Sticks and Stones (and Snakes)
כי ידבר אלכם פרעה לאמר תנו לכם מופת ואמרת אל-אהרן קח את-מטך והלשך לפני-פרעה יהי לתנין
When Pharaoh speaks to you saying, “Present for yourselves a wonder”, say to Aharon, “Take your staff and throw it before Pharaoh, and it will become a snake”
After a failed attempt to get Pharaoh to release the Jews from slavery, Hashem commands Moshe to impress Pharaoh with a miracle: Hashem will turn a staff into a snake. This perhaps would inspire him to change his mind and let the Jews go. However, the plan doesn’t seem to go as expected. The story continues: ויקרא גם-פרעה לחכמים למכשפים ויעשו גם-הם חרטמי מצרים בלהטיהם כן, Pharaoh also called to his wise men, the sorcerers, and they did the same [as Aharon]. The necromancers of Egypt did it as well with their incantations. Apparently, this wasn’t such a unique ability; these experts in the occult were also able to make their staffs into snakes.
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A Selective Memory
ויקם מלך חדש על-מצרים אשר לא-ידע את-יוסף
A new King arose over Egypt that did not know Yosef
In only a few short generations after Yaakov and his children had descended to Egypt, their descendants are in the millions. We are told that after Yaakov’s twelve sons had all died, a new Pharaoh was appointed. He was not aware of all the good that Yosef did for the Egyptians. As a result, he had no problems taking advantage of this golden opportunity. There is an entire foreign nation within Egypt’s borders, available for the taking. Why not force them to work without pay? Pharaoh thought, they’ve been living here all this time for free, without justification; they owe it to us.
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Give me a break
וישב ישראל בארץ מצרים בארץ גשן ויאחזו בה ויפרו וירבו מאד
And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen, and they populated it, becoming incredibly numerous.
ויחי יעקב בארץ מצרים שבע עשרה שנה ויהי ימי-יעקב שני חייו שבע שנים וארבעים ומאת שנה
And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt 17 years, and it was that the days of the years of Yaakov’s life were 147 years.
Rashi asks an interesting question. Why is this parsha סתומה, literally blocked or sealed off? Every parsha, the way it appears in a Sefer Torah, is separated from the previous parsha with a certain amount of blank space. Consequently, you can easily spot the beginning of a parsha. Parshas Vayechi is the only exception. It has no blank space between it and the previous parsha. The last verse of parshas Vayigash runs right into parshas Vayechi (making the beginning harder to find). Rashi is bothered, why is this so? Rashi brings two answers, both from the Midrash, as follows:
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To approach or not to approach, that is the question
ויגש אליו יהודה ויאמר בי אדני ידבר-נא עבדך דבר באזני אדני ואל-יחר אפך בעבדך כי כמוך כפרעה
And Yehudah approached [Yosef] and he said: “Please my Master, let your servant speak something in the ears of my Master, and don’t be mad with your servant, because you are like Pharaoh”
The sons of Yaakov hadn’t yet caught on that their long-lost brother Yosef is the viceroy of Egypt. Binyomin was just caught “stealing” the cup of Yosef, and has been sentenced to life as a slave. The brothers felt hopeless; how can they return to their father without his most beloved son? Yehudah mustered up the courage to approach Yosef for a final confrontation. The Torah uses a unique phrase to describe this act: ויגש, to approach. This phrase appeared earlier in the Chumash with Avraham: Hashem had just informed Avraham that He intended to destroy the wicked cities of Sodom and Amorah. Avraham couldn’t allow this to happen, and the Torah says ויגש אברהם ויאמר, and Avraham approached and spoke. He tried his best to convince Hashem to change His mind, but no to avail.
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