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Parshas Vaeira

Vay'dabeir Hashem el Moshe v'el Aharon Vay'tzaveim el B'nei Yisroel (6:13)

The Torah tells us that Hashem commanded Moshe and Aharon regarding the Jewish people, but it glaringly omits the details of the instructions. The Yerushalmi (Rosh Hashana 3:5, 17a) relates that they were commanded to give over the mitzvah of sending one's Jewish slaves free after six years of service (21:2). Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz notes that this is a peculiar time to command the Jews regarding this mitzvah, which wouldn't even be applicable until after they had conquered and settled the land of Israel. Why wasn't it sufficient to wait until they reached Mount Sinai, when they could receive this mitzvah together will all 613? If there was a reason why they needed to be given some additional mitzvah while still in Egypt, why specifically this one, as the Jews had been slaves there for generations and could hardly fathom the concept that they would one day have their own servants? He answers that this mitzvah of sending one's servants away is quite difficult. After paying the initial purchase price, one has free help for six years and grows quite accustomed to it. Suddenly, the time comes when the Torah requires that not only must the slave be sent free, but the master must send him away with various gifts (a mitzvah called ha'anaka). Therefore, it was specifically at this time when they were being told that their own personal redemption was imminent that they were able to put themselves in the slave's shoes and appreciate how much he yearns for his freedom. While it would still be difficult to actually send the servant to freedom, this represented the ideal time to present the mitzvah to them for their acceptance. Although the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai was just around the corner, the interim period would cause them to slightly forget the great joy they had experienced at their own freedom and would make the acceptance of this mitzvah that much harder. We all have moments in our life - an uplifting shiur (Torah class), Yom Kippur, or a miraculous "sign" from Heaven - when we see, hear, or experience something which gives us a tremendous flash of inspiration and excitement to make massive changes or undertake new projects, yet so often the passage of time wears away that enthusiasm and we are left with nothing. Let us learn from the Torah's example that the best way to seize such moments is to make concrete resolutions to practically apply the inspiration so that we may keep it with us forever.

Yeish m'komos she'makdim Aharon l'Moshe v'yeish m'komos she'makdim Moshe l'Aharon lomar l'cha she'shkulin k'echad (Rashi 6:26)

How is it possible to understand that Aharon, great as he was, was on the level of Moshe Rabbeinu, who we know was the greatest prophet who ever was or ever will be? More perplexing is that the Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva 5:2) tells us that not only the righteous Aharon reached that lofty level, but every single Jew has the ability to be as pious as Moshe Rabbeinu. Rav Elchanon Wasserman and Rav Moshe Feinstein explain that it is certainly true that in raw, objective terms of accomplishment, nobody will ever reach the sublime heights attained by Moshe. If his celestial "score" was 1000, nobody - not even Aharon - has ever or will ever score 1000. If so, in what way can Aharon or anybody else be considered equal to Moshe? While it's true that Moshe scored 1000, that was because he received a special neshama (soul) with the capability of scoring 1000. It may be that Aharon only scored 900 or 950, yet he is still considered to be Moshe's equal because his soul didn't have the same abilities as Moshe's. When Moshe was born, he filled up the house with spiritual light, something that can't be said of Aharon and certainly not of any of us. Aharon did, however, utilize every last talent with which he was blessed, such that whatever score he received was the maximum possible for his soul. In this sense, although his raw score was lower, his "grade" was the same 100% as Moshe's, and in that sense they were equal. While in this world people are given honor and respect based on their score, only Hashem knows what score somebody was actually capable of attaining and grading them accordingly. The boy or girl at the top of the class, our neighbor or relative or co-worker who always seems to do more than us and accomplish it quicker, will be held to a higher standard by Hashem. We should take comfort in the fact that Hashem won't compare us to anybody else, judging every individual on the basis of his or her talents and trials, and at the same time use that knowledge to utilize our personal strengths to become the best Jew that we are capable of being - one who will merit to sit next to Moshe himself in Gan Eden!

V'sheretz hay'or tzfardim v'alu u'vau b'veischa uv'tanorecha uv'misharosecha (7:28)

The Gemora in Pesachim (53b) relates that the righteous Chananya, Mishael, and Azaryah allowed themselves to be thrown into a fiery oven rather than flee or bow down to Nevuchadnezzar's statues, and they derived their behavior from the frogs in Egypt. Their reasoning was that if frogs, who didn't have a mitzvah to die in sanctification of Hashem's name, nevertheless willing entered the Egyptians' hot ovens, they who had such a mitzvah should certainly be willing to perform it by being thrown into the burning furnace rather than transgress or flee. The Shaages Aryeh questioned their calculation, as it's true that the frogs didn't have a mitzvah to sanctify Hashem's name, but they did have a separate obligation to enter all of the places enumerated in our verse, including the ovens. If so, what proof could Chananya, Mishael, and Azaryah deduce from their actions when they didn't have any explicit instructions to enter the oven? It is reported that the Vilna Gaon, at the age of 7, answered the Shaages Aryeh that the verse simply states that there must be some frogs in each of these locations, but no individual frog was commanded to enter any specific place, and therefore every single one could have exempted itself from entering the ovens with the claim that it will infest a more comfortable location and leave the ovens for the other frogs. From the fact that we nevertheless find that individual frogs were willing to enter the ovens even though they weren't explicitly commanded to do so, Chananya, Mishael, and Azaryah were indeed able to derive the propriety of their actions. Upon hearing this clever answer, the excited Shaages Aryeh picked up the young Vilna Gaon and kissed him on the forehead! Applying this beautiful insight to ourselves, the Darkei Mussar notes how often a teacher, parent, or communal organization asks for volunteers to assist with a project or act of kindness, and not a single hand goes up as we all excuse ourselves with the thought that somebody else can do it. The Vilna Gaon teaches us that we must learn from the frogs that "the buck stops here" and to take responsibility to personally see to it that the job gets done properly.

Tzfardeiah achas haysa v'hayu makin osah v'hee matezes n'chilim n'chilim (Rashi 8:2)

Initially, the dreaded plague of frogs only consisted of one frog. However, the Egyptians apparently didn't like the frog and hit it in an attempt to kill it or make it go away. Unbeknownst to them, this frog had the miraculous quality that every time it was stricken it actually multiplied into more frogs. While one could understand the first few people who innocently hit the frogs in their naivete, after it became clear that each successive strike would actually produce more frogs, why did they continue hitting? After all, wasn't the reason they were doing so because they didn't like them and wanted them to go away? Didn't they realize that every further hit was counterproductive and only made a bad situation that much worse? The Steipler answers that these questions are fundamentally flawed. Of course they make sense to us on a rational level, but that's precisely the point. The Egyptians were attacking the frogs out of anger, and when one is angry common sense is unfortunately the farthest thing from his mind. In a fit of rage, the emotional pain one is experiencing acts with a "logic" all its own. In the heat of the moment, the wisest course of action is generally silence, as every additional comment or action only magnifies the long-term damage which must be repaired after things cool down. We all understand how foolish the Egyptians were to continue hitting the frog and fanning the flames, so perhaps it's time we ask ourselves why we are so often fail to learn from their foolish mistakes and continue in their footsteps.

Lo hayah he'afar k'dai lilkos al y'dei Moshe l'fi she'hegin alav k'she'harag es ha'mitzri vayit'mneihu b'chol (Rashi 8:12)

Rashi writes (7:19, 8:12) that Moshe was commanded to have Aharon bring about the first two plagues because Moshe had gratitude to the river which had protected him when he was thrown into it as an infant, and it was therefore inappropriate for him to strike the water. This sense of appreciation is understandable, as the water did indeed shelter him, and it was there that Paroh's daughter Bisyah discovered and rescued him. However, regarding the third plague, lice, Rashi's explanation that it was inappropriate for Moshe to strike the same ground which protected him by hiding the body of the Egyptian he slew is difficult to understand. Although Moshe thought there that nobody saw the killing, in reality Dasan and Aviram did witness it and informed on him to Paroh, who would have killed Moshe if not for a miracle that saved his life (2:14-15 with Rashi). Practically speaking, the ground did absolutely nothing to benefit or assist him in any way, so why did he feel gratitude toward it and why couldn't he strike it himself to bring about the plague of lice? While the Maharz"u suggests in his commentary on the Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 10:7) that the ground did indeed help Moshe by providing him temporary peace-of-mind by allowing him to think for at least the first day that his killing would go unnoticed, I would like to suggest that the Torah is coming to teach us the fallacy and crookedness of a common English expression. If we give of our precious time, energy, and heart in an earnest attempt to help somebody out, only to have our efforts fail, the average American will tell us, "Thanks, but no thanks," indicating that he owes us no debt of gratitude for our efforts and not-so-subtly suggesting that next time we should just mind our own business. Yet the Torah teaches us that because the ground was willing to help, and tried to be of assistance in doing its best to cover up the taskmaster's corpse, Moshe Rabbeinu was obligated to show his appreciation for its good-faith efforts and was unable to strike it to bring about the plague of lice. So many times a spouse, a child, a friend, a shadchan, or a co-worker will volunteer to try to help us out of a jam or just to lend a helping hand around the house. Unfortunately, to say the least, these efforts don't always lead to the results we were hoping for. The next time it happens, instead of taking it out on them and rubbing the failure in to somebody who already feels bad enough about it, let us remember the lesson of Moshe and the ground, and express our sincere appreciation for their time and good intentions.

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

1) The word in the Torah containing the most letters is in this week's Parsha. What is it?

2) How could Hashem instruct Moshe Rabbeinu to tell the Jewish people that He will bring them into the land of Israel (6:8), when they all died in the desert and this promise to them apparently wasn't fulfilled? (Ohr HaChayim HaKadosh, Targum Yonason ben Uziel 19:4)

3) The Torah refers to Elazar's father-in-law Yisro as Putiel (6:25), which Rashi explains to be a reference to the fact that he previously fattened (piteim) calves to be sacrificed to idols. How can this be reconciled with the Torah prohibition against speaking in any way which hurts the feelings of another Jew (Vayikra 19:33), when one of the examples given by the Talmud (Bava Metzia 58b, quoted there by Rashi) is that it is forbidden to remind a convert or his children of the fact that they formerly worshipped idols? (Taam V'Daas)

4) Rashi writes (7:25) that each one of the plagues lasted 7 days, and Moshe would then spend 3 weeks warning Paroh about the plague to come, such that each plague lasted a total of one month. We know that the final plague, the slaying of the first-born, took place on 15 Nissan, so working backward we find that the seventh plague (hail) occurred in the month of Teves, which normally falls out in January. If so, how was it possible that the flax and barley were stricken because they were already ripe (9:31), which certainly doesn't happen in January? (Paneiach Raza)

5) Rashi writes (9:18) that Moshe Rabbeinu made a scratch in the wall and told Paroh that when the sun will reach that line on the following day, the plague of hail will begin. We know from experience that before hail begins to fall, the sky is full of thick, ominous clouds through which the sun can't penetrate, so how could the sun reach the mark in the wall just as the hail begins? (Tiferes Torah by Rav Shimshon Pinkus)

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