Beshalach 5783

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Songs of praise, songs of death[1]

ויבא בין מחנה מצרים ובין מחנה ישראל וגו’ ולא-קרב זה אל-זה כל-הלילה
[The Angel] went between the Egyptian camp and the Israelite camp…and they didn’t get close to each other the entire night[2]

As the Jews were journeying towards the Reed Sea, the Egyptians were following closely in pursuit. Hashem prevented the Egyptians from reaching the Jews by sending an Angel to act as a sort of interposition between the two camps. The Torah testifies that the two camps didn’t get close to each other the entire night. What’s interesting to note is the expression זה אל זה, to each other, appears only twice in all of Tanach. One instance is here, in reference to the fact that the two camps did not get close to each other (לא קרב זה אל זה) the whole night. The other instance appears in the Kedusha prayers, and is a quotation from Isaiah’s description of the Angels. The verse says that the Angels call to each other (וקרא זה אל זה) and sing praises of G-d[3]. Is there any connection between these two instances?

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Bo 5783

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Problematic pascal prohibitions[1]

בבית אחד יאכל לא-תוציא מן-הבית מן-הבשר חוצה ועצם לא תשברו-בו
It shall be eaten in one house. Don’t take from the meat from the house to outside. And don’t break a bone from it[2]

This week’s parsha introduces the mitzvah of the korbon Pesach, the Passover offering. It was to be prepared and consumed in a very specific way. There are thus many mitzvos associated with the korbon Pesach. One of them is the meat from the offering had to be consumed in one house, and it was prohibited to even take it outside. Another mitzvah is that one wasn’t allowed to break the bones of the Pesach offering, for example to get to the marrow inside. These two mitzvos are written in the same verse, but for some reason there’s an inconsistency. The prohibition to not take the meat outside is written in the singular (תוציא); one shouldn’t do it. However, the prohibition to not break the bones is written in in the plural, speaking to many people (תשברו). Why are they written differently?

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Va’eira 5783

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To be as great as Moshe[1]

הוא אהרן ומשה אשר אמר יקוק להם הוציאו את-בני ישראל מארץ מצרים על-צבאתם
This is Aharon and Moshe, who Hashem told to take the Jewish people out from the land of Egypt, by their legions[2]

Our Sages note[3] that sometimes Moshe’s name appears before Aharon’s, and sometimes, like in this week’s parsha, Aharon’s name comes before Moshe’s. Why is this? To teach us that the two of them are equal in stature. Now, at first glance, this is astounding. We all know that Moshe was the master of prophets, and the teacher of the entire nation. Through Moshe, we received the Torah. Although Aharon was a mighty giant in his own right, how could we say that he was equal to Moshe?

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Shemos 5783

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Sagely exegesis, suffering, and salty meat[1]

ויעבדו מצרים את-בני ישראל בפרך: וימררו את-חייהם בעבדה קשה בחמר ובלבנים ובכל-עבדה בשדה וגו’‏
The Egyptians worked the Jewish people with backbreaking labor. They embittered their lives with difficult labor, with bricks and mortar, and all the work of the field…[2]

Our Sages have a disagreement[3] about the significance of the Torah’s usage of the word בפרך, usually translated as backbreaking labor. One opinion says it’s a contraction of two words: בפה רך, a soft voice. Meaning, initially the Egyptians were very gentle in their subjugation of the Jews. They spoke softly with them, and even offered to pay them for their services. Once the Jews got used to manual labor, the Egyptians enslaved them. The other opinion reads the word literally, that they enslaved the Jews brutally and destroyed their bodies with backbreaking labor.

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Vayechi 5783

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The temporary temple[1]

לא-יסור שבט מיהודה ומחקק מבין רגליו עד כי-יבא שילה ולו יקהת עמים
The scepter shall not depart from Yehuda, nor the leader[2] from between his feet. Not until Shiloh will come, for he shall congregate nations[3]

The Ramban shares with us[4] an interesting insight into Jewish history. While there was still a Jewish monarchy, there were many generations of kings which were not from the tribe of Yehuda. They were in fact violating the blessing, and really the last will and testament[5], of Yaakov. How so? Yaakov, upon his deathbed, prophetically blessed his twelve sons. Regarding Yehuda, he said that the scepter shall not depart from Yehuda. Meaning, the kingship. All Jewish kings are to come from Yehuda. This wasn’t a promise that the kingship would never leave his tribe, as we see it didn’t come true. Rather, it was in essence a command that only Judean kings are valid, and all others are violating this directive.

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Vayigash 5783

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Yaakov’s divine blessing[1]

ויברך יעקב את-פרעה ויצא מלפני פרעה
Yaakov blessed Pharaoh, and left his presence[2]

The epic meeting between Yaakov and Pharaoh was short and sweet. They exchanged pleasantries, and Yaakov shared a bit about his life. Upon his departure, the Torah tells us that Yaakov blessed Pharaoh. Rashi asks[3]: What did Yaakov bless Pharaoh with? That the Nile River should rise to his feet. Meaning, Egypt’s climate doesn’t allow it to survive off rainwater. Instead, the Nile River would overflow and water the fields. After Yaakov’s blessing to Pharaoh, whenever the latter would go to the Nile, it would overflow and water the fields[4]. There are few questions on this Rashi. First of all, why does Rashi ask what blessing did Yaakov give Pharaoh? Does it really matter? Couldn’t it be anything? Maybe he blessed him with a long life, or lots of children. Since it could be anything, why bother asking the question? Also, Rashi didn’t need to go on a whole long explanation of the intricacies of the blessing and how it manifested. What’s going on?

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Mikeitz 5783

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Sin leads to foolishness, which leads to blindness[1]

‏…ויצא לבם ויחרדו אל אחיו לאמר מה זאת עשה אלוקים לנו
…They went out of their minds and trembled amongst themselves, saying: “What is this that Hashem has done to us!”[2]

All of the interactions between Yosef, the disguised viceroy of Egypt, and his brothers, is astounding. How is it that the brothers didn’t recognize Yosef? How did they not realize that he was the brother they had sold, and that he had risen to be the second command of Egypt? If we are exacting with the verses and how our Sages interpret them, we’ll find literally a dozen reasons why they should have realized who they were interacting with.

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Vayeishev 5783

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Recorded righteousness rewards[1]

ויאמר אלהם ראובן אל-תשפכו-דם תשליכו אתו אל-הבור הזה אשר במדבר ויד אל-תשלחו-בו למען הציל אתו מידם להשיבו אל-אביו
Reuven said to [his brothers]: “Don’t spill blood! Cast [Yosef] into this pit that’s in the wilderness, and don’t send a hand against him”, in order to save [Yosef] from their hands, to return him to his father[2]

An interesting Midrash is taught[3] about Reuven, Aharon, and Boaz. Reuven unsuccessfully tried to save Yosef from the hands of his brothers by suggesting they (temporarily) throw him into a pit. The Midrash says that if Reuven had known that his actions would be recorded in the Torah, he would have carried Yosef on his shoulders home to their father. Aharon, when he heard that his younger brother Moshe was chosen by G-d to lead the Jewish people, went out to greet Moshe[4]. Had Aharon known his actions would be recorded in the Torah, he would have greeted Moshe with tambourines and dancing[5]. Boaz gave Rus some toasted grain to eat[6]. Had Boaz known his actions would be recorded in the Torah, he would have given her fatted calves[7].

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Vayishlach 5783

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Two hips, two nerves, two types of mitzvos[1]

וירא כי לא יכל לו ויגע בכף ירכו ותקע כף ירך יעקב בהאבקו עמו: על כן לא יאכלו בני ישראל את גיד הנשה וגו’ כי נגע בכף ירך יעקב בגיד הנשה
[The angel] saw that he could not overcome [Yaakov], so he touched the socket of his hip, and he dislodged the socket of Yaakov’s hip in his wrestling with him. Therefore, the Jewish people do not eat the sciatic nerve…for [the Angel] touched the socket of the hip of Yaakov, in his sciatic nerve[2]

One of the more famous episodes of the Bible is the wrestling match between Yaakov and the Angel. The Torah describes him as an unknown man who attacked Yaakov unprovoked, and our Sages tell us[3] this was the guardian Angel of Eisav, Yaakov’s brother. Yaakov was able to hold his own, so the Angel decided to fight dirty and dislocate Yaakov’s hip socket. In doing so, he affected Yaakov’s sciatic nerve. The Torah then testifies that this is the reason why it is forbidden for Jews to consume the sciatic nerve.

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Vayeitzei 5783

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Why did Yaakov go to sleep?[1]

ויצא יעקב מבאר שבע וילך חרנה: ויפגע במקום וילן שם כי-בא השמש וגו’ וישכב במקום ההוא: וייקץ יעקב משנתו ויאמר אכן יש יקוק במקום הזה ואנכי לא ידעתי
Yaakov left from Be’er Sheva and journeyed to Charan. He encountered The Place, and he lodged there, for the sun had set…and he slept in that place. [Then] Yaakov awoke from his sleep, and said: “Behold, there Hashem in this place, and I didn’t realize”[2]

Yaakov’s journey to his uncle Lavan to seek a wife wasn’t a simple one. It actually involved a fourteen-year detour in the academy of Shem and Ever[3]. After that, we are told that he encountered The Place. Unbeknownst to him, this was the site of the future Temple in Jerusalem[4]. The Torah then tells us that since the sun set, he slept in that place. Why does the Torah stress in that place? This teaches us[5] that for the fourteen years that he was studying in the academy, he didn’t sleep, as he learned day and night. This was the first time he had slept in all these years. While this sounds like a supernatural feat, let’s take it at face value. If this is what the Torah is teaching us, why indeed did Yaakov choose to sleep that night? What was different about that night than all the nights prior? Why didn’t he learn Torah[6]?

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