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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


"Moshe said, 'With our youngsters and with our elders we will go…because it is a festival of Hashem for us.'" (10:9)

In the beginning of Sefer Devarim, when Moshe Rabbeinu rebukes Klal Yisrael regarding their behavior leading up to the cheit ha'meraglim, sin of the spies, he remarks, "All of you approached and said." He admonishes them for approaching him in a disorderly, disrespectful manner, with the young people pushing ahead of the elders, and the elders pushing aside the leaders. Rashi observes that this was in sharp contrast to the Giving of the Torah where everyone came up in an orderly fashion, according to age and station in life. We derive from this that proper derech eretz, etiquette and manners, is for the young to follow their elders. Why then does Moshe say, "With our youngsters and with our elders we will go," placing the young before their elders? Should it not have been the other way around?

Horav Dov Eliezrov, z.l., explains this with a lesson in chinuch, Torah education. Pharaoh had demanded that only the grown men should leave to serve Hashem. Moshe told Pharaoh that this is not consistent with the Jewish system of education. Mitzvah observance accompanied by Torah study begins at a very young age. As soon as a Jewish child learns to speak, words of Torah become the first words in his lexicon. This is immediately followed by exposure to an environment replete with the spiritual amenities that will stimulate his growth in Torah and mitzvah observance. Maybe, in the pagan Egyptian religion, the young have little or no significance. In the Jewish religion, however, they are everything. They take precedence. It is for us a chag, festival, which we will celebrate with the Almighty. This heightened spiritual experience is a time when the young stand together with the old, absorbing the spiritual influence that permeates the air.

Jewish education has been the foundation of the Jewish People from their very genesis. Pharaoh knew that by keeping the youth in Egypt, he was causing a break in the chain of tradition in which a father teaches his son. It is important that the present generation imbue the future generation, based upon the inspiration of the past generation. This idea, says Nachlas Tzvi, was the underlying motif of Moshe's dialogue with Pharaoh. Moshe told Pharaoh that with our young, who represent our future, with our old, who signify our past; and with our sons and daughters, who comprise the present - we will go forward to worship Hashem. This is the only way that Klal Yisrael will survive, if we maintain our link with the past. The greatest, most significant and most meaningful source of educational inspiration occurs when children observe their parents' involvement in Torah and mitzvos. They emulate what we do. We must, therefore, make sure that they observe something that we want them to emulate.

Nachlas Tzvi cites an inspirational story about Horav Meir Shapiro, z.l., the Lubliner Rav and founder of the Daf HaYomi, system of studying one folio of Talmud every day. The Lubliner Rav was a brilliant scholar whose reputation was worldwide. He would constantly attribute his overwhelming success to his mother. His father, in speaking about her, would quote Shlomo HaMelech's pasuk in Eishas Chayil, "Many daughters have amassed achievement, but you surpassed them all." He would supplement this by saying, "Her love for Torah which burns within her produced an unparalleled fruit: She devoted her son to Torah from an early age." When Rav Meir grew into adulthood he would often relate the following incredible incident that occurred when he was seven years old.

One day shortly after Pesach in 1894, Rav Meir noticed his mother weeping bitterly. He immediately asked her what was wrong. She informed him that prior to Pesach she had invited a great Torah scholar from a nearby city to teach him. She had even agreed on the fee of three hundred rubles, which was a large sum at the time, and he had not arrived. It was already two days after Yom Tov and the melamed, teacher, was not yet here. She explained to him, "You should know, my son, that every day that goes by without Torah study is an irretrievable loss. Perhaps I did not offer him enough money. While the sum may constitute an incredible amount of money for us, it is but a small sacrifice for us to offer so that you will study Torah." Shortly thereafter, the teacher arrived. For the next six years, he devoted himself fully to teaching Torah to this budding Torah scholar, whose brilliant scholarship and unparalleled leadership ability would inspire the Torah world.

Regrettably, Rav Meir's mother did not live to see the light of her life shine brilliantly throughout the world. She passed away as a young woman during the first world war. Her son never forgot his mother's love and sacrifice. Indeed, once Rav Meir was speaking to a large assemblage of men and women. Suddenly, in middle of his address, he declared with great emotion, "Be happy and filled with joy, my dear mother, as you rest in Gan Eden. You have truly earned your reward. Look down at the eminence that your son has achieved. Take note of his distinction as a gadol b'Yisrael, Torah leader."

Understandably, the audience was shocked. While it was certainly true, what possessed Rav Meir to make this public declaration in the middle of his speech? Why would he laud himself publicly at this venue? After a moment Rav Meir turned to the balcony where the women were seated and proclaimed, "You women of Klal Yisrael, righteous, holy mothers of the Jewish People, if you, too, desire and aspire that you shall have sons that are Torah luminaries, scholars and rabbanim, then follow in the footsteps of my revered, beloved mother who sacrificed her life so that her son could distinguish himself in Torah."

Rav Meir sought to dramatize a point. He wanted to captivate the people and grab their attention so that they they would hear his message. He succeeded. Now, if we will also listen, it will prove worthwhile to us, as well.

"And it shall be when your children say to you, 'What is this service to you?' … and the people bowed their heads and prostrated themselves." (12:12,27)

Rashi explains that the Jews bowed their heads in gratitude for the news that they would be blessed with children. This is enigmatic. Veritably, the liberation from Egypt is something to be excited about. After what they had endured for all these years, it would make sense that they should be overjoyed and shout their joy from the rooftops. This is certainly something for which they should bow their heads. What is so unusual about being blessed with children? This is a nation that was giving birth to sextuplets. They experienced the first population explosion. Why are they so excited to hear that they would have children?

Horav Elazar Menachem Man Schach, z.l., offers a compelling explanation. When we look around with a penetrating eye, we realize that fathers are not begetting children. What is really happening is that fathers are begetting fathers! He is raising an individual who is completely independent, thinking and rendering decisions for himself. The father cares not what the son does, nor does the son care what the father is doing. They are independent of each other. The family unit has been shattered. Each one has his own interests and lifestyle. They get together at family social occasions to interact a bit, for "old times" sake. This is the story, regrettably, of the contemporary lifestyle throughout a greater part of the world. We think that if we bury our heads in the ground and ignore the social climate around us, it will not affect us. That is a grave mistake. A problem does not go away just because we close our eyes to it. This was the good news that Klal Yisrael was waiting to hear. This is why they bowed their heads in gratitude. They were told that they would have "banim," children, who would inquire into their customs and traditions, who would question the "avodah," work, that involved so much of their time. This is the first step towards a relationship: the child asks; he inquires; he wants to know, what and why, he wants to interact. This is wonderful news.

We may add that Klal Yisrael's reaction is a necessary prerequisite for the enduring success of the parent/child relationship. Klal Yisrael bowed their heads in gratitude. They were happy. They appreciated children that question, that inquired, that sought answers, that wanted to understand their parents tradition and lifestyle. A child should ask, but if the parent has no desire to respond the parent has severed his/her relationship with their child. This type of parent neither manifests interest in his/her child nor appreciates the value of the parent-child relationship. Such people have not earned a relationship. They are responsible for the consequences of their lack of engagement.

"And it shall be a sign upon your hand, and for frontlets between your eyes; for by strength of the hand, Hashem has brought us out of Egypt." (13:16)

The Exodus should be memorialized in ways other than an annual celebration of miracles that were wrought for us some thousands of years ago. Its eternal message and lessons should be before the mind of a Jew, by means of a "sign" on the hand and frontlets between the eyes. These reminders, which are called Tefillin, include four sections of passages from the Torah which embrace: kabbolas ol malchus Shomayim, acceptance of the yoke of Heaven; achdus ha'Borai, unity of the Creator; and yetzias Mitzrayim, the exodus from Egypt. These fundamental doctrines, the foundation stone of our belief, must never leave our mind and heart, as we dedicate the intellect of the mind, as well as the emotion and passion represented by the heart, to the Almighty.

Throughout the millennia, the Jewish People have maintained their bond with the Almighty through their observance of the mitzvah of Tefillin. Numerous stories recount the devotion of our People to observing this mitzvah under the most difficult circumstances. Tefillin is a reminder of past miracles. Its observance strengthens our faith and commitment. Furthermore, Tefillin are a part of the Jew's uniform, which he dons daily as a proclamation of his deep rooted conviction. I recently came across an inspiring "Tefillin story," which conveys a universal message.

The hero of our story is a young yeshivah high-school student whom we will call David, who volunteered this past summer at the local home for the aged. One of the jobs of the volunteers was to ask the residents if they would like to go to the daily services. Most of the residents were receptive. Those who were not, were generally pleasant about it. There was one man, however, who was rather offensive in his attitude. He not only refused to attend, but he even once cursed the volunteer that had suggested he come daven, pray. Hearing this, David decided that he would go have a friendly chat with his resident.

David went over to the dining room, saw the man, and said, "The volunteers are only here to help you. There is no reason to curse them." The resident looked at David and responded "Wheel me back into my room, I want to tell you a story." David wheeled the man into his room. After he was comfortable, the resident began to relate the following story:

"I had grown up in a prominent, observant home. Everyone but my father and I had already been murdered by the Nazis. In the concentration camp in which we were interred someone had smuggled in a Tefillin-shel-rosh, which is worn on the head. Every morning the men would take turns putting on the Tefillin, even if just for a second."

"The day before my bar-mitzvah, my father became aware of a man who had a whole set of Tefillin. That evening, the man who had smuggled in the pair of Tefillin was killed by the Nazis. After hearing of the man's death, my father decided to go to his bunk and locate the Tefillin so that I could have a complete pair of Tefillin for my bar-mitzvah. On the way back, my father was seen by a Nazi, who shot and killed him before my very eyes. Somehow I managed to take the Tefillin and hide them."

The resident paused and then asked, "How could you expect me to pray to a G-d who would kill a boy's father right in front of him? He was getting Tefillin for me to be able to pray to Him! Is this the reward? My father was all I had left in the world. Why?"

Another minute went by, and the resident said, "Go to my dresser and open the top drawer." David did as he was told, opened the drawer and found an old black, worn-out bag. The man asked him to bring over the bag. The resident opened the bag to reveal its contents - a pair of Tefillin. "You see these boxes! I keep them to show people what my father died for: dirty black boxes and straps. They were the last thing my father gave me. This is my inheritance!"

One can only imagine the hurt and depression this young boy must have felt. He left the room speechless. He could neither eat nor sleep restfully. He empathized with the resident, but how could he explain to him that he was wrong? The next day, he avoided the man's floor until he was notified that they were one short of a minyan, quorom, and one of the residents needed to say Kaddish. He searched all over for a tenth man, to no avail. He had no choice but to go to the recalcitrant resident and ask him to join them.

David went to the room and asked the resident if he would attend the services so that another resident could say Kaddish. He was prepared for a negative response, so he was taken aback when the reply was, "If I come, will you then leave me alone?" David said, "Yes, if you come I will not bother you any more." David quickly added, "Would you like me to bring along the Tefillin?" To his shock, the resident said, "Yes, but after this, you must promise to leave me alone."

They went down to the synagogue. David wheeled the resident to the back. Just before he left, David showed the man how to put on the Tefillin. When the services were over, David returned to the room to help bring back the residents. He came into the synagogue to find one worshiper - his "charge," the resident whom he had brought to complete the minyan. He was sitting in the back of the shul, with his Tefillin still on. Tears were pouring down his cheeks.

"Should I get a nurse or a doctor? Does something hurt you?" David blurted out. Nothing - no response, just bitter weeping. He was mumbling something. David bent over to listen. He heard the resident saying over and over again, "Tatti, Tatti, it feels so right," as he kept staring at the Tefillin straps on his arm.

David waited until the man calmed down. He took him back to his room and helped him into his bed. The man turned to David and said, "During the hour that I wore the Tefillin, I felt as if my father were with me."

Every day after that, David would pick the man up and bring him to shul to daven with his "newly found" Tefillin. One day towards the end of the summer, David came to perform his daily ritual, but the man was not there. He was told to his great chagrin, that the resident was taken to the hospital during the night. They had just received word that he had died. David was broken-hearted. He had developed a close relationship with the elderly resident over the past few weeks. He would miss him.

A few weeks later, a woman came to the home and asked to speak to David. She said to him, "You do not know me, but you were very special in my father's eyes. Actually, in a way, you saved my father's life." She then introduced herself as the resident's daughter. "Shortly before my father died," she continued, "he asked me to bring him his Tefillin. He knew he had very little time left, and he wanted to put on his Tefillin one last time and pray with them. You truly saved him and made his last days on this world comfortable. You helped him to reconcile himself with his past. My father died wearing his Tefillin. Thank you so much for caring about him." Years of bitterness were made sweet by an individual who cared about another person. This is a Tefillin story with a message about caring, because we do not always realize the difference that a little bit of caring can make.

Questions and Answers

1) Was the plague of locusts the largest plague of locusts that ever occurred?

2) Why did Hashem send the plague of darkness against the Egyptians? If he did not want them to see, He could have simply afflicted them with blindness?

3) How did the plague of darkness differ from the preceding eight plagues?

4) Why is the mitzvah of eating matzoh on Pesach night a Biblical injunction, while eating marror today is only a Rabbinic obligation?


1) During the time of Yoel HaNavi, people were struck with a locust that consisted of special species. The locust of Egypt were of one type, constituting the largest plague of one type of locust (Rashi). Alternatively, the locust that plagued Eretz Yisrael during the time of Yoel was larger than that of Egypt (Ramban).

2) When a person becomes blind, his other senses become stronger in order to compensate for the lost sense of sight. The darkness compelled the Egyptians to strain their eyes in vain, without experiencing any enhancement in their other senses (Malbim).

3) The darkness came in two parts and lasted for six days, while the other plagues all lasted for a full week.

4) The mitzvah of eating matzoh together with marror applies only when they are eaten together with the Korban Pesach. The Torah repeats the mitzvah of eating matzoh to teach us that there is a separate mitzvah of eating matzoh. Hence, today, when there is no Korban Pesach, the mitzvah of marror is a Rabbinical obligation, while the mitzvah of eating matzoh retains its obligation from the Torah.

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