Parashat Va’era

Right Then and Now / seize the moment By Rabbi Rabbi Frand

We Knew It Was Right Then, And It Is Right Now!

In this week’s Parsha, we find the posuk [verse], “And G-d spoke to Moshe and Aaron and commanded them regarding the Children of Israel and regarding Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to take the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt” [Shmot 6:13].

There is an interesting Talmud Yerushalmi in tractate Rosh Hashana, which infers from this pasuk that while still in Egypt, G-d commanded Moshe to give over the Mitzvah of Freeing Slaves to the Jewish people [Shmot 21:2-6]. When the pasuk tells us that Moshe and Aaron were to command the Children of Israel, it means that they would be delivering a command for the future: when they live in the land of Israel, and they have Jewish slaves, they should send them out to freedom after 6 years.

The question is obvious. Why is this an appropriate time to tell them about ‘shiluach avadim (sending slaves (to freedom)?’ They are slaves themselves. They don’t own anything. They certainly don’t own other slaves. Is it appropriate to give a person a mitzvah when he is years and years away from the ability to ever fulfill that command?

The answer, says the Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, zt”l(,Rav Chaim Shmulevitz) is that there was no more appropriate time to tell them about ‘shiluach avadim’ than this very moment. Now they are slaves; now they know the feeling of having no freedom; now they know what it was to have a master.

It is a difficult thing to send away a slave. When one has a worker who has worked for him for six years, it is not easy to send him away. It will be very difficult to fulfill that mitzvah. If G-d would have given them that mitzvah later on, when they already had their own slaves, they would have heard it in a different fashion.

One needs to hear something at a time when he will be most sensitive to it. The Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva said that one has to “seize the moment.” There are moments in life which must be grabbed and seized. One has to grab the occasion, because it is passing. Now is the time to tell them about sending away poor slaves. Now it will make an impression. Now it will be meaningful.

This lesson of seizing the moment is something that we have to do in our daily lives. There is an unbelievable Gemara in Sanhedrin [20a] which explains the pasuk [Mishlei 31:29] “Many daughters have acted with valor, but you have exceeded them all.” The Gemara says: ‘Many daughters have acted with valor’ refers to Yosef, the son of Yaakov, who overcame temptation with the wife of Potifar; but ‘you have exceeded them all’ refers to Palti ben Layish. The deed of Palti ben Layish far exceeded Yosef HaTzadik’s accomplishment.

What did Palti ben Layish do? The Talmud relates that King Shaul had a daughter who was married to David, but Shaul argued that based on a technicality she was not married to David and she legally had no husband [despite the fact that according to halacha, David was right and King Shaul was wrong]. Shaul took this daughter and gave her as a wife to Palti ben Layish.

Palti ben Layish was faced with the following situation: He could not refuse King Shaul; he had to take her as a wife. Yet, he knew very well that this was a married woman. There he was in the bedroom, the first night, with a woman who was an ‘eishes ish (married woman).’ What does he do in order that he should succeed in withstanding the temptation? The Gemara says that he took a sword and stuck it in the ground and said “Anyone who ‘occupies himself with this matter’ will be stabbed by the sword.” The Gemara goes on to say that because of this tremendous act that he did, he had the help of Heaven and he lived for years with this woman and never once did he touch her. G-d saved him from sin.

What was so magnificent about the act of sticking the sword into the ground? Why did he merit this unbelievable “siyata d’ishmaya” [help from Heaven] that for years he never touched her? What was so significant about sticking a sword in the ground?

The answer is that on that first night, Palti ben Layish knew what was right and what was wrong. On that first night, he had his priorities straight. On that first night, he knew that she was a married woman and that she was off limits. But, he also knew that as time went on, as the days and the months and the years passed, those feelings would dissipate. He would come up with a ‘heter(permissive ruling)’ — he would find an excuse. He would do something.

Therefore, he said to himself, “I need a reminder; I have to seize the moment.” There are moments when one does not rationalize, when one can clearly see the truth. Those are the moments to seize as our permanent reminders.

This, says the Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, is something that we must do so many times in life. There are many occasions when we will be put into situations where in the beginning we will know what’s right and what’s wrong. But, later on, there will be considerations — financial considerations, professional considerations, all sorts of rationalizations. How do we know what is right and what is wrong? We have to seize the moment. We have to stick that symbolic sword in the ground and say to ourselves “I know what’s right and what’s wrong, and I am not going to let my morals slip; I am not going to let my standards slide!”

That is the lesson of Palti ben Layish. And that is the reason why G-d tells the Jews about freeing slaves, right here, when they are still slaves and they are sensitive to what is right and what is wrong.

We have to grab the opportunity so that when the time comes, when we have temptations and questions, we will always be able to look back and say “We knew it was right then — and we know it is right now!”

simcha corner

Three guys, a Canadian, Osama Bin Laden and Uncle Sam are out walking together one day. They come across a lantern and a Genie pops out of it. “I will give each of you one wish, that’s three wishes total,” says the Genie. The Canadian says, “I am a farmer, my dad was a farmer, and my son will also farm. I want the land to be forever fertile in Canada.” With a blink of the Genie’s eye, ‘POOF’ the land in Canada was forever made fertile for farming. Osama Bin Laden was amazed, so he said, “I want a wall around Afghanistan, so that no infidels, Jews or Americans can come into our precious, sacred land.” Again, with a blink of the Genie’s eye, ‘POOF’ there was a huge wall around Afghanistan. “Uncle Sam” (a former civil engineer), asks, “I’m very curious. Please tell me more about this wall.” The Genie explains, “Well, it’s about 15,000 feet high, 500 feet thick and completely surrounds the country; nothing can get in or out — virtually impenetrable.”

Uncle Sam says, “Fill it with water.

facts of life: take this serious

One of the amazing features of man is his ability to adapt to practically any and all situations. When facing tragedy one often feels that one can no longer go on. Yet the successful lives that so many holocaust survivors have built testify to the ability, even need, to move forward notwithstanding that so much has been forever lost.

Financial ruin, divorce, death of close ones are unable to deter man from moving forward and making the best of his or her situation. Those who cannot move on are doomed to a life of pain and misery. Yet this ability to accept our fate has its negative side. We all too willingly accept the world as is and spend little effort trying to change it. People who move to a big city and experience violent crime are often shocked and determined to fight back. Yet more often than not this initial feeling is turned to resignation and one learns what areas are to be avoided for personal safety. We unfortunately have the ability to tolerate the intolerable.

While the Jewish people were welcomed with open arms to Egypt (and many other countries throughout our history) after a few years of tranquility Jewish life started to become very difficult (as it has in so many of the countries that Jews have inhabited over time). Taxes, hard labor, even murder. Yet amazingly the Jews accepted their new position rather calmly. Not a single a word of protest by the Jews is described by the Torah. Yes, after the death of Pharaoh “the Israelites were still groaning because of their subjugation” (2:23) but only “G-d heard their cries”. There was no public manifestation of their desire for change, just resignation to their situation. When word of the mission of Moshe and Aaron reached the slaves “they believed”, yet they did not act on that belief and their miserable conditions continued. And when Moshe’s first meeting with Pharaoh ended in failure the Jewish people blamed not Pharaoh but Moshe for their increased troubles. “You have destroyed our reputation with Pharaoh and his advisors. You have placed a sword to kill us in their hands” (5:21). They had become so accepting of their condition that those who tried to improve it were viewed as the enemy.

“Therefore, G-d tells Moshe, say to the Israelites in my name, I am G-d, I will take you away from your forced labor in Egypt (sivlot Mitzraim) and free you from their slavery. I will liberate you… and I will be to you as a G-d, You will know that I am G-d your Lord… I will bring you to the land (6:6-8).” The word sivlot come from the same root as savlanut meaning patience, acceptance. The tragedy of Egypt was that the Jews accepted their situation, they were in no hurry to actively change it. G-d therefore had to first and foremost remove those sivlot. Only when we are unwilling to tolerate the terrible can we be liberated. Only when we fight for positive change will be able to accept G-d as our Lord. Only when we are determined to continue working despite the inevitable setbacks can we inherit the land.


While we may be physically free the sivlot mitzraim hold their grip on so many. Many of us have learned all to well to accept our fate but have yet to learn that we must and can change our fate and that of the world around us. We just have to try. It might just work.

By Rabbi Jay Kelman

something to think about

Next time remind yourself that G-d knew it would happen

At the beginning of the this week parsha it says “And HaShem spoke to Moshe, saying, “I am HaShem. Speak to Pharaoh, King of Egypt, everything that I speak to you.” Moshe felt he was unworthy, and pointed out that he had a speech impediment and that it was unlikely Pharaoh would listen to him. Despite Moshe’s protests, HaShem directed him to go to Pharaoh and give him G-d’s messages. We find that the Torah reiterates HaShem identifying Himself with the name of HaShem, spelled yud, hey, vov and hey, but pronounced as if it were written aleph, daled, nun, yud. He tells Moshe that He did not reveal this name to Avraham, Yitzchak or Yaakov, but He is revealing it to Moshe. What is so unique about this name that the Torah keeps repeating that HaShem identified Himself this way to Moshe? The name HaShem is spelled with the same letters as the words Haya, Hoveh, and Yihiyeh – past, present, and future. This is to identify that HaShem is beyond time, has always existed, and will always exist. Furthermore, when HaShem makes a decision, it incorporates all the factors of history (even the history that hasn’t happened yet!) Therefore, when Moshe asked HaShem why the servitude had gotten worse since he went to get the Jews out of Egypt, and offered the insight that Pharaoh would likely reject his overtures, HaShem told him, “I know.” “I am beyond time, and I know that Pharaoh will not listen to you. I knew when I sent you that things would get worse before they got better, and this was all part of My plan. I know you have a speech impediment, for it was I who gave it to you. I know everything you will try to tell Me and it has already been factored into My decisions. When HaShem told something to the patriarchs, they understood that their own reasoning paled in comparison to HaShem’s omniscient, knowing everything view of the universe. They trusted Him and that is something HaShem longed for in later generations. This is why He never revealed Himself to them with the name of HaShem that implies His existence across time: because He never needed to! The next time you think that something happens that was unplanned, or you think it’s a terrible disaster, remind yourself that G-d knew it would happen, and He wanted it to happen because when you look back, perhaps even if it takes you very far into the future, you’ll realize it was not only for a purpose, but it was good.

By R’ Dovid Winiarz zt”l

Parsha Summary 

First Aliyah: This week’s portion opens with G‑d’s response to Moshe(continuation from the end of last week’s reading). G‑d told Moshe that He revealed Himself to the Patriarchs and established with them a covenant to give them the land of Canaan. And now the time has arrived to fulfill His promises. G‑d told Moshe to tell the Israelites that He has heard their cries, and He will now deliver them from Egypt and bring them to the Promised Land. Moshe relayed the message, but their unbearable workload prevented them from accepting his words. G‑d then told Moshe to instruct Pharaoh to send the Israelites from his land. Moshe protested: “If the children of Israel did not listen to me, how then will Pharaoh listen to me? I have a speech impediment?”

Second Aliyah: The Torah takes a brief interlude and traces the lineage of Moshe and Aaron, listing their family trees.

Third Aliyah: G‑d tells Moshe to go speak to Pharaoh, and Aaron should serve as his spokesman. G‑d informed him that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart and he will refuse to release the Israelites. At that point G‑d will “multiply His wonders” in Egypt, until the Egyptians will recognize that G‑d is the L-rd.

Fourth Aliyah: Moshe and Aaron appeared before Pharaoh. As per G‑d’s instructions, Aaron cast his staff on the ground, and it turned into a serpent. When Pharaoh’s magicians did the same with their staffs, Aaron’s staff swallowed theirs. Pharaoh remained unimpressed—and so the plagues commenced. Plague One: Aaron smote the Nile with his staff. The river and all the waters in Egypt turned into blood, and all the fish perished. Plague Two: Aaron stretched his staff upon the Nile and droves of frogs emerged. They covered the land, entered all the houses, even the ovens and kneading bowls. Pharaoh summoned Moshe and Aaron and begged them to pray to G‑d to remove the plague, after which he would release the Israelites.

Fifth Aliyah: Moshe prayed to G‑d, and the frogs all died. Egypt reeked from the odor of rotting frogs, and Pharaoh reneged on his promise. Plague Three: Aaron smote the earth with his staff, and swarms of lice attacked Egypt, covering man and beast. Even Pharaoh’s magicians were amazed by this, and informed Pharaoh that this is the “finger of G‑d.” Plague Four: G‑d dispatched Moshe to warn Pharaoh that his land will be infested by a mixture of noxious animals. Only the land of Goshen, where the Israelites lived, would be spared.

Sixth Aliyah: The mixture of wild beasts descended upon Egypt, destroying the entire land with the exception of Goshen. Pharaoh called Moshe and Aaron and offered to allow the Israelites freedom to serve G‑d whilst still in Egypt. When Moshe rejected this offer, Pharaoh capitulated and offered to release the Israelites if only the plague came to an end. Moshe prayed, the plague ended, and Pharaoh reneged on his promise again. Plague Five: all the Egyptians’ cattle suddenly died; none of the Israelites’ animals were affected. Plague Six: Moshe and Aaron took handfuls of furnace soot and threw them heavenward. The soot descended, covered the entire Egypt, infecting all its inhabitants with painful boils. G‑d sent Moshe to Pharaoh with a message: Just as G‑d wiped out all the Egyptian cattle, He could have easily slain Pharaoh and all his people too. “But, for this [reason] I have allowed you to survive, in order to show you My strength and to declare My name all over the earth!”

Seventh Aliyah: Plague Seven: Moshe warned Pharaoh that a catastrophic hail would descend upon the land. Man or beast that would remain in the field would be killed by the hailstones. Moshe stretched his rod toward heaven and hail poured down—with fire blazing inside the icy hail. Aside for damage to humans and animal, the hail destroyed all vegetation and trees. Pharaoh summoned Moshe and Aaron. “I have sinned this time,” he declared. “The Lord is the righteous One, and I and my people are the guilty ones. Entreat the Lord, and let it be enough of God’s thunder and hail, and I will let you go…” Moshe prayed. The hail stopped. And Pharaoh changed his mind yet again.