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Posted January 27, 2017 - 7:41am

There’s a curious series of events that happen when Moshe and Aaron appear before Pharaoh and begin to display the signs and wonders of Hashem to him and his court. The first thing they do is provide him a sign of their authority from Hashem by turning Aaron’s staff into a serpent. However, Pharaoh’s magicians also turn their staffs into serpents as well. And after Hashem turns the water of Egypt into blood, the magicians of Egypt replicate this miracle as well. It says, “But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts” (Exodus 7:22). Throughout the course of Hashem displaying the various miracles, signs and wonders (ancient Hebrew for “shock and awe”) on Egypt, Pharaoh’s magicians periodically replicate these signs. Why? In order to convince Pharaoh that the God of the Hebrews was no more powerful than they were, and thus allow his heart to be hardened against the Children of Israel.

But Rashi has an interesting and thought provoking take on this. He says that the magicians are doing this to Moshe and Aaron because bringing signs and wonders to Egypt is like “importing straw to Ofrayim, a city full of straw. You are bringing sorcery to Egypt, which is full of sorcery.” 

Straw to Straw Town

Why would anyone want to bring straw to peddle in a town known for its straw? A person that would have the audacity to do such a thing had better know beyond a shadow of a doubt that his product was ultimately superior to that which was produced in Straw Town. Otherwise he would suffer the humility that would follow.

Posted January 27, 2017 - 5:42am

Rabbi Chanina, an assistant of the high priest said: Pray for the welfare of the government, since but for fear of it men would swallow each other alive. (m.Avot 3:2)

In the Hebrew Roots movement there is often a strong anti-government sentiment woven into the core belief system, and government conspiracy theories abound. While some of this paranoia is justified (we should never be completely ignorant of the inevitable manipulations of governing authorities), the far majority of it is merely based on fear and an aversion of authority. These are the same people that are anti-rabbinic and fabricate all kinds of misinformation about the Talmud and rabbinic writings. Organized religion of any sort can’t be trusted. In their minds a ruling authority of any kind is illegitimate and power-hungry. However, we must realize that governing systems are necessary for the welfare of humanity.

Of the seven categories of commandments that are incumbent upon all of humanity by way of what has been codified as the Noachide Laws, establishing a system of courts and a legal system to uphold civil law is one of them. Why? Because without it, as our mishnah says, “men would swallow each other alive.” Irving Bunim, in his commentary on this passage, points out that humans can be inherently cannibalistic. It is human nature to devour other humans by any means possible. We will find a way to dominate, subjugate, and denigrate another human being at the drop of a hat. However, Hashem requires us to resist our base nature and assist those who have no assistance, to protect those who have no protection, and to defend those who have no defense. Therefore, a system of justice is required in order to protect the weak and the innocent from the indomitable and culpable.

Posted January 20, 2017 - 12:09pm

Last week we concluded the book of Genesis and this week we have begun the book of Exodus. Up to this point we have been studying a brief history of the world leading up to the emergence of the Children of Israel. Beginning in the book of Exodus, however, we now begin to learn about how God calls Israel out from among the other nations of the earth to be a bride to himself. From here we will learn about the marriage covenant between God and Israel, and their unique responsibilities in that covenantal relationship. Now, however, we are learning about how God raised up a single man who would be faithful over the flock of Israel and lead them in the paths of righteousness. This man, of course, was Moses.

After we read of the miraculous incidents surrounding the birth of Moses and how he was taken into Pharaoh’s court to be raised there, we are given our first glimpse into the compassion he had for his own people: 

One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. (Exodus 2:11–12)

Posted January 6, 2017 - 6:57am

Ani Yosef—“I am Joseph.” You could have heard a pin drop when Joseph spoke those two Hebrew words to his brothers. Their mouths fell open and their jaws nearly hit the floor. Their eyes bulged as they strained to recognize their younger brother hidden beneath the Egyptian garb. Confusion and despair rushed over them from head to foot in an instant. An icy chill coursed through their veins at the sudden realization that the man who stood in front of them—the second most powerful man in Egypt—was the one they had betrayed over twenty years previously. The next few seconds played out as if they were in slow motion as they began processing those two words. Their minds rewound the moment and zoomed in on his lips as he spoke, “Ani Yosef!” “Did he really just say what we think we heard???” It probably seemed like an eternity as a million thoughts, fears, and regrets all collided in their minds simultaneously. Time stood frozen solid as the implications of this simple statement firmly landed on each of them.

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Latest Book Review

The Magerman Edition

Author: Daniel Rose & Jay Goldmintz
Publisher: Koren Publishers
Year: 2014

The Koren Ani Tefilla Siddur is one of the latest in Koren’s growing collection of siddurim (prayer books) geared towards a specific demographic. Koren describes Ani Tefilla as “an engaging and thought-provoking siddur for the inquiring high school student and thoughtful adult.” Koren says that Ani Tefillah has been developed in order “to help the user create their own meaning and connection during the Tefilla [prayer] experience.” The name of the siddur is connected with its objective. Ani Tefilla means “I pray.” 

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