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Shmot 5770

Shmot (Exodus 1:1-6:1 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING! This week we start the book of Shemos, Exodus, which focuses on a Jew brought up as a non-Jew - Moses. Demographers estimate that there are millions, perhaps 400 million halachic Jews (born to a Jewish mother), who are raised as non-Jews. This week I share the story of one of them who found out.

Several years ago I was stuck in traffic slowly driving by a gas station when I saw a sports car unlike any I had ever seen. When the roof lifted up and slid backwards, I lowered my window and yelled out, "I give up. What is it?" The man laughed, told me he designed it himself and had George Barris build it. George Barris! He built the Batmobile! I pulled into the station and we started shmoozing.

I introduced myself and the man responded, "I'm Chris, but I'm Jewish." "This is a story I have to hear! "You're the first Jew I have ever met name 'Chris.' " He laughed heartily and told me his story.

Chris's grandfather was the official painter for the Weimar Republic and a high ranking bureaucrat in the government. When a head of state would visit Germany, he would paint the official portrait. He also penned the occasional cartoon including a famous one in the early 1930's of Adolf Hitler's face on the body of a donkey with large donkey ears. When Hitler came to power, his grandfather understood that his days were numbered. Secretly, he sent his family out of the country and helped 102 other people escape to England by plane and boat before fleeing the country.

The family settled in New York. However, Chris' father, traumatized by the rise of Nazism and the fear that the Nazis would win the war, decided to separate himself from the rest of his extended family. He also decided to live as a non-Jew and raise his children as Protestants to avoid anti-Semitism. Here's the anomaly - he chose to hide out in Great Neck where over the years almost everyone ended up being Jewish. Chris grew up thinking that Christians were a minority. His father also never changed his last name.

Chris grew up with almost all Jewish friends. He developed into an excellent tennis player and eventually became a tennis professional. During his army service he roomed with Arthur Ashe while putting on tennis exhibitions for the troops in Vietnam. After the service he helped develop tennis centers and was a founding member of the Israeli Tennis Center. When he was close to 30 years old Chris figured it was time to get a profession that could support him. Chris approached one his students who built homes, "Ed, I'll make you a deal. I'll give you free tennis lessons and you give me lessons on developing real estate."

Chris brought 3 assets to the business. First, he had the ability to estimate a job within 5% of a project's final sale price which ensured greater profits. Second, he had a larger vision - from $12,000 homes he lead the company to build homes selling for $300,000 and up and then to build larger sub-divisions. Third, he could acquire properties that his partners couldn't because he 'wasn't Jewish.' (Chris once told me, "I was the only Jew in my country club - I just didn't know it.")

When Chris was in his 50's, a genealogist called to interview him about his mother's family. Being a friendly, warm individual, Chris invited him over though he warned the man that he knew little about his mother's family. After the interview, the genealogist asked if he would like to see the family tree. As Chris studied it he noticed names like Cohen, Steinberg, Levy and commented, "Boy, there sure are a lot of Jews in this family tree!"

The genealogist laughed, "What do you mean, 'a lot of Jews'? They are all Jewish! You're Jewish!" And that's how he found out. He immediately called his elder sister who told him, "(expletive deleted) I had hoped you'd never find out!"

When Chris wanted to marry Barbara (a Jewess), her mother, Marilyn, didn't believe for a minute that anyone named Chris could possibly be Jewish, no matter what cockamamie story he gave. Chris tracked down his 88 year old Aunt Lelo 3 months before she died who convinced Marilyn in Yiddish that he was Jewish, just his family was meshugenah (crazy). He asked his aunt to give him a Hebrew name - and she named him Moshe.

Perhaps it was prescient that she chose the name Moshe - another Jew like himself who didn't live as a Jew until later in life. For the past several years, Chris and I get together to learn Torah and how to live better as a Jew. As I often say - if life is stranger than fiction, it is because it has a better Author!

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Torah Portion of the Week

This week's portion tells a story often repeated throughout history:

The Jews become prominent and numerous. There arises a new king in Egypt "who did not know Joseph" (meaning he chose not to know Joseph or recognize any debt of gratitude). He proclaims slavery for the Jewish people "lest they may increase so much, that if there is war, they will join our enemies and fight against us, driving (us) from the land." (Anti-Semitism can thrive on any excuse; it need not be logical or real - check out our online seminar "Why the Jews?" at - the seminar will transform the way you view yourself, your people and your history. It's spectacular!)

Moshe (Moses) is born and immediately hidden because of the decree to kill all male Jewish babies. Moses is saved by Pharaoh's daughter, grows up in the royal household, goes out to see the plight of his fellow Jews. He kills an Egyptian who was beating a Jew, escapes to Midian when the deed becomes known, becomes a shepherd, and then is commanded by God at the Burning Bush to "bring My people out of Egypt." Moses returns to Egypt, confronts Pharaoh who refuses to give permission for the Israelites to leave. And then God says, "Now you will begin to see what I will do to Pharaoh!"

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states regarding Moses:

"And the lad grew up. And she (Miriam) brought him to the daughter of Pharaoh and he was to her as a son. And she called his name Moshe ... because he was drawn from the water" (Exodus 2:10).

Why was it necessary for Moses to grow up in Pharaoh's court?

The Ibn Ezra states that it is possible the Almighty had Moshe raised in the palace of the king in order for him to experience a royal behavior. He would see it firsthand and get into the habit of acting in this manner. We see how this training helped Moshe develop into a dynamic personality. He killed an Egyptian in order to defend a person who the Egyptian was attacking. He rescued the maidens in Midian and enabled them to water their flocks.

Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz commented on this that we see here a powerful lesson on the importance of learning and habit in the development of a person and in preparing him for greatness. Even someone with the inherent greatness of Moshe needed a total environmental learning experience of royalty to integrate the personality necessary to be a great leader. The attribute of dynamic leadership is not easy to acquire. One needs much effort and many learning experiences to obtain this attribute.

One's self image is a key factor in one's behavior. Moshe's self-image was of a prince growing up in the palace of an absolute monarch. This allowed him to take any action necessary to do what was right.

The most precious gift you can bestow upon any child is a positive self-image. Constant criticism and fault-finding knocks away at one's self-esteem. A child growing up with inferiority feelings is handicapped. This will limit him in many ways. The key focus of anyone dealing with children must be, "How can I elevate this child's self-image?"


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A man who has committed a mistake
and doesn't correct it,
is committing another mistake.
--  Confucius


With Deep Appreciation to

Robert & Sherri Dorfman

Hong Kong


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Kalman Packouz

Click here for Rabbi Packouz's bio
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