> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > Reflections


Shmot (Exodus 1:1-6:1 )

by Rabbi Yehoshua Berman

We are all familiar with the history of the difficult period of the enslavement of the Jewish People to the Egyptians. We all know how God spoke to Moshe Rabbeinu at the burning bush and sent him on the mission to redeem the Jewish People. And, of course, who is not familiar with Pharaoh's infamous (paraphrased) response of "No, no, no, I will not let them go!"

What may be somewhat less known, though, is the phenomenally wide-reaching and fundamental life lesson that the Ramchal derives from how Pharaoh handles this situation.

"And Pharaoh commanded...'Do not continue to give straw to the people in order to make bricks...they will go and gather straw for themselves. And the quota of upon them do not detract from it because they are being lax therefore they are screaming to say 'We will go and slaughter to our Lord' (Ex. 5:6-9)."

In the second chapter of The Path of the Just, the Ramchal explains that Pharaoh essentially wanted to overburden the Jews with so much work that they simply would not have time or energy to think about freedom and redemption. They would be so busy and worn out that they would be completely unable to even entertain any wishful thoughts of hope for a brighter future.

This, explains the Ramchal further, is actually the very same hurdle that blocks the path of so many of us from achieving and actualizing our spiritual potential. We allow ourselves to become so busy that we literally never have the time or the peace of mind to stop for a moment and think!

To just think.

How often do most of us take even a moment or two to just think? Whether it be with business, school, dental check-ups, grocery shopping, travel plans...or anything and everything; somehow or other we all find so many ways to keep ourselves completely occupied all day long. And how much more so in our high-speed, instant-everything generation! We are always rushing from one thing to the next (actually, with modern technology, we don't have to rush to 'them', 'they' rush to us!). Not long ago, we would go from our palm-pilots to our cell phones to our laptops, etc. And now, with the advent of smart phones, i-pads, and who knows what else, we don't even have to do that; we just go from app to app, from site to site, from e-mail to e-mail...the pace is dizzying! Our technological gadgets have become our constant companions to the extent ."

So when do we ever have time to just think?

"Think, you say? What's that for? Why do we need to think, anyway?"

Well, how about, for example, to review in one's mind whether the way one spoke to one's coworker this morning was polite and respectful or rude and demeaning.

"What? Me, rude and demeaning, no way! I'm a good person!"

The truth is that the above thoughts are not far at all from what we all actually do think about ourselves, and for very good reason. In order for the human being to be able to function in a healthy way, he has to be able to feel good about himself, to have a positive outlook on who he is. At the same time, though, we all intuitively recognize that if we spend our whole lives lulling ourselves into a peaceful fantasy that we are Mr/s. perfect, we are going to get nowhere.

To think - to regularly engage in contemplation and introspection - is a necessary tool to maintain an ongoing, organized, deliberate process of growth towards attaining purpose and meaning in our lives through proper observance of the mitzvos.

It is imperative, if we are to live truly human lives, that we make a point to find the time and peace of mind to review our lives. And all the more so if we are to live a truly Jewish life! We have to think to ourselves, "What did I do today? What did I do yesterday? How did I behave this week? Is my relationship with my spouse what it ought to be? With my children? My friends? My neighbors? Do I speak to them in a kind, dignified manner? Am I improving in controlling my temper? If I have improved, what can I do to get even better? Am I growing in how I relate to Hashem who is constantly providing me with my every need? Do I have a relationship with Him at all? If not, what can I do to take the next step in the right direction? Do I take the time to speak to Him and thank Him for what He does for me? What might have I done wrong today that needs correction? How can I go about correcting the wrong, and/or avoiding the pitfalls that led me to doing it? What did I do right today? How can I ensure that I'll keep up the good work? Which mitzvos am I carrying out well and how can I ensure that I continue doing so? Which am I performing less than perfectly, or perhaps not at all, and how can I rectify these shortcomings?" These thoughts are a drop in the ocean of what is available and incumbent upon us as human beings, and certainly as Jews, to contemplate and deal with.

The results of actually setting time to think and introspect are truly amazing. Our relationships will enjoy positive growth, our self-control will strengthen, our teffilos will improve, and our character traits will become more refined. We will start to lead happier, more fulfilling lives.

And one last thing. When you do think about and take stock of yourself, upon discovering the good things that you do that you want to maintain and/or enhance, give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back (of course, though, without feelings of arrogance).(2) And when you find the negatives, don't focus on how you should feel guilty or awful for this, that, or the other. Sure, if you need to say sorry - whether to Hashem or another person - say sorry and feel contrite in appropriate measure. But don't berate yourself, and don't come down hard on yourself. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. Rather, keep your orientation positive. Focus on feeling good about yourself that you are taking the appropriate steps to right a wrong. Also, focus on the wealth of improvement and growth that is available to you. Focus on how much Hashem believes in you, loves you, and wants you to succeed. Allow those thoughts to permeate your whole self, and then you will also believe in yourself and feel the energy to move ever forward and upward.(3)


1. We really ought to change the terminology from "connected" to disconnected, because, in truth, that is what these gadgets do. If not strictly controlled, these gadgets disconnect us from our true selves and from true relationships, whether with Hashem or people. The disconnection of being "connected" has become so pronounced that even the Gentile world is becoming alarmed, and many of their psychologists, doctors, therapists, etc. speak and write about the severity of the matter regarding its impact on our basic humanity.

2. עיין ספר אורחות צדיקים שער הגאוה שכתב "הגאוה במעלת החכמה היא משובחת, שנאמר (ירמיה ט כג): "כי אם בזאת יתהלל המתהלל השכל וידוע אותי", ויוסיף הודאה לבורא, ברוך הוא, וגם דעה והשכל ומידות טובות בתפילת החכמה: "מודה אני לפניך שנתת חלקי מיושבי בית המדרש ולא מיושבי קרנות", וכמו: "אשרנו מה טוב חלקנו ומה נעים גורלנו". ועל זה נאמר (דברי הימים ב יז ו): "ויגבה לבו בדרכי ה'", כי יהיה אדם יקר רוח וגבה לב בעניני העולם הבא, שלא יספיק לו במה שיזדמן לו, ולא יאמר די במה שתמצא ידו מהם, אלא ימעט בעיניו כל מעשהו, ותגבה נפשו למעלה תמיד, ויתרעם בנפשו כמו שמקצר מעבודת הבורא, ברוך הוא. וזאת הגאוה אינה מזקת לענוה, אך מסייעתו וגורמת לו לשמוח במעלות הטובות, ולשמוח בכבוד חביריו, ולחוס על כבודם."

3. עיין היטב בפסיקתא זוטרתא על שה"ש פרק א' סי' ו



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