Parsha Shemot Rabbi Fishel Todd

Rabbi Fishel Todd

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

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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

 

Parsha Miketz Rabbi Fishel Todd

Rabbi Fishel Todd discusses Parshas Mikeitz(76)

Rabbi Fishel Todd

 

Rashi teaches us the meaning of a familiar word

Genesis 42:34

“And bring your younger brother to me and I will know that you are not spies but that you are honest; your brother, (Simon) I will give back to you and you can travel the land.”

RASHI

And you can travel the land. Rashi: [It means literally] you can travel around the land. All such words [ in Hebrew] as ‘socharim’ (merchants) and ‘sechora’ (merchandise) are derived from the fact that they travel around ( in Hebrew ‘sechor’ = around) after business.

WHAT IS RASHI SAYING ?

Rashi tells us the meaning of the word ’tischoru’. The root is ‘s’chor’ which literally means ‘around’, but frequently it has the derived meaning of doing business, because businessmen travel around a lot.

RASHI’S STYLE IN TEACHING WORD MEANINGS

Rashi often tells us the meaning of words in the Torah. When he teaches us the meaning of a strange or rare word there is no problem. His comment is necessary because we need his help. But when he teaches us the meaning of a familiar word, which he does occasionally, we have two questions. 1) Why the need to teach us the meaning of a familiar word? & 2) If the word has already appeared in the Torah why didn’t Rashi tell us its meaning the first time it appeared?

Which question would you ask of Rashi?

Hint: See verses above 23: 16; 34:10; and 37:28.

Your Question:

QUESTIONING RASHI

A Question: We see from that this word has already appeared in the Torah several times. Why did Rashi wait until now to teach us its meaning?

Can you see a reason for this?

Hint: Note that this verse is spoken by the brothers to Jacob; they are quoting what Joseph had said to them. You can see the exact quote of Joseph in verse 42:20. Is there a difference between what Joseph actually said and what they quoted him as saying?

EXAMINING THE VERSE CLOSELY

Rabbi Fishel Todd Answer: Of course there is a difference. All that Joseph said was that if they bring their younger brother then they will be believed that they are not spies. He said nothing about “sechora”.

So why did the brothers add this gratuitous phrase?

Can you think of an answer?

Your Answer:

A CLOSER LOOK

An Answer: The brothers were on the defensive, since they returned without Simon. They didn’t tell their father Jacob everything. They did not tell him that Simon was being held in prison. They wanted to convince Jacob to release Benjamin in their custody so they could get the needed food in Egypt. Perhaps they figured that if they reported the man was very cold and distant Jacob would remain hesitant and fearful. So they improved on what he had actually said a bit; they said he would then consider them as foreigners in good standing and they could even tour the country freely.

HOW HAS RASHI TAUGHT US THIS?

Rashi too was bothered by the way the brothers misquoted Joseph’s words. He understood that this was done intentionally. Their use of the word “tischoru’ must mean “travel around” freely and not have its usual meaning of doing business. If the word meant to do business this would mean that Joseph jumped from suspecting them as spies and restricting their movement to allowing them become equal to all citizens, permitted to do business in his country! No. That would sound too strange to Jacob. So their meaning must that the man considered them to be in good standing and permitted to travel freely through the country. That sounded reasonable. It is for this reason that Rashi says the word does not mean business here, which usually does; it means just to travel around.

And it is for this reason that Rashi did not have to tell us the meaning of the word ‘sechoruha’ above (Genesis 34:10) because in that verse it had its usually meaning of doing business and Rashi assumed we knew its meaning. Only here where it does not mean to do business does Rashi need to enlighten us.

AN INTERESTING NOTE Rabbi Fishel Todd

It is interesting and enlightening to note that even these reasonable words still did not convince Jacob to let them take Benjamin. It was only Judah later (42:3- 10) who put everything on the table in a straightforward, unadorned manner that Jacob finally conceded to let Benjamin go with them.

Rabbi Fishel Todd

Genesis 42:2″And he said ‘Behold, I have heard that there are provisions in Egypt. Go down there and purchase for us there, that we may live and not die.’ “RASHIGo down there: RASHI: He did not say ‘go’ (but rather ‘Go down’) This is a hint to the two hundred and ten years that they (the Nation Israel) were to be enslaved in Egypt. For the Hebrew word “R’du” (Go down) is numerically 210.”Look at Rashi on verse Genesis 45:9.Do you have a question on our Rashi-comment?Your Question:QUESTIONING RASHIA Question: This Rashi comment assumes that the word “go” (“l’chu” in Hebrew) is more appropriate than “r’du’. But this is not so. Rashi himself has tells us further on (Genesis 45:9) that EretzYisrael is higher than all other lands, thus when speaking of going to Eretz Yisrael the Torah uses the word “alu” (“go up”) and conversely when one leaves Eretz Yisrael the Torah uses the word “to go down.” So Jacob’s word here – “go down there (to Egypt)” is appropriate. How can Rashi imply that he should have said “go” and not “go down”?A difficult question.Can you think of an answer?Hint: Look carefully at verse 45:9. That verse speaks of “going up” and our verse speaks of “going down”. But can you see another difference between our verse and that one?Your Answer:UNDERSTANDING RASHIAn Answer: Rashi’s point is well taken. Because while the Torah uses the words “going up” and “going down” when coming to and leaving Eretz Yisrael, Jacob does not. See verse Genesis 45:28 where it says: “And Israel (Jacob) said: It is great that my son Joseph is still alive. I will go (Hebrew “ailcha”) and see him before I die.” So we see that when Jacob speaks of going to Egypt he himself uses the word “to go.” And not “go down.” Thus Rashi’s focusing on Jacob’s use of the word “go down” in our verse is correct. So Jacob himself should not have used the word “r’du”, though the Torah itself does. He must have used this word because it had other connotations in this context. His word “going down” has a negative connotation and implied going down into slavery – for 210 years.A LESSONThe Torah’s words as a narrative may be quite different from an individual’s quote in the Torah. There are other instances in the Torah where this is the case. The lesson is to closely examine Rashi’s comments, especially when it seems that he contradicts himself. He was quite careful in his choice of words and in his comments.Shabbat ShalomV’Chanuka SomayachAvigdor Bonchek “What’s Bothering Rashi?” is a product of the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries Rabbi Fishel Todd.

Parashas Miketz (5762)

Rashi makes us aware that we hadn’t fully understood the Torah verse. But first we must understand Rashi!

Genesis 42:23

RASHI

For the interpreter was between them: RASHI: For when they had spoken to him there was an interpreter between them who knew both the Hebrew and the Egyptian languages. He interpreted their words to Joseph and Joseph’s words to them. Consequently they were under the impression that Joseph did not understand the Hebrew language.

What is your question on Rashi?

QUESTIONING RASHI

A Question:

Rashi seems to be telling us what the Hebrew word “ mailitz” (interpreter) means. He certainly could have told us that in much less words. Why is he belaboring the point? What is bothering him?

Hint:

Read the Torah sentence again and ask yourself what it says.

“And they did not know that Joseph understood, because the interpreter was between them.”

What question would you ask on this verse? Does that make sense to you?

WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?

Your Answer:

An Answer:

Of course it doesn’t make sense! Because the interpreter was between them, they didn’t think that Joseph understood? Quite the contrary, only because the translator was between them, could Joseph understand what they were saying.

Now look at Rashi’s comment and see how he explains away this question. Do you understand?

Your Answer:

UNDERSTANDING RASHI

An Answer:

By the addition of a word or two, Rashi solves the problem. Rashi says; “When they had spoken to him there was a translator between them.” Rashi conveniently puts the verse in the past tense. Meaning that since in their previous conversations with Joseph, the translator had been present, they assumed that he didn’t understand Hebrew. But now the translator wasn’t present (for they weren’t speaking to Joseph) so they could freely speak among themselves.

In his effortless manner, Rashi points out the correct meaning of the verse.

Rabbi Fishel Todd

Parashas Miketz

Rashi makes us aware that we hadn’t fully understood the Torah verse.
But first we must understand Rashi!

Genesis 42:23

For the interpreter was between them: Rashi: For when they had spoken to him there was an interpreter between them who knew both the Hebrew and the Egyptian languages. He interpreted their words to Joseph and Joseph’s words to them. Consequently they were under the impression that Joseph did not understand the Hebrew language.

What is your question on Rashi?

 

 

Questioning Rashi

A Question:

Rashi seems to be telling us what the Hebrew word “ mailitz” (interpreter) means. He certainly could have told us that in much less words. Why is he belaboring the point? What is bothering him?

Hint:

Read the Torah sentence again and ask yourself what it says.

 

 

And they did not know that Joseph understood, because the interpreter was between them.

What question would you ask on this verse? Does that make sense to you?

 

 

What Is Bothering Rashi?

Your Answer:

An Answer:

Of course it doesn’t make sense! Because the interpreter was between them, they didn’t think that Joseph understood? Quite the contrary, only because the translator was between them, could Joseph understand what they were saying.

Now look at Rashi’s comment and see how he explains away this question. Do you understand?

 

 

Understanding Rashi

An Answer :

By the addition of a word or two, Rashi solves the problem. Rashi says; “When they had spoken to him there was a translator between them.” Rashi conveniently puts the verse in the past tense. Meaning that since in their previous conversations with Joseph, the translator had been present, they assumed that he didn’t understand Hebrew. But now the translator wasn’t present (for they weren’t speaking to Joseph) so they could freely speak among themselves.

Rabbi Fishel Todd

In his effortless manner, Rashi points out the correct meaning of the verse.

 

Parashas Miketz

 

 

The suspenseful story of Joseph and his brothers is reaching a fever pitch in this week’s sedra. On Verse 42:23 it says:

“And he (Joseph) turned away from them and wept and he returned to them again and spoke to them and then took Shimon from them and he bound him up in front of them.”

RASHI

“Shimon”: Rashi: He had thrown him into the pit etc. See the full comment there.

Of course the big question is & this is what Rashi is dealing with: Why suddenly did Joseph grab Shimon of all brothers to put in jail? Notice that the Torah mentions Shimon by name. It wouldn’t do that unless it had significance. In the whole story of Joseph and his brothers no brothers are mentioned by name except Joseph, Reuven and Yehudah. And now Shimon! Rashi’s answer as to why Shimon was singled out is that he was the one who threw Joseph into the pit.

But we can confirm this by seeing the verses immediately prior to this. It says that the brothers bemoaned their guilt for what they had done years ago to their brother, Joseph. Then Reuven says “Didn’t I tell you then ‘don’t sin with the boy’ but you didn’t listen!” All the years Joseph was in Egypt he had blamed Reuven for all that happened to him. Because Reuven was the first born, he was the leader and responsible for the brothers’ actions. Why hadn’t he stopped them? he wondered. Now that he overheard Reuven’s remark he realized that he had blamed Reuven unjustly. At that point Joseph looked to the next in line. Who was that? Shimon, the second oldest. why hadn’t he backed Reuven’s protest? So he chose him and threw him in jail. See how beautiful this logic is. See verse 27 where it says “one opened his saddle bag to feed his donkey” etc. Rashi says it was Levi. Why Levi?

Let’s begin with another question: Why only did only this brother find his money in his saddlebag? Didn’t the others also have donkeys to feed? They did eventually find their money at the bottom of their bags when the got home to Jacob. see that only “the one” (who Rashi says is Levi) found his at the opening of his bag and not down beneath as the others did. Why was his at the top of the bag and the others at the bottom?

Answer: Levi is brother number 3 !!! Joseph was going down the line of brothers. He made Levi worry longer than the others, because why hadn’t he who was the third oldest brother spoken up on his behalf years ago and stopped the sale into slavery? The story isn’t over. The next accusation about the stolen chalice seems to wake Yehuda up and he is number four!! Therefore “And Yehuda drew near” (next week’s sedra).

 

Rabbi Fishel Todd