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 Vayishev Rabbi Fishel Todd

 

Rabbi Fishel Todd

Everything Is Planned Above

These are the generations of Ya’akov Yoseph was seventeen years old. As a lad he would feed the flock with his brothers the sons of Bilhah, and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Yoseph brought evil reports [about his brothers] to his father. (BERESHIS 37:2)

A valuable coat was once stolen from the Rebbitzen of the famous author of the Chemdas Shlomo. It was subsequently discovered that the thief was one of the people who received a monthly charitable stipend from the Rabbi. Later, the stolen coat was returned by a merchant who admitted that he had bought it from the thief.

When the matter became known, one of the wealthy people of the town spoke with the Rabbi saying, “You see, you always tell us to contribute to charity, and now we see that one of those people who we give to is none other than a lowly thief.”

The Rabbi sighed deeply, called to his secretary and asked, “Do you know where the thief lives?”

“Of course I do,” answered the secretary.

“Well then,” said the Rabbi, “Do not forget to go out to find him next month so we can give him his monthly stipend from the tzedakah fund, since he will probably be too embarrassed to come on his own.”

Just as the Rabbi suspected, the following month, all the other poor people came to get their stipends, but the thief did not show up. The Rabbi reminded his secretary to go call the thief, and promise him that nothing would happen to him if he appeared before the Rabbi. The secretary gave over the message. The thief came, because the Rabbi was known as a tzaddik who would keep his word.

When the thief arrived, the Rabbi said to him, “How could you have transgressed an explicit prohibition of the Torah? I know that you did it because you were in dire need, but still, how could you have committed such a sin? It would have been much better if you had come to me and told me of your plight, rather than committing this sin. I want you to promise me that you will never again do such a thing.”

Rabbi Fishel Todd

After the poor man promised, the Rabbi gave him his regular monthly stipend, and added a bonus to it. (K’TZESHA-SHEMESHBI-GVURASO, p. 154)

The Rabbi viewed the theft as a test designed to determine whether he would become angry, or would recognize that the poor man was in dire straits. Similarly in marriage, many difficult instances arise that are trials for us, to see if we can control our behavior with our spouses.

“These are the generations of Ya’akov, Yoseph.” These generations were born only in the merit of Yoseph. Because of Yoseph, Ya’akov went to Lavan, to marry Rachel. These events were all in anticipation of Yoseph, as it is written, aAnd it was when Rachel gave birth to Yoseph.”2

Who brought Ya’akov down to Egypt? Yoseph. Who sustained them in Egypt? Yoseph. The sea split only in the merit of Yoseph, as it is written, “The waters saw You and they shuddered; You redeemed with Your powerful arm Your nation, the sons of Ya’akov and Yoseph.” 3 Even the Jordan River was split only because of Yoseph.

(YALKUT 140 par. Kesiv)

The midrash is telling us that when the Torah says, “These are the generations of Ya’akov, Yoseph,” 4 the idea is that Yoseph was the reason behind everything that happened to Ya’akov. How is it possible that the most important things that happened in Ya’akov’s life only came to be because of his son? What does it mean that these events were all in anticipation of Yoseph? What do the splitting of the Red Sea and the Jordan River have to do with Yoseph, who had died a long time before either event occurred?

A Jew must understand that he is a link in a chain of generations that began long before his birth and that will go on long after his death. It is very important for him to do the right things, since otherwise he is not only harming himself, but also causing a break in the chain.

Ya’akov realized that everything in his life was part of a chain that had a clear connection with his son Yoseph. This did not minimize his own tasks in life in any way, since if he had failed to perform his own special tasks there would not have been a continuation through to Yoseph. This was not just an incidental connection; rather it was very clear that everything in Ya’akov’s life was intimately tied to the next link in the chain, which was Yoseph.

Our Sages say that the events were put in place in anticipation of Yoseph. This means that everything in Ya’akov’s life was set up by G-d, but the only person who could make these acts ultimately meaningful was Yoseph. From this we learn, that it is not the events of a single lifetime that are of ultimate importance, but rather a Divine plan controls all events throughout the generations.

A person’s life is not in his own hands, rather it is planned down to the most minute detail by G-d. A person thinks that he, alone, is deciding where to work, or where to travel, but in reality all these thoughts and opportunities are implanted in his mind by G-d. That is what our Sages mean when they say, “Everything is in the hands of Heaven except for fear of Heaven.”5 G-d plans all the things that happen to you in your life, except for the choices you make between doing good and evil. Only these decisions are a product of your own free choice.

Who sustained the whole Jewish nation in Egypt? Yoseph. The splitting of the Red Sea was associated with Yoseph, even though he had died a long time earlier. The remains of Yoseph were with the Jewish people when they needed to cross through the Red Sea, and it was the merit of Yoseph that allowed the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea to occur. The tremendous piety he exhibited when he was alone with Potiphar’s wife, caused such a stir in Heaven, that this merit had the power, generations later, to split the sea. We can learn from here what great power good deeds can yield. Even though Yoseph had died many years earlier, his merit still brought about the redemption of the Jewish people by enabling them to pass through the sea. We should never underestimate our actions, as they can have effects for generations to come.

In the midrash, our Sages say that even the miracle of crossing the Jordan River when the Jewish nation entered the land of Israel, was in of Yoseph’s merit. This is not very well-known information. When Israel passed through the Red Sea the verse says, “And Moshe took the bones of Yoseph with him.”6 But there is no mention of Yoseph in the account of Israel crossing the Jordan River.7 Our Sages however, understood that his merit was the reason for that miracle.

Our Spouses Bring Us Spiritual Tests

Just as Yoseph was linked to all the things that happened to Ya’akov during his lifetime, so too, many things that happen during our lifetimes come about through our relationship with our spouses. We are constantly brought into all sorts of situations that are designed especially for us, to see if we will respect our spouses and treat them with honor. Many such situations are tremendous tests for us, since it is quite easy to criticize or become angry at one’s spouse. Therefore, the trial is much greater than we can imagine and the reward for controlling ourselves is equally great Rabbi Fishel Todd.

The next time your wife is late or dinner is not ready, reflect upon the idea that the whole reason this happened is because Heaven is waiting to see what your reaction will be. The next time your husband is not paying attention to what you are saying, consider that perhaps it is because G-d wants to see if you can control your temper and not become angry. Everything that occurs in life, especially between spouses, happens because G-d wants to give us an opportunity to prove ourselves in order that He can reward us when we succeed. Of course, He will have to punish us if we choose to behave inappropriately.

The trials that confront us at home are much more subtle than trials that we face outside the home. At home, a person feels that he has the right to act any way he wishes. We feel we have the right to be angry at our spouse, since this is not a stranger to whom we must behave courteously. But this erroneous way of thinking stems from the yetzer hara which is constantly trying to trick us. In reality, being at home with our spouses actually requires that we retain at least the same spiritual standards that we strive for when we are away from home. Behaving properly with our spouses is a tremendous responsibility, and we must take it seriously.

A wife’s tears are taken very seriously in G-d’s eyes, and it is a terrible sin to cause one’s wife aggravation. If we realize that all difficulties which we face in life, whether inside the home or out, are trials that were intentionally placed before us by Divne plan, we will be more able to respond correctly. This decision to act properly is what G-d anticipates from us.

Rabbi Fishel Todd

http://shulchanaruchproject.com

1. Bereshis 37:2
2. Bereshis 30:25
3. Tehillim 77:17,16
4. Bereshis 37:2
5. Bereshis 13:19
6. Shemos 13:19
7. Yehoshua Ch 4