Parshas VaEra 5759

(24 Kislev 5759)



“Therefore, say to B’nei Yisroel, I am Hashem who will take you out from the burdens (seev’los Mitzrayim) of Egyptian slavery. . .” (Shemos 6:6)

Rashi tells us that the burdens (seev’los) refer to the misery of Egyptian servitude, the production and hauling of bricks etc. But the word sovel can also mean to bear, or to patiently put up with something. According to this definition, seev’los Mitzrayim could mean that Bnei Yisroel accepted and put up with the servitude. They got used to it and even justified how it was to their advantage. On several occasions in the desert after the giving of the Torah, there were those in B’nei Yisroel who expressed the desire to return to Egypt where things were better. (see Shemos 16:3, Bamidbar 11:5)

As long as there is justification to be patient with the exile and it’s spiritual and physical suffering, there can never be redemption. “I am Hashem who will take you out from the burdens (seev’los Mitzrayim) of Egyptian slavery.” I will remove from you willingness to put up with the exile until you are thoroughly disgusted with it. Only then will the conditions be ripe for the redemption.
(Chiddushei HaRim on the Torah)

The Way of the Torah

"And Amram took his aunt Yocheved for a wife and she gave birth to Aharon and to Moshe. . .” (Shemos 6:20)

Many commentators ask why Amram, considering that the children that were to come from the marriage were none other than Aharon and Moshe, the givers of the Torah, elected to choose a wife whose relationship to him was to be forbidden in the future by the Torah? R’ Kalonymus Kalman Epstein (1754-1823) in his work Me’or V’Shamesh, answers in accordance with an idea he once heard from one of the elder Tzaddikim of his generation.

The Tzaddik asked why is it permitted for a man to marry his niece, the daughter of his brother or sister, yet forbidden to marry his aunt, the sister of his father?

He answered that the there are two major cosmic forces at work in the world; male and female.
They are also know as the Giver and the Receiver respectively. The role of the Giver is to bring down divine influence and wisdom to the Receiver.

These forces are cyclical. The nature of the world is that the Giver is always above, on a higher level spiritually than the Receiver. The Giver, before giving, must be a Receiver, receiving from a higher source. The Receiver, in turn, after receiving from the Giver also becomes a Giver, benefiting a Receiver on a lower level.

Therefore, a man may marry the daughter of his brother or sister since he is on a level which is higher in the of the development of the generations. (In Judaism the elder generations are considered to be wiser than the younger since they are always one step closer to the revelation of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. Nevertheless, the younger generation is closer the time of the final redemption and the age of Moshiach, the time of universal peace and wisdom. That gives them a special insight so therefore they have a special insight into the meaning of the historical process from creation until redemption.[sefer Bris Menucha 17b and Midrash Pinchas])

For this reason, explained the Tzaddik, a man is forbidden to marry his aunt. The Giver would be below the Receiver which is not in accordance with the cosmic structure.

There is however, notes the Meor V’Shamesh, a remarkable exception to this cosmic order; the realm of Torah Learning. Genuine humility is a sign of greatness. It could be that the knowledge and understanding of a younger student surpasses that of the teacher. Furthermore we see that there is a Torah ideal to humble oneself to be open and willing to able to learn from any person, even one of less wisdom than he as brought in Pirkei Avos 4:1) “Who is wise? The one who learns from every person. As it is written, ‘From all my students I have learned since Your laws are my topic of discussion.’” (Psalms 119:99)

Amram, by marrying his aunt, and turning the cosmic order upside down was revealing to us the nature of the Torah. Indeed his children Moshe and Aharon, while being the Torah’s greatest sages, were also known to be men of consummate and flawless humility. (see Shemos 4:14 and Bamidbar 12:3) Therefore in the pursuit of Torah knowledge, one should never embarrassed to learn from someone who knows less than him. Torah truth is valid, regardless from where it comes.

Of Apes and Men

The late Rosh Yeshiva of Torah V’Da’as in America, R’ Yaacov Kamenetsky ztz”l, traveled frequently in the United States and on several occasions to Eretz Yisrael. He was usually accompanied on his trips by one of his grandchildren who had set up a rotation so that they could all have a chance to do the special mitzvoh of attending to their illustrious grandfather.

Once, R’ Yaacov was returning to the United States from a trip to Eretz Yisroel. His seat mate was a gentleman; a well known figure in Israeli politics. He and R’ Yaacov carried on a lively conversation ranging of course, from religion to politics and everything in between, for a good portion of the flight. One of R’ Yaacov’s granddaughters, a seminary student in Israel, was accompanying him on the flight, and appeared periodically to check on the welfare of her grandfather and inquired if there anything that she could get for him. The politician, curious about the young lady, asked R’ Yaacov who she was.

R’ Yaacov explained that she was his granddaughter and described the rotation system they had set up insuring that all the grandchildren would have the privilege of attending to their grandfather.

At this the politician was amazed. “My grandchildren”, he said in a resigned tone of voice, “Don’t really have any interest in me. They have their lives, and I have mine. The two don’t seem to overlap.”

“That is understandable”, clarified R’ Yaacov. “You see, you believe in the theory of evolution. According to it, the older generations, are closer than their descendants to the apes and therefore on a lower level of development. So what could a more highly developed and educated being expect to learn from one who is closer to monkeys than to enlightenment?”

“We on the other hand, live with the concept of Yeridas HaDoros, (decline of the generations). Each generation that is further removed in time from the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai is lacking a bit more of the essential experience of that divine wisdom. Therefore, our children and grandchildren honor us since they understand that the older generations still maintain an impression from that amazing event, and they wish to get a taste of it.”

The politician, for once, was at a loss for words.

HaKores HaTov (gratitude)

"When Pharaoh saw some relief from the (plague) he hardened his heart and didn't listen to them, just as Hashem had predicted." (Exodus 8:11)

As was mentioned in Parshas Vayetzei 5758, the root of the Jewish soul is the expression of thanks and gratitude. We are called Yehudim, after Yehudah, the son of Yaacov and Leah. The name Yehudah comes from the same root as "to thank". This is the essence of a Jew, constantly thanking Hashem. A Jew understands that everything that Hashem gives is a gift. In reality, we don't deserve anything, nevertheless Hashem gives. And we thank Hashem for it.

Not only the one who is sick and is healed or the one who is in distress and is rescued needs to praise and thank Hashem. Certainly he feels it more acutely. Nevertheless, everybody is obligated to thank Hashem since He sustains the world. Would that He would remove His attention from it for even a split second, all of creation would return to chaos.

Psalm 107 speaks about the different types of people who need to express gratitude to Hashem and how he exhibits control over every aspect of the world. As it says (verse 43), "Whoever is wise and takes note of all this, will comprehend the kindness' of Hashem."
Pharaoh, the moment he felt relief from the wrath of the plagues, reverted to his previous hard-hearted state. He refused to recognize the hand of Hashem and express the gratitude due to Him.

We see in the Parsha a number of examples of Hakores Hatov. When it came to initiating the plague of blood (which affected the water), and the plague of lice (which affected the soil), Aaron was called upon instead of Moshe Rabbenu to strike the water and the soil with Moshe's staff. Rashi quotes the Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 9:10) which states that because Moshe Rabbenu was helped by the water (when he was an infant in the little ark), and the soil (where he buried the Egyptian taskmaster), it would not be a proper show of gratitude for him to strike them. If Moshe Rabbenu was careful to exhibit such a level of gratitude towards the inanimate world, how much more so should one be careful to display gratitude towards one's fellow human beings and towards the Creator.

R' Menachem Mendel, the Kotzker Rebbe, used to follow the Torah's example. Whenever he needed to replace a worn pair of shoes, he would neatly wrap up the old ones in newspaper before placing them in the trash. "How can I", he would declare, "Simply toss away such a fine pair of shoes that have served me so well these past years!?"

HaKores HaTov goes still further. Again we learn from our foremother Leah after she gave birth to her fourth son. "And she said, this time I will give thanks (odeh) to Hashem. Therefore she called his name Yehudah, and she ceased to give birth further."(Genesis 29:35)

Here, the Chozeh of Lublin asked one of his famous questions. If Leah expressed her gratitude to Hashem, why did she stop having babies? It should be just the opposite. One would expect Hashem to grant her more!

His answer is a foundation of Yiddishkeit. Even though Leah expressed her thanks to Hashem, she gave thanks only for what she received in the past, but she neglected to beseech Hashem concerning the future. From here the Chozeh of Lublin taught, that a Jew needs to says, "Baruch Hashem that you have helped me until now. May You continue to help me in the future".

This is also expressed in the Nishmas prayer said on Shabbos and Yom Tov mornings. "Until now Your mercies have helped us, and Your kindnesses have not forsaken us; our G-d don't ever abandon us!" (See another example in Mishna Brochos 9:7. When one comes to a city he should recite two blessings upon entering and two upon leaving, according to the opinion of Ben Azzai. When he arrives he should thank Hashem for having arrived safely. Upon leaving he should beseech Hashem to protect him on his future travels.)

The ultimate expression of this teaching is explained by the She'lah HaKodesh. One should always pepper his speech with phrases like: "Baruch Hashem" or "with the help of Hashem", "G-d willing" etc. Training oneself to speak in such a manner will help a person to always maintain a sense of gratitude to the Creator for all that he has.

R' Zusha and the Rav

In the town of Anipoli there were two Rabbis, R' Zusha the Chassid and the town Rav, a Misnagged. R' Zusha was always happy despite the fact that he had nothing but troubles; poverty and ill-health. The Rav on the other hand, despite his honorable position in the community was always unhappy, depressed, bitter and angry. He couldn't bear others, nor even himself.
One night, bitter and frustrated he went to ask R' Zusha for help. He sneaked out of his house at an hour when nobody would see him and secretly made his way to the hovel which R' Zusha called home. When he arrived the lamps were still burning, so he knocked hesitantly. Almost immediately R' Zusha appeared at the door with a smile and an invitation to enter.

"How is it that you are so happy and content and I am always angry and cursing everybody", asked the bewildered Rav?

"Let me give you an example", offered R' Zusha. "Take the wedding of R' Moshe's daughter. When Reb Moshe, the local philanthropist, made a wedding for his daughter recently, he dispatched a messenger to personally invite the special citizens of Anipoli. When the messenger came to your house, you demanded to see the guest list. You saw that you were 14th on the list".

"'Chutzpah!', you shrieked, and decided that you would attend, but come late. When you arrived, all the guests were sitting at the tables already and eating the festive meal. When you arrived, there were no empty places to be found."

"Soon, Reb Moshe the philanthropist saw you looking for a place to sit. 'Rabbi', he called out, 'where have you been?' They brought you to the head table, but there were no more empty places. They brought you a chair, but you sat behind somebody else. You were furious, looking for somebody to lash out at, but nobody was really paying any attention to you. The waiter didn't even see you. By the time the host noticed that you weren't eating, all the food was gone."

"R' Moshe went into the kitchen to find something, but it was not a portion befitting the Rav of Anipoli. Everything had already been picked through. By this time you were cursing the host and the waiters and the guests and even the bride and groom themselves. When it came time for the bentching (Grace after Meals) and the Sheva Brochos (seven blessing said after the festive meals in the presence of the bride and groom), you had been all but forgotten. You went home broken, angry and bitter, cursing the Master of the World Himself."

"When the messenger came to the house of R' Zusha, (he always referred to himself in the 3rd person), Zusha was taken aback. What a kind gesture! Reb Moshe is inviting Zusha to the wedding of his daughter?! What has Zusha ever done to deserve an invitation to their wedding?!

So Zusha went two hours early to the wedding. Zusha asked what he could do to help set up. Zusha officiated at the ceremony. Zusha ate a full meal. Zusha was honored with bentching and Zusha recited the Sheva Brochos."

"You see", R' Zusha continued his explanation to the Rav of Anipoli, "You wanted everything, but you ended up with nothing. Zusha didn't ask for anything, but he got it all!"

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