Making a Difference

Vayiven arei miskenos l’Pharaoh es Pisom v’es Raamses (Shemos 1:11)

The Gemara in Sotah (11a) explains that the names of the cities Pisom and Raamses allude to the fact that the earth underneath them was completely unsuitable for building, and whatever the Jewish slaves built there was immediately destroyed by the unstable ground. Pisom is short for “pi sehom bol’o” — the opening of the earth would swallow what was being built; and Raamses stands for “rishon rishon misroseis” — one building after another would collapse. If Pharaoh had an entire nation available to serve him as slaves, wouldn’t it have been more sensible to have them work in a location where they could build beautiful palaces which would bring honor to his kingdom?

Harav Avraham Pam, zt”l, answers that no matter how difficult a person’s task may be, he is still able to feel good about his work as long as he perceives a purpose in his efforts. If Pharaoh had put the Jews to work building splendid edifices, even though they would never be allowed to set foot in them, they would feel a sense of purpose in their suffering and would take pride in the fruit of their labors. The diabolical Pharaoh was willing to forego the benefit his Jewish slaves could have brought his kingdom just in order to afflict them with crushing harshness.

A practical application of this concept may be derived from a story involving a contemporary Rabbi whose son was born prematurely and severely underweight. The doctors and nurses in the hospital went beyond the call of duty, putting in tremendous efforts over the course of two months until the baby was finally healthy enough to return home with his grateful parents.

The Rabbi searched far and wide for an appropriate gift for the medical staff to express his appreciation, but he couldn’t find anything suitable. In frustration, he turned to his mentor, Harav Elya Svei,   zt”l, who explained that the doctors didn’t need any more fountain pens or paperweights. He suggested that each year on the baby’s birthday, the Rabbi should bring his son to the hospital to show the doctors and nurses the fruit of their efforts.

So many times medical professionals put in tremendous energy fighting what they know to be an uphill battle, only to become dejected when they lose more often than not. Harav Svei suggested that the best gift would be to strengthen them by reminding them that their efforts make a difference and are eternally remembered and appreciated.

While most of us, hopefully, haven’t had extensive interactions with hospital staff, we have all benefited greatly from the Herculean amounts of time and energy invested in our education and upbringing by our parents and teachers. It behooves us to give them the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment they deserve by regularly letting them know what a difference they made in our lives and how appreciated they are.

Parashah Q & A

Q: When Pharaoh’s daughter opened Moshe’s basket, she noticed that he was crying. Rashi writes (2:6) that although he was only three months old, his voice was that of a youth. In what way was the voice of Moshe, a 3-month-old infant, similar to that of an adolescent?

A: Harav Meir Shapiro explains that while both babies and teens cry, the difference between them is that, while an infant can only cry over his own pain, an older child is also able to shed tears over the suffering of another person. Initially, Pharaoh’s daughter noticed Moshe abandoned in a basket near the river and assumed that his crying was a result of his own loneliness. After she picked him up and comforted him and he continued crying, it became clear that his tears weren’t for his own pain but for the agony of his Jewish brethren. From a young chronological age, Moshe proved that he was emotionally developed beyond his years, as he was already able to share in the suffering of his fellow Jews like a young adult.

Q: When Hashem revealed Himself to Moshe at the burning bush (3:5), was it with the unsurpassed level of prophecy that Moshe ultimately attained, or did he not reach this level until the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai?

A: The Ramban understands that in commanding Moshe not to draw closer to the bush, Hashem was hinting that he still hadn’t reached the level of prophecy that he would eventually attain, for which he is memorialized as Adon Haneviim (the master of all prophets), which he only reached at Mount Sinai. This is why he was afraid to look at Hashem’s Presence in the bush, as he hadn’t yet reached the level of u’smunas Hashem yabit (Bamidbar 12:8) — at the image of Hashem does he gaze. The Imrei Deah points out that the Rambam seems to disagree, as he writes (Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 1:3) that Hashem “made Moshe Rabbeinu the teacher of all prophets and sent him (to free the Jews).” This implies that from his initial encounter with Hashem at the bush, Moshe immediately reached the pinnacle of his prophetic level.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email