Shmos: Moshe the Baby Model

The story in Parshat shmos is pretty well known. Pharoah and Egyptians enslave the Jews. Little Baby Moses is born. Moses is hidden for three months. He is then put in a basket and put into the Nile. Fortuitously, Pharoah’s daughter came down to the Nile and sees him. The Torah states: She opened and saw the boy and behold the “youth” was crying.

Ramban picks up on the term “youth” and comments that Moses was remarkably handsome with long limbs and appeared more mature.

A few years ago, the NY Times had an article that an extensive study was done which showed that beautiful children got far more attention in school than their peers. The teachers gave them extra attention and special treatment. No surprise as it is common knowledge that good looks goes a long way. In fact the SD will exhort to anyone who listens that very successful executives often share three characteristics: 1. hair 2. height 3. Thin. In fact, the only bald president this country had in the 20 and 21 century was Eisenhower and he had to be elected.

So was Moses saved because he was good looking? The short answer is yes. Pharoah’s daughter had pity on him because she saw something in him. She saw a good looking kid. The reality is that life is not fair. Good looking people have advantages. They get more attention. The interesting thing is that Moshe did not see himself that way. He was humble. Modest. Maybe that is what Rashi says in his explanation on the pasuk: that when she opened the basket she saw the divine presence.

So if you are blessed with Tom Cruise looks, walked humbly and thank gd for all your gifts.

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Jews and Food: Pesachim page 40B-41

Jews and Food. It is cliche (like Irish and whiskey). A close friend once told me that we actually serve Hashem ritually by eating. These pages in pesachim reinforce this idea. In the mishna we are told that on passover we may NOT mix flour with charoses. We automatically think of seder night charoses of the seder night and dipping into the marror. Hower, charoses here is actually referring to the basting or the coating for the paschal lamb. Later in 41 the daf talks about the manner in which the lamb must be cooked- roasted. The charosiet here is the condiment or flavor enhancer.

The SD loves this. Hashem directs us to eat something tasty to re-enact a seminal moment in our history. By chewing, tasting and ingesting we memoralize our experience. To add to this unique method of memory of Passover, the talmud goes out if its way to enforce that we may even make it tastier.

Our service to Hashem is not through some esoteric or abstruse ideal, but rather by the human and mundane act of eating. Service of Gd through the act of eating reinforces that our relationship with hashem is tangible, not existential. So sit, pick up a fork and serve Hashem.

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Miketz: Chapter 42 Verse 9: Dressing Down

In Miketz Joseph is elevated to Viceroy due to his insights about Pharoh’s dreams and the upcoming famine. The brothers come to Egypt to buy food and stand before Joseph. Joseph sees them, recognizes them and then accuses them of being spies.

The Ramban says something wild. The brother were all dressed up. All decked out. They were as my kids we say: “looking natty”. Ramban says they were handsome and wearing fancy clothes in contrast to the other poor people lining up for food. What does this say about the brothers.

The SD would like to suggest you don’t wear your Rolex watch or your Brioni suit when you are on a bread line. You recognize that others around you are in bad straits. Maybe you should recognize that if you are in the middle of breadline wearing “natty duds” is not that smart. It raises suspicion it makes you stand out. Standing out is what got them to be thought of as spies. It gave Joseph cover to accuse them. Standing out by wearing the fancy or natty duds is just plain wrong all the time.

While the SD does not wear the standard yeshiva clothes, the SD admires that dress for the simple reason that no one stands out. Everyone looks the same. When everyone wears a black suit and white shirt there is no haughtiness or arrogance. You stand out with character not clothing.

Stand out with character not clothing.

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Miketz: Chapter 42 Verse 9: Dressing Down

In Miketz Joseph is elevated to Viceroy due to his insights about Pharoh’s dreams and the upcoming famine. The brothers come to Egypt to buy food and stand before Joseph. Joseph sees them, recognizes them and then accuses them of being spies.

The Ramban says something wild. The brother were all dressed up. All decked out. They were as my kids we say: “looking natty”. Ramban says they were handsome and wearing fancy clothes in contrast to the other poor people lining up for food. What does this say about the brothers.

The SD would like to suggest you don’t wear your Rolex watch or your Brioni suit when you are on a bread line. You recognize that others around you are in bad straits. Maybe you should recognize that if you are in the middle of breadline wearing “natty duds” is not that smart. It raises suspicion it makes you stand out. Standing out is what got them to be thought of as spies. It gave Joseph cover to accuse them. Standing out by wearing the fancy or natty duds is just plain wrong all the time.

While the SD does not wear the standard yeshiva clothes, the SD admires that dress for the simple reason that no one stands out. Everyone looks the same. When everyone wears a black suit and white shirt there is no haughtiness or arrogance. You stand out with character not clothing.

Stand out with character not clothing.

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Pesachim Pages 10-11: Chametz Search and Mr. Magoo

When the SD was little there was a cartoon character named Mr. Magoo. He went through life with his eyes closed. He was always about to fall off a cliff, fall into a ditch. Disaster as loomed that he did not see because he was oblivious. But at that last second, he would be saved. What does this have to do with searching for Chametz?

The Mishna on page 10-Rabbi Yehuda tells us there are 3 times we search. The evening of 14 of Nissan, the morning of 15 and afternoon. The Talmud presents the issue if the afternoon search is missed do we search until the last moment. The Rabbis say if you miss the last search in appointed time in the afternoon, do it until the last moment. Rabbi Yehuda disagrees. He says if you missed the afternoon search, forget it, dont bother. Leave it alone. His reason is that if you find something you might come to eat it.

Why the disagreement. The SD thinks this is where Mr. Magoo comes in. Rabbi Yehuda is telling you, if you miss the time, dont make problems, dont be so OCD, just leave it along. Hope for the best. Don’t worry. Just forget it and move on. The Rabbis obviously are not big fans of this approach, do the check until the last minute they say.

Just remember, despite going through life with his eyes closed, Mr. Magoo was just fine.

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Vayatze: Gd’s Promse to Stick it Out with Us

In Chapter 28, line 15 Gd says to Jacob: Behold I am with you, I will watch you where all you go and will return you to the land. ” It sounds like Gd is talking directly to Jacob and promising him and comforting him.

The holy Ishbitzer (which now has a great English translation by Rabbi Hershey Worsh which is very clear and worth purchasing) expands and makes the promise eternal. The Ishbitzer says interprets “return you ” to “restore you.” Restore in the sense of loss like returning a lost object. He famously quotes the Talmud in Gitten which seems to be the cornerstone of his philosophy: One must stumble (fail) in the Torah to truly uphold and it and understand. (Gitten page 43a). Restoration or return can only happen if one is lost or an object is lost.

The Ishbitzer is saying something very profound. To love something, to appreciate something one must sometimes exist without it.. to long for it… to search for it. Is the Ishbitzer saying we should intentionally violate a precept in order to return to it. I doubt that. But it seems the Isbitzer understands human nature- that sometimes we lose faith or the strength to uphold the Torah. That moment presents an opportunity for restoration and return. The fall or stumbling leads to strenghtening and upholding.

The promise to Jacob that he will return him to his land after the hiatus with Lavan is therefore analogous to our journey where sometimes, we lose direction. It is a promise that if we use our failures as springboards to repent and return, Gd will be with us- even in our failures.

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Pesachim3: Passover The Holiday of Speech

The Talmud Pesachim starts with a mishna that say on the “ohr” (light) of the 14th we do a search for chametz. The Talmud then spends two pages discussing is “ohr” refer to day or night. Finally after several attempts it finds a Braisa that says exactly what it wants: it refers to night. The Talmud seems to ask, why this whole thing about “ohr” -light instead of night. The answer: The Talmud and Torah prefers not to use coarse speech. Rashi says, night is not necessarily coarse, but is in not really uplifting or refined so Light is preferred. The Talmud goes on to show how refined speech is preferable.

How odd! Here we are discussing Passover-the holiday of Matza, no leaven products and the Talmud starts with speech. The answer is in the name of the holiday itself: “pe” or mouth and “sach”-speech. Pesach is “mouth speech.” Usually referring to speaking and discussing the Hagada.

The SD needs to confess that oftentimes (especially when imbibing) he has a pretty bad potty mouth. The potty mouth is one of the SD many faults that despite tremendous effort, has never been overcome.

Maybe this is the lesson of Passover. Before eating Matza (putting food in) We need to watch what comes out. The SD will now work on the potty mouth.

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Eruvin 100: What Type of Jew Are You

Eruvin 100 has a discussion about Shabbat and trees. It is prohibited to climb a tree on Shabbat. However, what happens if you forget and by accident climb a tree. Do you stay there until Shabbat ends or do you come down.

To answer this question the Talmud quotes a Mishna which frankly is quite complex and abstruse. However the two opinions are beautiful. Rabbi Joshua says when confronted with a problem, stay put, refrain from acting. Mitigate. Rabbi Eliezer says act. Rabbi Joshua says to Rabbi Eliezer: You potentially will violate the prohibition of “adding to a mitzva.” Rabbi Eliezer responds to Rabbi Joshua : You are potentially “detracting from a mitzva. ” So going back to the tree: Do you sit on the branch all day similar to Rabbi Joshua’s dictum to refrain, or do you climb down ?

The question lays out the fundamental question of life. Is it better to act conservatively. Play it safe; Do no harm ; dont take chances (R. Joshua) or is it better to go down swinging; possibly do harm.

This is the guts of learning. After 100 pages of Eruvin, endless diagrams, mind twisting and complex scenarios of eruvs, partitions, spatial relations, we finally get to the question of life: Do I climb off the tree or sit like tight and hope the branch does not break.

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Chaya Sara and Shidduchim

The SD is passionate about Shidduchim. There is no greater act of kindness and mercy in the world of trying to “make a shidduch.” It demonstrates to the person that they are not alone, they are not forgotten, that they are important and people are concerned. Ultimately, there is no greater mitzva than bringing joy to a person and their family.

In Chaya Sara we see Abraham decide it is time for Isaac to marry. Rather than pick and go look for a wife he sends his servant Eliezer. How strange. Abraham is constantly on the move, yet to find a wife he leaves it to a servant.

The SD would like to chime in. As a parent, there is no more pain in life than seeing a child unhappy, upset, no fulfilled. The pain is not limited to the single person but includes their parents. The SD often says that when he sees a single person, he really sees their parent, sitting around a kitchen table, drinking a cup of tea and tearing their hearts out that their child is alone-not married. So Why does Abraham not do it himself?

The answer is really simple. As a parent, we can do lots of things: pay tuition; send kids to camp, get them braces on teeth and tutors for geometry. The one thing we cannot do effectively is set up or beat the drum for our own child. It just does not work.

Here is where the chesed comes in. Shidduchim requires other people, friends, colleaguues, and even strangers. Shidduchim requires the kindness of strangers. Eliezer needs to do it. It is his chesed. He has a daughter, but he finds another for Isaac. That is heroic.

Shidduchim is both the easiest mitvza and the hardest. It does not require lots of money like charity. It does not require great Talmudic skills like learning. It is a mitzva everyone can do. Its the hardest because it requires sacrifice of time, effort, energy, disappointment. Lets make Shidduchim our project. Always be on the look out. Do something that even a parent cannot do for their child.

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Lech Lecha: Lies and Deceit in Egypt

Abraham and Sara are the quintessential wandering Jews. As soon as they get one place, they pull up stakes and move. They get to Canaan and then immediately go to Egypt.

While in Egypt Abraham gets nervous and asks Sara to “cover” for him. He tells her “Say you are my sister” This way they won’t kill me to get you. Pharoah finds out about Sara’s availability and beauty and she is taken to him. An angel is sent to strike Pharoah with a plague to stop him from being with Sara.

The Kli Yakar asks a great question: Where is Pharoah’s sin and Why is Pharaoh punished? Abraham and Sara are telling everyone they are not married. Sara is available according to them. Pharoah has good reason to believe she is his sister acccording to Kli Yakar’s question.

The Klii Yakar answer is that Sara tells Pharoah the truth privately after spreading a different story to everyone else. Pharoah thinks she is just playing coy. What a mess. Ultimately the plague is needed to keep Pharoah off of her. Therefore, a plague is needed and Pharoah is stricken.

The SD take on this is as follows: This is a hot mess because Abraham could have shown some belief that GD and know he and Sara would be protected. Abraham would not have started bad blood in Egypt if he just told the truth. The Kli Yakar’s question really highlights the lack of faith exhibited by Abraham. It almost-maybe makes Pharoah the victim. How can Pharoah know who is telling the truth.

The bottom line is that Faith in Hashem keeps everything straight,

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