Monday, December 31, 2007


The Quality of Anger

By Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

A very strange thing happened with the second plague in Egypt, the frog. Actually, if we go according to Rashi's interpretation, we see that the Egyptians themselves brought that plague upon themselves.

Regarding the plague of the frog, it is written: "And the frog came up and covered the land of Egypt" (Shemot, 8:2). We would expect to read "and the frogs came up". Why does the word "frog" appear in the singular?

According to Rashi: "There was (only) one frog and (when) they struck at it, it would split apart into various teeming swarms. That is its midrashic explanation".

Let us focus on the moral in this source. A huge frog might be an attraction in a city zoo, but not necessarily a plague. What caused the plague? The Egyptians brought it on upon themselves! They began to strike the frog and saw that it gave birth to two, then four, then eight and so on.

They certainly perceived what was happening. Yet they didn't succeed in conquering their anger and so billions of frogs covered all of the land of Egypt.

Rabbi Ya'akov Kanievsky states in his book "Birkhat Peretz" :

"The more the frog spawned more frogs, the more their wrath inflamed them and they continued to strike at it until the land of Egypt was covered with frogs. This is to teach you that it is better for man to conquer his nature, to hear the scorn and not to reply and thus slowly, slowly the disagreement will settle down, rather than to return war and even add boiling oil to the flames of the division".

A personal story:

When I was eighteen years old, I was far from being a Rabbi. I had completed 12th grade in Argentina and was confused. I didn't know in which direction to continue…

After a few months of deliberation, I reached the conclusion that it was my calling to be a Graphics Designer. I shared my decision with my parents. It raised strong opposition in my family. My parents didn't agree that it was my life's calling. It wasn't -so they claimed- the right career for me. And to earn a living -so they informed me- wouldn't be simple.

I entered the university, and to be honest, wasn't exactly enthralled with my studies. But the important thing was to continue in order to show them that I wasn't wrong, that I would be the one to decide my life's agenda and not them, and that their opposition would get them nowhere...

During my second year of studies, the pressure lessened. I don't know whether they backed down as a strategic measure or out of despair, but that same year I left my studies.

An important rule that the frog plague teaches us is that of the quality of anger. Exaggerated anger only brings about the strengthening of the opposition and returns to us as a boomerang. It is very possible that if my parents hadn't lessened the pressure on me, a different Rabbi would be writing this commentary on Parashat Vaera.

This occurs in various areas. Sometimes a minor phenomenon in society receives a great deal of publicity and commentary in the media, resulting in the strengthening of the phenomenon instead of containing it.

Exaggerated anger spawns frogs.

So, the next time you see something infuriating, take a moment and thing about the frogs and only then decide: either learn to restrain yourself or spawn frogs everywhere…

Previous Drashot

Vaera 5766 – A hard-of-hearing people

Monday, December 17, 2007


It's Cold Outside
By Rabbi Gustavo Surazski
A question that often bothers parents is: How can we bridge between the differences in the education and values within the family to that of the society around us.

And not only in regard to the Jewish aspects...This question is also relevant on subjects such as smoking, alcohol, drugs. How much influence does a parent's preaching actually have on a child's education? How much are they influenced by their peers?

In this week's portion we find such tension.

Jacob our father knows his days are numbered, and he calls upon his 12 sons, to pass down to them their blessings and spiritual inheritance.

But first, he blesses his two grandsons, Ephraim and Manashe. "And he blessed them that day, saying: 'By thee shall Israel bless, saying: May G-d make thee as Ephraim and as Manashe". (Genesis 48, 20).

We recognize this dialogue from the "Birkat Habanim", the blessing that parents say over their children on Shabat and on Yom Kippur. The question is why were Ephraim and Manashe rewarded with this honorary position in Jewish tradition. Why not bless: "May G-d make thee as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob", just as girls are blessed "May G-d make thee as Sarah, Rebbekah, Rachel and Leah".

Rabbi Shmuel Hominer Z"L gives us an answer in his book "Eved HaMelech":

From all the Tribes, Ephrayim and Menashe were the only ones who were born and raised in Egypt, deep in its defilement. They hosted all the State's Ministers and Wise men at their home as it was customary to do as Second to the King. They lived for many years there, in a foreign land, away from the Holy land and away from their ancestors. Not like the ten Tribes that were raised at the Home of Jacob our father. With Jacob's spirit as their inspiration, and even, when they came to Eretz Israel from Haran, they were lucky to be with Isaac.

When Jacob arrived in Egypt he realized that Ephraim and Manasseh were not attracted by the Egyptian defilement. They were not impressed by it and learned nothing of the nation's traditions or manners. On the contrary, he saw that they were raised by Joseph, in the righteous ways of the Torah and God fearing, so much so that they were found worthy of being included in the Twelve Tribes.

Rabbi Shmuel Hominer's words are very relevant; he points out that these children had the largest potential to choose a different path. How long will family values be able to stand up before threatening surroundings of defilement?

"God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh" is not an insurance policy...It is a prayer from the depth of our hearts that our children will follow in our footsteps, because it gets cold out side.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Miketz - Hannuka

Body and Spirit

Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

In Genesis Chapter 10, we are told about Noah's sons who were the ancestors of all the nations of the world. The first son was Shem. We all know the meaning of the word "Shem" (Name). Name is the essence of man, the world of the spirit. Our forefather Abraham was a descendant of Shem so that, in effect, all of us, as Jews, are descendants of Shem.

The name of Ham, the second son, derives from the word "hom", meaning "heat". The word suggests the world of natural drives, the physical, instinctive and sometimes even primitive world. The Canaanites were the descendants of Ham.

The third son was Yaphet, from the word "yofi", meaning "beauty". He is the archetype of the material world -art, sport and aesthetics. It is not by chance that the Torah tells us that Yaphet begat Yavan (Greece), the empire that has been unsurpassed in human history in the fields of art, sport and aesthetics.

To understand the deeper meaning of the Hannuka festival, we should think of the essential nature of Noah and his sons. The Hasmonean war was not only a war to ensure the physical survival of the Jewish people, but also a war to ensure its spiritual survival. It was a war between the values embodied in Yaphet and Shem.

I do not mean that the Jewish people are against aesthetics, art and sport. Jewish tradition did not object to taking care of the body or to external beauty, but never allowed the body to take precedence over the spirit. "Favour is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised" (Proverbs 31, verse 30) does not deny the value of charm and beauty but states that without spiritual beauty they are worthless.

Joseph, whom we read about in the portion of the week, was also "well-favoured", but the sages never refer to him as "the handsome Joseph" but only as "the righteous Joseph", clear proof that Joseph succeeded in overcoming the temptations of Potiphar's wife.

If you ask me what the reason is for the survival of the Jewish people for so many generations after pogroms, blood and Holocaust, there is only one answer: we were never, as a people, enslaved to the material world; not to buildings, not to land, and not even to the tablets of the Ten Commandments. We succeeded in rebuilding our community after the destruction of the Temple. We succeeded in growing as a nation even in the hard times of exile. We knew how to write books after the loss of the tablets. On the other hand, peoples who saw the body and the material world as their purpose appear today in history books, for it is possible to destroy the body, but never the spirit.

We can understand this idea in the story of Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon, one of the ten martyrs under Roman rule. When the Romans took him to be executed, they wrapped him in a Torah scroll and set it alight. While he was on fire, his students asked him,"Rabbi, what do you see?" He answered, "I see sheets of parchment burning and the letters on them soaring on high" (T.B. Avoda Zara 18a).

It is possible to burn the scroll itself but impossible to lose the spirit of its words. The Hannuka candles testify to the triumph of our spiritual values, not just to the physical survival of our people, because no power in the world can destroy our spirit and our essential nature.