1. The theme and content of Shabbos Mevorchim is indicated by its name: the Shabbos which brings blessing to the coming month. These blessings are enumerated in the six expressions used in the “Blessing for the New Month,” which includes all areas and aspects of human needs.

The blessings we invoke for the New Month have a special quality, they are given from above downward, in the form of ‘charity’ — not relative to the quality of the Divine service of the recipients.

Normally the blessings we receive from G‑d are relative to our actions or supplications. True, even then the reward or blessing is not, exactly proportionate, rather it is like a ‘found’ object. As the Talmud states: “I have labored and found,” the object obtained may be much more valuable than the effort expended in picking it up or procuring it. Nevertheless there is some relationship, for the effort must be done, and there is a result.

The blessing of Shabbos Mevorchim, however, has no relationship whatsoever with our efforts, it is given as a gift of charity from above.

Now, in all aspects of the Torah there are four methods and levels of interpretation and application, namely, ‘Pardes’ (Pshat, Remez, Drush and Sod), the plain, symbolic, homiletic and esoteric. The blessings of Shabbos Mevorchim of course traverse all levels. But first and foremost, they infuse the level of Pshat — the plain, down to earth, world of ‘action,’ imbuing our daily lives with blessings.

The closing words of the Blessing for the New Month, “... and let us say, Amen,” introduce the Talmudic observation. “He who responds, ‘Amen,’ is greater than he who says the blessing” (Nazir 66b). Our Amen approves, sustains, and draws the blessing into reality, to the point that it will overcome any obstacles.

In addition to this general theme of Shabbos Mevorchim, each Shabbos Mevorchim must also bring the unique newness of a new month, and the special aspect of that particular month.

To find the unique theme of this month, She-vat, we must turn to the Torah. Being the Torah of light and life, it gives us direction in all matters, and certainly in the case of an entire month. We find in the writings of our sages, that the 12 months of the year are related to the 12 Tribes of Israel; the month of Shevat is connected to Yosef.

When we analyze the aspects of Yosef we see that his name is derived from, “Yosef Hashem Li Ben Acher — May G‑d grant another son to me.” This means, that another Jew should be added, who will be proud to show that he is a child of G‑d, for he will inherit all spiritual aspects: “The father transmits to his son ... wisdom etc.” (Eduyoth ch. 2 Mishnah 9).

Now, in the verse about Yosef, the last word, ‘Acher’ (another), seems to be redundant, because the word ‘Yosef’ already has the connotation of ‘adding’ [another].

The Tzemach Tzedek interprets the words here to mean that we must make a ‘son’ (ben) out of ‘another’ (acher), that even a Jew who is outside, on an unworthy level, can be brought close to G‑d and become a son. This would be a real accomplishment, for, “where penitents stand, the completely righteous cannot stand” (Rambam, Laws of Repentance 7:4).

Thus the Divine service of the month of Shevat is to add another son; to take the ‘acher’ (other) and make a ‘ben’ (son).

This is especially associated with the 10th of Shevat, the Hilulo (anniversary of the passing) of the Previous Rebbe, our Nassi, whose first name was Yosef and whose main activity was involved in bringing more children to G‑d. We may also associate it with the Hilulo of the Alter Rebbe, which occurred this past Thursday, who was also involved in attracting baalei teshuvah (penitents).

With the theme of Shevat and Yosef now clearly in mind, we must see how to apply this in our Divine service, not only during Shevat, but also throughout the whole year.

When the Torah tells us of Ya’akov’s blessings to his sons, it states: “Everyone according to his blessing he blessed them.” On this Rashi comments:

Scripture should have stated, ‘Everyone according to his blessing he blessed him,’ what does the text teach by saying, ‘He blessed them’? Since he gave Yehudah the strength of a lion ... one might conclude that he did not include all of them in all the blessings, therefore the text teaches, ‘He blessed them (all).

In other words, not only did each tribe receive an individual blessing, but all together they received all the blessings.

When we speak of the aspect of the tribes relating to time, namely the months — that each month has the special theme and blessing of a particular tribe, we must understand that likewise each individual blessing also spreads and blesses all the other months of the year — just like the blessings of Ya’akov.

Therefore on this Shabbos Mevorchim we must make the resolution and take upon ourselves the responsibility to go out and attract another son to Torah. So long as there is still one Jew who is distant from Torah in the condition of ‘acher — an other,’ we have the responsibility to reach out to him. For if all Jews were already observant, Moshiach would have come.

Let us take a deeper look at this idea of attracting an ‘other’ to return to G‑d and become a ‘son.’ Actually the term ‘acher,’ an other, which is used there does not necessarily refer only to a person of the lowest calibre. It could also refer to someone who is not complete and perfect in his Divine service, relative to his own capabilities and level. The term ‘other’ may also refer to such a person, in a relative sense, albeit obliquely applied.

In such a case the meaning of the term ‘other,’ would be someone who has not yet reached the state of complete ‘bittul’ (self-abnegation) which would have attached him completely to G‑dliness, in which case there would be no ‘other,’ there would be only the existence of G‑d. So he is an ‘other’ for he still senses his own, independent, self-important existence. Surely this is not a terrible fault. He is faithful and pious in his observance of all aspects of Torah and mitzvos, all he lacks is a bit of refinement. There is still a bit of ego left in him — a smattering of his selfhood — therefore the term ‘acher, an other’ must still be applied; after all, we cannot say that he is completely absorbed in G‑dliness.

And there is a connection between the first example and the second case. For when on the lofty plane there is still the relative existence of ‘other’ this gives rise to the lower form of ‘acher’ those actual ‘others,’ who are far away from G‑dliness and the Divine service.

The Talmud indicates this concept to us in relating the story of the sage, Acher, who saw the angel Matatron and misinterpreted his vision. This eventually led him to apostasy. He did not understand that even the angels are not perfect; even in the realm of holiness there is imperfection. Relative to their potential level of perfection there is still something lacking. “The angels tremble, fear and dread seize them” (Machzor Rosh Hashanah-Yom Kippur). Why? They know that their Divine service lacks perfection.

When this trickles down to the lower worlds where the forces of evil have real influence its effect is much stronger.

Consequently the work of adding another son — to make the ‘acher’ a son — applies to all levels and to everyone.

The Jew who observes and fulfills Torah and mitzvos, but has not yet reached a state of perfection on his level, is also, in a relative and delicate sense, ‘acher,’ an ‘other,’ and he too must labor to become a ‘son.’ For him it must be effected by reaching the state of true ‘bittul’ — self-effacement — losing his separate existence and cleaving to the existence of G‑d.

Similarly the Jew who is really distant from all aspects of holiness and knows nothing of Yiddishkeit, is plainly an ‘other.’ He too, can and must be brought to the condition of ‘son,’ by being attracted to Torah and mitzvos.

The potential for this involvement, to make a ‘son’ out of an ‘other,’ exists in everyone. Our sages tell us that G‑d says: “I do not ask ... but in accordance with their means” (Bamidbar Rabbah 12:3). The ability is there, it is only necessary to reveal it from the potential to the kinetic.

This idea crystallizes out of the story of Yosef’s birth and naming. The statement, “May G‑d grant another son to me,” took place immediately at his birth [Just as Rochel named Binyamin at birth — she did not even live till his circumcision — so too, she named Yosef at birth]. With the name came the calling, “to add an ‘other’ and make him a son.” In Yosef’s case this was at his birth, certainly before he had any revealed powers of any type. Similarly now, every Jew can relate to this calling and has the ability, even if he is still a baby in his Divine service. It must only be uncovered from the hidden to the revealed, the potential to the actual. Not only does everyone have this potential but everyone also has the potential to effect the improvement on all levels — even among the angels!

We said earlier that in the prayer of “Let us proclaim the mighty holiness of this day” (Rosh Hashanah-Yom Kippur), we mention that “... the angels tremble, fear and dread seize them.” Why? Because they know that their supernal worship is lacking, it is somehow imperfect. How do we bring a correction for the angels, to help them attain perfection? Torah guides us to recite the prayer, “Let us proclaim the mighty holiness ...,” which is said in the Musaf prayer of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Do you realize what this means?

Even if a Jew comes to the synagogue only once a year, on Yom Kippur, he is told to recite the prayer, “Let us proclaim ...” and he can bring perfection to the Supernal worship of the angels and can restore them to their rightful level of perfection!

What is needed is involvement and initiative, to reveal the power from the hidden to the actual, as the Midrash says: “My sons, present to Me an opening of repentance no bigger than the eye of a needle....” G‑d opens up the power of repentance as wide as the gates of the Holy Temple and gives him the powers to succeed and reach his ultimate goal.

May it be the will of G‑d that everyone will utilize the teachings and lessons of Shabbos Mevorchim Shevat to increase their activity of transforming an ‘other’ into a son. Coming from this Shabbos, it should bring delight in all aspects of Shabbos, and being in the portion of Va’eira it should be publicized and visible to all. This will merit us the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach. For the Rambam says: “The Torah already offered the assurance that Israel will, in the closing period of his exile, finally repent and thereupon be immediately redeemed ...” (Laws of Repentance 7:5). It is that teshuvah, returning to G‑d, that is incorporated in the concept of making ‘another’ into a ‘son.’

Through this we should merit the redemption, in the full measure of the four expressions of redemption mentioned in today’s Torah portion: “I will take you away... free you ... liberate you ... take you ...,” until we reach the fifth expression “I will bring you to the land...,” to our Holy Land. “A land ... the eyes of the L‑rd your G‑d are on it at all times, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year.”

May it come to pass, with the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach, Dovid the King Moshiach, also bound with Moshe the first Redeemer. May he come and redeem us and lead us, upright, to our land, quickly and actually in our days.

2. Earlier we spoke of a relationship and connection between the 12 months of the year and the 12 tribes of Israel.

There is an additional connection, which may be established, connecting the 12 months of the year to the 12 different combinations or formations of the four letters of the Tetragrammaton.

The ineffable Name of G‑d comprised of the four letters Yud-Hey-Vov-Hey, may be rearranged to make different combinations. Although in Sefer Yetzirah it says that usually when using four ‘blocks’ you can build 24 ‘houses’ (by rearranging the four different letters), when two of the letters are the same, as in the Tetragrammaton, (which has two letters ‘Hey’) then you can only make 12 different combinations or ‘houses.’

Now, these 12 acrostics of the name of G‑d may be superimposed on the 12 months of the year, and in each month one acrostic name ascends and illuminates the entire month, bringing life to all aspects of the month.

Regarding Shevat, it is esoterically derived, that the appropriate acrostic of the Divine name is symbolized in the verse: “If a substitution is made, then both [the original animal] and its replacement shall be consecrated ...” (Vayikra 27:33). The initial letters of the Hebrew words: “Hamer yemirenu vehaya hu,” produce the combination Hey, Yud, Vov, Hey, and this indicates that this acrostic supersedes and radiates during the month of Shevat.

Now, when we study this verse we find that at the beginning of the verse, it says specifically, I? ... do not substitute,” for which the punishment would be lashes. But if you say that the acrostic for Shevat is comprised only of the words ‘Hamer yemirenu vehaya hu’ without the preceding or following words, the meaning is reversed. By taking these words out of the context it appears that substitution should take place [at least as far as Shevat is concerned] and as the word ‘Vehaya — and it shall be’ indicates, “as they are, so shall they be,” (as the Talmud explains these words in Tractate Berachos). So we must say that regarding the spiritual aspects of the Divine service of the month of Shevat the concept of changing, or substituting, is valid.

This needs further elucidation, and it should be kept in mind that it has to be comprehensible in an elementary way even for the average person, for even one who is not careful to attend communal services regularly, when Shabbos Mevorchim comes he rushes to the synagogue to worship with a minyan and bless the new month.

This individual also asks, “What is the theme of the month of Shevat?” When he is told: “May G‑d grant another son to me,” he asks, “What do the big scholars, who know the ‘true wisdom,’ say?” So, when he is told that the combination of the letters of the Tetragrammaton in the month of Shevat matches the verse, “... a substitution is made, then both it and its replacement shall ...,” his interest must be satisfied and even he must be able to understand the meaning.

We can now take these two concepts and combine them into one theme for Shevat. On the one hand you have the involvement in making an ‘other’ into a son — a transformation, and on the other hand you have the aspect of switching or substituting one for another. When the two ideas are taken together the resultant theory is that we must switch the ‘other’ into a ‘son.’

In order for this to happen several switches must be made. You must go out of your regular realm of holiness and step into the ‘outside’ world. And you must find that ‘other,’ in order to influence him. The mentor also has to switch his venue from inside to outside and then to attract another to become a son. Thus the theme of Shevat is to make a change in a positive way.

Originally we had thought it strange that the verse started with a prohibition, while the words forming the acrostic of G‑d’s name seemed to indicate a positive attitude. Now however we see there is no contradiction.

A broader approach might help us to clarify this point. The argument might be presented that it is far better to remain within the confines of the study halls of Torah and make ‘Torah his [all-embracing] profession,’ rather than to leave the precincts of holiness and venture out into the mundane streets!

Another strong point against this outreach conduct is that any sallying out inherently includes facing tests of temptation. Are you permitted to place yourself face to face with temptations? “Do not bring us into temptation,” is part of our daily morning prayers. If we pray that G‑d should not face us with tests, certainly we must not cause such situations, or go to such places ourselves?

Theoretically, we may all agree that it would be best if he could remain all his life in the precincts of Torah and holiness — to study without interruption. It is certainly a noble occupation. Leaving the protective environment admittedly has an element of danger and should not be done under normal circumstances.

But what happens when you are faced with a life-threatening situation and you must do something to save a Jew, whose life is in jeopardy — in the condition of ‘another’? In such a case you must interrupt all your lofty activities and race out to save the threatened Jew, even if it means leaving the boundaries of holiness and entering unsavory places. If you reason that your piety does not allow you to descend to such a degrading place for fear of contamination, we will answer that you are a ‘foolish pietist.’ The Talmud states: “What is a foolish pietist like? e.g. a woman is drowning in the river and he says, ‘it is improper for me to look upon her and rescue her.’“ When a Jew is drowning in the river, G‑d forbid, be it a man or woman, you must run to save him without any thought or considerations. And if you cloak your inaction in a mantle of piety not only are you a foolish pietist but you are also acting against the law in a grave matter of life and death.

Thus we must be sophisticated enough to be able to make the distinction, that under normal circumstances one may not substitute the profane for the holy and may not leave the precincts of holiness, on punishment of lashes. Yet, in a life-threatening situation the switch must be made. Leave the confines of holiness and descend to the domain of the profane, where these threatened Jews may be found, in order to make the substitution and transform them back from being ‘others’ to becoming ‘sons.’

And here Torah gives him an additional assurance, that “... that one and the substitute will be holy.” By his action and involvement in changing and raising the other Jew, they will both attain a higher level of holiness.

Being that this theme of switching and the theme of the month of Shevat is related to Yosef — we must take some directive from Yosef Hatzaddik in this matter.

Chassidic philosophy explains in many sources that Yosef’s righteousness and piety came from his ability to constantly cleave to G‑d, despite his involvement in the mundane secular matters of Egypt, which was the most decadent of lands. His involvement in the matters of Egypt also brought all the inhabitants of Egypt to a higher level, for he forced all the males to be circumcised.

This conveys to us the amazing loftiness of Yosef’s condition of Divine service. Not only did his position, responsibility and involvement in Egyptian life and government not hinder his absolute connection with G‑dliness, but it also effected an ascent in the level of holiness there — through circumcision.

Now, we must learn from Yosef, who influenced the denizens of Egypt to come closer to G‑d, how much more so must we labor to bring a Jew back to G‑d; if he has fallen to the level of ‘another,’ we must make him a ‘son.’

Thus, one theme in Shevat, to be carried through the year, is to learn from Yosef and to add ‘another son.’ Go out into the hostile and alien environment, remain in a state of connection with G‑dliness, influence the world and bring back those Jews who have fallen to the category of ‘another’; at the same time also have a good influence on the non-Jews of the world.

The practice of reaching out to unaffiliated non-practicing Jews is not something which began with the Chassidic movement. The author of the Semag (Rabbi Moshe ben Ya’akov of Coucy), who was a posek and great author, writes in his halachic work how in addition to his writings, lecturing and administration of his school, he set aside time to be involved in bringing Jews closer to G‑d. He writes of his travels among the ‘diasporas of Israel’ in ‘Spain and other countries’ where he preached to encourage unobservant Jews to put on tefillin and fulfill other mitzvos, as a result of which, “It caused much repentance and many thousands and tens of thousands of people accepted upon themselves the mitzvos of tefillin, mezuzah and tzitzis ....” This was written as a halachah and directive to the masses, to encourage us to be involved in drawing other Jews close to Torah and mitzvos.

The proper approach in this matter is to start with one mitzvah which will lead to others. You cannot expect someone to do all 613 mitzvos of the Torah at once. You must encourage him to start with one mitzvah. Of course you do not mislead him by saying that Yiddishkeit means doing only this one mitzvah, or that Torah has only 612 mitzvos, G‑d forbid. You must teach him that there are 613 mitzvos to be fulfilled — but as a first step he should begin with this one, and as “one good deed brings another,” it will lead him eventually to observe the whole Torah.

Although this is not new to our generation, for even the Semag acted in this way, nevertheless in our times the Previous Rebbe, whose Hilulo we observe on the 10th of Shevat, gave our generation the merit that we will see much success in spreading the wellsprings of Torah and Chassidus and spreading Yiddishkeit to the ‘outside.’

The previous Rebbe sent his emissaries to the far corners of the globe and to the forsaken places of the world to be involved in bringing the Jews who are in a state of ‘another’ back to G‑d and to the condition of ‘son.’ We too, must accept this mission and we will be able to proceed with his power, for “a man’s agent is equivalent to himself.” So we will remain constantly attached to holiness, and we increase our fear of heaven while we illuminate our environment with the light of Yiddishkeit and holiness.

By virtue of this action and involvement of gathering those ‘others’ and transforming them into sons, we will merit very speedily the fulfillment of the promise: “And you shall be gathered up one by one, 0’ children of Israel.” All the Jewish people will be taken out of the diaspora as a unified people with one Torah into the complete land — Eretz Yisroel through the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach, speedily, truly and immediately.

3. It was mentioned above that the month of She-vat is esoterically associated with the arrangement of the letters of the Tetragrammaton indicated in the verse “Hamer yemirenu vehaya hu.” The first part of that sentence, which says not to make the switch, is not included in this acrostic, nor is the latter part of the sentence included.

This will help us also to answer and deal with those who seek excuses or pretexts not to be involved in outreach to others.

Sometimes the thought presents itself: Do we really have to seriously consider their arguments — they only seek the opportunity to criticize, and Proverbs teaches us: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you become like him yourself.” Nevertheless, not to answer might cause a weakening of resolve by someone — so the response must be presented.

The usual argument heard from those excuse seekers is: “What is the use of a one-time good act, like putting on tefillin, when the person continues to act as he did before? Agreed that a man should not be a ‘head which never donned tefillin,’ but once he put on tefillin the first time, what use is there in ‘grabbing him’ in the street a second time, if right afterwards he will regress to his former Torah-less conduct?”

Transposed into our context, the argument sounds like this: “If the ‘substitution’ is not part of the acrostic of G‑d’s name, who needs it?!”

But the answer is, that we don’t judge the work by the results; we must do our part even though we may not immediately see the results of our actions. You have to apply the same rule to outreach which you normally apply to yourself. Despite all your self-development and diligent Divine service, do you really see a marked improvement in your own conduct, is it really discernible?

Using the same measuring stick when applying it to others, the results of putting on tefillin may only be seen in weeks, months or years down the road. Meanwhile you must use every effort to change that ‘other’ to a ‘son’ and not worry that the substitute — the changed one — has not yet been included in G‑d’s name.

Truth to tell, experience has shown that all efforts show result, some sooner, some later. It might not be in the month of Shevat, but in Adar; in the interim use all your strength and stimulation.

Our skeptic now asks, “Why can’t we see the results instantaneously? And if we don’t, we must analyze the problem in order to correct it so that we should see immediate results.”

Success in outreach depends first of all on the sincerity and example of the teacher. The words of encouragement must come from the heart in order to penetrate the heart, and the mentor must be a living example of what he preaches. Often one of these factors is lacking or imperfect. This interferes with the proper results. The words may not be truly from his heart — or there may be a situation where the recipient thinks, “Adorn yourself first,” the mentor himself is still not perfect!

There is another possibility. After all, you do not control the other person’s ultimate free will, and sometimes Divine Providence has decreed that yet another mentor must come along and share in the mitzvah of reaching this person and bringing him back to Yiddishkeit.

So in the first case — which is most likely — make sure the words you speak are truly from your heart, and increase your own observance of Torah and mitzvos to “remove the beam between your eyes.” In the second case, pray to G‑d that some other person will come along to pick up where you leave off. In the meanwhile you must continue to reach out and do what you can, without being concerned with the outcome. As the Talmud relates: “What have you to do with the secrets of the All-Merciful?”

Through our efforts to draw the hearts of Israel close to their Heavenly Father, especially “to add another son,” by converting the other to a son, in a manner of ‘substitution,’ we will bring that “it and its substitute should be holy.” Being that the fundamental meaning of this verse refers to an animal sacrifice, may we merit to see the rebuilt Bais Hamikdosh and be able to offer actual sacrifices. Through the true and complete redemption by our righteous Moshiach, when all the Jewish people will leave the diaspora and go to our Holy Land, to Yerushalayim, the Holy City, and the Third Bais Hamikdosh will be built speedily and truly in our days.

* * *

4. On the verse: “Aharon’s staff then swallowed up the staffs” (Shemos 7:12), Rashi comments: “After it had again become a staff it swallowed all of them.”

The Talmud in Tractate Shabbos (97a), discusses this miracle and states: “Aharon’s staff then swallowed up their staffs, Rabbi Eleazar observed, it was a double miracle [miracle within a miracle].” As Rashi explains the deduction of the Gemara, “After it was transformed back to a staff it swallowed the others, not while it was still a serpent. For the verse does not state and the serpent of Aharon swallowed.”

We are faced here with a seeming inconsistency on the part of Rashi. Why does he not bring in his commentary on the Torah verse, the words used in the Talmud, that it was a ‘double miracle’? When Rashi comments on the plague of hail he states clearly: “A miracle within a miracle! Fire and hail mingled.” This indicates that Rashi considers this point of description of the miracle [that it was a double miracle] to be important to the simple, fundamental understanding of the verse. Why not bring the same descriptive terms in the case of Aharon’s staff?

If you will reply, that in the case of hail the verse specifically. states, “... and fire flashing up amidst hail,” which points to a double miracle, this makes the paradox more confusing. If Rashi must note the double miracle in the place where the Torah clearly hints at it, a minori ad majus, how much more so, must Rashi tell us this, when the sentence itself is not so clear, but only vaguely hints that it was really a miracle within a miracle!? The staff of Aharon swallowed the snakes!

Although the question was discussed at a previous farbrengen [three years ago] some aspects are still unclear and need further elucidation. There are two ways of understanding the Talmudic concept of a ‘double miracle’: A) The first miracle would have been that the snake of Aharon had swallowed the others, the second, that the staff of Aharon swallowed the serpents. B) Miracle one, the serpent became a staff again and miracle two, the staff swallowed all the snakes.

When we study these analyses we find them lacking. Looking at explanation B, what was the purpose of the ‘sign’? To show Pharaoh that G‑d sent Moshe, and to influence him to free the Jews. Then just as the ‘wonder’ of transforming a staff to a serpent did not move him — his magicians did the same — the retransformation of the serpent back to the stick would have had no more potency. So why even consider it a miracle!

As far as the first explanation — A — if the serpent of Aharon had swallowed the magician’s snakes it would not have been a miracle at all! It is quite natural for one snake to swallow another snake. Thus according to both analyses there would be only one miracle. [At this point we can say that Rashi did not write, ‘a double miracle’ because according to both explanations A & B there really was only one miracle.]

But here we find a weakness in both arguments. Let us go back for a moment to B. The serpent became a staff again and the staff swallowed the snakes. What difference if Pharaoh was impressed or not? To transform a staff to a snake and vice versa is a miraculous event — even Pharaoh had to call his magicians to copy it — as such there was a double miracle and Rashi should have stated so! The question is amplified when we note that when the plagues of blood and frogs were visited upon the Egyptians, and their magicians copied the wonders, we did not eliminate blood and frogs from the Ten Plagues! Why should we not count the miracle of the snake transforming back into a staff?

Going back to explanation A above, that miracle one was that the snake swallowed, and miracle two was that the staff swallowed, which we discounted by saying that a snake swallowing a snake is no wonder — it happens all the time. What happens? One snake may imbibe another snake. Here we are talking of a multitude of snakes, of a multitude of magicians — not one or two — gathered by Pharaoh to ridicule Moshe’s ‘wonders,’ and then Aharon’s snake swallowed them all — this is definitely a great miracle! So again, why does Rashi not state that this was a double miracle!

Another point is unclear. The verse says “Aharon’s staff then swallowed up their staffs.” When did their snakes turn back into staffs? And why? Aharon’s serpent reverted to a staff to make the miracle of swallowing even more astonishing. But why would they revert their snakes to staffs? Maybe Aharon did it? Absolutely not. It would have diminished the miracle, for staffs would lie prostrate and allow themselves to be swallowed — but snakes could have slithered away from the staff of Aharon. So who changed the Egyptian snakes back to staffs?

Our questions on Rashi will be answered in the following manner.

A fundamental reading of Scripture gives us a picture of two distinct types of miraculous events:

A) A permanent supernatural happening, which will continue to exist in its miracle-engendered form, e.g. the birth of Dina. Rashi tells us: “That Leah set herself up as judge against herself saying: ‘If this be a son, my sister Rochel cannot be even the equal of any of the handmaids.’ She, therefore, offered prayer regarding it, and it was changed to a female.” This was clearly a miracle which lasted forever.

B) A temporary miracle, e.g., “Place your hand (on your chest) inside your robe ... it was plagued as white as snow,” immediately afterwards, It ... his skin had returned to normal.”

Now a temporary miracle can also occur in two different ways: A) After the intended time of the wondrous event, an act will have to be performed to revert it to its natural state. B) Being only temporary, when the predetermined time is up, the miraculous power withdraws and things go back to normal, automatically. No additional action is required.

In the case of the supernatural plagues brought on Egypt, Rashi had explained in chapter 7 verse 25: “For each plague functioned a quarter of a month,” meaning that, “Seven days ... the river did not return to its original condition.” These miracles were temporary, for a certain period of time only, enough time to scare Pharaoh. But then, the river did “... return to its original condition,” without the need of another miracle.

This is of course consistent with the self-evident rule that: “The Holy One, Blessed be He, does not perform a miracle in vain”; when the miracle is no longer needed it ceases.

With this in mind let us review all our earlier questions.

When Aharon miraculously transformed his staff into a serpent, it was in order to impress Pharaoh. When this was accomplished there was no need for any action to convert it back to a staff, it was automatic.

For the same reason the snakes of the Egyptian magicians also reverted to their original state of being staffs — despite the fact that if the staff of Aharon had swallowed the snakes it would have been a greater miracle. Their intention however, was to match Aharon, so when his snake became a staff again, theirs did also.

It now becomes clear and elementary that the miracle that Aharon’s staff swallowed the others cannot be described as a double miracle [miracle within a miracle]. When his snake reverted to a staff, the original miracle of becoming a serpent was simply removed, it now returned to its natural state of being a staff — no supernatural act was needed. You have simply one miracle, Aharon’s staff swallowed their staffs!

To make this point clearer. If indeed a miracle were required to transform the serpent back into a staff in order to magnify the miracle i.e., that not only could Aharon’s serpent swallow their serpents but even Aharon’s staff could, in that case, when the miraculously converted staff would swallow their staffs we would say it is a double miracle, i.e. the snake could have done it; by a miracle the snake was made a staff and now, miraculously the staff swallowed their staffs. In fact however, it was no wonder for the snake to revert to a staff, therefore we have only a natural staff, and when it swallowed the other staffs it was one miracle. Now also the number of staffs imbibed by Aharon’s staff does not add anything to the quality of the miracle.

As to why Rashi changed the terminology from the sentence in the Torah and used the word “them all” rather than “all their staffs,” because the main miracle was that Aharon’s staff swallowed all there was to swallow — no difference staffs or snakes.

Another point to be made about the fact that the swallowing took place after it was a staff. The word used by Scripture is ‘tanin’ which in Bereishis was translated as meaning a ‘sea-serpent.’ Here Rashi says that tanin is really ‘nachash,’ a snake. How can it be? The answer is presented by the commentaries on Rashi, who say that tanin in the water is a ‘sea-serpent of the fish species,’ and tanin on land is a snake.

So Rashi tells us that tanin is a snake because later on the Torah will say: “... and the staff which you transformed to a snake (nachash) take with you.” But why does Rashi give his explanation now, he usually waits until the problem arises in order to comment.

Remember in Shemos, when G‑d told Moshe to throw his staff in the ground and it turned into a snake (nachash), there Rashi stated: “This was an indication to him, that he had slandered the Jews by saying: ‘But behold they will not believe me, etc.’, and that he had made the serpent’s occupation (slander) his own.”

So Rashi says at the first opportunity that the ‘tanin’ was really the ‘nachash’ — snake — and because it was the symbol of Moshe’s error it could not be used to perform an additional miracle and to show his mastery over Pharaoh.

So we see additionally that this was really not a miracle in a miracle — because the miracle could not have been performed by the snake, only by the staff!

One question remains, if in fact it was a ‘nachash,’ as expressed later ‘the staff which was turned into a snake’ (nachash), why does Scripture here use the term tanin?

This question we will leave for the audience to debate and find the answer for, and may it be G‑d’s will that in the interim Moshiach should come — and even before him Eliyahu should come — who will answer all queries and questions. And especially since Moshe and Aharon will be with them.

For then all will be revealed — “The glory of G‑d will be revealed and all flesh will see...” with the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach.

* * *

5. In Likkutei Levi Yitzchok, on the portion Va’eira, my father o.b.m. touches on the discussion in Zohar, on the verse: “And you shall know that I am the L‑rd your G‑d.” The Zohar states: “This is the first of all commandments, the root of all precepts of the law: the knowledge of G‑d in a general way, namely that there is a Supernal Ruler, L‑rd of the universe and of all life, Creator of heaven and earth and all their hosts.”

The Rambam’s Hilulo (anniversary of passing) was on the 20th of Teves, last Sunday, the first day of the week of the portion of Va’eira, and we may find a connection between the above quoted Zohar and the Rambam.

The first halachah brought in Mishneh Torah of the Rambam is very similar to the Zohar just quoted. In chapter 1:1 of Laws Concerning the Basic Principles of the Torah, the Rambam writes: “The basic principle of all Principles and the pillar of all sciences is to realize [know] that there is a First Being, Who brought every existing thing into being. All existing things, whether celestial, terrestrial, or belonging to an intermediary class, exist only through His true existence.”

Compare these two paragraphs and you discern an amazing similarity.

It is known that the Rambam based his halachic rulings on the Tenach, Talmud, Sifra, Sifrei, Tosefta, etc, as he writes in his introduction. What is the source for his statement: “All existing things ... exist only through His true Existence”?

In a previous farbrengen it was explained that the source of this principle may be found in Rambam’s Guide of the Perplexed, which deals at great length with the concept and knowledge of the existence of G‑d.

It is this point that will now be addressed.

In the ‘Guide’ chapter 63, the Rambam quotes the verse: “... and they shall say to me, what is His name? What shall I say to them?” (Shemos 3:13) and asks:

.. Either the Jewish people knew the Name or they had never heard it; if the name was known to them, they would perceive in it no argument in favor of the mission of Moshe, his knowledge and their knowledge of the Divine Name being the same. If on the other hand, they had never heard it mentioned ... what evidence would they have that this really was the name of G‑d?

Actually we have another question. Why did Moshe suppose that the first question posed to him by the Jews would be “What is His Name”? Ponder a moment. After years of servitude and oppression, the first question on the lips of the Jewish slaves was surely, “When?” not, “What is His Name?”

To this the Rambam explains that Moshe was the first person to be sent with a mission to the Jewish people, “... and commanded him to address the people and to bring them the message.” If so, their first question is certain to be, “Who is the one who has sent you?”

The Rambam continues that on this question G‑d answered, “...’Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh,’ a name derived from the verb ‘to be’ in the sense of ‘existing’ ... in Hebrew no difference is made between the verb ‘to be’ and ‘to exist.’“ He then goes on to explain that,

He is the Existing Being which is the Existing Being, that is to say, whose existence is absolute: The proof which he was to give consisted in demonstrating that there is a being of absolute existence, that has never been and never will be without existence. G‑d thus showed Moshe the proofs by which His existence would be firmly established among the wise men of his people.

This explanation of, “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” is clearly the source of the Rambam’s first halachah: It ... to know that there is a First Being, Who brought every existing thing into being. All existing things ... exist only through His true existence.”

Now, in Maimonides’ Code, which is a halachic work, this concept and commandment is derived from the First Commandment: “I am the L‑rd your G‑d.” In the Guide however, where the intricate philosophical details are discussed, this concept is derived from the verse “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh.”

Taking the Zohar and Rambam as a backdrop we can understand that every Jew has a responsibility to teach another Jew the, ‘first of all commandments’ and the basic ‘Principle of all Principles.’ Even the average, unlearned Jew understands that if he exists, something created him, and thus he comes to a realization that there is a First Being. It must be explained and clarified that this is the concept of, “I always place G‑d before me,” realizing that a Jew has the responsibility to relate to, and to serve the Creator.

So this becomes the first Commandment and first Principle which brings all the others in its wake. The knowledge of G‑d thus becomes the basis for observance of Torah and mitzvos.

Nowadays this responsibility is even more pressing, for there are many Jews, through no fault of their own, who are not aware of Torah and mitzvos and not even aware of the existence of G‑d.

Which brings us to the vital importance of instituting a ‘moment of silence’ in all educational institutions: There are children who are growing up without the knowledge that there is “an eye that sees and an ear that hears,” thinking that they may perpetrate whatever enters their mind.

Therefore the greatest effort must be expended to institute the ‘moment of silence’ in all schools.

It is very painful to see that despite all the talk on this subject, enough is not being done and the result has not been achieved!

Someone has written to me that he had worked on this matter by speaking to someone else to do something about it. And his friend wrote that he had labored to the point of self-sacrifice, signing up hundreds of children and personally affixing the stamp and depositing the letter into the mailbox...!

Good and fine, but why no results?! What is the reason? There is not enough proper involvement! After throwing the letter in the mailbox he forgot the entire subject, thinking that he already did his share!

If you will ask, that it was stated earlier, that a Jew is responsible to do his share independent of the results, therefore what do we want from this fellow?

The answer is, that what is demanded is involved and dedicated effort, not be to satisfied with just one act or two, but continuous activity up to one hundred times, without exaggeration. In fact, the effort wasn’t even trebled! Of course the main thing is that in the future proper efforts should be put into this important subject.

From the Torah portion which we are about to read at Minchah, Bo, we may derive a directive and lesson.

The Zohar explains that Moshe feared to approach Pharaoh and therefore G‑d commanded him specifically “Bo (come) to Pharaoh,” which had in it a special bestowal of power.

There is an eternal lesson and source of strength in these words, especially appropriate in this subject and discussion. To wit, you must be ready and willing to personally go to ‘Pharaoh’ and not to be intimidated or apprehensive, because you are approaching him at the behest of G‑d and with the power of the Holy One, Blessed be He. When you move ahead with this in mind you succeed in all your endeavors, so much so, that the king himself helps the Jews in all their needs.

We find an example of this in the Talmud, Zevachim 19a: “I was once standing before King Izgedar, my sash lay high up, whereupon he pulled it down, observing to me, ‘It is written of you, “[and you shall be unto Me] a kingdom of Kohanim and a holy nation.”‘“ The king himself adjusted the sash to perfect the proper appearance of a Jew. As Rashi comments that the king remarked: “You must conduct yourself with the beauty of Kohanim.”

Our activities with and on behalf of the gentile nations of the world institutes a close preparation for the fulfillment of the promise: “For then I will convert the people to a purer language, that they may all call upon the name of the L‑rd, to serve Him with one consent” (Zephaniah 3:9). And finally the promise: “And the glory of the L‑rd shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the L‑rd has spoken it.” May it come, with the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach, truly in our times.