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.
Moshe went to see how his brethren were faring and he noticed that an Egyptian was striking a Hebrew man. He killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand. וַיִּשְׁמַע פַּרְעֹה אֶת הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה “Pharaoh heard about this matter…”. (Ex. 2,15) The Torah tells us that when Pharaoh heard this he wanted to kill Moshe and Moshe had to flee to Midian.
Jews were being beaten and killed daily. This Pharaoh did not hear. When one Egyptian was killed Pharaoh heard of it. This is the story of generations. When Jews are slaughtered all over the world no one takes heed. When a Holocaust occurs no one is concerned. When one Egyptian is killed it makes an impression.
Thousands of Jews have been killed in Israel by terrorists and no one in the world lifted their voice in protest. When Israel protects itself and kills a terrorist the world is up in arms. This started with Pharaoh and continued throughout the centuries down to our own days.
The Book of Shemot begins by telling us that Yaakov and his children came to Egypt. Then it says: וְיוֹסֵף הָיָה בְמִצְרָיִם, “…and Yosef was in Egypt.” (Ex. 1,5) Though Yosef was the viceroy in Egypt and though they gave him the name צָפְנַת פַּעְנֵחַ, he nevertheless did not give up his Jewish name. The Torah testifies that he was still Yosef in Egypt. When his two sons were born he gave them Jewish names, Ephraim and Menasheh.
This practice of giving children Jewish names in Egypt helped keep them together as a people. Chazal tell us this is one of the reasons for their redemption.
A name is a great way of identifying a person as a member of a people and it is a dominant influence in keeping a Jew within the Jewish fold. A non-Jewish name can often be the first step of losing one’s Jewish identity.
It is unfortunate that many Jews living in the Diaspora find it proper to give their children a common name used in the country and do not bother to also give them a Jewish name. While this may not be the reason but it is one step that can lead to assimilation.
No matter what name a Jewish child is given so that there is no embarrassment living in a non-Jewish environment, there should also be a Jewish name and the child should know what it is.
Chazal said quite often that what happened to our Patriarchs was a sign of what will eventually happen to their descendants. The same is true about what happened to our forefathers in Egypt when they developed into a nation. What happened to them reoccurred time and again in the long history of our people in many countries and many lands.
When Yaakov and his family came to Egypt they were received royally. They were granted permission to settle in any part of the land they desired. Yosef was asked to pick any of the sons who were capable of holding high positions in the country. Yosef held the highest position in the nation next to Pharaoh himself. The Israelites were highly respected and honored.
This esteem and recognition did not survive. Soon a complete reversal occurred. A new regime came into power that did not recognize how Yosef had saved Egypt. The Israelites suddenly became aliens in Egypt, feared that they would become disloyal to the country. The aliens are turned into slaves and a decree is issued to cast all first born into the Nile.
One would think, with such fear of the people and with such hatred of this population, the citizens of the land would be happy to see them leave. This was not, however, the case. When Moshe came and asked that they be granted permission to leave the country temporarily, he was refused. Why? They were too important for the economy of the country with their slavery.
What happened to our people in Egypt has been repeated on numerous occasions. We have seen this throughout our history and even in our lifetime.
Moshe approached the burning bush and heard the voice of Hashem calling him. His reaction, the Torah tells us was: VAYASTER MOSHE PANAV, “…Moshe hid his face…”. (Ex. 3,6) Chazal tell us that this action had its consequences.
At a later date, after the Children of Israel had transgressed with the Golden Calf, Moshe started pleading on their behalf for forgiveness. He asked Hashem to reveal His glory to him. According to Chazal Hashem denied this request saying, “When I wanted to reveal Myself to you at the bush you hid your face. Now that you want, I will not.”
We often encounter opportunities in various different ways and in different fields. We find this in business, in our relationship with others, in our studies and in almost every field of endeavor. It is tragic though that we overlook these opportunities, either for lack of recognizing them or for simply ignoring them. The opportunity usually does not appear again.
One must be ever mindful of the prospects that face them and take advantage of them when they occur.
Pharaoh had decreed that every Jewish male child was to be cast into the Nile River. When Moshe was born his mother, Yocheved, tried to hide him in her home as long as she could. When it became impossible to keep him longer she was forced to put him in a Tevah, a box, and placed him in the Nile.
The questioned asked is, “How did she do such a thing?” Did she not think that the Tevah could be overturn by a wave and Moshe would be cast into the waters? Even if that would not happen, did she not imagine that some Egyptian would find him and kill him?
The answer is that she certainly thought of those possibilities but in truth she had no other solution. She was forced to do something and this was the best chance she had to save Moshe. She did what she could and she placed her faith in Hashem that He would spare her son.
Many times we are faced with a dilemma and can see no solution to a problem that confronts us. We are not to despair. We are to take a lesson from Yocheved and do the best we can. We must, however, not lose faith in Hashem but must trust that He would help.
A new king arouse over the land of Egypt who wanted to impose restrictions on the Jews and eventually end up enslaving them. He spoke to his people and said to them: HAVA NITCHAKMA LO, “Let us deal wisely with them…”. (Ex. 1,10) The Talmud adds another detail not mentioned in the Torah.
The Talmud tells us: There were three in that plan, Bilam, Iyov and Yitro. Bilam who devised the plan was killed. Iyov who silently consented was afflicted with suffering. Yitro, who fled, merited that his descendants would sit in LISHKAT HAGAZIT (the chamber where the Jewish court sat in the Bet Hamikdash). (Sota 11a)
Yitro left because he felt he could not oppose the decree and could not live with it so he fled. Iyov on the other hand stayed but did not object. A great lesson is implied here. A person should stand up and object and raise his voice against evil if he sees it. Iyov kept quiet and his punishment was that just as the Israelites suffered he too would suffer.
People often observe an injustice taking place. If they sit still and do not raise their voice in objection, they too are guilty. We dare not sit complacently in face of evil and assume that it does not affect us. It does.
In this week’s Portion Moshe is selected to lead the Jewish people out of Egyptian bondage and take them through the Wilderness to the Promised Land. The Midrash explains why Moshe Rabbenu was chosen for this task. It tells us that when Moshe, who was the shepherd for Yitro, was out in the wilderness with the flock one little sheep went astray and Moshe went after it to protect it. The sheep had sought water to drink. When Moshe saw this he picked it up and carried it back on his shoulders. Hashem said that if a person can do this for the flock of a man he will certainly do so for the flock of Hashem, the Jewish people. (Shemot Rabbah, 2,2) A glaring question suggests itself. Moshe went to protect one sheep. In doing so, he obviously neglected the entire flock he left behind and endangered their existence. How can he be praised for abandoning the entire flock to save one individual sheep? The answer is simple. One sheep all alone out in the wilderness has no protection. The flock, however, were numerous and if they kept together they would be protected by their mere numbers. The obvious moral message is that there is strength in numbers and we Jews can be strong if we stick together. If Jews are united and not bickering about minutiae they can overcome all the obstacles the world throws in their way of survival.