Can God Ever Truly Prove that He Is Behind History?

Can God Ever Truly Prove that He Is Behind History-01-20-20

Attempting to clarify an ambiguous statement in a verse in Parashat VaEira.

In the third of his 2019 Divrei Tora for Parashat VaEira, R. David Silverberg discusses what God is referring to in one of the iconic verses of the Parashat HaShavua:

Shemot 6:7

And I will Take you to Me for a people, and I will Be to you a God; and ye shall know that I Am the LORD your God, Who Brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.

R. Silverberg wonders what it is that the Jews will come to know about God only after He Extracts them from Egypt. Wouldn’t they be aware during their redemption that it was God Who was Orchestrating their being freed from servitude?

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Merely Knowing vs. Significant Familiarity

Merely Knowing vs. Significant Familiarity-01-19-20

A close reading of a verb and reflecting upon its implications.

In R. Aharon Lichtenstein’s 1990 Sicha on Parashat VaEira, “Knowledge of God”, he draws attention to a particular verb utilized in the text that RaShI discusses in terms of what the verse could have said, as opposed to what it actually stated:

Shemot 6:2-3

“And God Spoke to Moshe, and said to him: I Am the Lord.  And I Appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov by the Name ‘Keil Shakai’ (of God Almighty,) but by My Name, ‘Y-K-V-K’ (the Lord,) ‘Lo Noda’ti’ (I was not familiar)  to them.”

RaShI s.v. U’Shmi HaShem Lo Nodati Lahem

The text does not state here “Lo Hodati (I did not make known),” but rather “Lo Nodati” (I was not familiar)—I Was not familiar to them by My True Attribute, that because of it My Name is called “Y-K-V-K,” the One Who Is Faithful to Make My Words come true, for behold I have Promised them (the forefathers) and I have not (as yet) Fuflilled (My Promise.)

(RaShI is referencing the “Covenent between the Pieces” that was originally entered into with Avraham, and subsequently ratified with Yitzchak and Yaakov:

Beraishit 15:13-4, 16

13 And He said unto Avram: Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; 14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I Judge; and afterward shall they come out with great substance…16 And in the fourth generation they shall come back hither; for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full.)

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The True Determinants of Jewish Identity

The True Determinants of Jewish Identity 1.17.20

One of Moshe’s questions at the Burning Bush during the course of his attempting to refuse to take on the task of leading the Jews out of Egypt.

In R. Jonathan Sacks’ 2012 Devar Tora for Parashat Shemot, “Who Am I?”, he explores the implications of one aspect of Moshe’s deep questions when experiencing his first Divine Revelation at the burning bush:

Shemot 3:11

And Moshe said unto God: Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?

R. Sacks notes that although in effect Moshe asks two things in this verse:

a) Am I really qualified to try to carry out this mission?

and b) Why should I expect to succeed?

God only addresses the second part of this question:

(Ibid. 12) “…Because I will be with you…” You will succeed because I am not Asking you to do it alone. I am not really Asking you to do it at all. I will Be Doing it for you. I Want you to be My Representative, My Mouthpiece, My Emissary and My Voice.

implying that Moshe should be able to answer the first part, i.e., “Who am I?” by himself!

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Contrasting the Formational Biblical Accounts of Yishmael and Moshe

Contrasting the Formational Biblical Accounts of Yishmael and Moshe 1.16.20

A comparison of protagonists in Beraishit and Shemot.

In R. Amnon Bazak’s second essay for Parashat Shemot, “Bein Mishpachat Moshe U’Bein Hagar” (Nekudat HaPeticha: Iyunim Ketzarim BePeshuta Shel Parashat HaShavua, Yediot Acharonot, Sifrei Chemed, Yeshivat Har Etzion, Rishon LeTziyon, 2018, pp. 128-9) he juxtaposes two biblical stories that ordinarily aren’t compared. While the accounts definitely parallel one another, even more telling is where they digress, a point that is not lost upon R. Bazak.

Comparing verses depicting similarities and differences:


Beraishit Shemot
A young boy in danger of dying: Ibid. 21:15 And the water in the flask was used up, and the boy was cast under one of the shrubs. 1:22 And Pharoah commanded all of his people saying: Every baby boy who is born, into the river he shall be thrown…

2:3 And she (Yocheved) could no longer hide him (Moshe)…

A female family member accompanies the boy: Ibid. 14 …And she (Hagar) was sent away and she went and she wandered in the wilderness in the direction of Be’er Sheva. Ibid. 4 And his sister (Miriam) stood afar, to learn what will happen to him (Moshe).
The boy is eventually saved: Ibid. 19 And God Opened her (Hagar’s) eyes, and she saw a well of water, and she went and filled the flask with water, and she gave the boy (Yishmael) drink. Ibid. 6 …And she (Pharoah’s daughter) felt compassion for him (Moshe)…

Ibid. 9 And she (Pharoah’s daughter) said (to Yocheved): Take this boy and nurse him for me…

He grows up and marries: Ibid. 21 …And his mother (Hagar) found for him (Yishmael) a wife from the land of Egypt. Ibid. 21 …And he (Yitro, the Midianite priest) gave Tziporra his daughter to Moshe (for a wife.)


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What is Implied by One Lifting His Hands Against Another

What is Implied by One Lifting His Hands Against Another 1.15.20

One of the indications that it was not in Moshe’s nature to stand idly by while someone is being abused.

In Sivan Rahav-Meir’s second essay for Parashat Shemot, “Do Not Use Your Hands” (#Parasha: Weekly Insights for a Leading Israeli Journalist, trans. Chava Wilschanski, Menorah Books, Jerusalem, 2017, p. 76), she notes that a ubiquitous rule is extrapolated from an early incident in Moshe’s life:

Shemot 2:13-4

13 And he (Moshe) went out the second day (after having killed the Egyptian taskmaster who was beating a Jewish slave on the “first day,”) and, behold, two men of the Hebrews were striving together; and he said to him that did the wrong: Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow? 14 And he said: Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? Thinkest thou to kill me, as thou didst kill the Egyptian? And Moshe feared, and said: Surely the thing is known.

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Majorities Dealing with Minorities

Majorities Dealing with Minorities 1.14.20

Jews as an inferior minority in Egypt.

In R. Binyamin Lau’s 2013 Devar Tora for Parashat Shemot, he notes that the beginning of the Parashat HaShavua depicts the Jews as strangers vis-à-vis the native inhabitants of the Egyptian empire:

Shemot 1:1, 7, 9-10

1 Now these are the names of the sons of Yisrael, who came into Egypt with Yaakov; every man came with his household…

7 And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them

9 And he (Pharoah) said unto his people: Behold, the people of the children of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. 10 Come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there befalleth us any war, they also join themselves unto our enemies, and fight against us, and get them up out of the land.

R. Lau imaginatively contemporizes this biblical account:

…We were not limited to the villages in the land of Goshen. The Egyptians encountered us in the checkout lines, in the birthing rooms, on the playing fields…

R. Lau suggests that the Egyptians reached a point where they couldn’t stand the Jews. They furthermore were not confident that should the country’s economic stability be threatened, that the Jews would be loyal to Egypt. Their negative attitude was encapsulated in the following metaphor:

…Who needs this “disease” that is “slowly spreading throughout our body”?…

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Establishing “Godliness” as a Central Value


The historical development of the “Aleinu” prayer.

The “Aleinu” (lit. “it is incumbent upon us”) prayer is included at the end of every communal Jewish prayer service (see, e.g., The Complete ArtScroll Siddur, pp. 159-61, 253-5, 281, 351, 481-3, 527-9.) This prayer is a liturgical poem that, according to Rav Hai Gaon, was authored by Joshua upon his leading the Jewish people into the land of Israel. Already in very early versions of “Malchiyot” (lit. “Kingship; included in this section of the Rosh HaShana Musaf Silent Devotion, is a series of ten biblical verses that describe various aspects of how God is to be viewed as the Monarch of all creation) the first paragraph of the “Aleinu” prayer serves as this section’s prologue. Subsequently, probably during the Middle Ages, a two-paragraph version of “Aleinu” was attached to the end of every daily prayer service, and as such is considered one of the most ubiquitous features of Jewish liturgy.

Exploring the implications of a line in the second paragraph of the prayer.

A very evocative phrase in the second paragraph of the “Aleinu” prayer, that has always piqued my curiosity, reads:

“…LeTakein Olam BeMalchut Shakai…”

(“…to perfect the world under the sovereignty of the Almighty…”

Since Judaism does not believe that evangelizing non-Jews in order that they  become Jews, is a virtue, but rather that as long as an individual acts morally and ethically, s/he is entitled to enter the spiritual afterlife,

(e.g., Maimonides, Mishneh Tora, Laws of Kings and Wars, 8:11

Anyone who accepts upon himself the fulfillment of these seven Commandments [see ], and is precise in their observance, is considered one of “the pious among the gentiles” and will merit a share in the World-to-Come…)

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Why Giving the Benefit of the Doubt is a Godly Thing to Do

Why Giving the Benefit of the Doubt is a Godly Thing to Do 1.13.20

A Midrash’s interpretation of an aspect of God’s Informing Moshe re the mission that he is to undertake on behalf of the Jewish people.

In the third of R. David Silverberg’s 2016 Divrei Tora for Parashat Shemot , he quotes a strange Midrash with regard to one of the verses in the Parashat HaShavua:

Shemot 3:7

And God Said: I “Ra’ah Ra’iti” (have surely Seen) the affliction of My People who are in Egypt, and I have Heard their screams due to their oppressors, because I have Known their pain.

Shemot Rabba 3:2

…Another interpretation: The Holy One, Blessed Be He, Knew that the people in the future would sin and (some of them) would incur the death penalty, but He didn’t Allow that to deter Him… When the Jews were in Egypt, HaShem “Saw” what they would do in the future, as it is said: “…Ra’ah Ra’iti…” The text does not say “Ra’iti” but rather “Ra’ah Ra’iti”. The Holy One, Blessed Be He, Said to Moshe: You see a single “seeing” and I See two “seeings.” You see them coming to Sinai and receiving my Tora, and I See them receiving my Tora—“Ra’ah”; “Ra’iti”—this is the “Seeing” of the sin of the Golden Calf, as it is said: (Shemot 32:9) “And God Said to Moshe: ‘Ra’iti’ this people and behold they are stubborn.”

(The Midrash constructs a “Gezeira Shava” with the word “Ra’iti.”)

When I Come to Sinai to give them the Tora, I Descend with my “Tatramoli” (a Greek word for a chariot pulled by four animals—see Yechezkel 1, which serves as the basis for the mystical concept of “Ma’aseh HaMerkava” [the case of the “Chariot”]) by which they look upon Me, and one of them extracts himself and gives Me Grief using it (the Midrash assumes that one of the animals pulling the “Chariot” was a calf.) Nevertheless, I do not judge them in accordance with the future actions that they will do, but rather in accordance with “where they are at” now (see RaShI on Beraishit 21:17 s.v. Ba’Asher Hu Sham the basis for which appears in this passage of the Midrash.) …

R. Silverberg wonders why, even if it is understandable that God would Explain to Moshe how the people were suffering in Egypt in order to justify His Intervention, according to the Midrash does He also Mention His Awareness that the Jews were going to commit a terrible transgression?

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Parashat Shemot (Shemot 1:1-6:1): Questions for discussion and consideration


Rishon: Shemot 1:8 states that the new Pharoah “did not know Yosef.” How is that possible, given that without Yosef, Egypt would have been destroyed as a result of the 7 years of severe famine?

Hint: See Seforno on this verse for a possible answer.

Sheini: Why in Ibid. 2:4 does the Tora state that Miriam, Moshe’s sister took an incredible risk by taking up a position so that she could watch over the basket in which her baby brother was concealed?

Hint: See Rabbeinu Bachaye on this verse for two possible alternative answers.

Shelishi: What did the individual mean in Ibid. 14, when he accused Moshe of killing the Egyptian, despite v. 12 stating that Moshe looked all around to assure that there would be no witnesses to what he was about to do?

Hint: See RaMBaN on this verse for two possible alternative answers.

Revi’i:    Ibid. 3:4 contains the phrase “And HaShem Saw that he (Moshe) turned to see (the phenomenon of the burning bush that was not consumed)…”, as if to say that had Moshe not stopped to look, HaShem would never have Appeared to him. How could that additional phrase be understood?

Hint: See R. Chaim Paltiel for an intriguing explanation.

Chamishi: In Ibid. 18, HaShem Promises Moshe that he would be accompanied by the Ziknai Benai Yisrael when he meets Pharoah. However, Moshe and Aharon appear alone before Pharoah (Ibid. 5:1.) What happened to the entourage that were supposed to also appear?

Hint: See HaKetav VeHaKabbala for a possible answer.

Shishi: In Ibid. 4:18, it appears that Moshe asks permission from Yitro to be allowed to go to Egypt. Why would he have to consult with his father-in-law if HaShem has Commanded him to go to Egypt to redeem the Jewish people?

Hint: See Chizkuni for a possible answer.

Shevi’i: In Ibid. 5:14, the Tora states that the Jewish officers that had been appointed to assure that the quotas of bricks would be filled, were smitten when the people didn’t meet their quotas. Shouldn’t these officers have done the smiting rather than be smitten?

Hint: See RaShI for a possible answer.

Two Forms of “Yira”

Two Forms of “Yira”

An interesting parallel between Moshe and the Jewish people when they each first directly encounter HaShem.

In R. Aharon Lichtenstein’s 2003 Sicha for Parashat Shemot, “Moshe Hid His Face, for He was Afraid to Look at God”, he applies a Midrashic dispute concerning one of Moshe’s actions while a young man, and the Jewish people’s response to the Revelation at Sinai.

Regarding what the Tora describes in Shemot 3:6:

Moreover He Said: I Am the God of thy father, the God of Avraham, the God of Yitzchak, and the God of Yaakov.’ And Moshe hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.

a dispute between two Tannaim (Rabbis who lived during the time of the Mishna) is recorded in a Midrash:

Shemot Rabba 3:1

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha and Rabbi Hoshaya (debated).

One of them (R. Yehoshua ben Korcha) said: Moshe did not act properly in hiding his face, for had he not hidden his face, the Holy One would have Revealed to him that which is above and that which is below, that which has been and that which is destined to be. Ultimately, Moshe asked to see (all of) this, as it is written: (Shemot 33:18)  “Please show me Your Glory,” but the Holy One Answered him: I Came to Show you, and you hid your face; now I Say to you: (Ibid. 20) “No man shall see Me and live.” When I Wanted (to Show you), you did not want (to see)!”

R. Hoshaya Rabba maintained: Moshe acted properly in covering his face. The Holy One Said to him: I Came to Show you My Face, and you showed Me respect by covering your face. By your life, you will spend forty days and forty nights with Me atop the mountain, without eating or drinking (see Devarim 9:9), and you will enjoy the Glory of the Divine Presence,” as it is written: (Ibid. 34:29) “Moshe did not know that the skin of his face was radiant.” Nadav and Avihu, on the other hand, uncovered their heads and feasted their eyes upon the glory of the Divine Presence, as it is written: (Ibid. 24:11) “Upon the noble ones of Bnei Yisrael He Did not Put forth His Hand (implying that they were deserving of punishment as a result of their impudence),” and they did not receive (a reward) for their actions (indicating that they, as opposed to Moshe, did the wrong thing.)

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