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Parashat Va'era


A student of the Hafess Hayim zs"l once passed by his rabbi's house on Friday afternoon and was startled by the sound of intense laughter coming from inside. He was amazed - the voice was that of his rabbi, whom had never heard laugh in this manner. He approached the window to see what had happened. What he saw struck him with shock. The Hafess Hayim sat at the table studying the weekly parashah and encountered the account of the plague of boils. He read the pasuk, "The magicians could not stand before Mosheh because of the boils, for the boils affected the magicians and all of Egypt." The ssadik envisioned his mind the scenario: the magicians imitated the plague of blood, they managed to produce several frogs and were then baffled by the plague of lice. Now they stood before Mosheh and Aharon scratching, rubbing themselves, wounded all over, wondering how to hide their shame, ultimately running from the palace in sheer humiliation. Mosheh and Aharon stood, meanwhile, beaming with pride over having carried out their divine mission. The Hafess Hayim thus broke out in laughter over the magicians' shameful flight from the palace.

Indeed, this how we must study these parshiyot, and in this way we must derive the pertinent lessons and allow the Torah to have this effect upon us: "So that you know that I am Hashem, in the midst of the land!"


We will open this piece with a question. As you will see, it is not much of a question, as it relates to an impossibility, but it certainly does provide ample food for thought and serious consideration. Imagine a person who, let's say, has not been blessed with children, would turn to the Baba Sali, or, better yet, the Ar"i, or even to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, to have his prayers answered, and the ssadik would tell him, "Recite Tehillim, chapter 107 each day for the next year and you will be answered." Could it be that the individual would recite the chapter each day for a year and not be given a child? Certainly this would seem most unlikely for, as we know, when a ssadik decrees, as it were, the Almighty fulfills his wish! And if Mosheh were to decree such, all the more so we would expect that his word would be fulfilled.

And if the Almighty, Himself, "All of Whose words are true and just" - "Would He say and not do, would He have spoken and not fulfilled?" - "So is it with My word which leaves My mouth, it will not return to Me empty, before it carries out what I want, and succeeds in that for which I sent it" - certainly, without any shadow of a doubt, it would be fulfilled! This was all but the introduction. Now we will pose the question, which, as stated, is really not a question as much as food for thought. We are commanded to recite Shema twice daily, morning and evening, and to include therein the mention of the Exodus from Egypt. The Talmud Yerushalmi adds that one must also make reference to the plague of the first-born, the splitting of the Red Sea and the song sung by Benei Yisrael thereupon, as we do in the sections of our tefilah following the Shema. The "Saba" of Kelm used to say that missvot constitute the spiritual nourishment of the Jew. Some foods can supply with but a small quantity a large amount of vital vitamins and minerals which the body requires in some dosage. Similarly, Hashem commanded us some missvot which are sufficiently performed once a year, like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Some missvot must be observed for an entire week annually, such as Pesah and Sukkot. Some, like Shabbat, must be "ingested" every week. Others, however, are like breakfast and supper, as one's spiritual build needs them constantly. Obviously, the recitation of shema and the mentioning of the Exodus belong to this final category, as the soul requires these missvot each morning and evening.

However, the question must be asked: after every Yom Tov - be it Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesah or Sukkot - and even after every Shabbat, a person feels that he has been elevated somewhat. The "fall" which occurs thereafter is marked by the havdalah. Now, let us ask ourselves honestly: after mentioning the Exodus each morning and evening - does any of us sense a feeling of spiritual elevation?

Earlier, we compared this missvah to breakfast and supper. But they are, in fact, so different! After every meal we feel satiated, content, invigorated. But after mentioning "yessi'at missrayim" - do we feel any differently? How could it be that this special power granted to missvot by the Creator has no effect upon us? Why are we resistant to the influence of missvot? Impossible! But let's not kid ourselves - it is true! Could it be? As stated, this is really no question, as explained through the following parable. Consider a man who comes before the doctor who asks him, "What's wrong?" but receives no response. The patient's lips move but produce no sound. His throat has lost its capacity to speak, it is infected like a fiery flame. The doctor doesn't panic, he has the appropriate medications available. He writes a prescription for a certain medication, and reassures his patient, "They even taste good. Take one pill every hour. Tomorrow you will feel some relief, and in two days you will see drastic improvement. Come back on the third day and I'll check you out then." And so, the patient returns three days later, moving his lips like a fish, making chirping noises like a bird and arousing the mercy of everyone around him. He has come to ask to renew his prescription.

The doctor is amazed. "Nothing happened? There was no improvement? Are you sure you took all the pills?"

He barely hears the answer: "I missed not one. It was so hard for me to swallow them, but I did it anyway."

"Swallow?!" bellows the doctor. "Why did you swallow them? Throat lozenges are supposed to be sucked, not swallowed!"

Indeed, this is our answer. We "swallow" the mentioning of yessi'at missrayim, and that's why it produces no effect upon us. We say it with but half a heart, quickly, with indifferent and mechanical muttering - how can it yield any effect? The mentioning of yessi'at missrayim does not operate like some magical incantation. It can mean for us every blessing in the world - lessons of faith, Divine Providence, the Hand of God, reward and punishment, redemption and prophecy, a cross-section of all the fundamentals upon which our religion is based - only if we are aware of its paramount importance and significance, if we relate to it and "suck" on it, like the pills prescribed by the physician. But one who swallows these lofty principles - how can he be affected or influenced by them? Certainly one who mumbles the words with no concentration whatsoever - it is as if he swallows them in capsule.

"We mention yessi'at missrayim," says the Mishnah. The expression used is "mazkirin," related to the term "zechirah," implying thought and contemplation, for only in this way will the words have a profound impact upon us!


"The Egyptian magicians did so, too, with their magic"

The Ramban zs"l writes that the magicians employed magical oaths to force the demons ("shedim") to their service, to hide the staffs and replace them with serpents which quickly came from the river. They followed this practice to imitate the plagues of blood and frogs. The word used in the pasuk for "their magic" is "lahateihem," for which the Ramban offers two explanations. Either this word relates to the term "lahat," fire, and thus refers to the demons which are, in actuality, angels of fire, or, alternatively, the word derives from "lat," secrecy, as the demons operate quietly and secretly.

"The Egyptian magicians did so, too, with their magic"

The Alshich zs"l writes that it appears, on the surface, that these magicians also possessed the power to turn water into blood like Mosheh and Aharon. However, there exist three critical differences between the work of the Egyptian sorcerers and that of the leaders of Benei Yisrael. Firstly, the sorcery could not change the essence of the water into blood; it was capable merely of transforming the color to that of blood, and therefore it could still be drunk. During Hashem's plague, however, the water actually turned to blood.

Secondly, the Egyptian magic could affect the water before them, but could not continue to work on the water that flowed subsequently from the source. Therefore, the plague would have ended once new water flowed from upstream. However, since this was the work of the Almighty and not magicians, the plague continued unabated for seven days.

Finally, once an Egyptian magician transformed the color of some water into that of blood, it would remain that way. However, during the plague, even after Hashem turned water to blood, it would become water once again when held by a Jew, thus demonstrating that this plague was, indeed, the work of the Almighty Himself.

"The Egyptian magicians did so, too, with their magic"

The Hid"a zs"l asks, if the magicians were, indeed, capable of performing these miracles, then why did they change staffs to snakes, turn water into blood and produce more frogs? They should have simply eliminated Aharon's staff, reverse the plague of blood brought about by Mosheh and kill all the frogs which devastated the country. This would have proven most clearly that they possess true, magical powers. The answer is that "They are wise to perform evil, but to do good they do not know." They could add one plague after another, bring even more snakes, produce more blood and generate more destructive frogs. All this wisdom of the gentiles works for the sake of evil, to add more weapons of destruction and to instill fear. Ultimately, however, "Aharon's staff devoured their staffs" - the powers of sanctity wins, and the work of evil is quickly overturned.


The Rambam zs"l

The Torah constitutes the "map of the world," as everything finds some allusion therein. Certainly, every individual Jew is alluded to in the Torah. In fact, Rabbi Aharon Kotler zs"l has said that each person writes, in effect, himself into the Torah; his allusion is determined by his actions and spiritual stature. He writes, "Each person can have his allusion in the seventy people of Yaakov's children who descended to Egypt or in the generals of Esav..." For example, a certain person named Avner veered off the proper path, and the Ramban zs"l informed him that he is alluded to in the Torah by the third letter in each word of the pasuk, "I will destroy them, I will eliminate their memory from humanity," Heaven forbid. But Avner ben Ner, for example, or even that same Avner were he to have followed the proper path, would have a far more positive allusion in the Torah. It is said about the Rambam that his allusion is found in the pasuk "In order to increase My wonders in the Land of Egypt." The first letters of the last four words of this pasuk - "Revot Moftai B'eress Missrayim" - spell "Rambam." Indeed, the Rambam increased the wonders of Hashem in Egypt, through all his monumental work which he performed and all that he contributed to the Jewish people. He composed the major work "Mishneh Torah" which includes all the laws of both the written and oral Torah. Nothing was omitted, as if he paved roadways in the midst of the ocean. A student once asked the Hazon Ish why the Rambam omitted a certain halachah from this work. The Hazon Ish responded, "How do you know that he left it out? Perhaps it is mentioned somewhere in the work. You should know that in our generation nobody has the capacity to know the entire Rambam. I am convinced that he did not write it with human power alone, but rather with divine assistance, for only in this way can one successfully include the entire Torah in a single work."

Rabbi Zusha of Anapoli zs"l once asked to experience the fear which the angels experience. He was warned that he would not be able to withstand such a sensation. He received the same response upon his requests to feel the fear of a prophet, a tanna and an amora. Finally, he asked to experience the fear sensed by the Rambam, and his request was granted. He was overcome with such a fierce, trembling sensation that he collapsed motionless onto the ground, and only with great difficulty was he able to utter his request that this level of fear be taken from him. Indeed, though the Rambam's wisdom was simply amazing, his fear was even greater!


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

These halachot, together with their sources and in-depth explanations, will appear, God willing, in a major work soon to be published.

Chapter 4: The Laws of Washing One's Hands in the Morning

continued from last week

The Water and Utensil Used for Washing

One should preferably be concerned about all issues when washing his hands in the morning as he would when washing before eating. For example, he should use a utensil with no holes, ensure that the water is the quantity of a revi'it, clean that its color has not been changed, no other work has been done with it, and the water should be poured through human effort, etc. One should be stringent in this regard, especially since the view of the Zohar as well as several rishonim is that these requirements are necessary for the washing to qualify as suitable.

Nevertheless, if one cannot meet all these requirements, such as if he simply does not have enough water, a proper utensil, or he has no water which had not been used earlier, or other similar situations, he should wash his hands with what he has and may then recite Shaharit after such a washing, relying on the opinion of the Shulhan Aruch and many rishonim and aharonim that such a washing constitutes a valid morning washing. In this situation, one should not recite the berachah of "al netilat yadayim," nor should he say "al nekiyut yadayim." Rather, he should wash without a blessing, as we never recite a berachah whose obligation is in question. If, afterwards, he finds the proper water/utensils suitable for hand-washing before eating, he should wash his hands again in order to satisfy the view of the Zohar and the Kabbalists that all these requirements are necessary for the successful elimination of the "evil spirit" on one's hands. However, he should not recite a berachah on this second washing, either, since, as stated, many authorities rule that he has fulfilled his obligation through his first washing, and thus the obligation of this second washing is a questionable one.

Water which was in a utensil and then brought to the bathroom, even if the utensil was covered, it is proper to be stringent and not wash from this water, be it before eating, in the morning, or after having performed his bodily functions. (One should preferably not drink form this water, either.) When the need arises, however, such as when there is no other water, one may wash from this water and even recite the proper berachah of "al netilat...' This leniency applies even more so in contemporary, sanitary bathrooms. (Similarly, one who is thirsty and has no other water to drink may drink this water.)

Water which had been under one's bed or which had spent the night on the bed should preferably not be used for washing, be it in the morning, before eating, or after performing one's bodily functions. (It is also preferable not to drink from this water.) However, when there is no other water, one may wash from this water with the appropriate blessing. If one places his hands into water before washing in the morning, this water has been invalidated for washing, and one may no longer use this water for washing.


The Swallow

The swallow is the most widespread bird in Israel. It is capable of penetrating into any hole in order to set up its home there. The labor of building its nest takes over ten days. In the beginning, the birds bring with their beaks pieces of straw, whereas at the end they cover the nest with soft materials. The nest itself is built skillfully, shaped like a circle. The female swallow lays six or seven eggs, a process which occurs over the course of a week, as the bird lays one egg a day. Their color is white with gray and brown spots. Any damage to the nest causes the mother to leave her nest for good, even if it means leaving her chicks to die. This is important for those who wish to fulfill the missvah of sending away the mother bird, that before one returns the young chicks he should be careful not to touch the nest, for this will cause the chicks to die. As the mother bird sits on her eggs, the male bird remains outside chirping playfully the entire day. Should he sense the intrusion of a foreigner, his chirping becomes angry, sending a loud warning siren to his spouse inside the nest who faithfully tends to the needs of the eggs.

In Hebrew, the swallow is called, "ssipor deror," literally translated as "the bird of freedom." The bird is given this name because it remains free from human dominion and lives in constant freedom. When dealing with the animal world, freedom implies the ability to behave without limitation and with no direction given from external forces. There is an expression, "Free like a swallow," which is suitable for a small bird who has nothing in its life but some food and a place to sleep. The human being, by contrast, the crown jewel of creation, was blessed with a soul. A person who wishes to live a life of pure physicality mistakenly understands "freedom" as "doing whatever I want," "nobody can tell me what to do." Such a person does not realize that not only is he not free, but he has become a slave to his desires. When that which he wants involves only the physical drives, this situation becomes an insult to the human being, the most beloved of all creations. The Jew connected to the Creator and free from other worries, understands that everything comes from Hashem alone, and He Who created him will worry about his sustenance and security. Observance of missvot is the best guarantee, allowing one to claim, "I have done my share, and Hashem, in His mercy, will do His." Nothing is sweeter than this feeling of spiritual tranquillity, which constitutes, without the question, the ultimate freedom.


Measure for Measure (24)

Flashback: A wealthy miser failed to provide the needs of a poor scholar and thereby caused his death. To achieve atonement, he was ordered to dress up as a pauper for an entire year and request food only from his own family. When he approached his home, his family jeered and taunted the pauper and followed his own example of refusing to help the poor. They eventually concluded that he was insane as he constantly returned for food although he suffered their beatings and humiliation. This awful year of suffering and embarrassment eventually came to an end, and he was allowed to return home with his true identity. He changed back into his luxurious clothing and returned to a home which was decorated in celebration of his return.

The wealthy man opened his bags and presented each of his children with gifts which he purchased with the leftovers of his money. He looked at his documents and saw that his business survived his year-long absence. Although the enterprises did not grow or expand during this period, the workers did what they had to in order that no substantial loss was incurred. He offered them uncharacteristically generous bonuses, and told them that due to his journey which included many awful, unspeakable experiences, and because his family had forgotten about him and concluded he had died, he had decided to make a large, public party to thank the Almighty for his return. This announcement generated a good deal of perplexity among the community. This simply was not customary for the wealthy man, to include others in his celebration and to feed them with his own money. Nevertheless, he began the preparations and held nothing back in ensuring the glory of the event. He ordered the highest standards of luxury and invited his entire family from near and far, rich and poor, and he added to his guest list all the leaders and respected members of the community. Everyone came to participate in the huge celebration in his home, they indulged in the delicacies and heartily drank the fancy wines which was offered to them. They warmly blessed the wealthy man and asked him to describe his experiences throughout his journey. The host stood to respond to his guests, and a tense silence overtook the crowd.

"The truth is," he said, "I am quite amazed. I was sure that after a year of my mysterious absence I would find you all embittered and downtrodden, your eyes weighing heavily in their sockets and red from tears. For an entire year, you knew nothing of my whereabouts. I thought that your lives were nothing without me. But, I see that, thank God, your faces are full, your eyes still glimmer with joy, it seems as though you were not worried about me at all!"

His audience was taken by surprise. "First of all, father, you informed us a full month ago that you are coming home, and from that point our depression was replaced by joy and excitement. And besides, father, we were all distressed and distraught, mother cried incessantly. But then the Almighty had mercy on us and sent us an insane person who allowed us to forget our misery and rejoice...

to be continued...


The Maggid of Dubno zs"l told a parable of a simpleton who made his way to the home of a wealthy man in the community. He had never met the man, but had heard of his reputation for immense wealth and lavish possessions. The visitor was awe-struck by the magnificent home, the enormous gate which surrounded the estate, the beautiful garden and flower-beds. A large path led to the stairs to the palace laden with marble, which themselves led to the giant reception hall. His hand trembling, he knocked on the immense, wooden door. The door opened into an enormous room, illuminated with stunning chandeliers, with rare pieces of artwork adorning the walls and a brilliant carpet covering the floor. An aura of luxury and glory resonated throughout the house.

"I...I was wondering if perhaps I could speak with the master of the house," he politely asked.

"I am the master of the house," quickly answered the man before him. "What can I do for you?" Suddenly, an arm swung around and grabbed the neck of the man standing in the hallway. Angrily, he asked, "Are you the master of the house?"

His eyes rolling in his head and squinting from pain, the man answered, "I am sorry, Sir, I was just joking." The owner of the arm slowly emerged from the shadows and said, "Pay no attention to him, he is just one of the servants. Come with me to my chamber, and we can talk there."

Pharaoh, king of Egypt, may be likened to that irreverent servant. He thought himself to be divine, he would boast, "The river is mine, I made it!" He therefore refused to obey the orders of Hashem, until, suddenly, a mighty hand took hold of his neck, and the Almighty, the Master of the World, devastated Pharaoh with one plague after another. Ultimately, he realized that he could not withstand the finger of Hashem, the Hand of God, and he confessed, "Hashem is the righteous, and I and my nation are the wicked."

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