Shemot

“Parsha and Purpose” – Vaera 5780

“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.

“Parsha and Purpose” – Shemot 5780

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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?

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.

Parshat Shemot: The Torah of the Father, and the Torah of the Teacher

Parashat Shemot: The Torah of the Father, and the Torah of the Teacher Hashem gave the Torah to a particular nation, at a particular time, based on a special perspective on the nation receiving the Torah. Hashem wants to give us the Torah personally, through a one-on-one encounter, relating to us on a personal level and …

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“Shabbat Shalom” – Parshat Shemot 5780

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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Parshat Shemot: The Birth of a Nation

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” – Shemot 5779

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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“Shabbat Shalom” – Shemot 5778

Parshat Shemot(Exodus 1:1-6:1) Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –– “And Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” It is “received wisdom” that successful leaders must possess a certain level of ego and degree of narcissism in order …

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“Parsha to the Point” – Shemot 5778

Parshat Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)  Rabbi David Stav  Out of terrible human tragedies can come the most remarkable universal examples of heroism and humanity. Such is the case in Parshat Shemot. Curiously, although the Torah condenses hundreds of years of slavery and suffering at the hands of the Egyptians into a mere ten verses, it dedicates many …

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