Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Shemos


Vayiven arei misk’nos l’Paroh es Pisom v’es Ra’amses (1:11)

The Gemora in Sotah (11a) explains that the names of the cities Pisom and Raamses allude to the fact that the earth underneath them was completely unsuitable for building, and whatever the Jewish slaves built there was immediately destroyed by the unstable ground. Pisom is short for “Pi Sehom Bo’alo” – the opening of the depths of the earth would swallow it (that which was being built), and Raamses stands for “Rishon Rishon Misroseis” – one building after another would collapse. If Pharaoh had an entire nation available to serve him as slaves, wouldn’t it have been more sensible to have them work in a location where they could build beautiful palaces which would bring honor to his kingdom?

Rav Pam answers that no matter how difficult a person’s task may be, he is still able to feel good about his work as long as he perceives a purpose in his efforts. If Pharaoh had put the Jews to work building splendid edifices, even though they would never be allowed to set foot in them, they would feel a sense of purpose in their suffering and would take pride in the fruit of their labors. The diabolical Pharaoh was willing to forego all benefits to his kingdom from working them under more suitable conditions in order to afflict them with crushing harshness.

A practical application of this concept may be derived from a story involving a contemporary Rabbi whose son was born prematurely and severely underweight. The doctors and nurses in the hospital went beyond the call of duty, putting in tremendous efforts over the course of two months until the baby was finally healthy enough to return home with his grateful parents.

The Rabbi searched far and wide for an appropriate gift for the medical staff to express his appreciation, but he couldn’t find anything suitable. In frustration, he turned to his mentor, Rav Elya Svei, who explained that the doctors didn’t need any more fountain pens or paperweights. He suggested that each year on the baby’s birthday, the Rabbi should bring his son to the hospital to show the doctors and nurses the fruit of their efforts. So many times medical professionals put in tremendous energy fighting what they know to be an uphill battle, only to become dejected when they lose more often than not. Rav Svei suggested that the best gift would be to strengthen them by reminding them that their efforts make a difference and are eternally remembered and appreciated.

While most of us hopefully haven’t had extensive interactions with the hospital staff, we have all benefited greatly from the Herculean amounts of time and energy invested in our education and upbringing by our parents and teachers. It behooves us to give them the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment they deserve by regularly letting them know what a difference they made in our lives and how appreciated they are.


Vayetzav Paroh l’chol amo leimor kol ha’ben ha’yilod haye’orah tashlichuhu (1:22)

Rashi points out that whereas Pharaoh’s first decree was specifically directed against male children born to the Jews, his second order didn’t differentiate and was directed even against Egyptian children. This was because his astrologers foresaw that the Jewish savior would be born that day, but because he was born a Jew and brought up among the Egyptians, they were unable to discern whether he was Jewish or Egyptian. As a precaution, Pharaoh ordered that all children be killed.

The Tosefos Rid and Mahari Bruna note that Onkelos, in translating the Torah into Aramaic, understands that the second decree was also made only against the Jews. Where did Onkelos find a hint to his rendition, as Rashi points out that there seems to be no mention of it in the verse, and his opinion also seems to contradict the Gemora in Sotah (12a) on which Rashi’s comments are based?

Rav Meir Shapiro and Rav Simcha Sheps answer that there is no disagreement between Rashi and Onkelos. Onkelos was a convert to Judaism and was raised as a non-Jew. As such, he knew better than anybody that whatever laws the non-Jews and their governments enact, as much as they may seem fair and non-discriminatory on the surface, are ultimately directed against the Jews. Onkelos would agree with Rashi that the words of Pharaoh’s actual edict were directed even against the Egyptians. However, Onkelos was hinting that the translation of and underlying motivation behind the decree was, as even Rashi explains, solely directed against the Jewish people.


Vayomer Moshe el HaElokim hinei anochi ba el b’nei Yisroel v’amarti lahem Elokei avoseichem sh’lachani aleichem v’amru li mah Shemo ma omer aleihem (3:13)

When the Baal HaTanya was young and newly married, he spent Rosh Hashana with one of the leading Chassidic Rebbes of the time. The Rebbe’s custom was that before the blowing of the shofar, all of those who knew how to blow would draw close to the Rebbe, who would teach them the mystical secrets and intentions to have in mind while blowing the shofar. At that point, the Rebbe would choose one of the assembled to blow the shofar for the congregation that year.

The Baal HaTanya joined the group, and to his surprise, the Rebbe selected him to blow the shofar. At that point, he was forced to sheepishly confess that he didn’t actually know how to blow the shofar. The confused and disappointed Rebbe asked him why he had falsely claimed to be capable in order to join the group. The Baal HaTanya answered that when Hashem initially revealed Himself to Moshe at the burning bush, Moshe asked for His secret name so that he could share it with the Jews to validate his mission. Yet shortly thereafter, Moshe declared himself unfit for the role due to his speaking difficulties. The Baal HaTanya used this episode as a source to similarly learn the Kabbalistic secrets of the shofar even though he would later have to declare himself incapable of using them to blow it.


Ki ch’vad peh uch’vod lashon anochi (4:10)

Moshe argued that he was unfit to serve as the redeemer of the Jewish people because he was “heavy of mouth” and “heavy of speech.” What is the difference between these two seemingly identical phrases? Rabbeinu Chananel writes that “heavy of mouth” means that Moshe was unable to pronounce letters which are said with one’s teeth (namely zayin, shin, reish, samech, tzaddi) and “heavy of speech” means that he was also unable to properly say letters that are pronounced with one’s tongue (specifically, dalet, tes, lamed, nun, tof).

Based on this explanation, the Kesef Nivchar suggests an original understanding of Moshe’s request (3:13): when the Jews ask me, “What is the name of the G-d Who sent me to redeem them,” what shall I answer them? Moshe was expressing his frustration over the fact that every one of Hashem’s names with which he was familiar contained at least one of the aforementioned letters that he was unable to pronounce. In other words, he was asking Hashem for an alternate name which he would be able to say clearly. Hashem therefore taught him the name (3:14) “Eh-yeh,” which contains only letters that even the hard-of-speech Moshe could pronounce.


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!  To receive the full version with answers email the author at [email protected].


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     Rashi writes (1:21) that because the midwives Yocheved and Miriam feared Hashem, He rewarded them by making them the matriarchs of the dynasties of Kohanim, Levites, and kings. How can this be reconciled with the Talmudic maxim (Kiddushin 39b) that Hashem doesn’t give reward in this world for the good deeds that a person does? (Darash Moshe)

2)     Pharaoh’s daughter encountered Moshe’s basket when she went to bathe herself in the river (2:5). Rashi writes (Sotah 12b) that she was on her way to the river to convert to Judaism by immersing herself in it. As the Shulchan Aruch rules (Yoreh Deah 268:3) that one of the requirements of a conversion is that it be witnessed by a Beis Din (Jewish court) of three adult males, how could this have been a proper conversion? (M’rafsin Igri)

3)     The Medrash teaches (Rus Rabbah 5:6) that if Aharon had known that the Torah would immortalize (4:14) the fact that he went out to greet his returning brother Moshe, he would have exerted himself much more and would have gone out to greet Moshe while dancing and playing musical instruments. Shouldn’t Aharon’s actions have been purely motivated based on his assessment of what was proper and appropriate in the situation and not based on the publicity he would receive or how other people would judge him? (Imrei Daas, Bod Kodesh)

4)     In asking permission from Yisro to return to Egypt (4:18), why did Moshe say that he wanted to go back to see if his brethren are still alive instead of the truth, that Hashem had appeared to him and commanded him to do so? (Medrash HaGadol, Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, Ayeles HaShachar)

  © 2011 by Oizer Alport.