Wednesday, January 14, 2015

460 - Va'eira

Before Moshe and Aharon perform the tenmakkos, the Torah offers a short genealogical backdrop. The Torah begins with their great-grandfather Levi, continues with a list of all his children and grandchildren, and ends with the birth of Moshe and Aharon. "They are the ones who spoke to Pharaoh the king of Egypt to take the Jews out of Egypt; this was Moshe and Aharon"(Shemos 6:27). Rashi, bothered by the seemingly superfluous ending of the pasuk, explains that the Torahis informing us that they were complete in both fulfilling their missions and their righteousness "from beginning to end."

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash, Shemos 6:27, 1:5) comments, that this praise of Moshe and Aharon is in reality the goal of every Jew. We must aim to make it through life in general, and each day in particular, without getting derailed from the tracks of our purpose in this world. Chazal relate that Yochanon served in the most sacred position of Kohein Gadol for eighty years and subsequently became an apostate! He was undeniably a great man, but he did not persevere until the end of his life.     

The truth is that no one can know where life will take him. Yosef went one bright day to inquire about the welfare of his brothers and the next thing he knew he found himself as a slave and the sole Jew in the most immoral country in the world. These things do not happen only in ancient times. Rav Wolbe related that he himself experienced a similar phenomenon. While learning in the Mirrer Yeshiva in Poland just prior the Second World War, the Polish government forced him to leave the Yeshiva due to his German citizenship. The next eight years found him in Sweden without even a minyan of shomer ShabbosJews. Despite these radical changes, the Torah attests that Yosef maintained his original level of righteousness even in Egypt, and we can attest that Rav Wolbe remained steadfast to his ideals throughout his years in Sweden. 

Additionally, Rav Wolbe mentioned that he once met a Moroccan Jew who related that when he arrived in Israel he was taken to a non-religious kibbutz. He didn't capitulate to their lifestyle and he demanded kosher food. They could not get him to change his ways so they sent him to another kibbutz lest he succeed in convincing others to follow his ways. The same scenario repeated itself in the second kibbutz and the successive kibbutzim until they finally gave in and sent him to a yeshiva. How many of us would survive in such a hostile environment with our religious ideals intact? How long would we last if people taunted us every time we davened or attempted to keep kashrus?

The same tests often arise on a daily basis, albeit on a smaller scale. Rav Yeruchom Levovitz zt"l would say that a person changes "in accordance with his clothing." One's behavior is very much dependant on his surroundings. Although while by himself one might maintain a serious demeanor, when he is in the company of others he might act in a lightheaded manner. Although he merely changed rooms in the house, his behavior changed entirely! When people get married they often change as a result of their spouses. Similarly, a change of job, friends, locale or shul can change a person beyond recognition.

As with many creatures, people change their skin to adapt to their surroundings. Our goal is to define our ideals and stick to them no matter in what situation we find ourselves. This was the trait of Yosef, Moshe and Aharon, and it is the hallmark of our leaders throughout the generations!

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