This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Va'eira (5760)
Once there was a very poor couple that didn't remember how to prepare the house for Pesach. Finally the wife began yelling at her husband. "Fool! What type of husband are you? Everyone is preparing for Pesach and we are standing like two cows doing nothing. Go to the neighbors and ask them what to do!"
The husband dutifully went outside but because he was too ashamed to actually knock on the neighbor's door, he went around to the side of the neighbor's house, climbed up on the garbage cans and peeked in the window.
Now it just so happened that exactly at that moment the neighbor and his wife were at the height of a fierce argument and she was furiously running after him around the living-room table trying to hit him over the head with a broom while he was doing his best to avoid the blows.
Our hero looked bewilderedly on for a few minutes and finally returned home.
"Nu?" asked his wife "What did they say?"
He, not wanting to answer, took a glass, filled it with water and pretended to drink.
"NU NU!" she repeated, "Answer me!! What did they say?"
But he continued slowly filling his mouth with water, and tried to ignore her.
"ANSWER ME ALREADY!" she screamed, as she picked up a broom and furiously began to hit him over the head with it.
"One minute!" He said to her "If you already knew what to do, why did you have to send me to the neighbors?
Similarly, in the end of last weeks' section Moshe asked G-d; "G-d, You sent me to announce to Pharaoh that we are preparing to leave Egypt, and after I returned, more bad things happened to the Jews! If you want the Jews to suffer, why did you have to send me to Pharaoh?"
This week's section begins with G-d's reply to this question:
'I am G-d. I appeared to Avraham Yitzchak and Yaakov…. but I did not make known to them my full name'.
At first glance there are many puzzling things in this weeks Parsha:
1) What does G-d's answer have to do with Moshe's question about Jewish suffering?
2) Why did G-d keep sending Moshe to ask Pharaoh for permission to leave Egypt?
(I can just imagine Pharaoh giving Moshe a sly look and saying "Listen Jew, if your G-d really creates and controls everything, then why is He asking me for permission? Why doesn't He do it himself? You want my opinion? I say NO")
3) Why did G-d tell Moshe to turn his staff to a snake for Pharaoh before threatening him with the plagues, this seems completely unnecessary?
4) Why did G-d have to make ten plagues to free the Jews, why not one big one?
5) Why did the Jews have to leave Egypt at all? Why didn't G-d just stop creating all the Egyptians, and give everything to His people?
6) Why did the Jews have to enter Egypt in the first place? If G-d is really kind and almighty (which He is) why didn't He just give them the Torah without all the suffering?
The answer to all these questions in a nutshell is: G-d wants everyone to change the world by recognizing His greatness and serving Him with their own FREE WILL.
Therefore G-d made this illusionary, physical world in the first place, and did not suffice with the spiritual ones.
All the other religions of the world interpret this to mean that this world is only a preparation for the spiritual worlds.
But really they are wrong. G-d wants man to reveal the true reason for creation within the creation.
This was the job of Adam, the first man, and when he failed, the world had to wait almost two thousand years until 'Avraham' realized this truth.
Because of Avraham's devotion, G-d actually revealed Himself and spoke to him. And so it was to Avraham's son and grandson, Yitzchak and Yaakov, but still something was missing.
These three spiritual giants, despite their greatness, did not succeed in changing the world in a permanent way. Firstly, they did not receive any real physical commandments (except for circumcision) and also they did not have any lasting effect on the non-Jews.
They received only temporary revelations and eternal promises from G-d. In other words, they did all the work and passed all the tests, but did really not see any of the results.
That is what this week's section is all about. G-d is telling Moshe that now He is preparing the Jewish people for a revelation of G-dliness that even the forefathers did not receive; the Torah.
This preparation will have two stages; eliminating the bad and encouraging the good. In other words CHANGING THE CREATION. This is the inner meaning and purpose of the story of leaving Egypt.
Now, if G-d did the whole thing himself it would not really be a change; it's no novelty that the Creator can do what He wants.
But if the creation changes itself, THAT is a novelty. That is why it is so important that Pharaoh himself declares that G-d is the King, and the Jewish people decide to serve Him with all their souls.
That is why the first thing that Moshe showed Pharaoh was how he could transform his staff into a snake. The staff of Moshe symbolizes the unifying, creative force of G-d while the serpent is a symbol of the power of evil and selfishness.
Moshe was showing that evil is really another creation of G-d Himself, and that his (Moshe's) job is to see to it, through the plagues, that all the forces of separation will eventually return to their source, just as his staff finally devoured all the serpents of Pharaoh.
This is why G-d wanted Pharaoh to AGREE to send the Jews; he had to surrender to HaShem with even his free will.
Therefore there had to be ten plagues, corresponding to the ten aspects of evil ('Sfirot Raot' in the language of kabala. See 'Tanya" beginning of chap. 6) emanating from Egypt; so that the surrender be complete, and therefore G-d fortified Pharaoh's heart, [Pharaoh represents nature, creation without a creator. As Pharaoh himself said in last week's Parsha " (5:2) Who is G-d that I should do what He wants, I don't know G-d" and in our Haftorah (Yechezkel 29;3) "I made the river (Nile) and I made myself"] because if Pharaoh would have released the Jews too early, some of these aspects of his selfishness would still remain uncorrected. (In fact if the Jews had not sinned with the Golden Calf, all the evil represented by Pharaoh would not have returned to this day).
This can be illustrated by a story told about the 'Alter Rebbe', the first Rebbe of Chabad. He was imprisoned by the Czarist Government in the year 1799 and charged with high treason. Several times he was taken at night by rowboat across a river to another building for interrogation. Once, in the middle of such a journey he requested the soldier rowing the boat to stop long enough for him to stand and say a short prayer ('Kidush Lavana' on the new moon). The soldier refused and the Rebbe did or said something so that the boat stopped moving. The soldier began begging for mercy and the Rebbe told him that he would only release the boat if he promises to stop rowing and allow him to say his prayer. Of course the bewildered and grateful soldier complied.
The Rebbe desired that the Russian soldier also have a part in the service of G-d.
But this is only half of the picture; the eradication of evil, there still remains the other half; to reveal the good.
This is accomplished, as strange as it may seem, through the suffering and hard work of the Jewish people.
One of my teachers, Rabbi Mendel Futerfass served over five years at hard labor in Stalin's labor camps in Siberia. He said that the conditions were impossible for a normal human being no less a Chassid who insisted on keeping all the laws of the Torah. Several Passovers he ate nothing for eight days in a row, the temperatures were often lower than 20 below zero, and both the inmates and the guards were vicious animals. But in retrospect he said that those were the best days of his life because he had to constantly exert every power in his Jewish soul, and even reveal new ones, in order to stay Jewishly alive.
So it was with the Jews in Egypt; the reason that they had to be imprisoned there was to arouse in them the deep desire to be free to serve G-d.
In fact that is the meaning of 'Serving' G-d. In Hebrew the word for 'serve' and for 'tanning' (like tanning hides) have the same letters "Avod". The books of Chassidus explain that the thing they have in common is complete change. Before a hide is tanned it is hard and un-pliable but afterward it is soft and useful. Similarly a Jew must 'serve' G-d i.e. change himself so that he is 'pliable' and filled with the love of HaShem.
And this is done through suffering and pressure.
The Rebbe points out, as an example of this; that to this day it is not clear how the huge blocks were lifted to build the pyramids how was it possible to force workers to exert such effort.
The Midrash also points out that the Jewish people are likened to olives and grapes that only emit their true potential when they are squeezed.
That is why the Jewish people had to be in Egypt, just as the name of G-d begins with a 'yud', the smallest of the letters, so the Jewish people must begin in a very compressed way in order to reveal G-d's name.
This is the meaning of G-d's answer to Moshe in the beginning of our section. G-d was telling Moshe that in order to reveal Himself in a way that even the forefathers didn't know it was necessary to squeeze the Jewish people just a bit more.
But just as in G-d's name the second letter (Hei) is much more expanded than the first, so also the Jews would need to leave Egypt ('Mitzraiam' which also means 'constriction') after the pressure of servitude was released.
What this means to us in a practical way is that everyone must 'work' on himself i.e. change himself from the inside as well as the outside and go out of his own limitations "Mitzriam".
This change must be in two directions 1) Turning from bad i.e. convincing Pharaoh (one's natural urges and character traits) that G-d is the boss, and that he should help the Jewish soul go free and unhindered, and 2) increasing the good, which means being as attached as possible to the tzadikim, and especially to the Moshe Rabbenu of our generation, the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
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