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Posted February 10, 2017 - 9:04am

Don’t Pray. Just obey.

Aren’t we supposed to pray about everything? Shouldn’t we pray before doing anything? After all, Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Why wouldn’t we pray about everything we do? This week’s parashah offers an interesting insight into a very good reason why prayer might not always be the best thing for our situation.

In the beginning of our Torah portion, the Children of Israel are faced with a dilemma. Pharaoh realized what a terrible loss he had incurred by allowing the Israelites to leave Egypt, and so he begins pursuing them with a massive army. When he and his army catch up with the Children of Israel, they are in a particularly strategic position: they have the Israelites cornered. There is no where to go but into the sea. The Torah records the reaction of the Israelites:

When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD. (Exodus 14:10)

The Children of Israel were trapped and they cried out to the LORD. And although the text isn’t explicit, it appears that Moses follows their lead because just a few verses later we read:

The LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. (Exodus 14:15)

What? Why does Hashem rebuke Moses because he prayed? Isn’t this a natural response, the response God desires? Doesn’t He want us to seek Him in times like these? Isn’t this the very purpose of prayer? Rabbi Yehudah recognized the problem most people would associate with this passage and therefore explained the situation:

Posted February 7, 2017 - 9:57am

If you haven't heard of Sefaria.org, then you are missing out. This is one of the best free resources on the net for Jewish texts. They have everything from the Biblical text, the Mishnah, various midrashim, halachic and liturgical texts, mystical texts, and MUCH MORE. A lot of the texts are only available in Hebrew, but many are being made available in English as well. Their newest addition to their family of freely available texts is the entire text of the Talmud (both the Bavli and the Yerushalmi) in both Hebrew and in English! If you haven't checked it out, you need to. The announcement is as follows:

Today, Sefaria is excited and humbled to announce the release of The William Davidson Talmud, a free digital edition of the Babylonian Talmud that will include English and Modern Hebrew translation by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, interlinked to major commentaries, biblical citations, Midrash, Kabbalah, Halakhah, and an ever-growing library of Jewish texts.

You can already access 22 tractates in English (Berakhot through Bava Batra) on Sefaria. The Modern Hebrew translations will begin appearing online later this year, and the remaining English tractates will follow.

Posted February 3, 2017 - 7:34am

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.” (Exodus 10:1–2)

With the opening words of our parashah we hear the very heart of God. The entire reason for the battle with Pharaoh is because He wants to create a legacy, a memorial, and a devotion to Himself that will be passed on from generation to generation among the Children of Israel. He says it is so that “you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson.” His desire is that the children of Israel would attach themselves to Him forever, and that there would not be a generation in which He is forgotten. It is therefore the responsibility of parents to teach their children the ways of the Lord, and recount everything He has done in our lives so that they can see His love, His faithfulness, and His greatness.

When Pharaoh momentarily relents after the plague of locusts, he asks Moses who he intends on taking out to the wilderness. Moses replies, “We will go with our young and our old. We will go with our sons and daughters” (Exodus 10:9). Pharaoh snapped back his harsh response: “The LORD [will indeed] be with you if ever I let you and your little ones go!” (vs. 10). The world does not want us to teach our children to serve the Lord. Secular society would like nothing better than for our children to forsake their spiritual heritage. As noted in his biography of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (the "Rebbe” of blessed memory, and the seventh leader of Chabad), Joseph Telushkin shows that the Rebbe understood this probably more than anyone.

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.

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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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