Dedicated Le'ilui Nishmat Rachel Bat Zakiya by Eli Kafif
A New Chapter
This week we begin an exciting chapter by starting a new book in the Torah with Parashat Shemot. Ramban writes a short introduction to Sefer Shemot, explaining the theme of the book. He mentions that Sefer Beresheet is also commonly called “Sefer Hayetzira—The Book of Creation,” which is the underlying theme throughout the book, from the moment of the actual creation of the world to the stories of the Avot and their children. The book of Shemot continues this story, beginning with the start of Galut Mitzrayim—the exile in Egypt, and ending with the shechina entering the mishkan after B’nei Yisrael receives the Torah at Har Sinai. Therefore, in his introduction, Ramban coins the term “Sefer Galut V’Geulah—The Book of Exile and Redemption” as another name for Sefer Shemot. But if that’s the case, why does the sefer go on, passing the redemption of Yetziat Mitzrayim and continuing all the way to the mishkan?
Ramban explains, “The galut is not over until they [B’nei Yisrael] return to the level of their forefathers... and even once they achieve their freedom from Egypt, they are not considered redeemed yet, for they still wander in the desert. But once they arrive at Har Sinai to receive the Torah and build the mishkan, and G-d's shechina dwells upon them - then they return to the level of their forefathers and are then considered totally redeemed.” Sefer Beresheet was a book of creation, because the Avot planted their abilities and strengths in their descendants, and in Shemot these strengths sprouted and blossomed into complete redemption. The shechina was then able to connect to B’nei Yisrael as it had to the Avot.
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 potentially 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 passuk: Either there was a new Pharaoh; or the same Pharaoh chose not to remember Yosef and the young Hebrew nation. Either way, this was the beginning of the first galut, and remains 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, 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 allowed to them, making enormous contributions to their host countries when possible. They would then have to watch these adopted countries turn against them as virulent antisemitism swept through the population.
Expulsions, persecution, and tragic massacres of Jews are ever-present throughout Jewish history, from the ancient Greeks, Persians, and Romans to England, France, Sicily, Lithuania, Portugal, Spain, Germany and others. Antisemitism tends to be at its worst when we begin to assimilate into a 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 history, and today we are still guests in America. And now as we get too comfortable again, the antisemitic attacks have been running rampant. Now, more than ever, we must remember we do not belong here, and that our true home is Israel.
The advisers 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 babies of the Hebrew women… 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, you have caused the boys to live?’” 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.
Yocheved and Miriam were rewarded. “Because the midwives feared Hashem, so He made them houses.” 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. Yocheved and Miriam feared nothing and no one, because they answered to a Higher authority, Hashem!
Moshe was born and survived when Yocheved hid him in a basket and set him afloat on the Nile River. Miriam followed to see what would happen to him and witnessed his retrieval by Batya, Pharaoh’s daughter. “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 (2:5–6).”
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 greatness was displayed from a very young age, when he had tremendous compassion and cried for his Hebrew brothers.
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 — And he grew up,” in two consecutive pesukim. The first passuk 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] (2:10).” This refers to Moshe as a boy who grew up. In the following passuk we read, “Vayehi ba’yamim ha’hem vayigdal Moshe vayetze el echav vayar be’sivlotam — Now it came to pass in those days and Moshe 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, just like his growth from boy to youth.
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 he has matured to the point where he 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 does however describe four incidents, all of which reveal his sensitivity to his fellow Jews. First, he left the comforts of the palace to witness suffering of his Israelite brothers. Then he saw an Egyptian beat a Hebrew slave, and so he killed the Egyptian. Next, Moshe saw two Israelites fighting and involved himself in order to make peace between them. And the Torah tells the story of how Moshe 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 a small stray sheep. This led him to the burning bush, where Hashem spoke to Moshe, telling him that He wanted him to lead B’nei Yisrael out of Egypt. As much as Moshe wanted to help the Jewish nation, 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 tzedakah. 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 tzedakah, 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 must 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 says, we all have the same DNA as Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov: the DNA of hesed and compassion.
Rabbi Ashear told the following story that depicts the empathy the Jewish nation has inherited from Moshe Rabenu. There was 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. 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 refused to do so. They agreed to seek counsel from a Torah sage and went to Hacham Ovadia Yosef.
First the parents spoke with the Rabbi, then the young man went in to see him. Hacham Ovadia 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 chattan for his thoughts.
The young man said, “This is the girl I’ve been hoping for. She has so much yirat Shamayim, she has such good middot. 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 marry her.”
Hacham Ovadia put his hands on the young man’s head and looked into his eyes. The boy broke down, crying, and saw that the Rabbi was crying with him. Hacham Ovadia 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 one year later. Hacham Ovadia was the mesader kiddushin. He told the crowd at the wedding what the chattan 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. He was being cared for by his wife around the clock. Years earlier, he had been prepared to sacrifice to take care of his bride, 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. May we begin many new chapters and be redeemed from galut, being zocheh to have the shechina connect with us again! Amen!
Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey
Do we have the strength be able to stand up for what’s right like Yocheved and Miriam, and only fear Hashem?
Sefer Shemot is also called The Book of Exile and Redemption, because it begins with Galut Mitzrayim and ends with the building of the Mishkan after B’nei Yisrael receives the Torah at Har Sinai.
Antisemitism tends to be at its worst when we begin to assimilate into a 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 history, and today we are still guests in America.
Yocheved and Miriam feared nothing and no one, because they answered to a Higher authority, Hashem! They saved the Jewish babies and preserved the future of the kohanim and leviyim.
A person is considered a gadol when he has matured to the point where he can feel the pain of a fellow Jew and can listen to his problems. Moshe had immense compassion for the people of the Jewish nation, and the Torah says of him, “Vayigdal—And he grew up.”
Eliyahu Ben Rachel
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