Purim – Purim Meshulash

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This Dvar Halacha is adapted from a shiur I heard around 20 years ago from my rebbe, Rav Avrohom Kanarek zt”l, who recently passed away. May the learning of his Torah be a zechus to his neshama. Yehi Zichro Baruch!

That year, as it is this year, is what’s called Purim Meshulash. The mitzvos of Purim are split into 3 days for Shushan Purim, observed, only in Yerushalayim, since it falls out on Shabbos. The mitzvos are split into 3 equal parts. There are 6 mitzvos:

On the 14th of Adar (Friday) the megillah is read the night before and that day and matanos li’evyonim (gifts to the poor) are given out.
On the 15th of Adar (Shabbos) al hanissim is recited in shemoneh esray as well as in bentching, and the portion of Amalek is read in the Torah.
On the 16th of Adar the Purim seuda (Purim feast) is held and mishloach manos are given out.

There is a question raised, that in order for the Torah reading to be done at least most of the minyan must be obligated, does this apply to reading megillah as well? The answer is that since Rashi says we need at least a minyan for publicizing the miracle then even if there are ten people that already heard megillah one can still read for himself since he is still publicizing the miracle. And whereas for Kaddish and Kedusha ten have to be in the same room in order to recite them, for megillah, as long as ten can hear, wherever they are, the individual fulfills reading with a minyan.

Reading Megillah is not an ordinary Rabbinic decree, it is MiDivrei Kabbala, an ordinance from the prophets, which means it was Divinely inspired. However, this is only true for the daytime. The nighttime reading was declared later by the Rabbis and is considered a Rabbinic ordinance.  

The question is,for those who live in a walled city like Yerushalayim and its surroundings, where they normally read megillah on the 15th of Adar, but this year, Purim Meshulash, when megillah reading is pushed back a day for them, is the mitzvah of reading during the day still MiDivrei Kabbala or is it only Rabbinic?

The Turei Even answers that it is dependent on an argument in the gemara between Abaye and Rabba as to why we don’t read megillah on Shabbos. Rabba says it is a decree lest a novice prohibitively walk in the public domain on Shabbos to practice reading by an expert. Abaye says the megillah reading is where the poor collects tzedakah and they cannot do that on Shabbos.

This is why the megillah reading is pushed back a day. If you say like Rabba then this is a later decree, for the original obligation was to read on Shabbos. The Rabbis came later and made a decree which permitted going against the prophets because a fence can passively uproot a Divrei Kabbala. However, according to Abaye the Anshei Knesses HaGedola, the Great Assembly, that wrote over the megillah originally made the decree themselves, since it is dependent on when the mitzvah of matanos li’evyonim is given out. Therefore it would still be a mitzvah from the prophets for walled cities even though they are reading a day earlier.

The Anshei Knesses HaGedola wrote up the megillah after it was given to them by Mordechai and Esther, which is why it is considered a davar shebikedusha, a holy matter, since it was written with Ruach Hakodesh, Divine inspiration.

Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank
, quoting a Rasha”sh gives another reason as to why it is still considered MiDivrei Kabbala, though it is read a day earlier than originally decreed. It is that since the Anshei Knesses HaGedola gave hints in the megillah by referring plurally, “zemaneihem,” that means it can be read even before (or after) the proper date when the megillah is supposed to be read (see the first Mishna in maseches Megillah), so we see that even for walled cities, reading megillah on the 14th can still be a mitzvah from the prophets.

Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank extended and applied this rule that megillah reading was originally decreed that it can be done for a number of days, for a boy who does not live in a walled city, for example he lives in America, or  Bnei Brak, Israel, and should normally listen to megillah on the 14th of Adar, however since he turns bar mitzvah on the 15th of Adar he has an obligation to read the megillah to himself on the 15th of Adar.

Teruma/Purim –

Grace and a Good Name > Money
In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Terumah, Hashem tells Moshe, “”Speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me a gift…” (Shemos 25:2). The Medrish says that this alludes to the fact that in reality everything belongs to Hashem. The Maharz”u points out that this is the message the following Medrish Rabba gives when it connects this portion to Purim.

The Medrish Rabba in the beginning of Parshas Teruma quotes a pasuk from Mishley, “’A good name is more choice than great riches and beneficent grace than silver and gold’ (Mishley 22:1). [One of the things the medrish says] this pasuk relates to is Mordechai’s name being of choice more than the wealth of Haman. Rebbe Yoshia asked, ‘What did this wicked person (Haman) do?’ He took out all his silver and gold (The Etz Yosef said it really means most of his money) and gave it to Achashveirosh. Hashem told him ‘A good name is more choice… and beneficent grace than silver and gold.’ Esther’s grace was more choice, as it says, ‘that she [Esther] won favor in his eyes’ (Esther 5:2). When the wicked one (Haman) came with his money, the king said the money is given to you. Hashem said, if you sell what’s mine with what is mine, as it says ‘For My servants are the Jewish People’ (Vayikra 25:54), it also writes, ‘Mine is the silver, Mine is the gold’ (Chaggai 2:8), therefore Hashem swore, by your life when you said the money is given to you etc. rather, ‘On that day King Achashveirosh gave to Queen Esther the house of Haman’ (Esther 8:1), (Shemos Rabba 33:5).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Haman was extremely rich, in fact the Medrish says elsewhere in the name of Rebbe Pinchas that there were two rich people that stood out in world history, one Jewish and one non-Jewish, and their wealth was only for their bad. Korach, the Jew, found the treasure house of silver and gold that Yosef had accumulated and hidden. Haman, the gentile, found the treasure house of the kings of Yehuda. When King Achashveirosh saw his wealth and that his ten sons were ministers, he promoted Haman to a very high position (Esther Rabba 7:5). The Etz Yosef there in fact points out that Haman was a lowly advisor, known as Memuchan, who was listed last of the advisors in the first perek of megillas Esther. He was the one who gave advice to get rid of Vashti. It would seem that King Achasveirosh might have promoted Haman so that he can somehow get to Haman’s wealth, which in fact happened because the Medrish we saw in parshas Terumah says that Haman actually gave most his wealth to Achashveirosh as payment for letting him destroy the Jewish people but,as the Yefeh Toar points out, Achashveirosh gave it back to Haman as a deposit until Haman finished his job, as it says, “And the king said to Haman, “The silver is given to you,” (Esther 3:11), instead of saying “to him, it shall be given to you” which would have implied that Achashveirosh was paying Haman to kill the Jews. The Yefeh Toar concludes that with all the money Haman was willing to give to Achashveirosh to kill the Jews,  Achashveirosh still picked Esther’s grace over all that money Haman was watching for him. The Etz Yosef also points out that Mordechai’s good name, that was mentioned in Achashveirosh’s chronicles for saving his life, was considered more worthy than Haman’s wealth to the extent that he belittled Haman and disgraced him by having him lead Mordechai on the king’s horse through the streets of Shushan.

We must take this into perspective. King Achashveirosh had a tremendous lust for money as we saw from his extravagant parties in the beginning of the Purim story and he had in his grip most of Haman’s wealth still in all he risked throwing it all away and insulting Haman by forcing him to lead his archenemy through the streets of Shushan calling out Mordechai’s honor all because Mordechai saved his life.

As for Queen Esther, what was the grace that won over Achashveirosh? The Malbim relates that in fact Achashveirosh loved Esther so much that he never thought that the law which said nobody can enter the king’s courtyard without his permission applied to her and when he saw her sheepishly standing by the entrance, granted he felt he did not have to stretch out his scepter to allow her jn, but in her humility standing by the entrance to the courtyard, not barging in, that found favor (or grace) in his eyes, for he saw that this was  righteous humility in her heart, that she didn’t realize she did not have to abide by this law, therefore he stuck out his scepter as to accept her and whatever wishes she would ask for. Esther’s timid and modest character is what in fact caught Achashveirosh’s attention and made such an impact that he felt he had to grant whatever she asked for. In the end the Jews were saved, Haman was killed, and although he had such a crave for money, he gave all of Haman’s house and wealth away to Esther who in turn gave it to Mordechai. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Besides seeing the clear picture that Hashem can orchestrate anything because He is the Almighty, we are His people and this was all His money that He can do what He wants with, however we also see that no matter how much of a draw and a desire the thirst for money is, a good name and a graceful character are more valuable.

Mishpatim – Excuses, Excuses, Excuses…

In an introduction to this week’s Torah portion of Mishpatim, the Rashbam mentions that even though the specific halachos gleaned from the Torah portion are the most important thing, which could be found in the Talmud and is brought by his grandfather, Rashi’s commentary on the Torah, here in there, but the Rashbam is coming to explain the basic understanding of each pasuk, and therefore he will explain each mitzvah and law according to derech eretz, the proper mussar lesson, i.e. character development, that can be learned through the general understanding of the pesukim. (Click Here for Hebrew text.)

As an example, within the Torah portion there is the discussion of the laws of damages, including damages due to a pit. “And if a person opens a pit, or if a person digs a pit and does not cover it, and a bull or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall pay; he shall return money to its owner, and the dead body shall be his” (Shemos 21:34, 34). The Gemara in Bava Kamma 51a asks why the Torah has to mention both opening and digging a pit, for if one is liable for opening a pit, all the more so he should be liable for digging a pit? The Rashbam on the Torah answers this question saying, “When a person opens a pit which is deep and finishes his job already and is negligent and does not close the pit, or even if a person digs a pit and does not cover it each day by nightfall when he finishes his work, since he has to enter it the next day and dig some more, and it’s a hassle for him to cover it each day, nevertheless he is liable.” 
The Rashbam is answering the gemara’s question by saying that if one is in the midst of digging a pit, let say at a jobsite, he has every excuse, which might even make sense, or he can at least convince himself he has a logical argument of why it’s not worth covering the pit at the end of every workday as long as he has not finished the job yet. Maybe he blocked it off, put warning signs next to it, but to properly cover it, why should that be needed; what could really happen from now until the job is finished? The Torah is emphasizing that this is a lazy excuse, and one must take proper precautions to remove the potential damage one creates, even if it means covering and uncovering the pit each day until the job is done.

The Chizkuni alludes to the point the Rashbam is making and then explains in more detail the parameters of this damage. There is an important lesson that will be learnt through our responsibility to act as cognizant, mindful human beings. The Chizkuni says, “Either when a person opens a pit which was already finished for some time, or even if he digs a pit now and does not cover it in the evening because he wants to come back to it the next day to do more work of digging in the pit and he does not cover it [then he is liable]. But if he covers it then he is exempt, but only if it was covered properly. What is considered properly? Heavy enough for a wagon carrying stones to be able to ride over it, as stated in the Gemara Yerushalmi Bava Kamma 5:6, ‘Don’t make a hole under the street unless a wagon carrying stones can ride over it.’ Now if an ox falls into the open pit [then there is liability], but not if a person falls in because a person is a mindful being who would be watching where he is going, so if he falls in, he is the cause of hurting himself. The pasuk also mentions a donkey, to exclude vessels, for vessels don’t move without the protection of a person, and since he didn’t watch them well, he caused a loss to himself.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Chizkuni explained all the basic laws of damages due to a pit. Whether a person opened a pit that was completed a while ago, or he is in the midst of digging a pit and is too lazy to cover it at the end of each day, which is granted not easy to do because the covering must be heavy and sturdy enough to hold a wagon carrying stones going across it. However, liability is only for animals that fall into it or tripped over it; injuries to human beings and their possessions who are not animals that have a “mind of their own,” the one responsible for the pit is exempt for those damages in general because a person is expected to have enough sense to take care of himself and his possessions and be cognizant of his surroundings.
One can still wonder why this is true, for the person who opened or dug up the pit was acting negligibly by not covering it up properly, and even with all his excuses and rationales he is still liable if an animal gets hurt by the pit. So why should human injury and his vessels be any different? The pit owner was still negligent, that hasn’t changed; why should anyone else be more careful, shouldn’t it be the person who dug up or opened the pit’s fault for causing such an obstruction and danger in the street?

We see from here, and when looking into the matter this is true by other damages as well, that Hashem expects human beings to use the gift He gave us of intellect and thought in order to be cognizant of our surroundings and to take proper precautions to not hurt anyone, but also not to get hurt when it can be avoided. It does not make a difference if you are the victim or the perpetrator you are still a human being and there are expectations from Hashem to use the gifts He has endowed us with. Even if there are times when the perpetrator isn’t liable for the damage to the victim because the victim is responsible to take care of himself that still does not exempt the perpetrator from putting in his efforts to avoid the damage, he just isn’t liable if damage happens. If we don’t use our sechel prpoerly then excuses we make up are just excuses.

Yisro – Belief in Hashem and Believing in Yourself

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In this week’s Torah portion of Yisro, Hashem gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Har Sinai. The entire Torah was embodied in what’s called the Ten Commandments written on the tablets. The first of the mitzvos written on the tablets is: “I am Hashem Your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt from the house of bondage” (Shemos 20:2).
The medrish, Tanna Dvei Eliyahu (Eliyahu Rabba, perek 26) dissects each phrase of this mitzvah and teaches us a very novel teaching, which is more than just belief in Hashem but an application of belief in Hashem emboldening us to make a positive impact on the world.: “’G-d spoke all these words, to respond: I am Hashem, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.’ Blessed is The Place Blessed is He who chose the Jews over all the non-Jews and acquired them completely and called them children and servants for His sake. Sometimes He speaks with them in plural form and at other times in singular form and he does this because He loves the Jews and is happy about them. This is what Hashem told the Jews, ‘I was sitting around 974 generations before the world was created whence I carefully thought, deliberated, formed and checked these words of the Torah and from the day the world was created until this time I sit on My Throne of Glory, the third of the day learning Torah, a third of the day I judge the world, and a third of the day I do tzedakah (righteousness) by feeding, supporting and sustaining the entire world. Of all My creations I am the one who put aside the 70 nations in this world and came and clung to you and called you Elohim (powerful being) and associated your name with My Great Name, and I called you My brother My Friend. I was before the world was created, and I am the same One from when the world was created. I am in this world and I am in the World to Come. I will kill and I will make alive, I wounded, and I will heal,’ as it says ‘in order that you know and believe Me, and understand that I am He; before Me no god was formed and after Me none shall be.  I am the Lord, and besides Me there is no Savior’ (Yeshayahu 43: 10, 11). It also says, ‘Behold I am Hashem and there is no other god besides Me, a G-d who is righteous and a savior there is no one like Me’ (Yeshayahu 42). It also says, ‘that I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is none like Me’ (Yeshayau 46:9).”

The Meorei Eish (a great grandson of the Tosfos Yom tov) shows how this ties into the first mitzvah of the Ten Commandments. He says that the point of this medrish is to explain each word of the pasuk: “I am Hashem;” that with the light of His Holy Name He simply creates, lets live and sustains the entire creation from nothing. “Your G-D” who watches over and sustains each individual; we know this because He took us out of Egypt. He created the Celestial Torah before the world was created and through it he created them and now sustains the world with it through His logic of Torah. He feeds the world, which is a general maintenance of everything alive, and supports and sustains everything. This is all derived from the name “Hashem.” Indeed, in explaining “Your G-D,” when the medrish said “I am the one who set aside the 70 nations” Hashem was informing the Jews that he kept special attention and specific maintenance upon them through prophesy, demonstrating for them very lofty and spiritual heights through prophesy. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
When the medrish says, “and called you Elohim (powerful being)” this means we were appointed to control nature, for it to be subjugated by our good actions. Furthermore, the name of G-D as Elokim refers to the fact that G-D is All Powerful, so too within man there are celestial and earthly powers included within us, and man is the pillar of creation, for which the entire world was intended. “And associated your name with My Great Name” refers to the pure soul from on high, that was imbued into every human being. Lastly, “I called you My brother My Friend.” Because through their good deeds they have the power to add the shefa (abundance of holiness), that it will increase in this world, though everything is in the Hand of Hashem nevertheless Hashem decreed that through Mankind’s deeds it will increase. Hashem was the one who said “I am Hashem your G-D” in the Ten Commandments; there were no intermediaries. He is your savior, not an angel, all powerful, who took you out of Egypt.

According to the medrish, why does Hashem let us know that we are also called Elohim, that He imbued us with a soul, a godly element within us, and that He refers to as “My Brother and My Friend?” Wouldn’t this actually detract from Hashem’s greatness and almighty, all powerful existence, which Hashem seems to want to enumerate to us in the first commandment as a complete and true picture of belief and trust in Him?

It would seem that in fact Hashem is charging us with a responsibility to the world which is the purpose and basis for our existence. Hashem has charged us with being “His partner” in sustaining and molding the world for its ultimate good. By knowing and recognizing who we work for, who entrusted us with His precious world to add onto it and mold it into a better place, and that He gave us the power and ability to do so, should empower us to want to live up to the will of our Father in Heaven, our Master, who shares with us His powers and treats us as His brother and friend, a partner in creation. What a responsibility! What an opportunity we have! This is the greatness of man that was specifically charged to the Jewish people when we accepted Hashem’s Torah.

In the First of the Ten Commandments Hashem actually is not just charging us to believe in Him but to believe in ourselves, as an impetus to increase the quality of the world He has created, “though everything is in the Hand of Hashem nevertheless Hashem decreed that through mankind’s deeds the world will upsurge.” This is a very noteworthy introduction and very apropos to our responsibility towards fulfilling and observing the rest of the Torah.

Beshalach – Leadership in Overcoming Fear

In this week’s Torah portion of Beshalach, one of the greatest miraculous events of history happened, the splitting of the sea, where the Jews were saved from the clutches of the Egyptians and the Egyptian army all drowned in the Red Sea. The medrish, Pirkei DiRebbe Eliezer, chapter 42, depicts how the sea originally refused to split on the command of Moshe Rabbeinu even after he showed signs of worthiness to be listened to, but only after Hashem Himself “came down” and revealed His Honor on the sea did the sea runaway in fear into the depths and then came up and congealed into 12 crystalized tunnels, one for each tribe to walk through.
The medrish then relates, “Rebbe Akiva said, that the Jews walked towards the Red Sea and then turned back fearing that maybe the waters will collapse and inundate them. The tribe of Binyamin wanted to enter into the sea as it says, ‘There Binyamin the youngest rules over them’ (Tehillim 68:28), referring to them going down into the sea. The tribe of Yehuda started to pelt them with stones as it says, ‘the princes of Yehuda pelt them with stones’ (Tehillim 62:28). Then Nachshon jumped first into the sea and sanctified Hashem’s Great Name in front of everyone. With the ruling hand of the tribe of Yehuda all the other Jews followed them into the sea as it says, ‘Yehuda became His sanctification, Israel his dominion’ [of Yehuda] Tehillim 114:2). The Egyptians started to run after the Jews but they then turned back fearing that maybe the waters will collapse and inundate them. What did Hashem do? He appeared in the split sea as a man riding a mare, as it says ‘At the gathering of the steeds of Pharaoh’s chariots’ (Shir Hashirim 1:9), and the horse that Pharaoh was riding saw the mare and started running towards it into the sea. The Egyptians saw Pharaoh enter the sea and all of them followed suit, as it says, ‘The Egyptians pursued and came after them,’ (Shemos 14:23), immediately the waters went back and deluged them, as it says, ‘And the waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen’ (Shemos 14:28).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The commentary on this medrish, Be’ur Maspik, points out that this medrish really combines both opinions found in maseches Sotah 37a, and relates that the tribe of Binyamin desired to enter the sea but Nachshon ben Aminadav was swifter (zariz) to act in order to sanctify Hashem’s Name. The Maharsha in Sotah 37a, based on a Rashi in Tehillim (62:28) adds that the reason why the tribe of Yehuda was pelting the tribe of Binyamin with stones was because they were jealous of them, so they started stoning them [as a distraction which allowed Nachshon ben Aminadav from the tribe of Yehuda to jump in first.] The Be’ur Maspik further relates that when everyone saw the tribe of Yehuda’s aggressiveness and how they took control of their inclination in order to jump into the sea, only then did the Jewish people do the same. Whereas the Egyptians, what caused them to follow in chase? The horse of Pharaoh that entered the sea first.

There seems to be identical reactions about the sea splitting between the Jews and Egyptians. They both were terrified and hesitated to enter the split sea lest the sea would collapse and drown all of them. However, what drove them into the sea were two very different approaches.

Most of the Jewish people seemed very hesitant to take the plunge, and though the tribe of Binyamin seemed willing and ready to do so but we can infer that even if they did, everyone else would still question their sanity, and not be convinced to follow suit at the threat of their demise. However, it would seem, that because of the passion and aggressive nature the tribe of Yehuda showed which created a tremendous kiddush Hashem, that inspired the rest of the Jewish nation to overcome their fears and follow suit into the Red Sea which was their ultimate savior.

On the other hand, the Egyptians were terrified for the same reason , and it would seem that even though  Pharaoh gave orders to pursue the Jews, the Egyptian army refused to listen, but only after an illusion, orchestrated by Hashem, which lead to Pharaoh losing control of his horse which ran into the sea with him, did the army follow since because if their leader is doing it, they must do the same. With all their discipline and army training they still refused out of fear to chase after the enemy until their leader seemingly began the chase and only then did they feel compelled to overcome their fears which ultimately lead to their demise.

We see from here two different approaches of how a leader can convince his followers to overcome their fears. One is to show passion, commitment, zerizus, and validity for the cause which will “rally up the troops” even if they aren’t disciplined soldiers. The other is to lead by example once they are disciplined soldiers. Either way, it takes a show of courageous leadership to prevail over trepidation.

Bo – Character Traits Effecting Proper Manners

There is an apropos saying for a Ralbag in this week’s Torah portion of Bo: “What came first the chicken or the egg?”

When the Jewish people had their first Pesach seder right before they left Egypt, Hashem told them exactly how to eat at the seder, “And this is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste it is a Passover sacrifice to the Lord” (Shemos 12:11).

The lesson the Ralbag learns from here is that it’s not right for travelers to prolong their meal and sit comfortably at it. Rather they should eat like travelers so that they can finish their journey with speed and alacrity (zrizus). This is learned from the way Hashem commanded that the Passover sacrifice shall be eaten; meaning, with their loins girded, shoes on their feet, staff in their hand, and that they should eat with haste so that they will appear like travelers. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

One would think that at this moment in time when the Jewish people were ready to place their complete trust and faith in Hashem for taking them out of Egypt, they would have their last meal, which was dedicated to their freedom and redemption in a manner which would show tranquility, liberty, and calm. They anyway weren’t leaving for a few hours until the morning. Besides that, at any meal, how is it proper manners to eat “half out of your seat,” with your traveling shoes on your feet and backpack on your back, eating in a rush? Isn’t it better at any meal, at any time, to sit in your chair with both hands and feet in front of you, eating over the table calmly and attentively? Also, what does zrizus, speed and alacrity, have to do with eating a meal? If you eat too fast you might choke!

It would seem that there are two standards of proper manners when it comes to eating a meal. One is at home or at a location where the meal is conducted with an aura of calm and collection. It would be inappropriate to eat in haste, half out of your seat. There are manners which dictate how to properly eat at a table.

However, when you are in transit, the proper manners are to eat quickly and to keep on going in order to reach your destination as swiftly as possible. Now, zrizus isn’t just speed, it is also alacrity, doing something in an efficient manner but not dawdling. It would seem that eating in the normal calm manner as one would do at his house, or any other normal meal would be a sign of laziness and serenity which one should not have when traveling since there is a destination to reach. Therefore, proper etiquette of how to eat a meal is different.

So, on the contrary by following the way Hashem told them to eat which was teaching them a lesson and preparing them for their journey which they would start in a few hours, that in fact showed the ultimate belief and trust in Hashem.

Vaera – Speaking to the Heart of the Issue

Hashem gave Moshe three signs to show that he was sent by Hashem to free the Jewish people: (1) the staff turning into a snake, (2) Moshe’s hand getting leprosy and then turning back to normal, and (3) turning water into blood. He showed these signs to the Jewish people as we saw towards the end of last week’s Torah portion of Shemos. But in this week’s portion of Vaera he only shows Pharaoh the wonder of turning the staff into a snake (or crocodile).

The Torah refers to what Moshe showed the Jews as signs, but what he showed Pharaoh as a wonder. The Sforno says that “a wonder comes to demonstrate the greatness of the sender, that it is proper to hearken to His voice. A sign, however, testifies to the authenticity of the messenger. That is why Moshe performed ‘signs’ in the presence of the Jews, who did not doubt the greatness and ability of the Sender but questioned whether the messenger was authentic. Pharaoh, however, had doubts regarding the Sender, and even denied His existence, as he said, ‘I know not Hashem’ (Shemos 5:2). That is why he asks for a ‘wonder’ to authenticate the greatness of the Sender, in a manner which will demonstrate that He is worthy to be listened to. It is not unprecedented for the same object to be used as a sign and a wonder for different people” (Sforno on Shemos 7:9).

The Torah had said right before Moshe’s first confrontation with Pharaoh, “Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon, saying, “When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, ‘Provide a sign for yourselves,’ you shall say to Aharon, ‘Take your staff, [and] cast [it] before Pharaoh; it will become a serpent (crocodile)’ ” (Shemos 7:8, 9). The Chizkuni observes that “this portion was already mentioned in Shemos, ‘see all the signs that I have placed in your hand and perform them before Pharaoh,’ (Shemos 4:21). It was repeated here because of the new thing that happened. What new thing happened? He only performed the staff turning into a serpent (crocodile) before Pharaoh.”

The Chizkuni, explains what a “wonder” is by quoting Rashi saying, “a sign to make [it] known that there is power in the One who is sending you;” meaning, He has ability and control. This message was sent to Pharaoh, as the Chizkuni says, because “Pharaoh was haughty in his own eyes and called himself a crocodile, as it says, ‘O Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the great crocodile’ (Yechezkel 29:3). Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Go and tell Pharaoh, just as this staff turned into a crocodile and swallowed up staffs, and in the end turned back into a dried piece of wood, so to you swallowed up 12 staffs of the tribes of Israel and your end will be like a dry piece of wood, dead.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Ibn Ezra in facts points out that Moshe’s staff turned into a snake for the Jews but a crocodile for Pharaoh in order to get this very message across to him. It would seem, according to the Chizkuni, that Hashem originally intended to show the 3 signs to Pharaoh as well, but something changed, a specific message had to be sent to Pharaoh, so only one sign was needed. What changed and why not give all 3 signs anyway; if one doesn’t work then maybe another one will get the message across? As the saying goes, “throw everything at him, including the kitchen sink, and maybe something will stick?!”

We must say that Hashem originally intended to give all three signs to Pharaoh through Moshe, as he did to the Jews in order to prove the authenticity of the messenger, Moshe. Although Pharaoh fancied himself as a god, and called himself the Great Crocodile of the Nile, the entire time he had the potential to reverse his opinion and acknowledge the supremacy of the Almighty Blessed Be He. Hashem gave Pharaoh a chance to the very end, right before Moshe confronted Pharaoh, to choose out of his own free choice to make that acknowledgement. But once Hashem saw Pharaoh was not going to realize this of his own free will, He told Moshe to show Pharaoh one wonder which had a specific message.

We see from here that when trying to get through to someone to teach them a lesson the best way is to pinpoint the exact issue and focus in on that, hitting the nail on the head, and hopefully the message will come across loud and clear. That’s better than throwing everything at him and hoping that something will stick.

Shemos – Not Fighting Violence with Violence

We begin this week the second book of the Torah with the portion of Shemos, in which we are introduced to Moshe Rabbeinu. Although Moshe grew up in Pharaoh’s palace, he knew he was a Jew and took care of his brethren in the slave pits. In one such episode the Torah relates, “Now it came to pass in those days that Moshe grew up and went out to his brothers and looked at their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man of his brothers. He turned this way and that way, and he saw that there was no man; so he struck the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. He went out on the second day, and behold, two Hebrew men were quarreling, and he said to the wicked one, ‘Why are you going to strike your friend’” (Shemos 2:11-13)? The Torah then tells us how Pharaoh eventually found out what happened and wanted to execute Moshe. The Medrish even relates how the executioner was about to chop off Moshe’s head, but his neck miraculously turned to stone, the blade broke, Moshe was able to free himself and flee.
There are many lessons to be learned from this episode. The Ralbag learns that it is appropriate for a person to watch over his brethren and fight as best as he possibly can against those who show acts of violence against them. By doing this the nation will be stronger and more protected when helped every little bit. We see this from Moshe Rabbeinu who had such an intense will to fight for the plight of the Jews. When he saw the violence perpetrated by the Egyptian, Moshe got up and smote him, placing himself in mortal danger and ultimately being forced to run away.

The Ralbag also learns that when a person sees two people fighting, he should put every effort into removing the arguments and fights from between them so that they won’t hurt each other. All the more so if the people fighting were your own brethren. We see this from the fact the when Moshe Rabbeinu saw two Jews fighting he put in the effort to rebuke them in order to diffuse the argument and fight from between them.

The Ralbag also learns a lesson that it is appropriate for a man of perfection to be emotionally enflamed by acts of violence no matter who it was against, and to put efforts into eliminating them. For this reason the Torah records this story, to show us the emotional charge Moshe had upon witnessing this violence and the power of his bravery in eradicating it, as well as his chivalrous heart. These qualities are what should be permeating a prophet. (Click here fore Hebrew text.)
speaks about how when Moshe saw the Egyptian taskmaster striking the Jew, he saw that there was no man destined to be descended from the Egyptian who would become a convert, and only then did he kill the Egyptian. This seems to imply that had Moshe seen through Divine Intervention that there would have been a convert in the future coming from this person he would not have killed the Egyptian though Jewish Law allows one to defend someone else from attack by another, even if it means killing the attacker. However, if the victim can be saved without killing anyone, he should try. Presumably here Moshe was the prince of Egypt and could have told the Egyptian to let the Jew go, or at least wounded the Egyptian without killing him. But because he saw that there was no worth to this person and the Jew’s life was being threatened, Moshe chose to kill the Egyptian. (Practically though people nowadays can’t really see into the future about a person’s lineage and cannot make the same type of decision as Moshe did unless he feels there is no other way to save the victim’s life). What the Egyptian did was called an act of violence, but Moshe’s response was not considered an act of violence, rather a show of force. We see from here that a person is allowed to use lethal force to defend others when need be, and to eradicate evil from our midst.

However, the next day Moshe saw two Jews fighting and Rashi, quoting a Medrish Rabbah (1:29) points out that these two Jews were Dasan and Aviram. They were the ones who would save save some of the manna [when they had been forbidden to leave it overnight, as in Shemos 16:19, 20]. They also complained a couple of times that it was better to go back to Egypt then to be in the desert, see Bamidbar 14:4, as well as at the Red Sea before it split. Ultimately, they were also part of the rebellion of Korach and were swallowed up with their families by the earth. The Medrish relates that at this time they were trying to kill each other and though it had not come to blows yet before Moshe stopped and reprimanded them. But as the Medrish, Rashi, and in fact the Ralbag both point out, based on a gemara in Sanhedrin 58b, that even just for the effort, i.e. just raising one’s hand to hit his friend, a person is considered wicked.

Why didn’t Moshe hand over the same fate to at least one of these people as he did the Egyptian taskmaster? He saw they were ready to kill each other, even catching one of them raising his hand to smite the other. If he was able to see into the future that nothing would be coming out of the Egyptian in terms of merit, surely he had the ability to see the trouble that Dasan and Aviram would cause amongst the Jews, or at least see that nothing meritorious would come out of them and their families. In fact, the Gur Aryeh says about Dasan and Aviram that they were proponents of evil, namely they were constantly argumentative. So why didn’t Moshe eliminate the problem from the start when he had the opportunity, as he did with the Egyptian? Then all the problems Dasan and Aviram caused in the desert would never have happened.

We must say that Moshe saw that there was zero hope for this Egyptian, either for him to change his ways or his descendants to be better. However, Dasan and Aviram, as evil as they were, and in fact they were never to change, still in all Moshe felt that because they were part of his kinship, he had the potential to get through to them one day, and it was better just to rebuke them in order to dissipate the fight, rather then to get rid of the threat.

This, the Ralbag proves is a sign of a true prophet, one who can lead his people, who has the strength and drive to defend them against evil but also the heart and will to handle the threats from within with the patience to try to change and arouse them to repent.

Vayechi – Ben Porat Yosef

This dvar Torah is dedicated in memory of my rebbe, HaGaon HaRav Avraham ben Tzvi Mordechai Kanarek, zecher tzadik kadosh livracha who passed away this past week on the 14th of Teves. Yehi zichro baruch!

In Vayechi, the last Torah portion of the Book of Breishis, Yaakov gives each of his sons a blessing which, if you read them carefully, you will find that Yaakov really highlighted the unique traits that each brother was born with and developed as he grew up, as well as providing a peek into the future with specific prophecies for each brother.

About Yosef, Yaakov began by saying (Breishis 49:22):

A charming son is Yoseph, a son charming to the eye; [of the] women, [each one] strode along to see him. כבבֵּ֤ן פֹּרָת֙ יוֹסֵ֔ף בֵּ֥ן פֹּרָ֖ת עֲלֵי־עָ֑יִן בָּנ֕וֹת צָֽעֲדָ֖ה עֲלֵי־שֽׁוּר:

The Medrish Rabba, as explained by the Matnas Kehuna, gives an eye opening  depiction behind the beginning of Yaakov’s blessing to Yosef. With a “play on words” of פֹּרָת֙  the Medrish says that this word describes 6 things about Yosef: (1) Yosef broke the brotherly pact he had with his brothers by telling his father bad news about them. (2)  The brothers violated their side of the deal by selling him to Yishmaelim (Arab merchants). (3) Yosef broke away from his master’s wife by not listening to her. (4) She betrayed Yosef by sending him to jail. Rebbe Abin said  that he acquired a great and exulted position through the dreams of the (5) fruit, i.e. grain, and the (6) cows that he interpreted for Pharaoh. About all these things it writes, “And the maidservants… drew near” (Breishis 33:6). This thing He said to him, ‘it is upon Me to pay you for that eye.’ “[Each one] strode along to see him.” It happened that when Yosef went out to rule over Egypt the princesses were staring at him from between the lattices and they threw rings, bracelets, and necklaces at him in order to get him to look up and stare at them, nevertheless, he did not stare at them. Hashem said to Yosef, ‘You did not lift your eyes and stare at them, I swear that I will give your daughters an amount in the Torah, referring to a measure of a parsha. The section that talked about the laws of a daughter inheriting where there is no son was said because of the daughters of Tzelaphchad, the son of Chefer, from the tribe of Yosef. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Medrish describes in brief all the trials and tribulations Yosef went through with the quarrels between him and his brothers, ultimately being sold into slavery and then being betrayed by his master’s wife and thrown in jail. He had every excuse to draw attention to himself in order to boost his confidence. Besides, he knew he was good looking as the pasuk and Rashi recounts, “’And Joseph had handsome features’: As soon as Joseph found himself [in the position of] ruler, he began eating and drinking and curling his hair” (Breishis 39:6). Still in all, he did not give in to the temptation of the Egyptian princesses who were trying to entice him to notice them.

But if you think about it, what was the big deal? Yosef was known as Yosef Hatzadik, the righteous one, for overcoming the temptations presented by Potiphar’s wife. He had his father’s face embedded in his mind to do no evil. He remembered all of his father’s teachings and lived by them day in and day out, never forgetting that Hashem runs the world. So what was the big deal about Yosef not looking up when these ladies were trying to get his attention?

We see from here how powerful the drive to be noticed is. The temptation to be seen and acknowledged is so great that even someone on the level of Yosef Hatzadik, could have fallen to temptation and therefore Hashem rewarded him measure for measure for ignoring the attention the princesses were trying to give him instead his great granddaughters got eternal attention from the Torah as a whole section of the Torah was learnt because of them, all in the merit of Yosef staying focused on task and not giving into the temptation of being noticed by the Egyptian princesses.

Vayigash – Career of the Righteous

After Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, he brought them down with their father and rest of the family to sojourn in Egypt, specifically in the land of Goshen. “Yosef said to his brothers and to his father’s household, ‘I will go up and tell Pharaoh, and I will say to him, my brothers and my father’s household who were in the land of Canaan have come to me. The men are shepherds, for they were [always] owners of livestock, and their flocks and their cattle and all they have they have brought’” (Breishis 46:31, 32).

Why were the brothers shepherds and why does it seem that many of the major Jewish leaders throughout Tanach were shepherds at some point in time?

Rabbeinu Bachye
enlightens us with a fascinating answer. He begins by saying that Yosef was emphasizing that the brothers were shepherds of their own flock so that it would not be misunderstood and thought that they tended others’ sheep, being in the business of investments. That is why Yosef added: “for they were [always] owners of livestock;” to inform everyone that the sheep did not belong to others, but were their own, for they were very wealthy. The reason why the brothers chose this profession, which was also the profession of their forefathers, was twofold:

  1. There was tremendous profit in wool, milk, and offspring. It also doesn’t require a lot of great toil, and is without sin. About this King Shlomo said, “Know well the condition of your flocks; give your attention to the herds” (Mishlei 27:23).
  2. The brothers knew that they and their offspring would be exiled to Egypt and because the Egyptians worshiped the form of a sheep, the brothers therefore took upon this profession so that their descendants would accustom themselves to it and the worshiping of sheep would be foreign to them.

We also find that most of the righteous and prophets were shepherds. We find by Hevel, “Behold Hevel was a shepherd of sheep” (Breishis 4:2). So too Moshe: “And Moshe was a shepherd” (Shemos 3:1). So was the prophet Shmuel, as well as King Shaul, and King Dovid; they were all shepherds. The reason they chose to be shepherds were in order to stay away from populated areas since many sins stem from being among people. For example: lashon hara and rechilus (slander and gossiping), swearing falsely, inappropriate relationships, stealing, and extortion. The more one stays away from people, the easier he escapes the trap of sin. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
It would seem that besides being an easy and affluent job, being a shepherd seems to be an honest job that can keep one out of trouble. The brothers had the impeccable idea and deep insight into human dynamic that by going into this profession they would create a habit inside their family of treating sheep as mere animals that can be controlled and manipulated for business purposes. By accustoming themselves to treating them as their own flock, which is guided by them, it created a sense of reality which made it virtually impossible for their descendants to be lured into the idolatrous tendencies of the Egyptians that viewed sheep as gods.

It would also seem that other righteous people and prophets used this profession to create a habit in order to distance oneself from sin, for it surely wasn’t something that they did their entire lives. For Moshe Rabbeinu, the prophet Shmuel, King Shaul, and King Dovid  weren’t shepherds, away from civilization, their entire lives since each of them was a leader in their generation! It would seem that by just going into this profession, it puts one in a position to avoid all these sins, as it will accustom a person to stay distant from those sins even when they are forced to go into public office and handle a wide array of people. Those years of being a shepherd built up the fortitude and habit in each one of them to appreciate and imbibe the sense to stay away from those sins so that when they came into the public spotlight, they were sensitive to these issues and knew how to act accordingly for the most part.

We see from here how important it is to choose a clean and honest profession because it can make such an impact on a person which will create habits and have ramifications on how he and even his future descendants will act, and G-D forbid the opposite could be true as well, that choosing a dishonest and sleezy profession might have a very negative impact on you and your family.