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)

Vayakhel: Holy Mirrors

One of the vessels in the tabernacle was the kiyor- the basin that the priests used to wash their hands and feet before doing their service.

You might be surprised to learn that it was made from the mirrors donated by the women. Understandably, Moshe was quite hesitant to accept gifts with such mundane origins for the house of G-D.

But G-D insisted that Moshe accept it. In fact, The Ibn Ezra says that he was not allowed to leave out a single mirror that was donated. All of them were used to create a giant sink.

Because those mirrors were special. Rashi tells us that the wives used them to adorn themselves so that their worn-out husbands would be attracted to them. And as such, the Jewish nation lived on.

Here’s one lesson that I took out of it.

We tend to paint things black and white. We teach our children that some things are good for us and some things are bad for us. But perhaps this isn’t always the case. Technology has its place. Money has its place. Music, art, literature, food…they all have two sides to the coin.

And it’s not just physical objects. Character traits go on the same principle. There are times when it’s not appropriate to be kind. Sometimes laziness can be utilised for good things.

It’s not so much about changing ‘bad’ character traits or getting rid of ‘bad’ devices. It’s simply about ensuring that we use what we have for the right purposes. of course, if unharnessed, these things can turn against you and bring you down. But if they’re seen and used primarily as a means to a spiritual end, they can bring you to places you never thought you could reach.

Parshas Tetsaveh/Purim: Need motivation? Create it!


It’s the month of Adar. Purim is less than a week away. And we are instructed to increase our joy in this month.

Actually, the Torah commands us to be happy all year round. In fact, in the book of Devarim, Moshe tells the Jewish people explicitly that much of the suffering they endure is a consequence of not serving G-D with happiness.

But doesn’t that seem unfair? Am I really responsible for my mood? I’ve got to work late after being stuck in traffic for half an hour. My boss screamed at me for 10 minutes. My day went downhill from there. Why do I deserve to get punished for shouting at my kids after such a disastrous day?

In Parshas Tetzaveh, the Torah continues discussing the Mishkon (tabernacle). It talks about the clothes for the kohanim (priests), for the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and the regular priests, the oil for the Menorah, and the Ketores (incense) offering brought on the altar.

And each of these is discussed in great detail. The clothes require exact measurements, from the hat to the trousers (‘pants’ for my US readers!). The oil needs to be as pure as possible. And the Ketores needs to be sweet smelling.

Why were all these details so important?

The Torah tells us that the kohen’s clothes were designed for ‘honour and dignity’. The Rambam and the Sefer Hamitzvos write that this was the reason for the oil and the Ketores as well.

But why are dignity and glory so essential?

Because it inspires us. It sets the mood.

But it required action. A team of kohanim had to sew the clothes, construct the vessels, prepare the oil, maintain and coordinate everything…

The Sefer Hachinuch teaches an idea that suggests that ’emotions are created by actions’. The actions of beautifying the tabernacle create an atmosphere that inspires others.

The principle comes into play when one does a mitzvah. As Chazal teach us, one mitzvah causes another. Doing good things motivates us to do more good.

So yes, one can change one’s state of mind.

By forcing ourselves to do things we might not want to do, we create the mood that motivates us to continue. However bad your day was, if you force a smile long enough you can change your emotional state for the better (another scientifically proven fact!). It’s a case of ‘faking it till you make it’.

Don’t wait for your mood to change. Change it yourself!

(As heard from Rabbi Nissan Lifschitz. Click here for the original lecture. Special Thanks to Rabbi Binyomin Denderovicz for his contribution)


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

Vayechi: The blessed disagreement

Don’t try to change anyone –
except yourself!

You find yourself disagreeing with your spouse, clashing with your business partner, arguing with your child.
You know you’re in the right, and you’re desperate to get the other person to see that.
What do you do?
Yaakov Avinu is on his deathbed. Yosef takes his two sons, Ephraim and Menasheh, to get their Grandfather’s blessing. Yaakov will be blessing both boys simultaneously, placing one palm on each head. Jewish tradition considers a person’s right hand to be the stronger one spiritually. As Menasheh is the firstborn, with more significant privileges and responsibilities, Yosef wants him to receive the more prominent blessing. He intentionally places Ephraim on Yaakov’s right-hand side and Menasheh on his left.
But Yaakov sees things differently. Through prophetic vision, he realises that Ephraim is destined to become greater than his older brother. Thus, Yaakov feels that the more prominent blessing would benefit Ephraim rather than Menasheh.
But rather than switching them around, Yaakov does the unexpected: he stretches his right arm over his left arm in an X shape!
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Mendelsohn of Komemius, gives a beautiful explanation for Yaakov’s behaviour:
Yaakov had no wish to change his son’s position. He merely wanted to do what he had to do without fuss. Yaakov’s response to the conflict was to change his way of doing things. To do what he felt was right while respecting Yosef’s position.
It’s a lesson for all of us. Disagreements aren’t about changing other people’s views. On the contrary; they could be springboards for own growth. It could be a matter of understanding the different viewpoint while still disagreeing, strongly even. It could mean overhauling our perspectives completely. Or it could be a case of just choosing our battles wisely. But when interacting with others with opposing views, the goal must be about changing ourselves. For the better.

(As heard from Rabbi Shimon Semp)

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)

Parshas Vayeishev: dream and do!

This week, we follow the fortunes of Yosef (Joseph). Sold into slavery by his brothers (their justification for doing so is a subject for a different piece), he ends up in Egypt, serving General Potifar, one of Pharaoh’s chief officials. After refusing to have forbidden relations with Potifar’s wife, Yosef is thrown into Prison.
It is there that he becomes famous for an unusual talent, one that would bring him from being a lowly criminal to become the viceroy of Egypt.
Here’s how it happened.
One day, Yosef encountered the king’s former butler, in for letting a fly get into the king’s goblet, and he seemed a bit glum. When Yosef asked what was bothering him, the butler told him about a very perplexing dream the night before. In it, he saw a grapevine with three bare tendrils. Suddenly, the Tendrils quickly sprouted fat juicy grapes. Immediately, he plucked some of the grapes, pressed them into wine, pressed the wine into Pharaoh’s cup (which he happened to be holding), and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hands
Upon hearing this dream, Yosef interprets it seamlessly. The three tendrils represented the remaining three days the butler would have to spend in jail. After that, he would be pardoned by Pharaoh and reinstated to his former position, serving Pharaoh as if nothing had ever happened.
I would imagine that the butler and the other inmates were probably a bit sceptical. Some of them perhaps felt that the long years in prison had affected Yosef’s mental health. But lo and behold, to the amazement of all, Yosef’s prediction came true, and the butler was let off the hook.
Word of the young prodigy dream interpreter spread through the jail. The baker, who was serving time for dropping a pebble into the bread (even back then, world leaders were unpredictable- some things never change!) tried his luck and ran his dream by Yosef. In his case, the dream saw him balancing three baskets on his head. The top one held an assortment of baked goods, which were consumed hastily by some rather impudent birds. Perhaps he regretted asking. Yosef explained that the three baskets represented the three days he had left before he would be executed. Again, Yosef was right on target, and the poor met his Creator three days later.
The question that begs to be asked is: How did Yosef know who would live and who would die?
Of course, the simple explanation is that Joseph used Prophetic vision. But I recently heard an amazing insight in the name of Dayan* Chanoch Ehrentreau, head of the London Beth Din and one of North West London’s most senior Rabbinic authorities.
The dream of the butler involved ACTION on the butler’s behalf. It was the butler who pressed the grapes and made the wine. Yosef saw that he was a doer. The baker, by contrast, was completely passive. He simply stood there, without even waving his hands to shoo away the birds!
It’s a principle that so many great people have shown throughout history. We all have dreams. But only those of us who are proactive and do something about our dreams are helped by Hashem to make them reality.
Let’s keep dreaming big dreams. But let’s DO something with them when we wake up!

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*(A Dayan is a Rabbi who serves as a judge in a Jewish court of law)