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Perashat Shemot

Perashat Shemot begins with the enumeration of “the sons of Israel” from whom rose the twelve Shevatim. We are told as well that Yoseph and all his brothers have died. This brings us to a new era, which is introduced with the words vayakom melech hadash al mitzrayim asher lo yada et Yoseph. "A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know about Yoseph." How can it be that the new king did not know who Yoseph was? Everyone knew that Yoseph had saved Egypt from the effects of the catastrophic famine that Hashem was planning for the region. The famine would have wreaked devastation on Egypt, had Yoseph not predicted its arrival when he interpreted Pharoah's dreams. The Rabbis present two possible explanations for this verse: either there was a new Pharoah, or the same Pharoah chose not to remember Yoseph and the young Israelite nation. Either way, this would harbinger the beginning of the first Galut and remain a pattern throughout our history – a pattern that B'nei Yisrael would have to endure until this very day. We would continue to suffer through the centuries, being displaced from one country to another and forced to keep moving from place to place throughout the ages. The Jews nevertheless remained ambitious and innovative, and strove to excel and rise to the top in whatever areas were allowed them, making enormous contributions to their host countries when possible. They would then have to watch these adopted countries turn against them as virulent anti-Semitism swept through the population. Expulsions, persecution, and tragic massacres of Jews are ever-present in our history, from the Ancient Greeks, Persians, and Romans right through to England, France, Portugal, Spain, Germany and others. In Egypt too, the Israelites were foreigners. And it is the same here in America; we must know that our true home is in Israel, regardless of any resolution from the UN or elsewhere. And it is to this home that Hashem was leading us all along. In this week’s Perashah we read about the birth of Moshe and the attempts of his mother Yocheved to save his life by placing him in a reed basket among the weeds at the edge of the Nile River. His sister Miriam follows to see what will happen to him, and witnesses his retrieval by Bityah, the daughter of Pharoah. Though Moshe grows up in Pharoah's palace, he can't help but feel the pain of the Israelite slaves. The Torah uses the word vayigdal, he grew up, twice in reference to Moshe within two consecutive Pesukim. The first Pasuk (2:10) reads: Vayigdal hayeled vateviehu le’bat Pharoah – “The child grew up, and she brought him to the daughter of Pharoah” [after he’d been weaned by his own mother]. This refers to Moshe as a boy who grew up. Then again in the following Pasuk we read: vayhi bayamim hahem vayigdal Moshe vayetze el ehav vayar b’sivlotam – “Now it came to pass in those days that Moses grew up and went out to his brothers and looked at their burdens.” This second growing up refers to Moshe as a man who sees his fellow Israelites suffer and feels their burdens and pains! We use the term Gadol in two distinct ways. A child is considered Gadol when he is old enough to be counted in a Minyan and an adult is considered a Gadol when he has matured to the point where they can feel the pain of a fellow Jew and are able to listen to his problems. In describing the attributes and greatness of Moshe Rabenu, the Torah does not dwell at length on his background, describing only four incidents, all of which reveal his sensitivity to his fellow Israelites. 1) When he leaves the comforts of the palace to witness first-hand the suffering of his Israelite brothers. 2) When he sees an Egyptian beat an Israelite slave and, making sure no one is around, kills the Egyptian. 3) When he sees two Israelites fighting and involves himself in order to make peace between them. 4) When he comes to the rescue of the daughters of Yitro, who are being prevented from drawing water at the well by a group of shepherds – according to the Rabbis because Yitro refused to bow to idols and was therefore banned from drinking from the well. We continue to see this character trait of deep empathy for his fellow Israelites throughout Moshe's life. According to the Midrash, as Moshe is shepherding his sheep, he becomes concerned about one stray sheep and it is when he runs after the sheep that he is led to the burning bush. Hashem speaks to Moshe there and tells him that he wants him to lead B'nei Yisrael out of Egypt. As much as Moshe wants to help his fellow Israelites, he does not immediately consent, and replies: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should take the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Hashem reassures Moshe by performing two miracles and by promising to guide him every step of the way. Moshe then reveals the reason for his refusal: he does not speak well, and is “heavy of mouth.” He considers his brother Aaron more suitable. The Rabbis explain that he did not want to hurt his brother’s feelings. Hashem then promises that Moshe and his brother will be a team, with Aaron speaking for Moshe, and both of them speaking for Hashem. Only then does Moshe agree, because he understands, as the Rabbis tell us, that Aaron will be happy for him in his heart. One day Rav Moshe Feinstein was in a rush to give a Shiur, a man stopped him to ask him for some Tzedakah. When Rav Moshe was reaching into his pocket to give the needy man some money, he spoke to the man. Rav Moshe stayed and listened to his problems for the next ten minutes. When his students questioned the Rabbi about the extra time he spent with the man after he gave him the Tzedakah, even though it meant being late for the Shiur, he replied, "The time that I listened to the man’s plight was of more value to him than the money I gave him". We have to understand that as Jews, we are obliged to have an extra sense of compassion for our Jewish brethren and we must help them by shouldering their burdens in addition to merely helping them with money. As Rabbi Diamond always taught us, we all have the same DNA as Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov: the DNA of Hesed and compassion which Moshe also felt when he saw his fellow Israelites suffering as slaves under the wrath of Pharoah in Egypt. Recently, there were major fires that spread throughout the north of Israel and an amazing act of Hesed occurred as told by one of the residents there. “In our area, the fires were just over the hill. They were so close that we could feel the heat, we coughed from the soot and ash, and we could hear the sirens blast. It was all anyone talked about. Many parents didn’t let the kids go out to avoid inhaling whatever chemicals may be in the air. During the height of the action, I went to the local makolet [grocery store] and stood in line with my items. The line, as you can imagine, was long. People were buying cleaners of all sorts because everything is covered in soot. “Sliha! Excuse me!” a guy shouts, “But I must go to the front of the line!” He is holding a box of toothbrushes and a lot of toothpaste. He said that he only had a half-hour off work, and since there was a lot of traffic, we had to let him through quickly. A man wants a bunch of toothbrushes to stock up for the next ten years! Urgent, you know? Well, one lady told him off, “Look! We are all on edge! Did you inhale Carbon Monoxide or something?" The man replied, "No, I just thought that if all these people rushed out of their homes when the fire came, they probably forgot their toothbrushes, so I decided to buy a bunch and give them out." After hearing about this righteous act, someone else jumped up and said, "They also probably forgot diapers for the babies" and another said "What about deodorant?" On and on, they kept on thinking of their fellow Jews’ predicament above their own and looked to help total strangers who needed assistance from the terrible fires and smoke that engulfed the area! May we all remember that we are merely guests in the countries that we live in today and realize that we are not at home until we are all settled back in our real homeland Eretz Yisrael. Also, we must understand that our own growth will occur when we are able to put our personal self-interest aside and feel the pain of our fellow Jews as our Gedolim of today and past years have always exemplified. Shabbat Shalom!

Jack E. Rahmey with the Guidance and Teachings of Rabbi Amram Sananes Leiluiy Nishmat.... Eliyahu Ben Rachel Avraham Ben Garaz Sarah Bat Chanah Malka Bat Garaz Shulamit Bat Helaina Yaakov Ben Rachel Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher Rav Haim Ben Rivka Meir Ben Latifa Yitzchak Ben Adele Esther Bat Sarah Chanah Bat Esther Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana Moshe Ben Garaz Rafael ben Miriam Moshe Ben Mazal