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Parshas Vaeira - Vol. 4,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
V’sheretz haye’or tzefardim v’alu u’ba’u b’veisecha … uv’chadarecha uv’misharosecha (7:28)
The Gemora in Pesachim (53b) relates that the righteous Chananya, Mishael, and Azaryah allowed themselves to be thrown into a fiery oven rather than flee or bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s idolatrous statues. The Gemora explains that they derived the propriety of their conduct from the frogs in Egypt. They reasoned that if the frogs, which didn’t have a mitzvah to die in sanctification of Hashem’s name, nevertheless willing entered the Egyptians’ hot ovens, they, who had such a mitzvah, should certainly be willing to perform it by being thrown into the burning furnace rather than transgress or flee.
The Shaagas Aryeh questioned their calculation. Although it is true that the frogs didn’t have a mitzvah to sanctify Hashem’s name, they did have a separate obligation to enter all of the places enumerated in our verse, which include the ovens. If so, how could Chananya, Mishael, and Azaryah derive a source for their actions from the frogs when they didn’t have any similar explicit instructions to enter the fiery oven?
At the age of seven, the Vilna Gaon answered that our verse simply states that there must be some frogs in each of these locations. However, no individual frog was commanded to enter any specific place. Therefore, every single frog could have exempted itself from entering the ovens with the claim that it would infest a more comfortable location and leave the ovens for the other frogs.
From the fact that we nevertheless find that individual frogs were willing to enter the ovens even though they weren’t explicitly commanded to do so, Chananya, Mishael, and Azaryah were able to derive the propriety of their actions. Upon hearing this clever answer, the excited Shaagas Aryeh picked up the young Vilna Gaon and kissed him on the forehead!
Applying this brilliant insight on a practical level, the Darkei Mussar notes that many times a teacher, parent, or communal organization asks for volunteers to assist with a project or act of kindness. Not a single hand goes up as each person excuses himself with the thought that somebody else can do it. The Vilna Gaon teaches that we must learn from the frogs that “the buck stops here” and take responsibility to personally see to it that the job gets done properly.
Vayomer Hashem el Moshe emor el Aharon n’tei es mat’cha v’hach es afar ha’aretz v’haya l’kinim b’chol eretz Mitzrayim (8:12)
Although we typically associate Moshe with bringing the 10 plagues upon Egypt, a careful examination of the verses reveals that Hashem actually commanded Moshe to have Aharon bring about the first three plagues. Rashi explains that because Moshe had gratitude to the river which had protected him when he was placed there as an infant, it was inappropriate for him to strike the water for the first two plagues (blood and frogs). This sense of appreciation is understandable, as the water sheltered him, and it was there that Pharaoh’s daughter discovered and rescued him.
However, regarding the third plague – lice – Rashi’s explanation that it was inappropriate for Moshe to strike the same ground which protected him by hiding the body of the Egyptian that he slew is difficult to understand. Although Moshe thought that nobody saw the killing, in reality Dasan and Aviram witnessed the murder. They informed on him to Pharaoh, who would have killed Moshe if not for a miracle that saved his life (Rashi 2:14-15). Practically speaking, the ground did absolutely nothing to benefit or assist Moshe in any way. If so, why did he feel gratitude toward it, and why couldn’t he strike it himself to bring about the plague of lice?
One commentator on the Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 10:7) suggests that the ground provided Moshe temporary peace-of-mind by allowing him to think for at least one day that his killing would go unnoticed. I would like to suggest that the Torah is teaching us the fallacy of a common expression.
If we give of our precious time and energy in an earnest attempt to help somebody out, only to have our efforts fail, the average person will tell us, “Thanks, but no thanks.” This expression indicates that he owes us no debt of gratitude for our efforts and not-so-subtly suggests that next time we should just mind our own business. The Torah teaches that because the ground was willing to help and tried to be of assistance in doing its best to cover up the taskmaster’s corpse, Moshe was obligated to show his appreciation for its good-faith efforts and was unable to strike it to bring about the plague of lice.
I once shared this thought in a Torah class that I taught. Later that week, a woman called to say that her husband had offered to help her clean the house. Unfortunately, although his intentions were good, his cleaning skills left something to be desired. She explained that when he finished, not only was the house still a mess, but it would take her considerable work just to get it back to where he started! She was about to tell him, “Thanks, but no thanks,” when she remembered the lesson she had just been taught!
So many times a relative, a co-worker, or a shadchan will volunteer to try to help us out. Unfortunately, these efforts don’t always lead to the results we were hoping for. The next time it happens, instead of rubbing the failure in to somebody who already feels badly enough, let us remember the lesson of Moshe and the ground and express our sincere appreciation for their time and good intentions.
Vay’as Hashem es ha’davar ha’zeh mi’macharas vayamas kol mikneh Mitzrayim u’mi’mikneh b’nei Yisroel lo meis echad Vayishlach Paroh v’hinei lo meis mi’mikneh Yisroel ad echad vayichbad lev Paroh v’lo shilach es ha’am (9:6-7)
The Vilna Gaon is bothered by several apparent inconsistencies in the Torah’s description of the damage done by the plague of pestilence. Initially, the Torah states that not a single animal belonging to the Jews died. However, the wording of the second verse indicates that although not more than one Jew lost animals, one Jew did indeed suffer at the hands of the plague. Additionally, the first verse discusses “the animals of the children of Israel,” while the latter refers simply to “the animals of Israel.”
Finally, as difficult as Pharaoh’s actions throughout this entire period are difficult to understand, there is generally some minimal logic to his stubbornness. Here, however, the Torah seems to indicate that hearing that the plague didn’t affect the animals of the Jews somehow caused him to further harden his heart, which seems quite counter-intuitive.
The Vilna Gaon brilliantly resolves all of these difficulties with a single piece of information. Rashi writes (2:11) that one of the Egyptian taskmasters set his eyes on a Jewish woman by the name of Shulamis bas Divri. One night he ordered her husband out of the house and entered pretending to be him, and a child was born from that union. However, the Ramban (Vayikra 24:10) quotes an opinion that before the Torah was given, a person’s nationality was determined by his father. If so, the son of the taskmaster and Shulamis was considered a non-Jew.
Although the first verse states that among the children of Israel, which refers to proper Jews, – no animals died, the animals of Shulamis’s son were indeed stricken together with those of the Egyptians. It is to his animals that the second verse refers in hinting that one Jew – somebody viewed as a Jew even though in reality he wasn’t – was afflicted. Upon hearing the news that the Jews weren’t completely spared from the plague, Pharaoh attributed the entire episode to one big coincidence, and not surprisingly, he hardened his heart and refused to free the Jews!
the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Rashi writes (6:13) that in instructing Moshe and Aharon to approach Pharaoh and demand the release of the Jewish people, Hashem also commanded them to speak to him respectfully and give him the honor to which a king was entitled. As Pharaoh was among the greatest oppressors of the Jews in history, was it really so important that he be treated with dignity? (Ohr Yahel)
2) The Torah records (6:25) that Elozar the son of Aharon took for himself one of the daughters of Putiel as a wife for himself, and she bore for him Pinchas. Why does the Torah stress three times in one verse that Elozar’s wife and her actions were “for him?” (HaEmek Davar)
3) After Moshe and Aharon caused all of the water in Egypt to turn to blood, Pharaoh’s magicians duplicated the feat and therefore he wasn’t impressed (7:22). If all of the water had turned to blood, from where did they obtain water to turn into blood? (Targum Yonason ben Uziel, Rabbeinu Bechaye, Paneiach Raza, Tosefos Rid)
4) The word in the Torah containing the most letters is in this week’s parsha. What is it?
5) As Moshe was preparing to leave the city to pray for the end of the hail, he informed Pharaoh (9:30) that he recognized that Pharaoh still didn’t fear “Hashem Elokim.” This is the first time since Parshas Bereishis (3:23) that these two names of Hashem are used in conjunction. What is the significance of this? (Shu”t Maharshdam Orach Chaim 3, Aleinu L’shabeiach)
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