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Parashat Bo 5779: On Generalizing Social Groups

In parashat Bo, we learn of the last plagues that God cast on the Egyptians in order to attain the liberation of the Hebrew people.  It was especially the final plague, death of the first-born, that convinced Pharaoh to allow the Hebrews to leave the land of Egypt.

At the most anticipated time, the Torah tells us that the people, following Moses’ orders, “borrow, each man from his neighbor and each woman from hers, objects of silver and gold. The Lord disposed the Egyptians favorably toward the people and they let them have their request; thus they stripped the Egyptians.” (Sh’mot 12:35-36).

I would like to stop and analyze this verse which has raised several questions as to its meaning.  These people were slaves for hundreds of years; they suffered, they were abused, and now, when they are able to leave that hellish life, they dare to ask their masters for silver and gold!  It does not sound like the request of a slave.  However, we can argue that it was Moses, supported by God, who led them to make this request.  Moses, a free-thinking man, knew that a people without resources would be doomed to failure.  Freedom would be of no use without the means to survive and live well.


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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Vaera 5779

This week we read Parashat Vaera. We are told about the first seven plagues that hit Egypt. As you know, the story of the ten plagues presents certain ethical challenges that are important to address. One of the criticisms that you may hear about the biblical ten plagues’ story is that they sound like God is taking revenge over the Egyptians. I would like to explain why this is not correct and also take the advantage of this opportunity to describe a very important Jewish ethical principle.
If you read the Torah text about the plagues, you will notice that there is no reference to any revenge. The goals of bringing the plagues were to convince Pharaoh and the Egyptians that the Hebrew people had to be liberated, and eventually to punish Pharaoh for his crimes against the Hebrew people. The main goal is to free the people of Israel. And that main goal had to be achieved in a way that the Egyptians would understand that the liberation of the Hebrew people was not Pharaoh’s decree, but the willing of God. As it is written in the Torah,
“And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord when I stretch forth My hand over Egypt, and I will take the children of Israel out of their midst” (Exodus 7:5).


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Parashat Shemot 5779-“Honoring our beloved ones through their names”

This week we are starting to read the second book of the Torah, the book of Shemot. Parashat Shemot starts with these words: “These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each coming with his household” (Shemot 1:1). After this, the Torah lists the names of the sons of Jacob.
Many commentators wonder why the book of Shemot starts listing these names considering that the same names were mentioned in the book of Bereshit in chapter 46: “These are the names of the Israelites, Jacob and his descendants, who came to Egypt…” (Bereshit 46:8-27).
What is the purpose of listing their names again?
There is an explanation in a Midrash from Shemot Rabbah:
“R. Huna says in the name of Bar Kaparah, for four things the Israelites were redeemed from Egypt, one was for not changing their names (Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah, Vayikra Rabba 32).” (Shemot Rabbah 1:28)


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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Vayechi 5779

The parasha for this week begins by telling us that Jacob was old and the time for him to die approached. When he became very ill, his son Joseph immediately went to visit him, taking with him his two sons. Jacob was lying on his bed, weak. At that moment, the Torah tells as,

And [someone] told Jacob and said, “Behold, your son Joseph is coming to you.” And Israel summoned his strength and sat up on the bed (Genesis 48:2)

 The translation in English here reads “And Israel summoned his strength” (Israel is another name for Jacob). However, the original Hebrew uses the word vayitchazek, which literally means “he became stronger.” Therefore, an appropriate way of understanding this verse is that when Jacob heard that his son had come to visit him, he became stronger.

It seems that Joseph’s visit coincided, or even caused, old and ill Jacob to gain some strength. Could this be true? Indeed, this is precisely how our sages explained the text; when Joseph came to visit Jacob, Jacob become stronger! In fact, our sages viewed this incident as an example of a general principle: When we visit a sick person, we help him/her to recover and becoming stronger. This principle is enunciated in the Talmud in the following way,

Rav Aḥa bar Ḥanina said: Anyone who visits an ill person takes from him one-sixtieth of his suffering (Nedarim 39b)


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