Shabbat Shalom Weekly

Torah Portion: Bo (Exodus 10:1 – 13:16)

Shevat 10, 5781

A Life Lesson

Listen and Hear

by Adam Lieberman
After God set seven plagues upon Egypt, Pharaoh’s servants finally said to him:  “How long will this be a snare for us? Send out the men that they may serve….God! Do you not know that Egypt is lost?” (Exodus 10:7)
The Egyptians had just experienced seven severe plagues that God set upon them. Even though Pharaoh had also witnessed all of it, he still remained stubborn in refusing to let all of the Jews go free. However, Pharaoh’s servants — the ones who waited on their master hand and foot — had complete clarity: if the Jews were not freed, then Egypt and its inhabitants would be completely destroyed.
How is it that a king was unable to see what was so abundantly clear to everyone else?
The reason is that often we’re much too close to a situation to be able to see it objectively. Since it was Pharaoh who was speaking directly to Moses, he was too emotionally charged with what was happening to “his” country. Too close to the forest to be able to see the trees. Pharaoh — like many of us who are too close to something in our own lives — has the misguided belief that since we feel we know the situation the best, then we’re also in the best position to know what should be done. Therefore, we won’t entertain any other ideas or opinions.
It all comes down to objectivity. Whenever someone is emotionally immersed in something, then by definition he will have little or no objectivity. How often have you known someone who was involved in an unhealthy personal relationship but failed to see just how detrimental it was? And he justified being closed-minded to any other opinions because he embraced the notion that “no one knows the person like he does.” And that’s exactly why he can never be objective or act rationally. Anyone so close to a situation loses the larger picture and cannot see it clearly.
This is why it’s imperative always to seek others out and sincerely ask for and hear their advice. Our human nature will oftentimes discount what other people are telling us. This is because if we embrace their viewpoints, then we have to admit to ourselves that we made poor choices and will continue to do so. This “saving face” mentality of not hearing good advice is why people continue to rationalize their poor behavior instead of changing.
One can never grow or become great with this philosophy. The greatest men have always been able to admit their wrongs of the past and then, based upon a new perspective, choose to make healthy and productive choices.
So listen to those around you who know you well and whose opinions you value. But the ball ultimately will still be in your court, so fight the urge to justify your past actions and start taking good advice.
While it might not be easy on your ego to do this, it will, however, make you great.

Shraga’s Weekly
What makes a Great Leader?

by Rabbi Shraga Simmons
The issue of national leadership is grabbing headlines around the world. What better time for learning the Torah’s view of leadership than this week’s Parsha — which tells of Pharaoh and Moses leading their respective nations.
Let’s first look at Pharaoh. God sends one plague after another against the Egyptian people, trying to convince them to “Let My people go.” The water supply is ruined (blood), the animals die (pestilence) and the crops are destroyed (hail). The people themselves are subjected to lice, boils, darkness  — you name it. And as the months of plagues wear on, the Egyptian people become more and more convinced that it is in their best interest to let the Jews go!
Everyone is convinced except Pharaoh. Why? Because for Pharaoh, this is not merely a pragmatic issue of saving the country. This has become a personal battle between himself and God. Pharaoh had spent years building up his image as an immortal god; he wasn’t about to be upstaged by the God of “those lowly Jewish slaves.”
Pharaoh in Pajamas
The issue comes to a head in this week’s Parsha, when Moses informs the Egyptians of the upcoming “plague of the firstborn” (Exodus 11:4-8). The Midrash Yalkut Shimoni reports that all the first-borns of Egypt pleaded with Pharaoh to grant the Jews freedom. Pharaoh’s response: “No way!”
Pharaoh’s ego has taken over and he is now beyond the point of rationality. He is willing to completely destroy his country and himself rather than admit defeat. So as the ship sinks, Pharaoh calls on his people to make a “national sacrifice.”
In the meantime, Pharaoh  — also a first-born  — is negotiating to save his own skin. He begs Moses to pray to God: “Bless me that I should not die along with the other firstborns!” (12:32, Rashi)
Pharaoh is in a panic, backed into a corner and trying to figure a way out. In a desperate attempt to save face, he shifts the blame. The Midrash says that following the plague of the firstborn, he blamed his servants and advisors for the debacle and had them all killed. Pharaoh was over the edge. With nothing left to lose, he’ll try anything.
At this point, Pharaoh realizes he has to free the Jewish people. The Torah (Exodus 12:31-32) describes Pharaoh going out in the dead of night, looking for Moshe and Aaron to tell them the news. But in a classic display of Jewish satirical humor, the Jews intentionally give Pharaoh the wrong directions and he gets lost! Imagine the scene of Pharaoh running around frantically in his pajamas in the middle of the night begging the Jews to leave.
In the end, the great leader  —  the Egyptian god — is completely humiliated. The Talmud (Moed Katan 18a) metaphorically describes Pharaoh as a midget, just two feet tall.
The King’s Torah
One of the 613 mitzvot is for each Jew to write his own Torah scroll (or at least to own a printed copy of the Five Books of Moses). But the Torah specifies an unusual mitzvah that applies only to a Jewish king: “It shall be that when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself TWO copies of the Tora…It shall remain with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life, so that he will learn to have awe for the Almighty, and to observe all the mitzvot of the Torah  —  so that his heart does not become haughty over his fellow countrymen…” (Deut. 17:18-20)
It all comes down to ego. Every action of a Jewish leader must be for the good of the people alone. The Torah tells a Jewish leader: Don’t fall into the trap. Keep your perspective. Don’t forget you are a servant of the people, not the other way around.
This defines the precise difference between Pharaoh and Moses. A person’s ability to ignore reality (and even destroy the world) is tested most when his ego is at stake. And the more power, the more likely the danger. Imagine the internal struggle when a world leader has to admit: “I’m wrong; there’s a force greater than me that I can’t control.” Pharaoh cannot acknowledge the supremacy of God. Whereas a true Jewish leader is by definition subjugated to the will of God.
King David writes in Psalms the secret of humility: “Zivchei Elokim ruach nishbara” — the sacrifice the Almighty wants is a humble spirit. King David is telling us that the battle of life is to acknowledge God and appreciate all He does for us. Ultimately it’s not in your hands. We make the effort, but God signs the checks.
Arrogance Or Humility?
In the material world, the biggest personalities — movie stars, politicians, business tycoons  — are usually the most arrogant. Somehow arrogance is regarded as a virtue, a sign of having risen above the others.
In contrast, the higher a person becomes spiritually, the more humble he becomes. As we get closer to God, we become more realistic about our own limitations, vulnerability and mortality. We internalize the reality that every human’s position is tenuous and only God is eternal. Moses was called “the most humble” because when he stood before God he knew his place. Anything else precludes room for God to fit in. That’s why the Talmud likens arrogance to idol worship; both push away the presence of God.
Just look at the great rabbis of the last generation and you will see. The house of the Chofetz Chaim was furnished with just one table and a bench. Another great rabbi, when firewood was delivered in the winter to heat his house, personally redistributed the wood to the poor families in town. Jewish leaders are servants of the people. They bear the burdens of the nation.
Leadership Qualifications
How does one become a leader? In the secular world, a person voluntarily runs for office, usually out of a desire for power.
Contrast this to Torah leadership, where there is no term of office and no contracts. The Talmud even suggests that a leader shouldn’t accept money from the community he serves — so they don’t “own” him. His integrity must not be tainted by salary negotiations or a board of directors.
One becomes a leader only because the people respect his character and trust his judgement. He doesn’t go in search of the honor. They approach him and ask him to become their leader.
In fact, a Torah leader will resist the honor. When first approached by God at the Burning Bush, Moses protested: “Who am I that I should take the Jews out of Egypt?!” (Exodus 3:11)
A modern-day example is Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. In the introduction to “Iggress Moshe,” his monumental compendium of responsa, Rabbi Feinstein writes: “I would not have volunteered for the job of leading the Jewish people. But since this is the role that God has selected for me, I have no choice but to accept it.”
Maimonides lists the qualifications for Jewish leadership: “A Jewish leader must be a scholar in both Torah and secular wisdom, God-fearing, non-materialistic (as a guard against bribes), a seeker of truth, mitzvah observant (i.e. practices what he preaches), and modest.” (see Laws of the Sanhedrin 2:7, derived from Yisro’s description in Exodus 18:21)
Wouldn’t the world be different today if all leaders were accountable to such standards?
The truth is that people get the leader they deserve. If there is to be a revolution against the selfish and corrupt, the change must come from below.
Maybe it’s time to demand integrity of our government leaders. Because if we let it slide, we all slide down with it.

Family Parsha

On the Fast Track
by Nesanel Yoel Safran
It’s a good trick to know how to be quick. In this week’s Torah portion, God takes the Jewish people out of Egyptian slavery so fast that they don’t even have time to make regular bread. To remember this miracle, the Torah tells us to make the matzah for each Passover so quickly that its dough can’t rise. From here we can learn the positive trait of alacrity — doing things quickly — which will help us to get more done and make the most out of life.
Downhill Racer
“Jef-f-f-f-f-frey-y-y-y! You’re going to miss your bus!”
Jeff heard his mom yelling up the stairs as he sat on his bed, hurrying to tie his sneakers. Well … you couldn’t exactly call the slow, tired movements he made with his hands to loop the shoelaces together “hurrying.” But what can I do? Jeff thought. I’m just a person who does things slowly.
He would slowly get out of his bed in the morning before school. He would slowly eat his snack at recess so he often came in late. And he would VERY slowly do his homework that it would often stay half done. Of course, he got into plenty of trouble with school and at home because of all this, but that’s just the way things were.
Jeff slowly ambled off the bed and ‘rushed’ down the stairs — one slow step at a time. His mom, who seemed to him to be moving at the speed of light, held open his jacket so he could slowly stick his hands into the sleeves and handed him his lunchbox. With a quick hug that ended with a gentle push, she slid Jeff out the front door…just in time to see the back of the school bus that was pulling away. Looks like I’ll have to walk again…slowly, of course.
At least tomorrow is a school holiday and a day off, Jeff thought that evening, as he got ready for bed. He was about to leave his alarm clock happily turned off when he remembered that he and a neighborhood buddy had made up to meet and go cross-country skiing — the sport he loved best in the world — on their day off. The boy switched his alarm button on. Since they wanted to get an early start so the trails would be nice and smooth, he’d be getting up the same time as regular school days so he didn’t even have to reset it.
B-R-RIN-G-G-G! Jeff stirred at the ringing alarm clock. He was about to roll over and wait for the snooze alarm to go off a few times like every day when he remembered the alarm had gone off because he was supposed to go skiing. The boy jumped out of bed full of energy. He flew into his clothes and shoes, and nearly slid down the banister. He expected his mother to be sleeping — since he was off from school, she didn’t have to get up early either — but was surprised to see her up and busy at the kitchen counter.
“Hey, what a nice surprise!” his mom said as she heard him come in. “You’re going to make it in plenty of time today.”
Jeff didn’t know what she meant. And why was she packing his school lunch box? “You know you’re even going to have time for breakfast before the bus comes,” she said with a smile in place of her usual worried frown.
“What bus?” Jeff asked, by now totally confused.
“Your school bus, what else?”
“But today’s a school holiday — it’s a teachers’ day off, and there’s no school,” he informed his mom, who had apparently forgot.
“You mean tomorrow’s the holiday. They moved it back this year so everyone could have a three-day weekend, remember?”
Jeff peered out the kitchen window and cringed at the sight of groups of kids in school clothes making their way down the street.
How could I have possibly forgotten! Jeff asked himself. How could I make such a mistake? And…he swallowed…how could I have gotten out of bed, dressed and downstairs so fast when it always went so slow for me? Hmm…
Jeff enjoyed his breakfast — and enjoyed not having the usual morning pressure on himself and his mom. Even though he wasn’t going to glide along the ski-trails today like he hoped, he knew he’d learned a lesson: that speeding up was something he could do, and was sure worth his while.
Discussion Questions
Ages 3 – 5
Q. How did Jeff feel about doing things slowly at first?
A. He felt like he had no choice and couldn’t do things faster.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He realized he really could move fast if he wanted to and felt inspired to improve.
Ages 6-9
Q. What life-lesson do you think Jeff learned from what happened?
A. He hadn’t thought he was able to do things fast and that it was important to do so, but after realizing he could do things more quickly – and that it made life more pleasant, he decided it was something worthwhile to do.
Q. Why do you think Jeff got up and out faster when he thought it was a holiday?
A. Since he felt motivated – he wanted to get up early and ski – he was able to do things quickly, whereas usually he was un-motivated to go to school. This helped him realize that his slow-ness was something he could control and improve.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What is the advantage of having alacrity?
A. On a practical level, we simply get a lot more accomplished when we move fast. Besides this, doing things quickly can fill us up with energy and make life seem more joyful and fun.
Q. When could it be better not to have this trait?
A. If going quickly makes us careless, it’s likely better to slow down somewhat. Also if we feel tempted to do something we know we shouldn’t, a little procrastination is the best thing we could do.

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“Remember that everything in your life is there for one reason and one reason only: to offer you the opportunity to grow”  — Yehuda Berg


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Old Heshy was getting a little lonely living by himself after his wife passed away so he decided to buy himself a pet. Heshy was always a little different, and apparently so was his choice in pets. He got himself a penguin. He named him Cholent.
Soon after he got Cholent the penguin, Heshy was driving in town one day with Cholent sitting on the front seat next to him.
A policeman notices Cholent in the car and motions for Heshy to pull over.
The officer says, “What are you doing with that penguin?”
Heshy replies, “We are just going for an afternoon drive.”
The officer says, “I want you to take that penguin to the zoo right away, or you will be in big trouble.”
Heshy replies, “No problem, I can do that,” and the policeman lets them go on their way. Two days later, Heshy and Cholent are going for a drive again with Cholent sitting in the front seat. This time the penguin has on dark sunglasses. When they pass through town, the same policeman spots Cholent in the car. He furiously motions for Heshy to pull over. As soon as the car stops, he marches right up to Heshy and demands, “You are the same guy I saw two days ago with a penguin. What are you trying to do now? Don’t you think that I can still recognize a penguin even if it has sunglasses on? I thought I told you to take that penguin to the zoo right away?” Heshy replies, “Yes officer you did. I took him to the zoo yesterday. We had so much fun at the zoo that I thought we would go to the beach today!”

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