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Beloved Comanions - Insights on Domestic Tranquility From the Weekly Parsha

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler

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Bo - II

Everyone Makes Mistakes

And it was in the middle of the night, G-d smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle. (SHEMOS 12:29)

The Rambam relates that he read the following story in the Sefer Hamidos, and concludes that it represents the summit of humility: A man who was famed for his piety was once asked, "Tell us, what was the happiest day of your life?"

The pious man answered, "It was one day when I was traveling by ship, and I had the worst place available to sleep, amidst the trunks, cargo and equipment of the ship." "Among those traveling on the ship were some wealthy merchants, and they saw me lying there in the corner. One of them had to urinate, and I was so despised in his eyes, that he did not hesitate to do so straight upon me.

"At that moment I was amazed at his boldness; but on the other hand I found that I was not angry and I did not say anything or attack him because of his despicable action. Instead, I was elated that I had reached such a level of humility that I was not hurt by that merchant's insulting action. I did not become excited or upset, and it was as if I had not felt his presence or his insult at all."


The pious man did not dwell on the inconsiderate and hostile act of the wealthy merchant, but instead he focused on what he must do in such a situation. We also must not contemplate our spouse's mistakes or shortcomings, but rather concentrate what our own obligations are.

"And it was in the middle of the night, G-d smote every first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the first-born of the captives."1 What had the captives done wrong? They were punished so that they would not be able to say that their god had been the one that brought the punishment upon the Egyptians. They would have said, "Our god is so strong that he has not been harmed; our god is so strong that he has not let the punishment reach us." This teaches us that all the decrees that Pharaoh had made against the Jewish people caused the captives to rejoice. And about them the verse says, "One who gloats over the misfortunes of others will not go unpunlshed."2 It is also written, "When your enemy falls, do not rejoice."3 This verse applies not only to captives, but even to the [Egyptian] slaves and female slaves, as it is written, "even the firstborn of the female slaves."4 "And all the firstborn of the animals." 5

How had the animals sinned? The reason is that the Egyptians would have said, "Our god is so strong that he has not been harmed, our god is so strong that he has not let the punishment reach us."

(YALKUT 208, end of par. Raban)

Why does G-d care if the Egyptian prisoners say that their god was responsible for the plagues, when He knows the real truth? Why does the midrash tell us that all the decrees that the Egyptians made caused the captives to rejoice? What is the connection between the question of the midrash, "How have the animals sinned?" and the answer it provides, "the Egyptians would have said ... ?" Why were the animals punished?

Even though G-d chose the Jewish people and gave them the Torah of truth, He still wants the gentiles to know the truth of His existence, and to glorify His name. The reason for this is that even though the gentile does not have the obligation to keep the Torah, he must still keep the seven mitzvos which were commanded to the sons of Noach. 6 They too have assigned tasks in the world, and in order for them to fulfill these tasks, they must know of G-d's existence and of His great power.

We find that the gentiles must also glorify His name, as it is written, "Praise the Lord all the nations." 7 They have not been selected to keep the 613 mitzvos, but they must recognize His existence and praise Him.

That is why G-d was so careful when he took the Jewish people out of Egypt, to be sure that the prisoners would not be able to deny G-d's actions and say that their god had caused the plagues. Therefore the captives, who were not even a threat to the Jewish people, had to be punished, so that afterwards they would be able to recognize G-d's existence and praise Him.

Perhaps the second reason they were punished was that they rejoiced at the misfortunes of the Jews. In reality it would have been enough for G-d to punish the prisoners just so that they would be able to glorify His name, but now their actions were an additional reason for their punishment.

The sin of being happy when someone else falls is not included as one of the 613 mitzvos, but it makes sense to avoid being the kind of person who rejoices at other people's downfall. This is a very bad character trait. Such a person is similar to a vulture, in that he preys on others' weaknesses. That is why we must be so careful to empathize with other people's sorrow, as we learn from Pirkei Avos, we should be, "someone who carries the yoke with his friend." 8

To comprehend the midrash's answer to its own question "How have the animals sinned?" we must first understand that an animal has no concept of sin, since it has neither a yetzer hara nor a yetzer tov. Animals were not created to make moral decisions, rather the purpose of an animal is to serve man. A clear example of this is the animal offerings that were brought in the Temple. By allowing human beings to be spiritually elevated, the animal has served its purpose in creation. Additionally, the animal itself is spiritually elevated through the act of being sacrificed. Because an animal's real purpose is dependent on human moral decision-making, in the midrash's answer it does not relate the concept of sin to the animals but rather to the people, the Egyptians, whose sins brought about the death of the animals.

Practice Forgiving Your Spouse's Mistakes

The verse mentioned above: "One who gloats over the misfortunes of others will not go unpunished," 9 can also be applied to marriage. One must be careful not to gloat over one's spouse's mistakes. No one is perfect, and when someone does make a mistake and you take advantage of it, that is a very low level of behavior. No one is free from making mistakes. And so, if you are so inconsiderate as laugh at your spouse, you might very soon find that you yourself are being laughed at in turn.

We can learn how severe this sin is from the punishment of the Egyptian prisoners, who were killed in the plague of the firstborn because they rejoiced when the Jews were suffering misfortune. From this we see how careful we must be in this area.

The story is told of a great rabbi who discovered that his wife had put salt, instead of sugar, into his tea. Instead of turning his anger upon her, he drank the tea and did not say a word. This was because he did not want to hurt her feelings. This shows us to what extent we should be prepared to exercise self-control when it comes to dealing with the feelings of our spouses.

Whenever your spouse errs, try to think of the many mistakes you yourself make. Also, think of the reaction you would like to receive from your spouse when you make a mistake, and then give your spouse that same reaction when there is a mishap. If you feel that this is difficult, you can practice when you are alone. Imagine that you discovered that your spouse had made some terrible mistake, such as losing several thousand dollars. Then practice what you would say to him or her under such circumstances. By practicing, you will be able to master your reactions and be in control of them.

We know that G-d rewards five hundred times more than He punishes. 10 So if G-d can sentence people to capital punishment for rejoicing at another's misfortune, then the reward for empathizing with someone's sorrow or discomfort should be five hundred times greater.

Sympathy and patience make for a strong and stable marriage, and should be carefully and assiduously cultivated.

1. Shemos 12:29
2. Mishlei 17:5
3. Ibid. 24:17
4. Shemos 11:5
5. Ibid.
6. Yevamos 48b
7. Tehillim 117:1
8. Pikei Avos 6:6
9. Mishlei 17:5
10. Rashi on Shemos 34:7

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