Student of RABBI FISHEL TODD AND PIRCHEI SHOSHANIM

 

Rabbi, Prof Shlomo Sawilowsky Z”L was of the most outstanding students of the Yeshiva Pirchei Shoshanim program. Coming from a secular background or family support he felt truth and worked on himself achieving both ultimate spiritual level as the valedictorian of his class when he received Semicha [Rabbinical Ordination] from Yeshiva Pirchei Shoshanim. From there he published a classic work on the laws of Shabbos enabling untold numbers to understand of the most sophisticated areas of Torah Judaism. As a professor of statistics he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He of those few people who ran away from honor, yet the honor ran after him. Without question his spiritual light will carry on forever as he sits teaching amongst the Holy Angels in the presence of the HOLY ONE.

PARASHAT BESHALACH – Rabbi Fishel Todd

PARASHAT BESHALACH

Rabbi Fishel Todd

Shulchan Aruch Project

QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT OF PARASHAT BESHALACH

Who said to whom, and under what circumstances?

(a) The wilderness has locked them in.

(b) Do not fear! Stand fast, and see the salvation of G-d.

(c) For G-d is waging a war for them against Egypt.

(d) G-d shall reign for ever and ever.

(e) Sing to G-d, for he is exalted above the arrogant, having hurled horse with its rider into the sea.

(f) As we sat by the flesh-pots of Egypt, as we ate bread to satisfaction.

(g) This is what G-d has spoken: tomorrow is a rest day, a Holy Sabbath to G-d.

(h) How long will you refuse to observe My commandments and My teachings?

(i) Is G-d amongst us or not?

(j) The war of G-d against Amalek shall be from generation to generation.

ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT OF PARASHAT BESHALACH

Rabbi Fishel Todd

(a) G-d to Moses – about His tempting Pharaoh to pursue the Israelites by changing their route, giving him the impression that the Israelites were stranded in the desert. (14:3)

(b) Moses to the Israelites – as they saw the Egyptians in pursuit. (14:13)

(c) The Egyptians to each other – realizing the power of G-d as He gave them a rough ride in their chasing the Israelites though the parted Red Sea. (14:25)

(d) Moses to the Israelites – as a conclusion to the Song of Moses in thanksgiving for the miracles of the Red Sea. (15:18)

(e) Miriam, to the women, in leading them in the Song of Miriam, sung in thanksgiving for the miracles at the Red Sea. (15:21)

(f) The Israelites, to Moses and Aaron. They were complaining about the food in the desert, looking at the past in Egypt with rose-colored spectacles. (16:3)

(g) Moses to the Israelite princes, when they reported the double portion they received on the sixth day of the week. (16:23)

(h) G-d to Moses – following the disobedience of certain Israelites who went out to gather the manna on the seventh day. (See the commentaries section for further explanation of this verse.) (16:28)

(i) Moses – in calling the place of the Israelite protest Masa U-Meriva (strife and quarrel). He records that they were ‘testing’ G-d, as they had contended ‘Is G-d amongst us or not?’ (17:7)

(j) According to the simple context of the verse, it is Moses declaring that war of G-d against Amalek shall be from generation to generation. Amalek is the permanent enemy of His people. (17:16)

Rabbi Fishel Todd

QUESTIONS ON RASHI TO PARASHAT BESHALACH

Rabbi Fishel Todd

From where, within Rashi’s commentary, may the following values / rules be found?

(a) One ought not to demand the impossible from one’s children.

(b) G-d makes Himself known to humanity as He enables good to triumph over evil.

(c) There is a time for prayer, and there is a time for action. The two should not be confused with each other.

(d) G-d punishes the wicked according to their degree of evil.

(e) G-d does not only bring distress to those who actually harass Israel, but to those far away who support the harassment.

(f) When a person complains and protests, he should do it in a decent manner.

(g) A person should ask for what he needs in whatever he is doing, not for luxuries.

(h) It is forbidden for a person to travel a substantial distance from his own settlement into an uninhabited area on Shabbat.

(i) G-d has His ways of supporting those who study Torah.

(j) It is important for a leader to give his people the benefit of the doubt.

(k) One should respect one’s students as one respects oneself.

ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON RASHI TO PARASHAT BESHALACH

(a) The text recalls that Joseph adjured his descendants that his final resting place should be in the Holy Land, and that his remains should be transferred there when the Israelites finally leave the country. Unlike his father Jacob, he did not command his children to bury him in the Holy Land immediately after his death. For Jacob had a son – Joseph the Viceroy of Egypt – with enough authority to carry it out: Joseph himself did not. (13:19)

(b) The text states that after Pharaoh pursues the Israelites, G-d ‘will be honored though Pharaoh’ – through the miracles forming His judgement over him. (14:4)

(c) As the Egyptians approached the fleeing Israelites, G-d told Moses not to stand in prayer, but to direct the Israelites to travel forward. (14:15)

(d) The text of the Song of Moses states that some of the Egyptians drowned ‘like stone’ (v.5), others ‘like straw’ (v.7) and yet others ‘like lead’ (v.10). This shows that each Egyptian was treated according to what he deserved. The worst were tossed about like weightless straw – incessantly thrown around – suffering the most. The best of the group sank like lead – a quick death, and those in the middle sank a little slower – like stone. (15:5)

(e) The text states that the ‘princes of Edom will panic, the powers of Moab will tremble’. (15:15) Even though these people did not actually oppress the Israelites, they are made to suffer deep unease and fear. This is because the power they had faith in and supported against the Israelites was hurled into the abyss in such a spectacular manner. (15:15)

(f) We may learn the importance of asking for essentials in a respectful manner in Rashi’s comment to 15:25 – where he states that the Israelites should have asked Moses to pray to G-d to send them water, rather than merely grumble to Moses and Aaron (15:24) about the lack of water.

(g) The Israelites complained about the lack of bread and meat in the desert. Bread is an essential – therefore the ‘bread from heaven’ fell at the convenient hour in the morning. Meat is a relative luxury – and in any case they still had cattle from the spoils of Egypt – therefore G-d showed His displeasure in bringing the quails at inconvenient evening hours. (16:8)

(h) G-d’s telling Moses that on the seventh day ‘everyone should remain in his place: let no person leave his place on the Sabbath day’ (16:29), is used as a source by the Talmud as a basis for the Rabbinical rule that a person may not travel more than two thousand cubits into uninhabited territory, and if he does, he may not travel more than four cubits until Shabbat is over.

(i) The text states that a small amount of Manna was to be set aside in a suitable container as a reminder to future generations that, as in the desert, G-d has His ways and means of looking after His people who serve Him (16:32-33).

(j) When the Israelites suffered thirst at Rephidim and they complained vociferously to Moses, he cried out to G-d with ‘what can I do for these people – they are about to stone me’! (17:4) Although the people did not protest in the most polite way, they did not personally threaten Moses. In G-d telling Moses to ‘pass before the people’ he was demonstrating to him that he should see for himself that the Israelites did not have violent intentions towards him even in the most extreme circumstances, and that he should have given them the benefit of the doubt.

(k) Moses is recorded to have told Joshua to ‘choose men for us’ (17:9) to go into battle against the Amalekites. Joshua was Moses’ student, yet he treated him as an equal…

QUESTIONS ON OTHER COMMENTARIES TO PARASHAT BESHALACH Rabbi Fishel Todd

Rabbi Fishel Todd

(a) Why, according to Ibn Ezra, did Moses tell the Israelites to wait for Divine Intervention against the pursuing Egyptians, rather than urge them to physically go into battle, as he did later with the Amlekites?

(b) Why, according to the Ohr Hachayim, did G-d tell Moses not to stand in prayer as the pursuing Egyptians approached, but to order the Israelites to go forward – into the Red Sea?

(c) What, according to the Ramban, is the relevance of ‘G-d shall reign for ever and ever’ (15:18) to the content of the Song of Moses?

(d) G-d declared that He would give a daily supply of food to the Israelites, so that He ‘would test them – whether they would follow… (the) Torah or not’. (16:4) What was that actual test according to Rashi, the Ramban, and the Ohr Hachayim?

(e) On Shabbat, some people went out to gather Manna and found none. For that, the text states, G-d said to Moses: ‘How long will you refuse to observe My commandments and My teachings?’ (16:28) Why was that rebuke directed at Moses instead of at the errant Israelites? – according to Rashi, and Ibn Ezra.

ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON OTHER COMMENTARIES TO PARASHAT BESHALACH

(a) Ibn Ezra suggests that the Israelites were incapable of fighting without miraculous Divine intervention, because generations of being slaves to the Egyptians had destroyed the necessary initiative and fighting acumen. That is why only Moses’ prayers enabled them to later overcome the Amalekites.

(b) The Ohr Hachayim states that this was not the time of prayer for the following reason. The Israelites had to have the merit of showing faith in G-d in order that they might be saved through Divine intervention. That was that they should ‘journey forth’ (14:15) – and demonstrate that faith by entering the Red Sea when it was in full flow… It would be that act of faith – not the prayers of Moses and Aaron – that would make them worthy of G-d’s salvation at the Red Sea.

(c) According to the Ramban, these words link the miracle of the Red Sea to G-d’s salvation in the future. Just as He destroyed the might of Egypt, so may He reign forever, saving His faithful from those who seek their harm.

(d) The test connected with the Manna was, according to Rashi, whether they would keep the intricate laws of Shabbat associated with it or not. The Ramban prefers a simpler interpretation – would the Israelites follow Me even though they do not have food for the next day? The Ohr Hachayim places the emphasis on ‘Torati’ (16:4) – now all their needs are taken care of, would they employ their free time to Torah study and service of G-d?

(e) According to Rashi, the rebuke was directed at Moses as he had failed to impress on the people that they were to receive a double portion on the sixth day for Shabbat. Ibn Ezra, however, argues that although the rebuke was directed at Moses, he was not its object – he was the spokesman to convey that message to those who were actually guilty Rabbi Fishel Todd.

ITEM FOR DISCUSSION ON PARASHAT BESHALACH

We read in the Hagadda shel Pesach that ‘in every generation they rise against us to destroy us, but the Holy One… saves us from their hands’. Of all our enemies why is the nation of Amalek – who was the grandson of Esau – singled out as the worst of all our attackers? as reflected in the Mitzva of ‘you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens’. (Deut. 25:19).

 

Rabbi Fishel Todd

 

Parsha Bo Rabbi Fishel Todd

PARASHAT BO
Haftarah: Yirmiyahu 46:13-28

http://shulchanaruchproject.com

Rabbi Fishel Todd

RABBIS’ MESSAGES

“Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Come to Pharaoh.’” (Shemot 10:1)

In Egypt, we became a great nation, united to receive the Torah. At the time, it only looked bad. We need to know how to think more deeply and see the wisdom and hesed of Hashem. The following story, told by Rabbi Yitzchok Hisiger, teaches us how to think.

The Skulener Rebbe’s oldest son, Rav Yeshaya Yaakov Portugal, Rav of Khal Meor Hagolah in Montreal, told the following story about an acquaintance of his, R’ Boruch. A large crystal chandelier in R’ Boruch’s home became dislodged and crashed onto the dining room table. Hearing a loud bang, R’ Boruch’s parents, who were in an adjacent room, ran to see what had happened. They were shocked to discover that the chandelier had landed on their infant grandchild, who was lying in an infant seat on the table. With great trepidation, they moved aside the fallen debris in a bid to get to the baby. They discovered that miraculously, despite the force of the fall and the shards of glass strewn all around, the baby was unharmed, without a scratch. The joy of the elated grandparents knew no bounds. They hugged and kissed the baby and ran to inform R’ Boruch of the miracle. The family later made a seudat hoda’ah (a meal of thanks) to express their gratitude to Hashem for what occurred Rabbi Fishel Todd.

In commenting on this incident, Rav Portugal remarked, “Look at the kindness of Hashem. For whatever reason, Heaven had decreed that R’ Boruch’s expensive crystal chandelier had to break, but this monetary loss would have caused great heartache to R’ Borcuh and his family. Thus, it was orchestrated for their infant baby to be on the table underneath the chandelier at that very moment and for the baby to emerge untouched, safe and sound. In this fashion, not only would R’ Boruch and his family not be distressed over their loss, but they would be full of happiness and would actually make a seudah in celebration.” It’s how we interpret the things that happen to us that makes all the difference. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Fishel Todd

“And the blood shall serve as a sign on the houses in which you are.” (Shemot 12:13)

This verse refers to the smearing of the blood from the Korban Pesah on the doorway of each Jewish home. Rashi explains that this sign shall be for you and not for others. Hence we may derive that the blood was smeared on the inside of the doorway. An important lesson may be learned here. Often we attempt to help others in the fulfillment of Torah and misvot, even at great sacrifice to ourselves. This may sometimes be at the expense of our own families. We are ready to sacrifice our time and energy for others, but are we finding time for our own personal study and self-development? The Torah enjoins us to establish in our homes Torah sessions for ourselves. We must be aware of our responsibilities to our own children, to guide and encourage them ourselves, not by proxy through tutors. We are obliged to do for ourselves and for our families that which we so readily do for others. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

Rabbi Fishel Todd

* * * * *

A quick tip to boost the power of your prayer. Hazal tell us (Masechet Baba Kama Daf 92A) that Hashem loves the tefilot of one Jew for another so much that anyone who prays on behalf of a fellow Jew with similar needs will have his prayer answered first. A special service has now begun to provide people with names of others who find themselves in a similar predicament. You can call with complete anonymity and get the name of someone to pray for and give the name of someone that needs our prayers. The name of the service is Kol Hamitpalel. Categories include: Marriage; Income; Health; To have children etc.

“Hashem granted the people favor in the eyes of Egypt” (Shemot 11:3) In the midst of the Egyptian exile of slavery, we find an unusual phenomenon. The Torah relates that, during the plagues, the Israelites were loved by the Egyptians. One would have expected the Egyptians to hate the Jews, blaming them for the suffering of the plagues. But, the Torah tells us that this was not the case. The population bore no grudge. The Egyptians said that the Jews had been righteous while they, the Egyptians, were the wicked ones.

Even more interesting is the fact that before the plagues began, the Jews tried to get close and friendly with the Egyptians. They picked up the Egyptian customs and gave great honor to the Egyptians. This didn’t help a bit; the Egyptians turned around and degraded the Jews and enslaved them.

The Ramban in Beresheet (37:16) says that the decrees of Hashem are true and will be born out, and man’s effort, at times, is futile. This means that when the Jews follow the decrees of Hashem all will turn out for the best. If, however, man decides instead to use his logic, he will not succeed. The experience of the Israelites confirms this rule. When they followed their own strategy it backfired. However, later on, when the Israelites followed Hashem’s will as told to them by Moshe, suddenly the Egyptians fell in love with the Jews.

This is a great lesson for us today. The more we become Jewish, the more the gentiles will love the Jews. Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi FIshel Todd

IN CONTROL
– Rabbi Fishel Todd

“All of your servants will come down to me…and he left Pharaoh’s presence in anger” (Shemot 11:8)

When Moshe was telling Pharaoh about the last plague, which was the death of every first born, he said to Pharaoh, “Your servants will come to me to ask me to leave, and that’s when I will leave Egypt.” Moshe didn’t say to Pharaoh, “You will come to me to ask me to leave,” even though that’s what really happened, because he didn’t want to show dishonor to the king of Egypt. This is truly amazing, because right at the end of this verse it says that Moshe stormed out of the palace in anger for the way Pharaoh had spoken to him. If someone is angry, does he still have the presence of mind to show honor and to speak in a certain way? This should reinforce to us the greatness of our leaders, such as Moshe Rabenu. Although he got angry at Pharaoh, he was in complete control of himself, down to the exact words with which he should speak to the king. Everything Moshe did was exactly measured in order to be able to do the will of Hashem.

Indeed, many of our great Sages followed in Moshe’s footsteps in this respect. There was a great Rabbi of the previous generation who once got angry at what his son had done, but waited two weeks, until he was totally in control of his emotions, before rebuking him! On the one hand, we can’t help but be in awe of such self-discipline, but on the other hand, we have to learn from them how to behave in such situations. How often do we fly off the handle just because we’re upset? Even in anger or frustration we must learn to stay in control and use the right words and the right tone of voice. We will be the real beneficiaries of such self-control. Shabbat Shalom.

COME WITH ME Rabbi Fishel Todd

“And also our cattle will go with us; not a hoof will be left behind, for from it we must take to serve G-d” (Shemot 10:26)

Why does it say, “our cattle will go” instead of “we will take”? When the prophet Eliyahu debated the false prophets of Ba’al, he challenged them to a test: He and they would separately bring sacrifices, and the G-d that accepted the offering would be recognized by all as the true G-d. The oxen were willing to be Eliyahu’s sacrifice but refused to be used by the false prophets of Ba’al. Eliyahu whispered to an ox that he should agree to be used by the false prophets, because the failure of their efforts would prove the falsehood of Ba’al worship, and through the ox there would be a great Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s name). Moshe told Pharaoh, “Even if we should agree to let our cattle remain in Egypt, it will be to no avail. For even if we do not take them, our cattle will go with us of their own volition, due to their deep desire to be used as sacrifices for Hashem.” (Vedibarta Bam)

PRIVATE

“And the blood shall serve as a sign on the houses in which you are” (Shemot 12:13)

Rashi explains that this sign shall be for you and not for others. Hence we may derive that the blood was smeared on the inside of the house.

The principal reason for smearing the blood on the inside of the threshold was for the Jew to comprehend the importance of self-sacrifice in the privacy of his home. He must concentrate on the inner dimensions of his personality. The essence of the Jewish act is not the one performed on the public stage, but the one performed on the inner stage, when the audience is only Hashem. The only audience to which a Jew should attach significance is the audience of Hashem. Inner heroism and self-sacrifice is the hallmark of a Ben Yisrael.

Another lesson may be learned here. Often we will attempt to help others in the fulfillment of Torah and Misvot, even at great sacrifice to ourselves. This may be at the expense and the neglect of our own families. We will sacrifice our time and energy for others, but will we find time for our personal study and self-development? The Torah enjoins us to establish in our homes Torah sessions for ourselves. We must be aware of our responsibilities to our own children, to guide and encourage them ourselves, not by proxy through tutors. We are obliged to do for ourselves and our families that which we so readily do for others. (Peninim on the Torah)

Rabbi Fishel Todd

THE HAFTARAH CONNECTION

This week’s Haftarah: Yirmiyahu 46:13-28.

In this haftarah, the prophet Yirmiyahu is sent by Hashem to tell Nebuchadnessar, king of Babylon, to attack Egypt. He then describes the complete devastation of Egypt, similar to the theme of this week’s perashah.

The haftarah ends with Hashem’s assurance that he will save Israel from all their enemies, and although he will punish Israel with justice, he will never wipe them out.

Rabbi Fishel Todd

“And each man should borrow from his [Egyptian] neighbor, silver and gold vessels” (Shemot 11:2)

As we read about the final stages of the Exodus from Egypt, Hashem takes care of a promise He made to Abraham Abinu. Hashem promised that when they leave Egypt, they would go with great wealth. In Perashat Shemot (3:22) Hashem predicts to Moshe that the Jewish people will “borrow” from the Egyptians great wealth. In our perashah, Hashem requests of Moshe to actually tell the Jews to borrow from the Egyptians great wealth of gold and silver. This seems a little strange. If Hashem wants to give the Egyptian wealth to the Jews, couldn’t Hashem find a way that would not leave the Jews beholden to the Egyptians? Rabbi M. Shlov explained in a humorous vein that human nature is such that a person who owes something to someone else is careful to avoid his creditor. Therefore to ensure that the Jews will never return to Egypt, he instructed them to borrow valuable items from them.

If one would analyze the verse in Shemot (3:22) that first mentions this concept of borrowing the wealth, we might notice that the wording is a bit difficult. It says, “They would borrow gold and silver and clothing to put onto their sons and daughters.” Why doesn’t it simply state that they should “dress their children” instead of the more awkward phrase “to put onto their sons and daughters?”

The Pardes Yosef explains that, as we know, the Jews in Egypt retained their own style of dress. They could not possibly just take the Egyptian clothing and dress their own children in them. They had to first alter them and adapt them to their own modest style. These alterations would make the clothing much smaller than their original size, just fit to be “put onto their children.”

This is a profound lesson for us. If the Jews, who were subject to intense persecutions, did not give in to the immodest dress styles of the Egyptian society, why should we? May the merit of reclaiming our heritage of modesty bring about the speedy end of our current exile. Shabbat Shalom.

REMINDERS
by Rabbi Fishel Todd

“And the blood shall be a sign for you on [the doorposts of] the houses.” (Shemot 12:13)

The Jewish people were commanded to slaughter the sheep as the Korban Pesah and put its blood on the doorposts of their houses. In that way G-d would see the blood and pass over their houses during the plague of the Destruction of the Firstborn. We would therefore assume that the blood should be put on the outside of their homes. Rashi tells us that in fact they were to put the blood on the inside, where they themselves could see it, and it should be a sign for them.

The message we can derive from here is that putting the blood was not just an arbitrary act which would protect them. By slaughtering the sheep, which was worshipped by the Egyptians, they showed that they were breaking their ties to any idol-worship that they might have had. In order to reinforce this, they put the blood on the inside of the doorposts so that they themselves could see it and be strengthened in their resolve to abandon idol-worship.

Although a person can make a resolution to become better, when he sees a constant reminder of his resolve, this gives him the strength to go even further. Hashem saw this zechut (merit) of the blood and therefore passed over their houses to protect them, since He saw their commitment to serve Hashem exclusively. We would do well to apply this to our own lives and try to reinforce our acceptance of certain positive traits by seeing how the negative traits are not good for us. This will help us serve Hashem better.

Shabbat Shalom.

TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL
Rabbi Fishel Todd

“You shall tell you son on that day, saying, ‘Because of this Hashem acted on my behalf when I left Egypt'” (Shemot 13:8)

It is a holy duty for a father to educate his children, to act as a spiritual guide for them. According to the Rambam, the commandment to educate children is fulfilled especially when the father gears his lesson to the child’s understanding. If we approach the issue sensitively, and respond with courtesy and care to questions the child might pose, and address him as an individual, taking into consideration his unique needs and abilities, the child will understand the spirit of what we are trying to teach him. There is hope that he will arrive at full understanding and be convinced of the truth of what we are teaching him.

A father must even use his belongings as collateral for a loan if he needs funds to educate his children properly. The Rav of Lublin sees this from the laws concerning the implements of the Bet Hamikdash. All of the holy implements must be made of gold, but if gold is unavailable, they may be made of silver. There is one exception. That is the cherubim. They must be made of gold, and nothing else. The cherubim represent Jewish children. Their education is the only insurance of Israel’s eternity. We must use our energy and resources to the maximum to ensure that Jewish education be of the highest quality. One must never be satisfied with cheap substitutes for the best. In the end, this is the best investment. What might seem economical in the short run, will cost dearly in the long run, and in the World to Come. Shabbat Shalom.

IT’S YOUR CHOICE

“Come to Pharaoh for I have made his heart stubborn” (Shemot 10:1)

Many commentators ask: How could Hashem have hardened Pharaoh’s heart? Did He really take away Pharaoh’s free will to decide whether to let B’nei Yisrael go?

Yalkut Ma’amarim answers with a story. A Jew once had a financial dispute with a non-Jew, and the non-Jew took him to court. Before the case was scheduled to begin, the Jew sent an expensive gift to the judge who would be presiding over the case. The judge asked him, “How could you send me a bribe? Doesn’t your Torah state that a person who receives a bribe will be unable to judge fairly? Rabbi Fishel Todd”

The Jew answered, “If you had been a Jew, and the two parties standing before you were also Jews, then you would be impartial to each of the two parties. Then if one of them would give you a bribe, you would be swayed to his side. However, in this situation, you are already leaning to the side of the non-Jew, so I sent you the bribe simply to even the scale and get an impartial judgment.”

This can explain why Hashem hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Pharaoh’s true desire was to deny B’nei Yisrael the right to leave Egypt. The suffering from the plagues was so intense that they were forcing him go against his desire, almost against his will. In effect, Pharaoh at this point, had no free will. So Hashem hardened his heart in order to remove some of the fear of the plagues, so that Pharaoh could once again have his free will to make his own decision. (Lekah Tob)

WHO’S TO BLAME?

Rabbi Fishel Todd

“An uncircumcised male may not eat of it” (Shemot 12:48)

One who is uncircumcised may not partake of the Korban Pesah. The sacrifice celebrating our liberation from bondage demands that one be aligned with the Jewish people if he is to share in their freedom. The story is told that Rav Chaim Brisker once came to an inn at St. Petersburg to join in a halachic conference. The question arose regarding the acceptability of children whose parents did not circumcise them. The majority of the Rabbis argued that a child who was not circumcised may not be included in a community’s Jewish register. It was their way of censuring those assimilated Jews who rejected Berit Milah as their way of showing disdain against what they felt was an archaic religion. The consensus was that by excluding these children from the register, their renegade parents may change their minds about circumcision.

Hearing their decision, Rav Chaim emphatically demanded, “Show me where it says that an uncircumcised child is not a Jew! I understand that he is prohibited from eating Kedoshim and Terumah. He may also not eat of the Korban Pesah. But where does it say that he is not Jewish? Why blame the child for the fault of the father?”

One of the speakers at the conference recounted that, in the city of Warsaw, a certain Jew refused to circumcise his son. After a while the child became ill and died. The community leaders did not permit this child to be buried in the Jewish cemetery. Most of the attendees at this conference agreed with the decision of the Warsaw community who took this stand. The only one who protested was Rav Chaim Brisker. “There is no halachah that forbids an uncircumcised child from being buried in a Jewish cemetery. While there are certain areas that exclude an ‘arel,’ burial in a Jewish cemetery is not one of them. If you’re concerned about making a safeguard to serve as a deterrent against assimilation, don’t take it out on the children. Take it out on the parents. Don’t bury the father who refuses to have his child circumcised!” This reaction was applauded by many – even those who were alienated from Torah and misvot. Rav Chaim had the courage to place the blame where it belonged. It would serve us well to attempt to conjure up some of this same courage.

Rabbi Fishel Todd

PARASHAT VA-EIRA Rabbi Fishel Todd

PARASHAT VA-EIRA

Rabbi Fishel Todd
Rabbi Fishel Todd

QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT AND ON RASHI’S COMMENTARY ON PARASHAT VAEIRA Rabbi Fishel Todd

Questions marked with a * refer to Rashi’s commentary.

1. *How may the opening words ‘I am G-d. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’, be seen as G-d’s rebuke to Moses?

2. *Why are the genealogies of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi – but no other tribes, listed in this Parasha?

3. Did G-d actually ‘harden Pharaoh’s heart’ as He declared he would before the Plagues commenced?

4. What fraction of his life had Moses spent by the time he stood before Pharaoh on the threshold of the Ten Plagues?

5. Which plagues were initiated by Aaron, *and why?

6. How do the text and *Rashi’s commentary suggest that the third plague – that of lice – was a greater miracle than the first two?

7. In which two places in the text does Pharaoh actually break his word?

8. How did the fates of the frogs in the second plague differ from the wild animals in the fourth plague, *and why?

9. What, according to the text, were the true purposes of the Plagues?

10. *Moses declared that he had to actually leave the city to pray for the hail and fire to stop crashing down. Why?

 

ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT AND ON RASHI’S COMMENTARY ON PARASHAT VAEIRA Rabbi Fishel Todd

1. This is for the following reason. The end of the previous Parasha relates Moses’ protest to G-d that his mission had caused the lot of His people to deteriorate instead of to improve. The opening words of this Parasha relate the substance of G-d’s reply to Moses – in the form of a sharp castigation. G-d speaks harshly to Moses, and He compares him unfavorably with the Patriarchs who maintained their faith without complaint, even though they went through much suffering and anguish and did not live to see the fulfillment of G-d’s promises to their descendants. By contrast, Moses’ protest: ‘Why have you done evil to this people? Why did you send me?’ (5:22) implied lack of faith even when told that the Redemption was at hand.

2. The simple explanation (actually expanded by the Ramban) is to illustrate that Reuben and his tribe retained the rights of the firstborn in regards to genealogy – that right not extending to Moses and Aaron however great they were. Rashi, quoting Midrashic sources, states that the Torah confirms the first three tribes’ importance despite Jacob’s sharply reproving them before his death.

3. Although G-d said that He would ‘harden Pharaoh’s heart’ (7:3), he did not actually do so until after the sixth plague (9:12). This issue is discussed by the commentaries and taken up in answer to question 3 in the next section.

4. Moses was already eighty – two thirds of the way to his hundred and twenty years – at the time he stood before Pharaoh (7:7), on the threshold on initiating the events that were to set the Exodus in to motion.

5. The first three plagues: blood, frogs, and lice, were initiated by Aaron and his stick. The reason Rashi gives broadly follows the principle of ‘do not cast stones into the well from which you drank’. Thus Aaron, rather than Moses, used the stick to make the Nile turn to blood and expel the frogs onto dry land, and the dust to turn into lice. Such an action done by Moses would have shown ingratitude to the waters of the Nile which were instrumental in saving his life as a baby, and to the dust of Egypt which concealed the dead Egyptian that he himself struck.

Rabbi Fishel Todd
Rabbi Fishel Todd

6. The text states that although Egyptians sorcerers could replicate the first two plagues, turning dust into lice was beyond them (8:14). Rashi implies that units of dust are too small for sorcerers to work on.

7. Pharaoh declared after the fourth and seventh plagues that he would release the Israelites to serve G-d in the wilderness, but on both occasions he changed his mind after the plagues stopped, thus breaking his word.

8. The frogs did not return to the Nile, but died on land and putrefied it (8:9-10). ‘He (G-d) removed the wild animals… not one remained’. (8:27) Rashi states that dead animals had commercial value for hides; dead frogs were foul-smelling and useless. The plagues were for the enrichment of the Egyptians.

9. The true purpose of the Plagues was not only to put increasing pressure on Pharaoh to release the Israelites, but to establish in Egypt that G-d is the Almighty and above all humans and idolatry. ((7:4-5)

10. The reason is that Pharaoh’s metropolis – rife with idolatry – was an unsuitable location to approach the Divine Presence in prayer. From that, it may be learnt that one should only pray in appropriate surroundings Rabbi Fishel Todd.

QUESTIONS ON OTHER COMMENTARIES TO THE TEXT OF PARASHAT VAEIRA

1. What, according to Rabbeinu Bachya, are the precise events alluded to by the four expressions of redemption (6:6-7) which have since been linked with the four cups of wine at the Seder?

2. The Holy Land promised to the Israelites is not merely a ‘yerusha’ – an inheritance, but a ‘morasha’ (6:8) – a heritage. What is the meaning of that difference according to the Ha-emek Davar?

3. In the first five plagues, ‘Pharaoh’s heart hardened’ and in the final plagues ‘G-d hardened Pharaoh’s heart’. The latter implies that Pharaoh had no free choice – in the later plagues, he could not have released the Israelites even if he wanted to. How does this justify the further plagues and suffering for not releasing the Israelites – according to (a) Rashi, and (b) the Sforno?

4. The Hagada relates that R. Judah groups the Ten Plagues into three: ‘detzach, adash, be-achav’. What, according to Marcus Lehmann (in Lehmann’s Passover Hagada) is the point that Rabbi Judah is making?

ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON OTHER COMMENTARIES TO THE TEXT OF PARASHAT VAEIRA Rabbi Fishel Todd

1. According to Rabbeinu Bachya, the four expressions of Redemption refer to four very specific stages of the process, namely:

(a) ‘Vehotzeiti’ – I shall take you out (from the burdens of Egypt) – subsequently linked to the first cup of wine – denotes the end of the actual slavery which, following Rabbinic tradition, stopped some six months before the actual Exodus.

(b) ‘Vehitzalti’ – I shall save you – subsequently linked to the second cup of wine – refers to the actual leaving of Egypt.

(c) ‘Vegaalti’ – I shall rescue you – subsequently linked to the third cup of wine – refers to the splitting of the Red Sea in the face of the pursuing Egyptians.

(d) ‘Velakachti’ – and I shall take you – subsequently linked to the fourth cup of wine – links with the spiritual climax of the Redemption: the Revelation at Mount Sinai.

2. The Ha-mek Davar makes the following distinction between ‘yerusha’ and ‘morasha’. The former is something that belongs to the person when he is in possession of it. The latter is connected with the person even when not in possession. Thus the Holy Land was a ‘morasha’ to the Israelites even when they were slaves in Egypt and throughout all the succeeding exiles.

3. According to Rashi, G-d did actually deprive Pharaoh of free choice after the sixth plague, as the text states that He ‘hardened Pharaoh’s heart’. That is because his level of corruption was of such a degree that G-d’s only purpose in keeping him alive was to use him as a means of demonstrating His Power and His Might (7:5), and the implied folly of relying on sorcery and idolatry. The Sforno understands the words ‘G-d hardened Pharaoh’s heart’ differently to Rashi. They do not mean that he took away his free choice, but that he expected a higher degree of repentance. G-d’s hardening Pharaoh’s heart meant that He gave Pharaoh more strength to absorb the suffering of the plagues. Were he to repent, it would not be because of the pain, but out of sincere and true repentance; in the spirit of acknowledging that ‘G-d is the righteous and that I (Pharaoh) and my people are the wicked’. (9:27)

4. According to Lehmann, the rhythm of ‘detzach, adash, be-achav’ is the rhythn of the plagues. The Nile turned to blood – outside people’s homes. The frogs actually entered the houses, and the lice went one better – got into people’s actual flesh. Logically the next plague should have killed the people off entirely – instead, the wild animals terrorized those outside near the wild, the pestilence went a little closer affecting property (cattle), and then the boils, like the lice, actually got to the people themselves. With the seventh plague the cycle repeats itself… the hail destroyed crops outside, the locusts were a little more intimate, but it was the darkness which, like the lice and the boils, actually bought normal existence to a stop. (Thus the three cycles of ‘far, closer, and closer’ were a ‘three time warning’ to Pharaoh.) But after the Plague of Darkness, Pharaoh did not see it that way. Instead, he assumed that the next plague would be the start of the fourth cycle. He was wrong – as he ignored the first three sets of warnings, the tenth plague was the logical extension of the third cycle: further away / closer / still closer / and then (at the Killing of the Firstborn) closest: namely death.

Rabbi Fishel Todd
Rabbi Fishel Todd

ISSUES FOR DISCUSSION ON PARASHAT VAYEIRA

1. Moses spoke before G-d: “Behold the Israelites have not listened to me – how will Pharaoh listen to me? I have sealed lips” (6:12). Bereishit Rabba (92:7) states that this is one of the ten times where the kal va-homer (a fortiori deduction) appears in the Torah. Why was Moses so sure that Pharaoh would not listen to him? And in addition, why didn’t Moses give the more obvious reason – that he had been unsuccessful, as G-d had told him, and it was now time for Him to intervene? G-d had told Moses that the Redemption from Egypt would not take place through Moses directly, but through Divine intervention: For I know the King of Egypt will not let you go… I shall set forth My Hand and smite Egypt… and afterwards he will let you go (3:19-20). Moses and Aaron had already pleaded to Pharaoh once, and he responded by intensifying the sufferings of the enslaved Israelites.

2. The Passover Hagadda links the ‘strong hand’ and the ‘outstretched arm’ to the Plagues that G-d imposed on Pharaoh and the Egyptians, to persuade them to release the Israelites. As the Hagadda relates:’With a strong hand’ – that is the plague of pestilence (fatal animal disease), as Moses warned Pharaoh, ‘Behold the Hand of G-d is on your animals – horses, donkeys, camels, cattle, sheep, and goats, to bring them a very heavy pestilence’ (9:3). Why was the ‘strong hand’ of the Exodus related specifically to the plague of pestilence – the fifth out of the ten plagues? What special qualities did the death of the Egyptians’ domestic animals possess over and above the other plagues, so that it was the crucial one that helped the Israelite Exodus to take place?

 

Rabbi Fishel Todd

Parsha Shemot Rabbi Fishel Todd

Rabbi Fishel Todd

Moses grew up went amongst his people and observed their burdens… (2:11)

http://shulchanaruchproject.com

The Torah records little about the early life of Moses. By the time he ‘stood before Pharaoh’ he was already 80 years old (7:7): and entering the last third of his life.

What is recorded develops with three incidents where he firmly and effectively applies the principles of leadership and social justice. These bring out the vital characteristics Moses needed to do his life’s work. That was to found the Israelites as distinct people: a ‘holy nation’ (19:6). It was his task to deliver and enforce the message of G-d. That would determine the precise terms of their being able to be, and continue as, a ‘holy nation’.

Rabbi FIshel Todd
Rabbi Fishel Todd

These leadership features are within the fabric of the stories. He needed courage, and at the same time discretion: when he saw the Egyptian beating the Hebrew ‘he looked this way and that way and saw no man. He struck the Egyptian…’ (2:12) There was courage, and yet discretion. He was no more sympathetic to the Hebrew who was beating a fellow Hebrew (2:13). There was consistency in justice; not one law for insiders and another for outsiders. He intervened on behalf of Jethro’s daughters, who were being unfairly elbowed and shoveled by the brawny shepherds to the back the queue (2:17). Might was not to conquer right. And he also knew his place in the hierarchy. He was given seemingly impossible orders by G-d to put the Exodus in motion. He did not fear to voice his gravest doubts and ask for help, but still placed himself in G-d’s hands (4:10-18).

Rabbi Fishel Todd These qualities balanced humility before the Creator with the vital qualities of leadership, justice, determination, and impartiality needed to win the confidence and command of the nation.

Yet there is one thing that is missing from the account. That is Moses previous experience as a leader of an important division of the Egyptian army, for Pharaoh. There are records (both in the Midrash and in Josephus, as well as a passing hint in ‘the Ethiopian wife that Moses married’ – Num. 12:1), but the text is silent about Moses’ previous successful campaign on behalf of Pharaoh on the southern border of the Egypt against the people of Ethiopia.

The reason for the silence could be as follows. It is to teach that new tasks are precisely that. Some values – humility before G-d, courage, determination, and social justice are applicable to all situations. Others are counterproductive. Indeed many people who transfer positions in life are unsuccessful because they will not learn the job afresh. They just put ditto marks and say: ‘It’s one more job, it should (and it better had) be like the last place’.

Moses knew that. The Israelites were not the Egyptian army. They were a very difficult group of people who did not have Pharaoh’s backing in carrying out Moses’ orders. His previous experience was not only irrelevant, but potentially counterproductive – had he led the Israelites as though it was an army, he would have failed.

Instead – it was back to the drawing board – with the burning bush.

 

 

Rabbi Fishel Todd A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph. He said to his people: ‘Behold! The children of Israel are too many and too mighty for us…’ So they appointed taskmasters over them in order to afflict them with their work… (1:8-11)

The text relates how the rapidly-grown Israelite population in Egypt was frightening the host population. On one hand, their loyalty to Pharaoh and Egypt was beginning to become suspect. On the other, they were too useful a sub-group for Pharaoh to be permitted to leave the country.

The Ohr HaChayim translates the word mi-menu ‘from us’. He suggests that the words Pharaoh used to incite his population against the Israelites were: ‘The children of Israel are too many and too mighty – and that came from us – the Egyptians’. In other words: ‘They flourished at our expense – by taking advantage of our hospitality during and after the famine (c.f. Gen. 47:21,27). And now is the time to take back what really belongs to our own people’.

No mention of it being Joseph’s wisdom that kept them alive. Had Joseph not organized the Egyptian land, finance (and effectively become the first Israelite banker), and grain reserves, they would have no longer been around. As they themselves declared generations ago: ‘It is you that has kept us alive’ (Gen. 47:25).

This aspect of selective memory shows how it is possible to put together a series of facts each not necessarily false, but when joined together give a picture that is an entire distortion of the truth. It is that principle which has been the basis of much anti-Semitism ever since. When they were needed, the Jews were treated well. When it was in the national interests to treat them with suspicion or dispense with them completely, the selective memory came into play.

And further light on this subtle form of anti-Semitism is shown in the story of the conflict between the shepherds of Isaac with the shepherds of Gerar (the host population) over the well that Isaac’s servants had dug. (Remember that the Patriarchs had lots of sheep and cattle, with local water shortages keeping them on the move until towards the end of Jacob’s life when the lack of water made them move down to Egypt.)

Rabbi Fishel Todd
Rabbi Fishel Todd

As the text states:

Isaac’s servants dug in the valley. They found a well of fresh water. The servants of Gerar quarreled with the servants of Isaac saying: ‘The water belongs to us’ (Gen. 26:19-20).

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch observes that Isaac’s servants supplied the initiative labor, but King Abimelech’s servants – the servants of Gerar – claimed that the water was theirs. He emphasizes that ‘the enterprise and the work was yours, but the products are ours’ is the part of the mechanics of anti-Semitism. Even when there would have been no water at all, but for the initiative of Isaac’s servants…

Similarly with Pharaoh and the Israelites – ‘the initiative for saving us was theirs, but the benefits are all ours…’

Haftorah Shemos

“So in an obscure speech and a foreign tongue they [the prophets] speak to this nation. But who will say to them, ‘This is transquility, bestow it to the weary, this is inner happiness!’–for they do not want to listen.” (Isaiah 27:11-12)

Rabbi Fishel Todd Picture for a moment the life of the Jew in seventeenth century Europe. He is shut out from most occupations; he lives in a walled-in ghetto area. He is always in danger of attack from the Gentiles who surround him, and who have been known in the past to attack and plunder his community on one pretext or another. When he travels outside the ghetto walls, he is eyed with mistrust by the non-Jews, who feel no affinity with him.

But within the home! There we find another scenario. There is found peace and harmony. On the Shabbos, the candles bestow their glow over a home transformed and infused with the radiance of the holy Shabbos day. The old, faded bookshelves hold the precious, worn out sefarim over which the man pores late into the night. There in the home the Jew may find respite from all the hardships, all the travails which await him outside. “This is tranquility, bestow it to the weary, this is inner happiness!” The sanctity-filled life which the Jew led made all the difficulties bearable; indeed, through it he was even able to find cheer and inner peace, despite the obstacles which the world heaped before him.

Rabbi Fishel Todd Now let us shift the scene and envision this man’s einekle (descendent) two centuries hence. The walls of the ghetto have come tumbling down, the world lies invitingly before him. Intoxicated with the spirit of the new era, our friend has drunk deeply of the world’s culture. He is a man of taste. He can rub shoulders with the highest born and the urbane sophisticates. On a shelf at home he possesses a fine bound copy of Mendelsohn’s Biur, the commentary of the Pentateuch written in classic, flowing German. The book has gathered quite a bit of dust from years of sitting usused on the shelf. For the Torah, though translated now into the rich cadences of the German tongue, has ceased to speak his language. “In an obscure speech and a foreign tongue they speak to this nation.” The Torah’s teachings fail to resonate in the ear of our newly Enlightened friend.

Rabbi Fishel Todd
Rabbi Fishel Todd

If we find that the Torah’s words don’t strike true in our own hearts, then we must look within ourselves. These same words provided solace to countless of our ancestors in generations past; if they now appear to be foreign ideas, then it can only be we who have distanced ourselves. Hashem’s teachings are tailor-made especially for us; they alone contain the key which can enable us to truly understand ourselves. It is our job to relearn the language.

Rabbi Fishel Todd