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

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Vol. 7   No. 13

Parshas Sh'mos

And G-d Hardened Par'oh's Heart

"And I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go, not even with a strong hand. I will stretch out My hand and smite Egypt with all My wonders that I will perform in his midst - after that he will send you away' (Sh'mos 3:19-20.

'If I don't show him My strong hand ... he will not let you go' (Rashi 3:19).

The Ramban explains that neither words, nor even a strong hand, will suffice to force Par'oh's hand (3:19). It is only when "I will stretch out My hand with all My wonders that I will do in his midst, with a strong hand, with an outstretched arm, with great fear, with signs and wonders" (3:20), that he will send you out.

When the Torah writes that Par'oh will not allow Yisroel to go out, it is referring, not only to Par'oh's actions by choice, but also to Par'oh's actions in conjunction with G-d, who hardened his heart to prevent him from yielding, at least during the last five plagues, where the Torah writes: 'And Hashem hardened Par'oh's heart'. Indeed, the Seforno explains the last three words in posuk 19 'And not with a strong hand' like this: 'And I shall see to it that he (Par'oh) will not let you go when My hand grips him, for, as soon as the plagues terminate, I shall harden his heart'.

Yet, when the posuk writes: 'And I know that he will not let you go ...', it appears as if throughout the ten plagues, it was Par'oh who refused to let the Jews leave Egypt, whereas in fact, although this might have been the case during the first five plagues, during the last five, it was Hashem who was forcing his hand. Why then, does the Torah implicate Par'oh during the second set of five plagues as well as during the first?


The Seforno answers this by explaining that Par'oh 'will not agree to let the Jews go of his own free will at G-d's reqest'. On each of the ten occasions that Hashem requested that he send Yisroel out, he will refuse, and it is only after the ensuing plagues have struck that Hashem will need to harden his melting heart.


The Meshech Chochmoh goes one step further. He explains the posuk in accordance with the Rambam. The Rambam comments on the Chazal, who explain that someone who refuses to bring the Korban he has promised, must be beaten until he condescends to bring it, thus forcing him into bringing it of his own free will.

Is this what you call 'his own free will' asks the Rambam? How much good-will can one elicit through the auspices of 'a good hiding'? Indeed it is, and indeed we can, he replies! It is inherently natural for a Jew to want to do the right thing. He really wants to keep the mitzvos. He really wants to obey the Torah - unconditionally and totally. It is just that he is sometimes overwhelmed by external pressures, embodied in what we know as the Yeitzer ho'ra, that diverts him from the truth and leads him astray, causing him to do what he does not really want to do. Remove those external pressures, says the Rambam, and the Jew reverts to his true self, a self that wants to do the right thing. And this is what happens when the Beis Din beat him until he condescends to bring his Korban. He will bring the Korban, because that is what he really wanted to do all along. You have, one may say, beaten the Yeitzer ho'ra out of him.

This, continues the Meshech Chochmoh, is true of a Jew, who embodies a Nishmas Yisroel and whose resulting attachment to G-d creates within him a natural love of G-d. A non-Jew, on the other hand, who does not enjoy that special bond, does not inherently want to do what he is told. He prefers to be free to do as he wishes (sometimes even to volunteer to do good, but not to do so by command). Consequently, when Par'oh was physically forced to yield to Divine pressure, he did so, not because he wanted to, but because he could no longer bear the pain.


There was no basic difference between Par'oh's attitude during the first five plagues and his attitude during the second five. In neither case did he yield willingly. In neither case did he acknowledge G-d's authority over the world and over himself. It was only because he could no longer bear the suffering that he finally yielded during the last five plagues. That was simply not good enough in the eyes of G-d. For He wanted Par'oh to yield because it was the right thing to do, because he now acknowledged Him to be Master of the whole world and, above all, Master over him - G-d wanted his heart, not his broken body.

And that is what the Seforno means when he writes 'Par'oh will not agree to let the Jews go of his own free will at G-d's request'.

It was only after the plague of Makos Bechoros (the smiting of the first-born) that Par'oh actually arrived at the conclusion that G-d was indeed Master over the world and Master over him - at long last, he granted the Jews their freedom graciously and willingly. Then, and only then, did G-d accept his submission.

We too, can learn from here how to serve G-d. Not out of the physical fear of what might happen if we fail to obey Him, but out of a full understanding and acknowledgement of G-d's omnipotence - that is true Yir'as Shomay'im, not just fear of divine punishment, but fear of G-d!

Parshah Pearls


Four in One

"And they embittered their lives with hard work, with cement and bricks, and with all work in the field. All their work that they made them do was with rigour" (1:14). Four kinds of affliction are mentioned here, points out the Ba'al ha'Turim. That is why each of the ten plagues (with which the Egyptians were later smitten) comprised four, as the Ba'al Hagodoh informs us.

The opinion that each plague consisted of five, counts the previous posuk ("And the Egyptians made Yisroel work with rigour") as a fifth kind of affliction.


The Shechinah in a Box

The Gemoro in Sotah (12b) asks why the Torah adds the extra 'hey' and 'vov' in the word "va'tiftach ve'tir'eihu es ha'yeled", when it could have written "ve'tir'eh ..." (2:6)? This teaches us, says the Gemoro, that the daughter of Par'oh actually saw the Shechinah with Moshe.

Rashi explains that the word "es" means 'with', like we find in other places. At first sight it appears that Rashi (who learns that the Shechinah was there, from the word "es") is quoting a different source than the Gemoro (which learns it from the extra 'hey' and 'vov').


But this is not the case, explains the Gro. Because when the Gemoro derives from the 'hey' and the 'vov', it does not do so merely because the two letters are superfluous, but because 'hey' and 'vov' spell one of Hashem's Names (Hu). Rashi only comes to add that if "Ve'tir'eihu" means "And she saw the Shechinah", then "es ha'yeled" means "with the boy".


And the King Died

"And the King of Egypt died, and the B'nei Yisroel sighed from the work and they cried out" (2:23).

The Medrash explains that Par'oh was stricken with leprosy, and that, as a cure, he slaughtered Jewish babies and bathed in their blood. The reason that the Torah writes that he died is because a metzoro is considered like dead. What prompted Chazal to explain Par'oh's death in this way, and not literally, asks the Gro?

He answers that it is due to the fact that the Torah refers to him - even as it speaks of his death - as "King of Egypt", even though it is not its way to do so. For so the Medrash Koheles writes 'Fifty-two times the Torah writes "And King Dovid", yet when it refers to his impending death, the posuk writes "And the days of Dovid approached for him to die" (omitting the title 'King'), because as Shlomoh wrote in Koheles "There is no rulership on the day of death" '.

In our posuk, the Torah refers to "the King of Egypt", even though it is relating his death, a clear indication that he did not really die at all; so it must be referring to something that is only compared to death - leprosy. Indeed, it is for the same reason that Chazal explain that King Uziyahu was stricken with tzor'a'as, even though the posuk in Melochim refers to the year of death of Uziyohu, because it also describes him as "King Uziyohu", a sure sign that he did not really die then (Gro).


The Names of Hashem

At the Burning Bush, Hashem taught Moshe some of His Names and their deeper meanings. This is how the Ba'al ha'Turim explains Chapter 3, pesukim 13-15: "And (if) they will say to me, 'What is His Name?'. What shall I say to them?" The final letters of these four words spells the four-letter Name of Hashem. The posuk continues "Go and gather the elders of Yisroel", to inform us that one may only teach the Name of Hashem (with its vowels) to the sages of the generation.

The Torah writes the words "Ehkeh" three times, corresponding to the three Ovos, by each of whom Hashem used a similar expression: by Avrohom, "ve'heyei b'rochoh"; by Yitzchok, "Gur bo'oretz ha'zos ve'Eheyeh imoch"; by Ya'akov, "Shuv el eretz avosecho ... ve'Eheyeh imoch".

The numerical value of "ehkeh" is 21, and is equivalent to the numerical value of the first letters of the Ovos, the first three names of the thirteen attributes of Hashem, and the first letters of the five Books of the Torah. "Ehkeh asher Ehkeh" = 42, to teach us that Hashem taught Moshe Hashem's Name of 42 letters.

If we add the "Ehkeh" that is written later in the posuk, we have a total of 63, and twelve letters. The twelve letters correspond to the twelve tribes, and the 50 letters that comprise the names of the tribes plus the 13 letters of the Ovos, add up to 63. "This is My Name forever". This (zeh) = 12, to teach us that Hashem also taught him the 12 letter Name.


Moshe and Eliyohu

The Ba'al ha'Turim, at the end of the Parshah (5:22) draws a number of parallels between Moshe Rabeinu and Eliyohu ha'Novi: Both of them said to Hashem "You did bad" and both of them davened on behalf of a child (Moshe for his own, when the angel almost devoured him [see Rashi 4:24], and Eliyohu for the son of the widow); both of them did not eat for forty days (and both of them hid in a cave as Hashem passed); both of them went up to heaven.

And in Vo'eiro (6:6) he adds: Moshe became a messenger to take Yisroel out of the first Golus (Egypt), and Pinchos (alias Eliyohu) will be the messenger to take Yisroel out of the last one ...



(The Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh)

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

39. Not to testify falsely - as the Torah writes in Yisro (20:13) "Do not give false evidence against your friend". Someone who testified not what he saw, but what he heard from others (irrespective of how reliable those others may be) has also contravened this la'av. Someone who hires false witnesses, or who withholds evidence that is relevant to the case, is not guilty at the hand of man, but will be punished by the Hand of G-d. This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.


40. Not to covet something that one's friend owns - as the Torah writes in Yisro (20:14) "Do not covet". Coveting comprises making an effort to put one's thoughts into practice, for example by getting one's friends to persuade the owner to sell him the object. One trangresses the la'av of coveting, irrespective of how much one pays for the article. It is quite common for a choson, before his wedding, to ask his father-in-law for objects that were not agreed upon at the time of the engagement, and to prevail upon him until he accedes to his request. He has transgressed the la'av of "Lo sachmod". This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.


41. Not to desire in one's heart something that one's friend owns - as the Torah writes in Vo'eschanan (5:18) "And do not desire" ("ve'Lo sis'aveh"). This la'av is over and above that of not coveting. Because one transgresses "Lo sis'aveh" by considering how one can obtain one's friend's object (seeing as ta'avah - desire - is confined to the heart). The moment one attempts to convince the owner to give or to sell it to him, he transgresses "Lo sachmod" as well. This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.


About the Mitzvos


When Kayin killed Hevel, G-d told him that not only his blood, but that of all his generations, was crying out to Him from the ground (Rashi, Bereishis 4:10), implying that he would be held responsible for all the offspring that Hevel would have born, had he lived. From this we see that before a person performs an act, he must take into account not only the immediate effect of what he is about to do, but also the long-term results. This leaves us with an awesome measure of responsibility, and should result in a person weighing up with great care, whether what he is about to do is really worth it in the long run. Because once he has acted, he will not be able to say that he did not know what the result of his actions would be, any more than Kayin could have.


And if this is true of bad deeds, it stands to reason that it is equally true of good ones, for have Chazal not taught us 'The measure of goodness of Hashem is five hundred times more than that of bad (punishment)'. Perhaps that is what is meant by the text of the b'rochoh that we recite after reading the Torah 'and everlasting life you planted in our midst'. Torah and mitzvos are compared to a tree - because the person who places no more than a tiny seed into the ground is responsible for the growth of an entire tree - then the fruit - that year and the year after ...


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