Dvar Torah on Parshat VaEra 5776 2016 – Israel’s here for you

The Children of Israel had been enslaved in Egypt for many years. Suddenly Hashem sends Moshe to help redeem them. What happened to bring this about? We are told in this week’s Torah that Hashem says to Moshe: וְגַם אֲנִי שָׁמַעְתִּי אֶת נַאֲקַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, “And I have also heard the groaning of the Children of Israel…”. Ex. 6,5.

This seems to imply that until the people themselves began to complain there was no need for redemption. The people had become well-adjusted living in Egypt and even when they were enslaved they were still determined to stay there. They had no desire to leave the land. It was only when conditions became unbearable that they started to cry out to Hashem for help.

This same attitude prevailed when it became possible for Jews to leave Babylonia. Some people left, but others were so ensconced there that they preferred to stay.

Again history repeated itself in modern times when Israel became a reality for Jews living all over the world. Many left their Galut environment and made Aliya. Others were forced to leave their countries because of persecution or because life was made too uncomfortable for them and they were forced to leave.

Many Jews have contemplated making Aliya but hesitate for one reason or another. The best way to come to Israel is when they feel that they belong there. Israel hopes they will come soon.

Short Vort on Parshat Shemot 5776 2016 – Standing up for what’s right

We read about the man Moshe and his personality. One thing we see outstanding is his inability to accept injustice. He sees an Egyptian beating a Jewish man and he promptly supports the Jew. One would think his reasoning was that he could not see a Jew being beaten.

The next day he sees two Hebrews fighting. Again he interferes, arguing: לָמָּה תַכֶּה רֵעֶךָ, “Why would you strike your fellow?” (Ex. 2,13) Again we would think he objected because they were two Jewish people fighting.

We see later he objects when non-Jews are harming other non-Jews. He was at the well in Midian and saw that Yitro’s daughters came to water their father’s sheep. The shepherds came and drove them away. וַיָּקָם מֹשֶׁה וַיּוֹשִׁעָן,  “…and Moshe got up and saved them and watered their sheep.” (Ex. 2,17)

These incidents indicate that Moshe objected to any injustice no matter who was involved. This is a true Jewish approach. We certainly cannot keep still when we see Jews are being harmed, but we also feel the injustice when even non-Jews face unfair treatment.

When we see a wrong being perpetrated it is our duty to speak up and to take action to rectify the injustice.

Dvar Torah Vayakhel – Pekudei 5775 2015

Moshe had asked the people to contribute to the construction of the Mishkan. The people were so generous that more contributions than were needed came in. Moshe then told the people that there was enough to finish the construction and more contributions were not needed.

The language Moshe used to tell them was somewhat dubious. He asked that an announcement be made: אִישׁ וְאִשָּׁה אַל יַעֲשׂוּ עוֹד מְלָאכָה לִתְרוּמַת הַקֹּדֶשׁ, “…Man and woman shall not do more work toward the gift for the Sanctuary.” (Ex. 36,6) Why did he not simply say that they should stop bringing their contributions for they were no longer needed?

Perhaps the reason was that we must never imply that contributions are not needed. You can say that for a particular cause no more contributions are needed. You should never express yourself in such a manner as to tell people to stop giving.

Parents must impress upon children the importance of giving donations and contributions for all good causes. Rabbis and leaders of organizations must constantly influence their followers to donate and stress the need. Moshe did not tell them to stop giving. He told them that there was no longer a need for their contributions towards construction of the Mishkan.

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.