Shemot

“Parsha and Purpose” – Shemot 5781
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Facing Down a World Power: Spiritual Resistance and Fighting Evil”

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“Facing Down a World Power: Spiritual Resistance and Fighting Evil”

One Shabbat morning, my wife and I were walking outside our apartment in the neighborhood of Katamon in Yerushalayim, a man was pushing a stroller down the street.

It’s a common sight in that neighborhood, so I didn’t think twice – until I noticed the man’s small green cap and suddenly realized that it was Natan Sharansky pushing one of his grandchildren! THE Natan Sharansky.

Personally, it was a thrill. A symbol of leadership that resisted the cruel Soviet regime and from whom we all drew endless amounts of inspiration.

In this week’s parsha, Shemot, we read of an earlier Jewish leader who protested a repressive, tyrannical dictatorship: Moshe Rabbeinu. 

In all the books of Tanach, we find only two instances of the use of the word “teivah”, or ark: Teivat Noach and Teivat Moshe. Genesis 6:14 and Exodus 2:3

Rabbi Amnon Bazak notes many similarities between these two teivot: both are constructed from vegetation and are covered with tar pitch to protect the contents inside; both are built to float in water; and both save the person (or persons) inside from certain death.

But there are also stark differences between the two arks. 

In the case of Teivat Noach God is the architect and watches over the ark during its operational activity, whereas Teivat Moshe it is built by his mother, Yocheved, and supervised during operations by his sister, Miriam.

Teivat Noach was necessary because humanity failed to confront evil and tyranny in their midst, and thus a reset button had to be pushed . 

In contrast, Teivat Moshe represents humanity’s capacity to challenge evil 

Rebel against the tyrannical regime of Pharaoh, 

The bravery of the righteous women who rose up in protest. 

Spared by their heroic efforts, Moshe grows up in the comfortable surroundings of that regime, but that does not dull his sense of justice. 

He confronts the Egyptian taskmaster; the two Jews fighting with each other; and the men at the well treating Yitro’s daughters unfairly.

And that is why Moshe becomes our leader, our teacher and ultimately the individual who has the most intimate communication with God.

The contrast with Noach is dramatic, and contains a vital lesson for us. Noach begins as a righteous man with potential, he starts off with God walking with him but ends up a drunkard. 

Moshe begins as an adopted  member of a family that promotes tyranny and darkness.

Goes out to his brothers sees the darkness confronts it and ends his life as the only person who walks in front of God.

Natan Shransky once wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “My KGB interrogators had dismissed this movement as ‘a bunch of students and housewives.’ But this bunch—coming by the thousands to the Soviet Union as tourists from the United States, Canada and Europe—formed a living bridge between the Free World and Soviet activists. The same students and housewives who rescued us from isolation succeeded in isolating the Soviet regime instead.”

The power of Teivat Moshe – Yocheved, Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter Batya, Moshe Rabbeinu, students and housewives in the 70’s & 80’s  and a Soviet Jew with a green cap named Sharansky .

Each of them marshalled their inner strength, stood up to evil and combatted tyranny. 

In doing so, they build their Teivat Moshe.

May we strive to do the same.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin

Shabbat Shalom: Shemot (Exodus 1:1 – 6:1) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –  The Book of Exodus begins the story of the people of Israel, the nation that developed from the household, or the family, of Jacob. Many are the differences between the Book of Genesis and the Book of Exodus, but perhaps the …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Parshat Va’era 5780

“Pharaoh, Frankl & Maimonides:
Choose Your Way”

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“Pharaoh, Frankl & Maimonides: Choose Your Way”

Viktor Frankl, a psychologist and therapist, wrote books that are considered to be among the most powerful works of the twentieth century. He lived from March 26, 1905, to September 2, 1997, and survived at least four concentration camps. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, pp 65–66 he wrote:

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.  They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom.”

Frankl is talking about what our rabbis called bechira chofshit: free will. In this week’s parsha, Parshat Va’era, God tells Moshe something extraordinary. “VeChizakti et lev Par’o,” “I am going to harden Pharaoh’s heart.”  He is not going to allow you to leave Egypt of his own free will. Maimonides, in his eight-chapter introduction to the six chapters of Pirkei Avot asks this very question.  “How can Pharaoh be held accountable if he lacks free choice? How can a person be punished if he cannot determine his own actions? “ His answer: Pharaoh was not punished for refusing to free the Jewish people once God hardened his heart. All of his punishment, including the hardening of his heart, is due to his criminal acts. He lost his ability to choose because of the way he interacted with the Jewish people prior to that point. The loss of free will, the loss of his humanity, was the first stage of his punishment. Free will is what makes us uniquely human. If we act inhumanely, we lose our ability to make moral choices. Our humanity becomes eroded. Viktor Frankl, a concentration camp survivor, reminds us that whatever challenges we face in life, unlike Pharaoh, God does not harden our heart. Even if we have health challenges, financial challenges, familial challenges, we can decide how we respond to the crises and the opportunities in our lives. Parshat Va’era reminds us that the greatest gift that God has given us is free will. Not even God can intervene with that. Viktor Frankl realized that, while the circumstances of our lives may sometimes be beyond our control, our response to them is our own choice, and, please God, let us engage and face our challenges in a way that will truly celebrate the greatest gift that humankind has, the gift of free will.

 Shabbat Shalom.

 
Exodus 7:3 – אֲנִי אַקְשֶׁה אֶת לֵב פַּרְעֹה
Exodus 7:13 – וַיֶּחֱזַק לֵב פַּרְעֹה
Exodus 7:22 – וַיֶּחֱזַק לֵב פַּרְעֹה
Exodus 8:15 – וַיֶּחֱזַק לֵב פַּרְעֹה
Exodus 9:7 – וַיִּכְבַּד לֵב פַּרְעֹה
Exodus 9:12 – וַיְחַזֵּק יְקֹוָק אֶת לֵב פַּרְעֹה
Exodus 9:35 – יַּכְבֵּד לִבּוֹ הוּא וַעֲבָדָיו
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“Parsha and Purpose” – Parshat Shemot 5780

“Living the Ideals of Chesed and Social Justice – A Necessary Requirement for Leaders”

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Parshat Shemot: Living the Ideals of Chesed and Social Justice – A Necessary Requirement for Leaders

Rav Chaim of Brisk (1853-1918) revolutionized the study of Talmud through his novel “Brisker” approach, and added new dimensions to our ability to understand that magnum opus of Jewish scholarship.  Talmud studies in any midrasha or yeshiva are greatly impacted by Rav Chaim’s textual analysis.

Rav Chaim lived in the Lithuanian town of Brisk and served as rabbi of the town, but was buried in Warsaw (that in itself is a story, but we won’t elaborate on it now). Rav Chaim requested that on his tombstone (not the one that marks his grave today, which was replaced after the original was destroyed by the Nazis) only the words “Av Beit Din d’Brisk” – Rabbi of Brisk – and “Ish Hesed” – a man of lovingkindness – be inscribed.

Rav Chaim did not want anything written about the books he composed, or the unbelievable advances in the study of Talmud be written.  He felt that the most important job he had as a Rav was not delivering amazing sermons or coming up with incomparable chiddushei Torah, but rather to be a “Rav Chesed” – a man who performed acts of lovingkindness.

In the middle of his tenure as a rabbi, almost all of Brisk was destroyed in a fire. While the homes of the wealthy were soon rebuilt, those of the poor were not; Rav Chaim went and slept on the front yards of those homes, until they were rebuilt.

When there were babies that were born out of wedlock, the parents knew that they could be placed in the home of Rav Chaim, this great Torah scholar, and he would make sure that the mamzerim and mamzerot of the Jewish people would be taken care of.

When he was given a shed full of wood to heat his home, his condition was that there was to be no lock on that shed, so that the poor could also use the wood as needed.

That was Rav Chaim.

Nechama Leibowitz so correctly tells us that before you are introduced to the quintessential leader of the Jewish people, before he can stand on the stage of leadership, we have to be introduced to his CV, those acts and traits which make him truly unique.

What makes Moshe unique is that he is a man of chessed. When he sees something that is wrong, whether it is social injustice between a master and a slave, social injustice between two oppressed people, or social injustice between two strangers, Moshe needs to get involved.

That is what makes Moshe a leader. This is the quality of genuine leadership.

And subsequently, when Moshe sees the burning bush, he says, “Asura Na, v’er’eh,” I’m going to go over and look, “madua lo yiv’ar ha’sneh?”- Why isn’t the bush being consumed by the fire? (Exodus 3:3)

That was Moshe’s greatness. When something was not right, out of character; when someone was being oppressed, Moshe expressed concern.

This is the message that Rav Chaim of Brisk highlights to us. When he is buried, he requests that his matzeva, his tombstone, not focus on his scholarly Torah contributions, but rather on his contributions in the realm of chessed.

Parshat Shemot reminds us that if we want to be redeemers in our lives – like Rav Chaim of Brisk, like Moshe Rabbeinu – we have to speak truth to power, not only through the study of Torah, but by taking those values and implementing them every day of our lives.

Shabbat Shalom.

This week’s parsha has been sponsored in memory of Florence Bryskin (Tzipporah bas Mayer Yitzchak and Henya) on the occasion of her Yahrzeit on the 22 of Teves Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Shemot (Exodus 1:1 – 6:1) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “But the midwives feared God and they did not do as the …

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Michal Groushko

Parashat Shemot: The Birth of a Nation By Michal Groushko Taitel, Prinicipal of OTS’s Jennie Sapirstein High School for Girls in Ramot, Jerusalem  Dr. Orit Avneri shared some beautiful new ideas on Parashat Shemot in her writing, which I summarize below.  In the first few verses of the Book of Exodus, we encounter several expressions …

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Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, and God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob…” (The Opening Blessing of the Amida) The opening of the Amida prayer stops with Jacob’s name. But why should …

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