Parshas Shemos

January 4, 2013
22 Teves, 5773

Parshas Shemos
Candle-lighting Time: 4:31 PM


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Reach for the Stars

by Rabbi Raphael Leban

When Rabbi Kalmanovitch first arrived in Bnei Brak, on the Mediterranean coast of Israel, he looked out upon the barren hilltops and small semi-urban settlement of the town, and thought to himself – here I will build a yeshiva.  As he began to raise the money to do so, his idea was met with astonishment.  Here? A Yeshiva?  Nonetheless, driven by his ambitious vision and desire to build a Torah institution, he continued his efforts.  Today the Ponhevitz yeshiva that he built is one of the largest and most prestigious in the world, in the center of modern Bnei Brak – a thriving metropolis of tens of thousands of dedicated Torah scholars.

In this week’s parsha, Moshe is pulled out of his little raft in the Nile by none other than the daughter of Pharaoh herself.  The verse says that she sent out her maidservant and retrieved him.  The verse, however, can also be read: she sent out her arm and retrieved him.  A well-known midrash explains that she reached out her hand to pull the basket out of the water, and it miraculously lengthened to reach it, floating out in the river.

Why should Pharaoh’s daughter have stuck her hand out to try to retrieve the basket if it was floating way out in the river?  Under normal circumstances, she would never reach it.

The Talmud teaches that one who strives for a pure goal will receive help from Heaven.

Though the endeavor may seem overly ambitious, daunting or even downright impossible, an aspiration with a pure motivation will have Divine assistance.

When the cry of a baby reached Pharaoh’s daughter’s ears, she just stretched out her arm to help.  The ultimate success of her efforts was miraculous.

For every person there is a seemingly unreachable pinnacle of spiritual achievement.  For one it may be to raise a family with a strong Jewish identity, for another it may be to learn a portion of the Talmud.  No matter how distant the goal seems, no matter how difficult the project looks – if we just stretch out our arms, the results will be miraculous.

The Fifth Column

by Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum

Exile is a most difficult time for our nation. We are presently suffering in our fourth and final exile and we look forward to the time when we will welcome Moshiach into our midst and head back home to the Land of Israel. However, until that special moment, it is critical to understand the nature of our oppression if we intend to learn from our mistakes and endeavor to rectify them.

Nachmonides comments on the specifics of the Egyptian exile and extends his view to encompass our present situation. The Talmud states that when we were tyrannized by the Greeks which led to the eventual Chanukah miracle, the Romans expressed an interest in assisting us. They had battled the Greeks unsuccessfully for years and they were looking for an ally that they felt would be instrumental in helping them defeat their enemy. Although we were hardly an impressive military machine, the Romans assumed that we would be beneficial as an insurgent force against the Greeks and enlisted our renegade army to join them. We did so and it eventually caused our downfall.

Nachmonides understands that alliance as a defining moment in our ultimate downfall. Although he himself refers to the Hasmonean family as pious and righteous individuals, nonetheless, this mistake would cost them in the end. The Romans, after the defeat of the Greeks, now had a foothold in Israel and slowly began to take control of the Jewish nation. This, in turn, was the beginning of the final demise of the Beis Hamikdash and our present predicament.

What prompted our willingness to join forces with the Romans? Obviously, it was the necessity to empower ourselves against the enemy. Even though our motivation was logical, nonetheless, submission to the lust for control and power was not within the confines of Torah and thus undermined the purity of our nation. We found ourselves controlled by the very culture that we should have rejected. Instead, we were subject to their ideas and ideals and our desire to free ourselves of the Greek oppression simply led to another dangerous encounter that eventually destroyed us.

This scenario typifies our present society and defines the challenge that we are confronted with as Americans deeply rooted in a culture that is contrary to our heritage and destructive to our future. The thirst for power is the signature of our civilization, and in many ways it has seeped into our psyche and eroded our Torah ideals. Perhaps the most damaging aspect is that we ourselves are responsible for our own banishment from the Land of Israel and the loss of the Beis Hamikdash.

In order to repair our self-inflicted wounds, we must be prepared to depart from our business-as-usual protocol. Insurance against future inroads by foreign influences is only had by contemplating a radically new approach to our lifestyle and avoidance of conformation to alien cultures.

Upon analysis of the Egyptian exile which Nachmonides compares to today’s Roman-oriented culture, we must note that which was a saving grace for us. We find that although they experienced many challenges in Egypt, nonetheless they were careful to maintain a strict equilibrium that allowed them to survive even amidst such a difficult exile as Egypt. They continued to dress and talk as did their ancestors, and they did not give Egyptian names to their children. The point was that they outlined a procedure that would preserve their heritage and bar them from becoming totally assimilated into the host country.

Perhaps for us the parallel would be, out of sheer necessity for our survival, that when new styles of clothing become available, we should opt not to buy them. Last year’s styles should be acceptable. It should make no difference to us whether or not we can compete with our neighbors regarding the kind of clothing that we wear. Perhaps another example would be that our manner of speech not reflect every new expression that is used. If someone has another way of actualizing this attitude, they can accomplish this goal in another fashion. However, try we must, in order to come to grips with the intricate and exigent situation that we currently find ourselves in.

Question for the Rabbis
By Rabbi Mordechai Becher, reprinted with permission from

“And these are the names of the Children of Israel…” (Exodus 1:1). The commentaries point out that even in exile the Jews did not change their names (Baal Haturim). Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was asked, given that the Midrash (Leviticus Rabba 32) attributes part of the merit for the redemption from Egypt to the fact that the Jews did not change their names, is it permitted to be called by a non-Jewish name? Rabbi Feinstein permits the use of a non-Jewish name and notes that many great rabbis had non-Jewish names, such as Maimon, father of Maimonides; Rabbi Vidal, author of the Magid Mishneh; and even a Rabbi Peter, cited by Tosafot (Gittin 8a). He explains that when the Jews were in Egypt and had not yet received the Torah, the only way to separate themselves from the Egyptians was by not changing their names, clothing, and language. However, now that we have the Torah and mitzvot, their observance is sufficient and we do not need to be so careful about other things, like names (Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim, 4:66, see Minchat Asher, Exodus 1:1 for other opinions).

Joke of the Week

(More from the Jewish buddist)

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single Oy.


Moshe encountered a burning bush. Although it appeared to be surrounded by fire, internally it was unaffected. This was a sign that although we are an impassioned people, sometimes however our energies lie dormant and we fail to internalize that fire and bring it to action.