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by Daneal Weiner
This is my bar mitzvah parsha so I guess I got a little carried away. But please, no checks and certainly don’t send cash. Our postal finest tear open any suspecting envelope to check for green. Just coincidentally I received an email asking me to make my dvar Torah even longer! He said he prints it out and reads it in synagogue while the Rabbi speaks and he's still catching his last 10 minutes. I’m glad someone in the world is more long-winded than I. Hey, this one’s for you!
The last words of last week’s parsha was Yoseph being buried. This weeks
opens with, “And these are the names..." The Sha'arai Aharon brings Rishonim- 1000 year old commentaries who say it is from these adjacent verses that we learn to have a deceased's name indicated on their resting place. The whole world may be doing it but they saw it here first!
By the way, the Hebrew for coffin is "arone" which is also the word for closet. Just as we use a closet for the temporary storage of things we will take out again, so too does Hashem use the coffin as a temporary storage till He takes us out again at the resurrection of the dead! Even after losing all my weight I’ll still put it back on again!
Verse 1:8 says, "And there arose a new king over Egypt that did not know Yoseph." Two verses later Pharaoh "says to his people, 'Let us deal wisely with them.'" on which Rashi explains that Pharaoh is going to try killing the Jewish males through water since Pharaoh knows Hashem promised not to destroy the world with a flood. Hmmm? Pharaoh knows about the flood 800 years ago but he doesn't know about Yoseph, 60 years ago? Perhaps this is what leads Rashi to say back on verse 1:8 that Pharaoh made himself as if he did not know Yoseph, meaning, like he owed nothing to the Jews. The whole world may be doing it but they saw it here first.
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch has a very interesting explanation of these verses. He theorizes it was a coup. A small, powerful, outside force came in and overthrew the Egyptian government. Rav Hirsch further supports this theory with the Torah telling us Pharaoh "says to his people" as opposed to saying to the people. Also, verse 1:9 has Pharaoh complaining the Jews are “greater in number and stronger” then they. Could an Egyptian born Pharaoh make such a comparison between the Jews and the Egyptians? But an army of mercenaries would fear retribution from friends of the government they just overthrew.
This self imposed Pharaoh also has the problem of getting the Egyptian public on his side so they won't rebel either. His answer- a scapegoat! Rav Hirsch says this is the first case of classic anti-Semitism. Groundless hatred for political gain. On High, the hatred was not groundless at all. When Yaakov died his descendants feared they would lose their influence and left their ghetto safe haven of Goshen and began assimilating into Egyptian society. The indication of the assimilation is in Pharaoh's having to say, "let us deal wisely with them". Due to our social acceptance the new Pharaoh needed a way of sifting the Jews out and getting the Egyptians to stand behind him in turning on them.
Frightening, this late 19th century German Rav’s theory foreshadowing early 20th century events. Rebellious Jews left their safe havens and headed for Berlin. The government was taken over by a small, outside force. One man, a school dropout, a blue collar worker, an ex-con, the absolute antithesis of everything the modern, educated, cultured Germany stood for. He dealt wisely with his scapegoats. And all Berlin’s professors and doctors turned their backs on their Jewish colleagues and were among the first to join the Nazi party. Such implausible events could only occur under the specific direction of the Master of the Universe.
But Hashem controls everything, great and small, catastrophic or blessed. Pharaoh eventually orders all newborn males to be drowned in the Nile. Pharaoh’s very proclamation Hashem saw would cause Moshe to be raised in Pharaoh’s very own home! Not only that, since Moshe refuses to nurse from an Egyptian woman, Pharaoh ends up paying Moshe’s mother to nurse and care for Moshe herself! Blessed are You Hashem Who straightens the bent!
When Moshe was born it says that his mother saw he was good and hid him. An interesting expression. Most mothers would see their children as cute, cuddley, hairy or bald, scrunchy… but good? As a door stop, maybe? Rashi says on good that the house was filled with light. The Kli Yakar says the light was the Ohr Haganuz- the Hidden Light. Hashem created this light on day one and after 36 hours He hid it away for times yet to come. When Yocheved, Moshe's mom, sensed something good about Moshe, good as in the 6-days-of-creation-kind-of-good and she hid her son.
I just heard a tape from a Rav Milevsky, zt’l who had some beautiful insights. During the story of creation, every day Hashem saw it was good except for one, the second day. On day two Hashem separated the higher waters from the lower waters (by putting a rakia-firmament between the two). On the day the world reaches perfection Hashem will be One and His Name will be one. The world is about unification. So taking one body of water and separating it into two is not a good thing. The idea becomes more apparent when we step out of our 6th grade impressions and incorporate the knowledge that Torah is symbolized by water. The upper and lower waters represent relationships in Torah. Relationships of our world to Torah. Maybe the separation was between hidden and revealed Torah or maybe between a spiritual realm and a physical realm. Whatever it’s shallowest or deepest meaning, separation is not good. On that day there was no mention of good.
Hashem’s greatest gift to mankind, the Torah, He calls a “lekach tov”- a good take. Yocheved saw that Moshe was good. Torah good. Uniting good. Moshe was going to be the man that reached up into the heavens to bring the Torah down into the world.
Our Oral Tradition tells us that also on day two of creation Gehenom- inaccurately translated as hell, came into being. This is one in the same idea with the separation of the waters. Our spiritual shortcomings, the degree to which we do not reconnect ourselves with our Creator, that is what Gehenom comes to rectify in us.
Moshe was born on the 7th of Adar. He was three months ‘premature’. The family could only hide him those 3 months till the Egyptians would come to inquire if Yocheved had given birth or not and to what, a boy or girl? They placed Moshe in a pitch-lined basket and placed him in the reeds on the bank of the Nile. Miriam stood at a distance to see (2:4) "mah yai'aseh lo"- what would be with him. The daughter of Pharaoh came down to the Nile to bath. Our Oral Tradition says she was coming to cleanse herself of the idolatry of Egypt. She was coming ritually immerse herself in the Nile as a mikvah to convert! The Torah calls her Basya because she is now Bas Y-a, daughter of Hashem. She finds Moshe (3 months after 7 Adar) on the 7th of Sivan! The day the revelation on Mt. Sinai was to take place!
Rav Milevsky said Basya looked at Moshe and had a Sinai-atic experience! She saw Moshe, she saw the Ohr Haganuz, she saw the good and she saw the truth. This is what caused her to convert on the spot. This may be a differing opinion than the former which said she was already coming to convert or they could be one in the same. Perhaps our Sages who said she was already coming to convert meant that while she was thinking she was coming to take a bath Divine Providence knew she was coming to immerse herself for conversion.
Something comes to my mind. It may be emes, it may be fish wrapping. What happened to Bnei Yisrael after their Sinai-atic experience? That’s a bit broad. I’ll give you a hint. What happened to them that the sin of the golden calf undid? They the level of the Garden of Eden prior to the sin of Adam and Chava! Immortality!! The Gemorah Derech Erets Zuta lists 9 people who bypassed death and went straight into Gan Eden alive. Guess who is on that list? Basya, daughter of Pharaoh!
So Miriam took Moshe back home to for Yocheved to nurse, now on Pharaoh’s payroll, and moshe “grew up” there, as it says in the Torah. The Ramban says “grew up” means just till he was weaned because soon the Torah says again he “grew up” in the palace. Once in the palace he was adopted by Basya and she then named him Moshe because he was drawn from the water. In 6th grade we pictured him coming out of a basket from the water. Now that we’ve grown up what does it also mean? Water is Torah. Moshe was drawn from Torah. His being, his soul came from Torah.
It is said about the Gra’h, the Ga’on of Vilna- the Genius of Vilna, that he said a blessing before he nursed. Maybe it wasn’t on day one but after year one. That’s still pretty good. The point is the Gra’h had a lofty neshama, clearly recognizable even early on. His lifetime accomplishments only amplified his loftiness. We can’t imagine what Moshe was like even on day one, let alone after 3 months, after one year nor after two years! If we think Moshe just dribbled at home till he was given to Basya to dribble on her, I have to imagine we’d have a 99.999999% chance of being wrong. Let’s not underestimate his time spent under his mother and father’s care and the wisdom and identity he gained from them. So even after being brought to Pharaoh’s palace where “he grew” to manhood, where Rashi says “he grew” to be head of Pharaoh’s palace, he still had his special neshama, he still knew his parents, he still had Basya and the first thing the Torah says about Moshe in his adult life is that he went out to his brethren and he saw their affliction.
Moshe’s cry was the cry of a young adult. A baby only knows how to cry for himself. A young adult is already capable of crying for his people. An act of Moshe’s identification and connection with Israel is the first thing we hear from him and the first thing we see him do!
Miriam's reward for waiting to see what would be with Moshe was Bnei Yisrael waiting for her in the desert when she had Tsara'as- inaccurately translated as leprosy, and her leading the women in song after the splitting of the sea. The Chasam Sofer asks, what does one thing have to do with the other?
There is little we know of Hashem's system of reward and punishment. One insight Hashem revealed is midah k'neged midah- measure for measure. Once the 10 plagues start we could fill libraries with how each plague did to Egypt what they tried doing to the Jews. With Hashem’s help we’ll look at one.
Another insight we have we see in a number of places, the 10 commandments being one, where it says, (20:5-6) "...a zealous G-d Who visits the sins of the father upon children to the third and fourth generations, for those who hate Me; but Who does kindness for thousands of generations for those who love Me and observe My commandments." There is a principle that when something is mentioned in plural but without a number we assume it to mean the minimum plural, two. So “thousands of generations” = two thousand generations. In summary, punishment is paid to the 4th generation and reward to the 2000th. That's a 1:500 ratio between payback for sin and payback for deeds. Joining this with the first insight of midah k'neged midah we have the payback for sinning is 1 to 1 while reward is paid back 500 times the good deed. The Chasam Sofer's question is, what is the measure for measure of Miriam's deed and where is the 500 to 1?
First we have to know what Miriam did. She waited to see what would be with Moshe. How long did she wait? A Midrash and a Mishnah in Sotah says she waited 1 hour. We can hear Bnei Yisrael waiting for her is midah k'neged midah for her waiting. Bnei Yisrael waited a week. How many hours are in a week? 24 x 7 = 168. A long way from 500!
Good news! Tosofos on the Mishnah in Sotah says that it wasn't a full hour Miriam waited but a ‘small hour’. The Chasam Sofer says Tosofos is referring to a myl- a unit of measure of time as well as distance. It takes a myl of time to walk a myl in distance. It is even alluded to in the verse, "Miriam stood from a distance to see 'mah yai'aseh lo'- what will be with him." The first letter of each of the words mah yai'aseh lo spell out myl. So when Bnei Yisrael waited 7 days, we need to know how many myl are in a day.
Good news! A Gemorah in Pesachim says that Bnei Yisrael were able to walk 40 myl a day! 40 x 7 = 280. Still too small! We need bigger numbers.
Good news! Not only did a pillar of cloud lead Bnei Yisrael by day but there was also a pillar of fire leading them by night! So in a 24 hour period they could put in 80 myl!!! That’s big! 80 x 7 = 560! That’s too big!
Good news! Shabbos!!! No, a car didn’t drive by. We can't travel on Shabbos! Take off a day’s worth of myl. 560 - 80 = 480. We’re finally in the ball park but not batting 500 yet.
Good news! There is some travel allowed on Shabbos! It is limited to the techum Shabbos. How far is that? Most are familiar with the techum being 2000 amos outside the city limits but that is actually a Rabbinic injunction. According to the Torah, the techum Shabbos is 12 myl. No one would walk that distance for fear of transgressing Shabbos so 11 myl is the most Bnei Yisrael would travel on Shabbos. 480 + 11 = 491. Man o' schevits! We're 9 myl short!?!
Great news!!! There was the second reward given to Miriam, leading the women in song. The words of that song are, (15:21) "Shiru l'Hashem ki gah'oh gah'ah soos v'rochvoh rahmah vayam!" The Hebrew for 'word' is 'mylah'! This song is 9 mylim long!!!!! 491+9 = A Gevaldik Vort by the Chasam Sofer!!! One of my favorties!
Rav Osher Reich told me the Chasam Sofer would think of such things in-between aliyahs for the Torah reading. This explains when the Chasam Sofer was asked how he became so great, why he answered, "It took 5 minutes." He never let even 5 minutes go by without flipping open a book and learning what ever he could in those few precious available moments.
Speaking of flipping open a book, Rav Wolfson explains that The book of Shemos IS the book of names. "And these are the names of the Children of Israel who came to Egypt...Reuven, Shimon, Levi…" He asks (and asks and asks) It was only a week ago that we mentioned these very names! Why say them again? And speaking of names, a Gemorah Chullin asks where is Moshe’s name alluded to in the Torah? How about the 1000 times it's mentioned outright? They need a hint to it? And speaking of hints, the first thing we're hit with in Shemos is the slavery of Israel. Not just servitude but severe oppression! Building buildings which will topple! Innocent babies thrown into the Nile! More killed so Pharaoh can bathe in their blood! Placed into the walls as bricks! We’ve just gone from the orderly lives of our forefathers to chaos! Any hint of He Who is in charge?!? Hold these thoughts.
Verses 1:15-16, "The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, the name of one Shifra and the name of the second was Puah. And he said, 'In your assisting...if it is a son you shall kill him..." In summary, "The king of Egypt said...And he said." The Torah is emphasizing two orders! There only seemed to be one?
Verse 1:18, "The king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said, 'Why have you done this thing and have kept the boys alive?'" One more time. "Why have you done this thing AND have kept the boys alive?" Sounds like Pharaoh is questioning the midwives on two fronts. And it was only a moment ago that we have Pharaoh speaking two orders! What's the missing command? Both the Chasam Sofer and the Bnei Yissaschar agree that the first thing Pharaoh commanded was that these two maidservants were to be named Shifra and Puah! Who were they?
We know them to be Yocheved and Miriam. The wife of the present spiritual leader of the Jewish nation and her daughter. Pharaoh is calling on the two most righteous woman of Israel and is asking them to kill Jews!? And he’s not crazy. What Pharaoh, thking idolater knows is that everything is a channel for energy. That is what idolatry is about. The most powerful channel is a name! A name is the essence of a person. Their purpose on earth. The reason for their existence. Nothing is more dear to the soul then its name. Any good sales course will tell a salesman to mention the customer’s name as often as possible to suck 'em in, I mean to gain rapport. Any good book on child rearing will warn parents not to give their child a 'bad name' (I.e., Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, Droopy...) lest they be guilty of making their child that which they have labeled them! The whole world may doing it but they saw it here first!
Pharaoh knew the righteousness of who he was talking to. If his plan was to work, he had to have midwives whom the Jews trusted. You hear a midwife killed the last 50 boys she delivered you'd think twice about calling her up. If Yocheved and Miriam were those midwives, who else would you call? Pharaoh had to crack through their shell of sanctity to win them over to his side. The first thing he said was for them to be called by Egyptian names, Shifra and Puah. If your looking to channel some bad energy through a name, I'd say an Egyptian name would deliver more junk for your drachma. After giving these treif names a time to water down their foundation Pharaoh calls them again and this second time he orders them to kill the males. And the third time he calls them, “Why have you done this thing AND have kept the boys alive?” The first half regarding not keeping the command to change their names and the second half regarding the obvious.
Another insight about names. How is Shimon the Righteous a man who was the High Priest in the Temple for 40 years and yet Shimon HaPorets was the head of the Biryonim- Jewish zealots who caused senseless Jewish bloodshed before the fall of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple? Two Shimons, one served the Jews and one killed Jews? If a name defines a person than how are these two people so different? Now Rav Wolfson introduces the idea of tsirufim- combinations. Although both Shimons have the same letters they have different combinations which make up their individual essence. Like taking the same elements of the periodic table bonding together in different ways. The science world discovered it but they saw it here first!
Last week we just listed the names of the tribes of Israel. But those names had the tsirufim of Jews going into exile. We now seem to have the same names again but this time their tsirufim make them names on the brink of redemption! When Moshe speaks with Hashem at the burning bush he asks, "If they ask Your Name, what shall I say?" At 80 Moshe doesn’t know Hashem’s Name? Moshe was asking which tsiruf of the ineffable letters is redeeming the Jews? The Name would reveal if it was to be a temporary redemption or the final one. Hashem tells Moshe “I Am that I Am” and then He says, “Answer the people, ‘I Am’ is redeeming them.” Hashem delays His response. We know Moshe’s empathy for Israel. If Hashem told Moshe straight out the Name for a temporary redemption the pain would have been too great to bear. The stall created a doubt. The doubt softened the blow.
Another idea about names, the first time a person or thing is found in the Torah, in the blueprint of the universe, that is where the roots of it are planted. The Gemorah Chullin knows the first time Moshe's name appears in the Torah but is that where he is rooted or is mentioned, even alluded to elsewhere? It answers from Breishis (6:3) "...b'shagam who basar..." B'shagam has the same numeric equivalent as Moshe. These words mean, "since he is but flesh." Unlike other religious leaders who have been made into gods and who I shouldn’t be comparing to Moshe, Moshe is the one leader who did reach the heavens and he is but flesh. The end of that sentence? "...his days shall be a hundred and twenty years." What that flesh and blood accomplished in just 120 years! Wonder what we could do?
At this point in Breishis the Torah had just introduced us to Noach. This is where Moshe's roots are. If you think about it, Noach had trouble with water, Moshe had trouble with water. Noach was saved by an ark, Moshe was saved by an ark. These two redeemers of the world seem to have more in common than meets the eye. In a few weeks, if the Mashiach hasn't come, we'll see how Moshe makes reparation for a mistake Noach made. Can one man atone for another man’s soul or were they one in the same?
And the most pressing questions, about the chaos, the oppression, the innocent infants being killed, the Who's in charge here? Hashem's in charge, of course! "And these are the names of the Children of Israel..." All these names have their purpose on earth even if that purpose is to live but a few days, hours, or moments and then to return to the World of Truth. The Zohar explains there was a generation of people who were decreed to die by a flood. For some, their sins were so great that one drowning wasn't enough! We have criminals in jail for multiple life sentences. We hope each life sentence adds 15 minutes before they're paroled. Hashem's system is a little more accurate. The babies thrown into the Nile were a reincarnations of souls who drowned in Noach's flood but it wasn’t enough.
There was a generation of people who banded together to build a tower to do battle with Hashem! Their free will was to put all their energy into a building with no substance, which wouldn’t endure. The Torah tells us with bricks and mortar they built that tower. Now in Egypt, against their will they build with bricks and mortar. The Midrash says that by the Tower of Bavel, if a brick fell from the scaffold they wept. If a person fell he was easily replaced. Now in Egypt the bricks also have more value then the lives of the builders.
More recent of our holy Sages have said that the Jews senselessly killed in the massacres of Tach v'Tat were the souls of those Biryonim who cause the senseless killing of Jews of the second Temple era.
"And these are the names of the Children of Israel..." Only since the Holocaust do we have unfortunate Jews with even more unfortunate education asking where was G-d during the Holocaust? As if no evil ever befell the Jewish people before then. Hashem was where He always was. Going through His Book of Names. This same book which starts us out at our lowest levels of existence and raises us to the level of Mt. Sinai, builds the Mishkan with us and who's very last words tell of the Presence of Hashem's Shchinah resting in our midst in all our travels. In all our trials. In all our tribulations. For all times.
The name of this time of the year is Shovevim, spelled by the first letters of the first 6 chapters of Shemos, the Book of Names. These 6 chapters equal 6 weeks with the potential to bring us to immortality of the Sinai-atic experience. Shovevim is not just a name. It's an essence. A power implanted in time and space which we can tap into even today. Especially today. Our great grandparents used to take on fasting during this time. Put aside extra time for learning. They would get up early to say Tehillim before davening. The Bnei Yissaschar points out the last letters of the first 5 words of Shemos are letters which spell 'Tehillim'.
I heard from Rav Mordechai Isbee that when the Jews entered Israel, not only did they merit coming in but the present occupants filled their measure of wickedness and deserved to be kicked out. There is no question that our enemies are filling their share of wickedness. We have to fill our share of merit! What better way than to tap into the power of Shovevim and have an Sinai-atic Shabbot Shalom.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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