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The Talmud (Menachos 85a) relates that when Moshe and Aharon first appeared before Pharaoh, Aharon threw his staff to the ground and it turned into a serpent. Pharaoh’s magicians, too, threw their staffs to the ground and they likewise turned into serpents. We learn, however (Shemos 7:10-12), that Aharon’s staff then swallowed all their serpents.

The Medrash elaborates that Aharon’s serpent was a living being able to eat, a miracle within a miracle, whereas the magicians’ serpents were optical illusions, images that were not alive.


Pharaoh’s leading magicians, Yochana and Mamre, said to Moshe, “Are you bringing straw to Afarayim?” suggesting that performing magic in Egypt, a world leader in sorcery, was comparable to bringing grain to Afarayim, which had the finest grains.

Moshe responded: People say, “Take herbs to a city rich in herbs,” that is, a place where people come to buy herbs.

Rav Yaakov Galinsky is puzzled by Moshe’s answer. As Rashi points out, the magicians ridiculed Aharon, and Moshe answered honestly. Moreover, it was obvious that Aharon’s “magic” was superior to the magic of the Egyptians, as it was his staff that swallowed their serpents.

The Alter of Kelm points out that when someone makes an unsubstantiated argument, it is impossible to counter it with a logical explanation. That would imply that the two opinions are of equal value. Rather, one’s response must be analogous to the other’s line of thinking, so that he can more easily perceive the error of his rationale.

The Pele Yoetz writes that a person should know to whom he is speaking and choose his words wisely. For example, when reproaching someone he should determine whether the individual will allow him to speak and will listen to him, or whether it would be preferable not to say anything at all. In consoling a person, one should make sure to use the appropriate words that are heartening and will lift his spirits. One who wants to bring cheer to the bride and groom should share words of joy and inspiration with them.

The Mishnah in Avos (1:11) exhorts the scholar to be cautious with his words lest he incur the penalty of exile. A Torah scholar must always ascertain that his disciples and members of the community understand his teachings and are appropriately inspired.


To Be Or Not To Be (A Rav)

The son-in-law of the Chofetz Chaim once heard that a community was seeking a man of his stature to be their Rav. Although he applied for the position, he was not accepted, and he was very disappointed.

Noting his distress, the Chofetz Chaim reassured him that if he had not been appointed to the position it meant that he did not need it. He then disclosed the following to him:

“When I was a young man, I accepted a position as Rav in a certain town. I left soon thereafter, though, and when you hear the details, you will better understand my words of consolation.

“It was revealed to me that one of the butchers in town was selling non-kosher meat. I spoke to the butcher and forbade him to continue selling meat. After a short while, his wife and children came to me crying, and the wife promised that her husband had done complete teshuvah and would never turn back and commit such a sin. She begged that he be reinstated so that he could continue to earn a livelihood.

“When I met with the butcher it was obvious that he had repented unconditionally. I gave him a penalty, as the Shulchan Aruch directs, and allowed him to once again sell meat in town.

“Years went by, and the butcher passed on. One night, as I was sitting and learning, I dozed off. Three people whose faces shone like the sun appeared to me in a dream. They stated that they were messengers from the World of Truth who had come to clarify a matter that had occurred when the butcher was alive.

“When you imposed the penalty on the butcher for selling non-kosher meat,” they asked, “was it as an atonement for his sin, or just a disciplinary penalty?”

“I replied that I had imposed a penalty on the butcher because that is what the Shulchan Aruch demands, with no consideration of repentance. With that, the men disappeared, and I thought that the matter was concluded,” said the Chofetz Chaim.

“But a few minutes later, I dreamed once again. This time the butcher appeared before me, crying and very agitated.

“’What do you want from me, Rav?’ he sobbed. “I am being punished because of you. When I was brought before the Heavenly Court they accused me of selling non-kosher meat, but I said I had done teshuvah. I testified that R’ Yisroel Meir HaCohen had imposed a penalty on me and then reinstated me as a butcher in town. But one of the accusers said that the penalty was not repentance, merely a monetary disciplinary action. It was therefore decided that they would confirm with the Chofetz Chaim himself what the objective of the penalty had been. When the Rav answered as he did the decision was finalized.’”

The Chofetz Chaim told his son-in-law that he immediately left the rabbinate. He admitted that other factors contributed to his final decision, but the main reason was: “I did not need the rabbinate if there was a possibility that I could cause a person to be punished in Heaven.

“Do not feel bad that you were not accepted for the position. There are many merits to be gained in the rabbinate, but there are many other factors that must be taken into consideration.”

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Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, a prominent rav and Torah personality, is a daily radio commentator who has authored over a dozen books, and a renowned speaker recognized for his exceptional ability to captivate and inspire audiences worldwide.