Thursday, March 30, 2023

Last week I was in Los Angeles for a family wedding and saw my old friend Rabbi Shimon Abramczik. We had both lived in Maalot Dafna in Eretz Yisrael for six years and hadn’t seen each other in close to 18 years. “Do you still put Indian hot peppers in your cholent?” Shimon asked. “I remember the time we were eating at your house, and someone accidentally ate the pepper and his face started turning all red.” Funny what people remember.

Rabbi Abramczik also told me he remembered a vort I told him about the sneh, the burning bush. “It made such an impact on me. I teach that explanation as a theme throughout all the parshiyos dealing with Yetzias Mitzrayim.”

Let me share the vort with you: Hashem had selected Moshe to be the leader of klal Yisrael. Moshe saw a burning bush, and the pasuk emphasizes that Moshe stopped to take notice and contemplate why the bush was burning and yet not being consumed. Rav Yerucham Levovitz notes that the pasuk says Hashem saw that Moshe went to observe, and then Hashem spoke to him. Only because Moshe stopped to notice, think and then take action, did Hashem speak to him and appoint him to lead klal Yisrael.

By the plague of hail in last week’s parsha, Vayera, Moshe warned the Egyptians of the impending dangerous storm. Those who feared Hashem brought their animals inside, but those who did not pay attention left them in the field, where they were killed by the hail. The emphasis was on those who failed to pay attention and take action.

For every plague and disaster, the Egyptian “media” had an explanation, so people would ignore the message that Hashem controls the order of nature and the world. With regard to the plague of blood, they broadcasted that the Jewish babies thrown into the Nile polluted and contaminated the water. When the plague of the frogs came, the Egyptian palace reported that the contaminated water caused the frogs in the Nile to mutate. And so it went for all the makkos, plagues.

Finally, by the first-born plague, the Egyptians understood that their media was “fake news” and that Hashem was controlling everything. It was Hashem Who caused all these plagues, not any other theory which they had been told. But it was too late for all the firstborn and most of Mitzrayim.

What took the Egyptians so long to get it? And for that matter, what about us? Most of the Jews didn’t recognize that Hand of Hashem. Rashi quotes the midrash that during the plague of choshech, darkness, four-fifths of the Jewish nation passed away because they weren’t ready to leave Egypt. It’s quite hard to comprehend that by the time of the ninth plague most of the Jewish population were still not convinced. They heard Moshe and Aharon telling them that the redemption is coming and Hashem is bringing these plagues, yet most people didn’t stop to truly listen and absorb the message.

We look at this situation and wonder how they could possibly miss the message! Miracles were happening one after another, punishing those who enslaved them. But in some ways, we do the same thing! Earthquakes, hurricanes, accidents, people passing away from sickness and antisemitism. Tragedies come and go in waves, just like the makkos. Many challenges are thrown our way. We need to stop, take notice and contemplate: What does Hashem want from me? It’s time to act—like Moshe did.

We know that Moshiach can come any day, as we say, “Ani ma’amin be’emuna sheleima…, I believe with complete faith—in the coming of Moshiach, and even if he may be delayed, I await him each day.” Yet we continue our lives as usual. Life does go on, but we need to recognize and internalize that we’re in exile. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto explains that the same way Hashem took Bnei Yisrael out of Mitzrayim, that’s how Hashem will take us out of this last exile. Great miracles will occur, but we need to be committed to Hashem and be ready to move, to leave our comfortable homes and lifestyles. Stop and contemplate for a moment each day who we are and everything that Hashem does for us. Let’s be ready to go when Moshiach comes!

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged, but contributions are always welcome. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.

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