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Parshas Vaeira - Vol. 5,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Lachein emor liV’nei Yisroel ani Hashem v’hotzeisi eschem mitachas sivlos Mitzrayim (6:6)
Hashem instructed Moshe to tell the Jewish people that He will take them out from under the burdens of their suffering. Although the verse literally refers to Hashem taking the Jews out from under the burdens placed upon them by Pharaoh and their Egyptian taskmasters, the Chiddushei HaRim suggests an alternate reading which teaches a powerful lesson.
The same words which mean “the suffering caused by the Egyptians” can also mean “the patience to tolerate life in Egypt.” As difficult as their life was in Egypt, the Jews had grown accustomed to it and learned to cope. It represented the only stability they had ever known, and they didn’t even feel an intense desire to be redeemed and go free into the unknown. Hashem told Moshe to hint to the Jews that the first prerequisite to their salvation was the creation of a desire and willingness to be saved.
The Medrash emphasizes the magnitude of the miracle involved in redeeming an entire nation from slavery in Egypt by recording that prior to the Exodus, not a single slave every successfully escaped from Egypt. While the simple understanding is that this was due to an effective system of policing the borders, Rav Gedaliah Schorr suggests that it was due less to physical control than to mind control. He suggests that the reason no slave ever escaped was because none of them ever tried. Egypt had such an effective system of brainwashing the slaves and convincing them that life beyond the border offered nothing they were currently lacking that they grew complacent and content with their existence.
The following anecdote presents a modern application of this idea. When the town of Brisk needed a Rav, they offered the position to the Beis HaLevi, who refused. Undeterred, the community sent back messengers to inform the Beis HaLevi that 25,000 Jews were anxiously awaiting his arrival at the train station in Brisk. This message caused him to reconsider and accept the position.
Upon hearing this story, the Chofetz Chaim burst into tears. He explained, “If the Beis HaLevi couldn’t refuse 25,000 Jews eagerly anticipating his arrival, surely Moshiach can’t do so either. His delay in coming can only be due to the fact that we’ve grown so accustomed to our comfortable lives in golus (exile) that we don’t feel lacking and aren’t yearning for the final redemption,” a message we can sadly relate to all too well amidst the abundant creature comforts we enjoy in 21st-century America.
B’nei Reuven … uv’nei Shimon … v’eileh shemos b’nei Levi l’toldosam Gershon u’Kehas u’Merari (6:14-16)
After listing the children of Yaakov’s two oldest sons, Reuven and Shimon, the Torah records, “These are the names of the sons of Levi in order of their birth: Gershon, Kehas, and Merari.” Why does the Torah emphasize that it is listing the names of Levi’s sons, a point which isn’t mentioned in conjunction with the sons of Reuven and Shimon?
The Shelah HaKadosh answers based on Rashi’s comment (5:4) that the tribe of Levi was exempted from Pharaoh’s enslavement of the Jews and therefore lived relatively easy and comfortable lives. It would have been easy for them to isolate themselves in Goshen, learning Torah all day and turning a blind eye to the plight of their brethren.
In order to combat such natural feelings, Levi specifically gave his children names which would eternally remind them of the suffering of the rest of the Jews. The name Gershon alludes to the fact that the Jews were considered foreigners and temporary dwellers in Egypt, not fitting in and belonging there no matter how easy life may have been in Goshen. Kehas hints to the fact that the backbreaking labor set their teeth on edge, and Merari refers to the bitterness of the Egyptian enslavement.
More recently, the Chofetz Chaim’s wife once panicked when she awoke in the middle of the night to find his bed empty. When she discovered him sleeping on the floor, he explained that with World War I raging around them and Jews being chased from their homes all across Europe, how could he possibly allow himself the pleasure of sleeping in a comfortable bed?
Similarly, when a great fire ravaged most of the Jewish section of the town of Brisk, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik (the Rav of the town, whose house was spared) insisted on sleeping in the synagogue together with the rest of his homeless congregants in order to share in their suffering. These two vignettes aren’t at all surprising, considering that the Chofetz Chaim was a Kohen and Rav Chaim was a Levi, and they clearly learned well the message taught by their great-great grandfather.
So many times we hear of pain and suffering – whether related to jobs, finding a spouse, illness, or children – and our first reaction is to dismiss it as not germane to our comfortable lives. Levi teaches us that the suffering of every Jew is indeed relevant and we must feel and empathize with their plights.
Ki y’dabeir aleichem Paroh leimor t’nu lachem mofes (7:9)
In challenging Moshe and Aharon, Pharaoh insisted that they perform a miracle to back up their threats and prove their abilities. Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein writes that throughout the generations, there has always been a need for Rabbis to know how to similarly prove themsleves in their fights on behalf of Torah-true Judaism. When Rav Shimon Sofer, son of the Chasam Sofer, became Rav of Krakow, which was one of the largest Jewish communities in Poland, he was a mere 24 years old and understood the need to quickly assert his authority.
In his first public speech, Rav Sofer recounted that in the city of Pressburg, where his father served as Rav, one of the non-observant Jews dared to break with established tradition and began publicly opening his store on Shabbos. The Chasam Sofer sent two students from the yeshiva to warn the man to close his store, but he insulted them and refused to comply. When they were sent back a second time, he chased them away and threatened to attack them if they dared show up again.
When the Chasam Sofer instructed them to return a third time, they expressed fear about their well-being. He taught them one of Hashem’s mystical names, instructing them that if the man threatens them, they should touch the nearest mezuzah while concentrating on this name. When the man saw them coming near, he began to approach them menacingly. They quickly ran to the nearest mezuzah while focusing on the name that they had been taught, at which point the storekeeper dropped dead.
At this point, Rav Shimon Sofer dramatically looked around the room packed with congregants old enough to be his grandfather, and concluded that he was one of the two students, and he still remembered the name! Suffice it to say that from this point on, his rulings were accepted with the awe normally accorded an older and more experienced Rav.
the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) If Hashem wanted the Jews to be freed from their bondage in Egypt, why did He harden Pharaoh’s heart (7:3) so that he would refuse to free the Jewish people instead of causing him to agree to allow the Jews to leave so that they could receive their freedom and the Torah that much sooner? (Sifsei Chaim quoted in Peninim Vol. 8)
2) As private citizens, why weren’t the Egyptians and their animals exempt from the punishment of the plagues which should have been meted out exclusively to Pharaoh for his cruel role in enslaving the Jewish people? (Taima D’Kra Parshas Vayigash, M’rafsin Igri)
3) The first plague was that all of the water in Egypt turned to blood. Did it literally turn into blood, or did it only take on the appearance of blood, and if the latter, why weren’t the Egyptians able to drink it? (Daas Z’keinim, Seforno, Ayeles HaShachar)
4) Were any of the Egyptians spared from the plague of blood? (Meshech Chochmah, Ayeles HaShachar, Matamei Yaakov)
5) What unique role did the octopus play in the plagues in Egypt? (Seder HaDoros 2447)
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