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Pesach - Vol. 4, Issue 26
Compiled by Oizer Alport
The attached issues are dedicated as a merit for a refuah shleimah for my father – Boruch ben Gittel – who is currently unconscious and in very critical condition after suffering severe head trauma on Thursday. He just underwent a second brain surgery and the situation looks grim. Any Tehillim that you can say or tzeddakah that you can give in his merit would be greatly appreciated, and time is of the essence.
Vayiven arei misk’nos l’Paroh es Pisom v’es Ra’amses (Shemos 1:11)
The Gemora 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 Bo’alo” – the opening of the depths of the earth would swallow it (that which 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?
Rav Pam 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 all benefits to his kingdom from working them under more suitable conditions 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, Rav Elya Svei, 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. Rav 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 the 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.
Vayetzav Paroh l’kol amo leimor kol ha’ben ha’yilud ha’yeorah tashlichuhu (1:22)
Rashi points out that whereas Pharaoh’s first decree was specifically directed against male children born to the Jews, his second order didn’t differentiate and was directed even against the Egyptian children. This was because Pharaoh’s astrologers foresaw that the Jewish savior would be born that day, but because he was born a Jew and brought up among the Egyptians, they were unable to discern whether he was Jewish or Egyptian. As a precaution, Pharaoh declared an across-the-board law ordering all children killed.
The Tosefos Rid and Mahari Bruna note that Onkelos, in translating the Torah into Aramaic, understands that the second decree was also made only against the Jews. Where did Onkelos find a hint to his rendition, as Rashi points out that there seems to be no mention of it in the verse, and his opinion also seems to contradict the Gemora in Sotah (12a) on which Rashi’s comments are based?
Rav Meir Shapiro and Rav Simcha Sheps answer that there is no disagreement between Rashi and Onkelos. Onkelos was a convert to Judaism and was raised as a non-Jew. As such, he knew better than anybody that whatever laws the non-Jews and their governments enact, as much as they may seem fair and non-discriminatory on the surface, are ultimately directed against the Jews. Onkelos would agree with Rashi that the words of Pharaoh’s actual edict were directed even against the Egyptians. However, Onkelos was hinting that the translation of and underlying motivation behind the decree was, as even Rashi explains, solely directed against the Jewish people!
Vateireh es hateivah b’soch ha’suf vatishlach es amasah vatikacheha vatireihu es hayeled v’hinei na’ar bocheh vatachmol alav vatomer miyaldei ha’Ivrim zeh (2:5-6)
In eulogizing his beloved teacher Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Nissan Alpert observed that many people complained that Rav Moshe was so overly generous in writing haskamos (letters of approbation) for newly-published books that they proved nothing and were essentially worthless. Rav Nissan suggested that Rav Moshe constantly acted based on his desire to do kindness and help another Jew rather than conducting himself according to the strict letter of the law. He therefore preferred to write approbations whenever possible without extensively analyzing the text to confirm its merit and value.
Rav Alpert likened this philosophy to that which was exemplified by Pharaoh’s daughter. Upon descending to the river, she heard a crying infant and immediately went to assist him and remove him from the river. Only after acting with mercy and helping a baby in need did she pause to look at and identify the child as a Jewish infant.
When approached for a charitable contribution or to assist with our time, how many times do we first look over the beggar or analyze the worthiness of the organization and turn them away empty-handed due to a lack of perceived merits? Let us learn from the ways of Pharaoh’s daughter and Rav Moshe Feinstein that we should act first and foremost with kindness without extensive analysis of the recipient’s merit. This should arouse Hashem to reciprocate by similarly treating us with compassion without an in-depth examination of our merits!
Ki Hamakom asher atah omeid alav admas Kodesh hu (3:5)
The Chofetz Chaim observes that many people think it is impossible for them in their present situations to make substantial, if any, spiritual progress. They continue to hope and pray for a change in the circumstances which are currently holding them back from the growth they would like to be experiencing. Many times it even seems that the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is just around the corner, and perhaps it really is.
Nevertheless, the Chofetz Chaim notes that these individuals are making a fundamental error. It is possible – indeed, required and expected – to serve Hashem in every situation we encounter in life, and it is for that specific reason that He placed us in those circumstances. He suggests that this idea is hinted to in our verse, which states that the place upon which you are standing (i.e. your present circumstances) is Holy ground and quite suitable for Divine Service and spiritual growth, if you only allow yourself to realize and appreciate it.
Ki ch’vad peh uch’vad lashon anochi (4:10)
Moshe argued that he was unfit to serve as the redeemer of the Jewish people because he was “heavy of mouth” and “heavy of speech.” What is the difference between these two seemingly identical phrases? Rabbeinu Chananel writes that “heavy of mouth” means that Moshe was unable to pronounce letters which are said with one’s teeth (namely zayin, shin, reish, samech, tzaddi), and “heavy of speech” means that he was also unable to properly say letters that are pronounced with one’s tongue (specifically, dalet, tes, lamed, nun, tav).
Based on this explanation, the Kesef Nivchar suggests an original understanding of Moshe’s request, “When the Jews ask what is the name of the G-d who sent me to redeem them, what shall I answer them?” Moshe was expressing his frustration over the fact that every one of Hashem’s names with which he was familiar contained at least one of the aforementioned letters that he was unable to pronounce. In other words, he was asking Hashem for an alternate name which he would be able to say clearly. Hashem therefore taught him the name (3:14) “Eh-keh,” which contains only letters that even the hard-of-speech Moshe could pronounce!
Vat’hi ha’kinim ba’adam uvab’heima kol afar ha’aretz haya kinim b’chol eretz Mitzrayim (8:13)
A number of our greatest Rabbis (Rambam, Rabbeinu Yonah, Meiri, Vilna Gaon) write in their commentaries on Pirkei Avos (5:4) that although nine of the ten plagues in Egypt didn’t affect the Jews in any way, the lice which afflict Egypt during the third plague also infested the land of Goshen where the Jews lived. However, the lice didn’t cause the Jews any suffering as they did the Egyptians. Where is this astonishing fact alluded to, and what was the reason for it?
The Mishmeres Ariel brings a strikingly simple proof to this claim. Rashi writes (Bereishis 47:29) that one of Yaakov’s reasons for requesting that Yosef not bury him in Egypt was to avoid the lice which would be swarming in the ground. However, if the lice were nowhere to be found in the land of Goshen, Yaakov could have simply made Yosef swear to bury him there instead of burdening him to carry his body all the way to the land of Israel. From the fact that Yaakov made him do so, we can deduce that he knew that this option wouldn’t be sufficient to alleviate his concern because the lice would also be present in Goshen!
Rav Chaim Kanievsky suggests the reason for this peculiarity was that in the first two plagues, Pharaoh’s magicians were able to duplicate the actual plague. As such, the only proof that Moshe and Aharon’s plagues were caused by Hashem and not through sorcery was the fact that they miraculously stopped at the borders of the Jewish land of Goshen. During the plague of lice, on the other hand, Pharaoh’s magicians were unable to copy the plague. They freely admitted that it had must have been performed by Hashem, and there was therefore no need for the additional miracle of preventing the lice from entering the land of Goshen.
UV’nei Yisroel asu kidvar Moshe vayishalu mi’Mitzrayim klei Kesef u’klei zahav u’semalos … v’gam tzeidah lo asu lahem (12:35-38)
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 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 (12:22). 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!
Pesach Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) How can we say in the Haggadah that if Hashem didn’t take us out of Egypt we’d still be enslaved there when the Gemora in Avodah Zara (3a) teaches that if we didn’t accept the Torah (which we wouldn’t have been able to do), the entire world would be returned to its pre-Creation nothingness? (Haggadah Shel Pesach K’Motzei Shalal Rav pg. 99)
2) In response to the question of the wicked son, we tell him that although Hashem saved our ancestors from Egypt, if he had been there, he wouldn’t have been redeemed. Our Sages teach that the Jews in Egypt were at the 49th level of spiritual impurity, and the Medrash teaches that when the Jews were crossing the Red Sea, the prosecuting angel argued that it was inappropriate for Hashem to perform miracles on their behalf since they worship idols just as do their Egyptian pursuers. Why is it so clear that the wicked son wouldn’t have been saved from Egypt when our ancestors were heavily steeped in sin and still merited redemption? (Ayeles HaShachar 13:8)
3) Why aren’t any of the sections of the Torah which actually recount the enslavement and Exodus from Egypt included in the Haggadah, which instead suffices with a short excerpt from Parshas Ki Savo? (Haggadas Malbim, Sifsei Chaim Vol. 2 pg. 376, HaSeder HaAruch Vol. 3 pg. 411)
4) Why do we have to explain the reason for the mitzvos of Pesach, Matzah, and Maror to fulfill our obligations, something that we don’t find in conjunction with other mitzvahs? (Maharsha and Tzelach Pesachim 116b, Haggadah Shel Pesach K’Motzei Shalal Rav pg. 247-251)
5) The first three miracles performed by Moshe and Aharon to intimidate Pharaoh – turning a staff into a snake and the plagues of blood and frogs – were able to be duplicated by Pharaoh’s magicians. Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate for Hashem to have Moshe approach Pharaoh with irreproducible signs which would truly inspire fear and awe into his heart?
6) The first plague was that all of the water in Egypt turned to blood (7:20). According to Jewish law, would it be permissible to drink such “water”? (Ayeles HaShachar 7:25)
7) Why did Hashem declare (12:2) the month of Nissan, in which the Jews were freed from slavery from Egypt, to be the first of the months instead of Sivan, in which the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, or Tishrei in which the world was created? (Darash Moshe)
8) Rashi writes (12:6) that when the time came for Hashem to fulfill the vow that He swore to Avrohom to redeem his descendants, He saw that the Jewish people didn’t have any mitzvos to perform to merit their redemption, so He gave them the mitzvos of circumcising the males and of offering and eating the Pesach-sacrifice. If the time came for Hashem to keep his promise, why didn’t He have to fulfill it even if the Jews didn’t have sufficient merits? (Ayeles HaShachar)
9) Moshe commanded the Jewish people not to leave their homes on the night of the plague of the killing of the first-born (12:22). Rashi explains that once permission has been given to the destroyer to destroy, it doesn’t differentiate between the righteous and the wicked, but rather annihilates everything in its path. Why were only the Egyptian first-borns killed on this night when the destroyer shouldn’t have differentiated and should have killed all Egyptians, even those who weren’t first-borns, that it encountered? (Ayeles HaShachar)
10) Why does the Gemora refer (Berachos 58a) to the splitting of the Red Sea as ÷øéòú éí ñåó – the ripping of the Red Sea – when the Torah refers to it using the expression á÷éòä (14:21) – splitting? (Haggadas Shem MiShmuel, Pathways of the Prophets pg. 417-419)
11) The Yalkut Shimoni (873) on the verse in Hallel, “HaYam ra’ah vayanos” (114:3) asks what did the Yam Suf see which caused it to flee (14:21), and answers that it fled from the casket containing Yosef as a reward to his descendants for the fact that he fled from the wife of Potiphar (Bereishis 39:12). How could the Medrash give this explanation when the following verses (114:5, 7) ask the same question – what did the Yam Suf see to make it split – and give an alternate answer – that it split from the presence of Hashem?
12) Which is the last verse in the Shiras HaYam? (Ramban and Ibn Ezra 15:19)
© 2009 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to firstname.lastname@example.org
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