JANUARY 19-20, 2000 25 TEBET 5761
- Rabbi Reuven Semah
"The Egyptians enslaved the Children of Israel with crushing harshness" (Shemot 1:13)
The exile of Egypt begins for the Jewish people. The land of Egypt in Hebrew is called "Misrayim." This word is derived and related to the word "Mesarim," which means pressure. The Israelites were pressed with extreme pressure. Today we are still in exile. If we could describe our exile we would say we are under pressure. There is no doubt that the stress that people are enduring today is at times unbearable. How can we alleviate our stress and the stress of our friends? If we study the exile of Egypt we will find answers.
We, as Americans, have been influenced by a movie called "The Ten Commandments." The movie shows how the Jews were whipped and were made to lift heavy loads. Hollywood even mixed in a little love story surrounding Moses. We came to the conclusion that the slavery in Egypt was bad, but the Holocaust in Europe was worse. This is not true. Jewish babies were grabbed from Jewish mothers and drowned before their eyes. Babies were taken and placed into the mud walls in the place of bricks, and suffocated.
Miriam, the older sister of Moshe Rabenu was born at the time when the bitterness reached its peak. Bitterness was so strong that it was chosen by her loving parents as a name for their only daughter. Miriam means bitterness. Miriam used to sing to the doomed children that were born in Egypt. The Midrash says that she and her mother, Yochebed, would embroider baby clothes for the doomed infants. Imagine the spiritual fortitude required for this. The decree to murder the babies touched the Jewish people in a place where they would feel the pain more acutely than anywhere else. They were left speechless. They felt their complete dependence on Hashem. Why did they feel the closeness to Hashem and not get angry at Hashem? The Midrash explains that despite their spiritual descent to the forty-ninth level of impurity, they still maintained a strong connection to the forefathers, Abraham, Yitzhak and Ya'akob. The people spoke the language, dressed the same way and used the same names as the forefathers. And the forefathers connected them to Hashem. They were able to sustain and flourish in that pressure-cooker of Egypt. They did this by allowing Hashem to shape them and take over their lives. They accepted Hashem's will completely, like water assumes the shape of the vessel that contains it. This is why Miriam merited the well in the desert - because she was like water. This is our antidote to our exile. Let him take over our lives, and we will become free. Shabbat Shalom.
- Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
Anyone who reads the story of Moshe being placed in a basket in the river to prevent his death at the hands of the Egyptians, and then Pharaoh's own daughter saving him can't help but be amazed by the ways of Hashem! Pharaoh made many sweeping decrees to kill the baby boys at birth and afterwards solely to prevent the birth of the redeemer of the Jews. His own daughter saves Moshe from the river and brings him up on his father's lap! The verse in Tehillim says: Et sara hi l'Yaakob umimenah yivashe'a - it is a time of affliction for the house of Jacob and FROM IT he will be saved. The Rabbis tell us that the letters of the word mimenah spell also mehaman- from Haman. In the story of Purim we find a similar parallel. Haman made decrees to wipe out all the Jews but from his very own hands came the salvation! He erected a gallows to kill Mordechai and from his own hand came his downfall when he was hanged on those gallows! This should give us hope and inspiration in our difficult times. The land of Israel is besieged by its enemies, and our people are going through tough times. But Hashem is preparing the time for redemption, and through the enemies' own hands will come the salvation for am Yisrael. We must pray to Hashem with intensity and devotion to merit to see this very soon in our own days! Shabbat Shalom.
"Pharaoh commanded all his people saying, 'Every son that is born cast him into the river, and every daughter you shall sustain [keep alive]'" (Shemot 1:22)
Pharaoh's sole concern was for all the boys to be cast into the river, while the girls did not seem to interest him. Why did he add, "Every daughter you shall sustain"?
The word tehayun means "you shall be the actual source of their life." Pharaoh ordered the Egyptians to cast Jewish children into the river in order to cause their physical death. The same Egyptians were also told by Pharaoh that those children who would remain alive (the girls) were to be sustained by them, that is, assimilated, and totally raised in the Egyptian way of life - in order to exterminate their Jewish souls. This explains the difference in the command to the Jewish midwives and the Egyptians respectively: The Jewish midwives were simply told to leave the girls alone, "If it be a girl, vehaya - let her live" (1:16). Pharaoh hoped that by telling them to let the girls live, it would be easier for him to persuade them to carry out his order to kill the boys. However, he told the Egyptians "tehayun," not just to let the Jewish girls live, but to make sure to assimilate them into Egyptian culture. The Torah cites both decrees together in the same pasuk to indicate that "Every daughter you shall sustain" is a decree equivalent in its harshness and even surpassing the decree regarding the boys. To destroy the soul is equal to the killing of the body, and indeed even worse - for spiritual death far surpasses physical death. (Vedibarta Bam)
This week's Haftarah: Yirmiyahu 1:1 - 2:3.
In our perashah, Hashem commands Moshe to go back to Egypt to bring out B'nei Yisrael. Moshe tries to convince Hashem to send someone else instead of him, until finally Moshe agrees to go. Similarly, in this haftarah, the prophet Yirmiyahu is told by Hashem that he had been chosen to be a prophet. Yirmiyahu attempts to refuse, saying that he is not worthy and that the people will reject him, but he finally agrees. Hashem's prophecy to Yirmiyahu is that even though the Babylonians will bring destruction to Israel, they (and anyone else who rises up against Israel) will be punished by Hashem. Our perashah begins the story of the slavery of the Jews in Egypt which led to the Ten Plagues and the drowning of the Egyptians in the Yam Suf.
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