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Va'Eira 5784 - Refusing the Look Away

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Moshe has finally agreed to be the leader of Am Yisrael.  And the first few days on the job, are not going so great. Last week, we read that Moshe and Aharon went to Pharaoh, and not only did Pharaoh NOT RELEASE the Jewish People, he made their work more difficult, and the people are FURIOUS with Moshe. 


And as Parshas Va’eira begins, we are told once again that Bnei Yisrael, the people Moshe has come to save, are not interested in Moshe’s message.  As the Torah tells us:


(ט) ]וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה כֵּן אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל[ וְלֹא שָׁמְעוּ אֶל מֹשֶׁה מִקֹּצֶר רוּחַ וּמֵעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה: פ


They did not listen to Moshe, because of their shortness of spirit and the hard work.


And, of course, we can’t understand WHY Bnei Yisrael wouldn’t listen to none other than Moshe Rabbeinu!?  What was this KOTZER RUACH and AVODA KASHA that made it so hard for them to listen to Moshe?


Rav Yonasan Eibshitz, who was an incredibly influential Talmid Chacham and Dayan in Prague in the 1700s.  And in his sefer, Tiferes Yehonatan he explains the answer to this question by referencing another anomaly about the Jews’ time in Egypt:


Last week, when Moshe & Aharon come to speak to Pharaoh, he rejects them, and he says:

(ה:ד) וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם לָמָּה מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן תַּפְרִיעוּ אֶת הָעָם מִמַּעֲשָׂיו לְכוּ לְסִבְלֹתֵיכֶם:

Why are Moshe and Aharon making a fuss and getting in the way of the people doing their work!  Go back to whatever it is you have to do.


And Rashi, and many other rishonim point out that Sivloseichem refers to other work that is NOT regular slave labor.  And this is because the tribe of Levi were NOT subjected to slave labor like the rest of the people. 


There are multiple reasons offered by the rishon as to why the Leviim did not have to work as slaves, but Rav Eibshitz offers his own reason:


He argues that Pharaoh had been told by his magicians that not only would there be a boy who would save the Jewish People from Egypt, but he was told it would come from the tribe of Levi.  So, Pharaoh said to himself, “the only person who could possibly care enough about the terrible experience of the Jewish slaves in Egypt would be someone who, himself, had EXPERIENCED that servitude.  Someone who had lived an easier life, someone who had never had to go through what these people had gone through, could never lead these people out of Egypt.


And, therefore, he purposely allowed the Leviim NOT to work, so that whomever that purported leader would be would never have the ability to really CONNECT with the people and be able to lead them out of Egypt.


And with this, argue Rav Eibshitz, we can explain the pasuk with which we began.  Why couldn’t Bnei Yisrael LISTEN TO MOSHE?


מִקֹּצֶר רוּחַ וּמֵעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה

Because of the shortness of spirit and the HARD WORK.


It was NOT that the work made it too hard to listen!  Rather, that Moshe & Aharon and the rest of Am Yisrael had lived different lives entirely!  They had worked AVODA KASHA, backbreaking labor for their entire lives.  Moshe and Aharon hadn’t worked for a single day in their lives!  So, the people said to themselves: “You’re going to lead us!?  You don’t know what it’s like to be us!  You don’t UNDERSTAND US!”


But with all that said, of course, we know that Hashem DID choose Moshe anyways, and that Moshe ends up as the MOST successful leader in the HISTORY of the Jewish People.  But the question remains: How does Moshe, a person who had never experienced what these people had experienced, feel their pain and be able to be their leader?


And I want to answer that question with a beautiful approach from Rav Shlomo Wolbe in his sefer Alei Shur:


Rav Wolbe writes that if we pay attention to the text, there is ONE CLEAR THEME that runs through the entire beginning of the story of the Exodus, the story of the Geulah of the Jewish People from Egypt:  And that is what Rav Wolbe calls “HEARAS PANIM”, the showing or even showing the light of one’s face.


What does that mean? Let’s explain:


The VERY FIRST MOMENT that we hear about a shift from Hashem’s perspective in terms of how he will treat Bnei Yisrael, comes in Parshas Shemos when the Torah tells us:


(ב:כה) וַיַּרְא אֱלֹקִים אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֵּדַע אֱלֹהִים: ס

Hashem saw the Jewish People, and Hashem KNEW.


And Rashi explains:

נתן עליהם לב ולא העלים עיניו

He paid attention to them, and He REFUSED TO TURN HIS EYES AWAY.


Until this moment, for 210 years, Bnei Yisrael had experienced what we refer to as “HESTER PANIM” where it seems to us at least that Hashem is “hiding His face”.  From this moment on, once Hashem commits “NOT TO LOOK AWAY”, to change HESTER PANIM into HAARAS PANIM, the GEULA has now begun.


And, writes Rav Wolbe, that when HKBH made the human being “B’tzalmo” in His image, that means that He created us with that same ability to be nosein lev, to see the pain and the needs of others, V’lo L’haalim Ayin, NOT TO LOOK AWAY.


And, of course, Moshe Rabbeinu’s qualities, THE REASON that HKBH chooses him to be the shliach, the messenger to take Bnei Yisrael out of Mitzrayim is BECAUSE he had this same mida:


The VERY FIRST TIME we are introduced to Moshe as an adult, we are told, that he was “YOTZEI EL ACHAV, VAYAR B”SIVLOSAM” that he went out to see his brothers and he saw their pain.  And on the spot Rashi writes:

נתן עיניו ולבו להיות מיצר עליהם:

He placed his eyes and his heart, his attention, to FEEL THEIR PAIN


And, of course, the other two stories we are told about Moshe, breaking up fights among Jews and saving Yisro’s daughters, all reflect this same ability to see the need of another, EVEN WHEN YOU HAVE NOT EXPERIENCED THEIR EXPERIENCE.  To be able to see someone else, and TO REFUSE TO LOOK AWAY!


Moshe is NOT chosen because he’s the greatest talmid chacham, the most influential personality, or the greatest orator.  He is chosen because he knows how to relate to the pain and suffering of another Jew FOR REAL.

It is THIS MIDA, this ability to FEEL the pain of another Jew.  To see their pain, their struggle, and to REFUSE TO LOOK AWAY, both from HKBH and Moshe Rabbeinu, that flips the switch, leading to the END OF THE GALUS and the BEGINNING OF THE GEULA. 


As you well know, tomorrow will mark not only 100 days since the war began, but it will also mark 100 days that 136 hostages have been held captive by Hamas in Gaza.  It is an atrocity beyond our wildest nightmares.  And while Israel is being taken to court at the Hague, being accused of genocide for defending ourselves against those who call for our genocide, the world remains virtually silent about the plight of 136 totally innocent civilians snatched from their families for no reason other than their ethnicity.


And so, it is up to us not to allow ourselves to look away, and we cannot allow the world to continue to look away either.  And I want to mention TWO ways we can make sure to REFUSE TO LOOK AWAY:


1)   Rachel Goldberg, the mother of Hirsch, one of the hostages still being held captive, and who has become the face of the families of the hostages, put out a message a couple of days ago.


She noted that she is exhausted feeling like she is carrying the burden of her son’s experience all alone.  For weeks now, wherever Rachel goes she sticks a piece of masking tape to her clothing, with a number on it.  The number is the number of days the hostages have been missing.  Today, it would be a 99, and tomorrow it will unfortunately likely be a 100.


She has asked that everyone join her tomorrow, by simply taking a piece of masking tape, writing the number 100 on it, and wearing it on your clothing, and posting it on social media.  Chani and I will be wearing a 100 on our clothes tomorrow, and I encourage everyone to do the same.


2)    By now, you have heard me speak about the upcoming Bergen County Mission to Israel, and I hope you have seen the emails with information and links to register.  There is no greater way to show Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael that we stand with them, that we are not forgetting about their pain, than by SHOWING UP in Israel.


As I told all of you about my previous trip, it was mainly about giving hugs, about showing our brothers and sisters that we care enough about them to travel 6000 miles and stay for only a few days.  Yes, the trip will be amazing personal and communal experience for all those who join, but most importantly, it gives so much chizuk to those we visit on these trips.


The Geulas Mitzrayim, the exodus from Egypt began when HKBH and members of Am Yisrael began to no longer hide our faces from each other.  It was the key to our redemption then, and it is the key to our redemption now. Because when we are willing to show HAARAS PANIM, to pay attention to the needs of each other and TO REFUSE TO LOOK AWAY, then perhaps HKBH will decide He can no longer look away either. 


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