Rabbi Buchwald's Weekly Torah Message http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org Just another WordPress site Mon, 20 Mar 2017 20:56:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.6.4 Vayakhel-Pekudei 5777-2017 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/2017/03/20/vayakhel-pekudei-5777-2017/ Mon, 20 Mar 2017 15:40:28 +0000 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/?p=10067 Bezalel–Master Craftsman, Master Teacher”


by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In parashat Vayakhel, the first of this week’s two parashiot, Vayakhel-Pekudei, Moses designates Bezalel and Oholiab, to serve as the architects of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle.

The Torah, in Exodus 35:30, records that Moses said to the children of Israel: רְאוּ קָרָא השׁם בְּשֵׁם בְּצַלְאֵל בֶּן אוּרִי בֶן חוּר לְמַטֵּה יְהוּדָה , See, the L-rd has proclaimed by name, Bezalel, the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. The Torah then clarifies that Bezalel, together with his assistant, Oholiab, son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, would be joined by other wise-hearted men, whom G-d has endowed with wisdom and insight, to do all the work for the labor of the sanctuary.

Most artists and artisans have specialized skills that are limited to a particular field of art. The Torah tells us that Bezalel was unique, and that the Al-mighty had filled him with a G-dly spirit–with wisdom, insight and knowledge, and the skills to master every craft, including weaving, working with gold, silver and copper, cutting precious stones, and wood carving.
According to tradition (Pekudei 5765-2005), Bezalel was only thirteen years old when he assumed this important role.

Apparently, choosing Bezalel and Oholiab to serve as the chief architects of the Tabernacle, was not an easy choice. Although there were many skilled workmen, their only specialty was working with bricks and mortar. Even though there were many volunteers, none of them had the particular skills that were necessary to build the Tabernacle.

Some of the people were unhappy with the fact that Moses chose Bezalel, who was the great-grandson of Moses’ sister, Miriam. That is why Moses had to clearly announce that it was not he who chose Bezalel, but rather that the L-rd had proclaimed Bezalel by name to serve as the chief architect.

Despite his many talents, according to the Midrash Rabbah, G-d’s choice of Bezalel was not due to his extraordinary skills. The Midrash maintains that Bezalel was chosen on the merits of the self-sacrifice of his grandfather, Hur, who lost his life trying to stop the people from worshiping the Golden Calf.

The sages compare the choice of Bezalel to the case of a king who was abandoned by his troops, and only one top general remained loyal. When the rebellion was suppressed, the king rewarded the general’s children, appointing them to serve as dukes and governors. Apparently, the passion that Hur showed when defending G-d’s honor, inspirited his grandson’s heart, and enabled Bezalel to perform the work in the Mishkan.

Rabbi Yehudah Nachshoni  suggests that Bezalel drew his talents and holiness from two parts of his family. Not only did Hur, give his life to defend G-d’s name, it was, after all, the tribe of Judah and Bezalel’s great-grandfather, Nachshon the son of Aminadav, who jumped into the waters of the Red Sea before any of other tribes.

The Ya’avetz suggests that just as Hur sacrificed himself to achieve atonement for the Golden Calf, so did his grandson, Bezalel, achieve atonement for the Golden Calf, by building the Tabernacle.

The Torah describes Bezalel, not only as a master craftsman, but also as a master teacher/educator. Scripture, in Exodus 35:34 states, וּלְהוֹרֹת נָתַן בְּלִבּוֹ: הוּא, וְאָהֳלִיאָב בֶּן אֲחִיסָמָךְ לְמַטֵּה דָן , And G-d put in his [Bezalel’s] heart the ability to teach, him and Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan.

The Da’at Sofrim explains what it means when the Torah states that G-d put in Bezalel’s heart the ability to teach. There are wise people, says the Da’at Sofrim, who with all their wisdom, are unable to impart their knowledge to others. Bezalel and Oholiab had a special gift of being able to transmit their wisdom to others. There are others who know how to instruct and even criticize others, but do not have the actual skills themselves to build anything. Bezalel and Oholiab had both the ability to master the crafts themselves, and the ability to teach others.

While we often don’t realize, there are really only a few professions that are completely selfless–teaching, social services and practicing medicine.

Among the greatest challenges in life is the challenge to lead a moral and sanctified life. Perhaps an even greater challenge is to transmit that commitment to live a moral and sanctified life to the next generation. That is why it is often regarded as a truly special gift from heaven to successfully inspire others to live a G-dly life. Some individuals are able to do that by example, by serving as walking and living models of virtue and goodness. The evident holiness that these special people exude can be contagious.

Others are not natural Tzadikim, and need to work hard to become virtuous. They must struggle all the time to improve every day. Those models can sometimes be even more effective than those who are naturally noble and righteous, because they provide a more realistic paradigm for the average person to imitate.

Interestingly, according to tradition, Bezalel lost his ability to teach immediately after the Tabernacle was completed. It was left to Oholiab to continue educating the people, and help them master the crafts that he had mastered. Could this be seen as a sign that inspiration and charisma only go so far, and what is truly necessary for continuity is hard work?

Whether the model be Bezalel or Oholiab, both of them served as an inspiration for others, to help humanity build the holy Mishkan, the house in which G-d’s presence dwells, that will serve as a source of sanctity for the entire world.

May you be blessed.

This Shabbat, also known as Shabbat HaChodesh, is the last of the four special Shabbatot that surround the holiday of Purim. On this Shabbat, a thematic Torah portion concerning the new month, Nissan, is read from Exodus 12:1-20.  This year, Rosh Chodesh Nissan, which marks the first day of the month of redemption, will take place on Monday evening and Tuesday, March 27 and 28, 2017.


Kee Tisah 5777-2017 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/2017/03/13/kee-tisah-5777-2017/ Mon, 13 Mar 2017 15:38:53 +0000 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/?p=10060 The Gift of Torah”


by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Kee Tisah, the Torah reports that G-d gave Moses two stone Tablets of Testimony that were inscribed by the finger of G-d.

The verse in Exodus 31:18 states, וַיִּתֵּן אֶל מֹשֶׁה כְּכַלֹּתוֹ לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ בְּהַר סִינַי שְׁנֵי לֻחֹת הָעֵדֻת, לֻחֹת אֶבֶן כְּתֻבִים בְּאֶצְבַּע אֱ־לֹקִים . When G-d finished speaking to him [Moses] on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two Tablets of Testimony, stone tablets inscribed by the finger of G-d.

There is a dispute among the commentators regarding when the instructions to build the Tabernacle were given. Were they given before or after the Ten Commandments?   Rashi, citing the Talmud in Pesachim 6b, maintains that the instructions to build the Tabernacle were given after the Ten Commandments. According to Rashi’s calculations, Moses originally intended to deliver the Tablets on the 17th of Tammuz. When he saw the people joyously worshiping the Golden calf he broke the original Tablets. Moses then went up Mount Sinai and remained there for 2 -40 day periods. Thus, 80 days after the tablets had been broken, on Yom Kippur, G-d forgave the people. On the next day (11th of Tishrei) the people began collecting the materials for the Tabernacle, which was finally erected many months lateron the first day of Nissan.

The rabbis make two important exegetical observations. One is that the Torah states, וַיִּתֵּן אֶל מֹשֶׁה , that G-d “gave” Moshe the tablets. From this, the rabbis derive that the Torah was given as a gift. The theme of a gift is also reinforced from the word כְּכַלֹּתוֹ , written without a “vav,” implying that the Torah was like a gift that a groom gives to his bride, the kallah. 

The Midrash Tanchuma 18, states, that it would have been impossible for the mortal Moses to master the entire Torah in such a short time (during the original 40-day ascent) and therefore, G-d gave Moses the Torah as a gift. Rashi, interestingly, notes, this time from the Tanchuma 16, that just as a bride dresses up with 24 ornaments, so must a Torah scholar prepare himself for learning Torah by mastering all 24 books of the Bible.

The Talmud in Nedarim 38, also reports that Moses had a hard time mastering the Torah. Each time he began learning the Torah, he would learn and forget, until G-d gave it to him as a gift.  As the verse states (Exodus 31:18): “And G-d gave to Moses two Tablets of Testimony when He finished speaking to him on Mount Sinai.”

Another version found in Midrash Rabbah, Shemot 41, attributed to Rabbi Avahu, says that during the 40 days Moses was in heaven, he would study the Torah and forget it. Moses then said to the Al-mighty, “G-d, I’ve already studied for 40 days and I don’t know one thing!”  When the 40 days were over, the Al-mighty gave Moses the Torah as a gift, confirming the Talmudic adage (Brachot 12a), that “everything is judged by the conclusion.” Had Moses not labored for 40 days, he would not have merited the gift.

The Chiddushei HaRim comments on the suggestion regarding the inability of Moses to master the Torah.  If even the great Moses was unable to master the Torah, why didn’t G-d simply give him the Torah immediately rather than wait until Moses had completed studying for 40 days and 40 nights?

The Chiddushei HaRim notes that Torah can only be mastered with the help of G-d. But, G-d will help only those who make an attempt to master Torah themselves. It was through the great efforts that Moses invested in trying to master the Torah that he finally earned the right to receive the gift of Torah from the Al-mighty. So, says the Chiddushei HaRim, everyone can qualify to receive the gift of Torah if they truly and sincerely invest the effort to master it.

The grandeur of this concept cannot be overemphasized. Obviously, it is impossible for a mortal to comprehend Torah on the level of the Al-mighty. Yet, the Al-mighty makes it possible for mortals to comprehend the Torah on the human level. Thus, we see, that Torah study is far different from normal academic achievement through study and diligence. The experience of learning Torah is the equivalent of having a “virtual study experience” with the Al-mighty Himself as a study partner.

Prof. Louis Finkelstein is reputed to have said: “When I pray, I talk to G-d. When I learn Torah, I feel G-d talking to me!”

This is this gift that Moses received from G-d at Sinai. It is a gift that keeps on giving, to those in our generation, and to all future generations who invest the effort to master Torah.

May you be blessed.

This Shabbat is also known as “Shabbat Parashat Parah.” It is the third of four special Shabbatot that surround the holiday of Purim. On this Shabbat, a thematic Torah portion concerning the Red Heifer is read from Numbers 19:1-22.


Tetzaveh/Purim 5777-2017 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/2017/03/06/tetzavehpurim-5777-2017/ Mon, 06 Mar 2017 15:53:43 +0000 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/?p=10054 “Transformations”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

Almost half of this week’s entire parasha, fully 43 verses of parashat Tetzaveh, are devoted to the detailed description of the priestly garments–the vestments that the Kohanim wore. Only the priests wore special garments, none of the other twelve tribes (the tribe of Joseph is divided into Ephraim and Menashe) are honored with a special wardrobe.

At first, the tribe of Levi was just another one of the tribes who descended from the twelve sons of Jacob. However, when the Levites refused to worship the Golden Calf, and, in fact, stood to defend the honor of G-d with their lives and displayed their loyalty to both G-d and Moses, they became the special tribe. They then replaced the firstborn male children, who were originally intended to be the selected servants of G-d.

As the ministers of the People of Israel in the holy chambers of the Tabernacle and Temple, the Levites were given certain gifts, tithes, and were also bequeathed 42 cities along with their surrounding fields for them to work and support themselves.

There was, however, one special family of Levites, descendants of Moses’ brother Aaron, who became the priests, the Kohanim. The Kohanim were charged with actually performing the sacred duties in the Tabernacle, with the Levites assisting them.

Originally there were about 22,000 Levites, and only four Kohanim (priests)–Aaron, Elazar, Itamar and Aaron’s grandson, Pinchas.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 83b) states that when the priests wore their holy garments, their Kehunah, their priesthood, was upon them. When they were not wearing those garments, they were like common members of other tribes. The lay priests wore four garments, while the High Priests wore eight. The clothes, in effect, made the man. Without the clothes the priests could not serve or perform any of their duties.

Thus, the priestly vestments represent the uniform of duty. The garments articulated the preparedness of the Kohanim to serve the people, in effect declaring: “I am wearing my uniform, I am ready to serve!” Thus, through their garments, a tribe of Israel was transformed into a sacred sect, devoted thoroughly and completely to the service of the Al-mighty and the People of Israel.

The story of Purim is also a chronicle of transformations. The nation of Israel, who was at the point of annihilation at the hands of wicked Haman, was suddenly transformed into a heroic people admired by all the citizens of Persia and Media. The hated nation of Israel, suddenly became the most admired.

Rabbi Nosson Telushkin in his erudite volume Ha’Torah V’haOlam, points to two revealing verses in the book of Esther. In Esther 3:15, the Megillah states, וְהַדָּת נִתְּנָה בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה, וְהַמֶּלֶךְ וְהָמָן יָשְׁבוּ לִשְׁתּוֹת, וְהָעִיר שׁוּשָׁן נָבוֹכָה , when the edict was issued in Shushan the capital, the King and Haman sat down to drink, and the entire city of Shushan was confounded.

The second verse cited by Rabbi Telushkin, Esther 8:15, describes the rise of Mordechai: וּמָרְדֳּכַי יָצָא מִלִּפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ בִּלְבוּשׁ מַלְכוּת…וְהָעִיר שׁוּשָׁן צָהֲלָה וְשָׂמֵחָה , After Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews was foiled, the book of Esther states that Mordechai was elevated to the highest position in the land, and came out publicly before the king wearing royal garb, and the entire city of Shushan rejoiced and was happy.

The Midrash Rabbah, Esther 3:15, quotes these verses, stating that the two verses in Esther may be explained by the verse in Proverbs 29:2, בִּרְבוֹת צַדִּיקִים יִשְׂמַח הָעָם, וּבִמְשֹׁל רָשָׁע יֵאָנַח עָם ,When the righteous increase, the nation rejoices, when the wicked rule, the nation groans.

Rabbi Telushkin points out insightfully that in Shushan, when the power of the wicked Haman and King Ahasuerus was ascendant, and the two sat to drink in the city after issuing the decree to murder all the Jews, the entire city, indeed the entire empire, all 127 states of Persia and Media, sighed in pain. However, when the evil was defeated and Mordechai ascended, appearing publicly in royal garb, the entire city of Shushan and the entire empire rejoiced and was jubilant.

The priestly vestments do not make the priests sanctified. The garments simply serve as a reminder of the important and sacred role that the priests are to fulfill. The priestly garments aid the priests to rise up and transform themselves from being just another one of the tribes, into leaders who inspire myriads.

Similarly, the ascendant power of evil and wickedness is so great, that it has the ability to transform empires–127 states with millions of people, into rabid anti-Semites, willing to destroy an innocent nation.

When the priests, who are dressed to serve as leaders, assume their sacred role, they can inspire a nation for good, for justice and for kindness. As a result, all the people rejoice, will be content and fulfilled.

Rabbi Telushkin points out specifically that when righteousness and goodness ascended to power in Shushan, not only the entire city, the entire state, the entire nation, not only Jews, but non-Jews as well, rejoiced and were happy.

Let us hope, that just as the clothes transformed the descendants of Aaron into priests, and just as righteousness and goodness transformed an entire nation of would-be killers into sympathizers, so shall our people, our country, our nation also witness transformations, in which all evil will vanish, goodness will ascend, and G-d’s blessings will be showered on all peoples and all nations.

May you be blessed.

This coming Shabbat is known as Shabbat Zachor. It is the second of four special Shabbatot that surround the holiday of Purim. On this Shabbat, a thematic Torah portion is read from Deuteronomy 25:17-19 about remembering Amalek. Most authorities consider it a positive commandment for both men and women to hear this particular Torah reading.

Please note: The Fast of Esther is observed on Thursday, March 9th, 2017 from dawn to nightfall. Purim is observed this year on Saturday night, and Sunday, March 11th-12th, 2017.

The festival of Purim marks the celebration of the great salvation of the Jews of the Persian empire from the hands of the evil Haman in the year 520-519 BCE. For more information about Purim and its special observances, click here.

Terumah 5777-2017 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/2017/02/27/terumah-5777-2017/ Mon, 27 Feb 2017 17:18:23 +0000 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/?p=10050 “ זִיכּוּי הָרַבִּים – Meriting the Broader Jewish Community”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Terumah, we read of the commandment to build a Tabernacle, a dwelling place for the Divine Presence.

The Torah, in Exodus 25:8 states, וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ, וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם , and they shall make for Me a sanctuary so that I may dwell among them.

The verse does not say, “Make for Me a sanctuary so that I will dwell in it.” After all, G-d does not need a sanctuary since His Divine Presence fills the entire world. As the author of the Sefer Ha’Chinuch explains, the sanctuary was not intended to serve as a dwelling place for G-d, but as a setting where human beings might receive the spiritual inspiration conducive to the proper worship of G-d. The ancient Tabernacle, thus served as a place for the Israelites to focus their spirituality.

The Tabernacle, known in Hebrew as the מִּשְׁכָּן –“Mishkan,” a dwelling place, was a temporary portable sanctuary that the Children of Israel built from wood, cloth and precious metals, which could be set up and dismantled as they traveled for forty years through the wilderness.

After entering the Promised Land, a more permanent Tabernacle was built in Gilgal, which lasted for 14 years. Later, a structure partly built of stone was erected at Shilo, which served as the sanctuary for a period of 369 years. For the last 57 years before Solomon’s permanent Temple was erected on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, the Ark was moved first to Nob and then to Gibeon.

The commandment to build a Temple in Jerusalem is derived directly from the commandment to erect a temporary Tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 25:8). There is, however, no direct commandment to build synagogues or local houses of worship. Yet, because of the striking similarity between the temporary sanctuary, the permanent sanctuary in Jerusalem and the local synagogues and houses of worship, the rabbis derived the requirement to build local houses of worship. The proof-text for all houses of worship is the verse from parashat Terumah, “And they shall make for Me a sanctuary so that I may dwell among them.”

The Zohar in parashat Naso 4, states that every synagogue in the world is known as a מִקְדָּשׁ Mikdash,” a sanctuary.

The Talmud, in Megillah 29a, cites the verse in Ezekiel 11:16, in which G-d states that He, G-d, would serves as a מִקְדָּשׁ מְעַטMikdash M’at, a miniature Temple in the lands where they, the Israelites, dwell. Rabbi Isaac explains that these “miniature Temples” are houses of prayer and houses of study.

Because of the distinct parallel between the Tabernacle and synagogues, many rules governing proper behavior in the great Jerusalem Temple, also apply to local synagogues and houses of study to ensure their sanctity. The Jerusalem Talmud in B’rachot 5:1 cites Rabbi Pinchus in the name of Rabbi Hoshaya, who says that one who prays in a synagogue is likened to one who brings a pure מִנְחָהMincha sacrifice.

It is specifically because of the heightened sanctity of the synagogue that Jewish tradition considered it a deed of great merit to help build or support the building of synagogues. Rabbeinu Bachya, in his book Kad Ha’kemach goes so far as to state that one who builds a tiny part of the synagogue structure, even a single wall in a synagogue, or even bangs in a single nail for the sake of the synagogue, achieves great merit.

Aside from the obvious similarities between building a local synagogue and building the great Temple in Jerusalem, another factor plays a key role in the mitzvah of building a synagogue. This factor is known in rabbinic literature as זִיכּוּי הָרַבִּים “Zee’kuy ha’Rah’bim,” bringing merit to the masses.

The principle of זִיכּוּי הָרַבִּים plays an important role in Jewish life. So great is the regard for communal activists that congregations throughout the Jewish world declare weekly in their Sabbath prayers, כָל מִי שֶׁעוֹסְקִים בְּצָרְכֵי צִבּוּר בֶּאֱמוּנָה , blessed are those who render service for the community in good faith, may the Al-mighty give them their just rewards.

Many mitzvot fall under the rubric of זִיכּוּי הָרַבִּים (meriting the masses).Not only building synagogues, houses of study and schools, but also building mikvaot–ritual purification pools, making Kosher food available to all, and establishing Jewish libraries.

Many volunteer charitable organizations today render services to the Jewish community that are of inestimable value. Volunteer organizations today such as Hatzolah, provide private ambulance service for the community, Misaskim, provides special services to mourners, Chaverim, provides help for those who have emergencies in their homes or are locked out of their cars. Zaka, collects the body parts of those killed in terror attacks and brings the victims to proper burial.

The remarkable growth of Gemachs (private charity funds) in recent times underscores how great is the mitzvah of bringing merit to the masses. There are Gemachs that provide baby carriages and bridal gowns, diapers for newborns, provide crutches, wheelchairs, walkers to the infirm, lend artificial flowers for Bar Mitzvahs and weddings.

The Mah’ah’say l’Melech in parashat Bechukotai suggests that King Solomon built the permanent Temple in Jerusalem using cypress and cedar trees, building materials that with time rot and spoil, so that every generation would have the opportunity to rebuild the Temple.

May we too have the opportunity to rebuild the Temple soon in our days.

May you be blessed.


Mishpatim 5777-2017 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/2017/02/19/mishpatim-5777-2017/ Sun, 19 Feb 2017 02:56:27 +0000 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/?p=10045 “Majority Rule “

This week’s parasha, parashat Mishpatim, is one of the most content-rich parashiot in the entire Torah. Mishpatim, which literally means “laws” or “rules,” serves as the basis of the Jewish judicial system.

Parashat Mishpatim ranks fourth among the Torah portions, containing 53 commandments of the 613 commandments in the Torah–30 negative and 23 positive.

Many fascinating ancient rules are found in parashat Mishpatim that underscore how advanced the ancient judicial system of Israel was and its relevance to contemporary times. Those who wish to gain an appreciation of the scope of these insightful rules are encouraged to visit the archive and review the weekly messages on parashat Mishpatim from previous years.

Among the most fascinating and insightful laws are those that apply specifically to capital crimes.

Many scholars claim that the concept of “majority rule” emanates from the legal practices of ancient Greece and Rome. Students of classical history know that the practice of majority rule in Greece consisted of citizen-gatherings in the ancient Agora together with their slaves and sheep, and that those who made the loudest noise prevailed by voice vote. This is hardly democracy-in-action or “majority rule” as we understand it today.

The Torah, however, articulated a principle of “majority rule” many hundreds of years before the Greeks and Romans. The Torah in Exodus 23:2 clearly states, לֹא תִהְיֶה אַחֲרֵי רַבִּים לְרָעֹת, וְלֹא תַעֲנֶה עַל רִב, לִנְטֹת אַחֲרֵי רַבִּים לְהַטֹּת , Do not be a follower of the majority for evil, and do not respond to a grievance by yielding to the majority to pervert the law. (The literal meaning of the second part of the verse is “follow the majority.”)

As we have often noted, the most important value in Judaism is the sanctity of human life. Therefore, the rabbis often perform all sorts of legal somersaults in order to preserve life.

In ancient Israel, capital crimes had to be adjudicated before tribunals of either 23 or 71 judges, and as expressed in the Torah verses, majority ruled. Thus, in a court consisting of 23 judges, if 12 judges voted to exonerate the defendant and 11 to convict, the defendant was exonerated. Similarly, in the large court of 71 judges, if 36 judges voted not guilty, and 35 voted guilty, the majority ruled and the defendant was found not guilty. In order to exonerate a defendant, all that was needed was a simple majority of one.

However, as Rashi, explains the verse as interpreted in the Talmud, one must not follow the majority to do evil. Consequently, Jewish law demands that a majority of 2 is required in order to convict, while a majority of only one is required to exonerate. Obviously, with an odd number of judges, a majority of 3 is needed. So, if 12 judges voted guilty and 11 voted innocent, or, in the large court, 36 voted guilty and 35 voted not guilty, the defendant could not be found guilty. A majority of 2 is required, or in reality, a majority of 3. The vote necessary to convict would have to be 13 to 10, or 37 to 34.

Another fascinating rule, apparently based on the above-mentioned verses that is found in the Talmud Sanhedrin 17a, is that if the entire court unanimously finds the defendant guilty, 23 to 0 or 71 to 0, the defendant cannot be found guilty. The lack of a single dissenting vote is seen as an indication that the judges did not take their juridical responsibility seriously. Rabbi Akiva said that had he been alive during the time that courts adjudicated capital cases, no one would ever have been convicted because he would have found a legal way for the defendants to be exonerated.

Another fascinating rule is that if a student sitting in court following the trial procedures, suggested a way to exonerate a defendant, that student was immediately elevated to become a member of the court, in order to possibly save the defendant’s life.

In court, the younger judges always expressed their opinions first, so that they would not be intimidated by the older judges, and be able to express their opinions freely.

There is no double jeopardy in Judaism. Therefore, if a defendant was pronounced guiltless and new evidence is presented indicating the defendant guilty, that new evidence is inadmissible, because the trial, once concluded, cannot be reopened. However, if a defendant was found guilty, new evidence to exonerate can always be introduced.

Rules of evidence in capital cases are extremely rigorous and complex. In order to convict a person of a capital crime, two “kosher” witnesses must warn the would-be perpetrator that the crime that he is about to commit is punishable by death, and specifically indicate what form the death penalty might take. Witnesses to capital crimes in Judaism need to be male, people of positive reputation, unrelated to the victim, defendant or the other witnesses and fully observant. Women are excluded from testimony in capital cases because the execution of those found guilty was generally performed by the witnesses, and the rabbis wished to spare women the trauma of having to execute a criminal. Thus, 50% of eligible witnesses were automatically eliminated, underscoring how greatly Judaism values life. Even if 100 witnesses testify to a crime, but among them were a father and son, all 100 witnesses are disqualified, because of the two relatives among them.

Not only must witnesses warn the perpetrator, and specify what the death penalty will be, the would-be perpetrator needs to immediately acknowledge the warning and the punishment. However, circumstantial evidence is not admissible. So for example, even though the witnesses saw the alleged perpetrator holding a knife over the heart of the victim, but because of a momentary distraction the witnesses did not actually see when the knife was plunged into the breast of the victim, but only saw the bloody weapon afterwards, the perpetrator could not be convicted, since the evidence is circumstantial.

The place of execution had to be at least a day’s journey from the courts, so that there would be time for new witnesses to arrive who may testify for exoneration.

According to some, a convicted capital offender could not be put to death, unless he willingly agreed to be executed. Some rabbis see the death penalty not as a punishment, but as a catharsis, a cleansing of the killer’s soul, allowing the convicted murderer to achieve a place in the World to Come.

These rules, which are all based on majority rule, shed profound meaning upon the value of the sanctity of life, which is at the core of every mitzvah and the basis of our Jewish faith.

May you be blessed.

Please Note: This Shabbat is Shabbat Parashat Shekalim. On this Shabbat, an additional Torah portion, known as Parashat Shekalim, is read. It is the first portion of four additional thematic Torah portions that are read on the Shabbatot that surround the holiday of Purim.

This week’s supplementary Torah reading is found in Exodus 30:11-16 and speaks of the requirement for all the men of Israel, aged 20 and above, to bring a half-shekel in order to be counted as a member of the People of Israel. In later years, these shekels were donated to the Temple in anticipation of the festival of Passover, when funding for the daily sacrifice had to be renewed.

Yitro 5777-2017 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/2017/02/13/yitro-5777-2017/ Mon, 13 Feb 2017 18:23:28 +0000 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/?p=10043 “The Earthen Altar: Reaching up to Heaven”


by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

At the very end of this week’s parasha, parashat Yitro, immediately following the Ten Commandments, the Torah provides a formula for human beings to reach up to heaven.

In Exodus 20:21 the Torah states, מִזְבַּח אֲדָמָה תַּעֲשֶׂה לִּי, וְזָבַחְתָּ עָלָיו אֶת עֹלֹתֶיךָ וְאֶת שְׁלָמֶיךָ אֶת צֹאנְךָ וְאֶת בְּקָרֶךָ , an altar of earth shall you make for Me and you shall slaughter upon it your elevation offerings and your peace offerings, your flock and your herd.

The מִזְבַּח אֲדָמָה , the Earthen Altar, is the only one of the Tabernacle vessels that is mentioned before the instructions are given to build the Tabernacle, that are found later on in parashat Terumah (Exodus 27:1-8). The Earthen Altar was located outside the Tabernacle itself, in the courtyard, and was used for offering animal sacrifices. A second, much-smaller, altar called the Golden Altar, מִזְבֵּחַ הַזָּהָב , was located inside the Tabernacle itself and was used for incense offerings that often accompanied the animal offerings.

Although the permanent altar in the Temple that Solomon built 486 years later in Jerusalem was constructed out of stones, the stones of Solomon’s Temple had to be cut in a natural way without using any metal implements. Legend has it that it was cut by a special worm, the שָׁמִיר Shamir.” The stones of the permanent altar thus paralleled the earth and sand of the Tabernacle’s Earthen Altar. So that the Earthen Altar of the Tabernacle could be moved from place to place, it was manufactured with a wooden frame covered with copper that was then filled with sand.

Rashi citing the Talmud in Zevachim 58a, states that the altar in the Tabernacle had to be positioned directly on the ground, not on a platform or on stilts, so that it would be directly connected to the earth.

The Da’at Sofrim points out that the description of the altar as an “Earthen Altar” and the fact that it was made out of earth, underscores the humility of the spiritual service that is required of the human being. The altar’s primary ingredient–-earth, is also intended to serve as an extension of the prohibition of making idols or worshiping all forms of gold or silver.

Thus, this highest level of service, the sacrifices offered to G-d Himself, while bringing the human being closer to the Al-mighty, demands the greatest possible simplicity. To that end, the altar of choice is one of earth and dust. The only reason that the structure is covered with copper is to allow it to be transported and to serve as a vessel to contain the earth. The copper is only a shell, the essence of the altar is the earth and the dust, from which humans themselves were formed (Genesis 2:7).

Da’at Sofrim adds another dimension to the meaning of the Earthen Altar. As stated in the Ten Commandments and in the words following the Ten Commandments, Jews are prohibited from making images, any form of the likeness of the sun or moon, or anything that is in the heavens or seas. Jews, G-d says according to Rabbi Hirsch, are not to bring heavenly things down to earth, “but [are] to elevate all earthly things up to Me…The altar that you build up to Me should represent the earth raised up to G-d by men’s deeds and men’s actions.”

Here we see how Judaism departs profoundly from Christianity. Judaism tries to elevate the human being up to G-d. Christianity tries to bring G-d down to the human being. This is reflected in the idea of the “Son of G-d,” the many icons and idols that are found in Catholic houses of worship. The early Christian church purposely incorporated many pagan ideas, in order to make the pagans feel more at home in their new spiritual setting.

The Earthen Altar is meant to serve as a paradigm to teach that it is only through genuine modesty that Jews become more spiritual and are drawn closer to G-d. It is not through pageantry, pomposity or the display of much gold and silver that spiritual relationships are formed. It is rather through simplicity, through the natural elements of earth and dust that have not been defiled by metal.

The Earthen Altar is intended to remind us that it is through the dust from which we were formed, that we establish sincere spiritual relationships–-not by bringing heaven down to earth, but by bringing earth up to heaven.

May you be blessed.


B’shalach 5777-2017 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/2017/02/10/bshalach/ Fri, 10 Feb 2017 18:37:34 +0000 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/?p=10037 “Miriam Leads the Women in Song”

This week’s parasha, parashat B’shalach, is known as the parasha of the “Shira,” the Torah portion that includes the song that Moses sang after the Israelites triumphantly crossed through the Sea of Reeds (for interpretations of the actual song, see B’Shalach 5774-2014).

Although Moses’ sister Miriam also led the women in song, the Torah, in Exodus 15 devotes only two verses to her song, while the song that Moses sang with the people of Israel extends through 19 verses.

In Exodus 15:20-21, the Torah describes Miriam leading the women: וַתִּקַּח מִרְיָם הַנְּבִיאָה אֲחוֹת אַהֲרֹן, אֶת הַתֹּף בְּיָדָהּ, וַתֵּצֶאןָ כָל הַנָּשִׁים אַחֲרֶיהָ בְּתֻפִּים וּבִמְחֹלֹת. וַתַּעַן לָהֶם מִרְיָם, שִׁירוּ לַהשׁם כִּי גָאֹה גָּאָה, סוּס וְרֹכְבוֹ רָמָה בַיָּם , Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took her drum in her hand and all the women went forth after her with drums and with dances. And Miriam responded to them (saying), “Sing to the L-rd, for He is exalted above the arrogant, having hurled horse with its rider into the sea.”

Eliyahu Kitov in his comments on parashat B’shalach found in his Sefer Haparashiot, provides a succinct, but penetrating, analysis of the episode of Miriam leading the people in song.

Rabbi Kitov notes that, for the first and only time, Miriam is called a נְּבִיאָה“N’vee’ah,” Miriam the prophetess. Miriam, in fact, is one of the seven female prophetesses recognized in Jewish tradition (Megillah 14a). They include: Sarah, Miriam, Hannah, Deborah, Huldah, Abigail and Esther (there were 48 male prophets).

The prophecy that qualified Miriam to be recognized as a prophetess is recorded in the Talmud, in Sotah 13a, which states, that as a child, Miriam told her father, Amram, that he would have a child who would rise up and save Israel from the hands of the Egyptians.

The scriptural text, which is normally very brief, goes out of its way to describe Miriam as “Miriam the sister of Aaron,” but fails to mention that she is also the sister of Moses. The commentators explain that Moses is not mentioned, because at the time of Miriam’s prophecy, Moses was not yet born. However, now that Moses has joyously declared in his song that “G-d has redeemed Israel,” confirming the fulfillment of little Miriam’s prophetic words, it is now finally appropriate for Miriam to be recognized as “Miriam the prophetess.”

Also, since both Moses and Miriam had already been singled out in scripture by name, the Torah now specifically describes Miriam as the sister of Aaron, to include him as well.

Scripture states that Miriam took the תֹּף –“tohf,” the drum, in her hand. From this statement the rabbis learn that the virtuous and righteous women, despite the rigors of persecution and slavery that they endured, had absolute faith that there would be a redemption from Egypt. Since they readily acknowledged that G-d had performed all the miracles for them, they prepared themselves for the redemption by taking out drums with them from Egypt. The men, who did not have the intense faith of the women, did not bring musical instruments with them.

Even though scripture states, וַתֵּצֶאןָ כָל הַנָּשִׁים , that all the women went out to follow Miriam with drums and with dances, apparently, only those who were spiritually elevated followed Miriam. That is why the word, וַתֵּצֶאןָ is written without the Hebrew letter ה –“Hay,” indicating that not all of the women went with Miriam.

When the Torah states, וַתַּעַן לָהֶם מִרְיָם , that Miriam “responded to them,” the commentators note another grammatical anomaly. The verse uses the masculine term, לָהֶם , to them. There are those who suggest that the masculine form is used because the women actually responded to the men–-to Moses and to the 600,000 males who were gathered with him. Others say that the women sang for the (male) angels. The Midrash reports that the angels petitioned the Al-mighty saying, “Now that the men have sung, allow us to sing before the women.” Miriam, however, preempted the angels by immediately singing with the women.

A third interpretation suggests that when the women sang, they sang with an excess of strength like the men. Hence, the masculine form.

Although only a single brief line of the song that the women sang is mentioned in the Torah text, several commentators contend that the women sang the entire song that Moses and the men of Israel had sung.

The Chatam Sofer writes that the men of Israel sang only after their belief in Moses was fully confirmed. It was only after witnessing the many miracles and the plagues, that the men gained belief in G-d and in Moses, His servant. That is why, when Moses disappeared for a while, the Israelite men immediately began worshiping the Golden Calf, since to them, Moses and his miracles were irreplaceable.

The women, however, sang together with Miriam even though Miriam had never publically performed any miracles, because the women’s faith in G-d was not dependent upon a human being or G-d’s emissary. Contrary to the men, the women always maintained their faithfulness, and did not stray, even with the Golden Calf. They said: “If there is no Moses, there will be other prophets.”

Of course, one of the main issues with this celebrated episode is the question of women singing. After all, the Talmud in Kiddushin 70a declares, קוֹל בְּאִשָּׁה עֶרְוָהKohl B’isha ehr’vah,” a woman’s voice is immodest. Many commentators note that the Torah specifically says, וַתַּעַן , that Miriam responded to the men, and that the Torah text never actually states that Miriam sang.

Perhaps, rather than singing, the women proclaimed or read their lines. Others say that the sound of the men’s voices overwhelmed the women’s voices, making it impossible to hear the women sing. There is even an opinion in Jewish law that says that two simultaneous voices cannot be distinguished or heard, and therefore, as long as more than one person is singing, it is not a violation of modesty, even if both of those singing are female, since the individual voices cannot really be heard.

The May’am Lo’ez suggests that the musical instruments that the women had with them drowned out the women’s voices. The Chidah (Rabbi Chaim David Joseph Azulai, 1724-1806, great religious scholar in Israel and Europe) is of the opinion that all this happened with Divine approval. In this instance, the men and women both sang together, and the men actually heard the women. However, since the Divine Presence rested on them, there was no prohibition at this particular time for the men to hear the women singing.

The debate regarding whether there was mixed singing or not will continue to rage. But, there is no debate that the spiritual intensity of the women was far greater than that of the men, and that is why our sages boldly declare, (Yalkut Shimoni Psalms 68) that, “in the merit of the righteous women, our ancestors were saved from Egypt.”

May you be blessed.

Shabbat Shira & Tu B’shevat

In this week’s parasha, parashat B’shalach, we encounter the Shira, the song, namely the historic song that Moses and the People of Israel sang as they crossed the Red (Reed) Sea. Because this song plays a central role in Jewish history and Jewish life, the Shabbat on which it is read is called Shabbat Shira, the Sabbath of Song.

On Friday night and Saturday, February 10th and 11th, we celebrate Tu B’Shevat, the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, the New Year for trees. In Israel it symbolizes the beginning of Spring. On Tu B’Shevat it is customary for Jews to eat species of fruit that grow in the land of Israel.


Bo 5777-2017 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/2017/02/03/bo-5777-2017/ Fri, 03 Feb 2017 18:59:42 +0000 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/?p=10040 “And the People Bowed their Heads and Prostrated Themselves”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

Chapter 12 of Exodus, that is found in this week’s parasha, parashat Bo, plays a crucial role in Jewish history and in the evolution of the 613 commandments. It records the first Mitzvah/commandment that G-d gave to the Jewish people as a people, rather than to individual Jews (e.g. circumcision)–the Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh, the Jewish community’s monthly celebration of the new moon.

Aside from the law of the new moon, the first 28 verses of Exodus 12 include other important precepts–the laws of the Pascal offering, details regarding the rituals of the seder as it was observed in Egypt and several additional laws that pertain to the Passover holiday. These laws play a crucial role in preparing the nation for liberation from Egypt, making the people ready for the historic redemption that would be celebrated and commemorated forever by the Jewish people.

So important are these mitzvot, that the Torah interrupts the preceding narrative of the ten plagues to present these Mitzvot immediately before the final plague of the Death of the Firstborn is visited upon the Egyptians that result in the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt (Exodus 12:29-36).

After describing the Pascal offering and the personal preparations that the Israelites are to make in their homes, (smearing their doorposts with blood, etc.) the Torah predicts that the Jewish children will ask questions about the seemingly strange rituals of Passover. The Torah, in Exodus 12:26, declares: ?וְהָיָה כִּי יֹאמְרוּ אֲלֵיכֶם בְּנֵיכֶם: מָה הָעֲבֹדָה הַזֹּאת לָכֶם , And it shall come to pass that when your children say to you, “What does this service mean to you?” The Torah advises the parents to respond that the Pascal feast is offered to G-d, to recall that the Al-mighty passed over the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt, when He smote the Egyptians, but He saved the Jewish households.

So deeply affected were the people upon hearing these instructions and commandments, that the Torah states: Exodus 12:27, וַיִּקֹּד הָעָם, וַיִּשְׁתַּחֲווּ , And the people bowed their heads and prostrated themselves.

The Torah then reports (Exodus 12:28) that the Children of Israel went and did all that G-d commanded Moses and Aaron.

Rashi states that the people bowed their heads in gratitude for three things that they had just heard: the thrill of learning that they would be freed (Exodus 12:26), that they would be given the land of Israel (Exodus 12:25) and that they would be blessed with many generations of children (Exodus 12:26).

The Da’at Sofrim addresses the fact that the people of Israel made an unusual point of bowing at this point. He explains, that, previously, in Exodus 4:31, Moses had gathered all the elders of Israel to call the people together, so that he could transmit the words of G-d to them and the commandments that they received. At that point too, the Torah describes the people as bowing in acknowledgment of the “gift” of the newly received laws. Similarly, says the Da’at Sofrim, now, when they received the information regarding the redemption, they bowed as well.

The ArtScroll commentary suggests that the Jews bowed in gratitude because of the news they received that they would have children, despite the fact that the particular child described in Exodus 12 would become known as the רָשָׁע –“Rasha,” the wicked, or prodigal child in the Hagaddah.

While all children are challenging at times, some are more challenging than others. Nevertheless, all children must be seen as a source of blessing. Child-rearing, as challenging as it may be, is to be seen as a sacred opportunity for parents to mold, direct and educate their children to proper behavior and proper values, turning them from rebellion to cooperation.

Perhaps another reason that the “Rasha,” the prodigal child, is mentioned here, is because a rebellious child often does not feel or identify with the miracles of Jewish history, and is often indifferent to Jewish perpetuity. It is important to help every child connect, especially through the study of Jewish history, so that the feelings of Jewish destiny run through every Jewish child’s veins. That is indeed a challenge, even for the most gifted and devoted parent.

Why is the chapter structured to appear as if the people are bowing down when they hear the questions and answers of the prodigal child? For as long as the rebellious child is still talking, there is always hope that the child will one day connect.

This is a profound message for all parents, and is particularly important to Jewish parents.
May you be blessed.


Va’eira 5777-2017 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/2017/01/23/vaeira-5777-2017/ Mon, 23 Jan 2017 15:54:07 +0000 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/?p=10026 “The Dangers of Self Delusion”

by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Va’eira, we read of the first seven plagues that the Al-mighty visited upon the Egyptians in Egypt.

The Torah reports that when the first plague of blood struck the Nile, all the fish and all life in the river died, and the Nile became foul. Despite the fact that there was blood throughout the land of Egypt and there was no water to drink, Pharaoh hardened his heart, especially after the Egyptian magicians were able to replicate the plague by turning water into blood.

The Al-mighty then instructed Moses to warn Pharaoh that if he refuses to let the Israelites leave Egypt, the entire land will be struck by a plague of frogs. And so it was. After the plague struck, the entire land of Egypt was covered with frogs. This time as well, the Egyptian magicians were able to replicate the plague and brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt.

In desperation, Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and begged them to remove the frogs from him and his people. Pharaoh even agreed to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt so they could send offerings to their G-d. Taking Pharaoh at his word, Moses then cried out to the Al-mighty and all the frogs quickly died, they were piled up into heaps, and the entire land of Egypt stank.

In Exodus 8:11, the Torah records Pharaoh’s reaction, וַיַּרְא פַּרְעֹה כִּי הָיְתָה הָרְוָחָה, וְהַכְבֵּד אֶת לִבּוֹ, וְלֹא שָׁמַע אֲלֵהֶם, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר השׁם, But when Pharaoh saw that there was a relief, he hardened his heart, and did not heed them, as G-d had predicted.

The Da’at Sofrim insightfully notes that there is a natural tendency for people who are rooted in evil to feel greater sensitivity for their bodies than they do for their minds and hearts. As long as the plague caused pain to his body, Pharaoh agreed to comply. But, as soon as the pressure ceased, Pharaoh returned to his evil ways, and looked back upon his earlier decision to cooperate as impetuous and premature.

The Yalkut May’am Lo’ez points out that it is quite understandable that Pharaoh hardened his heart once the plagues ended, especially if there were no lingering signs of the plagues and no negative after effects. However, in this instance, the entire land of Egypt was filled with dead frogs, resulting in a noxious stench that made life in Egypt unbearable. And yet, Pharaoh continued to harden his heart.

These patterns repeated themselves. Whenever Pharaoh actually felt the pain of the plagues, he ran to Moses and begged for him to pray to his G-d for relief. But, as soon as relief arrived, he reverted back to his own stubborn self, refusing to acknowledge that G-d will likely bring other plagues. Although Pharaoh experienced relief for only a short time, he did not seem to care.

The Midrash Rabba (Exodus 8:11) describes this behavior as the “way of the wicked.” As soon as circumstances change and things become tolerable, the wicked forget about the Al-mighty and reject accountability for their deeds, reverting back to their old, wicked ways.

Unfortunately, it is not only the wicked who behave this way. So-called, “good people” do as well. How often do good people cry out to G-d when they suffer pain or loss, or when things do not go the way they had hoped they would go? But, too frequently, even good people take their blessings for granted, forgetting to acknowledge all the good and blessing, that has been their lot.

At the Passover Seder, three important elements of the Passover experience are featured: פֶּסַח–“Pesach”, מַצָּה–“Matzah” and מָרוֹר–“Maror.” Pesach represents the Paschal sacrifice that was brought by the people of Israel in Egypt before the redemption. Matzah underscores the speed with which the salvation took place. And Maror, of course, recalls the bitter persecution and enslavement.

Perhaps the author of the Haggadah should have put Maror first, since it was the bitterness of enslavement that was experienced first. On the other hand, perhaps the author of the Haggadah was trying to remind future generations how critically important it is for people to always keep in mind the Maror, the suffering, so that they would better appreciate the liberation and the good times. Particularly, those who have been liberated and freed from challenging circumstances must acknowledge that Jewish destiny depends upon their own future actions. All must thank G-d not only for what they have received in the past, but, hopefully, for what they will yet receive in the future, due to the goodness of G-d and His compassion.

We dare not delude ourselves like Pharaoh, and think that because we experience a brief respite from pain, we will no longer be held accountable. Even good people cannot revert back to their sinful ways, without paying a price.

Consequently, it is important for all to appreciate the respites, and regard them as true gifts from G-d, without allowing themselves into being deluded into thinking that because the pain was temporarily relieved, all is good, and all will continue to be good.

All will be good — if we make certain to earn it and deserve it!

May you be blessed.

Shemot 5777-2017 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/2017/01/16/shemot-5777-2017/ Mon, 16 Jan 2017 16:41:04 +0000 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/?p=10023 “From Whence Shall Come My Salvation?”

by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat Shemot, is the opening portion of the book of Exodus, also known as Sefer Shemot, the second of the five books of the Torah. The book of Shemot concerns the period of time during which the twelve tribes of Israel are transformed into a single nation through the common experiences of enslavement in Egypt, the exodus from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea.

Parashat Shemot opens with the birth of Moses who is saved from the Nile River by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as a prince in Pharaoh’s palace. Despite being raised as Egyptian nobility, young Moses sees the Israelites as his brothers. (Shemot 5763-2002).

When Moses encounters an Egyptian smiting a Jew, and no one comes to the Jew’s aid, Moses kills the Egyptian and buries his body in the sand. The very next day, when Moses goes out, he sees two Jews fighting with each other. According to the Midrash Rabba (Exodus 1:28), one of the two men fighting is the very same person who was being beaten by the Egyptian, and whose life Moses had saved. When Moses tried to stop the aggressor, he cries out (Exodus 2:14): “Who appointed you as an authority, a ruler, and a judge over us? Do you propose to murder me, as you murdered the Egyptian?”

Once Moses’ deed became public, Pharaoh sought to kill Moses. The young prince fled to the land of Midian where he sat by the well waiting for the local people to arrive. Soon Moses was again confronted with injustice and felt compelled to intervene.

When Moses saw the shepherds of Midian harassing Jethro’s daughters, not allowing them to water their father’s sheep, he chased the shepherds away and personally watered Jethro’s sheep himself.

Surprised to see his daughters arrive home early, they explained to Jethro,(Exodus 2:19), אִישׁ מִצְרִי הִצִּילָנוּ מִיַּד הָרֹעִים, וְגַם דָּלֹה דָלָה לָנוּ, וַיַּשְׁקְ אֶת הַצֹּאן , thatan Egyptian man saved them from the shepherds, and he even drew water for us, and watered the sheep.

The fact that Moses is identified by the daughters of Jethro as an Egyptian, is not looked upon favorably by the commentators. After all, in Genesis 39:14, when Joseph rejected the advances of Mrs. Potiphar, she clearly identifies Joseph to the servants of Potiphar as a Jew who is mocking them, indicating that Joseph did not hide his origins and publicly identified as a Jew in Egypt. Moses, however, apparently allowed others to think he was an Egyptian and did not correct them. Because of this, says the Midrash, Joseph merited to be buried in the Holy Land, whereas Moses was buried in the Wilderness of Moab.

The Midrash Rabba, Exodus 1:32, raises concerns regarding the verse in Exodus 2:19, “and they [the daughters of Jethro] said that an Egyptian man saved us from the shepherds.” The Midrash asks, “Is Moses an Egyptian? Clearly, he is a Hebrew!” The Midrash then explains, that Moses is referred to as an Egyptian, only because his clothes were Egyptian.

The Midrash also offers an alternate explanation: The term אִישׁ מִצְרִי –“Ish Mitzri” (an Egyptian man), can be compared to a person who is stung by a viper and runs to the water to place his feet in the water to wash off the poison. At the river, he sees a child drowning and saves him. Says the child to his rescuer, “Were it not for you I would already be dead.” He responds, “I did not save you, the viper that stung me, from whom I fled, he saved you!”

When the daughters of Jethro congratulated Moses for saving them from the hands of the shepherds, Moses responded, “It was not I. It was the Egyptian man whom I killed who saved you!” That is why the daughters said to their father, “Ish Mitzri” an Egyptian man, meaning: The only reason Moses wound up coming all the way to Midian and wound up near Jethro was because of the Egyptian man whom he killed!

Very often in life, we find salvation, or an inordinate amount of good, coming from the most unforeseen and unexpected sources. The well-known Jewish writer, Rabbi Hanoch Teller, tells of a truly generous and righteous person who volunteered to donate a kidney to a total stranger. When preparing for the removal of his kidney, the doctors found a cancerous growth that they removed, saving his life.

How often do we hear of Holocaust survivors, who survived against all odds, and went on to achieve great success in business and in life, in no small measure, due to the fortitude and resourcefulness they had developed in times of adversity?

Many of us never realize or acknowledge the role that the “Egyptian man” plays in each of our lives, the hardships, and challenges, the struggles that strengthen our inner core, bequeathing us the power to succeed and prevail.
That is why it is so important to view each of life’s challenges, as opportunities to strengthen ourselves, to develop new talents and new approaches to future obstacles we will inevitably encounter. Sometimes this is achieved by working with the challenges, rather than succumbing to them in frustration.

Many of life’s experiences can be resolved through greater diligence and personal growth. We all need to identify our own “Egyptian man,” to see our challenges, not as roadblocks, but as fresh opportunities and blessings, that will undoubtedly result in ever-greater accomplishments.

May you be blessed.