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Parshas Bo - Vol. 12, Issue 15
Compiled by Oizer Alport
In his Ruach Chaim commentary on Pirkei Avos (3:1), Rav Chaim Volozhiner references a kabbalistic concept that he calls sod ilan charuvin alma d'charuva - the secret of the carob tree, the world that is destroyed. What does this mean? Rav Yisroel Reisman explains that every 70 years, which is the average lifespan of a carob tree (Taanis 23a), the world fundamentally changes. Seventy years represents a significant period of time, during which values, mentalities, and philosophies are completely transformed. This is alluded to by the Gemora's teaching (Menachos 44a) that the chilazon, an aquatic creature whose blood is used to create the blue techeiles dye for tzitzis, ascends from the sea only once every 70 years. The Gemora (Ibid., 43b) teaches that the color of techeiles is intended to remind us of the Kisei HaKavod (Hashem's Throne of Glory), and the chilazon's practice is intended to teach us that the perception and service of Hashem changes every 70 years.
The Gemora (Taanis 23a) records that Choni HaMe'agal slept for 70 years. Upon awaking in a new world and reality, he went to the beis medrash (study hall), where he found Torah scholars commenting that they wished the material would be as clear to them as it was to Choni, who was capable of answering any questions and resolving any difficulties that arose. When Choni heard this, he told them that he was in fact the renowned Choni HaMe'agal, but they did not believe him and did not give him the respect to which he was accustomed. This experience left Choni depressed and uninterested in life. Rav Reisman points out that this Gemora is difficult to understand for two reasons. First, why would a great sage like Choni become despondent simply because people did not show him honor? Second, since Choni did not forget any of his Torah knowledge, why didn't he simply prove his identity by teaching a class to share his prodigious wisdom with the other scholars in the beis medrash?
Extending Rav Chaim Volozhiner's teaching, Rav Reisman answers that each generation has its own unique approach and connection to the Torah, as they adopt the style that is best suited for their strengths and personality. For example, the rigorously in-depth method of meticulously studying Gemora that is prevalent in many yeshivos today is certainly a significant departure from the approach of previous generations. Therefore, when Choni returned to the beis medrash after 70 years and attempted to discuss Torah subjects with the Rabbis, he was unable to, not because he had changed, but because 70 years later, the world had changed. This left Choni depressed and dejected, as he felt out of place in the new world in which he found himself.
Applying this concept to Parshas Bo, Hashem told Moshe that one of the purposes of the plagues was to make sure that we will relate to our sons and grandsons what transpired in Egypt and all the miracles that Hashem performed there. However, in that generation, it was common to live 100 years or more and to merit having great-grandchildren and even great-great-grandchildren. If so, why did Hashem limit the transmission of this information to a person's children and grandchildren? Rav Reisman explains that the Torah is teaching us that although a person can relate to his sons and grandsons, he will not be able to form the same connection with subsequent generations, who will be too far removed from him in mentality and style.
Applying this insight to our generation, Rav Reisman adds that we have just passed the 70-year anniversary of the end of the Holocaust. Accordingly, our ability to connect to those important historical events and those who survived them will also change. With the passage of time, it will become increasingly difficult to relate to the unspeakable tragedies that took place, and before the flames of connection are completely extinguished, we must endeavor to learn the appropriate lessons by interacting with the remaining survivors and internalizing the events in a meaningful way before it is too late.
Due to the intense suffering imposed by the plagues, Pharaoh was finally forced to relent and allow Moshe to take the Jews to worship Hashem for three days. The problem was in the details. Moshe insisted that not only must the male adults go, but also the elderly, the children, and the females. Pharaoh responded that under no circumstances would he allow the children to go since the sacrifices were to be brought by the adults. However, in Pharaoh's response, no mention is made of the women. Did he agree to Moshe's demand in this regard?
The Radvaz suggests that Pharaoh's original refusal to allow the Jews to leave for three days was predicated on his fear that if they did so, they would become cleansed from the spiritual impurities they had absorbed during their time in immoral Egypt. Therefore, even when he was forced by the plagues to permit the Jews to go and serve Hashem, he attempted to do so in a diabolical way which would prevent any permanent "damage" to his wicked plans.
Pharaoh knew that Judaism is heavily dependent on the concept of mesorah - transmitting our beliefs from one generation to the next. He therefore refused to allow the elders to lead them to the desert, and he also insisted that the children not be present in order to cut off vital links in the educational process.
Yet Pharaoh was still concerned that the adult males would come back inspired and share their newfound enthusiasm with the others. He therefore refused to allow the women to travel, as he recognized that the spiritual level of a Jewish house is ultimately determined by the woman. Indeed, it was for this reason that Hashem instructed Moshe to first offer the Torah to the women, as it was their acceptance which would ultimately be the determining factor in the religious level of the Jewish nation.
Therefore, even if the men returned home with a newfound inspiration, it would be short-lived since their wives wouldn't have been able to share in it. Even Pharaoh recognized that as long as the women remained in the morally impure environment of Egypt, there was no chance for the Jewish nation to accomplish permanent spiritual growth.
The Torah testifies that prior to the actual Exodus from Egypt, the Jewish people followed Moshe's instructions and borrowed expensive vessels and clothing from the Egyptians. Rav Yitzchok Isaac Sher points out how unbelievable it is that at the time when almost three million Jews were preparing to leave Egypt to travel into an unknown desert, they were busy borrowing luxury items and didn't spend even a moment to prepare any food with which to sustain themselves.
This was due to the simple fact that the Jews were commanded to borrow these items from the Egyptians, but regarding food there were no such instructions. In fact, Rashi writes (11:2) that they weren't even commanded to borrow the vessels and clothing, but merely requested. Even so, their sole focus was on fulfilling Hashem's will. They understood and fully believed that just as He brought a miraculous end to their back-breaking enslavement, so too would He sustain them through the next stage of His Divine plan for them as long as they demonstrated their complete trust in Him and willingness to do His bidding. Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky similarly notes that after waiting generations for the redemption, the long-awaited moment arrived shortly after midnight on the night of the slaying of the first-born. Pharaoh had had enough and finally announced their total and unconditional freedom. Nevertheless, not a soul attempted to act on this good news and leave for freedom, for the simple reason that Hashem commanded them not to exit their houses until the morning. Even an issue as weighty as national redemption is pushed aside if it comes at the expense of transgressing one of Hashem's commandments. It was He who demonstrated in Egypt for all eternity that He runs the world as He sees fit, and one never loses out by following His commandments.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Who was Pharaoh's firstborn child, and was he/she killed in the plague of the slaying of the first-born? (Yalkut Shimoni 186)
2) Throughout the generations, Jews have suffered from "blood libels" - false charges that we kill non-Jewish children and use their blood when making matzah (12:18). As we know that these accusations are baseless, why does Hashem permit them to continue? (Kovetz Maamorim)
3) How were the Jewish people able to fulfill the mitzvah of wearing tefillin (13:16) during their 40-year sojourn in the desert when they are invalid without all four sections of the Torah contained within, and two of the required sections weren't even taught by Moshe until the book of Devorim, in the last year of their travels through the wilderness? (Rashba Menachos 34a, Panim Yafos Devorim 26:17, Malbim, Ohr Gedalyahu, Chavatzeles HaSharon)
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