Friday, January 11, 2019

Parshas Bo Messages 5779

בּ"ה
Parshas Bo

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And he [Paroah] said to them [Moshe and Aharon], “Go serve Hashem your G-d; who and who are the ones going?” And Moshe said: “With our youths and with our elders we will go; with our sons and with our daughters, with our flock and with our cattle we will go, because it is a Festival of Hashem for us.” And he said to them. . . “Let the men go now and serve Hashem, because that is what you are seeking” (Shemos 10:9-11)
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In the sefer L’Hisaneig Bi’Saanugim, the author tells that he heard to explain on this, that the “debate” between Moshe Rabbeinu and Paroah was the attitude towards the Service of Hashem:  Paroah’s attitude towards Service of Hashem was just like towards mundane work -- that it was a burden. And if they were talking about that, then it was only appropriate for the men, and not for the women and children.  

Said to him Moshe Rabbeinu; ‘With our youths and with our elders we will go; with our sons and with our daughters, with our flock and with our cattle we will go, because it is a Festival of Hashem for us’ -- what you see as work, as a yoke and a heavy burden, we view as a Festival; it is a Simcha for us!  And when you celebrate a festival, also the women, children and elders -- all of them are partners in the celebration.

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And Hashem to Moshe: “One further Plague I will bring upon Paroah and upon Egypt; after so, he will send you out from this -- when he sends [you out], he will completely drive you out from this.  Speak please in the ears of the People, and they should borrow, a man from his fellow and a woman from her fellow, vessels of silver and vessels of gold.(Shemos 11:1-2)
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We are told that the Jews really didn’t end up returning these articles to the Egyptians, so truthfully, how is it possible that the word ‘borrow’ was used in this context, when they were not merely borrowing these things?  What was going on?*

Explains the Vilna Gaon {HaRav Eliyahu Kramer zt”l}:  The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 5:18) tells us that originally in the enslavement, Paroah set the example by joining the labors himself and further encouraged the Jews to high production quotas by offering big incentives.  Then he demanded that these quotas be met on a regular basis.

With this in mind, we now have the answer to our question:  The persecution of the Jews was conducted with trickery, such as the plan for the midwives to kill the infants and claim that they were stillborn (which, Baruch Hashem, was foiled).  

Therefore, Hashem -- Who punishes measure for measure -- decreed that the downfall of the Egyptians would be through trickery as well, for how they had drawn the Jews into servitude through trickery.

(Brought in Talelei Oros)
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* A very simple possible answer to the question is that the language that is used is ‘שאל’, which can also mean to ask or request.  Thus no problem is presented. See the Rashbam.

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And you shall guard the Matzos -- ושמרתם את המצות’ (Shemos 12:17)
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Brings Rashi zt”l from Mechilta:  Rabbi Yoshiya says:  Do not read it ‘haMatzos’, ‘the Matzos’, rather ‘haMitzvos’, ‘the Mitzvos’.  Like the way that we cannot let the Matzah leaven, so too, we cannot let a Mitzvah “leaven”; rather, if it comes to your hand, do it immediately [with alacrity].  

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Matzos shall be eaten for the seven days [of Pesach], and it shall not be seen belonging to you chametz, and it shall not be seen belonging to you leaven in all your borders.  And you shall tell to your son on that day, saying: It is because of this (בעבור זה) Hashem did for me when I went out from Egypt. (Shemos 13:7-8)
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Perhaps, suggests the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh {HaRav Chaim ben Attar zt”l}, the word זה -- ‘this’ alludes to the twelve Mitzvos which are marks of the Chag of Pesach [as it has the numerical value of 12]: The Pesach-offering (1), Matzah (2), Marror (3), the Haggadah (4), the seven days of the Chag (5-11), and Kiddush for the two days of Yontiff (12).  And this is what it says; ‘it is because of this [זה -- i.e. all these 12 things] Hashem did for me. . .

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|~Maaseh~| There is a famous story told about the legendary founder of the Mussar Movement that connects to this verse:  

Before Pesach, HaRav Yisroel Salanter zt”l was once unable to be present at the baking of his shmurah Matzah, in which he was very careful.  The task was to be performed by his Talmidim (students), and they asked him for directions.

Rav Yisroel instructed them to be especially careful how they treated the widow who kneaded the dough.  For if they were to upset her, it would be a transgression of the Commandment to not oppress a widow.

In his wonderful way, Rav Yisroel added that the Kashrus of the Matzos was not complete with only keeping the laws of Pesach in a nice way; but also with meticulous observance of the laws governing behavior between people.

(See above the comment which Rashi zt”l brings to 12:17, and this story connects beautifully with it:  For, while ‘guarding the Matzos’, we must still be careful to ‘guard the [rest of the] Mitzvos’).

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Gut and meaningful Shabbos to all!

Friday, January 4, 2019

Parshas Va'eira Messages 5779

בּ"ה
Parshas Va’eira

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‘“Therefore say to the Children of Israel; ‘I am Hashem, and I will take you out (והוֹצאתי) from under the burdens of Egypt, and I will save (והצּלתּי) you from their work, and I will redeem (וגאלתּי) you with an outstretched arm and with great judgements.  And I will take (ולקחתּי) you to Me for a People. . .”’ (Shemos 6:6-7)
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Rav Huna said in the name of Rav Binayah that the four cups which we have at the Seder correspond to the four expressions of Redemption used in the above verses:  והוֹצאתי (‘and I will take you out’), והצּלתּי (‘and I will save you’), וגאלתּי (‘and I will redeem you’), and ולקחתּי (‘and I will take you’).

(Midrash Bereishis Rabbah 88:6)

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And I will harden the heart of Paroah, and I will increase My Signs and My Wonders in the land of Egypt.(Shemos 7:3)
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There is a well-known debate amongst the commentators; how could Hashem have hardened Paroah’s heart -- apparently taking away his free will?  True Paroah was wicked, but shouldn’t he still be left with the free choice to repent? This is indeed a good question, and B’Ezras Hashem, let us bring a few different explanations and answers to it:

1) --- Sforno zt”l:  Without a doubt, if not for the hardening of Paroah’s heart, he would have let the Jews out of Egypt.  But not from repentance or submission to Hashem. Only out of the fact that he couldn’t take any more pain of the Plagues.  And this would not have been true Teshuva!  Now, if he had wanted to actually submit to Hashem and to return to Him truly, obviously, Hashem would not have held him back from that.  But, such was not the case.

So Hashem strengthened Paroah’s heart in order that he would be able to endure the Plagues, and not just send the Jews out of Egypt because of fear of the Plagues, as it says, ‘in order to put these signs of Mine in his midst’.  Meaning that from the signs Paroah and the Egyptians would come to recognize Hashem’s Greatness and return in true Teshuva, [and, in effect, send the Jews out of Egypt].  

2) --- Chofetz Chaim zt”l (in Chofetz Chaim al HaTorah):  There are many people who ask how the Doors of Repentance could be closed in the face of Paroah.  Isn’t it a general rule that the Gates of Teshuva are never closed to even a very big sinner?

Rather, the matter is that there are some wrongdoers that from Heaven, they get helped to repent, as we pray, ‘return us in complete Teshuva before You’.  However, there are also other ones who heap up their measure of transgressions so much so, that help from Heaven to return is withheld, and it is up to the person to arouse themselves to Teshuva.  

Paroah was one of these cases:  HaKadosh Baruch Hu told Moshe Rabbeinu to let him know that he had gone very far in his wickedness.  And as a punishment for that, from Heaven he wouldn’t get help to return in Teshuva.  As it says, ‘for I will harden his [Paroah’s] heart’ -- meaning that from Heaven he would not be aided in the process of Teshuva.  However, the free choice was not taken away from him to return on his own. [As later, he did, Baruch Hashem].

3) --- Tal U’Matar (and see Sifsei Chachamim ק to Rashi zt”l here):  As we are told, after all the Plagues and Kriyas Yam Suf, Paroah did Teshuva.  After all the Wonders, he repented.  

So perhaps the answer to the above question is staring us right in the face in the very verse quoted: 'And I will harden the heart of Paraoh, and I will increase My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.'

As we know, Paroah was very stubborn.  But even with a person like that, his stubbornness and wickedness can still be broken.  It just might take a bit more.

Putting this all together, we may suggest that out of mercy for Paroah did Hashem do all this:  He knew that if He only performed a “minimal” amount of Wonders in Mitzraim, Paroah's stubbornness might have been broken for a little while -- but this change perhaps would not have lasted.  

However, if He would bring all the Makkos (Plagues) and Paroah would also see the Kriyas Yam Suf  -- then it would be just “too much”, and Paroah would change for good, as he did.

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And Hashem said to Moshe and to Aharon, saying: “When Paroah will speak to you, saying; ‘Give for yourselves a wonder. . .’”’ (Shemos 7:8-9)
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The question is asked; why would Paroah say ‘give for yourselves a wonder’?  Wouldn’t it have been more proper that he would say that they should ‘give to me a wonder’?

Explains the Noam Elimelech {Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk zt”l}; even a person who sees a lot of Miracles and wonders, it’s still a great and amazing thing with each and every one that they see.  Afterall, whenever Hashem performs a Miracle, it is amazing and novel. However, with people who perform “magic” (sleight of hand), their tricks don’t really impress themselves and are nothing new because they know exactly how they did it, etc.

This, explains the Rebbe Reb Meilech zt”l, is what Paroah meant: ‘Provide a wonder that is even miraculous and new to yourselves -- not just some “magic” trick.’

(Heard from one of my Rebbeim shlit”a)

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And Hashem said to Moshe: “Say to Aharon; ‘Stretch out your hand with your staff upon the rivers, upon the canals, and upon the ponds,* and bring up the frogs upon the land of Egypt.”’ And Aharon stretched out his hand upon the waters of Egypt, and the frog (הצפרדע -- in the singular) came up, and covered the land of Egypt. (Shemos 8:1-2)
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Brings Rashi zt”l from Midrash Tanchuma, that there was only one frog -- הצפרדע, and the Egyptians were hitting it, and it broke into swarms and swarms.  

Asks the Steipler Gaon {HaRav Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky zt”l}; when the Egyptians who were hitting it saw that that only added to the frogs and made them multiply more, wouldn’t knowledge dictate that they should just stop hitting the frog so that the creatures didn’t continue to increase?!

However, answers the Steipler beautifully; what does the trait of anger dictate?  It says that since the frogs are multiplying, all the more so that they should hit it and get revenge.  And as the frogs continued to increase, so did the anger of the Egyptians’, and then they continued to hit it and hit it until eventually, it ‘covered the land of Egypt’.

(Bircas Peretz)*

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* See Rashi zt”l and Targum Yonasan.
* See there for the rest of his beautiful words.

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|~Maaseh~| When the Communists came into power and went on a campaign to eradicate religion, the Chofetz Chaim zt”l felt the pain of the three million Jews who found themselves incarcerated behind the Iron Curtain and were cut off from the Torah and Yiddishkeit.  Shuls and mikvahs were closed down, yeshivos and schools were dispersed, Shabbos observance and Bris Milah became illegal.  The Rabbonim who risked their lives to help their fellow Jews were incarcerated themselves -- among those who suffered imprisonment was HaRav Yechezkel Abramsky zt”l, the Rav of Slutzk, who was sentenced to the labor camp in Siberia.

At this time the Chofetz Chaim went to the Beis Midrash, ascended to the bimah, and addressed the congregation with intense emotion.  He spoke of the wicked government and its edicts, how they oppressed religion and those who observed it, how they burned Sifrei Torah and now had sent the Rav of Slutzk to suffer in the barren tundra.  Though normally he was soft-spoken and never raised his voice, now he shouted the words he spoke from the depths of his heart, and when he finished, HaRav Hillel Ginzburg zt”l, who was standing at his side, said, “And now let us say a few perakim of Tehillim. . .”

The Chofetz Chaim trembled with emotion and cried, “What?  Are we a ‘Tehillim group’?” (It was customary in those days to arrange for people to take turns sitting by someone who was deceased and quietly say Tehillim until it was time for the funeral procession). “Now is not the time to ‘say’ Tehillim.  It’s the time to shout and scream Tehillim!  In Mitzraim the Jews cried out to Hashem, and in that merit, they were saved!”

The men stood up to “shout” Tehillim, and their cries split the heavens.  Not long after that, HaRav Elchonon Wasserman zt”l, was sitting and learning with the Chofetz Chaim in the Chofetz Chaim’s house.  Suddenly the Chofetz Chaim cried out in joy, “The Bolsheviks found nothing!” He happily repeated this three times and then added, “They were forced to release the Rav of Slutzk!”

Rav Elchanan glanced at the clock to mark the time.  Sometime later he found out that at that exact moment Rav Yechezkel Abramsky had been released from his Siberian prison.

(From Meir Einei Yisroel vol. 1, and Ohr Elchonon
vol. 1; quoted in The Chafetz Chaim Haggadah)

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Gut and meaningful Shabbos to all!