Illuminations #17, Tevet 5775, Parshat Vaeira

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Illuminations #17, Tevet 5775, Parshat Vaeira

Torah Gems

Theonomy vs. Theology

Parshas Vaeira ushered in a new era in our history which can be aptly described as an epoch of its own. Water turned to blood, frogs invaded the land, and Egypt turned into a virtual Jumanji as Hashem altered the forces of nature in an unprecedented manner. The plagues would pave the way for Bnei Yisrael’s ultimate redemption as Paroh would be left with no choice other than to free them.

This presents us with a serious difficulty. We know that Hashem doesn’t like to perform miracles but prefers to do things in a seemingly natural way. If so, why was it necessary for the afore-mentioned plagues to take place and bring about the redemption in such an outlandish manner? Couldn’t Moshe have initiated a rebellion akin to Sparticus’ nearly succesful revolt against the mighty Roman Empire?

In our Parsha, Hashem assures Moshe that He’d redeem Klal Yisrael- וידעתם כי אני ה’ אלוקיכם in order that we should recognize that He is the Creator and sustainer of the world. R’ Sampson Raphael Hirsch explains that Hashem brought about the plagues for the sole purpose of establishing the very foundations of our faith. However, Hashem didn’t want them to believe in him based on mere abstract philosophical speculations or vague proofs, rather he would demonstrate His existence by means of the plagues. The blood and the boils would attest to his greatness in an irrefutable manner until the most stubborn of non-believers — Paroh himself—had to concede that Hashem exists and runs the world. Having witnessed the very hand of G-d, Klal Yisrael need not busy himself with the investigation of His existence, but rather act on these established irrevocable beliefs by performing the mitzvot. This process would culminate in the Revelation at Sinai where every Jewish man, woman, and child would actually see Hashem speaking to them and perceive His Presence with all of their senses. This would provide the Jewish nation with the foundation of faith for all generations  as parents would recount to their children the miracles of the Exodus on a yearly basis through the seder on Pesach, transmitting our glorious tradition generation to generation, that  Hashem exists and that he chose us to be his chosen nation as all of Israel witnessed.

There is a Torah ordinance that prohibits us from returning to Egypt. R’ Yeruchum Levovitz explains this homiletically: since the Exodus was the basis of our faith, we can understand this as prohibiting us from returning to a subject of faith and investigation of His existence. The Torah is telling us, once the principles of faith have been made clear to us as established facts, we shouldn’t revisit this subject and reevaluate our beliefs, rather we should act on these beliefs by performing His mitzvot meticulously in accodance with halacha as opposed to dwelling on philosophical speculations or metaphysics.

Theology means the study of G-d. R’ Hirsch states emphatically that Judiasm is not a theology. We are not to concern ourselves with how Hashem appears to us, but rather how we appear to Him. Our job is to present ourselves to Him as His loyal subjects through the fulfillment of his will by living our lives as ethical, moral, and most importantly, halachic Jews. May we merit to be a source of pride to our Father in heaven through the fulfillment of his mitzvot!

Parshah Pearls

In this week’s parshah, Hashem punishes Paroh and the Egyptions with the makos. After the first few makos, we see that Paroh’s free choice was taken away and Hashem hardened the heart of Paroh. This phenomenon is difficult to understand since we know that Hashem gives everyone free will to do as they wish. How come Paroh lost his chance of doing teshuva? And how can he then be accounted for actions he was ‘forced’ into doing?

This can be understood in an entirely new light which in turn will demonstrate Hashem’s care about Pharoh, and in general, the other nations of the world. Rashi tells us that Hashem took away the free will of Paroh since he would not do teshuva regardless. Hashem therefore hardened his heart to bring about a chain reaction for Paroh’s benefit. Now that Paroh’s heart was hardened, Hashem would be able to bring about a punishment on him and the Egyptians. Through this punishment, Bnei Yisroel will see the punishment and come to see the hand of Hashem and learn from this experience. The Gemara in Rosh Hashana tells us that a gentile can merit the world to come by sinning and bringing about a punishment to himself which would be a lesson for Bnei Yisroel prompting them to do Teshuva. The sin of the gentile, or in this case Paroh, is in essence being marbe kvod shamayim (i.e. manifestation of Hashem’s glory) since Teshuva is being brought about through them. Whereas if Hashem would give Paroh or other gentiles free will, they would do partial teshuva, and would earn no reward for it since a gentile doesn’t receive reward for teshuva unless it was performed completely. We see how hardening Paroh’s heart is true kindness that Hashem cares for each and every one of his creations and wants them to merit the most rewarding reward they can possibly earn.


Halachah Weekly

Q: If one has a tattoo (which was done against halacha or a non-Jew had it done before they converted to Judaism) are they obligated to remove it? Is it advisable to have it removed?

A:  The halacha tells us that having a tattoo put on is prohibited from the Torah. If someone did it, and now they have done teshuva, they do not have to remove it.  This is due to the fact that the prohibition forbids putting it on, but once it is on , there is no obligation to remove it.

However, if the tatto is the picture of an idol, a cross, or other inappropriate drawings, then one should cover it when one gets to the synagogue or at the time of prayers.

If one can remove it, then one should. If one has done teshuva, or is embarrassed by the tattoo, they have two options to have it removed: by way of laser, or through plastic surgery. The laser method is preferable halachically because less pain is involved. However, if one can not afford it, then plastic surgery is also acceptable.


Glimpses of Greatness

After having been away for a long time, the young Tzvi Chaim Hutner took leave of Yeshivas Slabodka to visit his parents. A short while after he returned home, Lithuania broke out in war with Poland. Tzvi Chaim found himself separated from his beloved yeshiva. It was the early 1900s, a tragic period in our history, an era in which the Jewish youth flocked in masses to the gymnasium to cast off their parents’ “backward ways” and live the life of an “enlightened Jew.” Now his childhood friends came calling.

Dressed in the clothing of the gymnasium, they spoke passionately of the enlightened teachings they were learning. Realizing that the impressionable young Tzvi Chaim might be swayed by their discussions, Mrs. Hutner concluded that she had no choice but to send him over the sealed border back to Slabodka. As the wagon that would smuggle him over the border pulled away from their house, Tvi Chaim’s mother walked alongside the wagon with tears streaming from her face. She knew she may never see him again.

Upon seeing his mother cry, Tzvi Chaim jumped off the wagon and ran to his mother saying, “If you are crying I am not going!” Mrs. Hutner dried her tears and assured him she wouldn’t cry. As the wagon drifted off into the horizon and out of view, she collapsed to the ground in a dead faint.


This week’s Illuminations is in honor of the Kollel Ner Hamizrach avreichim by Ezra Erani and Gabe Khezrie