Thursday, February 2, 2017

Va'eira 5777 & Rosh Chodesh Sh'vat

The Torah Portion of Va'eira 

Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Sh'vat 

Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat R' Yochanan Yitzchak Ben Nachum z"l 
L'ilui Neshamat R' Yaakov Ben Matisyahu HaLevi z"l
L'ilui Neshamat Esther Mushka Bat Yaakov HaLevi z"l
L'refuat Hanefesh V'l'refuat Haguf L'Chaya Basha Bat Esther
L'refuat Hanefesh V'lrefuat Haguf L'Etan Naphtali Ben Zehava
L'refuat Hanefesh V'l'refuat Haguf L'Rivkah Goldah Bat Chaya Basha 
L'refuat Hanefesh V'l'refuat Haguf L'Shimon Ben Rivkah Goldah
L'refuat Hanefesh V'l'refuat Haguf L'Simcha Pearl Bat Rivkah Goldah
L'refuat Hanefesh V'l'refuat Haguf L'Moshe Shlomo Ben Rivkah Goldah
L'refuat Hanefesh V'l'refuat Haguf L'Chaim Sh'muel Ben Rivkah Goldah 
L'refuat Hanefesh V'l'refuat Haguf L'Avital Bat Rut
L'refuat Hanefesh V'l'refuat Haguf L'Eliezer Yitzchak Ben Bracha Devorah 
L'refuat Hanefesh V'l'refuat Haguf L'Michael Itzhak Nesshael Ben Avital 
L'refuat Hanefesh V'l'refuat Haguf L'Naomi Chana Bat Chaya Basha and
L'refuat Hanefesh V'l'refuat Haguf L'kol Am Yisrael V'l'geulah Hashleima Bekarov

There are Seven Plagues in the Torah Portion of Va'eira

In the Torah Portion Va'eira there are seven plagues, as is hinted at by the first two letters of the word Va'eira (Vuv-Aleph) which have the Gematria of seven; and in the Torah Portion Bo there are three plagues which are hinted at by the letters Bo (Bait-Aleph) which have the Gematria of three.

"And I appeared to Avraham,  to Yitzchak and  to Yaakov..."  (Shemot 6:3)

On the words "And I appeared (Va'eira)", Rashi says that means: "to the Patriarchs".  It has been asked, isn't it written explicitly in the verse "to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov", so what does Rashi's explanation add?   The explanation is that the word Patriarchs (Avot) has the meaning of  desire, as in the verse "And he didn't desire (ava) to perform  the mitzvah of Yibum" (Devorim 25:7). The Holy One Blessed Be He shows himself, as it were, to those who desire him, as the Rambam states.  And similarly, the verse "I will be as I will be (Ek-yeh asher Ek-yeh)"  (Shemot 3:14) can be explained in like fashion: I will be with those who desire that I will be with them. (from the Chatam Sofer)

The Four Languages of Redemption: "I will take you out" , "I will rescue you", "I will redeem you", "I will take you to Me" (Shemot 6:6-7)

It is written in the Midrash that the reason there are four languages of Redemption is that these correspond to the four decrees against the Jews that Pharoah declared: the hard work,  his command to the midwives, the Nile River, and the straw.  Also the four languages of redemption correspond to the four exiles: Egypt, Babylonia, Greece,  and Edom.  Therefore we drink four cups of wine at Passover in correspondence to the four languages of Redemption, as it is said "I will lift up the cup of salvation" (Tehillim 116:13), to show that Hashem saved us in the past from the four decrees and is saving us (continually now) from the four exiles.

"...And I will give it to you as a heritage (Morasha)..."  (Shemot 6:8)

It is not written "an inheritance (Yerusha)" to hint that they will not inherit the land of Israel, rather, their children that come after them will inherit it. (from Rabbeinu Bachya)

"...And I will give it to you as a heritage (Morasha)..." (Shemot 6:8)

The word "heritage (Morasha)" is written twice in the Torah, once regarding the Land of Israel and once regarding the Torah, as it is written: "The Torah was commanded to us by Moshe, a Heritage for the Congregation of Yaakov" (Devorim 33:4). This is because there is a connection between the two, for if we have Torah then we also have the Land of Israel, as it is said, "And He will give them the lands of the nations...on condition that they will observe His statutes" (Tehillim 105:44-45). 

"...And she bore him Aharon and Moshe..."  (Shemot 6:20)

Why are Aharon and Moshe mentioned here?  Since they were Prophets and rose to a very high level, they were mentioned here to tell us  that even though they were born from a human father and mother, it is still possible for flesh and blood human beings to become elevated to a very high level.  And according to the Rambam, everyone has the potential to become as elevated as Moshe Rabbeinu.  

This week's Torah Portion mentions the ages of a father, son, and grandson, as well as the marriages of a father, son, and grandson.

The three ages of a father, son, and grandson written about in this week's Torah Portion are:  Levi who lived for 137 years, Kahat who lived for 133 years, and Amram who lived for 137 years.  The three marriages of a father, son, and grandson written about in this week's Torah Portion are:  Amram with Yocheved, Aharon with Elisheva, and Elazar with the daughter of Putiel.

"Moshe was 80 years old and Aharon was 83 years old..." (Shemot 7:7)

Why did the Torah mention the ages of Moshe and Aharon?  This is to teach us that even though they were so old, they still made a great effort with the wonders and the plagues for the sake of the people of Israel.  (from Seforno)

"And Aharon took Elisheva the daughter of Aminadav, sister of Nachshon, as his wife..." (Shemot 6:23)

In the Gemara Baba Batra and the Midrash it is brought, from the fact that it is stated that she was the daughter of Aminadav, don't I know that she was the sister of Nachshon?  What is the Torah teaching us by telling us that she was the the sister of Nachshon?  This teaches that someone who marries a woman needs to check out her brothers, and there are those that add that the Roshei Teivot (first letters) of the words  "Aishet Chayil Mi Yimtza" (Mishlei 31:10, in English "A woman of valour who can find?") spell the Hebrew word "Achim" (in English: "Brothers").

"This is Aharon and Moshe..." (Shemot 6:26)

Rashi explains that this tells you that they were considered of equal significance.  But apparently, behold, isn't it written that "there has not arisen another prophet in Israel like Moshe" (Devorim 34:10)? The simple explanation to reconcile this is that no one else arose like Moshe, only in regards to the level of Moshe in prophesy.  In addition, there are those that explain that in truth Moshe and Aharon were considered of equal significance, but since Moshe was younger than Aharon by three years and in spite of that reached the level of Aharon, therefore no one arose like Moshe.  And there are those that say that the meaning of saying that they were of equal significance was that in their own eyes they were equals and neither of them held himself to be greater than the other in anything.

"...provide a wonder for yourselves..."  (Shemot 7:9)

What is the meaning of "for yourselves" in this verse?  The explanation is that those who perform magic tricks do so only for others but not for themselves, since they know that it is only a matter of deception.  And that is why Pharoah said, "provide a wonder for yourselves", perform a wonder that would also be for yourselves a wonder. 

The Miracle of the Staff

In the miracle of the staff was a miracle within a miracle, because after the snake returned to become a staff again it swallowed up the other staffs, and also, there wasn't any visible difference in the staff after it swallowed up the other staffs.

"...And it became a serpent."  (Shemot 7:10)

Why did Moshe's staff become, specifically, a serpent, and not some other kind of creature?  This was because the Holy One Blessed Be He cut off the legs of the serpent and it cried with a loud voice that was heard throughout the world, and this was a hint to Pharoah that also he would cry out at the Exodus from Mitzrayim (Egypt), "...Rise, go out from among my people..." (Shemot 12:31), and this would be heard throughout Mitzrayim, and also the Egyptians would cry out.  (from Yonatan ben Uziel)  And there are those who explain that it was because the serpent sinned and caused Chava to sin with his tongue, and also the wicked Pharoah sinned with his tongue when he said "Who is Hashem that I should listen to His voice...I do not know Hashem" (Shemot 5:2).  And we find that everyone who speaks against Hashem, G-d forbid, is punished with the biting of serpents, as was written (in Bamidbar 21:5) "And the people spoke against Hashem and Moshe", and afterwards it is says (Bamidbar 21:6) "And Hashem sent against the people the burning serpents and they bit the people".   

"...from shortness of breath and difficult work." (Shemot 6:9)

There are two kinds of torture, one is difficult but afterwards there is a break before the next torture.  And the other is not as difficult, but it is without and stopping and resting.  And that is what is meant by "from shortness of breath and hard work".  The work with the mortar and bricks was difficult but they had a respite of a break time and resting.  The work of gathering the straw wasn't such difficult work but they forced them to do it without a break time and resting, and that was the torture referred to by "shortness of breath".  (from the Gr"a)

"...from shortness of breath..." (Shemot 6:9)

The Ohr HaChaim HaKodesh says that it's possible to explain that since they weren't Torah scholars they didn't listen, and that this was called "shortness of breath" because the Torah expands the heart of a person.

"Behold, the children of Israel didn't listen to me, so how will Pharoah listen to me?..." (Shemot 6:12)

Those who explain the Torah see a difficulty in this statement, for behold, Israel didn't listen because of difficult work and shortness of breath, as is stated explicitly in the Torah, but this reason didn't apply in the case of Pharoah.  There are those that reconcile this by saying that in truth Israel didn't listen because of difficult work and shortness of breath, but Moshe because of his humility thought that they were not listening because he had blocked lips (a speech impediment).  Therefore he said, if the children of Israel didn't listen, all the moreso Pharoh will not listen.  But the Torah's verse (Shemot 6:9) revealed the truth to us, that they didn't listen because of difficult work and shortness of breath.

"...and Pharoah also called his wise men and sorcerers..."  (Shemot 7:11)

The word "also" is superfluous, and Rabbeinu Bachya says that it comes to include the wife of Pharoah as well, for it was she that began first to call to the wise men and sorcerers.  And another explanation is given by the Chizkuni, who explains that "also" comes to include the children, that is to say, that Pharoah said that even the children of Mitzrayim could do that (i.e., that the wise men, sorcerers, and even the Egyptian children could turn a staff into a snake by means of magic tricks).

"...he has refused to send the people."  (Shemot 7:14)

One of the Kabbalists in the previous generation performed a "Sh'ailat Chalom",  a Kabbalistic method for asking the answer to a question by means of a dream.  He asked why the final redemption has not yet occurred, and the answered he received was this verse "....he has refused to send the people," (Shemot 7:14).  Since the Hebrew word for "refused" (Mai'ain) in this verse is spelled with the letters Mem, Aleph, and Nun which are the same letters which spell the word "Amen",   he understood that the reason we are not yet being redeemed is because we don't say "Amen" properly. 

A teacher asked his students,  what did the Egyptians lose in the plague of blood?

They answered him, three things -- water, fish, and money.

"And Pharoah turned and went to his house, and didn't take this to his heart either."  (Shemot 7:23)

It is written in Mishnat Rebbe Eliezer (Perek 19)  that within the house of Pharoah, the plague of blood did not take effect.  And the Meshech Chachmah  wrote regarding this, that since it has been explained that all the water that the Egyptians received for money, did not turn to blood, therefore, it must have been the case that Pharoah had given a lot of money to Moshe, who had grown up in his house.   Thus it is written "and Pharoah turned and went to his house, and didn't take this to his heart either" (Shemot 7:23).  The main thing for him was that in his own house there wasn't blood, and he didn't care about his people at all.

Why is a frog called "Tz'fardeyah" in Hebrew?

The reason is that the frogs know how to distinguish when it is morning.  The word "Tz'fardeyah" in Hebrew is composed of two words: "Tz'far" which is similar to the  word "Tzafra" (in English: "morning"), and "Deyah" (in English:  "knowledge").

The frogs performed Mesirut Nefesh, that is, they dedicated their lives to fulfill Hashem's will.

Also the song that the frogs sing every day (as recorded in Pirkei Shira) is "Baruch Sheim Kavod Malchuto L'olam Va'ed", (in English:  "Blessed is the Glorious Name of His Kingship Forever and Ever")  which is the verse which we say right after the first verse of the "Sh'ma" prayer.  This verse is also an expression of Mesirut Nefesh.

Chananiah, Mishael, and Azariah learned a "Kal V'Chomer" (a principle based on the reasoning of "all the moreso") from the frogs.

The "Kal V'Chomer" that they learned was that just as the frogs performed Mesirut Nefesh and dedicated their lives in order to enter into the ovens at Hashem's command, all the moreso, they were obligated to perform Mesirut Nefesh and give up their lives in order to sanctify Hashem's name.  It has been asked, why did they need this reasoning of "Kal V'Chomer"?  Isn't it written specifically in the Torah that one should allow himself to be killed and not transgress Hashem's will, so that it would have been obligatory for them to give up their lives?  The explanation given by the Sages is, that they had a choice, they could have fled, but they learned what to do from the frogs, because also the frogs had a choice.  The frogs could have entered other things, for example, they could have entered into food, and they didn't need to enter into a burning oven.  Nevertheless, they did enter the fire, and from this Chananiah, Mishael, and Azariah learned a "Kal V'Chomer" from the frogs.  Even though the frogs were not commanded to sanctify Hashem's name, and they had another choice, in any event they entered into the fire with Mesirut Nefesh to sanctify the name of Hashem may He be blessed.   Even all the moreso, we who are commanded to sanctify Hashem's name, should do the same.  And also, the Sages say, that those frogs who entered the fire remained alive, and the hint to that is within the verse "...only in the River shall they remain."  (Shemot 8:7)  This is because the Hebrew word 'Bay'or" which means "in the  River" in this verse, is very similar to the Hebrew word "Ba'or", "in the fire".

"...and they brought up the frogs upon the land of Mitzrayim (Egypt)."  (Shemot 8:3)

The Sages say that there was a war at that time between Kush and Mitzrayim about their borders, and the frogs established the true extent of the border of Mitzrayim, because the area in which the frogs were found was a sign indicating that the area was part of Mitzrayim.  The Egyptian magicians wanted to expand the border of Mitzrayim, and therefore the verse emphasizes that also when the magicians brought frogs they went up "upon the land of Mitzrayim", and not further than the border like they wanted.

"...for when should I entreat on your behalf, and for your servants, and for your people...And Moshe cried out to Hashem concening the frogs which He had brought upon Pharoah..." (Shemot 8:5, Shemot 8:8)

These verses present a difficulty.  Behold, the entire miracle of the plague of frogs was only in order to cause Pharoah to submit to Hashem's will, and if so why should Moshe need to increase his level of praying and entreat Hashem in order to remove the frogs?  It should have been sufficient for Moshe to say before the Holy One Blessed Be He, that there was no longer any need for the frogs because Pharoah is already submissive.  But the explanation is, that we see that after the plague was already brought about by the Holy One Blessed Be He, the plague became the natural course of events, so that it became necessary for Moshe Rabeinu to increase his level of praying so that a new miracle could be brought about and the situation could be returned to what it had been previously.  If so, there was a double miracle, the bringing of the frogs to Mitzrayim, and their removal from Mitzrayim. (from HaGaon HaRav Y. Kaminetzky ztz"kl)

"...And Moshe cried out to Hashem..."  (Shemot 8:8)

In the plague of frogs, the expression "cried out" is used, and the Siftei Chachamim explains that the person praying needs to speak loudly enough to hear what he is saying with his own ears, and the frogs were making a lot of noise.  Therefore, Moshe "cried out" so that he could hear his prayer with his own ears. 

"...the finger of Elokim..." (Shemot 8:15)

In the plague of lice, it is written "...the finger of Elokim.." (Shemot 8:15).  The Egyptian magicians were not able to produce lice because of their small size, since they were smaller than a barley seed.  The Egyptian magicians said that everything was from Hashem, and that is hinted at by the letters which spell the word "Etzba"  (the Hebrew word for finger).  These letters are Aleph, Tzadi, Beit, Ayin, and they are the Roshei Teivot (initial letters) of the Hebrew words: "A'in Tz'rich B'dikah "O'd", which means: "It is not necessary to check further".

"...all the dust of the earth became lice..."  (Shemot 8:13)

The Da'at Zekainim brings another explanation for why the Egyptian magicians were not able to produce the plague of lice, because the magicians need to be on the ground at the time of performing magic, and they were not able to to perform magic because they couldn't stand on the ground, as it is stated "all the dust of the earth became lice."  (Shemot 8:13)  This was similar to the story about Rebbe Shimon Ben Shetach and the magicians, when he raised them up from the ground, and thus was able to hang them.

"...rise up early in the morning and stand up firmly before Pharoah..." (Shemot 8:16)

What is the explanation of "stand up firmly"? Even though Moshe was humble, regarding Pharoah he didn't need to display any submissiveness, and that is the explanation of "stand up firmly", that he should stand up with his head held high.  (from the Or HaChaim)

"...And the houses of Mitzrayim shall be filled with the mixture of wild beasts and also the ground upon which they are..." (Shemot 8:17)

The Sages say that there is an animal which is called a Yedoni, and there are those who say it is also called Adnei Hasadeh, and that this creature is connected to the ground by means of a sort of pipe whose length is about 50 Amot, and thus it draws its nourishment from the ground, and if the pipe is torn it dies.  [See Rav Ovadia of Bartenura on Kallaim Perek 8 Mishneh 45]  This animal came to Mitzrayim with a clump of ground that its pipe was drawing its nourishment from.  And that is hinted at in this verse "...and the houses of Mitzrayim shall be filled with the mixture of wild beasts and also the ground upon which they are..." (Shemot 8:17)  In addition, there are those who say that also regarding the rest of the animals, that the animals brought dirt from their original  locations, so that they would feel at home and would be able to attack, since the nature of animals is that when they are not in their natural locations  they are afraid to attack.

"...and also the ground upon which they are..." (Shemot 8:17)

There are those who explain, that the Egyptians wanted to flee to the wilderness of Mitzrayim, since they thought that the animals abandoned the wilderness and arrived at the settled areas of Mitzrayim.  But the Holy One Blessed Be He caused the mixture of wild beasts to also be present in the wilderness.   And that is the meaning of "and also the ground upon which they are..."  (Shemot 8:17), that also the areas of land where the animals were usually found, were also full of animals.

"...stand up firmly..."  (Shemot 8:16)

It is written in the Midrash that in the entrance to the house of Pharoah there was a low opening, and everyone that entered needed to bend down, and there was an idol there.  The result was that everyone that entered needed to bow down to the idol.  But when Yaakov entered, and also Moshe and Aharon, the opening became lifted up so  that they didn't need to bend down.  And that is why it says (regarding Moshe) "...stand up firmly...", and regarding Yaakov it says "...and he stood him before Pharoah..." (Bereisheet 47:7).

"He that feared the word of Hashem...And he who didn't pay attention to the word of Hashem"  (Shemot 9:20-21)

Why doesn't it say the opposite of the one who feared the word of Hashem, that is to say "and he who didn't fear the word of Hashem"?  The explanation is that the Evil Inclination doesn't wait until a man has no fear at all of the word of Hashem, G-d forbid.  But when the Evil Inclination sees some weakness it already arrives at that point.  And that is why it says "who didn't pay attention", he just had a small weakness.  Also it is written in Mishlei (23:5):  "Should you blink your eyes at it, it is not here".  At the blink of an eye it already comes. If he finds the smallest thing, the Evil Inclination already  finds a place to cause the person to stumble.

"He that feared the word of Hashem..." (Shemot 9:20)

There are those who explain, why is it written "He that feared the 'word' of Hashem",  rather than saying "He that feared Hashem"?   The reason is that they were afraid of the plagues (which were things that were brought about by the word of Hashem), but they didn't really have true fear of Hashem.

"...Hashem is the Righteous One, and I, and my people are the wicked ones." (Shemot 9:27)

It is written in the Midrash about the phrase "Hashem is the Righteous One, and I" (Shemot 9:27), that Pharoah's meaning was that he also was righteous, only his people, they were the wicked ones.   And it is written in the Midrash that when the decrees were made against the Jews, Pharoah didn't agree to it at first, and they removed him from his throne for three months, until he agreed to it.   And that is why it says "and my people are the wicked ones" (Shemot 9:27), they are the wicked ones.  And in truth, wicked people always blame other people, but not themselves.

Rashi brings the Midrash Tanchuma to explain the significance and ordering of the plagues

Just as in a war, first they destroy the water supply, and that accounts for the plague of blood.  And afterwards they blow ram's horns and trumpets to frighten the enemy, and that is the plague of frogs, etc.  There are other reasons written in the Midrash as well.

Rosh Chodesh Sh'vat

Rosh Chodesh Sh'vat is mentioned in the Torah at the beginning of the Torah Portion of Devorim "And it came to pass in the fortieth year in the eleventh month on the first day of the month...Moshe began to explain the Torah..." (Devorim 1:3-5), and he spoke until the seventh of Adar.  It is written in the Holy Books that this day, Rosh Chodesh Sh'vat, is a propitious time to pray for understanding of the Torah.  

Positive messages from the name of the month of Sh'vat

The name of the month of Shvat is spelled with the Hebrew letters "Shin", "Beit", and "Tet".  These letters form the Roshei Teivot (initial letters) of the Hebrew phrase: "Sh'omrom B'irchom "T'aharom", (in English:  "Guard them, Bless them, Purify them").   Also they form the Roshei Teivot of the Hebrew phrase: "Sh'nishma B'surot T'ovot"  (in English:  "That we should hear good tidings").   Another hint about good tidings from the name of this month is the phrase from Tehillim (105:37), "V'ain B'SHVAT'av Kosheil"  (in English: "and there was no one among His tribes who stumbled".  Note: The connection between the name of the month and this particular verse from Tehillim, is that the three letters that spell the name of the month of Sh'vat are the same three letters that spell the Hebrew word for "Tribe".)

A "Simcha" Every Two Weeks

The Rebbe said to his students that every two weeks there is a Simcha (happy occasion): Rosh Chodesh Sh'vat, Tu B'shvat, Rosh Chodesh Adar, Purim, Rosh Chodesh Nisan, Pesach, Rosh Chodesh Iyar, the 14th of Iyar which is Pesach Shaini, the 18th of Iyar which is Lag Ba'omer, Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the Chag of Shavuot.  May Hashem help us so that all of the year will be happy.

The Torah Portion of Va'eira has 121 verses.We take out two Torah Scrolls. In the first we read the weekly Torah Portion.  In the second we read the Maftir, in the Torah Portion of Pinchas from "Uviyom HaShabbat" until "V'niskoh".  Haftora: "Hashamayim Kisi" (Yeshayahu 66).

This Shabbat is Rosh Chodesh Sh'vat. 

We say Borchi Nafshi. 

May you all have a  light-filled and happy Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh.  
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov.

L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772

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