January 9-10, 2015 19 TEBET 5775
"Before the midwife comes to them they have given birth." (Shemot 1:19)
The book of Shemot begins with the heroic deeds of the Jewish midwives that saved the lives of the Jewish babies despite the evil decree of Pharaoh. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef zt"l, in one of his largely attended classes, tells an amazing story about his wife Margalit A"H that occurred after she passed away.
One day on Ereb Pesah, a man from the southern part of Israel comes to me with a little boy of about six years old. He told me to please bless his child because he was born "because of you and your wife." I asked him what he meant, "because of me and my wife?" So he told me a story that took place about four years after my wife had passed away (5754/1994). This man was requested by the Israeli government to give a model Seder to hundreds of new Olim (immigrants) that just arrived in Israel. Everything was arranged. However, just before the holiday, his wife, who was pregnant, started to feel labor pains and it was time to give birth. They arrived at the hospital, but due to the upcoming Pesah holiday the hospital was left with only one midwife.
The woman was told that she would have to wait her turn to give birth, because there was someone before her giving birth! When she saw that she had to wait, she told her husband to go and do the model Seder. There were over three hundred people waiting for him to teach them how to do the Seder. She said not to worry for in the merit of his doing such a big misvah she would be all right. Well, he listened to his wife and with tears in his eyes he went to teach all of these people how to do a real Seder.
Upon his return to the hospital his wife told him that right after he left she suddenly saw a woman dressed in white like a nurse, and she told her, "Listen to me. My name is Margalit. I am the wife of Rav Ovadia Yosef. I have come from Heaven to help you. Do not worry and do not be afraid, I am with you and I will help you." Within a few minutes his wife gave birth to a healthy boy, and the Rabbanit vanished and went away. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah
"And Moshe said, [when he saw the burning bush] 'Let me turn and see this great vision.'" (Shemot 3:3)
Moshe saw a bush burning in the wilderness and realized it wasn't getting consumed. He decided to investigate this wondrous event and, according to the midrash, he either took three steps in that direction or turned his neck towards the bush. Because of his willingness to see what was taking place, Hashem appeared to him and appointed him the leader of the Jewish people. He took the Jews out of Egypt, brought down the Torah, taught it to them, and led them for over forty years. All this because of three steps, or just turning his neck.
We have seen many wondrous acts in our lifetime. At the time, they may not seem as miraculous as a burning bush, but when we stop and think about them, they are just as marvelous. They all point to a Creator Who rules the world, and Who has a plan for everything in this world. How often do we turn our necks or take a few steps to stop and see? How often do we think about the message being transmitted to us? The one who is fortunate to look a second time, to act upon it, may be getting his or her calling from Hashem! May we open our eyes and turn our necks at the right time to hear what is being told to us. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
"And because the midwives feared Hashem, He made for them houses." (Shemot 1:21)
Yocheved and Miriam, who were known as Shifra and Puah, were told by Pharaoh to kill all of the Jewish boys that they delivered as midwives. They refused to follow Pharaoh's orders, and for this, Hashem rewarded them that their children would become the priests and the kings of the Jewish people.
Why did they receive such an incredible reward for not killing Jewish babies? When someone receives an enormous reward, it is because they went through an enormous struggle. If so, what great struggle did Yocheved and Miriam face? Was it such a test for them not to kill the Jewish babies? Furthermore, if one is given the choice between killing another Jew or being killed, one is obligated to be killed instead of taking another Jew's life. If so, why were they rewarded so handsomely?
Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky explains that all Egyptian names found in the Torah are derived from the name פרעה, Pharaoh. Therefore, he suggests that if we study the root letters of the names שפרה, Shifra and פועה, Puah, we realize that they must have been Egyptian names. However, contrasting this assumption is the Midrash which explains that one of the things that the Jewish people are praised for is not changing their names in Egypt. To resolve this dilemma, Rav Tzvi Elimelech Shapiro says that Pharaoh himself changed their names, just like he changed Yosef's name to Safnat Paneah. Pharaoh's motives behind changing Yosef's name are obvious; Yosef was second in charge to the Egyptian throne. As such, it is implausible to think that Pharaoh would have been happy for Yosef to retain his Jewish name whilst ruling over Egypt. But why did he see it necessary to change Yocheved and Miriam's names?
Rav Tzvi Elimelech Shapiro answers by pointing to the fact that Pharaoh knew that Jewish women could never kill Jewish babies. He knew that such ruthlessness could only be displayed by the Egyptians. Therefore, in calling Yocheved and Miriam by Egyptian names, he hoped to change their very essence and instill within them an Egyptian nature which would allow them to carry out these horrific murders. For it is known that the practice of changing one's name causes a change in one's nature.
According to this approach, we can now answer our original question: The reason why Yocheved and Miriam received such a remarkable reward for refusing to kill the Jewish babies was because it was such a big test for them! Because once their names were changed, their nature was changed too, and subsequently, saving Jewish children became a far greater challenge for them; and because they rose to this enormous challenge, their children rose to greatness. (Short Vort)
"A man of the house of Levi went and married the daughter of Levi." (Shemot 2:1)
In a sermon delivered in Baltimore in the 1950's, Rav Schwab explained:
This perashah, called Shemot, which literally translates as "Names," records the names of many people who play important roles in the narrative that follows, including all the tribes and their leaders; Moshe, the savior of Klal Yisrael; and the courageous midwives. But there is no mention of Moshe's parents; Amram and Yocheved are identified only as "a man of the house of Levi" and "the daughter of Levi." Why?
The omission of these names teaches us several important lessons. Firstly, although Hazal tell us that Amram was the gadol hador, the greatest Jew of his generation, and that his wife was the illustrious Yocheved, daughter of Levi, Moshe's birth was not primarily due to their personal greatness. Rather, it was mainly in the merit of the tribe of Levi, whose members had been excused from servitude and permitted to dedicate their lives to Torah study. The Torah omits the names of Amram, Yocheved, and Miriam to emphasize that the redemption was a result of the exceptional power and merit of Torah study, which was the focus of the tribe of Levi. Mashiah, now, as then, will come only through the merit of Torah study.
Secondly, as this perashah always falls out around the time of the non-Jewish Western world's most important religious holiday, Rav Schwab was also wont to extrapolate the following: The Torah does not introduce the savior of the Jewish people by recording his great lineage or by stating that he was born miraculously (though Moshe was born miraculously; his mother was 130 years old at the time of his birth). Instead, it emphasizes that the generation's savior was born by virtue of the dedication of a man from the tribe of Levi and a daughter of Levi - simply a man and a woman who, despite the suffering of the exile and the threat that their offspring would be cast into the Nile, married in order to fulfill Hashem's will to bring children into the world. This is in striking contrast to a religion that claims that its savior was born through a supernatural "immaculate conception."
From the Torah's narrative of Moshe's birth, we see the tremendous potential of every Jewish marriage. We learn that Mashiah is a human being who will be (or who already has been) born to a human mother and father. And finally, and likely the most crucial ingredient in the union that will produce Mashiah, is to marry l'shem Shamayim, for Heaven's sake. (Rav Schwab on Chumash)
In Biblical times, when people wanted to know the future, they visited a prophet. People could not be certain that a prophecy was true unless the prophet was a moochzak - certified by previous successful performance - to be a genuine messenger from Hashem. Today, unfortunately, prophecy is no more.
Many people have replaced prophets with individuals who are experts in various fields of endeavor. Realizing their shortcomings and uncertainty, people seek advice from others with more experience.
Then there are others who just worry, and predict the negative future awaiting them down the road. Life in the present becomes unbearable due to unfounded fears about an imaginary future.
Worrying is a self-destructive habit that damages a person's peace of mind and physically harms the healthy functioning of the body. Even if the situation eventually works out positively, the worrisome prelude has already made life miserable for the poor, irrational soul.
An antidote to worry is planning. Study the possibilities, and work on eliminating negative results and increasing the potential of a positive outcome.
When you catch yourself worrying rather than planning, ask yourself, "How do I know that this will happen?" Think back to all the times your "prophecy" was wrong before, and work on creating a good result. (One Minute With Yourself - Rabbi Raymond Beyda)
A quick tip to boost the power of your prayer. Hazal tell us (Masechet Baba Kama Daf 92A) that Hashem loves the tefilot of one Jew for another so much that anyone who prays on behalf of a fellow Jew with similar needs will have his prayer answered first. A special service has now begun to provide people with names of others who find themselves in a similar predicament. You can call with complete anonymity and get the name of someone to pray for and give the name of someone that needs our prayers. The name of the service is Kol Hamitpalel. Categories include: Marriage; Income; Health; To have children etc.
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