Thursday, January 31, 2019

"eved ivri" and not "eved yisrael"

This limud should be l'zecher nishmas my father whose yahrzeit is this Shabbos.

Meforshim are bothered by the term "eved ivri."  Why not "eved yisrael?"  Putting aside the fact that the term "Ivri" is ambiguous (is an "Ivri" someone who comes from a place, "Eiver ha'Nahar," or is it a people, or something else?  -- see Ibn Ezra), the fact is throughout chumash we are referred to as Bnei Yisrael.  Therefore, if we are referring to a member of Klal Yisrael who became a slave, shouldn't it be "eved yisrael?"

If you remember the parshiyos from earlier this year (or cheat and use a concordance) I think the answer will be clear.  The term "Ivri" comes up again and again in the beginning of Shmos.  A few examples: the "miyaldos ha'Ivriyos: (1:15) save Jewish babies, including Moshe, who bas Pharoah refers to as being "m'yaldei ha'Ivrim." (2:6)  Later, Moshe goes out and sees an Egyptian hitting an "ish Ivri" as well as two "Ivrim" who are fighting.  Hashem tells Moshe to tell Pharaoh that the G-d of the "Ivrim" has appeared to him (3:18).  At this point in history there is no Jewish nation.  There is a large family, a tribe of related members.  It is only later, post-exodus, after kabbalas haTorah, that we become a nation.  Once that happens, the term "Ivri" vanishes.  The only occurrence of the term "Ivri" after the exodus is in reference to the Jewish slave.  We are now Bnei Yisrael, Am Yisrael, not Ivrim. 

Perhaps the Torah deliberately uses the term "Ivri" with respect to the slave to indicate that the slave has forfeited his identity as a "citizen" in the nation of Am Yisrael.  He still retains his relationship to us as a people, he still retains his identity as a member of the family/tribe of bnei Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, the organizational unity of "Ivrim" that pre-dates our nationhood, but he has forfeited his rights and privileges beyond that.

In Parshas Shmos, when Moshe and Aharon first appear before Pharoah, they tell him (5:1) that "Hashem Elokei Yisrael" has demanded the release of his people to celebrate a "chag."  Pharoah responds that he does not recognize the deity they are talking about and therefore won't agree to terms.  Moshe and Aharon then repeat the same request (5:3) using slightly different language, telling Pharoah that "Elokei ha'Ivrim" demands the release of his people to offer sacrifices to him.  This time Pharoah throws them out.  Why did Moshe and Aharon think repeating the request a second time would make a difference?  And why was Pharoah's response so much harsher this second time?

Netziv explains that when Pharoah heard the term "Elokei Yisrael" he assumed Moshe and Aharon were speaking about letting the spiritual elite of the people go out for a celebration, a chag.  Yisrael is the name Yaakov is given only after he manages to overcome Eisav's angel -- it is a mark of accomplishment.  Pharoah at least hears this request, but is not willing to give in.  Moshe and Aharon realized the misunderstanding and immediately clarified.  It was "Elokei ha'Ivrim," that spoke to them -- G-d of the entire tribe/family, the G-d of the "Ivrim," the downtrodden slaves, not just G-d of the elite.  Everyone needs to be let free to worship.  This Pharoah is not even willing to hear.

It's not "eved yisrael" -- the term "yisrael," as Pharoah understood, is one of chashivus.  Rather, it's "eved ivri" -- a slave has no status.  A slave has forfeited his membership in society, in the nation.

The torah of Ishbitz (see Ne'os Deshe, Beis Yaakov), k'darko, explains that the aim of the Torah here is not to put the slave in his place and stress that he has become an outcast.   Aderaba, the real lesson here is not about slavery, but rather about redemption.  "Ba'shevi'i yei'tzei chofshi" -- the lesson is that even this downtrodden lowly slave can achieve freedom and be rehabilitated .  No outcast is beyond hope; no one is a lost cause, a permanent slave to kinah, tayvah, kavod, or whatever the addiction. 

This explains why our parsha seems to start in the middle of the story.  How did this individual become a slave?  Ikar chaseir min ha'sefer!  Rashi helps us out and explains that we are dealing with a thief who was unable to pay for his crime and therefore was sold as a slave, but all that is missing from the text.  Why does the parsha not start from the beginning of the story, with hilchos gezel and then explain how and why someone becomes a slave?

The answer is that the main idea of our parsha is not the sin of theft or its consequences that lead to slavery.  The main idea of our parsha is the possibility of redemption after the crime.  The seventh year is not just a cessation of work, a shev v'al ta'aseh, so to speak, but rather is a kum aseh, as transformative and rehabilitative experience that changes the gavra of the slave, restoring him to shleimus.

This opening serves as the maftei'ach to the entire parsha of mishpatim.  Why should I be held responsible for damaging another person, for damaging his property, for not respecting his rights?  It starts with the recognition that any and every individual -- no matter who he is, no matter his station in society, no matter how downtrodden he may be -- has inherent value; there are no outcasts that are beyond being worthy of care.  The most worthless member of society is just waiting for "ba'shevi'i yei'tzei chofshi." 

When I was in high school there used to be a faculty member who would like to ask how many times the aseres ha'dibros appeared in chumash.  The trick was to know that Ramban writes that our parsha of Mishpatim is a recapitulation of the aseres ha'dibros, so the dibros in effect appear 3 times and not 2.  Ramban writes that the parsha of the eved ivri parallels the first commandment of "Anochi" which says that G-d took us out of Egypt.  The freedom granted to the eved ivri parallels our freedom from Mitzrayim. Ramban then goes a step further and says our parsha of eved also contains elements of the dibrah of Shabbos because the slave goes free after six years of work just like Shabbos comes after six days of work.  If our thesis re: the rehabilitation of the eved is correct, then the same thought can be extended to Shabbos.  Shabbos is not just a day of cessation of work, but is a transformative, rehabilitative, redemptive experience that restores our sheleimus, our self-worth, our commitment to membership in Am Yisrael the nation, not just the tribal notion of "Ivri." 

Let's experience Shabbos that way.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Va'ya'aminu BaHashem u'b'Moshe avdo -- emunah after the fact?

"Va'ya'aminu BaHashem u'b'Moshe avdo..." 

That's emunah?! To believe after you see a sea split in two and watch your enemies drown?

Who would not believe under those circumstances?

What does the pasuk mean? 

(See Alshich, Ohr haChaim, Kedushas Levi, Maor vaShemesh... but I still don't understand it.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

hands down

Chazal tell us that the attack of Amalek happened because "rafu Y'DEIHEM min haTorah," because Klal Yisrael neglected their Torah learning.  Why the stress on "y'deihem?"  The Maharasham in Techeiles Mordechai quotes the Chazal that "Torah mateshes kocho shel adam."  That doesn't necessarily mean that a person who learns Torah is physically weak.  The Torah warns us that a person should not think his success comes from "kochi v'otzem YADI," his own strength and ability.  It's this koach -- the belief in the power of "kochi v'otzem YADI"  -- which Torah weakens.  Learning Torah humbles a person; the more one learns the more one recognizes the vastness and depths of the dvar Hashem and just how limited our own ability and insight is.  Because Klal Yisrael's dedication to learning fell a notch, "min haTorah," because of that loss, "rafu y'deihem," their perspective on the limits of the "kochi v'otzem YADI" was tainted.

The Mahrasham does not say it, but I think based on his approach we can understand why Klal Yisrael had to fight Amalek as opposed to being miraculously rescued as had happened at Yam Suf.  Since they invested trust in their kochi v'otzem yadi, Hashem responded in kind and let them use their own power to carry on the battle. 

Moshe's challenge was to shift their perspective.  "V'haya ka'asher yarim YADO..."  Moshe lifted up his hands and directed people's gaze to shamayim.  There is no power in "otzem yadi" -- our hands only have power when we connect to Hashem. 

"Va'yehi YADAV emunah ad bo ha'shemesh"  Ibn Ezra interprets emunah here either has steadfast or like the word "omain" (e,g. "Va'yehi omein es Hadasah"), to train, to nurture.  Our hands need to be trained to connect to Hashem. 

"YAD al keis K-h" -- the war with Amalek is won when we connect "otzem yadi," our ability, to the kisei of Hashem, the true source of power.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

hakaras ha'tov and yetzi'as Mitzrayim

We know that Moshe did not strike the Nile to turn it to blood because the river had protected him as a baby when his mother sent him floating downstream in his little basket.  We know that Moshe did not strike the ground because it was in the ground that he had hidden the body of the Egyptian that he killed.  This was Moshe's expression of hakaras ha'tov even to the inanimate objects that had done good for him. 

Why is hakaras ha'tov so intertwined with the story of yetzi'as Mitzrayim?  See my wife's post here.

And since I am mentioning blog posts by family members, see my son's posts here.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

win them over with kindness

Three short ideas:

1) On Jan 1 we had the privilege in the 5Towns of hearing a shiur from R' Baruch Simon.  One idea he quoted from R' Zecharya Gelly (of Breur's) b'shem R' Yonasan Eibshitz: Chazal tell us that the Egyptians did not enslave sheivet Levi.  Why should they have done such a thing?  It certainly was not out of the goodness of their hearts -- people with good hearts don't go around drowning babies and enslaving the rest of the population.

The Egyptians knew that that the go'el would come from the special sheivet of Levi that kept the mesorah of Yaakov Avinu alive.  They figured that if they don't oppress sheivet Levi, the sheivet will never feel the real pain of galus and shibud and therefore will never really be motivated to produce that go'el who will rescue the rest of Klal Yisrael from their plight.

What they did not count on was the tremendous empathy that Moshe Rabeinu had for his brothers.  What they did not count on was someone like Moshe who felt the pain of each Jew as it if was his own, to the point that Moshe would even argue with Hashem himself, "Lamah ha'reiosa la'am ha'zeh..."  Even if he was not personally subject to the shibud, Moshe suffered because he was nosei b'ol im chaveiro.

2) The Midrash (in P' Naso) writes that for every action Avraham took when he welcomed guests into his home, Hashem rewarded his children in kind.  In the zechus of "yukach na me'at mayim," the little bit of water Avraham offered his guests we were zocheh to "v'lakachti eschem li l'am" in our parsha.

Is this just a play on words -- just because the word "yukach" is used to describe what Avaraham did, we get rewarded with "v'lakachti...?"  What is the underlying connection between the action and reward? 

R' Shimon Sofer explains that they key is the one word Avraham used when he offered water that he did not use when he offered food, a seat under his tree, or anything else.  The magic word is PLEASE -- "yukach NA..." 

What was this water used for?  Rashi tells us that Avraham suspected his guests of being idolaters and worshipping the dust on their feet, and therefore he requested that they wash their feet before entering his home.

What Avraham Avinu is teaching us is that if you want people to wash away their avodah zarah, their materialism, their anti-Torah lifestyle, you need to say "Please."  You need to do it with kindness, with love, with chessed. 

So too, Hashem did not simply coerce us and demand that we follow him.  Rashi translates "kach es Aharon" in Parshas Tzav (VaYikra 8) as "kacheihu b'devarim u'mashcheihu" -- persuade him, draw him in.  ("Lakach" when speaking of objects means to take, but you don't pick up a person and take him/her like you pick up a chair. See also Rashi on "VaYikach Korach.")  "V'lakachti eschem li l'am": The overt miracles, the record of the yichus of the shevatim to remind us that we are free, proud people, the declaration "bni bechori Yisrael" -- Hashem showered us with love and kindness to make us feel special.  

The kindness Avraham showed those guests that attracted them to Torah became the kindness and love Hashem showed to us to draw us out of Mitzrayim to avodas Hashem.

3) V'lo sham'u el Moshe m'kotzer ruach u'mei'avodah kasha...  The majority of meforshim explain that it was Klal Yisrael who suffered "kotzer ruach" because of the burden of work.  However, Sivan Rahav Meir points out an amazing Ralbag who writes that it was Moshe, not Klal Yisrael, who the pasuk is referring to.  Moshe had kotzer ruach because he had not invested enough time into thinking about how to present his message to the people. 

Ralbag explains that Moshe was coming from a background of spending hours searching for G-d, being misbonen and misboded.  The way he understood things, the way he thought about G-d and communicated about G-d, was on a completely different level than that of Klal Yisrael.  And so he struggled to get the point across and translate it down to the level the people were on.

Moshe's struggle here is our struggle.  How do we as parents (or Rabbis, teachers, etc.) make ourselves understood, make our message clear and meaningful, to our friends, our families, to our children, who may not be holding where we are and may not see the world the same way we do?  Es chatai ani mazkir -- I plead guilty to making this error myself and watching my kids eyes glaze over as I say over what seems to me to be a perfectly beautiful shtikel Torah but which they don't relate to at all.  It's not that the shkitel Torah is bad -- it's my kotzer ruach in not figuring out how to present it properly to their ears on their level. 

Something important to keep in mind.