Parsha Perspectives

by RABBI Z. SKLAR

ולא נחם אלקים דרך ארץ פלשתים כי קרוב הוא כי אמר… פן ינחם העם בראתם מלחמה ושבו מצרימה

“G-d did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, because it was near. For G-d said, ‘Perhaps the people will reconsider when they see war, and they will return to Egypt’ (Shemot 13:17).

How many of us have made New Year’s resolutions that have long been forgotten? We pledged to go on a diet and finally lose those 20 extra pounds, or resolved to develop a better relationship with our spouse/child/co-worker/friend. Yet, after only a few short days, weeks, or (if we’re lucky) months, our resolve is gone. Suddenly, we’re back to eating the white flour and fatty foods. We again treat the ones close to us in a manner that is not always ideal. Are we really horrible people who don’t want to change? No, we are the victims of habit. To change something intrinsic within ourselves, we need to do something drastic and break free from ingrained practices.

When G-d took the Jewish people out of Egypt and brought them to Israel, He did not take them on the shortest, most straightforward route. Instead, He led them on a roundabout journey through the Sinai Desert, moving east and then north, so that they entered the Land from the eastern bank of the Jordan River. A quick look at a map shows that traveling from Egypt northeast along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea through what is now Gaza would have been the quickest path.

G-d knew that because that was the easiest path to leave Egypt, it would also be the easiest way to return to Egypt. The Jewish people had only recently become a new nation and they were going to experience, as everyone does in life, bumps along the way. In a moment of weakness, the Jews would feel that it would be better to return to the hell of Egypt — a torturous, but familiar lifestyle — than face new challenges thrust at them. This did, in fact, transpire later in the Torah portion this week, when G-d gave the Jews the manna that sustained them for 40 years in the desert. Then, too, the people complained that they had no food and stated that they would have been better off had they remained in Egypt.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler explains that the Hebrew word for Egypt is MitzrayimMitzrayim comes from the word mitzarim — boundaries. G-d understood the importance of creating a barrier behind the Jews during their exodus so that they wouldn’t simply fall back to their former position.

We all want to grow, to improve. We set goals — or make resolutions — and then we take concrete steps forward toward achieving those goals. It is inevitable that we will face challenges along the way. If we want to avoid automatically falling back into our old habits, we need to put distance between ourselves and our past ways; we need to create some kind of barrier that keeps us moving in a positive direction.

by RABBI LEIBY BURNHAM

והנה מצרים נסע אחריהם

“And behold Egypt was traveling after them!” (Shemot 14:10)

In this week’s parsha, the exodus story culminates with the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, the Jews walking through safely, and the Egyptians drowning. However, this only happened after a terrifying ordeal that the Jewish people endured. Before the sea split, the Jews found themselves running from the Egyptians who were chasing them with all their military might. Noting that the verse above describes the Egyptians in the singular tense (“Egypt”) instead of the plural (“the Egyptians”), Rashi comments that the Egyptians were pursuing the Jews “With one heart, like one person.” This comment is interesting because Rashi makes almost the same exact comment in next week’s parsha, when the Torah describes the Jewish people camping at the foot of Mt Sinai. There too, the Torah used the singular tense to describe the Jewish people, “and Israel encamped there opposite the mountain” (Exodus 19:2). On that verse, Rashi describes the powerful unity the Jews felt as they were about to receive the Torah, that they were “Like one person with one heart.”

Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner of blessed memory (1906-1980, Warsaw- NYC), the founder of one of the largest American yeshivas, Yeshivas Rabbi Chaim Berlin, asks why Rashi reverses the order in describing the two phenomena. With regard to the Egyptians, Rashi notes that they were “With one heart, like one person,” whereas with regard to the Jews at Mt. Sinai, the description is “Like one person with one heart.”

Rabbi Hutner answers that there was a fundamental difference between the unity of the Jewish people and the Egyptians. The Jewish people are intrinsically unified as one. It is as if the entire Jewish people are one big human being, in which each person is a different part of that organism. Since we are all one, it goes without saying that our desires should be one, in just the same way that my left hand wants the same things as my right hand, my kidney, or heart wants. Because of this, the primary connection is that we are “Like one person.” What happens to follow that is that we all have one heart, we all want the same thing.

This was not the case with regard to the Egyptians. They were intrinsically a collection of individual people, who were not truly unified. It so happened that when they wanted to get their Jewish slaves back, they were able to unite, but it was not representative of who they were. For that reason Rashi described them as “With one heart, like one person.” In this particular scenario, they had one heart; they all wanted to force the Jewish people back. As a result, they were able to act as one person. The moment they would have finished subjugating the Jews, they would no longer be like one person.

This difference is something we see playing itself out in world politics today. The nations of the world are not unified. There is plenty of squabbling, fighting, and anger between them. Yet somehow, when it comes to criticizing the Jews and our tiny Jewish country, they all unite. Cries come forth from every major capital, the UN passes almost unanimous resolutions against Israel, and even America issues statements condemning our “excessive force.” When they are with one heart, it almost seems like they have the unity of “one person.” However, as soon as the focus is lifted from Israel, the world reverts to its regular disunity. The Shi’ites kill the Sunnis, Russia cuts off natural resources from half of Europe, North Korea makes aggressive moves on South Korea, and genocide continues unfettered in Africa.

As Jews, we truly remain “Like one person with one heart.” Not only in times of crisis or shared interest do we unite, but we remain united at all times. There is a constant flow of support from the Diaspora to Israel. There are countless organizations looking to help any Jew in need, no matter their affiliation, race, country of origin, or economic strata. Partners in Torah is a perfect example of this, an organization whose sole goal is to unite Jews from all over the world in furthering our Jewish identity and Jewish knowledge. So let us continue to follow the praise of Rashi, and always look at ourselves as a nation, “Like one person with one heart!”

by OZER ALPORT

ותקל מרים הנביאה אחות אהרן את התף בידה ותצאן כל הנשים אחריה בתפים ובמחלת

“Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the drum in her hand, and all of the women went forth after her with drums and with dances.” (Shemot 15:20)

Some call it unquenchable optimism. Others call it a deep-seated trust in the goodness of G-d. We all know somebody like this, a person who radiates joy and an eternal confidence that no matter how bleak things may seem, life has a curious way of working out for the best. It’s not that these people have the good fortune of enjoying easy, comfortable lives, for they have faced many of the same curve-balls with which we grapple. Rather, they actively choose to lead happy lives, turning the proverbial lemons into lemonade.

I recently returned from a trip to Kansas City to celebrate the 90th birthday of such a person, my Grandma Dorothy Bell (yes, Dorothy is still alive and well in Kansas!). Anybody who has ever met her can’t help but feel lucky to bask in the warmth of her contagious enthusiasm. When her husband passed away ten years ago just after their 60th wedding anniversary, she refused to be destroyed by the loss, declaring with her infectious smile that “life is for the living!”

Similarly, after G-d miraculously saved the Jewish people by splitting the Red Sea and then drowning their Egyptian pursuers in it, the Jewish men sang a beautiful song to G-d. The Jewish women, however, outdid them by accompanying their song with music and dancing. From where did the women obtain musical instruments in the middle of the desert?

Rashi explains that the Jewish women in Egypt were convinced that they would merit further miracles and brought along musical instruments to play while singing praises to G-d. In spite of the centuries of oppression and suffering in Egypt, they remained so optimistic that although they left in a hurry without time for their bread to rise, they still managed to pack instruments in order to celebrate the salvation they were sure was just around the corner.

More recently, there was a tremendous drought in Israel which threatened that year’s entire harvest. This would have meant financial ruin for the farmers as well as possible starvation for those left with nothing to eat. Communal fast days and prayers passed unsuccessfully.

Finally, with little choice, the Rabbinic and community leaders ordered all Jews to the Kotel (Western Wall) to pour out their hearts and plead for Divine mercy. After reciting several chapters of Psalms and other appropriate prayers, the clear sky suddenly grew dark and full of ominous clouds. Shortly after, the clouds gave way to much-needed droplets of rain, and soon turned into a full-fledged torrential downpour.

Those present were so overjoyed at the turn of events and the answering of their prayers that they didn’t even mind that they were getting soaked. Actually, almost everyone got soaked – except for one elderly, wheelchair-bound Rabbi who inherited the optimism and confidence of the Jewish women in Egypt and remained completely dry – he had brought an umbrella!

Life will surely send us many challenges in the areas of health, finances, marriage, and children. Although the tests that we receive are beyond our control, we can learn from the Jewish women in Egypt (and from Grandma Dorothy) that the choice to persevere through the trials and live each day with happiness and confidence is fully in our hands.

Get What’s Coming to You

by RABBI BINYOMIN ADLER

ויראו בני ישראל ויאמרו איש אל אחיו מן הוא כי לא ידעו מה הוא ויאמר משה אלהם הוא הלחם אשר נתן יה-וה לכם לאכלה

“The Children of Israel saw and said to one another, ‘It is food!’ for they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘This is the food that G-d has given you for eating.’ ” (Shemot 16:15)

The manna that fell from Heaven had many miraculous qualities, and it did not fall from heaven on Shabbat. Rather, each Jew received two portions of manna every Friday. One portion was meant for consumption on Friday and the second portion was meant to be consumed on Shabbat.

Rabbi Moshe Shapiro notes that the word manna (mahn in Hebrew) shares the root for the word emunah — faith or trust. Manna also means portion (Rashi). The lesson seems clear: One’s “portion” is directly related to one’s faith. This idea comes into sharp focus for us almost daily. When our needs are adequately taken care of, we are content. However, our faith is tested when we feel that we lack adequate sustenance.

After hearing a fiery speech about the meaning of faith, a disciple of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter asked, “Rabbi, are you telling me that if I have perfect faith in G-d, He will provide me with all my needs?”

Rabbi Salanter affirmed, “Yes, my son. The Almighty provides for those who have perfect faith in Him.” The man thought to himself, “If so, I no longer need to work. I’ll sit and study Torah and rely solely on my faith, and the 20,000 rubles that I need to survive will come to me like manna from Heaven!” The man went home and studied Torah. When the money did not arrive by the week’s end, he returned to the rabbi to complain. “I have the faith you said I needed, but the money hasn’t arrived!”

“I’ll tell you what,” Rabbi Salanter said. “I will give you 8,000 rubles cash today if you commit yourself to give me the 20,000 rubles that you’re sure will come because of your faith.” The man jumped from his chair. “8,000 rubles! I’ll take it.” Rabbi Yisroel smiled, “Who in his right mind would give up 20,000 rubles for a mere 8,000 rubles? Only someone who lacks faith that he’ll receive 20,000 rubles! Obviously you have more faith in my 8,000 rubles then in G-d’s 20,000!”

The lesson from the manna is that we should not worry over how our sustenance will come, but rather be confident that G-d will provide us with what He knows is best for us. When the Jewish people asked for food and received manna, Moses reassured them that while it was not what they had had in mind, G-d provided exactly what was needed. While our efforts are the vehicle for providing sustenance, we must remember that G-d is the real source of that blessing.

by RABBI LABEL LAM

ויבא עמלק וילחם עם ישראל ברפידם. ויאמר משה אל־יהושע בחר־לנו אנשים וצא הלחם בעמלק מחר אנכי נצב על־ראש הגבעה ומטה האלקים בידי

Amalek came and battled Israel in Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us people and go do battle with Amalek, tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of G-d in my hand…”(Shemot 17:8-9)

 

The Amalek attack on the Jewish people represented the greatest crisis since the Exodus, for it marked the first time G-d appeared to remove his Divine protection from his nation. Faced with a similar threat, a leader in Moses’ position might have taken full charge of the situation, trusting no one, and certainly not his students and proteges, with any “sensitive” tasks. This was, after all, a national emergency.

Moses, however, acted in a completely different manner. When Moses’ called on Joshua to choose men for battle, added the words, “for us.”  Rashi explains that by using that phrase, Moses – the man who spoke directly to G-d and who brought the Jewish people out of Egypt – was actually equating himself with Joshua, his student many years his junior. Rashi further explains that Moses’ actions teach that a person should regard the honor of his student as dearly as his own.”

Why did Moses choose this moment, of all times, to impart this lesson? Would it not have been better to do so at a time of calm and tranquility?  The answer is that Moses understood that Amalek’s attack was not a one-time event. The Jewish people had done nothing to provoke them in any way – except believe in G-d.  Amalek’s attack was an open offensive against what the Jews had now come to represent to the nations of the world.

That Amalek was willing to destroy itself in this suicide mission proved that this was an ideological war on their part. Amalek was – and would remain – as passionate about removing G-d’s presence from the world as the Jewish people were – and are – about declaring our complete faith in G-d. In addition, Amalek attacked at the weakest moment and struck the most vulnerable members of the nation. This sent a powerful message of the need for eternal vigilance against them.  Indeed, at the end of the portion, G-d declares that the war against Amalek will carry on for every generation. (Shemot 17:16)

In his Pachad Yitzchok commentary, Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner explains that in a relay race, the most delicate point is the moment of contact when the baton is being passed from runner to runner. One false move or slight misstep could mean the difference between victory and defeat. Moses chose the most appropriate time to forge an unbreakable bond between generations. He understood that it was not sufficient to defeat Amalek only then and under his exclusive leadership. As an eternal enemy, Amalek is a force that must be defeated in every generation as well. Therefore, he needed to appoint Joshua, his student, as an equal partner in this mission.  This was, in essence, the first act of passing the baton to the next generation of the Jewish people. At the same time, Moses assured Joshua that he would remain on the hill, where the Jewish people could see him and draw strength from his inspiration.

It is known that as a young man, Rabbi Aaron Kotler was a beloved disciple of Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, known affectionately as the Alter (the Elder) from Slobodka. He used to engage the young Aaron in Torah conversations that lasted late into the night. So that his student would not be afraid to walk home at such hours, Rabbi Finkel would escort him through the side streets of Slobodka to the main road. There he would stand and call loudly after his student to dispel his fear until he entered his house. This also provided a powerful image that to Rabbi Kotler that his teacher’s support and guidance would be there as he moved forward into the future.

Whether as parents, teachers or friends, each of us is a mentor to the next generation.  As such, we tread a delicate path. On the one hand, we must conduct ourselves so that the younger generation will look up to us for strength and inspiration. On the other hand, we must raise them to see themselves as equals in our mission. In this way, we send a message that we trust them to carry on the message of the Jewish people into the future.

Return to the top

Table Talk

For Discussion Around the Shabbat Table

Q: The Torah states (Shemot 13:18) that the Jewish people left Egypt ”chamushim.” A number of different explanations are given for the meaning of this word. Rashi writes that four-fifths of the Jews died during the plague of darkness, leaving only the remaining one-fifth that went out from Egypt. The Targum Yerushalmi translates that they went out armed with good deeds, and the Targum Yonason ben Uziel perplexingly writes that each family went out with five children. How can these seemingly different explanations be reconciled, which good deeds are being referred to, and why did each family have exactly five children?

A: The Be’er Yosef by Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Salant beautifully suggests that all three explanations are really one. As Rashi mentions, the wicked Jews died during the plague of darkness. However, we know that G-d’s Heavenly Tribunal doesn’t punish a person until the age of 20. This means that none of the children in Egypt died during the plague of darkness. Since Rashi writes that four-fifths of the adults died, this resulted in a tremendous number of orphans.

The remaining adults were so overjoyed at being saved, both from Egypt and from the fate of their brethren during the darkness that they ”adopted” the orphans from the four-fifths of the families which were now without parents. Thus, in addition to their own biological children, each family went out with the children of another four families. The Targum Yonason doesn’t mean that each family had five children, but rather five families of children, and these are the good deeds referred to by the Targum Yerushalmi! (Rabbi Ozer Alport)

 

The Talmud (Pesachim 118a) teaches that providing a person with his parnassah (sustenance) is as difficult as splitting the Reed Sea. In what way are the two comparable?

 

Why didn’t the Jewish people sing a song of praise to G-d immediately upon exiting Egypt instead of waiting to do so at the Sea of Reeds, sometimes referred to as the Red Sea? (Chanukas HaTorah by Rabbi Avrohom Yehoshua Heschel)

 

G-d said to Moses at the Red Sea (Shemot 14:15), “Why are you crying out to me in prayer? Speak to the Jewish people and tell them to travel!” What did he do wrong by praying to G-d, which is exactly what we are taught to do in a dangerous and difficult situation? (Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin, Chavatzeles HaSharon by Rabbi Mordechai Carlebach)

 

How could the Jews fulfill the mitzvah of giving tzedakah (charity) during their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness? Since they all received food and drink on a daily basis, there were no poor and needy Jews. (Rabbeinu Bechaye, Chiddushei HaRim by Rabbi Yitzchok Meir Alter)

 

“Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and G-d moved the sea with a strong east wind all the night, and He turned the sea to damp land, and the waters split. The children of Israel came within the sea on dry land; and the water was a wall for them, on their right and on their left. Egypt pursued and came after them… On that day, G-d saved Israel from the hand of Egypt… Israel saw the great hand that G-d inflicted upon Egypt; and the people revered G-d, and they believed in G-d and in Moses, His servant.” (Shemot 14:21-23, 30-31)

1) Splitting the sea was an unparalleled deviation from the laws of “nature,” and so obviously the Hand of G-d. What value then is added by Moses stretching out his hand to initiate the splitting of the sea?

2) It is highly unlikely that the Israelites did not believe in G-d – especially after observing the ten plagues and numerous other obvious miracles. What then could the verse mean that they “believed” in G-d (only) after observing afflictions He visited upon the Egyptians at sea? Similarly, what is meant by the statement about them believing in His servant Moses? They surely knew that Moses existed!

 

All of the plagues in Egypt happened through open, instantaneous miracles; water turned into blood, dust into lice, soot into boils, etc. When splitting the sea however, G-d does so with a strong east wind that blew through the night. When compared to the other plagues, the splitting of the sea was arguably the most phenomenal.  Why might G-d have added the “natural” component of causing the wind to blow through the night instead of performing a more overt and open miracle?

1) In the beginning of this week’s portion, the Torah states that G-d did not lead the Jewish people on the most direct path out of Egypt, out of concern that if they are forced to fight a war they may want to return to Egypt.

2) If the concern is that the Jewish people would rather return to Egypt than fight a war, what difference does it make whether the return is easy or more difficult?

Return to the top

Parsha Tidbits

Jumping Points for Discussion and Further Study

By RABBI ELAZAR MEISELS

  IT’S A NO-GO

“And it was when Pharaoh sent the people out, and G-d did not lead them along the Philistine route, although it was the shorter route…” Shemot 13:17

And it was – Anytime the Torah says, ‘Vayehi’ (and it was) it connotes hardship. – Talmud, Tractate Megillah 10b

And it was – Why did the Torah use the word, “Vayehi” to describe what could only have been a wonderfully joyous moment? The key to this lies in the next words of the verse, “when Pharaoh sent the people out.” For whatever reason, the Almighty chose not to release the Jewish people without Pharaoh’s consent. This caused a problem in that Pharaoh now believed that since he was the one who granted us permission he was free to rescind it at will. This false impression is what caused our problems with him later when he decided to order the Jews to return. – Ohr HaChaim (Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar, 1696-1743)

Rabbi Tzaddok HaKohen offers an alternative view of the problem. The Ten Plagues were supposed to implant within the hearts and minds of the Jewish people that the Almighty is in charge of their destiny, and inculcate within them a burning desire for the exodus. Instead, the people found themselves so attached to Egyptian culture that they weren’t terribly interested in actually leaving once the enslavement ended. They only left because “Pharaoh sent the people out.” This lack of enthusiasm was a foreboding of many of the catastrophes that would occur later as a result of their faulty attitude.

THERE ARE NO EXPENDABLE JEWS

“So G-d turned the people toward the way of the Wilderness to the Sea of Reeds. The Children of Israel were armed when they went up from Egypt.” Shemot 13:18

Were Armed – Although a nation under G-d’s direct protection should not need to bear arms to defend itself, the Torah nevertheless demands that we do so. By conducting ourselves in as normal and natural a manner as possible, we minimize the need to deviate from the laws of nature, through which G-d controls the universe. If necessary, G-d will work miracles on our behalf.– Rabbeinu Bachya

Were Armed – The word “Va’Chamushim” [armed], is spelled without a “vov.” This leaves it open to be read as “Chomesh.” which means “one-fifth” and implies that only one-fifth of all the Jews in Egypt actually left with Moses. The majority who were unwilling to assume a Torah lifestyle, refused to leave, and perished during the plague of darkness so that the Egyptians would not witness their deaths. – Rashi, Pesiktah D’Rav Kahana 11:11

Taken at face value, this Medrash is almost too astounding to believe. Did only one-fifth of the Jewish people really leave Egypt, while all the rest perished? Why is there no record in the Torah of such a monumental tragedy, and how could the Egyptians fail to notice such massive loss of life? Rav Shimon Schwab (of blessed memory) posits that in reality, only a select few failed to make the grade and perished in Egypt. When the Medrash claims that only one-fifth left, is to help place that loss into perspective. If we were to take that relatively small number of Jews and extrapolate the number of their descendants that they would have produced in a few generations, their loss becomes exceedingly great. Their numbers would total in the millions, and exceed the number of Jews who actually left Egypt. Understood in such a way, the Medrash teaches us how tragic the loss of even a single Jew really is when viewed with wide-angle lens.

CHOOSE WISELY

“And Moses took Joseph’s bones with him, for Joseph had bound the Israelites by an oath: ‘G-d will grant you special providence, and you must then bring my remains out of here with you.’” Shemot 13:19

Out of here with you – The words “with you” imply that not only Joseph’s remains were taken out of Egypt, but those of his illustrious brothers as well. – Rashi

And Moses took Joseph’s bones – Although Joseph had bound the people by an oath, since they were engaged with other endeavors, the job fell upon Moses’ shoulders as the leader of the nation. When a nation is derelict in its duties, the leaders must step up and assume responsibility. – Sforno

And Moses took Joseph’s bones – The reason that Moses, of all people, felt compelled to busy himself with locating Joseph’s remains and bringing them up to the land of Canaan was that he understood that the Egyptian exile was a tragic result of Joseph being sold down to Egypt as a slave. The instigators of that incident were Simon and Levi.  Moses, a descendant of Levi, and charged with the duty of bringing us out of Egypt, knew that he had to first rectify the sin of his ancestor if he was to be successful in his mission of redeeming us from Egypt. – Ahavas Yonasan, Rabbi Yonasan Eibshutz

Our sages laud Moses for his wisdom in choosing the mitzvah of helping Joseph over the mitzvah of gathering the spoils of Egypt. Only he, of all the people, accepted responsibility for this mitzvah. Rabbi Shimon Schwab (of blessed memory) points out that there may not have been a qualitative difference between the two mitzvot, yet Moses understood that he should choose the mitzvah to which no one else would attend, rather than the one that was popular and sure to be attended to by others. His example is a lesson in choosing wisely when performing mitzvot.

IDENTITY CRISIS

“And it was told to the king of Egypt that the people had fled. Pharaoh and his servants had a change of heart regarding the people, and they said, ‘What have we done? [How did] we release Israel from serving us?” Shemot 14:5

And it was told to the king of Egypt – He sent spies along with them. Once they reached the point of three days journey, which had been fixed for them to go and to return and they saw that they were not returning to Egypt, they came on the fourth day and told Pharaoh. On the fifth and sixth days they pursued them, and on the night of the seventh they went down into the sea. In the morning, they chanted the Song of Praise and that day was the seventh day of Passover. It is for this reason that we read the Torah portion containing the Song of Praise on the seventh day of Passover. – Rashi

This verse refers to Pharaoh first as the king of Egypt and separately by his name. Why the inconsistency, something often found in regard to Pharaoh? Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, shlit”a, opines that perhaps the key factor is whether Pharaoh was acting on behalf of his nation, or for his own selfish purposes. When referring to his “hardened heart,” the name used is usually Pharaoh, since his behavior was motivated purely out of selfishness and obnoxiousness, not for the good of his nation. When instructing the midwives to commit infanticide, the Torah refers to him as king of Egypt, because in that instance he was acting out what he believed was the good of his nation. In this verse, the spies reported to him as official emissaries of the king of Egypt, but he selfishly decided to act in his own self-interest and lead his nation in pursuit, knowing full well that it was nothing short of hazardous to do so. Thus, it begins by referring to him as king of Egypt and continues by calling him by the name Pharaoh.

UNSUSTAINABLE EQUALITY

“Then Moses and the Children of Israel sang this Song of Praise to G-d…” Shemot 15:1

Moses and the Children of Israel – The verse equates Moses to the entire nation of Israel, and the entire Nation of Israel to Moses. – Mechilta (one of four volumes of Halachic Midrash)

A maidservant at the time of the parting of the Dead Sea, experienced a Divine revelation even greater than that experienced by the Prophet Yechezkel ben Buzi. – Mechilta

The level of Divine Revelation experienced by even the common Jew at the time of the parting of the Sea was so great, that, as Mechilta explains, the verse equates the Jewish people with Moses, the greatest of prophets, and Moses with the Jewish people. Yet, following the Revelation, Moses ascended to ever greater heights, whereas the Jewish people leveled off and at times, even descended into complaints and insubordination. This, explains Rabbi Boruch Sorotzkin (of blessed memory), was because the people hadn’t ascended in the normal manner, beginning at the bottom and methodically making their way to the top. Instead, via the Ten Plagues and a variety of other miracles, they suddenly were lifted to heights previously unimaginable. Thrilling as it was for the moment, it was unsustainable since they’d never learned what it really takes to achieve such greatness. Moses, on the other hand, grew not in leaps and bounds, but slowly and surely over a period of eighty years before he stood before the burning bush to converse with the Almighty. The parting of the sea was for him, not an anomaly, but another step in his methodical pursuit of greatness. Thus, its effect lasted forever and he continued to build upon it in the days that followed.

PRAISE AND PRAYERS

“Then Moses and the Children of Israel sang this Song of Praise to G-d…” Shemot 15:1

Sang this Song of Praise – The Hebrew word for “sang” is “shar,” whereas the word actually used in the verse is “yashir,” which is future tense, implying that they will sing at some point in the future. This hints to the Resurrection, when the dead will be resurrected and sing the praises of the Almighty. – Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 91b

According to the Talmud, this Song was sung not only at our deliverance at the Red Sea, but will also be sung at the time of our deliverance from exile when we will merit the Resurrection. Long-deceased individuals will rise out of their graves and give full-throated thanks and praise to the Almighty. Previously disintegrated bodies will reassemble, and will stand tall and proud before Him. A symbol of this is the eighteen primary vertebrae of the spine to which the eighteen blessings of the daily Amidah correspond, as through the spine, movement of the entire body is controlled. Rabbeinu Bachya [verse 18] points out that this Song of Praise contains a total of exactly eighteen verses, for the spine will once again be resurrected, and the entire person will praise the Almighty.

BITTER SWEET

“He said, ‘If you heed G-d and do what is right in His eyes, carefully observing all His commandments and guarding all His decrees, then I will not strike you with any of the maladies that I have visited upon Egypt. I am G-d who heals you.’” Shemot 15:26

All His decrees – This includes even those statutes for which there is no apparent rationale and are mocked by the Evil Inclination, who sows doubt in your heart by saying, “What is the point of this prohibition? Why should it have been prohibited?” Examples of this are the prohibitions against eating pork, wearing shatnez (a combination of wool and linen), and the Red Heifer. – Rashi

Heed…do…comprehending…guarding – This verse spells out the four stages of successful Torah study and observance:

  1. Heed– One must carefully study and accept to fulfill the commandment.
  2. Do– One must immediately put this into action by fulfilling it.
  3. Comprehending – One must follow that with trying to develop a deeper comprehension and appreciation for the commandment.
  4. Guarding– One must not satisfy himself with doing this only once, but rather, he must guard his knowledge by constantly reviewing it to ensure that he never forgets it.

This admonishment was offered at the conclusion of the events at Marah, where the bitter waters were sweetened by the Almighty. This was the first miracle performed for the Jews in the desert, and Ibn Ezra points out that it was exactly the reverse of the first plague visited upon the Egyptians, in which their sweet waters were turned into bitter-tasting blood. G-d therefore warns us that He is capable of both sweetening our lives and embittering them. The path He chooses will reflect the path that we ourselves choose. If we focus on heeding His commandments, all His efforts will go toward sweetening our lives. If, G-d forbid, we choose to act as the Egyptians did, He will correspondingly embitter our lives, just as he did theirs.

SHABBAT TREATS

“The Children of Israel did so and they gathered, whoever took more and whoever took less. They measured in an Omer and whoever took more had nothing extra and whoever took less was not lacking. Everyone according to what he eats had they gathered…people left over until the morning and it became infested with worms and stank…” Shemot 16:17-20

According To What He Eats He Gathered…Infested With Worms – This was a sign that all of a persons earthly needs are decreed from Above and there is no point in gathering more than one will need, for it cannot be taken along with a person once his time on earth expires. When a person immerses himself excessively in earthly pleasures, he only provides extra fuel for the worms… – Kli Yakar (Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz)

Kli Yakar adds that the exception to this rule was that which was left over on Friday for consumption on Shabbat, which did not rot or turn wormy. Instead, it remained fresh and nourishing. This was symbolic of the idea that a person must spend his days accumulating possessions that can be stored away for the “Day That Is Complete Shabbat”, also known as “Olam Habbah”– The World To Come. The Torah and Mitzvot that we bank for that period, will never decay or decompose. They are the only functional currency in the World To Come.

ZERO TOLERANCE

“And he said, ‘For the hand is on the throne of G-d who maintains a war against Amalek, from generation to generation.’” Shemot 17:16

The Hand Is On The Throne – The hand of G-d is raised to swear by His Throne to wage eternal war and hostility against Amalek…G-d swore that His Name will not be whole, nor will His Throne be complete until the name of Amalek is thoroughly obliterated… – Rashi

What is it about the nation of Amalek that inspires such enmity on G-d’s part? What threat could this nation possibly pose to G-d? Our sages teach that the letters that spell the name “Amalek” can be rearranged to spell the word “me’ukal” which means, “warped.” These letters also have a numerical equivalence of 240, which is the same as the Hebrew word, “safek,” which means, “doubt.” This symbolizes the devious and warped methods Amalek uses to cast doubt upon G-d’s existence in the minds of gullible people. Amalek is not merely a specific group of people. It represents those who strive to build a society based upon godlessness and infidelity. This type of person is the one with whom G-d [and His nation] wage a war for all generations, to prove G-d’s existence to mankind. True victory in this case, will only result with the advent of Mashiach, who will successfully impart to mankind the essentials of knowledge of G-d at which time G-d’s “name” and “throne” will be complete.

Return to the top

Hey, I Never Knew That

by RABBI MORDECHAI BECHER

“And the Jewish people came out of Egypt armed — חמושים — chamushim.” The word chamushim,although usually translated as “armed,” is related to the word chamesh — five. Some commentaries say that only one in five Jews left Egypt, while the other four-fifths either died or assimilated (Rashi and Midrash). Targum Yonatan ben Uziel writes that each Jew left with five children. Rabbi Yosef Zundel Misalant combined all the interpretations together to explain that the four-fifths left behind were all adults, but their children did indeed come out of Egypt. Each family of the remaining one-fifth adopted four sets of children, so that each family came out not with five children, but with five sets of children, one of their own, and four adopted. According to Rabbi Yosef Zundel, the meaning of armed is that the Jews were “armed” with the tremendous merit of their kindness towards these children.

 

The Talmud points out that in Psalms (78:25) the manna is described as “the bread of angels” which is absorbed into the body completely, with no digestion process or waste (Yoma 75b). The Bnei Yisaschar commentary (Ma’amarei Hashabatot 3:6) quotes a great kabbalist as saying that no brachah (blessing) was needed on manna. Since, according to Rabbi Isaac Luriah, the purpose of a blessing is to extract the holy sparks from the impure and profane “shell” of the food, and manna is a completely holy, pure, and heavenly food, no “extraction” by a blessing is necessary. However, he also cites a responsum of Rabbi Menachem Azariah DeFano who maintains that the blessing on manna would be “Blessed are You, G-d, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from heaven” in contrast to the regular blessing on bread “Who brings forth bread from the earth.”

Return to the top

Word of the Week

by RABBI MORDECHAI BECHER

 נבכים

“And Pharaoh will say of the Jews, ‘They are נבכים — nevuchim in the land, the wilderness has closed them in’” (Shemot 14:3). Rashi translates nevuchim as trapped, and Rashbam translates it as confused. Ibn Ezra understands it to mean “completely lost, without hope and without any idea of what to do.” The word is related to the roots בכא — weep or בכה — cry, both manifestations of being lost, hopeless, trapped, or confused. Maimonides’s famous work of philosophy is called in Hebrew Moreh Hanevuchim, meaning Guide for the Perplexed, using the same word as our parshah (preface of Maimonides).

מן

מן — mahn — manna is the name the Jews in the desert gave to the miraculous bread that descended from heaven. The verse states, “And each man said to his friend, ‘It is mahn — מן because they didn’t know what it was’ ” (Shemot 16:15). Targum Onkelos translates mahn as manah — מנא — “what is it?” Rashi understands it to mean “a food ingredient or preparation of food.” Rashbam points out that mahn is actually the Egyptian term for “what.” (According to Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, the Egyptian is ma nu, which sounds similar to the verse, “Man hu”). Radak (Sefer Hashorashim) relates it to the word manah — מנה, which means “a gift.”

Return to the top

Dear Rabbi

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kasher (Hatekufah Hagedolah), was asked if there is an obligation to thank G-d for miracles that He performs for us today (e.g. Six-Day War), and if so, what is the source for this obligation? Rabbi Kasher cites the Torah portion this week, when the Jewish people burst into a song of praise to G-d at the parting of the Red Sea. The verse states, “Then Moses and the Children of Israel sang this song to G-d, and they said, to say” (Exodus 15:1). The Jerusalem Talmud (Sotah 5:6) asks, what is the significance of the words “to say”? The Talmud answers that this teaches us that we should sing a song of praise to G-d not just for this miracle, but for every miracle that G-d performs for the Jews throughout the generations (Korban Haeidah, ad loc). He also quotes the Midrash Rabbah (Shemot 23:12): “They said, to say — that we should tell our children, and our children’s children, that they should say before You a song like this, when You do miracles for them.”

 

The Torah tells the Jews regarding the manna, “Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath unto G-d, today you will not find it in the field” (Shemot 16:25). Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah Waldenberg (Responsa Tzitz Eliezer 11:20) was asked to comment on the argument (Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim 440, Ramah and Turei Zahav) regarding eating cakes or cookies on Shabbat when there are letters on them. One argument he cites in support of the lenient view is a comment by Gersonides (Ralbag, Parshat Yitro) on the verse above. He points out that although eating involves the breaking, ripping, and grinding of the food, since it is a totally natural process, it is not included under the concept of “work” on Shabbat, and hence we are told, “Eat it today…” So too, even though letters are being destroyed, which is normally one of the categories of forbidden work (erasing), since the erasing is happening purely through the natural process of eating, it is permitted (Shevitat Shabbat, Melechet Dash, Be’er Rechovot98).

WHO SIGNS YOUR PAYCHECK?

by RABBI REUVEN DRUCKER

Dear Rabbi,

My company just fired half the employees in my lab in one day, which one co-worker called a “massacre.” This is just another sign of our weakening economy. I’m very concerned that although I survived this cut, I may be let go in the next round of cuts. My wife and children count on my livelihood and I’m very worried. Can you give me words of encouragement?

Anxiously awaiting,
Stuart

Dear Stuart,

I feel your anxiety and pain and hope that your job remains secure. These turbulent economic times are painful for many, and we all hope that prosperity returns very quickly.

I want to make a couple of points regarding some consequences of this world-wide economic meltdown. The Talmud tells us that one who dreams of a snake is assured of sufficient livelihood, for the original snake which tempted Eve was told that he would forever more crawl on his belly and eat the dust of the earth. Since the dust of the earth is always available and in abundant supply, the snake will never suffer difficulties meeting its needs for food. One of our commentators wonders, then, why this statement to the snake was termed a curse by the Torah, when it appears to be a tremendous blessing. He explains that a snake’s easy access to food is indeed a curse, not a blessing, for someone who is never put in a position to think about the Source of all sustenance is cursed. Only when we are concerned if we will have sufficient provisions will we be motivated to turn our attention to G-d, Who bestows His bounty upon us. Unfortunately, in times of prosperity, it is easy to forget about the true Source of our blessing. Perhaps one lesson we should draw from these trying times is a renewed awareness of G-d’s Hand in our lives.

The next point deals with an important state of mind we learn about from the Torah — tranquility. Tranquility does not have its origins in foolish disregard or obliviousness to the facts around us, but rather emanates from our trust in G-d’s beneficence. In this week’s Torah portion, we read of the Jews who just left Egypt and were being hotly pursued by Pharoah’s fiercest warriors. As they followed their route of escape they hit a dead end. The impassable Sea of Reeds (often erroneously called the Red Sea) was in front of them, which was a barrier to their forward progress. Moses halted and fervently prayed to G-d for salvation, when he was met with the surprising Divine response, “Why are you imploring Me—tell the Jews that they should continue on their way.” Many wonder why G-d was displeased with Moses’ prayer. After all, he was the leader of the people who found themselves in mortal danger and were frightened. Isn’t that precisely the time to implore G-d’s mercy? An answer given by the Ba’alei Mussar (those who focus on developing a Torah character) is that G-d was displeased with Moses’ prayer, because its desperate tone was premature. There were still several more yards of ground between the feet of the Jews and the waters of the Sea. Such an impassioned prayer was out of line when the Jews did not yet reach the true point of desperation. Until that time, Moses, together with the rest of the people, should have felt tranquility, since they still had several yards to go before they were justified in feeling desperation.

The parallel in our times is that it is human nature to worry about the future, even when the future is still somewhat distant. Who knows what will happen with the next round of cuts? However, reliance on G-d is manifest through tranquility of the spirit. One who truly believes that his life circumstances are not a series of random events, but are driven by the Divine, evidences tranquility. The next cut of employees won’t be until the next pay period or the next quarter—so, today I feel what the Psalmist expresses, “The L-rd is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Besides being a very important religious accomplishment, tranquility can save us from many of our fears that never materialize, and as such, can be a very important emotional acquisition as well.

Tranquility notwithstanding, the Torah also requires that we make our efforts to help preserve the continuity of our income and livelihood. As a result, even a tranquil individual who has experienced what your coworker termed a massacre would be well advised to prepare a resume and search for work with another company. But as we know, there is no more guarantee with the next company than with the one where we are presently employed. Our only true guarantee is with our Guarantor.

May we all grow and prosper through these difficult times,
Rabbi Reuven Drucker

THROUGH THIS YOU SHALL KNOW THAT I AM G-D

Dear Rabbi,

I am fascinated by the story of the ten plagues – but I don’t understand why G-d needed to bring ten plagues to free the Jewish people, instead of just one.  Since G-d can do anything, why not just simply go straight to number ten and end things there? Better yet, why couldn’t He just free the Jews?

Susan K.
Omaha, Nebraska

Dear Susan,

Rabbi Sholom Noach Berezovsky (1911-2000, Belarus – Israel), author of the Nesivos Shalom commentary, asks a similar question. During the Passover Seder, we mention a mnemonic device used by Rabbi Yehuda to remember the names of all ten plagues. He grouped the plagues into three categories and assigned an acronym to each one. In Hebrew, his mnemonic device takes the first letter of each plague and reads as follows:  “Datzach, Adash, Ba’achav. By grouping the plagues into three distinct categories, Rabbi Yehuda is alluding to the answer to your question. Each plague fit into a distinct category, which in turn played a distinct role in achieving the overall goal of the plagues.

What was that goal? Was it simply to free the Jewish people from their servitude, or was there another, equally important goal G-d intended to achieve?  When Moses approached Pharaoh for the first time and told him that the G-d of the Hebrews said  he should let the Jewish people go, Pharaoh responded by saying “Who is G-d that I should heed His voice…I do not know G-d, nor will I send out Israel!” (Shemot 5:2) G-d responded with the Ten Plagues, declaring, “Through this shall you know that I am G-d…” (Shemot 7:17)

Each set of plagues showed G-d’s mastery over a different area of the world. The blood in the rivers, the frogs coming out of the rivers, and the earth turning into teeming lice demonstrated G-d’s mastery of all things beneath the surface of the earth. The second set of plagues brought wild animals roaming the streets, pestilence killing the Egyptian’s domestic animals, and boils appearing on all the Egyptian’s skin.  These showed G-d’s mastery over everything the surface of the earth. The last set proved G-d’s mastery over all things in the heavens above. Hailstones made of fire and ice, locusts blowing in from the sky, absolute darkness, and G-d Himself killing every first-born in Egypt made it abundantly clear that G-d also controls the heavens.

This lesson was extremely important for the entire world to learn. At the time the nations of the world, believed in a panoply of gods, each controlling his own “fiefdom.” The concept of one G-d in complete control of everything was unheard of, except among the Jews – and even they found themselves affected by the surrounding culture of idol worship.

Thus, while G-d did not “need” to bring even one plague to force Pharaoh to set the Jewish people free, the ten plagues showed the world G-d’s ultimate power and dominion over all aspects of the world.  This could only be accomplished by the ten plagues and in the order in which they occurred.

Sincerely,
Rabbi Leiby Burnham

Return to the top

Parsha at a Glance

As the Jewish people triumphantly march out of Egypt, G-d recognizes that their faith is still fragile.  Though they are led by a miraculous pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, the prospect of a “war of invasion” against the Philistines could awaken the desire to turn back.  Therefore, G-d leads the Jewish people along a more circuitous route toward the Sea of Reeds.

Just three days after witnessing the death of every first-born in Egypt, Pharaoh and his servants regret their decision to allow the Jewish people to leave. G-d hardens Pharaoh’s heart, and he rouses his people to pursue the Jews in the desert. Three days later, with a massive force of 600 elite chariots, officers, and soldiers, Pharaoh overtakes the Jewish people at the Sea of Reeds.

Frightened at the Egyptians’ ability to regroup after the Ten Plagues, the Jewish people complain to Moses that He has led them out to the desert to die. Moses reassures them that the hour of their redemption is at hand, and that G-d will destroy the Egyptians once and for all.  In the most dramatic act of Divine intervention in history, G-d then splits the Sea of Reeds.  The Jewish people walk through the sea on dry land as the water becomes a wall on their right and left.

The Egyptians blindly chase after the Jewish people into the sea, and G-d causes the water to crash back down on them, drowning horse and rider.  G-d then washes the dead Egyptians on the shore of the sea so that all of Israel can witness the tremendous miracle that has just occurred. In appreciation of this open miracle, Moses and the Jewish people sing the Song of the Sea, a prophetic passage which is recited every day during morning prayers.

Three days later, however, there is no water to drink, and the Jewish people begin to complain. They come to a place known as Marah, but the water there is bitter.  G-d instructs Moses to throw a tree into the water in order to sweeten and exhort the Jewish people to follow G-d’s commandments.  The Jewish people then arrive at Elim, where there are 12 springs of water and 70 date palms.

One month into their journey, the supply of food the Jewish people brought with them has run out. Afraid that they will die of starvation in the desert, the Jewish people complain bitterly to Moses, nostalgic for the “pots of meat” they ate in Egypt.  G-d hears their complaints and responds by sending manna in the morning and quail in the evening.   For the next 40 years in the desert, the manna miraculously falls each day, surrounded by layers of dew on bottom and on top and melting in the mid-day sun. It was forbidden to keep the manna overnight – and when this was done against G-d’s command, the manna rotted and teemed with worms.  It was also forbidden to search for manna on Shabbos; two portions fell on Friday instead.

The portion continues as the Jewish people once again find themselves without water as they arrive at Rephidim. Worried that their children and livestock will die of thirst in the desert, the Jewish people again complain, declaring that it would have been better to die in Egypt.  G-d instructs Moses to strike a rock, which would then bring forth water for the nation.

Sensing the Jewish people’s vulnerability, Amalek attacks the Jewish people in a senseless, suicidal effort to prove that that the Jewish people were not invincible. Moses appoints Joshua to lead the battle. Although Joshua weakens Amalek, the war is not over. G-d tells Moses that He will blot out the memory of Amalek and that He will maintain a war against this nation for all generations to come.

View all Parsha Partners Print This Page

Partners in Torah

A Division of Torah Umesorah