This issue is sponsored le'iluy Nishnas
Vol. 8 No. 3
Avraham Yitzchak ben Yerachmiel Leib z.l.
and Ruchamah Ila Le'ah bas R' Dov Ber z.l
Pashas Lech Lecha
Heads You Win,
Tails I Lose
We have already discussed a number of times the various opinions as to why G-d punished Par'oh for subjugating the Jewish people, in spite of the fact that that subjugation was a Divine decree (see for example Vol. 1 No. 6 Parshah Pearls "Par'oh's punishment").
What is not however clear, is which punishment the commentaries are referring to.
One initially assumes that they are referring to the ten plagues, and indeed, commenting on the posuk (in this week's parshah) "And also the nation that will subjugate them I will judge (punish)" Rashi explains - "with ten plagues" (see also Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos).
This explanation does not however appear to conform with a number of pesukim which ascribe the ten plagues as a punishment, not for the Egyptians' maltreatment of Yisroel during the two hundred and ten years of slavery, but for their refusal to submit to G-d's request to send them away when the time came.
The Torah writes in Sh'mos (3:19-20) "And I know that the King of Egypt will not let you go, even with a strong hand. And I will send My Hand and smite Egypt. After that, they will send you away"
And later (4:22), the Torah is even more specific, when it writes “And you shall say to Par'oh, "So says Hashem, Yisroel is My firstborn son. And I say to you, send out My son and let him serve Me. Should you refuse to do so, I will kill your firstborn son", measure for measure.
Clearly then, the plagues were sent to soften Par"oh, to drive home the lesson that he was no longer permitted to retain Yisroel, and ultimately to punish him for his stubborn refusal to relent. In any event, their purpose was not to punish the Egyptians for their cruel maltreatment of Yisroel during the initial years of slavery.
Targum Yonoson explains the posuk in this week's parshah (15:14) like this: "And also the nation that will subjugate them I will punish with two hundred and fifty plagues, and after that they will go out to freedom with much property".
We recall how the Ba'al Hagodoh cites three opinions as to how many plagues the Egyptians suffered in Egypt (ten, forty or fifty - depending upon whether each basic plague comprised one, four or five plagues). And based on the presumption that at the Yam-Suf, they received five-fold of what they received in Egypt, they argue whether they suffered fifty plagues whilst drowning in the Sea, two hundred or two hundred and fifty.
The two hundred and fifty plagues of which the Targum Yonoson speaks clearly refers to the punishment of the drowning at the Yam-Suf, according to the opinion of Rebbi Akiva in the Hagodoh.
According to the Targum Yonoson then, it was at the Yam-Suf that G-d punished the Egyptians for their subjugation of Klal Yisroel during the years of slavery. Presumably then, the ten plagues were Divine retribution for failing to obey G-d’s command to let His people go, as we explained earlier. Bearing in mind the ultimate cruelty of the Egyptians throwing the Jewish new-born babies into the River Nile, the punishment of drowning the Egyptians in the Yam-Suf would have truly been a case of 'measure for measure' (just like the slaying of the firstborn, as we explained earlier).
The Ramban too, seems to concur with this explanation. He writes that, due to the malicious intent behind the Egyptians' subjugation of Yisroel, G-d brought upon them His great retribution and destroyed them from the world - a description that fits with the events of the Yam-Suf, but not with the ten plagues.
The one difficulty with this explanation is the phrase "and after that they will go out with a great possession". This would at first seem to be chronologically correct only if the punishment under discussion is that of the ten plagues, since it was following the ten plagues that they "emptied Egypt", but not if it refers to the drowning of the Egyptians, which took place after it.
We could however, explain the word "“and they will go out" to mean 'from under the jurisdiction of the Egyptians' (referring to the ultimate freedom that they truly gained only with the death of their former masters death at the Yam-Suf). In that case, the 'great possession' could well pertain to the tremendous spoil that Yisroel obtained from the Egyptians at the Yam-Suf, as the Medrash relates (rather than to the wealth that they took out of Egypt). Or it could even refer to the Torah, if, as the commentaries explain, the 'beis' in “"bi'rechush godol" means "for the sake of". The Torah would then be informing us that after the drowning of the Egyptians, Yisroel will finally go out to freedom in order to receive the Torah a short while later (since true freedom can only be experienced in Torah-study, as our sages have taught). Either way, the chronological order of events is now correct.
When G-d Appeared
"And he built there an altar to Hashem who appeared to him" (to Avrohom as he entered Eretz Cana'an from Choron - 12:17).
The same word is used, points out the Ba'al ha'Turim, with regard to Ya'akov - "the G-d who appeared to you when you fled" (Bereishis 35:1). This teaches us that, just as Hashem appeared to Avrohom as he was on his way into exile (from his home environment), so too did He appear to Ya'akov as he left his home to go into exile (Ba'al ha'Turim).
Presumably, this was to reassure them that He would protect them in golus, and perhaps also to reinforce their faith to help them survive the difficult times that lay ahead.
Parting for Peace
"And Lot chose all the plains of the Yardein ... and their ways parted" (13:11).
The last letters of the four words "ish me'al achiv, Avrom" spell "sholom". This teaches us that Avrom parted from Lot for the sake of peace, explains the Ba’al ha'Turim - because sometimes, it is only through the parting of the ways that one achieves it.
In addition, he adds, he was hinting to Lot that his descendants were assured a certain degree of peace - for so the Torah will later issue a command "Do not wage war with Mo'ov".
A Change of Direction
“And Hashem said to Avrom ... raise your eyes and see ... northwards, southwards, eastwards and westwards” (13:14).
Why, when Hashem spoke to Ya'akov, did He list the directions in a different order - “westwards, eastwards, northwards and southwards” (28:14)?
The Ba'al ha'Turim explains that Hashem was hinting at two distinct merits that each of the Ovos respectively had earned for their children. To Avrohom, He ascribed the merit of the Korbonos, (the most holy of) which are shechted in the north of the courtyard of the Beis ha'Mikdosh". Whereas to Ya'akov He ascribed the crossing of the Yam-Suf (hinted in the word "yomoh") which took place on his merit, as the Torah writes "And Yisroel saw the great hand" - Yisroel the zeide (Ya'akov).
The Master of Battles
“And he (Avrohom) built there an altar to Hashem - And it was in the days of Amrofel, King of Shin'ar (the battle of the Kings)"
This juxtapositioning of the altar to the battle is a hint, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, that before going to war one should offer a sacrifice, as the posuk in Tehilim (20:4) hints "He will remember all your flour-offerings and your burnt-offerings ... and in the Name of our G-d we will be victorious"
Even when one goes into battle, one may not lose sight of before whom one is fighting (and behave accordingly). In addition, one must remember who is the "Master of battles".
And So It Will Be
“And He took him (Avrohom) outside ... and He said to him "So will be your children" “ (15:5).
This was a hint, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, that the birth of his son Yitzchok would take place twenty-five years later (the numerical value of "koh" - so). The current episode (the B'ris Bein ha'Besorim) took place when Avrohom was seventy-five, and Yitzchok was born when he was a hundred (twenty-five years later).
This explanation follows the chronological order of events, as they occur in the Torah. According to the Medrash, was seventy at the time of the 'B'ris bein ha'Besorim', thirty years before the birth of Yitzchak.
The Covenant of Milah
“This is My covenant that you shall keep ... “ (17:10). Why is the mitzvah of milah referred to as "b'ris" (covenant)?
It is because the numerical value of "bris" is six hundred and twelve, which combined with the mitzvah of milah itself, makes six hundred and thirteen. It is put on a par with all the other mitzvos, because without it, a gentile male cannot convert.
(See how it was the first mitzvah given to Avrohom Ovinu, and the first [complete] mitzvah commanded to Klal Yisroel before leaving Egypt, as well as having been the one mitzvah that was performed communally, prior to entering Eretz Yisrael) - P'ninim mi"Shulchan ha'Gro.
Everything is Foreseen,
Yet We Have The Choice
(From The Haftarah )
“Why do you say Ya'akov, and speak Yisroel - "My way is hidden from Hashem, or from my G-d my judgement will be removed?" Do you not know, have you not heard that Hashem, who is G-d of the world, and who created the extremities of the earth, does not become tired or weary; his (depth of) understanding is beyond scrutiny” (Yeshayah 40:27-28).
One can explain these pesukim according to the well-known Rambam. The Rambam comments that the concept of G-d's knowledge of all that transpires and that of free will and choice appear to contracdict one another. For if G-d knows that someone is going to sin, then, seeing as G-d's knowledge is final, then the person concerned has no choice but to sin. Conversely, if the person is given the choice of not sinning, then Hashem cannot know that he will sin.
The Rambam replies that the knowledge of Hashem is not comparable to the knowledge of man (i.e. there is a dimension of G-d,s knowledge that we, as human beings, cannot fathom and cannot define. Perhaps that is what the Novi means when he says “Because My thoughts are not the same as your thoughts ... “ - Yeshayah 55:8).
And this is what the Novi means here. “You should not say "My way is hidden from G-d" (that He does not know what I will choose to do) or "from my G-d my judgement is removed" (He cannot judge me because His knowledge forces my hand in my choice of actions, divesting me of any free-will in the matter.)
"Do you not know ... that Hashem is the G-d of the world who creates the extremeties of the earth without getting tired ..." “ (His actions do not concur with those of a human-being and therefore you must understand that) “His (depth of) understanding (too) is beyond scrutiny” (it has a dimension to it that is beyond our comprehension - P'ninim mi'Shulchan ha'Gro).
Perhaps that extra dimension can be defined as a different concept of time. A human being, who perceives past, present and future as three separate entities, cannot possibly grasp the fact that in Divine terms, all three merge into one, as the Name of Hashem (Havayah - a combination of Hoyoh, Hoveh ve'yih'yeh) conveys .
History of the World
(Adapted from the Seder Ha'doros)
Agrippa the second returns from Rome, accompanied by Roman officers. He implores the people not to rebel against the Romans, and describes to them the might of the Imperial Roman Empire. He weeps as he speaks and Anoni the Kohen Godol, the elders and the Sages weep with him. Only Elozor, Anoni's son, remains unimpressed. He and his men attack the Roman officers who had accompanied Agrippa, and kill them. Agrippa and the elders, the Sages and the pious men flee from Yerusholayim. They capture the fortress of Tzi'on from the zealots. The zealots fight back, but after seven days, the King's men defeat them.
The zealots retaliate however, by burning down the royal palace in Yerusholayim, and plundering all its treasures. Agrippa goes to Rome and informs Nero of all this. Nero sends his general Castio with a large army, who cause havoc and destruction in Eretz Yisroel. Agrippa and Castio send a delegation to Elozor ben Anoni to make peace, but he refuses. In the ensuing battle, the zealots defeat the Romans, and Castio returns to Rome in disgrace.
Nero sends a bull as a burnt-offering to Yerusholayim. The bull is adorned with a large golden crown, its horns overlaid with gold, and its body draped with a purple cloth studded with precious stones. But Elozor and the zealots decline to accept it. They attack the Roman emissaries and slay them. Agrippa manages to escape. He flees to Rome, and again reports to Nero what happened. Once again, Nero sends Castio with a huge army; once again, the zealots rout them and once again, Castio returns to Rome in disgrace.
Nero then sends his general Vespasian and his son Titus (according to the Sifri, Titus is Vespasian’s stepson), together with a vast army. Yosef ben Gurion (Josephus) is appointed commander of the Jewish forces. The Romans suffer a terrible defeat at his hands, the likes of which they have never before experienced. Later though, they will retaliate. They will destroy his army and send him to Rome in chains. When Vespasian returns to Rome to be crowned Emperor, he will also take Agrippa and his son Munbaz with him, to prevent him from joining the rebellion.
A short while later, Vespasian receives a report that Agrippa is indeed planning an uprising. In a fit of rage, he kills both Agrippa and his son Munbaz, three and a half years before the destruction of the Beis ha'Mikdosh.
Around the same time, he takes a liking to Yosef ben Gurion, and frees him from prison.
The three leaders of the zealots in Yerusholayim, Yochonon ha'Gelili, Elozor ben Anoni and Shimon the zealot are responsible for an enormous amount of bloodshed, even among their own Jewish brothers. The blood that flows in the Beis ha’Mikdosh even as the Kohen Godol offers sacrifices, resembles a lake of water.
They also set fire to the one thousand four hundred silos containing sufficient provisions to feed the 200,000 inhabitants of Yerusholayim for twenty years, during the Roman siege of Yerusholayim. (This number appears grossly deficient. Perhaps it should read 2,000,000.) This they do in order to force the people’s hand to fight the Romans. Although it results in pestilence, sword, hunger and burning, it does nothing to soften the zealots' stance. If anything, they increase their activities, going from bad to worse. They strictly forbid any contact with the Romans, and deal ruthlessly with all dissenters.
Shimon the zealot murders the three sons of Amitai, the pious Kohen before the very eyes of their father, before murdering Amitai himself. He also orders the murder of Chananyoh the Kohen Godol on the same day, and has his corpse thrown on top of those of Amitai and his sons. And he also arranges the assassination of the loyal Aristi’os the scribe together with ten righteous men from his family and another twenty-eight pious men, all within a short space of time.
Menachem ben S'ruk (the famous scribe who wrote the Seifer Shoroshim, the dictionary Rashi often quotes) sits at the gates of Yerusholayim. He records 115,808 corpses that are taken out of the city via the gate leading to the valley of Kidron. All of these are dignitaries and men of esteem who have been killed by the zealots. In addition, Titus forces the leaders of the Jews who manage to escape from the zealots and surrender to him, to provide him with figures of the number of Jews who have died from famine and in battle since his siege of Yerusholayim began. They number 601,575.
Yet, in spite of all this, the zealots pay no attention to (the Sages, nor even to their own commander) Yosef ben Gurion. Yosef, who returned to Yerusholayim with the Roman forces to try and stop the rebellion, points out the futility of any further struggle and urges them to make peace with the Romans. They bluntly refuse - and all contact with the Romans remains forbidden.
Rebbi Zecharyah ben ha'Katzav ha'Kohen and Rebbi Zecharyah ben K'vutal ha’Kohen both live at this time.
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