The Basis of Belief
These signs were meant to grab attention of the audience, but are not the basis of our belief. Rambam states in Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah (8:1) that the People of Israel do not believe in Moshe and his prophecy because of signs. Belief based on signs is always suspect and shaky. This includes this first set of signs and the whole sequence of miracles that the people would be witness to in the coming years. Miracles, says the Rambam, were for practical purposes - the effect the escape from Egypt, to feed the people, etc.
So what is the basis of our belief and confidence in G-d and Moshe as his chief prophet? The answer is SINAI. G-d says to Moshe that the Bush is a sign to him that he will succeed in his mission - just as the Bush is following G-d's instructions and is unharmed for it, so too will Moshe succeed and be unharmed.
But the real sign, the proof, that G-d has sent Moshe - and that the People merit saving and that Moshe will succeed - is that the People will return to this very spot, to receive the Torah.
Matan Torah is the basis of belief that solidified into knowledge based on eye-witness testimony through an unbroken Chain of Tradition all the way, generation to generation, to us, here, today.
Twice during the experience at the Bush, G-d tells Moshe of the purpose of His (on his) taking the people out of Egypt: To bring them to "the Land flowing with milk and honey".
"Right up front", we might say, G-d makes it clear that we have two goals as a Nation, as His Nation - to receive the Torah and to live in Eretz Yisrael.
These are our realities, not a stick turning into a snake and not even a sea splitting. We have a lot of wonders and miracles and signs in the coming sedras of Sh'mot, Va'eira, Bo, and B'Shalach until we receive the Torah and then begin the practical day-to- day living as Jews as described in Yitro and Mishpatim.
Our faith has endured and will continue to do so because of the Torah, because of our way of life. Supernatural thunder and lightning caught our attention, but Torah & Mitzvot keep it.
Because of Righteous Women...
The sedra begins the narrative of Egyptian oppression by telling us of Shifra and Pu'a, the two midwives who defy Par'o by keeping the Jewish babies alive. The Talmud and Midrash present two views as to who they were - Shifra was Yocheved and Pu'a was Miriam, or the two were converts who joined the ranks of the People in Egypt. Either way, the Torah testifies to G-d's gratitude to them for what they did.
Yocheved, who miraculously gives birth to Moshe at 130 years of age, heroically hides him for three months and then puts him in a waterproofed basket that she places in the Nile under the protective eye of Miriam.
Miriam, at the young age of 5, prophesies to her father Amram that his decree (that husbands are to separate from their wives to prevent giving birth to children who will most likely fall victim to the treachery of Par'o) is more severe than that of Par'o (who "only" commanded that the boys be killed). As a result, Amram "remarries" Yocheved and the result of that union is Moshe. Miriam faithfully stands watch over baby Moshe and arranges for Yocheved to nurse her own son (when Bat Par'o finds the crying baby).
The Talmud tells us that the women of Israel (in general) were responsible for keeping up the morale and spirits of their husbands. The men were despondent; they wanted to give up. The women adorned and perfumed themselves, prepared special foods for their husbands, and encouraged them to continue having children and raising families.
The Torah enigmatically tells us that on his way back to Egypt, Moshe is almost killed by G-d (for not having circumcised his son Eliezer). Tzipora saves Moshe's life by performing the Mila. (The explanation that Moshe was justified in not circumcising Eliezer because of the danger in traveling immediately following Mila, and the question of a female circumciser aside, Tzipora is credited with saving Moshe's life).
And then there is Batya, daughter of Par'o. She disregarded her father's orders and saved the life of baby Moshe. Her act of kindness is beautifully acknowledged in the Midrash, which says that of all the names Moshe had, he is exclusively called Moshe by the Torah, in honor of Batya, who gave him that name.
The Midrash also says that Batya was the only Egyptian firstborn to be spared Makat B'chorot (plague number 10 - the Smiting of the Firstborns). There is reference in Divrei HaYamim to Batya being the mother of Moshe. Although she was not his biological mother, she was identified as mother because she saved him and raised him. The Talmud in Megila cites this as one of the sources from where we learn that a person who raises an orphan is considered his parent. So too Batya is called "daughter of G-d" (the meaning of "Batya") to honor her for her role in the Redemption sequence. That same passage in the Gemara says that Batya rid herself of the idolatry with which she was raised, and was a wife of Kalev.
Moshe Rabeinu led the People of Israel out of Egypt, brought them to Sinai, gave us the Torah that he received from G-d, and brought us to the border of Eretz Yisrael. But it is thanks to several women that Moshe made it to that point and it was in the merit of the righteous women that our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt.
In every generation, we must relive the events of Egyptian oppression and redemption. It is comforting that G-d chose to include these elements of the Geula in the beginning of the Book of Sh'mot.
And speaking of women...
Our matriarchs each had very significant input to the process.
Sara Imenu tells Avraham to expel Yishmael and his mother because of the wrong influence that Yishmael could have on Yitzchak. Avraham hesitates; G-d orders him to listen to Sara.
Yitzchak loved Eisav. He planned on giving him the main blessing. Rivka Imenu undertakes to get the bracha for its rightful recipient, Yaakov. She also "suggests" to Yitzchak that Yaakov be sent to her hometown to find a suitable wife. This suggestion saves Yaakov's life AND provides for the continuity of the ancestral line of the Jewish People.
Rachel and Leah collaborate to allow both to be married to Yaakov. They subsequently give him their maid- servants as wives, resulting in the births of the "Twelve Tribes".
Through their prayers and actions, the Imahot played an important part in the formulation of the Jewish Nation.
Subsequent Jewish History shows us that the women of Israel - Rachav, Yael, Devora, Naomi, Ruth, Chana, Esther - continued be be full partners, and then some, in guaranteeing the continuity and quality of Jewish Life. Women's obligation in Megilat Esther, Chanuka lights, and the Four Cups at the Seder are summed up by the phrase: "They too were in that same miracle." In fact, women were the deciding positive factors in all of those situations.
FYI: SHOVAVIM (TA"T)
Another G'matriya based on an entry in L'ORAH shel TORAH by R. Yaakov Auerbach z"l
One of the first p'sukim a child learns is REISHIT CHOCHMA YIR'AT HASHEM (The beginning of wisdom is fear of G-d, Ps.111).
REISHIT CHOCHMA = 200+1+300+10+400 (911) + 8+20+40+5 (73) = 984. The message of this pasuk must be transmitted to each new generation, and as early as possible. The truth of this concert is numerically demonstrated by the bold actions of the "Midwives" - VAT'CHAYENA ET HAY'LADIM (and they kept the children alive) = 6+400+8+10+10+50(484) + 401 + 5+10+30+4+ 10+40 (99) = 984.
Highlights of the shiur by Rabbi Meir Goldwicht, Motza'ei Shabbat Va'y'chi at the Israel Center
When Yosef's brothers came to Egypt, Yosef attempted to recreate the last time he had been with them. When they had sold him from the pit in Canaan, there had been 10 brothers present, since Reuven and Binyamin were not there. Only 9 went home with the money from the sale of their brother. In Egypt, there were again 10 brothers, this time in the pit (prison) and Yosef sent 9 home to return to their father, with money in their hands. Yosef did this to make his brothers understand the severity of what they had done.
When Kayin and Hevel brought their offerings to G-d, they each chose to bring something to represent their personalities. Kayin, being a farmer, who by definition works alone, brought linen seeds as his korban - a plant that grows each stem individually. Hevel, being a shepherd who talks constantly to his sheep or the other shepherds around and is one of a group, brought as his korban sheep and their wool - wool whose strands can really not be separated but are always a part of many. Kayin, being a loner, came to kill Hevel since Hevel's way of life clashed with Kayin's and Chazal say that Shaatnez - the mixture of linen (Kayin) and wool (Hevel) was therefore forbidden.
Sara understood that Yitzchak and Yishmael were like Shaatnez and needed to be separated, just as Rivka understood this about Yaakov and Eisav. But the first thing that Yosef tells his family when they come to Goshen is that he's going to Par'o to tell him, "shepherds were your humble servants, so are we and so were our fathers". Why is this so important? Yosef wants to clarify that despite appearances, Yosef and his brothers are not shaatnez but rather belong together as part of a whole who need and depend on each other. Also, their position as shepherds is made clear to the Egyptians who hate shepherds for slaughtering the god they worship. All this to help maintain a separate status apart from the Egyptians and make the "brothers" aware of who they are and that they are in Exile.
The Nachash (snake or serpent) seduced Chava through her hearing (by speaking to her), through sight (he made her look at the Tree of Knowledge), through touch (he said nothing was wrong with touching), and through taste. The sense of smell did not enter into the sin. Haman used these methods of the snake, but the sense of smell through Mordechai (Mor-Dror, a spice) and Esther (Hadas) defeated him.
The only city named for smell is Yericho, the first city to be conquered by Bnei Yisrael, thereby acquiring its special status as the key to rest of Eretz Yisrael. Rav Goldwicht lamented that the leadership of the State of Israel did not understand the significance and gave Yericho away first after Oslo.
The Jewish people continue on as a nation of shepherds like our forefathers, in our need to stay together and depend upon one another to be united. Just like the CHELB'NA had a bad odor, but was necessary to make the sweet smelling Ketoret, so too, though we may think that every Jew does not smell as rosy as ourselves, they are necessary to the whole and we must realize each and everyone's inner goodness.
At Havdala, we smell the B'SAMIM and hold our fingers to the light of the candle . If we stretch out our fingers, they are all different heights and sizes, but we hold them to the flame in a way that makes them all equal - just as each Jew should view his fellow Jew - as an equal.
It is very unusual that Yosef's death is mentioned twice in Chumash - both in B'reishit and Sh'mot. We learn from this that Yosef had a double role - one as SHEVET head and one as a MOREH DERECH (guide) for the Nation of Israel. Moshe Rabeinu carried Yosef's bones throughout the 40 years of wandering, and when encountering rebellion, he would point to the bones as a reminder to Bnei Yisrael.
Upon entering Eretz Yisrael, one would think that the first task would be to bury Yosef, but it took 14 years until every member of every SHEVET was established under his own palm tree or vineyard, before Yosef could come to his final resting place in Sh'chem. Before he could be buried, Yosef had to see that everyone was settled. Why Sh'chem? To bring Yosef's journey full circle and because SHECHEM is another name for shoulder - and Yosef represented shouldering the responsibility for Bnei Yisrael.
Rav Goldwicht pointed out that this month, being Ramadan for the Arabs is a very dangerous time for our people, Many of the tragedies that have happened here in Israel have occurred during Ramadan. The Arabs, being descendants of Avraham, have a special status in G-d's eyes. They are not idol worshippers (a mosque is not forbidden for us to enter as is a church) and at this time hundred of thousands of Arabs are fasting and praying to G-d five times a day, most probably asking for our destruction. They are a powerful force to be reckoned with and we as Jews must make a concerted effort to be united, more tolerant of our fellow Jew and daven with extra KAVANA so that we will find favor in G-d's eyes and so that OUR prayers will be the ones that are answered.
Rabbi Goldwicht referred to Rashi's comments on the blessing of V'YITEN L'CHA, that Yaakov received "in lieu" of Eisav. Rashi indicates that the prayers of a Jew who is a proper believer in G-d and Torah might be answered or not depending upon the worthiness of the one praying. But a non-Jew's prayer will be answered, regardless of merit, lest a Chilul HaShem result from his not being answered.
In other words, a Jew whose prayers are not answered will understand that he was unworthy of the answer. But the non-Jew will question the existence of G-d, resulting in the Chilul HaShem. Therefore, we must maintain good relations with G-d, so to speak, as a protection from the prayers of others who would do us harm.
We have included these highlights of Rabbi Goldwicht's shiur because they serve as a bridge between B'reishit and Sh'mot, and because he spoke in Hebrew which was not well-understood by some of those who made the effort to come to hear him.
ONCE IN A BLUE MOON
A 31-day month has a better chance to have a blue moon than a 30-day month (obvious?). Blue Moons occur on average every 21/2 to 3 years. What is much rarer than a month with two full moons is there being blue moons in both January and March of the same year. That is the case this year. It can only happen with Jan. and March because of little February sandwiched in between.
Why is the second full moon in a month called a Blue Moon? Whereas (almost) everyone agrees that "once in a blue moon" means "rarely, there is a dispute as to why the second full moon in a month is called a Blue Moon. Some scholars (are those who study the origins of idioms scholars?) say that originally the term blue moon referred to the bluish appearance of the moon when the atmosphere was filled with dust and or smoke from a volcanic eruption, major forest fire, or the like. This being an infrequent occurrence produced the expression.
Sometime later, the rarity of the two full moons in a month associated one with the other. Others claim that in the original Farmers' Almanac, full moons on the calendars were printed in red ink. If there was a second full moon in the month, it was printed in blue ink.
All this here, why? Because the Moon is ours. We relate to the Moon. All of the above is really no more than a game. Fun, but no significance. Anything about the Moon is coincidental to the JAN-FEB calendar. In our calendar, the Moon and its phases mean something. We are always aware of what's what for Molad, for Kiddush L'vana.
Faculty Profile: Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
Avigdor Bonchek is a "Musmach" of Ner Yisrael in Baltimore and earned his doctorate in clinical psychology at NYU. He is a practicing psychotherapist specializing in anxiety disorders, has been teaching both psychology and Torah studies for many years. Lecturer at Hebrew University for over 25 years, Dr. Bonchek has also taught at Yeshiva University, CUNY, and Ben Gurion University, as well as Ohr Samayach Yeshiva and the Israel Center.
Dr. Bonchek has published psychology texts in Hebrew as well as Torah texts in English - Studying the Torah - A Guide to In-Depth Interpretation and What's Bothering Rashi. The well-received B'reishit volume paved the way for the just-released volume of .What's Bothering Rashi (Sh'mot) by Rabbi Avigdor Bonchek
The live version of What's Bothering Rashi takes place at the Israel Center on Thursday nights at 8:30.
TORAH TIDBITS, the football team
This weekend, the quarter-finals will be played.
Jump vs. Pizzeria Efrat, Dave's Hair vs. Roses Printing, Torah Tidbits vs. Pomeranz, (all
playing their games on Friday), and Big Blue vs. Rienzi (playing on Motza'ei Shabbat).
Torah Tidbits Dedications
Hold this date
The Jewish Outreach Center of Ra'anana in
cooperation with the Israel Center present
Full board (3 meals plus high tea)
Prices (not including VAT): $875 per person, dbl.
occupancy, for 7 nights ($1000 for 8-night people from abroad)
GIFT BASKETS TO ISRAEL