Category Archives: Passover

Metallic Doom

Egyptian Army Drowning

Exodus: Beshalach

Metallic Doom

“So the graduations hang on the wall /
But they never really helped us at all /
No they never taught us what was real /
Iron and coke, chromium steel.”
Billy Joel, Allentown

In Moses’ Song of the Sea, a part of the daily Jewish liturgy, there is also a curious metallic reference regarding the drowning Egyptians:

“Thou didst blow with Thy wind, the sea covered them; they sank as lead in the mighty waters.” Exodus 15:10

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) makes an even more interesting comment regarding lead (‘oferet’ in Hebrew).

“From the word ‘ofar’ (dirt/ground in Hebrew – same letter roots), because the six types of metals, if they are placed in the ground, they will be diminished, but lead, will increase.”

In the ancient world, the six other types of metals were as follows:

  1. Gold
  2. Silver
  3. Liquid silver (Mercury)
  4. Copper
  5. Tin
  6. Iron

Lead is the heaviest naturally occurring element. So it is no surprise for Moses to compare the quickly sinking Egyptians to this heavy metal. Hizkuni however adds another angle by showing another difference between lead and other metals.

According to Hizkuni, these other metals when buried or sunken will eventually corrode, decompose or lose from their original mass, at a known rate, thereby becoming lighter. I believe this was due to chemical reactions with the elements of the ground. This would probably not occur as easily with many modern alloys.

Lead on the other hand attracts elements of the ground to itself, thereby becoming more massive and heavier. So too, the Egyptians were destined not only to sink, but to stay sunken forever.

May we, as opposed to the Egyptian army, rise up and stay light.

Shabbat Shalom,



To my father, and the many other metal traders, miners and explorers out there.

To Matan and Ruti Nachmani on the birth of their bechor, Avinoam, and to Gabi and Tova Leah Nachmani for this first grandchild. May they all have tremendous yiddishe nachas.

Pharaoh’s Cousin

Exodus: Bo

Pharaoh’s Cousin

I hate him, Pirit thought as she lay in bed. He will destroy us all.

Pirit tossed and turned. There was no possibility she could relax. She feared the darkness would not lift, like in the last plague. She was still traumatized by that paralyzing endless night. She would forever curse the unreliable sun, yet pray for its return.

Cousin Pharaoh has doomed Egypt, Pirit fitfully mused. And Moses has ever delivered on his word.

“The firstborns shall die”, Moses had said in his deep and authoritative voice. The chill she had received from the announcement had struck her as if her firstborn, Rabret, had been executed on the spot.

Oh, sweet Rabret, Pirit moaned to herself. Only fifteen years old. Just now entering manhood. Small tears streamed down Pirit’s face at the thought of losing him.

There was a tense quiet throughout the Egyptian night, as if the entire country was expectantly holding its breath. Word had spread like wildfire of Moses’ latest declaration. This tenth plague promised to be the worst by far and to touch every home – how could it not? Poor and wealthy alike would suffer. Pirit’s mind churned restlessly. Only the childless would be spared the pain of losing a child they never had.

Yet Pharaoh still refuses to let the Israelites go! Pirit screamed in her head. He is mad! But what can we do?

Then it started. Pirit heard a soft moaning from far away. She stayed in bed trying to ignore it – hoping it would go away. Then the moaning got louder – and closer. But it was not really a moan. It was a cry – a cry of bitterness, and sorrow, and anguish. And the cry multiplied and got louder. Pirit thought it was like a living thing, the cry. Growing in strength and form and power. Before she knew it, the cry was overwhelming. It was all around her. It seemed as if every stitch of the Egyptian fabric was crying in excruciating pain. She could not hold back longer.

Pirit unclenched her tightly closed eyes and rose from her bed. She walked, as if to her own execution, to Rabret’s room. The room was abnormally quiet amidst the communal screaming of Egypt. Perhaps he is just sleeping peacefully, Pirit prayed. But there was no movement. No breathing sounds. No gentle rising and falling of his young chest. No outward sign of life. Very gently, Pirit touched Rabret’s shoulder. It was cold in the warm Egyptian night.

“Rabret,” Pirit shook him. “Please wake up my darling.”

But there was no answer. Losing hope Pirit pulled on Rabret’s shoulder to see his face.

She stepped back, holding her hands to her face, with a thick stream of hot tears rolling down her cheeks. Rabret’s face was a frozen, dead, grimace of pain. The only way to interpret it is that his life had been cut short urgently, powerfully and violently. He was an empty husk now.

Pirit rushed back to embrace her lifeless son. Her firstborn. Her Rabret. “Oh no. Not my sweet Rabret. Oh, no.” And then Pirit started to wail. A keen, piercing, heartbroken cry that joined the voices of the rest of Egypt in a discordant symphony of pain.

* * *

This madness has gone on far enough. I do not care if it is treason or blasphemy, Pirit thought as she stomped her way to her cousin’s palace. She was not alone. Other nobles, royals and advisors were making their way, teary-eyed to Pharaoh’s audience chamber.

“My son. My heir,” Pharaoh was murmuring, holding the Prince’s scepter loosely in his hand.

Pharaoh was sitting, bent over on his throne, surrounded by a growing, unmoving audience. Pirit pushed through the group and without announcement or introduction, addressed Pharaoh.

“How many more children do we need to sacrifice?” Pirit demanded. “How many more!?”

“What can we do?” Pharaoh asked no one in particular.

“Let the Israelites go!” Pirit shouted.

“That is what they want,” Pharaoh said weakly, still looking at the boy’s scepter. “But it is too late now. All is lost.”

Pirit approached the throne, uninvited, to the quiet gasps of those around.

“Cousin,” Pirit addressed Pharaoh. “All will be lost if you do nothing. Let them go as you should have done long ago. How much more must Egypt pay for their enslavement? Who knows what the next plague will bring? Please cousin, for the sake of my other children, your other children – for what still remains of Egypt. You must release them – now. Listen to the screams! They are getting louder!!”

“I feel like a puppet in the Hebrew god’s hands,” Pharaoh started clenching his teeth. “Every time I have thought to release them I feel a compulsion to keep them enslaved.”

“Then by Ra. No, not Ra,” Pirit looked at the large statue of the god, her lip curling in a sneer, “by the Hebrew god, who has proven himself to be all powerful and has reduced Ra to a meaningless sculpture – I swear by the Hebrew god,” Pirit knelt down and grasped firmly on to both of Pharaoh’s ankles, amidst further gasps of the audience, “I shall not leave you until you go and free the Israelites.”

Pharaoh looked down at his cousin, shocked into awareness by her bold and daring violation of his holy person. He recognized Pirit’s ancient gesture. It was the physical vow of a supplicant, not to let go of the provider, until their wish was granted, or they were killed for the mere impropriety.

However, a murmur started in the audience chamber, with the backdrop of the wailing growing stronger. “Pirit is right,” Pharaoh heard. “He must let the Hebrews go.” Another voice added. “We are lost.”

“Pharaoh has doomed us.”

“What can we do?”

“He must let the Hebrews go.”

“Let the Hebrews go.”

‘Yes. Let the Hebrews go.”

“Let the Hebrews go,” someone said as a chant, with a wailing counterpoint.

“Let the Hebrews go,” the chant was picked up.

“Let the Hebrews go,” the entire room said.

“Let the Hebrews go!” reverberated throughout the palace.

* * *

Pharaoh ran out of his palace, the Prince’s scepter still in hand, followed by a large entourage led by Pirit.

Pharaoh walked unsteadily, looking from doorway to doorway for signs of the home of Moses or Aaron. They were in the Hebrew quarter of his city, where he knew Moses and Aaron had taken up temporary residence.

“Where is Moses?” Pharaoh cried. “Where is Aaron?”

But there was no answer.

“Hebrews!” Pharaoh called out. “Please help me! Where are Moses and Aaron!?”

Out of breath, leaning on the doorframe of a Hebrew home, Pharaoh was surprised to feel a sticky substance on his hands. He looked at his hands. To his horror, they were full of blood.

“Moses! Aaron!” Pharaoh screamed, above the sound of the general wailing, which was noticeably quieter in the Hebrew quarter.

“I am sorry! I was wrong!” Pharaoh continued. “You and your people may go! Please! Go!”

“I am here Pharaoh,” Moses appeared in one of the doorways. Aaron was beside him and they were followed by other Hebrew elders.

“Oh Moses,” Pharaoh got down on his knees. The rest of the entourage followed suit. “Go, go. Please!

“I was wrong. Go. Take everyone that you wanted to take. Women, children, animals – all the animals. Take everyone and get out quickly. Now. Please. Leave. Leave before we are all destroyed.”

Moses turned to the Hebrew elders and directed them to go ahead and give word. They were all dressed for travel, carrying satchels and fully laden bags, as if they had been expecting to be released.

Wordlessly, Moses turned to leave.

“Moses, my Lord,” Pirit pleaded. “Is this the end? Will this end the deaths and the destruction in Egypt?”

Moses looked at Pirit with a solemn, sad face. “That will depend on you,” he pointed at all of them, “you and the will of Pharaoh,” he pointed at Pharaoh.

Pirit shivered, if it is up to us and Pharaoh, then we are truly doomed.

And without a further word, Moses turned his back on the Egyptians, never to see his birthplace, the land of the Hebrew oppressors again.

* * * * * *


Exodus Chapter 11

4 And Moses said: ‘Thus saith the Lord: About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt; 5 and all the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the first-born of the maid-servant that is behind the mill; and all the first-born of cattle. 6 And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there hath been none like it, nor shall be like it any more. 7 But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog whet his tongue, against man or beast; that ye may know how that the Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel. 8 And all these thy servants shall come down unto me, and bow down unto me, saying: Get thee out, and all the people that follow thee; and after that I will go out.’ And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger. {S} 9 And the Lord said unto Moses: ‘Pharaoh will not hearken unto you; that My wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.’ 10 And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh; and the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go out of his land.

Exodus Chapter 12

5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year; ye shall take it from the sheep, or from the goats; 6 and ye shall keep it unto the fourteenth day of the same month; and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at dusk. 7 And they shall take of the blood, and put it on the two side-posts and on the lintel, upon the houses wherein they shall eat it. 8 And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; with bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9 Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; its head with its legs and with the inwards thereof. 10 And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; but that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire. 11 And thus shall ye eat it: with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste–it is the Lord’s passover. 12 For I will go through the land of Egypt in that night, and will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and there shall no plague be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.

29 And it came to pass at midnight, that the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the first-born of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the first-born of cattle. 30 And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead. 31 And he called for Moses and Aaron by night and said: ‘Rise up, get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as ye have said. 32 Take both your flocks and your herds, as ye have said, and be gone; and bless me also.’ 33 And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, to send them out of the land in haste; for they said: ‘We are all dead men.’

II Kings Chapter 4

25 So she went, and came unto the man of God to Mount Carmel. And it came to pass, when the man of God saw her afar off, that he said to Gehazi his servant: ‘Behold, yonder is that Shunammite. 26 Run, I pray thee, now to meet her, and say unto her: Is it well with thee? Is it well with thy husband? Is it well with the child?’ And she answered: ‘It is well.’ 27 And when she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came near to thrust her away; but the man of God said: ‘Let her alone; for her soul is bitter within her; and the Lord hath hid it from me, and hath not told Me.’ 28 Then she said: ‘Did I desire a son of my lord? Did I not say: Do not deceive me?’ 29 Then he said to Gehazi: ‘Gird up thy loins, and take my staff in thy hand, and go thy way; if thou meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute thee, answer him not; and lay my staff upon the face of the child.’ 30 And the mother of the child said: ‘As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee.’ And he arose, and followed her.

Life of the Party

Exodus: Bo

Life of the Party

Pharaoh and Moses conduct a basic debate as to the meaning of celebration and worship. In Pharaoh’s worldview, celebration is an adults-only event and worship is a somber business.

The Jewish view is completely at odds:

“So Moses and Aaron were returned to Pharaoh and he said to them, “Go and serve God, your God. Who will be going?

Moses said, “With our youngsters and with our elders shall we go; with our sons and with our daughters, with our flock and with our cattle shall we go, because it is a festival of God for us.” Exodus 10:8-9

“Not so; let the men go now and serve God, for that is what you seek. And he drove them out of Pharaoh’s presence.” Exodus 10:11

The composition of the ‘Exodus’ party becomes the breaking point during the final negotiations between Moses and Pharaoh. Only after the tenth and last plague, the Plague of the Firstborns (see dramatic rendition below), does Pharaoh relent and allow everyone; women, children and livestock to leave to the purported celebration.

Pharaoh has trouble comprehending or allowing for children to be part of celebration or worship. He does not understand that worship of our Deity can be festive in nature. Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) explains that because it is a festival the children are not only preferable, but required. Without children, according to Moses and the Jewish tradition, there is no party.

May we always have opportunity to be surrounded by our children for celebration, worship and all festive occasions.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the Sao Paulo families of Gerta and Moni Benedek and to Yudith and David Wulcan for their warm and exquisite hosting. It was a real treat to celebrate Shabbat with them and the accompaniment of their family members.

To Ari and Esther Jacobs on the further expansion of their family, with the engagement of Yehudah to Atara Piha of Neve Daniel. Mazal Tov!

The Eternal Life Diet

The Eternal Life Diet

After eating too much Matzah, potatoes, eggs and all the new Kosher for Pesach foods that weren’t even kosher in the past during the rest of the year, it certainly seems time for a diet. The Torah obliges with what is perhaps the main list of eating restrictions that God commands.

While it’s hard enough to stick to one of the more recent popular diets, the Torah’s diet can be fairly limiting. However, while the Torah doesn’t promise a slim figure, reduced calorie intake or feeling full, it has other rewards in store.

Leviticus 11:43-44 states regarding eating non-kosher items:

“…do not defile yourselves with them, and do not become impure, for I am the Lord, your God, and you will make yourselves Holy; and you will be Holy, for I am Holy…”

Rabbi Ovadia Sforno is intrigued by the repeated mention of “Holy” regarding our eating habits. He explains that the first aspect of holiness by refraining from eating “contaminating” foods is to prepare ourselves and our bodies for holiness and a closer relationship with God.

The second mention of holiness refers to the fact that those who adhere to the laws of eating kosher are granted the possibility of nothing less than eternal life. (That beats any diet I know hands down!)

Sforno adds the caveat that one needs to “walk in God’s ways” as well, but the Kosher diet seems to be a prerequisite of sorts for an everlasting spiritual relationship with God.

Sforno further explains that God also offers to become a coach for anyone who embarks on this diet, quoting the dictum from the Talmud (Tractate Yoma 39a) that if a person makes himself Holy a bit, he is made Holy a lot (with divine help).

In this post-eating holiday period may we all return/start/continue with better eating habits and may a reasonable concern for the laws of eating properly guide our gastronomic decisions.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the memory of Sylvia Jaffe Feigenbaum (Chana Sara bat Mirtza) of Efrat/Cleveland. The mother of my aunt Eudice Spitz and the Matriarch of the extensive Feigenbaum tribe.

While much has and will be said and written about this remarkable woman, one recollection from the many that I found noteworthy is that this was the only family I knew that under her leadership published a regular newspaper about and for the family, to keep her clan connected in a way that is amazing and enviable and I am certain will be felt for many generations to come.

Scouring Our Souls

Scouring Our Souls

In the preparations for Passover, there is an inordinate focus on cleaning. We clean the bedrooms, the floors, the windows, the refrigerator, the cabinets, the drawers, the counters, the oven, and every nook and cranny that is accessible and even some not so easily accessible.

This tradition has been attributed as the source for the popular term and activity of Spring Cleaning amongst the general population. Many Rabbis however, have taken the arduous task of cleaning our physical home and transposed it as an opportunity to get our spiritual homes in order.

This weeks’ Torah reading also reflects a similar theme.

The Torah gives a detailed list of further types of sacrifices that are brought at the Temple. A fairly common variety is the “chatat” offering, known also as the sin-offering. This category of sacrifice is utilized as a tool of repentance for a spectrum of transgressions – from seeking forgiveness for the entire people of Israel, down to the penitence of an individual.

The list of sacrifices also includes the “olah” offering group, or the elevation-offering. The “olah” is less remorseful and more commemorative, and is apparently meant to “elevate” our connection with God.

In Leviticus 8:2, Rabbi Ovadia Sforno inquires as to the mention of the “chatat” first. He says that the precedence is important. The law requires that the “chatat” is sacrificed before an “olah”.

Sforno explains that there is no sense or rationale to bring the elevation-offering before the sin-offering. Seeking to elevate ourselves and come closer to God will be difficult if there are still unrepentant or unaddressed sins on our psyche.

Sforno seems to indicate that we need to clean up our act first, or at least take concrete steps towards redeeming ourselves before seeking to rise further in our spiritual stature, and that is mirrored by the order of the sacrifices.

May we succeed in cleaning both our homes and our spirits, and may the upcoming Holiday help elevate us further.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Kasher Ve’sameach,



In memory of Mr. Ben Genauer of Seattle/Jerusalem, patriarch and grandfather of a large and wonderful clan, including my sister-in-law, Nechama Spitz. Though I only met him recently I was so struck by how a man of his very advanced years was brimming with zest for life, happiness and love of family.

At the shiva this week I learned much more about him and it seems clear that his life was one of constant elevations, kindness, generosity and achieving closeness to God in his own unique way. May he be a “melitz yosher” for his entire family and the people of Israel.

Miracles and The Power of Multiplication


Miracles and the Power of Multiplication

by Ben-Tzion Spitz

Besides the many lessons that the Hagaddah provides, an often overlooked one, is that of the power of multiplication.

The most obvious examples are the three opinions as to the ‘quantity’ of the “Plagues” that afflicted the Egyptians at the parting of the sea. The first opinion is that of Rabbi Yossi the Galilean. He makes the following algebraic comparison based on the biblical verses:

1 “Finger” of God = 10 Egypt plagues

Sea plague = “Hand” of God

Assuming that God’s anthropomorphic limbs are comparable to a humans, solving for Sea plague leads to the following calculation

Sea plague = “Hand” of God = 5 “Fingers” of God = 50 Egypt plagues

The subsequent opinions take the above calculation as a given but add an additional multiplier.

Rabbi Eliezer, the second opinion, states that based on the four qualifiers of “Wrath”, “Fury”, “Trouble”, and “Messengers of Evil”, that are stated regarding the Egyptian plagues, there were 40 plagues in Egypt. Multiplying that by Rabbi Yossi’s original formula provides us with a total of 200 plagues at the sea.

Rabbi Akiva, the third and last opinion in the unusual discussion, adds another qualifier, “Fierce Anger”, to Rabbi Eliezer’s original four. 10 times 5 times 5 equal 250.

Some of the later rabbinic commentators including the Maharal of Prague imply that the simplistic multiplication lesson is really teaching something deeper about the nature of reality and the nature of miracles.

Rabbi Yossi’s initial opinion equates the number ten to the power of a single “Finger” of God. Ten is also compared to holiness and separating the holy from the mundane (i.e. tithes). Similarly, according to the Maharal, anything that intercedes in our world from the more spiritual spheres, in an overt fashion (i.e. miracles) is also a function of the power of ten.

A single finger is a limited tool, and on its own is not particularly powerful. God’s intent with the plagues in Egypt was apparently more educational than outright destructive. Hence his anthropomorphized use of a single finger translated into the power of ten in our world.

However, at the splitting of the sea, God’s intent was to destroy the Egyptian nation in general and its entire armed forces in particular. There God uses his Hand. A hand is a complete tool, and the number five represents a full number. Therefore, according to Rabbi Yossi, the Egyptians suffered the equivalent of 50 plagues at the sea.

The next opinion, Rabbi Eliezer, looks deeper into the makeup of a single “plague” and determines that each plague is really composed of four plagues. There are different explanations besides the textual one quoted above as to why four. The Maharal is a bit esoteric, but he could be interpreted to say that four is the minimum number of points to represent something tangible in space. One point doesn’t do very much. Two points will give you a line. Three points will give you a two-dimensional surface with no thickness. You need at least four coordinates in space to have a three-dimensional object.

[See illustration above]

The Abudarham on the other hand states that each plague encompassed the four elements of earth, wind, fire and water in some fashion. Therefore, in Egypt the plagues were the equivalent of 40, while at sea it was the equivalent of 200.

Rabbi Akiva, presenting the third opinion, builds on Rabbi Eliezer’s theory and adds one more factor to the equation. According to the Maharal, he agrees with Rabbi Eliezer’s four coordinates as defining an object (assuming we understand the Maharal correctly). However, he adds an additional point in space that would bind the four points into one object. Paralleling this thought, the Abudarham states that Rabbi Akiva agrees with the composition of the plagues being formed by the four elements, however he adds, that each plague drew on the power of the four elements separately as well as a combination of all the elements, making each plague a factor of five.

The Maharal states that there is even greater depth and meaning to all of this, but he cannot reveal it to the uninitiated. One point of his discussion though, is to give us an even greater sense of awe. Awe not only for the miracles that occurred, but for the essential reality and functioning of nature, and the miraculous within nature.