Torah Weekly

For the week ending 1 January 2005 / 20 Tevet 5765

Parshat Shmot

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
Become a Supporter Library Library


With the death of Yosef, the Book of Bereishet (Genesis) comes to an end. The Book of Shmot (Exodus) chronicles the creation of the nation of Israel from the descendants of Yaakov. At the beginning of this week's Parsha, Pharaoh, fearing the population explosion of Jews, enslaves them. However, when their birthrate increases, he orders the Jewish midwives to kill all newborn males. Yocheved gives birth to Moshe and hides him in the reeds by the Nile. Pharaoh's daughter finds and adopts him, although she knows he is probably a Hebrew. Miriam, Moshe's sister, offers to find a nursemaid for Moshe and arranges for his mother Yochevedto fulfill that roleYears later, Moshe witnesses an Egyptian beating a Hebrew and Moshe kills the Egyptian. Realizing his life is in danger, Moshe flees to Midian where he rescues Tzipporah, whose father Yitro approves their subsequent marriage. On Chorev (Mt. Sinai) Moshe witnesses the burning bush where G-d commands him to lead the Jewish People from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael, the land promised to their ancestors. Moshe protests that the Jewish People will doubt his being G-ds agent, so G-d enables Moshe to perform three miraculous transformations to validate himself in the people's eyes: transforming his staff into a snake, his healthy hand into a leprous one, and water into blood. When Moshe declares that he is not a good public speaker G-d tells him that his brother Aharon will be his spokesman. Aharon greets Moshe on his return to Egypt and they petition Pharaoh to release the Jews. Pharaoh responds with even harsher decrees, declaring that the Jews must produce the same quota of bricks as before but without being given supplies. The people become dispirited, but G-d assures Moshe that He will force Pharaoh to let the Jews leave.


The Big League

Moshe replied to G-d, Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should take the Children of Yisrael out of Egypt? (3:11)

The lights of Chanuka have faded into darkness. The dreidel lies motionless in the glass-fronted cabinet in the living-room. What have we taken with us from those Chanuka lights?

Surely one of the most important lessons that we can learn from Chanuka is that we are capable of rising to great heights if we really believe in what we are doing. Even the might of an empire cannot stand in the way of someone who is prepared to give up his life for what he believes.

About sixty years ago in a dark horse stable in Auschwitz, a handful of girls gathered around some hastily-prepared Chanuka candles. Soon the group grew in size and the light spread over the entire barracks. In a few minutes several hundred Jewish women were singing that immortal song of contempt for all the tyrants of history: "Moaz Tzur Yeshuati After they had finished the song they listened quietly to words of Torah filled with trust in the ultimate vindication of G-ds actions.

Who were these girls that organized that Chanuka in hell? They were pupils of a school in Tarnow founded by an unassuming seamstress named Sarah Shenirer.

Sarah Shenirer was born in 1883 in Krakow, Poland, which was then part of the Austrian Empire. At that time there was no formal system of education for Jewish girls and Sarah was educated in a Polish public school. All around her, Sarah saw the ravages of the so-called Enlightenment on the Jewish woman. Jewish girls were well-versed in the latest in Polish poetry, but disdained their own traditions and religion. Yiddish was an embarrassment to them. A question in Yiddish would be answered in Polish. Sarah Shenirer saw a terrible lacuna in the education of Jewish girls. Their brothers were shielded by their immersion in Torah but, for the girls, there was little or nothing to fend off the blandishments of secularism.

Meanwhile World War I broke out, and Sarah, together with a stream of refugees, left for Vienna. On Shabbat Chanuka Sarah went to the Shtumper Street Synagogue and heard an address by Rabbi Dr. Plesh that summoned her to her lifes task. Rabbi Dr. Plesh spoke of Mattityahu and the Chashmonaim; of Chana and her seven sons; of Yehudit. A history of dedication and self-sacrifice.

She returned to Krakow full of enthusiasm. With nothing more than faith in G-d and a burning desire to serve Him as best she could, Sarah opened a school for little girls. She rented two rooms. One served as a tailor shop where she sewed clothes for the body, and in the other she set up a new kind of shop where she began to sew clothes for young souls. Sarah knew that much as secular studies might beguile the mind, only Torah and mitzvot could nourish the Jewish soul. She began to imbue a generation of girls with a love of G-d and His holy Torah.

She wrote to her brother, a Belzer Chassid living in Czechoslovakia, about her undertaking. At first he ridiculed her. However, when she insisted that nothing would stop her, he invited her to come to Marienbad. He wrote, The Belzer Rebbe is here and we shall ask him. She invested her last pennies in the trip. Her brother wrote a note to the Rebbe: My sister wants to educate Bnot Yisrael in the spirit of Judaism and Torah. The Rebbe replied with two very important words: Beracha vhatzlachah! (Blessing and success!) Those two words gave her all the impetus she needed. And one might add that, at the time, the only help she received.

With twenty-five children whom she had prevailed upon her customers to entrust to her, the Beth Jacob Movement was born.

At first, Sarahs school provoked contemptuous dismissal as the undertaking of the seamstress. However, the educational results of her new school very soon spoke for themselves. The parents of Sarah Shenirers pupils saw a new spirit in the hearts of their children. Her girls spoke differently from the pupils of the Polish schools. They did not speak with arrogance and defiance. They showed respect to their parents. They wanted to go to shul with their parents. They asked what beracha (blessing) to recite for this or that. They were keen to hear stories about the tzaddikim and the pious.

Sarah Shenirer, almost single-handed, revolutionized the education of a generation. And all this by a seamstress whose formal education ceased at the age of 13. When she passed away, more than 200 schools had been established, attended by some 25,000 students all over Eastern and Central Europe. The Beth Jacob (Beit Yaakov) network of schools has grown exponentially, and is today the backbone of Torah education for girls.

How often do we hear that little voice in our head that says, You. You belong in the little league! You cant do it. Who do think you are? Youre way out of your league!

Very often we are our own greatest enemies.

In truth, we possess enormous untapped resources. Every one of us is a gold mine that goes down to the depths, but we dont see it. The virtues of others are obvious to us, but because we see ourselves from close up, sometimes we cannot focus on our own virtues.

When G-d told Moshe to take the Jewish People out of Egypt, he said Who am I? Rashi explains thatMoshe meant Am I important enough to speak with kings? The negative drive in our heart says Who are you? Who are you fooling?

We must know that if we sincerely desire to do something, then, with the help of G-d, the skys the limit. Apart from our hidden resources, apart from the qualities that we possess and of which we are ignorant, we should always remember that G-d runs the world. If G-d decides that He wants us to achieve something, however far above our capabilities, we can raise ourselves above not only what we believe we can do, but even what we actually can do.

Only G-d decides who gets into the big league.


  • Adapted from Rabbi Azriel Brooks Kitvei Reshumot - words of Torah heard from Rabbi Mordechai Zuckerman, zatzal and Sarah Schenirer: The Mother of Generations by Joseph Friedenson (with additions by Chaim Shapiro) ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications Judaiscope Series.

© 1995-2024 Ohr Somayach International - All rights reserved.

Articles may be distributed to another person intact without prior permission. We also encourage you to include this material in other publications, such as synagogue or school newsletters. Hardcopy or electronic. However, we ask that you contact us beforehand for permission in advance at [email protected] and credit for the source as Ohr Somayach Institutions

« Back to Torah Weekly

Ohr Somayach International is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation (letter on file) EIN 13-3503155 and your donation is tax deductable.