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Parshas Shemos - Vol. 11, Issue 13
Compiled by Oizer Alport
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.
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.
Moshe argued that he was unfit to serve as the redeemer of the Jewish people because he was heavy of speech. Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein was once asked by a heavily speech-impaired person about the permissibility of a new medical treatment that was suggested to him. An expert in the field had experienced remarkable success at treating such problems by completely isolating the patient for one month and not allowing him to speak or hear a single word during that time. At that point, he begins the arduous process of re-teaching the letters and their proper pronunciations from scratch. The questioner was concerned that enrolling in this treatment would require him to neglect all of his prayer obligations, including the Biblical requirements of the twice-daily recitation of Shema and Kiddush on Shabbos.
Rav Zilberstein answered that a ruling of the Avnei Nezer in a similar case also applies in this one. The Avnei Nezer was asked if a person is obligated to be circumcised in a case where the doctor says that doing so will leave him with a permanent limp. The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 756:1) that a person is only required to spend up to one-fifth of his possessions to perform a positive commandment. He ruled that if the value to the man of walking without a limp is greater than one-fifth of his estate, he is exempt from the mitzvah of circumcision. Similarly, Rav Zilberstein explained that if curing his severe speech impediment is monetarily equivalent to more than one-fifth of his possessions, he is allowed to proceed with the treatment, even though doing so will force him to neglect his prayer obligations.
In the middle of a good night's sleep after an exhausting day of travel through a scorching desert, Tzipporah awoke to the sight of her husband being swallowed whole by an angel seeking to kill him. Rav Nochum Zev Ziv, the son of the well-known epitome of composure the Alter of Kelm, suggested that a typical woman encountering such a horrific image would scream and faint. However, had Tzipporah done so, her husband Moshe would have been killed, and with him would have been lost the hopes of redemption for the Jewish people.
Upon her eventual arrival in the Heavenly Court, Tzipporah would be found liable for his death, the extinction of the Jewish people, and the destruction of the world which would be brought about by the inability of the Jews to escape Egypt and accept the Torah at Mount Sinai. Instead, she maintained her cool, acting with equanimity in assessing the situation and doing what needed to be done - circumcising her son - to save Moshe's life.
After relating this thought to his wife and family from his deathbed one Friday afternoon, Rav Nochum Zev concluded by admonishing them to similarly maintain their composure after his imminent death. He warned them not to become so absorbed in their mourning and sadness as to inadvertently transgress one of the prohibited labors of Shabbos. It should strengthen and inspire us to recognize the levels of inner calm and peace which can be reached through the study of Torah and Mussar.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Baal HaTurim writes (1:1) that the first verse in the parsha hints to the weekly mitzvah of reviewing the Torah portion, as the letters in the word Shemos can be expanded to read Shnayim Mikra V'Echard Targum - reading the weekly portion twice and the Aramaic translation once. Why did the Sages require a person to read the words of the parsha twice, and the Aramaic translation once? (Mateh Moshe 464, Pri Megadim Mishbetzos Zahav 285:2)
2) Rashi writes (2:1) that when Pharaoh decreed that all Jewish male children should be killed, Amram divorced his wife Yocheved. The Gemora in Berachos (10a) relates that Yeshayahu was sent to visit Chizkiyahu and inform him that he would soon die and forfeit his portion in the World to Come for neglecting to fulfill the mitzvah to have children. Chizkiyahu explained that he had seen through Divine Inspiration that any children he would have would be wicked. Yeshayahu responded that our job is to perform the mitzvos without calculations, and to leave the results to Hashem. Why wasn't there a similar accusation against Amram for divorcing his wife and refusing to have children for fear that they would be killed? (M'rafsin Igri)
3) Pharaoh's daughter encountered Moshe's basket when she went to bathe herself in the river (2:5). Rashi writes (Sotah 12b) that she was on her way to the river to convert to Judaism by immersing herself in it. As the Shulchan Aruch rules (Yoreh Deah 268:3) that one of the requirements of a conversion is that it be witnessed by a Beis Din (Jewish court) of three adult males, how could this have been a proper conversion? (M'rafsin Igri)
4) Rashi writes (3:18) that when Moshe was nervous about whether the Jewish people would accept him as Hashem's agent to redeem them, Hashem reassured him by telling him that when he announced himself using the phrase Pakod Yifkod - Hashem will remember you - they would trust in him because Yosef gave the Jews a tradition (Bereishis 50:25) that the redeemer would identify himself using this "secret password." What value could a secret password possibly have if the entire population was aware of it and capable of using it? (Ramban, Peninei Daas, Taima D'Kra)
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