Thursday, January 11, 2018



A beggar once knocked on the door of Baron Rothschild to request financial assistance. The Baron was in a particularly sociable mood, and good-naturedly asked the beggar what he would do if he had all his money. The beggar’s eyes widened, “If I had the Baron’s money, I wouldn’t be going around collecting from door to door like I am now. Oh no! If I had your money, I would have a beautiful horse-drawn chariot that would take me around town when I would go collecting from door to door.”

Hashem instructed Moshe to appear before Pharaoh and instruct him to liberate the Jewish slaves. Moshe replied that he was an unworthy candidate to be G-d’s representative, because of his speech impediment. He countered that if the Jewish people couldn’t hearken to his message of hope, how would he be able to convince Pharaoh that he had to free the entire nation?  
After the Torah records Moshe’s concern, it uses twenty verses to relate the entire lineage of Moshe, beginning with the lineage of Reuven and Shimon, then continuing with Moshe’s ancestor, Levi. Only after completing Moshe’s lineage, and subsequently repeating Moshe’s concern, does the Torah relate that Hashem replied to Moshe that indeed Aharon would be the liaison between Moshe and Pharaoh.
Why the seemingly unconnected digression?
At the beginning of Parshas Vaera, Hashem related to Moshe the four expressions of redemption:
“Therefore, say to B’nei Yisroel that I am Hashem. I will take you out from beneath the סבלת מצרים burdens of Mitzrayim, and I will save you… and I will redeem you… and I will take you to Me for a nation… and you will know that I am Hashem who is taking you out from beneath the burdens of Mitzrayim.”[2]
The four expressions of redemption symbolized a four-step progression towards redemption. Each expression represented another, deeper level towards eventual salvation. The fourth expression, “and I will take you to Me for a nation”, refers to the giving of the Torah, when the purpose of the redemption was actualized.
Why would the nation only “know” that Hashem took them out from under the burdens of Egypt after the Torah was given? Why wouldn’t they realize it immediately after the exodus, or even as it was unfolding?
The gemara[3] explains the words “(And you will know that I am Hashem) המוציא אתכם - who is taking you out from beneath the burdens of Mitzrayim”, that Hashem was telling B’nei Yisroel: “when I will eventually take you out of Egypt, I will perform for you miraculous things, so that you will know that I am the One who took you out of Egypt.
From the gemara too. it is apparent that only after Mattan Torah, would the nation understand that Hashem alone took them out of Mitzrayim. Why?
Harav Yosef Nechemia Kurnitzer zt’l[4] notes that Rashi explains the words, “(I will take you out from beneath the) סבלת מצרים”, to mean that Hashem would take the nation out from “the yoke of the burden of Mitzrayim”. In other words, whereas סבלת normally simply means burden/hard labor, here Hashem was promising to remove them from being subservient to the bidding of Egypt at all.
 When Hashem portended to Avrohom about the imminent exile during the B'ris Bain Habsorim, He told Avrohom about two separate components of the exile. The first was that, “they will be strangers in a land that is not theirs”[5]. The second component was regarding the severity of the enslavement - “And they would enslave them and afflict them.”[6]
Being subservient and under the "סבלת" of another, having to answer to a higher authority, is not necessarily a tragedy. In fact, there are many people who lack leadership qualities, and would not do well as entrepreneurs, or being self-employed. They may be excellent employees who can maintain the structure of a company already set up, but they would be unable to initiate it on their own. 
Being subject to the סבלת of a higher authority becomes a tragedy when the one who is subservient could do better, if he wasn’t limited by the shackles of submissiveness to a limiting overseer. What’s even more tragic, is when he doesn’t even recognize how much his potential greatness is being stifled. He feels content with his situation and is fearful to ‘rock the boat’, so he fails to recognize the potential he has. He has no vision or aspiration to accomplish more than what he is doing.
Koheles[7] states: “I have seen slaves on horses, and nobles walking on foot like slaves.” One’s socioeconomic status does not necessarily define who he is, or even his status. A person may come across a windfall of money and resources, but essentially, he is still enslaved to his former life as an impoverished person. He maintains those old attitudes and anxieties, despite the fact that he now has money. He is a rich slave, stuck in the morass of a slave mentality.
That is the message that the beggar conveyed to Rothchild. He couldn’t even relate to having wealth. In his mind, having money would enable him to collect in style, but he failed to realize that if he had the money he wouldn’t need to collect at all.
That attitude is the tragedy of "סבלת" - when one cannot even fathom a greater life or higher ambitions.
While they were slaves in Egypt, the nation couldn’t recognize the depth of the exile. They only saw what was surrounding them – pain, affliction, humiliation, and endless servitude. They didn’t have the ability to realize the deeper tragedy – that they were a nation with an incredible heritage and destiny, who were now trapped in a suffocating exile. Not only were they being subjected to inhumane physical torture, but they were princes treated worse than vermin.
Moshe recognized the depth of the exile, and asked Hashem, that if the Jewish people themselves were not cognizant of their own greatness, how could he possibly convince Pharaoh of the full severity of his crime, enslaving a noble people?!
Before Hashem replied to Moshe, the Torah lists the esteemed lineage of Moshe. That itself is part of the response. It was as if Hashem was telling Moshe that he (Moshe) was aware of his privileged ancestry, because it was taught to him. Therefore, that was his mission regarding the Jewish people as well. He had to convey to them that they are descended from the princes of the world – the patriarchs and the twelve tribes, so they could recognize their own greatness. 
Once Pharaoh would see that his slaves have more of a respect for themselves, they would begin to feel more restless languishing in their persecuted state, and Pharaoh would invariably recognize that this situation would not continue as it was. At that point, the only way Pharaoh was able to maintain the servitude was because G-d hardened his heart, and compelled him to do so.

The truth is that the nation could not have a full appreciation of their inherent greatness until they achieved the ultimate accomplishment – accepting the Torah on Har Sinai. Only then were they able to fully appreciate the extent of the tragedy of the exile they had just been redeemed from.
That is the profundity of what Hashem told Moshe: “I will take you to Me for a nation… and you will know that I am Hashem who is taking you out from beneath the(סבלת)  burdens of Mitzrayim.” Only when Hashem “took them for a nation” at Sinai, were they able to realize the extent of סבלת מצרים.

In life, we often sell ourselves short. We may have capabilities and capacities to accomplish more things in avodas Hashem and our spiritual pursuits. The problem is that we too, are shackled by סבלת - the burdens of our exile, which convince us that the ultimate pursuit is for comfort and complacency.
It is only when we push ourselves beyond our comfort zone, and drag ourselves to our own Har Sinais of accomplishment, that we can look back and realize just how tragic our situation had been, and how far we have come.

 “I have seen slaves on horses”
“You will know that I am Hashem who is taking you out”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vaera 5777; based on a lecture by Rav Aryeh Lebowitz (
[2] Shemos 6:6-7
[3] Berachos 38a
[4] A great scholar, he was also the last Rav of Crackow before World War II; he died in 1933
[5] Bereishis 15:12
[6] Ibid
[7] 10:7

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Light of Rav Shteinman and The Light of Chanukah

The Light of Rav Shteinman and The Light of Chanukah
Rabbi Daniel Staum
Transcribed by:
Shaindy Grinberg

 It's just a few hours before the great yontif of Chanukah haba'ah aleinu letovah.  We're all very excited undoubtedly.  The opportunity to say shehechianu and to fulfill this very special mitzvah for the very first time, to say hallel tomorrow, al hanisim.  And as was just mentioned, there's a tremendous bitterness that has enveloped Klal Yisrael with the loss of one of the gedolei hador, if not that gadol hador, Rav Aharon Yehudah Leib Shteinman, zecher tzaddik lebrachah.  He lived 103 years on this earth and he's no longer here. 

I am not worthy to say the least to say divrei hespedim about such a gaon, but bezchus hatzibur hopefully we can say something that will give us a little bit of a hachanah for this great yontif and also to try to take some chizuk from who this incredible person was.  We can maybe get a glimpse. 

Let me begin with a story, going back to the days in Europe when the Jews would live on the land of the poritz.  The poritz was the landowner.  He owned a large plot of land and the Jew paid him rent.  He used to have a store or a hotel or a tavern, whatever it was, to pay the rent every month.  Basically, the tenant, the Jew, was completely at the mercy of the poritz, completely at the mercy of the poritz.  For years Moishele did very well, baruch Hashem.  He was able to pay his rent on time and he kept the tavern going.  Vayehi hayom that they built a main road just off where he was and no longer did travelers follow the road to his tavern.  It didn't go by there anymore.  Things became rough, and rougher, and for the first time in his life he didn't have the money to pay the poritz, and he begged for a first month, a second month, a third month, but he knew that that was it.  If he couldn't pay now after pushing it off six months and being way back over his head, the poritz would kill him and make his wife and his children into slaves.  It was a disaster.  There was no one to turn to.  There was nothing to do.  So he decided that he has only one recourse.  He's going to take off.  He's going to flee for his life with his family. 

The poritz went up north for a few days to some spa and he figured he has plenty of time and by the time the poritz gets back and sees that he's gone, he'll be long gone.  He packs up.  It takes some time.  They pack up everything they could pack up onto the wagon, put the children on the wagon and they set off.  On the way things are going fine for a while until they see in the distance the unmistakable carriage of the poritz.  His heart sank and his mind began to race.  What in the world is he going to tell the poritz when he comes and he sees him with all his stuff and his children.  Be'ezras Hashem before minchah at the end of the shmooze I'll share with you what he said. 

Tonight we begin reciting al hanisim im yertze Hashem many times, 24 times in the last but much more with mussaf on Shabbos and rosh chodesh and bentching.  If you forget al hanisim, you don't go back.  You don't repeat shemoneh esrei or bentching, but you have lost out on the kevius, on what the yontif is, the hallel vehoda'ah.  Hoda'ah according to Rashi at least is al hanisim.  In some yeshivos where they daven a "half shemoneh esrei" where they just go straight into kedushah for whatever reason, on Chanukah in many of those yeshivos, they will daven the full shemoneh esrei so they can say al hanisim betzibur.

There is a word that comes up four times in the Chanukah al hanisim.  That word is gadol.  Bimei Matisyahu ben Yochanan kohen gadol and then towards the end ulecha, and to You, Hashem, asisa shem gadol vekadosh beolamecha, You made for yourself a great and holy name.  Uleamcha Yisrael, and for Your nation Klal Yisrael, asisa teshuah gedolah, a great salvation and we end off vekavu shemonas yemei Chanukah eilu lehodos ulehallel leshimcha hagadol, they enacted these eight days of Chanukah to praise and to thank Your great name.

Gadol, a lot of gadol.  What is a gadol?  We just lost a gadol.  Gedulah is inextricably connected to Chanukah.  What is the gedulah?  What is gadol?

I heard a beautiful thought in the name of Rabbi Soleveitchik, zeh hakatan gadol yehiyeh.  This is the katan, he should become a gadol.  Does that mean simply biologically?  Now he's a baby who can't take care of himself and needs his parents.  He'll get older. 

He said a beautiful vort.  There's a yesod, I believe it comes from Rav Tzadok, maybe even earlier, that if you want to know the real definition of something, look at the first time that word is used in the Torah.  Where is the first time you find gadol and katan in the Torah?  By the sun and the moon on the fourth day of creation.  Es hamaor hagadol lememsheles hayom, the great light, the gadol, to rule, to dominate by day.  Ve'es hamaor hakatan, and the small light, lememsheles halaylah, to dominate at night. 

Where does the moon get its light from?  The moon has no inherent light.  The moon doesn't have light of its own.  The moon merely takes in light from the sun and reflects it.  That's what we see.  We only see the light.  Whatever light the moon gets, that's what we see.  That's what it gives off. 

The sun is an inherent being of light.  The sun has its own light that it gives.  It's an endless supply of light. 

A katan is someone who reflects.  Whatever is put into it, it gives back.  We know how impressionable young children are and even when we get a little bit older.  What comes in is what we give off.  A gadol is someone who is a being of light, a being of greatness that can give off, an endless flow of giving.  Zeh hakatan, right now this child is helpless.  Whatever we put into the child, that's the only thing the child has.  Gadol yehiyeh.  We hope that one day the child will grow up and be able to give off his own light, to be a help to others, to be a chizuk for others. 

When we talk about a tzaddik we call him a gadol.  He radiates from within.  He has built up such a reservoir of greatness, of Torah greatness and middos, working on himself, that he gives off.  That's a gadol.  Someone who gives off from that endless flow of light.

Rav Aharon Yehudah Leib Shteinman zecher tzaddik lebrachah epitomized that.  A person who had so little it's shocking.  There were interviews done a few years ago.  People who went to his home and they couldn't get over it.  He had nothing.  I just read there were times that he had thousands of dollars in his pocket from the tzedakah organizations that he ran and it meant nothing to him except for the fact that it was for tzedakah.  People offered him.  He had a bed that he got from the Israeli Agency when he first made aliyah when he was first married, 70, 80 years.  Only at the end of his life when he was very sick they put in a hospital bed in his house, but until then?  He didn't care.  He wasn't interested.  It meant nothing to him.  He was a person that only lived for others.  People lined up.  People packed into the hallway outside his home.  If you ever had that experience, I'll get back to it im yertze Hashem soon, but I went with my son two years ago.  I had the zechus to get a brachah for him right after his bar mitzvah and the person who took us around, who got us in, he wove his way in and went inside.  There was a crowd of people.  You couldn't breathe.  It's a small area outside his apartment in the building.  It went all the way back to the steps, all the way back to the door going outside.  He says come on, let's go.  I'm not Israeli.  I don't know how to do that.  Over the people he reaches out and grabs my hand.  I'm holding my son.  We were just pushing through and pulling through.  Eventually people moved over a little bit and we got in.  He was a person who people lined up to meet.  Nothing of himself.  He didn’t care.  He wasn't interested.  He lived for Torah.  He lived to give.  A gadol.

He was a person who when I was younger I never heard of him.  I'm sure in Bnei Brak everyone knew who he was, but he wasn't a person who was well known until he was old enough that many people are not in this world any more, maybe in his 80s.  When Rav Elyashiv was niftar he came out even more.  He didn't care about anything until afterwards he became recognized as a gadol hador and he was told by other gedolei Yisrael you have to step up.  He was 90 years old.  He was in America and many places on one of these missions to give chizuk.  I remember years ago he went with the Gerrer Rebbe and he was very weak, extremely weak.  He was really very, very, very weak.  A very dangerous situation and the doctors worked on him and brought him back.  His main doctor said over, he said, you see?    Other doctors said give up.  He's 90.  Leave him alone.  These last 13 years of his life what he gave to Klal Yisrael may be more than he gave in his entire 90 years until then.  Not more of himself, but because Klal Yisrael recognized who he was.  He was a person who not only had arichas yamim, but he had amazing health.  Until last year the first day of Chanukah he had problems and it started from there.  Until then no hearing aids even until his dying day, no glasses.  Amazing.  The doctors asked him a year ago when he came to the hospital extremely weak at death's door and we were zocheh, I'm sure it's through Klal Yisrael's tefilos, to keep him for another year, mamash a year, they asked him what medicines are you on?  102!  What medicines are you on?  Klum.  He said one thing that he takes sometimes but klum.  For your heart?  Blood thinners?  Klum, klum, klum, nothing.  No medicines.  Zero.  They said that when they put him on antibiotics last year they put him on a child's dosage because it was so effective because he never took antibiotics.

But tzaddikim are not just about their Torah.  There are many people who are great in Torah that don't become gedolei Yisrael necessarily.  It's also their sensitivity, their love, their caring.  They don't live for themselves.  Who thinks this way?

Here's a story.  There was a couple who came to Rav Chaim Kanievsky, he should live and be well and continue to lead Klal Yisrael for many more years.  They bought an apartment for their daughter who was a kallah.  They said that the kallah refuses to move in.  She said that she has a few close friends who were single who lived right next to that dirah.  She said every day me and my husband are going to come walking out.  It's going to cause them pain.  She didn't want to move in.  A chashuveh kallah.  So they asked Rav Chaim.  Rav Chaim gives out answers all day long and gives advice all day long.  He said I can't answer.  Go to Rav Aharon Leib.

They went to Rav Aharon Leib and Rav Aharon Leib started asking all these questions.  How much was the price?  Where is it located?  What's going to be if you don't get this one?  He asked them a lot of questions and then finally he stopped for a few minutes.  It was quiet in the room and he was thinking and then he looked up and he said aval eich efshar lidkor es libos shel hachaveiros hamevugaros?  How can you stick the jab in their heart?  How can you do it to them?  You can't move there. 

They said okay.  They backed out.  Then they came back to Rav Aharon Leib and they said but could we buy it and rent it out to someone else until the other girls get engaged?  He said that you could do.  So the night of the chasunah one of the girls became engaged.  A few days later the other girl became engaged and they moved in.  By the time sheva brachos were over they were able to move in and they still live there today.  They told this to Rav Aharon Leib and he shook his head and said na'ar hayisi vegam zakanti, I was young and I became old, umeolam lo raisi, and I have never seen, adam shevitar vehifsid bekach, someone who gave up, who was willing to defer for others, and lost out because of it.

I took my son, as I mentioned, to Rav Shteinman two years ago for a brachah.  He had a sense of humor also.  The person who took us around said to Rav Shteinman, the bar mitzvah bachur vill a brachah far a cheshek in learnen, he wants a brachah to have a cheshek in learning.  So Rav Shteinman smiled and he said you should have, but the yetzer hara doesn’t want.  So the person said so give him a brachah that he should be able to overcome his yetzer hara.  So Rav Shteinman says ober der yetzer hara hob a shverd, he has a sword.  So the person said so give him a brachah he should be able to take away the sword.  So Rav Shteinman smiled and he said es zein gut.

The chizuk to others, the care, the sensitivity, the love.  It's interesting also, my son does some things with his right hand and with his left hand.  We had a whole shaylah about tefillin so he mentioned in his pshtel Rav Aharon Leib said about himself that he was born a leftie, but as it was many times in those days, they would train them and force them to become righties, so Rav Aharon Leib put on tefillin like a rightie on his left hand, but at the end before he took it off every day he would turn his tefillin the other way and put it on his right hand.  Also with lulav and esrog, he held it like a rightie but then he would switch it around, also for a moment before he put it down. 

One thought that I want to share with you briefly from Rav Shteinman himself, toraso that's the chiyus.  Tons of sefarim, this is from one of his sefarim.  I saw this this morning.  Yemalei pi sehilosecha, one of his many, many sefarim that he was mechaber, Ayeles Hashachar on shas and his sefarim on chumash.  A man who knew kol hatorah kulah. 

Vechoshech al penei sehom, the medrash says choshech refers to Yavan.  Each word in the passuk refers to one of the other exiles.  Choshech refers to Yavan.  And one of the strange decrees is that they made a decree kisvu lachem al keren hashor.  They obligated, the Yevanim obligated the Jews, they forced them, write on the horns of an ox that I have no portion in the G-d of Israel.  Why don’t you put up a sign outside the shul or outside of your home?  What's writing on the horns of an ox?

Rav Shteinman explained.  He said an ox represents going out to work to make a living.  They worked on the ox all day.  It's the equivalent of putting a sign in front of your office.  When you go out to make a living so people think when I'm in yeshivah, when I'm davening, when I'm learning, that's one thing.  I go out to work?  Nature.  There's a force of nature.  That was Yavan.  There's nature.  Ein li chelek be'elokei Yisrael, when I'm in the work field I don't have a portion in the G-d of Israel.  Here it depends how hard I work.  It depends how well I do. 

What's the victory of the Chashmonaim over the Yevanim?  Nature is not the ultimate force.  There's a G-d who runs the world.  There's a Hakadosh Baruch Hu who runs the world.

Rav Shteinman was a gadol.  Chanukah is a yontif where we, as we mentioned, talk about gadlus.  How can we become more gedolim?  How can we internalize the message of the Chanukah licht which we're going to light be'ezras Hashem starting tonight in a few hours? 

A peleh.  All the avodah in the Beis Hamikdash had to be done by a kohen.  The Rambam writes that hadlakas hamenorah could be done by a zar.  The Ra'avid argues, but at the end the Ra'avid is maskim that even bedieved if a zar did it, it's fine.  It shouldn't be lechatchilah.  But unbelievable!  A zar can do the hadlakah.  Do you know what a zar is not allowed to do?  Meitiv es haneiros, preparing the candles, getting rid of all the old wicks and everything else.  That must be done by a kohen.  How strange?  That's what has to be done by a kohen?

The idea is the fire is within every one of us.  The neshamah, the ner Hashem, is within us.  We have it within us.  Ay, why can't we connect to it?  Because the ikar avodah of the menorah is not the hadlakah.  It's being meitiv.  You've got to clean out the garbage.  There's debris in there.  There's stuff that gets in the way.  That avodah of being meitiv the neiros, that has to be done by a kohen because that's the ikar.  And for all of us as well.  We're the kohanim gedolim tonight and for the next eight nights.  The light is there in every one of us.  We have to pull out all the debris and we'll feel it, we'll connect to it.  We have kashas, we have this.  Many times the kashas are just an outgrowth of something that is blocking us.  Sometimes a person connects to within themselves and many of their kashas and sfeikos just go away.  Because the fire is there.  You just have to move everything out so that it can flame up.

So to end off, Moishele sees the poritz coming.  What is he going to tell him?  He's so scared and then all of a sudden Hakadosh Baruch Hu plants an idea in his head.  He straightens up.  The poritz comes by and he stops and says Moishele, where are you going?  He says, uhh, poritz, I'm so happy to see you.  He says, actually it's a holiday and I'm going with the family.  It's so exciting.  We'll see you in a few weeks and I'm going to give you all the money I owe you.  Everything is going to be great.  Finally, I have all the money for you, but I didn't know you were here so when we get back.  He says, holiday?  I know your holidays.  What holiday is this?  He says this is the Festival of Flights.  He said the Festival of flights?  I never heard of that one.  He said, yeah this is the Festival of Flights and now my family is going.  We'll be back soon.  Okay, have a wonderful holiday, Moishke.  I'm looking forward to getting the money when you get back and he drives off.  The poritz comes to town and he sees the Jews milling around the marketplace.  This is yontif?  Jews don’t mill around the marketplace on yomim tovim.  He sees someone and he calls him over, Feivel, come here.  He says, Moishele told me that it's the Festival of Flights.  Why are you here?  Jews don't come to the marketplace on holidays.  He says, ahh, he chapped right away.  Smart Jew.  He realized what was happening.  He said, oh, you see the Festival of Flights is very different.  It's a different holiday than all the other ones.  All the other holidays we all keep together.  The Festival of Flights is up to every person.  When he's ready to take that holiday, when he's ready to come to that level, to the Festival of Flights, then he goes with his family.  Every person on their level when they reach the Festival of Flights.  The poritz smiles.  It sounds good.  He goes off on his way.

Tonight begins the Festival of Lights.  If we want to get everything we can out of this Festival of Lights, we should make it, we still have time today and throughout our lives, the Festival of Flights.  Vayanas vayetzei hachutzah, Yosef ran away.  He fled.  And then he became that light on the menorah like every one of us are.

We should be zocheh be'eizer Hashem to grow with this yontif, to reach that level of incredible gadlus and to be a source of nachas ruach to ourselves and most of all to Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

Have a happy Festival of Flights and Lights.



In December 1944, the retreating Nazi forces launched a surprise counter-offensive against the Allied forces in Europe. During that time there was relentless inclement weather, including fog, clouds, and rain. The United States troops could not use any air-support and the German advance was very successful. At that point the weather was a critical factor.
United States General, George Patton, telephoned the Third Army Chaplain and asked him if he had a “good prayer for weather”, because, “we must do something about those rains if we are to win the war".
Aside for the famous prayer that Patton disseminated to 250,000 troops, he had his own ‘prayers’ or messages that he wrote to G-d. Following are two letters, written a few days apart:
December 23, 1944
G.S. Patton, Jr., Lieutenant General
Commanding, Third United States Army
Sir, this is Patton talking. The past fourteen days- rain, snow, more rain, more snow, and I am beginning to wonder what’s going on in your headquarters. Whose side are You on anyway?
… All I request is four days of clear weather so that my fighter-bombers can bomb and strafe, so that my reconnaissance may pick out targets for my magnificent artillery. Give me four days of sunshine to dry this blasted mud… I need these four days to send von Rundstedt and his godless army to their Valhalla. I am sick of the unnecessary butchery of American youth… Amen.
December 27, 1944
G.S. Patton, Jr., Lieutenant General
Commanding, Third United States Army
 “Sir. this is Patton again, and I beg to report complete progress. Sir, it seems to me that You have been much better informed about the situation than I was, because it was that awful weather which I cursed so much which made it possible for the German army to commit suicide. That, Sir, was a brilliant military move, and l bow humbly to a supreme military genius.”
It’s an incredible story.
Moshe Rabbinu sees the burning bush, turns his attention towards it, and is summoned by Hashem to become the emissary who would lead the hapless Jewish nation forth from bondage.
At first, Moshe was incredulous; “Behold, they will not believe me, for they will say, ‘Hashem has not appeared to you’.” In response, Hashem granted Moshe three אותות signs, to show the nation: He cast his stick upon the ground and it is transformed into a snake. Then, when he grabbed its tale, it immediately reverted into a stick. He then placed his hand against his chest and it emerged white with tzara’as. Then, he placed his hand again against his chest and when he removed it, the flesh of his hand reverted to its normal healthy color. Then he gathered some water from the Nile and spilled it out onto the ground, whereupon it immediately transformed into blood.
What was the idea behind the three signs Hashem gave Moshe?
The Nesivos Shalom explains that that the nation was not lacking in their faith of G-d. The problem was that they did not, and could not, believe in themselves. They couldn’t believe that they – a nation of lowly, persecuted, idolatrous slaves, could be worthy of salvation, and to have such an incredible destiny.
The three signs Hashem granted Moshe, were to infuse the nation with sanguinity that they were indeed worthy and destined for greatness.
The staff of Moshe was holy. In fact, it had a long history of belonging to the greatest individuals, dating back to Adam at the beginning of creation. Yet when Moshe cast that holy staff onto the impure ground of Egypt, it transformed into a snake, the symbol of evil and impurity. Yet, when Moshe lifted it off the impure ground, it immediately transformed back into its original form, as the holy staff of Moshe.
That sign contained a strong message for the nation. ‘You view yourself as lowly and impure, and indeed at present that is how you appear. But when Moshe will lead you and raise you from the doldrums of the influence and servility of the immoral Egyptians, the transformation will be immediate. The stagnant greatness within you will quickly burst forth and you will be able to see who you truly are – a great nation.’
A metzora is one of four individuals who are analogous to a dead person. When Moshe removed his hand from his shirt and his hand was afflicted with tzara’as, it symbolized the nation’s feeling of being spiritually dead. But when he again placed his hand against his heart and removed it, and its vibrancy returned, that symbolized to the nation that they too could merit a spiritual resurrection and surge of vibrancy.
The problem was that Egypt was the superpower of its day. How was it possible to even entertain the notion that a nation of ragtag slaves could overcome this mightiest of empires? 
The response to that was symbolized by the third sign. Egyptian economy relied on the blessed waters of the Nile. For that reason, they worshipped the Nile as a god. Moshe removed some of its ‘sacred waters’, spilled it out, and it immediately was transformed into blood, a symbol of death and destruction.
That final sign was not reversed; Moshe did not raise the blood and transform it back into water. This demonstrated to the nation, that as imposing and indestructible as Egypt seemed, G-d would topple their entire economy, and break their arrogance, as easily as He was able to transform water into blood.
Moshe was equipped with the three signs and G-d’s assurance of his success, and he set out for Egypt, to initiate the process of redemption. While he was on the way, Hashem appeared to him and declared, “along your way returning to Egypt, see all the מופתים – wonders that I have placed in your hand, and you shall perform them before Pharaoh.”[2]
Ramban[3] explains that G-d was referring to all the signs that He had shown Moshe. Those signs which Moshe had been instructed to perform before the nation, he was now being commanded to perform them before Pharaoh too.
It is intriguing that when Hashem instructed Moshe about the miracles which he was to display before the nation, they’re referred to as ‘signs’. However, when He instructed Moshe to display them before Pharaoh, they are referred to as ‘wonders’. It seems clear that what is considered a “sign” for the Jewish people, is simultaneously considered a “wonder” for the nations of the world.[4] Rav Hirsch in fact, expresses this very point.[5]
Ramban[6] explains that a “sign” portends and predicts, a symbol of what is yet to occur. A “wonder” however, demonstrates power and rulership, particularly dominion over nature.
Thus, Shabbos observance and donning tefillin are “signs”, for they symbolize a deeply rooted covenant between us and G-d. Wonders, on the other hand, demonstrate control, stature, and power. 
When the miracles were performed in the presence of the Jewish nation, they were “signs”, in the sense that they were symbolic of a covenant, and a symbol of love and unbreakable hope. However, when those same miracles were performed in the presence of Pharaoh, they were messages (and warnings) of G-d’s ultimate mastery and dominion over the entire universe, including Pharaoh, and Egypt.
This represents a very poignant perspective about how a Jew views all the events of life and history - through the prism of an eternal covenant and treaty with G-d. What the nations of the world view as mere acts of strength, as seen from a perspective of “might makes right”, we view as all being within the gestalt of an eternal covenant. That perspective includes all events that have transpired – the good and the challenging.[7]
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Shemos 5777
[2] Shemos 4:21
[3] In his second explanation
[4] When I delivered this lecture last year, I expressed my gratitude to our (then) 4-month-old twins, who woke me up that Shabbos morning at 5 a.m., granting me time for extra analyzation of the parsha. More profoundly, that very morning in my daily reading of Tehillim, I had read chapter 105, which “coincidentally” contains the words אותות  and מןפתים, which led me to search the commentaries and helped me come across the ideas expressed here. Such subtle events are undoubtedly a divine אות, a small kiss from above.
[5] Commentary to Tehillim (105:4) “These acts of G-d were to be ‘signs’ for Yisroel from which it would derive for all times the knowledge that G-d is the creator and Lord of nature, and the ruler and judge of men and nations. Then these same acts of G-d, executed upon the Egyptians and in their territory, were to serve for them as “wonders”, that is, to break their obstinacy and to make them obey G-d’s command.”
[6] Devorim; in regards to a false prophet who performs signs and wonders
[7] The following is the conclusion I mentioned when I related these ideas a year ago:
Earlier today, January 20, 2017, Donald Trump was sworn as president of the United States of America. In his acceptance speech he stated, “Today, we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.”
The truth is, that nobody today can predict what the Trump presidency will bring. But one thing is clear – the unexpected, in fact, the unimaginable - what they said could absolutely never happen, has happened.
No matter whether one feels it is a positive or a negative event, one cannot help but feel amazed at witnessing such an event occurring. Never before have we witnessed so many political ‘experts’ and pundits forced to meekly concede that their emphatic predictions were so blatantly wrong. 
As believing Jews, we must remember that we view things differently than the rest of the world. “From Hashem the matter has come forth”. We have only to place our faith in Him, in the hope that the new presidency will be a positive one for the Jewish people, America, and for the world generally.