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Was Mount Sinai in Israel? Print E-mail
Monday, 01 January 2024

In Parshat Shmot, Shmot 3: 1-5 we read:

Moshe tended the sheep of his father-in-law Yitro, Kohen Midian. He led the sheep to the edge of the wilderness and he came to the mountain of God in the area of Chorev. An angel of God appeared to Moshe in the heart of the fire in the midst of the thorn-bush. He looked and behold the bush was on fire, but the bush was not being consumed. Moshe said, “I must turn aside and investigate this sight. Why doesn’t the bush burn?” When God saw that Moshe turned aside to see, He called to him from the midst of the thorn-bush, and said, “Moshe, Moshe.” Moshe said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not come any closer. Take your shoes off your feet, because the place upon which you are standing is holy ground.”

A few verses later (3:12), God promises Moshe: “…When you bring the people out of Egypt- you will serve God on this mountain.”

We see a similar story in Yehoshua 5:13-15:

When Yehoshua was in Jericho he raised his eyes and saw, and behold! A man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand. Yehoshua went toward him and said to him, “Are you with us or with our enemies?” He said, “No. I am the commander of God’s legion; Now I have come.” Yehoshua fell before him to the ground and prostrated himself, and he said to him, “What does my master say to his servant?” The commander of God’s legion said to Yehoshua, “Remove your shoe from upon your foot, for the place upon which you stand is holy.” And Yehoshua did so.

Both Mount Sinai and the Land of Israel are described as holy.

Is it possible that Mount Sinai was in Israel?

The borders of the Land of Israel are listed in a few different places:

God blesses Avraham in Breisheet 15:18: “To your descendants I have given this land, from Nahar Mitzrayim (the river of Egypt) as far as the great river, the Euphrates.”

According to the Targum, Nahar Mitzrayim refers to the Nile in Egypt.


In Parshat Masei, Bamidbar 34:5 we read: “The border turns from Atzmon Nachala Mitzrayim (towards the Egyptian Estuary) and its outskirts shall reach the sea.”

Here too, the Targum explains that Nachal Mitzrayim is the Nile in Egypt.

Before Yehoshua passes away, he describes the land that still needs to be conquered (Yehoshua 13:3) “From the Shichor which is before Egypt to the border of Ekron northward is considered Canaanite territory.”

Radak’s interpretation is that the Shichor is the Nile, Nachal Mitzrayim (the river of Egypt).

Rav David Avraham Spector points out that since Mount Sinai is north of the Nile, according to the sources above it is considered to be within the borders of the Land of Israel.

Do archeologists believe that Mount Sinai could be located in Israel?

Emmanuel Anati, a Jewish Italian archeologist believes that Har Karkom (the Mountain of Saffron) located in the southwestern sector of Israel’s western Negev, close to Egypt is the Biblical Mount Siani. In that area they found 40,000 tablets with Biblical scenes drawn on them. The style of these tablets is very similar to the Torah’s description of the Ten Commandments.

The other locations which have according to Christian tradition been thought to be Mount Sinai are in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and in Saudi Arabia.

Although we don’t know exactly where Mount Sinai is and the Jewish people never put an emphasis on finding it, the fact that it is considered holy ground just like the Land of Israel and according to some can fit within Israel’s Biblical borders is pretty exciting.

Tourists who have gone down to see Har Karkom have gotten a taste of what Mount Sinai may have been like, even if it’s not the exact mountain.

May we internalize the fact that Mount Sinai and the Land of Israel are considered holy ground and may we appreciate the opportunities to study Torah and explore the Biblical Land of Israel.

The Well Print E-mail
Monday, 09 January 2023

Over and over, we see in the Torah the significance of “the well” (be’er) as a meeting place. We first see it with Avraham’s servant, when he meets Rivka at the well. The theme recurs with Yaakov, when he encounters Rachel and again with Moshe, when he sees Tzipora and her sisters and helps them out.

Avraham’s servant went to the well in Padan Aram to water his camels and find a wife for Yitzchak. Yaakov went to that same well to ask where he could find his family (he had no animals with him) and shortly after he arrived, Rachel showed up.

In Shmot 2:15 we read: “…Moshe resided in the land of Midian. He sat by the well.” Moshe did not have any animals or family in Midian so why did he decide to go to the well?

Rashi brings the commentary of the Mechilta on the words “He sat by a well” (Shmot 2:15): Moshe learned from Yaakov who found his mate at the well.

According to Maskil L’David, Moshe learned from Yaakov that “the well” is “the place” to meet your future wife!

Breisheet Rabba explains:

Moshe adapted the practice of his ancestors. Three met their marriage partners at the well- Yitzchak, Yaakov and Moshe. Yitzchak- as it is written (Breisheet 24:62-63): “And Yitzchak came from the way of Be’er Lechai Ro’i…And Yitzchak went to meditate in the field…and he lifted up his eyes and saw and behold camels were coming…” Also Rivka met Eliezer (the matchmaker) at the well.  Yaakov- (Breisheet 29:2): “And he (Yaakov) looked and behold a well in the field.” Moshe- “And he sat by a well.”

It is interesting to note that although Moshe was a wanted man who ran away from Egypt, he was willing to go to the well, the most public place in order to try to find a match the way that his forefathers did.

Ibn Ezra explains that it was called “HaBe’er,” “The well” since it was the only well in the area.

When Moshe was ready to get married, he thought back to how his forefathers met their wives and followed in their footsteps.

Today as well, we need to create meeting places like “the well” where those interested in getting married can find their bashert (destined match).

Was Moshe a good baby? Print E-mail
Monday, 20 December 2021

In Shmot 1:22-2:3 we read:

Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, “Every boy who is born must be thrown into the river; but every girl shall be allowed to live.” A man of the house of Levi went and married the daughter of Levi. The woman conceived and gave birth to a son. She saw that he was “ki tov”, exceptionally good, and she kept him hidden for three months. When she could no longer hide him, she took a papyrus box and coated it with clay and tar. She placed the child in it, and placed it in the reeds near the bank of the river.

According to Rashbam, the woman (Yocheved, Amram’s wife) conceived during the time period of Pharaoh’s decree that every male baby had to be thrown into the Nile to be drowned.

Rashbam explains that anyone who thinks that Yocheved only hid the baby because he was “tov,” good, is lying. Mothers display mercy for all their children. The words “She saw that he was exceptionally good” can be compared with the end of the story of creation in Breisheet 1:31, “And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was “tov meod,” very good…” At the end of six days of creation, God surveyed all He had done to find out if any of it needed improving. He was pleased to find that all had turned out as He had wished it to be.” Here too, since Moshe was born three months early, Yocheved was able to hide him as the Egyptians had not expected her to give birth until the end of nine months. When Yocheved noted that in spite of being born so early Moshe was fully formed in every way, she saw that he was well enough to hide for three months until the end of the ninth month. If the inspectors would show up, she would tell them that the baby had been premature and didn’t make it or that the Egyptians had drowned him.

In Breisheet 1:10 (the creation story), we read “Vaya’ar Elokim ki tov,” And God saw that it (His creation) was good. Those words are interpreted by Ramban to mean that it was able to endure.

Here too, as soon as Yocheved saw that despite Moshe’s premature birth, he was able to endure, she did everything possible to save him.

Chizkuni adds another interpretation. The words “ki tov” hint that Moshe had been born already circumcised. The custom at a Brit Mila, circumcision ceremony, of reciting the verse “Hodu LaShem ki tov”, “Praise God for He is good”, reminds us that Moshe did not need to be circumcised.

Chizkuni gives us insight into the calendar dates of when she hid him for three months: The rabbis taught in the Talmud, Kidushin 38a that Moshe was born on the seventh day of the month of Adar. His mother hid him for twenty-three days of Adar as well as all of Nissan and Iyar, so that the last day of the three months was the sixth day of Sivan, when she put him in the basket in the Nile, the date on which in the future, the Torah would be given to lsrael.

So what was so exceptionally good about Moshe?

He was born in the sixth month and survived despite not having access to neonatal healthcare as we know it today.

He was born already circumcised which shows us the high spiritual level that he was on. It was also one less thing for his parents to worry about during those difficult times.

Moshe’s real due date was the sixth of Sivan,the date that he was placed in the Nile and saved, the day that ultimately B’nai Yisrael would receive the Torah (Shavuot).

The 70th person to go down to Egypt Print E-mail
Thursday, 07 January 2021

In Parshat Vayigash, Briesheet Chapter 46, beginning with sentence 8, we read the list of Yaakov’s descendents who went down to Egypt.

After the list of Leah’s descendents which number 32, we are told (Breisheet 46:15):

Those were the sons whom Leah bore to Yaakov in Paddan-aram, in addition to his daughter Dinah. Persons in all, male and female: 33.

Once the list of the entire family is recorded, in Breisheet 46:26-27 we see a final description and a total count which also doesn’t seem to add up:

All the persons belonging to Yaakov who came to Egypt—his own issue, aside from the wives of Yaakov’s sons—all these persons numbered 66. And Yosef’s sons who were born to him in Egypt were two in number. Thus the total of Yaakov’s household who came to Egypt was seventy persons.

In Parshat Shmot, Shmot 1:5 we are reminded:

The total number of persons that were of Yaakov’s issue came to seventy, Yosef being already in Egypt.

Rashi, in Breisheet 46:15 quoting the Talmud, Bava Batra 123b explains why it says 33 even though the names of the descendents of Leah come out to 32:

The one whose name is omitted is Yocheved who was born “between the walls” just as they entered the city, as it is said (Bamidbar 26:59) “Yocheved, the daughter of Levi, whom her mother bore to Levi in Egypt.” Her birth was in Egypt, but she was not conceived in Egypt.

Rashi does not bring the other two possible suggestions that are brought up in Bava Batra 123a-b and are later rejected:

Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba said to Abba Ḥalifa Karoya: A twin sister was born with Dinah, as it is written: “And [ve’et] his daughter Dinah” (Breisheet 46:15). The term et implies an unspecified additional person. Abba Ḥalifa Karoya replied: If that is so, one would have to say that a twin sister was born with Binyamin, as it is written: And he lifted up his eyes, and saw et Benjamin his brother, his mother’s son” (Breisheet 43:29), which would render the count of seventy incorrect.

The idea of Dinah or Binyamin being born with an unnamed twin is rejected in favor of Yocheved whose birth is explicitly mentioned in the Torah.

According to Ibn Ezra 46:27, Yaakov himself was the seventieth person. As Breisheet 46:8 states, Now these are the names of the children of Israel who were coming to Egypt, Yaakov and his children . . . Similarly in Breisheet 46:27, All the people in Yaakov’s household who came to Egypt – seventy. Yaakov is certainly part of his household. 

From here we see that the 70th person was either Yocheved or Yaakov and not simply a rounding up of the number of family members since the Torah spent the time listing each descendent by name.

The list is important to show how far we have come. A nation that started off with 70 family members (plus their wives) evolved into a nation of 600,000 men between the ages of 20-60 and that is not even counting the children, the women and the elderly.

The Modern State of Israel has also grown a tremendous amount since 1948. We now have 9.3 million citizens. However, the population of Israel only grew by 1.7% this past year (as opposed to 2% in the past few years). One explanation for the discrepancy is that only 20,000 people made aliya in 2020 compared to 34,000 in 2019. The reasons for the decline are related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

May we see an end to the pandemic and may Israel continue to grow!

Was Batya’s visit to the Nile a coincidence? Print E-mail
Thursday, 16 January 2020

In Parshat Shmot (Shmot 2:5-6), we find a very unusual occurrence:

Pharaoh’s daughter went down to bathe by the river, while her maids walked along the river’s edge. She saw (vatere) the basket among the reeds and sent her maid and she fetched it. She opened it and saw (vatirehu) the child, and behold a boy was crying. She took pity on it and said, “This is one of the Hebrew boys.”

Why was Pharaoh’s daughter, Batya, bathing with all of the commoners? Didn’t she have a private beach connected to the palace where she wouldn’t have to mingle with the common people?

Philo of Alexandria explains:

The king of the country had but one cherished daughter, who we are told, had been married for a considerable time but had never conceived a child , though she naturally desired one, especially a male, to succeed to the magnificent inheritance of her father’s kingdom, which threatened to go to strangers if his daughter gave him no grandson. Depressed and loud in lamentation she always was, but on this particular day she broke down under the weight of cares; and, though her custom was to remain at home and never even cross the threshold, she set off with her maids to the river, where the child was exposed.

According to Philo, it just so happened that when Batya felt that she had enough and needed to get away from the palace, she happened upon the baby.

Philo’s premise that Batya was suffering from infertility makes a lot of sense. We never hear about her having any other children and the fact that Pharaoh did not have a problem with Moshe growing up in the palace shows that he understood how deep her pain was and did not dare try to dissuade or forbid her from adopting Moshe.

Rabbi Avraham Saba, in his commentary, Tzror HaMor, believes that it was not a coincidence at all. God specifically arranged for Batya to go out to the Nile at precisely that moment so that she would see the baby in the basket and have mercy on him. Verse 6 does not say vatere (as it does in verse 5), rather it says vatirehu, with the added letters of vav and hey (letters from God’s name) to hint that the Shechina (Divine Presence) was involved. According to Tzror HaMor, God specifically chose Pharaoh’s daughter to be His emissary to save Moshe.

How did Moshe repay his adoptive mother for saving his life?

Midrash Tehilim 136:6 explains that during Makat Bechorot (Plague of the Death of the Firstborn), Moshe prayed that Batya be saved as she was a firstborn.

According to the Zohar, Pharaoh’s daughter has a special place in Gan Eden (heaven).

Pharaoh’s daughter is one of the righteous women of that generation who helped put in motion the Exodus from Egypt. May she be an inspiration to us all.

May the Jewish People increase like the Israelites in Egypt Print E-mail
Friday, 28 December 2018

In Parshat Shmot, we see a family of seventy turn into a vast nation. How did this happen so quickly?

In Shmot 1:7 we read: “And B’nai Yisrael paru, vayishretzu, vayirbu, vayaatzmu, b’meod meod, proliferated, swarmed, multiplied and grew more and more...”

Why were so many verbs needed to describe their rate of reproduction?

Ibn Ezra (1092-1167) comments that the women gave birth like a tree that bears fruit. They bore twins and more. He then explains that he knows of a woman who delivered four babies at a time (quadruplets) and that he heard from the doctors that a woman can handle delivering up to seven (septuplets).

Rashi quotes Midrash Tanchuma, Shmot 5, which states that they gave birth to six at a time (sextuplets).

Rashbam explains, “they were fruitful” in pregnancies, “they swarmed” with live births, the babies increased in size and they grew up.

Pharaoh attempted to devise a plan to ensure that they would not continue to multiply. Ibn Ezra points out that Pharaoh tried to “oppress him (the men) with burdens” (Shmot 1:11) in order to dry up their seed.

Pharaoh’s plan backfired as we see in sentence 12, “But the more the Egyptians oppressed him (B’nai Yisrael), the more he increased and spread…”

Rashi explains: Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) is saying: Pharaoh said “pen, lest he (Bnei Yisrael) increase” but I say, “ken, yes, they will increase.”

God’s intention was to make sure that the Jewish people would multiply and there was nothing that Pharaoh could do to change God’s plan. In fact, the more he tried to harm them, the more children they ended up producing.

May the Jewish people continue to be fruitful and multiply and fill up the State of Israel and may God make the pregnancies and births as easy and trouble free as they were in Egypt.

Pharaoh’s behavior: a blueprint for antisemitism Print E-mail
Wednesday, 03 January 2018

Parsha Points- Shmot 5778

Sponsored by Hanna and Rosa Hollander in honor of Gedaliah ben Shoshi, a generous uncle and brother who should be blessed with good health and prosperity

Pharaoh’s behavior: a blueprint for antisemitism

In Parshat Shmot (Shmot 1:9-10), Pharaoh tells his people:

Look, the Israelite people have become too many and too strong for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them lest they increase and if war breaks out they will join our enemies and fight against us and leave the country.

Why did Pharaoh need to come up with a plan to deal shrewdly with B’nai Yisrael? Why was he so secretive in the ways that he tried to get rid of them?

First, he gave them back breaking work. Next, he demanded that the midwives secretly kill the baby boys. Then, he announced that all of the baby boys must be thrown into the water. Finally, he sent the Egyptians house to house to take any babies that were being hidden.

Pharaoh was a dictator who could do whatever he wanted so why didn’t he just kill them off? What was he trying to hide?

According to Ramban, Pharaoh and his advisors did not think that it would be wise to put the Israelites to the sword; for this would have constituted rank treason to persecute without cause a people that had come to the land at the bidding of his royal predecessor. Moreover, the people of the land would not have allowed the king to commit this violence since he had to consult them. All the more so since the children of Israel were a mighty and numerous people who had the potential make war with them.

The plan was carried out without Pharaoh’s involvement. If confronted, he could use the excuse that the Egyptians took it upon themselves to hurt the children of Israel. He could then declare that they would be punished accordingly. Even the act of letting his daughter take the baby in the basket home made it seem like it was never his decree to have the babies killed.

Nehama Leibowitz points out that Pharaoh originally did not want to openly declare war but once the seeds of rebellion began to sprout (after Moshe and Aharon went to speak to Pharaoh about letting them go to sacrifice to God) the situation was different. At that point, Pharaoh had an excuse to openly challenge them.

According to Ramban, this story is a blueprint for antisemitism.

There are many similarities between the narrative in Shmot and the Holocaust.

The Nazis prepared the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” (the plan for the annihilation of the Jewish people) as they were afraid that the Jews would take over. They too had stages in order to deal shrewdly with the Jewish people. At first the Jews were sent to ghettos, then they were told that they were being sent away to work. The labor camps made way for concentration and extermination camps. At first, the killing was done quietly. Mass extermination of the Jews came later.

In the case of Pharaoh as well as in the case of the Nazis, the plans to do evil were laid out very carefully. It is unfortunate and devastating that they used their wisdom to cause so much destruction.

Praying for the Government Print E-mail
Thursday, 19 January 2017

Should the Prayer for the Welfare of the Government, “May He who gives salvation to kings…” be recited on behalf of the government of the United States of America, even by those who are not happy with the results of the election?

The wording of the prayer is as follows:

May He who gives salvation to kings and dominion to princes, whose kingdom is everlasting, who delivers His servant David from the evil sword who makes a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters, bless and protect, guard and help, exalt, magnify and uplift the President, Vice-President and all officials of this land. May the supreme King of kings in his mercy put into their hearts and the hearts of all their counselors and officials, to deal kindly with us and all of Israel.  In their days and in ours, may Judah be saved and Israel dwell in safety, and may the Redeemer come to Zion. May this be His will, and let us say: Amen.

The origin for the Prayer for the Government comes from Yirmiyahu’s instruction to the Jewish people at the time of the Babylonian exile (Yirmiyahu 29:7) “Seek the peace of the city to which I have carried you in exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because in its peace, you shall find peace.” Since the Jewish people could not govern themselves, they asked God to guide their foreign leaders. Abudraham introduced a form of the prayer into the siddur in the 14th century.

Neither the Prayer for the Government nor the Prayer for the State of Israel was established because the Jewish people love their politicians. In fact, it is often the opposite. We pray that God will give them guidance to do the right thing.

Not every synagogue, even in the Modern Orthodox community recites the Prayer for the Government. The synagogues that I attended when I lived in New York never recited the Prayer for the Government of the United States, yet they recited the Prayer for Israel.

Maybe this would be a good time for the congregations in the United States who are worried about the new government to add the prayer.

The Prayer for the State of Israel (as opposed to the Prayer for the Government) is a much longer prayer. It includes a prayer for Israel’s leaders (“Send Your light and truth to its leaders, ministers and counselors and direct them with good counsel before you”) yet goes beyond by praying on behalf of the defenders of Israel, focusing on the ingatheing of the exiles and the return of the Jewish nation to the Land of Israel.

In this week’s Haftara, Yishayahu 27:12-13 we also read about the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel: “It will be on that day that God shall thresh from the surging river to the Brook of Mitzrayim and you will be gathered up one by one, Children of Israel. And it will be on that day that a great shofar will be blown and those who are lost in the land of Ashur and those cast away in the land of Mitzrayim will come and prostrate themselves to God on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.”

Now that we have a Modern State of Israel where Jews can govern themselves, the Jews in the Diaspora who are dissatisfied can follow the words of the prophets and one by one return to the Land of Israel.

The more we are attacked, the stronger we become Print E-mail
Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Sponsored by Barbara BEISS Muskin

in memory of, zecher nismat

 avi mori, David Ben Efraim, DAVID BEISS

whose yahrzeit is the 19th of Tevet

and my sister Rachel Leah bat David

whose yahrzeit was on 5th of Tevet

In Shmot 1:12 we read: “But the more the Egyptians afflicted them, the more B’nai Yisrael multiplied and grew. The Egyptians became disgusted on account of B’nai Yisrael.”


According to Rashi, to the extent that the Egyptians set their hearts to oppress B’nai Yisrael, God set His heart to increase and strengthen them.


We see this concept today in Israel as well, during this period of violence. Those who wish to destroy the Jewish people are not succeeding. The more they try to attack us, the more we become stronger.


On Monday, while driving with my family, my son, Dov noticed Sarah Techiya Litman with her husband Ariel Beigel and her brother walking down the street, a block away from our home in Jerusalem.


The entire population of Israel knows the Litman family as Sara Techiya’s father and brother were brutally murdered a few days before her wedding. Instead of cancelling the wedding, they postponed it until right after the shiva. The family then invited the entire Jewish nation to attend the wedding to show that Israel will only become stronger. The wedding was attended by thousands of Israelis who never heard of the couple before the incident took place including Sarah Netanyahu. A group from Canada even flew in to Israel in order to be at the wedding.


We went up to the couple and told them what an honor it was to meet them, a family who taught the world that Israel will remain strong no matter what our enemies try to do to us.


We must continue the legacy of the Litman family and show our enemies that they will not win.


Instead of staying at home, Israelis need to go out and show the world that they are not afraid.


Tourists need to continue to visit Israel. This is an important time for tour companies, schools and synagogues to arrange solidarity missions to Israel.


Those who are thinking about making aliya, need to come now as 30,000 Jews from around the world have done this year. It is interesting that the last time aliya was this high was in 2003, during the Second Intifada.


Israel needs to show the world that we are strong and that nothing can get in our way. The more that they try to attack us, the more we will become stronger and the more they will become weaker.


God is Above the Astrologers Print E-mail
Thursday, 08 January 2015

In Shmot 1:22 we read: “Pharaoh then commanded all his people saying: ‘Every boy who is born must be thrown into the river; but every girl shall be allowed to live.’”

According to Rashi, The Egyptians were also subjected to this terrible decree. On the day that Moshe was born, Pharaoh’s astrologers told him. “Today their savior was born, we do not know if he is from the Egyptians or the Jews, but we foresee that he is destined to be smitten through water.” Therefore, on that day, Pharaoh issued a decree also regarding the Egyptians, as it is said: “Every son that will be born must be thrown into the water” and it does not say: “Every son that will be born to the Hebrews...”

The astrologers and Pharaoh did not know that they got it all wrong. Moshe was destined to die because of the waters of Meriva (when he would hit the rock in order to get water from it instead of following God’s command of speaking to the rock). Although he died before B’nei Yisrael entered the Land of Israel, he did not die in the waters of the Nile.

In his comment on the Talmud, Sotah 12a, Rashi adds: When the day passed and the astrologers saw that the savior of the Jews had not yet been stricken, Pharaoh decided to keep the universal decree in force until the day that the unknown savior would be thrown in the river.

Maharal explains that the astrologers were unable to tell if the future leader (Moshe) was a Jew or an Egyptian since he was destined to be raised by Pharaoh’s daughter. In the Talmud, Megilla 13a we learn that “Whoever raises an orphan within their house is considered as if they gave birth to the child.”

In the Talmud, Shabbat 156a Rabbi Yochanan teaches: From where do we know that the celestial signs hold no sway over Israel? It says in Jeremiah 10:2:  “So says God: Do not adopt the way of the nations and do not fear the signs of the heavens, for the nations fear them.” Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: From where do we know that the celestial signs hold no sway over Israel? As it says in Breisheet 15:5: “God took him (Avraham) outside and said ‘Look towards the heavens and count the stars if you are able to count them.’ He (God) then said to him ‘So numerous will your descendents be.’” Rav Yehuda continues: Avraham said: Master of the Universe, I have already consulted my astrology and I am not fit to bear a son! God said to him: Go outside of your astrology, for the celestial signs hold no sway over Israel.

We learn from here that the Jewish people are not bound by astrology. Instead of sitting around reading the horoscopes, take the opportunity to go out and change your destiny.

In a Place where there is No Man (or Woman) Be a Man (or a Woman)! Print E-mail
Friday, 20 December 2013

In Parshat Shmot (Shmot 2:11-12) we read: “It was in those days when Moshe was grown that he began to go out to his brothers and he saw their burden. He saw an Egyptian beating one of his Israeli brothers. He looked all around and when he saw that no man was there, he killed the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand.”


The Netziv in his commentary HaEmek Davar points out that it doesn’t say that “he didn’t see a man”, rather it says “he saw that no man was there.” He did see men, but there was nobody to turn to during this difficult time. There was nobody who would step up and save the man who was being beaten. Everyone around him was an enemy. Therefore Moshe took it upon himself to save the man who was being beaten by killing the Egyptian.


In Pirkei Avot, Chapter 2, Mishna 6 we learn: In a place where there are no men, endeavor to be a man.


This can be interpreted to mean that when nobody is available to care for the needs of the community then those who are capable must step up to the plate and take that responsibility upon themselves.


We have seen this very clearly this past week in Jerusalem. The snowstorms that we endured were much more difficult than anyone had predicted. Thousands of cars were stuck on the roads, women in labor needed to get to the hospitals to give birth, people were running out of food, diapers and formula.


Everyone who was available pitched in to help. Volunteers with 4x4s helped rescue those who had been stuck in their cars for hours. Ambulances picked up women in labor and took them to the hospital. Formula and diapers were dropped off at the homes of mothers who couldn’t get out.


One supermarket that didn’t have electricity told the shoppers to take what they need and come back after the storm to pay when the cash registers would be working. When the shoppers returned in order to pay what they owed, the owner told them that they can keep the money and to look at the groceries as a gift.


A couple that got married the night of the storm went to try to find a hotel room in Jerusalem since there was no way to leave the city as they had originally planned. Upon finding all of the hotel rooms booked they weren’t sure what to do. One of the guests from the hotel saw that they were just married and offered them their room.


We see that in these situations ordinary men and women stepped up to do the right thing just as Moshe had done.


Impulsive vs. Conscious Decisions Print E-mail
Friday, 04 January 2013
In Parshat Shmot, Shmot 2:10, we read: “When the child grew up, she (Yocheved) brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moshe, for she said, “I drew him from the water.”


According to Shmot Raba, this took place after Yocheved nursed Moshe for twenty four months.


The Malbim points out that it was Hashgachat Hashem, Divine Providence, that even after twenty four months, when he was already a toddler, Pharaoh’s daughter still wanted to adopt Moshe.


When Pharaoh’s daughter first lifted Moshe out of the basket, she could have just been making an impulsive decision when she said to Yocheved (Shmot 2:9): “Take this child and nurse him for me and I will pay your fee.”


The fact that Pharaoh’s daughter still wanted him after twenty four months shows that it was not an impulsive decision made because she felt pity for him. Rather, she had plenty of time to think things out and she made a conscious decision to adopt him.


We can learn a lesson from Pharaoh’s daughter. Once we make up our minds that we are going to make a commitment, we must make every effort to fulfill our obligations. It is best to take time to think things through in order to make sure that we don’t bite off more than we can chew.

Was Pharaoh’s Daughter Jewish? Print E-mail
Friday, 13 January 2012

In Divrei Hayamim (Chronicles) Chapter 4 we read about Calev ben Yefuneh and his children. In sentence 18 it says: “And his wife, the Jewish woman, bore Yered, the father of Gador and Hever, the father of Sokho and Yekutiel, the father of Zanoach. And these are the sons of Bitya the daughter of Pharaoh whom Mered took.”


In Vayikra Raba 1:3, we learn that Mered is the same person as Calev.


Why was he called Mered (Rebellion)?


Since Calev (along with Yehoshua) rebelled against the Meraglim (spies) and did not speak badly about the Land of Israel but rather encouraged B’nai Yisrael to inherit the land he is called Mered.


Pharaoh’s daughter rebelled as well when she ignored father’s decree (to kill the baby boys) and adopted Moshe.


Calev saved the “sheep”, “Binai Yisrael” and Pharaoh’s daughter saved the shepherd (Moshe).


In Smot 2:5 we read: “And the daughter of Pharaoh went down to wash herself at the River…” In Tractate Sotah 12b Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai: We learn from here that she went down to wash herself off from her father’s idols. Rashi comments that she immersed for the purpose of conversion.


The Midrash in Vayikra Raba 1:3 teaches: Rabbi Yehoshua of Sachnin said in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi: God said to Bitya, the daughter of Pharaoh: Moshe was not your son, yet he was called your son (Shmot 2:10 “and he became her son”), you are not my daughter, yet I will call you Bitya, the daughter of God.


In Shmot 2:10 it says: “And she called him Moshe.” Shmot Raba 1:26 teaches: From here you learn the reward for those who do Chesed (loving kindness): Even though Moshe had many names, the name that he was called in the Torah is Moshe, the name that Bitya, Pharaoh’s daughter gave him. God only called him by that name as well.


It seems pretty clear from here that Bitya was a righteous convert and a wonderful mother so the answer is yes- Pharaoh’s daughter was Jewish.

The Good and Spacious Land Print E-mail
Friday, 24 December 2010

In Parshat Shmot, God approached Moshe at the burning bush asking him to help take the Jewish people out of Egypt.


In Shmot3:7-8 we read: God said, “I have indeed seen the affliction of My people that is in Egypt and I have heard its outcry because of its taskmasters, for I have known of its sufferings. I shall descend to rescue it from the hand of Egypt and to bring it up from the land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite, the Hitite, the Amorite, the Perizite, the Hivite and the Jebusite.”


According to Ramban, the reason that “a good land” is mentioned first is because the climate is good and beautiful. The words “a large land” refer to the fact that it is a broad place including the lowlands, the valley and the plain, large and small and is not confined to mountains and valleys.


The land is then praised for being a land for cattle to have abundant milk, for healthy and good cattle with abundant milk are to be found only where the climate is good, with plenty of vegetation and good water. Since these are only found in the marsh-lands, you would usually find that the fruits wouldn’t be very good. Therefore it is stated that the fruits all over are fat and sweet, even to the extent that it all flows with the honey that comes from them.


In Jeremiah 31:11 the Land of Israel is praised for the corn and for the wine and for the oil and for the young and the flock and of the herd.


In Yechezkel 20:6 the Land of Israel is called “the beauty of all lands.”


Ramban comments that the reason that it says  “the place of the Canaanite” and not the “land of the Canaanite” is to allude to the fact that B’nai Yisrael will destroy theCanaanites and settle in their places and not dwell among them as their fathers had done.


The reason why the seventh nation, the Girgashites, are not mentioned is because either their land was the section that was not flowing with milk and honey or in the future the six nations mentioned above were conquered first or the Girgashites left the Land of their own accord and therefore did not need to be destroyed.


In Sentence 10, God tells Moshe “And now, go and I shall dispatch you to Pharaoh and you shall take my people the Children of Israel out of Egypt”.


God never made any promises about Moshe being the one to bring them into the Land of Israel.


As many tourists come to Israel at this time of year for their winter vacations, they have the opportunity to experience the fulfillment of God’s promise and see a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey. In just one week one can see a farms, orchards, factories and beaches as well as Biblical and spiritual sites. Some even choose to go skiing or ice skating.


We have the chance to visit the Land of Israel that Moshe never had. Come and take advantage of this great opportunity!

The Eight Female Biblical Converts Print E-mail
Friday, 08 January 2010

In Midrash Tadsheh we find a listing of eight female converts: Hagar, Tziporah, Shifra, Puah, Pharaoh’s daughter, Rachav, Ruth and Yael.


Out of the eight that were on that list, four appear in Parshat Shmot: Shifra, Puah, Pharaoh’s daughter and Tziporah.


Some of the eight converts above married important members of B’nai Yisrael so it is obvious that they must have converted (although it is not clear in the text in any of the cases): Avraham would not have married Hagar and Moshe would not have married Tziporah if they were still devoted to another religion. In the case of Rachav, it says in Yehoshua 6:25 “Yehoshua allowed (Rachav and her family) to live”. Kli Yakar teaches from this pasuk that Yehoshua converted them to Judaism, giving them a new spiritual life. The Gemara in Megillah 14b teaches that Yehoshua married Rachav which helped give life to her family.


As far as Pharaoh’s daughter Bitya is concerned, in Shmot Raba 18:3 it says that the first born girls were also supposed to die in Egypt. However, because Bitya saved Moshe, God saved her. In Vayikra Raba 1:3 God said to Bitya: Moshe was not your son but you called him your son. You aren’t my daughter but I will call you my daughter…


Ruth is the most well known convert who became the great grandmother of King David and proved that Jewish men can marry Moavite women.


Yael was the woman who lived at the time of Devora the prophetess and killed Sisera the enemy by nailing a tent peg into his head. Sisera did not suspect that Yael would betray him because he thought that she was not part of B’nai Yisrael.


Out of all of the women on the list the most surprising converts seem to be Shifra and Puah (the midwives that Pharaoh ordered to kill the baby boys).


The Imrei Noam states that Shifra and Puah were originally Egyptians who embraced Judaism. Otherwise how could Pharaoh have ordered them to kill Jews? The text observes that “The midwives feared God”- implying that previously when they were not Jewish they had not feared God. Had they not been Egyptians what would have been the point of telling us that they feared God- surely as Jews that would have been taken for granted.


We can see from these examples that the eight female converts who are mentioned above contributed a lot to the Jewish nation and in many of the cases saved Jewish lives. We must continue to appreciate the contributions of both male and female converts throughout the ages.

The Significance of the Burning Bush Print E-mail
Thursday, 15 January 2009

Sponsored With Love by Elinor Goldberg in Honor of Edythe and Jerry Margolin


In Parshat Shmot 3:2 “An angel of God appeared to Moshe in a blaze of fire from amid the bush. Moshe saw that behold the bush was burning in the fire but the bush was not consumed.”


Why did God formulate his revelation in this manner?


According to Shmot Raba 2:1 Moshe was afraid that the Egyptians would really destroy Israel. Therefore God showed him a burning fire which was never consumed. God said: “Just as the bush burns with fire but is never consumed, so Egypt will never destroy Israel.”


Nehama Leibowitz brings the opinion of Rabbi Jacob Anatoli who adds that the bush represented a lowly people tested in the fire of suffering. In every generation we are threatened with destruction but His seed and His name outlives all. Such a phenomenon cannot be explained naturally, only in terms of the will of God above.


Today in Israel we are again under fire. Yet just as the bush was not consumed we will not let the fire destroy the Jewish nation or the State of Israel.

Coming Full Circle Print E-mail
Thursday, 27 December 2007

Parshat Shmot begins with the words, “V’Eleh Shmot Bnei Yisrael Habaim Mitzrayima”, “These are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt.”

At the end of Sefer Breisheet, we saw Yaakov and his sons’ families go to Egypt to escape the famine in Canaan (the Land of Israel). Bnai Yisrael traveled the length of the Land and settled in Goshen (Egypt).

Rashi comments that God counted the seventy souls by name while they were alive and again after they died to show us how important they were to Him. This is similar to the stars as it says in Isaiah 40:26, “HaMotzi B’Mispar Tzvaam, L’Kulam B’Shem Yikra”, “He who takes out their hosts by number, calls them by name.”

While in Egypt the Israelites grew and grew at an extremely fast rate. They became plentiful as the stars.

Bnei Yisrael went through slavery and very rough times before being redeemed by God.

The redemption from the exile would only be complete once Bnei Yisrael came full circle, wandered in the desert and reentered the Land through what is now Jordan.

This past week on a visit to Eilat, I had the opportunity to travel as our ancestors once did and visit the Israel/Egypt Taba border. At the southern most point in Israel, one can look out and see not only Egypt but Saudi Arabia and Jordan as well. I was able to observe where Bnei Yisrael wandered in the desert and then see the land they traversed upon reentering Israel with more than 600,000 strong.

Traveling in the State of Israel one again sees how we have come full circle. The Jewish people are back in their homeland building up international cities which were virtually empty just a few years ago. As Jews we must be proud of how much Israel has accomplished in such a short time and continue to support new initiatives.

Transforming Darkness into Light Print E-mail
Sunday, 07 January 2007

We are living at a time that is full of darkness. There are four different ways that we can transform the darkness into light: Physically, spiritually, through chesed/ lovingkindness and through Torah and Mitzvot.

1. Physical
The book of Shmot opens with darkness. The Egyptians are treating Bnei Yisrael harshly and Pharaoh decrees that the baby boys must be killed.

Amid this darkness, Bnei Yisrael make up their minds to physically continue on, they continue to have children and look towards a brighter future. Yocheved conceives and gives birth to Moshe. (Shmot 2:2) "VaTahar vateled ben, vatera oto ki tov hu" .When she saw him, she saw that he was good.

The Gemara in Sotah (12a) explains: When Moshe was born, the whole house filled with light. In the creation of the world (Breishit 1:4) "God saw the light and it was good". Since the words "ki tov" were used in both instances, we can infer that "ki tov" refers to light.

The Midrash in Breishit Raba teaches us that once the sun and the moon were created, the light from the first day of creation was no longer needed. It was hidden away for the righteous people of the future. This was the light that shined upon Moshe during the first three months of his life. Just as in the creation story God separated the light from the darkness, we too must try to bring out the light from the darkness and consummate the work of creation.

2. Spiritual
While Moshe was tending his father in law.s sheep it says: (Shmot 3:1) "He went to the mountain of God, Chorev". According to Sforno, Moshe went himself to be alone and to pray.

Moshe was looking for spirituality. It was at that point that he saw the burning bush. At first he tried looking at the bush but then he saw that he had to turn away. The light was too strong. Moshe found what he was looking for, he found God.s presence. According to Rabeinu Bachya, Moshe had to spiritually work up from the bottom. He couldn.t see God at this point. Just as the sun rises slowly so that we can get used to the light so too did Moshe work up to a higher level of prophecy. The light was a precursor for the redemption which was to follow. Moshe found the spiritual light.

Even amid all of the darkness that is taking place in Israel today, many people are spiritually striving to get closer to God and to the land of Israel. There are still record numbers of Yeshiva students studying in Israel after High school, foreign students joining the army and Jews from all over the world making Aliya. They have all found the spiritual light. They have all made decisions to continue the spiritual process of getting closer to God by living in Israel.

3. Chesed/ Loving Kindness
During the redemption process it was B.nai Yisrael who had the light while the Egyptians were in the dark. During the plague of Choshech, darkness, (Shmot 10:22-23) "There was thick darkness all over Egypt. For all of Bnai Yisrael, there was light".

When Bnai Yisrael left Egypt, a pillar of fire led their way while the Egyptians who pursued them were left in the dark.

There is a story about Eliyahu HaNavi who saw two jesters and said that they will have a place in the world to come because they make people laugh. In Israel today there is a training program for volunteer clowns to go to hospitals and put a smile on the faces of the children. Acts of chesed like brightening the day of patients in hospitals can push away some of the darkness.

4. Torah and Mitzvot
When Bnei Yisrael arrived at Mt. Sinai, there were lights-(Shmot 19:16, 18) the light of the lightning and the light of the fire that God descended in.

According to the Gemara in Brachot (7a): Moshe was rewarded with light when he received the Torah, the highpoint in his spiritual ascension because he hid his face and did not look at the burning bush on the day that God initiated him into prophecy.

When Moshe descended the mountain with the Ten Commandments, the pasuk says (Shmot 34:29) "The skin of Moshe.s face became radiant". These were the spiritual lights of the Torah and of the Mitzvot. As it says in Mishlei 6:23: "A mitzvah is a flame and Torah is light". In Mishlei 20:27: we read: "The soul of man is the flame of God". When we study Torah and observe the mitzvoth, God.s Torah becomes a part of our souls.

On the words "You shall take pure olive oil to light the menorah", (Shmot 27:20) Or Hachaim says: This alludes to the Torah which can be compared to oil, just as oil lights up the world, so does the Torah.

Torah study and observance of Mitzvot can help to brighten up the world. A person who observes the mitzvoth spiritually becomes a lamp of God.

When I encounter families who are interested in Judaism but are not yet fully observant, I often hear that the mitzvoth that they are already committed to performing are lighting Shabbat and Chanukah candles. These two mitzvoth physically as well as spiritually dispel the darkness surrounding us. Maybe that is why the mitzvoth of lighting candles are often the first steps toward greater observance.

May God give us the wisdom to transform the darkness into light.

Courageous Acts of Kindness Print E-mail
Monday, 16 January 2006

The midwives who appear at the beginning of Parshat Shmot stand out for their courage. Pharaoh commanded the midwives to kill the Jewish baby boys immediately after they were born. The midwives disregarded the king's command. In Shmot 1:17 we read: "But the midwives feared God and did not do as the King of Egypt commanded them. Rather, they saved the baby boys alive".

Eben Ezra points out that not only did the midwives not kill the boys, they actually helped them live!

Shmot Raba 1:15 adds that the midwives went out of their way to do the boys favors. In a physical way, they collected food and drinks from the wealthier families to give to the poorer families. In a spiritual way, they prayed that the babies should be born healthy. The midrash teaches that because of the prayers of the midwives, the children were all born healthy.

The midwives were not afraid to stand up to the king. When the king asked them why they saved the baby boys, they answered (Shmot 1:19)" The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are 'chayot', experts; before the midwife even comes to them, they have already given birth." 

For their courage, the midwives were rewarded. In Shmot Raba 1:17 it says that God benefitted the midwives by causing Pharaoh to have mercy on them and believe their excuses. If Pharaoh did not believe the midwives, there is no doubt that he would have put them to death for disobeying him.

According to Or HaChayim, when God sees a person fearing him and desiring to serve him at great sacrifice, he allows that person to succeed and enables them to do even more good deeds that they will in turn be rewarded for later.

Rav Moshe Feinstein adds that the midwives were not looking for a personal reward. The satisfaction of seeing the nation grow was enough of a reward for them.

However, God still wanted to give them a personal reward as it says in Shmot 1:21 "Because the midwives feared God, He made them 'batim', houses." Shadal explains that these 'batim' were large healthy families, a reward for their good deeds.  

This reminds me of the excerpt from Masechet Shabbat 127a that we study each morning after we say birkot hatorah: "Elu devarim sheadam ochel perotehem baolam hazeh vhakeren kayemet lo leolam haba", "These are the mitzvot whose fruits a person enjoys in this world but whose principal remains intact for him in the world to come. They are: honoring our parents, acts of gemilut chasadim-kindness, early attandence at the beit midrash, hospitality to guests, visiting the sick, providing for a bride, escorting the dead, focus on prayer and bringing peace between people. Torah study is equivalent to all of these mitzvot."

When we observe many of these mitzvot, we are rewarded with the satisfaction of helping others.

Let's try to follow in the footsteps of the courageous midwives and take upon ourselves the observance of selfless acts of lovingkindness.