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JANUARY 3-4, 2002 I SHEBAT 5763

Rosh Hodesh Shebat will be celebrated on Shabbat, January 4.

Pop Quiz: What was miraculous about the hail in the plague?


"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. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

"It is not proper to do so, for we will offer the god of Egypt to Hashem, our G-d" (Shemot 8:22)

After the Egyptians were hit with four plagues, Pharaoh finally agrees to allow the Jews to offer sacrifices to Hashem. However, he adds a stipulation that it must be done in Egypt. Moshe responds and says that the Jews would be slaughtering animals in their offerings to Hashem, but their animals were the gods of the Egyptians, who might react violently. Rav Pam asks: Was Moshe actually afraid? Besides, Pharaoh was weak and humbled now, was it wise to show fear to him? The Hatam Sofer answers that Moshe wasn't afraid, but he meant that it was not proper to do this. Sacrificing their god would infuriate them, but they would be helpless to stop the Jews since they were powerless. This would not be proper if there were an alternative, such as bringing the sacrifices outside the city limits. This is what Moshe meant when he said it was not proper, to act in such a manner as to cause unwarranted psychological pain to the Egyptians. It is true they deserved more punishments for their subjugation of the Jews, but this type of torture was unnecessary.

We can bring this idea into practice. At times one encounters opposition to his way of practicing the misvot. Sometimes people can become quite agitated. Often one doesn't have a choice and must perform the misvah as written. However, there are times when one can avoid causing anguish. Moshe Rabenu had one method, not doing it in front of them. Sometimes one is doing an extra, which isn't a requirement. It is a good idea at that moment not to do it. Do not spite people as if to say, "I don't care what you think - I am doing my thing!" Always try to remember the factor of interpersonal relationships when serving Hashem. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah


"And Moshe spoke so to the Children of Israel and they did not listen to Moshe for anguish of spirit and hard work" (Shemot 6:9)

Rabbi Meir Simcha Hacohen explains that they did not listen to the previous message that Moshe gave them which was that they would come into the Land of Israel. This can be understood that when someone is suffering very much, all he wants to hear is that his suffering will be removed. He is not yet ready to hear that he will have good fortune and much success in the future. If someone paints a too positive picture of the future, it is so far removed from his present reality that he will not be able to relate to it.

Therefore, we read in verse 13 that Hashem told Moshe to just tell them that they will be taken out of Egypt, without any mention of a bright future. This is an important principle when trying to give people emotional support and encouragement. If you give them a picture that is beyond their present ability to relate to, your words will not be comforting even if you have very good intentions. Telling someone who is in deep emotional distress, "Don't worry, all will be well in the future," might not have a positive effect. Show him how to get out of the present pain and only then will you be able to give a more optimistic message. (Growth through Torah)


"These are the heads of their fathers' houses...and the sons of Shimon...and these are the names of the sons of Levi" (Shemot 6:14-16)

Why does the Torah emphasize the word "names" in regard to the tribe of Levi, in contrast to the other tribes? The Shelah Hakadosh offers a powerful insight. The tribe of Levi was not included in the Egyptian bondage. They did not suffer the cruelty which was an everyday experience for B'nei Yisrael. What could they do to share in B'nei Yisrael's anguish at this particularly trying time? They gave their children names which reflected the suffering and exile of their brethren. The name Gershon implies being a stranger in a strange land. Kehat alludes to the dulling of the senses due to slavery, while Merari alludes to bitterness.

One should recognize the importance of being an individual who bears the yoke with his fellow man. It is not sufficient to empathize with someone or take pity on him. When you "bear the yoke" with someone, you feel his pain, because it is also your pain. Once his plight is yours, you must help him. The support and devotion we offer our fellow Jew constitute the foundation from which we all develop. (Peninim on the Torah)


"Tell Aharon, 'Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt'" (Shemot 7:19)

Hashem told Moshe to tell Aharon to initiate the plague of blood. Rashi explains that the reason Moshe did not initiate the plague himself was because he was protected by the water when his mother, Yocheved, put him in a basket in the river. For that reason, Aharon also started the plague of frogs, since the frog came from the water. By the same token, Moshe did not start the plague of lice during which the dust of the earth turned into lice, because the ground protected him when he killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand.

The lesson is clear. A person must always remember the favors that are done for him, and should always express gratitude for them. Even though 80 years had gone by since the water had protected Moshe, he still felt such gratitude to the point that he couldn't initiate a plague on it, even for the benefit of B'nei Yisrael. If this is so for inanimate objects like water and sand, how much more so does this apply to a person who helps us out.

Question: How much gratitude do you feel when someone does you a favor? Do you let the person know how much it is appreciated? How much more likely are you to do another favor for someone who expresses gratitude for what you have done for him?


This week's Haftarah: Yishayahu 66:1-24.

The regular haftarah for this perashah begins by saying that Hashem will gather all of Israel from the nations among whom they are scattered. In our perashah, Hashem also says that he will take B'nei Yisrael out from under the burdens of Egypt. The haftarah then goes on to prophesize about the downfall of Egypt in Nebuchadnesar's time. Pharaoh, who claimed to be a god, will be conquered by Nebuchadnesar, and all the wealth of Egypt will be looted. Our perashah also begins to tell of the retribution to Pharaoh and Egypt. The first seven of the Ten Plagues occur, and the process which will lead to Egypt's downfall and Israel's redemption begins.

However, since this Rosh Hodesh falls out on this Shabbat, we read a special haftarah. This haftarah is read because of pasuk 23, which says "And it shall be from New Moon to New Moon...all flesh will prostrate themselves before Me, said Hashem."

Answer to pop quiz: The hail was a ball of ice with a burning fire inside of it.

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