Showing posts from January, 2016

Yithro's perspective versus Moshe's

Bureaucracy is almost synonymous with inefficiency in today's world. But back in the days of Moshe Rabbeinu, it was seen as a way to expedite matters. That's the rationale Moshe's father-in-law, Yithro, offered for finding qualified people to serve as judges in layers of courts, so that not everyone would be waiting on Moshe himself.  He would only have to attend to the really big issues.

In the words of the verse (18:22) Any great matter would be brought to you [Moshe] and every small thing, they will judge themselves. My grandfather points out that the formulation Moshe presented was somewhat different In verse 26, instead of referring to a great matter to be brought to Moshe, it refers to a matter that is difficult for them.  Later on, in Parshas Devarim (1:17), the reference again is to difficult matters. Moshe says, "vehadavar asher yakshe michem takrivun elay."

Furthermore, Moshe deliberately equates great and small matters in saying "kegadol, kekatan …

Celebrating Trees With Snow on the Ground

So we got our #Blizzard2016, which makes us feel like winter truly is here. But tomorrow is Tu B'Shavat, a holiday designated for trees. To get a feel for the holiday, I like to take a tropical trip over to the Greenhouses at Planting Fields. I've posted pictures in the past of my visits there, and here's the latest crop from last week.

And for the Torah portion, here's a piece adapted from what  Rabbi Chaim Brown wrote for Kallah Magazine's site serveral years ago that I posted on this blog last year here:

One cause, different effects

This is Shabbos Shira, as we read the parsha in which the Israelites sand a song of praise after they made it across the Yam Suf, and the Egyptians pursuing them did not.  Among the phrases  in the song is Yemincha Hashem ne'edri bakoach, yemincha Hashem tiratz oyev. The right arm [so to speak] of G-d is said to both save and destroy. Rashi explains that the its like Hashem has two right arms, one to save Yisrael and another to destroy the enemies. In his view, he said, its one right arm that does both, something that is impossible for a human -- doing two different actions with one arm.

My grandfather explains that for a person, a task will differ according to what's needed. Accordingly, he would do good with one hand and inflict punishment with another.  In contrast, for G-d it is possible to do a single action that serves as both reward and punishment. The differentiation is solely in the recipient.

That is the concept , he say, that Chazal bring up (Nedarim 8b) "In th…

The Life of Rabbi Copperman

We don't all plan what we want engraved on our tombstones. But Rabbi  Dr.Copperman (that's the way the family spelled the name) did. His daughter, Dr. Devorah Rosenwasser, told an audience that gathered at Sharay Tefilla in Lawrence last night what her father stipulated that he wanted the words from Prashas Vayigash 46: 28: "ve'es Yehudah shalach lefanav el Yosef lohoros lefanav" Yaakov sent Yehudah ahead to Yosef in Egypt in order to set up a houe of study.

That's how Rav Copperman, also named Yehudah, saw himself. His role was enabling others to learn Torah. That's what his life was all about, and it was to that end that he founded Michlalah Jerusalem College back in 1964. There's a nice feature article on his life and accomplishments in Jewish Action. It reveals what prompted him to open a teacher's college for women, though Dr. Rosenwasser offered a daughter's insight.

She said that her father said he needed to set up a school for her educ…

Significance of the locust

Three years ago, locusts swarmed into Egypt. According to the National Geographic article on the phenomenon, it's more than a mere nusciance:
An adult desert locust, it has been estimated, can consume its weight in vegetation daily. A typical swarm can eat as much as 2,500 people can in a single day. And a large swarm—one that stretches for tens of miles and includes millions (or even billions) of hungry locusts—can strip a farmer's field in minutes and leave entire villages with nothing to eat. Certainly, that was the threat posed by this particular makka for the Egyptians who refused to let the Israelites go. But if this is, indeed, a natural phenomenon, how did it contribute to the revelation of G-d? That's the question my grandfather tackles in his commentary on Parshas Bo. 

He observes that this makka was unique among the ten. All the others were more overtly miraculous. In contrast, swarms of locust do naturally occur in that part of the world. So the only thing that …

Vaera: why didn't the Jews listen to Moshe?

I'm quoting from Dvar Yehudah, the sefer of my grandfather's insights here. But I would also like to make a dedicatory mention of R' Copperman (that is the way the Rabbanit, his wife said they spelled thier last name) who passed away this week because it touches on the questions of text, pshat,Midrash, and pshuto shel mikra that he strived to convey to his students.  I really was torn between the first and second piece in the sefer on this week's parsha and opted for the second one for that reason.

The Torah's  (Vaera 6:9) answer to the title question is: velo shamu el Moshe mikotzer ruach umeavoda kasha [they didn't listen to Moshe because of shortness of breath and hard work]"

The Rashmbam explains the stress is on now. Even though they believed at first when they thought that they were facing a reprieve from the hard work, now that it got even harder, they lost faith.

The Ramban's interpretation is that it doesn't mean that they didn't belie…

What do you know?

As I reviewed the parsha this past Shabbos, I was struck by the number of times the verb for knowing appears in Shmos.  Yedia is a keynote in the story, one that carries on even beyond the first parsha of Shmos, as we see in Vaera that G-d reveals his name as Hashem to Moshe, a level of relationship that had even been withheld from Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov who saw the attribute of Kel Shakay, but "shmi Hash lo nitdati lahem."

Right at the beginning, we're told of the turn of events for the Israelites in Egypt begins with the rise of a new king"asher lo yada eth Yosef" (1:8).  How could he not know of such a major figure in Egyptian history?  Rashi explains that he made himself not know (rather like people who ignore history that doesn't fit their preferred narrative). Still you would think that there would be some reminders, but that may well  not have been the case. On one of my visits to the Brooklyn Museum, the guide to the Egyptian section explaine…