Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 12   No. 16

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Parshas Beshalach

The Carrot and the Stick

It is a hard and fast rule that we do not rely on miracles ('Ein somchin al ha'nes'). Generally speaking, we are expected to do something towards our own salvation, just like we are expected to do something towards earning a Parnasah. We do realize of course, that we do so only because G-d wants us to, and that in reality, it is He who finishes the job, and it is by His grace that our efforts succeed. It is not because G-d needs us that He asks us to put in our own efforts, but as the Ramban explains in Parshas No'ach, it is to minimize the miracle and to increase the aspect of nisoyon (trial). This is linked to Emunah and Bitachon, which in turn, are vital to our Avodas Hashem. In other words, witnessing open miracles interferes with our free-will and choice, and will result in less reward for the good deeds that we perform.

To be sure, there are occasions, rare occasions, when G-d performs open miracles without our participation, but to ask us to refrain from participating, even when we are ready to, goes against the principle of 'Ein somchin al ha'nes'.

This being the case, it does indeed seem strange that at the Yam-Suf, G-d instructed Yisrael, "Hashem will fight for you, and you shall be silent", implying that, from that moment onwards they were to desist from both prayer and positive participation in the battle that was about to take place.


The Or ha'Chayim cites a Yalkut Shim'oni in Shmuel, which refers to four kings who made demands of Hashem (in time of war); David said to Hashem "Let me pursue my enemies and overtake (and kill) them". Asa declared that he was prepared to pursue his enemies, but requested from Hashem that, since he did not have the strength to destroy them, He should destroy them on his behalf. Came Yehoshafat, and claimed that he did not even have the strength to pursue his enemies, so he suggested that Hashem save Yisrael whilst he sang Shirah.

And finally, there was Chizkiyahu ha'Melech. who declared that he did not even possess the strength to sing Shirah, so he prayed for Hashem to destroy the mighty army of Sancheriv whilst he slept. In each case, Hashem responded favorably to all four requests - He allowed David to defeat his enemies, Asa chased and Hashem destroyed, He vanquished the enemy whilst Yehashafat recited Tehilim, and He destroyed the camp of Ashur whilst Chizkiyahu slept.

K'lal Yisrael, the Or ha'Chayim concludes, were on the level of Chizkiyahu ha'Melech. They were overcome by a feeling of inadequacy in their helplessness, not in a position to vanquish, not in a position to chase, and unable to pray. So G-d took over completely.

But this is difficult to comprehend. For with Chizkiyahu, it was he who expressed the feeling of utter helplessness, coupled with a total faith in G-d's ability to initiate the salvation without him. Whereas here, the command to desist was issued by G-d, as we pointed out.


Rabeinu Bachye explains that Paroh had just recently experienced the ten plagues, culminating in Makas Bechoros, and had finally agreed to let G-d's people go. Chasing after K'lal Yisrael in order to return them to Egypt was an act of extreme defiance against G-d. In short, it was not Yisrael who was Paroh's intended victim, but G-d himself (ke'vayachol). And that, he concludes, is why G-d considered this to be His personal battle, and explains why He ordered Yisrael to refrain from participating.


It is also possible to resolve the current problem in light of what we explained last week. We wrote there that K'riy'as Yam-Suf was the punishment that G-d had long reserved for Paroh for his maltreatment of K'lal Yisrael (measure for measure for the latter's drowning of the Egyptians, as Rashi explains in Yisro). Indeed, this was what He had in mind when he told Avraham Avinu that He would punish the nation that would subjugate them (as we explained).

Generally speaking, when K'lal Yisrael is attacked, it is in the form of a punishment. Take for example, the episode of Amalek, one that occurred in this very Parshah. Amalek attacked them suddenly, as Chazal have explained, because their Emunah was weak (see Parshah Pearls, 'Erasing Amalek'). He was, so to speak, the stick that G-d brandished to admonish Yisrael. And that is when K'lal Yisrael's participation was vital in the form of prayer and the mobilization of troops to go to war.

K'riy'as Yam-Suf however, was different. The purpose of the chase was not to punish Yisrael, but to lure the Egyptians down to the Yam-Suf, in order to punish them. And this explains why Yisrael were ordered to 'borrow' the Egyptians' vessels when they left Egypt, why G-d created the impression that Yisrael were lost in the desert, and why He made them camp in front of Ba'al Tz'fon, which, alone from all the idols of Egypt, had been left standing after Makas Bechoros for that very purpose. Indeed, that was why G-d took them via that roundabout route to begin with.

It transpires, that the Egyptians were not the stick; Yisrael was the carrot! Yisrael were not in the least threatened by the Egyptians, and any impression that they were was no more than an illusion. G-d was settling an old score with the Egyptians, and the strategy that He chose to employ, involved the extensive, but passive participation of K'lal Yisrael. True, Yisrael, who were unaware of all this, suffered a most terrifying ordeal, but they were well compensated by, not only witnessing, but actually being part of, the most incredible miracle that ever took place in the history of the world. And not only that, but they then merited to see their erstwhile enemies dying in front of their eyes, not departing the scene before walking off with a vast haul of booty that even exceeded the huge amount of Egyptian treasures that they took out of Egypt - without having as much as drawn a sword from its sheath.

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Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the Chochmas Chayim)

Fearing G-d - Egyptian Style

"And he took six hundred chosen chariots and all the chariots of Egypt" (14:7).

Now where did all these animals come from, asks Rashi (bearing in mind that, according to the Medrash, every chariot required three horses)? Did the Torah not categorically state (9:4) "And all the cattle of Egypt died"!

It can only have come from "those who feared the word of G-d" (see Parshah Pearls, Vo'eiro).

It is from here that Rebbi Shimon used to say 'If you come across a 'righteous' Egyptian, kill him; the best snake, crush its brains!'

But who says, asks Rebbi Yosef Chayim, that the G-d-fearing Egyptians gave their animals willingly? Perhaps Paroh commissioned all the available horses for war, with or without the owners' consent (as is often the case today in wartime, even in democratic countries)?

And this question is compounded by the fact that in last week's Parshah, the Torah defines these owners as G-d-fearing. So why should one even begin to suspect them of perpetrating such evil?

The answer is that if the Egyptians had not given their animals of their own volition, there is no way that Par'oh could have possibly collected so many animals in so short space of time (within one day, to be precise). Such a thing would only have been feasible if the owners came running with their animals, to donate them for 'the good cause' for which they were used.

Hence Rebbi Shimon said 'If you come across a 'righteous' Egyptian ... '.


The truth of the matter is that even if the Egyptians had come running with their horses, it is difficult to understand how Paroh could have possibly informed the whole of Egypt and then gathered all the horses in Egypt to one spot, all on the same day! But still, it would more difficult still, if they hadn't.


Doesn't G-d Want Our Prayers?

"And Hashem said to Moshe 'Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the B'nei Yisrael and they will travel" (14:15).

Unklus translates 'Why do you cry out to Me', as 'I have accepted your prayers'. Now why does he add this seemingly unnecessary twist to the Pasuk?

R. Yosef Chayim explains that, as the Pasuk stands, it seems as if G-d considered their prayers redundant, when we know full-well that G-d desires the Tefilos of Yisrael (indeed He sometimes engineers precarious situations, to elicit prayer from His beloved people).

What the Pasuk must therefore mean is not that G-d did not want their prayers, but that they had already been effective. See Rashi Shir Hashirim (2:14).


The Power of Silence

"Who is like You among the mighty ones Hashem" (15:11).

The Gemara in Gitin cites Tana de'Bei Rebbi Yishmael, who interprets the Pasuk "Mi chomocho bo'eilim Hashem", as if it had written "Mi chomocho bo'Ilmim Hashem" - 'Who is like You among the dumb ones Hashem', in praise of G-d's ability to remain silent, in face of unspeakable insults.

The question arises, says R. Yosef Chayim, that although this praise of G-d is undeniably true and perfectly justifiable, what place does it have here in the Shirah, which speaks of the mighty miracles that He wrought against the Egyptians, and not about His silence?

And he explains that throughout the two hundred years of slavery, everyone wondered at G-d's silence. The Egyptians beat and tortured Yisrael with a strong hand, humiliating them down to the dust, yet G-d remained silent.

It was only when they witnessed the power of His wonders, culminating at the Yam-Suf with the multi-faceted miracle of the drowning of the Egyptians, that they realized the extent of G-d's might in remaining silent during the years of subjugation (that He was silent [Kevayachol] because He chose to be, not because He had to).


Erasing Amalek

"I will erase the memory of Amalek from under the heaven" (17:14).

R. Yosef Chayim questioned the Mitzvah to erase the memory of Amalek, to the extent that, as Chazal have explained, G-d's Name and Throne are incomplete until such time as he is destroyed, and all as a result of one failed attack. Whilst there are other nations who have been far more successful in doing us harm for far longer periods, yet the Torah says nothing about erasing their names and memories from the world. Why is that?


The Chochmas Chayim cites the Ha'amek Davar, who asks in addition, why the Torah instructs us to remember what Amalek did to us, when Amalek as a nation no longer exists. Perhaps, you will ask, the Torah's main concern is that we forget the memory of Amalek. But how is that possible, when the eternal Torah mentions him, and enjoins us to read the Parshah that talks about what he did, constantly?

The Ba'al ha'Turim, comparing the word "Emcheh" here to the same word in No'ach (in connection with the flood), explains that just as there, every physical trace was wiped out, leaving nothing to remind us of that generation, so too, it is a Mitzvah to remove every physical trace of Amalek, until, as Chazal say, not an ox or a donkey of Amalek, remains. The fact that we read about Amalek in the Torah does not retract from the Mitzvah any more than reading about the flood in the Torah detracts from the fact that every physical trace of Dor ha'Mabul was destroyed.

Consequently, since there is no reason to suppose that Amalek's memory has been completely erased from the world, we still need to read the Parshah of Amalek constantly, to remind us to fulfill this Mitzvah.


R. Yosef Chayim answers both of the above questions with the following explanation. It is neither the physical trace of Amalek that the Torah requires us to erase, nor mention of his name and his deeds, but what he represents. Amalek attacked when Yisrael asked whether G-d was in their midst or not. That sort of question is symbolizes the doubt that Amalek sets out to create within us. It is the Amalek within ourselves (which is what attracted the Amalek from without to attack precisely at that moment) to which the Pasuk is referring. And that is why the Torah writes in Ki Seitzei (25:18) 'Asher korcho ba'derech', which Rashi explains (among other explanations) to mean 'who cooled you down there'. Indeed, Amalek's aim and ambition was to spread doubts in our faith and belief in G-d, even following the spate of signs and wonders that Yisrael had just witnessed at the time of the Exodus, creating a warm relationship between us and G-d. It is certainly no coincidence that the numerical value of his name is equivalent to that of 'Safek' (doubt). And by the same token, the word Amalek contains the same letters as 'le'akem' to twist. Can there be anything more crooked and twisted than asking whether G-d is in our midst, after just witnessing all the miracles of Yetzi'as Mitzrayim and K'ri'as Yam-Suf'? Because the source of deviating from the straight path of truth is 'doubt'. The one leads to the other. And that is why the Torah warns us to erase all traces of Amalek (doubt) from our hearts, to reinforce our belief that G-d alone is One, and that He is always in our midst.


Who Will Do the Job?

"Because I will blot out the memory of Amalek" (17:14).

Chazal give two answers to explain the apparent discrepancy between this Pasuk and the Pasuk in ki Seitzei "You will blot out the memory of Amalek". One, that when we destroy Amalek on earth, He will destroy his angel in Heaven. The other, that G-d leaves it to us to destroy him, until such time as he stretches out his hand against the Beis-Hamikdash. That is when He will take over.

See also Rashbam.


Based on the fact that Parshas Beshalach was written before the episode with the Meraglim (the Spies), and ki Seitzei after it, perhaps the following answer is appropriate -

We know that if Yisrael had not sinned by the Meraglim, they would have gained control of Eretz Yisrael without fighting. And it is in keeping with this fact that the Torah writes here that G-d would destroy Amalek, sparing Yisrael the need to raise a hand. But once they sinned by the Meraglim, bringing upon themselves the need to conquer Cana'an by fighting, G-d placed the onus of destroying Amalek on their shoulders, too.

* * *

(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Mitzvah 30: Not to Swear in Vain (cont.)

Similarly, someone who swears to do something and fails to do it is counted among those who rebel against the light and who deny the truth; because the meaning of the word 'nishba' (swears), the Chinuch explains, is when a person decides in his heart and expresses with his mouth to fulfill that which he swore and never to deviate from it, just as G-d blessed be His name, exists and will never change. In fact, this is why 'nishba' is always in the Nif'al (passive), because a person who swears is affected by his words, to eternalize them, like the eternal G-d, blessed be His Name, to whom he referred. A Neder however, is different. A Neder constitutes the transfer of something that is permitted, into the realm of the forbidden. It is a declaration that a specific object which was hitherto permitted to him, will now become forbidden like a Korban that G-d forbade.

Chazal have taught that the prohibition takes effect only if one compares the object that he is forbidding to something that became forbidden through a vow (such as a Korban), as we just explained. But if one were to compare it to the flesh of a Chazir (which is intrinsically forbidden), then his Neder would not take effect, because the Torah writes "Ish ki yidor Neder", implying that the Neder must be connected to something which was likewise forbidden through a Neder.

And the same will apply if one forbids one's belongings on one's friend.

The ability to declare forbidden what the Torah has permitted, is derived from the Pasuk "Ish ki Ye'esor Isar ... lo yachel devoro", which means that if a man declares forbidden something that is permitted, he shall not profane his word. In fact, it is like Hekdesh, where the Torah empowers a person to sanctify his belongings with the words of his mouth, forbidding them on himself and on the whole world, as the Torah writes "And when a man declares his house holy ... ". In the same way, one is also authorized to forbid things on oneself, by declaring ('Harei zeh olai ...' [which means 'this thing is forbidden to me ... ]), and it makes no difference whether the article that he declares forbidden is his own article or somebody else's.


A Shevu'ah takes effect on something that is abstract as well as on something that is tangible, because the Shevu'ah takes effect on the person's body (obligating him to carry out whatever it is that he has undertaken to do) and his body is tangible. A Neder on the other hand, which entails bringing the article into the realm of the forbidden (for example, prohibiting an article on himself like a Korban), affects what he forbids and not his body. Consequently, it is confined exclusively to things that are tangible, and a Neder on something abstract is not effective.

And it is for the same reason that a Shevu'ah cannot take effect on an existing Shevu'ah, whereas a Neder on an existing Neder can. Because with the former, it is the person himself who is obligated to fulfill his undertaking, and by repeating this undertaking even a thousand times, he is merely obligating himself to do what he is already obligated, rendering his subsequent undertaking futile. On the other hand, each time that one undertakes an additional Neder rendering something forbidden, he is creating a new Isur in the event that he negates his undertaking. Consequently, all the prohibitions take effect, and one transgresses as many Nedarim as one undertook.

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