Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vaera 5772

שבת טעם החיים וארא תשע”ב
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vaera 5772

Five Questions With Behind the Scenes Answers

1. At the end of last week’s parasha Moshe complained to HaShem that He was making it worse for the Jewish People by sending him to Pharaoh. HaShem rebuked Moshe for questioning His ways and contrasted Moshe’s skepticism with the faith of the Patriarchs. Moshe’s behavior is difficult to understand. When HaShem instructed him to be the messenger for redemption, Moshe refused and HaShem had to convince Moshe to go. Why is it that when the going got rough Moshe began to complain? Did Moshe think that because HaShem had sent him on a mission it would be easy? HaShem had already informed Moshe (3:19) that Pharaoh would not let the Jews go so fast, so why did Moshe get so upset when Pharaoh announced that the Jews would no longer receive straw and they would still be required to complete their quotas?

2. Why does the Torah repeat HaShem’s command to Moshe and Moshe’s refusal to go when we know this from the beginning of the Parasha? Additionally, why is it necessary to suddenly trace the lineage of Moshe and Aharon here when the Torah already informed us of Moshe’s birth and Aharon’s existence in last week’s parasha?

3. Why did Pharaoh only request from Moshe that he remove the plagues of צפרדע, frogs, ערב, wild animals, ברד, hail, and ארבה, locusts? Was Pharaoh not sufficiently troubled by the plagues of blood, lice, pestilence, boils, and darkness to request from Moshe that those plagues be removed?

4. Why did HaShem only inform Pharaoh that there would be a distinction between the Jews and the Egyptians by the plagues of ערב, wild animals, and דבר, pestilence, and not by all the other plagues?

5. Why by the plague of צפרדע did Pharaoh tell Moshe that he would send the Jews out of Egypt, whereas by the plague of ערב Pharaoh said he would only allow the Jews to serve HaShem in Egypt?


1. Moshe was not concerned for his own honor. His sole concern w as for the welfare of the Jewish People. The Gemara (Brachos 4b) states that one is required to be סומך גאולה לתפילה, juxtapose redemption to prayer. For this reason we recite the blessing of גאל ישראל, HaShem redeems the Jewish People, immediately prior to the recital of Shemone Esrei. It is noteworthy that the word סומך equals in gematria the word ענו, the humble person, and the word גאולה, redemption, equals in gematria the word מה, what, which symbolizes humility (as Moshe said (Shemos 16:8) ונחנו מה, for what are we?). The idea of these hints is that for one to pray for the redemption, one must be humble. The Maharal (Hagadah Shel Pesach) writes that matzah is the symbolism of redemption and yet is also referred to as the poor man’s bread. The reason for this, writes the Maharal, is because matzah only contains flour and water. A poor person also has no money or possessions, so he is independent of any object besides himself. Similarly, a slave bears the burden of his master’s dominion, and when he is freed, he has nothing restricting him. The similarity of matzah to a poor man is that matzah is independent of any enhancements, such as yeast or sugar, similar to a poor man who has nothing but his own identity. Thus, we see from the words of the Maharal that for one to experience redemption, he must be devoid of any arrogance or eternal trappings. Moshe, the humblest of all men, was chosen by HaShem to redeem the Jewish People. When Moshe felt that the Jews were subject to a harsher experience of servitude, he could not restrain himself and he complained to HaShem. His complaint, however, was a prayer to HaShem to redeem the Jewish People. One must juxtapose redemption to prayer. The Gemara (Megillah 18a) tells us that the order of Shemone Esrei is that first we pray for the redemption in the blessings of ולירושלים עירך and in את צמח דוד, and then we recite the blessing of שמע קולינו, hear our cries. The reason for this is because following redemption we have true prayer. Redemption reflects humility, and only one who is truly humble can pray to HaShem.

2. The Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 5:16) states that the tribe of Levi was exempt from the Egyptian slavery, and for this reason Moshe and Aharon were free to come and go as they pleased. This privilege was laden with responsibility, as the Ramban (Shemos 5:4) writes that it is the custom of every nation to have wise man who teach the people the law, so Pharaoh allowed for the tribe of Levi to be the leaders of the Jewish People. Thus, Moshe and Aharon, the heads of the tribe of Levi, were charged with leading the Jewish People out of Egypt. Moshe refused because of his humility, so the Torah interrupts the narrative of HaShem’s instructions to Moshe and Moshe’s refusal by tracing their lineage. Chronicling the lineage of Moshe and Aharon was to demonstrate the importance of their mission and how Moshe nonetheless refused to be the messenger because of his great humility. This teaches us that no matter how important our role is in our community and despite our noble lineage, we must always maintain the trait of humility.

3. The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh writes that Pharaoh only beseeched Moshe to remove the plagues that caused him a fear of death, and blood, lice, pestilence, boils, and darkness did not cause Pharaoh to fear death. I would like to suggest an alternative explanation. It is said (Yechezkel 23:20)וַתַּעְגְּבָה, עַל פִּלַגְשֵׁיהֶם, אֲשֶׁר בְּשַׂר-חֲמוֹרִים בְּשָׂרָם, וְזִרְמַת סוּסִים זִרְמָתָם, she lusted for the concubinage of those whose flesh is the flesh of donkeys and whose issue is the issue of horses, and the Gemara (Brachos 58a) uses this verse to prove that the Egyptians are compared to donkeys. Pharaoh was only concerned when the animals threatened the Egyptians, because he took this as a sign that HaShem was displeased with the Egyptians’ animalistic behavior. Regarding the plague of hail it is said (Shemos 9:20-21) הַיָּרֵא אֶת-דְּבַר ה, מֵעַבְדֵי פַּרְעֹה–הֵנִיס אֶת-עֲבָדָיו וְאֶת-מִקְנֵהוּ, אֶל-הַבָּתִּים. וַאֲשֶׁר לֹא-שָׂם לִבּוֹ, אֶל-דְּבַר ה–וַיַּעֲזֹב אֶת-עֲבָדָיו וְאֶת-מִקְנֵהוּ, בַּשָּׂדֶה, whoever among the servants of Pharaoh heard the word of HaShem chased his servants and his livestock to the houses. And whoever did not take the word of G-d to heart – he left his servants and livestock in the field. In this instance Pharaoh saw that an Egyptian who elevated himself from the status of an animal to the level of a G-d fearing person was rewarded that his animals were not harmed. This realization inspired him to request that Moshe pray to Hashem that the hail stop.

4. Based on the previous answer, we can understand why specifically by the plagues of wild animals and pestilence HaShem drew a distinction between the Jews and the Egyptians. HaShem demonstrated to the Egyptians that they were likened to animals, and for this reason the plagues of wild animals and pestilence distinguished between the Jews, who were a godly people, and the Egyptians, who had animalistic tendencies.

5. The Egyptians worshipped the sheep, so Pharaoh was concerned that if he allowed the Jews to leave Egypt to serve HaShem, they would take the sheep with them. By the plague of צפרדע, Pharaoh assumed that he could convince Moshe to take other animals out of Egypt to offer as sacrifices. After the plague of ערב, however, Pharaoh realized that HaShem was punishing the Egyptians for worshiping the sheep, so he was willing to allow the Jews to offer sacrifices in Egypt. Nonetheless, he knew that the Jews would be afraid to sacrifice the sheep in front of the Egyptians, and Moshe used this argument in his attempt to persuade Pharaoh to allow the Jews to leave Egypt for three days to serve HaShem.
Shabbos Zemiros Elucidated
מַה יְּדִידוּת מְנוּחָתֵךְ authored by Menachem over four hundred years ago
וְלַעֲרוֹךְ כַּמָּה מִינִים שְׁתוֹת יֵינוֹת מְבֻשָּׂמִים, to arrange on it many varieties – drinking of scented wines. It is the custom for Jews to prepare a variety of dishes in honor of the Holy Shabbos. Perhaps the reason for this is because in the Wilderness the manna tasted like anything a person can imagine, and many of our customs on Shabbos, such as covering the Challos, is to commemorate the manna. When we prepare a variety of dishes for Shabbos, we are commemorating the manna that had the taste of whatever one could imagine.
Shabbos Stories
Those Who Can, Teach
I’m not a rabbi, I never studied in yeshiva, and there’s so much I don’t know. So why am I teaching Torah?
by Michael Steinberg
I’m almost 60 and I just started teaching Torah. I never expected to do this – but now I see that I can. In fact, I think I must. Let me explain.
I did not start out on the path of Torah. Growing up in Queens in the 1950s, my upbringing was secular: no God, no shul, no Shabbat. I wondered what my friends did in Hebrew school, but my parents didn’t send me, so that was that.
And that could have been the end of my Jewish journey. But in 1991, I became a father. Soon enough my four-year-old son was asking questions. Such questions! He’s a deep thinker and his questions exposed how little I knew: “Daddy, how old is the world? Will it exist forever?” Gulp!
I needed to learn – and quickly – so I could answer him. I started taking classes, and then more classes. Now I had questions of my own that needed answers! I was inspired by Torah tapes from the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation, classes in the Florence Melton Mini-School, and articles at
The more I learned, the more I wanted to know.
That also could have been the end of the journey. But the more I learned, the more I wanted to know.
I began learning with a study partner through Partners in Torah. We learned the weekly Torah portion, then some Talmud, then some classic works on spiritual growth. Later, I found a second study partner, and then a third (including a 5 am weekly phone session with Rabbi Jack Kalla from My study partners were remarkably patient and generous, and the hours I spent learning with them were the high points of the week.
Then my shul launched a new study group on Shabbos afternoons to learn Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), the beautiful tractate of the Mishna dealing with ethical living and improving one’s character. I had never even heard of Pirkei Avot, but I already loved textual study, so I volunteered to lead the new group.
For the next two years, we slowly made our way through Pirkei Avot, covering one mishna each week. I prepared by studying Ethics from Sinai and other commentaries in English translation.
We made a Siyum (festive meal) when we completed the tractate. I felt a sense of accomplishment from being involved in something so meaningful. And that (last time, I promise) also could have been the end of the journey.
Can I Do More?
This past December I heard a powerful talk by Rabbi Shlomo Farhi at the Aish HaTorah Partners Conference. He mentioned a song with the chorus, “Avraham, are we the children that you dreamed of?” Would our forefather Abraham be pleased with the lives we are living today? The question unsettled something at my core.
Rabbi Farhi continued: When we pray, we often refer to God as “Elokay Yaakov,” the God of Jacob. Great, but what about us? What have we done to make Him our God, too? And is it enough?
Well, that did it. Wiping away tears, I tried to think about what else I could do. Slowly, it dawned on me that I can teach other Jews what I know, which is Pirkei Avot.
So I thought about the Jews I know who are not involved in some kind of regular learning. Then I asked four of them if they would be willing to learn with me by phone once a week. To my surprise, all four said “yes,” and they actually seemed excited about it!
Then I made a brief business visit to the home of a man I barely know. As I was leaving, I saw a baseball cap near the door that said, “Maimonides.” I asked about the cap.
He explained that he studied the Rambam’s “Guide to the Perplexed” back in high school and loved it. So I took a deep breath and asked if he’d like to learn with me. Once again, to my surprise, the answer was “yes.”
So now I learn weekly with five individuals, and they stimulate me with great questions, and I work hard to find good answers. It’s my way of grappling with the challenge that Rabbi Farhi posed.
But this raises a question: Who am I to teach Torah? I’m not a rabbi, I never studied in yeshiva, and there’s so much I don’t know.
Here is the answer given by the Chofetz Chaim.
At Agudah Yisrael’s first meeting in the early 1930s, the Chofetz Chaim urged everyone to fulfill their obligation to do whatever they could to save their fellow Jews from the forces of assimilation that were raging through Europe during the era of “isms.” His urging met with protest. “How we can tell others to do what we haven’t perfected ourselves?”
The Chofetz Chaim responded with a parable. A traveler was invited by a wealthy man to have a cup of tea. When the guest looked into his cup, he saw sediment that had settled on the bottom. “Where is your water from?” he asked. When told that the town’s water came from a local river, he advised his host that the town needed a filtration system. The system was installed, and thereafter, the water was crystal clear. It worked well until a huge fire broke out some time later and burned down half the town.
The next time the traveler was in town, he heard what had happened and inquired, “Couldn’t you put out the fire?” The people replied, “It took a long time for the water to work its way through the filtration system, and there wasn’t enough filtered water available to quickly control the flames.”
“Fools!” said the traveler. “You don’t need filtered water to put out a fire!”
The Chofetz Chaim went on to explain to those who resisted his call to outreach, “There is a fire raging in Klal Yisrael. We must grab whatever water we have and use it to douse the flames. Every Jew, on whatever level he or she is on, has to use his own capabilities to help extinguish the raging flames around us.”
The question is not, “How can I teach?” The real question is: “How can I not teach?”
Thank you, Rabbi Farhi.
This article is dedicated in loving memory of the author’s father, Reuven ben Yaakov z”l. (
A most difficult case
Rabbi Nosson Schapira of Krakow (1585-1633) once told of his most difficult case.
A wealthy businessman from Warsaw would do business each month in the Krakow market. On each visit he noticed an extremely pious widow huddled near her basket of bagels reciting Psalms. She only lifted her eyes from her worn prayer book to sell a bagel or roll. After the sale she’d shower her customer with a myriad of blessings and immediately she’d return to the frayed pages of her prayer book that were varnished with teardrops and devotion.
Upon observing her each month, the Krakow businessman came to a conclusion. “This pious woman should not have to struggle to earn a living. She should be able to pursue her prayers and piety with no worries.”
He offered to double her monthly earnings on one condition: she would leave the bagel business and spend her time in the service of the L-rd. The woman, tears of joy streaming down her face, accepted the generous offer and thanked the kind man with praise, gratitude and blessing.
A month later, when the man returned to Krakow, he was shocked to find the woman at her usual place, mixing the sweet smell of bagels with the sweet words of Tehillim. As soon as he approached, the woman handed him an envelope. “Here is your money. I thought it over I can’t accept your offer.”
“A deal is a deal,” he exclaimed. “We must see Rabbi Schapira!”
After the businessman presented his case, the woman spoke. “The reason this generous man offered to support me was to help me grow in my spirituality and devotion. From the day I left my bagel business I’ve only fallen. Let me explain.
“Every day that it would rain, I would think of the farmers who planted the wheat for my bagels. I would sing praises for the glory of rain as I felt the personal guidance of Hashem with each raindrop. When the sun would shine I would once again thank Hashem from letting the farmers harvest in good weather. When I would grind the flour and then sift it again I’d find countless reasons to thank the Almighty. When the bread would bake golden brown I’d thank Hashem for the beauty of the product and its sweet sell. And when a customer would come I’d thank both Hashem for sending him and then bless my patron, too! Now this is all gone, I want no part of a simple, all-expense-paid life.” (

Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler

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