Tetzaveh: A Light Unto the Nations

At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Tetzaveh, we find a discussion of the olive oil needed for the ner tamid [constant light] lit by the Kohanim [priests] in the Mishkan [Tabernacle]. The Medrish Rabba (Tetzaveh, parsha 36, paragraph 2) discusses why the Mishkan needed the light, as it was the place of G-D’s Presence, and He emanates His own light unto the nations, and certainly does not require it for Himself.
The Medrish says: “Not that I need them, rather you should light up for me just as I give light for you. Why? In order to raise you above all the nations so that they will say ‘the Jews are giving light to The One who gives light to everyone.’ One can compare this to a person who can see and a blind person walking down the road. The person who can see says to the blind man, ‘Come and I will support you on your way.’ The blind man continues to walk [with the help of the other person.] When they get to the house the seeing person says to the blind one, ‘turn on the light for me so I can see in order so that you don’t have to feel indebted to me for escorting you. This is why I tell you to turn on the light.’ So to the seeing person represents G-D as it says in Chronicles (Divrei Hayamim 2 16:9): ‘For Hashem’s eyes roam throughout the land.’ The blind man represents the Jews as it says in Isaiah (59:10) ‘We grope the wall like the blind; and like the eyeless we grope; we stumble at noon as in the dark of night.’ By the sin of the golden calf G-D [still] provided them with light and lead them as it says in Shemos (13:21): ‘Hashem went before them by day.’ When they were going to build the Mishkan [Hashem] called on Moshe and told him to take clear olive oil [for light]. The Jews said (Psalms 18:29): ‘For it is You Who will light my lamp, Hashem, my G-D, illuminates my darkness. And you ask us to set up a light before you?’ G-D responded: ‘In order to elevate you that you give light to me just as I gave light to you.’”

The RaDa”L (note 10) elaborates that Hashem, out of His pure mercy, led the Jews through the desert with the Clouds of Honor during the day and the Pillar of Fire at night – even while they transgressed with the sin of the golden calf. The Yedai Moshe explains why Hashem nevertheless wanted the Jewish people to light up the mishkan, the House of His Divine Presence, with the ner tamid: “in order so that they will not be deniers of good. Even if Hashem did not need the light, nevertheless Hashem’s intentions were to teach man to night be ingrates.”

One question that comes to mind is how could the Jews have become ingrates in the Wilderness? They were on such high levels of belief in Hashem, and it was obvious that they owed their lives to Him; He saved them from the clutches of the Egyptians, and gave them food, drink, fresh clothes, and comfort. Then G-D gave them the Torah, the ultimate guidebook to living life to the fullest; they should have been overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude! How could they have lost it? Furthermore, one would think that by giving back to Hashem, it would reduce their feeling of gratitude, like a bartering system. He gives to them, and vice versa. There should not have been any feelings of indebtedness at all if they were just trading with each other. So why would the light of the mishkan enhance their feeling of gratitude towards Hashem?!

The Mahar”I Ben Lev (in the Yafe Toar) asks two other questions on the medrish: (1) Why would this act elevate their states in the eyes of all the other nations? On the contrary, they would think that the Jews are fools for giving light to the One Who Lights up the World. (2) What was the comparison to the parable? In the parable the seeing man didn’t want the blind man to feel indebted, which is not true here.

The Mahar”I Ben Lev answers that Hashem did not want the Jews to be ungrateful, rather they should acknowledge the good done to them, and for that reason Hashem “requested payment for what He did.” For this reason He commanded them to light up the candles, as a symbol of their gratitude, just as He shed light upon them. Through this they came to be viewed in high esteem by the rest of the world, for they saw that the Jews were not ingrates. To explain the parable, the Mahar”I Ben Lev says that the seeing man was paid back by the blind man by the turning on of the light in the house, in order to show that the blind man accepted the nice thing the seeing man did for him. The blind man does not owe anything else to the seeing man, because he already paid him by expressing his gratitude for the kindness the seeing man did for him. (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

The blind man is expressing his gratitude towards his friend by listening to his request to turn on the light for him. We see from this medrish an incredible lesson in expressing gratitude. There is no doubt that the Jews felt incredibly indebted to Hashem for all He did for them, and felt a tremendous amount of gratitude for the His kindness and mercy. However, Hashem was teaching them that, without giving back, without actively showing one’s gratitude, it is impossible to completely cover a debt. It is also possible that if one does not take action to show his gratitude he might even start to lose his feeling of appreciation, possibly because he feels entitled to what is coming to him for free. This is why Hashem commanded the Jews to light the ner tamid in the mishkan, even though He had no use for it.
Showing gratitude is of such fundamental importance that this is what elevates the Jews in the eyes of the world and, G-D forbid we would not show proper gratitude, it would create a tremendous chilul Hashem [profaning of G-D’s Holy name] in the world.

I would like to express might deep heartfelt gratitude towards Hashem for giving me the ability and allowing me to spread Torah worldwide. A sincere thank you also to all my students, supporters and followers for helping and encouraging me to continue with this magnificent endeavor of spreading the ingenuity of Torah throughout the world.

Terumah: I Believe in Unicorns

This Dvar Torah is dedicated in memory of Rav Chaim Shmuel Niman zt”l, the Mashgiach of Yeshivah Chofetz Chaim in Queens whose burial was today on Har Hamenuchos in Jerusalem. 

One of the materials used as a covering in the mishkan [tabernacle] was the skin of the Tachash. What is a Tachash? The Medrish Tanchuma (parshas Terumah, paragraph 6) says it was a gigantic kosher animal (split hooves, chewed its cud) which had one horn in the center of its forehead and a multi-colored coat (six types of colors to be exact). Rebbe Yehuda said it was a wild mammal which lived in the desert and Rebbe Nechemia said it was a miraculous animal which was created temporarily for the purpose of making the 30-amah, 47.25 foot  covering of the mishkan, and was then hidden forever. A creature similar in appearance to the ‘mythical’ unicorn.

The Rabbeinu Bachye (Shemos 25:5) suggests that the Tachashim were placed in the desert solely for the purpose of the mishkan and the honor of G-D, as their skins had incredibly magnificent designs on them. There were many fine materials used in the mishkan which are listed in the Torah (Shemos 25:3-8) such as “gold, silver, copper, turquoise, purple, and scarlet wool; linen and goat hair; red-dyed ram skins, [Tachash skins], acacia wood; oil for illumination, spices for the anointment oil, and the aromatic incense; shoham(onyx) stones and stones for the settings, for the Ephod and the Breastplate.”

The Rabbeinu Bachye (25:3) points out that the Torah lists “3 kinds of metals and 3 kinds of wool but silk were not donated to the mishkan. This is because [silk] comes from the body of a creepy crawly, the silkworm and only kosher and spiritually pure material was used for the Service of Heaven…” (Click herefor Hebrew text.)

Silk is a fine soft fiber produced by silkworms originating from the Far East. Real silk is known to be one of the fanciest and most expensive textiles in the world; yet Hashem chose not to use it as part of His “House” in this world, because it originates from something impure. On the other hand, Hashem went out of his way to create a miraculous, kosher creature that was only temporarily in existence, solely for the sake of the mishkan. The lesson being, that no matter how precious and fancy an object is to the naked eye, if its essence is impure it is inappropriate for holy matters.

Hashem created the human being in His image, b’tzelem Elokim. Though we have a physical body we also have a soul, which is a spark of holiness and spirituality; we must treat it the same way as the mishkan was treated. We must have the utmost sensitivity to what we come in contact with, imbibe, or associate with. Is it of a kosher, proper, and holy nature, or is it lowly, distasteful, and unclean? It is our choice to set our priorities straight in life.

Mishpatim: Divine Law

This dvar Torah is based on my notes of shmuzzin I heard from Rav Moshe Chait zt”l, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim Yerushalayim.

The beginning of this week’s Torah portion starts: “And these are the laws that you shall set before them” (Shemos 21:1).

Rashi points out that “whenever the word ‘these’ is used it specifically excludes that which preceded it but the word ‘and these’ is inclusive of what preceded it. Here to ‘and these’ conveys that just as the preceding words (i.e. The Ten Commandments) were received from Sinai these following laws also were received from Sinai.”
There are certain laws which, even if they were not written in the Torah, would still exist. No society could exist without these basic laws, which include laws of ownership, damages, etc.

These laws have a rational behind them that can be logically understood by the human mind; yet the Ten Commandments can also be rationally understood. So why does the Torah specifically emphasize to us that these laws were also from Sinai; what is the difference?
The Ten Commandments were understood to the level on which an angel understands; and even the angels questioned why G-D was giving the Torah to physical human beings. However, by the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai the Children of Israel reached a spiritual level equal to that of the angels. If these laws of damages, ownership, etc. were not given at Sinai then they would have been understood differently than the deep levels at which the Ten Commandments were understood.

We see from this that people disagree on what is ethical and what is not. There is a famous Medrish, in which G-D went individualy to each nation and asking them if they wanted the Torah. They each rejected it in turn for different reasons; one did not like the prohibition of “do not steal.” Another didn’t like the prohibition of “do not kill.” Indeed, in the city of Sedom, it was ruled that acts of kindness were unlawful.

When the Jews said “We will do and then we will listen” (נעשה ונשמע) it was because they realized that people could be biased to ethical laws and have their own forms of judgement. So the Jews decided to rely on G-D to provide a unified system of how to live. The angels, shocked at the level of realization the Jews reached, said: how could they arrive at such a high level of insight but still be feeble in their normal everyday thinking? This proves that the Jews must have been on the level of angels at Mount Sinai.

When Rashi mentioned “just as these [the Ten Commandments] were given on Sinai so too these were given at Sinai” he meant that just like by these laws [the Ten Commandments] you think you can make them up on your own but in actuality they need to be accepted from Heaven, so too these laws, even though man could probably figure them out, are still given by G-D, to ensure they are followed.
An example of the depth and profundity of the Torah is the mitzvah of not mistreating a widow and orphan (found later in the Torah portion in chapter 22 verse 21). The Talmud teaches us that if one does mistreat an orphan or widow, in any way shape or form, then that individual’s children will be orphans and wife, a widow. This sounds very extreme; what is the implication of this mitzvah?
When  ten sages were gruesomely murdered by the Roman Empire, Rebbe Yishmael said: “I know this is all from Heaven but I do not know the reason why I am being killed.” Rabban Gamliel turned to him and sai:, “Did you ever have someone come up to you and ask a question and you were in the middle of drinking or putting on your shoes and you asked them to wait a moment?” The mitzvah of “Don’t mistreat, [or cause pain and suffering]” even applies to a miniscule feeling of pain, [at least depending on each person and the status level they are on.] Rebbe Yishmael said back to Rabban Gamliel, “I feel comforted now that I know why I am dying.”

A widow and an orphan are all alone and have no one to turn to for support. To hurt an orphan’s feelings, even on a minuscule level, is forbidden. Would anyone logically think that not causing an orphan or widow pain and suffering goes to this extent? That is why the Torah says: “Just as these were given at Sinai so to these were given at Sinai.” You, yourself, would never arrive at something that only angels are able to understand.

Even in today’s day and age, we have the opportunity to achieve a depth and profundity of understanding into G-D’s instruction booklet. Through much toil and sweating, we can come to a profound clarity of understanding of our Torah and Talmud, with all their commentaries. With G-D’s help, the world will become a better place through our enlightenment.

Yisro: Individual Attention from Hashem

In this week’s Torah portion Hashem officially turned the Jewish People into a Nation. By giving us the Torah, He made us a Nation of royalty and priesthood, the princes and princesses of the Master of the World, King of all Kings, the Almighty One, blessed be He. By giving us the Torah, the guide book for all mankind, he informed us of the obligatory, but beneficial, way to live our lives.
The Chizkuni (Shemos 20:2) relates: “that Hashem revealed Himself to the Jewish people like an iconic statue which has a face on every side and a thousand people gazing at it and it gazing at them. So to, G-D when he spoke, each individual Jew said ‘He spoke to me.’ [In the first of the Ten Commandments it does not say ‘I am the Lord your G-D’ in plural rather it was in singular form. Why? Because [G-D] spoke to each individual in the order they were standing around the mountain as it writes (19:12) ‘And you set boundaries for the people around [the mountain.] And don’t be amazed, for the manna was given to each individual fitting with their own individual taste buds. Just as the manna was given in this manner, certainly the word of Hashem we could assume was delivered in the same manner.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Why did the Chizkuni have to bring a comparison to manna to impress upon us that Hashem spoke to each person individually at the giving of the Torah? It is obvious; we know Hashem has the ability to do that because he is the almighty, all powerful, infinite G-D who can do anything! This comparison would not turn a non-believer into a believer anyway, because once there is a question as to whether He spoke to each individual, who is to say that he provided each individual with their own dietary needs or gave each individual the taste they wanted?

We must therefore say that the Chizkuni was not talking to non-believers; rather, we have an obligation to achieve the greatest level of clarity in our belief of Hashem. And therefore another example, or anything at all, that helps us understand, or gain a greater appreciation for, our belief in Hashem and his Torah – makes an indelible impact. There are infinite levels of clarity that one can achieve in understanding of G-D’s existence and of how He runs the world.

But why the parable of manna? One might think that even though Hashem has the ability to talk to every individual, why would the King of Kings, Master of the Universe, lower Himself down to talking to each individual? It is undignified! Even if the giving of the Torah was the most important event in the history of the world, and Hashem wanted to ensure that each individual accepted it, it is still a lack of honor to the king; so maybe people would make up the excuse that not every Jewish individual heard and accepted the Torah from Hashem.

To this excuse the Chizkuni says that if Hashem cared for the taste buds of every individual Jew in the desert, and therefore made the manna tasty according to every Jews’ desire, then certainly he would speak to every Jew individually to impress upon each individual Jew the gift of the Torah, the guide book for all mankind, which He wished to give to them at that time.

This picture of G-D’s love and care for every individual Jewish person has the potential to be awe-inspiring for anyone, if only they choose to focus on it and imbibe it into their psyche.

Bishalach: Science and Faith

In this week’s Torah portion, Bishalach, we find the Jews traveling in the wilderness on the way to get the Torah on Mount Sinai. However, after the splitting of the Red Sea they had run out of water, and now found themselves by a spring of bitter water.
With this backdrop the Medrish Tanchuma (paragraph 24) cites: “You find human beings when they get cut with a knife they put on a bandage to heal themselves. But G-D isn’t like that, rather the instrument He strikes with he also uses to heal. And so you can find this when they (the Jews in the Wilderness) came to Marah and Moshe thought that G-D would tell him to throw honey or a date cake [into the bitter waters] and they would turn sweet, see [though] what the Torah writes ‘And [Moshe] cried out to Hashem and Hashem showed him a stick’ (Shemos 15:25). G-D said to him, ‘Moshe, my ways aren’t like human beings. Now you must learn this.’ As it says ויורהו ה’ עץ. It does not say ויראהו, ‘and He revealed to him,’ rather it says ויורהו, ‘and He instructed him,’ [G-D] taught [Moshe] His ways.

What was the stick? Rebbi Yehoshua said it was made of myrtle wood, while Rebbi Nosson said it was a bitter creeper (found on the banks of rivers with rose-like blossoms, injurious to animals). Another opinion, that of Rebbi Eliezer Hamodai, was that it was an olive branch, and a fourth opinion, that of Rebbi Yehoshua ben Karcha, was that it was a kind of wheat grown in the mountains, which was hard. Others still disagree, saying that it was a root of a fig or pomegranate. In any event, it was bitter.

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: “Come and see how incredible are the ways of G-D more than the ways of human beings. Humans use sweets to fix up what is bitter, but G-D uses bitter to fix up what is bitter. How does He do this? He puts something which is harmful into another thing which is harmful to create a miracle within a miracle.”

The Medrish Tanchuma goes on to list two examples from Isaiah chapter 38 and Kings 2 chapter 2 of instances where something harmful was used to fix something that was is harmful. The Medrish Tanchuma then concludes: “And so to the righteous people, with what they sin or argue they also use to fix the [problem.] Proof is, at the time when Moshe argued and sinned, it was using the word אז (then) as it says, ‘And from then I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name etc.’ (Shemos 5:23). Moshe said, ‘with אז (then) I sinned and with אז (then) I will fix it and he then sang [the Song of the Sea]. Therefore the Torah says אז ישיר משהThen Moshe sang.’”

The Etz Yosef asked a question on the last part of this medrish: “There is a major question because Moshe did not know that the ways of Hashem was in this manner until now, as mentioned here that G-D told Moshe ‘you must learn this.’ If so how can [Moshe] say that that which he sinned with he will use to praise [Hashem] wasn’t The Song sang before this episode [as they crossed the split sea?] We can answer that Moshe, even though he did not know this way of G-D regarding healing [or fixing], but logically he concluded that it is good to correct his misdeed using the same thing he sinned with.”

This prompts a question. Moshe, who saw the burning bush, a bush that was aflame but did not burn, that spoke to him in the Name of G-D; Moshe, who performed numerous miracles as a messenger of Hashem in Egypt – how could he not have been capable of figuring out how Hashem would turn bitter waters into sweet waters? Why did Hashem have to teach him a lesson as if it was something which Moshe could not comprehend on his own? It was far from the first time he had experienced a miracle within a miracle; the ten plagues in Egypt were miracles within miracle, such as the wild animals only invading Egyptian land, while not entering one spot belonging to a Jew. Another example was that while a thick darkness covered Egypt for three straight days, the Jews walked around in light.
Indeed, Moshe had himself figured out the concept of ‘using the problem as the solution,’ as was seen at the end of the medrish when he used the word “then” as part of a sentence arguing with Hashem, and later corrected himself by using the same word “then” to start one of the greatest praises of Hashem in Human history.
So how could Moshe have missed the point by Marah and thought he should add honey or date cake to the bitter waters to miraculously sweeten them? Why did G-D have to explicitly teach him a lesson of how He acts by using a bitter stick to sweeten the bitter waters?

We must therefore conclude, as the Etz Yosef alludes, that when it comes to making an actual change to a physical substance, even Moshe, the greatest believer of Hashem, could have some sort of blockage in his mind, to the degree that he couldn’t figure out how to appropriately sweeten the waters.

When focusing on the way the world works it is very easy to get caught up in the physical sciences, thinking that whatever scientific breakthroughs are made must be the indelible truth and that they preclude anything else from being correct. This is because it makes sense in our minds; it is logical, proven – even when it clashes with the ideals and truth of the Torah. What we see from here is that it is not surprising that such a mistake might happen, as even Moshe Rabbeinu was capable of missing the boat when it comes to such matters. And, indeed, G-D had to explicitly demonstrate for him the proper actions to take. All the more so for us; we have to strive to understand what the Torah, G-D’s blueprints of creation and instruction booklet for all mankind, is teaching us. Only then we can see how science truly fits into the way the world exists.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder

Bo: For the Sake of My Brother and My Friend

The word אח means brother and ריעה means friend. However, they are not just words with meanings; they have value and major ramifications.
In this week’s parsha Hashem told Moshe that he will bring one more plague on the Egyptians, and then the Jewish people would go free. However before they go Hashem told Moshe to ask the Jews to “please speak into the ears of the nation and each man shall ask his friend and each woman should ask her friend for silver and gold vessels” (Shemos 11:2).

The Rabbeinu Bachye explains that this request was not to borrow the vessels, but for the Egyptians to give it to them as a gift, and that Hashem would cause the Egyptians to find favor in their eyes to give the vessels to the Jews. The Rabbeinu Bachye goes on to say that this was not extortion because the labor the Jews went through were beyond any value or level of compensation. Furthermore, the Torah says that one should compensate his slave for the work he did when he goes free, see Devarim chapter 15. So what they were taking with them was the very least they deserved for the 210 years they were enslaved.

The Rabbeinu Bachye then points out a very fascinating fact regarding the language of the verse cited: why did Hashem refer to the Egyptians as “friends” of the Jews? The Rabbeinu Bachye answers: “The reason why the verse uses a language of friendship in both masculine and feminine, it seems to me, is because before the Torah was given all of mankind were unified as friends but after the Torah was given, when G-d offered the Torah to all the nations and languages and no one accepted it except the Jewish people, then all the non-Jews left the brotherhood and friendship circle and only the Jews were left in this circle, as they were called family and friends of G-D, as it is written in Psalms 122 ‘For the sake of my brother and my friend…’ It is also understandable why the Talmud teaches us by the verse ‘for all the lost objects of your brother’ (Devarim chapter 23) and also the verse ‘you shall not charge interest to you brother’ (ibid.) [that returning lost objects and not charging interest only applies towards Jews not non-Jews.]” (Click here for Hebrew text)

The word “friend” and “brother” aren’t just words, and don’t just have meaning; they have major ramifications in Jewish law. It is a concept, a status symbol. According to Torah law, if one finds a lost object and can assume it belongs to a non-Jew the object can be kept and one doesn’t have to run after the person who lost it, because he isn’t ‘your brother.’ (However if one knows the non-Jew in question, then it might be nice to return it, thereby sanctifying G-D’s name; but it is not mandatory). One may also charge interest to non-Jews because they aren’t ‘your brother.’

But imagine the time before the Torah was officially given, or if the whole world had accepted the Torah. Everyone was part of one big family; we all stemmed from Adam and Eve, and we are all brothers and friends. Everyone had intrinsic ramification and status symbols. Imagine: the Egyptians who tortured, enslaved, and murdered us – but they are still considered our friends? Everyone in the world, no matter how different they were, how much they did not get along, still, everyone was in the same circle of friendship and brotherhood, unified, which earned them the right to be called a ‘friend.’

If an Egyptian can still be a friend then all the more so, today, our Jewish brethren, no matter how far off they have gone, whether practicing Jews or non-practicing Jews, are all still brothers and friends. Not only is it a mitzvah to return a fellow Jew’s lost object and not charge them interest, but every Jew is responsible for one another; we are one unit, unified, and should feel a responsibility to take care of one another.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder

Vaera: “Shidduch Advice”

The Torah relates: “And Aharon took Elisheva the daughter of Aminadav, sister of Nachshon, as his wife and she gave birth to Nadav and Avihu, Elazar and Itamar” (Shemos 6:23).
Rava, in the Gemara Bava Basra 110a, learns from this verse that “one who wants to marry a woman must check into her brothers, as the verse states ‘And Aharon took Elisheva the daughter of Aminadav, sister of Nachshon.’ It is implicit from the fact the verse states she was the daughter of Aminadav that she is also the sister of Nachshon so why did the Torah need to spell out that she was ‘the sister of Nachshon?’ From here we learn that one who wants to marry a woman must check into her brothers. A Braisa teaches that most sons are similar to the brother of their mother.” Rashi adds that “because she was the sister of Nachshon, the tribal leader of Yehuda that prominence is why [Aharon] married her.” The Maharsha explains that “this concept make sense because brothers and sisters, being born from the same womb, will have a greater chance of having the same nature since they came out of the same mother, as it is taught in the gemara, Tractate Nidda, that most of the body of a fetus is created from the mother, therefore most of the time he will have the same nature as his mother’s brother, whether bad or good.” (Click here for Hebrew text)
Based on this gemara and the Maharsha, it would seem that one is born with certain personality traits based on his or her genetic makeup, just as the color of one’s hair or eyes is determined by genes. For that reason Aharon married Elisheva, the sister of Nachshon, who was the Prince of the Tribe of Yehuda and the first person to walk into the Red Sea (even before it split), thereby showing unparalleled trust in Hashem. Earlier in this piece the Maharsha also pointed out (based on a Medrish) that Esav, who everyone knows was evil, came from Rivka whose brother was the evil Lavan. Yet this is not an ironclad guarantee, as we see from Yitzhak’s other son, Yaakov. Ultimately, being born with natural bad tendencies is also not a guarantee that one will live a life of sin, as ultimately everyone has bechira [free choice], and an individual born with the genetic predisposition for evil can work on themselves to become a good person. Indeed, even one who is naturally good might slip up and stray – however, it remains likely that one can indeed predict the likely personality traits his children will be born with based on his wife’s brother. This should logically mean that one should look for a wife whose brother is in good standing (unless she is the best choice in the world, as in Yitzhak’s case).The question is why; who cares what your brother-in-law is like, as long as you are compatible with and attracted to each other. She has a fine personality which you enjoy, and you get along with her; what more do you need? You see eye to eye with her on many issues concerning raising a family, including having a proper and advantageous home which each of you can see raising children in; why does anything else matter?

It would seem that family and the continuation of fine moral values is so central to Judaism that Rava suggests one must look into the brother of one’s perspective wife since most of the time his children will have the same personality, and in order to more likely raise children of fine character it is better to marry someone whose brother has fine moral character, just as we test for genetic diseases before getting married.

Ultimately, it is up to the parents on how they raise their children, and up to the children whether they choose to follow in their parent’s footsteps, no matter their genetic predisposition, as we see in the contrast between Yaakov and Esav. However, it definitely helps, and might ease the burden a bit, to take into account when looking to get married, a brother-in-law with good yichus [a highly touted background] as Aharon did.

Shemos: Defending the Defenseless

The Medrash Rabba (Shemos 1:27) relates that Moshe grew up in a very unusual way. The Mahar”zu explains that by the age of 20 (and according to some opinions 40), he was ten amos [approximately eighteen feet] tall. The medrish goes on to tell us that Moshe went out to his brethren, genuinely felt and cried over their plight, and literally leant his shoulder to help each one of them at their back-breaking work in the cement pits. And all this was done while he was still prince living in Pharaoh’s palace. He knew he was a Jew because his mother, Yocheved, raised him after his sister, Miriam, volunteered their mother to be Moshe’s nursemaid.

Moshe was later forced to flee Egypt after he came upon an Egyptian taskmaster beating an innocent Jew and killed him, burying him in the sand. Despite being caught, he was miraculously able to flee from capital punishment. He then arrived in Midi’in, where he found a group of women shepherds, seven sisters, being harassed and prevented from using a well by some male shepherds. Moshe got up, saved the women, and gave their sheep water from the well to drink (see Shemos 2:11-17).

The lesson the Ralbag learns from Moshe’s heroics in saving the sisters is thait “it is befitting for a person to inspire himself to help the weak and save them from their oppressors, because they do not have the power to do it themselves. By doing this one will perfect the equity and goodness of society and will provide somewhat of needed security. For this reason Moshe Rabbeinu had to find in himself inspiration to save the daughters of Yisro from the shepherds and give there sheep water. He also inspired himself to save the Jew from the [taskmaster] beating him for the same reason.”

The Ralbag points out that Moshe stood up and saved his fellow Jew from being beaten by an Egyptian taskmaster, and the sisters of Yisro from being harassed by other male shepherds. The seemingly obvious lesson being, that one should feel obliged to protect the weak from those stronger than them, which, in turn, helps to make society a better place.

What is a bit perplexing is why the Ralbag felt the need to emphasize repeatedly that Moshe had to “inspire” or “arouse” himself to go through with these two heroic acts. As mentioned earlier, Moshe was a giant; he was very tall and very strong. He also had a gargantuan heart, which earned him the G-D-given role of redeeming the Jewish people from Egypt and leading them through the desert. He had such love and care for his fellow man that even as prince of Egypt he cried over the plight of his true brethren and physically got down and dirty with them, helping them with their forced hard labor. So why would someone, with all these amazing qualities, need to ‘stir within himself the courage to save them’ when it came to defending one of his enfeebled brothers from a beating by his superior taskmaster, or to saving  damsels in distress?

We see from here an incredible lesson in human psychology. Even someone with such a natural and immense love for all creatures, needs inspiration when put into a situation where acting to defend someone else might potentially be life-threatening. Even if one knows it is for the betterment of society, it is still difficult to put one’s life on the line. A person requires inspiration, even if it is self-motivated inspiration; there isn’t a natural instincts to save the weak from their predators.

It is very easy for one to turn a blind eye to abuse and harassment. It takes strength and a building of fortitude to really do something about it.

Good Shabbos!

Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder

Vayechi-Divine Redemption

This week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, is the last one in the Book of Genesis (Sefer Breishis) The Ramban says: “The Torah completed the book of Breishis, which is the book of creation, which dealt with the creation of the world and the formation of all its creatures, as well as all the events of our Forefathers, which are also a sort of “creation” with regard to their offspring because all the events of our forefathers are illustrations to allude to and to foretell all that would come upon their offspring in the future. After it completed the story of ‘creation’ the Torah begins another book which concerns the actions that emanated from those previous accounts. The Book of Shmos is dedicated to the subject of the first exile which was decreed explicitly [to Avraham in Breishis 15:13-14] and to the redemption from that exile. This is why the Torah goes back and begins with the names of those who descended to Egypt and their number even though this was already recorded in Breishis 46:8-27. It is repeated here because there descent into Egypt marked the beginning of the exile for it at that point that it started. Now, the exile did not end until the day the people returned to their place and returned to the stature of their forefathers. When they left Egypt, even though they had left the ‘house of bondage’ they were still considered exiles for they were still ‘in a land not theirs,’ wandering in the desert. But when they arrived at Mount Sinai and built the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and G-D once again caused hisShechinah (Holy Presence) to dwell among them, at that point they returned to the eminence of their forefathers of whom it may be said “the counsel of G-D was over their tents,” and [as the Medrish Rabba 47:6 states] they themselves were the Divine chariot. (I.e. they were the “base” on earth which Hashem manifested His presence to the world.) It was then that the people of Israel were considered to be redeemed [from there exile]. And this is why this book ends with its completion of the subject of the Mishkan and with the glory of Hashem filling it always.” (Click here for Hebrew text. It is found at the end of Breishis in the older Mikraos Gedolos and in the beginning of Shemos in the newer editions.)
The Ramban is clearly saying that the Jews in the desert felt truly redeemed from exile only once they had built the Mishkan [Tabernacle] and the Shechinah [Holy Presence] rested inside it even though he said earlier: “they were still considered exiles for they were still “in a land not theirs, wandering in the desert.”” At first glance this seems to be a contradiction; how they can feel redeemed while still wandering in the desert and not being settled in the promised homeland of their Patriarchs? Granted, they reached the madreiga [high spiritual level] of their forefathers at Har Sinai [Mount Sinai], but the reality was that they were still not settled in the Land of Canaan. So how could they consider themselves redeemed?  Imagine the feeling of being unsettled, knowing you are not in the comfort of your own home, constantly wandering, displaced – it does not make a difference what level you are on; you are still in exile! What does the Ramban mean when he says that the Jews were considered to be redeemed once the Holy Presence of Hashem rested on the Mishkan [Tabernacle]?

It would seem from here that a person can feel truly redeemed, even if not physically back in his home, in this case the land Israel, the  promise land –  simply just knowing that the Shechinah is constantly with him. The Children of Israel knew that they were meant to return to the Land of Canaan which was promised to their ancestors Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaakov, and they knew that their travels in the desert were only temporary; but, still, they felt truly redeemed once they had the Shechinah [holy presence] living amongst them. Settling in the Land of Canaan would no doubt be a plus.

As an extension of this, it is interesting to note that the Gemara in Brachos 6a mentions that the Shechinah rests in shuls [synagogues], specifically when there is a minyan of at least ten men praying together. The Shechinah is also present when three judges congregate to establish a Jewish court, and even amongst one or two people deeply involved in learning Torah. Certainly we cannot feel redeemed from our current state of exile because the Shechinah is not consistently with us but during our prayers in synagogue and our learning we have the potential to feel more at ease knowing the Shechinah is there. The Shul (House of Worship,) and Beis Medrish (House of Study) are a safe haven home away from home.

There is another Gemara in Shabbos 12b which says that the Shechinah is in the room with the sick, and lends him or her support. Rashi on that verse says that G-D’s Presence supports the sick person in their  weakened state. Based on this Ramban one can speculate that being cognizant of, or truly knowing and believing that Hashem’s Shechinah is with you, can  support you when you are in a weakened state, and can have a very soothing effect on the sick.

Having a high level of belief that the Shechinah is with you is not ignoring reality; rather, it dictates reality, because Hashem is the ultimate reality.

Vayigash-A Fact of Life in Child Rearing

This dvar Torah is based on a shmuz I heard from Rabbi Daniel Meister, Director of MAJOR, campus kiruv organization in the Milwaukee area.

Now for some food for thought:

After Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, he brought his father and entire family down to the land of Egypt, and they settled in the city of Goshen. “Yosef settled his father and his brothers, and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best part of the land, in the area of Ramses, as Pharaoh ordered. Yosef provided for his father, his brothers, and his father’s entire household with bread according to the needs of the children. There was no bread in all the land, for the famine was very severe. The land of Egypt and Canaan were worn out because of famine” (Breishis/Genesis 47:11-13).
Rashi (verse 12) is bothered by why the Torah says Yosef gave “bread according to the children.” Were the adult members of the household not provided for? Rashi explains that Yosef gave according to the needs of all the members of the household. The implication here is that bread was providedeven for the children, who tend to crumble and waste bread (See Sifsei Chachamim note 30).
The Mizrachi, a commentary on Rashi, elaborates and says that Yosef gave out loaves of bread even according to the needs of the child, and that is normal of them to crumble and throw around their bread; which means he gave them more than what they actually needed in order to survive. Yosef therefore, must definitely have given exactly what the adults needed to sustain themselves. (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)
Imagine the scene; there was a severe famine for over two years, not only in the land of Egypt but elsewhere as well, including but not limited to the land of Canaan. People are starving, food must be rationed. A plan was hatched by Yosef to be sure no one would go hungry; everyone had to come to him to get food. He gained the respect and trust of Pharaoh and his people by taking care of their needs, at whatever cost. He must have stipend every piece of grain, every loaf of bread to its exactitude; if not, imagine the uproar.

Assuming this was true, how could more bread be stipend for the children then what was needed just to eat? Either teach the children to not waste food or the parents should be extra careful to be sure no food was wasted. Why should Yosef have had to take into account the fact that children waste food at the possible expense of a future food shortage?

Everyone can picture how a baby or infant eats his or her food. I clean up my baby’s high chair and floor around it daily. The floor is full of crumbs and globs of goop from food he spreads around. Even my older children wreak a certain degree of chaos when they eat, and many times can’t finish what is on their plates.

We see from here that even in extreme situations, like severe famine, we must take into account the nature of children to waste food. One should not overreact but plan accordingly and act with patience, because that is just the way children are. Granted, as they get older, they will learn to use their manners and to have more self-control, but in the meantime we, as parents, should strive to not overreact, even when food is being wasted. If Yosef, took into account the nature of how children eat even during a time of severe famine, giving them extra food to offset their wastefulness, certainly we must have this in mind with our children.
Enjoy your next meal!