שבת טעם החיים שמות תשע”ב
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Shemos 5772
Five Questions With Behind the Scenes Answers
1. Why did Pharaoh not declare an all out war against the Jews instead of resorting to subterfuge? We never find that the Jewish People resisted any of Pharaoh’s diabolical schemes, so it would seem that Pharaoh could have just sufficed with a decree that all Jews must be killed.
2. The Gemara states that Pharaoh’s daughter converted to Judaism. Why does the Torah not record this amazing act and why does the Torah not mention what occurred to Pharaoh’s daughter after saving Moshe?
3. What is the association between Moshe and the סנה, the bush which HaShem first appeared to him?
4. The Torah states (Shemos 3:8)וָאֵרֵד לְהַצִּילוֹ מִיַּד מִצְרַיִם, וּלְהַעֲלֹתוֹ מִן-הָאָרֶץ הַהִוא, אֶל-אֶרֶץ טוֹבָה וּרְחָבָה, אֶל-אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ-אֶל-מְקוֹם הַכְּנַעֲנִי, וְהַחִתִּי, וְהָאֱמֹרִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי, וְהַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי, I shall descend to rescue it from the hand of Egypt and to bring it up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Hivvite, and the Jebusite. What did HaShem mean when He declared to Moshe that He will descend to Egypt? If He meant that He Himself would redeem the Jewish People, why did He insist on Moshe going to the Jews to redeem them?
5. Moshe resisted HaShem’s request that he be the messenger to redeem the Jewish People. It is said (Ibid 4:13) וַיֹּאמֶר, בִּי אֲדֹ-נָי; שְׁלַח-נָא, בְּיַד-תִּשְׁלָח, he replied, “Please, my Lord, send through whomever You will send.” In one explanation Rashi writes that Moshe said, “send with whomever You wish to send, because I will not end up bringing them into Eretz Yisroel and redeeming them in the future. You have many messengers.” Why did Moshe feel justified in not being the messenger to redeem the Jewish People now because he would not enter into Eretz Yisroel, and because he would not redeem them in the future? Did Moshe feel that it was beneath him to only be a part of the Jewish People’s redemption?
1. The Ramban (Ibid 1:10) writes that Pharaoh and his advisors did not wish to annihilate the Jewish People by the sword, as this would be a traitorous act to eradicate for no reason a people that had arrived in the country by the command of the first Egyptian king. Furthermore, the Egyptian people would not allow Pharaoh to act so treacherously, and additionally, the Jewish People were a great and mighty nation and they would wage a war with Pharaoh. Pharaoh therefore resorted to subterfuge and initially he taxed the Jewish people, and Pharaoh then instructed the midwives to discreetly kill the Jewish males. Subsequently, Pharaoh instructed the Egyptian people to drown the Jewish babies in the river. This decree, for a number of reasons, was short lived. Perhaps we can suggest an alternative answer. The Gemara (Sota 11a) states that Pharaoh was fearful of inciting HaShem’s wrath against the Egyptians and therefore he decided to eradicate the Jewish People through water. The reason for this decision was because HaShem had promised not to bring a flood upon the world. Pharaoh first decreed that the Jewish People build storage cities, which the Gemara (Ibid) states were built on quicksand and would sink after they were built. This was similar to water that causes matter to dissolve. The Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 1:12) states that Pharaoh then decreed that the Jews had to sleep wherever they worked and in this manner they would not have children. HaShem made it that despite Pharaoh’s decree the Jews multiplied and the Jewish women would have children in the fields. The Egyptians attempted to kill the children and a miracle occurred and the children were swallowed up by the earth. The Egyptians then brought oxen that plowed above the children, and when the oxen left, the children sprouted forth from the ground. This decree was also akin to drowning. When Pharaoh saw that the Jews were still multiplying, he decreed that the male children should all be cast into the water. Thus, all of Pharaoh’s schemes were centered on drowning the Jews in water or similar circumstances.
2. The Medrash (Shir HaShirim Rabbah2:22) likens Moshe to a deer. Just like a deer appears and disappears, so too Moshe appeared to the Jewish People and then he disappeared. In essence, the entire redemption of the Jewish People until the last moments was shrouded in mystery. The redemption commenced when Pharaoh’s daughter saved Moshe from drowning in the river. Her conversion and her subsequent life were concealed because the entire redemption process was shrouded in mystery.
3. The word הסנה equals in gematria 120, the years of Moshe’s life (afterwards I saw this idea mentioned in Shemos Rabbah 2:5). Furthermore, the word הסנה in א”ת ב”ש equals 207, the gematria of the word אור, light. The Medrash (Ibid 1:20) states that when Moshe was born the house was filled with light. Additional, HaShem told Moshe (Shemos 3:12) וַיֹּאמֶר, כִּי-אֶהְיֶה עִמָּךְ, וְזֶה-לְּךָ הָאוֹת, כִּי אָנֹכִי שְׁלַחְתִּיךָ: בְּהוֹצִיאֲךָ אֶת-הָעָם, מִמִּצְרַיִם, תַּעַבְדוּן אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים, עַל הָהָר הַזֶּה, and He said, “For I shall be with you – and this is your sign that I have sent you: When you take the people out of Egypt, you wills ever G-d on this mountain.” The word הסנה in מספר קטן, digit sum, equals 21, the same numerical value as the word אהיה, “I shall be.” HaShem was hinting to Moshe that He appeared to him by the סנה as a sign that He would be with Moshe and the Jewish People.
4. The Ramban writes that the meaning of the words “I shall descend to rescue it from the hand of Egypt” is that HaShem was telling Moshe, “I revealed Myself on this mountain in fire.” Alternatively. This descent was similar to HaShem descending to Sodom to observe their actions. The Sforno writes that HaShem was telling Moshe, “I revealed Myself in this vision to save the Jewish People and to take them out and not to destroy the Egyptians.” The Ibn Ezra writes that all decrees descend from Heaven, so HaShem said, “I shall descend.” Furthermore, an angel is every powerful, and Moshe was incapable of ascending to the heaven, so HaShem said, “I will descend to save My nation.” We can suggest that HaShem was telling Moshe, the exile began when it is said (Bereishis 42:2) וַיֹּאמֶר–הִנֵּה שָׁמַעְתִּי, כִּי יֶשׁ-שֶׁבֶר בְּמִצְרָיִם; רְדוּ-שָׁמָּה וְשִׁבְרוּ-לָנוּ מִשָּׁם, וְנִחְיֶה וְלֹא נָמוּת, and he said, “Behold, I have heard that there are provisions in Egypt; go down there and purchase for us from there. That we may live and not die.” The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 91:2) states that Yaakov was hinting to his sons with the word רְדוּ that the Jewish People would be enslaved in Egypt for 210 years, the gematria of רְדוּ. HaShem was thus hinting to Moshe that the time had arrived for the “descent” to end. It is noteworthy that the word וָאֵרֵד “I shall descend,” also equals in gematria 210 (with one extra).
5. Moshe posited that one who begins a mitzvah is required to finish it, so he refused to be the messenger to redeem the Jewish People from Egypt. Moshe knew that he would not bring the Jewish People into Eretz Yisroel, and he felt the redeemer should be someone who would fulfill the entire mission. Moshe learned from his error when later on he separated cities of refuge outside of Eretz Yisroel, despite the fact that they would not function until the Jews entered into Eretz Yisroel. Moshe said at that time, “I will do a mitzvah that comes my way, even if I cannot complete the mitzvah” (Rashi Devarim 4:41).
Shabbos Zemiros Elucidated
מַה יְּדִידוּת מְנוּחָתֵךְ authored by Menachem over four hundred years ago
מִבְּעוֹד יוֹם מוּכָנִים, תַּרְנְגוֹלִים מְפֻטָּמִים, while yet day, were readied fattened chickens. The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 92:4) states that we learn from the words (Bereishis 43:16) וּטְבֹחַ טֶבַח וְהָכֵן, “have meat slaughtered, and prepare it,” that Yosef kept Shabbos in Egypt. We can suggest that this verse is the source for the passage here where we declare that the fattened chickens were readied before the onset of Shabbos.
The Secret Diary
A diary written in German unravels a mystery that changes a woman’s life. by Sara Yoheved Rigler
Amanda Kantor was born in 1978, and raised on a farm in Washington State, 200 miles south of Seattle. Amanda’s mother Nancy was of German extraction, while her father Kevin was pure-bred Irish and proud of it. The 50-acre farm grew Christmas trees. Amanda would get up early to do chores around the farm, then eat a breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausage, and pancakes, all before catching the school bus.
The Kantors were Protestant, but not avid church-goers. They went to church only on Christmas, and on Mother’s Day, to please Grandma Kantor. The main holiday of the year was St. Patrick’s Day, which was feted with a dinner of corned beef and cabbage and lots of Guinness beer. Grandma Doris Bowden, on Amanda’s mother’s side, was an adamant atheist. She used to tell her children that God wasn’t real, but was just a myth concocted by weak people. When her daughter Nancy opted to go to the Methodist Sunday school, Doris would take the other children out to breakfast and bid them afterwards to gloat to Nancy about what she had missed, thus to lure her away from the blandishments of religion.
Amanda’s life on the farm was wholesome and simple, until one day in 1996, during her senior year of high school. Amanda decided to do her capstone project on her family history. She started by researching her father’s side of the family. This was easy, as Grandma Kantor, who had emigrated from Ireland, knew everything about the family and was glad to talk about it.
“This was my mother’s,” she said. “This is all I have.”
Her mother’s side of the family posed greater challenges. Grandma Doris’s mother, Anna Hilder, who had emigrated from Germany in 1939, lived to a ripe old age, but she spent the last two decades of her life suffering from dementia. As a child, Amanda would visit Great Grandma Anna. Most of the time, Anna spoke German. When she did speak English, she repeated the same questions over and over again: “Where are my parents? What happened to my little brother Ezra? Where are my sisters? Where is Ezra?”
For her project, Amanda attempted to interview Grandma Doris. She wasn’t very helpful, but she handed Amanda a red, leather-bound diary. “This was my mother’s,” she said. “This is all I have.”
The diary was in German, written in the scrawl of a young adolescent. Amanda was disappointed. What good to her was a diary in German? She approached a classmate who was studying fourth-year German, and the girl agreed to translate the diary.
A month later, the job was done. The girl returned the diary to Amanda, accompanied by a list of words. The girl explained that she couldn’t find a translation for those words, even in the best German dictionary. Even her German teacher did not know their meanings. She also said that the diary had several peculiarities. For example, the author had written about big preparations for “the holidays,” but that entry was dated September, not December. In another place, she wrote about celebrating “the holiday,” and followed it with the strange sentence, “Gretchen had Easter this weekend.” Why, wondered the translator, did only Gretchen have Easter?
The classmate handed her translation to Amanda with the words, “I think your great-grandmother may have been Jewish.”
Amanda sat down at her computer and did an internet search for the untranslatable words. It turned out that they were not German at all, but Yiddish.
FOLLOWING THE ARROW
In the throes of the end of her senior year, Amanda had no time to reflect on this surprising revelation. She submitted her project, mentioning briefly that her maternal great-grandmother may have been Jewish.
After graduation, she had more time to reflect. One day she took a walk in the forest, sat down on a tree stump, and gazed at the diary in her hands. “What does this really mean to me?” Amanda wondered. During her teenage years, she had felt an impetus toward religion. She had attended a couple churches, a Mormon temple, and a Baha’i temple. Of course, she had never even considered Judaism. She didn’t know a single Jew. She looked at the diary and thought, “Perhaps this is an arrow to point me in the right direction. I’m 18. I can try this out.”
Where to start? Amanda knew that Jews pray in synagogues. Perhaps there was one in Olympia, 50 miles away. Online she discovered that Olympia had exactly one synagogue. The next Saturday, Amanda was there. It turned out that this synagogue was not to her liking.
Instead, Amanda decided to learn about Judaism through books. Through her local library, she ordered a plethora of Jewish books from Seattle on interlibrary loans. She discovered that Judaism is transmitted through matrilineal descent. She figured she wouldn’t have to become a Jew; she probably already was a Jew. The first concrete action she undertook to celebrate her recently-discovered Judaism was to stop eating pork. Grandma Kantor soon noticed that Amanda wasn’t eating bacon for breakfast any more. When she asked her why, Amanda replied, “I’m just trying something new.”
For two years after completing her family history project, Amanda held onto the diary. Finally one day she visited Grandma Doris, diary in hand, and asked her, “What does this mean? Does this mean that Grandma Hilder was Jewish?”
Doris got defensive. She retorted angrily, “I don’t know why you needed to look up all that information anyway.” Then she snatched the diary from Amanda’s hand and yelled, “If this is what you’re going to do with this information, you don’t need this.”
It was too late. The diary’s past became Amanda’s future.
Four years later, Doris, suffering from Alzheimer’s, was moved to a nursing home. Amanda and her family searched Doris’s house, but the diary was nowhere to be found. Apparently she had destroyed it.
It was too late. The diary’s past became Amanda’s future. Over the next few years, during and after college in Seattle, Amanda took classes with a rabbi and gradually became observant.
THE PAST REVEALED
In 2002, Amanda did an internet search for “Jewish family heritage” companies. She hired the first company listed. She sent them the scant information she had: Her great-grandmother Anna Hilder had come to the United States from Munich, Germany in 1939 with her husband George Hilder.
Six months and $900 later, Amanda got her answers. Anna’s maiden name was Talen. Anna was the oldest of six siblings. Anna’s father had an influential post with the German government until Hitler came to power in 1933. At that point, Anna’s father married his beloved daughter Anna to a well-connected Christian neighbor, hoping that, as doom descended on the Jews of Germany, Anna would be saved.
The Nuremberg Laws of 1935, however, must have dashed Mr. Talen’s hopes. The Nuremberg Laws forbid Germans from marrying Jews. Germans already married to Jews must divorce them or share their fate. Apparently George Hilder decided instead to take his wife and flee to the safety of America. Among the email attachments in Amanda’s mailbox was a photocopy of Anna’s parents’ ketubah [marriage contract], meticulously preserved in the records of German Jewry.
According to an interview with an elderly German who knew the family, the entire Talen family was rounded up and deported. None of them ever came back. The interviewee listed the names of Anna Talen’s siblings. The youngest was Ezra.
Amanda remembered her demented great-grandmother obsessively repeating the question: “Where is Ezra? Whatever happened to Ezra?”
THE TREE STUMP
The evidence from Germany was sufficient to convince a Beit Din [Jewish court] that Amanda Kantor was Jewish.
Today Amanda and her husband, an Orthodox rabbi, live in Jerusalem with their infant daughter.
The tree stump looked dead — entirely severed. But apparently the roots were still alive, because a single, new shoot has sprouted from the moribund trunk. It has only a few leaves, but it is growing strong, and some day that shoot will become a mighty tree. (www.aish.com)
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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