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Parshas Shemos

ובני ישראל פרו וישרצו וירבו ויעצמו במאד מאד ותמלא הארץ אותם (1:7) שהיו יולדות ששה בכרס אחד (רש"י)

The Oznayim L'Torah recounts that a maskil (supposedly educated and sophisticated, but nonobservant Jew) once approached his father-in-law Rav Eliezer Gordon, the Rav and Rosh Yeshiva of Telz in Europe. He said that he did believe in whatever is explicit in the Written Torah, but how could he, a modern and sophisticated intellectual, be expected to believe in such apparently exaggerated Medrashim as the miracle that all of the Jewish women in Egypt gave birth to six children at a time? Without batting an eyelash, Rav Gordon answered him with a beautiful mathematical source for the Medrash's claim. In Parshas Bamidbar, the Torah (which the man claimed to believe in) relates to us the results of the census conducted approximately one year after the Exodus from Egypt. The total number of first-born males was 22,273 (Bamidbar 3:43), which means that there were a total of 22,273 families. The total of all of the men between the ages of 20 and 60 produced by these families was 603,550 (Bamidbar 1:46). Dividing 603,550 by 22,273 tells us that the average family size was approximately 55 (although the number of families should be doubled as presumably half of them had a first-born girl, taking into account females would also require doubling the total population, which would cancel out and the result would remain the same)! We know that it takes a woman almost a year to conceive, carry to term, and give birth to a child, and it took them 2 years after giving birth until they were able to conceive again, meaning that each child requires roughly 3 years. A woman normally has 27-30 child-bearing during her life, and if each child takes 3 years, she will be able to give birth a maximum of 9-10 times during her lifetime. Dividing the 55 children the average woman had by the roughly 9 times she gave birth yields of a result of exactly 6 children per delivery, a proof which left the maskil stunned and speechless!

וימררו את חייהם (1:14)

The Vilna Gaon notes that the name of the cantillation on these words is "kadma v'azla", which literally means "went out early." This hints to us that through the excessive bitterness (mentioned in these same words) that the Egyptians caused the Jews during their enslavement, Hashem shortened the decree by 190 years, from 400 years of slavery to 210, during which time they suffered the equivalent of 400 years of "regular" enslavement. He beautifully notes that the gematria (numerical value) of the words "kadma v'azla" is precisely 190, the exact number of years by which they "went out early!"

ויצו פרעה לכל עמו לאמור כל הבן הילוד היאורה תשליכוהו (1:22) ויצו פרעה לכל עמו לאמור כל הבן הילוד היאורה תשליכוהו וכל הבת תחיון (1:22)

I once heard an unbelievable story from the person to whom it happened, Rabbi S. Approximately two weeks after the birth of one of his daughters, they went in to her room to check on her before retiring for the night, only to find her blue! They immediately raced her to the closest hospital, but as he says, when giving her over to the emergency room doctors he didn't know if he'd ever see her again. Fortunately, she received proper medical treatment and was nursed back to health quickly and hasn't had any further medical problems. What makes this story remarkable is that Rabbi S's father is a well-known philanthropist who 9 months before this episode had donated money to an old synagogue in Jerusalem to enable them to check their Sifrei Torah for the first time in more than 80 years. Lo and behold, the Sefer Torah from which they had been reading every week for close to a century was found to be not kosher, as the last three words of our verse were written "v'kol ha'BAYIS t'chayun" - the one additional "yud" rendered the entire Sefer Torah unfit. As aghast as they were at the error, they promptly corrected it and thought nothing further of the incident. However, 9 months later, the little girl who was fighting for her life was saved perhaps in the merit that just after her conception, her generous grandfather had enabled the correction of a disqualified Sefer Torah by removing the extra letter so that the verse would correctly read … "and all of the girls shall live!!"

ותאמר אחותו אל בת פרעה האלך וקראתי לך אשה מינקת מן העבריות ותינק לך את הילד (2:7) מלמד שהחזירתו על מצריות הרבה לינק ולא ינק לפי שהיה עתיד לדבר עם השכינה (רש"י)

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 81:7) rules that a baby is allowed to nurse from a non-Jew as the milk is considered kosher, but cautions against it whenever a Jewish nursemaid is available. The Vilna Gaon quotes the Rashba that the source of this law is from Moshe Rabbeinu, who Rashi explains refused to nurse from an Egyptian woman with the same mouth that was destined to speak directly to Hashem. Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky finds the comparison incredulous. How can we derive practical laws for our children today from the actions of Moshe Rabbeinu, when the explicit reason given for his actions - that he would eventually speak with the Divine Presence - isn't applicable to them? Rather, we are obviously being taught a beautiful, and critical, lesson regarding our approach to educating and raising our children. Our Rabbis don't view our kids as being average, typical youth with no connection to the lofty levels of Moshe Rabbeinu who lived over 3000 years ago. Every child today has a chance at growing up to reach the level of a prophet and indeed will merit to speak directly to Hashem. Therefore, from the moment of their birth, we mustn't see in them the present - a typical baby who cries, nurses, and needs diaper changes - but rather their potential, their future, and we must educate and raise them in purity and holiness accordingly!

ויהי בימים ההם ויגדל משה ויצא אל אחיו וירא בסבלתם וירא איש מצרי מכה איש עברי מאחיו ויפן כה וכה וירא כי אין איש ויך את המצרי ויטמנהו בחול (2:11-12)

The Torah tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu grew up, went out and saw the suffering of his Jewish brethren, and rescued one of them from the hands of his oppressor by killing the Egyptian taskmaster. The Maharal and Mishmeres Ariel observes that while all children naturally grow and become bigger, the Torah is teaching us that the true definition of "growing up" is the ability and willingness to share in the pain and suffering of others and to allay it whenever possible. It is for this reason that a Jewish child is considered no longer a minor at the age (13 for a boy, 12 for a girl) when they are capable of conceiving children, as child-raising is the primary form of giving which a person does throughout his entire life, and it is this ability to begin giving which classifies them as a Jewish adult. The Shelah HaKadosh writes that if one wishes to know the true inner meaning of any word, one need only examine the meaning of that word the first time it appears in the Torah. Searching for the word "גדול," we needn't go too far, as it first appears in Bereishis 1:16 (es ha'maor ha'GADOL l'memsheles ha'yom v'es ha'maor ha'katon l'memsheles halaylah), when the Torah relates that Hashem made the large light - the sun - to rule by day and the smaller one - the moon - to dominate by night. On a simple level, it would appear that the first use of this word merely refers to the mundane fact that the sun is physically larger than the moon, hardly inspiring in our search to understand the Torah's definition of greatness. However, the Bostoner Rebbe notes that in searching for some deeper significance, we must consider the scientific relationship between the sun and the moon. To the naked, uneducated eye, it would seem that the sun provides our light during the day and the moon by night. However, we all learned in science that this isn't exactly accurate, as the moon is incapable of independently generating its own light. More correctly, the sun gives us light during the day and at night the moon reflects the sun's light. In this sense, the sun is the giver and the moon is the receiver. Applying this to us, the Torah is indeed teaching us a profound lesson that our quest for true greatness isn't measured by how much Torah we learn or how hard we pray, but by how much we emulate the "great" sun by sharing our warmth with others!

ויען משה ויאמר והן לא יאמינו לי ולא ישמעו בקולי (4:1) לא איש דברים אנכי (4:10)

There was once a time when the only elite yeshiva in all of Europe was the famed Volozhin yeshiva, and the Rabbis of virtually every large, prestigious Jewish community were counted among its alumnae. Those learning there knew that after a number of years, as their families grew, the time would come to seek out a community in need of a Rav. At one point, there was a meeting of the top married scholars in Volozhin to discuss whether or not, in addition to their normal Talmudic and halachic studies, they should also engage in the study of oratorical skills which would suit them in their future positions. Rav Zalman Sorotzkin prefaced his opinion by asking why Moshe Rabbeinu, in his humble attempt to decline Hashem's appointment as redeemer of the Jewish people, began by expressing his concern that the Jews wouldn't believe that Hashem had appeared to him? If he would later claim that his speech impediment rendered him unfit for the job regardless of whether they believed in his words, why not begin with that concern? He answered that if they indeed had proper belief in Hashem and His agent Moshe, then Moshe's difficulties speaking wouldn't deter them. It was only because of a concern that they would be lacking in faith that his speech would become an issue. Returning to the subject at hand, he noted that in previous generations, the average Jew had a simple, unwavering belief in Hashem and trust in the decisions of the local Rav, and it was therefore irrelevant for the Rabbonim to be well-versed in oratorical skills. As long as they knew the relevant laws and rendered honest decisions, the people would accept their verdicts. Now, he declared, we are witnessing an unprecedented drop-off in the level of trust and faith exhibited by the average Jew, and as Moshe Rabbeinu taught us, in such a case, difficulty in public speaking will indeed be considered a deficiency and we'd better dedicate time to honing our skills!

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Rashi (2:1) explains that when Paroh made a decree against all males who will be born to the Jews, Amram divorced his wife Yocheved and only remarried her based on the advice of his daughter Miriam. The Targum Yonason ben Uziel (Bamidbar 11:26) writes that during the time they were divorced, she married Elitzaphan and gave birth to Eldad and Meidad. The Torah forbids a man to remarry his ex-wife if she marries another man (Devorim 23:4), so how was Amram allowed to remarry Yocheved? (M'rafsin Igri)

2) Rashi in Sotah (12b) writes that Bisyah was on her way to the river in order to convert to Judaism by immersing herself in it. One of the requirements of a proper conversion is that it be witnessed by a Beis Din (Jewish court) of three adult males, so how could this have been a proper conversion? (M'rafsin Igri)

3) What is the deep underlying connection between Moshe Rabbeinu and water, as we find so many significant events in his life occurring there - being placed in the river at the age of 3 months, meeting his future wife by the well, warning Paroh about the plagues by the river, performing the first two plagues via water, splitting the Red Sea for the Jewish people and drowning the Egyptians in it, and eventually dying as a result of his sin in bringing forth water from the rock at Mei Merivah? (Mishmeres Ariel)

4) The Mishnah (Berachos 54a) prohibits a person from entering the Temple Mount with, among other things, shoes on his feet or his walking stick in his hand. As a result, Moshe Rabbeinu was instructed (3:5) to remove his shoes from the Holy ground on which he was standing when Hashem revealed Himself to him. However, we find that after Moshe expresses his doubts about the Jews believing in his mission, Hashem gives him a sign by turning his staff into a snake. Why wasn't he similarly instructed to discard his staff as he was his shoes due to the Divine Presence?

5) The Medrash relates that one of the merits in which the Jews were redeemed was that they didn't change their clothes, preserving their customary modest dress and not adopting the stylish fashions of the Egyptians. If so, why did Hashem tell Moshe (3:22) to instruct the Jews that in addition to gold and silver vessles, they should also "borrow" the Egyptians' clothing, and how could they wear them after generations of insulating themselves from such clothing? (Meged Yosef)

6) We have a Talmudic maxim (Pesachim 8b) that anybody on his way to do a mitzvah will not be harmed. If so, how could the angel seek to kill Moshe Rabbeinu when he was fulfilling Hashem's command to return to Egypt to redeem the Jewish people? (Ohr Hachayim HaKadosh)

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel