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

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Vol. 10   No. 14

This issue is sponsored anonymously
wishing a Refuah Sh'leimah to
Chayim Yehoshua Gadil ben Bluma n.y.
May Hashem send him a speedy recovery.

Parshas Va'Eira

When Paroh Said 'No'!
(Part I)

We have already discussed at length the opinions of the Rambam, who maintains that the Egyptians, who did not perform a Mitzvah in enslaving Yisrael, were punished for subjugating Yisrael per se, and of the Ramban, in whose opinion they performed a Mitzvah, and were punished only because they carried the subjugation too far.

The basis of their dispute it seems, hinges on the question whether G-d's promise to Avraham (in Parshas Lech-Lecha) that his descendants would be subjugated in a strange land was said in the form of a prophesy ("they will enslave them") or as a command ("they shall enslave them").

The Ramban stresses that G-d issued a decree that one of the nations should subjugate Yisrael, and that is why whoever carried it out, would be fulfilling a Divine command. He clearly holds that G-d's words were issued as a command. The Rambam on the other hand, who claims that since G-d had not specified any particular nation, nobody was commanded to fulfil it, and whoever did, would be punished, considers G-d's word as a prophecy.


In fact, there is nothing in the text to suggest that G-d's words were meant as a command. And bearing in mind that he was referring to Avrohom's children being strangers in a foreign land, and not to a nation enslaving them, it is extremely difficult to perceive it as such. Moreover, the Torah goes on to add that G-d would punish whoever carried it out, and this would make no sense at all if the previous statement was a command.

Come to think of it, if it was only a prophecy, as we are currently suggesting, it is not clear why it would have been any more of a Mitzvah had the Torah specified one nation or the other. Perhaps the Rambam is suggesting that it would have been unlikely to do so unless it was a Mitzvah.

Incidentally, the reason that no nation is mentioned is because in fact, the ''land that is not theirs" mentioned there is not confined to Galus Mitzrayim. It incorporates many years that the Avos lived in Eretz Yisrael, but were not able to exercise full control over it (as Rashi explains in Bereishis 15:13).


The very discussion as to why Paroh (and his people) were punished, assumes that the punishment was for subjugating the B'nei Yisrael for two hundred and ten years. Certainly, that is what the Pasuk in Lech-Lecha (15:14) seemingly insinuates when it writes "And also the nation whom they will serve, I will punish".

Throughout the early part of Sh'mos, the Pesukim stress that Paroh was being punished for refusing to send Yisrael out. Over and over again Moshe warns Paroh that if he does not send out the people, Hashem will send him blood, frogs ... . Indeed, right at the outset, before he had even spoken to Paroh, G-d instructed him to inform him in His Name that, should he refuse to release His firstborn, Yisrael, He would kill his firsborn. Evidently, this had nothing to do with his subjugation of Yisrael over the years, but was Hashem's way of enforcing His will on a rebellious Paroh. In other words, he was being punished, not for subjugating Yisrael, or even for carrying the subjugation too far, but for refusing to send Yisrael out, when told by G-d to do so.

This can be compared to a king who orders an executioner to whip a condemned man, and the executioner refuses to stop, when, half way through, the king orders him to do so. Irrespective of the fact that he was carrying out the king's orders at the time, he deserves to be severely punished for his refusal to obey the king's order to desist.

And so it is with Paroh. The numerous instances to which we referred, suggest that it was not for the subjugation (which might or might not have been a Mitzvah) that he was being punished, but for his refusal to accept G-d's instructions to do so.

As a matter of fact, even the Pasuk in Lech-Lecha (which we just quoted) only refers to "the nation whom they will serve", and not 'the nation that will enslave them' (as we observed earlier in a different context), leaving the reason for the punishment more open to speculation.


Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the Ba'al ha'Turim)

Thank G-d

"And I will send out the people and they will sacrifice (ve'yizbechu) to Hashem" (8:1).

The word ve'yizbechu occurs also in Tehilim "ve'yizbechu zivchei todah (and they will bring sacrifices of thanks)". This, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, supports Chazal, who list someone who is freed from captivity among the four people who are required to bring a Thanks-offering.


Lots and Lots of Frogs

"And they piled up in heaps (chomorim chomorim)" 8:10.

The word "chomorim" appears in Beha'aloscha, with regard to the quails, where the Torah writes "ha'mam'it osaf asoroh chomorim (those who collected the least collected ten armfuls)". The Torah uses the same word here, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, to teach us that here too, there were enough frogs to allow each Egyptian ten armfuls. This gives us some indication as to the enormity of the plague.


And Lots of Lice too

"ve'hach es afar ha'aretz (and strike the dust of the earth)" 8:12.

And in Yechezkel, the Navi writes "ve'hach kaf el kaf (and strike one hand with the other)".

This teaches us, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, that here too, the lice were not satisfied with nestling in the Egyptians' hair, but struck them on their faces and all over their bodies.


A Taste of Their Own Medicine

And the reason that G-d brought lice on the Egyptians, the Ba'al ha'Turim explains, is because they would not allow the B'nei Yisrael to bathe, with the result that their clothes became lice-infested. So they got a taste of their own medicine.


Little Redemptions, Big Redemptions

" And I will make a redemption (Vesamti f'dus), that will divide between my people and your people" (8:19).

Here, the word "f'dus' is written without a 'Vav', whereas twice in Tehilim the same word appears with a 'Vav' - "P'dus sholach le'Amo" (with reference to the Redemption from Egypt) and "ve'harbeh imo F'dus" (with reference to the redemption from our current exile).

The word here is written missing a 'Vav', the Ba'al ha'Turim explains, because it is speaking about a minor redemption (the distinction between Yisrael and the Egyptians during the plague of wild beasts). In Tehilim on the other hand, the Pasuk is speaking about a full-scale redemption (from Egypt and from Galus Edom respectively), so on both occasions, 'F'dus' is written in full.


Working Wonders

"Ve'hiflah Hashem bein mikneh Yisrael u'vein mikneh Mitzrayim (and Hashem will work wonders to make a distinction between ... )" 9:4.

In Ki Seitzei, the Torah also uses the word "Ve'hiflah", points out the Ba'al ha'Turim, only there, it is spelt with an 'Alef', whilst here, it is spelt with a 'Hey'.

The reason for this is because whereas there, Chazal derive from the word (according to the context there) that it was the senior Dayan (as implied by "mufla" spelt with an 'Alef') who would read the relevant Pesukim whilst the Malkos were being administered, here the 'Hey' implies that after five plagues, the sixth plague (boils) would hit them bodily, like the lashes there.

In addition, the Ba'al ha'Turim adds, we learn the Din of Malkos from the ten plagues, inasmuch as there, like here, after the guilty party has sinned and been lashed twice, he requires no warning for the third lashing, should he sin again.


All Thanks to Bil'am

"Odcho mistolel bo'ami levilti shalcham (You are still holding on to My people not to let them go)" 9:17.

The first letters of the first four words in the Pasuk spell 'Bil'am', the Ba'al ha'Turim observes. He was one of the three advisors present when Paroh decided to enslave Yisrael (indeed, he was the only advisor who fully condoned it). And he hadn't relented one bit. If Paroh plucked up the courage, in spite of the six plagues that he had already suffered, and the awesome plague of hail looming on the horizon, it had a lot to do with Bilam, says the Ba'al ha'Turim. Because Bilam was the one who urged Paroh to hang on in there, and keep on oppressing the Jews.


Before and After

"yoda'ti ki terem tir'un mipnei Hashem Elokim" (I know that you do not yet fear G-d)" 9:30.

The word "tir'un" appears again in Devarim "Lo sa'artzun ve'lo tir'un". Taken slightly out of context, the Ba'al ha'Turim explains the corollary between the two Pesukim like this - 'I know that before (the plague has been removed) you fear Hashem. But once you are in the clear, you are neither broken not afraid'.


What Was Moshe's Sin

Rashi cites Chazal, who take Moshe to task for his words (at the end of Sh'mos) "Why did you do bad to this people?" And he describes how Hashem complained bitterly that the Avos, whose faith was flawless, were no longer alive. Rabeinu Bachye however, disagrees with this explanation. In his opinion, it was for the following Pasuk, where he accuses Hashem of allowing the situation to get worse after having sent him, that he is taken to task, as we shall see.

There is nothing wrong with ascribing bad things to Hashem, he says, because Hashem is indeed responsible for the bad, no less than He is for the good (as clearly stated by the Mishnah in B'rachos, 48b). And besides, he adds, had that been considered a sin, how could Moshe conceivably have repeated it, when he said in Beha'aloscha (40:23) "Why did you do bad to Your servant"?!

And he proves his point from a Medrash, which, at the Yam-Suf, quotes Moshe as saying that it was with the word "Oz" that he sinned, and it was with the word "Oz" that he was now praising Hashem. Now the word "Oz" is the opening word of Moshe's accusation of Hashem for allowing the situation to get worse after having sent him, as Rabeinu Bachye explained.


History of the World
(Part II)

(Adapted from the Seder Ha'doros)

The Post-Churban Era


Unklus ha'Ger (a nephew of the Emperor Hadrian), is a Talmid of Rebbi Eliezer and Rebbi Yehoshua. It is from them that he learns his authentic translation of the Chumash, as handed down to Moshe at Sinai. Akilas ha'Ger is a contemporary of his.



Ben Kuziba, known as bar Kochba, stages an uprising against the Romans. He kills numerous Romans, as well as Greeks in Africa and many Egyptians. The uprising gets off to a good start, and the Jews in Alexandria kill two hundred thousand Romans. The Jews of Tziprin (possibly Cyprus) too, wipe out the gentiles until not one remains.

Bar Kochba declares that he is the Mashi'ach, and the men of Beitar, the last stronghold to hold out against the Romans, crown him king. Rebbi Akiva too, is taken in by him, and accepts him as the Mashi'ach, until he discovers that he is unable to judge using the sense of smell, which Chazal list as one of the signs of Mashi'ach.

The elderly sage, Rebbi Elazar ha'Muda'i, prays that Beitar should not fall to the Romans. He is betrayed by a Kuti however, who reports to bar Kochba that he saw him plotting to come to terms with the Emperor Hadrian. Bar Kochba believes him and kills Rebbi Elazar Hamuda'i. A Heavenly Voice denounces the murder, and on that very day, Beitar falls.

Beitar was anyway destined to be destroyed because, resentful of being under the jurisdiction of Yerushalayim, they rejoiced at its downfall. According to others, it was because they played ball on Shabbos.

Some opinions maintain that ben Kuziba's son Rufus and his grandson Romulus, succeeded him, and it was during the rule of Romulus that Hadrian destroyed Beitar. Either way, the destruction was devastating, as Beitar had contained five hundred Talmud-Torahs, each with an enrolment of not less than three hundred children. In fact, Chazal talk of numbers as large as four million (and even forty million). The destruction is awesome, dwarfing by far, that of Nevuzraden at the time of the first Churban, and of Titus at the time of the second. Rebbi Akiva is killed at this time, and so are his colleagues Rebbi Yehudah ben Bava, Rebbi Chanina ben T'radyon, Rebbi Chutzpis ha'Turgeman and Rebbi Yesheivav ha'Sofer. The ninth martyr, Rebbi Elazar ben Shamu'a, has yet to become one of the Rebbes of Rebbi Yehudah ha'Nasi, who is only born on the day that Rebbi Akiva dies. He will die many years later. The tenth of the martyrs is either Rebbi Yehudah ben Teima or Rebbi Elazar ben Dama.


The third generation after the Churban:


Raban Shimon the third, son of Raban Gamliel the second (of Yavneh) and father of Rebbi Yehudah ha'Nasi, assumes the title of Nasi. He is the thirty-third link in the chain that began with Moshe at Sinai.

Rebbi Meir (also known as Rebbi Meir ba'al ha'Nes) was already appointed Rosh Yeshivah In the days of Rebbi Akiva, his Rebbe. He is blessed with longevity, spanning four generations, even attending the wedding of the son of Rebbi Yehudah ha'Nasi.

We have already mentioned Rebbi Elazar ben Shamu'a, one of the ten martyrs, and another of Rebbi Akiva's principle Talmidim. Rebbi Yehudah (S'tam), the third of those Talmidim, is Rebbi Yehudah b'Rebbi Ila'i, the author of the Sifri. The fourth Talmid is Rebbi Shimon ben Yochai, author of the Zohar, and the fifth, Rebbi Yossi (ben Chalafta) of Tzipori, also one of Rebbi Yehudah ha'Nasi's Rebbes, and author of 'Seider Olam'.

Rebbi Elazar b'Rebbi Shimon and Rebbi Pinchas ben Ya'ir (son-in-law [or father-in-law] of Rebbi Shimon) live at that time too.

Rebbi Nasan ha'Bavli, a contemporary of Rebbi Akiva's Talmidim, and the author of Avos de'Rebbi Nasan, is buried in Pumbedisa in Bavel (Babylon).

Rebbi Yossi Hagelili and his son Rebbi Eliezer, live at this time too.

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