Selected Sermon/Article
2010-01-15 Beyond Twelve Gates (BTG) by Rabbi Zeev Smason
Parshas Vaeira
Beyond Twelve Gates Parshas Vaeira January 15, 2010

 Beyond Twelve Gates      Parshas Vaeira          January 15, 2010


Welcome to Beyond Twelve Gates.  Do you approach each day with passion and enthusiasm?  The word enthusiasm comes from the Greek roots en and theos and means 'G-d within.'  It is a fire, a passion within.  Real enthusiasm isn't something you "put on" and "take off" to fit the occasion.  It's a way of life.


Apparently, Teddy Roosevelt possessed that kind of passionate lifestyle. In 1883 Roosevelt went buffalo hunting in the Badlands of South Dakota with friend Joe Ferris.  They nearly died of thirst, and they slept on the ground, saddles their only pillows.  One night wolves caused their horses to bolt, and it took some time for the fleeing animals to be recaptured.   The men went back to sleep; it began to rain heavily and they awoke, finding themselves lying in four inches of water.  Shivering between sodden blankets, Ferris heard Roosevelt exclaim, "By Godfrey, but this is fun!"   Now that's enthusiasm!  What can you do to live a life more full of enthusiasm and passion?


Parshas Vaeira   Exodus 6:2 -- 9:35


G-d assures Moses that He will indeed redeem the Jewish people from slavery and bring them into the land of Israel.  After the Torah presents a detailed genealogy of the tribe of Levi (Moses' family), Moses and Aaron go before Pharaoh to request a three-day hiatus from work so that the Jewish people can worship G-d in the desert.  Moses' staff is miraculously turned into a snake as a sign of their Divine mission.  When the Egyptian sorcerers counter by transforming their staffs into snakes as well, Moses' staff swallows up theirs.  Even so, Pharaoh adamantly refuses to free the Jewish people, and the series of ten gruesome plagues begins.


The first seven plagues are described in this week's Torah portion; Blood, frogs, lice, a swarm of wild beasts, pestilence, boils and hail.  Moses goes down to the river to speak to the Egyptian king -- however, Pharaoh remains in denial ('in d'Nile -- get it?') continuing to refuse to free the Jewish people as his heart is hardened.  The portion comes to a close in the middle of these momentous events.


Rabbinic Ruminations


Officials feared thousands — perhaps more than 100,000 — may have perished in Tuesday's devastating earthquake in Haiti.  Haitians piled bodies along the decimated streets of their capital Wednesday after a powerful earthquake flattened the president's palace, the cathedral, hospitals, schools, the main prison and whole neighborhoods.  Death was everywhere in Port-au-Prince. Bodies of tiny children were piled next to schools. Corpses of women lay on the street with stunned expressions frozen on their faces as flies began to gather.   Dare one ask:  'Why?' ?


The Torah relates that Moses asked this very question (see Exodus 33:18).

G-d answered that Moses could see the 'back' of G-d, but not His 'face.'  What did this metaphoric response mean?  G-d meant that at times we can understand the Almighty's ways in retrospect -- namely, His 'back.'   Hindsight, while not always twenty-twenty, often reveals at least glimpses of the Divine intent.  However, when we're in the moment or close to it ('G-d's face')  the human intellect falls far short of being able to grasp the meaning of global events.   What, then, are we to do? Tragedy requires a response of kindness, compassion and generosity.   Please contact the St. Louis Jewish Federation to contribute to the humanitarian relief efforts now underway for Haiti.


Quote of the Week


Once and for all, I did not use steroids or any other illegal substance -- Mark McGwire in 2005


Joke of the Week


The President calls in the head of the CIA and asks, "How come the Jews know everything before we do?"
The CIA chief says, "The Jews have this expression:'Vus titzuch?'
The President says, "What does that mean?"
"Well, Mr. President", replies the CIA chief, "It's a Yiddish expression which roughly translates to "what's happening". They just ask each other and they know everything."
The President decides to personally go undercover to determine if this is true. He gets dressed up as a Chassidic Orthodox Jew (black hat, beard, long black coat) and is secretly flown in an unmarked plane to New York, picked up in an unmarked car, and dropped off in Brooklyn's most Jewish neighborhood.
Soon a little old man comes shuffling along. The President stops him and whispers, "Vus titzuch?"
The old guy whispers back: "The President is in Brooklyn."


Thanks for reading 'Beyond Twelve Gates'.  Comments, questions, requests to be added to our email list or better jokes can be sent to or   Care to know more about Nusach Hari Bnai Zion Congregation?  Check us out at  If you enjoyed Beyond Twelve Gates, please share with a friend. Thanks to Alan Haber for his assistance in distributing BTG