MidrESHET Hayil

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Parashat Bo- The Anatomy of an Egyptian King

Parashat Bo

The Anatomy of an Egyptian King

1. The Lord said to Moses: "Come to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, in order that I may place these signs of Mine in his midst,

א. וַיֹּאמֶר יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֶל מֹשֶׁה בֹּא אֶל פַּרְעֹה כִּי אֲנִי הִכְבַּדְתִּי אֶת לִבּוֹ וְאֶת לֵב עֲבָדָיו לְמַעַן שִׁתִי אֹתֹתַי אֵלֶּה בְּקִרְבּוֹ:
2. and in order that you tell into the ears of your son and your son's son how I made a mockery of the Egyptians, and [that you tell of] My signs that I placed in them, and you will know that I am the Lord."

ב. וּלְמַעַן תְּסַפֵּר בְּאָזְנֵי בִנְךָ וּבֶן בִּנְךָ אֵת אֲשֶׁר הִתְעַלַּלְתִּי בְּמִצְרַיִם וְאֶת אֹתֹתַי אֲשֶׁר שַׂמְתִּי בָם וִידַעְתֶּם כִּי אֲנִי יְ־הֹוָ־ה:

Famously, before every single makah/plague, the Torah HaKedosha tells us that HaKadosh Barukh Hu hardened the heart of Paroh, refusing to free Benei Yisrael in order for Paroh to receive punishment for this. We learn this as ‘VaYekhaved HaShem et lev Paroh’.

 If we are honest with ourselves, this doesn’t seem fair! How could HaShem Yitbarakh possible hold Pharaoh accountable for a decision that was not even his? At His strictest, HaShem is still a GD of justice! How could an entire nation be destroyed out on the basis of a decision influenced by a force outside Paroh’s control?

Look closely at the Torah’s vernacular. The Torah specifically uses the word ‘va’ye’kaved’, meaning to make heavy and not ‘va’ye’hazek’, which means to make strong or tough, as used in other instances in the Torah. The pasuk can also be read a different way. Says Shemot Rabbah, instead of looking at it as HaShem making Paroh’s heart heavy, let us consider the word kaved in its alternate translation: as ‘liver’. HaShem metaphorically transforms Paroh’s heart into his liver. This is why Paroh was deserving of a punishment; he brought it upon himself using his liver instead of his heart.

I realize this isn’t a biology lesson, but a Devar Torah, so allow me to elaborate on why Paroh’s organs are of such importance to us here.

The composite human spirit is divided among the various organs of a person. The lowest and most animalistic component of the human spirit is the nefesh, which is responsible for human drives and desires such as eating and reprodution. The nefesh is most heavily concentrated in the liver, and by extension, in the blood. As most of us nerds know, the liver is responsible for the breakdown and distribution of food in the blood as well as ridding the blood of all negative toxins.

The step above nefesh is the ruah, located in the mind. In Torah and Halakha, we refer to the mind as ‘lev’ which is more popularly known as the heart. Nevertheless, their function is the same: to make decisions. The lev is responsible for our deeds and actions. The Vilna Gaon explains that the heart is ‘king’ and rules over a person’s decisions and desires.

Which one of ours is stronger? Do our minds guide us or our desires veer us away from the right decision? What happens sometimes is that the byproduct of our kaved, our liver, can overtake the function of our lev, our heart/mind. Sometimes, our desires are too strong and they cloud our intellectual judgment, disallowing us to make a logical and proper decision. Rabbi Label Lam brings the Sefer Heshbon HaNefesh, which writes ‘The animal spirit has a short attention span. It observes the world with material eyes, seeing only that which is close, obvious, and immediate…The intellectual human spirit is in constant danger of itself being swallowed up by the desires of the animal spirit.’ Paroh allowed his kaved/desires to reign when he was making his decision not to free Benei Yisrael instead of using his lev/mind to make this decision. ‘Va’ye’kaved lev Paroh’; his heart acted as his liver-his intellect submitted to his desires. This is why he was deserving of such punishment, not once, but ten times.

In life, we must make sure that our intellect governs our actions and it is not our desires that direct them. Just like when a liver grows back when it is cut off, desires can keep coming back even when they are seemingly eradicated, and we must not fall victim to our temporary desires because they will continue to keep growing. The only thing we can do is widen our intellect and solidify it so that it will grow stronger than our desires and be able to take over and lead the way. Making decisions with our intellect will certainly yield more auspicious results. There is a reason why the heart lays over the liver in the human body.

Be’Ezrat HaShem Yitbarakh, may we all develop the proper koah and mindset in order to overcome our desires and realize that they are only momentary, in order to make proper decisions in life with our MINDS and LEVAVOT that will only allow us to become closer and closer to HaKadosh Barukh Hu.

Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh! Make it special!
Ariella Samimi

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Parashat Va’Era- Understand That It Is HaShem’s Hand

Parashat Va’Era

Understand That It Is HaShem’s Hand

15. So the sorcerers said to Pharaoh, "It is the finger of HaShem," but Pharaoh's heart remained steadfast, and he did not hearken to them, as HaShem had spoken.

טו. וַיֹּאמְרוּ הַחַרְטֻמִּים אֶל פַּרְעֹה אֶצְבַּע אֱ־לֹהִים הִוא וַיֶּחֱזַק לֵב פַּרְעֹה וְלֹא שָׁמַע אֲלֵהֶם כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר ה :

Until this point, Pharaoh’s magicians were able to replicate every single sign/miracle that Aharon HaKohen and Moshe Rabbenu executed in order to prove to Pharaoh that HaKadosh Barukh Hu is requesting of him to free Benei Yisrael from bondage. When Aharon and Moshe’s staff turned into a serpent once it was thrown onto the ground, so did the staffs of the Egyptian sorcerers; it didn’t phase Pharaoh. When the makot/plagues of dam (blood) and sefardea (frogs) fell upon the Egyptians, the Egyptian magicians were able to replicate these phenomena as well. Pharaoh was left unmoved. However, once the makah/plague of Kinim befell Egypt, the sorcerers were not able to replicate this and immediately declared ‘This is the Hand of GD’, ‘Essba E-lokim Hea’. They realized that these were no longer natural occurrences happening that they were able to themselves control, but that there was a Divine Hand guiding all of these incidents.
According to the Kabbalah, there are ten Sefirot which represent the lights of energy or characteristics which Ribono Shel Olam created in man and Creation. These characteristics make up the inner personality of each person. The Sefirot can be seen in the ten makot/plagues of Egypt in their ‘negative’ or corrupt form. Each of the ten makot/plagues directly corresponds to one of the Sefirot. The third plague of kinim (lice), is seen as a corruption of the Sefirah of Hod, which represents submission and devotion.
The eighth of the Sefirot, Hod, represents submission and devotion stemming from humility. Hod means to praise; it is a certain acknowledgment and splendor, which allows the expression of appreciation and gratitude. When we are humble enough to understand that we have an ultimate Creator and Provider, we express much appreciation to Him and not only that, we can fully submit to Him knowing that He runs the world. Hod allows a person to continue on when faced with life’s unexpected obstacles, knowing everything happens for a reason and according to HaShem’s will. It is ‘Essba E-lokim’, HaShem’s guiding Finger that runs our life.
How long will it take us until we realize HaShem’s Hand? At what point do we pull back and submit ourselves completely to HaShem, declaring ‘Essba E-lokim Hea’?

Pharaoh’s magicians only submitted once they were unable to replicate the lice. According to them, anything past the point where one not capable of doing themselves, that is where HaKadosh Barukh Hu comes in, but until then, it is all the product of a human effort. This is wrong. No matter whether or not you are able to replicate Ma’aseh HaShem (something that HaShem does), it is always coming from Him. When you breathe, you think it is very much your own power that is doing this work but this is an extension of divine Will that is allowing you to do so. We must see HaKadosh Barukh Hu in everything. Even in dust. Because the very dust which we thought was nothing turned into powerful lice. HaKadosh Barukh Hu controls everything, we must submit to Him and realize everything is His Essba.

Until how long do we keep pushing only to realize that its HaShem’s will?? How many makot must we endure to finally realize that it is not in our control, something we can create or replicate but rather something greater than us in control and we must submit to Him? If we submit, we can see life from lifeless things….lice from dust. We can see things that we never thought would have potential to develop becoming powerful sources of life and growth. Our own selves first- if we think it is in our control, we will try and try to replicate to no avail. If we submit, even the parts of us we thought are dust and lay dormant will be infused with energy and vivacity…except instead of turning into lice, it will turn into LIFE.

Not only must we submit to HaShem Yitbarakh, but we must commit to this submission and carry this feeling through. How many times do we say ‘Oh wow this is  certainly HaShem’s doing!’ submitting to Him completely but only feel it at the moment, and just like Pharaoh, we forget after time passes, when things begin to ease? When the plagues are difficult, Pharaoh recognizes HaKadosh Barukh Hu and agrees to free Benei Yisrael but after the plagues get better, he doesn’t feel the presence of HaShem and again refuses to free them. HaKadosh Barukh Hu has to keep sending makot over and over again to remind him who really is King. Same with us. If we keep forgetting, has veShalom, HaShem may have to keep sending makot to remind us that He is everywhere and controls everything.

Be’Ezrat HaShem may we all develop the humility to acquire the attribute of Hod, allowing us to submit ourselves completely to HaShem Yitbarakh and recognize His Essba in everything we do. In this zekhut, may we all be saved from life’s makot and only grow from our experiences.

Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh!
Ariella Samimi

Monday, January 9, 2012

Parashat Shemot- He Who Puts You To It Will Pull You Through It

Parashat Shemot

He Who Puts You To It Will Pull You Through It

As children, we can recall a time we once fell during play and took a scrape to the knee. In tears we ran to our parents pointing to the site of affliction, hopeful of a cure to ease the pain, only to discover that the liquid in the brown bottle they said would make the pain go away actually burns more than the cut itself! Tears now amplified, we shriek ‘Get it off, get it off!!! I thought you wanted to help me! WHY would you make it worse??’, but a week later, knee is good as new.

And thus, for the first time, we learn the lesson that sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better.
In Parashat Shemot, Moshe Rabbenu and Aharon HaKohen approach Pharaoh informing him that HaKadosh Barukh Hu instructs him to ‘let my people go’. Pharaoh refuses, saying, ‘Who is G-d, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I know not G-d, nor will I let Israel go.’ Not only does Pharaoh refuse their demand, he increases the burden of labor on Benei Yisrael. When officers of Benei Yisrael complain to Moshe Rabbenu that his visit to Pharaoh has only made things worse, he can bear it no longer. Just like with the hydrogen peroxide in the brown bottle, things were only getting worse, not better.

Observing this, Moshe Rabbenu asks Ribono Shel Olam ‘Why have You done evil to this nation? Why have You sent me?! Since I came to speak to Pharaoh in your name, he has done worse to this nation; and You have not saved Your people!’


HaKadosh Barukh Hu responds straight to Moshe Rabbenu,  ‘Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land.’
For things to move upwards, they have to start at a low point first; things get worse before they get better.
This is why the Pasuk states ‘The more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew’ (1:12). Hidushei HaRim explains that Benei Yisrael felt most suffering and affliction when salvation began to draw near. The lower Benei Yisrael were driven, the higher levels they were able to reach. The more they suffered, the more momentum they gained towards attaining greatness. It was because of the hardships that they endured which offered them the resistance to keep having children, six at a time.  

The key to moments like these, when not only is hope lost, but things seem to even get worse is PERSEVERENCE. Right that moment where you feel you are about to break, that is when salvation is near; you just need to push that little extra bit, that extra bit that differentiates you from others, that bit that deems you deserving of salvation, that last bit that declares and strengthens your Emunah in HaKadosh Barukh Hu. DON’T GIVE UP.

When HaKadosh Barukh Hu reveals to Moshe Rabbenu of his task of speaking to Pharaoh to free Benei Yisrael, Moshe Rabbenu brings up his speech impediment as a reason why he is not capable of this role. He begs and begs HaShem to give the job to somebody else, like his brother, who did not have a stutter and who was more fond of public speaking.

HaShem says ‘Who gave man a mouth, or who makes [one] dumb or deaf or seeing or blind? Is it not I, HaShem? So now, go! I will be with your mouth, and I will instruct you what you shall speak. 

He Who puts you to it will surely pull you through it. Just like Moshe Rabbenu was put to the test of speaking to the most important figure in all the land despite his speech impediment, and HaShem pulled him through (it was indeed Moshe Rabbenu that led Benei Yisrael out of Misrayim), HaShem also guides us through the tests he puts us up to.  If HaShem puts you through a situation, He believes you can handle it…..and not only that, He believes you can grow from it. And if He puts you through a test, he gives you all the means of conquering it; the world is His. Whoever made the lock also made the key. HaShem knows and controls all systems in this world. He just wants you to grow. Proof?


In the virtual world of Mario, the player must complete a certain level in order to advance to the next one. Before passing to the next level, at the very end of the current level, the player must prepare himself to defeat the largest challenge throughout the level. This challenge is known as Bowser and he is nearly impossible to beat. But still possible….

 The whole point of the Mario game is to advance from one level to the next. The makers of the game don’t want you to be stuck on level one the entire time; they want you to keep moving up. As difficult as it is to defeat this huge monster, the makers of therefore had to design Bowser to be capable of being destroyed. You are able to destroy Bowser once you’ve been through the entire level over and over again to acquire the various hidden tools embedded in bricks- something that comes only with experience. Once you were able to destroy Bowser at the end of the level, you were able to advance to the next one. The hardest part of the level is at the very end, just as you are about to advance forward to a more desirable level, reaching success.

Life is the same. It is designed for us to pass. We are given the tools to pass. The tools are acquired only through experience. Our biggest and most difficult challenge appears right before success. Although the challenge seems impossible, if you beat it, you gain the rights to move on. If not, you continue to stay on the same level.

Believe me, HaShem knows our pain. He does not want to hurt us. HaShem Himself says in this Parasha ‘I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cries at the hand of their oppressors, I know their pain...’ Imagine how painful it is for a parent to apply hydrogen peroxide to their child’s cut knowing it will cause them unease. But it must be done. This small amount of pain that has to be felt yields desirable and auspicious results.  If it does not kill you, it is making you stronger.

This is the lesson we learn from the burning bush….the bush standing before Moshe Rabbenu was burning, but it would not be consumed. In life, things may hurt so bad and burn deep inside us, but they should not and will not ever consume us. The understanding that HaKadosh Barukh Hu is our Parent that knows exactly what we need to move forward, and precisely how much we can endure should lend us much comfort and strength as we face our struggles.

Be’ezrat HaShem, may we all use the embers that burn within us not to destroy and consume worlds around us, but as a source of warmth and energy to keep moving forward. May we realize that any experience that feels like suffering is only the liquid in the brown bottle that will heal our wounds faster. In this zekhut, may we pass all our tests with flying colors and only grow from each and every one of them!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh!
Ariella Samimi

Monday, January 2, 2012

Parashat VaYehi- Ephraim and Menashe's Sticky Switchuation

Parashat VaYehi- Ephraim and Menashe's Sticky Switchuation

14. But Israel stretched out his right hand and placed [it] on Ephraim's head, although he was the younger, and his left hand [he placed] on Manasseh's head. He guided his hands deliberately, for Manasseh was the firstborn.

יד. וַיִּשְׁלַח יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת יְמִינוֹ וַיָּשֶׁת עַל רֹאשׁ אֶפְרַיִם וְהוּא הַצָּעִיר וְאֶת שְׂמֹאלוֹ עַל רֹאשׁ מְנַשֶּׁה שִׂכֵּל אֶת יָדָיו כִּי מְנַשֶּׁה הַבְּכוֹר:

Every Erev Shabbat Kodesh, there is a concept or Birkhat haBanim, whereby parents bless their children ‘Yasimekha E-lokim ke’Ephraim ve’ke’Menashe’, that HaKadosh Barukh Hu should bless our children as Ephraim and Menashe were blessed. But what about the rest of the twelve shevatim? How come we are given a blessing according to the two peripheral shevatim but not the main ones? Why did Yaakov Avinu give most attention specifically to Ephraim and Menashe, giving them the primary berakha? Even further, even between the two sons, why did Yaakov Avinu favor one over the other?!

If anybody knew the effects parent favoritism plays in sibling rivalry and jealousy, it is Yaakov Avinu with his own sons who sold Yosef. One would think that the last person to do such a thing would be Yaakov. Why would Yaakov Avinu feel so compelled to overlook these consequences yet again in order to bless Ephraim and Menashe? Even between the two sons of Yosef, why does Yaakov Avinu favor one over the other?! We see him blessing Ephraim over Menashe even though Menashe was the firstborn! It can’t get any more exclusive than that.

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, in Emet le’Yaakov, calls our attention to the difference of names that Yosef gave to his sons. Both were born in Egypt. When the oldest one was born, he called him Menashe, ‘ki nashini E-lokim’ translated by Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch ‘because HaShem has made my trouble and all my paternal house into creditors to me.’  When his second son is born he calls him Ephraim, ‘ki hifrani E-lokim’, ‘because HaShem has made me blossom in the land of my affliction’. There is a remarkable difference between these two names. When giving a name to Menashe, Yosef referred to his pain having to live in a foreign country with strong feelings of nostalgia for his paternal home. Although he was living in and even ruling a foreign land, yet his whole personality objected and protested against the culture of Egypt. Even though he was really involved in its governmental administration, he took no part in it. But, by the time that he had to decide on a name for his second son Ephraim, something had changed. While he was still aware of his unusual position as a Jew in a strange land, Yosef had somehow come to feel at home in this new country called Egypt.

While there is little doubt that Yosef was able to stay connected to HaKadosh Barukh Hu his entire life, the anti-Jewish surroundings of Egypt evidently had some influence on him based on how he named his children. He had to adapt himself towards his new environment and this may have had an effect on his identity…. and the identity of his children. Ephraim and Menashe were the only two grandchildren who were not born in Yaakov’s proximity. While the other grandchildren were raised in his own home and in Eres Yirael, Menashe and Ephraim were born in a foreign country and never had seen their grandfather. The question how these grandchildren would stay frum in such surroundings must have been constantly on Yaakov Avinu’s mind.

It is for this reason that he proclaims to Yosef: ‘Now your sons who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you to Egypt, are mine, Efraim and Menashe shall be mine like Reuven and Shimon’. Despite their surroundings, Ephraim and Menashe were still able to maintain their strong connection to HaShem Yitbarakh.
We can now understand why Ephraim and Menashe might have been considered the most important; they represent a strong commitment to HaShem and Kedusha regardless of the impurities that surround them. However, what gave Ephraim more leverage over Menashe? Why was Ephraim more deserving of a berakha especially when he was the younger son?

Looking closer, we must conclude that there was a major difference between the kind of education these two sons received. When Menashe was born, Yosef was not yet fully involved with the administration of Egypt and still more of a foreigner, his mentality somewhere along the lines of: ‘Although I am the second ruler in this country, remember, that this does not affect my loyalty towards my God and my people. We are Jews and we will wait for the first opportunity to leave this country and return to our homeland.’ But, by the time Ephraim was born matters had changed. The feeling of being a foreigner had somehow faded, leaving him and his father, Yosef, more exposed to external influences.
It was for that reason that Yaakov Avinu was much more worried about the education of Ephraim than that of Menashe. Ephraim was much more vulnerable to the effects of the Egyptian religion and culture than Menashe was. Yaakov Avinu gave more attention to Ephraim, placing his right hand on Ephraim rather than to Menashe in order to strengthen him and encourage him; he needed it more. Menashe still came from a strong Jewish background and hence needed less special attention.

It is for this reason that it is most appropriate that parents give their children this berakha on Erev Shabbat Kodesh. We must realize that we are all vulnerable to the forces outside of us and must ensure to keep resistant against them in order to emerge kedoshim and connected to HaShem just like Ephraim and Menashe were able to do. When Yaakov Avinu switched his hands, placing his right hand on Ephraim and his left on Menashe, he emphasized the value of maintaining these high levels of purity and commitment even when our environments are not so. If HaShem is everywhere, then we must be connected to Him everywhere we go are as well; it shouldn’t matter what the external environment is like.

May HaKadosh Barukh Hu bless each and every one of us with the special power both Ephraim and Menashe had to keep strong regardless of where we find ourselves and in this zekhut to build the Beit HaMikdash bimehera beyamenu so that we can serve HaShem Yitbarakh in our own land with an environment of pure kedusha and tehara.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh!!
Ariella Samimi

Adapted from the teachings of Rav Nathan Lopes Cardozo