131221 – Parshat Shemot

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Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig



Shemot (Exodus) 1:1-6:1

Haftarah: Isaiah 26:6-28:13, 29:22-23


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What’s in a name? “And the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, the name of the first was Shifra and the name of the second was Pu’ah…” (Shemot 1:15).

RaShI says that: “Shifra is YoCheved (the mother of Miryam, Aharon and Moshe), because Sh’miShaferet – she beautified the new born babies. And Pu’ah is Miryam, because Sh’Po’ah – she cries and speaks and coos at the child in the manner of women who try to sooth the crying babe.”

So, when we are introduced to Moshe’s mother and sister we find that they are not referred to by their given names, but, rather, by the names that described them not only as midwives, but as protectors of new born Hebrew babies.

Similarly, though we know baby Moshe by the name given to him by the daughter of Pharaoh because: “Moshituh – I drew him from the water,” Our Midrash teaches us that Moshe had many Hebrew names. The Me’am Lo’ez on Shemot 2:10 quotes a number of Midrashic sources and provides us with an amazing teaching: “Our sages have taught that Moshe was called by many names.

  • His father Amram called him Chaver, because of him [Moshe] he was “NitChaber – he was reunited” with his wife (RaShI to chapter 2 verse 1). And this was a worthy name because he also “reunited” Israel with their Father in heaven.
  • “And his mother YoCheved called him YeKuti’el, because, I had “Tikvah – hope” that Hashem would return my womb for birthing.
  • “His sister Miryam called him Yered, because she “YaRda – went down” to the Nile and saw what was to become of him. That name was also worthy because “HeReed – he brought down” the Torah to Israel from the heavens, also because the Manna “came down” in his merit. She also referred to him as Tuvya, because he was Tov – good.
  • “And his brother Aharon called him Avi Zanu’ach, because “Avi Zanach – my father abandoned” my mother and remarried her and Moshe was born. And this name was also a worthy one because he caused Israel to “abandon” their idolatrous ways and also because his prayers caused Hashem to “abandon” His punishment of Israel (after the sin of the golden calf).
  • “His nursemaids called him Avi Socho because he was the “father of the prophets” who are referred to as Sochim – agents.
  • “His grandfather Kahat called him Avigdor because in his merit Pharaoh “Gadar – restricted” his decree to throw the male children into the Nile.
  • “And the Children of Israel called him Shemaya for in Moshe’s days did Hashem “Shema – hear” our cries.
  • “And from all these names, he was called by the name Moshe, which was given to him by the daughter of Pharaoh.”

None of the [above mentioned] names are mentioned in the five books of the Torah. And even Hashem referred to him only as Moshe. This is suggestive of Pharaoh’s daughter’s greatness, for she is considered as if she was his mother. And from this we learn that an orphan that is raised in a home that does not embitter him with harsh words is considered as if he was born to that house. “And Hashem said to the daughter of Pharaoh: Even though Moshe was not your son, you treated him as one, so will I treat you accordingly. I will call you Batya – the daughter of G-d.”

The names in both the written and oral Torah aid or deepen our understanding of the people that these names describe. We have just seen how the true characters of Yocheved, Miryam and Moshe are revealed by the choice of names that are given to them. The metamorphosis that took place when Avram became Avraham, or YeKuti’el became Moshe is an important link to our perception of who these people really were.

Likewise, the names that are attributed to Hashem are very significant. At the beginning of next week’s Parsha Va’Eira, (Shemot 6:1-2), Hashem says to Moshe: “…I am Hashem. I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’acov as Kel Shakai, but with My Name Hashem I did not make myself known to them.”

Why the different names of Hashem? Kel Shakai or Elokim denotes the Master of Justice and/or the Master of Nature. Bereishit Bara Elokim Et HaShamayim V’Et HaAretz – In the beginning Elokim [the Master of Nature and Law] created the heavens and earth). Up to this point in Jewish history, Hashem was the Creator and He kept His word precisely. But then Hashem revealed another aspect of Himself. The four letter name of Hashem (which we never pronounce) denotes timeless mercy. In His redemption of Israel from Egypt, whether or not Israel deserved it, Hashem exhibited a side of Himself that even the Patriarchs were unaware of.

Our Parsha alludes to this new side of Hashem when He reveals Himself to Moshe at the burning bush (chapter 3). He explains that He will now fulfill all the promises that He swore to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’acov, and that Moshe will serve as the agent of His benevolence. In verses 13 and 14 we find the following conversation: Moshe said to Hashem, “Behold when I come to the Children of Israel and say to them, ‘The G-d of your fathers has sent me to you, ‘and they say, ‘What is His name?’ – what shall I say to them?” Hashem answered Moshe, Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh – I Shall Be As I Shall Be.” And He said, “So shall you say to the Children of Israel, ‘I Shall Be’ has sent me to you.”

This cryptic name of G-d has been pondered often by students of the Torah. The interpretation that speaks closest to my heart I found in a book called Orchat Tzaddikim – The Ways Of The Righteous. The (anonymous) author writes in the chapter called The Gate of Truth, that the word Eheyeh – I Shall Be appears in the Five Books of Moshe 21 times, and its Gematriya (numeric value) is also 21. Aleph = 1, Hey = 5, Yod = 10 and Hey = 5. The total numeric value of all the word Eheyeh in the Torah appear 21 times 21 the Gematriya of Eheyeh, equals a total of 441. The Hebrew word Emet (truth) also equals 441 (Aleph = 1, Mem = 40, and Tav = 400).

Hashem said to Moshe that when the Children of Israel ask you what Hashem’s Name is, tell them “Truth” has sent me to you, and they will understand.

Just as scientists have discovered that DNA carries pieces of our personalities and behavior patterns, so too, do our Hebrew names carry a world of unfulfilled potential for us to release.

What’s in a name, everything, personality, character, essence and even hope. Let us all live up to our names and the true traits and potentials that are contained in each of them.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

121117 – Parshat Toledot



Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

E-mail: rebyosil@gmail.com

Parshat Toldot

Bereishit 25:19 – 28:9

Haftarah: Malachi 1:1 – 2:7



Of the three patriarchs, Yitzchak is the most cryptic. Much of his life is clouded in mystery, for in contrast with his father Avraham and his son Yitzchak, relatively little space in the Torah is dedicated to the details of his life. And even when the events of his life are described, he is usually not the main character in the episode. The Akeidah, for example, is recalled more commonly to dramatize the greatness of Avraham rather than that of Yitzchak.

One story the Torah does tell us can be found in this week’s Parsha and on the surface is seemingly insignificant. The event deals with when Yitzchak re–opens the wells that his father had once dug (Bereishit 26:15): “For all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of Avraham, his father, the Pelishtim (Philistines) had stopped them and filled them with dust.” On the surface, this event gives us little insight into his personality; its relevance is somewhat questionable as to the necessity of its inclusion in the text.

Nonetheless, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik of blessed memory argues that the amount of text dedicated to Yitzchak should be viewed not as a diminution of his greatness, but rather as an indication of his unique service to HaShem. Mystical tradition actually assigns one of HaShem’s attributes to each of the patriarchs: Avraham represents Chesed (kindness); Yitzchak represents Gevurah (strength); and Ya’acov represents Emet (truth).

Rav Soloveitchik points out that Avraham’s trait of kindness, expresses itself in expansion. Kindness is a movement away from oneself and towards others, and clearly Avraham succeeded in this regard. Yitzchak’s trait, that of strength, by contrast, is a retreat into a private world, with HaShem as his companion. Yitzchak remained in private communion with HaShem for much of his life. He was withdrawn, and because much of his life was concealed from the masses, the Torah tells us little about him. The shortage of text actually reflects the privacy of the man.

Then Yitzchak marries Rivkah. Yitzchak waited until after the Akeidah to marry, because until that moment he belonged exclusively to the Almighty. Once he was offered on the altar, his relationship with HaShem reached its peak, and the man of strength could expand outside his insular world. At this point, explains Rav Soloveitchik, Yitzchak begins to be less of a private individual. He still retains his strength, his sense of inner strength and staying power, but now an element of kindness, that particular trait which so defined his father, becomes apparent in his own person.

The Torah tells the story of the wells, the RaMBaN (acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman [Nachmanides] Gerona, Spain, Israel, 1194-1270) explains, that it appears to be of little benefit or value to the reader or to the honor of Yitzchak. And yet with deeper probing, the significance of this account becomes clearer and reflects an added dimension to Yitzchak’s personality. It speaks of his ability to mature and expand beyond the earlier confines of his character.

When Avraham lived among the Philistines, he had dug many wells, but the Philistines plugged up those wells. Yitzchak not only re–opened the wells, and restored a great good to his society, but he also restored their names according to the names which Avraham had originally given them. Yitzchak’s actions in this one instance signified his transition to a more public role and position, continuing the legacy of his father. Yitzchak moves from his focus on his inner spiritual self to a greater sense of his outward workings.

In addition, Yitzchak also dug three new wells, and the Philistines objected to the first two, and so he called them Eisek, meaning “contention,” and Sitnah, meaning “enmity.” But the third well caused no controversy, and he called it Rechovot, meaning “spacious” or “expansive.” These three names allude to the three Temples, explains the RaMBaN. The first two were destroyed by our enemies because of contention and enmity, but the third will be built with no opposition, and then HaShem will make our borders more spacious and more expansive. So the once–private Yitzchak not only reached out to a spouse, but he also offered hope to countless generations through his generous character and noble actions.

It was his expansiveness of character, something which he came to perhaps later in life, once he became a householder and fashioned a family with Rivkah, that allowed Yitzchak to see something special in Eisav (Esau) and to recognize the modicum of worth in his hunter son, where others had readily dismissed him out–of–hand and discounted his value. We can apply this message of expansiveness of character to the need for us to expand beyond the inner chambers and inner recesses of our private lives, to encompass and include others.

And so it wasn’t simply that Yitzchak opened up the wells and made three new ones, but that he thought of others. He combined his inner strength with the important ingredient for just living, the element of Chesed. He thought of the accomplishments of his father which he sought to restore to his day and age, and he thought of the need to give to others and to extend himself beyond his own personal purpose, and involve himself in the larger world – to correct and perfect the world under HaShem’s dominion.

This offers us an opportunity to reach for goals that are beyond our natural abilities, to involve ourselves in a projection of a greatness that appears larger than life and yet wholly attainable. This is the legacy of our ancestors, Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivkah and Ya’acov and Rachel/Layah, this is our legacy to carry through to the rebuilding of the third Temple which will be built with no opposition, and whose borders HaShem will make more spacious and more expansive through our spacious and expansive outreach.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

120204 – Parshat B’Shalach/Shabbat Shira



Reb Yosil Rosenzweig




Shemot (Exodus) 13:17-17:16

Haftarah – Judges 4:4-5:31



The word Shira is often mistranslated as song and as we all know very song has both music and lyrics. The lyrics being the poetry of the song, therefore I have translated Shira as Poem. This Shabbat is called Shabbat Shira – the Shabbat of the Poem. During the fourth Aliyah the “Poem” of the [Reed] Sea is read. Due to its extreme importance, it is customary to rise during this reading.


The Torah portions up until this week have revealed many insights into our history and the spiritual development of our people. The infinite knowledge that the Torah provides and the myriad of levels through which it can be grasped are designed to touch the souls and the minds of anyone who desires to comprehend its secrets. Some episodes in the Torah are so profound, so fundamental, that they were included in our daily prayers to be repeated every day of our lives so that they may become incorporated into our beings.

One such passage is the “Poem” of the [Reed] Sea (Shemot 14:30 – 15:19). This event which occurred on the seventh day of Passover brings an end to the exile and rule of Egypt and takes us on a spiritual journey that climaxes at Mt. Sinai. After 210 years in Egypt and almost a century of enslavement and despair, the mighty Hand of HaShem was revealed at the Reed Sea in such a profound manner, that it even swept away the profundity of the 10 Plagues. In fact, the Haggadah of Pesach goes to great lengths in comparing the value of the 10 plagues versus the event at the Reed Sea.

Prior to the poem begin read its introduction states: “And Israel saw the mighty Hand which HaShem [used] upon the Egyptians; and the people were awed by HaShem, and they believed in HaShem and his servant Moses” (Shemot 14:31). After everything that they experienced and everything they saw: the degradation of their slavery; the 10 plagues that crippled the Egyptians while the Israelites were unaffected; the humbling of Pharaoh and his hosts; the generous “lending” of clothes and money after the ninth plague; the inability of the Egyptians react to the sacrifice of their god used for the Pascal offering; the death of every firstborn male, man or beast, while HaShem passed over our homes and finally, standing on the opposite side of the Reed Sea when they beheld the decimation of the mighty Egyptian army, suddenly “they believed in HaShem.” How is it possible that they did not “believe” before that moment?

The Hebrew language is the mindset of the Torah. It defines and gives light to understanding God’s word. No translation can accurately portray the true meaning conveyed in the words. Hebrew is a root based language. Every root has a specific meaning and is often lost in translation. There are no synonyms in Hebrew, if a different Hebrew root word is used it is because it has a different meaning. So, it is important for us to understand the meaning of VayaAMINu – “and they believed.

The root of VayaAMINu is Amen. Commonly, when one recites a blessing, the proper response is Amen – it is true. But Amen means so much more. The root is also used in the word Oman – master craftsman, and Omanut – art. Art is a representation of truth depicted through the eyes of the artist. Not everyone who draws or sculpts is a master artist, they might be talented but the “truth” of their portrayal is not yet refined enough. It takes years and years of hard work and discipline to sharpen one’s craft to the point that one can be considered an Oman.

As many of you know I am a musician, and though many people praise my playing, I am not a master of my craft. What I do is good in a limited field of music, but a master guitarist, an Oman, knows his instrument and has expertise in all aspects of technique. He interprets the truth in his music. This mastery in any of the art forms comes after working diligently, obtaining the discipline and sensing the soul of the art form.

This is also true with belief in HaShem. Without the absolute knowledge of His existence and involvement in our lives and all matters in all the dimensions of reality, we may have Bitachon – trust in Him, but we have not yet attained His truth in our lives. Emunah – which we translate as faith or belief is not a leap into unproven reality. It is the knowledge that He is real. After many hints and signs we know with absolute certainty that He is true and He is the basis of our reality.

As modern, intelligent beings we are assaulted daily by the scoffers of the world. We are told that belief in Him is at best an uncertainty which clings superstitiously to a primitive explanation of the unknown. As Jews, we have a unique perspective on history and our experience in the world. Countless times we have been put in dangerous situations that might have led to the total annihilation of our nation. By the Grace of God we have been saved from this outcome while other civilizations have disappeared. Have you seen a Hittite or a true Roman lately? The Egyptians of today are not descendants of the true Egyptian race of past history, nor are the Greeks or the Babylonians or the Persians, just to name a few.

Every conquering nation assimilated the vanquished by many different means and the replaced occupants of those countries no longer carried the genes that once distinguished the former inhabitants. The Jewish people have survived history and have remained a race with the same ideals and character that exemplified our ancestors.

Sociologically and militarily, we have no business existing. HaShem’s hand in history has shown itself over and over as His chosen people’s salvation. Even the holocaust of the past century couldn’t destroy European Jewry, let alone world Jewry. After so many instances we have seen and experienced the “the mighty Hand which HaShem [used] upon the Egyptians” and we know with the proof of history that He exists and oversees our existence. Unfortunately, history has also taught us that those Jews without this “knowledge” of Emunah will eventually assimilate and disappear from existence.

This “knowing,” this “truth”, has guided us and allowed us to survive the most destructive forces in every era of our long history. It is this “knowledge” that is the basis of our faith. It is not an acceptance of the unknown that has kept us true to our purpose and our destiny rather; it has always been our leap into the world of Emunah, the world of truth and knowledge. As the Haggadah states: Lo Et Avoteinu BiLvad Go’al HaKadosh Baruch Hu, Elah Af Otanu Go’al ImaHem – Not only did the “Holy One Blessed Be He” redeem our ancestors, rather, we too were redeemed with them. Like them we must see the truth and incorporate it into our very beings in order for the words of the poem within us can be heard throughout history. Let us raise our voices and sing the poem that will lead to the final redemption.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil