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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

PARSHAS BESHALACH

"It happened when Pharaoh sent out the People." (13:17)

The Midrash says that the word "beshalach," whose root is shaloch, to send, means more than just "sending away"; it means to accompany. In other words, Pharaoh accompanied the Jewish People out of Egypt. The Midrash continues by saying that Pharaoh received a reward for this accompaniment - we are admonished not to hate an Egyptian. Let us for a moment analyze this statement. Did Pharaoh want to send us out? Absolutely not! It was only after he had been smitten with ten plagues that he acquiesced to releasing us from bondage. Is this the kind of person we must not hate? Do we owe him so much after all he had done to us for 210 years? Moreover, he was not acting of his own free-will. He had no choice. So, why owe him anything?

Horav Elazar Menachem Man Schach, z.l., explains that regardless of Pharaoh's evil history and the fact that he was forced to send us out, he, nonetheless, escorted Klal Yisrael out of Egypt. For that act, he deserves a reward. Hashem does not ignore the slightest act of kindness to others. If we behave benevolently to others, we will be rewarded - regardless of our other negative traits and actions. Pharaoh was evil; yet, he acted humanely, this one time. He will be reimbursed. We should give this some thought. If Hashem seeks and does not ignore the slightest good manifested by a person, how much more so should we go out of our way to look for the good in all people. If we only look, we will certainly discover that every person has a redeeming value.

"Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him." (13:19)

Before Yosef left this world, he asked his family to see to it that he would be reinterred in Eretz Yisrael after the Exodus. Chazal note that it was only Moshe Rabbeinu who took Yosef's remains. Klal Yisrael were occupied with another mitzvah, that of "relieving" the Egyptians of their valuables. Moshe, applying the sage advice of Shlomo Ha'melech in Mishlei 10:8, Chacham lev yikach mitzvos, "The wise of heart takes (the performance of) mitzvos" took Yosef's remains -both were mitzvos. But as Horav Baruch Sorotzkin, z.l., explained, a wise man knows which mitzvah to "take". While gathering money might be more glamorous than carrying a coffin, it is the underlying motive and ensuing reward that determine the mitzvah's spiritual plateau. Moshe, who was wise and discerning, understood with which mitzvah to occupy himself.

Moshe received a very special reward for personally caring for Yosef's remains. When Moshe passed away, Hashem Himself buried him. Moshe received the ultimate repayment. Veritably, no righteous act; no act of chesed, loving kindness; no act of compassion or philanthropy goes uncompensated. I recently came across a powerful story that conveys this message. The story takes place in Yerushalayim, outside a yeshivah gedolah where a group of yeshivah bachurim, students, were gathered during their bein ha'sedarim, break time. They stood talking; some in learning, others were discussing the current Israeli political scene; while yet others were just enjoying the invigorating air. Absorbed by conversation and friendly camaraderie, few paid attention to the unfolding scene on the street.

One sharp-eyed young man, however, noticed something approaching them, growing in the distance, as it came closer and closer. He stiffened and motioned to his friends, "Look at that!" he said, pointing at the object rapidly advancing towards them.

"How sad," murmured several of the bachurim, transfixed as they observed the scene and absorbed its implication. One lone Jewish hearse - unaccompanied by the usual mourners, no long procession, no entourage - just a single solitary hearse, was moving slowly down the street. The young men were riveted by this sad scene. It evoked a profound sense of poignancy within them. Imagine, a person so alone that no one attends his funeral. How could someone die alone without family, without friends or neighbors? Did not anyone care? Was it possible that the deceased was so detached from society that no one knew or cared if he or she lived or died? If this was true, it was a great tragedy. They must do something about it - now.

These young men had no idea what the word loneliness meant. Most came from large families, had a multitude of friends and acquaintances, and had gregarious personalities. The word "alone" was not in their lexicon.

Indeed, it is a word that should not be in the Jewish lexicon. The experience of the Jewish community is one of unity, solidarity, friendship and support. This stark demonstration of the lonely life was too much for them to accept.

"This is just heartbreaking," said one. "It is a terrible tragedy," said another. "We must do something about it," said a third. The fourth bachur had the most practical idea, "Let us follow the hearse and be its entourage. We will participate in the funeral and burial. That is the right thing to do." The fifth student made a bolder suggestion, "Let us call the rest of the students. It is bein ha'sedarim. We will all attend the funeral." And off they went.

Shortly thereafter, the hearse was accompanied by an impressive column of hundreds of yeshivah students, who followed it slowly and solemnly to the cemetery. It was only when the hearse came to rest at an open gravesite and a lone rabbi emerged from the hearse that they discovered the identity of the deceased.

"This is so appropriate!" exclaimed the rabbi when he learned who they were and which yeshivah they attended. "How did you learn about her death? She was a total recluse, living like a hermit for the last fifty years. She would have nothing to do with people, rebuffing everyone's efforts to reach out to her. I am shocked that anyone knew that she died."

The bachurim looked at the rabbi and said, "Really, we have no idea who the deceased is. We never knew her, nor is she connected to any of us in any way."

"If you do not know whose funeral you are attending, then why are you here?" the rabbi asked incredulously.

"Well, it is a long story," and they began to explain how one thing led to another and before they knew it, the entire yeshivah was involved in the special mitzvah of halvoyas ha'mes, accompanying and seeing to the needs of the deceased.

The rabbi listened to the story and began to cry. After a while, he calmed himself and explained his behavior. "My dear bachurim," he said softly, "Your presence here today, escorting this lonely woman to her final resting place, is Divinely ordained. Let me tell you a story. Seventy years ago, a wealthy Jewish businessman donated an expensive piece of real estate to the Jewish community for the explicit purpose of building a yeshivah - your yeshivah.

"But, that was not all that he contributed. Beyond the initial donation of the land and the building, during his lifetime he made every effort to support the fledgling yeshivah with large sums of money, nurturing it and helping it flourish into one of the premier institutions of Torah.

"As he aged, on several occasions, the yeshivah tried to show its gratitude and bestow honor on him. But his exceptional humility and private nature did not allow for it.

"He had an only child - a daughter, who was the apple of his eye, the pride and joy of his life. When the rabbis would approach him wondering what they could do for him, how to repay his magnanimity, he would respond, 'Thank G-d, I am a wealthy and happy man. I really need nothing. But, maybe one day you can be of service to my beloved daughter. Maybe one day she will be in need of your help.' The rabbis, of course, gave their solemn word that they would never forsake his daughter.

"After a long and productive life, the philanthropist left this world. His daughter, sad to say, became distanced from the religion of her youth and abandoned it. She slowly severed her relationship with the Jewish community altogether. As time went on, her mind began to show signs of serious psychological trauma. She was in and out of psychiatric institutions for the rest of her life.

"The rabbis who remembered their promise to her father tried desperately to keep in touch with her, following her from one incident to another, from one home to the next. They offered her support and encouragement. She rebuffed their overtures and continued to live like an eccentric hermit. No one lives forever, and the original rabbis who had founded the school passed on. With their death, the pledge made to the woman's father was forgotten. The daughter was neglected and lived out her remaining days in depression and seclusion.

"My dear bachurim, it is to this woman's funeral that you "coincidentally" come today; she is the daughter of the major benefactor of your yeshivah. With your presence here today, you have fulfilled your Rosh Ha'Yeshivah's pledge many years ago - never to neglect the benefactor's daughter. You have repaid his largesse by performing this final act of chesed."

Another aspect makes this incident even more startling. The bachurim later learned that the hearse was not supposed to travel on the small, obscure street where the yeshivah is located. The driver for "some reason" became lost and drove down the wrong street. This is but one more episode in the unfolding saga of Divine Providence, of how Hashem repays everyone for their good deeds.

"For G-d said, 'Perhaps the people will reconsider when they see a war, and they will return to Egypt' Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him." (13:17,19)

Two questions that confront the commentators are: Why does the Torah record the fact that Moshe took Yosef's remains from Egypt, at this point, when they are nearing the Yam Suf? Why is it not mentioned previously in Parashas Bo, which details the exodus from Egypt? Secondly, why did Yosef have to enjoin his descendants to see to it that his remains are taken from Egypt? Was he any different than his brothers whose remains were also carried out - without any special request?

Horav Yosef Konvitz, z.l., responds to these questions with a homiletic rendering of the text. He explains that when Moshe observed that Hashem was leading Klal Yisrael in a roundabout path he was concerned. Why waste time with a circuitous route - go by the straightest and shortest route. After much thought and reflection, Moshe came to the realization that Hashem knew that Klal Yisrael might not yet be ready to break their ties with the past. Moshe confronted the fact that despite all the miracles and wonders, the nascent Jewish nation was spiritually weak. They were insecure and, at the first sign of trouble, would quickly make an about-face and return to Egypt. He wondered, was it really worth leading these people? Would they listen to him when they were challenged with tribulations?

Moshe's love for his brethren overcame any fear he had concerning their shortcomings. He decided that he would stand by them regardless of the vicissitudes that would challenge them. To buttress his decision he looked to Yosef, the leader who preceded him, for guidance. Yosef made his descendants swear that they would take his remains from Egypt. Why? Could he not just as well have simply asked them? Why make them swear? After all Yosef had done for his family, was there any question in his mind concerning their gratitude? Did he think that they might turn their back on the hand that nourished them?

Moshe plumbed the depths of Yosef's actions until he determined a cause for his concern. Yosef thought that after years of exile, suffering and deprivation the Jewish People would become so disheartened that they would forget Yosef the benefactor and, instead, view him as the cause of all their problems. Notwithstanding his beneficence, Yosef was the one who initially brought Yaakov and his family down to Egypt. They would forget that it was all part of a Divine plan. They would need a scapegoat and Yosef would be the most convenient choice. Out of vengeance for catalyzing their predicament in Egypt, they would not take his remains with them to Eretz Yisrael. Consequently, Yosef made them promise that they would take his remains when they left Egypt.

The oath Yosef extracted from Klal Yisrael indicated to Moshe that these people had a history of disrespect for their leadership. They were prepared to blame their leaders for whatever problems they faced. Yet, Moshe observed that Klal Yisrael's objectionable attitude did not deter Yosef from being their benefactor and leader. He did what had to be done on their behalf, regardless of their ingratitude. Moshe decided to follow in Yosef's footsteps. He accepted the mantle of leadership over the Jewish People despite their shortcomings. How fortunate are we that he did.

"So that they will see the food with which I fed you in the wilderness when I took you out of Egypt." (16:32)

The Meshech Chochmah has a fascinating insight into the parshas ha'manna. One might think that in order to merit the Heavenly bread, the miraculous manna, one must be on high spiritual plateau. We assume that Divine assistance is not doled out to the average Jew, that one must be a sage, a scholar, a devout and pious Jew to be worthy of such a gift. Rav Meir Simcha says this is not true. The only prerequisite necessary to merit this Heavenly gift is desire - desire to climb the ladder of Torah, to plumb its depths and delve into its profundities. One can be an am haaretz, ignorant of even the basics, but, if he seriously wants to study, he will be Divinely assisted.

This statement is substantiated conclusively from Klal Yisrael themselves. The manna began to appear, according to Rashi, on the fifteenth day of Iyar. There are other commentators who disagree and opine that it fell a day later. In any event, at that point Klal Yisrael had only been enjoined to observe just a few mitzvos, such as Shabbos, Para Adumah, the Red Heifer, and dinnim, monetary laws. They did not receive the remainder of the mitzvos until some three weeks later, when they stood at Har Sinai. Accordingly, as far as mitzvos were concerned, Klal Yisrael was basically ignorant. They knew nothing, because as of yet, the mitzvos had not been given to them. Nevertheless, they still merited to eat the manna. This indicated that Divine assistance is determined by the desire one has for ascending the spiritual ladder of Torah and avodah, service to the Almighty. Klal Yisrael uttered two words which were, and will always be, the catchwords of our belief, the hallmark of our conviction - "Naaseh v'Nishma,", "We will do and we will listen." Our desire and determination to "do" made us worthy of receiving Divine assistance in the guise of manna.

Horav Avraham Pam, z.l., says that this can be an excellent source of inspiration and encouragement for the struggling ben Torah or yeshivah student, who is having a difficult time "making it" in the Torah world. One does not have to be a gadol b'Yisrael, Torah leader, to receive manna. One must have the will, the burning desire to study, to excel and grow in Torah, and he, too, will be included among those who are sustained by manna. Regrettably, there is a misconception "out there" that only those who are serious talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars, should be deserving of stipends and other forms of financial assistance. The one who is spending his days and nights engrossed in Torah study, but just does not have the acumen or in some circumstances the pedigree, is relegated to a distant second place. We must remember that if Klal Yisrael was worthy of receiving the manna when they were still in their spiritual infancy, then we should give assistance to all those who study Torah in earnest and with conviction.

Questions and Answers

1) The Egyptians who chased Klal Yisrael to the Red Sea received a certain reward which ameliorated their punishment somewhat, in return for a good deed which they did. What was the deed and what was their reward?

2) From where do we derive the halachah of hidur mitzvah, performing a mitzvah in the most beautiful way?

3) Why was the slav given to the Jews only at night?

4) From where do we derive the custom of eating Lechem Mishneh on Shabbos?

Answers

1) The Egyptians merited burial as reward for conceding that "Hashem is righteous" (Rashi citing the Mechilta). Alternatively, the Egyptians merited burial for their participation in the funeral and burial of Yaakov Avinu (Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer).

2) In the Shiras HaYam, Moshe says "Zeh kayli v'anveihu," "This is my G-d and I will beautify Him." Chazal interpret this to mean, "v'anveihu b'mitzvos," I will beautify Him with the mitzvos that I perform, implying the importance of hiddur mitzvah (Shabbos 133b).

3) Klal Yisrael's request for meat was inappropriate, since they had livestock and meat is a luxury. Consequently, they were granted meat at an inconvenient and inopportune time.

4) Chazal instituted the practice of eating two loaves on Shabbos to commemorate the double portion of manna that fell on Shabbos (Shabbos 117b).


Dedicated in appreciation
of the "Cocoa Club's" completion of
Meseches Chulin & Avoda Zara
with their Rebbe.


Shema

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