Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dvar Torah for Parshas Bo

Parshas Bo starts off with Hashem telling Moshe to go before Paroh. Even though, no matter what Moshe tells him, Paroh has hardened his heart and will not let Bnei Yisrael leave Mitzrayim, Moshe must still warn him of the impending makkah. However, the pesukim here are very confusing. In the first pasuk of the parshah, Hashem tells Moshe, “וַיֹּאמֶר יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֶל מֹשֶׁה בֹּא אֶל פַּרְעֹה כִּי אֲנִי הִכְבַּדְתִּי אֶת לִבּוֹ וְאֶת לֵב עֲבָדָיו לְמַעַן שִׁתִי אֹתֹתַי אֵלֶּה בְּקִרְבּוֹ“And Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Come to Paroh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants stubborn so that I shall place these signs of Mine in his midst” (Shemos 10:1). Later on in pasuk 3, Moshe goes to Paroh and immediately tells him about the next makkah of Locusts. The Meforshim ask from where did Moshe know that the next makkah was Locusts without Hashem telling him anything about it? The Ramban explains that pasuk 2 hints to what the makkah would be. The pasuk says, “וּלְמַעַן תְּסַפֵּר בְּאָזְנֵי בִנְךָ וּבֶן בִּנְךָ אֵת אֲשֶׁר הִתְעַלַּלְתִּי בְּמִצְרַיִם...“and so that you may relate in the ears of your son and your son’s son that I have amused Myself with Egypt…” (10:2), and it is specifically the part of “וּלְמַעַן תְּסַפֵּר בְּאָזְנֵי בִנְךָ וּבֶן בִּנְךָ” which hints to the next makkah. What exactly is the hint from this pasuk? What is the Ramban trying to tell us?

The Ramban in Pasuk 14 quotes Rabbeinu Chananel who says that if you look at the land of Egypt, no physical evidence remains of the makkos. The river is clear, the sun shines brightly every day, and the wild animal population is back to normal levels. There is no reason for anyone to suspect the makkos ever took place, that is except for one little thing. The pasuk says that once the locusts will leave Egypt when the plague is over, they will never again return in this manner. “…וַיָּנַח בְּכֹל גְּבוּל מִצְרָיִם כָּבֵד מְאֹד לְפָנָיו לֹא הָיָה כֵן אַרְבֶּה כָּמֹהוּ וְאַחֲרָיו לֹא יִהְיֶה כֵּן“…and they (locusts) rested in the entire border of Egypt, very severely; before it there was never a locust-swarm like it and after it there will not be like it” (10:14). Rabbeinu Chananel explains that there will never be a swarm of locusts in Mitzrayim like this ever again, and even if locusts will happen to enter into the land, they will not eat a single bit of grain while they are there.

When the future generations of Mitzrayim notice this peculiarity, they will go to the elders of the generation and ask them to explain their phenomenon. The elders will have no choice but to tell over the entire story of the Plagues. This is what the pasuk is hinting when it says, “וּלְמַעַן תְּסַפֵּר בְּאָזְנֵי בִנְךָ וּבֶן בִּנְךָ”, that the next makkah will be the one which people of future generations will notice and through it, will learn about the miracles of the Plagues. The reason why the makkah had to be hinted to instead of being communicated directly is because Hashem wanted Paroh to do Teshuvah because he sinned against Hashem and not because the makkah pressured him into doing it. This would be a more complete way of doing Teshuvah. In order for Moshe to understand this, Hashem only hinted the makkah to him so Moshe would begin his rebuke of Paroh based on Paroh’s sins against Hashem and not influence him based on the makkah’s potential pressure.

However, the question still remains how Moshe knew that the makkah would be Locusts? Even if he would understand the hint Hashem gave him there were still many other possibilities of what the makkah could be! The Kli Yakar explains that throughout the makkos, everyone was affected the same except for the makkos of Barad (Hail) and Arbeh (Locusts). These two makkos destroyed all the crops so while the king would always have extra storehouses of grain to support himself, the people would slowly starve to death. This is why during all the makkos, the pasuk only mentions that Hashem hardened Paroh’s heart. When we get to the makkah of Barad, the pasuk says that he hardened Paroh’s heart and also his servant’s hearts. This was because this was the first makkah which affected the nation of Mitzrayim differently than Paroh and therefore the fact that they hardened their hearts is very different from Paroh. So in this week’s parshah, when Hashem tells Moshe that he has hardened the heart of Paroh and the hearts of his servants (see Pasuk1), Moshe knows that it must be connected again to the destruction of the grain which began by the Hail. There are two natural ways in which grain is destroyed, inclement weather (Barad) and by locusts. Once Barad has already happened, Moshe knows that the next one must be Arbeh. That is why in pasuk 7, Paroh’s servants plead with Paroh to call Moshe back and make a deal with him. Because for them, this makkah is actually life and death.

Shabbat Shalom!


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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dvar Torah for Parshas Va'eira

The ideas and concepts learned from the Makkos are very extensive and while I feel that I have explained the ideas in the Dvar Torah to the best of my ability, I realize that there will be many more questions asked as a result of the ideas set down. For any further inquires, I strongly encourage you to email, Facebook, message, or comment below and I will do my best to get back to you with an answer.

The main idea found in this week’s parshah is the story of the Ten Makkos (Plagues). The amount of pages written on this subject is enormous. Every commentator has a different idea, theme, parable, lesson, and purpose for each and every makkah. As a result, there is enough information to write a Dvar Torah just on each plague by itself! I spent a long time thinking about which makkah I should discuss, but every time I picked one, I got caught up in a different one! So, I decided to write about a central theme that explains all the makkos.
On Pesach night, we mention the makkos as part of the Hagadah recital. After we recite all ten, we quote R’ Yehuda who gives an acronym for them, דצ''ך עד''ש באח''ב. What is the purpose of these acronyms? It’s extremely unlikely that we will forget them that we should need a brain exercise in order to remember them. And that it was done in order to shorten the Seder makes no sense either because why would we not want to mention all ten plagues, as well as the fact that we are supposed to extend the Seder as late into the night as we can. So why did R’ Yehuda feel a need to give an abbreviated version? The Hagadah gives no explanation.
The Meforshim here in the Chumash explain that these acronyms of R’ Yehuda divide the makkos into themes. Some explain that each group has its own theme or special lesson, while others say that the first of every group is connected, the second of every group is connected, etc. We will go through a few of their explanations.
The Seforno first removes the last makkah, מכת בכורות “Death of the Firstborn”, from the acronyms (leaving it as דצ''ך עד''ש בא''ח) because the first nine were given in order to show the Egyptians the might of Hashem while the last one was purely for punishment. Each group of makkos used a different aspect of the world to proclaim Hashem’s greatness. The first group, containing Blood, Frogs, and Lice, all used the two major foundations of the Earth, the ground and the water. The second group, containing Wild Animals, Plague, and Boils, showed how he controls all living things. The third group of Hail, Locusts, and Darkness, showed his control over the atmosphere, as each makkah used some aspect of the sky. The hail used the weather, the locusts used the wind, and the darkness used the sun.
The Abarbanel explains that Paroh disputed Hashem in three ways. The first was that Hashem did not exist; the second was that even if he does exist, he doesn’t control what happens in this world. The last thing was that even if Hashem does control the events of the world, he cannot control nature and how the world actually works. Therefore, by the first makkah of each group, Hashem disputed Paroh’s claims and states the purpose of that makkah. By Blood, the pasuk says, “בְּזֹאת תֵּדַע כִּי אֲנִי יְ־הֹוָ־ה“With this you will know that I am the Lord” (Shemos 7:17), through this makkah, Paroh would realize that Hashem does exist. By Wild Animals it says, “לְמַעַן תֵּדַע כִּי אֲנִי יְ־הֹוָ־ה בְּקֶרֶב הָאָרֶץ“…in order that you will know that I am Hashem in the midst of the earth” (8:18). Paroh would see from here that Hashem controls everything that happens in the physical world as well. By the Hail, the pasuk says, “בַּעֲבוּר תֵּדַע כִּי אֵין כָּמֹנִי בְּכָל הָאָרֶץ“…in order that you should know that there is none like Me in the entire Earth” (9:14). After the hail, Paroh would clearly see that Hashem controls all natural events too.
The Kli Yakar expounds on the Abarbanel’s idea and explains the three acronyms in this fashion. The entire first group of makkos is coming to show the Egyptians that Hashem exists. The Meforshim explain in several places that because the Nile River provided sustenance for the entire country of Mitzrayim, the Egyptians treated it as a god. So the first thing Hashem did was attack the Nile by changing it into blood and making it unusable. A further consequence of believing that Hashem doesn’t exist is that there is no need to sanctify his name through קידוש השם. The Gemarah in Pesachim (53b) explains that the frogs threw themselves into the ovens of the Egyptians as part of the plague, losing their lives in order to sanctify Hashem’s name. And the plague of Lice was the first plague which Paroh’s magicians were unable to perform, which caused them to admit that “אֶצְבַּע אֱ־לֹהִים הִוא“It is the finger of God!” (Shemos 8:14).
The second group showed how Hashem controls events on Earth as well in the heavens. Each one of the makkos of Wild Animals, Animal Plague, and Boils clearly differentiated between the Jews and the Egyptians, proving that Hashem has full control over whatever events will happen down here. By the Wild Animals, if a Jew and an Egyptian were walking down the street together, the animal would only attack the Mitzri (Egyptian). The Plague did not affect any of the Jewish animals while it killed all the Egyptian ones. And when Moshe threw the ash (the source of the Boils) over the entire land of Egypt (a miracle by itself), when it landed on the Egyptians it developed into boils, but when it landed on a Jew it did not.
The Kli Yakar changes from the Abarbanel’s explanation for the third group. He explains that Paroh at this point admitted that Hashem existed and that he ran the world, but he still believed that there was more than one god. (This is how the Kli Yakar learns the pasuk of, “בַּעֲבוּר תֵּדַע כִּי אֵין כָּמֹנִי בְּכָל הָאָרֶץ“…in order that you should know that there is none like Me in the entire Earth” (9:14), instead of how the Abarbanel learned it.) He explains that Paroh most likely assumed that the sun and the constellations were the other gods and so these last four makkos were designed to prove how they were powerless. By the first three makkos of Hail, Locusts, and Darkness, the sun was hidden from view by clouds, the millions of locusts, and night, respectively. The last makkah of מכת בכורות, the Death of the Firstborn, also represented the “killing” of the firstborn constellation, Aries, which is called so because it is the first constellation of the year.
The point of this whole drasha is to show how the makkos were not only not random acts which Hashem chose to torture the Egyptians with, but even the order of the makkos was designed with a higher purpose in mind. This shows us that even when Hashem is “punishing” a person for their sins, it is not just an act of torture and terror, it is designed in a way that the person will be able to learn the most from. While the makkos were designed to show the Egyptians the might and power of Hashem in order that they should fear him, they can also teach us a few lessons as well. By observing the makkos, we can recognize the wisdom of Hashem in all aspects of our lives, and how he will always defend his chosen nation, Yisrael.
Shabbat Shalom!

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dvar Torah for Parshas Shemos

Sefer Shemos introduces us to one of the most important characters in Tanach, Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe is the one who leads Bnei Yisrael out of Mitzrayim, through the desert, to Eretz Yisrael. He is the greatest Navi of all-time, the only man to see Hashem “face to face” (one of the Thirteen Principles of Faith is that there will never be another Navi like Moshe). When Hashem gave us the Torah on Har Sinai, it was Moshe who brought it down to us. Throughout our history, we have never and will never have another leader of the same capacity.

Parshas Shemos tells the story of Moshe’s path to his becoming the leader of the Jewish People. His first conversation with Hashem is at the famous site of the Burning Bush. The Meforshim here compare this first meeting between Moshe and Hashem to the first meeting between Hashem and Yehoshua, Moshe’s student who succeeded him as leader. They use these comparisons to show how great Moshe was that even at this very early stage of his prophesizing, he was still much greater than Yehoshua at his height.

When Moshe sees the bush burning while not being consumed, he becomes curious and begins to approach the bush. Hashem quickly calls out to him, “וַיֹּאמֶר אַל תִּקְרַב הֲלֹם שַׁל נְעָלֶיךָ מֵעַל רַגְלֶיךָ כִּי הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עוֹמֵד עָלָיו אַדְמַת קֹדֶשׁ הוּא“[Hashem] said, ‘Do not come closer to here, take off your shoes from your feet, for the place upon which you stand is holy ground” (Shemos 3:5). By Yehoshua, he is approached by a man who identifies himself as a messenger of Hashem and then says, “וַיֹּאמֶר שַׂר-צְבָא יְהוָה אֶל-יְהוֹשֻׁעַ שַׁל-נַעַלְךָ מֵעַל רַגְלֶךָ כִּי הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עֹמֵד עָלָיו קֹדֶשׁ הוּא“The commander of Hashem’s legion said to Yehoshua, ‘Remove your shoe from upon your foot, for the place upon which you stand is holy.’…” (Yehoshua 5:15). There are two differences in the language of the pesukim. First, Hashem tells Moshe to remove “נְעָלֶיךָ" "your shoes”, but by Yehoshua, he only tells him to remove “נַעַלְךָ" "your shoe”, in the singular. The second difference is that by Moshe the place is referred to as “אַדְמַת קֹדֶשׁ” “holy ground”, while by Yehoshua, the pasuk does not say the ground is holy, only the place. What was the meaning behind these differences?

The Gemarah in Baba Basrah (75a) explains the difference between Moshe and Yehoshua by comparing Moshe to the sun and Yehoshua to the moon. The explanation of the Gemarah is as follows, there are two aspects a person must use in order to lead, his intellect and his physical body. The idea is to perfect both of these aspects to be able to use them completely for spiritual purposes. Most leaders are able to use their intellect and wisdom for spiritual purposes and lead in that sense. However, Moshe was so great that he was also able to completely disconnect his physical body from this world and use it completely for the sake of Hashem (as we see clearly from the forty days and nights he spent on Har Sinai, learning the Torah, without eating or drinking). For this reason, he is compared to the sun which gives light from all sides. Yehoshua also was able to lead Bnei Yisrael through his incredible wisdom and intellect but at the same time could not distance his physical body enough from the physical aspects of the world in order to use his physical traits to “light up” Bnei Yisrael from that side as well. So he is similar to the moon which has one side lit up while the other side always remains in the dark.

Using this, we can understand Rabbeinu Bachya who explains Moshe and Yehoshua taking off their shoes as them separating themselves from the material world. Yehoshua was only able to completely separate his intellect from the physical world, so Hashem told him to take off one of his shoes, to show that he was holy in only one aspect. But Moshe, who was able to separate himself physically from this world as well, was told to take off both his shoes, symbolizing his separation from this world in all aspects. This idea continues through to the second difference as well. For Yehoshua, the ground was physical, and therefore it itself was not holy, only the location itself was holy since Hashem was there. But for Moshe, the entire physical world was only there to serve Hashem, therefore, the very ground itself on which Hashem appeared was holy! That is why the pasuk by Moshe calls the ground, “אַדְמַת קֹדֶשׁ”, but not by Yehoshua.

This explanation leads to a third difference between these two revelations. When Moshe approaches the bush, Hashem tells him, “אַל תִּקְרַב הֲלֹם“Do not come closer to here” (3:5). Only by Moshe does Hashem tell him not to come closer to this holy spot, but not by Yehoshua. Why is this? If anything, I would have assumed the opposite, if Moshe was greater than Yehoshua, shouldn’t he be able to come closer to Hashem? The Kli Yakar explains that Hashem was telling Moshe that specifically because he realized that the ground was holy, he could not come any closer. Someone who realizes where he is walking is holy knows not to walk there. But someone who does not realize where he is cannot be told to stop, he does not understand why not! There is nothing there to stop for! Only someone who appreciates the fact that Hashem appearing in a place makes the actual physical dirt holy, can be told not to come any closer. This is why Moshe was greater than Yehoshua and why his revelation was different.

The Torah’s introduction to Moshe shows us immediately what type of person he was. Through the nation’s travels through the desert, and our journey through these parshiyos, there is no better role model for us than Moshe Rabbeinu, someone whose entire physical and mental being was completely geared towards serving Hashem. As we take this journey together, let us do our best to understand this amazing feat and take guidance from it for our own lives.

Shabbat Shalom!

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Dvar Torah for Parshas Vayechi

As Sefer Bereishis comes to a close, the parshah focuses on the last years of Yaakov’s life. “וַיְחִי יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם שְׁבַע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה“And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years” (Bereishis 47:28). The last seventeen years of Yaakov’s life were among his most pleasant. Finally reunited with Yosef and surrounded by his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, Yaakov at last had the tranquil life he had always wanted.

Before the parshah even begins, there is something that stands out about it. Parshas Vayechi is different from all the other parshiyos in the Torah because there is no break in the text between it and the end of Vayigash, last week’s parshah. Usually in the handwritten Torah there is a separation in between each parshah, Vayechi does not have this, making it appear as if it is actually part of Parshas Vayigash. Rashi on the first pasuk brings a medrash which brings two reasons for this anomaly. “שכיון שנפטר יעקב אבינו נסתמו עיניהם ולבם של ישראל מצרת השעבוד שהתחילו לשעבדם דבר אחר שבקש לגלות את הקץ לבניו ונסתם ממנו“…as soon as Yaakov died, the eyes and hearts of Yisrael were ‘closed’ because of the misery of the slavery, for they (the Egyptians) began to subjugate them. Another explanation: That Yaakov tried to reveal the End (of the Galus) to his sons, but it was ‘closed off’ from him.”

As we know, the medrash does not make up explanations, they must be learned out from the text. So where did these explanations come from? The Kli Yakar brings several answers for each one. The first answer he gives for the first explanation is that the last pasuk in Parshas Vayigash says, “וַיֵּשֶׁב יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם בְּאֶרֶץ גֹּשֶׁן“And Yisrael lived in the land of Goshen” (47:27). The language of “וַיֵּשֶׁב” is one of living in peace and tranquility. He connects it to the first pasuk in this week’s parshah to say that this period only lasted while Yaakov was alive, but once he died, the slavery of Bnei Yisrael started, thus “closing their eyes” because of the pain of the slavery.

The second reason is the opposite of the first. Instead of the slavery starting because of Yaakov’s death, Yaakov died because the slavery started. Similar to how Hashem did not allow Avraham to live out his allotted years in order to prevent him from seeing Esav sin (See Rashi on Bereishis 25:30), Yaakov died before his allotted time in order that he would not see his children enslaved by the Egyptians. He makes this connection in the pesukim the same way the first answer did. The last answer is from a positive standpoint. The pasuk says that Yaakov lived for seventeen years in Mitzrayim. In last week’s parshah, Yaakov tells Paroh that the first 130 years of his life were “מְעַט וְרָעִים “short and bitter” (47:9). The two parshiyos are connected to show us that Yaakov tranquil life in Mitzrayim was so pleasant that it “closed off” the pain of the previous 130 years.

In order to explain the second answer of Rashi, the Kli Yakar says a much sharper answer. When Yaakov first finds out that Yosef is alive, the pasuk says, “וַתְּחִי רוּחַ יַעֲקֹב אֲבִיהֶם“And the spirit of Yaakov lived” (46:27). Rashi explains that for the first time since Yosef left home, the spirit of Hashem rested on Yaakov. In our parshah, when the pasuk says “וַיְחִי יַעֲקֹב” without the word “רוּחַ”, the pasuk is telling us that once again Hashem’s spirit had left Yaakov, this time for the entire time he was in Mitzrayim. When Yaakov sees Yosef for the first time, he says, “אָמוּתָה הַפָּעַם אַחֲרֵי רְאוֹתִי אֶת פָּנֶיךָ כִּי עוֹדְךָ חָי “…I will die this time, after seeing your face that you are alive” (47:30). Our medrash is explaining that before Yaakov died, he wanted to tell his children when Mashiach would come. Hashem did not want this to be revealed so he “closed off” that information from Yaakov.

Still, why was it so bad for Yaakov to tell his sons when Mashiach would come, that Hashem closed himself off from Yaakov for seventeen years? That is why the parshiyos are connected, to teach us that the reason Hashem’s spirit left Yaakov has to do with the last pasuk in last week’s parshah, that Yaakov dwelled in Mitzrayim.

The Sefer Akeidah explains that if we would have known throughout history exactly when Mashiach would come, for the thousands of years that have passed without his arrival, no one would have been seeking out Hashem! After all, if Mashiach isn’t coming anyway, why not just stay in Chutz La’aretz, do the mitzvos there, and let my children worry about mashiach? It doesn’t affect me anyway! This is bad logic because by doing mitzvos and davening for the Geulah to come, we can bring it even before the set time. Also, there is no comparison between doing the mitzvos in Eretz Yisrael and doing them outside of Eretz Yisrael. In order to prevent people from falling into this trap, Hashem “closed off” the time of Mashiach. He finishes off by saying how awful it is that even nowadays when we don’t know when Mashiach is coming, we still act like this! That those who live in Chutz La’aretz are very comfortable and build fancy houses made of precious and expensive stone and don’t even think of the Geulah coming. To this Hashem says, “If you are comfortable there, stay there!”

I do not believe that the Akeidah is saying that you are not allowed to build a house outside of Eretz Yisrael, obviously you are required to provide a comfortable shelter and life for your family. But what is your attitude towards your situation? Are you building this house because it is necessary? Or maybe it’s because you want to be comfortable; that your attitude is “I’m here for the long run, might as well build a beautiful house!” It’s important that we realize that no matter how easy life is right now and how many opportunities there are for religious Jews all over the world, we are still in Galus, we are not where we belong. Wherever we are and whatever our situation is, there is a direction we must strive in, and that is towards Eretz Yisrael, the Geulah, and Hashem. This was Yaakov’s problem, this was why he could not give over the time of Mashiach.

We must keep this goal in mind, that our end destination must be towards this final stage of Geulah. In order to do this, we cannot be comfortable in Galus, for as long as we are, Hashem will tell us “If you’re comfortable, stay!” Let us internalize the lessons of this week’s parshah and may we all merit the complete Geulah very soon!

Shabbat Shalom!


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