For the week ending 14 January 2023 / 21 Tevet 5783

Parshat Shemot

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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With the death of Yosef, the Book of Bereishet (Genesis) comes to an end. The Book of Shemot (Exodus) chronicles the creation of the nation of Israel from the descendants of Yaakov. At the beginning of this week's Torah portion, 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 Yocheved to be his nursemaid.

Years 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 (Mount 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-d's 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 go.


Supersized Sacrifice

And these are the names…” (1:1)

This is a true story.

‘David’ was the owner and CEO of ‘The Supersized Kitchen,’ a company that sold commercial kitchen supplies. At great personal expense, he decided to attend a trade show in Las Vegas to boost his client base. He took out a $50,000 loan to buy expensive radio ads in the Las Vegas area and rented a billboard to advertise his products. A day before his trip, he went to consult with his rabbi about the logistics of spending Shabbat in Vegas. “David,” said his Rabbi, “I wish you’d come to me earlier because I would have advised you not to go. But if I understand correctly, you already have tickets and a reservation at the show.” “More than that, Rabbi,” David stammered. “I took out a loan on my house to pay for advertising in the Las Vegas area. I put up a billboard with my business name and phone number. If I don’t go, I will lose a small fortune.”

“That makes things more difficult. However, I think this trip could be spiritually harmful for you.” David knew exactly what the rabbi was talking about. During more difficult years, David had gone through a spiritual challenge, but he had worked through it with the help of mussar sefarim (books of ethical improvement), lots of prayers, the help of his rabbi and a large dollop of help from Heaven. But by spending time in Las Vegas, a place not known for its elevated morals, he knew he was putting himself in harm’s way.

“Think it over,” said the rabbi. “You’re stronger than you were a few years ago and I’m not telling you what to do. Sometimes when we make a great sacrifice for holiness, we are rewarded many times over from Above.”

David canceled his trip. The radio ads, however, were still running, and the large billboard was suspended over one of the major highways near the show. But with no physical presence in Las Vegas, it was a colossal waste of money.

Or so he thought. Two days passed. Here and there, a potential client called David, having seen the billboard in Las Vegas, but as soon as they heard he was not in Vegas at the show, they lost interest.

Then one morning, the phone rang. “Hello? Is this the Supersized Kitchen?” asked a polished voice. “It is,” David replied reluctantly, awaiting another disappointment. “This is Susan from NBC news, and we’re working on a project, highlighting small businesses across the United States. We would like to highlight your niche and speak about where the business is heading, and how our team of experts can help you grow. In addition to our financial incentives, this will give your small business exposure and free advertising throughout the country. I have researched your business online and like what I saw. Your products are unique and well-made, and your prices are very competitive.”

David paused, thinking that this seemed too good to be true. “If I may ask, how did you get my number?” Susan replied, “Actually, it was just a coincidence. I was in Vegas on an assignment, and driving back to the airport, I noticed your billboard with its splashy logo. A few seconds later, I turned on the radio to hear the traffic and I heard a jingle, ‘Supersized Kitchen is the only way …’ I thought, this is a really strange coincidence. Maybe it’s a sign which business to choose!”

Susan profiled the Supersized Kitchen on the show, highlighting the superior quality of their products. The effect was immediate. David hired two new office employees, who were busy with new clients around the clock. Before long, his fledgling business doubled, both in size and profits.

In this week’s Torah portion, we begin reading of the exile in Egypt. Egypt was the most profligate immoral place in the ancient world at that time. The Jewish People were redeemed because through supersized sacrifice they held themselves aloof from the Egyptians and resisted the overwhelming impurity of the atmosphere of Egypt.

Sometimes, one of the most difficult tests we face regarding holiness involves situations to which we must expose ourselves in our pursuit of a livelihood. But we should ask ourselves every time: Do I really need to do this, do I really need to be there? Maybe there’s a different way? Maybe I could ‘zoom’ the meeting instead, and as effectively?

And if you have to go, say to yourself, “As I head out to work, I will be on guard and vigilant to the maximum to protect myself.” Give charity, say a Psalm, and Hashem will guard your way.

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