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VaEra
The hidden prophecies in the butler’s dream Print E-mail
Thursday, 11 January 2018

A few weeks ago, in Parshat Vayeshev (Breisheet 40:11) we read Pharaoh’s butler’s description of his dream which mentioned Pharaoh’s cup three times: “Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand. I took the grapes and squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup. I then placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.”

What is the significance of the cup?

One interpretation, as found in Yishayahu 51:17, is that a cup can be used as a metaphor for punishment:

“Awaken yourself! Awaken yourself! Arise O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of God the cup of his fury. You have drunk from and drained the sediments of the cup of bewilderment.”

In the Talmud, Sotah 9a, Rava asks: Why are three cups stated regarding Egypt? One that is drank during the days of Moshe (when the Egyptians were punished at the time of the Exodus), one that is drank in the days of Pharaoh Necho (who was defeated by Nevuchadnezer the king of Babylon, mentioned in Yirmiyahu 46) and one that it will drink in the future with its fellows, in the days of the Mashiach (when the Egyptians along with the other nations will once again be defeated).

In the Torah reading for Parshat Vaera we read the story of the Exodus where Moshe and Aaron ask Pharaoh to let B’nei Yisrael out and are refused over and over again eventually leading to the redemption of B’nei Yisrael and the downfall of Pharaoh and the Egyptians (the first part of the butler’s prophecy).

This week’s Haftara from Yechezkel, speaks about Egypt’s downfall centuries later and next week’s Haftara from Yirmiyahu continues with the same theme of the Babylonian defeat of Egypt (the second part of the butler’s prophecy).

The prophecies in Yechezkel and Yirmiyahu emphasize that unlike Egypt, Israel will endure forever. Those who relied on Egypt rather than on God saw that they were mistaken.

Rashi comments on the Talmud, Sotah 108a that three of the four cups which we drink at the Passover seder correspond to the three cups from the butler’s dream, but with a positive spin (the fourth cup is not unique to the seder night as a cup of wine is usually part of Birkat HaMazon, Grace After Meals).

According to Rav Yaakov Homnick, the cups of wine at the seder show that we are now kings in our own right. We are no longer slaves. When we sit at the seder, we are like Pharaoh with the cup of majesty being placed in our hands.

Rav Homnick adds that the wine cup which was placed in the butler’s hands represented the fact that he was once again a free person as he was released from jail and was restored to his position in the palace.

At the seder, we too rejoice as free people, celebrating the past redemptions and the hope that the future redemption is upon us.


 

 
Don’t bite the hand that feeds you Print E-mail
Friday, 27 January 2017

In Parshat Vaera, God requests that Moshe ask Aharon to perform the first three plagues:

Shmot 7:19, God said to Moshe, “Say to Aharon, ‘Take your rod and extend your hand over the waters of Egypt- over the rivers, over their canals, over their lakes, and over every place where their water is gathered, and it (the water) will become blood.’”

Shmot 8:1, God said to Moshe, “Say to Aharon, ‘Extend your hand with your rod over the rivers, over the steams and over the lakes and bring up the frogs upon the land of Egypt.’”

Shmot 8:12, God said to Moshe, “Say to Aharon, ‘Extend your rod and strike the dust of the earth; and it will turn into lice throughout the whole land of Egypt.’”

Why was Aharon asked to perform the plagues of blood, frogs and lice and not Moshe?

In Shmot Raba, Vaera 10:4, Rabbi Tanchum explains that God told Moshe: “The water that saved you when you were put in a basket in the Nile will not be whipped by you.”

In Shmor Raba, Vaera 10:7, Rabbi Tanchum continues: “The dust that protected you when you killed the Egyptian (when you buried the dead body in the sand so that nobody would know) should not be whipped by you.

We learn from here the concept of “Hakarat HaTov”, appreciation for the good that others have done for us, even in the case of water and sand. How much more so should we appreciate the good deeds that other human beings do for us every day which should not be taken for granted. 

 
Did the Egyptians Deserve to be punished by the Plagues? Print E-mail
Wednesday, 06 January 2016

Sponsored by Barbara BEISS Muskin

in memory of, zecher nismat 

SARAH BEISS, SARAH BAT YITZHAK EISIK

If Pharaoh was the one who had the idea to enslave B’nai Yisrael, then why did the plagues affect all of the Egyptians? Did the Egyptians deserve a collective punishment?

 

Shadal (Rabbi Shmuel David Luzatto) explains that the entire Egyptian nation was responsible for the enslavement of B’nai Yisrael.

 

When reading Shmot 1:9 we read: “He (Pharaoh) said to his people: ‘Behold, the people of B’nai Yisrael are becoming too numerous and strong for us.’” If the Egyptians weren’t evil, they would have tried to calm Pharaoh down and convince him not to hurt B’nai Yisrael. Instead, they kept quiet and in sentence 11 they went along with Pharaoh’s plan: “They (the Egyptians) appointed taskmasters over them (B’nai Yisrael) to afflict them with their burdens.”

 

It doesn’t say that Pharaoh himself appointed taskmasters rather it says that “they”, meaning the Egyptians appointed taskmasters.

 

In contrast, when the midwives (who according to Josephus and Abravanel were Egyptian women) were asked to kill the baby boys, they did not comply. The midwives let the baby boys live yet Pharaoh didn’t punish them. If the whole nation wouldn’t have gone along with Pharaoh’s plan to afflict B’nai Yisrael, what could he have done to them?

 

Shadal concludes that since the Egyptians did not protest the harsh decrees placed on B’nai Yisrael, they were punished along with Pharaoh and that is why the plagues affected the entire Egyptian population. 


When we see that something wrong is happening, we must follow in the footsteps of the midwives and stand up for justice. According to Rabbi Saadya Gaon, the reward that God gave the midwives was that He protected them. May we too merit God’s protection.

  


 
Why I Don’t Plan to Return to France Print E-mail
Thursday, 15 January 2015

As a teenager from New York, I spent three summers in France immersed in the Jewish community through a program called The French Jewish Connection.

 

My high school math teacher, Mr. Harvey Blech z”l couldn’t understand why I went to France on vacation instead of to Israel. He said that after the Holocaust he could not understand why Jews would want to go to France. I tried to explain to him that the best way to learn a language and culture was through immersion but he was not convinced.

 

In the summer of 1988, I spent a month in Nice, on the Riviera studying French and living with a Jewish family originally from Tunisia, owners of a kosher bakery. I sampled all sorts of Tunisian foods, went to the beach, the Chagall museum and a perfume factory. On Shabbat I prayed in a Sephardic synagogue. After class I enjoyed shopping for the latest French fashions. By the time I returned to New York I was speaking French fluently.

The summer of 1990 was spent in Paris at a Jewish Community Center called Centre Rachi. I studied French in the morning, toured Paris in the afternoons, visited the Chateaux in the Loire Valley, Giverny- The home of Claude Monet and Versailles and spent Shabbatot with the Moroccan community of Paris. I lived in a dormitory on a street that had an open market in the mornings, boutiques in the afternoons and nightlife in the evenings. A sobering moment was a visit to the Veldrome d’Hiver indoor sports stadium in Paris where as part of the Vel d’Hiv roundup in 1942, 7000 Jews were packed in as they waited shipment to the death camps.

 

In the summer of 1993 Josh (now my husband) and I led a group of thirteen teenagers from North America to Paris. In addition to visiting the Louvre and Disneyland Paris we visited the Consistoire- the Grand Synagogue where the Rabbinate of Paris is housed.

 

Everything went smoothly until one Saturday night when we were attacked on the Metro (Subway) returning from the homes of our Shabbat hosts.

 

A group of teenagers noticed that the boys were wearing kippot under their baseball hats and tzitzit under their shirts. They grabbed one of the boy’s hats and started throwing it around. As we were about to get off of the train they tried to push one of the boys between the doors of the train as they were about to close. Josh helped free the boy who was stuck just in time but not before the teenagers smashed Josh’s head into the wall.

 

Luckily we all made it out of the train but at that moment we were all shaken up.

 

After that incident I thought about Mr. Blech and understood why he was not interested in going to France.

 

When the summer came to an end, Josh and I made a decision not to return to France.

 

Twenty-two years later things have not gotten better in France, they have gotten worse.

 

Were all of those years of studying French wasted now that I would no longer be going back to France?

 

I now live in Jerusalem and I still use my French when speaking to senior citizens who attend my classes in Jerusalem’s nursing homes. Even though they understand Hebrew, those who made aliya from French speaking countries when they were already older can often express themselves better in French and much of their wisdom would get lost in translation.

 

The younger immigrants from France are anxious to integrate into Israeli society and are very quick to pick up Hebrew. Over the last few years we have seen many Jews from France buy apartments in Israel, some making aliya. There are many more French students in our children’s schools in Jerusalem now than there were ten years ago.

 

Although I don’t plan to return to France, I now have French neighbors who are just as warm as the members of the Jewish community that I spent time with while visiting France.

 

In addition to coming with a sense of style and culture, the French Jews who are making aliya are bringing values that Israel desperately needs: a commitment to Judaism, to Zionism and to religious tradition.

 

French immigrants are also contributing to Israeli society. One example is Golan of Golan Telecom who started a cell phone company which offers low rates and has helped lower the rates of his competitors.

 

In Parshat Vaera (Shmot 6:6-8) God promises to bring the Jews out of Egypt, save them, redeem them, take them as a people and bring them to the Land of Israel.

 

May God continue to help the Jews of France and Jews from throughout the world fulfill the prophecy of making aliya to the State of Israel.

 

 
Where was Yocheved Buried? Print E-mail
Saturday, 28 December 2013

In Parshat VaEra, we read about the genealogy of the tribe of Levi.

 

In Shmot 6:11 we read: “Amram took his aunt Yocheved for his wife and she gave birth to Aharon and Moshe. The years of Amram’s life were 137 years.”

 

Rashi explains the word aunt to mean “Amram’s father’s sister” since she was Levi’s daughter, Kehat’s sister.

 

In Bamidbar 26:59 the Torah states that Miriam was Yocheved’s daughter: “The name of Amram’s wife was Yocheved, daughter of Levi whom (her mother) bore to Levi in Egypt. She bore to Amram: Aharon, Moshe and their sister Miriam.”

 

Rashi states that Yocheved was born in Egypt but she was not conceived in Egypt. As they entered the walls of Egypt, she bore her and completed the number of the 70 children of Israel who went down to Egypt (even though only 69 people were listed in the Torah as going down to Egypt).

 

In Otzar HaMidrashim, Yocheved is listed as one of the 23 most righteous women of Israel. The list includes Sara, Rivka, Rachel, Leah, Yocheved, Miriam, the five daughters of Zelophchad, Devora, the wife of Manoach (Shimshon’s mother), Chana and Avigail.

 

There is a tradition that Yocheved is buried in Tveriya (Tiberius) in a “Tomb of the Mothers” along with Tzipora (Moshe’s wife), Elisheva (Aharon’s wife), Bilha and Zilpa (Yaakov’s wives) and Aviagil (wife of King David). They are thought to be buried in the Kiryat Shmuel neighborhood of Tveriya.

 

Since we don’t have any evidence to the fact that they are for sure buried there, it could be that these graves were set up as a place for women to pray but are not where they were actually buried. Many women go to Tveriya to pray at their graves for fertility.

 

After all, it would make sense that Bilha, Zilpa and Avigail would be buried in the Land of Israel as they were living there but what about Yocheved, Tzipora and Elisheva? We don’t have any concrete information about whether they came in to the Land of Israel.

 

The fact that a grave was set up to honor these women (whether or not they are really buried there) shows how much they were looked up to by the entire Jewish nation.

 

 
Why is Yichus so Important? Print E-mail
Friday, 11 January 2013
In Parshat VaEra, Shmot 6:23 we read: “Aharon took Elisheva, daughter of Aminadav, sister of Nachshon, for a wife and she gave birth to Nadav, Avihu, Elazar and Itamar.”

 

Why does the Torah bring us so much background information about Elisheva, listing who her father and brother were?

 

According to Eben Ezra, the Torah specifically mentions that she is the sister of Nachshon to teach us about the secret of the Kehuna (priesthood). The children of Aharon had special “yichus”, in other words they came form a good family, from their mother’s side as well, since Elisheva was the sister of Nachshon the son of Aminadav, the nasi (prince) of the tribe of Yehuda.

 

Ramban says that Elisheva, the mother of the Kehuna is the sister of the most important nasi.

 

Sforno says that Nachson was the most important nasi of his generation and Elishava was the mother of important people who would later become the Kohanim.

 

A lot of people feel that when choosing a spouse their yichus is important.

 

It says in Masechet Yoma 85a: Rabbi Yochanan said: “Whoever is a Talmid Chaham and his son is a Talmid Chacham and his grandson is a Talmid Chacham, the Torah will never stop from his descendents.”

 

The problem is that we can’t only rely on yichus. A person can have wonderful ancestors, but they must continue to follow in their footsteps.

 

Unfortunately, two of Aharon’s sons, did not follow in Aharon and Elisheva’s footsteps and were put to death by God. As it says in Vayikra 10:1-2: “And Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aharon, took each of them his censer and put fire in it and put incense on it and offered strange fire before God which he commanded them not. And a fire went out from God and devoured them and they died before God.”

 

We read in Midrash Raba 20:10: “Rabbi Levi said: Nadav and Avihu were conceited. Many women wanted to marry them but they said: Our uncle is King (Moshe), our other uncle is head of a tribe (Nachshon), our father (Aharon) is the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and we are his two assistants. Who could possibly be worthy enough to marry us?”

 

We learn from here that our yichus is only as good as the effort that we put in to cultivate the next generation.

 

 

 
Pharaoh the Crocodile Print E-mail
Friday, 20 January 2012

In Parshat Shmot we read about when God appears to Moshe at the burning bush. Moshe asks God how the Jewish people will believe that he was sent by God. God tells him (Shmot 4:3) “Throw it (the rod) on the ground. He threw it on the ground and it turned into a nachash (snake)…”

 

In our Parsha, Vaera (Shmot 7:9) God told Moshe and Aharon: “When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, ‘Give yourselves [credibility by displaying] a marvel; you should then say to Aharon, ‘Take your rod and throw it down before Pharaoh. It will become a tanin (dragon or crocodile).”

 

Why was Pharoah given the sign of the tanin while Moshe was given the sign of the nachash?

 

According to Cassuto: Instead of the nachash (snake), most appropriate to desert, in which form the sign was transmitted to Moshe, comes here the tanin (dragon or crocodile), most appropriate to the Egyptian milieu.

 

The Midrash, Torah Shlema by Rav Kasher explains that there is a deeper meaning:

God said: This villain boasts and calls himself a tanin as it says in Yechezkel 29:3 “Thus says God; behold, I am against you, Pharaoh, King of Egypt, the great tanim that couches in the midst of his rivers (the Nile and its canals) who has said, My Nile river is my own, and I have made it for myself.” Go tell him: See this staff, it is a piece of dry wood; it will become a tanin with life and soul and swallow up the other staffs and it is destined to revert to a dry piece of wood. You, Pharaoh, likewise, I created from a putrid drop and gave you empire and you boasted and said “My Nile river is my own, and I have made it for myself.” Behold I shall turn you back to nothingness and chaos.

 

Unfortunately, Pharaoh looked at himself as a God and didn’t learn from the message that was hinted to. Pharaoh remained haughty and his downfall eventually did come.

 

The lesson that can be learned here is that no matter how much we may have accomplished we must not be haughty because at the end of the day, everything that we have comes from God and everything is in God’s hands.

 

 

 
God is Working Behind the Scenes Print E-mail
Thursday, 30 December 2010

In Parshat Vaera, we see that Pharaoh’s sorcerers through their incantations were able to duplicate the staff turning into a snake as well as the plagues of blood and frogs.

 

When it came to the third plague, the sorcerers were not able to produce the lice. At that point (Shmot 8:15) the sorcerers said to Pharaoh, “Etzba Elohim Hi- It is the finger of God!”

 

Even though the sorcerers were not able to conjure up the lice they were careful to only say that it is the “finger of God” as opposed to the “Hand of God.”

 

Ramban points out that they did not use the name “Hashem”, meaning God of Israel but rather “Elohim”, a generic term for God, making it sound more like a natural phenomenon and less like the God of the Jewish people performing miracles in order to save them.

 

The fact that the sorcerers were not able to remove the first two plagues and were not able to produce any of the other plagues points to the fact that God was in control.

 

You can look at the plagues and say that they were just coincidences, natural disasters that have been known to occur in Egypt throughout the ages. However, the bottom line is that the fact that they happened when they did and were stopped only when God wanted to stop them shows that it was not a coincidence.

 

When looking around at the modern State of Israel as well, we see many things that could be looked at as standard yet when we take a closer look it is clear that there are miracles taking place here all of the time. The fact that many terrorists are stopped before carrying out an attack is just one example.

 

Let’s keep our eyes open in order to find the hidden miracles that take place each day.

 
The Frogs Sanctified God’s Name Print E-mail
Friday, 15 January 2010
 

“…Behold I shall strike your entire boundary with frogs. The river shall swarm with frogs and they shall ascend and come into your palace and your bedroom and your bed and into the house of your servants and of your people and into your ovens and into your kneading bowls. And into you and your people and all your servants will the frogs ascend.”(Shmot 7:27-29)

 

The Gemara in Pesachim 53b brings the following story:

 

Todos of Rome asked the following question: What did Chananya, Mishael and Azarya (from the Book of Daniel) see that caused them to deliver themselves to the fiery furnace for the sanctification of God’s name?

 

Todos answered: They took out for themselves a Kal VaChomer argument concerning themselves from the passage of the frogs (in Sefer Shmot) as follows: Whereas regarding the frogs, which are not commanded in the mitzvah of sanctifying God’s name it is written: “The river shall swarm with frogs, and they shall ascend and come into your palace…and into your ovens and into your kneading bowls” (Shmot 7:28). And when are your kneading bowls found next to an oven? At the time that the oven is hot! The Maharsha teaches that the frogs did a wondrous act of sanctification by jumping into the burning ovens since frogs are water creatures who left their natural environment and entered the exact antithesis, the fire of the ovens. We, who are commanded in the mitzvah of sanctifying God’s name should all the more so be willing to sacrifice our lives for that purpose.

 

Rabbi Yonatan Aivschitz taught when he was eight years old that we learn from this Gemara that all of the frogs were willing to sacrifice themselves and jump into the ovens and they did not fight over who would get to go in the house and who would get to go in the beds- they all went wherever was necessary in order to sanctify God’s name.

 

There have been many Jewish people who have sacrificed their lives in order to sanctify God’s name. Isn’t it time that we live our lives in a way that sanctifies God’s name?

 
Why Blood? Print E-mail
Thursday, 03 January 2008

In Shmot Raba 9:8 the following question is asked: “Why were the waters first transformed into blood? The answer: Pharaoh and the Egyptians worshiped the Nile. God said “I will strike first his god and then his nation!”

Mishnat R. Eliezer 19 asks the same question, but has a very different answer: God brought upon the Egyptians the plague of blood because they threw the children of the Israelites into the river as it says “every male child shall be cast into the river…” Therefore he punished them through the waters of the Nile.

Lekach Tov adds that it is because the Egyptians spilled the blood of the Israelites like water.

Nechama Leibowitz points out that while Mishnat R. Eliezer and Lekach Tov interpret the plagues as a punishment, measure for measure, Shmot Raba emphasizes the theological aspect, through the plagues they will begin to recognize the true God.

Last Friday, two off duty Israeli soldiers, Ahikam Amihai z’l and David Rubin z’l were killed while hiking near Kiryat Arba. We can’t sit idly by and let this happen. Jewish blood is not cheap!

Just as our enemies in Egypt were punished measure for measure, so too should our enemies be punished today.

Let’s hope and pray that all of the nations of the world will recognize God as well as value human life.

 

 
The True Redemption Print E-mail
Thursday, 18 January 2007

In Parshat Vaera (Shmot 6:6-8) God tells Moshe "Say to B.nai Yisrael I am God Vehotzeiti- I will bring you out from under the burdens of Egypt, Vehitzalti- I will save you from their slavery. Vega.alti- I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with acts of great judgments. Velakachti- I will take you to Myself as a people and I will be your God. You will know that I am your God who is bringing you out from under the burdens of Egypt. Veheveti- I will bring you to the land regarding which I raised my hand in oath that I would give it to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and I will give it to you as an inheritance. I am your God."

In these three psukim we see five words of redemption- vehotzeiti, vehitzalti, vega.alti, velakachti and veheveti.

In the Gemara (Yerushalmi Psachim) Rabbi Yochanan asks: "Why do we drink four cups of wine on Pesach?" The four cups of wine correspond to the four words of redemption vehotzeiti, vehitzalti, vega.alti, velakachti.

Why don.t we drink a fifth cup to correspond to the word veheveti?

According to Torah Temima, this last promise has not fully been fulfilled. Even though B.nai Yisrael were brought to the land of Israel, they were subsequently exiled and many of the Jewish people still remain in Galut (exile).

Another idea is that the exodus from Egypt was certain- God took care of everything while the settling and building up of Israel is up to us and has not yet been completed.

At the Pesach seder, we pour a fifth cup of wine, the cup of Eliyahu, which we don.t drink, to symbolize the fact that we hope that the full promise of redemption will be fulfilled and that all of the Jews will return to Israel. We pray that speedily Eliyahu will come and at that time the full redemption will take place.

 
Don't Take Israel for Granted Print E-mail
Tuesday, 24 January 2006

In the beginning of Parshat VaEra, God appears to Moshe and reestablishes the covenant that He made with Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. The Land of Israel will be given to the Jewish people.

God is now ready to take B'nei Yisrael out of slavery and bring them to the Land of Israel. In Shmot 6:8 we read "And I will bring you to the land regarding which I raised my hand in oath and I will give it to you as an inheritance (morasha), I am God."

According to the Maharam (Rabbi Meir b. Baruch of Rotenberg), there is only one other time that the word morasha is used in the Torah. The word morasha appears in Parshat VeZot HaBracha, Devarim 33:4, "Torah Tziva Lanu Moshe, Morasha Kehillat Yaakov", The Torah which Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Yaakov.

Maharam explains that the Torah is not an inheritance that easily comes to each person. Rather, we must work hard studying the Torah day and night and constantly be involved in it. As it says in Pirkei Avot 2:12, "Make your self fit for the study of Torah, for it is not yours by inheritance." The Torah does not pass genetically from parent to child and no one acquires it without the necessary mental exertion.

The same can be said for the Land of Israel. In order to inherit the land we have to constantly be working for it. We can't rely on God's covenant to our forefathers.

After the destruction of the first Beit HaMikdash, we read in the Book of Yechezkel 33:23 "The word of God came to Yechezkel saying: They that inhabit those waste places in the land of Israel speak saying: Avraham was one man and yet he inherited the land, the land is given to us for inheritance (morasha)." God tells Yechezkel to respond: "You eat with the blood and lift your eyes toward your idols and shed blood and shall you possess the land? You stand upon your sword, you carry out disgusting deeds. and you shall possess the land?I shall make the land most desolate and the pride of her strength shall cease and the mountains of Yisrael will be blighted so that none shall pass through. Then shall they know that I am God when I have made the land a total blight because of the disgusting deeds that they have committed."

Throughout the Torah and Jewish history we have seen that God is only going to give the Jews the privilege of being able to live in Israel if we earn it.

How do we earn the privilege of living in the Land of Israel?

By observing the mitzvoth between a person and God

By observing the mitzvoth between a person and their fellow person

We also have to protect the land on a practical level with a strong army and tight security.

Those who are not living in Israel must do what they can to help Israel's economy, social service institutions and educational programs.

Each time that I pass a park in Jerusalem I am touched to see the sign that a family from overseas cared enough to help provide a beautiful and safe place for our children to play.

Let's continue our efforts to tirelessly study Torah and do all that we can to preserve and beautify the land of Israel which should never be taken for granted.