehoshua and the Elders when they were alive, he therefore merited continuing to serve the leaders of the generation by marrying her. However, before Devora became a prophet, she was worried about her husband’s share in the World to Come since he was a simpleton. She therefore told her husband that she would make wicks for the mishkan in Shiloh and he would go up and donate them there; in this way he would have a share amongst the worthy people which would bring him to eternal life in The Next World. The medrish continued to relate that Devora focused all of her attention on how to make the wicks, and figured that by making thick wicks the light would be brighter. Hashem, who looks into the depths of one’s heart, saw the purest intention of Devora to “Enlarge His light” and therefore Hashem said He would spread her light in Yehuda, Yerushalayim, and amongst all the twelve tribes. All this because she helped her husband gain his share in the World to Come through honoring Hashem’s dwelling place, (see Yalkut Shimone on Shoftim perek 4).

The medrish goes on to relate that Devorah used to judge court cases for the Jewish people and teach them Torah under a palm tree because “it is not the way of a woman to be alone with another man in a house so she sat under the shade of a palm tree to teach Torah to the public.” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

Devora was a very righteous woman who dedicated her life to the sanctification of Hashem’s Holy Name. The Ralbag even relates that she was a woman of valor and her level of prophesy reached a point where one could see torches of light coming from the area where she prophesied, just like the Torah relates about Moshe Rabbeinu. The Ralbag also relates that Devorah had separated from her husband when she started to prophesize, just as Moshe Rabbeinu did with his spouse, which is why the posuk says: “And she sent for and called Barak.” Rashi also points out that according to the Targum Yonasan, Devora was a wealthy woman and from these places listed in the pasuk above, she earned a livelihood and dwelt in the city of Atarot. Hence, she had palm trees in Yericho, vineyards in Ramah, olives in the plain of Bet-El where oil was abundant, and white earth in the mountain of Ephraim in Tur Malka, which Rashi thinks must have been sold to potter.

We see from all this that Devora was a rich and powerful woman who seemed to have everything she needed, and well beyond that. She was a woman of valor and of utmost holiness, being a prophetess and leader for the entire Jewish people, which Hashem gave to her as a gift for being totally dedicated to spreading His light. She had a very serious job of judging the Jewish people and spreading the light of Hashem’s Torah. Yet she did this all under a palm tree, a tree which is very tall and in fact does not give off too much shade because its branches are so high up. It was probably hot for most of the year, and it certainly does not protect from the rain too well, but still in all, for the sake of the laws of yichud (seclusion in a private area of a man and a woman who are not married to each other or a close relative), she “set up tent” under a palm tree to lead and teach the people instead of in a formal building. Why does she have to do this if clearly the reasons for the mitzvah of yichud most probably do not apply to her circumstances?

The unequivocal answer must be that no matter what spiritual level a woman (or man) is on and no matter how removed she (or he) is from worldly matters halacha is halacha and applies in all circumstances. Devora’s tenacity towards observance of Jewish Law no matter what the circumstance, showed a very high regard of modesty on her part.

The Torah portion of Bo continues with the assault on the Egyptians, with Hashem striking them with the last 3 plagues. Correspondingly, in the haftorah, Yirmiyahu depicts the downfall of Egypt in his day at the hands of Babylonia and King Nevuchadnetzar. In the haftorah Hashem swears: “As I live, the words of the King, whose name is Hashem, Master of Legions, like Tabor among the mountains and Carmel by the sea, so shall he come! Make yourself vessels of exile, O daughter who dwells in Egypt, for Noph shall be desolate without an inhabitant” (Yirmiyahu 46:18, 19).
Why is Egypt’s exile compared to Mount Tabor and Mount Carmel? There is a fascinating gemara in Megilla 29a which uses this pasuk to teach us the importance of our shuls and yeshivas: “Rebbe Elazer Hakafar taught, In the future the houses of prayer and houses of study outside of Israel will be implanted in the Land of Israel as it says ‘like Tabor among the mountains and Carmel by the sea, so shall he come.’ Isn’t it a kal vachomer, for just as Tabor and Carmel, who only came to learn Torah temporarily, are permanently in the Land of Israel, houses of prayer and houses of study where we read and spread Torah, all the more so!”

Rashi there says that the pasuk is telling us that Mount Carmel crossed over the sea when Hashem gave the Jews the Torah at Mount Sinai in order to be at such an incredible event. The Maharsha says that the mountains are inanimate objects and it does not make sense that they came to Mount Sinai to witness the Torah being given but rather the ministering angel of each of the mountains came to the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. The Maharsha also explains how this fits back into the pesukim in Yirmiyahu. Just as the ministering angels uprooted and exiled themselves to a place of Torah so to the citizens of Egypt will be uprooted and exiled from their homeland; that is why they should prepare provisions for the exile.

There is an absolutely fascinating piece in the Maharsha right before this one which goes into more detail about what it means that our shuls and yeshivas will be uprooted from exile and permanently affixed in Israel in the future. The Maharsha based on a Medrish Yalkut Shimone Yeshayahu 503 says that when we will rebuild the Beis HaMikdash for the third and final time it will be the size of modern Jerusalem, and Jerusalem will be the size of the whole of modern Israel. The reason being for this is because today’s shuls and yeshivas will become part of the structure of the Beis HaMikdash; that is what this gemara means when it says that they will be uprooted and implanted into the land of Israel speedily in our days. The Maharsha points out awe inspiring ramifications to this fact, which is that whoever is standing and praying or learning in any yeshiva or shul outside of Israel is in fact standing in the Beis HaMikdash since the building will one day be a part of the Third Beis HaMikdash. (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

Looking more closely in the gemara, the kal vachomer or fortiori does not make sense. A kal vachomer is a certain logic used by the Torah which compares something harder to something easier so if the harder one is true then certainly the easier one is true. In this case since the ministering angels of Mount Tabor and Mount Carmel exiled themselves in order to temporarily learn Torah when it was given on Mount Sinai and they were rewarded with their mountain permanently situated in Israel, all the more so the shuls and yeshivas in exile which are constant places of prayer and spreading of Torah shall one day have a permanent residence in Israel. However, the kal vachomer does not make sense because it follows that Mount Tabor and Mount Carmel should be rewarded for traveling to the giving of the Torah which was the greatest event in world history, the highest form of Kiddush Hashem ever. So why should it follow that our prayers and learning in our shuls and yeshivas are greater and easier to assume that it makes us deserving of our houses of worship and learning one day finding permanent residence in Israel? (What is more impressive lihavdil; buying front row tickets to the Super Bowl or buying upper deck season tickets to your home football team?)

It must be that the consistency of our Torah learning and davening in our shuls and yeshiva, no matter how low of a level it is compared to when the Torah was given on Mount Sinai, is still more impressive than matan Torah itself. We have to appreciate the quality of consistency. From the Torah’s perspective the consistent spread of Torah and prayer, no matter what level it is on, is clearly more impressive than going out of the way to participate at the greatest event of Torah learning in world history!

The fact that our shuls and/or yeshivas will one day be a part of the Third Beis HaMikdash, the holiest place on Earth where Hashem’s Divine Presence will rest, all this in reward for our constant use of these facilities in order to spread the word of Torah and to pray to Hashem should give us a much higher appreciation for these already holy places.

This week’s Torah portion of Vaera begins the ten plagues that decimated Egypt; in the haftorah we find Egypt in the picture again. This time the Jewish people turns to them for help but they are untrustworthy allies, and in the end not only are the Jewish people exiled by Nevuchadnetzar and Babylonia, but Pharaoh and Egypt are also wiped off the face of the earth yet again, this time being conquered by Nevuchadnetzar. While this was happening the prophet Yechezkel relates that there was a famine in the land of Egypt for forty years, which the Radak and Rashi both say corresponds to forty of the forty two years of famine that Pharaoh in the times of Yosef dreamt about.  Indeed, it says “the dream” in the Torah three times, once when Pharaoh actually dreamt it, once when he told it over to Yosef, and once when Yosef explained the dream. In the dream Pharaoh saw 7 weak cows and 7 weak stalks, which hinted to the years of famine: 7 + 7 = 14, multiplied by 3 = 42, so the famine was supposed to be for forty two years, but was cut short after two years when Yaakov came to Egypt. However, the remaining forty years were decreed to happened in the times of Yechezkel, when Egypt would be conquered by Babylonia. In the 27th year of Nevuchadnetzar’s reign, 7 years after the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash, he conquered Egypt. The end of the forty years of Egypt being a wasteland was when Belshatzar son of Evil Murdock, son of Nevuchadnetzar, took over the reign of Babylonia, which was the year Persia started to gain power. This began the downfall of Babylonia and the redemption of the Jewish people back to Israel, to eventually rebuild the Second Beis Hamikdash in the days of Koresh, King of Persia.

The prophet Yechezkel says about Egypt: “It shall be the lowest of the kingdoms and shall no longer exalt itself above the nation, for I will diminish their number so that they shall not domineer over the nations” (Yechezkel 29:15). The Yalkut Shimone quoting a Michilta in parshas Bishalach comments on this pasuk: “And so it says ‘They lay together, they do not rise; they were extinguished, like a flaxen wick they were quenched’ (Yeshayahu 43:17). This is coming to teach you that there was no other kingdom as lowly than Egypt, but they took power temporarily for the sake of the Jewish people’s honor. When He compares the kingdoms He compares them to cedars, ‘Behold Assyria is a cedar of Lebanon’ (Yechezkel 31:3). He also says, ‘I will wipe out the Emori from amongst you, who were as tall as cedars’ (Amos 2:9). It also says, ‘The tree that you saw, which grew and became strong’ (Daniel 4:17). When He compares the Egyptians, He compares them to straw as it says, ‘It consumes them like straw’ (Shemos 15:7). When He compares the kingdoms He compares them to silver and gold as it says, ‘That image had a head of fine gold, its chest and its arms were of silver’ (Daniel 2:32). However when He compares Egypt He only compares them to lead as it says, ‘They sank like lead’ (Shemos 15:10). When He compares the kingdoms he compares them to beasts as it says, ‘And four huge beasts’ (Daniel 7:3). When He compares Egypt, He compares them to foxes as it says, ‘Seize for us [the Egyptian] foxes’ (Shir Hashirim 2:15). Antoninus asked Rebbe, ‘I want to go to Alexandria [to conquer it] will a king stand up against me and be victorious over me?’ Rebbe answered, ‘I don’t know, never the less it is written amongst us that the land of Egypt cannot sustain a king, ruler, or minister as it says, ‘It shall be the lowest of the kingdoms’ (Yechezkel 29:15).”

During the times of Yosef through Jewish slavery in Egypt,  the Egyptians ruled over not only the Jewish people, but also  the  entire world. This was to the benefit of  the Jews, for all the kings would pay Egypt taxes. This was all part of Hashem’s plan –  so that in the end it would increase the honor of the Jews when they collected the Egyptian spoils in Egypt before leaving, and after the splitting of the sea.

Yet this Egyptian power was temporary, and merely  veneer, as the Vilna Gaon on the Mechilta explains: the very fact that Egypt is compared to a fox is to show that it was the lowliest kingdom.It gained power only for the ultimate purpose of honoring  the Jewish people. The Netzi”v adds that the rest of the kingdoms were compared to cedars, even in their defeat, because they were truly nations of great strength and might. Indeed, the Torah could have said about the Egyptians that they ‘sank like gold,’ but because of their lowliness they were compared to something lowly. The end of the story with the Roman Emperor Antoninus and Rebbe, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, is brought to illustrate why the Torah compares the Egyptians to straw: because they never really had power; rather, they were underdogs to the other kingdoms. The Netzi”v points out that Egypt never had a ruler who could stand up against any foreign ruler who attacked them at any time in history. This is what the pasuk meant when it said: ‘It shall be the lowest of the kingdoms;’ out of the four kingdoms who ruled over the entire world, they were the most insubstantial.

Why did Hashem create a situation where Egypt would always be a weak, lowly empire throughout history, and had the spotlight just once, ruling over the whole entire world for the sake of Jewish honor? Why couldn’t Hashem have orchestrated the Jew’s redemption and collection of wealth from a nation known throughout history to be a great and mighty nation?

It would seem that doing it in this fashion adds another degree of honor to the Jewish people. By Hashem giving it His special touch by purposefully orchestrating a scenario totally out of the norm, by making an insubstantial nation into temporarily the most powerful empire in the world simply to give honor to His children, is an added level of importance, no matter how trivial it looks. It still makes for an appreciable difference, which was  worth changing all of history for.

A person can show a tremendous amount of love and respect by giving someone a very expensive gift. But even a more humble gift, given along with  a personal touch, shows that you care a lot more for your fellow and his or her honor, which makes for a difference.

The haftorah for parshas Shemos takes place in Yeshayahu, within perakim 27-29. The majority of the haftorah deals with the decrepit spiritual state of the kingdoms of Yisrael and Yehuda before they were exiled. In it Yeshaya reprimands the Jewish people: “These, too, erred because of wine and strayed because of liquor; priest and prophet erred because of liquor, they became corrupt because of wine; they went astray because of liquor, they erred against the seer, they caused justice to stumble. For all tables were filled with vomit and ordure, without place” (Yeshayahu 28:7, 8).
Based on the second pasuk quoted, Rebbe Shimon, in Pirkei Avos says: “Three people who eat at a table and do speak words of Torah by it, it is as if they ate from dead sacrifices (i.e. offering brought for idolatry) as it says ‘For all tables were filled with vomit and ordure, without place’ (Yeshayahu 28:7, 8). However, three that ate at a table together and speak words of Torah is as if they ate at Hashem’s table, as it is written, ‘And he spoke to me, this is the table that is before Hashem. (Yechezkel 41:22). Rashi on Pirkei Avos points out that people generally fulfill this obligation of saying words of Torah at the table with birkas hamazon (Grace After the Meal).
The Rabbeinu Yona gives a sharp rebuke and lamentation when explaining the first half of this Mishna: “This means to say that all tables are as if they are filled with idolatrous offerings, which are considered like vomit and ordure, since words of Torah were not said by them. For when three people sit together they are called a group (chabura), they are able to create a zimun for birkas hamazon, and people should not get together only for their own enjoyment. So when there are no words of Torah amongst them, which is unlatching the yoke of Torah, and they are eating and drinking and enjoying themselves without thinking about the Torah in their hearts, woe to them and woe to their enjoyment!” (Click here for Hebrew text)
The Mishna is talking about a group of at least three people who come together to feast and have a fun time. While they might have even made brachos before eating, they did not say birkas hamazon at the end of the meal and they certainly did not speak any words of Torah during the meal; this the sages call lawlessness, and it is equated to idolatry. Why is there such a severe stance for a group eating together like this? There is no indication that they believe in another god; and why does this apply to three or more people eating together? Shouldn’t the same issue apply if an individual was not learning with a sefer (Torah book) while eating, or when two people are eating together?

It might be true that it is inappropriate to eat alone or with a friend without mentioning a word of Torah, and it is certainly wrong  not to bentch after the meal, but this setting does not cause such a severe aura of idolatry. However when coming together as a group to enjoy themselves with eating and drinking without any mention of Hashem when together that creates a setting of lawlessness; a feeling of being in there own bubble outside the world of Torah which is akin to idolatry.

We find the opposite extreme as well. Chazal teach us that our prayers are under much scrutiny when davening by ourselves but when ten or more men come together to make a minyan everyone is equal. There is also a concept of birov am hadras melech, the more people who come together to perform a mitzvah the more honor is given to the King Of All Kings, for example it is better to hear megilla on Purim in a larger congregation.

We see that there is sometimes a qualitative effect on the quantity of people that come together for good or for bad. Numbers set standards, create impressions, that’s the power in the numbers!

The Yalkut Shimone says that Hashem gave three things  on condition: Eretz Yisrael, the Beis HaMikdash, and the kingship of the Davidic dynasty. The Torah and the covenant with Aharon, that his genealogy will always be Kohanim, were given as pure gifts, with no strings attached (Yalkut Shimone Melachim Alef, perek 2, paragraph 170.)
This week’s Torah portion of Vayechi concludes Sefer Breishis. We find Yaakov gathering together and giving blessings to all his children at the end of his life. In correlation, the Haftorah is read from Melachim Alef, perek 2, which discusses King David’s charge to his son Shlomo at the end of his life: “And the days of David drew near that he should die; and he charged Shlomo, his son, saying: ‘I go the way of all the earth; you shall be strong, and you shall be a man. And keep the charge of Hashem your G-D to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, and His mitzvos, His law, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Torah of Moshe, that you may be more intelligent in all that you do, and wherever you turn. That Hashem may continue His word which He spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your children take heed to their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you,’ said He, ‘a man on the throne of Israel” (Melachim Alef 2:1-4).

Shlomo was 12 years of age when his father, King David, anointed him king. The Ralbag says that when King David charged Shlomo with “you shall be strong and you shall be a man,” he meant that “your actions should not be actions of a young lad but should be actions of a great man. But this would only happen if he sought out advice.” King David was giving a very important lesson to his son Shlomo; that no matter how powerful you are or how smart you are you should always seek advice, which is the key to greatness.

Then the Ralbag explains King David’s next charge: “That [Shlomo] should safeguard with his heart that which Hashem commands him to keep, however this is only possible through learning the Torah. This learning should be with focus for the purpose of walking in the ways of Hashem from that which is mentioned in the Torah and to keep all the statutes and mitzvos and laws and testimonies that are written in the Torah of Moshe. For with this learning you will become more intelligent and you will know all that you are supposed to do in all circumstances that come your way. You will also become more intelligent and you will know all that is befitting wherever you turn. A parable [to understand this] is if a person does not know that he is obligated to sit in a sukkah on Sukkos he will turn from putting any effort in making one, and this will be a reason to not fulfill this mitzvah.” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

Shlomo was a child prodigy chosen by Hashem through the prophet Nosson to inherit the throne from his father, King David. The continuation of the throne through the Davidic line is contingent on the devotion King David’s lineage has for Hashem. One would think King David would give more specific advice similar to “always seek advice from others,” instead of just the generic “if you learn Torah and abide by the Torah you will be successful.” Is that all he was saying in his second piece of advice? And if that was all that King David was saying, why does the Ralbag need a parable to explain the lesson? Furthermore, isn’t it obvious that if one does not know he has to sit in the sukkah then he won’t fulfill the mitzvah? What does it mean “this will be a reason to not fulfill this mitzvah?” That implies that there could be other reasons why the mitzvah would not be fulfilled; isn’t the fact that he does not know what the mitzvah is is the greatest reason not to fulfill it?

If you look closely into what the Ralbag says you’ll see an incredibly deep message King David was delivering to Shlomo. He knew that Shlomo was highly intelligent even before Shlomo was given the gift from Hashem of becoming the smartest person in the world. He also knew the power Shlomo would be getting himself into. It is very easy to use one’s intellect and power to manipulate decisions, and even such a great person like Shlomo, who was destined to write Koheles and Mishlei, might potentially succumb to his own great power and intellect, claiming that he was simply serving Hashem with a full heart, whereas in actuality he would be doing his own thing. To this King David said: “However this is only possible through learning the Torah.” King David was telling Shlomo that he must first delve into the depth of Torah with the attitude and focus of trying to figure out what Hashem wants him to do now, applying his in-depth Torah-analysis to fulfilling mitzvos, applying it to everyday life and to the outside world, instead of applying the outside world to understanding the Torah. In this way, King David assured Shlomo that he won’t have any hesitations and that he will have the resolve to figure out any situations that comes his way, as long as that is the way he approaches the situation. By applying the Torah to life and not applying the outside world to his understanding of the Torah, he will become the perfect servant of Hashem, and a successful monarch.

Now we can understand the need for the parable and what the parable was saying. Imagine if Shlomo, with his intellect and power, got together the greatest architects in the world and told them he wanted to fulfill the mitzvah of sukkah on Sukkos but he did not know he is supposed to sit inside it. So they build this marvelous edifice for him which is gorgeous and he is excited to fulfill the mitzvah of sukkah but he doesn’t know that he’s supposed to sit inside it; as much as he wanted to fulfill the mitzvah and as beautiful of a creation he has built  for the sake of fulfilling the mitzvah, he still can’t do it if he does not realize he was supposed to make something to sit in.

People today are looking to become more spiritual, to get closer to G-D, but in their own way. However, that is missing the point. Hashem gave us an instruction booklet on how to get close to him with very fine details. Why don’t we learn it, examine it, and get clarity in it. But don’t try to apply other philosophies or sciences to the Torah; rather, use the Torah to try to understand the world around you. If one does that, it is guaranteed that his or her decisions in life will be made easier.

Did you ever wonder why Judaism is not into proselytizing but does engage in what we call “outreach” (but is really inreach?)
One of the answers lies towards the end of this week’s Haftorah for the Torah portion of Vayigash which takes place in Sefer Yechezkel perek 37.

The Gemara in Kiddushin 70b quotes Rabba bar Rav Huna saying: “The following is an advantage one [born] Jewish has over converts. For by one [born] Jewish it writes, ‘I will be G-D to them and they will be a people to me.’ (This is in our Haftorah, Yechezkel 37:27). Whereas a convert it writes, ‘Who is he that has pledged his heart to draw near to me? Says Hashem. You will be a people to Me, and I will be G-D to you’ (Yirmiyahu 30:21, 22).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

What does it matter how one is Jewish? Why should one born Jewish have any advantages over a person who converted to Judaism? On the contrary we say in the first Hallelukah in pesukai dizimra every morning: “Hashem protects strangers” (Tehillim 146:9), and the Radak there says that Hashem is the Protector of all weak and defenseless strangers, whether uprooted Jews or gentile converts?!

In truth Rashi on this gemara sheds light on Rabba bar Rav Huna’s statement, “By one born Jewish it writes “’And I will be G-D to them’ even though they aren’t acting as a nation to me.  And through Me bringing them close they will be to me a nation. But when it comes to converts, they are not brought close from Heaven unless they first come close by themselves to be good.”

Rashi is explaining to us the difference between one born Jewish and a convert. Hashem, out of his immense fatherly love, is actively taking care of His children and is always running after them to bring them back to His palace and way of life ,no matter how far they have strayed. Whereas a convert had to find his own way to Hashem, but once he is there he has the same protexiaas any other Jew.  This is a tremendous advantage of one born Jewish over a convert; he always has that eternal love radiated on him, from the time he is born, no matter how rebellious he is;whereas a non-Jew could wonder around in darkness all his life, never finding the light, if he does not truly search for it.

How does Hashem search out and bring back those that are far away? He does not drop pamphlets from Heaven, neither does He speak to them individually. How does Hashem express His love and care for every single Jew?

The answer is that, that is why there are so many kiruv professionals in the world today. There is a kiruv movement because that is the way Hashem is bringing His children back to Him; they are the messengers of Hashem. But in truth ,anyone could be a messenger of Hashem. You don’t have to be a professional. Any person who brings his fellow Jew closer to Hashem, showing him or her the proper way of performing His mitzvos and teaching him or her Torah, are messengers of Hashem, to bring them back to His Palace.

If every Jew would realize the love and affection Hashem has for them, they would be running home to His Palace, or at least be seeking Hashem’s messengers for proper guidance. But alas, we have to be appreciative that we have the honor to act as the King of all King’s messengers to search out and bring home His princes and princesses. May we all come Home speedily in our days.