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Moshe Rabbeinu, Harriet Tubman & Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Print E-mail
Thursday, 18 January 2018

When Israel was in Egypt’s land,

Let my people go!

Oppressed so hard they could not stand,

Let my people go!

Go down Moses,

Way down in Egypt’s land

Tell old Pharaoh

To Let my people go!

Many of us are familiar with “Go Down Moses”, the spiritual song which dates back to 1850 (or even earlier) which served as a code song while Harriet Tubman, known as the “Moses” of her people helped slaves escape through the Underground Railroad before the American Civil War.

The song “Go Down Moses” was also used as an anthem during Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March on Washington for civil rights in 1963 as it had universal appeal for all oppressed people. King used the story of the Exodus to give his followers confidence to fight racial injustice. In his last speech “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” in 1968, right before his assassination, he compared himself to Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, going up to the mountaintop but not making it into the Promised Land.

“Go Down Moses” has been translated into Hebrew (“Shlach na et ami”) and is sung at Passover seders worldwide.

In the first few Parshiot of the book of Shmot, beginning in Shmot 5:1, over and over Moshe and Aaron ask Pharaoh to let the nation go: “This is what HaShem, God of Israel said, ‘Send my people, so they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.’”

According to Ibn Ezra, the festival that they wanted to celebrate was either Pesach or Shavuot, the celebration of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai.

Pharaoh almost honors Moshe’s request to let B’nai Yisrael out of Egypt to worship God. However, he is not happy when Moshe lists who would be going: (Shmot 10:9) “With our young and with our old we will go. With our sons, with our daughters, with our sheep and with our cattle we will go for it is a festival to God for all of us.”

For some reason Pharaoh was under the impression that they are only asking for the men to celebrate and not the entire nation. Once Pharaoh hears that Moshe would like to take everyone he says (Shmot 10:11) “That is not right. Only the men should go and worship God for this is what you desire.”

Rashbam comments that according to Pharaoh, if you want to serve God, there is no reason to bring the women and the children.

It didn’t occur to Pharaoh that the women and the children may also want to worship God.

Pharaoh believed that the only reason that the entire nation would go out to pray would be if it was part of an escape plan. Bechor Shor points out that  Pharaoh only wanted to permit the men to go, keeping the children back in Egypt as collateral.

Pharaoh was wrong. When it was time to eat the Korban Pesach (Pascal Lamb), it was eaten by the whole family (not just the men) and the entire nation was commanded to eat matza and not chametz. In addition, all of B’nai Yisrael (men, women and children) were present at the revelation at Sinai.

Moshe stood his ground and until today has served as a role model for many leaders throughout the world including Harriet Tubman whose life is celebrated on March 10 and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. whose legacy was commemorated this past Monday.

 
The first Pesach was not a piece of cake Print E-mail
Friday, 03 February 2017

Sponsored by Josh and Sharona Halickman in memory of Jeannette Frankel z”l

There are many differences between how the first Pesach was celebrated in Egypt, right before the exodus and how we celebrate Pesach today.

In Egypt, God instructed Moshe (Shmot 12:3,6-8, 10-11) “Speak to the entire community of Israel saying, ‘On the tenth day of this month they shall take- each man shall take a lamb for his family, a lamb for each household…You shall hold it in safekeeping until the fourteenth day of this month, they shall slaughter it- the entire community of Israel- between evenings (in the afternoon). They shall take of its blood and place it on the side of the doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they will eat the lamb. They shall eat the meat during the night. It shall be roasted over fire. They shall eat it with matzah and bitter herbs… You must not leave any of it over until morning. Any of it left over until morning must be burned in fire. This is how you must eat it: with your waist belted, your shoes on your feet and your staff in your hand. You must eat it in haste, it is a Pesach offering to God.’”

A few mitzvoth that differed on the first Pesach:

1.    Taking the lamb into their homes four days before they were required to slaughter it.

2.    Putting blood on the doorpost

3.    Eating quickly as the Exodus was imminent

In addition, Sifri and Targum state that since the Torah prohibits an uncircumcised person from eating the Pesach offering (Shmot 12:48 “but no uncircumcised male may eat of it”) all of the men who had not yet had a brit mila needed to be circumcised beforehand. As it says in Yechezkel 16:6: “…and I said to you: ‘In your bloods, live!’ And I said to you: ‘In your bloods live.’”

According to Alshich, “They could not have circumcised themselves on the night of Pesach. On the contrary, they were bidden to take the lamb four days earlier in order to give them breathing space for several days to recover from the operation. They could not afford to be sick at the time of the exodus. Three days are needed to recover from circumcision. God therefore wanted them to perform the circumcision first and wait three days to recover and then leave Egypt…They therefore had to pick up the lamb first, circumcise themselves and wait three days and finally slaughter the Paschal lamb, quickly eat the sacrifice and escape from Egypt.”

After hearing what B’nei Yisrael had to do to prepare for the first Pesach, risking their lives by bringing the lamb which was the god of the Egyptians into their homes for four days, getting the men of all ages circumcised, slaughtering and preparing the lamb, putting the blood on the doorposts and then eating in a rush with one foot out the door makes our cleaning, shopping and cooking for Pesach seem like a piece of cake.

 
Everything in the world was created for a reason Print E-mail
Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Sponsored by The Sports Rabbi www.sportsrabbi.com

As we read through the plagues, we find species that occasionally affect our lives including frogs, lice and locusts. We often encounter these and other “pests” when we are stuck in a bad situation such as when lice are found in a child’s hair, when locusts are caught destroying our plants and  when a frog is found in a fresh bag of salad.

 

According to Shmot Rabba 10:7, Even things that you think are superfluous in this world like flies, fleas and mosquitoes are part of the greater scheme of the creation as it says in Breisheet 1:31, “And God saw all that God had created and behold it was very good.” Even though we may think that these species are superfluous, good may come from them. Rabbi Acha bar Rabbi Chanina said, even snakes and scorpions are part of the greater scheme of the creation of the world.

 

Every Friday night, when we recite Kiddush we say “Vayechulu hashamayim va’aretz v’chol tzvaam”, “The heavens and earth were finished and all of their army.”

 

Which army did God create? He created all types of species who would carry out His missions.

 

The midrash continues, When God wanted to send the prophets (Moshe, Yirmiyahu and Yonah) on their missions, they were hesitant to go. God said to them, I carry out missions through all types of creations including the snake, the scorpion and even the frog.

 

The hornet (a creature that would otherwise seem superfluous as it does not produce honey) was sent to drive out the Chivi, Cnaani and Chiti. (Shmot 23:28).

 

Frogs, one of the weaker species that may seem superfluous as they are not scary like a poisonous snake, were used to punish the Egyptians, prove Pharaoh’s weakness and show God’s strength. If the frogs were able to cause such havoc, imagine what was yet to come in the plague of the wild beasts!

 

As we begin the month of Shvat, the time of year when we focus on appreciating nature, we are reminded of the fact that every creature has a purpose and we must do our best to respect all of God’s creations. However, I don’t think that anyone would mind if these creations would stay out of our hair and food.

 
Fast Food in the Torah Print E-mail
Thursday, 22 January 2015

 

Health experts are constantly reminding us that we should stay away from fast food as it is not good for you. Was there fast food in the days of the Torah? Was it healthier than the fast food that we have today?

 

While reading Parshat Bo we encounter two types of fast food that were eaten by B’nei Yisrael at the time of the exodus.

 

In Shmot 12:8-11 we learn about the Korban Pesach (Pascal Lamb) that B’nai Yisrael ate right before they left Egypt: “They shall eat the meat during this night. It shall be roasted over fire. They shall eat it with matzot (quickly baked flat bread) and merorim (bitter herbs). You must not eat it half cooked or boiled in water, but only roasted over fire…This is how you must eat it: with your waist belted, your shoes on your feet and your staff in your hand. You must eat it in haste, it is a Pesach offering to God.”

 

According to Rashbam, this shows that they were in a rush to get out of Egypt.

 

We see that on the night of the exodus, dinner was taken care of but they were in such a hurry, there was no time to pack lunch.

 

What fast food did they eat in the desert?

 

They carried the dough on their backs when they left Egypt and baked it into oogot matzot (matzah cakes) when they arrived at a place called Sukkot.

 

Rashbam expains that they were called matzah cakes since they were baked on an open fire. In order to be called bread it would have to be baked in an oven.

 

Breisheet, Parshat Vayera, also deals with the topic of fast food when the angels come to visit Avraham and he quickly works with his family to throw a meal together.

 

In Breisheet 18:6 we read: “Avraham hurried to Sarah’s tent and said, ‘Hurry! Take three measures of the finest flour; knead it and make oogot.’ Avraham ran to the cattle and took a tender, choice calf. He gave it to the lad and hurried to prepare it. He took butter, milk and the calf he had prepared and set it before them...”

 

Chizkuni points out that Sarah did not make bread as she did not have enough time for the dough to rise since the angels were in a rush to get to Sdom. Avraham therefore asked her to make oogot (matzot). He adds that they served the tongue of the calf because it was quicker to prepare. Rashi notes that the tongue was served with mustard.

 

Can we learn from here that the Torah recommends that we eat fast food?

 

It depends on what we are eating.

 

The Talmud, Pesachim 96a explains that the Egyptian Pesach was eaten in haste, but no other Pesach was required to be eaten in haste.

 

Ibn Ezra states that there are people who think that they should rush through their Passover meal based on the fact that B’nai Yisrael were in a rush. Ibn Ezra bases himself on the Gemara in Psachim to explain that they are misguided and mistaken.

 

Even though we are no longer in a rush the way that we were during the exodus, we still eat quickly baked matzot to remember how fast we needed to escape.

 

Living in Israel we have access to many kosher fast food chains including McDonalds. While it is convenient to eat fast food, we must remember that the quickly prepared meals in the Torah were the exception and not the rule and that is why their stories stand out. Also, fresh lamb and tongue are much healthier than a processed McDonalds burger even if it is Kosher! 

Photo of Kosher McDonald's  by Claire Ginsburg Goldstaein http://www.bearsfrombergenfield.com/ 

 
The Turning Point When B’nai Yisrael Became Baalei Tshuva (Returned to Judaism) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 31 December 2013

In Parshat Bo, we learn the laws that applied to the first Pesach which took place in Egypt.

 

In Shmot 12:21 we read: “Moshe called to all the elders of Israel and he said to them, “Draw out (mishchu) and take (ukchu) for yourselves lambs according to your families and slaughter the Pesach offering.”

 

Why does it have to say “draw out” and “take”?

 

Ramban’s explanation is that both words are needed to explain the full physical process of how they got the lamb.

 

According to Ramban, first they had to go all of the way to Goshen to get the lamb (draw out) and then they had to bring it home (take).

 

Rashi brings the Mechilta to explain why both words are needed since each one refers to something else: If you have a sheep, then use it (draw out), if you don’t have a sheep then go and buy one (take).

 

The Mechilta also brings a second, more spiritual explanation: Leave your idol worship (draw out) and take for yourselves (take) a sheep which is a god of Egypt and sacrifice it for the Pesach offering.

 

Before moving on, one must do Tshuva (repent) for what we have done wrong in the past and commit to not repeating that behavior again.

 

Rabbi Yaakov Zvi Mecklenberg, HaKtav v’Hakabla states:

The Israelites themselves were responsible in part for deferring their own redemption. First they had to be purified and show by some outstanding act of self-sacrifice that they had repented of their ways. If they were willing to place their lives in danger in order to carry out the wishes of God then, that would be a true token of their love for Him. Consequently, God commanded them to slay the Egyptian god under conditions of the widest publicity. First they had to procure the lamb, lead it through the streets without fear of Egyptian reaction, second, to slaughter it family by family, in groups and finally they had to sprinkle its blood on the doorpost of every Egyptian passer-by to see, braving the vengeance of their former persecutors. Their fulfillment of every detail of this rite would be a proof of their complete faith in God. In the words of the Sages, the blood would be taken “to you” and not to others.

 

Once B’nai Yisrael completed this Tshuva process, they were ready to observe the mitzvot.

 

Converts to Judaism and Baalei Tshuva (newly observant Jews) face the difficult challenge of putting their pasts behind them and committing themselves to become religious Jews. Their challenges are just as difficult as the challenges that B’nai Yisrael faced when the left Egypt. We must give them as much help and support as possible to help them on their spiritual journeys.

 

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Only the Egyptians were in the Dark Print E-mail
Friday, 18 January 2013

In Parshat Bo, Shmot 10:21-23 we read: “God said to Moshe: Stretch out your hand toward the sky and there will be darkness over the land of Egypt. The darkness will be tangible. Moshe stretched out his hand toward the sky and there was total darkness in the entire land of Egypt for three days. Man could not see his fellow man, nor could anyone rise from his place for three days. But all of B’nai Yisrael had light in their dwellings.”

 

How did the plague of darkness work? Did the Egyptians try to light candles? Would candles have worked? Were B’nai Yisrael able to see throughout Egypt or only in Goshen?

 

According to Ramban, the darkness was not a mere absence of sunlight, it was a thick darkness (as it says in sentence 22, choshech afeilah), a thick cloud that came down from heaven. That is why it says in sentence 21, “neteh yadcha al hashamayim”, “stretch out your hand toward heaven” to bring down the darkness which would extinguish every light, just as in all deep caverns and in all extremely dark places where light cannot last as it is swallowed up in the density of the thick darkness.

 

Chizkuni states that B’nai Yisrael had light everywhere, not just in Goshen, as Goshen is not specifically mentioned here.

 

It says in Shmot Raba 14:3 that the plague of darkness was different from the other plagues. If a member of B’nai Yisrael would be in the home of an Egyptian anywhere in Egypt, they would have light there too.

 

Ibn Ezra disagrees with the idea that candles would not have worked for the Egyptians. He says that there was no sunlight but they were able to see by lighting candles.

 

Anyone who has ever been in a blackout or who has had a power failure knows how difficult it can be, even if we are able to light candles or use a flashlight.

 

We see from here that whether they were able to light a candle or not is not really the issue. The point is that being in the dark can be very difficult and even though darkness may occur naturally at some points, the fact that B’nai Yisrael were able to see shows that it was a plague that was specifically directed at the Egyptians.

 
Spring Ahead! Print E-mail
Thursday, 26 January 2012

In Parshat Bo we learn about the season when the Exodus took place. We read in Shmot 13:4: “On this day you went out (from Egypt), in the month of Aviv.”

 

A few questions come up here:

Why is the month called Aviv? Isn’t Aviv the name of the season (spring)?

Didn’t B’nai Yisrael know what month it was when they left Egypt (Nisan)?

 

Rashi says that of course they knew what month it was. God wanted to show them that He planned the Exodus from Egypt at the nicest time of the year as an act of Gmilut Chasadim, loving kindness. It was not hot, not cold and not raining as it says in Tehilim 68:7, “He brings out prisoners bikosharot- in a month that is kasher- kosher or fit to go out.”

 

In Israel we really understand the seasons as described in the Torah since at the beginning of Pesach we stop praying for rain and we really don’t see any rain until after Shmini Atzeret (the end of Sukkot when we start praying for rain again). Pesach time is actually a great time to travel to Israel (or within Israel if you live here already!) since it isn’t raining and it is not too hot yet.

 

This past week, we had very heavy rain storms in Jerusalem and snow in the north. Since we are still in the first half of the winter season, Israelis are excited about the rain and continue to celebrate each time another storm heads our way. We know that we need the rain and we know that the rain will be finished by Pesach and will not interfere with our Pesach and summer vacations.

 

We can also learn from this pasuk that Pesach has to be celebrated in the spring- It is not good enough for Pesach to be in Nisan, Nisan must be in the spring. The years that Pesach would have fallen out too early we add an extra month of Adar to make sure that Pesach ends up in the spring. This is a very different concept from the Muslim holiday of Ramadan which ends up being in a different season each year.

 

Leaving Egypt in the spring gave B’nai Yisrael the opportunity to start off on the right foot!

 

 

 
The Fulfillment of God’s Promise to Avraham Print E-mail
Friday, 14 January 2011

In Breisheet 15:13-16, God makes a promise to Avraham stating: “Know with certainty that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not their own, they will serve them and they will oppress them for four hundred years. But also the nation that they shall serve, I shall judge and afterwards they shall leave with great wealth…And the fourth generation shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite shall not yet be full until then.”

 

In Parshat Shmot 3:19-22, God instructs Moshe that “I know that the king of Egypt will not allow you to go except through a strong hand. I shall stretch out My hand and I shall strike Egypt with all My wonders that I shall perform in its midst, and after that he will send you out. I shall grant this people favor in the eyes of Egypt, so that it will happen that when you go, you will not go empty handed. Each woman shall request from her neighbor and from the one who lives in her house silver vessels, golden vessels and garments and you shall put them on your sons and daughters and you shall empty out Egypt.”   

 

In Parshat Bo,God told Moshe (Shmot 11:2) “Please speak in the ears of the people: Let each man request of his fellow and each woman of her fellow silver vessels and gold vessels”.

 

 In chapter 12, we see the fulfillment of God’s promise to Avraham. God is getting ready to take B’nai Yisrael out of Egypt and therefore it says in Shmot 12:35-36: “Meanwhile the children of Israel had done Moshe’s bidding, asking the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and clothing. God gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians and they granted their request- so they emptied Egypt.”

 

Nechama Leibowitz points out that “we must, therefore, regard this transaction not as the spontaneous, impulsive action of runaway slaves, but the deliberate implementation of a predetermined Divine plan, neither unforeseen nor unexpected.”

 

The gold, silver and clothing that B’nai Yisrael took out of Egypt can be looked at as payment for all of the years that they worked for Pharaoh without being paid. We don’t see objections from the Egyptians as they knew that B’nai Yisrael deserved payment for their labor.

 

Once B’nai Yisrael took the objects and left Egypt, they were ready for the next challenge that God promised to Avraham, that the fourth generation would return to the Land of Israel.

     
 
Pesach All Year Round? Print E-mail
Thursday, 29 January 2009

When reading the Parshiot which deal with the plagues and the Exodus, one may wonder why it is necessary to hear the story now and then again on Pesach.

 

Actually, the mitzvah of remembering the Exodus from Egypt is performed every day when we recite the end of the Shma (Bamidbar 15:41) “I am your God who removed you from the land of Egypt to be a God to you”, when we recite the words immediately leading up to the Shemoneh Esrei, “From Egypt you have redeemed us, Hashem, our God, and from the house of slavery you liberated us…” as well as when one wears Tefilin or posts up a Mezuzah.

 

Parshat Bo ends with a question familiar to us from the Hagaddah (Shmot 13: 14, 16) “When your son asks you at a later time saying ‘What is this?’ You should say to him, “With a strong hand God brought us out of Egypt from the house of slavery…It shall be a sign on your hand and Totafot between your eyes, for with a strong hand God brought us out of Egypt”.

 

Ha’amek Davar explains that the observance of Pesach and the telling the story of the Exodus to our children is not sufficient. You must therefore be reminded with a daily remembrance. It can be compared to the case of a father who tells his child a story to illustrate an important moral lesson, and subsequently reminds him of it daily, by a brief allusion, till the year comes round again and he once more repeats the story in full. Similarly, God commanded to tie knots every day on the hand and on the head

(Tefilin) as a remembrance of the Exodus, on the place indicating the subjection of the heart and mind.

 

Nehama Leibowitz brings up Rav Kook’s view that the Exodus was not just the deliverance from political subjection to freedom. Rather, the Exodus was a deliverance from spiritual subjection, from being sunk in the mortar of a gross material existence.

 

Each day, we are still fighting the battle between materialism and spirituality. The events that have taken place over the past few months (economic downturn, misuse of funds, the war in Gaza) remind us of what is really important.

 

Each time a mall is built in Israel there are complaints about the country becoming too materialistic. During the war, we saw a different side of the shopping malls. Stores were collecting full boxes of toys to be sent to the bomb shelters and supermarkets were selling food that would go into care packages for soldiers fighting in Gaza at half price (and free delivery!) With the proper focus, materialism was transformed into spirituality.

 

Let’s try to bring some of the messages of Pesach (aside from the cleaning part)

into every day of our lives!

 
 
The Children Will Help Us Find Spirituality Print E-mail
Wednesday, 09 January 2008

In Parshat Bo, Shmot 10:8, Pharaoh asks Moshe who he would be taking to the desert to worship God.

Moshe’s answer is (10:9) “With our young and with our old we will go. With our sons and with our daughters, with our sheep and with our cattle, for it is a festival to God for all of us.” Pharaoh then suggests that only the adult men should go.

Yismach Moshe brings down the Gemara in Shabbat 119b, Rav Hamnuna said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because they diverted the schoolchildren (tinokot shel beit Raban) in it from their Torah studies.

The author of Prashat Derachim said that because of the merit of the schoolchildren, the Shechina, Divine Presence, rests on Israel. When the Shechina is present, no other nation can try to control them. When Pharaoh asked who was going, Moshe answered that the children as well as the elderly would be going since it is only truly a holiday when the children, the next generation is with us. Only when we are with the children will we have the Divine Presence resting upon us.

We can learn a lot about spirituality by simply watching the way that children can connect with God. The other day while we were driving in the car, my four year old son, Moshe looked out at the sky and began to have a conversation with God. How many times do we as adults wish that we could do that?

We learn from Parshat Bo that spiritual experiences- prayer, the celebration of the holidays etc., should be done as a community- where the young and old can all join together. If joining together as a community means that sometimes you will hear a baby cry during Shabbat services or children in costumes making a little bit of noise on Purim, don’t worry- it is because of the children that the Shechina will rest there (anyway the children are probably not making half as much noise as the two adults talking in the back row!).

 
Reclaiming Rosh Chodesh as a Women's Holiday Print E-mail
Thursday, 02 February 2006

The first Mitzvah that is formally given to Moshe even before the Jewish people leave Egypt is the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh (the new moon).

"This month shall be reckoned to you as the head of the months. It shall be to you the first of the months of the year (Parshat Bo-Shmot 12:2)."

According to Rashi, God showed Moshe the moon at its renewal and said to him, "When the moon renews itself, let that be for you the beginning of a new month."

How did Rosh Chodesh become a women's holiday?

At the time of the sin of the golden calf, only the men participated and not the women. As it says in Shmot 32:2, "Aaron said to the men, "Remove the golden rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons and your daughters and bring them to me. All the people removed the golden rings that were on their ears and brought them to Aaron."

Rashi comments that Aaron thought to himself: the women and children fancy their jewelry, perhaps, the building of the calf will be delayed and in the meantime Moshe will arrive. But the men did not wait for the women and children and took their jewelry off themselves.

According to Pirkei D'Rebbi Eliezer, God rewarded the women with the observance of the holiday of Rosh Chodesh.

Many women took on the custom of not working on Rosh Chodesh. According to the Shulchan Aruch 417, it's permissible for women to work on Rosh Chodesh, but it is a meritorious custom for women not to. Biur Halacha states that every Jewish woman should refrain from some kind of work on Rosh Chodesh, so that there is a difference between that day and the other weekdays.

What about the men? According to P'ri Chadash, for the men Rosh Chodesh is like any other weekday and for men to refrain from work is a custom based on ignorance.

What was the true test to see if the women would give up their jewelry for a good cause? In the building of the mishkan, tabernacle, it says "The men came .al hanashim', after the women, all who were generous of heart brought bracelets, nose rings, finger rings and buckles- all kinds of golden vessels.(Shmot 25:32).

When it was for the sake of a mitzvah, the women were the first to give their jewelry.

Today, many women have revived the observance of Rosh Chodesh as a women's holiday. Throughout the world there are women's study groups that meet on or around Rosh Chodesh to celebrate the new moon and to focus on the significance of the month ahead.

Please contact us if you would like to join a Torat Reva Rosh Chodesh group in Jerusalem.