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Monday, 23 Tevet, 5783

Halachic Times (Zmanim)
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Jewish History

Following the death of King Joao of Portugal in 1494, his son King Manuel I ascended the throne. When his legitimacy as heir to the throne was challenged, Manuel wished to marry Princess Isabel of Spain, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, in order to solidify his position. As a precondition to the marriage, the Spanish monarch demanded that Portugal expel its Jews—many of whom were refugees from the 1492 Spanish Expulsion who found refuge in the neighboring country of Portugal. Manuel agreed, and five days after the marriage agreement was signed, on Tevet 23 (5257), he issued a decree giving Portugal's Jews eleven months to leave the country.

Appreciating the Jews' economic value, Manuel was unhappy with the potential loss of this economic asset, and devised a way to have the Jews stay in Portugal—but as Christians. Initially, he instructed the Jews to leave from one of three ports, but soon he restricted them to leaving from Lisbon only. When October of 1497 arrived, thousands of Jews assembled there and were forcibly baptized. Many Jews stayed and kept their Jewish faith secret; they were called Marranos or Crypto-Jews.

Over the next 350 years, the infamous Inquisition persecuted, tortured and burned at the stake thousands of hidden Jews throughout Spain, Portugal and their colonies for continuing to secretly practice the Jewish faith.

Links: The End of Spanish Jewry
Samuel Nunez-Ribeiro—The Life of a Secret Jew

Daily Thought

“Nothing G‑d creates is for nothing. If not for the frogs, how would G‑d have taken retribution on the Egyptians?” (Midrash)

Now, this is a strange statement. Why should G‑d need frogs, of all creatures, to deal with Ancient Egypt? He's G-d. He has no shortage of means to accomplish His ends.

The answer: Because, to Pharaoh, the whole world was a frog.

Pharaoh was not like Bilam. Bilam understood there was one great G‑d. Only that he imagined that there were little gods, too. Such as himself.

Neither was Pharaoh like Sancherib, King of Assyria. Sancherib denied G‑d’s existence altogether. He perched himself upon a throne as the supreme deity and scoffed at the notion of any entity being greater than him. (Ezekiel 28:2)

But to Pharaoh, the existence of G‑d was simply irrelevant. He had a nation to run, business to take care of, and this "Let my people go that they may serve Me" annoyance was getting in the way.

The heavens belong to the gods, or maybe even one G‑d. But business is business.

Today, we call that a secularist, a kind of agnostic.

The secularist has no problem with the possible existence of G‑d. The atheist vehemently denies it—and thereby makes himself his own god. Yet, in a way, the secularist sits on a lower plane than the atheist.

At least the atheist has a relationship—albeit a negative one—with something beyond himself. At least he finds it necessary to oppose it.

But this utter coldness of Pharaoh, this notion that he lives in a world that’s “just here,” and that G‑d and all this spiritual business has nothing to do with life on Planet Earth—with him, how can you even start a conversation?

For him, the entire world is a frog.

Why a frog? Some plagues involved domesticated animals that serve their master. Others involved vicious beasts that endanger human beings. But the frog is a seemingly benign creature that neither harms nor services anyone, a creature that appears to be “just here,” without any apparent purpose.

That’s why G-d’s first cure for Pharaoh's coldness was to enlist the frogs to perform a miracle

To demonstrate that, in truth, there is absolutely nothing in this world without divine meaning, nothing that is not intimately wrapped up with G-d’s light. That everything in G-d's world burns with divine purpose.

Even the cold, benign frog.

Likutei Sichot, vol. 21, p. 38 ff.