1.

For close to one thousand years, Rashi — Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchaki of Mainz, France (1040-1105) — has been the most popular and universally accepted elucidator of the Five Books of the Torah, as well as the Talmud and other holy books. RambanNachmanides (1194-1270) — in his introduction to his commentary on Torah writes in praise of Rashi, “Ateret tzvi v’litzfirat tifarah — a crown of delight and a diadem — a badge of royalty — of glory.” In addition to the more than 300 works published on Rashi, in our generation we merited the Rebbe’s more than thirty five volumes of Likkutei Sichot elucidating and clarifying Rashi’s commentary on Torah.

In this week’s parshah there is a very popular Rashi which superficially seems enigmatic and much has been said and written about it.

The parshah begins with Hashem rebuking Moshe for his complaint that he was sent in vain to Pharoah and that instead of helping the people, their situation worsened with his coming. Hashem speaks harshly to Moshe, comparing him unfavorably to the Patriarchs, who maintained their faith without complaint even though they were not privileged to see the exalted revelations that he saw, Hashem concludes, by assuring him that the redemption is at hand.

The pasuk reads, “I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov as Keil Sha‑dai but My Name A‑donoy, I did not make Myself known to them.” Rashi’s style is that as a caption he quotes the words of the text and then writes his commentary. On this pasuk, Rashi quotes the textual word “va’eira” — I appeared and then writes “el ha’avot — “to the Patriarchs.”

Many have pondered what is Rashi telling us? Everyone knows that Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, who are mentioned by name in the pasuk, were indeed the avot — fathers and Patriarchs of the Jewish people?

A popular explanation is that the heading of Rashi originally was the textual words “and I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov with Keil Sha‑dai” as the verse reads, but a copyist subsequently paraphrased the words “to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov” as “to the Avot.”

However, from the fact that the emendation of the copyist was never corrected or altered in any of the thousands of publications of Rashi, and the fact that so much was said and written to explain this Rashi, it would appear that the consensus of opinion is that it is not a simplistic error, but rather, a profound interpretation and message not just to Moshe or someone equal in his greatness, but to everyone, including the ben chameish l’Mikra — the five year old studying Chumash (see Avot 5:22) — whom Rashi also had in mind when writing his quintessential elucidations (see Rashi to Bereishit 3:8).

In my early youth I studied in a Yeshivah where the Rebbe — teacher — spoke Yiddish and everything was translated into Yiddish. I recall, when we learned a Rashi, the teacher’s introduction always was, “Vos art Rashi” — “What is bothering Rashi?” i.e. what difficulty did Rashi see in the pasuk, provoking him to write his comment as an answer to the question.

Here too, perhaps, Rashi saw some difficulty which begs explaining and clarification.

If Hashem was upset with the way Moshe expressed himself, why in Hashem’s admonishment was it necessary to degrade him by telling how he was not like Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov? Couldn’t He simply could say to him, “Moshe, I am disappointed with you, you are the most trusted in My entire house (Bamidbar 12:7), I would never have expected for you to say what you said.”

Moreover, Torah is not a recording of events, rather, a sefer — book — of guidance and teaching for posterity. Of what significance is this dialogue to people of all generations, including those ordinary folks such as us who spiritually do not reach the level of Moshe?

To answer this difficulty Rashi adds the word “el ha’avot” — “to the forefathers.” Hashem’s message was that before a person does something or says something, he should “look to the fathers” — he should think “Would my father or grandfather have approved this? Would they have done or said what I am about to do or say?”

This, my dear Bar Mitzvah, is the message you should take with you from your Torah portion. Always remember Rashi’s explanation of Hashem’s message. Whether you are as great as Moshe Rabbeinu or an ordinary soldier of Hashem’s army, always look to your avot — parents, grandparents and ancestors. Conduct your life in a way that will merit their approval.

King Shlomo, the wisest of all men, in the book of Mishlei (Proverbs 1:8), puts it succinctly: “Hear, my child, the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the teaching of your mother.” Mazal Tov.


2.

For many years the Jews were enslaved in Mitzrayim — Egypt. Finally, through Moshe and Aharon, Hashem struck the Egyptians with ten plagues until they ultimately yielded and let the people leave to serve Hashem.

Torah is not a history book nor is it a collection of interesting stories and events that occurred with our forefathers. It is a book of guidance and instruction, and from what is recorded therein we are to learn how to direct our lives.

Mitzrayim is not just a geographical location, but a way of life we may all be confronted with. The ten plagues are not just something that happened to Egypt in days of old, but a way for us to free ourselves from our hindrances and serve Hashem properly.

Time does not permit to elaborate on the significance of all the plagues in Avodat Hashem — service of G‑d. But, I would like to share with you a beautiful interpretation from the Rebbe (Likkutei Sichot vol. 1) in regard to dam — blood — the first of the ten plagues.

Our Sages say: “In every generation and every day, one must regard himself as though he has come out of Egypt on that day,” (Mishnah, Pesachim 10:5, cf. Tanya, chapter 47). The Torah’s name for Egypt, “Mitzrayim,” shares a common root with the Hebrew word “meitzarim,” constraint. Accordingly, the above teaching that “in every generation and every day” one must constantly strive to escape his personal Egypts refers to the internal constraints that hinder and restrain his devoted service of G‑d. “Leaving Egypt” means transcending the toughest internal barriers, freeing our souls to fully experience their attachment to G‑d.

In the first plague, the waters of the Nile River turned to blood. Water is naturally cold. Thus, the waters of the Nile, which were a false Egyptian deity (see 7:17, Rashi), represent coolness and indifference towards ideas that are truly G‑dly and holy. This attitude of not recognizing G‑dliness is illustrated by Pharoah’s statement Lo yadati et Hashem” — “I do not know of Hashem” (Shemot 5:2) and was the root of Egyptian evilness.

Blood, on the other hand, represents warmth and life. It is the lifesource of the human body (Devarim 12:23) and the warmth of the body is dependant on its blood.

Therefore, the very first step toward breaking out of one’s spiritual Egypt is to rid oneself of the cold waters of the Nile. One must replace them instead with blood — warmth, passion and enthusiasm toward all things G‑dly.

Coolness is the number-one weapon in the arsenal of our Yeitzer Hara — thepart of us that is naturally inclined to the unholy. Thus, even if a person observes all the mitzvot, but he does so coldly and apathetically, his conduct will invariably lead him to be attracted to ideas that are counter to a life of holiness. Hence, the first and most crucial step toward our escape from Egypt is to infuse our Judaism and Torah observance with passion and excitement, warmth and enthusiasm.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, we hope and pray that you will be a varemer yid — a warm Jew. You will not permit the Yeitzer Hara to succeed in his endeavors to chill your enthusiasm in relation to Torah and mitzvot. This way you will not be enslaved by your Mitzrayim — restraints and limitations — rather, you will experience your own geulah — redemption. It may not be an easy task, but when you achieve it, it is immensely satisfying and rewarding.

Hatzlachah Rabbah — much success and Mazal Tov.