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

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Vol. 10   No. 15

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Parshas Bo

When Paroh Said 'No'!
(Part 2)

Irrespective of whether or not, Paroh performed a Mitzvah in subjugating the B'nei Yisrael we concluded, it appears from the Pesukim in Sh'mos, that it was not for their subjugation that he was punished, but for his refusal to relinquish his hold on them, when ordered by G-d to do so.


What's more, even assuming that G-d did issue a command to enslave K'lal Yisrael, as the Ramban claims, and that Paroh was therefore fulfilling the Divine Will in subjugating them, it does not necessarily follow that he was fulfilling a Mitzvah. Why is that?

The Rambam in Hilchos Melachim (8:11), makes it mandatory for a gentile to perform the seven Mitzvos because Hashem said so, before he can earn the title of 'a pious gentile', who will receive a portion in the World to Come. Otherwise, he says, he does not even earn the rights of a 'ger toshav' (an observant gentile who receives special treatment at our hands). And the Rambam is speaking even if the gentile's deeds are based on positive motives (other than the one that he has listed as imperative).

That being the case, there where his motives are negative, he might not have performed a mitzvah at all. And Paroh's motives for subjugating Yisrael are clearly recorded in the Torah. They were certainly not based on G-d's command or on any other positive motive either.

Moreover, Paroh himself negated any possibility of claiming that they were, when he said "Who is Hashem, that I should listen to His Voice", and then went on to disobey Him on nine more occasions. He certainly proved retroactively that he held G-d in disdain, and that what he had done was based on his personal, negative motives, and not because it was the Divine will.

There can be not the slightest shadow of doubt that Paroh's enslavement of Yisrael was based on his hatred of Yisrael and on his contempt of G-d! And in that light, it is hard to conceive how it can be construed as a Mitzvah, even if G-d did command it.


According to what we have just said, it may well be that for the duration of the slavery, Paroh was not due to be punished, because he was performing a Mitzvah, and perhaps, he would not have been, had he obeyed Moshe's instructions to let Yisrael go. However, now that, when it came to the crunch, he refused simply because he spurned G-d's authority, it became clear retroactively that his motives were negative, and he was therefore punished retroactively.

And this follows the well-known explanation of the G'ro, who, with regard to the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos, and based on a Mishnah in Bava Basra, explains how a man might argue that he is not punishable for his sins, seeing as he did not want to be born in the first place, and that he is therefore living against his will. But that argument falls away totally, he points out, when he is forced to admit that he dies against his will, proving retroactively, that irrespective of the fact that he was born against his will, he is certainly not living against his will. Consequently, Divine retribution for his sins is perfectly justifiable.


Nevertheless, the question that we asked regarding the apparent discrepancy as to why he was punished still needs to be answered. On the one hand, Paroh seems to have been punished for what was effectively, some eighty - ninety years of harsh subjugation of K'lal Yisrael, as is evident from all the commentaries. Whilst on the other, the Torah stresses over and over again, that his punishment was the result of his refusal to obey G-d's command, and was issued predominantly to prove to him G-d's Omnipotence and to force him to bend to His will.


Perhaps the Pasuk in Lech-Lecha, "And I will also judge (punish) the nation whom they will serve" (the obvious source of the commentaries' theory), refers to the drowning of the Egyptians at the Yam-Suf, and not to the ten plagues. Indeed, this is hinted in Parshas Yisro, where the Torah informs us how Yisro was impressed with the fact that Hashem punished the Egyptians 'measure for measure', when He drowned them because they had drowned the Jewish babies. This fits particularly well with the Ramban, in whose opinion, it was the drowning of the Jewish babies that marked the Egyptians' excessive subjugation, for which they deserved to be punished.

If this is indeed so, then when the Torah continues "and after that they will go out with a great possession", refers to the booty that Yisrael captured at the Yam-Suf, which, as Chazal have taught, exceeded by far what they took from the Egyptians when they left Egypt. Nor does the expression "they will go out" create a problem, since it was only after the Egyptians were drowned that the Exodus was complete.

And this explanation (which admittedly does not conform with that of Rashi in Lech-Lecha), goes hand in hand with Moshe's warning to Paroh, which we cited earlier, that if he refuses to send out G-d's first-born son Yisrael, He will kill *his* first-born. Clearly then, it was the ten plagues that served to prove to Paroh G-d's superiority, and to coerce him to bend to His will and send Yisrael out. The crossing of the Yam-Suf was his punishment for the subjugation of Yisrael.

As a further proof, see what Rabeinu Bachye writes at the end of Parshas Sh'mos (5:9), regarding Paroh's efforts to increase Yisrael's suffering in Egypt. The Torah records there how Paroh ''made the work heavy'' for Yisrael (when he withheld the distribution of straw for the bricks), and he ordered them directly to 'go and find their own straw'. It also describes how 'the people scattered across the land' - 'to collect straw for the bricks'. And for all of these, he goes on to explain, Paroh was punished, as we see from the expressions the Torah uses later. Indeed, the Pasuk there describes how Hashem "led the Egyptians with heaviness" (14:25, see Rashi); how 'He made the Sea go towards them' (14:21); how He "scattered them like the east wind" (Yirmiyah 18:17), when He scattered them in the Sea, and how "He consumed them like straw" (15:7, see Rashi there). And all of these details notice, are written by K'riy'as Yam'Suf, and not by the ten plagues, which proves the point that we are making.


Parshah Pearls
(adapted from the Ba'al ha'Turim
and P'ninim mi'Shulchan ha'Gro))

Outsmarting Paroh

When Paroh asked Moshe "Mi va'mi ha'holchim (who are the ones that are going)?" he replied "bi'ne'ureinu u'viz'keineinu neilech (with our youth and with our elderly we will go)" 10:8/9.

The numerical value of "Mi va'mi ha'holchim", points out the Ba'al ha'Turim, is equivalent to that of 'Kalev u'bin Nun'. 'Why are you so keen to go, Paroh was asking Moshe, when you are all going to die in the desert, and the only ones who will arrive at their destination are Yehoshua and Kalev'?

'Not so', answered Moshe, 'because the decree will only cover those who are between twenty and sixty; the youth and the elderly, as well as Yehoshua and Kalev, will all enter Eretz Yisrael'.


It seems that Paroh wasn't concerned with the tribe of Levi, which was not subject to the slavery. Perhaps he wouldn't have minded if they alone would have left Egypt and gone to Eretz Yisrael.


And They (the Locusts) Rested

"And they encamped (va'yonach) within all the borders of Egypt" (10:14).

The word "va'yonach" is also written in Yisro (20:11) "va'yonach ba'yom ha'Shevi'i (and He rested on the seventh day)". To teach us, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, that the locusts rested on the Shabbos, giving Paroh a day of respite.

Alternatively, it hints at Chazal, who have said that the obligation of blowing the Shofar and fasting when there is a plague of locusts, is confined to weekdays, but does not apply to Shabbos.


The Trees and the Youth

" ... and nothing will remain on the trees (bo'eitz)" 10:15.

The same word appears in Eichah, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, "and the youth tripped over the trees (u'ne'arim bo'eitz kosholu)" 5:13.

To explain the connection between the two, he reminds us that it is for Paroh's refusal to send out the children, that no green was left on the trees.


They went Out on Pesach

"And Paroh said to him, Go away from me (Lech me'olai)" 10:28.

The numerical value of "Lech me'olai" is equal to that of 'ba'Pesach', says the Ba'al ha'Turim, and that is precisely when they left Egypt.


This Bechor and that Bechor

"And all the firstborn (b'chor) in the land of Egypt ... (11:5).

Besides the firstborn of the animals, 'Makas Bechoros' incorporated three different kinds of 'firstborn' - the paternal firstborn, the maternal firstborn and the oldest in the house (even if he or she was not actually a firstborn).

And that, explains the Ba'al ha'Turim, is why the word "b'chor" appears three times in this Pasuk (apart from "ve'chol b'chor be'heimah", which is written independently at the end).


Fixing the New Year

The Yerushalmi in K'subos cites the story of the daughters of Shmuel (Rav's colleague) who were captured and who were eventually set free, claiming that they were Tahor (and permitted to marry a Kohen).

When the Chachamim asked Shimon bar Bo, a Kohen, to take his relatives into his care, he married the first one, and she died. Then he married the second one, and she died too.

The reason that they died, explains the Yerushalmi, is because when they claimed that they were Tahor, they had lied (meaning that they had in fact been raped and were therefore forbidden to marry a Kohen).

The Gemara, however, refutes this theory. 'Chas ve'Shalom that the daughters of Shmuel would lie!'it states categorically. 'The reason that they died was because of the sin of Chananyah, the nephew of Rebbi Yehoshua, who fixed leap-years in Chutz la'Aretz' (contrary to the Halachah, since there were people living in Eretz Yisrael who were greater than him). The commentaries explain that the daughters of Shmuel were descendants of his and they died on account of his sin, which, it seems, had not yet been fully atoned for.


The G'ro however, explains the Gemara differently. He cites another Yerushalmi, also in K'subos, which discusses the incredible phenomenon of the Halachah determining nature and overriding physical facts. The Gemara explains that even though the virginity of a girl of three who has been raped does not return, in a case where a girl was raped after having just turned three in the month of Ador, Beis-Din's decision to fix a leap-year, will turn the clock back as it were, and her virginity will return (retroactively).

What happened with the daughters of Shmuel therefore, was that the above-mentioned Chananyah actually declared a leap-year at that time. Shmuel's daughters (who must have then been twins and) who had just turned three when they were raped by their captors, now believed that, due to Chananyah's ruling, their third birthday had been retroactively negated, and declared that they were Tahor.

They had lied however, though not deliberately or even knowingly, because in fact, Chananyah's ruling was void. (P'ninim mi'Shulchan ha'G'ro. See also footnote there).


The Rasha's Question

"And it shall be when your sons will say to you 'What is this service for you" (12:26).

This is the question posed by the Rasha, as the Ba'al Hagadah points out.

Many ask why, seeing as the Chacham too, uses the second person 'What are the testimonies ... which Hashem our G-d has commanded you', what it is that distinguishes his question from that of the Rasha?

The G'ro suggests that perhaps we ought to add a 'Vav' to read 've'kofar ba'Ikar', instead of the current text 'kofar ba'Ikar'. In other words, what the Ba'al Hagadah is saying is that we need to blunt the rasha's teeth, not because by omitting himself, he denied Hashem, but because he omitted himself and denied Hashem.

Shlomoh Hamelech wrote in Koheles "And I have seen that the advantage of wisdom over foolishness is like that of light over darkness". In the current context, we can explain his words in the following way. At the Creation, the Torah writes that 'G-d called the light day, and the darkness, night'. Note that Hashem's Name appears in connection with light, but not in connection with darkness.

And that is precisely the difference between the question of the Chacham and that of the Rasha (who is called 'foolish'). The Chacham mentions the Name of Hashem and that is what distinguishes him from the Rasha, who does not.

And this is what Shlomoh means when he says "the difference between wisdom and foolishness (the chacham and the rasha) is equivalent to the difference between light and darkness" - i.e. Hashem's Name, which appears in the former, but not in the latter.


Ones and Twos

"In one house it shall be eaten. Do not take any of the meat outside, nor shall you break any of its bones" (12:46).

Even though the two latter commands seem to follow the same pattern, the fact is that whereas the former ('Do not take any of the meat outside') is written in the singular, the latter ('nor shall you break any of its bones') is written in the plural.

The G'ro points this out in support of a Yerushalmi in Pesachim, which rules that two people are chayav (receive malkos) for breaking a bone of the Korban Pesach together, whereas two people are not chayav for carrying part of the Korban outside.



The Amidah
(based mainly on the Siddur "Otzar ha'Tefillos")
(Part XXXII)

The B'rachah of Sh'ma Koleinu (cont.)

Ki Keil Shome'a Tefilos ...

It is interesting that the Name 'Keil' is used here (even though we began the B'rachah with the two Names "Hashem Elokeinu"). 'Keil' , of course is one of the first of the thirteen Midos denoting Mercy, and is the Name that Esther used when she entered Achashverosh's presence (to plead with Hashem, when she said "Keili Keili lomoh azavtoni"). Consequently, it is certainly an apt Name to apply to the G-d who answers prayers.

One should bear in mind that the word 'shomei'a' has various connotations (as we explained in 'Sh'ma Yisrael'). In this context, besides 'the One who listens to prayers', it also implies 'the One who answers prayers'.


u'mi'Lefonecho Malkeinu Reikom Al Teshiveinu

If we are not worthy that our Tefilos should be answered completely, explains the Eitz Yosef, at least we ask Hashem not to turn us away empty-handed, that at least, the adage 'T'efilah osah mechtzah' (Tefilah achieves half ) should be fulfilled. The Iyun Tefilah adds that it is not a matter of 'if'. We know full-well that we are unworthy of having our Tefilos answered. Nevertheless, now that we have plucked up the courage to stand before Hashem in prayer, we ask Him to at least fulfil part of our requests, that we should not have made the effort in vain.


Ki Atah Shomei'a ... be'Rachamim

If we want Hashem to listen to our prayers with mercy, then we need to Daven in a way that evokes mercy. We need to plead with Him, and not just to read the prayers in order to get them off our chests. Indeed, Chazal have described the way in which we daven (or at least in which we ought to daven) as 'like a poor man asking at the door'. For to be sure, a rich man who asks for something does not evoke mercy, a poor man does. And we can only achieve this sincerity in our Tefilos if we realize how poor we really are in our own rights. Because without Hashem, we have nothing.


Baruch ... Shomei'a Tefilah

We must consider ourselves lucky indeed, to have a G-d who listens to us and who answers our prayers, for 'the One who listens to our prayers' is not written by way of doubt. We do not refer to the One who 'may listen to our prayers' or who 'sometimes listens to our prayers', but to the One who 'listens to our prayers'. For there is no such thing as an unanswered prayer, provided it is sincere and comes from the heart. We do not know when or even how, Hashem will respond to our prayers, but respond to them He will, at a time and in a way that He sees fit. How truly fortunate we are!


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