Post Archive for 2018

Parashas Vaeira

This week’s parashah discusses the first seven of the ten plagues that Hashem cast upon Egypt. In regard to several of the plagues, the Torah relates that while the plague was in progress Pharaoh promised he would let the Jews go, but after the plague ended he reneged. The Midrash comments (Shemos Rabbah 12:8): “Thus it is with the wicked – when they are struck with calamity they humble themselves, but after the calamity passes they return to their wicked ways.”
In discussing this Midrash, the Maggid describes two types of people: those who are hard-hearted and slow in accepting what they are told, and those who are soft-hearted and simple-minded. The hard-hearted person is a shrewd person who does not believe anything anyone says until he investigates the matter thoroughly and verifies that the assertion is true. The simple-minded person is a person who is easily swayed by anyone who talks to him and accepts whatever he is told without discernment. As Shlomo HaMelech says (Mishlei 14:15): “A fool believes anything, but a shrewd person discerns correctly.”
Now each of these types has an advantage and a disadvantage. The hard-hearted person is hard to convince, but once he accepts a statement he maintains his stance firmly and is not moved by people trying to lead him to reverse his stance. The soft-hearted person, on the other hand, is easy to convince, but is liable to being talked out of what he previously accepted. The two types are described in Avos 5:15, which speaks of the person who is slow to learn and slow to forget, and the person who is quick to learn and quick to forget.
Pharaoh had the disadvantages of both of the above types. Initially, when Moshe first came to him bearing Hashem’s word, he did not want to believe him – he said (Shemos 5:2): “Who is Hashem, that I should heed His voice to send Yisrael out? I do not know Hashem, and I will not send Yisrael out.” Afterward, Moshe provided clear proof of Hashem’s existence and control over the world through the plagues, until Pharaoh recognized Hashem and admitted, after the plague of hail, that “Hashem is the righteous One, and I and my people are the wicked ones” (Shemos 9:27). But despite the clear recognition of Hashem that Pharaoh gained, once the plague of hail ended, Pharaoh and his servants immediately changed their stance and denied Hashem and Moshe.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Shemos

In this week’s parashah, Hashem tells Moshe to gather the elders of the Jewish People and inform them of Hashem’s intent to redeem the Jews from Egypt and bring them to Eretz Yisrael. This prompts the Midrash, in Shemos Rabbah 3:8, to expound on the merits of the elders of the Jewish People, saying: “The elders always preserve Yisrael …. Whoever takes counsel from the elders never falters.” The Midrash goes on to recount and episode in Melachim Alef 20 involving the Aramean king Ben-Hadad and Achav, king of the Kingdom of Yisrael. Ben-Hadad demanded the Jews’ silver, gold, and best women and children, and Achav agreed. Afterward, Ben-Hadad said further that he would send his men to take “everything precious in your eyes.” Achav consulted with the elders regarding this second demand, and, based on their advice, refused to comply. According to the Sages, in Shemos Rabbah 3:8 and Sanhedrin 102b, the phrase “everything precious in your eyes” refers to the Torah. The Midrash states: “What is ‘everything precious in your eyes’? It is that which is precious within precious – the Torah. For in Tehillim 19:11, the words of the Torah are described as ‘more precious than gold, even much fine gold.’” The Maggid analyzes this Midrash, focusing on two points. First, he seeks to provide insight into how the Sages came to the conclusion that the phrase “everything precious in your eyes” refers to the Torah. Second, he seeks to bring out the meaning of the phrase “precious within precious.”
He builds on an idea that he brings out in his commentary on Eichah 1:7 in Kol Yaakov. The Gemara teaches (Berachos 40a, Sukkah 46a-b): “Go and see how the nature of the Holy One Blessed Be He is not like the nature of a mortal man of flesh and blood. A mortal man can put his wares into an empty vessel but not into a full one, while the wares of the Holy One Blessed Be He are put into a full vessel but not into an empty one.” The Gemara is contrasting worldly pleasures with the Torah. A person regards a worldly pleasure as desirable only while he has not yet attained it. After he attains it, its appeal to him wears off. Similarly, rare items are considered precious, while commonly available items are considered insignificant. In this vein, Shlomo HaMelech declares (Mishlei 27:7): “The satiated soul loathes the honeycomb.” But one who learns Torah never tires of it. On the contrary, the more Torah a person acquires, the more he values Torah. Thus the Gemara teaches (Eiruvin 54b): “Why are words of Torah likened to a breast? Just as with a breast, however long the baby sucks he takes in milk, so, too, with words of Torah, however long a person meditates on them, he finds relish in them.” The more a person delves into Torah, the more the Torah gives over to him. Therefore, the more a person persists in learning Torah, the more appeal it has for him.
This is the idea behind David HaMelech’s statement that the Torah’s words are “more precious than gold, even fine gold.” David is comparing the preciousness of Torah to the preciousness of an abundance of gold. When gold or silver is abundant, its preciousness diminishes. Thus, Melachim Alef 10:21 states that in the days of Shlomo HaMelech, silver was of no worth because of its abundance. But with Torah, even if the entire world were filled with Torah wisdom and everyone were Torah scholars, the Torah would still be valued and cherished; indeed, it would be even more valued and cherished. In this vein, our Sages compared Torah scholars to fish in the sea: Although they are always in the water, they still crave the falling raindrops (Bereishis Rabbah 97:3). All of this is reflected in Gemara’s comparison, quoted above, between a mortal man’s wares and Hashem’s wares.
Imagine a commoner visiting the home of a nobleman. The house is filled with beautiful and splendid items, and the visitor is awestruck. But the members of the nobleman’s household are not moved at all, for they see these items all the time and are accustomed to them. But with Torah, it is the opposite. If you visit a community of people who study Torah regularly, you will see how much they cherish it. They are, in Shlomo’s words, intoxicated with their love of Torah (Mishlei 5:19). As an example, the Gemara in Eiruvin 54b describes how R. Elazar ben Padas would sit and learn Torah in the lower market of Sepphoris, while his linen cloak lay in the upper market of the town. A person who has never learned Torah before does not have even a thousandth of this liking for Torah; since he has never learned Torah, he has not tasted its sweetness.
We can now easily understand what the Midrash in Shemos Rabbah 3:8 is saying about the Torah. When Ben-Hadad said that his men would take “everything precious in your eyes,” he could not be referring to anything other than Torah. If he were referring to worldly treasures, which are admired more by one who has never seen them before than by one who sees them constantly, he should have said that his men would take “everything precious in their eyes” – that is, in the eyes of those who would come and take them, not in the eyes of the Jews who possessed them. It must be that he was referring to Torah, which is “precious from within precious” – whose preciousness increases level by level the more a person studies it.
David Zucker, Site Administrator