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Parashat Shemot

Dedicated Leilui Nishmat Natan Ben Rachel A’h by the Marcus Family

Parashat Shemot

We are still in Galut…

Parashat Shemot begins with the death of Yosef and his brothers. This brings us to a new era, which is introduced with the words “vayakam melech chadash al mitzrayim asher lo yada et Yosef — A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know about Yosef.”

How can it be that the new king did not know who Yosef was? Everyone knew that Yosef had saved Egypt from the effects of the catastrophic famine. The famine would have wreaked havoc on Egypt, had Yosef not predicted its arrival when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams.

Masechet Sota (11a) presents two possible explanations for this verse: Either there was a new Pharaoh; or the same Pharaoh chose not to remember Yosef and the young Israelite nation. Either way, this was the harbinger of the beginning of the first galut, and remains a pattern throughout our history — a pattern that Beneh Yisrael would have to endure until this very day. We would continue to suffer through the centuries, being displaced from one country to another, 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, Sicily, Lithuania, Portugal, Spain, Germany and others. Each country would take on the attitude of: “What have you done for me lately?” Anti-Semitism was at its worst when we began to assimilate into that country’s culture. As part of Hashem’s plan, the country would then rid itself of its Jewish citizens. We were guests in Egypt and so many other countries throughout our history, until today here in America, but we must know that our true home is in Israel despite what the United Nations and the rest of the world might argue.

True Courage

The advisors of this new king of Egypt saw in the stars that the redeemer of the Jewish nation would be born in Egypt. So Pharaoh made a decree and told the Israelite midwives, Yocheved and Miriam (Moshe’s mother and sister): “When you deliver the Hebrew women, and you see them on the birthstool; if it’s a son, you are to kill him and if it’s a daughter, she shall live.”

But the midwives were G-d fearing and they did not do as Pharaoh ordered them. Passuk 18 says, “The king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this thing, that you have caused the boys to live?’ — vatahayen et hayeladim.” The Rabbis explain that even when the boys were stillborn, the midwives would pray that Hashem revive them, so it wouldn’t look like they were following Pharaoh’s decree.

Because of this Yocheved and Miriam were rewarded, “Because the midwives feared Hashem, so He made them houses” (passuk 20). Rashi comments on this that since the midwives showed such devotion, they were rewarded with “houses,” which means that they became the ancestors of the kohanim and leviyim respectively. If Pharaoh had succeeded in killing all the boys, and there were only girls, the Jewish nation would have continued; but there would have been no more kohanim and leviyim, because that is passed on through paternal rather than maternal descent.

There’s a story that happened during the Holocaust that’s a modern day version of what Yocheved and Miriam did during the decree in Egypt. Two women, Tzila Orlean and her young Bet Yaakov student Tillie Rinderly took positions in Auschwitz within the camp administration with the hope of helping the Jewish inmates. They walked the tightrope of life and death on a daily basis. Tzila was a brilliant woman who even earned the respect of the Nazi murderers. She preached loving kindness to others and inspired all the inmates around her. She and Tillie would contrive various methods for rescuing fellow inmates right from under Dr. Mengele’s nose. They did what had to be done fearlessly, regardless of mortal danger to themselves. Tillie, who was barely eighteen, would sneak nightly from one barrack to the next during, bringing much needed supplies and medicine from the infirmary. Back and forth she would bring water to the fever stricken and sugar to the typhus victims lying half-dead on the floor. These women were part of an elite group of Jews whose fear of Heaven dictated their every movement. They feared nothing and no one, because they answered to a Higher authority....Hashem!

Moshe’s Compassion

Moshe was born and survived since his mother Yocheved hid him in a basket and set him afloat on the Nile River. His sister Miriam followed to see what would happen to him, and witnessed his retrieval by Bitya, Pharaoh’s daughter. (2:5–6) “She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maidservant to retrieve the basket. She opened it and saw him, the boy, and behold...a youth was crying.” Rashi asks, why does the Torah first call Moshe a boy and then a youth? The answer is that when the Torah calls him a boy, he was crying only for himself, because he was a hungry baby. When he was referred to as a youth, he was then crying as a mature person for the needs of the people. Thus, Moshe’s tremendous compassion was displayed from a very young age, when he cried for his Israelite brethren.

Directly following this, the Torah says Moshe grew up in Pharaoh’s palace and he couldn’t help but go out and feel the pain of his fellow Israelites. The Torah uses the word “vayigdal — he grew up,” twice in reference to Moshe in two consecutive pesukim. The first passuk (2:10) reads, “vayigdal hayeled vateviehu le’bat Pharaoh — The child grew up, and she brought him to the daughter of Pharaoh” [after he’d been weaned by his own mother]. This refers to Moshe as a boy who grew up. In the following passuk we read, “vayehi ba’yamim ha’hem va’yigdal Moshe va’yetze el echav va’yar be’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 saw his fellow Israelites suffer and felt their burdens and pains.

We use the term gadol in two distinct ways. A child is considered a gadol when he is old enough to be counted in a minyan, and an adult is considered a gadol when they have matured to the point where they can feel the pain of a fellow Jew and can listen to his problems.

In describing the attributes and greatness of Moshe Rabenu, the Torah does not dwell at length on his background. It only describes four incidents, all of which reveal his sensitivity to his fellow Israelites:

When he left the comforts of the palace to witness first-hand the suffering of his Israelite brothers.

When he saw an Egyptian beat an Israelite slave and, after ensuring that no one was around, killed the Egyptian.

When he saw two Israelites fighting and involved himself in order to make peace between them.

When he came to the rescue of Yitro’s daughters, who were being attacked by foreign bandits at the well.

We continue to see Moshe’s sensitivity and empathy throughout his life. As Moshe was shepherding his sheep, he was concerned for them and chased after even one stray sheep. This led him to the burning bush. Hashem spoke to Moshe and told him that He wanted him to lead Beneh Yisrael out of Egypt. As much as Moshe wanted to help his fellow Israelites, he refused Hashem’s request. After some deliberation, we find out that the reason for his refusal was because he didn’t want his older brother Aharon to feel bad. He continued to debate with Hashem and did not give in until Hashem finally assured Moshe that his brother Aharon would be happy in his heart for him.

One day, as Rav Moshe Feinstein was in a rush to give a shiur, a man stopped him to ask him for some tzedaka. Not only did Rav Moshe give the needy man some money, he took the time to speak to the man. He stayed and listened to his problems for the next ten minutes or so. When his students questioned the Rabbi about the extra time he spent with the man after he gave him the tzedaka, even though it meant being late for the shiur, he replied, “The time that I spent listening to the man’s plight was of more value to him than the money I gave him.”

We have to learn from our gedolim that as Jews, we are obligated to have an extra sense of compassion for our Jewish brethren. 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.

The following story Rabbi Ashear brings down from sefer Emunah Sheleimah that depicts the empathy we as a Jewish nation have inherited from our Rabbi Moshe Rabenu is about a young man who was engaged to be married. Just weeks before the wedding, the bride-to-be was having terrible headaches, so she went to see a doctor. It was discovered that she had a brain tumor, Rachmana lizlan. The doctors were unsure whether she would survive.

When the young man found out, he was devastated. He told his parents, and they all cried together. His parents then told him that the most logical thing to do would be to break the engagement, but he did not want to do so. They agreed to seek counsel from a Torah sage and went to Chacham Ovadiah Yosef.

First the parents spoke with the Rabbi, and then the young man went in to see him. Chacham Ovadiah told him that his parents love him very much, and they only want what is best for him. He also said there is nothing halachically wrong with breaking an engagement in such circumstances. Then, he asked the chassan for his thoughts.

The young man said, “This is the girl I’ve been hoping for. She has so much yiras Shamayim, she has such good middos. She will be the perfect wife. I don’t want to turn away from her now. I am prepared to do whatever it takes to help her, and to eventually marry her.”

Chacham Ovadiah put his hands on the young man’s head and looked into his eyes. He asked him another question, to which the boy responded and then broke down, crying. He saw that the Rabbi was crying with him. Then Chacham Ovadiah kissed him and said, “You will marry this girl, and Hashem will give her a completed recovery. You will have generations of righteous children with her, and she will be the best wife, just as you hoped for.”

The family accepted the words of the Rabbi, and after many treatments, the wedding took place on year later. Chacham Ovadiah was the mesader kiddushin. He told the crowd at the wedding what the chassan had done. He blessed the couple and everyone there said, “Amen.”

Indeed, she was completely healed. They had eight beautiful children together who were all righteous, as the Rabbi had foretold.

In this man’s old age, after he already had grandchildren, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Twelve years later, he was being cared for by his wife around the clock. Years earlier, he had been prepared to sacrifice to take care of her. Little did he know that it would be the other way around!

May we all remember that we are just guests in the countries that we live in today, and 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-interests aside and feel the pain of our fellow Jews as we learned from Moshe Rabenu and our gedolim of today and past years have always exemplified. Amen!

Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey

Leiluiy Nishmat....

Eliyahu Ben Rachel Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher

Sarah Bat Chanah Esther Bat Sarah

Shulamit Bat Helaina Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana

Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther Rafael Ben Miriam

Rav Haim Ben Rivka Moshe Ben Mazal

Yitzchak Ben Adele Avraham Ben Mazal

Chanah Bat Esthe Ovadia Ben Esther

Moshe Ben Garaz Rahamim Ben Mazal

Avraham Ben Garaz Avraham Ben Mazal

Yaakov Ben Rachel Avraham Ben Kami

Meir Ben Latifa Moshe Ben Yael

Malka Bat Garaz Mordechai Ben Rachel

Yaakov Ben Leah

Chacham Shaul Rachamim Ben Mazal

Natan Ben Rachel

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