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Parshas Shemos - Vol. 10, Issue 13
Compiled by Oizer Alport
In his first comment on Parshas Shemos, Rashi writes that even though Hashem had already counted the Jews who descended to Egypt by name during their lifetimes, He did so again after they died. The purpose of counting them by name a second time was to make known how much He loves the Jewish people, who are compared to stars that Hashem also brings in and out by name and number.
The Torah records (Bereishis 2:19) that Hashem brought each animal to Adam so that he could give it a name. The names that he selected were not random and arbitrary; each name accurately conveyed the inner essence of that species. Adam was on such a lofty spiritual level that he was capable of looking at each animal and perceiving its fundamental nature in order to give it an appropriate name.
The current Munkatcher Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Leib Rabinovich, points out that Adam was only capable of assessing and naming the animals, but when it came to the stars, they are so numerous and vast that even Adam was unable to glean their individual uniqueness and name them. Because the stars appear limitless and virtually identical to the naked eye, with astronomers identifying more than 300 billion in just the Milky Way, Hashem alone has the ability to gaze at each individual star and give it an appropriate name that connotes its distinct purpose.
With this insight, the Rebbe suggests that when Hashem took Avrohom outside and instructed him (Bereishis 15:5), "Gaze now toward the Heavens, and count the stars if you are able to count them; so shall your offspring be," Hashem was telling Avrohom that even though each of the millions of Jews descended from him may seem superficially similar, in reality each Jew is a complex individual who is a unique world unto himself, just like a star.
Sometimes a person can feel overwhelmed by the vastness of the physical world around us, and by the millions of Jews who inhabit it. At such times, it is important to remember that we are compared to stars, and just as Hashem discerned the distinct role of each individual star to give it a corresponding name, so too He promised Avrohom that each of his descendants would also be special and different, and He created each of us with an irreplaceable and unmatched set of talents and abilities to enable us to fulfill our unique mission and purpose in Creation.
When Rav Simcha Bunim of Peshischa was young and newly married, he spent Rosh Hashana with one of the leading Chassidic Rebbes of the time, the Chozeh of Lublin. The Rebbe's custom was that before the blowing of the shofar, all of those who knew how to blow would draw close to the Rebbe, who would teach them the mystical secrets and intentions to have in mind while blowing the shofar. At that point, the Rebbe would choose one of the assembled to blow the shofar for the congregation that year.
Rav Simcha Bunim joined the group, and to his surprise, the Chozeh selected him to blow the shofar. At that point, he was forced to sheepishly confess that he didn't actually know how to blow the shofar. The confused and disappointed Rebbe asked him why he had falsely claimed to be capable in order to join the group.
Rav Simcha Bunim answered that when Hashem initially revealed Himself to Moshe at the burning bush, Moshe asked for His secret name so that he could share it with the Jews to validate his mission. Yet shortly thereafter, Moshe declared himself unfit for the role due to his speaking difficulties (4:10). Rav Simcha Bunim used this episode as a source to similarly learn the Kabbalistic secrets of the shofar even though he would later have to declare himself incapable of using them to blow it.
The Torah records that after Moshe and Aharon approached Pharaoh and demanded that he allow his Jewish slaves to go to the wilderness to rejoice with Hashem, Pharaoh got angry and claimed that the Jews were being lazy. He decided to give them more work in order to keep them busy, so he declared that from that point onward, the Jewish slaves would no longer receive straw to use to make bricks and would have to gather their own straw. At the same time, Pharaoh didn't want to lose out on their productivity, so he demanded that they continue to make the same number of bricks as before, even though they would now have to spend extra time and energy gathering straw.
Rav Yochanan Zweig asks an interesting question: if Pharaoh wanted to punish the Jewish slaves with additional work, why did he keep their quota the same while making them work harder to get straw instead of continuing to give them straw but ordering them to produce a larger quantity of bricks, which would serve the goal of making them work harder but would seemingly be better for Pharaoh, as he would get more output from them?
Rav Zweig answers that Pharaoh understood that even though the Jewish slaves had been physically occupied until now, their request to go to the desert to serve Hashem revealed that internally, they were still free and were able to reflect in their minds upon their spiritual plight. He realized that if he simply ordered them to work harder on a physical level, it would be more physically draining, but the mental freedom they possessed would continue to be off-limits to him.
Instead, in his wickedness, Pharaoh came up with a plan which would require the Jewish slaves to work harder not just physically, but also mentally. By not giving them straw and demanding that they find it themselves, Pharaoh was setting up a system which would force them to devote additional mental energy to their work that he hoped would result in his total control not only over their bodies, but also over their minds.
The Mesilas Yesharim writes that the yetzer hara (evil inclination) realizes that if we would ever pause to reflect for even a brief moment on its techniques, we would immediately recognize it for what it is and stop listening to it. Therefore, an integral part of its strategy is to keep us so overwhelmingly busy that we never get a chance to stop and think. Just as Rav Zweig explains, the Mesilas Yesharim adds that this is exactly what Pharaoh was trying to do when he ordered the Jewish slaves to find straw in an attempt to take away from them the ability to think for themselves.
Even though we're not slaves to Pharaoh today, most of us still aren't free to choose how we spend much of our time. Each of us has various obligations and responsibilities to our families and to our jobs. Nevertheless, the lesson of Pharaoh's diabolical plan is that the definition of freedom isn't how much time we have for ourselves, but how well we use it. Even though we have many demands on our time that require our constant focus and concentration, the Mesilas Yesharim and Rav Zweig teach us that we are only considered free if we are able to carve out the time and mental space to think for ourselves.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Rashi writes (1:21) that because the midwives Yocheved and Miriam feared Hashem, He rewarded them by making them the matriarchs of the dynasties of Kohanim, Levites, and kings. How can this be reconciled with the Talmudic maxim (Kiddushin 39b) that Hashem doesn't give reward in this world for the good deeds that a person does? (Darash Moshe)
2) When was Moshe placed into the river (2:3), and what was the significance of this date? (Sotah 12b, Rosh, Rabbeinu Bechaye)
3) The Medrash teaches (Rus Rabbah 5:6) that if Aharon had known that the Torah would immortalize (4:14) the fact that he went out to greet his returning brother Moshe, he would have exerted himself much more and would have gone out to greet Moshe while dancing and playing musical instruments. Shouldn't Aharon's actions have been purely motivated based on his assessment of what was proper and appropriate in the situation and not based on the publicity he would receive or how other people would judge him? (Imrei Daas, Bod Kodesh)
4) In asking permission from Yisro to return to Egypt (4:18), why did Moshe say that he wanted to go back to see if his brethren are still alive instead of the truth, that Hashem had appeared to him and commanded him to do so? (Medrash HaGadol, Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, Ayeles HaShachar)
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