Rabbi Buchwald's Weekly Torah Message http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org Just another WordPress site Mon, 27 Feb 2017 17:18:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.6.3 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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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Vayechi 5777-2017 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/2017/01/08/vayechi-5777-2017/ Sun, 08 Jan 2017 16:21:04 +0000 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/?p=10013 “The Passing of the Last of the Patriarchs”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat Vayechi, is the final parasha of the book of Genesis. In this parasha, Jacob, the last of the patriarchs, passes away and the era of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs comes to an end.

The Torah notes that Jacob lived to age 147, 33 fewer years than his father, Isaac, who passed away at age 180. Some commentators attribute his shortened life to the fact that Jacob, upon first meeting Pharaoh (Genesis 47:8-9), somewhat selfishly complained about the suffering that he had endured throughout his life, failing to acknowledge the good that he had experienced. Others say that Jacob’s “premature” death is attributable to the fact that he had causelessly cursed Rachel, saying to Laban, Genesis 31:32, “With whomever you find your god, he shall not live.” As a result, Jacob’s own years were diminished by 33, the numerical value of the Hebrew word, יִחְיֶה–“yich’yeh,” to live.

In Genesis 48:1, the Torah reports, וַיְהִי אַחֲרֵי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, וַיֹּאמֶר לְיוֹסֵף, הִנֵּה אָבִיךָ חֹלֶה; וַיִּקַּח אֶת שְׁנֵי בָנָיו עִמּוֹ, אֶת מְנַשֶּׁה וְאֶת אֶפְרָיִם, and it came to pass after these things that it was said to Joseph, “Behold! Your father is ill.” So Joseph took his two sons, Ephraim and Menashe with him, to visit his ailing father.

The Oznaim L’Torah notes that the Torah’s introduction, “And it came to pass after these things,” indicates that Jacob took ill only after he had arranged to be buried in the land of Israel. The Midrash HaGadol explains that Jacob had been deeply concerned about coming to Egypt, lest his children fail to acknowledge the centrality of the Promised Land. He was fearful that his children would become too comfortable in Egypt and would assimilate among the Egyptian population, and that he himself would die and be buried in Egypt.

Despite the fact that in Genesis 46:4 G-d Himself assured Jacob that He would personally bring Jacob up from Egypt, and that his son, Joseph will place his hands over his eyes, Jacob was still concerned about going to Egypt. It was only after Joseph took an oath that he would bury his father in Canaan, that Jacob felt fully confident that the promise would be properly carried out, and that his children would eventually return to Canaan.

The commentators maintain that the language of the verse, which states “that it was said to Joseph, ‘Behold your father is ill,’” indicates strongly that Joseph was not in regular contact with his father and was not frequently present at his old father’s bedside. Some attribute this to the long estrangement between Joseph and Jacob. Others argue that, to the contrary, it underscores Joseph’s righteousness. Joseph, they claim, was afraid to be with his father, lest Jacob ask him about the details of his sale, forcing him to speak ill of his brothers, and causing his father additional grief. By keeping his distance, there was far less likelihood that Jacob would interrogate him about that embarrassing chapter of his life.

The Midrash suggests that it was Joseph’s son, Ephraim, who informed Joseph of Jacob’s illness. Apparently, Ephraim frequently studied with Jacob and it was he who broke the news to his father that his grandfather was ill.

It is fascinating to note that until this point, there is no mention in scriptures of illness. Now, for the first time, the Torah records, “Behold, your father is ill.”

The Talmud, in Baba Metziah 87a, claims that until the time of Jacob, there was no illness. The Midrash states that normally, a person would simply sneeze and die. Jacob, however, asked for Divine mercy, arguing with the Al-mighty that it is not appropriate for a person to die suddenly. He beseeched G-d to give him time and an opportunity to repent, to prepare a last will and testament for his household. The Al-mighty acceded to his prayers. Thus Jacob became the first man to die of illness, and was given the opportunity to speak with his children to share with them one last lesson. It is for this reason that when one sneezes, it is customary to say: “to life” or “to health,” since sneezing was once a moment of great mortal danger.

Rabbi Ch. Karlini, cited in Iturei Torah, questions whether Jacob was indeed the first to experience illness. Rabbi Karlini points to Genesis 18:1, and G-d’s visit Abram, whom Rashi maintains came to visit Abram who was ill, recovering from his painful circumcision. If that is so, how can the commentators possibly claim that Jacob was the first person to experience illness?

The Tosefot, in Baba Batra 16b, states that Abram wore a precious stone around his neck that would heal people who were ill. Others point out that Abram was not sick, rather he was wounded. Whereas Jacob was the first person to experience illness and to die as a result.

There have been many discussions and debates regarding the merits of sudden death, compared to long, drawn out illnesses that result in death. The Midrash relates that Moses was jealous of his brother, Aaron, and when he saw that Aaron expired with a kiss of G-d, he longed to die in the same pleasant manner as his brother.

Jacob’s plea to G-d seems to indicate that it is better to know that life is coming to an end, to have time to prepare one’s papers, to put life’s issues in order, and to say farewell to one’s loved ones. In addition, there may also be merit to the fact that suffering experienced in this world, will result in less suffering endured in the World to Come.

In the final analysis, we must acknowledge that everything that G-d does is always for His children’s benefit. Whether one experiences a sudden, unexpected, death or a long, lingering demise with much suffering, the fate of G-d’s creatures is always in His hands.

May you be blessed.

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Vayigash 5777-2017 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/2016/12/31/vayigash-5777-2017/ Sat, 31 Dec 2016 23:08:04 +0000 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/?p=10007 “Ish”)stood with Joseph when he revealed himself to his brothers?]]> “No ‘Man’ was with Joseph”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Vayigash, the extraordinary story of Joseph and his brothers reaches its dramatic conclusion as Joseph reveals himself to his brethren.

As we have noted previously (Vayigash 5761-2001), Joseph is finally convinced that his brothers are completely remorseful for what they had done to him. When Judah selflessly offers himself to serve as a slave to Joseph and Pharaoh, in place of Benjamin, Joseph is finally convinced that his brothers are truly penitent.

Maimonides in his Laws of Teshuva 2:1, states that true Teshuva (repentance) can be confirmed only when a sinner is confronted with the same temptation or the same sin, and remains firm, resisting the temptation to sin. By refusing to abandon Benjamin, the brothers confirm that their Teshuva is wholehearted.

Remembering what Joseph was like in his youth, and their intense hatred for him, Joseph’s brothers could have easily concluded that Benjamin too was a rotten child like his older sibling. There was good reason, and more than sufficient evidence, to believe that Benjamin was guilty of stealing Joseph’s chalice. After all, negative traits run in families. Despite their abiding resentment for Joseph and the turmoil that he had created in their family, Joseph’s brothers stood up for their little brother Benjamin, refusing to leave him behind in Egypt, even though that would have been the easy thing to do. Their commitment to Benjamin was the true sign of Teshuvah.

In Genesis 45:1, Scripture describes the dramatic moment when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, וְלֹא יָכֹל יוֹסֵף לְהִתְאַפֵּק לְכֹל הַנִּצָּבִים עָלָיו, וַיִּקְרָא, הוֹצִיאוּ כָל אִישׁ מֵעָלָי, וְלֹא עָמַד אִישׁ אִתּוֹ בְּהִתְוַדַּע יוֹסֵף אֶל אֶחָיו, Now Joseph could no longer restrain himself in front of all those who attended to him.  He called out: “Make every man go out from me!” And no man remained with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.

The Abarbanel points out that on two previous occasions, Joseph had actually restrained himself and left the room to weep privately (See Genesis 42:24 and 43:30).  Apparently, now that he was surrounded by so many attendants, because of their presence he could not restrain himself, and ordered that the room be cleared.

Joseph demands that כָל אִישׁ, every man, leave the room. Scripture then says, וְלֹא עָמַד אִישׁ אִתּוֹ, and no man stood with him when he made himself known to his brothers.

One would have expected Joseph to demand that all “Egyptians” who were present leave the room. Instead, Joseph insists that, כָל אִישׁ, every man, leave the room.  Joseph’s brothers, who are also men, remain in the room.

The word “Ish” in scriptures often has a very definite meaning. “Ish” generally implies a person of significant stature and importance, one whose actions could change destiny. So, for instance, when Joseph was wandering in Shechem looking for his brothers, Torah records (Genesis 37:15) וַיִּמְצָאֵהוּ אִישׁ, a man finds him and asks him, “What are you looking for?”  The rabbis say that this “man” was the angel Gabriel, who sends Joseph to Dotan, so that Jewish destiny would continue to play out.

When Moses sees an Egyptian man trying to kill a Jewish slave by striking him, Scripture (Exodus 2:12) states that Moses turned this way and that, וַיַּרְא כִּי אֵין אִישׁ, and he saw that there was no man. Our rabbis say that Moses saw that there was no person of stature who was prepared to stand up to protect the Jew.  Therefore, Moses himself intervened.

Similarly, Mordechai, Esther’s uncle, is referred to (Esther 2:5) as אִישׁ יְהוּדִי הָיָה בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה, there was a “man” of great stature, whose name was Mordechai, who lived in the capital city of Shushan.

When Joseph declares, הוֹצִיאוּ כָל אִישׁ מֵעָלָי, remove every man from me, scripture testifies, וְלֹא עָמַד אִישׁ אִתּוֹ בְּהִתְוַדַּע יוֹסֵף אֶל אֶחָיו, that no man stood with him when he revealed himself to his brothers. That “no man stood with Joseph” must mean more than that there were no other people with him. It could very well mean that until this point, Joseph was not really himself and not in control.  Rather, Joseph was being dominated by an “Ish,” an alien spirit.  Apparently, a vengeful spirit took control of Joseph, overwhelming the natural loving and forgiving spirit of Joseph.

The Talmud (Chagiga 15A) recalls the great sage Elisha ben Abuya, who became a heretic, and, after he was ex-communicated, was known as אַחֵר“Acher,” the other one.  When his loving student, Rabbi Meir, told him to return, Elisha ben Abuya said, “I heard a heavenly voice declare that the gates of penitence are open for all חוּץ מֵאַחֵר–‘chutz may’acher,’ with the exception of Acher, ‘the other one.’”

The rabbis ask if it is possible that a human being can be denied repentance? They explain, that as long as Elisha ben Abuya allowed Acher, the other spirit, the negative and heretical spirit, to dominate his being, he could not repent.  But if he would allow himself to return to being Elisha ben Abuya, rather than Acher, he could certainly repent.

It was only after Joseph returned to being Joseph, the kind, righteous Joseph, rather than the vengeful and angry Joseph, that he was able to reveal himself.

Joseph’s transformation, was a defining moment not only in Joseph’s life, but for all of Jewish history and Jewish destiny.  Once the “Ish,” the negative personality of Joseph, was extirpated, removed and banished, kindness and forgiveness was allowed to dominate, and the family of Jacob once again became whole.

May you be blessed.

Please note: The fast of the 10th of Tevet will be observed this Sunday, January 8th, 2017 from dawn to nightfall. It commemorates the start of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, which led to the ultimate destruction of the Temple on the 9th of Av.

Have a meaningful fast.

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Mikeitz/Chanukah 5777-2016 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/2016/12/25/mikeitzchanukah-5777-2016/ Sun, 25 Dec 2016 03:34:44 +0000 http://rabbibuchwald.njop.org/?p=9998 “Pharaoh Was Agitated”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Mikeitz, Pharaoh dreams two well-known dreams, the dream of seven fat cows that emerge from the Nile River and are eaten by seven emaciated cows, and the dream of the seven fat stalks of wheat that are devoured by seven thin stalks. The Torah reports, in Genesis 41:7, וַיִּיקַץ פַּרְעֹה, וְהִנֵּה חֲלוֹם, and Pharaoh awoke and behold it had been a dream.

Most people have dreams. Some dreams are so compelling that the dreamer cannot fall back to sleep, either because the dreams are so exciting or because they are so frightening. Concerning the dreams of Pharaoh, the Torah notes, in Genesis 41:8, וַיְהִי בַבֹּקֶר, וַתִּפָּעֶם רוּחוֹ, and it was in the morning and Pharaoh’s spirit was agitated, so he sent and summoned for the wizards of Egypt and all its wise men.

Although Pharaoh related the dreams to his advisors, none could interpret them for him. Rashi maintains that there were indeed many interpretations, but Pharaoh did not find any of them satisfactory. Some interpreters told Pharaoh that he would have seven daughters who would die; Pharaoh refused to accept this interpretation.

There are commentators who maintain that dreamers often learn the meaning of their dream in their dream, but when they awaken they cannot recall the meaning. However, when they later hear the interpretation, they recognized it as the proper interpretation. This explains why Pharaoh would not accept the interpretations of the wise men.

Rabbi Shimon Schwab asks, why should Pharaoh find a dream to be so disconcerting, “certainly Pharaoh knew that most dreams are mere fantasy and the stuff of daytime musings.”

Rabbi Schwab explains that Pharaoh, like many monarchs, believed in resolving all disputes using might. The strong and numerous win out over the weak and the few. Pharaoh was certain that his subjects would not rise up against him because he was, by nature, always bold and confident. After all, he was Pharaoh.

These dreams, however, were different, representing a major departure from normative Egyptian elitist thinking. Emaciated cows cannot eat fat cows, and withered stalks cannot consume full, fat ones. Something is terribly amiss!

That is why the Torah states, וַתִּפָּעֶם רוּחוֹ, Pharaoh was not only agitated, he was consumed by anxiety that such thoughts, even in the form of dreams, would ever cross his mind. He understood that the message of the dream must be coming from an external, rather than an internal source. Maybe the gods were communicating with him, warning him of an impending successful rebellion. Despite the fact that the rebels were weak, and small in number, this time they would overwhelm the strong majority. This is why Pharaoh convened a meeting of his wise men and advisors. This was not an ordinary dream that an Egyptian Pharaoh dreams.

Writing on TorahMiTzion.org, Rabbi Assi Gastfreund of St. Louis, suggests that non-believers, who believe in the ultimate power of strength, could not ever accept the defeat of the mighty at the hands of the weak. However, people of faith could actually believe that, under certain circumstances, G-d could cause the defeat of the mighty at the hands of the weak and the many at the hands of the few.

The source of Pharaoh’s agitation is directly related to the story of Chanukah, where the few defeat the many and the weak defeat the powerful. Pharaoh is terribly agitated by the possibility that the power of Egypt was not absolute, and that the might of Pharaoh had been diminished, implying that he could somehow be defeated.

A committed Jew, on the other hand, is filled with confidence. Such a Jew recognizes that even the laws of history and the rules of nature do not apply to one who is committed to G-d and protected by the Al-mighty.

How futile are those who declare (Deuteronomy 8:17), כֹּחִי וְעֹצֶם יָדִי, עָשָׂה לִי אֶת הַחַיִל הַזֶּה, My power and the might of my hand has brought me this great success. The annals of history are littered with victims who subscribed to this terribly mistaken belief, including Jews and Jewish leaders who adopted this false philosophy.

As we light our Chanukah candles, increasing the number of lights every night, we pray that this beautiful ritual serves as a confirmation of our faith in the Al-mighty, and in His protective presence that watches over His people and keeps them strong.

As opposed to Pharaoh, an “agitated” Jew is not one who is concerned with power or might. An agitated Jew is one who strives, through faith and good works, to become worthy of G-d’s protection.

May you be blessed.

The festival of Chanukah began on Saturday night, December 24th, 2016 and continues through Sunday night, January 1st, 2017.

Wishing all a happy conclusion of the Chanukah festival.

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