Dvar Torah on Parshat Mishpatim – Naaseh VeNishma!

When Moshe told Bnei Yisrael their obligations to Hashem, their response was: כֹּל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּר יְקֹוָק נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע, “…everything that Hashem has said we will do and we will obey.” (Ex. 24,7) If everyone undertook to obey, they should have said, “I will do and I will obey.”

This can be better understood according to the Midrash. The Midrash tells us that when each person proclaimed, “we will do and we will obey”, Hashem sent down two angels. One bound weapons around his waist and the other placed a crown upon his head.

Why did they deserve these two gifts? The answer is that the crown he received for his own commitment to obey. The weapons were symbolic for each man’s assuming an obligation to see that his neighbor also obeys.

The plural term used here represents each man’s own assurance to perform and an assurance that he will also see that others obey.

It is not sufficient for us to obey and fulfill the Mitzvot. It is also up to us to see as much as possible that others also obey.

Dvar Torah on Parshat BeShalach 5775 2015

There is an interesting discussion between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda in the Talmud. Rabbi Meir said that when the Children of Israel came to the Red Sea every tribe said we will go first into the sea. Rabbi Yehuda said it was not so. Rather every tribe said we will not go first into the sea.

A Chassidic Rabbi explained that this was not a real dispute between the two Rabbis. Rabbi Meir claimed when the people from afar approached the sea each tribe acted bravely and volunteered to jump in first. However, Rabbi Yehuda claimed that when they actually came close to the sea, then every tribe backed down and refused to be the first to jump in.

This is something that happens often in real life. We have all good intentions to do something but when the time comes close we renege and back down. Good commitments are not enough. Action must follow our intentions.

Dvar Torah Parshat Bo 5775 2015 – Who’s leaving Egypt?

When Pharaoh had enough of the plagues he told Moshe he can take the people out of Egypt to go worship Hashem as he requested. He then asked, מִי וָמִי הַהֹלְכִים, “…which ones are going?” He was surprised at the answer he got. Moshe replied, בִּנְעָרֵינוּ וּבִזְקֵנֵינוּ נֵלֵךְ, “With our youngsters and with our elders we will go…”. (Ex. 10,8-9)

Pharaoh’s surprise was because in his understanding it is only the elders who worship their gods. The youngsters have no part in their religion. Moshe informed Pharaoh that the youngsters are an integral part of our religion. When a child can utter words the child is taught to recite the Shema. When he gets a little older he is taught to read and to pray. He is given a Jewish education.

When the children are Bar or Bat Mitzvah they assume full responsibilities of our faith. It is a religion for all ages. In a true Jewish home the training starts as soon as the child can speak. We have a special Mitzvah for parents of Chinuch – training or education. You cannot expect a child who grows up to suddenly cast upon it the obligations of Mitzvot without previous training. It is also noteworthy that in Judaism the obligation to learn never ends.

This was all strange to Pharaoh and he could not understand why Moshe insisted that even the children be allowed to go out of Egypt to worship Hashem.

Dvar Torah on Parshat VaEra 5775 2015

In last week’s Portion we read that Moshe spoke to Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave and return to their own country. Pharaoh refused and imposed greater hardships upon the people. This depressed Moshe and he complained to Hashem.

This week we read again that Hashem tells Moshe to speak to the people to inform them that He is about to release them from bondage and take them back to their land. The Torah tells us that when Moshe spoke to them they did not heed him: מִקֹּצֶר רוּחַ וּמֵעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה, “…because of shortness of breath and hard work.” (Ex. 6,9)

This is usually taken to mean that the Children of Israel did not accept Moshe’s words because of their shortness of breath or impatience due to their hard work in bondage.

The Ralbag, a biblical commentator of the 12th century, gives a unique and different meaning to these words. He implies that they did not accept Moshe’s words because of the shortness of breath of Moshe. They saw that he was depressed as a result of his first conversation with Pharaoh. They assumed that since he was so dejected from that outcome he will not be able to accomplish his mission.

A leader must have full confidence in what he wants to accomplish in order to succeed. If he goes about his tasks with half a heart and little spirit he will not succeed. Leaders must be forceful and decisive in their actions.

Dvar Torah on the Parsha – Shemot 5775 – What’s in a name…

When Yaakov and his family left Canaan to come to Mitzrayim the names of all the people coming were enumerated. In this week’s Sidra, when we are told they arrived at their destination, their names are again itemized.

Most people know the reason Chazal give for this duplication. They tell us that this is to inform us that all the years the Jews lived the Egyptian Galut they did not abandon their Jewish names. That was one of the reasons they were redeemed.

Rabbi Moshe Soffer, who lived 200 years ago, complained about the Jews of his time. They gave their children Jewish names but did not use them except when they had to make a prayer for their health or, Heaven forbid, when they had to recite a Kel Maleh for them after they were deceased.

We are told in the Torah that when Yosef was appointed Viceroy over Egypt, Pharaoh gave him an Egyptian name. He called him Tzafnat Pane’ach. The only time Yosef is referred to by this name is when it was given to him. We never hear again in the entire narrative of Yosef in Egypt that he was called by that name. He kept the name Yosef and used it all his days.

This was the strength of the Jews of Mitzrayim. This is why they were redeemed by Hashem through miracles and in a supernatural way.

Dvar Torah Shabbos Chol Hamoed Succot 5775 2014

The Torah reading on Chol Hamo’ed is a portion from the Sidra Ki Tisa where Moshe asks: הוֹדִעֵנִי נָא אֶת־דְּרָכֶךָ, “…make Your ways known to me…”. (Ex. 33,13) There are various interpretations of this request. In the Talmud we find one explanation: מפני מה יש צדיק וטוב לו ויש צדיק ורע לו, יש רשע וטוב לו ויש רשע ורע לו? “Why is it that some righteous men prosper and others are in hardship, some wicked men prosper and others are in hardship?” (Ber. 7a)

This is a question that has disturbed philosophers in every generation. Hashem did not answer this request of Moshe but said to him: וְחַנֹּתִי אֶת־אֲשֶׁר אָחֹן וְרִחַמְתִּי אֶת־ אֲשֶׁר אֲרַחֵם, “…’I will show favor when I choose to show favor, and I will show mercy when I chose to show mercy.” Rabbi Meir in the Talmud explains, in both cases even if he does not deserve it.

Some Rabbi once gave a unique interpretation to this Biblical verse. He said: Hashem said He will be gracious to him who is gracious to others, and will show mercy to him who shows mercy. This is a timely message since it comes directly after Yom Kippur.

Dvar Torah Parshat Pekude 5774 2014 – in the merit of their fathers..

The Torah, summarizing the construction of the Mishkan, mentions: בְצַלְאֵל בֶּן אוּרִי בֶן חוּר לְמַטֵּה יְהוּדָה, “Bezalel, son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah did everything that Hashem commanded Moshe.” (Ex. 38,22) Why was it necessary for the Torah to go back in history and mention Bezalel’s grandfather and his tribe? Usually, in Jewish practice, when identifying a person, only his name and the name of his father are given.

Chazal tell us that when people are active in community work they should do so for the sake of heaven, because then זכות אבותם מסייעתן, “the merit of their fathers will aid them”.

Community workers may have the feeling that they can do as they please and that they are not accountable to anyone. By mentioning Bezalel’s ancestry the Torah is telling us that one should always keep in mind his background, his parents and their parents. By remembering them, their memory will aid them in doing their work honestly and faithfully for the cause.

The saying is, “power corrupts”. This may be true, but recalling whence we stem from may help overcome the trend.