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)


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 Vezot Habrachah/Simchat Torah/Sukkot: The common denominator is OUR common denominator!

In recent years, we have heard the protestations of different groups, in various forms. ‘Judaism is prejudiced’ they say. And on the surface, they would seem to be right. Some groups of people have more mitzvos than others. There are commandments for women or men only. Certain mitzvos are the domain of the kohanim, the priests. And some commandments can only be done by farmers in Israel. It doesn’t seem fair.

Unless there is a ‘back door’ option, by which one can receive the reward for mitzvos done by other people.

According to the Ktav Sofer, the final Parshah in the Torah, which will be read on Simchat Torah in 2 days’ time (outside of Israel, where Simchat Torah and shemini Atzeret are both celebrated tomorrow) reveals that such an option does exist.

Moshe now gives his final parting blessings to his people before leaving This World. He recalls the willingness and love with which we accepted the Torah all those years before

“The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the Congregation of Jacob”

The numerical value of the word Torah is 611, the number of commandments that Moshe gave over (the first two were given by G-D Himself). Looking at the verse, the solution to our problem is clear. “The Torah that Moshe Commanded us” can only be considered a “heritage” and be achieved by every Jew if we are a “congregation”.

When we put aside our differences and care for each other, we all get a share in the reward for each other’s spiritual accomplishments.

In a way, this theme has been a focus for the last week. Our sages tell us that the 4 species taken on Sukkot represent different types of people. There is the Etrog, the lemon-like fruit which has a fragrant smell and taste. The haddasim the myrtle branches, have a smell but no taste. The Aravot, the willow branches, have a taste but lack any scent. Finally, the Lulav, the palm branch, has neither a scent nor taste. They are all taken together in service of Hashem.

As Jews, we are a TEAM. Together, Everyone Accomplishes More.