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.

Miketz – Unanimous Leadership

This year is very unique! It is rare that Shabbos Chanukah does not land on the Torah portion of Miketz and we don’t need to read the special haftorah for Chanukah. This week’s haftorah is taken from Melachim Alef and is the famous story of King Shlomo, the two women who laid claim to the baby and his advice to split the baby in half. This took place the next day after he woke up from his dream (which is a connection to the Torah portion where Pharaoh had his dreams of plenty and famine), where Hashem promised him He would grant him anything he asked for.  King Shlomo asked for wisdom in order to judge right from wrong. Hashem granted him intellect and wisdom to which there was no other, and there will never be another like it in the future.  

The next day  King Shlomo’s first test occurred when two ladies came into his court, each one claiming they were the mother of the living baby, and that the other’s baby had passed away. “And the king said, ‘Fetch me a sword.’ And they brought a sword before the king. And the king said, ‘Divide the living child in two, and give half to  one, and half to the other.’ And the woman whose son (was) the live one, said to the king, for her compassion was aroused for her son, and she said, ‘O my lord, give her the living child, and by no means slay him.’ But the other said, ‘Let it be neither mine nor yours, divide (it).’ And the king answered and said, ‘Give her the living child, and by no means slay him: she (is) his mother.’ And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king; for they saw that the wisdom of God (was) in him to do judgment” (Melachim Alef 3:24-28).

The Yalkut Shimone says “in the name of Rebbe Shmuel bar Nachmani that King Shlomo’s lips started moving with wisdom and he said that Hashem really wanted this case to one day occur and that is why He created man in pairs, two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, two hands, and two legs. He began to decree that the child should be cut in half… when his advisors saw what was happening, they said, ‘Woe to you, O land whose king is a lad’ (Koheles 10:16), if he would not be a lad (between the age of 12-13 at the time) he would not have done this. When he said, ‘Give her the living child, and by no means slay him,’ they started to say, ‘Fortunate are you, O land, whose king is the son of nobles’ (Koheles 10:17).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Haftorah concludes with the very next pasuk, “And King Shlomo was king over all Israel” (Melachim Alef 4:1). The Radak says that when the nation heard the judgement the king had judged they were afraid to do anything wrong even in secret for they saw that with all his wisdom justice will come out just as what happened in this case. The reason why this pasuk states the obvious that King Shlomo was king over all of Israel is because Dovid, his father, did not rule over all of Israel at the beginning of his reign, therefore the pasuk says here that Shlomo ruled over all of Israel, no one questioned his reign since they saw the wisdom of Elokim (G-D) within him to exact proper judgement. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

What made King Shlomo more convincing than his father, King Dovid, to be accepted by all from the onset of his reign? King Dovid was appointed by Hashem through the prophet Shmuel, and surely he had Divine Revelation, Ruach HaKodesh, for Chaza”l say King Dovid’s whole work of Tehillim (Psalms) was written with Ruach HaKodesh. Furthermore, King Dovid proved to be a brave and powerful ruler who  defended his country against the onslaught of any enemy like when he killed the giant, Goliath, and victoriously battling the Plishtim. So why wasn’t he instantaneously accepted as king over Israel but his son, Shlomo, who was perceived, at least from the outside, as being appointed king by his father, not directly by Hashem, though it was in fact by Divine appointment, he was still pretty much immediately accepted by the entire nation?

The Radak is telling us that though G-D sent the prophet Shmuel to anoint King Dovid as king, King Dovid was a mighty warrior, who protected the nation from the enemy, and he even had Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Revelation. But even so, to be immediately accepted by everyone, the nation expects the king to rule by Divine wisdom, and because King Shlomo was able to prove that he could lead the people and enforce proper judgement using what people could perceive as being wisdom directly from Hashem, he was therefore unanimously accepted as the king of Israel.

In a similar vein we find in this week’s Torah portion that Yosef was accepted by Pharaoh and all of Egypt as Second in Command over the entire country because he proved he had Divine wisdom by interpreting Pharaohs dreams in a way which seemed palpable, to the degree that the Ramban says that Pharaoh and his advisors felt as if the dreams were already fulfilled. The Radak there says that Yosef suggested to Pharaoh that he should appoint a wise and insightful person over Egypt, and Pharaoh appointed him because his wisdom was greater than all of the magicians and advisor. This must have been, as Pharaoh attested, because of the Spirit of the Lord, Ruach Elokim, which Yosef possessed. Pharaoh therefore gave Yosef the leadership in order to lead according to his intellect. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

We see from here that people are able to detect when a person has Divine Wisdom that he uses for the betterment of the country.  Everyone will be completely accepting to immediately subjugate themselves and trust the person who possesses and uses this type of intellect as their leader with unwavering awe and dedication. This defines a leader with unanimous leadership!

Chanukah – Lights of Joy

In honor of the upcoming shloshim of Rebbitzin Evelyn Yachnes, Chana Chaya bas Chaim A”H. Sponsored by some family members  who would like to sponsor the insightful divrei Torah of Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder. It is extremely appropriate that this venue should be a zechus for our mother whose ideals are closely connected to the lessons and mussar that Rabbi Milder expresses so well. Thank you so much for this opportunity.

“What is Chanukkah?  That [which] our Sages taught: On the 25th of Kislev – the days of Chanukah, they are eight, not to eulogize on them and not to fast on them, for when the Greeks entered the Temple, they polluted all the oils in the Temple, and when the Chashmonaim dynasty overcame and defeated them, they checked and they found but one cruse of oil that was set in place with the seal of the High Priest, but there was  only [enough] to light a single day. A miracle was done with it, and they lit from it for eight days. The following year [the Sages] fix those [days], making them holidays for praise and thanksgiving” (Gemara Shabbos 21b).

When the Greeks entered the Beis Hamikdash they seemed to have defiled everything inside, including all the utensils used to prepare and process the sacrifices, as well as the Shulchan, etc. Chazal even say the Greeks sacrificed a pig on the Holy Alter. Why then does the gemara emphasize the oil and menorah?

Chanukah literally means dedication. This holiday specifically celebrates the rededication of the Second Beis HaMikdash in the times of the Chashmonaim after they recaptured it from the Greeks.

There were actually seven dedications recorded in Jewish History. The medrish Pesiksa Rabasi DiRav Kahana states, “How many Chanukahs are there? There are 7 Chanukahs. They are:

  1. The dedication of the heaven and earth, as it says, ‘Thus the heaven and earth were finished’ (Breishis 2:1). What chanukah was then? ‘And G-D set them in the firmament of heaven to give light’ (Breishis 1:17).
  2. The dedication of the wall, as it says, ‘And at the dedication of the wall of Yerushalayim’ (Nechemiah 12:27).
  3. The dedication of the exiles [when they rebuilt the second Beis HaMikdash], as it says, ‘And they offered up for the dedication of this House of God’ (Ezra 6:17).
  4. The dedication of the kohanim where we light [the Chanukiah].
  5. The dedication in the World to Come as it says, ‘I will search Yerushalayim with candles’ (Tzephania 1:12).
  6. The dedication [of the Mishkan] by the princes [of each tribe], as it says, ‘This is the dedication of the alter’ (Bamidbar 6:84).
  7. The dedication of [the first] Beis HaMikdash, that which is referred to in Tehillim ‘A Psalm – a song for the dedication of the Temple – by Dovid’ (Tehillim 30:1), (Psiksa Rabasi DiRav Kahana, Piska DiChanukah, paragraph 2).”

The Pesiksa DiRav Kahana repeats this list but in a different order, at the end of the chapter in paragraph seven. The order is chronological, ending with the dedication in The World to Come which will come at the end of days. The Maharz”u says that the medrish repeats the list in order to end off the chapter with words of blessing, as it says, “And the dedication of the World to Come which it will also have candles as it is written, ‘And the light of the moon shall be like the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold’ (Yeshayahu 30:26).”

The Rada”l, Rav Dovid Luria zt”l, has his explanation of the repetition of the list. He says that at first the purpose of the list was to show the 7 times the word chanukah, dedication, was used. It is just that by the creation of the world, and what will happen in the World to Come, the word chanukah is not used, but since there were and will be candles, that is enough because they are normally lit for the joy of light of the dedication. Then the list is repeated to emphasize that each dedication had lights and candles, including the dedication of creation which had the celestial lights – the sun, moon, and stars. There was also a special light throughout the seven days of creation shining for the joy of dedication. The dedication of the Mishkan by Moshe Rabbeinu and the dedication of the first Beis HaMikdash by King Shlomo (as well as the second Beis HaMikdash) had the lighting of the menorah. By the dedication of the wall around Yerushalayim it states, “To perform the dedication with joy” (Nechemiah 12:27), referring to candles for joy as it says, “It was light and joy.” The paragraph concludes with the Chanukah of the Chashmonaim which was with candles and the dedication in the World to Come which will be with candles. (Click here and here for Hebrew sources.)
We see from here that, by definition, a proper dedication must be done with candles or a controlled light substance like the sun, moon and stars. Hence, Chanukah, the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash after it was defiled by the Greeks, is commemorated with lights, for that is what is most important in a dedication. For this reason, it would seem, it was worthwhile for Hashem to make a miracle to ensure the dedication takes place properly and with the utmost joy.

Why are lights so important for a dedication? It would seem from here that light has the inherent value of bringing joy. It is known that the ability to see clearly with proper lighting makes people feel more comfortable and happier. In places where it is cloudy and gloomy, or the sun does not come up for parts of the year, it is known that people there are more prone to depression and sadness. In fact, the Shulchan Aruch says that one who cannot afford to buy both Chanukah and Shabbos candles should buy Shabbos candles for the sake of peace the house. The Mishna Berura adds that nowadays, when we light our candles inside the house, it is better to buy a candle for Chanukah, because you won’t be sitting in the dark, and even though you are not supposed to benefit from the Chanukah light, it is considered a time of danger nowadays and the  candle can be lit for Chanukah on the table inside, though one will inevitably gain benefit from it. However, most poskim hold one should not differentiate between the times of the gemara and today so even nowadays if one can only afford one candle it should be for Shabbos(Mishna Berura 678:1:2).

Light sheds piece of mind and happiness to all within its arc. It is most appropriate to have a beginning or even a reopening with lights in order to start with a sense of joy. Thus, Chanukah had to commemorate the miracle of lights because there is no inauguration without lights. Chanukah celebrates that feeling of joy, magnified by Hashem’s miracle, which was radiating from the lights.

May we feel a sense of renewed happiness in our lives this Chanukah!

Vayishlach – In the Worst-Case Scenario

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Yaakov, preparing to meet his brother Esav, on his way back to Canaan, prepares himself for the worst possible scenario, as reported in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Vayishlach. “The angels returned to Yaakov, saying, ‘We came to your brother, to Esav, and he is also coming toward you, and four hundred men are with him.’ Yaakov became very frightened and was distressed; so he divided the people who were with him and the flocks and the cattle and the camels into two camps” (Breishis 32:7,8).

The Lesson the Ralbag learns from here is that it is fitting for a person to always be afraid and to judge things through the lens of the worst possible scenario, in order to focus on how to escape them. We see this from the fact that when Yaakov  heard about his brother Esav coming towards him with 400 men, he was afraid that Esav was coming to hurt him, despite having been guaranteed by Hashem that He would protect him and be with him. Indeed, Yaakov could have assumed that Esav was coming out with all of his men in order to show honor to Yaakov and to protect him. But still Yaakov used all of his brainpower to strategize how to save his family as best as possible. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

This is quite astonishing?! What happened to judging others favorably? Why must we always be afraid and imagine the worst possible scenarios that might befall us? Won’t that lead to anxiety and depression? What happened to serving Hashem out of Joy? Above all, what happened to the concept of bitachon, trust in Hashem? Especially in this case, where Hashem had assured Yaakov that no harm would be done to him and that Hashem would be with him? Even if you say Yaakov wasn’t sure whether he deserved being protected then his response should be to try to act more appropriately and gain assurance to be protected by Hashem, but not to take matters into your own hands?

We see an incredibly new insight into hishtadlus, our own efforts in life. We must say that part of serving Hashem is to put every effort into taking care of ourselves, within our natural boundaries. Even though having emuna and bitachon, belief and trust in Hashem, are very important mitzvos yet there is also a mitzvah for us to take care of ourselves within the boundaries of the world around us. Therefore we have a mitzvah to think of all possible scenarios, even the “worst-case scenario,” and take measures to ensure that it does not come to pass. This is part of our service of Hashem, even if Hashem tells us nothing wrong will happen to us. However, the feeling of fear one should always have is only healthy if it is being channeled into figuring out how to help yourself. But if you start feeling helpless and stressed out, that is a sign that you are not doing the right thing and one should then power up his faith in Hashem.

It is a mitzvah to have a tremendous amount of emuna and bitachon for one’s emotional state of mind but part of that faith in Hashem is the obligation to always be afraid something wrong might happen and one has to put in all his efforts to be sure he physically is able to survive to the best of his ability.

Vayetzei – No Improvising

This Dvar Torah is dedicated by the Aryeh family in loving memory of:
אשה כשרה וחשובה חנה פייגא בת ר׳ נחום
Mrs. Feigie Aryeh
שחינכה וזירזה בניה על דרך התורה ,חסד,והיראה כל ימי חייה. 
פיה פתחה בחכמה ותורת חסד על לשונה. 
צופיה הליכות ביתה ולחם עצלות לא תאכל.

Towards the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Vayetzei, after 14 years of learning in the Yeshiva of Shem V’Ever, Yaakov arrived in the outskirts of Haran, to find his uncle Lavan in hope of marrying one of his daughters. He arrived at the well where shepherds drew water for their flock and he inquired from the shepherds if they knew of Lavan. They answered affirmatively . “And he said to them, ‘[Are things going] well with him?’ And they said, ‘[Things are going] well, and behold, his daughter Rachel is coming with the sheep’” (Breishis 29:6).

The Sforno learns a lesson from Yaakov’s inquiry of how Lavan was doing. “For behold he put effort into finding out how Lavan is doing before he went to see him because it is improper for a guest to be demanding of his host if he is in the middle of a simcha, joyous occasion, or the opposite for some reason, [i.e. he’s dealing with a sad situation].” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Why did Yaakov feel he had to inquire from these shepherds, who the Sforno relates in the very next pasuk were not the most upstanding individuals, wouldn’t he potentially be setting them up to speak lashon hara, slander, about Lavan? Especially since he probably knew from his mother Rivka, and possibly his grandfather’s servant, Eliezer, that Lavan was a shady character. How can he set a stumbling block for them to potentially slander Lavan?

Furthermore, Yaakov was a very smart and intuitive person, he probably could have figured out on his own by walking into town and snooping around to find out how Lavan is doing and what he is up to. He is known for being subtle but sly for he was known as an Ish Tam, a quiet person who sat there and learned most of the time but was very acute, for he was able to pull off getting the blessings from his father Yitzchak, albeit with the help of Rivka, unbeknownst to him and Esav, as well as taking away the birthright from Esav. If so, he definitely had the brains and ability to figure out a situation and to improvise on how to handle any subtleties on the spot. If so, why then did he inquire of the Shepherds how Lavan is doing?

We see from here that when it comes to derech eretz, proper manners, one should not beat around the bush, and try to use back handed manners, even if they are potentially doable to figure out the proper mode of action. It is better to be straight forward and to the point, in order to be sure you are doing the proper thing. Of course, if something negative was said you cannot accept it as truth, rather just be cautious.

Yaakov was also a prominent nephew of Lavan who one would think Lavan would be overjoyed to welcome as a guest into his house no matter what the situation was at the time, on the contrary Yaakov could have enhanced or helped the situation whether it was presently good or bad. Yaakov was probably aware of that too but he still put in all the effort he can to first inquire about how Lavan is doing because it’s important to not take any chances rather just be straightforward, you don’t even need to many details,  to be sure you are doing the right thing.