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

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Vol. 12   No. 15

This issue is sponsored
le'Iluy Nishmas
Na'omi Ninah Freedman
bas David Yosef z.l.
whose Yohrzeit was on 29th Teves

Parshas Bo

Paroh's Punishment

Two years ago, we discussed the three opinions explaining why Paroh was punished. If we view the Shibud (the slavery) in Egypt as a Divine decree, which the Egyptians merely actualized, (as the Ramban [in Parshas Lech-Lecha] does) and the plagues to which they were ultimately subjected as Divine retribution for having subjugated Yisrael (as most commentaries there do) - it is indeed difficult to justify the punishment.

We will elaborate later.

We discussed then the three ways of answering this question:

The Rambam - that G-d had (deliberately) omitted to mention who would enslave Yisrael (indeed, the years that the Avos were strangers in Eretz Cana'an are included in the four hundred years of Galus in a land "that is not theirs").

The Ramban - that (based on the Pasuk in Zecharyah "I was angry a little, and they helped to do evil") they tortured Yisrael in excess of G-d's initial decree (and we explained there how this was possible).

The Or ha'Chayim - that not only was their motive anything but the fulfillment of the Divine decree, but it was exactly the opposite (and I will elaborate here on the Ohr ha'Chayim's explanation).


G-d decreed the Shibud on Yisrael for not having transgressed some of the things that He had commanded them (Avraham had said 'ba'moh eida ki iroshenu' ... the brothers had sold Yosef as a slave); whereas Paroh subjugated them for not having transgressed everything that G-d had commanded them. For example, he says, do you really think that he would have enslaved them if they had worshipped the Egyptian god 'T'le' and assimilated with the Egyptians? Certainly not! And he actually explains the Pasuk in Zecharyah that the Ramban cites as proof for his explanation, to explain his own interpretation of Paroh's retribution - "I was angry with Yisrael a little (Hashem said - for the little that they transgressed) and they (the Egyptians) helped in the evil" (they assisted Yisrael [with their diabolical plans to remove Yisrael from Me completely], to go from bad to worse).

Indeed, this is generally what the nations of the world have in mind when they subjugate us. And this fits well with Rashi's interpretation of the extra word there "and also" (in the phrase "And also the nation that enslaves them I will punish") - which he says, comes to include the four nations that subjugated us in the course of history. They did (and continue to do) so because we are different than them. If we were to discard the Torah and join their ranks, they would, for the most part, welcome us with open arms.

All of the above explanations are based on the Ramban's Kashya, which assumes that the ten plagues were G-d's punishment for subjugating Yisrael, and this is borne out by Targum Yonasan (as well as by Rashi) in Lech-Lecha, who interpret the Pasuk that we just quoted in this way.


The Pesukim in Seifer Sh'mos however, convey quite a different message. Already in the Parshah of Sh'mos (4:23), Moshe specifically warns Paroh that all the firstborn in Egypt will die should he refuse to release G-d's 'firstborn son' from bondage. (Incidently, it is from there, says the Or ha'Chayim, that Moshe knew, even when, in the wake of the plague of hail, Paroh began to capitulate, that he would retract, as he told Par'oh outright). And this theme is repeated again and again throughout the plagues, strongly insinuating that Paroh was being punished (not for the Shibud, but) for his obstinacy, in refusing to let G-d's people go and serve Him. And this is repeated once again in this week's Parshah, where Moshe warns Paroh that if he fails to send Hashem's people out, then the very next day, he will suffer a plague of locusts. To be more precise, he was being punished for insubordination to G-d, as the Torah writes in the previous Pasuk "Until when will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? Send out My people and let them serve Me!" And in similar vein, last week's Parshah informs us that the plagues were intended to teach him G-d's existence and mastery over the world. His eligibility to be severely punished, it seems, began with his response to Moshe's initial request to send Yisrael out "Who is Hashem, that I should obey Him?" All this implies that the objective of the plagues was to rectify that statement and his subsequent treatment of K'lal Yisrael (not to punish him for their initial subjugation).


The question then arises how to resolve the Pesukim in Sh'mos with the Pasuk in Lech-Lecha?

It therefore seems to me that the Pasuk in Lech-Lecha, implying that Paroh would be punished for the subjugation of Yisrael refers, not to the ten plagues, but to the drowning of the Egyptians at the Yam-Suf. And when the Torah concludes there "and after that, they will leave with a great possession", it refers either to the booty of the Yam-Suf, which, as Chazal explain, exceeded that of what they took in Egypt, or, according to the Medrash, to the giving of the Torah, which took place afterwards (and the Pasuk then translates "and after that, they will leave [not 'with' but] 'for' a great possession").

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Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the Chochmas Chayim)

Sharing the Burden

"But for all B'nei Yisrael not a dog will whet its tongue" (11:7).

The Medrash teaches us that as a reward for this 'good deed' the Torah writes later that T'reifah is thrown to the dogs, because 'G-d does not withhold the reward of any creature'.

In similar vein, the Torah writes later "And all firstborn donkeys you shall redeem with a lamb. Failing that, you shall break its neck" (13:13).

Rashi explains that this Din is confined to the donkey (and not to any other non-Kasher species), because when Yisrael left Egypt, the donkeys assisted them in carrying all their belongings on their backs, as Chazal have said, there was not a person in Yisrael who did not take ninety donkey-loads of silver and gold which they took from the Egyptians.

We have here two animals who earned themselves a reward for a good deed that they performed. Why is it, asks R. Yosef Chayim, that the donkey was rewarded with a degree of sanctity, as the Torah writes in Ki Sisa "All firstborns belong to Me ..."; whereas the dog merely receives the flesh of the T'reifah that one throws it?

What did the donkey do to deserve this unique privilege?

The answer, says R. Yosef Chayim, lies in the difference between the good deed that each performed. The donkeys helped carry Yisrael's belongings out of Egypt as well as the spoil from the Yam-Suf. And it is for sharing Yisrael's burden that they were given an elevated status. The dogs on the other hand, did indeed hold their tongues, an admirable thing to do, but a negative one to boot. To be sure, remaining silent merits a reward, but for that, some meat to satisfy their hunger will suffice.


Kedushah and Tum'ah
Don't Go Hand in Hand

Still in connection with the donkey's reward, but seen from a slightly different angle.

R. Kook once justified his forgiving relationship with the secular Zionists, who trampled underfoot Torah and Mitzvos, defiling the holy land as they continue to do to this day. He explained that G-d too, does not withhold the reward of every creature, and cited the reward that the Torah gives the donkey for the one set of good deeds that it performed with K'lal Yisrael when they left Egypt, and when they departed from the Yam-Suf. For that, he pointed out, G-d rewarded them with the sanctity of a Bechor.

The secular Zionists too, he argued, were helping K'lal Yisrael to build Eretz Yisrael, eliminating its barrenness, often with great self-sacrifice. They too, were destined to receive their reward.

When R. Yosef Chayim heard R. Kook's explanation, this is how he responded. It is true, he said, that the donkey was rewarded with a degree of sanctity, but at the same time, the Torah instructs us to redeem it with a lamb. The donkey after all, is a Tamei animal, and Tum'ah and Kedushah cannot exist in one body. What's more, the Torah adds, if one fails to redeem the firstborn baby of the Tamei donkey, one is obligated to break its neck, since it is not possible to leave a spark of Kedushah inside an impure animal.

That is why we Daven and hope, R. Yosef Chayim concluded, that these secular builders of the land will soon do Teshuvah, so that the Mitzvah will rest in the holy body of a Ba'al-Teshuvah, as the Navi writes "And the redeemer will arrive in Tziyon and to those who repent on their sins in Ya'akov". But up until such time as they do ...


Rosh Chodesh

"This month shall be for you the head of the months ... " (12:2).

The daughter-in-law of R.Yosef Chayim tells the following story about her father-in-law.

After the death of her mother-in-law, she and her husband with their family moved into her father-in-law's apartment. In those days, before the advent of washing-machines (that do the family wash at the press of a button), they would hire a woman to do the laundry. This woman, who was usually from a poor Yemenite family (as the pay was extremely low), would sit next to a tub of washing and rub away from sunrise to dusk.

Early one morning, before R. Yosef Chayim had left for Shachris, voices of a quarrel could be heard emanating from the Batei Machseh area where R. Chayim lived. The Rav asked his daughter-in-law to go and investigate the source of the trouble. So she put on a morning robe and went to see what was going on. She soon returned with the following story. It appears that a local woman had engaged a Yemenite woman to do her washing. When the latter arrived early in the morning to begin work, she was informed by her employer that her services were not required. Her employer it seems, she had forgotten that it was Rosh Chodesh, and the prevalent Minhag was not to work on Rosh Chodesh. All the Yemenite woman's pleas that her husband was ill in bed, and that if she did not work that day, she would have no money with which to feed her children, fell on deaf ears. Minhag was Minhag, and that was that!

When R. Yosef Chayim heard that, he asked his daughter-in-law whether she had no odd jobs to offer the unfortunate woman. And when she replied in the negative, he asked her to quickly run and fetch the Yemenite woman and to arrange for her to do their own washing. To let a poor Jewish woman suffer was a far greater sin, he maintained, than to contravene a Minhag. She ran to fetch the woman, and had just set her up by the tub to do the washing, when the woman's employer came running to the Rav's house. 'If the Rav is allowed to do the laundry on Rosh Chodesh,' she explained, 'then so am I'!


Matzos and Mitzvos -
(Two Tales of Two Tzadikim)

"And you shall guard the Matzos" (12:17).

'Do not read "And you shall guard the Matzos" said Rebbi Yashiyah, but 'And you shall guard the Mitzvos' (Mechilta).

R. Yosef Chayim expended tremendous effort into the baking of his Matzos, to ensure that they were of the highest degree of Hidur.

Now it once happened that one of his assistants at the Matzah bakery informed him that a certain worker was somewhat lax in rolling the dough, and he suggested that he deserved a good telling off, to put him back on track.

But R. Yosef Chayim refused point blank to do so. 'Shall I rebuke a poor worker just because I want to have Mehudar Matzos?', he exclaimed. 'I for my part do whatever I can, sparing no expense to obtain the best possible Matzos. In addition', he explained, 'I Daven to Hashem to give me the merit to make the most Mehudar Matzos obtainable, and I am certain that the One who examines the heart of man, and who knows the extent of my desire to fulfill this Mitzvah in the best possible way, will accept my prayers. But if I were to receive Mehudar Mehudar in exchange for scolding a poor laborer, I would be negating the reward for the Mitzvah with the loss of hurting a poor man. That does not come into the question.


And a similar story is told of the Chasam Sofer, in whose house Matzos were distributed to the needy. Now it once happened that the maid mistakenly gave a poor man the special Matzos reserved for the Chasam Sofer, in place of the ordinary Matzos that she should have given him. To make matters worse, she could not remember to whom she had given them, so there was no way of rectifying her mistake.

When the Rebbetzen got to hear about it, she was most distraught, and could not find a way of telling her husband about it, since she imagined the anguish such news what cause him, and she was loathe to make him angry. However, when the Chasam Sofer returned from the Mikvah, he immediately noticed on his wife's face that something was wrong. When, upon enquiry, she told him of the unfortunate mistake, he overcame his initial impulse, and turning to her with a smile, he said 'Nothing serious happened!', adding 'It is better to eat ordinary Matzos like everybody else, than to stumble over the despicable Midah of anger!'

According to another version, what he said was 'It is preferable to stumble over a Mashehu (a minute amount of) Chametz, than to stumble over a Mashehu of anger!'


Soldiers in G-d's Army

"And it was on this very day, all the hosts (soldiers) of Hashem left Egypt" (12:41).

Yisrael are called soldiers in G-d's army, R. Yosef Chayim explains, and must be prepared to serve Him at all times like troops serve the king in time of war.

A soldier on the battlefield is fed dry, stale bread, and sleeps out in the field.

Therefore, he says, as a reminder of our status, the Torah commands us to eat dry bread on Pesach, and to dwell in makeshift huts on Succos.

* * *

(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Mitzvah 430:
To Bless Hashem After a Meal (cont.)

On Shabbos and Yom-Tov one adds the Kedushah of the day in the third B'rachah (Birchas ha'Aretz). Someone who forgot and already began 'ha'Tov ve'ha'Meitiv' must repeat Birchas ha'Mazon from the beginning. If, on the other hand, he conluded Birchas ha'Aretz but had not yet begun ha'Tov ve'ha'Meitiv, he recites there and then the following B'rachah: 'Boruch Attoh Hashem ... asher nosan Shabos menuchoh le'amo Yisrael le'os ve'la'b'ris. Boruch Attoh Hashem, mekadesh ha'Shabbos'.

On Yom-Tov, the wording of the Brochoh changes to 'Boruch Atoh Hashem ... asher nosan Yomim-Tovim le'amo Yisrael le'soson u'le'simchah. Boruch Attoh Hashem, mekadesh Yisrael ve'ha'zemanim'. One mentions Rosh Chodesh, Chol ha'Mo'ed, Chanukah and Purim too, in Birchas ha'Oretz. However, if one forgot and concluded the B'rachah, one neither repeats Birchas ha'Mazon nor does one mention them in a special B'rachah. One simply continues.

The Chinuch concludes with a tradition from his Rebbes that anyone who is careful about reciting Birchas ha'Mazon (with Kavanah), will be sustained honourably all his life.

This Mitzvah applies min ha'Torah, everywhere and at all times, to men and women. As far as women are concerned however, our sages are unsure as to whether their obligation is min ha'Torah or mi'de'Rabbanan. Consequently, a man who contravenes this Mitzvah and fails to recite Birchas ha'Mazon after a meal, has contravened a Mitzvah min ha'Torah, whereas a woman has certainly contravened a Mitzvah mi'de'Rabbanan, maybe even a Mitzvah min ha'Torah.

And in the same way, anyone who reads in the Torah in the morning before reciting either Birchos ha'Torah or 'Ahavas Olam' ('Ahavah Rabah') has nullified a Miztvah min ha'Torah. Consequently, if he forgot whether or not, he recited Birchas ha'Torah (and Ahavas Olam), he must recite them later.

Someone who forgets to recite a B'rachah apart from any of the above, has nullified a Mitzvah mi'de'Rabbanan, and is subject to the Pasuk in Koheles (10:8) "Someone who breaks the fence (with reference to Mitzvos de'Rabbanan) will be bitten by a snake". Someone on the other hand, who is careful to recite them will be blessed (Midah ke'Neged Midah).

Please note, that the rulings mentioned in this article are the Seifer ha'Chinuch's personal opinions (which generally follow that of the Rambam) and are not necessarily Halachah le'Ma'aseh.


Mitzvah 30:
Not to Swear in Vain

It is forbidden to swear in vain, as the Pasuk writes in Yisro (20:7) "Do not bear the name of G-d in vain". This prohibition has four branches - 1. To swear that something is not what it is known to be (such as swearing that a marble post is made of gold). 2. To swear that something is what everybody knowns it is (that a stone is a stone or a tree, a tree). 3. To swear to negate a certain Mitzvah or Mitzvos that the Torah has commanded. 4. To swear that one will do something that is impossible (such as not to sleep for three consecutive days, or not to eat for seven).

A reason for this Mitzvah (bearing in mind that the Torah is referring to an oath that one makes mentioning G-d's Name) is to know and clarify in one's mind that there is no existence in the world like that of G-d, who exists permanently in Heaven above, and that we are obligated, when mentioning His Great Name in connection with our deeds and words, to do so with dread, fear, trembling and perspiration, and not like one jokes and speaks about something that is insignificant - incorporating physical things that deteriorate and do not last, such as us humans and other objects that pertain to this lowly world.

It is therefore befitting to fix this idea in our minds, so that the fear of G-d should constantly be part of us, to give us life and merit. And that is why He commanded this Mitzvah, to avoid mentioning His Holy Name in vain, punishing the person who takes it lightly and transgresses, with Malkos.

And for the same reason, the Torah forbids us to swear falsely (such as an oath to uphold something, which one then fails to do). This is known as a 'Shevu'as Bituy', and the Torah presents it as a separate La'av in Parshas Kedoshim ("And do not swear by My Name falsely"). Because someone who swears by Hashem's Holy Name about something that he knows to be false, is making light of the fear of G-d, as if he was saying in his heart that Hashem is not true (Chalilah).

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