Volume 1657: Shemot 23 Tevet 5777 21/01/2017
As Shabbat Approaches
“Open Up for Me, My Sister, My Lover”/Esti Rosenberg,
Head of the Midrasha for Women, Migdal Oz
There were seventy souls in the family of Yaacov who descended to Egypt, and they became “Bnei Yisrael” – transformed from a family into a nation, from individuals into a community. The children of Yaacov descend into Egypt in order to meet their brother and to survive the famine. At the same time, they are fulfilling the decree of going into bondage. “Know that your offspring will be strangers in a land that is not theirs” [Bereishit 16:13]. Their private lives become the foundation for an entire nation.
There is a lot of power and strength in the stories of individuals. Each one feels great responsibility and acts accordingly. In a community the emphasis is different. There are times when the individual disappears in the broad framework of the community. His personal point of view sometimes disappears, and the feeling of responsibility can be eroded.
This week’s Torah portion tells both kinds of stories. On one hand, a nation is born. It is fertile and multiplies. But this fertility carries within it a danger of alienation and estrangement. On the other hand, the story emphasizes the ability of the individual to influence the community and to save it from disaster.
The community is broken by their suffering. The suffering is not described in detail in the Torah, the people are passive and are in despair. “And Bnei Yisrael sighed from the labor, and they cried out” [Shemot 2:23]. The people do not even know how to formulate their pain and their prayers, they cry out, and their cry reaches out to G-d. “And G-d saw... and G-d knew” [2:25]. The Creator is aware of their pain but He does not yet redeem them. He is waiting for community action which will show mutual responsibility, which will have an influence on the situation. The suffering community does not have the necessary strength, only individuals are capable of joining the Creator of the world on this journey to redemption.
And the individuals sparkle in the dark. “And the midwives feared G-d, and they did not do what the King of Egypt commanded them” [1:17]. A combination of courage and faith led the midwives to stand up to the tyrant and to revolt against him.
“A man from the house of Levi went, and he took a daughter of Levi” [2:1]. We know the Midrash which states that this was Amram, who remarried Yocheved in spite of the mortal threat to the children. One couple were not afraid to stand up in the face of reality, and to believe that matters can be changed and that an individual can make a statement even when evil is extant in the world.
And beyond all the others – Moshe stands up time after time as an individual in the face of evil, and against a community which lives and acts in a way that is different than the way he does. In his encounters with those who struck the Jews in Egypt, and the shepherds of Midyan – and in the next stage standing up against Pharaoh, King of Egypt – Moshe always seeks truth and justice. He shows no fear or terror.
Moshe’s behavior gives him the right to stand up to the Creator in prayer, in speech, and even with demands – the demand for redemption and salvation.
The individual who has courage, who takes on responsibility, who acts with reality in mind, is privileged to join together with the Creator in the process of redemption. And we must never forget – the Creator is waiting for just such individuals, from time immemorial.
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Point Of View
A Scintillating “Reality Show” by the Press /Rabbi Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute
“I am not a man of words... I am slow of speech and with a slow tongue” [Shemot 4:10].
Lately we have been subjected to a “reality show” run by the press, with the well-known stars Bibi (Netanyahu, the Prime Minister) and Noni (Mozes, the publisher of the newspaper Yediot Acharonot). You can call it, “ Bibi, Noni, and Friends.” It can be assumed that until this article is published, this “little brother” will become more and more dramatic, day by day. This “reality” event, almost-true as it is, recorded and staged, will excite the imagination of all those who enjoy shows full of tension caused by clashes and friction. As is so typical of “reality,” they provide perfect background material for analysis and commentators and commentators on the commentators who spend their lives in the “reality bubble.” In the end, the ultimate judge (which, as is well known, is the press itself), prodded by public opinion, will provide a verdict – and decide who if anybody will be cast aside with the cruelty of a gladiator from the public eye. Perhaps they will all be cast aside, sent out of the arena, accompanied by the wild cheers of an excited audience, “couch potatoes” all.
In case I have bewildered you, my readers, with my extremely complex wording, let us go down a step and speak plainly: My “fondness” for the press is well known. The people who sit there see themselves as all-wise, and they are sure that the entire world is fashioned by their actions. They constantly interview each other. Just check the high level of internal interviews in the media: written, broadcast, on screens, and online. That is how new stars are born, and the “reality” existence is created (as opposed to real life). In their world the people are convinced that they mold public opinion, that they alone build and destroy alternate worlds. For example, they are in charge of “reality” shady plans for “keeping a Prime Minster happy” and allowing him to sleep in peace, since after all they are in “complete control.” They set the daily public agenda, based on daily and nightly news broadcasts.
But I, miniscule as I am, am willing to declare that I have no respect for this mythological world, or for the endless stream of “analyses.” Except for the “media elites,” I am sure, for example, that the vast majority of the public have no interest whatsoever in the complex interactions between Gabi Ashkenazi, Boaz Harpaz, and Yoav Galant, which so occupied the media, confused us no end, and gave work to the best “analysts.” Nobody remembers at all whether this affair is over, and what decisions were made. This is of course only one example out of many more.
As far as I am concerned, all of the above is true of the current hullabaloo about Bibi and Noni. As far as I can tell, the vast majority of the public views the material in the same way as the foolish audiences with extra time on their hands who so avidly watch “Big Brother.” This is something of an upgraded version of “This is Your Life.” So Nuni and Bibi said and hinted, “engaged in some horse-stealing,” made secret recordings, traded in public opinion (which they presumably control) and Knesset laws (which they seem to control), and shook hands or put a knife in each other’s backs, whispered in “smooth” language, made advances towards each other in a very ungentlemanly way, threw the “Jinjy” to the dogs, and perhaps even smoked cigars and drank champagne. Well, that is very interesting, full of suspense and super-drama, but it all has absolutely no significance.
We are a democratic country, thank G-d. Public opinion is not the result of coercion, voting in elections does not follow the party line of a newspaper named “Pravda” – just as the pre-election polls in the United States so clearly showed! Our people are healthier than all of the deal-makers who think that they can control the boorish people according to the desires of the media elites.
We can conclude as follows: I propose to the State Attorney and his office, and the police,to ignore this entire affair, which is no more than a “reality show” for simple folks and a “pound of flesh” for the media professionals. The citizens, and even the MK’s, know better than to pay any attention to this matter!
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Moshe, the ultimate leader, had a gift that might be considered anti-media. He was “slow of speech” and had “a slow tongue,” as noted in the quote above. Many commentators, both early and modern, saw this as a lesson to be learned from the one who brought us the Torah – to contradict those who mistakenly claim that the leadership at a time of redemption must have superior oratorical skills.
We also learn from the Midrash that Moshe was not born with this trait (a lack of media skills) but acquired it from the blow of an angel who pushed his hand away from a shiny golden goblet (is this a reference to physical pleasures? – was it filled with whiskey?), and turned him towards a burning coal. This provided a promise of true leadership qualities, not “reality” speech.
(Written after the end of Shabbat, Torah portion of Vayechi.)
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A Parsha Insight
Separation in Order to Reconnect /Rabbi Assaf Harnoy,
Post-Graduate Beit Midrash for Torah and Leadership, Jerusalem
In a book, the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre describes the life of one of the kings of France, who was kept fully occupied from morning to night.
The king would wake up every morning to the sound of classical music played by the royal orchestra. He would get dressed and immediately go on to a sumptuous breakfast prepared by the best of the royal chefs. He would then immediately go out on a wearying hunt in the forests near the palace, and return to take part in a delicious lunch. And then, tired from the hunt and feeling heavy from the meal, he would have an afternoon nap, from which he would once again wake up to the sound of the orchestra. In the afternoon he would hold a meeting with the best French philosophers on subjects of worldwide significance, eat his supper, and then spend his time until the wee hours of the night dancing at festive balls.
Whenever he moved from one stage of his busy day to the next, he was joined by a royal clown, whose task was to keep the king laughing. In this way, the king never had a free moment through the entire day.
One day the royal clown passed away, and the king found that he had a few minutes to himself. He stopped for a moment and thought, but this made him sick to his stomach, and he vomited. For the first time in his life he had found a free moment to stop and think about himself and his life, and he could not stand what he saw.
When the Principal Announced that all Tests were Cancelled
When Moshe comes to free Bnei Yisrael from the slavery in Egypt – they are not ready to listen to him at all. The Torah gives us the reason for this. “They did not listen to Moshe, because of their lack of spirit and because of the harsh labor” [Shemot 6:9].
When I taught the Torah portions of Shemot and Va’eira in the Hebrew Gymnasium in Jerusalem, I tried to illustrate the absurdity of the above verse to my students by using an allegory from their own lives.
Let us suppose, I said, that you are in the midst of a time jammed full of difficult tests, when suddenly the principal comes to your classroom and announces that all the tests have been cancelled. But instead of hearing the good news of the principal, you ignore him and refuse to listen – and all because you are too busy studying for the tests.
After all, Moshe came in order to redeem Bnei Yisrael from their harsh labors. How then could the labor itself be the reason that they were not willing to listen to him?
The evil Pharaoh understands in this week’s Torah portion that there is no way that he can beat Yisrael in a conventional war. He understands that mass destruction of the people will not be accepted by the international community, and that any attempt to kill them will lead to a revolution by their very large population.
So Pharaoh makes a different move, one that is more sophisticated and better planned, which from his point of view will totally suppress any thoughts or practical capabilities of a revolution, from the very roots.
Pharaoh understands that harsh labor, every single day and around the clock, will take away from Bnei Yisrael the ability to think clearly about their lives, and it will suppress any ideas of a revolution. And that is why Pharaoh increases the harsh labor even more. He knows that every person who is kept busy and whose thoughts are upsetting – will never be able to even consider raising a demand or a desire for freedom.
And therefore, when Moshe finally does come to free them from their bondage, the harsh labor itself is the reason that they do not listen to him. It put them in a mental state where it is impossible to rise up and to attempt to move on to a better place.
Stand Up to Face Ourselves
Pharaoh’s technique is alive and full of vitality to this very day. It may present a different face, but it is just as dangerous and threatening as it was in the past. The daily routines of our lives are filled with many activities and irritations. Many technologies and instruments surround us, often preventing us from achieving even one moment of real and honest thought about ourselves and our lives.
The exit from bondage means first and foremost the ability to remove all of the elements that distract us, and once and for all to become linked to ourselves.
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When The Children Open Their Hearts
A Place in the Heart /Meirav Maggeni,
Author of Content and Stories in Chemed, the Religious School System
Lately, I have been having trouble falling asleep at night. I cannot stop myself from thinking about what to expect. In order for you to understand what I mean, let me tell you something about me and my family.
In our home, things are always noisy and happy. I have four brothers and four sisters, and we are never bored when we are together. We play games, we produce shows, we take hikes in our neighborhood, we ride our bikes. And now and then we also fight with each other...
Abba always says that children are a great joy. And Imma says – especially when we are all waiting for a new baby to be born – that she has lots of love in her heart. There is so much love that we don’t have to worry, nobody will ever feel a lack of love.
Last week, Imma gathered us all together and told us about Tali, a cute girl five years old who was in need of a warm home and a loving family, because her parents could not raise her. Imma said that there are thousands of children like Tali in Israel who are in need of foster homes – that is, a family where they can grow up and feel warmth and love. Imma said, “Abba and I have enough love in our hearts for Tali too... I know it’s not easy to welcome a strange and different girl into our house and it’s definitely not easy to share everything we have with her... But you must remember that Tali needs our love very much...”
Imma stopped for a moment and looked at us. My little brothers didn’t really understand what she was saying and they went right back to their games. But Dan, Ruth, and I, the older children, understood very well the significance of what we had heard. Each one of us tried to digest what was happening. But then Imma surprised us by saying: “The decision of whether to bring Tali into the family has to be a joint decision by us all, because Tali will need your love just as much as she needs the love that Abba and I can give her. Next week we will all go to Jerusalem to meet her, and after that we will talk about the matter again.” Imma went back to what she was doing, and we, the older children, went outside to the big swings in the park, in order to discuss the matter. Dan, the firstborn, surprised us when he said that his best friend Yoav is actually a foster child.
“Yoav is a great friend, and a little while ago he told me that it is to the credit of the Markowitz family that took him in as a foster child when he was little, that he grew up to be what he is. Who knows what would have happened to him if he hadn’t found a warm and loving home?” Dan finished with strong emotion in his voice.
Ruthie, my sister, said, “Wow, that’s wonderful for the Markowitz family, what they are doing is a great mitzva!”
Rachel sat deep in thought. When Dan asked her what she thought about it all, she said that the family of Chagit Cohen, her friend in school, had taken a foster child into the home. They wanted to show the child lots of love and good will, but it turned out to be a very difficult task. The boy did not get used to his new family, and he was angry a lot and managed to irritate them quite often. In the end, the boy was sent away, to another home. She asked a question which echoed in the room: “What will we do if this becomes very difficult for us right away?”
And then, Dan turned to me. “Galit, what do you think?” But I didn’t know what to say. How could we give up the opportunity to perform such a great mitzva? However, I wondered if I really did have room in my heart for a new “sister,” a stranger. Would I be able to help her, be kind, give in to her needs, go with her on hikes, play, help her do her homework. Would I be able to read her a bedtime story, hug her and really listen to her?
If I can manage to do even a small part of the above list, I will have become a better Galit than I was before, happier than I was. (I once heard a wise man say that giving to somebody else gives us a lot of happiness. It seems to me that he was right.)
So now, here I am lying in bed, but I can’t fall asleep... Tomorrow I will meet Tali. I close my eyes and try to imagine what she looks like. What color are her eyes? What color is her hair, is it straight or curly? Does Tali smile a lot? What makes her happy?
In my heart, I begin to pray: “G-d, help Tali to fit in with us, in a way that will not cause too much difficulty. And, just like Imma always says... Let me have lots of love in my heart... enough for everybody.”
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Holy & Secular
Meir Banai’s Last Poem /Rabbi Amichai Gordin
Yeshivat Har Etzion and Shaalvim High School
I am not much of a connoisseur of music. My parents’ home was not filled with music. My father, who spent the first three decades of his life struggling against the KGB and its subsidiaries (which luckily ended in a victory for him), was only interested in things with “real” value. The radio in our living room was always tuned to Reshet Bet (news and talk radio). And anyway, it goes without saying that the radio was only turned on for morning and evening news summaries. Only at an advanced age did I discover that the dial could be moved, and that it was possible to hear other sounds from the radio. And then I was exposed for the first time to Hebrew songs. (One exception was the song, “Did you see the beauty,” which we learned in music lessons in the fifth grade.)
Today I am still no expert in music. It is very lucky for me that the power of music is so great that even one as musically inarticulate as I am can still enjoy meaningful songs that penetrate deep into the heart. The last poem by Meir Banai is like that. It has only one line and no tune. It is a poem that can burst through “Sha’ar Harachamim” – the Gate of Mercy.
* * * * * *
Last Thursday, I came home from a reunion of my class at “Netiv Meir.” Twenty-five years after we graduated from the yeshiva high school, some classmates organized a reunion. In spite of my low expectations, I returned home full of vim and vigor. The return to the years of my youth and the encounter with all of the boys who grew up with me gave me a feeling of being young once more.
On my way home, I turned on the radio. They were playing some very sweet songs. And then the announcer said that they would continue with another song by the late Meir Banai. After getting over the shock, I remembered his last album, which was a collection of “piyutim,” liturgical poetry put to music. We played this album in our home, week after week, on Friday – over and over again. Oh, how I loved those piyutim.
I hesitated for a second. Our sages commanded us not to recite any unnecessary blessing. But after a few seconds, I gathered my strength and said the blessing “baruch dayan ha’emet,” recited when a person hears of the death of one close to him, and I included the full name of G-d. We have been taught that just like a person should recite a blessing when hearing good news so he should recite a blessing over bad news.
* * * * * *
On Sunday, I had another encounter with Meir Banai. This time it was a radio interview with his sister Ornah. She told about a spine-tingling sentence that her brother said to her before he died. She repeated it, and I sat in the car and I could not stop crying. I have heard many declarations of love for Torah in my life, but I have never heard anything as profound as what Meir Banai said.
Ornah said, “Meir loved two things: Music and the Torah. Before he passed away, he asked me: ‘Ornah, do you think that in the world to come it is possible to study Torah?’”
Meir, I love you until death.
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Later on, I remembered the answer Meir Banai gave to Sivan Rahav-Meir when she asked him why he doesn’t write poetry. And this man of truth replied that it is not easy to write religious poems that are not merely full of kitsch. But, he said, I plan on writing poetry not about religion but about my place and my feelings as a religious person. He promised her, “I will write poetry.” And here, is a short poem he wrote, one sentence that says it all:
Do you think that in the world to come
It is possible to study Torah?
Meir, I love you until death.
* * * * * *
I am reminded of some lines from the wonderful poem by Alterman, “The Great Road” –
I will never stop looking,
I will never stop breathing,
And I will die, and I will continue to go.
* * * * * *
Dear Meir Banai: “You may die, but you shall continue to go.”
May your soul be bound in the bond of life.
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Riddle of the Week
Shemot /Yoav Shlossberg, Director of "Quiz and Experience"
At the beginning of the Torah portion two tribes are mentioned,
Yissachar and Dan.
Where in this portion can hints of these two tribes be found?
(Each one is in a different place.)
(With thanks to the author of the riddle, Chana Goldmintz, from Shavei Shomron.)
- Answers to last week’s riddle – it was: In one of the blessings of the tribes a word appears that reads the same backwards and forwards, together with a sentence whose words are often rearranged. What is the word, and what is the sentence?
- The answer: This appears in the blessing to Dan.
- The verse is, “Let Dan be a snake on the road, a serpent on the path, which bites the heel of the horse, so that its rider falls backwards” [Bereishit 49:17]. There aretwo words that read the same backwards and forwards: “ Suss” – a horse; and also “Yehi” – let it be.
- The verse which is rearranged is, “For your help I have hoped, G-d.” [49:18]. When reciting Shema at night before going to sleep, this verse is read in three different sequences.
(With thanks to the “Mann” (a pen-name), who sent us this puzzle.)
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We will be happy to publish your riddles here, with proper credit to the author. Send your suggestions to the e-mail address given below.
Do you have a bar/bat mitzva coming up? Are you looking for a special quiz? To order: www.hidonim.com
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