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Parshas Bo - Vol. 10, Issue 15
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Parshas Bo contains the mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon, which is the first mitzvah that Hashem gave to the Jewish people as a collective nation. The Seforno explains that also included in this mitzvah was the most precious commodity of all - time - and the freedom to do with it whatever one desires. Until this point, the Jewish people were enslaved and forced to spend their time fulfilling the demands of their Egyptian taskmasters. As Hashem prepared to take the Jewish people out of Egypt, He told Moshe to inform them that now for the first time ha'chodesh ha'zeh - this month - lachem - is yours, because you will have the freedom to use your time as you see fit.
However, Rav Avrohom Yaakov Pam explains that while this freedom was certainly welcome news to the Jewish slaves, it is also a double-edged sword, as with it comes responsibility. He suggests that just as the Sanhedrin was commanded to sanctify the new month, so too every Jew is expected to sanctify every moment of his day, and just as people devote significant time and energy to researching the best investments for their money, so to we should focus on how to achieve the maximum return on the precious time that we are granted by "investing" it wisely in Torah and mitzvos. The concept of having control over our time, and being accountable for how we choose to spend it, is so essential that it is the message of the first mitzvah that Hashem gave to the Jewish people.
Unfortunately, it is difficult for us to utilize all of our time productively, as the Rambam writes (Hilchos Deios 6:1) that human nature is to be influenced by our neighbors, and we are surrounded by a culture that does not value time and even has an expression for "killing time." The Chasam Sofer was once asked, "How long does it take to become a Gadol (great Torah scholar)?" He replied that it takes only five minutes. The incredulous questioner asked him what one could possibly do in five minutes to become so learned. The Chasam Sofer explained that every time there was a five-minute delay, such as when one is waiting in line at the grocery store, or waiting for a wedding to begin, most people allow that time to idly go to waste. The secret to reaching the highest levels of piety and Torah scholarship is to make a conscious effort to utilize all of those five-minute intervals.
The yetzer hara (evil inclination) attempts to convince us that this concept does not apply to us, because we will never be Torah scholars on the level of the Chasam Sofer. However, this attitude is mistaken, as the mitzvah that teaches our responsibility to use our time productively was presented to the entire Jewish nation. Even if we are not on the level to utilize every spare moment for Torah study, our time can still be used for chesed and other mitzvos, as the following story illustrates.
Rav Pam was once told that an acquaintance of his had been hospitalized. Because Rav Pam was a Kohen, he was unable to visit his friend in the hospital due to the possibility of being exposed to the impurity transmitted by a dead body. Instead, Rav Pam wrote him a short note expressing his best wishes for a speedy recovery. Unfortunately, the man did not recover and passed away. At the funeral, one of the speakers mentioned that the deceased had received a handwritten note from the well-known Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Vodaath, which he showed to eagerly showed off to all of his visitors.
When this was relayed to Rav Pam, instead of rejoicing at the support and inspiration that his letter had provided, he began to cry. He explained that it took him less than five minutes to write the short message, yet it made such a difference in somebody else's life. This made him realize that he would now have to provide an accounting for every other five-minute period in his life and whether he had used it equally productively, a message which applies to each of us.
Rav Chaim Kanievsky is the contemporary Rabbi who is most renowned for maximizing his time through his numerous learning sessions throughout the day, which enable him to study the entirety of the Written and Oral Torahs and their commentaries on an annual basis. Because of his reputation for his encyclopedic knowledge, he also receives a number of letters daily, asking for legal rulings and sources for various customs and opinions. He replies to each of them, but because his valuable time is so measured, his responses represent the epitome of terseness, often consisting of only one or two words, such as asur - forbidden, mutar - permitted, or tzarich iyun - it's unclear.
A chavrusa (study partner) of mine once told me about a friend of his, who possesses the record for the shortest reply ever sent by Rav Chaim. After sending off his question, he anxiously came home each day to check if the reply had come. When it finally arrived, he eagerly opened up the envelope only to discover that … it was completely blank inside! He knew that Rav Chaim was known for short replies to avoid wasting time, but in this case it seemed like he had wasted a stamp and an envelope. However, upon further reflection, the questioner recognized the true brilliance of Rav Chaim.
He had recently gotten engaged, and because he had an unusual Yiddish name, he decided to write to Rav Chaim to confirm how his name should be spelled in the kesubah (marriage contract). He realized that when Rav Chaim addressed the envelope to him, he had already answered the question, and therefore there was no need for him to waste the time required to write his name a second time inside of the envelope. In addition to resolving the chosson's (groom's) question about the proper spelling of his name, Rav Chaim also taught him an even more valuable lesson about the value of every second.
The Haggadah teaches that the Torah addresses four different types of children and instructs us how to educate each of them about the Exodus from Egypt. In his work Shemen HaTov, Rav Dov Weinberger points out that when examining the verses which record the questions posed by the three types of sons who are capable of asking questions, the Torah (Shemos 13:14 and Devorim 6:20) introduces the questions of the wise son and the simple son with the words "ki yishalcha bincha machar" - when your son asks you tomorrow - but in conjunction with the question attributed to the wicked son, the word "machar" (tomorrow) is omitted.
Rav Weinberger explains that although the wise and simple sons have questions about the Exodus from Egypt, the Torah tells us that they only ask their questions the following day. On Pesach itself, they are focused on performing the mitzvos that they recognize that they are obligated to do, and only after they have fulfilled their obligations do they ask about what they did so that they can better understand the mitzvos. The wicked son, on the other, insists on asking his question today, because if he is unable to understand the mitzvah and doesn't receive a satisfactory answer to his question, he will refuse to perform the mitzvah. This is what makes him wicked, as it is the diametric opposite of the Jewish attitude of "na'aseh v'nishma" - we will do and we will listen (Shemos 24:7).
Similarly, the Kotzker Rebbe points out that we declare "Ein Keilokeinu" - there is none like our G-d - and only afterwards do we ask "Mi Keilokeinu" - who is like our G-d. He explains that this teaches us that asking questions is permissible and encouraged, but only after one has clearly established and accepted the fundamental tenets of Jewish belief.
Rav Chaim Soloveitchik had a student who unfortunately left yeshiva and abandoned the Torah lifestyle. Many years later Rav Chaim was visiting the city where this student lived, and the student came to visit him. He said to Rav Chaim, "I have a number of questions and doubts about Hashem and Jewish beliefs. Can we discuss them?"
Rav Chaim responded, "I'll be happy to sit down and talk to you about your questions, but first tell me one thing: did your questions come before you stopped observing Shabbos or afterward?" The student replied that the doubts developed after he began to desecrate Shabbos. Rav Chaim responded that in that case, the student didn't have questions but answers. In other words, he had already decided not to adhere to the Torah, but he began to feel guilty over his decisions, so he developed questions to rationalize and justify his decisions. Rav Chaim added, "I'm happy to answer questions, but for answers I have no answers."
This theme is one of the lessons of the four sons. Questions are fine, even from a wise child, as long as they are symbolically asked tomorrow, meaning after one has accepted the primary and unshakeable obligation to perform the mitzvos. However, if the questions are a prerequisite to observing the Torah's commandments, it is an indication that we are unfortunately dealing with a wicked son.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Moshe and Aharon rebuked Pharaoh in the name of Hashem (10:3), "How much longer will you refuse to be humbled by Me and send out My people to serve Me?" What complaint could be lodged against Pharaoh for refusing to be humbled by the recent plagues when Hashem Himself had hardened his heart so that he couldn't be affected by them? (Mishmeres Ariel)
2) During the plague of darkness, a humbled Pharaoh called to Moshe (10:24) and offered to allow the Jews to travel to the desert to bring offerings to Hashem. As Rashi writes (10:22) that during the final 3 days of the plague, the darkness was so thick that the Egyptians were unable to move, how was Pharaoh able to call Moshe during the darkness? (Moshav Z'keinim, Mahari Bruna)
3) The Zohar HaKadosh teaches (Vol. 2 38a) that on the night of the Exodus, a tremendous light shone which was as bright as the day. If it never became dark and the day of 14 Nissan never ended, how were they able to fulfill the requirement (12:8) of eating the Pesach-offering on the night of 15 Nissan? (Mirkeves HaMishneh Mechilta 13:6 and 18:7)
4) The Medrash teaches (Eichah Rabbasi 1:28) that the Jews were sent into exile for eating chometz on Pesach. Where is written that this sin is punishable with national exile? (Genuzos HaGra)
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