Tu B’Shvat

Tonight is Tu B’Shvat. It is a mini holiday that is also known as ראש השנה לאילנות, loosely translated as “Birthday of the trees.”

This holiday has a double meaning. On the one hand, there are Halachot connected to it. Based on the budding of the trees at this time, we determine which year the fruits are connected to.

This year is the fourth year of the seven year Sabbatical years. Therefore, if a tree buds before Tu B’Shvat, it is considered a fourth year tree. After Tu B’Shvat, it becomes a fifth year tree. There is also a connection to the laws of ערלה, and waiting three years after a tree is planted.

The second aspect of Tu B’Shvat is to give praise for Israel and its fruits. Some have the custom of trying to make a “Seder” and eat from the Seven species. It is a holiday where we give thanks for the gift of Eretz Yisrael, and we marvel at its beautiful produce. Chag Sameach.

Brave Nachshon

Shavua Tov. Rabbeinu Bechaye writes that Nachshon Ben Aminadav was not the only one ready to jump in the Red Sea. There were other brave men from the tribes of Binyamin, Yissaschar and Zevulun, who were also ready to jump in. Nachshon was the first.

There is a great deal to be learned from this heroic act. It not only works on a national level, but also on a personal level.

There are many challenges we are faced with in life. There are times when we know what the right decision is for us, but we are afraid, or lack the courage to do the right thing.

Sometimes taking baby steps is the way to go. But there are others, when we need to make the Nachshon type leap. Like Nachshon, we must have faith in Hashem and not be afraid.

He might just split our own personal Red Sea for us.


Rabbeinu Bechaye writes that פרשת בשלח is one of the first Parshiot that teaches us the concept of נסיונות, or tests.

The soul that Hashem breathed into us is pure and holy. However, it sometimes becomes tarnished by our bad choices or indiscretions.  Purifying the soul is compared to polishing gold and silver. After polishing, the gold and silver sparkle again.

Rabbeinu Bechaye says that נסיונות are the polish for our souls. When food ran out one month after the exodus, the Manna became the food for the Jewish people the entire forty years in the desert.

Every day was a test. If the מן fell today, what was the guarantee that it would fall tomorrow? The Rabbis add that one who has food to eat today, but asks what he will eat tomorrow, is a person of small faith.

We need to embrace the נסיונות that Hashem sends our way. It’s a good idea to have our souls polished. Shabbat Shalom

פרשת האותות

Parshat בשלח is the  Parsha that has the greatest אותות, signs, of Hashem’s might. We have the splitting of the Red Sea that was the greatest of all the miracles.

Rabbeinu Bechaye adds that one of the reasons for the travels in the desert was also to increase the אותות that there be no doubt of Hashem’s awesome might.

Rabbeinu Bechaye uses the story of Gidon as a similar example of showing Hashem’s power. Instead of fighting the battle with 10,000 men, the Jewish army is reduced to only 300. In this way, the victory and the miracle is that much greater.

We are to remember that when we began as a nation, Hashem revealed Homself in an open way, that there be no doubt as to the truth of His existence.


Parshat בא is the first Parsha that contains numerous laws. Most of them relate to the קרבן פסח as well as the holiday of Pesach.

The word “אך”, which is simply translated as either, “but” or “except for.” When this word appears, it has special important meaning attached to it.

The word אך appears twice in פרשת בא. The first time it is written אך ביום הראשון תשביתו שאור מבתיכם. But on the first day, all Chametz should be removed from your home. The Rabbis say “אך חלק”, that אך is coming to divide. We are referring to the unique day of Erev Pesach where we divide the day so that we are allowed to eat Chametz in the morning but not in the afternoon. This is a pretty important אך.

The second אך says אך אשר יאכל לכל נפש, only that which is needed for food for the soul is permitted on Yom Tov. This is the source for our being allowed to cook on Yom Tov and do activities necessary for the preparation of food. We are allowed to slaughter on Yom Tov as well as knead the dough and use fire for cooking.

So we have two very important Halachot connected with the word אך.

תפילין as אות

At the end of Parshat בא, we have two of the four chapters dealing with references to Tefillin. Each time, the Torah refers to this Mitzva as an אות, or sign.

Shabbat and Brit Milah are also referred to as אות. They are special signs of our connection to G-d. One of the reasons we do not put on תפילין on Shabbat is because there always needs to be two active אותות every day. During the week, it is ברית מילה and תפילין. And on Shabbat, it is שבת and ברית מילה.

It seems to me that the reference to תפילין is found in פרשת בא, to teach us that perhaps תפילין are put on as a sign or symbol that we be reminded of the exodus from Egypt.

The binding of תפילין on our bodies reaffirms the foundational message of Egypt. Hashem exists and is actively involved in our lives. When we are reminded of this, we are guided as to what really is important in our day to day living.

During the week, תפילין does this. And on Saturday, Shabbat teaches us this lesson.

Prophecy in Egypt

Another interesting point learned from Parshat Bo is about prophecy. Other than the Prophet Yechezkel who received his prophecy in Chutz L’Aretz at the River Kefar, Egypt was a place where prophecy was received.

Moshe and Aharon had to go outside the city to receive prophecy concerning the new month, and making Nissan the first of the month’s of the Jewish calendar.

It was inappropriate to receive the word of G-d in a place of טומאה, impurity. When the Beit Hamikdash stood and there was holiness in the Land, that is when prophecy flourished.

Not only did the prophets need to be on a high level in order to receive prophecy, but the place of prophecy also needed to be holy.

אשרי אדם מפחד תמיד

Shavua Tov. The Pasuk brought by Rabbeinu Bechaye from Mishlei, regarding our Parsha, is very telling. אשרי אדם מפחד תמיד ומקשה לבו יפול ברעה.

Shlomo Hamelech is telling us that that one who is מפחד תמיד, always afraid that he should act properly and be careful about his actions, will be in a state of joy. That’s why it says, אשרי, that it will make him happy.

A person needs to be drawn to his שכל, common sense, and not חומריות, the physical temptations.

He will be led to deal honestly with people, and

he will be מסתפק במועט, be

happy with a little.

However, one who is hard hearted, and goes according to his will and against the Torah, will fall to evil. This was the fate of Pharoah and the fate of others who act like him.

In short, carefully and humbly observing the Torah, brings one joy,

Asking for Gifts

The demand by Hashem to “ask” of the Egyptians gold and silver utensils is a bit troubling.

Rabbeinu Bechaye makes a point of explaining that the word, “ושאלה” is not meant to be translated as “borrow” or “ask”. The intention was that it was to be a permanent gift.

Rabbeinu Bechaye goes on to explain that there is a precedent for such gifts regarding the Hebrew slave. At the end of his serving his Jewish master, the Torah requests, הענק תעניק לו, that we are commanded to give a מענק, or gift, as a sign of gratitude. If this is the practice for six years of labor, then certainly it is due to a nation that labored for 210 years.

This explanation clarified the justification for the gifts received in Egypt.

The Decadence of Egypt

As we are in the middle of the Torah portions that deal with our redemption from bondage, we often overlook the extreme decadence of Egypt.

The Rambam uses a general term to describe decadence, in general, with the words, כמעשה ארץ מצרים, like the acts of Egypt. In הלכות איסורי ביאה, he defines what מעשה ארץ מצרים really was.

Not only did it refer to lesbianism and homosexuality, but it even included same sex marriages.

If that wasn’t decadent enough, we learn that there were ten portions of sorcery and witchcraft in the world. Egypt had nine of these portion.

In short, if you want to find a place where man has sunk to the lowest levels of degradation, it was Egypt. Perhaps the greatest miracle of all is that our ancestors lived in this place for 210 years, and managed to come out and form a ממלכת כהנים ועם סגולה, a nation of priests and a holy nation.

Who is Hashem

Probably the biggest mistake Pharoah made, was when he asked the wrong question: Who is Hashem that I should let the people go? I don’t know of any such Hashem.

Parshat וארא seems to be an answer to Pharoah that he was going to “eat those words.” After every plague, we are told, that this particular plague was in order that you know that there is a G-d in Israel.

In actuality, Hashem’s demonstration of His awesome might was meant for the Jewish people for all time. Twice daily, we mention יציאת מצרים in our prayers. We must also never forget that we must know Hashem.

The Rambam emphasizes that this idea of לדעת את ה׳, to know Hashem, is a fundamental principle of Judaism. We are to live with a constant awareness of Hashem’s Presence.

We are also meant to try to understand His ways to the best of our abilities. So it wasn’t only Pharoah who needed to know Hashem. It is a task for all the Jewish people and all mankind.

Job and Hail

Shavua Tov. There is an interesting ירושלמי that claims that איוב, Job, was among the Egyptians who suffered during the Plagues.

However, he was included among those described as “הירא את דבר ה׳”, those that feared Hashem. This was during the plague of ברד, hail. Those who feared Hashem during the plague of hail removed their animals so that they would not be harmed.

In the Book of Job, he is referred to as ירא את ה׳, which was a similar use of words. Thus, they connected Job with hail.

This also explains how there were horses that remained that were connected to the chariots that chased after the Jewish people when they left Egypt.

There are many details connected with the Plagues and the exodus. Somehow the sages found explanations to all that transpired.

Man and Not Angels

The Parshiot in שמות describe the emergence of the sons of Yakov into becoming a nation. Their special destiny was to receive the Torah and teach morality to the world.

There is a well known Midrash that describes a discussion between the angels and Hashem. They wanted to know why the Jewish people were worthy to keep the Torah.

Hashem explained that man, unlike angels, has a יצר הרע and he needs the laws of the Torah to help him overcome his evil inclination.

Rabbeinu Bechaye expands on this even further by saying that angels do not experience קנאה, jealousy, but humans do. Because they are spiritual beings, they do not experience competition the way that man does.

People are only jealous of those similar to them. A wise man will not be jealous of a fool. He might be jealous of another wise man. A wealthy man will not be envious of a pauper. But he might be envious of another wealthy person.

When all of this was explained to the angels, it became clear why they did not need the Torah. But it was man who desperately needed it in order to cope with man’s frailties. Shabbat Shalom

Brotherly Love

Any discussion of the redemption from Egypt, and the leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon Hakohen, must discuss the unique relationship between these two brother.

This particular brotherly relationship was very special. Here you had a situation where the younger brother surpassed his older brother in greatness and fame. Yet, Aharon did not show the slightest bit of jealousy at his little brother’s achievements. There was no sibling rivalry.

The Rabbis go even further in discussing this relationship. They use the words, כאיש אחד בלב אחד, like one man of one heart.

Usually, the Sages do not go into too much detail about the more personal interaction between two biblical characters.

In this case, Moshe and Aharon became role models for future Jewish families. No jealousy within the family. Stay united and wish each other well. Learn to be genuinely happy at a family member’s success. Feel their pain when they are down and try to lift them up.

Aharon and Moshe had such a relationship of brotherly love. It is definitely something we all need to emulate.

Being Appreciative

An often forgotten foundation of Judaism, is תיקון הנפש, fixing the soul. Every Jew is supposed to work at self improvement as long as he is alive. We are supposed to leave the world in a better state than when we came into the world.

The Rabbis are constantly prodding us along to get us to work on ourselves. They understood human nature and how to overcome human weakness.

One such example is the idea of הכרת הטוב, recognizing the good. We are taught never to overlook a kindness that someone has done for us.

Rabbeinu Bechaye said this succinctly. If man is capable of taking for granted or ignoring a favor that someone did for him, he is destined to forget the Chesed that Hashem does for us as well.

The inability to show appreciation when someone goes out of their way for them, leads to much negativity. He will not be able to recognize the innumerable favors Hashem grants him. This will lead to a feeling of entitlement. Everything is coming to him. And when things don’t come, bitterness and self pity come instead.

All of this begins with simply being aware and appreciative, when someone goes out of their way for us. This awareness, leads to good things. This lack of awareness, the opposite.

We must make this little תיקון of הכרת הטוב, in order to bring Hashem’s abundant blessings.

Night Study

I often said that when young people go out late at night, there is an unwritten rule that “Mitzvot generally do not occur after midnight when was out and about town.”

Contrast this to the words of the Rambam who said the following: If one really desires to acquire the כתר תורה, the Crown of Torah, he should take great care not to waste his evenings with emptiness and nonsense.

He should be spending his nights delving into studying Torah and learning from the wisdom of our sages. Because most of the wisdom that one retains and stays with him, comes from his study at night.

So where should one go at night? To Ben Yehuda or to the Beit Midrash? The Rambam would say that the answer to this is a no brainer.

The Staff

The Midrashim related to the מטה, the staff of Moshe, are quite fascinating.

It is told that Adam was given this staff that had the names of the Ten Plagues written on it.

Later it was taken by Nimrod and eventually reached Eisav. He used the מטה to help him with his hunting skills.

Somehow, this magical staff reached the hands of Yitro. The Meam Loez says that Yitro placed the staff in a rock where it became entrenched. Yitro announced that the man who was able to pull the staff out of the stone would be allowed to marry his daughter, Tzippora.

Moshe did this effortlessly. He married Tzippora and used the staff to redeem the Children of Israel!

Go in Peace

Shavua Tov. After Moshe accepts his mission to redeem the Jewish people from Egypt, he needs to ask permission from his father in-law, Yitro. He needed to be released from a previous oath that he had made.

Yitro agrees with Moshe’s request and wishes him well with the words, ״לך לשלום״, go to peace.

The Gemara at the end of מסכת ברכות, is very specific about saying לך לשלום and not לך בשלום, go IN peace that David wished his son Avshalom’s case.

Avshalom never made it safely as he is killed by Yoav when his hair was caught in the thicket.

It is customary to depart from a loved one at a funeral with the words לך בשלום. We are wishing the deceased eternal peace so that he will not need to come back in another carnation.

It may sound trivial but when we say good by to alive people, we say לך לשלום, but at a funeral we say, לך בשלום.

Same Old Yosef

At the beginning of פרשת שמות, there are a few additional words that Rashi sees as very significant.

The Torah tells us the names of the tribes of Israel and then says, “ויוסף היה במצרים”, and Yosef was in Egypt. Rashi asks, “Isn’t this obvious that Yosef was in Egypt? What is the Torah telling us with these extra three words?”

Rashi answers that it was remarkable that Yosef was in Egypt from the age of seventeen for his whole life, and he remained as simple Yosef. All of the טומאה of מצרים and all of the power that he received as viceroy to Pharoah, did not change him.

For most people, such a dramatic change of being away from one’s family, and steeped in a decadent society, would certainly have a negative effect on them.

We must learn from this to put ourselves in a setting that will allow us to flourish as Jews. There are so many challenges and forces that pull us away from our closeness to Hashem. We must put ourselves in situations that will allow us and our children to succeed. Shabbat Shalom

Seek Out Hashem

The discussion between Hashem and Moshe Rabbeinu was much more than Hashem convincing Moshe that he was the right person to redeem the Jewish people from slavery.

It appears that Hashem was prepared to reveal Himself to Moshe in a much deeper way than that of the Avot. One of Moshe’s major concerns was how he was supposed to explain to the people Hashem’s nature. It was clear that Hashem could be perceived in many different ways- depending on the level of holiness of that individual.

At one point, Hashem tells Moshe to tell the people that He will be with them during this crisis and will also be with them in future times of trouble. Moshe protests and suggests that it’s better not to mention future exiles.

Rabbeinu Bechaye said that when Pharoah tells Moshe that the Jews will have to gather their own straw for bricks, Moshe is disturbed. He was really asking the age old question of צדיק ורע לו ורשע וטוב לו, why do the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper.

What we are to gain from this dialogue between Hashem and Moshe is that it is incumbent on us all to try to seek out Hashem’s ways so that we can get closer to Him. This is meant to be a major focus of our existence. As King David said קרבת אלוקים היא טוב, closeness to Hashem is a good thing.