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Parshas Shemos - Vol. 12, Issue 13
Compiled by Oizer Alport
In his first comment on Parshas Shemos, Rashi writes that although Hashem had already counted the Jews who descended to Egypt by name during their lifetimes, He did so again after they died to make known how much He loves the Jewish people, who are compared to stars that are also brought in and out by name and number. While this comparison is intended to be complimentary, Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman questions what in fact is so praiseworthy about being likened to stars. If Rashi had written that we are as numerous as the stars, that would indeed be admirable, but what is so special and praiseworthy about being compared to stars? Further, what is the significance of individual stars having names, and how is this relevant to us?
Rav Aharon Leib explains that the purpose of names is to differentiate between objects. Therefore, we do not give names to items unless they are unique; when things are identical, we do not use names to distinguish between them. For example, if a person has 20 cans of Coke in front of him, they all have the same name, as there is no difference between one can of Coke and the can next to it. However, if a person has 20 different flavors of soda in front of him, then he will call one Coke, one Sprite, one diet, etc., because names are used to differentiate between items.
With this insight, we now understand that if Hashem gives names to the stars, it must be because no two stars are identical, and each star has its own unique purpose. Rav Yisroel Reisman notes that the Gemora (Berachos 59a) teaches that when Hashem wanted to bring the flood to punish Noach's generation, He did so by removing two stars from the tail of the mazal called Kimah, and the absence of those two stars somehow set the flood and its destruction in motion. Although all stars look identical to us and we are incapable of discerning the differences between them, the fact that each has its own name teaches us that each has its own unique purpose.
Similarly, when one looks around at other Jews, especially if he lives in a sizeable community, it is easy to think that we are all the same. Although we recognize that people have their own likes and dislikes and idiosyncrasies, as far as our underlying role in the world, it sometimes feels like we all have the same job and are all doing the same thing. Rashi teaches us that this perspective is mistaken. Just like the stars, we each have our own names, because we each have our own unique mission in this world, and we should not compare ourselves to anybody else. Rav Tzaddok beautifully writes that just as there is a mitzvah to have emunah (faith) in Hashem, so too a person must also have emunah in himself and believe that he has a unique function and inimitable relationship with Hashem.
In Parshas Vayechi, when Yaakov blessed his grandsons Ephraim and Menashe, he crossed his hands in order to place his stronger right hand on the younger Ephraim and his weaker left hand on the older Menashe (Bereishis 48:14). Many commentators question why Yaakov didn't simply switch their positions so that he could extend his hands straight across from him. Rav Reisman suggests that Yaakov was hinting to us that rather than trying to change a child to fit our needs, we must instead adapt ourselves to deal with the child as he is. Every child has his own name and mission, with his own unique talents and weaknesses, and the job of a responsible parent (or in this case, grandparent) is to adjust his hands and approach according to the child and his individual needs.
Although we often find ourselves feeling lost in the crowd, it is important to remember that Hashem does not see a crowd, but rather a collection of many individuals, each with their own unique name and purpose. To illustrate this concept, Rav Reisman notes that when a parent goes to graduation and there are 100 or more graduates on stage, the parent only focuses on his beloved child, almost as if the other children are not even there. A few years ago, a new sukkah poster came out, displaying a panoramic image of MetLife stadium during the 2012 Siyum HaShas. The person selling the poster made an unusual offer: Anybody who could locate himself in the picture could have it for free, a task which was nearly impossible for a human, but comes easily to Hashem, Who lovingly focuses on every single one of us, with our own unique name and life mission, as if we were His only child.
In eulogizing his beloved teacher Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Nissan Alpert observed that many people complained that Rav Moshe was so overly generous in writing haskamos (letters of approbation) for newly-published books that they proved nothing and were essentially worthless. Rav Nissan suggested that Rav Moshe constantly acted based on his desire to do kindness and help another Jew rather than conducting himself according to the strict letter of the law. He therefore preferred to write approbations whenever possible without extensively analyzing the text to confirm its merit and value.
Rav Alpert likened this philosophy to that which was exemplified by Pharaoh's daughter. Upon descending to the river, she heard a crying infant and immediately went to assist him and remove him from the river. Only after acting with mercy and helping a baby in need did she pause to look at and identify the child as a Jewish infant.
When approached for a charitable contribution or to assist with our time, how many times do we first look over the beggar or analyze the worthiness of the organization and turn them away empty-handed due to a lack of perceived merits? Let us learn from the ways of Pharaoh's daughter and Rav Moshe Feinstein that we should act first and foremost with kindness without extensive analysis of the recipient's merit. This should arouse Hashem to reciprocate by similarly treating us with compassion without an in-depth examination of our merits.
There was once a time when the only elite yeshiva in all of Europe was the renowned Volozhin yeshiva, and the Rabbis of virtually every large, prestigious Jewish community were counted among its alumnae. The married students learning there knew that after a number of years, as their families grew, the time would come when they would need to seek out a community in need of a Rav. During this period, there was a meeting of the top married scholars in Volozhin to discuss whether or not, in addition to their normal Talmudic and legal studies, they should also engage in the study of oratorical skills which would assist them in their future positions.
Rav Zalman Sorotzkin introduced his opinion by asking why Moshe, in his humble attempt to decline the position of redeemer of the Jewish people, began by expressing his concern that the Jews wouldn't believe that Hashem appeared to him. If he would later claim that his speech impediment rendered him unfit for the job regardless of whether they believed his words, why didn't he begin with that concern? Rav Sorotzkin explained that if the Jewish people had proper belief in Hashem, Moshe's speaking difficulties wouldn't deter them. It was only because of a concern that they would be lacking in faith that his speech became an issue.
Returning to the subject at hand, Rav Sorotzkin pointed out that in previous generations the average Jew had a simple, unwavering belief in Hashem and an implicit trust in the decisions of the community Rav. Under these conditions, it was unnecessary for the Rabbonim to excel in their oratorical skills. As long as they knew the relevant laws and rendered honest decisions, the people would accept their verdicts. However, Rav Sorotzkin concluded, we are now witnessing an unprecedented drop-off in the level of trust and faith exhibited by the average Jew. Moshe teaches us that in such a case difficulty in public speaking will indeed be considered a deficiency, and we'd better dedicate time and energy to honing our speaking skills.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Rashi writes (2:7) that Moshe refused to nurse from an Egyptian because he was unwilling to drink milk from a non-Jew with the same mouth that was destined to speak to Hashem. If a non-Jewish woman only eats kosher food, does nursing from her still cause impurity? (Rema Yoreh Deah 81:7, Meromei Sadeh Sotah 12b, Ben Ish Chai Parshas Emor 14, Chavatzeles HaSharon)
2) When Hashem revealed Himself to Moshe at the burning bush (3:5), was it with the unsurpassed level of prophecy that Moshe ultimately attained, or did he not reach this level until the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai? (Ramban 3:5, Rambam Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 1:3, Imrei Deah)
3) Rashi writes (4:24) that an angel sought to kill Moshe because of his negligence in circumcising his son. The Targum Yonason ben Uziel explains that Moshe didn't do so because Yisro would not allow him to do so, as the Medrash teaches (Yalkut Shimoni 169) that Yisro and Moshe agreed that Moshe's first child would be an idolater. Why did Yisro desire such an arrangement when Rashi writes (2:16) that he had already abandoned his idolatrous practices? (Taima D'Kra)
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