Subscribe to a Weekly Series

Posted on January 11, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Yissocher Frand | Series: | Level:

This dvar Torah was adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: #1277 – Snow Shailos. Good Shabbos!

I am well aware that this week is Parshas Vaera, and therefore I really should speak about Parshas Vaera. I am also very aware that last week for Parshas Shemos, I said a pshat in the very same pasuk that I will now focus on again, but on Friday morning I listened to a shiur from the Tolner Rebbe that he had given the previous Thursday night. The Tolner Rebbe has a whole different approach to the same pasuk. I think it is a brilliant mehalech, and I think the message that he takes out of this is a very important message.

In addition, the parshios of Shemos, Vaera, Bo and Beshalach are the parshios of Yetzias Mitzraim. I always consider them one entity, so therefore it is legitimate for me to speak about Parshas Shemos again this week.

The pasuk says, “And the Angel of Hashem appeared to him in a flame of fire from within the thorn bush. He saw and behold! The bush was burning in the fire but the bush was not consumed. Moshe thought, ‘Let me turn aside now and see this great sight – why will the bush not be burned?’ Hashem saw that he turned aside to see, and G-d called out to him from amid the bush and said, ‘Moshe, Moshe,’ and he replied, ‘Here I am!'” (Shemos 3:2-4)

This is a seminal moment in Jewish history – the beginning of Moshe Rabbeinu’s career. Moshe Rabbeinu was the greatest of all nevi’im (prophets) and this is the first time that Hashem speaks to him. Why does Hashem speak to him? It is because “He saw that Moshe turned aside to see.”

The Tolner Rebbe of Yerushalayim asks four questions:

  1. Rashi, on the words “asura nah” (Let me turn aside now) writes: “asura m’kan l’hiskarev sham” (I will turn from here to approach there.) Is this a kind of elaboration we need Rashi to provide? Why does Rashi need to provide this obvious inference, which really adds nothing to our understanding of these words?
  2. The whole expression in the pasuk “And Moshe said, ‘Let me turn aside now’ to investigate” – only indicates that Moshe was talking to himself. Why is it important for us to know that Moshe had this conversation with himself before approaching to check it out?
  3. The word nah in the expression asura nah indicates a bakasha (request). It is as if Moshe is saying (to himself), “Please, let me check this out.” Moshe is not asking anyone else to do him a favor here, so why does Moshe use the word please (nah) in this sentence?
  4. Finally, the pasuk says “And Hashem saw that Moshe turned to investigate.” What is the import of this statement? Obviously, this strange incident merited investigation. People watch fire scenes even when they do consume because watching a burning fire is an interesting spectacle. Certainly, a miraculous fire that did not consume is worth checking out. The pasuk appears to say that the fact that Moshe went to check out the Burning Bush was the factor that motivated the Ribono shel Olam to speak to him. What is that all about?

In order to understand the answer given to these questions by the Tolner Rebbe, we need to know a little bit about the history of Moshe Rabbeinu: Going back a bit in time, Moshe went out and saw an Egyptian beating a Jew, one of Moshe’s brethren. Moshe looked around, saw that no one was watching and he killed the Egyptian. The next day, Moshe encountered two Jews fighting with each other. He said to the attacker, “Why are you beating a fellow Jew?” The man answered, “Who made you the boss around here? Do you intend to kill me like you killed the Egyptian (yesterday)?”

Moshe became afraid and said, “Behold, the matter is now known!” (Shemos 2:14) Rashi interprets: Moshe feared that if there could be such wicked people in Klal Yisroel that they threaten me that I will be reported to the authorities for saving a fellow Jew from violence, then they are not worthy of being redeemed. They speak Lashon HaRah (slander) and they beat each other up so they are unworthy of G-d’s redemption. Rashi explains the expression “achein, noda ha’davar” (behold, the matter is now known): I now understand the matter that I had long been wondering about: Why are Jews suffering in exile all these years? Now I get it! I see that they deserve it!

Rabbeinu Ephraim al haTorah, who was an early commentary, makes this point in an even stronger fashion: Moshe Rabbeinu could not understand why Klal Yisroel should not be destroyed for being so contentious and slanderous vis-a-vis one another. According to Rabbeinu Ephraim, after witnessing these incidents, Moshe came to the conclusion that not only would Bnei Yisroel remain in Mitzraim and not come out, but that they would ultimately disappear.

Now, unlike the impression we get from a simple reading of the opening chapters of Sefer Shemos, Moshe did not flee to Midyan directly after killing this Egyptian. The Ramban writes that this incident of Moshe going out and killing the Egyptian took place when he was just twelve years old, or slightly older. When Moshe Rabbeinu came before Pharaoh, he was already eighty years old. What happened to those sixty-plus years in between, from the time he was twelve until the time he was eighty?

Rabbeinu Tam writes in his Sefer haYashar that Moshe ran to Eretz Cush (Ethiopia) in between, and stayed there for sixty years. Then, he went to Midyan, and that is where we pick up the story. For all that time, Moshe has nothing to do with Klal Yisroel. This matter of “He went out to his brethren and saw their suffering…” (Shemos 2:11) seemed to be merely a passing moment of concern. Then, for the next sixty-plus years, “It is not my problem!” Is this the Moshe Rabbeinu who is so concerned about the fate of his fellow man?

The explanation is that Moshe had concluded (as Rashi and Rabbeinu Ephraim mentioned) that Bnei Yisroel were doomed! His interaction with those two Jews that second day convinced him that the Jews were not worthy of redemption. That is why he could stay away for so much time with the firm belief that the Jews would never get out of Mitzraim.

Moshe came to Midyan and then saw the Burning Bush. He saw that it was not being consumed. This was a miraculous event. There was a message over here. Klal Yisroel are like this thorn bush. Anyone who starts up with them is going to suffer! Hashem was sending Moshe a message via this miraculous sight: Against all expectations to the contrary, a thorn bush, representing the Jewish people, was not being consumed. Suddenly, Moshe Rabbeinu has an epiphany. Moshe says: Do you know what? Maybe, I was wrong! Maybe, my operating assumption for the past sixty-plus years that Klal Yisroel will never get out of Mitzraim was incorrect.

It is not easy for a person to change a deeply ingrained belief or assumption that has guided his life for the last twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty years! Moshe Rabbeinu was confronted with a challenge here that is very difficult for human beings to face. Should I change my mind? It is possible that I was wrong all these years?

Moshe Rabbeinu said to himself “I will turn aside and investigate” (Asura nah v’er’eh). Moshe needs to talk to himself. He needs to convince himself. “Please, Moshe, check this out because maybe I have been mistaken. Maybe I am wrong!”

This is why Rashi provides the seemingly unnecessary elaboration “Turn aside from here and go to there.” (Question #1) This is not just a matter of moving six feet. This is a very important life changing moment. (Question #2) This is a matter of changing an entire philosophy and world vision. This is why Moshe uses the word nah (please) (Question #3), because Moshe needed to convince himself. People find it very difficult to admit that they have been wrong.

Finally, that is also why the next pasuk says “And Hashem saw that he turned to investigate.” The Ribono shel Olam saw that Moshe Rabbeinu was investigating. We asked, “What’s the big deal about checking out a fire?” (Question #4) Sure. We would all check out such an incident. But if it meant having to reassess and possibly retract that which we have strongly believed for the last half century, that is not such a simple matter. This made an impression on the Ribono shel Olam because this proved to Him that Moshe Rabbeinu had the quality to be a manhig Yisroel (Jewish leader). The quality to be a manhig Yisroel is the ability to admit “I may be wrong. Maybe there is another way of looking at things. Maybe I made a mistake.”

At this moment in time, Moshe Rabbeinu becomes the leader of the Jewish people. We pointed out the same concept a couple of weeks ago (in Parshas Vayechi), when we discussed the bracha that Yaakov gave to Yehudah – the blessing of leadership. Onkelos explains that the reason why Yaakov picked Yehudah for the role of Jewish leadership was because he admitted (in the incident with his daughter-in-law Tamar) that he had made a mistake. “She is more righteous in the matter than I.” (Bereshis 38:26) Yehudah also admitted “I may be wrong. Maybe there is another way of looking at things. Maybe I made a mistake.” Since Yaakov saw that Yehudah had this quality, he proclaimed “The scepter will not depart from Yehudah.” (Bereshis 49:10)

This happens to us as well. We have certain opinions, certain presumptions in life. There are certain things that we believe in throughout our lives. Maybe, just maybe, we are wrong. Everyone has opinions. They have opinions about Eretz Yisroel. They have opinions about secular education. They have opinions about women. People have deeply ingrained presumptions about all different matters. We are all opinionated. And of course, we are always right. “It is my way or the highway. There is no other way!”

If we are always right and the other guy is always wrong, we become intolerant of other people. Because they are wrong. Because they are silly. Because they are stupid. Because they don’t get it! This intolerance that is so prevalent today stems from this inability to ever reassess long held personal opinions, which just might be wrong!

The ability to say “Guess what? I was wrong!” is an attribute that everyone needs to have.

The Tolner Rebbe mentioned that the Gerrer Rebbe in Poland had 100,000 chassidim. The Gerrer Rebbe in pre-War Poland held that Orthodox Jewry must support Agudas Yisroel. If the Gerrer Rebbe held that everyone must support Agudas Yisroel, then automatically 100,000 chassidim supported Agudas Yisroel. Then, the Gerrer Rebbe heard that there was a Jewish leader, named Rav Yissachar Dov Rokeach (the Belzer Rebbe), who disagreed.

Now imagine that you are the Gerrer Rebbe with 100,000 chassidim and there is another distinguished Chassidic leader, who does not have nearly as many followers, who disagrees with you. What should be your reaction? “I’m right. He’s wrong!”

But what did the Gerer Rebbe do? He sent two people to the Belzer Rebbe to better understand what he held and why he held that opinion. The delegation went to the Belzer Rebbe and explained their mission. The Belzer Rebbe asked them “And what is your opinion about the matter?” They responded, “We have no opinion about the matter, we are just here on a mission from the Gerrer Rebbe.” The Belzer Rebbe explained to this delegation the reason for his opposition.

They came back to the Gerrer Rebbe and reported on their conversation. The Gerrer Rebbe responded, “Yes. There is such an opinion and it is important that there should be such an opinion.” The Gerrer Rebbe explained: We are all nogeah (biased) in our decision-making processes. We need to consult with someone on the outside who can hear our side of an argument and tell us “Do you know what? You’re wrong!” A leader cannot be surrounded by “Yes-men.” We need people around us to tell us when we are wrong. Everyone needs such a person. Our wives often fill this role.

This one act of reassessment and reevaluation – Why is the bush not burning? – vaulted Moshe into the position where he was deserving of becoming the Manhig Yisroel. He demonstrated that he had the quality of saying “I was wrong!”

Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]

Edited by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]

This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Shemos is provided below:

  • # 038 – Husbands at Childbirth
  • # 081 – Cholov Yisroel: Necessary or Not in America?
  • # 129 – Giving English Names
  • # 176 – Shalosh Seudos in Shuls: Is There a Problem?
  • # 222 – Disposal of Shaimos
  • # 4266 – The Laws and Customs of Chupah
  • # 312 – The Do’s and Don’ts of Naming Babies
  • # 356 – Turning Offender Over to the Secular Authorities
  • # 400 – Sh’nayim Mikra V’echad Targum
  • # 444 – The Deaf Mute In Halacha
  • # 488 – Marrying Cousins
  • # 532 – Learning On Shabbos — A Good Idea?
  • # 576 – Davening With Shoes
  • # 620 – Kosher Cheese: What Is It?
  • # 654 – The Woman Mohel; Laser Milah
  • # 708 – Your Child as a Shabbos Goy?
  • # 752 – Saving Your Life – How Far Must I Go?
  • # 796 – English Names Revisited
  • # 840 – Baby Naming – Whose Privilege, Father or Mother?
  • # 884 – The Corrosive Effect of Non-Kosher Foods
  • # 928 – The Heinous Crime of Mosair
  • # 971 – Kissing People in a Shul — Mutar or Asur?
  • # 1015 – Ma’avir Sedrah – Why? When?
  • # 1059 – “How Do You Get Called Up to the Torah?”
  • # 1102 – Dressing Jewishly: Is There Such A Thing?
  • # 1145 – Shomer Shabbos Vs Non-Shomer Shabbos Doctor – Revisited
  • # 1188 – Cho’shaid Be’kesharim – Not Giving The Benefit of the Doubt
  • # 1232 – Placing A Person in a Non-Kosher Mental Institution
  • # 1276 – Cap and Gown at Graduation: Is There An Halachic Problem?
  • # 1320 – Sitting Next to Someone Who is Davening Sh’moneh Esria –Is it Permitted?
  • # 1364 – The Halachic Issues Concerning Hearing Aids
  • # 1408 – How Does One Pronounce and Write the Name Yissocher?
  • # 1452 – Ours is Not to Question Why, Ours is Just to Do and Die – Do We Always Say That?
  • # 1496 – Should You Make a Sh’hechiyanu When You Get the Corona Vaccine?

A complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit for further information.