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January 16, 1999 28 Tebet 5759

Rosh Hodesh Shebat will be celebrated on Monday, January 18

Pop Quiz: For how long before a plague began did Moshe warn Pharaoh?

TRUE LEADERS by Rabbi Reuven Semah

The Torah reveals to us two types of leaders that were functioning in Egypt. Rashi explains in an earlier pasuk (5:1), that when Moshe first announced the coming salvation he was greeted happily with great belief in Hashem. All the elders followed Moshe to the palace. However, as Moshe approached the royal palace to confront Pharaoh, they one by one "vanished," until Moshe and Aharon entered alone. They hesitated to risk themselves for the peoples' sake; they selfishly wanted to pursue their own perfection and knowledge. They did not want to be burdened by the peoples' needs. Later on when Moshe went up to receive the Torah on Mount Sinai, these fearful elders were prohibited from going up with him. From here we learn that a person should never say that he would avoid being burdened by the heavy burden of serving the people in order that he may attain greater levels of Torah wisdom. For eventually they lost out and did not receive the great wisdom of seeing a higher level of Divine Presence at Mount Sinai.

On the other hand, later on, Rashi explains (5:14) that the Egyptian taskmasters held the Jewish foremen responsible to enforce compliance of the work quotas. This was similar to the anti-Semitic strategy used by later persecutors who forced the Jews to mistreat one another. The Jewish foremen accepted the beatings, refusing to retaliate against their brothers. They were chosen later on to be the Sanhedrin (Jewish High Court) in the desert. When they were appointed (Bemidbar 11:17) Hashem said that He endowed them with special wisdom to help Moshe lead the people. The key factor of the true leaders is their self-sacrifice to cater to and worry about the needs of the people; the wisdom follows. A true story is told about the Hazon Ish. It was close to the time that he was to pass away. It was the day before Yom Kippur after minhah. A person came in to the Rabbi for a blessing. The Hazon Ish asked him how he earned a living. The person responded that now is not the time to discuss his livelihood, for all Jews are about to be sealed for life or death on Yom Kippur. The Hazon Ish answered that when the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, he prayed that the people shouldn't be lacking in livelihood! We learn, he concluded, that the leaders should be concerned about the needs of the people. In our quest for Torah wisdom we should always seek Divine help to acquire that wisdom. Shouldering the burden of your fellow Jews is the greatest source of merit to gain that wisdom. Shabbat Shalom.

PAUSE AND REFLECT by Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

"And they did not heed Moshe because of shortness of breath and hard work" (Shemot 6:9)

The Jewish people were not able to listen to Moshe because of the hard work that the Egyptians imposed on them. Indeed, this was the ultimate goal of Pharaoh, that the Jews not listen to any words of hope, by putting on them a staggering workload. The Mesilat Yesharim (chapter 2) tells us that this is the favorite strategy of the Yeser Hara, Evil Inclination. He makes us very busy with many responsibilities so that we will be distracted from our true life goals. If we would spend a little time in contemplating our actions and reflecting on our way of life, we would have second thoughts as to our conduct and we would find a way to better ourselves in any way we could. So the Evil Inclination finds more distractions and more headaches to keep our focus off of what's really important in life.

Let's set aside some time to reflect and contemplate. While in the car or going to work by bus or train, let's leave off all radios and tape decks for a few minutes each day and think about our priorities and values. Or we can use the time at home when all is quiet or right before we go to bed! We will be amazed at how good we feel when using this time to further our spiritual growth. Shabbat Shalom.


"I will bring you out from under the burdens of Egypt and I will save you from their bondage" (Shemot 6:6)

It would seem that this pasuk is repetitive because if the Jewish people are taken out from under the burdens of Egypt, undoubtedly they are saved from their bondage. The Kotzker Rebbe zt"l suggests that there are two necessary stages to complete liberation. First the slave must be physically set free, and then his slave mentality must be cast off. One who is freed physically but still is mentally subservient is, in reality, not actually free. The word siblot - burdens - may be derived from the word sablanut, which generally means acceptance or tolerance. During their stay in Egypt, B'nei Yisrael gradually accepted the Egyptian lifestyle. That which was considered an abomination by Torah standards had now become tolerable. Repulsion progressively gave way to indifference and ultimately to acquiescence and acceptance. Hashem told Moshe that He would redeem B'nei Yisrael not only from their physical affliction, but also from their mental and spiritual bondage. Not only would the Jew be taken out of Egypt, but also Egypt would be taken out from the Jew. True freedom does not merely mean liberation from physical servitude to a given master, but the ability to choose and make proper decisions that are not influenced by contemporary values and ways of life which are products of an environment alien to Torah ethics. This dual liberation is the essence of freedom. (Peninim on the Torah)


"Entreat the Lord that there be no more mighty thunderings and hail and I will let you go" (Shemot 9:28)

Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz commented that Pharaoh did not mean to lie when he told Moshe that he would allow the Children of Israel to go free. He honestly meant what he said at the time when he said it. He was not mocking Moshe. Under the influence of the suffering of the plague he was greatly changed. But afterwards, when the plague was removed, he completely forgot about his good intentions. This is a general tendency of people. When a person is in the midst of great suffering and under a lot of pressure, he can have very high ideals. He will make all kinds of lofty promises without any limit. But as soon as his situation improves, he is so entirely different that it is hard to recognize him as being the same person as before.

When you find yourself in a very difficult situation and make resolutions to improve yourself, remember those resolutions later on. Similarly, anyone whose life is in danger thinks that if he will be saved, he will have a greater appreciation for all that he has. But after things return to normal, it is easy to forget your previous insights and awareness. Make an effort to grow from difficult situations. Don't forget your resolutions and insights. (Growth through Torah)

Answer to Pop Quiz: Three weeks.

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