Parshas Va’eira

Dear Friends and Family,

I would like to start out by giving a huge Mazel Tov to the Sapoznik and Herzberg Family on the beautiful wedding of Micheal and Ariella! May this simcha bring bracha and good mazel into your lives and to the Jewish people!

In Parshas Va’eira, Moshe and Aaron set out on their mission from G-d to go before Pharaoh and tell him to let out the Jews. First, Moshe is commanded to go to the Jews to tell them that G-d will take them out. They do not listen to him. After Hashem commands him to go to Pharaoh. In between the commandment and the action, the Parshah gives some genealogy on the Shevatim and Moshe’s family. R’ Hirsh comments that the Torah takes pain to point out that contrary to the claims of the founders of other religions, the leaders of the Jewish people were humans, not supernatural beings. The Torah gives their family back rounds to make plain that their compatriots knew them and their cousins, remembered their parents and uncles. But although any Jew has the potential to lift himself to the level of greatness and prophecy, G-d does not assign such honor haphazardly. Instead of choosing His emissaries from the eldest tribe, He searched until He found suitable men.
This theme of potential is woven through again when the perek concludes with the words “This was Aaron and Moshe” to say that it is understandable that such men were chosen for their lofty task. The sakes take note that Aaron is mentioned before Moshe. This is to teach us that they were both equally great, although the Torah itself testifies that Moshe’s level of prophecy was the greatest of any man who ever lived. R’ Moshe Feinstein gives two reasons why Aaron is described as equal to Moshe : 1) His participation was indispensable to Moshe’s success. 2) he achieved the absolute maximum of his potential, just as Moshe did. In G-d’s scales, achievement is measured by how well one fulfills one’s personal mission.
I think the idea here teaches us: Not to compare ourselves to others. We each have our own mission and potential to live up to. The only person we can measure ourself is against ourself. No matter who you are or were you come from, we each were given the gift and the tools to fulfill our own potential. Focus on being the best and greatest YOU!
Have a beautiful and uplifting Shabbas and may you each continue to strive to be the best and only You!
– Michal

Parshas Shemos!!

Dear Family and Friends,

Last night I went to a dinner and they had a presentation from a children’s theater group of Fiddler on the Roof. They sang “tradition” and danced around looking like children of the shteatel. It is interesting because tradition has always been part of my life, but more than just matzah ball soup on Friday night. Tradition or Mesorah as it translated makes me who I am. Mesorah is the link that was passed down from my mother to me and will be IYH be passed down to my children as what makes me a Jew. Mesorah helps guide my life and my choices and ironically, Mesorah is the through the Jewish woman and only she has the ability to truly pass it on.
Although in Fiddler on the Roof’s version of “Tradition” a Jewish woman runs the home, there is so much more to her. She has a strong gut, she is courageous and she is a leader in her family. This is theme of women leaders is highlighted through out Parshas Shemos through the actions of Miriam, Yocheved, Shifra and Puah and Tziporah. Due to Pharoah’s decree to kill the Jewish boy babies, Yocheved and Amram, the leaders of the Jewish people in Egypt, separate. Miriam, their daughter has a prophecy that the savior of the Jewish people will come from her parents  and told them that they must get back together. Miriam had stronger Emunah than her father here and in a time of darkness had the strength to convince her parents to do what is right. When Moshe is put on a basket on the river, “His sister stationed herself at a distance to know what would be done with him” (2:4). Miriam was confident that Moshe would be saved. The question was only what would be done, meaning how God would cause him to survive.
Shifra and Puah, the Jewish midwives ( many say that they were Yocheved and Miriam) save Jewish babies and then tell Pharoah excuses on why the babies were saved. The Parshah ends off with Tziporah, the wife of Moshe, who saves her husband by giving her son a bris. The impression we have of her is of a figure of monumental determination who, at a crucial moment, has a better sense than Moshe himself of what God requires.
So last night as they sang “tradition” I started to think of what tradition means to me. Tradition is the strength of the Jewish woman and her role in the continuity of the Jewish people.  Her courage in times of darkness and determination is what has held us up as a Jewish nation. Without her, there would be no Jewish people.
Have a beautiful and uplifting Shabbas! May tradition is always being an integral part of our life.
– Michal
ps.Mazel Tov to my cousin Miriam on the birth of her baby boy!

Parshas Vayigash!!

Dear Friends and Family,

I am reading a great book called “Tribes” by Seth Godin. It is about leadership and the concepts of a tribe. He explains that what stops people from being great is the fear of failure. He goes further to suggest that it is not just fear, but that people are afraid to take criticism or blame. Sadly, the fear of making a mistake and being criticized is so great that it stops one from reaching his potential. When I read this, I thought it was brilliant and describes the millennial so well. (read the book – it’s great….) Lord Jonathan Sacks brings out this idea of leadership in this week’s Parshah.
Lord Sacks explains that after the last couple of weeks, discussing Yosef’s leadership capabilities, this week an unlikely leader emerges onto the scene, Yehuda.  This is the same man who proposed selling Yosef as a slave, who then separated from his brothers, living among the Canaanites, intermarried with them, lost two of his sons because of sin and having sexual relations with a woman he takes to be a prostitute and we wonder how can leadership is explelified by Yehuda. 
In last week’s Parshah, the family is in a bind. They need more food and without bring down Binyamin, they will not be able to get more. Yaacov does not want to give up Binyamin and so Reuven proposes something radical: “Kill my two sons if I do not bring Binyamin back safely.” It was then Yehuda who with quiet authority – “I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him” – persuaded Yaacov to let Binyamin go with them.
Now in Egypt the nightmare scenario has unfolded. Binyamin has been found “stealing” Yosef’s cup and is to be held as a slave. The other brothers can go free. At this point Yehuda steps forward and makes a speech that changes history. He speaks eloquently about their father’s grief at the loss of one of Rachel’s sons. If he loses the other he will die of grief. I, says Yehuda, personally guaranteed his safe return. 

Full teshuva (repentance) is the ability to be in the same situation to repeat an earlier sin but who does not do so because he is now a changedperson. Right here we see Yehuda’s teshuva ( repentance) because it was his suggestion to sell Yosef as a slave and now when faced with the same situation of leaving Binyamin as a slave, he says, “Let me stay as a slave and let my brother go free.” That is perfect repentance, and it is what allows Yoseph to reveal his identity and forgive his brothers.

The Torah had already hinted at the change in Yehuda’s character. Having accused his daughter-in-law Tamar of becoming pregnant by a forbidden sexual relationship, he is confronted by her with evidence that he himself is the father of the child and immediately admits: “She is more righteous than I” (Gen. 38: 26). This is the first time in the Torah we see a character admit that he is wrong and from this union descended King David. 

Leaders make mistakes. Leaders are also human and they make mistakes that have nothing to do with leadership and everything to do with human weakness and temptation. What matters is that you repent, you recognize and admit your wrong, and you change as a result. 

Going back to the book, instead of being afraid of making mistakes, we must understand that we will make mistakes and take responsibility for our actions, hear criticism and after move forward as a stronger person. In Lord Saks beautiful words “A leader is one who, though he may stumble and fall, arises more honest, humble and courageous than he was before.”

Have a beautiful and uplifting Shabbas! May we always have the courage to overcome our fears and stand up as leaders.