Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Vaeira

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Vay’dabeir Hashem el Moshe v’el Aharon vay’tzaveim el B’nei Yisroel (6:13)

The Torah tells us that Hashem commanded Moshe and Aharon regarding the Jewish people, but it glaringly omits the details of the instructions. The Yerushalmi elucidates (Rosh Hashana 17a) that they were instructed to relate the mitzvah of sending Jewish slaves free after they have worked for six years (21:2). Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz notes that this was a peculiar time to command the Jews regarding this mitzvah, which wouldn’t even be applicable until after they had conquered and settled the land of Israel. Why wasn’t it sufficient to wait until they reached Mount Sinai, where they could receive this mitzvah together will all of the others?

Rav Shmuelevitz explains that the mitzvah of sending one’s servants away is quite difficult. After a person pays the initial purchase price, he has free help for six years and grows quite accustomed to it. Suddenly, the time comes when the Torah requires that not only must the slave be sent free, but the master must also send him away with various gifts.

It was specifically at this time when the Jews were being told that their own personal redemption was imminent that they were able to put themselves in the slave’s shoes and appreciate how much he must yearn for his freedom. While it would still be difficult to actually free the servant, this represented the ideal time to present the mitzvah for their acceptance. Although the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai was just around the corner, the interim period would cause them to slightly forget the great joy they had experienced at their own freedom and would make the acceptance of this mitzvah that much harder. The following story presents a modern application of this concept. In one of the great yeshivos in Europe where the students were renowned for their extensive knowledge, the students were once eating lunch together and discussing a certain Torah topic. One of them volunteered his opinion on the subject, to which one of his peers sharply responded, “Don’t you know that what you said is explicitly written in a certain Tosefos?” Upon realizing his oversight, the first student was overcome with shame and humiliation and quickly fled the room.

The young man proceeded to spend the next several years in isolation studying with unprecedented diligence and went on to become one of the great scholars of the generation. There was only one problem with his actions: Before darting from the room, he forgot to recite Birkas HaMazon (Grace after Meals) over the meal he had been eating.

A great Rosh Yeshiva was asked for his thoughts about the propriety of the student’s actions. He responded, “While I can’t justify the neglecting of a Biblical commandment, one thing is certain. If he would have paused for the few minutes necessary to recite Birkas HaMazon, his initial burst of inspiration would have dissipated, and he would have never even made it out of the room to continue on the path that he did!”

We all have moments in our lives – an uplifting Torah class, a meaningful and inspiring Yom Kippur, or a miraculous sign from Heaven – when we see, hear, or experience something which gives us a tremendous flash of inspiration and excitement to undertake new projects. Unfortunately, the passage of time often wears away that enthusiasm and we are sadly left with nothing to show for it. The Torah teaches us that the best way to seize such moments is to make concrete resolutions to practically apply the inspiration so that we may keep it with us forever.

Vay’dabeir Hashem el Moshe v’el Aharon vay’tzaveim el B’nei Yisroel (6:13)

Rav Leib Chasman points out that when rebuking someone, it is generally because we feel that they have done something wrong and need to be chastised, and we don’t hesitate to let them know it. Nevertheless, as upset as we may feel at those moments, we would most likely admit that the receiver of our reprimand is certainly not as wicked as the evil Pharaoh, who is synonymous with unprecedented cruelty the likes of which we can hardly imagine.

Yet when it comes to rebuking Pharaoh, the same Ribono Shel Olam Who demonstrated no qualms in raining down the full gamut of His wrath, insisted that Moshe and Aharon speak to him in a respectful manner, even as the content of their message reflected Divine punishment the likes of which had never been witnessed. The same Torah which gives us the mitzvah to admonish wrongdoing also teaches us that doing so politely is no contradiction, and is indeed the proper way to do so.

Rav Chaim Volozhiner goes so far as to suggest that the words of one who is unable to rebuke courteously will surely not be listened to, and in that case, the Torah exempts him from the mitzvah to reprimand wrongdoing. One who proceeds to do so anyway should be aware that in the best case he is wasting his time and energy, as his lecture will fall on deaf ears, while in reality he is also needlessly insulting and hurting another Jew without even performing a mitzvah in the process.

Va’yeit Aharon es yado al meimei Mitzrayim vata’al ha’tzfardei’a (8:2)

Rashi writes that initially, the dreaded plague of frogs only consisted of one frog. However, the Egyptians apparently didn’t like the frog and hit it in an attempt to kill it or make it go away. Unbeknownst to them, this frog had the miraculous quality that every time it was stricken, it actually multiplied into more frogs.

While we can understand the first few people who innocently hit the frogs in their na?vet?, after it became clear that each additional strike would actually produce more frogs, why did they continue striking them? Didn’t they realize that every successive hit was counterproductive and only made a bad situation worse?

The Steipler Gaon answers that these questions are fundamentally flawed. Although they certainly make sense on a rational level, the Egyptians were attacking the frogs out of anger, and when a person is angry common sense is unfortunately the farthest thing from his mind. In a fit of rage, the emotional pain one is experiencing acts with a “logic” all its own. In the heat of the moment, the wisest course of action is almost always silence, as every additional comment or action only magnifies the long-term damage which must be repaired after the situation cools down. Now that we understand how irrational the Egyptians were to continue hitting the frogs and fanning the flames, perhaps it’s time we ask ourselves why we so often fail to learn from their foolish mistakes and continue in their footsteps.

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

1) In last week’s parsha, Moshe expressed his reluctance to serve as Hashem’s agent to free the Jewish people due to his speech impediment, to which Hashem replied that his brother Aharon would assist him as his spokesman (4:15-16). Why did Moshe repeat the exact same worry in this week’s parsha (6:12)? (Meged Yosef)

2) Hashem told Moshe (7:3) that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he would refuse to free the Jews. Does this mean that Pharaoh lost his free choice to repent his ways even if he changed his mind and wished to do so? (Yefei Toar Shemos Rabbah 13:3, Rambam Hilchos Teshuvah 6:3, Radak Shmuel 1 2:25, Ruach Chaim 3:7, Chofetz Chaim, Rav Chaim Berlin quoted in Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha)

3) The first plague was that all of the water in Egypt turned to blood. Did it literally turn into blood, or did it only take on the appearance of blood, and if the latter, why weren’t the Egyptians able to drink it? (Daas Z’keinim, Seforno, Ayeles HaShachar)

© 2013 by Oizer Alport.