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

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Vol. 16   No. 14

This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmos
Avraham ben Chaim Tzvi z"l shenispa b'shoah
Nissim ben Rachel z"l
and Chaim Tzvi ben Shlomo Zalman z"l

Parshas Va'eira

The Blood and the Frogs
(Insights from Rabeinu Bachye on the first two Plagues)

The Blood

The water tasted like blood, smelt like blood and looked like blood, says R. Bachye. The latter two are clearly spelled out in the Torah, whereas the former we can extrapolate from the fact that the fish died. This was because fish can only survive in cold water, whereas here, seeing as the blood was real, it was also warm, killing the fish themoment they drank it.


The Torah informs us that the necromancers of Egypt copied Moshe and Aharon; they too proceeded to turn water into blood. The question is asked that, seeing as all gatherings of water turned into blood, from where did they obtain water?

No problem, says R. Bachye! Bearing in mind that it was specifically the water of the Nile, incorporating all gatherings of water that had originated from it that were stricken (" … on its rivers, its canals and its pools"), they dug into the earth, where they found sources of water that did not originate from the Nile, and that is what they used.

Alternatively, he explains, what the necromancers did, the moment they heard Moshe's warning, was to stand by water that had not yet turned into blood by Moshe's actions, and pretend that they were the ones who were turning it into blood and not Moshe.


How is it possible, asks R. Bachye, to survive for seven days without water?

To answer the question, he points out that when the Torah records how the Egyptians were unable to drink from the water of the Nile … , it describes the water as "meimei ha'Ye'or". Citing R. Sa'adyah Gaon, he explains that the word 'meimei' refers to drinkable water (as opposed to 'mei', that also incorporates water that is undrinkable (see for example Chukas 20:8, and Beshalach 23:28 on the one hand, and No'ach 7:6 and Beshalach 15:10, on the other). That being the case, he says, Moshe's striking the Nile affected only drinkable water; water that was salty and undrinkable was readily available, and that is what they drank.


Other commentaries resolve the above difficulties by referring to water which the Egyptians purchased from Yisrael (from which the latter became wealthy), which remained unaffected by the plague, and which they were able to drink.


The plague of blood, says R. Bachye, lasted for seven days, like the Tum'ah of a Nidah (see footnote there).

Having 'set the pace' as it were, with the plague of Dam, Moshe fixed the seven-day period for the rest of the Makos too (as he did the three-week warning period).


The Frogs

The Torah, as we know chooses its words carefully, and so, when in connection with the Plague of Frogs, it writes "I will plague your borders with frogs' (implying "your borders", but nobody else's), it is referring to a border dispute with Abyssinia. This dispute, says the Medrash, noted the exact area where the frogs appeared. It was clear to one and all, that the frogs appeared in Egypt only, so they knew exactly where to mark the border between the two countries, which subsequently made peace.


When the Torah writes "be'choh u've'amcho" (in you and in your people), it adds a 'Hey' to the word "be'choh", a hint, says the author, citing the Medrash, that every plague that struck the Egyptians consisted of five (conforming with the opinion of R. Akiva in the Hagadah), who lists "fierce anger, fury, wrath, trouble and a band of emissaries of evil" (Tehilim 78:48) as five plagues.


Rashi, commenting on the 'Lamed' in the words "le'mosai a'tir l'cho" (8:5), explains that Moshe, who was about to pray for the plague of frogs to cease, asked Par'oh when he wanted the frogs to go; the latter replied on the following day, and so Moshe prayed immediately for the plague to stop on the morrow.

R. Bachye, citing the Pasuk regarding the frogs (8:9), as well as the Pasuk by the wild beasts (8:22), which clearly indicates that Moshe prayed to Hashem immediately, agrees with Rashi. And he wonders at the Ramban (in spite of the latter's proofs), who, dismissing the 'Lamed' in "le'mosai" as a superfluous letter, maintains that Moshe prayed only on the day that the plague was due to terminate.

The author also explains Par'oh's strategy in what appeared to be drawing out the plague for another day. Not at all, he says! Par'oh assumed that when Moshe asked him when to remove the plague, it was because the time of asking was the time that the plague was destined to terminate, and so, Par'oh thought, that by saying 'tomorrow', and the plague disappearing immediately, he would expose Moshe as an imposter.

He also comments that, once Par'oh set the time as 'tomorrow', that became his cue for the entire duration of the plagues, which always came and went 'tomorrow' (as is evident in numerous Pesukim).


This is the only plague which Moshe mentioned by name when praying for its cessation, R. Bachye observes. The Torah writes here (8:8) "And Moshe cried out to Hashem on account of the frogs … ", as opposed to the curt "And he Davened (or spread out his hands) to Hashem" that is used by all the other plagues.

The Torah needed to do that, he explains, to counter the wording that G-d used in bringing the frogs in the first place. "And the River (Nile) will swarm with frogs, which will come up and enter your houses". The expression "will go up" (one which Moshe repeated to Aharon and which occurs a third when the frogs actually arrived) gave the impression that the frogs came out of the water by themselves, that they were a natural phenomenon, as it were, or that they were perhaps the result of witchcraft. It was to dispel any such thoughts that the Torah writes here " … on account of the frogs that G-d had placed for Par'oh", to make it clear to all that the plague of frogs was Heaven-sent, just as the other plagues were.

* * *

Parshah Pearls

The Four Expressions

"ve'Hotzeisi eschem mi'tachas sivlos Mitzrayim … ve'hitzalti eschem me'avodosom … ve'go'alti eschem … ve'lokachti eschem li lo'om" (6:6/7).

R. Bachye explains the four expressions of redemption in the following manner:

"ve'Hotzeisi" … refers to the cessation of labour, which took place on Rosh Hashanah;

"ve'Hitzalti" … to the removal of all taxes and leaving their domain, which occurred when they left Egypt six months later;

"ve'Go'alti" … refers to K'ri'as Yam-Suf, where all fear of the Egyptians came to an end, with their drowning. Indeed, this is the first time since the plagues began, that the Torah actually uses the word an expression of 'salvation', when it writes just before the Shirah "And Hashem saved Yisrael from the hand of Egypt".

And the Torah adds the words …"ve'lokachti" … with reference to Matan Torah.


And Hashem ends the Parshah of His promise to give them Eretz Yisrael with the same words as it begun (in Pasuk 2 & 6) " … and I will give it to you as an inheritance, I am Hashem" (6:8)., comments R. Bachye, to teach us that He is the One to make the promise, and He is the One who will keep it!


Extras Thrown In

"bi'zro'a netuyah u'vi'shefotim Gedolim (with an outstretched arm and with great wonders)" Ibid.

The Torah adds these words to "ve'Go'alti eschem … ", the author explains, with reference a. to the Great Hand that is mentioned just before the Shirah (which alludes to His might) and b. to all the side punishments that the Egyptians suffered at the Yam-Suf, respectively … horse and rider together were cast up and down in the raging sea, as the Pasuk writes "Horse and rider He cast into the Sea … they went down to the depths like a stone …it consumed them like stubble … they sunk like lead."


The Galus Comes to an End

"And they did not listen to Moshe from shortness of breath … (mi'kotzer ru'ach) " (6:9).

Yisrael did not listen to Moshe, not for a lack of faith, but from their terrible suffering, R. Bachye explains, like a person whose spirit is broken and who would prefer to die than to continue suffering.

He also cites a Medrash, which points out that the Gematriyah of "mi'Kozer" is four hundred and thirty, the number of years that Yisrael were destined to be in Galus, starting from the B'ris bein ha'Besarim.


Six Prophets

"And Aharon took Elisheva the daughter of Aminadav, the sister of Nachshon" (6:23).

The Torah is coming to teach us here that the family of Kehunah joined forces with the family of kings (Aharon with Elisheva, the leading Nasi in K'lal Yisrael, ancestor of David ha'Melech).

Remarkably, this Parshah contains the names of six of the forty-eight prophets … Aharon, Moshe, Pinchas (alias Eliyahu) and the three sons of Korach (Asir, Elkanah and Avi'asaf), all of whom lived in the same generation (R. Bachye).


A Time to Complain

" Behold I have a speech impediment, so how will Par'oh listen to me?" (6:30).

Earlier, when G-d ordered Moshe and Aharon to go before Par'oh, Moshe was silent. He must have assumed that Aharon would be the spokesman.


Hardening Par'oh's Heart

"And I will harden Par'oh's heart" (7:3).

Many years ago, I discussed the answers of the Rambam and the Ramban to the age-old question as to how, having personally hardened Par'oh's heart, G-d could then punish him for refusing to send Yisrael out of Egypt? This appears to be an injustice, R. Bachye points out, that Hashem the Tzadik would never perform?

He does eventually cite the Medrash (the source of the Rambam's answer), ascribing G-d's actions to the fact that He only hardened Par'oh's heart after Par'oh, during the first five Makos had first hardened it himself, refusing to submit to the Divine request, until he no longer had the strength to refuse. But not before first offering the following explanation. Had Par'oh's sin been the refusal to let Yisrael go, and Hashem had prevented him from relenting, that would indeed have been a terrible injustice. But it was not!

Par'oh's sin lay in the statement that he made many years earlier, when he said "Come let us deal wisely with them (or as others say, 'with Him [G-d]' "). Since he was a Rasha and a denier of his own accord, who then went on to treat Yisrael cruelly, he deserved to be punished, and the ten plagues were his well-deserved retribution for that earlier sin. Had G-d granted him the right to perform Teshuvah (like He did to the city of Ninveh), He would not have been able to mete out to him the punishment that he needed to receive. So He stopped him!


Hashem's Hosts

"And I will take out My hosts the B'nei Yisrael" (7:4).

The Pasuk refers to Yisrael as "the hosts of Hashem", says Rabeinu Bachye, because the twelve tribes correspond to the twelve constellations and to the stars (See Devarim 1:10), (both of which are called 'the hosts of Hashem').

Furthermore, "Hosts of Hashem" refers directly to those heavenly bodies (as if the Torah had written "'I shall take out My celestial hosts together with My people Yisrael'). For if, as Chazal state, 'When Yisrael went into exile, the Shechinah went down with them', then how much more so the Heavenly bodies!

And this explains why Chazal define 'Tzevo'kos' as Kodesh (a Holy name of Hashem that may not be erased); since He is only called by that name because He is the Master of the Hosts of the Heaven and of the earth.

* * *


"And I have also established a covenant with them to give (loseis) them the land of Cana'an" (6:4).

The Gematriyah of "loseis" is equivalent to four hundred and ten plus four hundred and twenty, the number of years the first Beis-Hamikdash and the second Beis-Hamikdash respectively, stood.


" … the land of their sojournings in which they dwelt (asher goru boh) Ibid.

The Gematriyah of "asher goru boh" is seven hundred and seventeen (the total number of years that the Ten Tribes lived in Eretz Yisrael until they were exiled to Assyria.


"Therefore say (Lochein emor) to the B'nei Yisrael 'I am Hashem … ' " (6:6).

The phrase "Lochein emor" also appears in Parshas Pinchas (in connection with Pinchas' killing of Zimri) "Lochein Emor, 'Hin'ni nosein lo es b'risi sholom' ". All that happened to Moshe, says the Sifri, happened to Eliyahu (alias Pinchas), Moshe was the shali'ach to take Yisrael out of Egypt; Eliyahu will be the shali'ach to take Yisrael out of the current Galus (see also Ba'al ha'Turim, end of Sh'mos, Pasuk 22).


"ve'Hotzeisi, ve'hitzalti, ve'go'alti, ve'lokachti" (6:6/7).

The Gematriyah of the four expressions of redemption, the Ba'al ha'Turim points out, is equivalent to that of 'Zeh oni be'Yisrael, lo yifch'su lo me'arba kosos 'shel yayin' - the Mishnah in Arvei Pesachim, which requires the Gaba'ei Tzedakah to give every poor man four cups of wine for the Seider.


"And I will bring you to the Land … and I will give it to you as an inheritance (moroshoh) … " (6:8).

The same word is used in ve'Zos ha'B'rachah (33:4), the Ba'al ha'Turim comments, where the Torah writes "Moshe commanded us Torah, an inheritance (moroshoh) for the community of Ya'akov". This teaches us that Eretz Yisrael was only given to us as an inheritance on the merit of the Torah, a lesson that is particularly relevant today.

In both places, the Torah uses the word 'moroshoh' (something that one bequeaths) rather than 'yerushah' (something that one inherits).

It deliberately makes the change here, to hint that the current generation did not actually inherit the land (seeing as they were not destined to enter it). They bequeathed it to their children however, who did merit entering the land. R. Bachye explains the Pasuk in ve'Zos ha'B'rachah along similar lines. The word "Morashah" there, he explains, is coming to teach us that the Torah was not only given to the generation that received it, but also to future generations, to whom one is therefore obligated to pass it on (as the Torah writes in the Sh'ma "and you shall teach them to your sons"). Indeed, according to Chazal, the future generations were at Har Sinai too, as the Torah writes in Nitzavim (29:14) " … and with those who are not with us here today".


"And the sons of Korach were Asir, Elkanah and Aviasaf" (6:24).

The word "Asir" appears also in Yeshayah (42:7) "To remove a prisoner (asir) from confinement".

This hints, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, that the sons of Korach were removed from Gehinom proper, and given a special location on its surface.


"And I will harden (aksheh) the heart of Par'oh" (7:3).

It is with Par'oh in mind that the Pasuk in Shmuel 2 (2:27) writes "with the stubborn (ikesh) you shall deal firmly".

* * *

(Adapted frorm the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Please bear in mind that the rulings in this article reflect the opinion of the Seifer ha'Chinuch and are not necessarily Halachah.

Mitzvah 123:
The Korban Oleh ve'Yored (cont.)

Chazal have said that if someone commits a sin that is subject to a Chatas of which he is aware at the beginning but not at the end, and who is therefore unable to bring his Korban there and then, the goat that is brought on Yom Kipur inside the Azarah together with the day of Yom Kipur tide him over until he discovers that he sinned and brings his Korban. In the reverse case, where he got to know at the end that he sinned but not at the beginning, the goat that is brought outside (the Sa'ir la'Azazel) together with Tom Kipur atone for him. And it is the goats that are brought for Musaf on Yom-Tov and on Rosh-Chodesh that atone for sins that one is unaware or either at the beginning or at the end.

The bull the Kohen Gadol brings on Yom Kipur atones for the sin of Tum'as Mikdash ve'Kodashav performed by a Kohen *be'Meizid*, whereas for those of a Yisrael it is the blood of the goat that is brought inside on Yom Kipur together with Yom Kipur, as the Torah writes in Acharei Mos "And he shall atone for the Kodesh, from the Tum'os of B'nei Yisrael" … Chazal also said that regarding the four sins (which comprise the Korban Oleh ve'Yored), everybody is equal (i.e. the Korban is the same, whether the sinner is king, an ordinary Kohen, a Kohen Gadol, or an ordinary person. The distinction that the Torah draws between their respective Korbanos is confined to a Chatas Kavu'a (a regulat Chatas), but does not extend to a Korban Oleh ve'Yored … and all other details, are discussed in K'riysus and Shevu'os.

This Mitzvah applies only when the Beis-Hamikdash is standing, to both men and women, except for the sin of Shevu'as Eidus, whose Korban does not apply to women (since women are not eligible to testify), as the author explained above (in Mitzvah 122). Someone who contravenes the Mitzvah, and fails to bring his Korban in any of the above cases, has negated an Asei.


Mitzvah 124:
Not to Sever the Head of A Chatas ha'Of

When performing 'Melikah' on a bird that he is bringing as a Chatas ha'Of, a Kohen is forbidden to sever its head completely. As the Torah writes in Vayikra (5:8) " … and he shall nip its head at the nape (mi'mul orpo), and not sever it"; this entails piercing the bone at the nape of the neck with his fingernail and cutting into the bone until he reaches the two pipes, which he also cuts (at least the majority of one of them). This is the equivalent of the Shechitah of a Chulin bird. When doing this, the Kohen must be careful to avoid severing the head from the body completely in the process, as the Torah writes "and he shall not sever it".

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