Vayikrah: Moshe – the giant who kept growing


“The more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know.”

Those were the words of one of the brightest people of the 21st century, Albert Einstein.

And like all inspirational quotes from famous people, there’s a source in the Torah for it.

ויקרא אל משה- And G-D ‘called’ Moshe (Vayikrah Ch. 1 V.1)

To answer the question, you probably have; no, that small alef at the end of the first word (‘Vayikrah’ was no technical glitch. It is written in the Torah that way by request of Moshe himself.

The Kli Yakar explains: In his immense humility, Moshe initially requested that the alef be omitted, so that the word read ‘vayakar’- and G-D ‘happened upon’ Moshe. Almost as if G-D had encountered him by accident, as if He had met Moshe in the supermarket (so to speak). Such was his humility that he didn’t feel worthy of G-D coming out to meet him. G-D, however, insisted on including the alef. Moshe acquiesced, on the condition that the letter is shrunk.

Rav Shach notes that the Torah actually praises Moshe openly for his humility elsewhere, calling him ‘the humblest of all men’. In his understanding, Moshe wasn’t just acting in the way he was accustomed to, but he was actively increasing his humility. This was a new level of humbleness, even for the man who stood head over shoulders above the whole world in this area.

Think about it. Moshe was 80 when he lead the Jews out of Egypt. He was an old man by now. And to have reached the level of humility that he had attained had taken him 8 decades.

And yet, he still felt that he could do better.

When a person has got to a certain point, there’s often a danger of complacency. We’re happy where we are and don’t feel the need to carry on growing.

And that’s where we often fall down. Because if we’re not constantly pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone, we’re not remaining stagnant, but probably falling.

Because when it comes to personal growth, the sky’s the limit.

(Sefer Talelei Orot)

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)


Parshat Bo: Let Him in!

When all the gates are locked, humility tunnels you under them…

Throughout the saga of the ten plagues, the narrative remains the same: G-D inflicts the chaos, Pharaoh begs Moshe to ask G-D to stop, G-D ends the nightmare, Moshe orders Pharaoh to release the Jews, Pharaoh’s heart hardens, Pharaoh refuses, G-D is angered, and the cycle repeats itself.
Pharaoh’s refusal makes him deserving of punishment. It makes sense, at least on the surface.

But, as the Torah tells us from the beginning, it was G-D who hardened Pharaoh’s heart.
Pharaoh had ZERO control over his free will. He couldn’t repent of his wickedness even if he wanted to.

And yet, G-D punished him over and over, in a series of escalatingly intense plagues, with the ‘grand finale’ at the Red Sea.

Doesn’t that seem unfair?

A Rabbi of a Synagogue noticed something rather odd that happened once a year. One of the shul’s members was a man who only came to services on Rosh Hashanah. He would walk in, pray for a few minutes quietly, and then leave. And for those few moments, his face showed that he was concentrating very intensely. One year, the Rabbi couldn’t control his curiosity. He called the man over and asked him what he was praying for.
“Every year” he replied “I have this request:
“G-D: I have a great marriage, a financially rewarding career, all the cars and luxuries I want, kids who are doing well in school. One thing I ask of You: Please, stay out of my life!”

This sad joke is indicative of the type of person Pharaoh was. We mentioned that Pharaoh was beyond the point of no return. But that wasn’t entirely true. He had a ‘backdoor’ option.

The Talmud tells us that there are sins for which the gates of repentance remain closed. But the commentaries stress that even in these situations there is an answer. If one calls out to G-D, He will dig a tunnel (so to speak) under the gates for you to go through.

That, says the Chofetz Chaim, was an option that Pharaoh had all along. With a sincere expression of submission before his Creator, he could have changed his life. But like the poor fellow in the story, he lacked the desire to have Hashem in his life. Pharaoh’s lack of humility prevented him from bridging the gap between him and G-D.

A man came to the Steipler and told him that he was concerned about his difficulty in maintaining faith in G-D. the Steipler’s ‘diagnosis’ was clear. “Haughtiness” declared the sage. “If you’re too concerned about yourself to think about others, you have no room in your heart for Hashem either!”

A humble person knows that he isn’t the master of his destiny; G-D is.

(Based on a lecture from Rabbi Fischel Schachter. Click here to watch the lecture video)

YOU can be like Moshe

This week aside from Moshe Rabbeinu ( Moses our teacher), we read about his brother Aharon. The first time the two of them were mentioned together, Aharon is discussed first. Rashi points out that the order in which they are mentioned in one verse keeps changing throughout the Torah. Most of the time Moshe comes first. Sometimes Aharon’s name precedes Moshe’s in verse. Rashi explains that each one was as great as the other.
But is that true? Wasn’t Moshe the greatest Prophet to ever live? How could Aharon be compared to his brother like that
The Rambam goes a stage further. He asserts that anyone can be like Moshe Rabbeinu!
How do we understand Rashi and the Rambam?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein OBM (or ‘Rav Moshe’ as he was known) explains that Moshe Rabbeinu was born with a tremendous abundance of gifts. And he used those talents to the full. He lived up to his potential. In that sense, Aharon was able to match his brother. Aharon, too, used the gifts that Hashem had granted him to become the best person he could be.
And that, says Rav Moshe, is what the Rambam meant. We can all achieve greatness in the areas we were destined to grow in, using our Heaven-endowed gifts. Just like Moshe, we too can live up to our potential and achieve great things.

(As heard from Rabbi Nosson Scherman

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)