Halacha for Friday 20 Tevet 5782 December 24 2021

Parashat Shemot

(From the teachings of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztvk”l. written by his grandson HaRav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

Emulating Moshe Rabbeinu’s Primary Virtues of Mercy and Compassion for all Creatures, and How Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef’s ztvk”l Meeting with Hosni Mubarak, to Re-Route a Road Away From a Jewish Cemetery in Egypt, Led to Maran Blessing him for a Long Reign, Which was Fulfilled

It states in the Parshah, “Paro’s daughter went to bathe in the Nile, while her maids walked along the Nile’s edge. She saw the box in the rushes and sent her slave-girl to fetch it. Opening [the box] she saw the boy. The lad began to cry, and she had pity on him” (Shemot 2:5-6).

Our chachamim explain that when Paro’s daughter Batyah saw the box floating in the Nile she opened it and saw Moshe in it. Her maidens said to her, “What are you thinking? Hasn’t your father commanded to drown all the Jewish children! And should one of the people disobey your father, that’s one thing, but you are the king’s daughter! How can you not listen to your father’s voice? Batyah then reneged and decided to leave Moshe in the Nile and not to save him. Immediately Hashem placed some mercy in her heart and she was to stirred to be compassionate and decided to save Moshe. Then Gavriel came and smote them, he hit Batyah’s maids killing them all bar one who was left to accompany Batyah. This is why it states that her maids “were going” by the Nile’s bank, indicative of the same verb used in the passuk “behold I am going to die (Bereishit 25:32), so all the maids were killed by Gavriel.

“The lad began to cry”, our chachamim ask, Moshe was a baby, so why is he called a “lad”? This reason is because his voice was like a lad’s. Moshe Rabbeinu was destined to teach 600,000 Jews [males over the age of 20, plus many more] Torah. In those days there was no microphone, therefore Hashem graced him with a powerful voice, this is indicated with the words “a lad crying”, that his voice was powerful. This is the straightforward meaning. The Gemara (Sota 12a) relates that Rebbi Yehudah explained that Moshe had the voice of a lad just like we said. Rebbi Nechamiah said to him, if so you have made Moshe Rabbeinu blemished, but rather it teaches that his mother made him a wedding canopy in the box, she said [sadly] I won’t merit to see his chuppah.

However, there is another explanation given by Rav Yehoshua Zeitlin z”l (1742-1822) in his work “Hagahot Chadashot” which I possess, it was published 200 years ago. This rav lived in Shkolv, [Belarus]. In that city was a ruler called Zorich who was an anti-Semite and from time to time would decree upon them harsh decrees. The Jews, from their perspective, became accustomed to go to him and give him great sums of money as a bribe, as it were, so that he would annul his decrees. But this wicked man realised that each time the Jews would bring him money, so he increased with more harsh decrees. Until one time, he decreed the harshest of decrees upon the Jews. The Jews didn’t know what to do, therefore they came to the leaders of the kehillah. First to the rav to seek his counsel what to do. The rav said, “To my mind don’t give anymore bribes but rather I will write a carefully drafted letter to the Empress Catherine (1729-1796) and in it I will detail all the harsh decrees of this wicked ruler. She will certainly appoint a panel to investigate him and through this we will be able to free ourselves from this wicked tyrant.” The heads of the kehillah said, “We are afraid, lest the ruler avenge us should we do this.” The rav replied to them that there is nothing to fear, “I will write the letter and the ruler will know nothing of the letter!”

The rav was very wise and well versed in Russian. He wrote the letter to the empress, beautifully written, like pearls and full of beautiful terms, in a fine style. He sent the letter via a messenger to Empress Catherine.

The letter reached the empress and she called her courtier General Grigory Potemkin (1739-1791). She presented him with the letter and ordered him to appoint an investigative panel which he shall chair, to investigate the ruler in the city of Shklov. However, the empress added, “Look general, such a beautifully written letter! What lovely writing! I want you to bring before me the person that wrote this letter on behalf of the Jews!”

The general travelled to Shklov, accompanied by the unique investigative panel. They went and investigated the ruler’s actions and inspected his ledgers, finding serious corruption that was committed by the wicked Zorich. They sacked him from his post. After a while, the general ascertained who had written the letter. He turned to the rav and instructed him to accompany him to the empress because she wanted to meet him.

The rav arrived before the empress and began to speak gently before her and he explained the plight of the Jews. Then suddenly he raised his voice and began to explain the Jewish people’s distress under the rule of the wicked tyrant. The empress said to the rav, “Until now you spoke gently, why are you now shouting?” The rav replied, “I am not shouting! Rather the good people, who this tyrant crushes, they are shouting, and their cry is coming out of my throat! Therefore I am shouting!” The empress listened and the rav found favour in her eyes. She appointed him as an advisor to the court, a position which he held and he was a great minister for the Jews and with her help he was able to affect many secret matters for his people.

Likewise, with Moshe Rabbeinu it states, “a lad crying”, because Moshe represented all of Am Yisrael and their shouting sounded from his throat. Therefore “a lad crying”, means that his voice was heard with strength, because this was a bitter cry of all Am Yisrael and not just the cry of one person!

Moshe Rabbeinu was a compassionate father always involving himself for the good of the weak. Yitro, who later became his father-in-law, was initially a priest for idol worship. However, he was a wise and intelligent man and so he would think about things and he concluded that all of the idol worship in the world is worthless. Therefore, he separated himself from his priestship of idol worship and informed the local people that he is no longer serving as a priest and that they will have to find someone else. From thereafter the local people hated him and pursued him, they ostracised and banned him. His daughters were shepherds and each day that they would come to water the sheep the local inhabitants would bully them, “…other shepherds came and tried to chase them away”. Moshe Rabbeinu saw this and even though they weren’t Jewish, he had mercy on them, “Moshe came to their aid, and then watered their sheep” (Shemot 2:17). Yitro’s daughter’s arrived home and their father said to them, “How did you come home so early today?” (ibid. v.18). Because they were normally later every day because the shepherds bullied them until they succeeded in watering their sheep. “’An Egyptian stranger rescued us from some shepherds,’ they replied. ‘He also drew and drew again water for us and watered our sheep’” (ibid. v.19). What does “He also drew and drew again for us” mean? Our chachamim explain that the shepherds threw each of Yitro’s daughters into one of the wells and Moshe pulled them out, saving them from the pit, and then he watered the sheep. Such great mercy he had for them involving himself for the benefit of the weak. He was merciful full of compassion!

Our chachamim said, at the time that Moshe Rabbeinu was shepherding the sheep he saw a small kid (lamb) just a few months old that had left the flock and began to run away. Moshe ran after it to catch it. When he reached it, he saw that the kid had approached a pool of water and began drinking because he was thirsty. Moshe saw this and said to it, “You were thirsty! I caused you undue pain!” Therefore he waited until the kid finished drinking and he took the kid in his hands and said, “You deserve that I carry you because I caused you undue harm!” Hashem said, “You have mercy on sheep that is simply flesh and blood, you will shepherd my flock!” This is the virtue of Moshe Rabbeinu that he was compassionate even for a kid and likewise for Yitro’s daughters who weren’t Jewish. A person must have compassion! This is a precious virtue for every leader and especially for Jewish leaders.

I am not political, but I will tell you something with good intentions (lit. for the sake of Heaven). In the year 5749 (1989), it came known to me that in Egypt some engineers decided to build a new road which would be more convenient for those living in Cairo. However, the road’s route was planned to go through a Jewish cemetery in which some great Jews were buried including Rav Chaim Kafusi z”l “Ba’al Hanes” (1540-1631). It would be a great danger to disturb the graves. Therefore I took my stick and satchel and travelled to Egypt and with me was Rav Aryeh Deri. We asked the Israeli embassy that they inform Egypt that we are coming to meet Egypt’s prime minister Hosni Mubarak (1928-2020).

We travelled there and the prime minister received us like kings. They told him that I used to be the Chief Rabbi of Egypt many years prior. We sat and explained to him that it would be a disgrace to the graves. (The prime minister said, “But hear that the Municipality of Jerusalem build above graves, so what do you want from me?” Rav Aryeh Deri said to him, “My master the prime minister, the heads of the  Municipality of Jerusalem are Asheknazim, but you are a Sefardi, and the Rav is the rav of the Sephardim, therefore you must listen to him…”) The prime minister listened to all our requests and agreed and said that the change to the route will cost a fortune, but in honour of the rav he agreed to preserve the cemetery. We spoke with him further about private matters that I am unable to relate and he nodded his head and agreed to all our requests. Everything he promised, he fulfilled! When we finished and began to leave, the prime minster instructed that everyone leave the room and just us stay with him. The prime minister said to me, “My lord the rav bless me, I believe in your blessing!” I placed my hand on his head and I blessed him, “May it be [His will] that you will have a long rein”. Baruch Hashem the beracha was fulfilled since he reigned in Egypt for more than 30 years [he ruled longer than any other leader since Muhammad Ali Pasha who ruled the country for 43 years from 1805-1848]. In Egypt to rule for so many years is rare. Baruch Hashem the berachah was fulfilled.

Mubarak brought dignity to Egypt, he prevented wars, he was a peaceful person and loved Yisrael. So that now he has been deposed, I pray that Hashem save us from his haters and that Hashem instil in the hearts of the judges, that due to gratitude, they execute a good judgement and find him innocent. I also pray that he be well, it is a mitzvah to pray for all those who love Yisrael and for all those who behave with compassion. (Birchat Maran ztz”l was fulfilled, that out of the ordinary, he was saved from execution and he died with dignity and tranquillity in Egypt.)

Let us return to our Parashah. Moshe Rabbeinu loved people and brought them close to Torah [see Avot 1:12] as we said. And his primary virtue was mercy, which we too have to emulate with all creatures in the world, and anyone who is compassionate to creatures, likewise Heaven will have compassion on him [see Shabbat 151b].

Shabbat Shalom!

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