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Careful Consideration: Parshat Voeyrah

Based on a shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles 

Summary by Channie Koplowitz Stein

 In Parshat Va’eyrah we read about the plague of hail. “Whoever did not pay attention to the word of God, he left his servants and livestock in the field.” Rabbi Frand asks, after six plagues, why would some Egyptians still choose to ignore the warnings and risk the destruction of all their property?

 The Mishchat Hashemen observes that the fear of God and inattentiveness do not appear to be opposites, as this verse implies. However, they really are, for inattentiveness to your surroundings indicates  degree of self-absorption and an inability to consider other realities. Hence, an inattentive person cannot develop fear of Heaven, of a God Who is outside the self. Rabbi Wolbe explains that it doesn't matter what miracles surround a person, if his mind is not open and conscious to them, he will remain unaffected. Rabbi Wolbe cites Reb Yisroel of Salant that paying attention forces one to take responsibility and change, to focus inward and toward meaning for oneself.  Only through reflection can one see a deeper truth in any observation and build on it.  Rav Segal of Manchester notes two examples of normal, constantly occurring phenomena that changed the world only when someone reflected on them. In science and engineering, someone noted the power of steam to lift up the lid of a pot, and the first steam engines were born. A thousand years before that, an ignorant shepherd observed that the constant dripping of water on a rock bored a hole in the rock. With that observation, a great Torah leader, Rabbi Akiva, was born.

 In order to fear G-d and keep the yetzer horo at bay, one must continuously remain conscious of his surroundings and be careful in choosing his behavior, writes the Mesilat Yeshorim. The path the crowd follows is strewn with both visible and invisible danger. It is a path ruled by instinct and emotion, not by intellect. Apathy and busyness pave the road to the lower realms, writes Rabbi C. Shmulevitz. Contemplation and caring pave the way to fear of heaven.

 Rabbi Zissel Epstein offers some practical suggestions to enhance a person’s attentiveness. Before making a bracha, take a second to think about the words. Cooking or mopping the floor for Shabbos can be elevated from a mundane chore to an opportunity to show Hashem how much we enjoy preparing for the special gift of Shabbat. The simplest tasks can become opportunities for mitzvot. The Chofetz Chaim, when paying his daily workers, would verbalize that he was performing the mitzvah of paying a worker at the end of the workday. If he was testing a pen, he would write "Amalek," and then erase it, performing the mitzvah of erasing the name of Amalek.  Living consciously changes our relationship with Hashem.

 Perhaps the most destructive reaction is mockery, writes the Ramchal, as it deflects attention from the facts keeping one from dealing with it effectively. The Halekach Vehalebuv notes that Paro did think about the plague of blood and Hashem's messages for a moment, but as soon as he entered his home filled with idolatry and witchcraft, all his positive thoughts vanished. Good thoughts and intentions are not enough if one then goes to a place where people disrespect his ideas and mock him. The inspiration soon dissipates Yirat shamayim cannot remain external or it will quickly dissipate. What happened to those who brought their livestock into their homes? Those were the people who feared Hashem during the earlier plagues. They were the same ones who chased Bnei Yisroel into the sea, for they were the ones who still had horses and cattle, writes the Birkat Mordechai.

 One must start by living a life of mindfulness, conscious of our surroundings and of Hashem's role in everything around us. But we must follow up by internalizing the messages around us. Such mindfulness will dramatically change who we are, what we do, and our relationship with Hashem.


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