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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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And by the breath of Your nostrils the waters were heaped up, flowing waters stood upright as a wall; the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea.
The famous rabbi of Pressburg, the Kesav Sofer, worked very hard to convince the Hungarian government to recognize observant Torah Jews as a separate community, instead of seeing all Jews, observant or not, as one group. This was because the Reform Jews were the majority and their leaders were anxious to gain control of the educational system and other communal institutions, in order to weaken the influence of the Torah-true leaders. The Kesav Sofer wanted to establish a community structure that would ensure compliance with the Shulchan Aruch, without any changes introduced by the Reform Jews.
When he finally achieved this official recognition, everyone knew that this victory was in large part due to the efforts of the Kesav Sofer's father, the Chasam Sofer. In order to reinforce the government's decision, the Kesav Sofer organized an assembly to celebrate the occasion and to strengthen the spiritual life of the Hungarian Jews, thereby guarding against future breaches.
All the important rabbis and leaders of Hungarian Jewry participated in this assembly. Naturally, there were many Torah discussions.
At one point, when the Kesav Sofer approached the podium to speak, complete silence fell over the crowd. "Moray V'rabosay," he began, "on this special occasion it is an honor for me to share with all the distinguished guests here an important object that I have inherited from my father, zt"l. It was very rare and precious and went back to the time of the Beis Hamikdash.
"Although this object does not have any monetary value, our family guards it as if it were the most valuable treasure that cannot be bought at any price. The object is a shekel hakodesh, which was used during the time of the Beis Hamikdash. As far as I know, it is the only one of its kind in the world. On this festive occasion, I would like to show the coin to everyone present. Therefore I will pass it around, so that everyone can see it. Then it will return to me," concluded the Kesav Sofer.
The interest in the coin was great, and everyone took the coin to inspect it carefully and fondly. This took a long time, since there were so many people present. Suddenly someone asked, "Where is the shekel?"
To everyone's dismay, the shekel had disappeared and could not be found anywhere. The Kesav Sofer stood up excitedly, unable to understand how such a thing could have happened. He addressed the assembly and said, "I am certain that no one here is guilty, although the shekel has disappeared. Perhaps someone has inadvertently mixed up my coin with his own coin. Therefore, I beg your pardon, but would everyone please check his pockets to see if my coin is there.
Everyone did as the Kesav Sofer requested, but the coin was still not found. When the Kesav Sofer saw this, he suggested that everyone present should allow his pockets to be checked by someone else, and in this way perhaps the shekel would be found. But one elderly man, who was an important talmid chacham and a student of the Chasam Sofer adamantly refused to be searched. The man pleaded that they should wait a quarter of an hour before the search began.
The rabbis consented, and they waited a quarter of an hour, but to no avail. When they were ready for the search to commence, the old man once again requested that they wait another quarter of an hour. Many rabbis had become impatient and did not agree to the old man's strange request. But the Kesav Sofer knew the elderly man, and knew that he was one of the most important students of the Chasam Sofer, so he asked everyone to agree to wait, which they did.
When this time went by and still the shekel had not been found, people began to suspect that maybe the old man was the one who had taken the coin, since he was the only one who was reluctant to allow anyone to search his pockets. Nevertheless, the old man once again requested another quarter of an hour. Without the Kesav Sofer's intervention, the tense and restless assembly would not have agreed. But since the Kesav Sofer insisted, they had to wait another quarter of an hour.
They had just decided to do so, when the Kesav Sofer's aide burst into the room and exclaimed, "Look, here is the coin!" The aide told the crowd that when he had shaken out the tablecloths after the meal, he had apparently shaken out the coin also. Now, upon checking a second time, he had found the coin among the remains of food in the rubbish bin.
Now everyone turned to the elderly man who had opposed the search through his pockets. Why had he protested? What did he have to lose when he obviously did not have the coin?
The man stood up and addressed the crowd, "I am a student of the Chasam Sofer. When I received the invitation to come here where all the great Torah luminaries of Hungary are assembled, I thought that it would be worthwhile to bring with me something that would interest everyone. Since I myself also have a coin that is a shekel hakodesh, which we have had as an inheritance in our family for many generations, I decided to bring it with me and show it to the assembly.
"But when I heard from my mentor's son, the Kesav Sofer, that his coin is unique, I decided, out of respect for him, not to publicize my own coin, so as not to detract from the impression his coin would make.
"When the Kesav Sofer's coin was lost, and the idea arose for everyone to search in his neighbor's pockets, it was clear to me that it would appear that the lost coin had been found in my pocket. It is easy to imagine what a chillul Hashem would have occurred had the missing coin been found in the pocket of a student of the Chasam Sofer.
"I was sure that my claim that I had a similar coin would not have been believed. Therefore I tried with all my power to delay the search, giving me time to pray to G-d that He should not bring me to such a terrible disgrace, and that I should not be the cause of such a great chillul Hashem.
"My prayers were answered, and the Kesav Sofer's coin was found. And here is the shekel hakodesh that I have," he concluded and showed the coin in his hand to the assembly.
When the elderly man finished speaking, the Kesav Sofer turned to the astonished assembly and said, "We must thank G-d that this incident came to a happy conclusion and that no chillul Hashem occurred, since who would have believed him? Everyone was certain that there is no similar coin in the world.
"But we must also learn from this incident a basic lesson, and that is the importance of the mitzvah of judging people favorably.(1) Even in the case where all the evidence points to someone's guilt, we must still find merit for him and judge him as innocent. If we would have come here only to learn this lesson, it would have been worthwhile," concluded the Kesav Sofer.
As the Kesav Sofer pointed out, we can learn from this amazing story that we must judge others favorably to the greatest possible extent. This rule also applies to judging our own children, who so greatly need our encouragement and esteem.
"And by the breath of Your nostrils, the waters were heaped up."(2) In the same way they measured You, You measured them [meaning that in the way a person acts, he is correspondingly punished]. They said, "Let us be clever with him [i.e., the Jewish nation],"(3) and they cast the newborn Jewish male children into the water. Therefore the water became clever with them and fought against them in order to dispense evil to the Egyptians. Therefore the verse says, "And by the breath of Your nostrils the waters were heaped up."
Why did the Egyptians have to suffer all sorts of punishments through the raging sea, when it would seem that drowning might have sufficed as a punishment? What was the significance of the heaps of Egyptian corpses? What did our Sages mean when they said that "the souls of the Jewish people were fastened within them?" How could pitchers of drinkable water be dispensed from the salty water of the sea? What do our Sages mean by "the souls of the Egyptians were fastened within them?" Why did the seawater become fragrant for the Jewish people? Why did the waters assume the form of an arch? Why should the sea, which has no heart, serve as the vehicle of punishment for the Egyptians?
They said, "Let us be clever with him," and they cast the newborn Jewish male children into the water. Therefore the water became clever with them and fought against them...
Although drowning is certainly a horrible death, G-d's punishment is always exact and measured according to a person's actions. In some cases it is necessary to add on to the punishment of death, since a person may deserve still more suffering. The Egyptians were initially afraid of the Jewish people, and therefore they seemed to have had a justified reason for enslaving them, but they added to this all sorts of unnecessary cruelty. G-d punished them exactly the way in which they had made the Jewish people suffer.
Normally, if a person is a good swimmer, he may find a way to prevent himself from drowning. The Jewish people were not walking in the middle, deeper part of the sea, but rather they were at a crossing in the Red Sea, which the Egyptians could have crossed by foot once the sea had divided into two. Therefore, our Sages say, the sea acted in such a way that swimming could not have saved the Egyptians. The sea acted to ensure that the Egyptians would certainly drown, and would also have their fitting punishments before their actual deaths.
...The water made the Egyptians into heaps.
The significance of the heaps of Egyptian corpses was that part of the education of the Jewish people was their being shown G-d's hand in the punishment meted out to the Egyptians. This provided them with a lesson in Divine Providence and perfectly measured retribution for human actions. But they also experienced the joy of seeing their enemies vanquished by G-d's hand. This joy was increased by the fact that G-d heaped up their bodies in a pile. The human eye cannot see very far, and thus if the Egyptians had been spread along the long shore of the Red Sea, the extent of the devastation would not have been visible to the Jews. Thus G-d performed an additional kindness for them by revealing the full extent of their enemies' destruction.
This was obviously a miracle. When the sea spits out its contents, one would expect them to be scattered randomly along the shore. But since G-d wanted the Jews to be able to witness the punishment of the Egyptians who had tormented them, He changed the natural order and caused all the bodies to be stacked up in one place.
When our Sages say that "the souls of the Jewish people were fastened within them," we might understand this to mean that witnessing the miracles which occurred at the Red Sea may have endangered the Jewish people. The excitement might well have been too much for some people with weak hearts and they could have died. But G-d made a special miracle so that all this excitement did not endanger anyone's health, and all the Jews endured the experience safely. That is what is meant by "the souls of the Jewish people were fastened within them."
...Pitchers of drinkable water were being dispensed from the salty waters of the sea.
In modern times, the phenomenon of turning salty water into sweet, drinkable water is known as desalination and is a common industrial process. G-d accomplished this miraculously during the splitting of the Red Sea, so that the pleasure of the Jewish people would be complete. He could have provided them with water from a natural source in the ground, where people normally search for water, but then it would not have seemed a miracle. G-d wanted to be sure that there was no doubt regarding His actions. He wanted them to be experienced, not as acts of nature, but as absolute miracles for the benefit of the Jewish people.
Another explanation could be that G-d wanted to demonstrate that the sea was neither vicious nor a source of catastrophe; rather it was an instrument of G-d's will. When it was necessary, the sea could become vicious, killing the Egyptians in a cruel manner. But that same sea could be so kind and merciful that it could quench the Jewish people's thirst. It was not the sea, but rather G-d's will that was instructing the sea how to act. Therefore the sea had to serve as the source of their drinking water, since only in this way would this point be demonstrated.
This is an important lesson for us to learn. When we are harmed by another person, or even when we stumble on a rock, it is not the person or the rock that is harming us, but rather G-d has decreed that this harm is coming to us. We need not be angry, since what G-d does is always for our good.
When our Sages say that "the souls of the Egyptians were fastened within them," they see this as part of the Egyptians' punishment. To be able to cling to one's soul is desirable only when one's life is destined to continue. When a person's death is certain, he wishes to get it over with as quickly as possible. The death of the Egyptians was certain. This became obvious to them the moment they saw what the sea was doing to them. They wished to die as quickly as possible, so as not to prolong their suffering. But to their disappointment, they found that they could not drown themselves, but remained alive in spite of their efforts to terminate their lives and their suffering.
...For the Jewish people the water of the sea became fragrant as perfume.When the seawater became fragrant for the Jewish people, this demonstrated the principle that we have discussed, that the sea was not inherently vicious. Although it was killing the Egyptians, it was at the same time giving off a pleasant fragrance for the Jewish people. This proves that the water was not a source of evil; rather, it is human actions which determine whether the water will benefit or harm human beings. Thus, although it was not crucial that the Jewish people smell fragrant water, this happened at that time in order for them to learn this lesson.
Seen in another light, since so many heaps of corpses were being stacked up, there was an unbearable stench of death in the air. In order that the Jewish people would not have to suffer from that unpleasant smell, G-d made the sea miraculously diffuse a sweet perfume and thus act as an air purifier.
The reason the waters took the form of an arch may have been to show that the splitting of the sea was in no way a natural phenomenon. Even if one might attempt to scientifically explain the splitting of the sea into two, yet one could never succeed in explaining how the water lifted itself up to form an arch. There is no natural force that would move the two sides of water away from one another, while at the same time moving them towards each other to form an arch.
The specific form of the arch might symbolize protection, as if there had been a roof over their heads. Without such protection, one might tend to feel vulnerable. The arch was to demonstrate to the Jewish people how very much they were loved and protected by G-d. This was also the purpose of the Clouds of Glory that hovered over the Jewish people throughout their entire journey in the desert.(8)
Why should the sea, which has no heart, have become the vehicle of punishment for the Egyptians? A person is given a heart so that he can use it to be kind to others. The heart represents the emotions, whereas the head represents logic. The sin of the Egyptians was that they should have felt with their hearts the plight of the Jewish people, but they chose to ignore that which their hearts were telling them. This means that the opportunity which G-d had provided them to do good and to bring good upon themselves was not utilized. Therefore the sea, because it has no heart, became the fitting messenger by which to punish them. This was to teach them that even without a heart one can perform G-d's will. How much more can someone perform His will if He uses the heart with which G-d has blessed him!
As mentioned above, one's heart represents the emotions. Emotions cause many parents to encounter great difficulty in educating their children because their expectations are not always fulfilled. They expect their children to always be diligent and kind, but it is certainly unreasonable to expect perfection from a child. As a result, parents may find themselves shouting at their children, calling them insulting names, or even worse, simply ignoring them.
A parent may say, "When I was your age..." That is a very degrading statement, since it is implying that your child is a failure. But the truth is that your child is not you. He has a personality of his own, and you should not judge him by your standards, just as you do not want others to judge you by a higher standard than your own.
Our Sages say, "Do not judge a person until you have stood in his place."(9) To judge your child properly you would have to be his age, to have his personality and temperament, and to have undergone all his experiences. Since you cannot fulfill any of these conditions, you should not judge him at all.
Furthermore, when you say, "When I was your age...," you are acting in a self-righteous manner. You are capitalizing upon his failures in order to enhance your own self-esteem. That is a cruel and selfish thing to do to your child. Do not use him as a ladder for your own ego.
Parents tend to think their children are their own property and that they can do or say to them whatever they like. Although you are a parent, that does not give you the right to treat your child with any less respect than you would treat another person. All the commandments of the Torah "between man and his fellow" apply between you and your child as well. You are forbidden to embarrass him, insult him, or to do anything the Torah forbids you to do to your fellow man.
Even hitting your child raises a difficult halachic question, since our Sages say that hitting a child who might strike back is forbidden, due to the prohibition of causing another person to sin.(10)When hit, an older child may strike back and thus commit a grave sin.(11) Although a specific age has been mentioned by the poskim in this regard, today's children tend to be more independent, and therefore a younger age would certainly apply. Everyone should ask an authoritative rabbi regarding the details of this halachah, but the universal concept that it represents is that your child has his rights, and you may not violate them.
The mitzvah of "Love your neighbor as yourself"(12) applies to your children. Just as you would not like to be called names or to be insulted, so too you should not do this to your children. Likewise, the mitzvah of "In righteousness shall you judge your friend,"(13) which teaches us to judge everyone favorably, applies equally to one's own children. Your children are people like any of your neighbors, and they should be treated with the same respect.
Do not confuse this with the idea that it might be better to ignore a child's misbehavior entirely, for this would give him the message that you do not care about him. Furthermore, ignoring inappropriate behavior can lead to a child's making serious mistakes which could have easily been avoided, had problems been dealt with earlier. We are obligated to educate our children and to train them for life. But we must find respectful and constructive ways to do this.
The most important gift we can give our children is self-esteem. Emphasize your child's good qualities and constantly build him up in his own eyes.
Once there was a child who was a very poor student in his yeshivah. He was expelled from one yeshivah and found another where lower level students were accepted. There too he became one of the worst students in the yeshivah.
When the father had a discussion with the mashgiach of the yeshivah, he was told of his son's disappointing progress. The father asked the mashgiach, "Does he possess any good quality at all?"
After some thought, the mashgiach answered, "He does pray nicely."
"Excellent!" the father exclaimed, "Please praise him daily for his good praying, and ignore his poor learning and behavior during the day. Just try this experiment and let us see how it works."
The mashgiach agreed and the results were soon obvious. The child became one of the best students in the yeshivah.
The explanation here is that the child had given up on himself. He had heard from the mashgiach and others that he was a failure, and therefore he felt that there was no reason for him to make an effort. But now that he was being praised, he gained self-esteem. When the mashgiach showed him something positive about himself, this made him feel successful and gave him a reason to make an effort.
We should always remember to tell our children how important they are. Emphasize your child's good qualities by telling him that he is kind and good-hearted. Even if this is not exactly true, it is important for him to hear such things so that his self-esteem will grow and he will strive to live up to the good reputation you have given him.
Rabbi Yechiel Yaakovson, the noted educator, tells of his experience teaching in a non-religious high school in Ashdod. The first day in class, he told the students that he would like to get acquainted with them, and asked each student to tell him his name and state one good quality which he possessed.
The students did not know how to respond. One said, "I do not have any good qualities."
Rabbi Yaakovson answered, "There is no such thing. Everyone in the world has been blessed by G-d with good qualities. Search for them and you will find them." Rabbi Yaakovson then gave the students a homework assignment to write about one of their good qualities.
The students managed somehow to complete the unusual assignment and brought it to class the next day. Rabbi Yaakovson collected the papers and announced, "Now I am going to distribute these papers randomly among the class and I want you to write what you see as the good qualities of the person whose name is written on the page." The students proceeded to do this, and then Rabbi Yaakovson gave each student the paper with his own name on it, accompanied by the comments of his fellow classmate. This caused a great commotion in the class, as the students were all surprised at how positively they were thought of by their classmates.
A few days later, the principal of the school approached Rabbi Yaakovson and asked him how he had managed to improve the students so quickly. Instead of the arrogant abusive language they usually used, they now spoke politely. Rabbi Yaakovson answered, "I simply showed them how important they were. Now they no longer need to use abusive language to make themselves feel important."
Some twenty years later Rabbi Yaakovson was living in the town of Zichron Yaakov. One day there was a knock on his door and in walked a police inspector. The policeman asked if he was Rabbi Yaakovson. When Rabbi Yaakovson confirmed that he was, the policeman took a piece of paper from his wallet and said, "I was your student in high school in Ashdod. I had been planning to join a street gang, but you changed my life with this piece of paper on which my fellow student wrote nice things about me."
The lesson we can learn from this story is clear. Our students and our children want to know that they are important and that we believe in them. This is what gives them the strength to go on and be successful. If you make the effort to convey this message, then you are providing your children with the chance to be winners in life.
1. Avos 1:6
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network