Past Weekly Shabbat Message
Jewish Heritage
Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Torah Portion Vaeirah) Gratitude!

We know that the Jews were bitterly enslaved by the Pharoh. But what were they forced to do? The Torah tells us that the Jews built the areas of Pisom and Ramses, which contained large warehouses used to store the immense wealth that Egypt had accumulated, (primarily through Yosef’s efforts.)

Our Sages teach us that the names Pisom and Ramses indicate that the land was unsuitable to build on. The earth was like quicksand; every day they would labor but by the next day whatever they built had sunk in the ground. Aside from the physical exhaustion of the actual labor, there was also the physiological pressure that Pharoh employed by not allowing the Jews to feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment seeing the fruits of their intense labor. The Jews felt they were working for nothing.

A question can be asked; what benefit did Pharoh get by having the Jews work - when nothing was being built?

The answer we will call, ‘Pharoh’s syndrome.’

Let’s begin with Pharoh’s initial reasoning to enslave the Jews. Despite the fact that the Jews were extremely patriotic to Egypt and added to their economy, Pharoh accused them of proliferating and might perhaps revolt. Pharoh’s claims were totally unsubstantiated and insensible. Yet, he convinced himself that slavery of the Jews was the only way to control the ‘threat’.

Pharoh’s insensibility continued when he forced them to build on unsuitable land and his irrational behavior continued when he refused to let the Jews free even after experiencing the awesome plagues that devastated the Egyptians and land of Egypt. Pharoh remained steadfast in his stubbornness and imprudent decisions.

When Moshe and Aaron were summoned by G-d to go to Pharoh and insist that he release the Jews from Egypt, G-d instructed Aaron to throw his staff before Pharoh and his advisors and it would turn into a snake. Perhaps through this miracle Pharoh would be convinced that G-d is with the Jews and he would follow their demands.

Why did the initial miracle consist of a staff turning into a snake?

I came across a very interesting answer. While Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, the serpent convinced Eve to eat from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. As a result of this sin the snake was punished twofold. His legs were removed and his taste buds were eliminated so that everything he eats tastes like earth.

Most people are petrified of snakes because they are aggressive and attack by biting, with some even injecting deadly venom into their prey.

What benefit do snakes get by attacking the innocent bystander? Absolutely nothing, for the taste of a human being to a snake is the same as sand or vegetation.

G-d performed a miracle with a snake to convey to Pharoh that he and his decrees are comparable to a snake. Just as a snake has no benefit from what it bites, so too, your decree of enslaving the Jews seeing no results and benefit - is snake worthy.

The Talmud considers Pharoh the prime speaker of ill and condemnation of Jews.

When one analyzes the underpinnings of Loshon Harah - speaking ill of others, they will see that the majority of the time, the condemning speaker derives no personal benefit from what he says other than the fact that the other is being hurt. No wonder that a euphemism for slander is – the snake that bites.

Moshe and his older brother Aaron were leaders whom we look up to. In most instances when G-d addresses Moshe together with Aaron, Moshe’s name is mentioned first, but there are times that Aaron’s name comes before Moshe. Rashi quotes our Sages who explain that this is to teach us that Aaron and Moshe were the same in their level of spirituality.

The obvious question is, since we know that each excelled in different areas, such as Moshe going to the Heavens to receive and teach the Torah to the Jewish nation, how were they the same? Rabbi Moshe Feinstein o.b.m. explains and conveys the following beautiful and encouraging message. What our Sages meant that Moshe and Aaron were the same is that they each utilized, excelled and maximized their personal spiritual potential.

Moshe capitalized and used his G-d given strength to accomplish what he was modeled to do and Aaron made the most of his G-d given talents to achieve his potential. Therefore, they were both the same in terms of G-d’s expectancy of them.

This is a profound lesson to boost everyone’s self worth and ability to reach their potential service to G-d. If we accomplish this we would become akin to our greatest people.

One last thought: Aaron striking the water and the land with his staff brought the first three plagues, blood, frogs and lice. The reason Aaron did this and not Moshe was since the water saved Moshe when he was floating in a basket in the Nile, it would be ungrateful if he were to hit the water. The same is with the land. When Moshe killed the Egyptian he buried the Egyptian in the sand, thus the sand saved him from being exposed. Therefore, G-d instructed Aaron to hit the ground, rather than Moshe.

I was wondering, how long was Moshe saved from the time he buried the Egyptian until he was exposed and became a fugitive? Maybe a day. So we see that even though he was provided protection for a short amount of time Moshe was forever indebted to the ground and could not strike it.

G-d is conveying to us that the gratitude we owe to others for benefits we have received even for a short time – must always be considered and kept in mind!

Have a most enjoyable, restful and peaceful Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks