Vayakhel/Pekudei – Righteous Collateral

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Why is the Tabernacle called the Mishkan in Hebrew? In this week’s double portion of Vayakhel and Pikudei it discusses the actual building of the Mishkan, it’s vessels and the priestly garments, whereas the portions of Teruma and Tetzave described the blueprints. In aShemos Rabba (50:2) it alludes to the fact that Mishkan means “the dwelling place of Hashem;” Shachen in Hebrew means dwell. However, the Medrish Tanchuma (9) based on the pasuk “He made the planks for the Mishkan of acacia wood, standing erect,” (Shemos 36:20) it says that mishkan means collateral from the Hebrew word mashkon. The Medrish asks, “What does the pasuk mean when it says, ‘for the Mishkan?’ For if the sinners amongst the Jews are liable then the Mishkan can be used as their own collateral to [atone] for them. Moshe said, ‘Master of the World, when they will have no Mishkan or Beis Hamikdash what will be with them?’ He said back to him, ‘I will take the righteous from amongst them, and they will act as collateral for [their sins]. And so, it says ‘And He killed those that were pleasing to His eye’ (Eichah 2:4). This refers to the righteous, that is why it writes, ‘He made the planks for the Mishkan’.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Mishkan and Beis Mikdash were factories for those who sinned and needed an atonement to fix their sins through repentance. The sacrificial offerings were like a collateral for the sinner to ensure they do teshuva (repent), for they themselves really deserve to die for rebelling against the king. Now that the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash are gone, why is the slaying of righteous people in its place?
The Avraham Ezkor on this medrish, by Rav Avraham Palagi, gives an answer: “It is possible to say that they called the righteous ‘pleasing to the eyes’ just as it is said by Achav with the King of Aram ‘And it was all that was pleasing in your eyes’ which referred to a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll). This could be understood based on what I (Rav Palagi) wrote in the kuntress, ‘Barech es Avraham,’ Sidra Masei, that a talmid chacham, a sage is the same as a sefer Torah; so how is it permissible to take it as part of the debt of the Jews? And see there the answer that I had written. Which is that it hints here that there were amongst them completely righteous and great scholars because their sins had increased in such great proportions that He took a sefer Torah in order to get paid back for their debts, that is what taking collateral from amongst them means, not all of them but taking their choicest.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Avraham Ezkor compares the sages and the righteous to a sefer Torah. Because the Jews sinned, and they were in need of atonement, Hashem took from them a walking living Sefer Torah as a message that they must change and repent.

But why does Hashem kill His most precious and beloved people? Why not burn a sefer Torah instead? In fact, the Navi writes in Yechezkel, “but for the wicked to repent of his way so that he may live” (Yechekel 33:11). Certainly, if Hashem desires the wicked to live, assuming they repent, all the more so Hashem should desire the life of the righteous?

This, Chaza”l seems to be a clear proof to the concept of hiskatnus hadoros,  the diminishing of the generations. Back in the day, in the times of the Mishkan and even afterwards by the Beis Hamikdash, with all the miracles and wonders that took place, when someone sinned which was much less back then, all they needed to help them repent was to bring a sacrifice on the alter. That shocked them into realizing this should be me on the alter but Hashem in His great mercy allowed me to bring an animal offering instead therefore I should fully repent and fix my wayward ways. As time went on, and the generations spiritually dwindled, their relationship with Hashem and their Fear of Heaven diminished to the point that both Batei Hamikdash were destroyed centuries after the Mishkan was dismantled and buried. The impression needed to charge them to repent is now much greater, and therefore it would seem that simply the destruction of a sefer Torah, as horrifying as it is, would not be enough to instill fear into them and arouse them to repent. Rather, the death of a beloved leader and role model to the Jewish people, a Holy Neshama, the loss of a righteous soul, is the impact needed to hopefully stir us to repent and change our ways.

This is how far gone we have travelled from Hashem and what Hashem must do to bring us back. May we be inspired to complete teshuva (repentance) which will lead to our Final Redemption speedily in our days.

Ki Sisa – Traumatic Fear

 In this week’s Torah portion of Ki Sisa we have the infamous episode of the sin of the golden calf and Aharon’s involvement. What was going through his mind, what exactly did he do, and how much was he really involved? 
The medrish Pirkei diRebbe Eliezer (45) paints a picture of what enfolded: “Rebbe Shimon ben Yochai said that when Hashem revealed Himself to Moshe from within the bush and sent him to Egypt, Moshe said before Hashem, ‘Master of the World swear to me that whatever I ask of You to do, You shall do, so that I won’t say something to Pharaoh, You won’t do it, and he will kill me.’ He swore to him that whatever request he makes he will fulfill except for two things: going into The Land, and not dying…
When the Jews accepted the commandments, after 40 days they forgot their G-D. They said to Aharon, the Egyptians use to carry their god, serve it and sing before it and they saw it in front of their eyes. Make us a god like the god of the Egyptians etc. They went to the friends of Moshe, Aharon, and Chur, the son of their sister (Miriam)…
Since Chur (on his father’s side) was from the tribe of Yehuda, and was one of the leaders of the generation, he started rebuking the Jews with harsh words. The lower echelon of Jewish society stood up against him and murdered him. Aharon saw that Chur was murdered and he built an alter as it says, ‘And Aharon saw’. What did he see? That Chur, the son of his sister was murdered, and he built an alter as it says, ‘And he built an alter.’ Aharon judged a judgment by himself and said, ‘If I tell them to give me gold and silver, immediately they will bring it, rather I will tell them to give me the earrings of your wives and children and then the whole plan will be spoiled’, as it says, ‘And Aharon told them to take off etc.’ The women heard this, did not want to, and didn’t accept to give the earrings to their husbands. They said we don’t want to be involved in making such a decrepit and disgusting thing that has no power to save us. (The Be’ur Maspik [in some editions it is called Bayis Chadash] explains ‘that what was going through Aharon’s mind was that women and children are more protective of their jewelry and will refuse to give them up, and in the meantime Moshe will come down and the whole situation will dissipate.’ In fact the women were against the whole plan of their husbands.) Hashem rewarded them with a reward in this world that they observe Rosh Chodesh more than men do (by not doing strenuous work, like laundry, on the new month). They also got reward in the World to Come in that they would be resurrected (the Mishna in perek Chelek of Sanhedrin lists the men of the generation in the desert as those that have no share in the World to Come.) The men saw that their wives were not listening to them to give the earrings to their husbands. What did they do? At that time they wore earrings just like Egyptians or Arabs did, they took theirs off and gave them to Aharon… Aharon found amongst all the jewelry a head band of gold which had Hashem’s Holy name written on it and also a picture of a calf inscribed in it. That was the only thing he threw into the pot of fire. As it says, ‘they have gave to me’ ‘and I threw them into the fire’ it does not say after that but ‘I threw it into the fire.’ (Assumingly, with something so holy, Aharon was assuming or hoping that nothing wrong will come out from it.) The calf came out mooing and the Jews saw this. Rebbe Yehuda says Samel (Satan) entered into it and started moving to seduce the Jews… the Jews saw it and started to kiss it, bow down and sacrifice to it.”

The rest of the Medrish goes on to say that Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu that the Jewish people forgot His limitless power and all the wonders He did for them in Egypt and at the Red Sea, and therefore they are not My people anymore but they are yours to deal with. Moshe took the tablets of the Ten Commandments which were carved out by Hashem and the Holy letters were carrying the tablets on their own. When Moshe came Towards the bottom of the mountain the letters flew off the tablets and the tablets became too heavy for Moshe to carry so he dropped them to the bottom of the mountain. He then went over to Aharon, seeing what was going on, and asked him, ‘What did you do to this nation? You uncovered them like an adulterous woman that was caught!’ Aharon said back to Moshe, ‘I saw what they did to Chur and I was very much afraid!’ Moshe found that the princes of each tribe and the entire tribe of Levi had no involvement in the golden calf. He took the golden calf, and crushed and burned it to smithereens. He took the ashes, mixed them in water, and forced the Jews to drink it. Whoever had gold lips after they drank showed that they kissed the idol with all their heart, so Moshe ordered the Leviim to kill them. Around 3000 people give or take were executed. Then Hashem sent down destructive angels to wipe out the entire nation and Moshe Rabbeinu had to pray, using the 13 attributes of mercy, in order to save the nation from destruction. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
If not for Aharon “playing along” with the heathens, none of this would have happened. Aharon was a rodef shalom, someone who ran after peace, always dealing with people and their plights and skirmishes. He knew how to talk in a convincing way to make sure everything worked out and was peaceful at the end of the day. Why couldn’t he do the same in this circumstance? Nicely tell them this is inappropriate and the wrong thing to do. Granted, his nephew, Chur, was just slaughtered by these people, but he spoke quite harshly to them. Aharon, the great tzadik, beloved by all, and leader that he was, should have been able to talk them out of it instead of using subterfuge, which didn’t work. How could it be that he didn’t think that even if the women and children refused, the men would act fast and donate their own jewelry to the cause?

Yet the Beur Hamaspik says that Aharon actually saw Chur murdered in cold blood in front of his eyes, as we see at the end of the pasuk. This appears to mean that what Aharon was doing was purely for the sake of Heaven, as he said, “a holiday for Hashem there shall be etc.” That is why the medrish was wondering what he actually saw. And therefore the medrish taught that the pasuk was bringing a defense for Aharon. What did he see to listen to them to make the golden calf? He saw Chur slaughtered before his very eyes and he was afraid lest they do to him what they did to Chur.

We can infer from this medrish and the comments the Be’ur Maspik makes on this medrish that if Aharon would not have seen his nephew, Chur, viciously slaughtered in  front of him, then Aharon would have stealthily convinced them to not make the golden calf, rather than going along with their idea with a trick which he hoped would delay the making.

We see from here the impact seeing a traumatizing experience can do to even the greatest of people and the ramifications it has on the masses. Aharon wasn’t held responsible for anything that he did or resulted because he wasn’t trying to do anything wrong and his intent was purely for the sake of Hashem to try to divert the evil plans from coming into fruition but if not for the impact of what he saw he could have made better choices which would have resulted in the sin of the golden calf never happening and its ramifications would never have reverberated until this very day.

Tetzave – Official Business

 This week’s Torah portion of Tetzave discusses the priestly garments. One of the garments of the Kohen Gadol, (the high priest) was the me’il (the robe), which had pomegranates, tassels, and bells on the bottom. The Torah states, “It must be on Aharon in order to minister. Its sound shall be heard when he enters the Sanctuary before Hashem and when he leaves, so that he not die” (Shemos 28:35).
Rabbeinu Bachye brings a few interpretations of what “Its (his) sound shall be heard when he enters the Sanctuary ” refers to. The first is that it refers to the voice of Aharon, for when he came to the Sanctuary wearing the eight garments, with this tactic, his voice would be heard and his prayers accepted. Included in “its sound” is the sound of the robe with the noise from the bells. This is a moral lesson, (mussar haskel) and the Torah is teaching man proper manners, (derech eretz) for one who wants to enter before the king, he must first knock at the entrance of the throne room, so that he won’t just suddenly enter. The kingdoms on earth are like the kingdom in Heaven, for anyone who enters the throne room of the king suddenly deserves to be executed, as a stratagem of the kingdom. We see this written by King Achashveirosh, ‘Who is not summoned, his law is one- to be put to death’ (Esther 4:11).

Another reason is to make known that the Kohen Gadol wanted to enter. Even though everything is revealed and known to the Shechina (Holy Presence), also the angels, holy ministers before Him, nothing is hidden from them. The reason [for the bells] were so that the angels wouldn’t bump into him, which would have happened if he had walked in suddenly. The bells were not to introduce a new matter to the Shechina (Hashem’s Holy Presence), nor to the angels who were there, rather the matter obviously included great purposes, for it was a warning to the Angel’s to leave their positions to make room for the loved one of the King, for the King’s honor, so that he can enter and serve Him alone.

Furthermore, so that the kohen would not get hurt if he entered suddenly. With this sign they (the angels) would get out of his way and give the servant of The King room. When he left [the bells] were also an announcement, as if the kohen called them back to be ministering in front of Him as they were originally doing because his service had ended and now, he is leaving. [The pasuk] then says ‘and he will not die’ to teach that if he would come there without being heard and barge in suddenly then he would die because the ministering angel that were there surrounding the Shechina would bump into him… Therefore, the kohen was commanded to be sure the bells are heard, similar to what it says in Tehillim (55:16)’ That together we would devise counsel; in the house of G-d we would walk with a multitude.’

And this sign of announcement, as well as asking permission, was required throughout the year. The reason why it says ‘its voice shall be heard upon entering the Holy,’ but not when he went into the inner chamber of The Holy of Holies, is because in the Holy of Holies he did not have to be heard, and he did not enter with his golden garments, rather only with his white garments. This was the great level of the Jews, that the Kohen Gadol would enter into the The Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur without needing the sign of announcement or asking for permission. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
This gives us a whole new understanding of the Jews being equated to angels on Yom Kippur. To the extent that the Kohen Gadol was able to enter without any announcement, into the holiest place in the world where no one can enter besides him on Yom Kippur, that’s the level a Jew can reach, and it’s a praise for the entire Jewish nation who he represents.

However, throughout the rest of the year, according to the second reason for the bells, if the angels really knew when he was coming in, why didn’t they just move out of his way as soon as he came in? Why were bells needed? The Kohen Gadol was doing the job of serving Hashem just as the angels were; they should have respected it when it was his turn to do the service of Hashem. Why then were the bells needed as a sign and announcement to indicate when he was coming and leaving?

It would seem that it was ceremonial. Just as l’havdil, the changing of the guard at Buckingham palace has a whole procession for the honor of the king, so too the announcement of the bells when the Kohen Gadol was walking in and out of Sanctuary was a “ceremonial changing of the guards” for the honor of Hashem. Without this “ceremony,” the Angel’s would not move from their post because that would be disrespectful to Kavod Shamayim, the honor of Hashem. Therefore if the bells would not have chimed and the Kohen Gadol would suddenly come in, he would die and that is also why the Angel’s would only return to their post upon hearing the bells at the Kohen Gadol’s exit.

Sensitivities towards Hashem’s honor are paramount to basic manners, but we see that it should also be applied to human kings as well, because this is a moral lesson of how a person should always act. Nevertheless, the greatness of Jewish nation is that on the holiest day of the year, in the holiest place on earth, Hashem allows his beloved servant to be like “an equal,” a beloved son who does not need a ceremonial announcement to enter.

Teruma – Relating to Loftiness 

We say every Friday at the end of Shachris, as well as 3 times on Shabbos, the paragraph in Tehillim (93:1), “Hashem will have reigned, Hashem will have donned grandeur; Hashem will have donned might and girded Himself.” These are words we can’t really relate to. What does it mean that Hashem clothes Himself in haughtiness and strength? Granted Hashem is the most powerful, infinite all-encompassing in existence who created all of this existence and is in control and runs everything in creation, but these are still concepts that are very hard to relate to. Chaza”l even say that the way we praise Hashem in the beginning of shemone esray should be the exact words used, and we shouldn’t add our own praises because we cannot relate to Hashem’s actual greatness and to add what we feel is more praise besides what the Great Rabbis of the Assembly, Anshe Knesses Hagadola, enacted with their Divine inspiration and deep intelligence, would in fact be underscoring and insulting Hashem. However, in this week’s Torah portion of Teruma, listed amongst the contributions to the building of the mishkan the Torah says, “oil for illumination, spices for the anointment oil and the aromatic incense ” (Shemos 25:6).

The Daas Zekeinim wonders why the entire Torah portion is talking about the material that will be used in the construction of the mishkan, but this pasuk is referring to the gifts offered to Hashem. Yet wheat for the Lechem Hapanim, sheep for the daily offerings, and wood for the burning on the alter were not mentioned? He answered that in fact all three were needed for the building.
1. The anointing oil was used to anoint and sanctify all the vessels in the mishkan.
2. The spices for the incense were used just as the way of kings to spice up their palaces before they entered them, and all the more so before the King Of All Kings The Holy One Blessed Be He. We also find that the Shechina, the Holy Presence, only appeared when offering the incense as it says, “the incense covered the cloud” (Vayikra16:13), and it also writes, “for from within the cloud I will be seen” (Vayikra 16:2).
3. The oil for light is also mentioned since it’s the way of kings to light a candle in front of them before they enter their house, and even though He does not need the light, but it is still honor for Him on High. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We see that the spices for the incense and the oil for the lights is in fact part of the construction of the Mishkan, because they were needed as part of respect towards Hashem upon entering His palace just as any other king used, so they are integral parts of the palace itself. But how does incense or candlelight show respect and honor to Hashem, who has no need for physical items, and in fact detests physical desires and the finite world? If the spiritual soul detests such things, then certainly Hashem would! And if all the words of praise cannot properly do justice to the honor and respect that Hashem deserves, how can a light from a candle and good smelling aromas do anything for Hashem’s glory; if anything it should detract from the due respect that Hashem truly deserves?

However, we must say that this is done not for His own feeling of glory, but for human beings to relate to Hashem’s awesomeness and glory so that they can appreciate the majesty and kingship of the Master of Universe, King Of All Kings. Just as Chaza”l gave certain guidelines, the specific prayers and the specific wording of each prayer as a means for us to appreciate the greatness of Hashem, so to Hashem does earthly finite things for us to relate to His royalty in order to ensure we treat Him with proper respect and honor.

Mishpatim- Witches and Sorcerers

There is a societal view nowadays that there can theoretically be both good and bad witches and sorcerers, as we find in Harry Potter or the Wizard of Oz. However this is far from the Torah’s perspective. Though the magic that magicians perform in today’s day and age are for the most part only slights of hand, in the past there was indeed such thing as real magic, where the “myths” of witches and sorcerers come from.
In fact, Rabbeinu Bachye defines what magic is, and brings an argument between the Rambam and Rabbeinu Chananel about how far its powers can effect existence. The Torah in this week’s Torah portion of Mishpatim states, “You shall not permit a sorceress to live” (Shemos 22:17). Rabbeinu Bachye defines “the concept of magic as connecting things that are supposed to be separated from each other and when connecting them together down here on earth, so to their powers in the celestial world mix and connect with each other and what results from amongst them are strange but incredible phenomenon! The prohibition of forbidden mixtures is an offshoot of this prohibition because it also mixes the celestial powers where they should be separated and distant from each other. Their connection does a lot of damage.
Behold the necromancers in Egypt their main knowledge was in magic and they did things which were absolutely wondrous according to natural means. Chaza”l taught, why are magicians called ‘kishufin’ in Hebrew because, they are ‘machishin pamalya,’ they disrupt the astrological spheres. The disruption of the astrological spheres is when a person on earth grafts two things which are opposites in simple powers that were decreed for the motions of the planets (and stars) and the decrees of gravity which is there their life force, this is what’s referred to as the astronomical spheres. A person who is placed in this world is supposed to act with in the customs of the world, and according to its basic nature. This is the will of his Blessed Creator that created it in this way. And if one is involved with magic that is a sort of disruption. This is also the view of the Ramban.
But the view of Rabbeinu Chananel z”l in his explanation in tractate Sanhedrin holds that magic does not disrupt the fabric of nature but rather it only appears to make a disruption. Magicians have no power in their actions rather it is only what Hashem decrees as Rebbe Chanina told a woman, ‘There is no one else beside Him.’… You might ask that since magic is useless unless where Hashem decrees it should work then why did the Torah prohibit it and why are magicians that practice it liable for the death penalty? The reason is because they transgressed the decree of Hashem by trying to do something He prevents them from doing. Just as if a person transgressed the decree of a human king and is liable for execution, all the more so for transgressing the decree of The Holy One Blessed Be He King Of All Kings. These are the words of Rabbeinu Chananel.
Now, because the Jews were habituated in this wisdom since they were coming from Egypt, it is something they were used to and easily drawn after, therefore the Torah had to prohibit them from being involved in this type of wisdom. To impress upon us the severity of the matter the pasuk does not say a sorceress shall surely die, but rather ‘shall not live,’ for the Torah wanted to stress the stringency of the matter with a prohibition of not allowing her to live just as it stressed a stringency by the seven Canaanite nations, ‘you shall not let live any soul’ (Devarim 20:16). It specifically mentions that a sorceress, or witch shall not live and not a sorcerer (even though this prohibition applies to men as well) because magic is found amongst women more often…” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 Chas vishalom, one should think according to the Ramban, a real magician could go around Hashem and do things beyond Hashem’s power and jurisdiction! Rather, the argument between Rabbeinu Chananel and the Ramban is to what extent Hashem allows magicians to control heavenly powers. The Ramban holds that they have the ability to disrupt and mix up the spiritual powers that bind and control nature on earth. Rabbeinu Chananel holds that Hashem would not give them the power to disrupt the celestial spheres in heaven but only to do things on earth, which looks like they are having an effect on heavenly powers. Either way, Rabbeinu Chananel’s question of why this deserves execution should still stand, because even if they are rebelling against the decrees of the King Of All Kings why is this any different than transgressing any of His other mitzvos? Indeed, Chaza”l say that even though every transgression deserves capital punishment, Hashem had mercy on many of the mitzvos and allowed for an offering to be brought, instead of death, if transgressed by accident. Many sins also only have the punishment of lashes, even if done on purpose; so why should this prohibition be more severe if it’s the same issue of going against Hashem’s decree? Especially since the prohibition of kilayim, forbidden mixtures, is only punishable with lashes. Why should magic be worse, if it has pretty much the same effect?

We must therefore say that there is a difference between magical practitioners and Farmers (or anyone else that mixes forbidden mixtures), or any other prohibitions that only deserve lashes. Those prohibitions are action of rebellion against Hashem and those actions should be eradicated, as we find that one should get rid of the kilayim, the forbidden mixture of plants that were mixed together, or take out the mixture of wool and linen in one’s garment, etc. Even if kilayim was formed with a neighbor’s plants, that’s considered a damage to the neighbor (see Ramban Dina Digarmi) and one is liable to pay for damages. Therefore, prohibitive actions of this type are punished with lashes, if there are witnesses and warning before doing them, in a Jewish court of law.

However, when it comes to magic, the whole essence of the person is a rebellion against Hashem’s rule and order. That is why it says a witch (or sorcerer) may not live, whereas it only discusses the actions of prohibitions by forbidden mixtures. Therefore, just as the results of the actions by forbidden mixtures must be eradicated, so too the essence of the issue itself by magic must not live; in this case the witch or sorcerer. They were executed if there were two witnesses and a warning. And if they still acted as magicians after the warning, then they were put to death by the Sanhedrin in the times of the Beis Hamikdash.

There is a major difference between actions that are against Hashem’s, to which Hashem has more mercy when handling such rebellion, versus when the whole essence of a person is undermining the way Hashem runs the world. Then He has to take action to get rid of that sort of rebellion.

Yisro – The Glue of Society: Honoring Parents

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One of the mitzvos enumerated in the Ten Commandments, listed in this week’s Torah portion of Yisro is honoring one’s parents. The Torah states, “Honor your father and your mother, in order that your days be lengthened on the land that Hashem, your G-D, is giving you” (Shemos 20:12).
The Ralbag learns two lessons from this mitzva. The first lesson is that one should respect his or her parents, as it says, “Honor your father and your mother.” The lesson in this mitzva has to do with one’s character development; we are supposed to honor our parents because of the incredible assistance they have given us in our lives, and the fact that they guided us towards perfection when we accept mussar, practical lessons, from them.

The second lesson also has to do with character development, and it is to inform us that when there is a loss in the order of the communal household, there will then also be a loss in communal society. It will bring the destruction of society against the better nature of its citizens. For this reason, the Torah says that if people put effort into this matter, of fixing the home, that will lead to long days on the land that Hashem bequeaths to us. This follows, that if the communal home is not fixed in this manner, then there won’t be long days on the land, against the better interest set up by the citizens of the country. About this the prophet said to the Jews, “Father and mother are held light in you;” (Yechezkel 22:7) to teach them that they were deserving of the enemy coming and exiling them from the land. (Click Here for Hebrew text.)
We have seen the debacle of Socialism and the failed original methodology of the Kibbutz movement, involving trying to make everyone equal. They would separate the children from parents at a very early age in order that children would live alone amongst each other, separate from their parents, as equals, being raised and taken care of by the kibbutz. In order that everyone would have an equal share in everything.

Philosophies like those have destroyed societies and are even an integral part of the breakdown of society even today. But why is this so? Aren’t they doing it for the betterment of the world, for equality? What is wrong with that?
Let us say even if there was Jewish life that strictly kept the Torah, respected the Rabbis and elders, but did not show proper respect, or any respect to their parents; what would be wrong with that? They would still be observing the Torah and receiving guidance from Rabbis, teachers, and mentors whom they respect. What’s the big deal if they would not respect their parents?

However, it would seem that not properly respecting parents was a cause for the exile by the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash. It must be that if one doesn’t show proper respect and gratitude towards the people who brought you into the world, having the most intimate and personal impact on your life, the ones that raised you, cared, nurtured and guided you into who you are today, then it will have a ripple effect across the entire society, and a breakdown of society will occur.

Even going against the system Hashem has put into place, of parents raising their children and children reciprocating by honoring their parents, if that system isn’t in place and different systems are developed for the “betterment” of society and the world, in the end they will fail. Because Hashem in His ultimate knowledge and foresight understands that everything starts in the home and if it does not start from there, from those who brought you into this world, then there will be a lack of respect, honor and gratitude for anyone, which will create chaos throughout society.

Beshalach – The Comforts of Your Own Home

A large part of redeeming the Jews from Egypt was getting rid of their slave mentality as my Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Alter Chanoch Henoch Leibowitz zt”l explained in a shmuz on the 4 types of redemption used to free the Jewish people: והוצאתי ,והצלחתי ,גאלתי, ולקחתי. “There are four redemptions here: ‘I will bring you out,’ ‘I will save you,’ ‘I will redeem you,’ ‘and I will take you’”…'” (Shemos Rabba 6:4.) The Sforno explains that at first the slavery will end, then they will leave the borders of Egypt. Then comes the drowning of the Egyptians, because after the death of their masters they will not simply be runaway slaves, and, lastly, they will be anointed as Hashem’s nation at Mount Sinai. The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l asked: why did they have to see the Egyptian’s demise to feel absolutely free? Weren’t they in fact princes from a chashuv [prestigious] lineage of illustrious forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov who were unjustly enslaved and incarcerated? Hashem, out of His love and care for His children, seemingly made it abundantly clear that they were not slaves anymore, by stifling and demoralizing the Egyptians masters with the ten plagues. They even officially stopped working for the Egyptians starting from the first plague; so when the Jewish people actually left Egypt, they should certainly have felt free. Why then was the drowning of the Egyptians a necessary part of their freedom? The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l answered that we see from here how hard it is to change our feelings and impressions of ourselves. The Jews felt like freed slaves but not free men upon leaving Egypt. Only after seeing their Egyptian taskmasters washed up on the shore Red Sea after all the miracles did they truly change their self-image. 
In a similar vein, but one step before that, the Ralbag relates in this week’s Torah portion of Beshalach that “if one is trying to get something done then he should do whatever is needed to guard from anything that might get in the way of what he is seeking and to do all within his power to reach his ultimate goal. Therefore, we see that when Hashem wanted to take the Jews as His nation, and keep His oath that He made with the Forefathers, He put a lot of thought and wisdom into ensuring that it happens.

This is why Hashem created incredible wonders; to show them that He is master over everything. And when Hashem took them out of Egypt, He didn’t want to take them to Eretz Canaan in the most direct way, even though it is pretty close to Egypt, because the Jews were not learned in war, and perhaps they would have become scared of war and return to Egypt. Therefore, Hashem took them in such a roundabout way in order to extend their journey. This is also why Hashem loaded them with provisions when they left Egypt, leaving with all their flock, and with many treasures they took with them out of Egypt. This was in order for them not to be too embarrassed to make them want to return to Egypt. For if some of their flock would have been left in Egypt, maybe it would have been a reason for them to be worried about the flock that was left and return to Egypt. The reason why they took all the silver and gold and clothing with them from Egypt was also in order to distance them from the possibility of returning to Egypt, in order so that they won’t need [to feel indebted to] return what they borrowed, with the fact that they were absolutely embarrassed about running away with what they borrowed, since they are only giving back bad for the good the Egyptians did for them by lending them their best clothing and utensils.
 The reason why Hashem took them on such a long and winding route up the Red Sea was in order that they could see the miracles and wonders of the splitting of the sea, and perfect for them the belief in Hashem and His servant Moshe. Granted, the redemption from Egyptians was complete and there was no reason to fear that the Egyptians would run after them. (In fact, later on the Ralbag says the only reason why the Egyptians pursued the Jews at all was because Hashem orchestrated by putting into Pharaoh’s head that Pharaoh should run after them in order to show the wonder that would take place at the splitting of the sea, in order to perfect their belief in Hashem). For this reason, too, Hashem set up constant great wonders in the desert, such as the Clouds of Glory in the day and the Pillar of Fire by night, in order for them to actualize the power of Hashem and His Supremacy; to do whatever He wishes to do. In this way, the Jews would feel subjugated to walk in the way of His Torah in a fashion that they will be for Him a nation and Him their G-D.” (Click here fr Hebrew text.)
 The Ralbag emphasized numerous times that Hashem did what He could to be sure the Jews would not want to return to Egypt. But why would they want to go back to Egypt? They were treated so nastily, persecuted, subjugated to inhumane torturous labor, and even if the Egyptians wouldn’t enslave them again, still just being haunted by the memories in the land should keep them away from going back there. In any event, Egypt was left a wasteland, desolate and charred by the plagues that wreaked havoc on the land. So why would they want to go back? Even if they went back to Goshen, where most of them lived, it was a ghetto. They have an opportunity to find a bigger and better place as the Holy One, Master of the Universe, Father in Heaven had promised them; so why should there be any doubt in anyone’s mind that they would want to go back to Egypt once they left?

We see from here how hard it is to just pick up and leave after being settled in a place for so long. Even if that place was abusive and a horror, it was home, and it’s hard to just leave and stay away. People might think to themselves, ‘Maybe it would be different if we went back, it will be better, like it used to be originally.’ Any excuse to be back to where they grew up and were settled. That is the normal psychology of a human being, to appreciate where they once lived and were settled.

This is why Hashem couldn’t just take them out of Egypt but had to ensure they would not want to go back, just as He had to dispel their slave mentality even after they were free from slavery of Egyptian bondage.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder

Bo – “I Don’t Know”

In this week’s Torah portion of Bo, Moshe warns about the plague of the firstborn which is set to strike at midnight. “Moshe said, ‘So said Hashem, at about midnight I shall go out in the midst of Egypt’” (Shemos 11:4).
The Gemara in Brachos 4a relates that Moshe knew exactly what time chatzos, midnight was so why did he say “about midnight”? “Rabbi Zeirasaid: Moshe certainly knew when it was midnight… since Moshe knew the precise moment of midnight, why did he say: About midnight, instead of: At midnight? Moshe did so because he maintained: Lest Pharaoh’s astrologers err and believe midnight to be earlier. Since no disaster would have occurred, they would say: Moshe is a liar. Moshe spoke in accordance with the principle articulated by the Master (Derech Eretz Zuta chapter 3): Accustom your tongue to say: I do not know, lest you become entangled in a web of deceit.” Rashi adds that one will be drawn by and stumble in his words. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Moshe knew exactly when midnight was, but he didn’t want to say it with confidence, and rather just said at about midnight the last plague will strike Egypt in order to not be branded a liar by the Egyptian astrologers who didn’t know how to calculate when midnight was, exactly. Therefore, it is better to say something which is in essence an “I don’t know but…” in order to not get swept up in accusations of dishonesty or insincerity.

However, Tosfos (the 4th on daf 3b) in this gemara wonders, “Why couldn’t Moshe say ‘at midnight’ as they told him from Heaven, for it was the truth what they told him?” Tosfos answers something very profound, “One can answer, that he did not want to tell them something that he could not rule on and prove himself if they would ask him to.”
We should truly analyze and contemplate Tosfos’ question, so that we can really appreciate what he is asking. It says in the beginning of Orchos Tzadikim, Gate of Truth, “The soul is created from the place of the Holy Spirit, as it is said, “And breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7). And it is hewn out from a place of purity, and it is created from the supernal radiance, from the Throne of Glory. And in the realm above, in the place of the Holy of Holies, there is no falsehood. There everything is truth, as it is said, ‘”But the Hashem G-d is the true G-d” (Jer. 10:10). I have found written, ‘I am that I am’ ** Hebrew: Eheyeh asher Eheyeh. (Ex. 3:14). And it is also written, ‘And the Hashem G-d is the true (Hebrew: emes.) G-d, He is the living G-d and everlasting King” (Jer. 10:10). And now it is important to make it known to you that the Holy One, Blessed be He, is the G-d of Truth. For you will find twenty-one times the word EHEYEH which is, by computation of letters, the numerical equivalent of Emes (Truth). And you will also note that EHEYEH (the Name of the Eternal) is by computation of letters, also twenty-one (the numerical value of Emes being 441 or 21 times21). G-d made man to be upright (see Eccl. 7:29), and the seal of the Holy One, Blessed be He, is Truth (Shabbath 55a and see Sanh. 1:5). And it is written, “He that speak falsehood shall not be established before my eyes” (Ps. 101:7). When a man occupies himself with falsehood, then the falsehood does not cleave to the truth. And where there is Truth is as though one were able to describe it as the place of His dwelling in the Heavens and directed towards mankind, for where there is Truth among mankind, then everyone concedes that He made heaven and earth and the sea and all they contain.” If the Truth is Divine, and if Moshe received the truth from Heaven, even by angels, then it is obviously correct; so who cares if the Egyptian astrologers might make a mistake and think it was a lie? Yet the truth is truth and is so special and godly it should not be denied and expressed differently other than in its pure form! (Click here for Hebrew text.)
However, based on Tofos’ answer, it must be that the standards of speaking the truth are different in this world, on earth, than in Heaven. We see from here that because we live in a finite, physical world, obstructed from the pure truth, then if we aren’t muchrach, which means that if we can’t prove and defend what we know to be the truth, then there is something lacking by us speaking about what we know, ourselves, to be the truth. Therefore it is better to say I don’t know, or the like. For if you can’t prove it then you will ultimately come to make up something and be snared in what will turn into a lie, since you don’t know with conviction what you hold as truth and what is in fact truth.

The lesson to be learned from this is that by saying “I don’t know” or in this case “about midnight” is in fact the truth since Moshe in this case knew he could not prove what he knew to be true.

Vaera – Haunting Pharaoh

This week’s Torah portion of Vaera, we begin to go through most of the ten plagues. The first plague was one of blood. Upon warning Pharaoh about the first plague, the Medrish Rabba in this parsha (9:8) relates that Hashem told Moshe, “‘Go to Pharaoh in the morning, he will be coming out of the water.’ Pharaoh only went down to the water in the mornings because this wicked person declared and lauded himself as a deity who didn’t need to use the facilities; therefore he only went in the morning, when the need was too overwhelming. And the staff that turned into a snake [Hashem told Moshe] you should take with you in order to instill fear of you inside him.” The Maharz”u quoting a different version of the medrish found in the Yalkut Shimone says that Hashem told Moshe that because he declared himself a god, he should inform him that he is only human; so Moshe grabbed him. Pharaoh said, let me go so I can do what I need to do. Moshe said back, is there a god that needs to use the facilities? That is why Hashem told Moshe to get up early in the morning.  
Why did Hashem tell Moshe to take his staff in order to instill fear into Pharaoh? The Maharz”u says to look at the previous medrish, which said that what it means that Aharon’s staff swallowed their staffs, Rebbe Eliezer says, is that a miracle within a miracle happened. The staff turned back into the original staff [after it had turned into a snake] and then swallowed all the other ones. When Pharaoh saw this, he was bewildered and said ‘What if he tells the staff to swallow Pharaoh and his throne, it will now swallow him…’ We see from here that the staff was brought that morning in order to haunt Pharaoh and remind him of the threat that he could be swallowed up by the staff. 
The Eshed Hanachalim has an interesting twist on why the staff was brought to instill fear into Pharaoh. “Maybe he will have a change of heart for the better. Because Hashem doesn’t want to take revenge like human beings. Rather He is warning him and instilling fear into him perhaps he will repent.” The Eshel Hanachalim goes on to prove that that is what Hashem was trying to do. (Click here for Hebrew text.
But why did Pharaoh have to be haunted by this staff in order for him to possibly repent? Wasn’t it obvious that he was wrong? He was caught in an act of being mortal by his arch nemesis; there was nothing he could deny, intellectually! Besides the fact that emotionally, even in the back of his mind, he had the memory of the staff fresh in his mind! So why the need to bring it just to haunt him and make a greater impression upon him to change?

We see from here how hard it is for a person to change his character and way of life. Even though Pharaoh couldn’t deny to Moshe that he was only human, as well as the fact that the threat of being swallowed up by the staff was fresh on his mind, still, in all, it wasn’t enough for him to admit his flaws and repent. The Eshed Hanachalim also says that even after he was haunted by the staff, then perhaps, maybe he would repent. Instilling fresh fear while being caught in the act of not acting godly still wasn’t able to ensure his repentance; and in fact he didn’t. Things got much worse for his entire country with the ten plagues and the eventual annihilation of his entire army when they drowned in the Red Sea.
 However, the Yalkut Shimone in Yona (550), quoting a Pirkei diRebbe Eliezer (chapter 43), relates that Pharaoh was the only Egyptian who survived the drowning at the Red Sea because he was rewarded foe exclaiming before he would have drowned, “Who is like You among the heavenly powers, Hashem” (Shemos 15:11)!  At that point, broken and humiliated, he in fact repented and ran off to Nineveh. Hashem granted him the chance to live for hundreds of years longer, and he was the king of Nineveh in the book of Yonah the prophet. When Yonah finally came to Nineveh and told the people in the great metropolis to repent from their evil ways, the king, who was Pharaoh, told everyone to not take Yonah’s word lightly because his G-D means business and is being very serious. Millions of people went through a penitent process that lasted only 40 days, but we clearly see that Pharaoh finally got the point and acknowledged who is Boss. (Click here for Hebrew text)
 Ultimately it can only take oneself to choose to change his or her own life. No one can force them to do it. There can be pressure, a lot of pressure, but it’s still only up to one’s own self to change.

Shemos – Moshe’s “Match Made In Heaven” Story

 Many couples have a special story how they met and it’s one of those touching stories with “Hashem’s guidance at the right time” written all throughout it. Moshe Rabbeinu has one of those stories as told over in the Medrish Tanchuma (10,11) of this week’s Torah portion of Shemos.

When Moshe ran away to Midian and found a well, he was taking the route of his forefathers. The Etz Yosef actually says it would have made more sense for Moshe to go to the local inn;, why did he wind up by a well? It must be he was looking to get married. The medrish continues, by saying that there were three people who found their match by a well:, Yitzchak, Yaakov, and Moshe…

The next paragraph relates how Yisro’s daughters wound up becoming shepherds, as. Yisro was a priest for idolatry. If that was‘s the case,why could Hashem orchestrate that such a tzadik, a righteous man, like Moshe, wind up amongst idolatry, if on the contrary Hashem is zealous against idolatry? However, since Yisro was a priest and idols were usually degraded by their worshipers and attendants, Yisro realized the fallacy behind idolatry and decided to repent before Moshe had even showed up. He called his whole city together and said,until now I was working for you, now I am elderly, go choose some other priest. He then got up and removed all the idols and  theparaphernalia used for upkeep and worship from out of the temple and gave it all to them. In response they excommunicated him; no one could have anything to do with him or work for him;, meaning they couldn’t even be his flock’s shepherd. Yisro asked the shepherds to take care of his flock, but they refused and banished him and his daughters like a woman divorced from her husband;, meaning they weren’t thrown out of town but were ignored by all. That is how the daughters became shepherds. Then one day the shepherds were harassing the daughters of Yisro, and it happened to be the day Moshe showed up looking for a shidduch, and he saved them. They then went back home and told their story to their father of how an Egyptian saved them, and water miraculously came up the well towards him and they were able to feed their entire flock. Yisro said back to them, “do you know who this is? It is a grandson of ‘those that stand by the well’ that the well recognizes it’s master.” (The Etz Yosef points out that Yisro knew the story of Yaakov and Rivka, how the well was blessed because of them, and its water would simply rise up when they needed water. They didn’t need to put in any effort to draw water, rather the water would rise up to meet them). So Yisro told them to invite him to eat, and perhaps he would marry one of them. Moshe wound up marrying Tziporah and the rest is history. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Within this beautiful story the medrish asks why the daughters told their father that an Egyptian saved them;, did Moshe look like an Egyptian? The Etz Yosef points out that Egyptians (descendants of Cham) and Ivrim (descendants of Shem) looked very different, besides the fact that Moshe looked angelic, so how can they mistakenly think he was an Egyptian?! Rather the medrish answers that if not for the Egyptian that Moshe killed, he would never have wound up in Midian. This could be compared to a person who was bitten by a poisonous snake;, he runs to a river to put his bitten leg into water. As he goes into the water, he sees a small child drowning and saves him. The child says, ‘If not for you I would be dead!’ He says back, ‘I didn’t save you the snake did, who bit me, and I ran away from him and saved you.’ So to the daughters of Yisro told Moshe, ‘Thank you for saving us from those shepherds. Moshe told them, ‘The Egyptian I killed saved you.’ Therefore, they told their father it was an Egyptian, meaning who caused all this to happen to us it was the Egyptian who was killed.

The Etz Yosef quoting a Yifeh Toar says the reason why Moshe didn’t credit himself is because the whole thing happened through Hashem. The obvious question is that Moshe didn’t credit Hashem either, and he could’ve said Hashem sent me to save you, or this was all orchestrated by Hashem. Why did Moshe give the credit to the Egyptian he killed?

It is evident that Moshe made it clear that Hashem saved them, but he was teaching a lesson that the best way to realize Hashem’s interaction and “Hand” in the process is by going into detail about each step of how they got saved. Contemplating and expressing every detail and not just plainly crediting Hashem will make people better appreciate Hashem’s ever involvement in our lives.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder