The Torah affirms the importance of charity:

עשר תעשר – you shall tithe… (14:22)

A double statement means to repeatedly do it, an unlimited amount of times. The difficulty this poses is that the Gemara in Kesubos caps the permissible amount of charity at no more than 20% income. These are mutually exclusive concepts.

The Vilna Gaon deduces that if the Torah requires endless generosity, it can only be that the reward for charity is the ability to give more, without hindering the giver. The Gemara in Taanis therefore says that עשר בשביל שתתעשר – a person will never be limited in their ability to to give charity over time.

The people are presented with a very clear choice regarding their futures:

רְאֵה אָנכִי נתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם בְּרָכָה וּקְלָלָה – Behold, I am giving before you today a blessing and a curse. (11:26)

Curiously, there is transition from singular – רְאֵה – to the plural – לִפְנֵיכֶם. The choice presented is clearly by God – why specify אָנכִי then; who else would be speaking? It is also given in the present tense – נתֵן – when it ought to say נתתי – ‘I have given’, and with emphasis on הַיּוֹם – today. Further, why is the choice לִפְנֵיכֶם – ‘before you’, and not לכם – ‘to you’?

The Vilna Gaon explains that the choice is not a general stand alone principle; it is a personal, ever-relevant choice. Anyone, at anytime, can become something more, and can repair past misdeeds. Hashem is נתן – ‘giving’ us the choice – in the present tense. The opportunity is always there.

This is accentuated – הַיּוֹם – ‘today’; forget about yesterday. Chazal understand that a Baal Teshuva is like a newborn; a new person by turning over a new leaf.

Despite the niggling self-doubt in the recesses of the mind at the ability to change, Hashem assures that you are not alone – אָנכִי – “I am with you in the struggle”. The Gemara teaches that the evil inclination seeks to consume and destroy mankind, and without God’s help we would be powerless to resist. God is with us.

But the choice remains ours. We have to exercise our free will and make the decision. God can only present the opportunity – אָנכִי נתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם.

R Yitzchak Lande points out that the Torah frequently switches from plural to singular, to teach that although there is an expectation of society – every single Jew has to participate. And if society aren’t doing it, you have to do it on your own.

In a world of fugitives, the person taking the opposite direction will appear to be running away.

There is a proverb found in the Gemara – מילי בסלע, שתיקותא בתרי – literally; “Words can be worth a coin, but but silence is worth two!”.

It is intended to illustrate the power of being introvert, not speaking when not required.

The Vilna Gaon says that the etymology of the proverb is directly sourced the parsha.

סלע is a unit of currency, but literally translates to “rock”. Eldad and Medad foretold that Moshe was going to die and Yehoshua would bring them into Israel – משה מת, יהושע מכניס – Moshe was to remain in the desert, for the sin of hitting the rock and not speaking to it.

In other words מילי בסלע – if Moshe had spoken to the rock, then שתיקותא בתרי; the two, Eldad and Meidad, would have remained silent – never predicting Moshe’s downfall. Truly, the power of not speaking up.

The silver bowls used for the blood management in the Beis HaMikdash are known to have had thin sides, despite this not being a requirement of the Torah. The silver basin is known to have had thick sides. How did Chazal know this to be the case, given that they had never seen them?

The Gra notes in the Gemara in Yuma that wherever the word שני – “two”, appears, a direct association is being drawn between the two articles under discussion, that they are the same. For example, the “two” goats on Yom Kippur had to be identical in appearance, height, and value, derived from the use of the word שני three times.

The Torah refers to the bowls as שניהם מלאים, implying that they were the same size. But this can’t be; the listed weight of the basin is 130, whilst the bowl weighed 70. Therefore, if the two utensils had the same volume, but the weight parameters had to be different, Chazal deduced that the solution was to make one of them thicker. Ingenious!

The Midrash Mishlei states that after Moshiach comes, we will cease to observe all the Yomim Tovim, except Purim. Many commentators have asked why this should be. Was Purim as momentous as the Exodus from Egypt, or the giving of the Torah at Sinai? Furthermore, Purim is a rabbinically instituted, so why should it be celebrated when Yomim Tovim in the Torah are not?

The Sfas Emes asks another question. The Megilla clearly states that Purim is עַל-שֵׁם הַפּוּר – because of the lottery performed by Haman.

Why do we refer to it in the plural form – Purim – to refer to this Yom Tov which celebrates a single lottery? Secondly, the lottery was hardly the primary part of the miracle of Purim. Why would we name the Yom Tov after an un-miraculous and perhaps even incidental event?

The Sfas Emes explains that we would only use the name Purim if the “pur” was an integral part of the nes. When Haman cast his lots, it was “לְהַשְׁמִיד לַהֲרֹג וּלְאַבֵּד” – to utterly destroy the Jews. Yet, as the eternal nation, the Jews cannot ever be completely destroyed, meaning that Haman’s plot was doomed to fail from the very beginning. The “pur” therefore was dual in nature. On the surface it appeared to be detrimental for the Jews, yet by it’s very design condemned Haman to fail and thus lead to the Jews’ salvation. To reflect this duality, we refer to Purim in the plural to underline that even events that seem ‘bad’ are a part of Hashem’s plan and turn out for the good of Klal Yisroel.

The Vilna Gaon in his commentary on Esther explains that this is why we will celebrate Purim after Moshiach. Previous miracles where Hashem has revealed Himself and performed supernatural miracles will be eclipsed by the miraculous events surrounding the coming of Moshiach. The Yomim Tovim commemorating these events will no longer be celebrated because the events they recall will be of secondary importance in comparison to those we will witness in the future. Purim however, occupies a unique space amongst the other Yomim Tovim. It recalls that Hashem’s hand guides our lives and that all events are controlled by Him even if we do not openly see Him. Thus we will continue to celebrate this unique Yom Tov that offers us a glimpse of His master plan that guides nature even when Yomim Tovim celebrating supernatural events are no longer celebrated.

Among the first laws given after Sinai, are some interpersonal laws, particularly the laws requiring that the needy are taken care of:

אִם כֶּסֶף תַּלְוֶה אֶת עַמִּי אֶת הֶעָנִי עִמָּךְ… – When you lend money to My people, to the poor person with you…. (22:24)

Although not readily noticeable in a translation, the phrasing is quite cumbersome, particularly the word עִמָּךְ – with you – in the context.

The Alshich explains that everything is Hashem’s, and merely deposited with us. We are given the privilege of having money in order to distribute it. With this thought, the Torah is imploring us to remember that no matter what we do with our money – אִם כֶּסֶף תַּלְוֶה אֶת עַמִּי – that אֶת הֶעָנִי עִמָּךְ – it belongs to the poor; it is incidentally with you. We should therefore take great care and responsibility.

The Vilna Gaon explains that the Torah is alluding to a standard monetary law: loans are agreed before witnesses to prevent unscrupulous activity, whereas charity is done in solitude, and no-one needs to know. אִם כֶּסֶף תַּלְוֶה – When you lend money – אֶת עַמִּי – do so before My people; – אֶת הֶעָנִי – To the poor however – עִמָּךְ – do it alone. The Torah advises the correct way to give charity – in secret. There is a world of difference bee tween being good, and looking good – here the Torah stresses to be good, when no one will ever know.

The Kli Yakar explains that when a person gives charity or a charitable loan, all good deeds and benefits resultant from it are credited to the person who financed the good deeds and actions. The reading would then be – אִם כֶּסֶף תַּלְוֶה אֶת עַמִּי אֶת הֶעָנִי – If you lend/give money to my people or the needy – עִמָּךְ -all the merits that result are “with you” too!

All these novel teachings have a very simple underpinning; money is not meant to be accumulated and stockpiled for personal gain. If people are privileged enough to earn their daily bread, or even more, spread it around, with class. The word for charity, צדקה, literally means “justice”. By engaging in charitable pursuits, you are, in a very real way, dispensing a little more justice into the world.

We would all do well to internalise that we do not get rich off the sweat of our brows alone; that we should care for the needy, away from the spotlight too; and that the effects of charity continue to compound long after. If everyone knew that, the world might look quite different.

It starts with one.

Humility is one of the defining features of what it means to be a good person, and it was a characteristic closely associated with Yakov. When Yakov took stock of the blessing he had received, he recognised that he did not deserve the extent of what he had:

קָטֹנְתִּי מִכֹּל הַחֲסָדִים וּמִכָּל הָאֱמֶת אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ אֶת עַבְדֶּךָ – I am diminished from all the kindness You have done Your servant. (32:11)

Humility means having the measure of what you are and where you stand. Humility does not mean downplaying yourself or your achievements. There is a required dose of arrogance is absolutely necessary to have confidence and pride in yourself.

The tension between humility, arrogance, and confidence are ever-present. Curiously, the Gemara cryptically sets an oddly specific ratio of an eighth of an eighth. Yakov’s admission

The Vilna Gaon notes that Yakov’s admission is the eighth pasuk in the eighth parsha. Yakov does not believe his merits are worth what he was given, and our perspective should be the same.

R’ Shlomo Farhi teaches that the number eight is where natural and supernatural meet. Seven is a cycle, and eight is a restatement of what came before, an octave higher. It is a renewal of the wavelength of relationship. This is what Bris and Yovel signify. Eight makes the seven that come before meaningful.

We must not get carried away with what we have, and what we have achieved. All that we are exists for us to help those around us. But even if you do focus on everyone else, and acknowledge that your talents and achievements are from God, it is still possible to get caught up in why you specifcically have the gifts you do.

This is the second eighth. It is not enough to acknowledge your gifts. True humility is recognition that the fact of the gift is itself a gift, and not because you deserve it.

So pay it forward.

After experiencing the incredible miracle that was the Red Sea splitting, the people collectively sang Az Yashir:

זה קלי ואנוהו אלקי אבי וארוממנו – This is my God, and I will glorify Him – the God of my father – and I will exalt Him. (15:2)

The Mechilta observes how any maidservants at the sea saw things that even Yechezkel ben Buzi, who had the most vivid prophecies, did not.

Who were these maidservants? How were there any servants among the Jews, a newly liberated people?

The commentaries wonder how Chazal derived their statement. The Vilna Gaon, the Maharil Diskin and the Maskil L’David accept essentially the same view. Rashi writes that there are two parts to the passuk. The second half, that of “אלקי אבי וארוממנו”, is a reference to Hashem being the God of their fathers, illustrating a relationship begun earlier than those saved at the Sea. The above commentaries explain that the word “זה” refers to both clauses; once for “זה קלי ואנוהו” and then for “זה אלקי אבי וארוממנו”. However, the Jews did not leave Egypt alone. Non-Jewish servants and maidservants, a.k.a. the Eirev Rav, came along in order to convert. Unable to refer to their relationship with Hashem as beginning with their forefathers, substituted “זה קלי ואנוהו” instead. Did the Jews say both statements? Maskil L’David says they did, whereas the Eirev Rav said only “זה קלי ואנוהו”. The Vilna Gaon and Maharil Diskin teach that this passuk was truly split; with the Jews saying”זה אלקי אבי וארוממנו” , and the non-Jewish servants and maidservants saying “זה קלי ואנוהו”.

The commentaries explain how Chazal understood that the maidservant saw “more” than Yechezkel. The word “זה” – “this here” – was used at the Sea to connote something concrete and direct, as opposed to the general “ואראה” – “I was shown” – used in the later prophesies. Chazal saw from this that even this maidservant, essentially any non-Jew who was there, was able to point and say “זה קלי ואנוהו”; and truly saw a greater revelation than even the greatest of the prophets; the Presence of Hashem was manifest in such a great way that one could simply point and say, “This is my G-d”.

Interestingly, there is discussion amongst the Rishonim regarding the nature of Hashem’s “revelation” at the Sea. Rabbeinu Bachayei writes that Chazal do not mean to say that the maaidservant had greater ability to grasp such things, nor were they wiser than Yechezkel. Hashem simply “showed” Himself more at the Sea than He ever did to Yechezkel. The Rambam disagrees; in describing the lofty levels reached by the Jews in the generation of the Exodus and the Desert travels, he writes: “The lowest of them was like Yechezkel, as Chazal say. This seems to be a reference to the statement of Chazal under discussion. Apparently Rambam understood this statement to be descriptive of the nation’s spiritual heights, which enabled them to have as remarkable a revelation as they did.

According to the Rambam, two insights would appear. Firstly, that even the “lowest” Jew at that time was indeed greater than Yechezkel. Secondly, it appears that we need not understand that the maidservant was at least originally non-Jewish. In context, the Rambam is discussing the great level of the Jewish nation at the time, and yet he uses this statement of Chazal as a proof. This leads one to surmise that the Rambam understood that the maidservant in question was Jewish. If this is the case, our original question returns; why is there a “maidservant” in this newly liberated nation?

The Gemara in Sota 11b tells the story of how the pregnant Jewish women in Egypt would go out to the fields to give birth, and would leave their newborns there. To take them home would mean their being captured and tossed into the Nile. Hashem took care of these newborns, sending angels to clean, feed and care for them. When the Egyptians found out about these children living in the fields, they came to kill them. A miracle occurred; the earth would swallow these children deep enough to protect them from Egyptian plows. After the Egyptians left, the children sprouted out of the ground like plants. When they grew up, herds of them would return to their homes. And when Hashem revealed Himself at the Sea, these children “recognized” Him first having been raised in His presence and said: “זה קלי ואנוהו”. Clearly this Gemara understands that the Jews too said “זה קלי ואנוהו”. Now according to the Maskil L’David, that “זה קלי ואנוהו” was also said by the Jews, this Gemara can be congruent with the Mechilta. However, according to the Vilna Gaon and the others, this Gemara too needs reconciliation with the word usage of the Mechilta: “maidservant,”, and we are left with our question.

Food for thought.

There are interesting explanations of how the Plague of Darkness actually took place. On one hand, R’ Avraham Iben Ezra learns that it was a fog so tremendously thick that it extinguished any fire lit within it. He writes that he himself saw experienced such a phenomenon many times near the ocean. Yet the Torah Temima understands that the plague meant that the Egyptians were stricken with severe cataracts. The Vilna Goan explains that darkness is not like we commonly tend to think of as simply the absence of light, but rather a creation in its own right. Hashem however set up the light/dark relationship in such a way that light always wins in a “fight” with darkness. By this makkah, though, that relationship was reversed.

Rabbeinu Bachaiyei (Bo 10:21) seems to learn a pshat somewhere in the middle. He quotes the Medrash Shemos Rabba (14:1-3) detailing and expounding upon this plague. He mentions the tangibility of the darkness; this darkness was not just the absence of light. Rather, it was an existence in itself that had substance. So thick was it, that during the last three days of the six day duration of this plague, no Egyptian could move a muscle and was frozen in place. (Ralbag writes that Hashem sealed the Egyptians’ noses and mouths. They could not breathe for three days. That they did not die was a miracle. He did this because had the Egyptians breathed in this new, thick dark air, they surely would have died. Being kept alive without breathing for this time was a source of tremendous suffering for them.) Klal Yisrael, however, had plenty of light, not only in Goshen but even when they entered the Egyptian houses to search for valuables.n

Rabbeinu Bachaiyei explains the nature of this particular darkness. In order for the eye to see light, the light must travel from its source through the air into the eye. This is similar to hearing; the sound waves travel from the source to one’s ear. In other words, air is the medium through which light travels. During the first three days of the plague of darkness, Hashem “sealed” the pathways of the air from allowing passage of light. In the absence of the ability for light to get through the air automatically turns dark. For the last three days, Hashem thickened this dark air so much so that the weight of it did not allow them to move. This was not the case for Klal Yisrael; Hashem did not close the passageways of air for them. They were able to see freely and could go where they pleased.

In understanding this Rabbeinu Bachaiyei, it would seem that one would need to clarify his words as follows. We cannot say that all the air particles in any specific Egyptians house were sealed off to light. For if so, how could the Jew entering to search for valuables be able to see? On the other hand, to say that the air particles were open to light would mean that the Egyptians would be able to see! One must say that the plague of darkness how we tend to envision it. It wasn’t that the land of Egypt was completely dark. Rather, the air particles immediately and in closest proximity to the individual Egyptian were the ones that were sealed off from light (for the first three days, after which this very air became heavy enough to hinder any movement). It was as if every Egyptian had a heavy, dark shell around his body. But during the day, the land of Egypt itself was as bright as any other country.

One could comment, however, that according to this the Plague of Darkness effected the Jews as well. Being that the air directly surrounding the Egyptians did not allow light to pass through, all that a Jew saw in looking at an Egyptian was a thick human-shaped black cloud. The Jew would not have been able to see through due to the sealed air. If, for example, the Jew would want to know the identity of the Egyptian whose house he had entered by looking at him, he would not be able to (and those Jews who were able to tell specific Egyptians about the whereabouts of their valuables would have had to have know their identities by other means)! Possibly one could suggest that the air around the Egyptian worked like one-way glass; one side can see through while the other side can’t. The Jews could see the Egyptians while the Egyptians could not see out. The problem with this might be that if the light could not get in to the Egyptians, then it would not be reflecting back towards the Jews to enable them to see the Egyptians.

The easiest pshat in Rabbeinu Bachayei might therefore be that the air was open for the Jews and closed for the Egyptians. Though this may not make sense in our minds (as we asked above), we can safely throw up our hands and say, “Who is so wise to understand Hashem’s ways!” So writes the Alshich (10:21-23). The Ramban at the end of Parsha Bo explains that all the miracles preformed in Egypt were a testimonial for generations of there being really no such thing as nature, rather everything is Hashem’s doing. The miracles there were a wakeup call to this. After writing this, I found in the Medrash Tehilim (aka Sochar Tov 22:2) exactly this idea. “In the way the world works, can a man light a fire and say, ‘Ploni who is my friend shall benefit from this light, but Ploni who is my enemy will not’?! Rather everyone benefits together. Yet Hashem is not this way. He can shine light to one and place darkness on another.”