Chapter 2:7: "And his sister said to the daughter of Pharaoh, 'Should I go and call for you a nursing woman from the Hebrews to nurse your son?' "
After Moshe was born, his parents hid him because Pharaoh had decreed that all new born male babies be thrown into the Nile River. After three months had passed, and they could no longer hide him at home, his parents hid him in a basket at the edge of the river. His sister, Miriam, stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. Shortly thereafter, Basya, the daughter of Pharaoh was walking alongside the river with her maidservants, and noticed the basket.
She reached out her arm, took the basket, and realized that the crying baby was a Jewish boy. At this point, Miriam came out of hiding and asked her if she would like her to get a Jewish wet-nurse for the baby.
The Talmud wonders how Miriam knew that Pharaoh's daughter would prefer a Jewish wet-nurse when there were plenty of Egyptian wet-nurses in the vicinity. The Talmud says that, in fact, Pharaoh's daughter asked many Egyptian wet-nurses to nurse him but Moshe wouldn't nurse. Since the milk tasted like the non-kosher foods that the wet-nurses ate, Moshe wouldn't nurse. The Talmud asks rhetorically, "The mouth that is destined to speak with the Al-mighty should nurse from a woman who ate non-kosher food?"
One observation I had was that it would be another 80 years before Moshe would speak with the Almighty on Mt Sinai. How, in any way, could imbibing milk from non-kosher origins have any adverse effect on Moshe's spiritual greatness eighty years in the future? Perhaps the answer is that we, from our inherently limited perspective, greatly underestimate the power and influence of non-kosher food on the Jewish soul. If one extra period or the lack of, in an email address can prevent its delivery, can't one morsel of non-kosher food impede one's spiritual capacity, even many years later?
An amazing observation is made by Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky, of blessed memory. It says in the Shulchan Aruch (Book of Jewish Law) that, because of the negative effects of "non-kosher" milk on the soul of a Jewish baby, it is preferable that a Jewish baby not nurse from a non-Jewish woman if a Jewish woman is available.
The Vilna Gaon says in the name of the Rashba that this law is derived from Moshe's reluctance to nurse from the Egyptian women. Rabbi Kaminetsky wonders how we can learn a practical law from the baby Moshe for our Jewish babies of today. Wouldn't we think that Moshe is different? Perhaps Moshe's reluctance to nurse was because he would later speak with G-d. Perhaps his sublime neshama, was ultra sensitive to this non-kosher milk and therefore how can we extrapolate a law from this for all other Jewish babies who presumably will not speak to G-d directly?
Rabbi Kaminetsky posits that from here we learn that every Jewish child has the potential to actually speak with the Almighty as did our teacher Moshe and therefore the restriction of nursing from non-Jewish mothers would apply. Knowing this can give us a new perspective on the spiritual greatness that lies within our children.
They too can achieve the great heights of Moshe Rabeinu. If we realize the infinite spiritual greatness that lies within them, we will want to shield them from the many negative influences surrounding them, while maximizing their opportunities for greatness by emphasizing Jewish learning and Jewish values in their education and character development. We will strive to instill in them a deeply-rooted love for their lofty heritage, and nurture the in-born potential of their Jewish souls for higher and higher levels of connection to the Almighty.
Shmos (9:20-21) “Whoever feared the Almighty among the servants of Pharoah, brought his servants and cattle into their homes. And whoever didn't care, left his servants and cattle out in the field. "
Moshe had just warned Pharaoh of the 7th plague, the plague of hail, telling him to gather in his sheep and cattle as any animals left in the fields would be killed by the plague. The verse above tells us that only those Egyptians who feared G-d brought their animals indoors.
The obvious question is why didn't all of the Egyptians bring their animals indoors? After all, hadn't they already been punished with six plagues? Why would they make such an illogical decision and dismiss the likelihood of this ferocious hail falling upon them, a hail that Moshe said would be so heavy, the likes of which had never in history fallen upon Eygpt? Why not bring the animals and servants indoors just as a precaution?
Rav Chanoch Leibowitz, of blessed memory, writes that since the Egyptians still refused to allow the Jews to leave Egypt, it would be inconsistent and hypocritical for them to show fear of the hail and make efforts to avoid it. If they wouldn't acknowledge a higher power and let the Jews leave, how could they acknowledge a higher power and show fear of the plague?
Their refusal to free the Jews was presumably out of fear that this loss of massive slave labor would adversely affect their economy. Yet this same concern for financial loss should have compelled them to bring their servants and animals indoors during the hail. But it seems that their need for consistency prevented them from taking this action.
Although being truthful to ones self is certainly a positive attribute, it can sometimes be distorted and be harmful as with the Egyptians. Rabbi Leibowitz said that this drive for consistency in our actions can often hurt us. It can also cripple our spiritual growth. At times we might want to observe a new mitzvah or intensify a Jewish practice and a subconscious voice from within calls to us, "Who do you think you are? There is so much that you don't keep, why be hypocritical and take on new mitzvos? What, you're a tzaddik all of a sudden?" And so we remain where we are.
Feelings of pride and honor can sometimes feed this drive for consistency. If we sincerely have a desire to grow and are humble enough to acknowledge where we are, we can be free to utilize every opportunity for growth.
Genesis: 29:20 "And they were in his eyes like a few days in his love for her."
Yaakov traveled to the home of his Uncle Lavan to find a wife for himself and to flee from his brother Esav. After meeting Rochel, Lavan's daughter, he made up with Lavan that he would work for him for seven years to earn Rochel's hand in marriage. The cited verse says that those seven years were like a few days in his eyes. How can this be understood?
We know from experience that when we badly want something, the time that elapses until we get it, seems like forever. I distinctly remember as a child getting tickets for our school's outing at Kennywood Amusement Park in Pittsburgh a month before the outing and counting the days, hours and minutes until that blessed day! It seemed like an eternity until I would go to Kennywood!
There are a number of answers given to understand this verse. Imagine if someone told you you could make a billion dollars if you worked for him for seven years. Not only would you do it but those seven years would seem like nothing compared to the reward. Similarly, because Yaakov realized how special Rochel was, the seven years of work were deemed as just a few days compared to what he would be gaining afterwards.
Another explanation is given by Rav Eliyahu Lopian, of blessed memory, He explains it with an analogy. Imagine a man sitting in a restaurant waiting to order his food. The waiter comes over and asks him what he would like to order. The fellow says, "I love fish." The waiter goes into the kitchen to order a plate of cooked fish for the man. There happened to be another person sitting at the next table who had heard his neighbor order the fish.
Being a simpleton, he was expecting the waiter to bring a fishbowl with fish swimming around to give this guest the pleasure of looking at them, feeding them, and just enjoying their presence. How shocked he was when the waiter brought a plateful of fish and saw the fellow stab his fork into the fish and begin cutting it up into small pieces and swallowing them. "This is how you treat your loved ones?" exclaimed the man. You can't possibly love them for if you did, how could you treat them so cruelly?"
Rav Lopian says that in truth this simpleton was correct. If the fellow truly loved fish, he wouldn't cut them up and eat them. Really, this person man didn't love fish; he loved himself and therefore wanted to please himself with the delicious taste of fish.
Rav Lopian says that most people make a mistake in their definition of love, "Ahava" in hebrew. They think that "Ahava" is that warm and special feeling that fills your being when you are in the company of that "special person," that feeling of deep desire and longing for the other.
In truth, he says, "Ahava" the Jewish definition of love, is the feeling which stirs a person to want to give goodness and kindness to another. It is not ego-centered but on other-centered.
In fact, the root of the word "Ahava" is "hav" which means "give" in Aramaic. Rav Dessler writes that true love between people is when each person is focused on how they can give more to the other. When each person, however, is focused on his or her own pleasure and expects the other to fulfill that pleasure, this is not true love.
If Yaakov would have "loved" Rochel in this way, the seven years would have seemed like a lifetime as he would be focusing on his pleasure and his gain. Instead Yaakov wanted to spend a lifetime of giving to her; he didn't think about what he could get for himself but only how he could give and bestow pleasure to her. In removing his "self" from the picture, the seven years that Yaakov worked for Rochel seemed only like a few days.
"For I will lie down with my fathers and you shall transport me out of Egypt and bury me in their tomb. He ( Yosef) said, I personally will do as you have said. And He ( Yaakov) said (to Yosef), Swear to me, and he swore to him and Yaakov bowed to the head of the bed. "
Yaakov felt that his life was ebbing away and so he called his son, Yosef, the viceroy of Egypt, to swear to him that he would bury him in Israel when he passed away. Among other reasons that Rashi mentions, Yaakov did not want the Egyptians to deify him and worship his tomb.
The question though is why Yaakov would make his son swear to him after Yosef had already agreed to bury him in Israel? The Ramban explains that Yaakov did not suspect that his righteous and beloved son, Yosef, would disregard his wishes; he only asked him to swear that in case Pharaoh would not let Yosef take his father out of the country for burial, Yosef could then tell him that he swore to his father to do this. Realizing the severity of breaking ones promise, Pharaoh would then allow Yosef to fulfill his oath. The Ramban then adds another reason for the oath; that it would spur Yosef on to try harder to meet his father's request.
Rav Henoch Leibowitz, of blessed memory says that from the Ramban, it seems that if not for Yosef swearing to his father, it is possible that he might not try as hard to bury him in Israel.
How could this be asks Rabbi Leibowitz? Can we entertain the possibility that Yosef HaTzadik, the righteous Yosef, might be lax in honoring his father's dying wishes? Didn't we see much earlier that when Yaakov asked Yosef to see how his brothers were doing in Shechem, that he went without hesitation even though he knew that his brothers disliked him and might harm him? Would we expect Yosef to desist this time, especially being his father's last request?
So the question again is why the necessity to have Yosef swear?
Rav Leibowitz answers that Yaakov made him swear in case Yosef would not be able to carry out his father's wishes; perhaps he would be under duress and not have the ability to overcome the obstacles. By making him swear, Yaakov knew that Yosef would in some way, find the abilities to make it happen. He would somehow in some way summon up a superhuman fortitude to get the job done. Rav Leibowitz said that from here we can see that an extra dose of inspiration and motivation can give a person new abilities that he didn't have before.
This can help us explain a Medrash in Megillas Rus that says a person should always do a mitzvah with a complete heart and brings three examples. If Reuven would have known that the Torah would write about his action that he saved Yosef from death from the brother hands, he would have put him on his shoulders and returned him back to his father. Had Aaron known that the Torah would later write about him that he would personally greet Moshe in the desert on Moshe's return to Egypt, Aaron would have greeted him with musical instruments, and had Boaz known that the Megillah would write about him that he gave Rus parched grain, he would have given her fatten calves to eat.
It seems that these three people didn't do their mitzvah in a complete way, and yet we never see any criticism about them, only praise. Based on what we are saying though, they actually did the best they could with the abilities they had and so there was nothing to fault them for. However, had they known that they would be written about; they would have been inspired and would have found within themselves new abilities that would have led to more exalted actions.
Rav Leibowitz says that we see from here that a person can always grow in inspiration and motivation and secondly, that a person can gain new abilities and strengths as a byproduct of being inspired and stirred. It is empowering to realize that the sky is the limit as we resume our life journey into 2015.
Genesis: 46:28 "And he send Yehuda before him to Yosef to prepare ahead of him in Goshen, and they arrived in the region of Goshen."
Yaakov and his entire family (66 of them) were getting ready to go down to Egypt to reunite with Yosef and to find refuge from the harsh famine in Eretz Canaan. We see in the cited verse that Yaakov sends Yehuda ahead of the others to prepare something but it is not clear what.
Rashi's first explanation is that he was sent to find lodging and accommodations for everyone so that they would all have homes by the time they would arrive in Goshen.
Rashi then gives another explanation quoting the Medrash that Yaakov sent Yehuda ahead to prepare a "Bais Talmud," a place of learning, a yeshiva. There are a number of hints to this in the cited verse. The words "to prepare" is written in hebrew as "l'horos" which literally means "to teach, " an indication that Yehuda went to Egypt to set up a yeshiva in which Torah would be taught.
The Sifsaiy Chachamim points out that the hebrew spelling of "l'horos" normally has two vav's whereas here it has only one vav. This leaves us with four letters instead of five. If we rearrange these four hebrew letters, we can spell the word "Torah," another indication of Yehuda's real mission.
According to the first explanation of Rashi, I understand the necessity for Yehuda to go ahead of the others. People need a place to sleep and without prior arrangements, their arrival could be quite chaotic.
According to the Medrash however, it seems surprising that Yaakov would send Yehuda down to Egypt to open up a yeshiva. Couldn't this wait until they all arrived together to Goshen? Wouldn't it have been dangerous for Yehuda to travel so far without the others? And what about his wife and children? Didn't they need his physical and emotional support? Would it be so difficult so set up a temporary yeshiva/ dayschool upon their arrival? Especially with Yosef as the viceroy of Egypt, it should have been easy to set something up as soon as they got there. And furthermore, with such a long journey and with people of all ages, didn't Yaakov have more urgent matters to think about than setting up a yeshiva?
Apparently the need for a place of Jewish learning and teaching was deemed vital in the eyes of Yaakov. It was crucial that Yehuda, the "leader" of the brothers be the one to go ahead of them and open up a yeshiva. Yaakov realized that "Torah" is the lifeblood of the Jewish people and not a minute should go by without Torah learning upon their arrival in Goshen. This was a priority in his eyes and it justified the sole journey of Yehuda to this far away land.
This can perhaps explain why Jewish education has always been such a major priority in Jewish history and that we have been known as the "people of the Book."
If the Torah is our life-blood and that which has sustained us and kept us as a people for millennia, let's consider tapping into it with the beginning of 2015. Let's allow it to elevate us spiritually and intellectually with its lofty and sublime teachings; to deepen our joy and inner peace, to enhance our relationships with our loved ones and friends, and to effectively pass it on to the next generation.
Genesis: 41:33 "Now let Pharoh seek out a discerning and wise man and appoint him over the land of Egypt."
The Pharoh in Egypt asked Yosef to interpret the two baffling dreams that he had. The first was of seven thin cows eating seven fat cows and the second was of seven withered ears of grain swallowing seven robust ears of grain.
Yosef said that both dreams were revealing one message; that there would be seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine and the famine would be so severe that the prior seven years of plenty would be forgotten.
We then find that Yosef continues to present Pharoh with a strategic plan. He suggests that Pharoh appoint a "wise and discerning man" over Egypt to oversee the gathering of the produce during the seven years of abundance and store it away for the seven years of famine. This person would have to understand the science of agriculture to know how to properly store each type of grain.
A question that can be asked is why did Yosef offer his advice so freely when not asked for it? Wasn't it a bit presumptuous of Yosef, a prisoner for the past twelve years, to offer unsolicited advice when Pharoh didn't ask for it and anyway had his own cabinet of advisors?
Rav Avrohom Pam, of blessed memory, writes that Yosef did this to avert a future catastrophe. He realized that the people wouldn't value the worth of a few stalks of wheat during the seven abundant years. For with so much abundance, what value would a few stalks of wheat have? Aware of the terrible famine ahead, Yosef realized that unless people valued every single stalk of grain during the years of plenty and made focused and organized ways to store and preserve it, there would be a terrible loss of life later on.
Yosef's insight has a practical message for us. Often people look ahead at the long road of life ahead of them and think that it will go on forever. What value does a day have, an hour have, when time seems to be endless? There is no sense of urgency to utilize every moment for growth.
Our years of living in this world can be compared to the seven years of plenty in Egypt. There is an abundance of time, an abundance of Torah to be learned, there are so many mitzvos to do, and so many opportunities to grow and actualize our potential for good.
When we leave this world however, we will enter the "seven years of famine," a period where we will no longer have opportunities to grow and exercise our free will. Only a wise person, aware of the future reality, will realize this and not be lulled into a sense of complacency during his or her lifetime; he will savor every moment to grow and accomplish.
Rav Pam writes that it is no coincidence that in most years, this Parsha coincides with Chanukah, because Chanukah expresses this idea. Israel is a land that is blessed with an abundance of olive oil. Yet during the time when the Chashmonaim rose up against the Syrian Greeks, they could not find any olive oil to light the holy menorah. Miraculously, one sealed jug of oil was found that lasted for eight days instead of one. In regular times, what value did one small jug of oil have? Yet, when the darkness of the Syrian-Greek occupation swept over the Jewish people; when the "days of famine" came, that one jug of oil was of infinite value.
As we enjoy our years of "plenty," let us have the wisdom and foresight to realize that years of "famine" will inevitably come. Any good that we can do can only be done here.
Have a Good Shabbos and an illuminated Chanukah!
Genesis: 37:4 "And his brothers saw that their father loved him (Yosef) from all the brothers and they hated him and were not able to speak with him in peace."
The brothers were jealous of the favoritism that their father Yaakov showed to Yosef. Yaakov had given Yosef a special woolen coat as a reward for his diligence in Torah learning, an action that the Talmud actually criticizes him for. Yosef would also bring reports to his father of what he thought were inappropriate behaviors by his brothers. As a result, the brothers developed a hatred for him and were not able to speak to him in peace.
In his commentary, Rashi points out that this hatred was certainly shameful. On the other hand, we do see something praiseworthy. The brothers were not two-faced. They didn't mask their hatred, put on a fake smile or pretend to like him. Their outside behavior was congruent with their inner feelings. Deceit and phoniness have no place in Judaism. Yes, the brothers should have tried to speak to Yosef to resolve the conflict and should have tried to make peace, but at least they were true to their feelings and acted genuinely. Perhaps this can teach us to always look for the good in another. The Torah is pointing out to us something to praise the brothers for even though their relationship with Yosef was far from healthy. Looking for the good and praising it no matter what else is happening seems to be a lesson we can take from this verse.
Rabbi Yonasan Eybishitz has a different way of understanding this verse. He says that the hatred started and was perpetuated precisely because “they were not able to speak to him in peace.” Had the brothers and Yosef spoken out the misunderstandings and the issues that were bothering them, the hatred would not have resulted. He says that this is usually the reason for all arguments and strife; that the parties have not spoken out their concerns and have not listened to the other. People make assumptions; draw erroneous conclusions, judge situations negatively, which leads to stonewalling and cut off. The hatred grows deeper as the lack of communication continues
We know this pattern from our own experience - when we harbor a strong dislike of another person and hold onto it, the negative emotion festers and just gets stronger. We build constructs and schemas in our mind that vilify and demonize the other person. Once we speak about it however to the other person and try to clarify the issues, we often realize that there were a host of misunderstandings that led to our negative thoughts and attributions.
This is why the Torah tells us: “Do not hate your brother in your heart;” We are not supposed to harbor ill-feeling for our fellow Jews in our hearts. When the person is ready to speak and listen, it is best to communicate our honest feelings. If the brothers would have taken this action, their hatred might have dissipated, and the terrible sequence of events that transpired might not have happened.
I might add that when the communication does take place that it be done “in peace.” Screaming, sarcasm, and defensiveness are not effective ways to communicate. It is wise for the parties to be calm and are ready to communicate peacefully before making the attempt.
Chapter 33: Verse 17. And Yaakov traveled to Succos and built a house for himself and made succos (shelters) for his livestock; He therefore called the name of the place, Succos.”
After parting with his brother, Esav, Yaakov continued on his way to Israel to reunite with his father. The verse tells us that he traveled to an area that he would later call “Succos” because he built barns or shelters for the livestock. The question is why he would name a city after the barns he constructed for the animals? What is the significance of these barns that he would name a city after them? I heard Rabbi Yitzchak Leizerowski, Shlita, once quote the Ohr HaChaim saying that until this time, no one else had ever built stables or barns for animals. It was because of Yaakov’s compassion on the animals that he built these shelters. Since this was a novel idea at the time and a note-worthy act, it was appropriate to name the city after these shelters. At the time, I asked Rabbi Yisroel Meir Vogel, a old friend, why no one had built shelters before for animals. His opinion was that since there are not many trees in Israel, there is not much wood to construct shelters and to construct them from stone is quite arduous. In addition, animals are equipped to take care of themselves in the wild and should have no need for shelter.