January 16-17, 2015 26 TEBET 5775
"I shall take you to Me for a people."(Shemot 6:7)
Our perashah contains the verses that have the four different expressions that represent the progressive stages of redemption. These four stages are the basis for the Rabbinic requirement of the four cups at the Pesah Seder. The fourth one, "I shall take you," means that Hashem took the Jews as His people when He gave them the Torah at Sinai. This was the climax, the purpose of the Exodus.
Rabbi Shmuel Birnbaum zt"l, the great Rosh Yeshivah of the Mirrer Yeshivah in Brooklyn, asks an incisive question. The phrase, "I shall take you as a nation," is phrased in the future tense. It implies that when the Exodus comes we will become His nation. It implies that up until that point we were not His nation. However, this is problematic, because we find many references that the Jewish people are His nation before the redemption. For example, at the burning bush, Hashem says, "I see the suffering of My nation" (3:7).
The Rabbi explains with a parable. At times we see, G-d forbid, children born with severe physical or mental problems. These problems demand constant care for the rest of their lives. If a Heavenly voice would come out saying that it was decided to send to earth such a baby, how many people would volunteer to take that child? Once the Rosh Yeshivah was talking to one of his students who had such a child, and the Rabbi was trying to give him encouragement to carry on. The student answered that he was fine, he completely accepts Hashem's judgment with love. But, the Rabbi asks, how many people would request to have such a child? Not too many great people like this are around.
This is exactly what happened in Egypt. The Jews had sunken to such a low level of spirituality that the tree that Abraham planted, the nation he founded, almost was uprooted at that point. It's almost as if Hashem was "stuck" with us. Abraham founded the nation and Hashem so to speak had no choice but to keep us. Maybe given a choice Hashem would not have opted to take us.
To this Hashem says no! "I shall take you for a nation" despite all of the nation's shortcomings. Hashem closes his eyes to all of this. Hashem doesn't just settle for us. At the time of the Exodus, He will elevate the Jews until they will be worthy to be called G-d's nation. It will not be just a continuation of the planting of Abraham; it will be a new planting, His first choice. We hope to see this same uplifting of the Jewish people at the final redemption, Amen. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah
"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
"And Aharon cast his staff down in front of Pharaoh and in front of his servants, and it turned into a serpent." (Shemot 7:10)
Hashem informed Abraham of the decree that his children will be exiled, enslaved and oppressed. If this was a decree from Hashem, why were the Egyptians punished for fulfilling what Hashem had already decreed to happen?
The Rambam explains that Hashem decreed that the Jewish people would be enslaved, but He did not force each individual Egyptian to take any part in the enslavement or oppression; every individual Egyptian maintained his free-will and could decide exactly how to act. Therefore, every Egyptian who was involved in the oppression was fairly punished.
The Ramban disagrees with this explanation. He reasons that, if it was a decree from Hashem to subjugate the Jewish people, then any individual Egyptian who fulfills Hashem's decree is doing a misvah! Therefore, concludes the Ramban, the Egyptians were only punished because Hashem's decree was to "enslave" and "oppress", and if they would have done this, they certainly would never have been punished. However, the Egyptians "threw their children into the Nile, embittered their lives terribly, and tried to destroy the entire Jewish people." All of this was far beyond what was included in Hashem's decree and this is why they deserved to be punished. The Be'er Yosef uses the approach of the Ramban to explain a puzzling Midrash regarding Moshe and Aharon's first meeting with Pharaoh. When Hashem instructed Aharon to throw Moshe's staff to the ground, it turned into a snake. Unimpressed with this "trickery," Pharaoh commanded his sorcerers to throw their staffs on the ground, as well as his wife and even children four and five years old; and all of their staffs also turned to snakes.
Why did Hashem command Aharon to perform a miracle that was so easily replicable? What message was He trying to convey?
Based on the words of the Ramban above, Hashem was saying that if the Egyptians would have only been like a staff in the hands of its master then they would not have been punished. A staff is inanimate and only hits as hard as its master wants to strike, with no additional force. If the Egyptians would have acted as Hashem had wanted them to, only hitting as hard as He had decreed - "enslaving" and "oppressing" - then they would have been rewarded. However, the Egyptians turned themselves onto vicious snakes, using their own venomous aggression to harm the Jewish people far beyond what Hashem had conveyed to Abraham. For this reason, Hashem commanded Aharon to turn his staff into a snake, in order to show the Egyptians exactly why they were about to be punished. (Short Vort)
"He that feared the word of Hashem among the servants of Pharaoh made his servants and his cattle flee into the houses." (Shemot 9:20)
In Moshe's warning to Pharaoh preceding the plague of hail, he explicitly stated that any man or animal who remained outside during the hailstorm would surely perish. Nevertheless, the Torah clearly states that the only ones who went inside were those few individuals who were G-d fearing. In contrast to this select group, the majority of the Egyptians disregarded Hashem's word and left their slaves and animals outside. We must remember that this warning came after Hashem's warning already had been confirmed through the six prior plagues. Each of these plagues was effected only after three weeks of warning and each lasted for one full week. Why, then, were these Egyptians so foolishly obstinate? All that was necessary in order to limit their property loss was to take their portable possessions indoors. Even the most unyielding, inexorable Egyptian should not be so foolhardy as to chance losing his possessions!
The Steipler Gaon explains this phenomenon as a clear indication that apostasy and denial of Hashem's existence is not a result of a lack of knowledge, but is rather the consequence of a deficiency in one's desire to seek and acknowledge the truth. One who aspires to the truth will succeed in his quest, while one who is complacent and self-satisfied will allow the truth to elude him. We may note that misguided philosophies do not originate from prudent intellectual logic, but instead from an evil inclination to continue living a life-style which is antithetical to true belief.
Consequently, it is no wonder that some of the most sagacious thinkers lack the ability to perceive Hashem's existence. It is as our Hazal have clearly stated, "In the path that one chooses to go, he is guided." Everyone has the ability to reason with his mind and, therefore, should not allow the passions of the heart to overwhelm his senses. (Peninim on the Torah)
The amount of time and effort a person spends trying to make a good choice usually depends on the importance of the issue being weighed. It only takes a couple of minutes for even the most indecisive person to choose which of forty-eight flavors to buy in an ice-cream parlor; everyone understands that this decision is not life-altering. On the other hand, consideration of a "major" purchase, such as a luxury automobile or a new house, might ensnare the prospective consumer in a decision-making process that drags on for weeks, or even months. And when faced with choices involving a career move or a business partnership, many people cannot make a decision on their own, and solicit the advice of friends and relatives before venturing onto uncharted waters.
Choices involving people are different again. You don't choose a lawyer at random if your assets or freedom or reputation are at stake. You don't pick doctors out of the phone book to deal with matters of life and death.
Friends, also, are a matter of life and death - spiritually. Friends have an immeasurable influence on your life - in the areas of lifestyle, philosophy, and behavior. Your choices - of social activities, schools, neighborhood, synagogue affiliation, and vacation spots - are all influenced by your friends.
When the great Sage, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, asked his students to determine the best thing a person could have, Rabbi Yehoshua answered: "A good friend."
If you only want to have fun, be sure to select only the most socially popular individuals as your buddies. But if you want to achieve spiritual success and personal growth, then you must choose friends with more depth, people who care about the same things as you do. You need friends who will be honest with you if you slip "off the track." You need friends who will motivate and inspire personal development.
When you make a new acquaintance, or feel yourself growing close to another person, do what you do when you buy a car: take a "test drive." Get close - but stay free to back off cautiously if need be. You want to acquire the friend that suits you best. This can cause a short delay in solidifying the relationship that may help determine your ultimate destination in your drive through life. The delay will be really worth it when you arrive at the place you want to be. (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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