Parshas Mishpotim: Who’s the Boss?

Lets remind ourselves of our priorities.

We have just been given the Torah at Har Sinai. Now it’s time to get down to the fine details…

Interestingly, the Torah begins by discussing, of all things, the laws of owning a Jewish slave.

Why did the Torah feel it important enough to begin discussing its laws with this?

The answer, as explained by Rabbi Leibel Eiger (a grandson of the famous Rabbi Akiva Eiger), is a guideline in priorities.

The first mitzvah in the Torah is to recognise that ‘I am Hashem, your G-D’. That recognition is a prerequisite to fulfilling the Torah. Similarly, the principals of the laws of an ‘Eved Ivri’ are based on the premise that Hashem considers us to be ‘slaves to me’ and not to others. By discussing the laws of Eved Ivri at this introductory stage, the point is brought home again: to be able to accept the Torah, one must first know with Whom his first commitments lie.

As Rabbi Eiger explains, while the laws of Eved Ivri do not apply to our generation, everything in the Torah is eternal. He writes that we are to free ourselves from all types of slavery. Moreover, just as an Eved Ivri goes free in the seventh year, a Jew who finds himself enslaved goes free on the 7th day, i.e. Shabbos.

Rabbi Eiger wrote this in 19th century Poland. Yet anyone could think that he was writing it in 21st Century America. We all know the distractions that distract us from our priorities. Technology, work, addictions. When we think of servitude to G-D, we think of the common mitzvos (commandments) that are done ‘Bein Adam LaMakom’- ‘Between man and G-D’. Commandments like Teffilin, prayer, Shabbos, keeping kosher. However, let’s not forget that servitude of Hashem also means loyalty and commitment to our nearest and dearest.

Hard work is important. Technology is wonderful. But our challenge is to keep things like these under our control, establishing them as our servants rather than our masters. We have other people to answer to. Especially our own Master.

(Based on the thoughts of Rabbi Elimelech Biderman)


Parshas Shemos: Stars of the day

When the sun’s down, they’ll be the ones lighting your way!


We have reached the next stage in the founding of the Jewish Nation. The forefathers are gone, and their descendants have now settled in Egypt. The book of Shemos (Exodus) begins by naming the sons of Yaakov all over again, although they had already died long ago. Rashi explains that Yaakov’s sons are compared to the stars. He quotes Isiah (4:26): ‘They (the stars) are counted by G-D when He brings them out, and again when He gathers them in’.

But why compare them to stars?

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky OBM has a beautiful explanation, which I would like to like to expand on humbly.
Rabbi Kamenetzky points out that stars are invisible during the day. Their light is overpowered by the sun. Only once the sun departs can it become dark enough to allow them to be seen in their dazzling glory. The greatness of Yaakov’s sons was revealed when they were in exile when the light emanating from Yaakov had been extinguished. That was when they became beacons of light to guide their descendants.

Perhaps we can learn a lesson here.

Many times throughout history, when Jews found themselves in danger, the salvation came from the most unlikely people. A little shepherd boy is the one to defeat a giant, with a slingshot and stone. A child with a disability writes a letter to the President of the United States, moving him to release an over-punished prisoner. Children (and adults) who go unnoticed, or are maligned and isolated, rise to the occasion when the time is right.

A New York-based therapist was presented with a child, David, who was having a hard time buckling down at school. His parents and siblings were at their wit’s end and were desperate to get him to sit still and focus. After a session or two, the therapist decided to hold a third meeting with all the family, including the boy’s grandfather. And so, the family gathered and aired all their hurt and misery. Poor David had to endure the verbal dirt being slung at him: He was hurting his siblings’ chances of finding marriage partners, he was embarrassing the family, etc.
Stunned, the family turned to the source of the commanding voice.

The grandfather, who had remained silent till now, had something to add.

He stood up, looking agitated, and spoke his mind in a shaking voice.
“I was David,” he said “I was the one who dropped out of school in Poland in the 1930s to become a tailor. I was the ‘disappointment to the family’. After overhearing two German officers discussing Hitler’s plans for the Jews of Europe, I begged my parents to get visas for America. Failing to convince them, I came to New York on my own. Hitler caught up with them. I was the sole survivor of my family.”
“This child, whom you are ripping apart so mercilessly, has untapped potential within him. Studying is not his greatest strength. But he has other talents that will come to the fore one day. In the meantime, I refuse to let you tear him down like this!”

How many ‘stars’ do we know? Children and adults, whom we tend to judge and label?
When it gets dark, that person’s light might be the one guiding the rest of us.

(See Sefer Talelei Oros)

Vayigash: “We were wrong!”

Admitting our mistakes is hard but so, so worthwhile!

Towards the end of last week’s parshah, Yosef’s brothers encountered the second-in-command of Egypt. Unbeknownst to them, they were talking to none other than Yosef himself, the brother they had cruelly sold into slavery so many years before. Yosef is unsure whether they have repented since those days and put them through a series of tests. He eventually gets them to go back and bring their youngest brother Binyomin, whom he tries to take as a slave. At that point Yehudah gets up and flatly refuses to hand over Binyomin, giving himself up as a slave instead. His argument is so strong that eventually Yosef breaks down and reveals himself.

But the story begs the question: there were 10 of them! And they were with Yosef for quite some time. If you read the story carefully, you’ll notice that Yosef dropped several hints regarding his true identity. He knew what colour the wood of their cribs was at home. He sat them around the table in order of age, oldest to youngest. How is it possible that none of his brothers became suspicious?


Perhaps they didn’t want to think that. Subconsciously, the brothers preferred to stay in denial. Because recognising who he was would have meant admitted that they were wrong. And that, as we all know, is the hardest thing for a person to do.

I said that none of the brothers recognised Yosef. But that might not be entirely true.

When Yehudah makes a case for his brother, he keeps bringing up what his father said. He mentions his mother twice. He stresses how it would kill his father to have to lose his youngest son. It’s as if he recognised Yosef and was telling him “it’s your father, your brother, your mother!”

And indeed, on a subconscious level, that may well have been the case. And even that recognition, on a lower level of awareness, may well have affected Yehudah’s excellent choice of words to Yosef. It’s hardly surprising that it was Yehudah who chose to recognise Yosef. The root of the word ‘Yehudah’ is ‘hoda’ah’-meaning ‘admission’. And that admission ultimately broke Yosef.

Admitting that we erred is not comfortable at all. It’s not the default human reaction. But if we can acknowledge our mistakes, to ourselves and to those whom we’ve wronged, we only stand to gain.

(As heard from Mr Harry Rothenberg ESQ. Click here for the original shiur)

Parshat Vayeira: He did it for us!

Our forefather’s sacrifice gave us the tools for life

Imagine that you are one of the most influential people in the world, the spokesman for G-D in This World. And you’ve been teaching a pagan world that practices like giving up your children are wrong. You yourself have a child, whom you love more than anything else. G-D has promised that through this child you will become the founder of His Chosen Nation.

And then G-D asks you to sacrifice your only son.

It’s not a challenge that anyone can relate to. Certainly not in 2017. But we know that the Torah is eternal.  if the Torah goes into such detail about the story of the Akeidah, how Avrohom Ovinu (our father Abraham) was tested in this way, and was stopped by Hashem just as he was about to plunge the knife- it must be relevant to us in some way.

G-D worded his request in a very detailed fashion. ‘take your son, your only son, whom you love, Yitzchok’

Why was that necessary?

The Sfas Emess explains that Avrohom had to go through three stages of processing the request.

  1. ‘Sacrifice your only son’. It would have been easier if Avrohom had other sons. But that was not the case
  2. ‘Whom you love’- Avrohom might have fallen out with Yitchok. But the Torah speaks about the tremendous love he had for him.
  • ‘Yitzchok’. The child whom Hashem promised would be the guarantor of the Jewish People, is now to be sacrificed by his father.


But surely Avrohom would have jumped to do G-D’s will in a heartbeat. Why did he need to go through these stages?

The Gerrer Rebbe explains that Avrohom certainly didn’t need to go through this process. Not for his own sake. But he did it for us. By accepting the challenge the way he did, Avrohom planted the seeds of inner strength in our DNA, giving us the power to overcome our own struggles even thousands of years later.

The next time we are faced with a test, be it praying with more concentration or not shouting at the guy who blocked your driveway, lets remember that we do have the wherewithal to succeed. It’s in our blood.

As heard from Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser. (click here to view a video of the original lecture)

Parshat Noach: It’s all in the plans

G-D has His plan for you. And it’s a good one!

Why do good people suffer while bad people prosper?

That’s a question that’s been asked over and over, throughout the history of the world.

It’s even possible that even Noach had voiced this question. The Torah tells us that he had to wait 500 years before having his first child, after watching everyone else in the world have children at the young age of 100.

This was the man who was the only righteous person in his time. The man remained completely cut off from the falsehood and corruption of the world around him. He surely didn’t deserve this!

One couldn’t blame him for asking the question.

But G-D, of course, had a plan.

Giving Noach children at a normal time in his life would have been disastrous at worst and very troublesome at best. Had they grown up to be wicked, they would have reached the age of a ‘bar onshin’, a person liable for Heavenly punishment, long before the flood. Thus, they would have drowned with the rest of that generation. If they would have turned out righteous, Noach would have had several generations of descendants to consider in his ark building plans. Considering how long it would take him to build one ark, he certainly wouldn’t have fancied the headache of building a fleet of them! In His infinite kindness, G-D timed the arrivals of Noach’s kids to take place within 100 years of the flood to prevent either of these outcomes.

If Noach had indeed asked the question, the flood was G-D’s answer to him.

During World War II, the British ‘treated’ some of their German Jewish refugees to a free trip to Australia, along with other ‘enemy aliens’ (many of them were Nazis). The boat was the cheapest they could find, manned by a crew of the lowest criminals in Brixton Jail. One day, the bored crew thought it would be fun to attack their passengers. The poor Jews, who had lost family members to Hitler, now had to watch their only possessions being carelessly tossed into the ocean.

Unbeknownst to them, a German U-Boat in the area had the ship in its sight. Just before the captain gave the order, he noticed what appeared to be suitcases floating in the water. The luggage was retrieved and opened. Lo and behold, out came piles of books in…German! Clearly the British were transporting a group of POWs somewhere.

And thus, the Jewish refugees arrived safely in Australia, escorted by a German U-Boat that had nearly torpedoed it.

Challenging life situations often make no sense to us human mortals. But in Hashem’s unlimited perception, it’s all part of the Grand Plan for us and the world.


(Idea heard from Rabbi Yissochor Frand. Based on Rashi, Bereishit/Genesis Ch.6, V.9. Story heard from Rabbi YY Rubinstien.)