Parsha Perspectives

by MOSHE GEWIRTZ

ויאמר השם אל משה בא אל פרעה כי אני הכבדתי את לבו ואת לב עבדיו למען שתי אתתי אלה בקרבו ולמען תספר באזני בנך ובן בנך את אשר התעללתי במצרים ואת אתתי אשר שמתי בם וידעתם כי אני השם

“G-d said to Moses, “Come to Pharaoh, for I have made his heart and the hearts of his servants stubborn so that I can put these signs of Mine in his midst; and so that you may relate in the ear of your son and your son’s sons that I made mockery I made of Egypt and My signs that I placed among them, that you may know that I am G-d.” (Shemot 10:1-2)

In the opening section of this week’s Torah portion, G-d commands Moses to carry out the final three plagues, which would culminate in Pharaoh driving the Jews out of Egypt. G-d reinforced Pharaoh’s stubbornness during these final plagues to intensify the faith of the Jewish people as they observed the miraculous downfall of their enemies.

In the verse quoted above, the Torah charges us with the obligation to retell the story of the exodus to our children and grandchildren. Curiously, the verse ends with “…and you will know that I am G-d.” As the purpose of retelling the story is presumably to strengthen the faith of our children and grandchildren, it would seem more appropriate to conclude by saying,”…and they, your children, will know that I am G-d.”

The commandment to educate our children is discussed in the second paragraph of the Shema. There (Devarim 11:19), the verse states, “…and you shall teach [Torah] to your sons, to discuss [Torah] while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire and when you arise.” Here as well, the question begs to be asked: if the goal is teaching our children to discuss or study Torah at all times, wouldn’t it be more appropriate for the verse to say, “…and you shall teach [Torah] to your sons…while they sit in your home, while they walk on the way, when they retire and when they arise?”

A teaching from the renowned mystical work, the Zohar, explains the verse in our Torah portion as well as the verse in Devarim with the following basic principle in educating children: Our effectiveness in educating children about morals, faith, or Torah law, will only be effective if we have first trained ourselves in these matters. If we as parents and educators do not act as role models for the standards we wish to inculcate in our children, all our educational efforts will be in vain. If we are not honest, our children will also be dishonest. If we are not respectful of others, our children too will be disrespectful. And if we are not careful about the words we use or the tone in which we express ourselves, our children will likewise follow suit. We must genuinely live the lessons we intend to impart before we can expect our children to aspire to those ideals.

The story is told of a young couple who celebrated the birth of their first child. Eager to set their child on a path of greatness, they consulted with a prominent rabbi. “When do we begin educating our child?” they asked. The rabbi quipped, “Twenty-five years ago.” His message was clear; one must first work on his own character before he can effectively educate his children.

This is the idea behind the Torah’s seemingly incongruent language in obligating us to retell the exodus story. The first step is, “that you know that I am G-d.” Only once you have internalized this faith can you pass it on the next generation. This concept similarly explains the message about education in the Shema. If you want to teach your children Torah, don’t tell them to discuss Torah thoughts. Rather, educate them by what they see and hear you doing when you are at home and when you are traveling, both in the morning and in the evening. Your children will pick up from your example how they should act.

A Yeshiva high school principal made the following interesting observation after hearing a parent lie about his child’s age at an amusement park: This parent spends thousands of dollars a year in tuition to give his children a Jewish education. Along with teaching calculus and chemistry, he expects the school to impart lessons in ethics and Jewish values. He’s willing to undo a $10,000 education to save five dollars? “I don’t get it!”

The Plague of Darkness

by RABBI YOAV DRUYAN

ויהי חושך אפילה בכל ארץ מצריים שלושת ימים…  לא ראו איש את אחיו ולא קמו איש מתחתיו שלושת ימים

“Let there be darkness in the land of Egypt, a palpable darkness … No man saw his fellow and no man rose from his place for three days…” (Shemot 10: 22-23).

During the plague of darkness, Egypt was plunged into blackness for three days and nights. While this plague was a fitting punishment for enslaving the Jewish nation, Rashi teaches us that it served another purpose as well. There were those amongst the Jewish people who were wicked and did not deserve to be redeemed. Under the cover of darkness, G-d killed them, giving them their just due while denying the Egyptians the satisfaction of seeing that not all the Jews would be leaving.

We may think, then, that all the Jews who left Egypt were righteous. Yet our sages teach us that this was hardly the case.

When Pharaoh gave the Jews permission to leave Egypt, they dropped everything and fled; they wanted to be far away before Pharaoh could change his mind. He did, in fact, change his mind and sent his army after them in hot pursuit, trapping the Jews between the Egyptian army and the shores of the Red Sea. At that moment, a prosecuting angel declared, “[The fleeing Israelites] are idol worshippers and [the Egyptians] are also idol worshippers!” (Midrash Mechilta Beshalach p. 4). While they were not entirely without merit, the Jews who left Egypt were actually considered wicked!

If the Jews who left Egypt were also wicked, why were some Jews killed during the plague of darkness in Egypt?! What was the difference between them?

Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky suggests that the difference between them wasn’t the level of wickedness. After all, idol worship is pretty much the bottom spiritual rung. A closer reading of Rashi reveals that the Jews who perished in Egypt weren’t simply wicked; they desired to prevent their brothers’ departure from Egypt. They were unsatisfied with their own abandonment of G-d’s laws and sought to coerce their fellow Jews into similar destructive behaviors. This was a sin that G-d would not forgive.

A smoker all his life, Jonathan can barely walk up a flight of stairs. He knows cigarettes are bad for him — in fact, he’s tried several times to quit — but he hasn’t yet been able to kick the habit. The most Jonathan has been able to do is to try to prevent his children from taking up smoking.

Lucas, on the other hand, laughs at anyone who tries to tell him that smoking is unhealthy. He’s never had a health problem, and he’s sure that all the anti-smoking hype is simply bad politics. To prove his point, he hands out free cigarettes to others, hoping that if enough people object, the ridiculous anti-smoking laws will be repealed.

Jonathan and Lucas are engaged in the same behavior, but there is a world of difference between them! While Jonathan tries to keep others from following his example, Lucas attempts to draw others into his destructive ways, in an attempt to assuage his own conscience. He builds for himself a false sense of righteousness at the expense of others.

As responsible people, we try to avoid behaviors that aren’t good for us, whether physically, mentally, or spiritually. Sometimes however, we veer off course. The lesson from those who perished in Egypt is that if we do find ourselves involved in questionable activities, we must avoid the temptation to rationalize our behavior, or worse, to bring others along for the ride. If we’re honest with ourselves and acknowledge that we’re heading in the wrong direction, we’ll have a much easier time getting back on track – with a little help from G-d.

by OZER ALPORT

החודש הזה לכם ראש חדשים

“And this month will be for you the beginning of the months.” (Shemot 12:2)

Although a literal reading of our verse presents the mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon and of making Nissan the first month of the Jewish year, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, known as the Chiddushei HaRim (1798-1866), suggests that it can also be interpreted to read that G-d was giving the Jews the ability to create newness and freshness (התחדשות).

While it is true that the natural world appears to be governed by the forces of inertia and habit, and that lasting change seems impossible to achieve, this is only true for those who are governed by the arbitrary laws of nature. The verse tells us (Ecclesiastes 1:9), “What has been is what will be, what has been done will continue to be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”

However, while there is nothing new under the sun, there is constant renewal beyond the sun, in front of G-d, Who is re-creating the universe every moment. We therefore find that the Lechem HaPanim (the Show-bread) in the Temple miraculously stayed completely fresh for seven days. Because it was placed before G-d in the Temple, it was exempt from the laws of nature which “require” it to become old and stale.

Our verse contains the first mitzvah which was given to the Jewish people as a nation, and it therefore contains this fundamental principle of Judaism. We can take inspiration from the uplifting recognition that we aren’t bound by the past. As long as we recognize that we don’t live under the sun but rather in front of G-d – and conduct our lives accordingly – we may move our lives in any direction that we desire. The invaluable power of renewal is uniquely ours!

This idea is proven to us daily in the countless stories of miracles we hear. A friend of mine got married later in life and had a difficult time having children. After some time passed, he and his wife decided to seek medical advice. A number of tests and consultations with fertility specialists later, their hopes were dashed when they were told that they were medically incapable of conceiving children. After many years of heartfelt prayer, to the astonishment of the “experts,” the couple’s two adorable sons are happy to prove otherwise!

This anecdote shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the very existence of the Jewish nation is predicated on similar miracles. Most of our Patriarchs – Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Rachel – struggled to have children. Our Sages teach that a number of them were physically barren and incapable of producing the next generation of the Jewish people without miraculous Divine intervention.

Whether we are in need of a medical miracle or merely hoping to finally break a persistent bad habit once and for all, we should take heart from the message of Parshat Bo. With the first mitzvah that G-d gave to the Jewish people, He taught us that no situation is ever beyond hope. Rather than give in to despair rooted in the verdict of the laws of nature, we can be hopeful by reminding ourselves of the uniquely Jewish power of renewal and change.

by RABBI LEIBY BURNHAM

דברו אל כל עדת ישראל לאמר בעשר לחדש הזה ויקחו
להם איש שה לבית אבת שה לבית

“Speak to the entire community of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month, let each one take a lamb for each parental home, a lamb for each household.’” (Shemot 12:3)

This week’s parsha continues the story of the Ten Plagues that started in last week’s parsha. After we learn about Moses warning Pharaoh about the last plague, the Death of the Firstborn, there is a peculiar break in the narrative. Suddenly, the story of the redemption from Egypt is broken by 28 verses that bear very little relation to the actual storyline. Instead, these verses contain the first mitzvot the Jews were commanded to observe as a nation.

We know that the Torah was given by G-d, and is therefore perfect by its very nature. Nothing is superfluous; everything is calculated down to the very vowels of the letters. Why, then, would G-d choose to interrupt one of the most important narratives to these commandments? If anything, the story was just beginning to peak; it was reaching its climax. We spent the last few weeks reading about the rise of Moses from an infant cast into the Nile to the redeemer of the Jewish people. We learn how G-d sent him back into Egypt with a message of hope for the enslaved Jews. G-d told him to challenge Pharaoh and demand freedom for the Jews. The dialogue continued with Pharaoh’s refusals, which were met with miraculous plagues that brought harsh punishment upon the Egyptians. All of these events were for the single cause of freeing the Jews. Now, we are about to reach the last plague, freedom is near, and G-d decides to interrupt this riveting story with a few commandments! Why?

The answer to this question holds an important lesson for us. The Jews were at a pivotal moment in their national history. Until now, they were slaves; physically, they were oppressed and broken people. As bad as things were from a physical perspective, their spiritual state was even worse. They were totally unaffiliated with their heritage, disconnected from the legacy of their great predecessors. But, now they were about to leave Egypt and venture into the desert to begin a journey of spiritual growth. G-d wanted to give us the first commandments specifically before the journey began.

In doing so, G-d taught us that you don’t have to be far into a spiritual journey to begin observing some of the mitzvot. In fact, you can be at the very beginning of your spiritual enlightenment, and still begin practicing those mitzvot that are within your power to keep. Sometimes we feel like we are not “on the level” to do a particular mitzvah, or that due to a past that was deprived of spirituality, we cannot possibly be ready to perform a specific mitzvah. The truth is that you don’t have to be worthy to perform a mitzvah; the mitzvah itself gives you worth.

In Egypt, when the Jews were in a deep spiritual slump, G-d gave them a few mitzvot which provided the merit needed to get the Jews out of Egypt. G-d clearly showed us that mitzvot are relevant to everyone, and every single person is worthy and capable of performing them. Once we tap into that opportunity, we are on the path to our own personal and spiritual redemption.

A beautiful story illustrates this point. In the seventies, a young man who grew up without any Jewish identity somehow found some Jewish classes and began to study. He was enthused by what he learned, but was soon drafted into the army, and prepared to fight in Vietnam. On his last leave of absence before being deployed, he visited his rabbi back home. His rabbi encouraged him to begin doing one mitzvah, but he was reluctant as he had never really done any before. In the end, they agreed that he would try to do the mitzvah of netilat yadayim, ritually washing ones hands before eating bread.

One day, after a long day of fighting, his platoon settled down for chow. While everyone ravenously attacked their food, this soldier went to a nearby stream to wash his hands. While he was washing his hands, he heard a series of explosions and came running back. Somehow, his platoon had been ambushed, and by the time he got back, he was the only survivor. Like our forefathers in Egypt, this man took upon himself a mitzvah even though he was not sure he was ready for it, and it proved to be his personal redemption. In the merit of our increased mitzvah observance, may we all merit the Final Redemption!

by RABBI LEIBY BURNHAM

ובני ישראל עשו כדבר משה וישאלו ממצרים כלי כסף וכלי
זהב ושמלת… וה’ נתן את חן העם בעיני מצרים
וישאלום וינצלו את מצרים

The Children of Israel…requested from the Egyptians silver vessels, gold vessels and garments…and they granted their request – so they  emptied Egypt (Shemot 12:35-36)

Talk about chutzpah! After ten plagues, and the destruction of Egypt, not only do the Jewish people triumphantly march out of the county, but they actually ask the Egyptians to hand over their wealth on the way out.

Much debate surrounds the exact nature of this request for wealth. In Hebrew, the word for “request” and the word for “borrow” are the same.  The Seforno commentary understands the term to mean “borrow.” (Shemot 3:22) Others understand it as a request that the wealth be given to the Jews with no expectation of return.

Based on the Talmud, the Egyptians clearly heard the word “borrow.” More than a thousand years later, the Egyptians even brought their “case” to none other than Alexander the Great in an attempt to recoup their wealth.  At the time, the Jews answered, first pay for the 430 years of unpaid manual labor performed by 600,000 Jewish men – then we can talk about transferring wealth back to Egypt! (Tractate Sanhedrin 91a).  (Incidentally, a group of Egyptian legal scholars attempted to bring the same lawsuit in Switzerland in 2003!  The Jewish response was the same.)

In another somewhat ambiguous request, Moses repeatedly asked Pharaoh only to allow the Jews a three-day respite in the desert to serve G-d, even though he had no intention of returning. What was the purpose of this apparent subterfuge?  Why did G-d choose to orchestrate events via trickery, when He could have instructed Moses and the Jewish people simply to demand what they wanted and get it?

The Vilna Gaon (1720-1797, Lithuania) answers this question in a way that also illuminates the workings of Divine justice. In Judaism, “punishment” is not an arbitrary act of revenge. Rather, it is the natural outcome of a person’s actions. The Heavenly Court interacts with the world “measure for measure.” (midda k’negged midda).  Spiritually, each action elicits a reaction, which is perfectly in synch with the original action. This is the case even if it is not apparent at the time it is happening.

The Egyptians tricked the Jews into slavery. The Midrash describes how Pharaoh deceived the Jews by announcing the availability of “well-paid, public-works jobs.”  He even joined in the manual labor to demonstrate his commitment to the project. Under this pretext, the Jews felt obligated to participate along with everyone else. Soon, however, the Egyptians slipped away and forced the Jews to remain, while simultaneously depriving them of their wages. The Heavenly reaction to this deceit was, essentially, to give Pharaoh and the Egyptians a taste of their own medicine. Measure for measure, G-d called on Moses and the Jewish people to “deceive” the Egyptians into setting them free and giving them their wealth.

Measure for measure also plays a role in rewarding a person for his good deeds. A story that stretched from one World War to the eve of another illustrates this point:

In 1917, in the middle of World War I, Alex Lurie, of Duluth, Minnesota, was an American Jewish soldier stationed in Seldes, Germany. Though not particularly religious, he went to the local synagogue one Friday night for Shabbat prayers.  Instead of welcoming him, many people were suspicious of this uniformed soldier who appeared in middle of their services. One man, Herr Rosenthau, saw beneath the uniform and recognized a fellow Jew looking to connect to his Creator. He helped Alex through the services and then invited him over for the Shabbat meal.

Touched by the Rosenthaus’ kindness, Alex made sure to send a thank-you note as soon as he returned to the states. The letter was lost for 20 years. In 1937, it miraculously reached its destination at the very point in time when Jews throughout Germany were desperately seeking entry visas to any country that would take them. The Rosenthaus family contacted Alex, who was able to save their entire family.

Sometimes we relate to our acts of kindness as just another random event in the course of our lives. However, there is nothing random about our ability to help other people – or ourselves – through our actions.  As we recount the Ten Plagues and the Exodus from Egypt, our greatest freedom is the knowledge that everything we do plays a role in fulfilling G-d’s plan for creation.

Like One Person with One Heart

by RABBI LEIBY BURNHAM

 והנה מצרים נסע אחריהם

“And behold Egypt was traveling after them!” (Shemot 14:10)

After the Jews fled Egypt, the Egyptians chased after them. The verse describes the Egyptians in the singular tense (“Egypt”) instead of the plural (“Egyptians”). Rashi comments that the Egyptians were pursuing the Jews “with one heart, like one person.” Rashi makes almost the same exact comment in next week’s parshah, when the Torah describes the Jewish people camping at the foot of Mt. Sinai. There too, the Torah uses the singular tense to describe the Jewish people, “and Israel encamped there opposite the mountain” (Shemot 19:2). On that verse, Rashi describes the powerful unity the Jews felt as they were about to receive the Torah, that they were “like one person with one heart.”

Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner discusses why Rashi reverses the order in describing the two phenomena. There was a fundamental difference between the unity of the Jewish people and that of the Egyptians. The Jewish people are intrinsically unified as one. It’s as if the entire Jewish people is one big human being, in which each person is a different part of that organism. Since we are all one, it goes without saying that our desires should be one, just as my left hand wants the same things as my right hand, kidney, or heart wants. Because of this, the primary connection is that we are “like one person,” and we all want the same thing.

The Egyptians, however, were intrinsically a collection of individuals who were not truly unified. When they all wanted to get their Jewish slaves back, they were able to unite, but it was not representative of who they were. For that reason they were “with one heart, like one person.” In this particular scenario, they had one heart; they all wanted to force the Jewish people back, and so they were able to act as one person. The moment they would have finished subjugating the Jews, they would no longer be like one person.

We see this difference playing itself out in world politics. The nations of the world are not unified; there is plenty of squabbling. Yet somehow, when it comes to criticizing the Jews and our tiny Jewish country, they all unite. Cries come forth from every major capital and the UN passes almost unanimous resolutions against Israel. When they are with one heart, it almost seems like they have the unity of “one person.” However, as soon as the focus is lifted from Israel, the world reverts to its regular disunity.

As Jews, we truly remain “like one person with one heart,” not only in times of crisis or shared interest. There is a constant flow of support from the Diaspora to Israel. Countless organizations seek to help any Jew in need, no matter their affiliation, race, country of origin, or economic strata. Partners in Torah is a perfect example of this, an organization whose sole goal is to unite Jews from all over the world in furthering our Jewish identity and Jewish knowledge. Let us continue to follow the praise of Rashi, and always look at ourselves as a nation “like one person with one heart!”

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Table Talk

For Discussion Around the Shabbat Table

Even though Rashi (Shemot 7:25) writes that each plague lasted seven days, the Baal HaTurim writes (Shemot 10:14) that the plague of locusts rested on Shabbat. Similarly, the Rokeach writes that the plague of darkness also ceased on Shabbat. What was unique about these two plagues which prevented them from occurring on Shabbat like the other eight plagues? (Imrei Daas by Rabbi Meir Shapiro)

G-d commanded Moses (Shemot 10:1) to approach Pharaoh and warn him about the upcoming plague, explaining that “I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants so that I can place My signs in his midst.” If G-d wanted the Jews to be freed from their bondage in Egypt, why did He harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he would refuse to free the Jewish people instead of causing him to agree to allow the Jews to leave so that they could receive their freedom and the Torah that much sooner? (Rabbi Chaim Friedlander quoted in Peninim Vol. 8 Parshas Vaeira)

G-d tells Moses that He brought the Ten Plagues so that the people will tell their children and grandchildren the ease with which G-d destroyed Egypt – “that you may know that I am G-d.” (Shemot 10:1-2)

The Torah requires the generation of the Exodus to tell the story of the Ten Plagues so that they will believe in G-d. The verse seems to imply that the obligation to retell the story was for the benefit of the people who themselves experienced the Exodus – the people who personally witnessed the plagues! What gap could there have been lacking in their faith that would be filled by relating the story to their children and grandchildren?

Presumably, the benefit of retelling the story was also for the later generations who did not personally witness to the plagues. If seeing the events was somehow insufficient for those who were there, how would telling the story ensure that the Jewish people continue to believe in G-d after the first generation was no longer alive?

Why did G-d declare (Shemot 12:2) the month of Nissan, in which the Jews were freed from slavery from Egypt, to be the first of the months instead of Sivan, in which the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, or Tishrei in which the world was created? (Darash Moshe by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein)

Q: The Passover sacrifice was eaten on the first night of Passover – the 15th of Nissan. Why did G-d command the Jews in Egypt regarding its consumption in a manner which, when read literally, seems to indicate that it was to be eaten on the night of the 14th of Nissan (Shemot 12:18)?

A: Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz, best known for his work Hafla’ah, answers that before the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, even the Jews used the secular concept of a “day” which begins in the morning and concludes at night. Only after receiving the Torah did we switch to a system in which a “day” is defined as beginning in the evening. According to this, the verse makes perfect sense, as the Jews in Egypt were instructed to eat matzos on what they considered to be the “night” of the 14th, which to their ears meant the night which follows the day of the 14th, and which is precisely what we refer to today as the night of the 15th. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)

Prior to the last of the ten plagues, death of the firstborn, the Jews were given specific instructions to spare them from the fate that awaited the Egyptians: Prepare the Passover offering; daub its blood on your doorposts; do not leave your homes until morning. They were told that during the night, when G-d would pass through Egypt to smite the firstborn, He would see the blood and prevent the avenging angel from entering their homes (Shemot 12: 21-23).

The avenging angel surely wasn’t stymied by a simple door lock. If it were, the Egyptians would have been safe as well! Why might the Jews have been told to stay home for their own protection?

The verse says that G-d would “see” the blood upon the doorpost. Since G-d is not a physical being and does not need eyes in order to see, why doesn’t the verse simply say that G-d will know who has fulfilled this commandment?

“It was at midnight when G-d smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh sitting on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and every firstborn animal. Pharaoh rose up at midnight, and he and all his servants and all of Egypt, and there was a great outcry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was no corpse. He called to Moses and Aharon at night and said, “Rise up, go out from amongst my people, even you, even the Children of Israel; go and serve G-d as you have spoken! Take your sheep and even your cattle, as you have spoken, and go and bless me, as well!” (Shemot 12:29-32)

Rashi’s comment on the words “Pharaoh rose up at midnight”: (That he rose up) “from his bed” makes clear that Pharaoh had gone to sleep that night. After nine plagues which came precisely as foretold by Moses, how could Pharaoh, who was himself firstborn (and presumably intelligent), have gone to sleep that night when Moses clearly told him about the upcoming plague of the firstborn?

What was unique about the plague of the firstborn that convinced Pharaoh to finally send the Children of Israel out of Egypt?

Rashi explains Pharaoh’s request for a blessing as stemming from his fear as a firstborn that he not be killed. If he feared that his life was at stake, why would he express himself so vaguely (“bless me”), instead of unambiguously pleading for his life?

Q: The plague of the first-born equally killed both a father’s first-born and a mother’s first-born. Rabbi Moshe Leib Shachor, in his work Avnei Shoham, questions that if the concept of pidyon ha’ben – redeeming the firstborn son from a Kohen – is to commemorate the fact that the Jewish first-borns were saved in Egypt (Shemot 13:2), why is the mitzvah only done with a first-born from his mother and not also with a first-born to a father?

A: Rabbi Shachor explains that the entire concept of bringing bikkurim (first-fruits) to the Kohanim in the Temple is to fight a person’s natural instincts to take credit for the products of his hard labor and forget about the Divine assistance which made it all possible. After a farmer puts so much effort into plowing and planting, it seems only natural that his crop should grow well and give him a good harvest. Therefore, the Torah “reminds” him Who is really responsible for the crops by requiring him to bring the very first fruits to G-d’s agents in His Holy Temple.

Similarly, when a couple gets married, it seems quite natural that within a year or two the woman should conceive and give birth to their first child. In order to remember that it’s not “only natural,” the Torah requires the first-born son to be redeemed from the Kohen, who again symbolizes G-d’s agent. This reminds the happy new parents that what appeared natural is indeed miraculous, as anybody who ever contemplated the wonder of pregnancy and childbirth certainly realizes.

We may now understand that such a “reminder” is necessary only when the birth would have otherwise appeared to have been completely “natural,” such as a first-born to the mother. In the event of a child who is a first-born to his father but not to his mother (if she has previously been married), or a child born following a miscarriage or by Caesarian-section, it is already clear that the typical order of events isn’t being followed in this case, and therefore no specific reminder is necessary. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)

Why would the Torah give so many mitzvot (see e.g. Shemot 13:9) all with the purpose of remembering the Exodus from Egypt? (Sefer HaChinuch Mitzvah 16)

After the Jews fled Egypt, Pharaoh changed his mind about letting them go. He and his army pursued them, until they were trapped between the army and the Red Sea. Terrified, the Jews cried out to G-d, and G-d replied, “Why are you crying out to me in prayer? Speak to the Jewish people and tell them to travel!” (Shemot 14:15).  G-d then instructed Moses to stretch out his hand over the water to initiate the splitting of the sea.

We are supposed to cry out to G-d for help in times of trouble. What might have been the problem with their crying out to Him at that time?

The splitting the Red Sea was an unparalleled deviation from the laws of “nature,” and so obviously the Hand of G-d. What value, then, was added by Moses stretching out his hand to initiate the splitting of the sea?

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Parsha Tidbits

Jumping Points for Discussion and Further Study

by RABBI ELAZAR MEISELS

THE ALL-IMPORTANT JEWS

 “So Moses and Aaron were returned to Pharaoh and he said to them, ‘Go and serve Hashem, your G-d; who are the ones going?’ Moses said, ‘With our youngsters and elders…our sons and daughters…our flock and cattle…because it is a festival of G-d for us.’” Shemot 10:8, 9

It Is A Festival Of G-d – The festival spoken of by Moses is the holiday of Shavuot when we would receive the Torah at Mt. Sinai.– Rabbeinu Bachya

Our Youngsters…Elders, Sons…Daughters – We must take everyone, even those too old or too young to perform the Divine service, because our joy would be incomplete by the thought that some were left behind. – He’emek Davar

By including every single individual in his demand, Moses was informing Pharaoh that Judaism is not merely for an elite class of individual. Rather, every single member of the Jewish nation is obligated to serve G-d and deserves to be redeemed. It’s not a religion built around the priests or the social elite. Each Jew is as important as the next.

SAY WHAT?

“The locusts came up over the whole land of Egypt, and rested within all the borders of Egypt. It was very severe. Never before had there been such locusts and never again after them.” Shemot 10:14

And never again after them – There were locusts in the days of the Prophet Yoel too, and about them it is also said, ‘There was never one like it?’ This teaches that those were more difficult to tolerate than the ones in the days of Moses. However, that was said only in regard to multiple species. But the locust in the days of Moses was comprised only of one species, the likes of which never had been seen and never would be again. – Rashi

Sifsei Kohen notes that this verse contains a remez [hint] to this idea that the locust plague that would occur in the times of Yoel with multiple locusts would be even more severe. The Hebrew for “and never again after them” is “V’acharov Lo Yehiyah Ken.” The word “V’acharav” can be split into two words, “V’achar” – and after, “av-lo” these next four Hebrew letters [yud, vav, lamed, aleph] can be rearranged to spell Yoel. Thus, it can read, “Never before had there been such locusts and after – Yoel – there would be again.”

ALL ACCOUNTS PAID IN FULL

“Moses said [to Pharaoh] in G-d’s name, ‘Around midnight, I will go out into the midst of Egypt. Every firstborn in Egypt will die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh sitting on his throne, to the firstborn of the slave girl behind the millstones, and every firstborn animal.” Shemot 11:4-5

To the firstborn of the slave girl – Included were those less important than the firstborn of Pharaoh and more important than the firstborn of the slave girl. All of them would be wiped out. Why were the firstborn of the slaves struck too? Because they too enslaved the Israelites and rejoiced in their oppression. – Rashi

And every firstborn animal – Why were the firstborn animals struck? Because the Egyptians worshipped them, and when G-d punishes an idolatrous nation, He punishes its deities first. – Rashi
[In this manner, G-d demonstrates their utter impotence, and this allows their followers to repent their ways before they are entirely destroyed.]

G-d waited for 210 long years before He finally took action against Egypt, our wicked oppressors. Yet, when the moment of retribution arrived, He made certain to give each of our oppressors his due. No one escaped the wrath of G-d, not even the gentile slave who delighted in our oppression. Excuses such as, “We were only following orders,” or, “We too were oppressed by the Egyptians,” proved useless. The leaders, the followers, their enablers, and the underlings, all paid the price for their tyranny. When the Messiah will arrive, a similar fate awaits all those who partook in the persecution of the Jewish people throughout our years in exile.

OUR JOY KNOWS NO BOUNDS

“On the first day shall be a holy convocation and on the seventh day shall be a holy convocation for you. No work may be performed on [those days]…” Shemot 12:16

And On The Seventh Day – Why would they be told about the celebration of the seventh day of Pesach, when that day would not be celebrated until the following year whereas all of the other instructions pertained to that year only? The seventh day of Pesach corresponds to the time that G-d split the sea and drowned the Egyptians. He desired that we celebrate our salvation, not their downfall. Therefore, He instructed us about the observance of this day in future years, even while we were still in Egypt, to dispel any notion that our joy was predicated upon the destruction of the Egyptians. – Meshech Chochmah

Many nations celebrate a day upon which they won an important war and vanquished their enemies. This is not the way of the Jewish people who are cautioned, “Do not rejoice over the downfall of your enemy.” [Mishlei 24:17] Our joy must emanate solely from the salvation that we merited and the opportunity it afforded us to continue to serve G-d. This is the reason that both Chanukah and Purim are celebrated not on the days that we vanquished our enemies, but on the days that we rested from the battle.

PLEASE ASK

“When you come to the land that G-d will give you, as He promised, you must also observe this service. Your children will ask you, ‘What is this service to you?’ You must answer, ‘It is the Passover service to G-d for He passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians, sparing our homes, and the people bent their heads and prostrated themselves.’” Shemot 12:24-27

Bent their heads and prostrated – They demonstrated their joy over having been given this commandment. – Rabbi Yosef Bechor Shor

Bent their heads and prostrated – In gratitude for the news of the impending redemption, and their coming into the Land, and the news of their having children. – Rashi

Why was the news that they would have children a source of distinct joy? Isn’t it obvious that a nation of 600,000 would produce offspring? They were not just told that they would have children, but that these children would study Torah and ask about the mitzvot. This was the true source of their joy. – Darash Moshe [Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l]

Interestingly, this passage of the Torah is recited in the Haggadah and represents the wicked son of the Four Sons. Why would they offer thanks over the news that they would have wicked sons? The commentators explain that so long as a child, even one with wicked tendencies, is willing to engage in conversation and ask relevant questions, there’s still room to hope for his improvement. Once a child ceases to be fascinated by Judaism to the point that his interest cannot even be piqued, his eventual return is far less assured. They rejoiced over the news that even their disaffected children will care enough to ask about Judaism, if only in mocking fashion.

THE MISSING INGREDIENT

“The Israelites baked the dough that they had brought out of Egypt into matzah cakes, since it had not risen. They had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay, and they had not prepared any other provisions.” Shemot 12:39

Matzah Cakes – Cake made of unleavened bread. Dough that has not leavened is called matzah– Rashi

They could not delay – It should not be understood from the verse that had they had more time, they would have allowed the dough to rise, for that is not the case. Rather, had they had sufficient time, they would have sought other provisions. – Rivah

They could not delay – Although Moses had informed them that they’d soon be leaving, they did not expect to leave so soon and thought that there would still be time to prepare provisions. – Rabbi Yosef Bechor Shor

They could not delay – “Do not eat chametz on it; seven days are you to eat on it matzot… since in haste you left the land of Egypt…”– Devarim 16:3

Our sages tell us that the reason for the great haste in departing Egypt was because they had already sunk to such a low moral level that they were in danger of never extricating themselves had they sunk any lower. Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin (of blessed memory) points out that it is known that in Egypt they had many of the popular cultural ties to Judaism. They spoke Hebrew, called themselves by Jewish names, and even wore distinctly Jewish garb. They took great pride in their Jewish culture and retained it even throughout the years of bitter persecution. Yet, after only 210 years they were in danger of losing their identity altogether. They were minutes away from eternal assimilation. We, on the other hand, after 2,000 years of bitter exile, somehow still retain a strong attachment to Judaism and grow stronger in our faith by the minute. What is it that offers us this incredible shield against assimilation? The only difference between us and our ancestors in Egypt is that we have the Torah, whereas they still hadn’t received it. Cultural Judaism appears vibrant, but in reality, it’s terribly limited in terms of life-expectancy. When fortified with Torah, however, it is truly eternal!

GOOD NIGHT

“This was a night of vigil for G-d, to bring them out of the land of Egypt. This is the night which remains a night of vigil to G-d for all the Children of Israel for all their generations.” Shemot 12:42

It Is A Night of Vigil – It is continuously protected from destructive forces. As is said: ‘He will not permit the destroyer, etc.’ – Rashi

It Is A Night of Vigil – On this same night, five great miracles happened [or will happen] to the Jewish people over the centuries and each set of words in this verse allude to one of those miracles:

  • Night of Vigil for Hashem– Abraham vanquished the four mighty kings and through this it became clear to even the doubters that the Almighty was on his side and capable of overcoming all foes.
  • Out of the Land of Egypt– The Jews were freed from Egypt.
  • This is the night– An angel smote the entire encampment of Sancheirev who sought to destroy the Jews and the verse writes, “And it was on that night, and the Almighty instructed an angel…” (Kings 2 19:35).
  • To G-d– This was the night King Achashveirosh suffered insomnia, and the first seeds of salvation began to sprout.
  • A night of vigil…for all generations– The Final Redemption will occur on this night – Ohr Hachaim

Beis HaLevi (Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik) adds that although these five miracles occurred on this date, they differ in one crucial area. The first four occurred during the night, whereas the fifth, which has not yet occurred, will transpire in broad daylight. This is because the first four were impermanent redemptions as much suffering was still to come. The fifth and final redemption, however, that of the Messianic Era, will be permanent and irreversible. Thus, it will occur during the daytime which is a symbol of freedom and bliss, as opposed to nighttime which is a symbol of exile and suffering.

JEWISH HEAR OH’S

“Moses said to the people, ‘Remember this day on which you departed from Egypt, from the house of slavery, for with a strong hand G-d removed you from here…’” Shemot 13:4

Remember This Day – “It is a scriptural obligation to speak of the miracles and wonders that were performed for our ancestors in Egypt on the night of the fifteenth of Sivan as it says, ‘Remember this day…’” – Rambam, Hil. Chametz U’Matzah 7:1

Remember This Day – This verse teaches us that there is a mitzvah to remember the exodus from Egypt every single day. – Rashi

This obligation is fulfilled by the recitation of the third chapter of the Shema, which concludes by saying that G-d took the Jewish people out of Egypt.

Most Jews are fastidious about fulfilling one aspect of this verse by conducting an annual Pesach Seder where the miraculous events are recounted in detail. Few, however, are aware that there’s a daily obligation to verbally recall these events, and that this obligation can easily be fulfilled by reciting the Shema in its entirety. It’s a shame that many Jews wait until moments before their demise to recite the Shema for the first time. A far better idea would be to recite it daily, and fulfill this important obligation among a number of other equally important mitzvot.

JEWISH WRAPPERS

“Your child may later ask you, What is this? You must answer him, With a show of power, G-d took us out of Egypt, the place of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to allow us to leave, G-d killed all the firstborn in Egypt, man and beast alike…These words shall be a sign upon your arm and a remembrance between your eyes for G-d took us out of Egypt with a show of strength.” Shemot 13:15-17

A sign upon your arm – The Hebrew word “Yadchah” [your arm] is written with an extra letter hey at the end. This teaches us that the word should be read, “Yad Kehah,” which means, “The weaker arm,” and alludes to the fact that the tefillin of the arm must be worn on the weaker arm. – Rashi

Another reason for the extra hey, whose numerical value is five, is to symbolize the five chambers that contain holy parchments in the two tefillin boxes; one in the tefillin of the head, and four in the tefillin of the arm. – Rabbeinu Bachya

A sign upon your arm…between your eyes – Although the mitzvah of tefillin is comprised of placing a box on the arm and a box on the front center of the head, one need not don both boxes in order to fulfill the mitzvah. Each box is a mitzvah independent of the other. Thus, by donning both boxes, one has fulfilled not one, but two commandments.

Just as we don tefillin daily pledging our allegiance to the Almighty, He too, dons tefillin each day. In the Almighty’s tefillin, however, the glories of and His loyalty toward the Jewish people are transcribed. – Talmud, Tractate Berachos 6a

Creating a kosher pair of tefillin is not as easy as it looks. There are many details that must be carefully attended to, only certain materials may be used, and the writing requires great expertise. Sadly, many are unaware of this and purchase inexpensive tefillin that are often unacceptable for use in the mitzvah. One must only purchase tefillin from a reputable dealer, and spend enough to ensure that he is obtaining a kosher pair. Just as one cannot purchase a reliable automobile for less than a certain sum, a kosher pair of tefillin cannot be purchased for less than $250-$350.

Did you know that Partners in Torah distributes high-quality pairs of tefillin to our students for a nominal fee? If you study with a mentor regularly and wish to begin fulfilling the mitzvah of tefillin, give us a call, and we will be glad to assist you. Hundreds of participants have availed themselves of this wonderful service, and you can be the next. In just a few minutes a day, you can recall and relive the special events surrounding our exodus from Egypt!

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Hey, I Never Knew That

by RABBI MORDECHAI BECHER

When Moses warned Pharaoh about the plague of the firstborn, he said that it would strike at “about midnight.” Why does Moses express the time in an inexact way? Some commentaries (Rashi) explain that since time measurement then was not precise, had Moses said “exactly midnight” and the Egyptians measured the time incorrectly, they would have had an excuse to ignore the plague because it didn’t happen at the time Moses predicted. So Moses said “about midnight” to prevent this. However, some explain that for human beings there is, in fact, no point of midnight. Divide an hour into 2 parts, you have 30 minutes in one half, 30 in the other, but nothing in between. The same is true for a minute and the same is true for the day. So really, from our perspective, the firstborn were alive before midnight and after midnight they were dead, and Moses had to say “about” because from a human perspective, time is continuously in flux, moving from past to present to future, and that exact point really doesn’t exist (Tzaphenat Paaneach, Rogatchover Gaon).

G-d told Moses that even though Pharaoh would not listen to him, he should nevertheless warn him and demand the Jews’ release in order to provide an opportunity for G-d to bring the plagues and to demonstrate His power. The words G-d used are “in order to increase My wonders in the land of Egypt — רבות מופתי בארץ מצרים — revot moftai be’eretz Mitzraim” (Shemot 11:9). Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna (the Gaon of Vilna) maintained that everything was hinted at in the Torah. When he was challenged as to where Maimonides, the great Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, was hinted at in the Torah, Rabbi Eliyahu referred to this week’s Torah portion. He noted that the first letters of each word in the phrase quoted above “revot moftai be’eretz Mitzraim” spell Rambam, the acrostic for Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, who spent most of his life in the land of Egypt.

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Word of the Week

by RABBI MORDECHAI BECHER

פסח

“And the blood shall be to you for a sign upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will ופסחתי — uphasachti over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt” (Shemot 12:13). The festival Pesach — פסח is named after the verb פסחתי — pasachti in this verse. Targum Onkelos translates it as “I will have compassion.” However, Rashi translates it “I will jump, or skip over you,” hence the English name for the festival, Passover. Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook (Midbar Shur) understands it as “I will hover” over you in order to protect you.

מזוזות

The Jews were commanded to place the blood of the Passover lamb on their מזוזות — mezuzot and on their mashkof — doorposts and lintel. The word mezuzah here means “doorpost.” Later in history (already during the time of the Mishnah), the word mezuzah was used to refer to the parchment that we place on our doorpost, even though strictly speaking it means doorpost. Some explain that the word comes from the root זז— zaz —move (Haktav Vehakabalah) because the doorpost is the place where people move in and out of the house, and it’s the place around which the door itself moves. The Zohar explains the word as an acronym for — זז מות zaz mavet — death is removed, because just as the blood on the doorposts of the Jewish homes in Egypt protected Jews from the plague of the firstborn and from death, so too every mezuzah also gives protection to the house (Tikunei Zohar, Tikuna 10, 25a).

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Dear Rabbi

Rabbi Dov Berish Weidenfield (Doveiv Meisharim 3:73) was asked about a case in which two Jewish business partners were involved in a bitter dispute. In the midst of the argument, one swore an oath that “he would no longer see” the other’s face. They had to face a government investigation and needed to meet each other to discuss their defense. Given the oath that one made, are they permitted to meet? Rabbi Weidenfield quotes the verse in the Torah portion this week, in which Moses said to Pharaoh, “I will no longer see your face” (Shemot 10:29). Nevertheless, we find that Moses and Pharaoh did meet after that statement. Nachmanides, citing the Midrash, writes that when Moses said he would not see Pharaoh’s face, his intention was that he would not come to meet Pharaoh; however, he was not excluding the possibility that Pharaoh would seek him out and come to meet him. Rabbi Weidenfield suggests that in order to avoid transgressing the oath, his partner should come to him, but he should not go to his partner, and he added that they should meet in the dark, as indeed Moses met Pharaoh later, at night (Shemot 12:31).

“This month shall be for you the first of months…” (Shemot 12:2). Rashi explains that according to the straightforward reading of the text, there is an obligation, a mitzvah, to count Nisan as the first month. Nachmanides also maintains that there is a mitzvah to count the months from Nisan as a reminder of the Exodus. Based on these comments, Rabbi Moshe Sofer (Torat Moshe on Bo) rules that one should not use the numbers of the months of the secular calendar, since by counting them one is annulling the mitzvah of counting from Nisan. Some authorities permit this and maintain that the mitzvah of counting the months is a mitzvah for the Jewish court and does not obligate each individual (Responsa Binyan Shlomo 22). Others defend the common practice to use the numbers of the secular months and maintain that if it is for purely pragmatic purposes and without intention to detract from the importance of the Jewish calendar and the primacy of Nisan, then it is permitted (Minchat Asher, Shemot 14:2).

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Parsha at a Glance

This weeks’ portion describes the climatic final three plagues: Locusts, Darkness, and the Death of the First Born, and the Exodus from Egypt.

The 8th Plague: Locusts. Moses warns Pharaoh that he must release the Jewish people or face a swarm of locusts that will cover the land of Egypt and destroy all of its vegetation.

Hearing this, Pharaoh’s servants beg Pharaoh to agree, as Egypt stands on the brink of total destruction. Pharaoh attempts to negotiate a “partial release.”  The men may leave, but the women and children must remain behind. He declares that religious services are for men, and that it is “not logical” to bring the entire population.  (Such a tactic also cleverly leaves “hostages” on Egyptian soil, which would force the men to return)  Moses rejects this request, stating that the entire Jewish people must be allowed to leave, and the plague of locusts sweeps into Egypt, consuming everything in its wake.

The 9th Plague: Darkness.  Six days of darkness descend on Egypt without warning. The first three days turn day into night and cast an even stronger darkness during the night. After this, the darkness intensifies to the point where the Egyptians are unable even to move.  During the entire plague of darkness, the Jews had light.

However, the Jewish people did not escape this plague unharmed. Millions of Jews who did not want to leave Egypt perished. G-d brought the darkness so that the Egyptians would not see the Jews burying so many dead and conclude that the Jews were also struck by the plagues.

In addition, the Jewish used these days to search through the Egyptians’ possessions in order to ask for them at the time of the actual Exodus. That, too, would be a fulfillment of the prophecy that the nation would leave Egypt with great wealth.  Though they searched the houses, the Jews took nothing, which later brought honor to the nation in the eyes of the Egyptians.

Pharaoh summons Moses and states that the Jewish people may leave, the men, women, and children. However, he does not agree to send the livestock. This, too, was a tactic to ensure their return.  Moses rejects this, stating that the livestock may also be needed as an offering to G-d.

Hearing this, Pharaoh ejects Moses from his presence, warning him not to return on pain of death. Moses declares he will indeed never appear before Pharaoh again. He then warns Pharaoh that the Death of the Firstborn will strike all of Egypt and that Pharaoh himself will personally beg Moses and the Jewish people to leave his country.

Prior to this last plague, G-d commands the Jewish people to mark Nissan as the first month of the Jewish year.  On the tenth day of the month, they are to take a lamb, either from a sheep or a goat, and hold it for four days. On the 14th, they will sacrifice the lamb smear its blood on their doorposts, which will protect them from the Death of the Firstborn.  The Jewish people are then commanded to eat the lamb roasted, along with matzah and bitter herbs, the first Passover Seder in history.  Additionally, the Jewish people are commanded to remove all leaven from their households for a period of seven days, for all generations.

At exactly midnight on the 15th of Nissan, G-d strikes down every first born of Egypt.  True to Moses’ prophecy, Pharaoh runs to Moses and Aaron, begging them to take the Jewish people and leave his country.  Triumphantly, the Jewish people march out of Egypt, 600,000 men, along with women and children, the elderly, and a great mixed multitude of Egyptians.

The portion concludes the commandments to sanctify the first born of the Jewish people, whether a person or from livestock; to remember the day of leaving Egypt; and the commandment of tefillin.

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