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

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Vol. 20   No. 13

This issue is sponsored
l'iluy Nishmas
Yehuda ben Mordechai z"l
whose Yohrzeit was 14 Teves

Parshas Sh'mos

The Stick and the Snake
(Adapted from Rabeinu Bachye)

"And He (G-d) said to him (Moshe) 'What is that (mazeh) in your hand?' And he said 'A staff!' And He said 'Throw it down to the ground!' So he threw it to the ground and it turned into a snake. And Moshe fled before it. And G-d said to Moshe 'Stretch out your hand and take hold of it by its tail!' He stretched out his hand and took hold of it, and it turned (back) into a staff in his hand " (4:2- 4).

The word "mazeh" is missing a 'Hey', Rabeinu Bachye comments. This is because only five miracles were performed by Moshe, by means of the staff - the snake, the plagues of hail, locusts and darkness, and the crossing of the Reed Sea.

The remainder of the plagues - frogs, lice, wild beasts, pestilence, boils and the slaying of the firstborn, were performed in part by Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu (wild beasts, pestilence and the slaying of the firstborn) and in part by Aharon (blood, frogs, lice and boils).


Moshe's staff turning into a snake produced something unnatural, Rabeinu Bachye points out. Consequently, it is marked by the fact that the last letters in the words that depict it ('Hashlicheihu artzoH! va'yashlichehU artzoH vay'hI le'sanin"), spell the Name of Hashem backwards.

Turning back into a staff on the other hand, he explains, resulted in a natural phenomenon. That explains why the last letters of the words that depict that ("VayhI le'mateH be'chapO!") spell Hashem's Holy Name in the right order (bearing in mind, he adds, the well-known fact that the basic Name comprises the three letters 'Yud' 'Hey' 'Vav', as the last 'Hey' is a repetition of the first one).

In demonstrating the two miracles of tzora'as (to Moshe's hand) and the staff turning into a snake, the author continues, G-d was conveying His ability to Moshe, to bring the dead to life (the staff into a snake) and to bring death to the living (striking Moshe's hand with tzora'as - which is compared to death. Indeed, Moshe referred to his sister Miriam as dead when she was stricken with tzora'as).

Both of these demonstrations took place, he explains further, in the desert when Moshe was looking after the sheep, and in Egypt, in front of K'lal Yisrael.

Regarding the latter, the Torah clarifies the objective of these signs, when it explicitly writes immediately following the sign of the snake " so that they believe that Hashem appeared to you". And (following the sign of the tzora'as), the Pasuk adds "And it shall be, if they will not pay attention to the message of the first sign, then they will believe in the message of the second sign. And if they do not pay attention to the message of these two signs, then you shall take water from the canal (the Nile) and pour it on to dry land ".

The purpose of the signs in Egypt then, was to implant Emunah, faith in God, into the hearts of the people. The question arises however, why it was necessary to perform them in the desert, where the only person present was Moshe, who had no doubts about G-d's Omnipotence in the first place?

The answer, Rabeinu Bachye explains, is that the signs had nothing whatsoever to do with a lack of Emunah. They were rather the result of Moshe's declaration that Yisrael would not believe him or obey his instructions when he informed them that G-d had appeared to him, even after G-d had assured him that they would obey him. Consequently, the first sign (of the staff) came to hint to him that he had spoken Lashon ha'Ra about K'lal Yisrael; whereas the second sign (of Tzara'as) came as a punishment.

See also Rashi Pasuk 2 & 3.

* * *

Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the Rosh)


"And the Egyptians made the B'nei Yisrael work "be'Forech" (1:13).

The Rosh points out that the word "be'forech" (which Unklus translates as 'hard') is not to be found anywhere else in T'nach.

He therefore translates it as 'they separated them', which he explains to mean that they separated the men from their wives so as to stop them from having children.


Doing Good to the Midwives

" G-d did good to the midwives, and the people increased and became extremely powerful" (1:20).

According to Rashi, the good that G-d did to them was that He made them Botei Kehunah, Leviyah and Malchus, as the Torah writes in the next Pasuk.

The Rosh rejects this explanation on the grounds that that is written only in the next Pasuk (after "and the people increased "). Moreover, he asks, what is the connection between G-d doing good to the people and their phenomenal growth rate, as recorded in the continuation of the Pasuk?

He therefore explains that the good that G-d did to the people was that He substantiated their claim that the mothers were too quick for them, giving birth before the midwives arrived.

In other words, when Par'oh did not believe their claim, G-d supported them by increasing the birth rate. And this was the good thing that G-d did for them, in that it caused Par'oh to believe them.

Par'oh was now convinced that, had they really required midwives, two of them would not have sufficed for such a large number of people.


Moshe was Good

"And she (Yocheved) saw that he (Moshe) was good, so she hid him for three months" (2:2).

When Moshe was born after a six-month pregnancy (as Rashi explains), Yocheved, suspecting that he was a still-born baby and that he would not survive, examined his finger-nails, the Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos explains. When she saw that they were fully-grown, a sure sign that he was not still-born, she hid him.

And this is what the Pasuk means, he says, when it writes "And she saw that he was good".

* * *


"And these are the names of the B'nei Yisrael who came to Egypt " (1:1).

The first letters of the words "Sh'mos B'nei Yisrael Ha'bo'im" spell 'shivyah' (captivity), the Ba'al ha'Turim points out. This teaches us, he explains, that even when they were in captivity they retained their Jewish names.

Moreover, he says, the opening letter "Vav" connects them with the last phrase in the previous Parshah "and Yosef died ". Apparently, Yosef commanded them before he died that despite the fact that they changed his name to 'Tzofnas Panei'ach', they should not do likewise.


" with Ya'akov each man (Eis Ya'akov Ish) and his family came" (Ibid.)

Whereas the first and last letters of "YisraeL Ha'bo'iM" spell 'Milah", the last letters of "EiS Ya'akoV ISH" spell 'Shabbos'.

This teaches us, the Ba'al ha'Turim explains, that it was on the merit of the Mitzvos of Milah and Shabbos, which they kept in Egypt, that they left Egypt two hundred and ten years later.

(Interestingly, from the Medrash and the commentaries in Parshas Bo (12:6), it would seem that they did not fulfill the Mitzvah of Milah in Egypt, and that the redemption was the result of the blood of Pesach and the blood of Milah, which they performed prior to leaving Egypt).


"And they placed over them taskmasters to afflict them (Anoso) in their hard work" (1:11).

The same word "Anoso" appears in Shmuel (2, 13:32 [in connection with David's son Amnon,]) "from the day that he afflicted (Anoso) Tamar his sister".

Just like there, the Pasuk here is referring to intimacy. The Egyptians' main objective in afflicting them was to keep the men and their wives apart, in order to prevent them from having children.

* * *

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