Parshat hashavua b parsha : shemot date : 23 Tevet 5760, 1-1-2000 “The Best of Parshat HaShavuah”

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Date :23 Tevet 5760, 1-1-2000

The Best of Parshat HaShavuah” Articles taken from list subscriptions on the internet, edited, reformatted and printed for members of Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu (Editor: Arieh Yarden)

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Moshe Reuven ben Yaakov z”l

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1 - TORAH TIDBITS (Israel Center)

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Extract from SHABBAT-B'SHABBATO, published by the Zomet Institute of Alon Shevut, Israel


by Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weiss, Rabbi of Kefar Haroeh and the Emek Chefer Regional Council

It is difficult to judge someone's character when there is no one to compare him to, that is, when there is no standard for comparison, to show his greatness. For this reason, it is not easy to evaluate the character of Moshe, for "no other prophet like Moshe ever rose up in Yisrael" [Devarim 34:10]. That being the case, with whom can he be compared, in order to demonstrate his greatness? Our sages felt this difficulty, and they compared Moshe to Noach. Rabbi Berachia said, "Moshe was better than Noach. While Noach was at first called 'a righteous man' [Bereishit 6:9], he was later called 'a man of the earth' [9:20]. However, Moshe, who was at first called 'an Egyptian' [Shemot 2:19], was later known as 'a man of G-d' [Devarim 33:1]" [Bereishit Rabba 36]. And this shows what was unique about Moshe. Quite often, the character of a person deteriorates, and one who starts out as a righteous man becomes a man of the earth, and descends to such a low level that "he uncovered himself in his tent" [Bereishit 9:21]. This is not true of Moshe, whose entire life follows the verse, to "rise up on the mountain of G-d" [Tehilim 24:3]. Even though he started out as an Egyptian man, he progressed and became greater, until he was transformed into a man of G-d.

Why did Moshe develop and become great? An answer to this is given by the Midrash, commenting on the verse, "And Moshe was a shepherd" [Shemot 3:1]. "The Almighty does not give a person a lofty position unless He checks him with a small test. Only afterwards does He give him greatness." Noach began with great expectations: "This one will console us from the labor of our hands, on the land cursed by G-d" [Bereishit 5:29]. Evidently these hopes had some basis in fact. It may be assumed that Noach performed great acts, which led the people to hope that he would be able to fix all that had been corrupted in Eden. Moshe, on the other hand, began his life humbly, looking after a single sheep in the flock, intruding for the good of one who was being struck and in order to bring peace between colleagues, and protecting strange daughters from shepherds. Not only at the beginning of his life but also as it continues Moshe sits in judgement of the people, from morning to night. The people will not only hear from him earth-encompassing commands but will also turn to him with small details: "When they have a problem they come to me" [Shemot 18:16]. It may well be that people with something bothering them, such as family or business problems, would also find a sympathetic ear from Moshe.

This leader, who paid attention to small details, is later willing to sacrifice himself for the nation. When he hears, "And now, leave me be ... and I will make you into a great nation" [Shemot 32:10], he immediately replies with, "And Moshe prayed [32:11] ... Please erase me from your book, which you wrote" [32:32]. Contrast this to Noach. When G-d told him that he would be saved, he did not ask for pity for the world, and it was destroyed (this comparison is made in the Zohar, in the Torah portion of Noach). How far is "And Moshe prayed" from "And Noach, man of the earth, defiled himself" [Bereishit 9:20], even though the two words are spelled the same way in Hebrew ("vayechal" and "vayachel"). A leader who has passed the small tests can be trusted to succeed with much more important events, and the Almighty therefore raises him to a position of authority.

EDUCATION IN THE TORAH: Can a Whole Nation be Educated?

by Rabbi Yehuda Shaviv

Bereishit is a book about individuals, as opposed to Shemot, which is about Bnei Yisrael as a nation. At first glance, education is a matter for individuals: a father with his children, and a teacher with a pupil. Even the great educator Avraham, who called out to many people in the name of G-d, was occupied in individual private education. This is noted by the Rambam, as follows: "Since the people gathered around him and asked him about his teachings, he would respond to each and every one according to his level, returning him to the correct path" [Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 1:3]. But now, in Shemot, referring to an entire nation, is there any meaning to the concept of education?

It may be that this is the reason for Moshe's hesitation, when he said, "But they will not believe me, and they will not listen to my voice" [Shemot 4:1]. As a shepherd, Moshe was revealed to be a true leader, who could pay attention to each individual lamb, even while leading the entire flock (see Shemot Rabba 2:2). Could he do the same thing in leading the nation, carrying the lonely weak ones on his shoulders, "as a nursemaid carries a baby" [Bamidbar 11:12]? Evidently he felt that this was beyond his skills. However, the Almighty decided that he was the right one both to lead and to educate the nation, with all its tribes and all the individuals. From that point on, he was chosen to lead the nation on a long educational journey, a journey which has not yet ended.

POINT OF VIEW: A Referendum for One Nation or Two?

by Rabbi Yisrael Rozen

"Behold, the nation of Bnei Yisrael is larger and stronger than we are ... If there will be a war, they will join our enemies and fight us, and they will rise up from the land" [Shemot 1:9-10]. "This is as if it were written, 'We will rise up from the land, and they will inherit it'" [Rashi, based on Sotah 11a].

Everybody is discussing a referendum, as a rare democratic move, the only possible way to decide on the borders of the country. A referendum is a super-tool with which the people of the nation are asked to make a direct statement. It is therefore reasonable to try to establish the detailed rules of a referendum with great care.

The relevant question today in relation to the proposed Golan referendum is what majority will be required for a decision. What percentage of the population, or of the eligible voters, or of those voting, will be needed to decide to pare away some of the land? Just as the four sages who entered the heavens, will we be able to "enter in peace," or "leave in peace?" (see Chagiga 14b).

One subject being discussed is a "special majority" which can reasonably be required for fateful questions which are related to mortal danger. Such a departure from a normal democratic majority can be derived from our sources. In spite of the hard and fast rule, "follow the majority," the Mishna tells us the following with respect to the majority needed for a court to decide on a death sentence: "A favorable decision is not the same as an unfavorable one. For acquittal, a majority of one is sufficient, but for conviction, a majority of two is required." [Sanhedrin 2:1].

Another question, in addition to the one of the how to define a majority, is the weighty issue of the Arab population. Here there is a real dilemma. The Arabs cannot be swept under the democratic rug, and even those who would be stringent would have a hard time defining for which issues they can be included in the democratic process, and for which their opinion should not be accepted.

It is clear that some of those in the Arab sector are antagonistic to the country, and serve as an explicit and sometimes militant Fifth Column. Democracy is usually strong enough to absorb such groups, and expressions come to mind, such as, "the price of democracy." And in connection with this, let us look at the verse quoted above, "If there will be a war, they will join our enemies," and especially the end of the verse, "they will rise up from the land," interpreted by our sages as meaning the opposite, "we will rise up." The question is, who will maintain possession of the land?

In principle, I feel that democracy does not have absolute precedence, and it is possible to have selective criteria for the right to vote. An example would be to use the concept of "an army veteran." At the present time, hundreds of thousands of citizens of the country who do not live here cannot vote, while as we well know there are other democratic countries which do allow people to vote without being physically present. In any case, in considering the new and very rare democratic process of a referendum, it may well be justified to innovate, in the spirit of the verse, "Let us outsmart him" [Shemot 1:10]. Here are some possible examples of creative thinking.

The Hebrew phrase for referendum is "mish'al am," a request from the nation. It is not called a request from the citizens, and this is not an accident. The wording emphasizes the national aspect of holding such a referendum. And it is not just the seriousness of the subject which justifies turning to the people, over the heads of the elected officials. I therefore have a revolutionary proposal: with respect to subjects of national significance, such as borders and areas (and possibly such topics as peace in general, or religion and the state), there should be not one referendum but two, one for each sector. Thus, there would be two separate ballot boxes, or different colored envelopes, and each of the peoples would vote separately, according to the item "nationality" in the ID cards. The law regulating the referendum would include a rule of how to combine the two votes.

I can plainly see some of my readers already preparing the cry of "prejudice!" But my answer is simple. Have I proposed any harm to anybody because of a difference in race or creed? Will anybody be denied the right to vote? A referendum is a poll of the entire population, and every such poll includes demographic questions, to facilitate analyzing the results. In the Golan referendum, the demographic question is even more important!

To counter claims of anti-democracy, I will remind my readers that an amendment to the Constitution of the United States requires a separate majority in the legislatures of at least three-quarters of the states, and not a majority of the voters. In the Spanish referendum about granting autonomy to part of the land, it was necessary to obtain a separate majority in each of eight geographic areas, and not to have a simple total majority. There are many other similar examples, but this is not the place to list them all.

FROM THE HAFTARA: Different Customs Point to Different Emphasis

by Rabbi Amnon Bazak

There are two completely different customs for this week's Haftara. The Ashkenazi custom is to read Yeshayahu (27:6-28:13), while the Sephardi custom is to read the inaugural prophecy of Yirmiyahu (1:1-2:3). The Sephardi choice is easier to understand. Yirmiyahu's beginning is very similar to how Moshe was chosen. Both of them tried at first to avoid the roles thrust on them. Moshe said, "I am not a man of words" [Shemot 4:10], and Yirmiyahu said, "I do not know how to talk, for I am a youth" [1:6]. And G-d promises to help both of them: "I will be with your mouth" [Shemot 4:12], and "I have placed my words in your mouth" [Yirmiyahu 1:9]. G-d strengthens Moshe by showing him signs, the first of which is the staff, while He shows visions to Yirmiyahu, the first one being "an almond branch" [Yirmiyahu 1:11]. And G-d warns them both of the difficulties they will experience, from within and from the outside. In general, they had many experiences in common, some of them listed by the Midrash, under the heading, "What is written about this one, is written about the other one."

As opposed to the above, the Ashkenazi custom is to read the harsh - and difficult to understand - rebuke by Yeshayahu. There have been many proposals to explain why this Haftara was chosen. The simplest one is based on similar opening phrases in the two. The Torah portion begins, "And these are the names of Bnei Yisrael who came to Egypt with Yaacov" [Shemot 1:1], while the Haftara begins, "The coming [days] will be rooted in Yaacov." [Yeshayahu 27:6].

However, the commentaries do not agree on the interpretation of the first verse from Yeshayahu. Rashi explains that it refers to the arrival of Bnei Yisrael in Egypt, and he therefore explains the subsequent verses in terms of exile and redemption. Radak, on the other hand, sees it as a prediction of the future, meaning that "in days to come, Yaacov will take root. For now, in exile, it is as if he has no roots, but in those days, he will take root and flowers will grow above."

Note: There is also a third custom, that of the Yemenite and Babylonian communities. They read Yechezkel 16:1-14. This starts with the verse, "Son of man, tell Jerusalem about her abominations," and it is in contradiction with the Talmud (Megila 25b), which says not to read a Haftara from this chapter, because of its harsh criticism of Jerusalem.


by Rabbi Binyamin Tabory

When Moshe went out to be with his brothers and saw two people fighting, he said to the evil one, "Why would you strike your colleague?" [Shemot 2:13]. Our sages concluded that anyone who strikes his friend is called an evil person. And Rish Lakish added, "One who raises his hand over his friend, even without striking him, is called evil." This must be true, since Moshe used the future tense, before the man actually struck, and he called him evil even at this early stage (see Sanhedrin 58b).

The halachic source for the prohibition of striking a colleague is the verse, "Lest he continue to strike him" [Devarim 25:3]. An officer of the court is commanded not to strike a sinner more than the appropriate number of times. "If the Torah warned against continuing to strike a sinner, how much more so must this be true of striking a righteous person" [Rambam, Hilchot Chovel U'Mazik 5:1].

The prohibition is "to strike an acceptable person of Bnei Yisrael by way of fighting [nitzayon]" (this is according to the text we have, while there is another version which reads "to cause him shame [bizayon])." This implies that striking a friend jokingly or for an educational purpose might be permitted (as long as there is no bodily harm). According to the Mabit (chapter 26), it can be seen from the words of the Rambam that it is permissible to strike an evil person, who doesn't "perform the actions of your nation" [Yevamot 22b]. On the other hand, this may not be true, in view of the fact that the prohibition itself is derived from the case of one who is being punished for sins, as noted above. In the Sefer Hamitzvot (prohibition 300) and in Hilchot Sanhedrin (16:12), the Rambam notes that the prohibition pertains to every person in Bnei Yisrael.

The limitations discussed above (an acceptable person, by way of fighting) are not mentioned by the Rambam in his discussion of raising a hand. He writes, "It is even forbidden to raise a hand over one's friend. And anyone who raises a hand over his friend, even if he didn't strike him, is evil" [Hilchot Chovel U'Mazik 5:2]. If the source for the prohibition is indeed from this week's Torah portion, it is easy to understand why the Rambam doesn't mention that the prohibition is restricted to acceptable people. This is because our sages taught us that the two people involved were Datan and Aviram, who were completely evil. Rashi explains, from the text, "Why would you strike your COLLEAGUE?" that the second one was also evil. But in any case, one who raises his hand to strike his (evil?) friend is himself called evil.

Instead of the wording of the Talmud, that he "is called evil," the Rambam writes that he "is evil." According to the Raavan, one who raises his hand to strike is not suitable as a witness and his oath is not accepted, until he repents his evil ways. This is a novel proposal, since clearly one is not called "evil" and rejected as a witness or for an oath whenever he has done some sinful act (such as one who takes a loaf of bread from a poor person - see Kidushin 59a). This may explain the different wording of the Rambam in different places. Here he writes, "he is evil," but in other places he writes, "he is called evil" (for example, Hilchot Ishut 9:17). The Beit Yosef explains that even if one who raises his hand to strike is not punished by lashes, he might not be accepted as a witness, noting that even one who violates a rabbinical prohibition might be considered unfit to be a witness.

Thus, we have been taught an important lesson: the prohibition of raising a hand to strike in not only morally wrong, it is a Torah prohibition, even if it is not punished by lashes.

NOTES ON IBN EZRA: The Chronicles of Moshe

by Rabbi Uri Dasberg

About half of Moshe's life is a complete mystery to us. If Avraham's thoughts during the three days on his way to the sacrifice of Yitzchak occupied our sages, more than 60 years of Moshe's life - from the time "he ran away for Pharaoh" [Shemot 2:15] until he returned at the age of 80, after he married Tziporah - certainly provided fertile ground for comments by many commentators.

One such Midrash dealing with this period is the "Chronicles of Moshe," which has been published in different forms (one of them in the Otzar HaMidrashim, by Isenstein). This Midrash, which was known to the early commentators (it is mentioned in the "Aruch," under the topic of Aharon), relates that Moshe reigned as a king in the land of Kush, where he married the wife of the previous king. Many weird and strange things appear in this Midrash. It is therefore no surprise that Ibn Ezra, who had no qualms about criticizing an authentic Midrash, had very definite conclusions about this one, saying: "As to what is written in the Chronicles of Moshe, do not believe them. And I will tell you a general rule. Every book which was not written by the prophets, or by our sages, based on tradition, is not to be trusted."

Elsewhere, he wrote, "Do not depend on the Chronicles of Moshe, for everything written there is a waste of words" [Shemot 4:20]. Could it be that the Rashbam was also referring to this book when he wrote, "do not pay attention to external books" [4:10]? In his commentary on Bamidbar 12:1, he quotes from the chronicles to explain who was the "woman from Kush" that Moshe married. He writes that it was the queen mentioned above.

SCIENCE IN THE TORAH: "Who Can Make a Person Dumb or Blind?" [Shemot 4:11]

by Idit Gamliel

Moshe is skeptical because he has "a heavy mouth and a heavy tongue" [Shemot 4:10], and he fears that his stuttering will harm his mission to Bnei Yisrael and to Pharaoh. The ability to speak is one of the main traits of human beings, and language is one of the outstanding examples of humanity's advantage over other creatures. It is only the human race which produces sounds in this way, not just providing momentary alarms or messages but incorporated into a complex language, able to relate to the past, the present, and the future.

The main elements used for producing a voice are the following: the lungs, which provide a flow of air; the vocal chords, which actually produce the sound; and the cavities of the mouth and nose, which provide amplification. The different sounds are created by modifying the shape and size of the air passageway between the tongue and the upper palate.

Man has two vocal chords, and they are in the larynx, which is an enlarged section of the windpipe. The chords are membranes, which partially block the windpipe, allowing the air to pass through a small slit and on into the throat. When air leaves the lungs, it vibrates the membranes, and a sound is produced, depending on the tension of the vocal chords and the size of the slit. The membranes are controlled by tiny muscles connected to nerves which are very well represented in the brain.

RELIGIOUS ZIONISM IN ACTION: "A Man Went from the House of Levi, and He Married a Daughter of Levi" [Shemot 2:1]

by Avinoam Meir

You have probably heard of many matchmaking agencies, with (computerized) files of names. But it is a pity if the number of people registered is too small to give a reasonable choice to all the prospects. And we shouldn't forget those who, shall we say, are a bit shy, so that the search for a suitable mate could take many years.

In view of this situation, some students of Hesder yeshivot have gathered together to solve the problem and fill the gaps. The are in the midst of establishing a national database, a "Gemach" [charitable institution] for matchmaking. Hopefully, this will solve the problem of many single men and women. It will provide a social framework for meeting other people, and help to decrease the number of unmarried men and women.

There is one other benefit: this service is provided free of charge. More details are available by phone, at 050-912119 and 052-257675.






4 - NYCI (Block)

NCYI Weekly Divrei Torah, From:Kenneth Block (

Rabbi Yirmiya Milevsky Young Israel of Greater Buffalo, NY

In the second chapter of Parshat Shmot, the Torah tells us the story of Pharaoh's daughter finding Moshe. In verse five, the Torah says, "She sent her maid and fetched the box." The Talmud relates that the word "amata," (literally, her maid), also means, "her hand." The Talmud continues to explain that a miracle took place, and her hand extended beyond its natural capacity and reached the box.

When we learn such a statement in the Oral Tradition, there must be a deeper meaning. I would like to share with you an approach to this statement.

The day of Shavuot, when we celebrate the receiving of the Torah, is a bit difficult to understand. After all, the giving of the Torah and its 613 commandments in all its detail were completed only after the forty years in the desert. If so, what exactly did the children of Israel receive on that day, at Sinai?

Maimonides, in the eighth chapter of Yesodei HaTorah, writes that the reason we follow every word of Moshe and we believe that all he said is truly the word of HaShem, is not because of the miracles Moshe performed, but rather due to the revelation at Sinai. When HaShem tells Moshe, (Shmot 19:9), "And they will also believe in you forever," He is telling Moshe that the Jewish nation, by standing at Sinai, will reach a spiritual level through which it will become clear to them that everything they hear from Moshe from now on, is the true will of HaShem.

With these words of Maimonides we have a better understanding of what is taking place at Mount Sinai. The revelation is not to transmit the complete book of HaShem with all its guidelines and laws of how to live as a Jew, but rather to make it clear to the children of Israel, that from now on every word they hear from Moshe, is the word of HaShem, and must be followed in precisely the same manner they would follow a commandment coming out of the mouth of HaShem. All of this became clear to the nation as they were standing at Mount Sinai, and this comprehension is what we commemorate on the day of Shavuot.

So in essence, the day of Shavuot is the day when the nation extended beyond its physical boundaries, and turned into prophets, to become witnesses to Moshe's role as the conveyor of HaShem's will. Even though they always considered Moshe a prophet, on that day it became clear to them that their leader was much more than a regular prophet, whose words have no guarantee to always reflect the will of G-d, due to the free will of the prophet, but rather Moshe was a prophet with a guarantee from HaShem, that the Shchina (Divine voice) will be speaking from his throat, now and forever.

The name of Pharaoh's daughter was Batya - the daughter of god. In Egypt the god was referring to Pharaoh, because Pharaoh considered himself a god and named his daughter with that in mind. Batya left Egypt and converted to Judaism, but she still kept her name. After conversion, the reference to G-d in her name, was to the true One. In a sense, Batya represented the Jewish nation. In Egypt, they were affected by the pagan culture surrounding them, who believed in Pharaoh as a god, and accepted this philosophy. With redemption came the acceptance of the true G-d.

According to tradition, Moshe was born on the seventh of Adar. Three months later, when Batya discovered him, the date was the sixth of Sivan - the same day that eighty years later, the Jewish people will be standing at Mount Sinai. Batya, who represents the nation of Israel - by the fact of her being part of the pagan culture, and afterwards finding HaShem - extended her hand in a supernatural way, on the sixth day of the month of Sivan to find Moshe, much the same, eighty years later on the same day, as the Jewish people will extend spiritually, and exceed their limited human capacity at Mount Sinai to see who Moshe was.

With this we may gain some insight into the message of the extension of the hand.


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