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Parashat Va'era


"The frogs ascended and covered the land of Egypt." Rashi cites the Midrash's comment that there was originally just one frog, and despite the Egyptians' efforts to beat and destroy it, the single frog produced more little frogs, continuously. The "Kehilot Yaakov" zs"l asks, once the Egyptians saw that every beating simply resulted in an additional swarm of dangerous frogs, why did they continue hitting it? Why didn't they stop as soon as they realized that the beatings simply compounded the crisis? He answers simply, this is the nature of man, not to think or consider things rationally. A person thinks he can solve his problems with the force of his hand, through power and aggression. He fails to understand that this merely contributes further to the problem and strengthens the victim.

Let us take a look at our situation at both the national and individual levels. From every perspective, it turns out that our lives are spent beating, defending ourselves by fighting and battling, and the situation only worsens. No problem is ever solved this way. Instead, let's try to understand that we need to do teshuvah, to improve our ways, and then the beatings will automatically subside, and we will merit the great divine light.


The Hafess Hayyim zs"l raised an important question regarding the process of "Yessi'at Missrayim." Benei Yisrael spent two hundred and ten years in Egypt. Their subjugation continued to intensify, resulting in back-breaking labor with bricks and all types of work out in the field. The children were cast in the river, used as bricks in walls, or simply killed so others can bathe in their blood. Eventually the people's cries reached the heavens, and Hashem answered them. He sent Mosheh to offer them encouragement and inform them of the imminent redemption. He then came before Pharaoh and demanded the release of the slaves.

Then something strange happened. Not only did Pharaoh refuse, not only was he left unimpressed by the personalities of Mosheh and Aharon, the father of prophets and the sacred servant of Hashem, not only was he unaffected by the miracles accompanying their entrance to the palace or the wonders performed before him, but he even further intensified the workload. He ordered that straw not be given to the slaves but their work production remain the same.

The nation was embittered, their hopes faded, their taskmasters were beaten by the Egyptian overseers and Mosheh complained to the Almighty. The question begs itself, why? After all, "the hearts of kings and officers are in the hand of Hashem." He has the power over the decisions of kings. Why did Hashem allow Pharaoh to intensify the workload and torture just prior to the redemption?

He answers by citing the Midrash that Benei Yisrael were demanded to produce the maximum possible output of bricks. On the first day they were asked to volunteer, and Pharaoh himself went out to work. They worked that first day with full strength, zeal and enthusiasm. Then, this same amount of bricks - as was manufactured on a voluntary basis on the first day - became mandatory. This demanded unrelenting labor without breaks. If someone were to stop working for a moment, he would be beaten ruthlessly and his children would be placed in the walls, in place of the missing bricks, Heaven forbid.

Now, when they were required to find their own straw to produce the bricks, they had no time - every moment spent searching for straw automatically detracted from the number of bricks that could be produced. So, what did they do? Every Egyptian had animals outside his home with plenty of straw with which to feed them. Benei Yisrael thus knocked on the Egyptians' doors and pleaded, "Please, give us a little bit of straw so that we are not beaten and our children don't end up in walls! Have compassion on us and our children - just a little straw will save our lives!"

With their hearts of stone, the Egyptians would laugh at the people's cries and drive them away from their homes, amidst curses and beatings. They forced the slaves to wander about and collect straw. As a result, the quota of bricks was not met, and the people were beaten.

We can now understand why Hashem allowed this to happen. He wished to bring harsh and devastating plagues against Pharaoh and the entire country.

But the masses could have claimed, what did we do? Only Pharaoh and his men oppressed Benei Yisrael! The Almighty thus arranged that all the Egyptians would be asked to help out - even the slightest bit - to demonstrate some mercy, to give a handful of straw. When they closed their hands and hearts, they affirmed their support for the subjugation, that they, too, are deserving of suffering the ten plagues.

As we know, the Torah and its lessons are eternal. What can we learn from these words of the Hafess Hayyim, what lesson are we to derive? The answer has been given to us during the times in which we live. For dozens of years we have grown accustomed to the Israeli government's policy of providing free education for twelve years of schooling. Recently, however, things have suddenly changed. The Torah educational network, which educates tens of thousands of boys and girls along the path of faith and our ancestral heritage, is currently crouching under an immense financial burden. The government is not prepared to allocate funds for the hours of religious study, for the time spent on Tanach, Mishnah, Gemara and Halachah. It has become indifferent to the plight of the schools suffering from overcrowded conditions, whereby the children study in freezing caravans, travel to school on dilapidated buses, the schools themselves housed in rundown buildings towards whose rent the government is unwilling to allocate any funds. Shamefully, we have reached the point where parents who want to grant their children the opportunity of a religious education must collect money from hundred of homes and families in order to do so. The question arises, why has this happened? Why have we encountered this crisis?

The answer is, that when Moshiah will soon arrive, he will ask each of us, "What have you done on behalf of the schoolchildren, for the Jewish youngsters who hoped to learn of their Jewish tradition and enrich their connection to their heritage?" Each of us will hopefully be able to answer, "I took part in the campaign, I signed onto a monthly donation on behalf of Torah education." Thus, each of us will merit great reward, an abundance of light and blessing.


The Plagues of Blood, Frogs, Vermin,
Wild Beasts, Pestilence, Boils and Hail

These are the seven plagues depicted in our parashah, out of the total of ten plagues that Hashem unleashed against the Egyptians. We find in the writings of the Hid"a zs"l reasons behind these plagues, and we present them here one by one:


It seems from the Midrash that Pharaoh considered the river his god, while the rest of the Egyptians worshipped sheep. Therefore, when Pharaoh granted Benei Yisrael permission to offer their sacrifices in Egypt (rather than journeying into the wilderness, as Mosheh had requested), Mosheh responded, "Could we possibly sacrifice the god of Egypt before their eyes and they won't stone us?" Mosheh understood that since Pharaoh himself did not worship sheep, but rather the river, he allowed them to sacrifice sheep. The other Egyptians, however, would surely protest violently should Benei Yisrael publicly sacrifice sheep. This is also why Hashem chose blood as the first plague. "Dam" (blood) has the numerical value of "teleh" - sheep - and thus the plague demonstrated that both deities of Egypt - the river and the sheep - are equivalent, and worth nothing.


The frogs jumped even into the burning-hot ovens and furnaces of Egypt. Hazal tell us that Hananiah, Mishael and Azaryah, who allowed themselves to be thrown into a furnace rather than prostrate themselves before an idol, learned this sense of commitment and self-sacrifice from the frogs. This punishment against Egypt was indeed "midah keneged midah" - measure for measure. Since the Jewish midwives had to risk their lives by disobeying Pharaoh's order that they kill the newborn Jewish males, the Almighty issued retribution through a plague involving the sacrifice of one's life.


When the Torah first describes this plague, it uses the word "kinam," without the letter "yud," while later the standard spelling - "kinim" - is employed. The Mahara of Germayza zs"l explains that the missing "yud," which has the numerical value of ten, teaches us that ten "kabin" (an ancient standard of measurement of volume) of vermin infected each and every Egyptian.

Wild Beasts:

The sacred books teach us that representatives of each of the four kingdoms known for persecuting Benei Yisrael - Babylonia, Media, Greek and Rome - participated in the subjugation of Benei Yisrael in Egypt. Were Benei Yisrael not to have sinned in the incident of the golden calf, the Egyptian bondage would have counted as well for other exiles. Since the world empires are compared to animals in the prophecies of Daniel, they were punished with the plague of wild beasts.


Hazal teach us that pestilence in fact accompanied each of the other plagues, as well. Many have asked why Benei Yisrael were not ordered to stay indoors during all the plagues, as they were during the pestilence accompanying the plague of the firstborn (Bava Kama 60b). It would seem that during the rest of the plagues there was no need to stay indoors, since the plagues did not affect the land of Goshen, where Benei Yisrael resided.

During the plague of the firstborn, however, many Egyptians, upon hearing the warning of the impending plague, fled to Goshen in an attempt to flee the death. Therefore, Benei Yisrael were ordered to remain inside their homes.


Hazal tell us that the Egyptians did not want to kill Benei Yisrael with fire as they feared Hashem's "measure for measure" punishment through fire.

They decided instead to throw the children into the river, confident in Hashem's promise never again to bring a flood. They didn't consider the possibility that although He indeed would not bring another flood, He would have them go into the Red Sea on their own accord, where they would drown. Hashem therefore punished them with hail with fireballs inside the hailstones, to show them that he is capable of punishing them with both fire and water.


Rabbi Shalom Shabazi zs"l

The great, sacred poet Rabbi Shalom Shabazi zs"l was originally "hidden," his greatness unknown to those around him. Like our patriarchs, he was a shepherd. He would meditate in the fields alone with his sheep and sing impassioned songs of praise to the Almighty.

One day, as Rabbi Shalom was tending to his sheep, he needed to leave for a little while to take care of some things. He looked up and saw a young Arab shepherd nearby. He asked the shepherd, "Please watch my sheep until I come back."

The boy asked, "But what if they want to drink? There is no river or fountain anywhere near here!" Rabbi Shalom reassured him, "Here - take my staff. If the sheep are thirsty, smite the staff onto a tree, and the tree will produce water."

The shepherd was a bit astounded by the idea. He took the staff, hit it against a tree, and immediately water started flowing. Realizing that he held in his hand an object of miracles, he started wondering what other marvels he could bring about. He left his sheep and headed to the capital city. Using the staff, he performed incredible wonders and quickly earned a widespread reputation as a miracle-worker. Through his magic, he attracted a large following and led them astray from their beliefs.

In the meantime, Rabbi Shalom came back and saw the sheep abandoned, the shepherd gone, and water rushing from the tree. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "Is there any shortage of wood around here?" He picked for himself a branch from a nearby tree and forgot about what had happened.

Soon, however, he heard about the famous magician in the city who would lure people away from their faith, and he realized from where this so-called practitioner derived his power. He immediately annulled the power of the staff, went to the capital, and declared that the famous magician had lost his powers. Anyone who wished for salvation and wonder should instead turn to him, and he will influence them through the power of Torah and tefilah.

Indeed, the magician's powers were lost, and everyone flocked to Rabbi Shalom's door. He was thus able to disseminate the pure faith and brought about salvation through his sacred powers.


A Series of Halachot According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch,
Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a

by Rav David Yossef shlit"a, Rosh Bet Midrash "Yehaveh Da'at"

Proper Intention While Putting on Tefillin

The Berachah on Tefillin

Interruption In Between the Tefillin Shel Yad and Tefillin Shel Rosh

One should be careful to put on the tefillin shel rosh and tefillin shel yad in the same room and not interrupt even by simply walking from one room to another. Bedi'avad, however, one does not need to recite a new berachah even if he walked to another house in between, so long as his mind was never diverted from the tefillin.

Optimally, one should not interrupt in between the tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh even with a silent interruption, not to mention with any form of activity, even simply giving someone a coin - even for charity.

The reason is that according to many poskim an action is considered as significant an interruption as speech in this regard. However, bedi'avad if one did interrupt with some action in between the tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh he does not need to recite a new berachah, so long as he did not speak.

Thus, one should not lower his shirtsleeve to cover his arm in between the placing of the tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh, nor should one kiss the tefillin shel rosh in between the placing of the tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh. Additionally, one should not remove his watch in between the placing of the tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh. This should be done after the placing of the tefillin shel rosh.

One should preferably ensure not to make any gesture to another person in between the placing of the tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh, in order that the two occur in direct succession, without any interruption. However, for purposes of a missvah - such as silently gesturing to a poor person to wait so that he can receive charity, and the like - one may be lenient.

Even an interruption consisting of only one word constitutes a "hefsek" - inappropriate interruption - in between the placing of the tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh. Therefore, if one interrupted with even a single word he must recite the berachah "al missvat tefillin" on the tefillin shel rosh.

If one already took the tefillin shel rosh in his hands and placed them by his head and then interrupted with speech, his speech constitutes a "hefsek" and he must recite the berachah "al missvat tefillin" on the tefillin shel rosh. If, however, he had actually placed the tefillin shel rosh on his head, even if he had yet to fasten it to his head, and only then spoke, he does not need to recite a berachah on tefillin shel rosh.

If one did not recite a berachah on the tefillin shel yad, and after placing it on his arm and wrapping the strap a few times around his arm he interrupted with speech and then remembered that he never recited a berachah, then unlike a normal situation of one who interrupts with speech, the individual recites "lehani'ah tefillin" before placing the tefillin shel rosh. Those Ashkenazim who are accustomed to always reciting the berachah "al missvat tefillin" on their tefillin shel rosh should, in this situation, recite both berachot - "lehani'ah tefillin" & "al missvat tefillin" - on the tefillin shel rosh.


Animals Using Medication

When a person does not feel well, he goes to the doctor who instructs him as to which medication he should use to reduce the pain and cure him from his illness. What do animals do when they don't feel well? Amazingly, they also use medications, or, more precisely, medicinal herbs. Animals use various objects in order to ameliorate their condition. For example, some animals use leaves to stop bleeding from a wound, or use sticks to rub infected ears and fibers from plants to clean their teeth. Some animals who are well-acquainted with their surroundings use plants from their immediate area. Bears, for example, use a certain plant to cure stomachaches. The plant was found to contain materials which work against blood-clotting and sudden cramps. An observation of a pregnant elephant revealed an interesting habit - the expectant mother walked five kilometers each day in order to eat a certain herb. Further investigations found the elephant one day changing its route and wandering twenty-five kilometers from its home until it reached a small tree and ate from its fruit. Four days later, the elephant gave birth "b'sha'ah tovah" to newborn little elephant.

Researchers later discovered that women in Kenya use the leaves and peels of this tree as sweeteners in their tea in order to soothe labor pains.

Birds have their own methods of curing ailments. Specifically, they smear ants on their feathers. Why? The rubbing of the ants releases an acid that drives away the parasites located in the feathers.

Undoubtedly, one of man's primary concerns is to remain healthy and not require any medical attention at all; to live in a sort of protective bubble through which no harmful force whatsoever can penetrate. It would seem that the desire for life within a bacteria-safe bubble relates to not only one's physical concerns, but his spiritual needs, as well. Some people complain, "If only I didn't have to deal with all the various lures that cross my path, I would certainly follow the proper path. But what can I do? One cannot live in a bubble, detached from society!" This is a mistake. One absolutely can live normal, day-to-day life while still maintaining his special "sterilized bubble" that surrounds him and protects him from spiritual harm. The greatest asset a person has to help him live such a life is the constant awareness that there is none besides Him, that the Creator was, is and always will be. The Jew can live a totally normal life that also facilitates a life of Torah sanctity, since he carries with him the constant awareness of "I place Hashem before me always."


The Faithful Student (13)

A Story From the Book, "HaSaraf MiBrisk: The Story of the Life of Maharil Diskin zs"l"

Flashback: Igor Burak, an assimilated Jewish lawyer, agreed to defend Rabbi Hayyim Simhah Soloveitchik, the faithful student of the "Saraf of Brisk," Maharil Diskin zs"l. Rabbi Hayyim Simhah had staged a robbery attempt in order that he be imprisoned and thus be able to live with his rebbe, who was incriminated and jailed on false charges. Now, Rabbi Hayyim Simhah stood trial; a guilty verdict would result in fourteen years in jail.

"The State against Hayyim Iskovitz Soloveitchik," called the judge from his journal. "The defendant is charged with a pickpocket robbery against the citizen Feitl Stern on Fortress Street opposite the prison on September 10, 1876 and 10:20 AM. The defendant was caught at the scene of the crime with the evidence in his pocket - exhibit "A" - amounting to one hundred and forty rubles." The judge looked up and was stunned. "What is this?!

Igor Burak - the great attorney - is involved in such a small trial!? Welcome back - you've been gone for quite a while." The lawyer had been imprisoned on charges of assisting the Polish underground. "Okay, what does the defendant have to say?"

Rabbi Hayyim Simhah stood up and announced in clear Russian, "I plead innocent!"

"As expected," responded the judge. "Prosecutor, the stage is yours." Indeed, the State prosecutor took full advantage of the stage: "Before I bring the first witness, I would like to ask permission from the court to ask the defendant a number of questions."

The defense attorney jumped out of his chair like a bolt of lightening: "Only on condition that they are relevant to the case at hand!!" "Sit down!" lashed the judge. "Obviously, permission is granted," he said to the prosecutor.

The prosecutor approached the defendant's stand and spoke beautifully and eloquently. "According to your claim of innocence, the wallet found in your possession is yours, is it not?"

"Yes," answered Rabbi Hayyim Simhah confidently. "Both the wallet and money are mine."

"Now, please tell us, what is your profession?"

"I am a yeshivah student."

"Really. A yeshivah students wanders around the city carrying one hundred and forty rubles? Do you really think we can believe something like that?" he mocked.

to be continued.


Mosheh and Aharon stood before Pharaoh, demanding that the king set the nation free, and Pharaoh refused. Aharon then took his staff and threw it down before Pharaoh. Miraculously, it turned into a serpent. Pharaoh then called for his magicians and wise men to appear before him, each with his staff. He signaled to them, and they all threw down their staffs before the throne. Amazingly, they all turned into snakes. What a sight! The world's capital of witchcraft suddenly became the capital of reptiles! Then, the next miracle occurred - Aharon's staff/serpent began slithering along towards the others, and then swallowed one serpent after another. It essentially cleared the entire area and returned to Aharon's hand, to the shock and horror of the audience.

Without question, this incident contains some message for us. After all, the Torah is a book of lessons, and every parashah presents us with some guidance and direction. What are we to learn from this event? What does it say to us and about us?

We introduce our answer with the comments of the Nessiv zs"l, the Rosh Yeshivah of Volozhin (in "He'amek Davar," Bemidbar 8:2). He explains that the menorah in the mishkan symbolizes the Torah, with the seven different arms representing the seven categories of human wisdom: "Within the Oral Torah are contained the seven categories of wisdom, for without knowledge of all the areas of wisdom one cannot understand several fundamental precepts of the Torah, such as the measurements relevant to the laws of 'kilayim' [forbidden methods of grafting] and plant-stems ['ukssin'], the laws regarding the declaration of the new moon, and many other issues involving measurements. All the areas of wisdom come to serve and explain the warnings of the Written Torah. One who has eyes will find all the areas of wisdom alluded to in the Written Torah."

In fact, this idea appears explicitly in a pasuk: "All that Hashem has performed - was for His sake." Everything was created for Hashem's Honor, and His Glory can be "extracted" from everything. "Aharon's staff" - which symbolizes the power of Torah and service of Hashem - can swallow all the staffs of the Egyptian sorcerers, meaning, it can take all foreign wisdom and use it for the service of the Creator. They can be used to help understand the laws of the Torah and to see the Hand of Hashem, that His power and strength indeed fills the Earth.

When the other areas of wisdom serve this purpose, they become sacred fields of study, objects of missvah and kedushah, means of serving the Almighty and studying Torah. The sacred staff, which contained within it the staffs of the magicians, was called, "mateh ha'Elokim" - the staff of God - and brought about several holy miracles, such as producing water by hitting a rock. What enabled it to do all this was its having served purposes of sanctity. However, the serpents of and within themselves are mere witchcraft, foreign and rejected. This analysis presents us with a Torah perspective regarding Torah education, which is pure and sacred, exalted and sublime. We may study all different fields, so long as they serve sacred functions and retain their status and subsidiary to the Torah, the Torah of Hashem, the ultimate purpose of human life and the reason for the creation of the world. Torah is what builds the individual, his outlook, world-view, conduct, personality, character and speech.

This is, essentially, the purpose of the Torah education network. Herein lies the vast difference between it and secular education, which is detached from our religion and heritage. One is mistaken if he thinks that the difference relates only to religious studies, that here the students pray and there they don't; here they study Torah as it was given at Sinai and there it is treated as "scriptural studies," Heaven forbid; that here they learn Mishnah, Gemara and Halachah while there they don't, but they are equivalent regarding secular studies. This not the case at all. True, both here and there students learn mathematics and engineering, both systems teach grammar and language, geography and botany, everything. It would seem, however, that in our systems the level is higher, as the studies are approached more seriously, without violence and uncontrollable disruption. There is no rampant permissiveness that distracts students from their studies. But more importantly, the nature of the study is altogether different. Here it is taught from a totally different mindset and perspective, from a Jewish angle, out of sense of respect for the Almighty and His power, and thus everything in fact becomes religious studies, it all takes on much greater and exalted meaning and significance.

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