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

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Vol. 7   No. 15

Parshas Bo

Trickery for Trickery

The Gemoro in B'rochos (9a) explains that, when G-d instructed Moshe to tell the people to "borrow" precious vessels and clothes, He used the word "please". Why? In order that Avrohom should not accuse Hashem, so to speak, of only keeping the first half of His promise - to take Yisroel out of Egypt , but not the second - to send them out with great possessions. They responded: "Let us just leave - never mind the possessions!" And the Gemoro goes on to compare this to a prisoner who was promised his freedom "tomorrow", with a lot of money. His response was that they should rather take him out today, without the money. (A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.)

Now this Gemoro is extremely difficult to understand. Firstly, why should Hashem need to beg Yisroel to take out silver and gold from Egypt? Secondly, what has keeping His promise got to do with what Avrohom might say? Surely, G-d would have to keep His word even if Avrohom were to remain silent. And thirdly, the facts do not tally with the parable, since, in the parable, the prisoner was willing to forego the money for the sake of one day less in prison, whilst in our case, Yisroel just didn't seem interested in the money at all?

This is what we wrote in Vol. 4 Parshas Bo, in Gems from the Parshah, 'Let's Go Out Now', and we cited there the explanation of the Gro, who answers all the kashyos.


The Seifer P'ninim mi'Shulchan ha'Gro brings a second approach from the Gro. which he introduces by first posing another kashya: Why did G-d find it necessary to trick Par'oh, by asking for permission to go into the desert for three days, when really, He planned to take them out for good? And He did this again at the Yam-Suf, as we shall see shortly.


To answer this question, the Gro points out that Hashem merely paid Par'oh back measure for measure. After all, it was Par'oh who began playing this game, when he himself began building bricks, to encourage Yisroel to follow suit. Then he tricked them further by initially paying them for their work and then demanding that they produce the same number of bricks daily - without payment. And he tricked them again, when he ordered the Jewish midwives to throw the Jewish babies into the Nile, and when they would tell the people that they had been forced into it, and they would lodge their complaints with Par'oh, he would make light of the issue and defend them (the midwives), until they would soon give up complaining. And he tricked them a fourth time, when he instructed the midwives to kill the male babies as they emerged from the womb, and to pretend that they had died naturally before they were born. That explains why, as the Medrash relates, Par'oh needed to inform them that they could know in advance that the baby was a boy by the fact that it lay inside the mother's womb, face downwards.


And that was precisely how G-d decided to deal with Par'oh, measure for measure. That is why He first ordered Yisroel to 'borrow' silver and golden vessels, and then instructed them not to return them. That is why Moshe requested from Par'oh that he let Yisroel go out into the desert a journey of three days, to induce him later to gather his army and pursue them, when they failed to return.

The Medrash too, describes how, when Par'oh arrived by the Yam-Suf, G-d dried up the sea bed, so that the location of the sea was totally unrecognisable, and Par'oh actually believed that he was somewhere else. Then, having lured them there under false pretences, Hashem returned the sea to its former location, killing the Egyptians.


With this explanation, we can answer all the kashyos with which we began: When Moshe told Yisroel to borrow silver and golden vessels, he replied 'But the Egyptians will pursue us when we leave Egypt, and take them back'. 'But that is precisely what G-d wants,' replied Moshe. 'In fact, you will inherit all their wealth there'.

'But surely,' Yisroel persisted, 'that means war. In that case, just let us leave Egypt, and we will forego wealth' - just like the prisoner in the moshol, who preferred to go out today, rather than to wait for the money tomorrow.


And this will also clarify the opinion in the Gemoro there, that they borrowed the money against the will of Yisroel (in other words, reluctantly, because of the heavy burden). Now, who has ever heard of people complaining of inheriting a vast fortune - because it was too heavy to carry (which is, in effect, the first kashya that we asked at the outset)?

But according to what we explained, says the Gro, this is no problem at all. Yisroel's complaint was, why they needed to borrow the vessels in the first place, seeing as the Egyptians were destined to transport their silver and gold to the Yam-Suf anyway, and Yisroel would inherit it from them there. So why the need to borrow it in Egypt, to have to carry it all the way to the Yam-Suf for nothing?

Back came Moshe's reply - so that Avrohom, who knew about the promise, and who did not know that the Exodus was not the final stage of the redemption, should not have reason to complain (even for one moment) that Hashem did not fulfill part of His promise.


Parshah Pearls

Adapted from the Seifer P'ninim mi'Shulchan ha'Gro


Oh Yes There Was!

"And Hashem will pass (over Egypt) to plague the Egyptians, and He will see the blood on the lintel etc. ... and He will not allow the destructive angel to come to your houses to plague (you)" (12:23).

Bearing in mind that it was Hashem Himself who killed the Egyptian first-born, and no angel (as the Ba'al Hagodoh stresses so adamantly), what does the posuk mean when it writes that "He will not let the destructive angel come to your houses"? But there was no destructive angel, asks the Gro?

'Oh yes there was,' he answers, 'not a destructive angel that killed the first-born, but the destructive angel whose job it is to take people's lives, the Mal'ach ha'Moves.

Had one Jew died, Par'oh would have argued that Makas Bechoros was not decreed by G-d, seeing as some Jews had died too. So what did Hashem do? He prevented the Angel of Death from making his rounds that night, at least not in the Jewish section of town, with the result that even if some Jews were destined to die, their lives would be spared - at least until the following day.


The Catalyst was Chesed

"And the B'nei Yisroel did like the word of Moshe and they borrowed from the Egyptians ... " (12:35-36).

Rashi explains 'Like Moshe had told them to do in Egypt, that each person should borrow from his friend'.

It is not at first clear, asks the Gro, what Rashi is telling us that we do not already know from the posuk.


He answers with a Gemoro in Bovo Kama (37b), which teaches that if an ox belonging to a Jew gores one belonging to a non-Jew, the owner is exempt from paying because the Torah obligates him only if his ox gores the ox of his friend (re'eihu), and a non-Jew is not considered re'eihu. In that case, when Hashem first instructed Moshe to order Yisroel to borrow the Egyptians' vessels, in Chapter 11:2, why did he say that a woman should borrow from her friend, seeing as the Egyptians are not called 'friends', as we just explained?


We are therefore forced to explain that the posuk there is referring, not to Yisroel borrowing the Egyptians' vessels, but to borrowing each others'. The chesed that they would perform with each other would serve as the catalyst that would open the Egyptians' hearts to lend them their vessels.


This also explains why Moshe used the expression "no" (please), when he asked them to do so (something which would hardly have been necessary, had he meant that they should borrow the Egyptians' vessels) - not withstanding the explanation cited by Rashi on the word "no", which the Gro himself cites there.

That is what Rashi means when he says 'like Moshe had told them to do in Egypt, that each person should borrow from his friend' - from his Jewish friend, and on that basis, they were later able to borrow from the Egyptians too.


Two to Break, One to Carry

The Gro cites a Yerushalmi, which rules that two people who break a bone of the Korban Pesach are chayov (for transgressing the pertinent la'av), whereas two people who carry some of the meat of the Korban Pesach outside its borders, ar not.

This is clearly hinted in the Torah, which writes "Lo sotzi min ha'bayis" (Do not take the meat out" - in the singular), "ve'etzem lo sishberu bo" (and do not break a bone - in the plural) 12:46.


The Brain, The Heart and Tefilin

The purpose of Tefilin is to tie up one's intellectual thoughts (based in the brain) and the emotional thoughts (based in the heart), as is brought in the Tur and Shulchan Oruch.

It is well-known that man possesses five senses, four of them are based in the brain (sight, speech, hearing and smell), and the fifth one, that of feeling, is distributed throughout the rest of the body. However, just as the first four are based in the brain, so is the fifth sense based in the heart.

The fifth sense itself is divided into four: the sense of touch (with the hands), that of walking (with the feet), that of tashmish (marital relations) and that of feeling (throughout the body).

The difference between the two sets is that, whereas the latter four are not individual senses, but all stem from the same source - the heart - the former five are actually divided into five separate compartments in the brain.

That explains why the Tefilin shel Rosh, which demonstrates the binding together of the brain and its senses, comprises four parshiyos, each one with its own compartment. The shel Yad, on the other hand, which demonstrates the binding of the heart, contains four parshiyos, but in one compartment.



(The Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh)

Adapted from the Seifer ha'Mitzvos ha'Kotzer of the Chofetz Chayim.

42. Not to withhold food, clothes and conjugal rights from one's wife - as the Torah writes in Mishpotim (21:10) "Do not detract from her food, her clothes or her conjugal rights".Someone who withholds any of these from one's wife deliberately, in order to hurt her, has contravened this la'av.

Chazal add seven obligations to this list: the basic kesubah; curing her when she is sick; redeeming her if she is captured; burying her after she dies; the right to remain in her husband's house after his death (until she remarries), and to be sustained out of his estate; that her daughters should be sustained from his estate until they get engaged; that her sons inherit her right to claim her kesubah from her husband after her death.

They also instituted that the husband for his part, receives seven privileges, including: the work of her hands (what she produces or what she earns) - corresponding to her sustenance; the fruits of her property during her lifetime - corresponding to her redemption; what she finds - because otherwise, it will lead to strife; he inherits her - corresponding to her burial. A wife has the right to forego her rights and to exempt herself from her corresponding obligation.

A man is also obliged to sustain his small sons and daughters.


43. Not to strike any Jew - as the Torah writes in Ki Seitzei (25:3) "Do not add" - a warning to the Sh'li'ach Beis-din not to add an extra stoke to the thirty-nine lashes (or however many strokes the sinner can take) that comprise malkos, and if the Torah warns not to give someone who is deserving of lashes one extra stroke, how much more so may one not hit someone who is not deserving of any strokes at all.

Someone who hits his fellow-Jew a stroke that causes him damage, the value of which is less than a shoveh-perutah (a couple of cents or so) receives malkos, but if the damage amounts to a shoveh-perutah or more, then he is obliged to pay, and does not receive malkos (since one does not generally receive two punishments) - though this does not mean that he has not contravened the la'av.

Even someone who merely raises his hand against a fellow Jew is called a rosho.

A father who hits his son or a Rebbe, his talmid, in order to chastise him and to teach him the right way, has not transgressed - on the contrary, he has performed a mitzvah.

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.


44. Not to strike one's father or mother - as the Torah writes in Mishpotim "And someone who hits his father or mother shall surely be put to death". The Torah's warning for this is "Do not add" (see previous mitzvah.) If he wounds his father or mother (i.e. draws blood), and there were witnesses and warning, he is sentenced to death by strangulation. If he strikes them on the ear and deafens them, he receives the same punishment, because there must have been some bleeding, however slight.

For a stroke that does not cause a wound, there is no difference between parents and anyone else (refer to previous mitzvah).

Someone who strikes his parents after their death is exempt.

It is prohibited for a child to let the blood of (or to operate on) his parents. But if there is no other doctor (who is as competent as him), he should follow their instructions.

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.


About the Mitzvos

Plugging in to the Source

If someone ascribes the mitzvah of Shilu'ach ha'Kein (sending away the mother bird before taking the babies) to G-d's mercy, says the Mishnah in B'rochos (33b), we tell him to stop.

According to one interpretation in the Gemoro, this is because he is attributing the mitzvos to G-d's mercy, whereas really they are Divine decrees. Rashi explains that G-d ordained the mitzvos for us to acknowledge His authority over us, rather than to teach us midos.


At first sight, Rashi's explanation appears to clash with a well-known Medrash Rabah. The Medrash Rabah explains that the mitzvos were given to Yisroel to purify them, which is generally understood to refer to the refinement of character and the good midos that result from the performance of mitzvos. Rashi does not seem to learn the Gemoro in B'rochos that way at all. According to his interpretation, the mitzvos were given to us to teach us subordination to G-d's authority, not midos.


It is however, possible to reconcile the two by presenting two ways of explaining the Medrash Rabah. We would normally interpret the Medrash to mean that, by thinking about the particular mitzvah as one performs it, one becomes imbued with the particular characteristic connected with the mitzvah in question - chesed, rachamim, emunah, yir'as Shomayim, etc. In that case, the two are indeed irreconcilable.

But perhaps the Medrash means something else: What the Medrash possibly means is that each mitzvah has an inherent characteristic, which it transmits to those who practise it, irrespective of whether they have it in mind or not, much in the same way as taking the appropriate medicine when one is ill has the desired effect whether one intends it to or not.

But Rashi goes one step further. Sure, one is required to have the correct intention when performing a mitzvah, he says, but that intention must be that of subjugating oneself to G-d's majesty, not to mull over the particular characteristic of the mitzvah that one is in the process of performing.

And this can be compared to boiling an electric kettle, which can only be done successfully if one plugs in to the source of power. So too, with the performance of a mitzvah; it can only be performed successfully if one first plugs in to the ultimate Source of Power - to acknowledge His supremacy.


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