Shemos: Jews and Tools

In parshat Shemos we are told that the Egyptians “afflicted” or burdened the Jews in Egypt by making them build cities of storage of Pithom and Ramses. It brings to mind the Jackie Mason routine that Jewish men are not very handy and have to call the super of the building to change the lightbulb.  The proof is the Shikkerdovid does not own a wrench, a hammer or a screwdriver.  Traditionally,  Jews were herders and lived in tents. Today,  Jews are accountants and not Local 2 Ironworkers.

The burden or affliction  mentioned would not merely be the hard work, but it was foreign to the Jews. Something that they were not accustomed to.   But maybe the hard work and burden imposed by the Egyptians has significance.  In Chapter 1, pasuk 11 the Torah says the Egyptians set over Taskmaster to burden them.  Rashi comments on “burden.” Rashi merely says: “Burdens for the Egyptians. ” Is that not obvious? The Egyptians are not going to burden the Jews with work for others. Why does Rashi have to say the work for Egyptians.

The answer gets back to Jackie Mason.  The Jews were not used to this work. It was not part of the their culture or their ethos. At this point maybe the Egyptians wanted to eradicate the ethos, traditions and values of the Jews. The Egyptians did this to stamp out their Jewishness and inculcate ideas of Egypt.

The Shikkerdovid would like to weigh in on this: hard work is no sin. Owning a tool box is no sin.  The question is who are we doing it for and maybe more importantly What are we doing it for.  It is okay to be a farmer, an ironworker, a car mechanic (all things tranditionally not Jewish). But we must do these things for the purpose of maintaining Jewish values.  It is okay to wear jeans and workboots as long as the work is done with the purpose of maintaining Jewish values.

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Shevous 26: Nacham Ish Gamzu; Intellect and Emotion

We the famous and righteous Nachum Ish Gamzu from Masechet Taanis. In Taanis he prays for rain and is answered. In Taanis he endures pain and yet does not lose faith.  His role in Taanis is one of spiritual emotion and religious strength.

However, did we know he is also an intellect?  In Shevous 26a, we are told that none other than Rabbi Akiva is the attendant of Nachum Ish Gamzu. Rabbi Akiva holds according to Nachum that we expound Biblical verses based upon the principal of Amplification and Limitation rather than the principle of generalization and specification   The latter means that the specifics  define  the generality in the verse. Amplification and Limitation merely means it restricts not defines the  verse.

What is the lesson. In Judaism, we need the strong beliefs and emotional religious strength  that Nahum displays in Taanis.  We also need the intellectual underpinning that guides our existence.

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Vayigash: Chapter 45: Repetition or Insight

In Chapter 45 of the Vayigash,  Joseph cannot contain himself anymore and blurts out “I am Joseph”  He  then says in verse 6: For these are two years of hunger and another five years of no plowing and harvest. Gd sent me ahead of you to ensure you survival and to sustain you for a great “Plaata” which is interpreted here as “deliverance.”

However, a few verses later in verse 11 Joseph repeats himself: I will provide for you there (Goshen) for these is five more years of famine, lest you become  poor.

The Shikkerdovid has racked his brain.Why the repeat? What is the difference?  There are two differences. The first one mentions the previous two years, however there is a more substantive difference.  The first verses  mention “deliverance” and the second one mentions lack of poverty.

What is going on? The Shikkerdovid would like to offer a simple suggestion.  The first reference is to a spiritual destiny. If you don’t eat- you don’t have a spiritual destiny. What came before is lost.  The heritage or history dies in starvation.  The second reference is purely survival. No spiritual dimension, that is why there is no mention of the past.

What’s the difference:  Joseph his acutely aware maintaining a spiritual destiny is important, but it cannot be done on an empty stomach. Joseph is a realist.

The shikkerdovid is not totally sold on this as the only idea. Please share.

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I’m Sorry:Shevous page 18B-19

The Shikkerdovid always says that we must find moral or ethical ideas from our learning.

Shevous daf 18b-19 quotes a fragment of the Mishna that talks about the pasuk in the Torah Vayikra 5;2-3 where a person who was in the Temple not knowing touched by a creepy crawly thing and later found out. He must bring a sacrifice According to the Misha there is a dispute between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer.

The Talmud on 18 asks what is the dispute?  The dispute is over the following fact pattern:   The fact pattern is when you touched a Sheretez or a Nevila (dead animal) and the person did not know which one it was. Regardless of which one, he is Tamei (impure). According to Rabbi Eliezear he must know exactly what he touched before he brings the sacrifice as atonement.  Rabbi Akiva says exact knowledge of what he touched is not necessary.

What the difference? The person certainly knows he touched something and is Tamei? Why does he need to know exactly what did the damage? Rabbi Elieszer cites the part of the pasuk that states  “it became known to him the sin that he sinned.” The verse implies he knows what was the cause

Here is the ethical limud:  It is not enough to say sorry.  One must know exactly the implications of his error.  If is a sin man to fellow man, he must feel or understand the pain he might have caused. He must realize that his actions caused pain and somehow apologize in a manner that reflects true contrition.   It is often easy to say sorry,  but  hard to change.  Rabbi Eliezer’s position requires investigation, reflection and understanding of what went wrong.  A real apology requires reflection and change.

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Chanuka meet Shevuous 15

Today’s daf yomi, Shavous 15 eerily has many thematic references or allusions to Chaunka.  The daf refers to a piece of the Mishna which describes the method for expanding or adding to the Temple area or the precincts of Jerusalem. The Mishna on 14 describes a procession of kings, prophets, judges, and the people of Israel carrying large of loaves of a korban Todah and singing.  Singing?

The daf on 15 explains the significance of the loaves of bread but more interesting describes the singing and the of course mentions the “mizmor shir chanukas habayis the david” -the thing we say every day and two times on Chanuka. The singing also references portions said on Chanuka before lighting the Menora.

Singing is connected to Chanuka. We sing the ubiquitous Maoz Tzur which is the anthem for Chanuka and more recognized than the blessings themselves.  In Maoz Tzur there are two references to song “Bshir Mizmor Chunkas Hamizbeach” (with song of establishing the altar) and   Yima Shomona (the eight days are fixed as song and joy”)

What does  Chanuka and singing have in common? We sing when we are happy and joyous.  We sing at miracles.  Chanuka is about miracles, it is about happiness and joy. Real joy, not the commercial joy we are surrounded with around this time of year.  The same way that the Temple is expanded by joy, so we are expanded with singing and joy.


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An Original ShikkerDovid Thought on Vayashev

In Vayashev, we are told that Jacob wants to live in peace in his old age after dealing with Lavan.  This is immediately juxtaposed to the youthfulness of Joseph. Rashi tells us Joseph  did teenage things like fix his hair. The Shikkerdovid thinks the Torah is setting us up for a disconnect.  Here it is.   The Torah tells us that Joseph “brings” to his father a bad report about his brothers. What does Jacob do? He takes him to Barneys and buys him a coat. No discussion about the report. Just a new coat.   No discussion is recorded between Jacob and Joseph.  No guidance.

Joseph then has dreams about sun and stars. To the Shikkerdovid this is a young man wondering about the universe, thinking about the cosmos and all mysteries of the world.  However, at this point,  Joseph does no ask Jacob about these mysteries and questions, he goes to tells the brothers.

The Shikkerdovid has a question; Why did he go to Jacob the first time with the bad report, but to the brothers the second time with dreams. ?

The Shikkerdovid has an answer. The first time he went to Jacob with an issue, Jacob did not really deal with him. Jacob took Joseph to Barneys and bought him a coat. Jacob did not validate   When it comes to the dreams, Joseph does not go to his father for guidance, because he got no guidance the first time. He goes to his brothers. Big mistake. We all know how that ends.

The Shikkerdovid would like to learn a lesson. When your kids come to you with their stupid and idiot questions, or wants to babble about nonsense-listen to them. Validate their silliness. Question them. Show them you are concerned.  Maybe if Jacob had listened the first time, there would have been no enmity between the brothers when Joseph had the dreams.   Maybe things would be much different if Jacob had listened to his kid.

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Kilayim : Makkot 21 and Catch 22

Today’s daf Makkot 21 presents an interesting idea of Kilayim. Kilayijm  is the prohibition of planting with mixed plants and seeds.    In today’s daf  Rabbi Akiva holds that one transgresses the prohibition of “kilayim” when one has mixed plants growing on his field even if they are not purposefully planted. This means that according to Rabbi Akiva, one is under an obligation to actively inspect one’s field to ensure that this “kilayim” is not present. Even if you did not plant it, just having it is a problem according to Rabbi Akiva.

This is reminiscent of the famous book Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. In Catch 22, there is a character named Major Major.  He is also a Maj0r in the army.  In his pre -war job,  Major Major is an Iowa corn farmer.  Heller describes that as an Iowa corn farmer the government pays Major Major  not to grow corn. Therefore, Heller describes how Major Major “Would wake up at the crack of noon to ensure that no corn was growing on his farm.  The more money the government paid him, the more corn he would not grow.”

This satirical idea touches us because it evokes an image of how someone who is properly incentivized, ie not grow corn and get paid,  will be diligent.   Major Major’s diligence in not growing corn to obtain government grants should inspire us as well.  The Torah admonition regarding Kilayim is not just to grow it, but to ensure it is not slowly growing according to R. Akiva.

The Shikkerdovid would like to learn something from this.  It is often easy to look the other way with small things. It is easy to not “see the Kilayim”. It is easy to miss things and think we are getting away with it.  It is difficult to pro actively find the imperfections, the small weeds which sprout up in our existence. Our small imperfections, or the small deeds that are easy to overlook.  However, like Major Major who was paid not to grow corn, the reward for being careful with the little things, can be significant.

Maybe this lesson should have been on Makkot 22. LOL.

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