Thursday, January 4, 2018


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.


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