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RABBI ASHER BRANDER Shemos
18 Teves 5772 

By: Rabbi Asher Brander, rabbi@kehilla.org

 

TEACHINGS: IN DEPTH REFLECTIONS ON THE PARSHA - BY RABBI ASHER BRANDERIf you are interested in purchasing Teachings:  In Depth Reflections on the Parsha Email rabbibrander@linkla.org 
 

Redeeming the Darkness  

Reflections is dedicated by the Wohlgelernter family l'iluy nishmas Rav Shmuel Koppel ben HaRav Sholom Pinchas (Rabbi Samuel K. Wohlgelernter) whose yahrzeit is 18 Teves. May the neshama have an aliyah.

Moshe, the unwilling leader, loses, and against his will, takes on his life-defining role as leader and teacher of Israel. Hashem choreographs coming events, guiding Moshe to introduce himself to the elders and to approach Pharoah. The former will accept him, the latter won't [Shemos, 3:18-19]

And they will hearken to your voice, and you shall come, you and the elders of Israel, to the king of Egypt, and you shall say to him, 'The Lord God of the Hebrews has happened upon us, and now, let us go for a three days' journey in the desert and offer up sacrifices to the Lord, our God.'   19. However, I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, except through a mighty hand.

And again Hashem warns Moshe not to expect instant success: [Shemos, 4:21]

The Lord said to Moses, "When you go to return to Egypt, see all the signs that I have placed in your hand and perform them before Pharaoh, but I will strengthen his heart, and he will not send out the people.

Indeed, Pharoah rejects Moshe's request, takes away the raw materials while maintaining the same brick quota. The elders are very displeased with Moshe - who knows in advance that this process will not be a slam dunk, yet he still complains!? [Shemos, 5:21-6:1]

21. And they said to them, "May the Lord look upon you and judge, for you have brought us into foul odor in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants, to place a sword into their hand[s] to kill us."   22. So Moses returned to the Lord and said, "O Lord! Why have You dealt evilly with this people? Why have You sent me?   23. Since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has harmed this people, and You have not saved Your people."And the Lord said to Moses, "Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh, for with a mighty hand he will send them out, and with a mighty hand he will drive them out of his land."

We thus wonder at Moshe's wonder. Please note as well that Moshe asks a troubling second question ("why have you sent me") - which seems to reject his very mission. Finally, a third point to ponder is Hashem's cryptic answer ("Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh") - evoking a sense of immediacy without apparently addressing Moshe's question/s?

And even as Hashem famously rebukes Moshe: [Rashi, ibid]

Now you will see, etc.: You have questioned My ways [of running the world, which is] unlike Avraham, to whom I said, "For in Isaac will be called your seed" (Gen. 21:12), and afterwards I said to him, "Bring him up there for a burnt offering" (Gen. 22:2), yet he did not question Me. ...The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, "We suffer a great loss for those [the Patriarchs] who are lost and [whose replacement] cannot be found. I must lament the death of the Patriarchs

... evoking nostalgic desire for the spiritual greats of yesteryear, we must understand Moshe's perspective, for in that human understanding of the Divine dictate lies great wisdom for dummies [i.e. mortals less than Moshe]

A perceptive reader might summarily reject the question; intuitively one senses a gap between the Divine narrative and the unfolding events. Indeed three basic approaches in the commentary seize upon that chasm. We commence with Ramban:

ולפי דעתי שחשב משה רבינו כי יאמר ה' שלא ישמע אליהם פרעהלהוציאם מיד במצותו, ולא באות ומופת, עד שיעשה בו נפלאותיו הרבות, אבל חשבכי יביאם עליו תכופות זו אחר זו בימים מעטים. וכשאמר לא ידעתי את ה' יצוהלעשות מיד לפניו אות התנין, והוא לא ישמע, ויכה אותו בו ביום בדם ואח"כ בכלהמכות. וכשראה שעמדו שלשה ימים והוא יריע להם בכל יום, וה' לא כהה בו, ולאנתגלה למשה להודיעו מה יעשה, אז חשב משה כי ארוכה היא:

Moshe Rabbeinu thought that Paroh won't listen right away ... until Hashem does the many wonders ... but he thought that these would come one immediately after each other in a few days ... and on the same day [of Paroh's refusal to acknowledge HAshem] the plague of blood would come and then afterwards with all the plagues. And we he saw that for three days nothing happened and Pharoah made it worse ....and Hashem did not appear to Moshe to rell him what to do, Moshe thought that it would talk a long time

Moshe's complaint in effect is thus: I knew that Paroh would refuse, but Omnipotent Hashem, why do You have so much patience - why do You wait before you display your mighty hand. Further, Hashem, You did not direct me what to do in the interim. We may know that in experiencing life challenge, yihiyeh tov, - it will be good, but until that time, it is the suffering of waiting that is the hardest part. More challenging still is the muddled middle - the lack of life clarity one finds while in the throes of crisis. Thus we can easily relate to Moshe's challenge - for it is our very own

To Ibn Ezra[1], Moshe's complaint is less about time than results/hope :

 הנה שאלה, אחר שהשם הודיע למשה ואמר לו ואני ידעתי כי לא יתן אתכם מלך מצרים להלוךעד שיעשה כל האותות אשר צוהו, אם כן למה יתרעם משה לומרלמה זה שלחתני, והצל לא הצלת? התשובה, חשב משה כי מעת דברו אל פרעה יקל מעליהם עולם, והנה הוא הכביד העבודה עליהם. וטעםלמה הרעותה, הפך מה שאמרת ראה ראיתי את עניוארד להצילו מיד מצרים, ולמה זה שלחתני להרע לישראל והנה לא מצאתי תשובה להשיב לשוטרים?

After Hashem told Moshe and I know that the King of Egypt will not let you go until you do all of the miracles which I commanded - why did Moshe complain to say why have you sent me and why have You not aved; the answer is that Moshe thought from th time that he will speak to Pharoah, he will make their burden easoier and he made it worse and the meaning of why have you dealy evil is that this is the opposite of what you said I have seen their oppression and have descended to save the nation from Mitzrayim and why have you snet me to do bad to the Jews and I have no answer for the officers

In other words, the sick/suffering patient who hits rock bottom can continue if he feels a sense of hope. Moshe is saying: Hashem, I thought that the situation would have improved slightly[2] - [for in that amelioration is the birth of hope]. I also did not expect the Jews to complain to me, nor do I have a theological response. This causes me great pain.

Ohr HaChaim/Kli Yakar take Ibn Ezra one step further

למה הרעותפי' כי לא אמרת לי אלא שיחזק לבו ולא ישלח את העם אבל לא שיכבד עליהם הרעYou only told me that you will harden his heart and he will not send the people but not that he will make the evil heavier

Hashem, I was prepared for Pharoah's refusal, but I did not think it would (could?) become worse. Why was that necessary? Further and here with Moshe's 2nd question, we get to tachlis

. ואם תאמר שעדיין לא הגיע הקץ להקל מעליהם השעבוד וזה הוא סיבת הרע אם כןלמה זה שלחתניפי' בזמן זה והיה לך להמתין עד קץ השעבוד

Hashem, if You want to subjugate the people because it is not the time of redemption; i.e. the people are not ready, it is not for me to question, but why do you want me NOW - why not wait until the end of the servitude for me to help redeem. Until this point, I have not played any role as a redeemer .

It is Kli Yakar's beautiful words which clarify Hashem's response and illuminate Moshe's pre-redemption task

והשיב לו הקב"ה עתה תראה וגו', כי מהידוע שכך היא המדה שבכל יום סמוך לעלות השחר החושך מחשיך ביותר מן חשכת הלילה ואח"כ אור השחר בוקע ועולה, וכן רוב החולים סמוך למיתתם הם מתחזקים ויושבים על המטה ומבקשים לאכול ואח"כ המוות גובר, וכן בימות החורף סמוך לעלית השמש הקור הולך וגובר ולסוף הוא מנוצח מן השמש, וזה דבר טבעי כי כל דבר טבעי המרגיש שבא כנגדו איזו דבר הפכי לו הרוצה לבטל מציאותו אז הוא מתחזק ביותר כנגד מתנגדו וימאן לענות מפניו ופועל בטבעו כל אשר ימצא בכחו לפעול ולסוף היא מנוצח כי גבר עליו ההפך, כך הוא בכל הדברים שהזכרנו, כמו כן מה שהרע פרעה לישראל עכשיו יותר ממה שעשה לשעבר זה מופת חותך שקרב קצו, ושזמן הגאולה קרובה לבטל כל פעולותיו של פרעה על כן הוא רוצה להתחזק בפעולותיו, זה"ש עתה תראה במלת עתה תירץ לו על מה ששאלו למה הרעות וגו', לפי שעתה הגיע הזמן שיהיה מוכרח לשלחם ולגרשם ע"כ הוא רוצה להתקומם עליהם ביד חזקה, וזה מופת כי קרוב ישועתי לבא וצדקתי להגלות

And Hashem responded Now you will see - for it is known that this is the way of nature for every day- immediately preceding dawn - it is darker than the black of night - and the light of down cracks though and ascends - and so too most sick people - before their death - strengthen themselves and ... then death overtakes them, and so in the days of winter before the sun rises - the cold gathers strength and then is defeated by the sun ... and this is a natural phenomenon that something in nature that feels its opposing force that wants to destroy it, and will thus gather more strength and will refuse to capitulate and will act within its nature and summon all the power it can find ... and in the end will be defeated .... So too what Paroh further oppression of Yisrael- this is an absolute proof that his end is near and the redemption is so close ... for NOW is the time that he will be forced to send them away


In Kli Yakar's understanding of Hashem's response lies a lifetime of work!

 

Hashem says to Moshe: What you experience as darkness is not the continuation of servitude, it is the sure sign [and beginning] of redemption. Moshe, if it feels really really dark, then you know it's about to end.

 

This notion can be explored on many levels

  1. Rationally - one must hit rock bottom to feel the need to change
  2. Physiologically - A breaking fever is a sign of the
  3. Metaphysically/Halachically - The darkness is the beginning of light and the definition of a new day

Of course one must further contemplate this notion in a very deep way - for in its absolute comprehension and mastery we are empowered to deal with the darkst moments in our lives.

 

But one comment I can not resist: - one must ask wherein lies the distinction, the fine line between the darkness of servitude and the darkness of redemption?  I humbly posit that a piece of the answer is what man decides to do in that darkness can frame and define the essential experience as redemptive darkness or further subjugation . Simply consider two individuals who  emerge from a similar trauma [abusive childhood etc] one despondent and destroyed the other determined and ascendant and this point becomes sharper.  

 

As we confront the choshech in our lives in the most responsible and appropriate way, May Hashem grant us the merit as individuals and a people to experience the brilliant Messianic light, speedily in our days

 

Good Shabbos
Asher Brander  


[1] Chizkuni has the same basic notion - except he adds the following enlightening Divine response:                             אלא סבור היה משה לכל הפחות יתחיל פרעה להקל העול בדברים הראשונים לפיכך

אמרומאז באתי אל פרעה לדבר בשמךוגו'.והצל לא הצלת את עמךואתה אמרת וארד להצילו והקב"ה השיבועתה תראהמכאן ואילך כשאתחיל להכות מצרים אז יקילו מעליהם השעבוד

[2] This is how Ibn Ezra understands the phrase and I have descended to save - i.e., the salvation before redemption. Ramban rejects this understanding

 


 
   
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