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

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Vol. 21   No. 16

This issue is sponsored
by Chilly and Shana Chrysler n"y
in honour of the Bas Mitzvah
of their daughter Jade ny

Parshas Beshalach

Ba'al Tz'fon
(Adapted from the Oznayim la'Torah)

"Speak to the B'nei Yisrael, that they should go back (ve'yoshuvu) and encamp in front of Pi ha'Chiros, between Migdol and the Sea, in front of Ba'al Tz'fon, opposite it, you shall encamp by the sea" (14:2).

Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu knew full-well that, at K'riy'as Yam-Suf the Satan would prosecute Yisrael and argue that Yisrael worshipped idols just as the Egyptians did, so by what right did they deserve to be saved, whilst the Egyptians were drowned? That's why he commanded Yisrael to go back - i.e. to do Teshuvah (as is also implied by the word "ve'yoshuvu") by going back and camping in front of Ba'al Tz'fon, so as to pre-empt the Satan's argument.

Granted, Yisrael had already done Teshuvah, when they designated the Korban Pesach before Makas Bechoros, as Chazal explain, commenting on the word "Mishchu" (withdraw [from Avodah-Zarah - 12:21]). However, seeing as Ba'al Tz'fon was the only idol to survive Makas Bechoros, a ruse to trick the Egyptians into believing that G-d had no jurisdiction over it, perhaps there were members of K'lal Yisrael who would likewise fall into the trap of believing that Ba'al Tz'fon was indeed a powerful deity!

But now that they stood in front of it, they would come to their senses when they realized that although it was deliberately placed there to prevent slaves from running away, they would see that it had failed to do its job in retaining them in Egypt, since they had escaped from Egypt in spite of it.

Moreover, the miracles they were about to witness, that would take place in front of Ba'al Tz'fon, and that would conclude with its destruction would complete the T'shuvah process and silence the Satan once and for all.


Incidentally, this last point, the author explains, will also answer the question posed by the Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos (see last year's main article) - how the Torah can use Ba'al Tz'fon as a landmark, despite the Halachah prohibiting using an Avodah-Zarah in that capacity. But now that the mention of Ba'al Tz'fon at this point is to herald its downfall (and not due to its importance), the prohibition falls away.


Who was Ba'al Tz'fon?
(Adapted from the Oznayim la'Torah)


The Mechilta explains that Ba'al Tz'fon's real name was Pisom (one of the two store-cities that Yisrael built), and that they changed its name to Ba'al Tz'fon. That became the king's treasury where they placed all the silver and gold that Yosef had collected from the sale of corn during the famine. Perhaps, the Oznayim la'Torah suggests, they called it Ba'al Tz'fon on account of the money that was stored away there (from the word 'Tzofun' - hidden), in keeping with the Pasuk in Iyov 37 "mi'Tzofon zohov yo'asoh"). In any event, the author points out, it was not because it was in the north, since, according to the Medrash 'Migdol was in the north, and Ba'al Tz'fon, in the south'.


The lack of gratitude of the Egyptians is remarkable, says the Oznayim la'Torah. They forced the B'nei Yisrael, among them the sons and family of Yosef, to build Pisom, to house the vast stores of money that Yosef, in his wisdom, and in total integrity, had amassed on their behalf.

Interestingly, he comments, Egypt had been hard hit regarding their water and their animals, their produce, their firstborn, their gods - (the Nile, the lambs and the oxen all of which they worshipped) and their bodies. But not Pisom, (alias Ba'al Tz'fon), which served as the royal treasury. Par'oh and the Egyptians were overawed. Clearly, they believed, this idol was all-powerful, and that even the G-d of the Jews was unable to dislodge it from its supreme pedestal.

Little did they know that, not only was this a ploy on the part of G-d to lure them out to the desert, before drowning them in the Yam-Suf, but that the royal treasures were about to fall into the hands of the B'nei Yisrael. G-d saw what the Egyptians had done to His people, and how as part compensation, they had lent them all their precious vessels. But, he decided, this was not sufficient to pay them for all those years of slavery, particularly considering all the property, furniture and valuable possessions that they left behind. So he commanded them to empty Pisom, and to take all the silver and gold that was stored there, a command that Yisrael had no difficulty in carrying out, since, having built it, they were conversant with every nook and cranny there. They had full access to all its contents.


What's more, the author concludes, it was in order to recapture the vast royal treasures that Par'oh gathered an army to attack them as they stood at the Yam Suf. Indeed, when, as mentioned in the Shirah, he spoke about "sharing the spoil", he cannot have been referring to the vessels that Yisrael had borrowed from them, since that belonged to their respective owners. It was not Par'oh's to give away. He must therefore have been referring to the silver and gold that Yisrael took from Ba'al Tz'fon.

* * *

Parshah Pearls
(Based on the Oznayim la'Torah)
Par'oh Sent them Out

"And it was when Par'oh sent out the people " (13:17).

The Torah writes, not 'when Yisrael left Egypt', but "when Par'oh sent the people out", the Oznayim la'Torah observes.

And he explains that this is to mock Par'oh, who had emphatically said to Moshe "And Yisrael I will not send out!"

But due to G-d's prodding, when it came to the crunch, not only did they leave with his blessings, but he actually accompanied them out on their way to freedom, as the Mechilta explains.


The Targum Yonasan, says the author, goes even further. He writes that Par'oh drove the people out of Egypt. Where previously he had forbidden Yisrael to leave, he now forbade them to remain!

This also implies that he sent Yisrael out for good, and not just for three days as Moshe had originally requested, and he had refused.

Although this is certainly what Targum Yonasan appears to be saying, it is hard to reconcile this with his own words later (14:5) where he explains that the spies whom Par'oh had sent with Yisrael came and told him that Yisrael had fled.

If indeed, Par'oh sent Yisrael out for good, then what was the purpose of the spies?


For how Long did Yisrael Leave Egypt?

"And Par'oh was told that the people had fled" (14:5).

Irrespective of whether Par'oh sent spies to keep tabs on the B'nei Yisrael, as Rashi explains, or not, this Pasuk only makes sense if Yisrael left Egypt for the three days that Moshe had initially requested.

It is feasible to say that having refused ten times to send out Yisrael on the terms that were offered to him, G-d stripped Par'oh of his jurisdiction over Yisrael, and that He was now taking them out on His own terms - for good.

Only Par'oh was unaware of this, and thought that the original terms still applied. Consequently, he assumed that Yisrael would return after three days, sending spies to ensure that they did, even though that was not what G-d had in mind.

But to suggest that Pa'roh relinquished his hold over Yisrael and sent them out for good, as we explained in the previous Pearl, is problematic, inasmuch as it leaves us with the glaring contradiction that we talked about there and that exists anyway, based on the current Pasuk, as we just explained.


Why the Sea Changed its Mind

"And the Sea returned (changed its mind) to the Egyptians" (14:26).

This is measure for measure, the Oznayim la'Torah explains. Just as the Egyptians initially opened their gates, inviting Ya'akov and his sons to enter Egypt for the duration of the famine, and later refused to let them go, giving them a tough time instead, so too, did the Reed Sea open its gates, inviting the Egyptians to enter on dry land, before closing them, not allowing them to leave, and giving them a tough time instead.


Fearing Man & Fearing G-d

"And the people feared G-d" (14:31).

A few Pesukim earlier, the Torah writes "And behold, the Egyptians were pursuing them and they were extremely afraid". They were afraid of G-d, the Oznayim la'Torah points out, but extremely afraid of the Egyptians.

This conforms with the Gemara in B'rachos (28), where Raban Yochanan ben Zakai said to his disciples 'Would that your fear of Heaven was on a par with your fear of man.

* * *

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