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

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Vol. 4 No. 16

Parshas Beshalach

G-d Controls Everything

It is true that G-d is reluctant to interfere with man's free will and choice. In most cases, man is free to come and go as he pleases, meaning that he will not be disturbed in his plans to go East, to go West, to leave or to remain. And this is generally the case both as regards spiritual matters, where he has a free hand to sin if it so pleases him - though he must know that he will suffer the consequences - and as regards the physical acts, that man has the permission to turn in any direction that he chooses, without Divine interference.

However, all this is not because G-d is unable to interfere with man's actions, but because He chooses not to. He is quite happy to interfere with still-life, plants and animals, but when it comes to manipulating man, G-d, having bestowed upon him the right to choose, is loath to encroach upon that freedom of choice. "Olom keminhogo noheg" - "the world must take its natural course".

It is therefore all the more striking when we are confronted with an extreme case of Divine intervention in the affairs of a man (such as G-d's manipulation of Par'oh's reaction to the last five plagues), and both breathtaking and awe-inspiring when we behold its implementation on an entire nation.

Following the ten plagues, with the death and devastation that followed in their wake, there was little cause to suspect that Par'oh would be foolhardy enought to chase after the Jewish people. One would rather have expected him to breathe a sigh of relief at their departure and that he would now set about rebuilding his ravaged country. Yet barely half a week after the Jews had left Egypt, here we have him and his army doing precisely what he should not have done!

G-d "dangled a variety of carrots" before Par'oh:

1. their money (that the B'nei Yisroel had taken out);

2. conveying the impression that the Jews were lost, by ordering them to go back in the direction of Egypt;

3. to encamp directly in front of Ba'al Tz'fon, the only idol to remain intact after "Makas Bechoros". And so convincing was the bait, that they all swallowed it, hook, line and sinker.

Ostensibly they chased after the B'nei Yisroel to recapture their slaves and to re-obtain their "borrowed" money. Little did they realise however, that, in truth, they were racing to their own death. No amount of human planning could have timed it better. Such precision timing bears the hallmark of the Divine Hand, which is capable of controlling the hearts and the minds of nations no less than those of individuals, as if they were puppets. ("The heart of king lies in the hands of Hashem, He bends it in whichever direction He pleases." - Mishlei 21:1)

Par'oh believed initially that, if G-d existed at all, He lived in Heaven, and that, as far as this world was concerned, He had relinquished control totally. By now, he must have realised that in fact, G-d controls everything.

Par'oh had believed that he could drown the Jewish babies with impunity; after all, had not G-d promised that He would never flood the world again, so He would not be able to punish them in return? He did not contend with the possibility that, if G-d could not bring water to the people, He could certainly lead the people to water, and that He would do just that! In fact, not only would be bring the horse to water - but He would bring the rider there too.


Adapted from the Gro

The Two Levels

The Torah appears to repeat itself when it writes in Possuk 22, "And the B'nei Yisroel came into the sea on dry land," and again in Possuk 29, it writes "And the B'nei Yisroel went on dry land in the middle of the sea". And it seems to repeat itself again, when it writes in both places "And the water was a wall for them on their right and on their left".

The Gro explains the apparent repetition by referring to the two groups in Yisroel. There were those who, like Nachshon ben Aminodov, had full faith in Hashem's salvation; so they jumped into the sea even before it turned into dry land - they proceeded to cross when it was still sea.

But there were those whose faith was not so strong. They waited until the water had turned to dry land before making any move.

Now the pesukim are clear. The first possuk speaks of the former group. That is why the Torah writes "And they came into the Sea (they jumped into the water when it was still sea) (which was now) on dry land. And the water was a wall for them" etc.

Whereas by the latter group the possuk changes the order, "And the B'nei Yisroel went (not "came into" like the first possuk) on dry land, in the middle of (what was previously) the sea. And the water was a wall for them" etc. But this time the wall - "chomoh" - is written without a vov, to read "cheimoh" - anger (because G-d was angry with this second group who did not match the level of bitochon of their brothers, who had jumped into the sea immediately).

The Image of Michoh

The Gro adds another explanation. The Medrash says that already at that early stage, they had the image of Michoh with them, and it actually crossed the Sea when they did. In fact, according to the Medrash, that is what caused Hashem's anger, and that explains the missing Vov in the second Chomoh, as we explained earlier.

It appears that Yisroel were not all in the sea at the same time, but as the last group entered the sea, the first left it.

So we can now explain the pesukim like this: "And the B'nei Yisroel went in the midst of the sea" refers to the front section of Yisroel, who had already entered; "on dry land" speaks of those at the back, including the tribe of Don, who drew up the rear, as Rashi explains in Ba'midbor - and they were the ones who had the image, as is well-known. "And the water was a wall for them on their right and on their left".

But the second pussuk writes "And the B'nei Yisroel went on dry land" (that is again the front section of Yisroel who had already reached the far side of the sea and had come up on the other side) whereas "in the middle of the sea" refers to the rear-end of Yisroel, including the tribe of Don with the image of Michoh - and that is why the posuk continues, "And the water was a wall for them" etc. - "chomoh" without a "vov" - anger because of the image. There was a terrible accusation levelled at those still in the sea, whether they should not perhaps be drowned together with the Egyptians who were about to enter the sea-bed behind them.

The Clever Water

"And with the wind of Your nostrils the water piled up." (15:8)

Unklus translates this not as "piled up" but as "was clever". Yes, the water was clever!

The Gro explains the connection between the wind of Hashem's nostrils and the wisdom of the water by referring to the creation of man, where the Torah writes. "And He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living soul." (Bereishis 2:7) So we see, explains the Gro, that by breathing from Himself into Odom, Hashem filled him with wisdom and the power of reasoning.

So too, with the water here. Hashem breathed from Himself into the water, and the water became filled with knowledge and the power of reasoning.

In which context?

Chazal tell us that when the waves came crashing down on the Egyptians, they tried to run away, but the water chased them and caught them as if they were alive.

In addition, Rashi describes in possuk 5, how different segments of the Egyptian army suffered progressively, according to their level of evil, the worst like straw, etc. So how did the water know how to make such distinctions, unless Hashem had breathed into it wisdom and the power of reasoning?

Tell Him in His Ears

It is not at first clear as to why Hashem should find it necessary to place the wiping out of Amolek "into the ears of Yeshoshua" (17:14), since He had already commanded that it should be written in the Torah.

However, writes the Gro, when we see what a terrible blunder Yo'ov made, in keeping alive all the females of Amolek, because his Rebbe had taught him (or had allowed him to misread, according to others) "Timcheh es "z'char Amolek", instead of "zeicher Amolek", we realise the significance of Hashem's command.

It is not sufficient just to write down the words in the Sefer-Torah alone. One also requires the oral tradition of how to read the vowels of the command correctly.



(Shoftim 4:4-5:31)

There are two major points that link the Haftorah with the Parshah of Beshalach: 1) The miraculous destruction of Sisro's army, reminiscent of the destruction of Par'oh's army at the Yam-Suf; and 2) the Shiroh that Devorah sang in praise of Hashem, after Yisroel's victory, which of course, bears a resemblance to the Shiroh that Moshe and Yisroel sang, following the drowning of the Egyptians.

It is interesting that in both of the Shiros, a woman played a major role, and that both of these women were prophetesses - of which there were only seven throughout history. At the Yam-Suf, it was Moshe who sang the Shiroh with the men, and Miriam who sang it with the women. With Sisro, it was Devorah and Barak (her husband) who sang together to Hashem.

If we look carefully at the first point, we will see that in fact, the two episodes are strikingly similar in many details.

To begin with, both the Egyptian army and that of Yovin, King of Cana'an (whose general Sisro was) were both drowned, the former in the waters of the Yam-Suf, the latter , at least many of them, in the brook of Kishon, and in both cases it was G-d Himself who lured the respective armies out to their doom. And again, in both cases, the actual destruction of the army (at least as far as those who were drowned is concerned) took the form of an absolute miracle.

Coaxing them into the sea too, was performed by G-d, though the tactics that he employed in both cases were totally different. In the case of the Egyptians, Hashem used the Pillars of Cloud and of Fire, in conjunction with the miraculous splitting of the sea, as described in the Chumash. With Sisro, G-d sent down the stars to heat the soldiers' armour. When it became unbearably hot, they jumped into the Brook of Kishon to cool down and there they drowned. (Pesachim 118b)

A fascinating Medrash further connects the two episodes historically. It describes how the fish in the Yam-Suf complained because they were deprived of their food supply. This followed G-d's decision that the Egyptians should be buried on the land, in spite of the fact that it was in the sea that they drowned. The earth was initially afraid that it stood to get punished, just as it was for accepting Hevel's corpse after Kayin had murdered him.

G-d's decision, the Medrash explains, was based on the Egyptians' right to be buried - because Par'oh had declared "Hashem is righteous" (Sh'mos 9:27), and He ordered the earth to accept them. "You stretched out Your right-hand and the earth swallowed them." (Sh'mos 15:12)

Consequently, the fish complained to G-d. G-d, who never deprives any creature of his just rights, responded by promising the fish that He would make up their loss. So they were supplied with the corpses of Sisro's men many generations later. We have to assume that these were the same fish that had previously inhabited the Yam-Suf (though how they got to the Brook of Kishon is not clear). In that case, they were granted long life as an extra bonus, to enable G-d to carry out the promise that He made to them.

And we have one final connection, but that is only according to the Medrash which maintains that Par'oh himself survived the Yam-Suf, subsequently to become the King of Ninveh. Sisro too survived the drowning at the Brook of Kishon, though his end of course, would then have been radically different from that of Par'oh.

Incidentally, we say every morning in the final b'rochoh of Kriy'as Shema, "not one of them (the Egyptians at the Yam-Suf) remained." This tallies with the opinion in the Medrash, which maintains that Par'oh succumbed too.

The first week in Ellul, Daf Ha'yomi will be learning Chullin. Anyone interested in a Daf Ha'yomi shiur, expertly explained - and including a preview of the previous day's "daf" each day - contact R. Eliezer Chrysler for further details.

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