Post Archive for January 2009

Parashas Bo

This week’s parashah relates the Jewish People’s exodus from Egypt. Now, when Moshe originally asked Pharaoh to let the Jews leave Egypt, he asked permission only for a temporary trip. The request was to allow the Jews to go to a place three days’ journey away from Egypt, to observe a festival of Hashem, and then return. The obvious question arises: Why did Hashem direct Moshe to frame his request in this way, when His intent was to take the Jews out of Egypt permanently? Various commentators have given various answers to this question. Here we present the Maggid’s answer.
The Maggid, in typical fashion, brings out his answer with a parable. He tells of a rich man accosted on the street by a drunk. The rich man, in line with his station, was wearing an elegant suit. The drunk claimed the suit was his, and accused the rich man of stealing it. The rich man replied gently: “I would never dream of stealing something from you. I asked your wife to let me borrow this suit for a day, and she agreed.” The drunk was satisfied with this answer and went on his way. The rich man’s son asked his father: “Why did you make up this story instead of simply telling this guy that it is your suit?” The rich man replied: “I felt there was no point in my getting in a quarrel with him now. So I told him this story to get him out of the way. Tomorrow he will sober up, and then he will be ashamed of his accusation.”
The parallel is as follows. Hashem knew that ultimately there would come a point where the Jews would be unable to tarry in Egypt any longer – He would have to take them out to keep them from falling over the spiritual brink. And He knew further that there would be a six-day interval between the time this moment arrived and the time the Egyptians would reach the quota of evildoing that would make them worthy of being destroyed. So Hashem made up the story of the six-day round trip vacation as a stalling tactic. On the seventh day, the story became irrelevant, for on that day the Egyptians hit the critical point in their evildoing, and Hashem drowned them in the sea.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vaeira

In the opening section of this week’s parashah, Hashem tells Moshe (Shemos 6:6-7): “Therefore, say to the Children of Israel, ‘I am Hashem, and I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt, and I shall rescue you from their service; I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments, and I shall take you unto Me as a people, and I shall be a God to you.’” The Midrash in Shemos Rabbah 6:4 states that the opening word therefore signifies that Hashem was swearing to bring the Jewish People their ultimate deliverance (based on Shmuel Aleph 3:14 – “therefore, I have sworn regarding the house of Eli”). The Midrash notes further that Hashem’s message to the Jewish People includes four expressions of deliverance – I shall take you out, I shall rescue you, I shall redeem you, and I shall take you – in parallel with which the Sages instituted the practice of drinking four cups of wine on the Seder night. The question presents itself: Why an oath followed by four separate expressions of deliverance?
The Maggid answers this question through an analogy to a doctor treating a patient. In some cases, the doctor can immediately administer a single treatment that will cure the patient. In other case, the doctor cannot provide an immediate cure, but instead must wait for certain favorable conditions. In the meantime, the doctor will admininster symptomatic treatment. He will put the patient on various medicines to relieve the patient’s various symptoms: a pain-killer, an appetite stimulant, a sleeping pill, and so on. But first he will reassure the patient that the final cure will be coming eventually. When the appropriate conditions develop, the doctor will administer the definitive treatment, and then the patient will be fully cured.
Thus it was with the Jewish People in Egypt. The Jewish People at that time was not in a suitable spiritual condition to undergo the final deliverance. Hashem dealt with them accordingly. He began by reassuring them with an oath that He would eventually bring them their final deliverance. He then provided them, as an interim measure, four separate “palliative” forms of deliverance to relieve their various forms of suffering. Thus, the four cups of wine at the Seder serve a dual role: to stir us to praise Hashem for the kindnesses of the past, and to stir us to pray to Hashem for the final deliverance. And, indeed, the concluding blessing of the “Maggid” section of the Haggadah includes both elements: a praise to Hashem for taking us out of Egypt and a plea to Hashem to bring us the final deliverance, accompanied by the complete rebuilding of Yerushalayim and the Beis HaMikdash, where we will serve Hashem in the ideal way. The fusion of these two elements is also reflected in the verse the Midrash quotes in connection with the mitzvah of the four cups (Tehillim 116:13): “I shall raise the cup of salvations, and I shall call upon the Name of Hashem.” We raise the cup in praise for the multiple salvations of the past, and call out in prayer for the definitive final salvation, may it come speedily and in our own days.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Shemos, Part 2

In the episode of the burning bush, Hashem tells Moshe (Shemos 3:7): “I have indeed seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and I have heard their screams on account of their taskmasters, for I have known of their sufferings.” In our last post, we presented one of the Maggid’s interpretations of this statement. Here we present another one.
The Maggid says that the verse can be read as reflecting the three phases of Jewish suffering in Egypt: exile, enslavement, torment. (Rav S.R. Hirsch notes that the first nine plagues can be divided into three groups of three, in which each group includes one plague corresponding to each of these three phases.) In speaking of the “the affliction of My people who are in Egypt,” Hashem is referring to the pain the Jews felt merely from being exiled in Egypt. The “screams on account of their taskmasters” refers to the pain the Jews felt from being subjugated to the Egyptian taskmasters, even though the work initially was not so heavy. Finally, when Hashem says “I have known of their sufferings,” He refers to the pain the Jews felt from the crushing labor that the Egyptians ultimately imposed upon them. When the Jews hit the third stage, they completely forgot the first two, but Hashem remembered all three stages.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Shemos

With this week’s parashah, the Torah begins its account of the Jewish People’s enslavement in Egypt and their subsequent redemption. Hashem tells Moshe (Shemos 3:7): “I have indeed seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and I have heard their screams on account of their taskmasters, for I have known of their sufferings.” The Maggid interprets this statement in a number of different ways. Here we present one of them.
The Maggid builds on the following passage (Tehillim 42:2-3): “As a deer longs for brooks of water, so my soul longs for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God: When will I come and appear before God?” The Maggid explains this passage with an analogy to a sick person seeking the help of a doctor. There are two ways the sick person can seek help. One is to write a letter to the doctor describing his symptoms, and await the doctor’s reply. The other is to appear before the doctor in person and get examined. The second method is much more effective than the first. With the first method, the patient’s written report to the doctor may be incomplete, for the patient may not recognize all the relevant signs and symptoms. But with the second method, an in-person examination, the doctor himself will see the entire picture, and will be able to make a proper diagnosis.
Similarly, the Maggid says, we often feel distress without fully understanding what ails us. In recognition of this fact, we ask G-d to deal with us as if we are appearing before Him to be examined – to take stock of our overall situation, not just our specific complaints. Elsewhere in Tehillim, we find an entreaty of a similar sort (Tehillim 130:1-2): “From the depths I call out to You, Hashem. O Lord, listen to my voice, let Your ears be attentive to the sound of my pleas.” Here we ask Hashem to relate to our prayers not only as a list of specific requests, but also, and more fundamentally, as a general cry for help – and thereby also turn His attention to our latent afflictions, and provide us relief from all our troubles. In a post from last year on Parashas Re’eh, I have presented some further remarks of the Maggid (including a moving parable) on this theme.
Similarly, the Jews in Egypt were in great distress, but they themselves did not fully recognize what was troubling them. They recognized the physical affliction they suffered due to the slavery, but they did not recognize their spiritual affliction. Hashem, however, recognized both – and it was to both aspects that He was referring to in His statement to Moshe. In regard to their physical distress, He said: “I have heard their screams.” And in regard to their spiritual distress, He said: “I have indeed seen the affliction of My people.” In connection with the physical distress, which was openly apparent, Hashem used the term “heard.” But in connection with the spiritual distress, which Hashem alone recognized, He used the term “seen.” In turning to Hashem for help, we must ask Him to both hear us and see us, as in Daniel’s plea (Daniel 9:18): “Incline Your ear, my God, and hear; open Your eyes, and see our desolations.” We must ask Him for relief from all that troubles us – both the troubles that we ourselves recognize and the troubles of which we ourselves are unaware.
PS: Today, 17 Teves 5769, is the Maggid’s 204th Yahrzeit. May his words live on!
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vayechi

This week’s parashah relates the blessings Yaakov gave his sons before his death. The Midrash relates (Bereishis Rabbah 97:1):
When our father Yaakov blessed Yosef, he [Yosef] went out with a beaming face. The [other brothers] said: “This is the rule for how all nations treat a man of standing. Since he is the king – one stands by the man of standing. Our father Yaakov told them: “‘Fear Hashem, O His holy ones, [for those who fear him have no lack]’ (Tehillim 34:10). I shall provide for all of you.”
As Matnos Kehunah explains, the brothers imagined that Yaakov was favoring Yosef because Yosef was the ruler. Yaakov responded by relating a teaching – “Fear Hashem …” – and then telling his sons that he would provide for all of them. At first glance, the relevance of the teaching is not entirely clear. The Maggid illuminates the point as follows.
In telling his sons that he would provide for all of them, it seems that Yaakov was seeking to direct them to come for their blessings in a orderly fashion, without trying to jump ahead of each other. This seems puzzling, for Yaakov himself jumped ahead at great risk in order to receive a blessing from Yitzchak before Eisav. But the two situations were different. Eisav was haughty, and so, in order to satisfy him, Yitzchak would have to bless him with supremacy: that he would be a lord over his brother and the sole man in the world of his stature. And in fact this is the blessing that Yitzchak planned to give him. Yaakov was therefore forced to jump ahead and take the blessings from Yitzchak, in order to avoid becoming a permanent slave to Eisav. But Yaakov’s sons were all towering saints, to whom haughtiness was an abomination. To satisfy them, it was enough for them all to receive an equal blessing. Hence there was no reason for them to try to jump ahead of each other. This is the message behind the teaching Yaakov related: “Fear Hashem, O His holy ones, for those who fear him have no lack.” He was saying: “For men of your towering piety, there is never any lack. It makes no difference in what order you receive your blessings, for I can provide for you all.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator