Friday, January 28, 2011


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

To receive Stam Torah via email each week, send an email to:




George Gray

I have studied many times

The marble which was chiseled for me—

A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.

In truth it pictures not my destination

But my life.

For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;

Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;

Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.

Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.

And now I know that we must lift the sail

And catch the winds of destiny

Wherever they drive the boat.

To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,

But life without meaning is the torture

Of restlessness and vague desire—

It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.

            --Edgar Lee Masters


Rabbi Kalman Packouz, a close disciple of Rabbi Noach Weinberg zt’l, the legendary founder of Aish HaTorah, recounts:

“I once asked Rabbi Noah Weinberg for his favorite joke. He gave a little laugh and then proceeded to tell me, "There was once a man who worked the late shift. When his shift was over, he would take a shortcut home through a graveyard. One dark, moonless night he was following the path when he fell into an open grave. Unbeknownst to him, someone had dug it during the day. For an hour he tried to find a foothold or handhold to get out of the grave. Finally, he gave up, sat in the corner, and decided to wait until someone came in the morning.

"A short while later another man -- taking the same shortcut -- plops into the grave. From his seat in the corner, the first man watches as the second man searches for a foothold or handhold to get out. Figuring he'll save the guy some time -- and maybe they can get out if they work together -- he gets up, walks up behind the second man. He then taps him on the shoulder from behind. Zip! Zap! The second man jumps straight out of the grave!"

After sitting there for a few moments pondering probably one of the un-funniest jokes I have ever heard, I asked Reb Noah, "Rebbe, what's so funny about that joke?"

Reb Noah smiled his warm smile, his eyes twinkled, and he replied, "Kalman, don't you understand? We are using so little of our potential. Imagine what we could accomplish if we actually used our potential! Isn't that funny? The Almighty gives us virtually unlimited potential and we don't use it."

After the Torah completes its description of the great revelation of Sinai, the Torah launches into a detailed exposition about the practical laws of daily interpersonal living.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt’l explained that the Torah immediately segues from the lofty revelation to these laws because ‘idealism without legalism will never endure. The idealistic aspects of the Torah are not enough; it must be cloaked within the mantle of the law.’

The first law which the Torah discusses is that of the Jewish slave. The slave is acquired until the Sabbatical year. During his years of slavery his master is permitted to marry him to his Canaanite maid so that the children produced will be future slaves. When the Sabbatical year arrives the slave is free to leave and return to his home and original family.

“But if the slave will say, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children – I will not go free. Then his master shall bring him to the court and shall bring him to the door or to the doorpost, and his master shall bore through his ear with the awl, and he shall serve him forever.”

Rashi explains that it is specifically the servant’s ear which is pierced because, “The ear that heard at Mount Sinai ‘For the Children of Israel are slaves unto Me’ and he went and acquired a different master for himself, let it be bored.”

What is the significance of the door and the doorway vis-à-vis the slave?

A doorway symbolizes transition and change. One stands before an unknown doorway with a certain measure of trepidation, not knowing what lies behind the door and where proceeding through it will lead him. A door represents instability and diffidence.

When Cain was jealous and angry that Hevel’s offering had been accepted by G-d while his was rejected, G-d told him1, “If you do not do good, at the entrance sin crouches; its longing is toward you, and you will rule over it.” Man’s free choice – to succumb to the blandishments of his evil inclination or to resist and overcome – is analogous to a doorway. In that sense what lies beyond the doorway is his prerogative.

On Chanukah there is a mitzvah for one to light the menorah opposite the mezuzah on his doorpost2. The Mezuzah, which is affixed to our doorpost inclined inward, symbolizes the need for us to spiritually protect our homes from the luring impurities of the outside world. Our homes are to be citadels of holiness, not allowing our traditions to be compromised.

The Chanukah candles, which shimmer glowingly in the darkness outside, represent our mission to illuminate the outside world. Our mission is to be a beacon of light for the entire world, the bastion of morality and sanctity.

Rambam3 writes that one of the Syrian-Greek’s nefarious decrees was, “One should not shut the door to the entrance of his home, lest he exploit the privacy of his home in the observance of mitzvos.” This decree was a terrible breach of the morality and modesty of a Jewish home. But on a deeper level it represented the inner struggle that each Jew maintained at his doorway. Does he succumb to the Greek’s aesthetic lifestyle, or does he remain behind the threshold, steadfastly maintaining the traditions of his fathers.

The Menorah is lit in the doorway to symbolize our desire to remain resolute in our convictions and not ‘waver in the doorway’.

Kli Yakar writes that the servant’s ear is pierced in the doorway because the Torah granted him ‘an open doorway’, i.e. he had a way to ascend and move beyond his pitiful lifestyle, but he allowed the door of opportunity to slam in his own face.

There are periodically doors that open before us in life. But it requires tremendous courage and conviction to leave the comfort of ritual, trite as it may be, to plunge into the potential of the unknown.

When the servant’s ear is pierced in the doorway it leaves a mark of blood on the doorway. This is reminiscent of an earlier time in our history. On the night before the Egyptian exodus, Moshe commanded the anticipating nation to host their first Pesach Seder. Earlier in the day they were to have taken the blood of the Pesach offering and smeared along their doorposts, symbolizing that their home was a Jewish home. That act symbolized a level of transcendence over their former captors.

Chazal relate that any Jew who did not wish to leave Egypt died during the plague of darkness, when the Egyptians could not witness what was occurring. In all, eighty percent – millions upon millions of Jews - died, just a few weeks prior to the exodus.

They died because they were unwilling to open the door and traverse the threshold. The prospect of leaving the comfort of Egypt, where they had recently become wealthy and powerful, to enter into the vast desert was too daunting and frightening. It was only those who smeared the blood on their doors, symbolizing their courage to open the next door and follow it who merited redemption.

The Jewish slave settled into a routine during his years of servility. But now the door of opportunity is open before him. He has the chance to begin anew, make amends, and make something more of himself. His decision to ignore the opportunity is a tragic failure.

“I am asleep but my heart is awake. A sound! My beloved is knocking. “Open for Me My sister, My beloved, My dove, My perfection…” I have doffed my shirt how can I don it? I have already washed my feet how can I soil them?4

When opportunity knocks are we willing to open the door? Or do we allow the fear of the unknown to dominate us and compel us to remain paralyzed at whatever level we are on?

“His master shall bring him to the door“

“At the entrance sin crouches”

1 Bereishis 4:7
2 Shabbos 22a; Rambam, Chanukah 4:7
3 Iggeres Hashmad
4 Shir Hashirim 5:2-3

Thursday, January 20, 2011

YISRO 5771

Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

To receive Stam Torah via email each week, send an email to:


YISRO 5771


Phillip is getting older and his health is deteriorating rapidly. He moved out to California to enjoy the comfortable climate as his strength continues to ebb away. When he feels his end is nearing he calls his best friend in New York.


“Yeah, what’s doing Phil?”

“I need you to come out to California. I don’t have much time left and I have something I must confess before I go.”

So Irving gets on the next flight out and rushes to his friend’s bedside.

“Phillip, I’m here what is it that you needed to tell me?”

“Irv, I just have to admit it to someone, and you’re my best friend. I gotta tell you I converted.”

“You converted? Phil, what are you talking? You’re becoming delirious.”

“Phil, I know what I’m saying. I converted.”

“I can’t believe it Phillip. Here your whole life you lived as a good Jew. And now in you’re last weeks of your life you convert?”

“Well Irv, I made a calculation like this. You know that there are so few Jews in the world and so many gentiles. If someone has to die, better one of them should die than one of us.”

The most seminal event that ever occurred, which vindicated all of creation, and gave the world purpose and destiny, was the giving of the Torah to Klal Yisroel on Sinai. Far beyond a mere constitution stating judicial law by which to abide, the Torah is the book of life, the key to a meaningful existence and to of all the happenings in the universe.

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch notes1 that, unlike all other constitutions which are composed by mortals as the code of law for their newfound societies, the Torah transcends man. All other religions and laws emanate from contemporary humanity, and therefore, they evolved into whatever man’s conception was of G-d at the time of the religion’s formation. Just like art, drama, culture, morals, and manners differ based on culture and time-period so do all other religions.

“But the Jewish ‘religion’ and the Jewish law did not emanate from the contemporary convictions of human beings. They do not contain the convictions of any certain people at any certain time of what G-d is and what G-dly and human matters are. They are given by G-d and contain that which according to the Will of G-d, should be man’s convictions in all ages regarding G-d and G-dly matters, and above all, of men, and human matters.”

Rabbi Hirsch continues that the Jewish people are by nature the most obdurate and skeptical of nations. The fact that they were willing to accept the Torah unequivocally is proof that the Torah did not emanate from the people but was given to the people.

This is also why the Torah had to be given in the wilderness, on a heretofore unknown mountain. Moreover virtually no one - no person or animal - was allowed to be standing on Sinai when the Torah was given. The day before it possessed no sanctity, and the day after the revelation it again returned to its mundane status. But while the Torah was given no human life was to be in proximity of the mountain, to impress upon them that the Torah is of superhuman origin, and incorporates the entire world.

Rabbi Jonathon Sacks2 explains that what was transacted at Sinai was not a contract but a covenant. He explains, “In a contract, two or more individuals each pursuing their own interest, come together to make an exchange for mutual benefit. So there are commercial contracts that create the market, and there is the social contract that creates the state. A covenant is something different, more like a marriage than a deal. In a covenant, two or more individuals, each respecting the dignity and integrity of the other, come together in a bond of love and trust, to share their interests, sometimes their lives, by pledging their faithfulness to one another, to do together what neither can achieve alone.

“A contract is a transaction. A covenant is a relationship. A contract is about interests. A covenant is about identity. It is about two or more ‘I’s coming together to form a ‘We’. A contract can be terminated with mutual consent when it is no longer in the interests of the parties to continue. A covenant binds the parties even in – especially in – difficult times. This is because a covenant is not about interests but about loyalty, fidelity, holding together when everything else is driving you apart. That is why contracts benefit, but covenants transform.”

When the Torah was given, it created an eternal covenant between G-d and Klal Yisroel, as it were. “And now, if you will hearken well to Me and you will preserve My covenant, you will be a treasure to Me from all the other nations, for all the earth is Mine.3

It is also significant to note the geographical setting of the giving of the Torah. The covenant was enacted in the desert. The Israelites were no longer a band of escaped slaves; now they were transformed into an eidah, a civil people, with a destiny and a mission. This transpired despite the fact that they did not yet have a home. At that point in time they were a nomadic nation without a land. Never otherwise in history did a polity create a constitution before it had a home. But in regards to the Torah, the laws precede – and supersede – the land.

In the time of the prophet Shmuel, over four hundred and fifty years after the Torah was given at Sinai, Klal Yisroel became a kingdom, ruled by a dynasty of monarchs. But until then they were a nation. A kingdom is about rulers, government, and the distribution of power. But being a nation is chiefly focused on accepting and fulfilling commandments, morality, and sharing responsibility. Before we became a kingdom we had to become a nation.

Shortly after the Jews’ triumphant and miraculous ascension from the Sea of Reeds, the nation arrived in Marah where they found no water. “He cried out to G-d and G-d showed a tree to him; he threw it in the water and the water became sweet. There He established for the nation a decree and an ordinance, and there He tested it.4

Ramban explains5 that the nation was now commencing a long trek through the desert that would last decades. Moshe was instructing them about the realities of life in the wilderness that they would imminently encounter. They would have to learn to tolerate a certain degree of hunger and thirst, and to pray to G-d for their needs. “He established a decree” refers to Moshe informing them of the realities of their situation. “An ordinance” refers to the protocol the nation would have to follow. The Ramban explains what that protocol consisted of: “Each person love his fellowman, and conduct himself in accord with the counsel of elders, and that they act modestly in their tents with regard to the women and children, and that they should act peacefully towards those who might come to the camp to sell them something, and admonitions of restrained behavior that they should not be like the camps of marauders, who shamelessly commit all sorts of abominations…”

The test at that time was to see if the burgeoning nation could indeed commit to such a noble lifestyle despite the fact that they were living nomadically and unsettled. Very often such Bedouin tribes live without scruples and morals as they have no one to answer to and their lifestyle breeds certain preclusion to normal ethics and moral living. But Klal Yisroel had to prove their worthiness in this regard before they could be deemed worthy of receiving the Torah. In this sense they had to prove that they could uphold the covenant before they would commit to it.

To be a Jew is to be part of a regal nation who lives for a higher purpose. He is part of a binding covenant, a covenant that demands his unyielding allegiance and commitment; a covenant that makes him a card-carrying member of the Chosen People.

“You will be a treasure to Me from all the other nations”

“He established for the nation a decree and an ordinance”

1 19:11
2 Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Future Tense
3 19:5
4 15:25
5 Ramban actually offers three explanations. This is the third.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

To receive Stam Torah via email each week, send an email to:




The world’s greatest superpower lay in ruins. The country of Egypt, a veritable Eden, and the seat of luxury and physicality was ravaged and devastated. Even more pronounced was the decimation of Egyptian pride. The infallible became vulnerable; the unconquerable was vanquished.

Still the redemption was not complete. The burgeoning nation of Klal Yisroel proudly marched out of Egypt unhindered by their former captors into the vast and desolate desert. It didn’t take long before the stubborn Egyptians led by Pharaoh himself took up the final pursuit, cornering the hapless nation at the banks of the raging sea.

In one of the greatest candid displays of Divine Might this world has ever witnessed the sea split. But the sea bed isn’t flat and the terrain beneath the surface is treacherous, deep, and vast. Not only did the sea split but it leveled evenly so that the Jews hardly had to descend at all. The entire nation walked across the dry river bank of the sea as if it were a botanical gardens with beautiful sights and gifts along the way. As soon as the Egyptians pursued, the waves crashed down upon them. At the same time, the smooth pathway gave way from underneath them and the ground boiled, scalding their chariots and thrusting them into the bowels of the sea. Final retribution had been served and Egypt, the world superpower, was no longer.

In the vernacular of Chazal this epic event is referred to as “K’rias Yam Suf”. It is an event that is very much at the fore of our national consciousness and we refer to it constantly by that well-known title.

However, it is very difficult to understand why that is the title of choice. No where in all of the Holy Scriptures do we ever find that terminology used. When the Torah speaks of the event it states, “Vayibuku hamayim – And the waters split.2” In our daily morning prayers we utilize this terminology too3. In Tehillim4, King David wrote, “L’gozer Yam Suf ligzarim – To Him Who divided the Sea of Reeds into parts.” But the miracle is never referred to as a ‘k’riah’5. Why did ‘K’rias Yam Suf’, literally ‘the ripping of the sea’ become the de-facto title for that seminal event?

Rabbi Asher Weiss shlita relates the following story6:

A father was once sitting with his son on the night of the Seder discussing the fifty miracles that occurred during the splitting of the sea7.

At one point the son asked his father, “Why are we so amazed by the splitting of the sea? Isn’t it obvious that the G-d Who created the world could split the sea?”

The father replied with a parable:

An expert sculpture once sculpted a horse that was so lifelike, no one could tell that it was not real. The sculptor erected his work where everyone could admire it. But, to his chagrin, no one even stopped to look at it. Days passed and the sculptor became increasingly dejected. Finally he stopped a passerby and asked him, “Why aren’t you interested in seeing this work of art?” The man shrugged, “I’ve seen many horses. What’s so good about that one?” The sculptor was confused, “But that is a sculpted horse.” The man stopped and stared at the horse for a few moments, “Why that’s incredible! Do you know why no one has stopped to marvel at it? Because you did such an impeccable job in creating it that people assume it’s real, so they don’t even bother to look at it.”

The sculptor began rebuking himself for creating such a perfect model. If only he wouldn’t have made it so perfect, at least people would realize his work. A wise friend heard of his situation and gave him an idea. “Cut your horse in half, and then place it outside. A horse that looks lifelike and is split in half is sure to attract everyone’s attention.”

The father explained to his son, “You see if we were all on a proper spiritual level we would be inspired by the very existence of the sea, and by the miracles of nature that are omnipresent every day of our lives. We would be awestruck by the augustness of a sunrise and sunset, and by the miracles of our daily bodily functioning. We would not require miracles or unusual events to make us recognize G-d’s Hand. But because we are so accustomed to the ‘hidden miracles’ within nature we are no longer inspired by them and we take them for granted. So G-d performs miracles – and we recount those miracles – to remind us that every aspect of our lives is a miracle.

When we recount the epic miracle of the splitting of the sea it reminds us that the very existence of the sea, and all of its underwater landscape, and the marine life contained in it, is all miraculous.

This is the meaning of the verse8, “The earth will be filled with knowledge of G-d as water covering the seabed.” When the final redemption occurs all will see G-d’s Hand clearly in every aspect of nature and world events. At that point we will no longer require the splitting of the sea to realize the wonders of the sea. We will be sufficiently inspired by the sea itself.

The truth is that in our daily lives we fail to appreciate the bounty of blessing we are granted. Very often it takes some sort of ‘K’rias Yam Suf’, i.e. some sort of ‘tearing’ us out of our ‘banal stupor’ to realize just how fortunate we are. Not every ‘K’rias Yam Suf’ in this sense is pleasant. Sometimes it takes illness before we appreciate our health, and the loss of someone/something before we appreciate just how much they mean to us.

We would be wise to appreciate our families, homes, community, being a Torah Jew, heat in our homes during a frigid evening, food to eat, friends, knowledge to understand things, etc.

Perhaps when we refer to the event that occurred at the sea we title it – not based on the actual miracle that transpired – but more importantly by the inner transformation that occurred within our hearts and souls. As the prophet exhorts us, “Tear your hearts and not your clothes.9

At the sea the nation witnessed an incredible revelation that eradicated the last vestiges of faithlessness left within them. “Israel saw the great Hand that G-d inflicted upon Egypt; and the people revered G-d, and they had faith in G-d and in Moshe, His servant.10” At that point their hearts were filled with utter and complete devotion and obedience to the Word of G-d. It was when they reached that level of inner connection that they arose and sang the Song of the Sea. It was a heartfelt song that emanated from heartfelt devotion.

Whenever we refer to that event we refer to that inner transformation, the ‘Tearing – of their hearts and souls – at the Sea of the Reeds’. That spiritual mental revolution is something we must connect with every day of our lives. It reminds us to never take life for granted. We must always see the Hand of G-d and never allow the triteness of life to obscure the vivacious beauty that the world exudes.

On the words in Psalms, “The sea saw and fled”, the Medrash11 wonders, “What did the sea see that caused it to flee?” The Medrash answers, “It saw the coffin of Yosef.”

Yosef was able to maintain his feeling of connection with G-d even in the spiritual doldrums of Egypt. He was a living daily ‘splitting of the sea’, for he did not allow the banality of life to mask the Hand of G-d. So when the sea saw the remains of Yosef it followed the example he lived, and split.

The holiday of Tu B’Shvat marks the beginning of the sap’s ascension through the tree in anticipation of the coming of spring. Spring may still be many weeks away but we begin to celebrate it now. If we truly want to appreciate the beauty of spring we have to ponder it now when the trees are still bare and the buds have not even begun to sprout. After a snowfall, before pulling out a shovel one should take a moment to marvel at the breathtaking beauty of a world blanketed by snow and G-d’s preparation for the resurgence that is to come. Tu B’shvat is a day to ponder and appreciate the beauty of life and the world around us.

Part of the reason why we recount the Song of the Sea each morning is to remind us to appreciate every aspect of life, not just when miracles occur12. Tu B’Shvat is inextricably bound to this same idea. The wonders that are contained in every fruit and the very process of its growth are miracles unto themselves.

The not-too-distant holiday of Purim and the month(s) of Adar are celebrations of life. The preceding holiday of Tu B’shvat is the celebration of G-d’s World and our ability to enjoy its treasures.

“Filled with knowledge of G-d as water covering the seabed.”

“Israel saw the great Hand and they had faith in G-d”

1 Based on lecture delivered at KNH on Shabbos Kodesh Beshalach 5770
2 14:21
3 In ‘Ezras’ just prior to Shemone Esrei we state, “V’Yam Suf bakata”
4 136:13
5 The word K’riah means to tear. If, G-d forbid, one is in mourning for one of his seven closest relative he must perform ‘k’riah’, i.e. tear his clothes not on the seam.
Note: Although I propose a possible explanation, it is more of a homiletical approach. From a grammatical perspective it is a very potent question and truly begs an explanation. [I originally heard the question from Rabbi Yisroel Reisman.]
6 Introduction of Minchas Asher on Maseches Pesachim
7 See Me’am Loez
8 Yeshaya 11:9
9 Yoel 2:13
10 14:31
11 Yalkut Shimoni, Tehillim 873
12 As the Ramban explains at the end of parshas Bo, “From the open miracles one can recognize the hidden (daily) miracles.”

Thursday, January 6, 2011

BO 5771

Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

To receive Stam Torah via email each week, send an email to:


BO 5771


Rabbi Binyomin Rabinowitz1 related the following story about his father, Rabbi Yisroel Rabinowitz zt’l2:

“During his adolescence, my father learned in the Lomza yeshiva in northeastern Poland. When the Germans began bombing in 1939, the air-raid sirens immediately began blaring, and everyone in the town would immediately escape into the shelters3. The shelters were located in the middle of the street. Everyone would climb down a ladder into the shelter and tensely wait for the bombing to cease.

“During one such raid my father was with a large group of people in the shelter, where a baby kept crying. The relentless wailing intensified the already tense feeling in the shelter, but the baby could not be soothed. After some time my father approached the man holding the baby and asked him what was bothering the baby. The father replied that the baby was thirsty and they had no water to give him. My father turned around and started heading for the ladder leading to the street. The father called after him, “Where are you going? If anything I should be the one going to risk my life for my son.” My father replied, “You have a family. If anything happens to you, you will leave behind a widow and orphans. But I am just a bochur. My parents are far away. If anything happens to me no one will have to cry for me.”

“With that my father climbed out of the shelter and began hastily running towards the nearest building. As he did so he noticed a German plane flying frightfully low, as it neared him it let loose a barrage of bombs. One of those bombs fell directly into the shelter he had just departed from, instantly killing everyone inside.”

The time of the redemption had finally arrived. Just as G-d had promised, the night before the exodus, Pharaoh had aimlessly circulated the streets of Goshen in desperation to locate Moshe, whereupon he begged Moshe to leave the country immediately. The Egyptian pride had been shattered and the former captors hurried the Jews to leave their land.

The Torah then relates: “The Children of Israel carried out the word of Moshe; they requested from the Egyptians silver vessels, gold vessels, and garments. G-d gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians and they granted their request; and they emptied Egypt.4

Rashi notes that they carried out Moshe’s earlier instruction which was to adhere to G-d’s command5, “Please speak in the ears of the people: Let each man request of his friend and each woman from her friend silver vessels and gold vessels.”

Truthfully, the verse seems to be redundant. If in fact the Torah already recorded that the Jews solicited the gold, silver, and clothing of the Egyptians, why does the Torah repeat it again just prior to their hastened departure?

The Vilna Gaon explains that Rashi was bothered by the lexicon of the earlier verse, “Please speak in the ears of the people: Let each man request of his friend and each woman from her friend”. How can the Egyptians be referred to as friends after all of the tormenting and oppression they had subjected the Jews to6? Furthermore, why did G-d need to initiate this instruction by asking the Jews to ‘Please’ do it? Wouldn’t they be more than happy to demand of the Egyptians a small portion of compensation?

The Gaon answers that in order for the Jews to be granted their request that the Egyptians hand over to them all of their valuables and wealth carte blanche at the time of the redemption, they had to merit it. First they had to demonstrate selflessness and love to each other. That was G-d’s original request that he “please” speak to the people and request that they borrow and share with their own friends – their fellow Jews, and demonstrate fraternity and devotion. Because they did so, at the time of the redemption they were indeed able to ask the Egyptains for their wealth. This is the deeper meaning of the latter verse, “The Children of Israel carried out the word of Moshe” i.e. which was to create a spirit of kindness and devotion, and therefore, “They requested from the Egyptians… G-d gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians and they granted their request.”

A well-known businessman once arranged to have a private audience with the Chasam Sofer. “Rebbe,” he began, “I’m sure you are aware that I am known to be a very wealthy person. But recently business has been difficult and I have lost all of my wealth. Please give me a blessing that my fortune should turn around and I should regain my wealth.” The Chasam Sofer answered, “You have an impoverished brother. Help him and your money will return.” The merchant replied, “Rebbe, as soon as I regain my wealth I will help him generously.”

The Chasam Sofer shook his head, “At the beginning of parshas Va’era when G-d informed Moshe that the commencement of the miraculous redemption was imminent, G-d declared7, “And also I have heard the groans of the Children of Israel whom Egypt enslaves.” What did G-d mean “And also I have heard”, as if someone else heard first?

“The answer is that when the enslavement became unbearable and there was almost no hope for the Jews, they began to help each other. Despite the severity of their oppression when one Jew cried out another came to his aid despite utter exhaustion. When that occurred G-d declared, “Just as they have heard each other’s cries, And also I have heard their cries. It was their selflessness that granted them the merit to redemption.

The Chasam Sofer concluded, “I didn’t mean that you should only help him when you are again financially comfortable. You need a merit right now. Help him despite your difficult situation and that will give you the blessing to regain your wealth.”

Tanna D’vei Eliyahu8 writes, “When the Children of Israel were in Egypt, they gathered together and sat together, and they all formulated one group, and they made a covenant together that they would perform kind deeds with each other, and they would preserve in the hearts the covenant of Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov, and to serve their Father in Heaven alone…”

The Chofetz Chaim explains that when the Jews saw that their situation was virtually hopeless from natural means, they decided to make this covenant together. They knew that if they performed acts of kindness with each other G-d would perform kindness with them.

This idea is expressed clearly in the Yerushalmi9: “The Holy One, blessed is He, said to Israel, “My son, if you see that the merits of the patriarchs and the merits of the matriarchs have been depleted, go and cling to kindness…”

The Chofetz Chaim explains that this is the meaning of the words that Klal Yisroel recited in their magnificent Song at the Sea10, “With Your kindness You guided this people that You redeemed.” It was in the merit of the kindness they performed with each other that G-d redeemed them with kindness.

This is also the meaning behind the beautiful words of the prophet11, “So says G-d, ‘I recalled for you the kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, your following me into the desert, into an unsown land.” It was our kindness that served as the catalyst for G-d’s kindness.

In our prayers we state, “Behold, I will redeem you – the end as the beginning.” The miracles that we will yet witness with the advent of Moshiach and the process of redemption will, in many ways, parallel the redemption from Egypt.

At times we may wonder if we possess sufficient merits to be worthy of the ultimate redemption. But there is one area in which Klal Yisroel still excels and is unquestionably worthy, i.e. in our kindness and helping each other. One need look no further than at the classified section in the back of any of the major Torah-Jewry newspapers on any given week where there is an entire section dedicated to announcing the availability of different gemachs (free-loans).There are gemachs for cribs, tables, equipment, tools, and clothing.

If one G-d forbid needs to be in the hospital there is a Bikur Cholim room set up for any Jew, no matter what his level of religiosity is. The room is regularly re-stocked with free food, and reading material, and the room itself provides for a brief respite from the intensity of the hospital. When a woman in our community has a baby, there is an immediate mobilization to ensure that meals are provided for the family for some time. The same holds true in the face of a tragedy, G-d forbid.

What a nation! What a people! With all of our shortcomings and despite all of our internal and external challenges, the covenant that our forefathers made in Egypt lives on. We revel in it and it is one of our defining features, and ultimately we will again merit redemption because of it.

“And also I have heard”

“The end as the beginning”

1 Rabbi Binyamin Rabinowitz is the founder and seventh grade rebbe of Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch. He related this story, as well as the following thought from the Chasam Sofer, at the bar mitzvah of Avrumy Lazarnik, this past Sunday, 26 Teves 5771.
2 Rabbi Yisroel Rabinowitz was the Rabbi at Kehillas Ohel Moshe in the Bronx and the author of two volumes of ‘Kol Bo’ on the Shulchan Aruch.
3 The Germans bombarded Lomza mercilessly because it was the first major city near the East Prussian border.
4 12:35-36
5 11:2
6 See Bava Kamma 37b where the gemara explains that when the Torah refers to ‘a friend’ it refers exclusively to a fellow Jew.
7 6:5
8 Eliyahu Rabbah 23:9
9 Sanhedrin chapter 11
10 “Az Yashir” in parshas Beshalach
11 Yirmiyah 2:2