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.


  1. 1) "The Egyptians knew" (up front, at 1:11)

    we see here a precedent for a later tax-exemption of the Rabbis, in that tax-masters/sarei mee'seem (1:11) did not burden the Levites ("that kept the mesorah" = Rabbis); we see that Egypt was unable to check Hebrew population growth by the imposition of taxes [taxes with which Egypt built Pisom and Ra'am'ses], and so resorted to physical enslavement (1:13-14) to at least check Israel's freedom of action [lest the people go up from the land (1:10)]; more to the point: only between 1:14 and 1:15 did Paro learn that he had the early* warning of a go'el wrong: a redeemer would NOT come from a necessarily enslaved Levite tribe, but from the 'free' group of talmidim; so Paro resorted to targeted killing of newborn >Levite< males {in this regard, only Levite mothers used a birthstool/av'na'im (1:16); mothers of the other tribes had no such luxury, but delivered their babies squatting in the fields (where they labored til they labored)}.

    *Rashi to 1:16**. The astrologers told Paro at 1:11,13 of a presumably enslaved Levite go'el, but later (at the time of 1:15) offered a correction [tipped-off this second time by the Satan, rubbing his wingtips in anticipation?], and offered it sternly: 'as to the free go'el's birth, nachon ha'davar mei'im ha'Elokim, u'm'ma'heir ha'Elokim la'a'so'so!'

    **why, at 1:16, did Paro speak of Iv'ri'os/Hebrew women, rather than in particular of Levite women, or wives of Levites? because by this time the slavewomen of Israel were mere chattel to him, unworthy of the name nashim [the wives of the kollel members were the only Iv'ri'os out there]... {Paro later diplomatically changes his tune, to speak of the slaves as 'people', 5:4-5}

    2) "we were our parsha"

    ha'churtumim of Egypt tried to "draw" lice out of the "dust" [of Goshen?]-- and, b'law'tei'hem, even said "PLEASE"* --but they could not (8:14)

    *(said 'please') to the dust, and to their powers-that-be

    3) "Moshe had kotzer he struggled to...translate it down"

    then if at 6:12 & 6:30 'closed lips' means "kotzer ruach", how would Aharon's speech to Paro indicated at 7:1-2 be a more effective power-point presentation? could it be that both Aharon and Paro were on a higher[!] level than Moshe in active theological discourse, that they were on something of the same wavelength? Aharon, Levite educator on long sabbatical, the nation Israel's de facto leader, ever watchful for G-d's hidden hand in the world of his people, and Paro, a man at the national center of supernatural speculations and rites [however misguided]-- two peas in a pod?? {it was only Paro's Specially-induced hardheartedness that prevented his agreement with Aharon's high-minded colloquy, after all, not his obtuseness}

  2. 1. My son in law used RYEibshutz to answer the question they ask on הן בני ישראל לט א שמעו ואיך ישמעני פרעה. Pshat is that the reason Pharaoh didn't enslave the Leviim is because he knew that revolutions originate from within the oppressed, and by leaving their natural leaders free, they would neither be willing to be martyrs nor would they have the connection to the suffering of the common man such that they could ignite a revolution. If so, Moshe said to Hashem, if Klal Yisrael didn't listen to me, that means that Pharaoh's plan is working. If his plan is working, he'll laugh at me when I come to him.

    3. Sivan Rahav Meir - never heard of her, but now I see she's a fascinating person - definitely worth keeping track of. Kind of reminds me of Chaim Sabato, or Samuel Johnson's bipedal dog.