Skip to content


TorahAnytimes Newsletter Shemot

Parshat Shemot

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter    Print Version

Parashat Shemot
19th of Tevet, 5778 | January 6, 2017

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein
The Lesson of the Matteh

After undergoing countless ups and downs, Moshe Rabbeinu felt it was finally enough. He had saved a fellow Jew from the hands of an Egyptian only for Pharaoh to retaliate by trying to kill him. Even after protecting the daughters of Yisro, Moshe was imprisoned. By now, Moshe could have rightfully felt that he no longer wanted to deal with people.

Of course, the minute a person wants to rest and get away from people and avoid helping others, Hashem comes to the scene. “Moshe, don’t think you are going to run to the desert and escape! I want you to go back to Egypt! I want you to go back to all that which you ran away from.”

This rebuttal of Hashem teaches a profound lesson in human psychology. A person is not to run away from his fears, but face them. Instead of skirting around the issue, go back and confront it.

Throughout the several decades I have been a Rebbe, many times I have told a student not to worry and feel anxious about delivering a speech in front of the class or taking a test. But, ultimately, what words will in fact help the student overcome any fears? If a child in class says, “I cannot do it!” what is the correct reaction?

In Hashem addressing Moshe, one would assume that He would speak directly to the point and tell him, “You have nothing to worry about. You see that one footstep? That is Mine; I am carrying you.” But that is not the response Moshe receives. Here Moshe is waiting for his big answer, and what does Hashem say?

And Hashem said to him, “What is that in your hand?” (Shemos 4:2)

What does Hashem mean with this question? How does it address Moshe’s worries? Moreover, Hashem already knows what Moshe is holding; why is it necessary to ask him?

The answer Moshe Rabbeinu gives is even more difficult to understand. Instead of asking Hashem what the underlying meaning of His question is, Moshe says “What is in my hand? A matteh, stick.” End of discussion.

What is the meaning of this conversation? Hashem asks what is in Moshe’s hand and he replies a stick. The back-and-forth does not seem to have any rhyme or rhythm. Furthermore, isn’t such an answer disrespectful? Imagine a situation where a student is eating in class. How would a teacher react? “Chana, what are you eating?” If Chana responds, “Chips,” the teacher will be less than pleased. The teacher is well aware what she is eating. The student should say, “I am sorry; I will put it right away.” When Hashem asked Moshe what is in his hands, why did he answer “a stick”? He should have said, “Hashem, what are you trying to tell me?”

This Pasuk is unbelievably laden with psychological meaning. Hashem was in fact answering Moshe. He was telling him, “The answer is seen from what is in your hand – your matteh.” It was to this that Moshe replied, “Yes, I understand the meaning behind the matteh.” Hashem was hinting to Moshe that while he argued that the Jews will not listen to him, he is to realize that he is not alone. You are a stick in My hands. The power of the stick is in the hand that holds it. Learn from what is in your hand that if you turn it to the right, it goes to the right, and if you turn it to the left, it goes to the left. It has no power of its own. Its whole strength is in the hand which holds it. I, Hashem, am holding you and will be with you.

A person is, metaphorically, like a stick. It was in affirmation of this idea that Moshe Rabbeinu answered, “I am a matteh, I am connected to You, Hashem.” If you are connected to G-d and He holds your hand, you have nothing to worry about. You are plugged in to Hashem, and He will help you along your way.

A person who has a deep and genuine relationship with Hashem holds the keys to the whole world. In this respect, we are all sticks in the hands of Hashem. He supports us and stands by us throughout every step of our lives.

Rabbi Label Lam
Little Threads, Marvelous Masterpiece

Eli, a close friend of mine, once related the following story to me:
A number of years ago, I traveled to Hartford, Connecticut for a wedding. The wedding was held downstairs in the social hall, where a large crowd had gathered to share in the joyous occasion. At one point during the dancing, a few men began readying various props for what was then called the ‘Techiyas Ha’meisim’ dance. It entailed a few men running around and chasing each other and was done for fun in order to enrich the joy of the wedding and bring levity to the chassan and kallah.

At the time, I decided to head upstairs to see if I could find a kittel which would be used for part of this little show. I began searching around the main shul in various places, until the gabbai who oversaw the day-to-day care of the shul entered inside. It ostensibly appeared that I was rummaging around the room with the intent of stealing something, a scene which obviously offset the gabbai. But I quickly reassured him that I was only there looking for a kittel with which to perform the dance.

As we briefly introduced ourselves and I tried to deescalate any tension which would arise from my unwelcomed presence, I was curious as much as to ask where the gabbai was originally from. He appeared to be an elderly gentleman and replied that he was from a certain city in Hungary. As I heard the city’s name, I was quite amazed. I knew for a fact that my own family had once lived there too. “What is your family’s name?” the gabbai asked me. “Friedman,” I replied. “As in Dovid Friedman?” continued the gabbai. “Yes,” I said, “Dovid Friedman was my grandfather.” “You look just like him!” enthused the gabbai. “You know, he was a very wealthy man who graciously supported many organizations.” “I never had the privilege of meeting him,” I said, “as he perished in the war. But I would love to learn more about his life.”

The gabbai by now had turned ashen white. “Let me tell you something,” he said, “I am one of the few survivors from that town in Hungary. After the war, I returned there to see if I could find any remnant of Jewish life. But everything was gone. I could not even come across a page from a siddur. The only article remaining was your grandfather, Dovid Friedman’s, shtender (lectern) where he used to stand. I walked over and looked inside. The only thing I could find was his kittel. I wondered to myself what I could do with it, and then I realized. I could provide poor grooms with the customary kittel worn during a wedding. And so, I took it with me and used it to perform hundreds of weddings in the DP camps in subsequent years.

“And now, here you are decades later as his grandson, searching for a kittel to perform the mitzvah of rejoicing with the chassan and kallah at a wedding. It reminds me of your father’s legacy and kittel which was also used to bring joy to many, many Jewish grooms and brides.”

The tapestry which Hashem weaves together in the world to produce stories and events which surprise and amaze us are readily available for us to open our eyes and see. More than we can imagine, Hashem pulls together such little threads, which come together to form a beautiful masterpiece.

Rabbi Reuven Epstein
The Template of Life

When looking at the totality of Judaism and mitzvos, the question is often asked why Hashem in fact cares about everything we do. Why is it so integral that we observe the laws of Shabbos, avoid speaking lashon hara and carefully abide by a plethora of commandments?

Were a group of people to gather together on an island and need to fend for themselves, a leader or counsel would likely be elected, who would go about formulating a set of rules to live by. It is understandable that every society requires rules whereby they can lead successful and productive lives. In our day and age, we often envision that we have American rules and Jewish rules. The rulebook in this case would be the Torah, which consists of six hundred and thirteen rules. Our Sages, however, clue us in to another way of viewing the makeup of Yiddishkeit.
The Zohar states, “Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world.” The blueprint of the world is the Torah. Yet, it seems puzzling. If the Torah is the “rulebook,” then the rules must have been created before the need for them. But why would that be the case? It is akin to living in the Eighteenth Century and seeing someone riding on a horse alongside a sign which mentions that the speed limit is thirty miles an hour. Wondering about the incongruity, you ask for an explanation. “Well,” the gentleman says, “one day in the future there will be cars, and this sign is to caution them not to drive faster than thirty miles an hour.” Such a scene would be no less than odd. In that respect, what does it mean that Hashem looked into the Torah to create the world?

Rav Elya Lopian explains the above statement of our Sages beautifully. Hashem possesses a view of what it means for man to achieve perfection. He would possess perfect speech where every word uttered is measured, and perfect eating where there is perfect intake of food in which what is necessary to healthily and happily live is consumed. The same is true of all other areas of life. We human beings have been endowed with the potential abilities inherent in achieving perfection. The reason Hashem granted man the ability to speak, for instance, is because there is a perfect way to speak and he is capable of attaining that perfection. The capability was granted to man to reach perfection in that realm.

Let’s take this one step further.

Many years ago, I was invited to a conference where a small group of people had gathered to network and brainstorm about various ideas for helping Jews become more identified with their Yiddishkeit. Amid conducting my own research, I came across an interesting idea which sent a strong message home.

Beginning with Walt Disney, the creative mastermind behind the world of Disney animation, Disney saw a progressive development in the manner of how their animation was put together. Animated film consisted of one slide followed by a second slide followed by a third and so on. The subsequent slides maintained the same background scene as the previous slides, with the only distinction being the change in the presentation of the characters.

In 2001, DreamWorks Studios decided to rewrite the rules of animation, and came up with a new method of animated film. A rulebook, or framework, was created which outlined how various scenes would be portrayed across the board. These ways of presenting animated scenes became the model for all films. If, for example, a specific scene was meant to include rain, which would entail the ground getting wet and puddles forming, the template for such a scene would be incorporated into the film. Or, alternatively, if a scene called for the wind blowing, the leaves would rustle. Various virtual rules were set in place which detailed and streamlined how animation would be presented. The characters would simply be inserted into these frameworks, where, in example, when the wind would blow, the character’s hair would move a certain degree.

The import of this is significant to our lives as Jews. We exist within the framework of what Hashem has devised in the Torah. It is not the laws of animated film or the laws of nature, but the laws of the Torah. The Torah’s view of an ideal, perfect world and perfect life is the template and framework which we exist in and constantly strive to live in sync with. It preceded the world because it created and outlined the very fiber of the world. It details what perfection is, and provides us with the necessary tools and information to attain that perfection.

We all wish to maximize our life in this world. The many mitzvos which we have and the care we perform them with are the underlying mechanics which enable us to match the perfect templated world Hashem has designed. The more we study the framework of the Torah and delve into its depth both in study and action, the more we will recognize what perfection is, what our abilities are, and how we can link them together. When this is done, we are in position to lead lives of closeness to Hashem and reach closer and closer to a life of perfection we are all capable of.

Mr. Charlie Harary
The Pygmalion Effect

It was the year 1968 when Harvard University professor Robert Rosenthal and elementary school principal Lenore Jacobson published the results of their revolutionizing study. Termed the Pygmalion Effect, Rosenthal and Jacobson founded what is arguably one of the most important keys to personal growth: visualization. Put simply, they espoused that teachers’ expectations of students’ academic ability can indirectly influence students’ efforts and performance.

The vision set forth by students, as initiated and guided by their teacher, dictates their success. If a teacher believes that a certain student will do well, they are likely to do well; and conversely, if a teacher does not believe a student will do well, they are less likely to do well. The attitude and actions of the teacher anticipating that a particular student will fail and flounder may likely translate into the student internalizing such vibes and in fact performing and producing inadequate work.

In substantiating such a perspective, Rosenthal and Jacobson conducted a classroom study, which produced results that corroborated their thesis. Selecting at random five students, Rosenthal and Jacobson informed the teacher that these particular students were especially gifted with an unusually high IQ. After gathering their current scores on school subject tests at the beginning of the year, their scores were observed again at the end of the year. But now this time, at the conclusion of the year, their scores were significantly higher than all other students in the class.

In examining why this was so, Rosenthal and Jacobson concluded that given all other variables to be equal, the teacher’s expectancy of these five students had to do with their success. The teacher expected more from these students and saw great potential in them, attitudes which prodded them along and empowered them to become something more than the average student.

We tend to think that the way it works is that reality shapes our beliefs. We are who we are and we have what we have. Educators and parents can therefore not expect anything more from a student or child than they are clearly capable of. Certainly then, we as individuals cannot expect more from ourselves than our abilities provide. Otherwise, if we fail, we will be letting ourselves down. We determine how intelligent we are, and from there, figure out what is possible in our lives.

But what Rosenthal and Jacobson discovered is that the contrary is in fact true. Beliefs shape reality. Those five students were no smarter than everyone around them. They just had one advantage: they had someone believing in them, expecting from them, and anticipating great results. That itself propelled these students to actually believe in themselves and form new realities, those of which no one could have anticipated before. But that is how it truly works. How we feel about ourselves dictates our capabilities and how we perform, and what we tell ourselves is possible affects what is actually possible.

What hampers us more often than anything is our own self-imposed boundaries and limitations. It is not so much the final score or result which determines how successful we are or will be, but the attitude we possess. True achievers are not necessarily those who win every time, but those who meet challenges with unbridled determination to push, push and push. Their internal self disallows them to perform any less than they are truly capable of, because that would be stopping short of giving it their all. Success and failure are not seen from results, but from efforts. When that becomes the barometer and gauge of how much we invest in a project, in Torah study, a test, in our marriage, in raising our children or the like, we will always be living a life of true, genuine success.

A Short Message From
Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein

I once heard a very profound quote: “It takes a second to die for G-d; it takes a lifetime to live for G-d.” Our greatest expression of devotion to Hashem is shown by foregoing the greatest commodity we have: our life. Yet there is also something that we can do which displays our extraordinary degree of such dedication. And that is living every moment for G-d. It most certainly takes years and years, and no less than an entire lifetime of hard work, but such is the greatest life we can lead. If we live for G-d in this world, we will live on for eternity in the Next.

Picture of newsletter
100% free

Subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter

Timely Torah insights, stories, and anecdotes from your favorite TorahAnytime speakers, delivered straight to your inbox every week.

Your email is safe with us. We don't spam.