Geshmack Dvar Torah

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Geshmack Dvar Torah of the Week

Friday 26 March 2010

We've moved full time to . this blog is effectively closed.

Tuesday 23 March 2010

We're shutting down

nah not really! just moving to - catchy isn't it? :)

things are going to be a mess for a few days til we decide what it should look like!

Monday 22 March 2010

And they embittered their lives

"וַיְמָרְרוּ אֶת חַיֵּיהֶם" - and they embittered their lives... (Shemos 1:14)

Hashem told Avraham that his children would be in Egypt for 400 years, and yet they left after 210! Where are the missing 190 years?

There is an answer suggested that Egypt treated the Jews much worse than they should have, so as we say in ברוך המקום:

ש"הקבה חשב את הקץ - Hashem reckoned the end. What is this talking about? Hashem hastened the גאולה and reckoned off קץ - 190 (from 400)- leaving us with 210!

The problem with the suggestion that the slavery was overly bad (if such a term can be used by slavery!) is that we don't see it anywhere - but the Vilna Gaon deals with this!

The notes on וַיְמָרְרוּ אֶת חַיֵּיהֶם are קדמא ואזלא, the numerical value of which is 190! They were embittered to a value of 190!

R’ Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld points out that the גאולה from Egypt was only completed 7 days after it began, when the Red Sea when Paroh and his army were destroyed, so where is this reflected in events?

He answers that Isaac was only circumcised 7 days after his birth – so only then he became Jewish, and only 400 years from then were the Jews really free.

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Sunday 21 March 2010

False start

Looking at the 15 steps of the Seder, ורחץ- “and we wash our hands” – is out of step with the rest. It is seemingly linked to the previous step of Kadesh. But this results in a further problem – the order is wrong! Shouldn’t we cleanse ourselves of the negative, symbolised by washing our hands, before sanctifying ourselves with positive, through kiddush?

We can ask the same question about Matza and Maror, shouldn’t we get the negative (slavery) out of the way before commemorating the positive?

R’ Moshe Feinstein answers that sometimes we are in so deep that we can’t cleanse ourselves of the negativity. We have to jumpstart the process of growth by diving in and doing positive acts despite the fact we still have negative baggage. Then we build up the spiritual strength to be able to cleanse ourselves of and be rid of that baggage – which is exactly what happened in Egypt.

There is a Chassidic analogy of a man with dirty boots in a muddy field. He must walk to the end of the field before he can clean his boots.

This is an exceptionally deep משל, but on a basic level, what it means is that when we have a problem that we can’t avoid (dirty boots), we must change the situation we are in (leaving the field). Once we have changed and grown, when we find ourselves with “muddy boots” we will no longer be in the “muddy field”. We can even take this analogy further – people can look around at the world (muddy field) and wonder how they can have faith when there is so much evil (mud) in the world. The answer is that the muddy field isn’t the problem – your boots are!

The reason we start the Seder in this way is to show us that we just need to take the initiative – Kaddish - and then ורחץ – we will be cleansed!

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Pesach for Pesach’s sake

The eating of the Korban Pesach was meant to commemorate the great miracle of the firstborn in Jewish households being "passed over" in Egypt.

If we think about this, this makes no sense. The 10 plagues were punishments for the Egyptians who had enslaved the Jews, whom Hashem calls "the sons of My firstborn (Avraham)". If the punishments were for Egyptians, why should there have been any threat to the lives of the Jewish firstborn, to the extent that we celebrate that they were spared?

In addition, by the other plagues, the Pasuk explicitly mentions that the Jews were wholly unaffected. At the splitting of the sea this is the case too. The common denominator is that no special "sign" had to be made to G-d (כביכול) that He should leave them be, and no special sign is remembered today. So why is the salvation of the Jewish firstborn different, so much so that it required demonstrable acts that they were Jews by spreading blood on their doors, and later generations then had to remember this act by eating the Korban Pesach? (Abarbanel and R’ Yitzchak Meltzen)

(Our more hawkish readers will find this familiar, these questions having been asked here)

The Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 72:2) says: Alas for the wicked who turn מדת הרחמים (Mercy) to מדת הדין (Judgment).

R' Yitzchak Blaser, a student of R' Yisrael Salanter, explained this in the following way. The Gemara (Yuma 86a) states that even though repentance alone cannot atone for a violation of a מצות לא תעשה - (a negative commandment), nevertheless, on Yom Kippur the flood of מדת הרחמים - Mercy - is so great that if a person repents, he can hve a כפרה (forgiveness) - even if he might not be worthy!

R' Yitzchak Blaser explains that what the Midrash means is that if a person had this opportunity to obtain forgiveness for sins he couldn't erase the entire year, and he turned his back on this chance,  his disdain for מדת הרחמים rebounds back onto him, and it becomes מדת הדין.

Although the Jews had served the Egyptian idols, it hadn't been out of choice. But with the Exodus over, and Hashem having saved them countless times, they had the chance to throw off any trace of idol worship and show their commitment and dedication to Him by taking a lamb, an Egyptian deity, and in their faces, roast it, eat, and put it's blood on display.

If they turned their backs on this ideal opportunity they would have incurred Hashem's wrath and מדת הדין.

The other plagues were specific punishments that the Jews were not deserving of, but the 10th plague was not “just” a punishment for the Egyptians, unlike the previous plagues, as it had a secondary function. Whilst all the plagues were punishments in that they revealed Hashem’s hand in nature to the Egyptians, the Jews were not meant to be punished in this way. But here they had an opportunity to throw off the yoke of idol worship, and had they not used this opportunity, they would have incurred a מדת הדין, and the Korban Pesach we take is a remembrance of the kindness we were shown, that led to us being saved.

This explains why the Mechilta says that the Jews were as deserving of destruction in the final plague as the Egyptians, up until the final Korban Pesach was brought.

Also, in Pirkei d’R’ Eliezer, it says that some people would not undertake circumcision, the merit of which was needed for the גאולה as well (דם פסח ודם מילה). So Hashem told Moshe to make the Korban Pesach, and Hashem sent a breeze from Gan Eden, which caused people to faint at the irresistible aroma, at which point Moshe said כל הערל לא יאוכל , and they immediately underwent circumcision.

All this shows Hashem’s great mercy, as the Targum translates ופסחתי (Shemos 14:13) as a word meaning “compassion”.

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Thursday 18 March 2010


The Pasuk says:

וְשִׁלַּם אֹתוֹ בְּרֹאשׁוֹ וַחֲמִשִׁתָיו יֹסֵף עָלָיו – ….he shall pay its main, adding its fifths to it… (5:24)

Chazal teach us that all expenses are calculated and apportioned from Rosh Hashanah to Rosh Hashanah, with the the exceptions of monies spent towards: – Shabbos, –Yom Tov, –teaching one’s children Torah, and the Medrash Rabbah adds Rosh Chodesh to the list as well.

The Tzemach Tzvi says that this is alluded to in this Pasuk.  וְשִׁלַּם אֹתוֹ- all his money, whatever he pays and whatever he earns, is earmarked בְּרֹאשׁוֹ  - on Rosh Hashanah - וַחֲמִשִׁתָיו יֹסֵף עָלָיו – and his fifths will be added to him. What are these חֲמִשִׁתָיו of which which we speak? חוץ מהוצאות שבת, תורה, יו”ט, ור”ח - with the exception of expenses for Shabbos, Torah, Yom Tov and Rosh Chodesh. These will be יֹסֵף עָלָיו  - added to him as the year goes on, subject to his actions.

(This is my addition, feel free to disagree)

It is worth pointing out that the וְ of ור”ח is used as part of the initials, rather than the ר of Rosh chodesh, and the end result is that the initials are a perfect reflection of the way (diyuk) the Medrash Rabba explained this concept, that Rosh Chodesh too is part of the list.

(end of my addition)

There is a story told about the Pnei Menachem, who once sent his son to school with an envelope for his Rebbe. The Rebbe refused to accept the envelope, as he did not feel he could take money from the Pnei Menachem. A few nights later, the Pnei Menachem called up his son’s Rebbe, and said that he was obliged to accept it, as זה נהנה וזה לא חסר , (literally, this one gains, and the other does not lose) a mechanism that enables someone to use something that the owner is not using and had no use for, for free. He explained with this Dvar Torah that this money was not normal money and could come into reckoning, as money spent on teaching your son Torah is not included in your “annual salary”. Presumably, the Rebbe accepted the envelope.

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