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Tetzave: Being Equal

At times teachers or parents will decide initially which of their children will be successful and which ones les. Who has the capability to sit and learn, and who has to go out to work. According to how the kids are perceived, that’s how much effort will be put in to them. Sadly, we can have a situation that one kid will get unlimited help verses another that only gets minimal.

This says Rev Moshe Feinshtein z”l is absolutely wrong, and as a result of this unprofessional behavior he is stealing knowledge from others. This we see in the Parsha where the light of the Menorah is describe as burning from evening until the morning, and Rashi brings the words of Chazel, that the amount of oil used was “half a log” enough to burn through the long nights of the winter. This was the same amount used the whole year round even though the summer the nights are shorter.

All the candles are equal and we don’t start count which nights are longer and which are shorter. All get the same amount of oil! We can’t start giving one child more than the other, only “in the morning” will it become clear whose flame is truly burning stronger.

Just because a child is smart does not mean that he should manage on his own with attention from the teacher, and just because a child required multiple explanations just to understand the basics, does not mean he should be ignored as a waste of time. This is an important approach to all people. We tend to categorize and define people by their looks, their dress etc. We should give every person the same time and attitude as we would give those closer to us.

This is part of the message of Purim. When we are united we have the power to stand against our enemies. If we have the willingness and foresight to give every person the same care and the same consideration then we can stand united and strong.

Yitro: Baruch Hashem

When Yitro finally meets up with Moshe and his family, the Torah describes the joy he felt for all the goodness that Hashem had done for Am Yisrael, as a result he got up and said “ברוך ה’ אשר הציל אתכם מיד מצרים ומיד פרעה וכו” – Blessed is Hashem for saving you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of Pharaoh etc., Says the Mechilta: this verse hints negatively about Am Yisrael that from the moment they left Egypt until now, not a single person had said “ברוך ה’” until Yitro said it.
This needs understanding. Even if it’s true that no one used the terminology of “ברוך ה’”, however we read last week about the unbelievable song that they sang after the splitting of the Red Sea! What greater praise could be more than that?!
The truth is that there is a difference. Song is something in the “Klal” – the community, whereas “Baruch Hashem” is an individual bracha. This is what takes place when the Chazan says: “ברכו את ה’ המבורך” a call for each every individual to respond with “ברוך ה’”, and this is indeed the response:
“ברוך ה’ המבורך לעולם ועד”
However, we can still ask: why was it that not one person thought to say: “ברוך ה’”?!
The answer is: that Am Yisrael felt that each person was only part of this entity called “Klal Yisrael” and it is not possible to serve Hashem as an individual. Therefore for an individual to bless Hashem was totally inappropriate. It was only when Yitro came along and said no! Every person as an individual, has a personal responsibility to see the goodness that Hashem has done for him (even in the context of the Klal), and to get up and say: Baruch Hashem.
May we always be able to see the good things happen to us, and say with joy and feeling: Baruch Hashem.

VaEra: Showing Respect

The Midrash tells us that when Moshe & Aharon came to Pharaoh they were commanded to treat him with respect (see Rashi). Even though he is not a Jewish king and a wicked one too, still they were told to treat him with respect.

The Gemarah in Masechet Shabbat describes that due to the complexity of running a kingdom or country, it would be impossible to sit down and write out all that had to be done and taken care of, even for the course of only one day! The Gemarah when saying this, even about non Jewish kingdoms, uses terminologies of praise comparable to the praises we use for Hashem. The obvious question is: How could this be?

The truth us when Hashem has given a nation the power to rule over Am Yisrael, they are not really ruling. As the verse describes: “ואף גם זאת בהיותם בארץ אויביהם לא מאסתים ולא געלתים” – even when they are in the land of their enemies I have not forsaken or despised them. Thus when a governing nation makes a decree against the Jews, it is only at the behest of Hashem. Therefore the same words we would use to praise God are applicable here too.

As hard as it might sound, when we show respect to conquering nations, essentially we are showing respect to Hashem. The Gemarah tell us to run to show our respects to a king and make the bracha “ברוך שנתן מכבודו לבשר ודם” – blessed is he whom gave from his honour to flesh and blood. And by doing so “אם יזכה יבחין” – if one merits he will gain perception. What does it mean: If he merits? To see an evil king?! Rather it means that if he merits understanding that this king is no more then a mirage of what the true king is, and an example that Hashem is showing him how to respect and honour a king. Then when the time comes for Mashiach, he will appreciate the contrast and what a true king really is, and show the appropriately proper respect and honour.

Shmot: On the Line

Am Yisrael built for Pharaoh two cities: Piton and Ramses. The rabbis in the Gemara in Sotah offer an explanation to these names: Pitome= Pi Tehom – the depths open up to swallow it. Ramses= “מתרוסס” – as it is built it collapses.

Why did Pharaoh build these cities in a places they weren’t going to last? He might as well get some practical benefit from what the slaves did? However the truth is, that a person who puts real effort into doing something even if he personally gets no benefit from it, just seeing what he has done can bring him satisfaction. Even this satisfaction Pharaoh wanted to deny to the Jews, and therefore everything they did would ultimately not last.

In contrast to this, we see at the beginning of the Parsha that G-d rewarded those midwives who disregarded Pharaoh’s instructions regardless of the dangers. What was the reward? The reward was the fulfillment itself of the efforts with the continued multiplying of the Jewish people.

When a person puts in the effort for Am Yisrael and is willing to put themselves on the line for it, there’s no greater reward for this, than just seeing the fruition of one’s labour produce results.

This is a question everyone should ask themselves: How much am I willing to truly put myself out, for the sake of Am Yisrael? Even if it means putting one’s life on the line!!!

Shmot: Who We Really Are

The Parsha this week is the first in what is known as: “שובבי”ם” which is an abbreviation of the first 6 Parshiyot in Shmot: שמות, וארא, בא, בשלח, יתרו משפטים.

There is an old tradition that this period is the time to review once again and heighten our knowledge of those Halachot dealing with Family Purity and the holiness of the Jewish home, and encourage more involvement of those whom until now hadn’t learned.
What is the connection? Why do we review these laws specifically at this time?

These Parshiyot deal with the process and growth of Am Yisrael, all the way from being slaves in Egypt until finally receiving the Torah at Har Sinai and becoming a special and unique people. To maintain that uniqueness of a life of morality requires certain guidelines and parameters. Hashem in his infinite wisdom understood the makeup of man & woman and put into place the structure that is required to raise the level of human intimacy to a much deeper and meaningful place, so we would be able to fulfill our true roles as examples to the rest of the world.

This period is a reminder of who we really are, where we came from and what we became, and therefore the most appropriate time to once again reassess our personal lives and evaluate what we can do to enhance them.

Shmot: Better to Avoid

When Moshe was found by the daughter of Pharaoh the Torah describes how his sister Miriam (who was looking out for him) approaches the princess and asks her if she requires a wet nurse from the Jews to feed him. The Gemorah in Sotah (quoted by Rashi here) raises the question: why did she specifically offer a Jewish wet nurse? And the Gemorah answers: that the princess had tried to get him to nurse by the Egyptian wet nurses and he refused, therefore she was left with no choice.And as Rashi explains one who is going to speak to the Shechina – the Holy presence, cannot ingest anything that is impure. We see from here that the verse in Vayikrah is referring to the prohibition of eating non-kosher food: “אַל תְּשַׁקְּצוּ אֶת נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם בְּכָל הַשֶּׁרֶץ הַשֹּׁרֵץ וְלֹא תִטַּמְּאוּ בָּהֶם וְנִטְמֵתֶם בָּם” – do not disgust yourselves .. and you shall not become impure through these things etc…, is not just a spiritual effect that we are warned about, rather it has a physical impact too.

We tend to think that when we transgress something it affects us spiritually and if we daven or give tzedakah we can fix it, however it is much deeper than that. Everything we do has a physical impact too which can affect us for a long time afterwards. Therefore our awareness and wariness should be much greater to ensure we don’t even get to the stage of doing those things.

To avoid is much easier that to fix afterwards. This is the essence of the mitzvot and the guidance that Hashem has given us

Mikeitz – A Greater Plan

The Parsha starts off with the dream of Pharoah giving a prediction about what is going to be happening in the future. In the dream he sees that although the seven thin cows eat the fat cows, it makes no difference to their state of being. The verse describes it thus:

“וַתָּבֹאנָה אֶל קִרְבֶּנָה וְלֹא נוֹדַע כִּי בָאוּ אֶל קִרְבֶּנָה וּמַרְאֵיהֶן רַע כַּאֲשֶׁר בַּתְּחִלָּה”
“- and they were swallowed up and it made no impression on them, and they looked as bad as before.”

Explains the Meshech Chochma: when things happen in the world we don’t necessarily know what the main purpose is behind it all. The fact that Mitzyarim was not a wealthy place, rather on the contrary, and the fact that there was time of plenty in Mitzrayim was only for the purpose of Bnei Yisrael, and therefore when they left after 210 years everything reverted back to its normal impoverished state. This is what the verse means: “and they looked as bad as before.”

Life is such that there are many up and downs, whether within our personal lives or in the interaction we have with others. We don’t know why Hashem gives wealth to some and poverty to others, joy to some and sorrow to others, nor what is the main purpose of all that happens around us. We are but like cogs in a big machine.

For us, what it means to be aware that everything we have is because of what we have done and the effort we put into it. Many times there is a greater plan. If we understand this, then our perspective on life takes on a much healthier approach and gives us the ability to truly focus on what we can learn from life, without getting caught up with life itself.

Vayeishev The Right Environment

The Torah when describing what took place with Pharoah’ ministers they are originally referred to as “שר המשקים” and “שר האופים”. Afterwards when they are in jail they are referred to as: “המשקה” and “האופה” with the title.

The question is why? The Sforno answers: that due to the fact that they were incarcerated, therefore they could not possibly even think like minister rather just like regular people.

This is a huge responsibility for parents and teachers. IN order for a child to truly grow and have the proper self-esteem and perspective on life, the only way they could possibly even begin to think like that is if they are given the perper surrounding sand feeling that they are important. When a person is in the “dungeon” they cannot see a thing even if they are truly great within themselves.

This is the real catch-22. In order for one to grow they have to be in the right environment, but until one gets into the right environment he cannot grow.

This is the job of a parent or a teacher. To create that atmosphere that is conducive to grow until the child can realize his own situation and continue that growth themselves.

Vayeishev Not Embarrassing Others

At times we run into people who are not so easy to deal with and might require a firmer response in our interaction. There is a tendency to put the other person down even if it might mean a certain embarrassing comment or negative connotation. This is true for other people and especially our own children and students.

Besides the fact that in schools today it is illegal what is the Torah’s approach to this issue?

As we see in Parshat Vayeieshev with the story of Yehuda and Tamar, that instead of Tamar pointing a finger at Yehuda as the main culprit in the whole situation, she was willing to take the fall herself even if it meant she would be executed. Chazal learn out from her the rule that: “נח לו לאדם להפיל את אצמו לתןך כבשן האש ואל ילבין פני חבירו ברבים” – it is preferable for a person to throw himself into the fire rather then embarrass another publicly.

There is a discsuuion among the different authorities whether this is an absolute Halachah or just a preferable mode of behavior. Either way it definitely the proper approach to take. And if this is true with someone who for sure had done something wrong, how much more so is this true regarding our approach to people in general and even more so our students and children.

Maybe this is the idea of the small jug of oil that was found in the story of the miracles of Chanukah. Even though Am Yisrael was obviously not in Hashem’s good books, in the perod prior to the Chamonaims, He left that bit of oil that there will be some light which will strengthen and burn brighter in nthe future. Reproof can be given and at times should be, however we should always keep the other person and his feelings in mind.

Vayeishev: Bonding

The Parsha starts with the words: “וישב יעקב וגו’” – And Yaakov settled down etc. Why the emphasis on Yaakov’s settling down? Says Rashi: that Yaakov after all his troubles and issues with Eisav and Lavan, he finally wanted to rest a bit and spend some time in peace. However Hashem sees things differently and feels that the Tzadikim are not her in this world to sit back and rest, therefore immediately the story of Yosef took place.

What does this mean? Is it so bad if the Tzadikim were able to have a bit of peace in this world in order to focus more on their spirituality?

No! there is no question that they too are entitled to have a bit of peace of mind, however what Rashi is referring to is the aspect of Chinuch and teaching their children. In this there is no respite.

Yaakov thought that due to the fact that all his children where great people that even Hashem himself praises them, he was already exempt from teaching them. But then comes the story of Yosef and we see that a person is never finished with the education of his children. Even great people like the sons of Yaakov, still needed their father’s direction on how to behave.

As we come up to Chanukah this is the time to reiterate and strengthen that bond with our children, and to understand how far our responsibility really goes.

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