In This Issue:
Rabbi Steven Finklestein
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
Parshat Shemot chronicles the beginning of Moshe's ascension to greatness, and describes that "VaYigdal Moshe," "Moshe grew up" (Shemot 2:11). Rashi and other Meforshim are quick to point out that this Pasuk is not referring to Moshe's physical growth, but rather to Moshe's growth in wisdom, empathy, and courage. He had developed the traits and skills that he would need to become the "Gadol HaDor," leader of his generation.
In the next series of Pesukim the Torah goes out of its way to illustrate these characteristics. Moshe emerged from the palace ready, willing, and able to feel the suffering of his brethren and act courageously in order to properly address their situation.
In studying these Pesukim, one notices that there are a few words that seem to contradict this pristine image. For example, when Moshe saw the Mitzri mercilessly beating an Ivri, he became very upset and seemed committed to restoring a sense of justice and fairness, an ideal so important to him that he was willing to act regardless of the consequences. The Torah then adds seven words that seem to contradict this apparent image of responsibility and bravery. Before striking the offending Mitzri, "VaYifen Koh VaChoh VaYar Ki Ein Ish," "And Moshe looked this way and that way and realized that no one was around" (2:12), and only then are we told, "VaYach Et HaMitzri," "And he smote the Mitzri." The perception of Moshe Rabbeinu glancing around to see if anyone was watching before he acted seems tantamount to a young schoolboy being afraid of getting caught by a teacher. Surely this is not the behavior of a Gadol, one who, by nature, should be
valiant and dedicated to justice regardless!
To address this contradiction, Nechama Leibowitz instructs us to look at the comments of the Netziv and the Ketav VeHakabbala. The Netziv relates that Moshe's inspection was not a cowardly attempt at avoidance of punishment; he was indeed committed to upholding lawfulness at all costs. When Moshe was looking back and forth he was not trying to hide his actions; rather, he was searching to see if he could report the incident that he had just witnessed instead of resorting to violence. However, the Torah tells us, "VaYar Ki Ein Ish." Once he saw there was no one else around, Moshe understood only he was able to take control of the situation, and took action accordingly.
The Ketav VeHaKabbala opines that Moshe was looking around, waiting to see how other Jews would react to the attack on one of their brethren. But when Moshe saw that not one of the slaves even raised an eyebrow, he realized that his people were too worn down, broken, and distraught to respond, and therefore recognized that he was the sole person available and willing to address the situation.
Based on these comments, it is clear why the Torah chose to include the seven crucial words, "VaYifen Koh VaChoh VaYar Ki Ein Ish." Such a phrase truly illustrates how Moshe Rabbeinu was indeed developing and emerging as a Gadol HaDor, a wise and virtuous leader always prepared to help his nation.
Parshat Shemot recounts the story of Moshe killing an Egyptian he saw striking a Jew and burying him. The next day, when trying to break up the quarrel between two Israelites identified by Chazal as Datan and Aviram, Moshe is rebuffed with the comment that because he killed an Egyptian, they do not need to listen to him. When Moshe found out that Datan and Aviram knew of his actions and might inform Paroh, he said "Achein Noda HaDavar," "Behold the matter is known" (Shemot 2:14). Rashi says that the "matter" to which Moshe referred was the reason why Bnei Yisrael were in Galut in Mitzrayim in the first place. He realized that the two Aveirot responsible for the Galut were quarreling and speaking Lashon HaRa, the two sins Datan and Aviram were engaged in.
The Chafetz Chaim states in Shemirat HaLashon that the opposite of the Mitzvah of Limud Torah is the sin of Lashon HaRa. He explains that Lashon HaRa is so severe because the tongue, which could have been used for speaking words of Torah, is instead used to speak negatively about another Jew.
With these two ideas in mind, we can explain a famous Midrash. The Midrash states that in Mitzrayim the Jews were at the second to last of the fifty levels of Tumah, impurity, and at Kabbalat HaTorah they were able to reach the penultimate level of Kedushah. Why is it that they were considered so low during the Galut Mitzrayim whereas they were considered so great by Kabbalat HaTorah? It must be that they were at the lowest level of Tumah in Mitzrayim because they engaged excessivley in the worst possible Aveirah, Lashon HaRa. Conversely, they were considered at the highest level of Kedushah at Kabbalat HaTorah because they excelled in the greatest possible Mitzvah, Limud Torah. Thus, they were able to go from the lowest depths to the greatest heights because they completely changed how they used their speech.
Similarly, the Gemara in Yoma (9b) states that the second Beit HaMikdash was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam. The Chafetz Chaim, in his introduction to his Sefer Chafetz Chaim, explains this Gemara to include Lashon HaRa, the worst result of hatred, in the category of Sinat Chinam. Just like Bnei Yisrael were redeemed from Mitzrayim because they learned to use their power of speech for Mitzvot rather than Lashon HaRa, so too we, who are in Galut because of the sin of Lashon HaRa, will be able to end it and bring Mashiach by using our power of speech to do the Mitzvah of Limud Torah.
In Parshat Shemot, Yocheved sent her youngest son down the Nile River in a tar-covered basket to prevent the Egyptians from capturing and drowning him, hoping to save the young child's life. Luckily, Paroh's daughter spotted the floating basket, drew it from the water, and found a young baby inside. She proceeded to take the boy in. The Torah states, "And she called his name Moshe, and she said, 'Because I drew him from the water.'" (Shemot 2:10). The Seforno interprets the reference to being drawn from the water as foreshadowing Moshe's future ability to draw others out of trouble and danger. Logically, Moshe should have been named "Mashui," implying one who is himself drawn out, but, rather, he was called "Moshe," implying one who draws forth others, proving Seforno's point. Moshe played the role of rescuer during his entire lengthy tenure as the leader of Bnei Yisrael. On the other hand Moshe was indeed rescued once, but that one kind deed
of Bat Paroh came at an extremely critical juncture in his life. Rav Chaim Elazary elaborates that being saved at the onset of his life left an indelible impression on Moshe. By being saved so early on, Moshe was guided towards his eventual mission in life, one of rescuing and liberating others.
This idea applies to everyone. Everyone experiences times of need and is sometimes saved from the clutches of doom and despair. We are rescued as a direct result of Hashem's overwhelming kindness towards us. It is our duty to contemplate His great mercy in preserving us. We must come to the realization that we are not saved simply to continue our "business as usual." Rather, we all must make every effort to emulate Hashem's benevolence by helping others in their times of need.
At the beginning of Parshat VaEira, Hashem reassures Moshe that he will take Bnei Yisrael out of Mitzrayim and make them a nation. The Pasuk states, "VeLakachti Etchem Li LeAm," "And I shall take you to Me for a nation" (Shemot 6:7). It is very interesting that Hashem used the word Am, nation. Judaism is usually referred to as a religion! The word for religion is Dat, not Am!
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch shares a very important idea based on this Pasuk. These words which express the destiny of Bnei Yisrael tell us something very unique about the Jewish people. Nowadays, many make reference to us as "the Jewish Religion," but, in fact, they are mistaken. We are not simply a religion, but a nation. That's why Hashem uses Am. Judaism is much broader than and different from other religions. In other religions, there are priests, temples, churches, and congregations. People have relationships only with the priests and leaders, and the religious institution is formed like a government. Regarding Judaism, though, Hashem didn't make a church, but rather a nation, whose purpose is to serve Him. When Hashem said, "I shall take you to Me for a nation," He meant that our social lives will be conducted at His discretion and with His judgment. This idea is supported by a verse in Sefer Yirmiyahu (7:22-23) which states, "On that
day that I took your forefathers out of Mitzrayim, I spoke to them not of Olah and Zevach… but rather to be a God for them and for them to be a nation for Me." In reality, Hashem did tell Bnei Yisrael about Korbanot, so what does this Pasuk mean? It means that we did not become a nation in order to bring Korbanot. Instead, we were to become a nation through the Korbanot and Avodat Hashem. In fact, Seforno writes that we became a nation at Har Sinai when we received the Torah, which included the laws of Korbanot. Rav Hirsch adds one final point. Whereas other nations find unity through their country or location, we are unified through our God (see, however, Horiyot 3a, which states that Jews are a community only in Eretz Yisrael).
We should always remember that, as Jews, we are an Am Kadosh, a holy nation. Hopefully, we will soon be Zoche to once again bring Korbanot so that we can be reunified as the nation whose purpose it is to serve Hashem.
In the very beginning of Parshat VaEira, Hashem describes to Moshe that he will send Bnei Yisrael out of Mitzrayim despite the terrible conditions described in Parshat Shemot. Hashem states, "VaEira El Avraham El Yitzchak VeEl Yaakov BeKeil Shakay UShemi Hashem Lo Nodati Lahem," "I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, with [the name] 'Keil Shakay' and I did not reveal my name 'Hashem' to them" (Shemot 6:3).
Rashi make an extremely laconic comment on this Pasuk. He writes, in explaining the word VaEira, "To the Avot." This comment, when taken at face value, seems superfluous. Anyone with basic knowledge of Chumash knows that Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, mentioned in the Pasuk that Rashi comments on, are the Avot. What does Rashi mean in this brief comment?
The Chatam Sofer offers a unique explanation of Rashi's ambiguity. He says that when Rashi said "To the Avot," he referred to the root word meaning "agree" or "want" (see Devarim 29:19), not to the forefathers. Thus, Hashem is promising Moshe that He will help him even though the Jews are succumbing to harsh conditions and it seems to them that Hashem will not help, just like He helped the forefathers, if Moshe yearns for Him to appear.
Rambam's comments on an earlier Pasuk (Shemot 3:17) reiterate this theme. In response to Moshe's attempt to back out of leading Bnei Yisrael out of Mitzrayim, Hashem says, "Eh-yeh Asheir Eh-yeh," literally "I will be as I will be." This phrase is utterly unspecific and the Meforshim present various interpretations. The Rambam explains that Hashem is with all those who want Him to be with them. Hashem told Moshe from the outset that He will be with all those who trust in Him, and he repeated this idea when Bnei Yisrael were beginning to forget about Hashem's promise, as Rashi teaches in his comment to the word VaEira.
The same idea is repeated later in Tanach. Where the Pasuk states "Baruch HaGever Asheir Yivtach BaHashem VeHaya Hashem Mivtacho" (Yirmiyahu 17:7), "Blessed is the person who trusts in Hashem and Hashem is his source of trust." This Pasuk can be explained in several ways. Rav Moshe Luzzato, in his magnum opus Mesilat Yesharim (Shaar HaBitachon), uses this Pasuk to support the idea that a person who trusts in Hashem is also rewarded for not believing in Avodah Zara. However, an alternate approach to this Pasuk is the way the Chatam Sofer explained Rashi in VaEira. The phrase "And Hashem is the source of his trust" could mean that Hashem is with those who trust in Him. Because a person trusts in Hashem, Hashem is with him in the future as a source of trust.
We all must take this idea to heart and use it as a source of inspiration. In our mundane lives, it is hard to trust Hashem in everything we do. We have so many tasks which distract us from our ultimate goal. It is very easy to fall into the trap of attributing all of our successes to ourselves rather than Hashem. We must keep Rashi's message in mind and strengthen out trust in Hashem so that He will be with us in all of our endeavors.
In Parshat Bo, the Pasuk states, "HaChodesh HaZeh Lachem Rosh Chodashim," "This month shall be for you the beginning of the months" (Shemot 12:2). This Pasuk refers to the Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh. Hashem commanded Moshe and Aharon that this month (Nissan) should be the first of all months. Rashi explains that the commandment is not just to announce the new month, but also to sanctify the new moon.
Many Rabbis see special qualities of the moon and demonstrate specifically how special it is to the Jewish people. In the Talmud Yerushalmi (Masechet Rosh Hashanah), Rabi Yochanan asks why, if only the sun was created for light, was the moon created? He answers by quoting a Pasuk from Tehillim, "Asah Yareiach LaMoadim," "He made a moon for the festivals" (104:19). The moon's purpose is to show us when the holidays fall. Hashem told Moshe and Aharon to set up a calendar based on the moon in order to sanctify the moon. Through this calendar, we know when all the holidays will be, based on the light of the moon. We learn from this the amazing way the Jewish calendar is set up.
Hashem commanded us that Pesach must always be in the springtime. Therefore, the calendar is set up so that Pesach is always in the spring. Since the lunar calendar is approximately 11 days shorter than the solar calendar, a leap year (with an extra Adar) is occasionally needed to ensure that Pesach is always in the spring and that Sukkot is always in the fall. This is one of Hashem's great miracles - the moon and the Jewish calendar.
Those who diligently study the intricate workings of the calendar feel a profound sense of awe for Hillel and his court (those who established the calendar). Everything is so precise; every possible flaw is compensated for. This is the wisdom of the great Torah Sages.
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