Wednesday, January 01, 2014


Like Talking to the Ear
By Rabbi Neil Fleischmann

Hashem said to Moshe, "Come to Par'oh,
for I have made his heart and the heart of his servants stubborn
so that I shall place these signs of mine in his midst.
And so that you may relate in the ears of your son
and your son's son that I have amused myself with Egypt,
and my signs that I placed among them -
that you may know that I am Hashem.
Shmot 10:1-2 (Opening lines of Parshat Bo.)

These lines are the introduction to Arbeh, the plague of locusts. This is the last plague that hit the landscape of Egypt. After this calamity i's question, "Who is Hashem that I should listen to His voice?” was definitively answered. In the aftermath of this devastation the locusts retreated on their own volition, because there wasn't anything left for them to ravage. Pharoh, left with nothing and unable to feign strength confesses, "I have sinned to Him."
Rav Simcha Zissel Broide noted that the point of the decimation was not merely to get Pharoh to acquiesce and finally release the Jews. The goal was to show Pharoh who G-d is. Right before Arbeh, Hashem states that part of the agenda is to pass on to future generations the story of what G-d did to Egypt, so that they will know who He is.
Rav Yaakov Weinberg was struck by the purposeful reference to ears here and sees it as a metaphor for speech that is heard only superficially by ears but does not reach the heart. In his view we’re instructed to tell young children about the miracles that accompanied Yetziat Mitzrayim despite the fact that they can't fully comprehend. This is why we teach kids the fundamental statements "Torah tziva lanu Moshe…" and "Shmah Yisrael". Words that enter ears but not hearts make an impression just the same. And there remains the possibility that greater understanding will follow at a later time.
This relates to the Kotzker Rebbe's comment regarding a line  which we recite daily in Shmah. Words of Torah are described as being placed upon our hearts. The Kotzker Rebbe explains that words aren't always taken inside a person's heart. Once stated, words sometimes rest atop a person’s closed heart and when the heart opens they will are there to go in. This is why children were taken to the Beit HaMikdash for the Torah reading of Hakhel.
This approach may help with my childhood friend Scott's haunting lament that the yeshiva he attended taught him Gemorah, Chumash, and Tefilah- but not love of Torah. Perhaps the answer is that the best anyone can do for anyone else is to try to speak words into their ears and to rest truth upon their hearts. The absorption of Torah is a private process and a personal responsibility.
Rav Yaakov notes that the pasuk ends by stating that the result of teaching our children is that we, not they, will know what we taught. As Rav Yisrael Salanter said, "It's worth speaking the truth even if only one person gets the message, and even if that one person is the speaker."


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