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Torah Attitude: Parashas Bo: Never too busy for Torah


The Jewish people were given instructions the day before they were about to leave Egypt. On that day before the exodus, the Jewish people were extremely busy. Even the men were definitely needed at home to assist their wives with all the preparations. G'd teaches us that the obligation of Torah study is a constant obligation and must be fulfilled in every situation. After he learned that the main accusation was the lack of Torah study, immediately, Joshua went to study Torah. The Jewish soldiers were expected to return to their study of Torah at night, when there was no warfare. Every Jewish male is obligated to study Torah at day and at night. The raison d'?tre of the Jewish people is Torah study and Torah observance. In general, no one is too smart to have what to learn, and no one is too stupid to have the ability to learn something. When the young see the older generation serving G'd and studying Torah, it will enable the parents to take their sons and daughters along this path, and secure that the future generations will adhere to the word of G'd.

14th of Nissan

In this week's Parasha it says, (Shemos 12:43) "And G'd said to Moses and Aaron: 'This is the decree of the Pesach offering. No stranger may eat from it …'" Rashi comments that these instructions were given to Moses and Aaron on the 14th of Nissan. A few verses later it says (ibid 12:50 - 13:2) "And the children of Israel did as G'd commanded Moses and Aaron … And it was on that very day, G'd took out the children of Israel from the land of Egypt … And G'd said to Moses … 'Sanctify to Me every firstborn.' And Moses said to the Nation, 'Remember this day…'" Says the Ibn Ezra, G'd commanded Moses these laws on the day of the exodus.

Extremely busy

My brother Rabbi Ze'ev Kahn of Bnei Brak, Israel once made an interesting observation on these verses. Let us try to imagine the situation of the Jews on the afternoon of the 14th of Nissan, in the year 2448, the day before they were due to leave Egypt. As mentioned earlier in this week's Parasha (Shemos 12:3-11), the Jewish people had been instructed how to slaughter the Pesach offering and how to consume it. They had also been instructed to circumcise all the males on this day. They had further been told that the next morning they should request gold and silver vessels, as well as valuable garments, from their Egyptian neighbours. No doubt every family had their personal belongings to take along with them that they had to be organize and pack. They had sojourned in Egypt for 210 years, so they must have accumulated many articles and personal belongings. As a matter of fact, the Talmud (Berachot 5b) relates that every single Jew who left Egypt took along ninety donkeys loaded with gold and silver. It seems quite overwhelming, all the things that they had to attend to in those 24 hours. We all know how much effort it takes to prepare for the Seder night. Add to this preparation the circumcision of the Jewish males, the slaughtering of the Pesach offering, and the packing of their households to leave Egypt. One can well imagine how extremely busy they must have been. And the next morning they had to finish their preparations to leave, besides requesting additional valuables from their neighbours, and packing that as well.

Men needed at home

On each of these days there was suddenly an announcement. On the first day, Moses had a prophecy from G'd with several additional instructions such as prohibiting the stranger from eating the Pesach offering (see ibid 12:43-49). On the day they left, Moses was instructed to teach the Jews, regarding the redemption of the first born and the laws of tefillin (see ibid 12:51-13:16). For sure, everyone had a good excuse for not attending these lectures where Moses gave over G'd's latest instructions. We may assume that only the men were expected to attend, as women are not obligated to study Torah to the same extent as men. However, even the men were definitely needed at home to assist their wives with all the preparations, especially as we are taught that all of them had very large families to care for.

Constant obligation

It is important to note that at this point the Jewish people were getting their first instructions as a nation how to observe the commandments of G'd. Rashi points out at the beginning of Bereishis that from the point of view that the Torah is a book of instructions for the Jewish nation, it should have only started with the instructions given just prior to the exodus from Egypt. The reason why the whole book of Bereishis up to this week's Parasha was written was to publicize that the world has a Creator Who constantly guides every detail that is happening in His creation. The world is His. He decides who should live where and specifically gave the Jewish nation the land of Israel. The instructions in this week's Parasha represent a new era for the Jewish people: an era of Torah study and observance of practical commandments. Right from the beginning of this era, G'd wanted to teach us that the obligation of Torah study is constant and must be fulfilled in every situation. Even when we are busy and have other obligations to take care of we must still set aside time to study Torah. That is why Moses was given these prophecies and instructed to teach them to the Jewish people just prior to and during the exodus.

Joshua and the angel

We find a similar lesson at the time when the Jews first entered the land of Israel, when they were heavily involved in the war against Jericho. It says (Joshua 5:13) "And it was when Joshua was in Jericho and he raised his eyes and he saw a man standing opposite him with a drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went over to him and said to him, 'Are you one of ours or are you one of our enemies?' And he said, 'No. For I am an officer of the legions of G'd." The Talmud (Megillah 3a) elaborates further how the conversation between this angel of G'd and Joshua went: "The angel said to Joshua, 'Yesterday, you missed bringing the afternoon (Tamid) offering. And tonight, you are idle from Torah studies.' Joshua asked, 'What is the main reason that you came for?' To which the angel answered, 'I came for the present', indicating that the main accusation was the lack of Torah study. Immediately, Joshua went to study Torah."

Expected to study

Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian makes an analysis of the situation that the Jews were in at that time. They had been fighting all day in the war against Jericho. But as Rashi explains in his commentary, the Jewish soldiers were expected to return to their study of Torah at night, when there was no warfare. Not to do so was such a serious offence that the messenger G'd sent came as an officer with a drawn sword, to teach that their lack of Torah study made them vulnerable to be slain in combat.

Lax Torah study

On an individual level we find a similar message in the Talmud (Berachot 63a). The Talmud states: "Anyone who is lax in his Torah study will lack in strength on a day of distress." This can be understood on two levels. On one level, it means that a person who is lax in his Torah study will lack in his strength of character and will not be able to withstand the temptations and difficulties on a day of distress. On a different level, we learn from the Talmud's statement that someone who is lax in his Torah study, and not fulfilling his personal purpose, will lack merits on a day of distress and danger, and will not be able to survive.

Day and night

In the Laws of Torah Study (1:8), the Rambam stresses the importance of studying Torah and says, "Every Jewish male is obligated to study Torah, whether he is poor or rich, healthy or sick, young or very old and weak … One is obligated to fix time for Torah study both day and night. As it says, 'And you shall toil in it [Torah] day and night" (Joshua 1:8). In Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 155:1), it further says: "A person should fix times to learn and this must be so established that he will not miss it even if he thinks he has an opportunity to make a good deal. And even someone who is not knowledgeable should go to the house of study … and learn a little to the best of his ability." In the Mishnah Berurah the Chofetz Chaim quotes from the Jerusalem Talmud (Sotah 9): "Who has real trust [in G'd]? Someone who acts like the person whose clients called him and asked that he should sell them his goods. He said, 'I'm not going to cancel my fixed hour for Torah study. Whatever I am meant to earn will come my way.'" The Chofetz Chaim rules (ibid) that if a situation comes up where a person is not able to study Torah on a given day, he should consider it as a debt and make up for it at night.

Raison d'?tre

We must always remember that the raison d'?tre of the Jewish people is Torah study and Torah observance. The Torah was given to the whole Jewish nation, both men and women. As a matter of fact, the Jewish people had to wait three days for the revelation at Mount Sinai to ensure that all women could purify themselves and attend this great event (see Rashi Shemos 19:15). Although everyone is obligated to fulfill the mitzvot that apply to them, and as such must acquaint themselves with their various obligations and prohibitions, the study of Torah for the sake of studying is only incumbent on the Jewish men. The reason for this may be similar to the reason that they are exempt from most commandments that are limited to a specific time. Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsh (Vayikra 23) explains that women are not obligated to perform these commandments because the Jewish woman is traditionally more home bound than her husband and therefore less susceptible to outside influences. The men, who in general are out in the market place, wheeling and dealing, interacting with all sorts of people, need a strong bulwark to protect them in a world full of pitfalls. In the same way, the continuous study of Torah reminds the Jewish man that he is a member of a Holy Nation and that he has to conduct himself in all areas of life on an elevated level.

No one is too smart

In general, no one is too smart to have what to learn, and no one is too stupid to have the ability to learn something. In our day and age, where such a large part of the Torah literature has been translated to English, even someone with no knowledge of Hebrew has the ability to study and learn Torah. In Tana d'vei Eliyahu (Eliyahu Zuta Chapter 14) the Prophet Eliyahu relates how he once met a person who was being cynical and poking fun at anything holy. The Prophet asked the stranger, "My son, what are you going to answer your Father in heaven on the Day of Judgment (why you did not study Torah)?" The stranger answered, "Rabbi, I have what to answer. Heaven did not give me with understanding and insight that I can learn and study." Said Eliyahu, "My son, what is your occupation?" "I am a fisherman", the stranger answered. Eliyahu said to him, "My son, who taught you to bring flax and weave it into nets and throw it into the sea to catch the fish? Said the stranger, "For this Heaven gave me understanding and insight." Eliyahu said to him: "Could it really be that Heaven gave you the understanding and insight to bring flax and weave nets … but not to study Torah about which it says (Devarim 30:14) 'for the matter is very close to you, in your mouth and your heart to perform it." When the fisherman heard the prophet's words he started to cry and sigh. Eliyahu Hanavi concludes: "I said to him, my son you are not the only one. Many people think that they have this excuse, but their own deeds prove them wrong … Not only must you make sure that you study Torah, but above all you must fear Heaven." Eliyahu Hanavi teaches all of us a lesson for life. Just as we have the ability to perform our occupation, we have the potential to study Torah, each one on our own individual level. It is up to us to utilize our capacity to enhance and develop our understanding of the wisdom of G'd handed down in the written and oral Torah.

Jewish continuity

In this week's Parasha, Pharaoh asks Moses who he is planning to take along into the desert to serve G'd. Moses' answer is clear and concise: (Shemos 10:9) "With our youngsters and our elders we shall go, with our sons and our daughters." This is the formula for Jewish continuity. When the young see the elders serving G'd and studying Torah the parents will be able to take their sons and daughters along and secure that future generations will adhere to the word of G'd.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shalom. Michael Deverett

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