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Vol. 14 No. 16
Na'omi Ninah Freedman bas David Yosef z.l.
Rashi explains that, in the battle with Amalek, Moshe's hands became heavy and needed to be supported because he was lax, in that instead of leading the people out to war, he sent somebody else (Yehoshua) in his place. Rashi is clearly referring to what he writes in Parshas Pinchas (27:17), that a Jewish leader, unlike his gentile counterpart, is obligated to attack the enemy at the head of his troops. Indeed, Yehoshua would later be informed that, notwithstanding the sin of Achan, the reason that Yisrael lost the battle against Ai was due to the fact that he did not personally lead the troops into battle.
In defense of Moshe, perhaps he sent Yehoshua to do battle with Amalek, because as we have learned in Parshas Vayeitzei (see Rashi 30:25), Eisav's descendants were destined to fall into the hands of the descendants of Yosef, and whereas Moshe was from the tribe of Levi, Yehoshua was from Efrayim (who was the son of Yosef and was therefore a more suitable candidate). Be that as it may, it appears that the principle of the Jewish leader going to war at the head of the troops takes precedence over all other considerations, and so Moshe was made to suffer for his laxness.
Targum Yonasan disagrees with the above explanation (perhaps for the reason that we suggested). He ascribes Moshe's punishment to the fact that he waited until 'tomorrow' to send Yehoshua against Amalek, instead of sending him straightaway. After all, Chazal have said that when a Mitzvah avails itself, one must fulfill it immediately (and not postpone for later).
The Chochmas Chayim too, dwells on this point, referring to the Midah of putting off a Mitzvah that can be performed today until tomorrow as a 'Midah Amalekis', or to put it more bluntly, a tactic of the Yeitzer-ha'Ra (of whom Amalek is symbolical, as is well-known). The Yeitzer ha'Ra, whose job it is to induce people to sin, knows however, that it is not always possible to do this directly, so rather than confronting a 'potential client' and trying to induce him to sin, he generally prefers to set about dampening his enthusiasm for the Mitzvah. And one of the methods he employs is to convince him to put off until tomorrow the Mitzvah that he could just as well perform today. It doesn't seem such a bad thing to postpone a Mitzvah for a day, so his chances of success are good. In the meantime of course, by tomorrow, the Mitzvah, in all likelihood, will no longer be applicable; and even if it is, the person's initial enthusiasm is likely to have worn off. For that is the way of the Yeitzer ha'Ra; today he postpones the performance of a Mitzvah until tomorrow, and tomorrow, he knows that it will be that much easier to push it off completely.
The 'client' himself may well not be aware of all this; but the Yeitzer ha'Ra certainly is! And so, in winning the first round, he knows that he has won a major battle in the ongoing war against man.
The Chochmas Chayim connects this Midah to the well-known interpretation of the words (written here) "asher korcho ba'derech" (who cooled you down on the way). Indeed, so successful was Amalek in achieving this end, that Moshe took his cue from him, delaying the battle until tomorrow, when it could equally well have been fought today.
What is interesting is that Amalek had barely arrived in the vicinity of B'nei Yisrael, yet his 'cooling down' influence was already being felt, not only by the people, but even by Moshe Rabeinu, who lost no time in 'borrowing' his tactics and delaying the battle by a day.
On the other hand, it might be a good idea to take our cue from Amalek, and to 'borrow' his tactics in the performing of sins. Whenever one has the urge to sin, why not search for reasons to delay it until tomorrow, by which time, one's interest in sinning will have long dissipated. In short, it seems good strategy to beat the Yeitzer-ha'Ra at his own game, using his own tactics!
* * *
Choosing to Suffer
" ... when we sat beside the flesh-pot, when we ate bread to satisfaction" (16:3).
Yisrael's complaint, says the Chasam Sofer, was that in Egypt, they were faced with the Nisayon of sharing the Egyptians' meat, which they willingly declined in favour of bread. At least there they had the choice of indulging in sinful pleasure, knowing that, if they declined, they would create a Kidush Hashem, for which they would receive their due reward. There, they chose to suffer, because they knew that it was worth their while.
But here in the desert, they were complaining, they suffered for lack of good food, because the Mon was forced on them, and they were denied meat. So it turned out that their suffering was not done by choice; they suffered, but received no reward for their suffering. That is why they bemoaned that they would have been happy to have died in Egypt, where suffering was beneficial, rather than in the desert, where it was in vain.
And that, says the Chasam Sofer, is what they meant when they said in Parshas Beha'aloscho "And now, our Souls are dry, there is nothing". What they meant was that they received no spiritual benefit from not eating meat and the good things that they desired, in the way that we explained.
The Great 'I'
"And what are we? Not against us are your complaints but against G-d" (16:8).
Chazal have said that what was said by Moshe and Aharon ("ve'nachnu mah?") is greater than what was said by Avraham ("ve'onochi ofor vo'eifer").
What difference is there between the two statements? Is comparing oneself to dust and ashes not the ultimate declaration of humility?
The difference between them, says the Besht, lies in the fact that in the case of Avraham, 'Onochi' (I) still existed; whereas Moshe and Aharon had totally negated it, so that it no longer existed.
The commentaries explain that dust and ashes is at least something, whereas "What are we" symbolized that they were nothing. In essence, that is what the Besht is saying.
In a different answer to the question, R. Meir Shapiro related the following story from R. Yonasan Eibeschitz, who once found himself in a little village on Erev Yom-Kipur. He entered the Shul for Kol Nidrei, where he saw a Jew Davening with great fervour, 'My G-d ... I am dust in my lifetime, and how much more so after my death', which he translated slowly into Yiddish. R. Yonoson decided there and then to stand beside this humble Jew, so that some of his broken-heartedness would rub off on him.
Next day, when this same Jew was called-up for Revi'i, he began to complain in a loud voice 'Revi'i? Why do I get only Revi'i, when so-and-so got Shelishi?'
R. Yonasan approached him and asked him how he reconciled his current outburst with his declaration of the previous night that he was 'merely dust'?
'That', the Jew replied, 'I said to G-d, in front of whom I am no more than a speck of dust. But compared to that fellow!?'
And so it is in our case, R. Meir Shapiro concludes, when Avraham Avinu compared himself to dust he was speaking before G-d; whilst Moshe was speaking to the complainants. To be able to declare even in front of such people 'What are we?!', constitutes the ultimate in humility.
The Premature Grumble
"And the people quarreled with Moshe, and they said 'Give us water ... '. And Moshe said to them 'Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you try Hashem?' " (17:2).
What did Yisrael do wrong? What should people who run out of water do, if not bring their complaints before Moshe?
The problem, explains the Chidushei ha'Rim, lies in the next Pasuk, which informs us that the people were thirsty. In the current Pasuk it seems, they had just drunk, and were satiated. Then why did they come running without even waiting to see whether G-d would provide them with a supply of water?
That was a flaw in Emunah! That was their sin!
Two Bitters Make Sweet
"... G-d showed him a tree, and he threw it into the water and the water became sweet" (15:25).
He showed him something from the Torah which is compared to a tree of life, says the Medrash. Hashem makes bitter things sweet through something bitter.
A Talmid-Chacham who dedicates all his time to learning Torah, has trouble in making ends meet. He suffers the bitterness of malnutrition. A successful businessman on the other hand, is never short of food. But he suffers the bitterness of lack of spiritual satisfaction.
It is possible to kill two birds with one stone, by the businessman providing the Talmid-Chacham. In that case, the latter will have what to eat, and the former will feel spiritual satisfaction. What the Medrash that we just cited now means is that through the Tree of life that one supports, one bitterness negates the other (Toras Moshe).
When One's Faith is Shaky
"And because they tried G-d saying 'Is Hashem in our midst or not?' And Amalek came and he fought with Yisrael in Refidim" (17:7/8).
"Refidim", say Chazal, is the acronym of 'rofu yedeihem', meaning that Amalek came because they were lax in Torah-study.
Indeed, says the Malbim, if one is lax in Torah and Mitzvos, be rest assured that it stems from a deficiency in Emunah. Conversely, someone whose Emunah is strong, will have no problem in his learning and performance of Mitzvos either.
That is why the Gemara says in Makos, 24a, Chavakuk came and based all the Mitzvos on one Mitzvah - Emunah, when he said (2:4) "ve'Tzadik be'emunoso yichyeh".
To Fight or Not to Fight
"And Moshe said to Yehoshua ... and go and fight against Amalek!" (17:9).
Why is it, asks the Pardes Yosef, that at the Yam-Suf, Yisrael were instructed to stand still and watch whilst G-d did the fighting, whilst here they were given express instructions to go and fight the enemy?
In an answer that resembles the famous distinction which the commentaries draw between Chanukah and Purim, he says as follows. When it is a matter of Reshus (does not border on an attack against Yiddishkeit), what is required is Bitochon in G-d, and not our own participation (hence at the Yam-Suf, they were told to watch). Whereas with regard to Amalek, who came to undermine our faith and to cool us down in our Avodas Hashem, Bitachon was not enough. Action was required to defend our spiritual heritage.
The Cart or the Horse?
"And it was when Moshe raised his hand, Yisrael were victorious, whereas when he lowered it, Amalek was victorious" (17:11).
'Is it Moshe's hands that make war or break war?', asks the Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah. 'Not at all,' it replies! 'Only when Yisrael looked upwards and rendered their hearts subservient to their Father in Heaven, they were victorious; whereas when they didn't, they fell'.
The question remains, asks the S'fas Emes, why, if so much was at stake, did Moshe lower his hands, thereby depriving them of the initiative to look upwards?
The question, he answers, is based on the premise that whether Yisrael looked up or down depended upon whether Moshe's hands were raised or lowered, whereas the truth of the matter is exactly the opposite. Whenever Yisrael looked up to Hashem, they gave strength to Moshe, to keep his hands raised upwards, a symbol of victory. Whenever they did not, they drained Moshe of the energy to keep his hands raised, and he was forced to lower them, thereby causing defeat.
It is the deeds and thoughts of the people that empower their leaders to succeed in their missions, not the reverse.
* * *
'And it was when Paroh sent out the people, G-d did not lead them by way of the P'lishtim, because it was close; because He said "perhaps the people will change their minds when they see their brothers who died in battle, the two hundred thousand fighting men from the tribe of Efrayim all wielding shields, spears and other weapons. They went down to Gas in the land of the P'lishtim, and because they transgressed the decree of Hashem and left Egypt thirty years prematurely, before the time was up, they fell into the hands of the P'lishtim, who killed them. They constituted the dry bones that the word of G-d brought back to life through the Navi Yechezkel in the Valley of Dura. If they were now to see them, they would be afraid and return to Egypt" ' (13:17).
'So G-d took them round by way of the desert, via the Yam-Suf (the Reed-Sea); and the B'nei Yisrael left Egypt, each one with five children' (13:18).
'And Paroh said to Dasan and Aviram, members of Yisrael who had stayed behind in Egypt, the people of the House of Yisrael are caught in the land, the god of the north (Ba'al Tz'fon) has locked the bolts of the desert on them' (14:3).
'And he took six hundred chosen chariots and all the chariots of the Egyptians, the servants who were afraid of the word of G-d, who died neither during the plague of pestilence nor during the plague of hail; and he added a third mule to each chariot, to increase its speed' (14:7).
'And the Egyptians pursued them, and they caught them encamped by the sea, collecting pearls and precious stones, which the River Pishon had transported from Gan Eden to the River Gichon, and which the River Gichon in turn, carried to the Yam-Suf, and which the Yam-Suf had now cast on to its banks; all the horses of Paroh 's chariots and his riders and all of his camp by Pi ha'Chiros, which was in front of Ba'al Tz'fon' (14:9).
'And Paroh saw that the image of Tz'fon had survived, so he brought before it sacrifices; Meanwhile Yisrael raised their eyes and there were the Egyptains chasing after them, and they were extremely afraid, and they prayed to Hashem' (14:10).
'Yisrael comprised four groups on the banks of the Yam-Suf: One group said, "Let's enter the sea!"; A second group said "Let's return to Egypt!"; A third group said "Let's engage them in battle!", and a fourth group said "Let's make a noise and confuse them!" To the group that said "Let's enter the sea!", Moshe countered "Don't be afraid! Stay where you are and see the salvation that G-d is about to perform for you today!" To the group that said "Let's return to Egypt!", he countered "Don't go back, because as you see Egypt today you will never see them again!" To the group which said "Let's engage them in battle!", Moshe replied "Don't fight, because victory will come to you directly from Hashem!" And to those who said "Let's make a noise and confuse them!", Moshe retorted "Be silent and ascribe glory, praise G-d and uplift Him" ' (14:13-14).
* * *
AND THEIR MEANING
(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)
Please bear in mind that the rulings in this article
reflect the opinion of the Seifer ha'Chinuch
and are not necessarily Halachah.
The Prohibition of Blaspheming Hashem
See Mitzvah 69 (in last week's issue).
A reason for the Mitzvah is ... because when a person speaks in this manner, he divests himself of all good. His majestic Soul is transformed into a destroyer, and he resembles an animal. G-d endowed man with the power of speech to distinguish him from an animal, to turn him into a human being to elevate him; yet he has used that very power of speech to set himself apart, to debase himself. He has removed himself from the realm of knowledge, and has become like despicable vermin and even more despicable more. And the Torah warns us against doing this, because Hashem wants only what is good for us, and any speech that withholds good from us goes contrary to His will.
Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah ... such as that one is only Chayav after having pronounced G-d's unique Name (i.e. that of Havayah [i.e. Yud Key Vav Key]) or that of Adnus (i.e. Alef Daled Nun Yud), according to the opinion of some ... and what Chazal have said that once the Din has been concluded, the Sanhedrin send everybody out before asking one of the witnesses to repeat exactly what he heard. When he does, the Dayanim are obligated to stand up and to rent their clothes, a tear that may never be repaired. The second witness then merely states that he heard the same thing, and however many witnesses there are, each one makes the same statement ... They also rule that someone who curses G-d is stoned, even if he retracts immediately (even though retraction 'Toch K'dei Dibur [in the time that it takes to say 'Sholom Aleichem Mori'] is effective in most other areas of Halachah) ... Someone who curses Hashem using the name of an Avodah-Zarah is subject to the Din of 'Kana'im pog'in bo' (anyone who is zealous for the honour of Hashem is permitted to kill him). If they did not, Beis-Din is not allowed to sentence him to death. The reason for this is because the person knows himself that, notwithstanding his momentary anger, his words are meaningless, and it is evident that he did not mean what he says. Nevertheless, anybody is allowed to kill him, seeing as he had the audacity to express such an evil statement ... Chazal have also said that whoever hears such blasphemy from the mouth of a fellow-Jew is obligated to rent his clothes. He does not do so if he hears it from the mouth of a gentile (and the reason that Elyakim and Shevna reacted to the blasphemy of Ravshakei [the Assyrian emissary of Sancheriv] by tearing their clothes was because he was a Meshumad [a Jewish apostate]) ... Each of the witnesses, as well as the judges, places his hands on the head of the blasphemer and declares that he is guilty of bringing about his own death. There is no other precedent for this among those who are sentenced to death at the hands of Beis-Din, for so the Torah writes in connection with him, in Emor (24:14) " ... and all those who heard him shall lean their hands on his head ... " ... and all other details are to be found in the seventh chapter of Sanhedrin.
This prohibition applies everywhere and at all times. Whoever contravenes it and curses Hashem in the way that we explained, is sentenced at the hand of Semuchin to stoning. Nowadays, when there are no Semuchin, all his fellow-Jews are ordered to keep away from him, and he is placed in Cherem (ostracized).