Shemos –

In modern society, curiosity is viewed as a negative trait, as the saying goes, “curiosity kills the cat;” It evokes the image of Curious George, the troublemaking monkey. However the trait of curiosity has the potential to bring a person close to Hashem, as we see in this week’s Torah portion of Shemos, as the Ralbag relates by the incident of Moshe and the Burning Bush.

The Torah states, “An angel of Hashem appeared to him in a flame of fire from within the thorn bush, and behold, the thorn bush was burning with fire, but the thorn bush was not being consumed. So, Moshe said, ‘Let me turn now and see this great spectacle why does the thorn bush not burn up?’ Hashem saw that he had turned to see, and G-D called to him from within the thorn bush, and He said, ‘Moshe, Moshe!’ And he said, ‘Here I am’” (Shemos 3:2-4)!

The Toaliyos HaRalbag learns from this– “that it is befitting for a person to put in effort into investigating as much as possible the reason behind things that one comes across, and don’t  shorten [the investigation]. In this way one will figure out the wisdom of Hashem by as much as possible focusing on what one comes across and the manner of how it works, and this will be a cause to reach towards Hashem as much as one can. This is because we achieve from Hashem according to what is possible for us to achieve courtesy of the means that are the results of what we attain from Him, and then put them into order, and direct them. We see this from Moshe Rabbeinu, immediately when he saw this strange concept of a bush set a flame, but the bush was not burning. This actually showed that this was how he always acted, meaning that he already had a drive to know as much as possible the reasoning behind things. In this way [Moshe] was able to reach such a height as he reached.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Ralbag is teaching us that it is very healthy to be inquisitive and always investigating the world around us. This is the means to be able to know Hashem, understand how He works, and figure out how to grow close to Him. That is exactly what Moshe did when he eyed the “Burning Bush;” he didn’t simply take note of something interesting and continue walking. He stopped to observe what was really going on, tried to make sense of it, and then Hashem started talking to Him. This is a clear proof to the lesson that the Ralbag says the Torah is trying to teach us.

But why did the Ralbag say that this was how Moshe always was, as if to say that if Moshe wasn’t always curious and investigative then he would not have stopped to look at the amazing sight in front of his eyes? Wasn’t it quite unimaginable? Wouldn’t anyone have done a doubletake and stared in total amazement at such a miracle, a bush on fire but clearly not being consumed? Why did it require Moshe to have been so ‘inquisitive’ in order to have noticed and investigate such an occurrence?

It would seem that there are people who would possibly make a point of seeing something amazing and simply walking past, go about their business without putting too much thought into what they had seen. These people don’t probe, they don’t think with too much depth or imagination, and it’s hard for them to really expand their mind. Even something so amazing, unearthly, and supernatural as this would not phase them. However, because Moshe Rabbeinu already had a knack for being curious and investigative, he therefore had his eyes open to try to find something new and unique, to probe and get to the bottom of it, to try to figure out how and why it was working that way. This searching and thinking, and obviously appreciating the profundity of what was in front of him, is what made Moshe come to be so close to Hashem, and to reach heights that no other human being has ever attained in their physical lifetime.

(I have to assume this type of curiosity and inquisitiveness only works to get close to Hashem if one’s attitude is to want to have a relationship with Hashem. A typical atheist scientist, for example, no matter how curious and investigative he or she is, will never find Hashem with their anti-G-D attitude. Unless they are open to change that attitude).

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

Shemos – Do You Really Care?

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This Dvar Torah was gleaned from a shmuz I heard many years ago, at the turn of this century, from Rav Moshe Chait zt”l.

This week’s torah portion of Shemos, begins the second book of the Torah, describing the growth of Moshe Rabbeinu. “The child grew up, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became like her son. She named him Moshe, and she said, ‘For I drew him from the water.’ Now it came to pass in those days that Moshe grew up and went out to his brothers and looked into their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man of his brothers” (Shemos 2:10, 11).

The Yalkut Shimone (167) observes that it says about Moshe in the pesukim that he “grew up,” twice. The first one referring to physical growth and the second is gadlus, spiritual growth, when he went out amongst his brothers.
The Ramban on pasuk 11 says on the words “and went out to his brothers” that they told him he is Jewish, so he had a yearning to see what was going on with his brothers.

What was the gadlus, greatness, in the second “growing up? He went out to his brothers, meaning he was concerned about others; that is true greatness!
What does caring about others imply? The Medrish Rabba wonders when the Torah says “he grew up” doesn’t everyone grow up? The medrish answers that Moshe Rabbeinu grew supernaturally. When he was 5 years old, he had the physical body of a 15-year-old. With his maturity he “looked into their burdens,” as the pasuk literally says. Shouldn’t it have said “he saw their burdens?” Rather what the Torah is teaching us is that Moshe Rabbeinu investigated into the matter to see what is going on and he cried. He wished he could do something for them because of all the hard work with the cement; he would therefore lend his shoulder to actually help every one of them.

Moshe Rabbeinu didn’t just stand by and say it’s a nebuch, it’s a shame, he actually got involved. The idea of caring isn’t just to feel for them or even to shed a tear, but to do something. The medrish continues and remarks that Hashem said, ‘You looked out for the Jewish People, I then will look upon you and will assign you as leader over them.’

The Alter miSlobodka, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l, said that a sigh after hearing bad news is worse because instead of that reaction, one could have reacted in another way, maybe to do something about it. If one has a personal problem and he doesn’t just sigh but does something about it, but when it comes to others, he just sighs, that shows the level or lack of maturity in a person.

Rav Mordechai Gifter zt”l, Rosh Yeshiva of Telz Cleveland, when learning with someone, if he heard a crum svara,  logic that did not sound right, he would get on his case and “start pelting him.” He said he did this in order to help the yeshiva guy because he couldn’t handle just standing by when the student would be making such a mistake. This shows how much he cared!

Rav Dovid Leibowitz zt”l, (one of the prime students of the Alter miSlobodka, founder of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, and rebbe to Rav Moshe Chait zt”l), when he heard that one of his student’s father was bleeding ulcers he ran to the bima and started saying Tehillim. He was flowing with tears and put his whole being, and all his kishkes into his prayers. These are examples of greatness in caring for others!

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.

Shemos – Daughter of G-D: Respecting Status

An astonishing thing is often overlooked in this week’s Torah portion of Shemos, when Pharaoh’s daughter did something akin to Avraham Avinu.  While totally steeped in the idolatry and black magic for which the Egyptian culture was known, she, completely independently, found G-D and denounced idolatry. This is why “she just happened” to be by the Nile River, in the right place at the right time, as Baby Moses was floating down the river in a basket. Indeed, this is why she is known as Basya, Daughter of G-D. The Torah relates: “Pharaohs daughter went down to bathe by the River and her maidens walked along the River. She saw the basket among the reeds and she sent her maidservant and she took it” (Shemos 2:5).
The Gemara in Sotah 12b elaborates about what exactly took place at the time: “The verse states: ‘And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe [lirḥotz] in the river’ (Exodus 2:5). Rabbi Yoḥanan says in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai: This teaches that she came down to the river to cleanse herself from the impurity of her father’s idols, as she was immersing herself as part of the conversion process. And similarly it states: ‘When the Lord shall have washed [raḥatz] away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof, by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of destruction’ (Isaiah 4:4). This washing clearly refers to the purging of spiritual sins, rather than bathing for the sake of cleanliness. The verse continues: ‘And her maidens walked along [holekhot] by the riverside’ (Exodus 2:5). Rabbi Yoḥanan says: This walking is nothing other than the terminology of going toward death, and similarly it states: ‘Behold, I am going [holekh] to die’ (Genesis 25:32). The verse continues: “And she saw the ark among the willows” (Exodus 2:5). Once her maidens saw that the daughter of Pharaoh was intending to save Moses, they said to her: Our mistress, the custom of the world is that when a king of flesh and blood decrees a decree, even if all the world does not fulfill it, at least his children and members of his household fulfill it, and yet you are violating the decree of your father. After the maidens tried to convince her not to save Moses, the angel Gabriel came and beat them to the ground and they died. The verse concludes: “And she sent amatah to take it” (Exodus 2:5). Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Neḥemya disagree as to the definition of the word “amatah.” One says that it means her arm, and one says that it means her maidservant. The Gemara explains: The one who says that it means her arm explained it in this manner, as it is written “amatah,” which denotes her forearm. And the one who says that it means her maidservant explained it in this manner because it does not explicitly write the more common term: Her hand [yadah]. Therefore, he understands that this is the alternative term for a maidservant, ama. The Gemara asks: And according to the one who says that it means her maidservant, didn’t you say earlier: Gabriel came and beat them to the ground and the maidservants died, so how could Pharaoh’s daughter send her? The Gemara answers: It must be that Gabriel left her one maidservant, as it is not proper that a princess should stand alone.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The life of Moshe Rabbeinu, which means the future of the Jewish People and in fact the whole world, hung in the balance. Would he be saved or not? Pharaoh’s daughter saw the child floating down the river and wanted to save him. Her companions tried to stop her, but the angel Gavriel struck them dead. The Tanna who said that she stuck out her hand and brought in the basket obviously was learning that there was an open miracle performed, by her arm stretching many amos, or cubits, long in order to save Moshe. However, according to the other opinion, Moshe being saved was relatively within the boundaries of nature beside the angel Gabriel’s intervention. That being the case, why then was one maidservant left alive simply because it is improper for a princess to be left alone?  Wasn’t there a chance that the last maidservant might dissuade her from saving the baby? Granted, at this moment, she was making a statement, separating herself from her father’s idolatrous way of life, essentially at risk of leaving the palace all together; but it still must have been a very highly sensitive emotional time, especially with her entire entourage mysteriously dropping dead on the banks besides her. Why take the risk and leave one alive? Because that’s proper manners? If she can potentially be the one to convince her to turn back then any hope of saving Klal Yisrael might be all over!

Imagine if The G-D of Legions, King of All Kings, The Holy One Blessed Be He, lihavdil, was in His war room with the angel Gabriel and they were strategizing a mission of how to best save Moshe Rabbeinu from drowning in the Nile and saving the entire Jewish People. This would have ramifications for the entire world’s existence, for if the Jewish People  would not have been redeemed from Egypt to get to  Har Sinai in order to accept Hashem’s Torah, then Hashem would have destroyed the world. So there was a lot on the line. Hashem decided to conduct things within the natural realm of the world and he warned Gabriel that he could take out all of Basya’s friends besides one, because it would be a lack of proper respect for a princess to be left alone. So now that she had her one maidservant, the maidservant could go and fetch the basket, using normal means of saving Klal Yisrael, and no massive miracle had to take place. But why risk the chance of saving one maidservant just because it is improper to leave her alone? The world was hanging in the balance; why is derech eretz, proper manners, taken into account at such a delicate time as this? Gabriel should not have taken any risks, wiped them all out, and ,if need be, since there was no other means of saving Moshe, then there is no choice but to rely on a miracle! But now that he had to take proper manners into account and must save one of them, it then put everything back into the rule and order of nature, and there is a slight risk that the whole mission might fall apart. Was it really worth even taking a slight risk like that during such an important mission?

The answer is YES! We see to what extent one has to treat another person with the proper respect he or she deserves, no matter what the dire situation anyone is in. Derech Eretz Kodmah LiTorah, proper manners supersedes the Torah! In this case it means that respecting others status comes before rational logic of getting things done properly without taking any risks even at such an ominous time in history!