Thursday, January 25, 2018

Fleeing From Our Personal Egypt

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In parshas Beshalach we read, "The king of Egypt was told that the nation (of Israel) has fled." Rashi explains that Pharaoh sent officers along with the Jewish people when they left Egypt, because they said that they were going for three days. When they continued on after the third day, the officers returned to Pharaoh and reported that "the nation has fled."

During the plague of the death of the firstborn, Egypt was willing to do anything to have the Jewish people leave. Why didn't they just say that they are leaving for good? What is the deeper meaning of the Jewish people fleeing from Egypt?

To understand this, let us look at another Pesach law.

At the Seder, in order to fulfill our obligation of eating matzah, we have to have lechem oni, bread of affliction, which means that it only has two ingredients, flour and water.

However, there is another kind of matzah, called matzah ashira, rich matzah, which is made with wine, oil, honey or other fruit juices, so that it has a good taste. Also, as long as it doesn't have any water mixed into the dough, it will never become chametz (leavened), but if any amount of water is added to the mix, it will rapidly become chametz, quicker than flour and water alone. One cannot fulfill the obligation of eating matzah, with matzah ashira.

The reason for this is because when it comes to the mitzvah of eating matzah for future generations, the verse says, "You shall not eat (the Pesach offering) with chametz, seven days you must eat matzah, lechem oni (bread of affliction), because you went out of Egypt hastily." Since it says, "lechem oni," we know that it can't be matzah ashira, and because it says, "You shall not eat (the Pesach offering) with chametz," we know that it has to be able to become chametz, in other words, it has to have water in the mix, and we have to be careful that it doesn't become chametz.

The reason that the verse gives for both (that it has to be able to become chametz and that it has to be lechem oni), is "because you went out of Egypt hastily." This is the same as fleeing Egypt, "the nation (of Israel) has fled."

This is all with regards to the Pesach of later generations, but by the first Pesach Seder, before leaving Egypt, there was the possibility of having matzah ashira, because it doesn't say "lechem oni," but it had to be able to become chametz, as it says, "and you should guard the matzahs," meaning, that you should not allow it to become chametz. However, at the actual time of the Exodus, they only had lechem oni.

This is all with regards to the Exodus from Egypt. However, when Moshiach comes we will not flee, as it says, "You will not go in haste."

What is the symbolism of matzah ashira and lechem oni?

Lechem oni doesn't have much flavor. It is symbolic of serving Hashem by accepting the yoke of serving Him. This is done through hard work and effort, submitting yourself to His will, even though you may not be there spiritually, going against your own desires, forcing yourself to do what Hashem wants.

Matzah ashira, on the other hand, has flavor, it symbolizes serving Hashem through understanding. This is pleasurable because you want to do it, because through your understanding you become in sync with Hashem's will, until it becomes your own.

When leaving Egypt they had to flee, because "The bad in the lives of (the people of) Israel was still prevalent," they were not yet in sync with Hashem's will. That would only happen later, after much work, by the giving of the Torah. And this is true about our lives now. Whenever we are in a negative spiritual phase, an Egypt of our own, we must force ourselves to do what is right, and flee from the negative. Only later on will we be able to become in sync with Hashem.

When Moshiach comes, we will be in perfect sync with Hashem's will, so we won't have to go in haste, we won't have to flee.

Yet we see an interesting thing. The verse that tells us about the mitzvah of matzah for future generations continues, "in order that you will remember the day that you left Egypt all the days of your life." In the Haggadah we read, that this means "including the days of Moshiach." You may ask, why do we have to remember the Exodus when Moshiach comes? If we will be in sync with Hashem's will, what kind of Egypt will we have to break free from?

The answer is, none. But there will be one aspect of the Exodus from Egypt that we should continue, in line with accepting Hashem's yoke, that we should put in the effort and hard work in our service to Hashem.

On the other hand, by the Exodus from Egypt it says. "And I will raise you also raise." Why does it say "raise" twice? The first is the Exodus from Egypt, and the second is the coming of Moshiach, because at the time of the Exodus, there was also an aspect of Moshiach that we had to be cognizant of, and this is true about any personal Egypt. We have to know, that our hard work will eventually lead to becoming in sync with Hashem.

This is also why after the splitting of the sea, in the Song of the Sea, there are allusions to the coming of Moshiach. Because that was the conclusion of the Exodus from Egypt.

Laying here in my bed, unable to move or speak, unable to hug or kiss my precious children, I am in a physical Egypt. However, I know in my heart, that Hashem has put me here for a reason, to uplift people through my writings, my heart and my smile. That is why I work so hard writing these Dvar Torahs with my eyes.

I know that eventually I will go out of my Egypt, and be able to teach Torah with my mouth, and write these Dvar Torahs with my hand. I will be able to do father and husband things for my wife and children. Either by cure, by miracle or with the coming of Moshiach.

May we break free from our personal Egypts, and become in sync with Hashem, whether it be a physical, spiritual, emotional or psychological Egypt. Our personal redemption will lead to the ultimate redemption, the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon. 

This Sunday Team Yitzi will be running in the Miami Half Marathon, including my wife Dina and my daughter. Please support our teams fundraising efforts by donating what you can at what you can at
It is tax deductible and every penny goes to the Hurwitz Family Fund.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

I Will Go Out, I Will Pass Through: Hashem Loves Every Jew

Dear Friends, 

This is a second dvar Torah for this week. To read the first one click on the link. Enjoy! Why Take The Pesach Lamb 4 Days Before Offering It? 

In parshas Bo, Hashem tells Moshe what he will do, while the Jewish people take part in the first Seder, on the night before the Exodus from Egypt. "I will pass through Egypt on that night, and I will strike down every firstborn... I will see the blood (on your houses) and I will pass over you..." 

However, earlier, when Moshe warned Pharaoh about the plague of the death of the first born, he says, "So says Hashem, 'around midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt. And every firstborn will die.'" 

There are different expressions that Hashem uses in these verses, and they seem to be almost opposites. First Hashem tells Pharaoh, "I will go out in the midst of Egypt," which sounds like He will be involved in doing something. And then He says, "I will pass through Egypt," which means that He will be doing something in passing, without much involvement. 

When Hashem continues to tell about the death of the firstborn, he also seems to be saying opposite things. First He says to Pharaoh, "And every firstborn in Egypt will die." which sounds like it will happen in passing. Then he says to Moshe, "I will strike down every firstborn in Egypt," which sounds like He will be involved in doing it. 

Then Hashem tells Moshe, "I will see the blood and I will pass over you," again He seems to be involved. 

Was Hashem involved or passive? How do we reconcile these verses? What lesson can we take from here with regards to our relationship with other Jewish people? 

On the night of Pesach there were two things happening simultaneously, one Hashem invested Himself into totally, and the other was done in passing. 

The main thing Hashem was doing, was saving the Jewish people from Egypt. He was personally involved in that, as He said, "I will go out in the midst of Egypt," and "I will see the blood and I will pass over you." 

Rashi explains that "I will pass through Egypt," means that it will be in passing, ''like a king who passes through from place to place, and in one pass, in one second, everyone is smitten." From this is understood, that although the next words, "I will strike down every firstborn," sound like Hashem will be personally involved, it actually means that it will happen in passing. So the death of the firstborn was automatic, as Hashem told Pharaoh, "every firstborn will die," just like that, in passing. 

So Hashem went out in the midst of the lowest and most impure of all places, Egypt, to protect and save each and everyone of us. Rashi says, that even if a Jew was in an Egyptian home, Hashem saved him as well. 

We see from here, the great love Hashem has for every one of us, even a Jew that is at the lowest level. On the night before the Exodus, while everyone was with their families celebrating the first Seder, he was hanging out with an Egyptian. Nevertheless, Hashem went into that lowly Egyptian home and protected that Jew as well. 

The lesson for us here, is that we should try to help another Jew physically or spiritually. 

One might ask, "Am I obligated to go out of my religious environment to bring a Jew closer to Hashem? If he comes here I will learn Torah with him, but I don't want to go to him and his environment." 

The message here is that we should emulate Hashem, and go out of our comfort zone to save another Jew physically or spiritually. This is true even for a Jew that is not at all involved, and even if he is in the lowest of places. Of course you should do it with keeping Torah law. 

As a Chabad rabbi, I saw first hand how precious every Jew is. Even though it meant going to a city that had little Jewish infrastructure, it was extremely rewarding. Every neshama is invaluable, and when you reveal the spark of a Jew, you begin to understand why Hashem loves every Jew. Because in truth, there is no lower level Jew, even the one who is in the Egyptians home during the Seder is a good and beautiful Jew. And if you show him love, you will uncover the beauty within, and his neshama will shine bright. 

May our efforts to reach every Jew be successful, and may we see every neshama shine. This will surely lead to the coming of Moshiach, when every Jew will be redeemed. May it happen soon. The time has come. 

Why Take The Pesach Lamb 4 Days Before Offering It?

In parshas Bo we read about the Korban Pesach, the Paschal sacrifice, which was a yearling male lamb or goat. The Korban Pesach in Egypt differed from all later ones, in that it had to be brought into the home 4 days prior, in anticipation of slaughtering it. As Moshe instructed with regards to the Korban Pesach, "Withdraw and take for yourselves sheep for your families and slaughter the Pesach."

Rashi asks: Why was it to be taken four days before its slaughter, something not required in the Passover sacrifice of later generations?

He answers: Rabbi Masia the son of Charash used to say: Behold He [G-d] says: “And I passed by you and saw you, and behold your time was the time of love.” The [time for the fulfillment of the] oath that I swore to Abraham that I would redeem his children has arrived. But they had no mitzvahs in their hands with which to occupy themselves in order that they be redeemed, as it is said: “but you were naked and bare.” So He gave them two mitzvahs, the blood of the Passover and the blood of the circumcision...  Moreover, they were passionately fond of idolatry. [Moshe] said to them, “Withdraw and take for yourselves.” [He meant:] withdraw from idolatry and take for yourselves sheep for the mitzvah.

Rashi's answer explains why we needed the mitzvah of Korban Pesach, however, it doesn't seem to explain why we had to have it 4 days prior to slaughtering it. But being that this is the question Rashi is answering, we must conclude that somehow this does answer the question. So, how does it answer it?

Another question. The second answer that Rashi gives, "They were passionately fond of idolatry..." is not from Rabbi Masia, it is from Rabbi Eliezer Hakapar, who differs with him on this, but Rashi doesn't make mention of his name, he doesn't even use his common lead up, "And there are those that say..." Why not?

In truth, Rashi's purpose in writing his commentary is to explain the simple meaning of the verse, and not to cite where he took his explanation from. It is actually uncommon for him to cite the name of the person who said a given answer. The only time he does so, is when mentioning the name of the person will add clarity to his explanation. So the real question is not why he didn't mention Rabbi Eliezer Hakapar, rather, why does he mention Rabbi Masia the son of Charash?

From the second answer of Rashi, "They were passionately fond of idolatry," we can understand that somehow, the taking of the sheep was necessary to "withdraw from idolatry." However, since the main reason for the Korban Pesach, is as its name suggests, Pesach means to pass over. Because they were to put the blood of the sacrifice on the doorposts and on the lintels of their homes and Hashem would pass over their houses, when He was administering the plague of the death of the first born. Therefore, Rashi first brings the words of Rabbi Masia, to explain that there was another reason for the Korban Pesach, to give the Jewish people a mitzvah to do, so they won't be "naked and bare.”

Rabbi Masia says that they were given two mitzvahs, the Korban Pesach and circumcision. Why did they need two mitzvahs? Why wasn't one enough?

When it comes to mitzvahs, there are two kinds, there are those that are "refraining from bad," and then there is "doing good." Both of these ideals had to be engaged, because even if they did good, as long as they didn't break away from the bad that they were involved in, they wouldn't be able to be redeemed.

The mitzvah of circumcision represented "doing good," as it is a general mitzvah that solidifies the covenant between us and Hashem. And the mitzvah of Korban Pesach represents "refraining from bad," breaking away from the negative things they were into. How does the Korban Pesach represent a break away from bad?

In parshas Vaera we learned that sheep were the false deity of Egypt. And being that the Jewish people were "passionately fond of idolatry," they needed to break away from that. So they were told to take a sheep, the deity of Egypt, and slaughter it. But if they were to take the sheep and slaughter it immediately, one might think that they did it in a moment of passion and that they aren't truly free from idolatry. So they were told to take the sheep 4 days before they were to slaughter it, giving them enough time to think about what they were doing and do it with true reason and intent and not out of passion.

How do we know that it takes 4 days? When Hashem commanded Avraham to bring Yitzchak as an offering, it took three days for Hashem to show him the place. Rashi explains that He did this so that no one should be able to say that Avraham did it in a moment of passion, but he would have time to think about what he is doing and do it out of reason.

From here it is clear that it takes 4 days. Because Avraham set out on the morning after he was commanded to take Yitzchak and offer him up. That day plus the three days until he was shown the place, makes 4 days for him to think about it.

In order for us to understand that Hashem's promise to Avraham was not enough to redeem the Jewish people, but He wanted them also to have mitzvahs, Rashi mentions that this is what "Rabbi Masia the son of Charash used to say." The Talmud tells us that Rabbi Masia's yeshiva was in Rome. While there were other yeshivas in Israel, his was the biggest.

It begs the question., why did he choose to establish his yeshiva in Rome, far away, so that students would have to travel a long distance to join, and from all places, in Rome, the capital of the exile no less? As the Talmud says, "Follow after sages to yeshiva... After Rabbi Masia to Rome." Why didn't he make it in Israel?

Whenever it says, that a sage, "used to say," it means that it was what he lived by. In Rabbi Masia's case, it is that every Jewish person has to have mitzvahs in order to be redeemed. So he established his yeshiva in Rome, so that he can touch even people who are at the level of Rome, "naked and bare" of Torah and mitzvahs, and turn them into yeshiva students.

The lesson to us here, is that one might ask, "What is the point of this prolonged exile? Hasn't it gone on long enough?"

If all that was necessary for the exile to end, was for Hashem to take us out, it would have happened long ago. But Hashem wants more from us, He wants us to have mitzvahs, that we shouldn't be "naked and bare.” And being that when Moshiach comes, '"All of Israel" will be redeemed, we should try our best to reach every Jew, and have him or her do even one mitzvah.

May we be successful in reaching every Jew, doing mitzvahs with them, and may we march together with our heads up high, knowing that we are not "naked and bare," that every one of us has mitzvahs. May it happen soon.

Friday, January 12, 2018

First Blood Then Frogs

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In parshas Vaera we read about the first seven plagues inflicted on Egypt. The purpose of the plagues was not only to punish the Egyptians, but to break their ego and false notions and outlook on G-dliness. The plagues also served as the blows that broke us free from the constraints of Egypt. 

Every story in the Torah is meant to teach us how to serve Hashem better. 

In the Haggadah we read, "In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself, as if he went out of Egypt." Because each of us has a personal Egypt to break free from. Whether it be physical or spiritual constraints, we need to go out of our personal Egypt and we can learn from the plagues how to break out of these constraints. 

There are two types of spiritual constraints. There is when a person finds himself stuck in the physical pleasures of the world, not having any feeling towards holiness and G-dliness. And then there is when someone find himself stagnant in his spiritual growth, because his connection to Hashem is based on his reason and understanding, and therefore, limited. How does one break free from his spiritual Egypt? 

Let us see what we can learn from the first two plagues, blood and frogs. 

In Egypt they worshiped the Nile River, so to break their pride, the first plague hit the waters of the Nile, turning the water into blood. The nature of water, is that it is cold and wet. This was the way of the Egyptians to be cold or apathetic to G-dliness and holiness. It was turned into blood, which is warm and full of life, as it says, "because the blood  is the life force." 

The opposite of holiness is coldness, apathy, because holiness is warm and full of life. As it says in Avos D'rav Nassan, "Ten are called alive," and the first one listed is Hashem, all the others are connected to Him. 

When we are apathetic to G-dliness and holiness, it opens the door to everything that is unholy, and we are stuck in an Egypt. How do we break out of apathy towards holiness? 

On the other hand, Egypt had a great fervor and passion for everything unholy. Meaning that there is also an unholy warmth, when someone has a passion for the physical. 

To cool off their passion, Hashem sent the second plague, frogs. The frogs went everywhere, even in the ovens, and our sages learn from them the idea of self sacrifice. 

You may ask, there were other creatures that came as plagues, there were lice, wild beasts and locust, but they didn't go into the ovens. What is the meaning of the frogs going into the ovens? 

Ovens have fire in them, they symbolize the heat and passion for the physical. Frogs are from the water, cold and wet, but at the same time, they did Hashem's will, to the extent that they went totally against their nature. The cold water creatures went into the fiery ovens and cooled them off. In other words, there is also a holy coldness, when one fosters a coldness towards the physical and the unholy. 

The frogs came to deflate Pharaohs ego, they went into the ovens extinguishing the passion and the false importance of the unholy, that existed in Egypt. 

Holy fervor breaks you free from unholy coldness, and holy coldness breaks you free from passion for the unholy. 

To break free from a spiritual Egypt, one must first take a lesson from the blood and bring life and warmth into holy matters, because the beginning of all kinds of evil comes from coldness. 

It is a mistake to think that just positive action is enough, if you don't bring  warmth and passion into holiness, ultimately you will end up in the unholy. 

This is why the evil inclination tries so hard to cool off your fervor towards holiness, because he knows that trying to get you to do something wrong is futile, but if he could get you to be cold towards holiness, then you will end up doing wrong on your own. 

Just as one needs to bring a warmth and life into holiness, blood, so too, one should foster a coldness towards the unholy, frogs. 

In general, when it comes to doing what Hashem wants, there are two approaches. They are, "refrain from bad," and "doing good." The plague of frogs, coldness towards the unholy, falls in the category of "refraining from bad," and the plague of blood, passion for holiness, falls in the category of "doing good." 

Normally the order is first "refrain from bad," and then "do good." However, here the order is reversed, first blood and then frogs. Why? And what are we meant to learn from this reversal? 

It is true that when it comes to us, refraining from bad comes first. Because we are in the world, so we work from the bottom up. However, when it comes to Hashem, He is coming from the top down. He floods the world with G-dliness, and automatically there is no bad, so the order is reversed, first blood and then frogs. 

Since the Torah tells us this story, that first came the blood and then the frogs, it means that we should take a page from Hashem's play book, doing good first. How does this work? 

Flood your life with warmth and holiness and there won't be room for bad. 

May you and your families be filled with warmth and holiness, and may we break free from our personal Egypt. That will lead to us breaking free from the Egypt we are all suffering from, this dark and bitter exile, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Unity Is The Key To The Redemption

In parshas Shemos we read that Moshe struck down an Egyptian taskmaster that was beating a Jewish slave and hid him in the sand, thinking that nobody knew. The next day he saw two Jews quarreling (Dasan and Aviram), one raised his hand to hit the other. Moshe said to him, "Why do you strike your friend?" The man retorted, "Who appointed you as a leader and judge over us, do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?!" Moshe was afraid, he said, "so the fact is known." 

The Midrash tells us, that Moshe said, "you have lashon hara (evil speech) between you, how are you worthy of redemption?" 

It seems from here, that Moshe felt, that lashon hara alone, was enough to hold off the redemption from Egypt. 

Our sages compare lashon hara to some of the worst sins, from denying G-d's existence, to the big three, idolatry, adultery and murder. 

However, we know that among those that left Egypt, there were idolaters, but that didn't stop the redemption. So we have to understand, what is it about lashon hara, that is so egregious, that it alone could hold up the redemption? 

When it comes to war, we see a similar differentiation. The Talmud Yerushalmi tells us, that "David's generation were all tzadikim (righteous), but because they had informers, they would go out to war and fall (in battle). Achav's generation were idolaters, but because they didn't have informers, they would go down to war and be victorious." What we see from this, is that when it comes to war, unity and peacefulness brings victory. However, we still have to understand, what is it about lashon hara, that holds up the redemption? 

Rashi explains the words, "So the fact is known," from a second Midrash, that Moshe was saying, that now he knows why they are in exile. In other words, not only does lashon hara hold back the redemption, but it is also the reason for the exile. 

In the words of Dasan and Aviram to Moshe there was far worse than lashon hara, they were threatening to inform on him to the Pharaoh, which they did, and informing, in this case, is much worse than plain lashon hara. But from the Midrash and Rashi, it seems that Moshe wasn't as bothered by that, as he was by the lashon hara. Why is lashon hara worse? 

With the redemption from Egypt we became a nation of our own, as it says about the Exodus, that Hashem took for himself "a nation from within (another) nation." The defining factor of a nation is that the people are united, and what unites us as a nation is far greater and more powerful than any other nation, as will be explained. 

The Rambam calls us a nation even before the Exodus, but what he is referring to, is what makes every nation a nation, that they are united with common ideals and purpose. The problem with this is, that when their ideals change or their purpose becomes irrelevant they lose their identity as a people. As he explains, that being the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, whose purpose was to teach the world about G-d, we were "a people that knew G-d," in other words, that was our ideal and our identity as a nation. However, the Rambam continues to say, that in Egypt many were influenced and entrenched in the Egyptian culture. He concludes that "out of Hashem's love for us, and to keep the promise he made to Avraham our forefather. . . Hashem chose Israel as his (nachala) portion. . ." 

From the last words of the Rambam, the difference between the kind of nation we were before the Exodus and after the Exodus becomes clear. In Egypt, we were united under a common ideal, but Hashem took us out of Egypt because He chose us, we became a nation based on something greater than any human ideal, we are united because Hashem chose us to be his nachala. What is a nachala? 

A nachala refers to the portion of land that was given to the Jewish people upon conquering the land after the Exodus. By law, the portion of land that was given to a family, was to stay in the family forever. In other words, when Hashem chose us to be his nachala, it means that we became His nation forever. This uniting factor, being from Hashem is not subject to change. 

True choice is not based on the items being chosen, but on the one who is choosing. If it is based on the items, you will always choose the one you think is better. That is not true choice, that is called being smart. However, when the items are exactly the same, and you choose one, that is true choice. 

When Hashem chooses, it is always true choice, and he chose us as His nation. Which includes all of us, from the most righteous to the least. That is why even idolaters went out of Egypt, because they were also part of the nation that Hashem chose. The only thing is that we had to be united, because if we weren't, then there would be no nation for Hashem to choose. So the only thing that would hold up the redemption is disunity. 

There are several negative aspects of lashon hara. 

The first is the damage it does, as "The sages say, 'lashon hara kills Three. The one spoken about, the listener and the speaker.'"

The second is the bad it brings out in the person who is spoken about, because until it was said, it was hidden. 

These two aspects are destructive and hurtful, but like other sins, they don't breed disunity. 

But there is a third dimension, and that is lashon hara itself. Even if the person speaking has no intention to cause damage, or to tell of the negative aspects of his friend, and even if he doesn't speak out of hate, the mere fact that someone talks badly of another, shows that there is disunity. And as mentioned earlier, when there is disunity, there is no nation for Hashem to choose, and by extension, there is no redemption possible. 

Now we can understand why lashon hara is so bad, and why it bothered Moshe so much, because it itself could hold up the redemption. 

This will help us understand why by the Seder, one of the four sons we speak of, is the wicked son. You may ask, why include the wicked son? The answer is, that without him, we aren't complete, meaning, there is no nation to redeem. 

The unity of the Jewish people, is what caused the redemption from Egypt, and it is the same unity that will bring the future redemption. May it come soon.