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Parshas Beshalach - Vol. 6,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
V’chamushim alu B’nei Yisroel me’eretz Mitzrayim (13:18)
The Torah relates that the Jewish people left Egypt “chamushim.” A number of explanations are given for the meaning of this word. Rashi explains that four-fifths of the Jews died during the plague of darkness, leaving only the remaining one-fifth who went out from Egypt. The Targum Yerushalmi translates that they went out armed with good deeds, and the Targum Yonason ben Uziel writes that each family went out with five children. It is difficult to reconcile these seemingly different explanations, as well as to understand what good deeds are being referred to, and why each family had exactly five children, especially in light of the fact that the Jewish women in Egypt gave birth to six children at a time.
The Be’er Yosef beautifully suggests that all three explanations are really one. As Rashi mentions, the wicked Jews died during the plague of darkness. However, Hashem’s Heavenly Tribunal doesn’t punish a person until the age of 20 (Rashi Bereishis 23:1). While four-fifths of the adults died, none of the children did, resulting 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 who died during the darkness, that they decided to “adopt” the orphans from the four-fifths of the families who 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 mass adoptions are the good deeds referred to by the Targum Yerushalmi.
In Parshas Shemos, we quoted the calculation of the Oznayim L’Torah that the average family had 54 children. In light of this, it is all the more astounding to realize that as they were about to head out into the desert with no source of food, clothing, or sustenance, their trust in Hashem was so strong that they had no qualms about adopting another 216 children, bringing the grand total of the typical family to 270 children! We now have a new appreciation for the well-known verse in Yirmiyah (2:2), zacharti lach chesed ne’urayich ahavas kelulosayich lechteich acharai Bamidbar b’eretz lo zarua – I remember for your sake the kindness of your youth, the love of your bridal days, your following after Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.
U’Paroh hikriv vayis’u B’nei Yisroel es eineihem v’hinei Mitzrayim nosei’a achareihem (14:10)
Rashi notes that when the Jewish people arrived at Mount Sinai (19:2), they encamped k’ish echad b’lev echad – like one person with one heart in a beautiful demonstration of national achdus (unity). The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains that this was a necessary prerequisite for receiving the Torah. However, it is difficult to understand what makes this so unique, as Rashi himself writes in this week’s parsha that the Egyptians pursued the Jews to the Red Sea with a similar display of harmony.
Rav Yitzchok Hutner explains that there is a fundamental difference between the achdus of the Jews and that of other nations, which is subtly hinted to by Rashi. The Jewish people are intrinsically connected as part of one large entity, whereas the members of other nations are fundamentally disassociated and out for their own personal interests. Only when their individual desires coincide do they team up in pursuit of a common goal, but not because of any deep bond. As soon as their goals inevitably diverge, they will go their separate ways.
A close reading of Rashi reveals that while he used the same expression to describe the Jews at Mount Sinai and the Egyptians at the Red Sea, he carefully reversed the order to make this very point. The Egyptians didn’t have any true unity. For a brief moment, they were united with one heart (b’lev echad) in a common desire to recapture their fleeing slaves, and they therefore pursued them as one (k’ish echad). The Jewish people, on the other hand, are intrinsically bound together as one person (k’ish echad), and one person automatically has only one heart (b’lev echad).
Uv’nei Yisroel halchu bayabasha b’soch hayam v’hamayim lahem chomah miy’minam u’mismolam (14:29)
The Medrash teaches (Yalkut Shimoni 234) that when the Jewish people were crossing the Red Sea, the prosecuting angel argued that it was inappropriate for Hashem to perform miracles on their behalf since they had worshipped idolatry in Egypt. This argument is difficult to understand. If their idolatrous practices represented a reason that Hashem shouldn’t perform miracles on their behalf, why did he wait until this point to make this argument instead of pressing his claim during the entire year that Hashem was performing the ten plagues on their behalf?
The Meshech Chochmah answers by pointing out a curious apparent contradiction. With regard to commandments which are violated through actions, such as idolatry and forbidden relationships, the Torah prescribes an appropriate punishment, such as death, lashes, and kares (spiritual excision), for each transgression. On the other hand, no such punishment is given in conjunction with mitzvos that are transgressed through corrupt character traits, such as forbidden gossip or hating another Jew.
However, this dichotomy applies only to sins committed by an individual. Regarding communal sins, the rule is reversed. The Yerushalmi teaches (Peah 1:1) that the generation of Dovid HaMelech was righteous, yet they still fell in battle because they spread rumors about one another. The generation of Achav was full of wicked idolaters, yet they emerged successful and unscathed from their battles because they didn’t gossip about one another. He explains that if the nation is corrupt in idolatry or adultery, Hashem still dwells among them in the midst of their spiritual impurity, but if they are stricken with bad character traits, He metaphorically abandons them to return to the Heavens.
Because of the communal severity of interpersonal sins, the first Temple was destroyed for the cardinal sins of murder, idolatry, and forbidden relationships, yet it was rebuilt relatively quickly. The second Temple was destroyed for the sin of gossip and baseless hatred, and has yet to be rebuilt (Yoma 9b). Similarly, Hashem forgave the Jewish people for the sin of idolatrously worshipping the golden calf, but He didn’t forgive them for the sin of the spies, which involved negative speech and a lack of gratitude, and decreed that they would die in the wilderness as a result.
With this introduction, the Meshech Chochmah explains that in Egypt, the Jewish people were steeped in the 49th level of spiritual impurity and worshipped idolatry just like the Egyptians. Nevertheless, they had one saving grace, in that they dwelled peacefully and didn’t gossip about one another (Vayikra Rabbah 32:5). As a result, Hashem forgave their other communal sins and miraculously performed the plagues to bring about their salvation, and the prosecuting angel had grounds for his argument.
However, when they were trapped at the Red Sea by the pursuing Egyptians, the Medrash (Yalkut Shimoni 233) teaches that they divided into four groups who fought about the appropriate strategy. Only at this time, when the Jewish nation lacked unity, was the prosecuting angel able to argue that they should be judged for their individual sins, such as idolatry, and Hashem should not perform further miracles on their behalf. In these difficult times for our nation, let us strengthen ourselves in our pursuit of unity and love for our fellow Jews, and in that merit, Hashem should perform miracles for us just as He did for our ancestors in Egypt.
Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Are the words (15:1) “then Moshe and the Jewish people sang this song to Hashem, and said the following” considered part of the actual Shiras HaYam, or are they merely an introduction to the song which begins afterward? (Chavatzeles HaSharon)
2) Because it was forbidden to collect the Manna on Shabbos, a double portion fell on Erev Shabbos to last them until Sunday (16:22), which according to the Mechilta they split into two in order to make four loaves on Erev Shabbos. If one was consumed on Erev Shabbos, one at the Friday night meal, and one at the Shabbos day meal, how were they able to fulfill the requirement of lechem mishneh at Shalosh Seudos if only one loaf remained? (Daas Z’keinim, Shibbolei HaLeket, Perisha Orach Chaim 291:12, Ayeles HaShachar 16:5, Dagan Shomayim 16)
3) Rashi writes (17:9) that for the battle against Amalek, Moshe instructed Yehoshua to select soldiers who were both strong and who possessed a fear of sin. How was Yehoshua able to discern who was truly righteous, and why did he need strong soldiers when Hashem conducted the battle for them in a miraculous fashion? (Har Tzvi)
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