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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


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)

This pasuk, which informs us that Moshe Rabbeinu took Yosef's remains along with him when Klal Yisrael left Egypt, seems to be misplaced. It should have been placed earlier, in Parashas Bo, when the Torah relates the actual exodus from Egypt.

Furthermore, the Torah mentions that Yosef had extracted an oath from Klal Yisrael that they would remove his remains when they left Egypt. Why did he find it more necessary to make them take an oath than any of the other brothers did? The remains of the other brothers were also removed from Egypt - without an oath. Why was Yosef different?

Horav Yosef Konvitz, zl, takes a homiletic approach towards explaining the sequence of the text. When Moshe noted that Hashem changed course instead of taking the Jews to Eretz Yisrael directly through Plishtim, he was surprised. Why did He deviate from the straight and easy path? After some contemplation, Moshe came to the realization that, the miracles and wonders not withstanding, Klal Yisrael was not yet fully committed to belief in Hashem. He had no clear indication that they would not bolt back to Egypt as soon as they were challenged. These thoughts evoked in Moshe questions concerning his role as leader. If Hashem was concerned regarding the people's ability to withstand the pressure of challenge, what should he say? Moshe had second thoughts about leading a people who were not prepared to be led.

Moshe, however, would not permit his questions concerning Klal Yisrael to impact his overwhelming love for them. Thus, in order to allay any questions, he decided to focus on Yosef's "remains," a metaphor for observing how Yosef, the Jewish leader who had preceded him, acted with regard to the people. He noted that Yosef made the people promise to remove his bones from Egypt when they left. This perturbed him. Was Yosef not the one who had sustained his family in Egypt? Did he not provide them with food and shelter? Why would they be kefuyei tov, ingrates, and not accede to his last request of them? Was a promise really necessary?

After much thought Moshe concluded, that despite everything that Yosef had done for his family, he was concerned that, due to the many years of suffering, pain and deprivation, which resulted in deep emotional bitterness, they would place the onus of guilt concerning their present miserable state on him. After all, he had brought them down to Egypt. Who had asked him to bring them to Egypt? He could have sent them the food. They would even the score by refusing to take his remains along with them to Eretz Yisrael. This scenario went through Yosef's mind when he asked them to take an oath.

This oath indicated to Moshe that the previous leadership also had concerns. They were acutely aware that the moment things were not going just right, the people would immediately blame their leadership. Nonetheless, Yosef took it upon himself to serve the nation. He did not care if they would turn against him at the first challenge. They needed him, and, as a true leader, he would be there for them. Moshe took the lesson and moved on, regardless of the consequences. He would be there for Klal Yisrael, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the attitude of the people. That is the function of a Torah leader.

It happened when Pharaoh sent out the People that G-d did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines. (13:17)

Once, the king's son, the crown prince, heir to the royal throne, was taken captive by a band of ruthless pirates. The young prince was starved and beaten. He had no day; he had no night. Suffering and persecution were his pastimes. After discovering where his son was being held captive, the king gathered together his bravest and strongest soldiers and set out on a mission to rescue him. A vicious battle ensued, and the pirate band suffered overwhelming casualties. The king was not taking any captives. Relentless in his punishment of the pirates for their brutal treatment of his son, the king did not stop until his son was safely ensconced in his protective custody.

The prince put his arms around his father's neck and cried bitterly, reliving to him the terrible terror and pain that he had sustained in captivity. The king soothed his son as they prepared for the return trip to the capital, where the entire city waited anxiously for their return. After traveling a few miles, the king suddenly ordered an about-face. They were returning towards the pirates' hideout. Upon seeing this, the prince began to tremble with fear. His nerves were already taut from his captivity and affliction, and he started screaming, "No! No!"

The prince saw that they were rapidly approaching the pirates' camp, and he felt faint. The mere thought of another confrontation with his captives was too much for him. As soon as they saw pirates coming out, they quickly turned around and ran. It seemed as if the king was teasing the pirates. As soon as the pirates came close to the king's soldiers, the bridge that they were about to traverse to safety - snapped. The prince could no longer take the pressure; he fainted. To anyone witnessing this ordeal, the question was obvious: Why did the king return to the pirate's camp? He was safe, and he had no reason to go back, but he did. Why?

This question applies to our parsha as well. Klal Yisrael had been in Egypt for 210 years. They sustained cruel persecution, pain and suffering. Hashem finally liberated them from bondage, but, on the way to freedom, He had them return. Why? Chazal ask this question in the Midrash. They respond with a mashal, parable. A young king went out with a small group of followers to hunt. While they were in the forest tracking their intended prey, they heard a cry for help. The king immediately ran towards the sound and discovered a young woman being attacked by robbers. The king raised his sword into the air, and the robbers ran away. The young woman was saved by the king, and he brought her back home. When the king discovered that this woman was herself a princess, he sought her hand in matrimony. The young woman's parents were overwhelmed with joy. It was beyond their greatest dreams. Their daughter's safe return, accompanied by her marriage to the young king, was beyond their wildest imagination.

The princess, however, did not have the same positive reaction as her parents did. She was certainly happy to be safely back home, but she was not yet ready to commit herself for life to her rescuer. So, she remained silent. She conformed with whatever her husband requested, but she continued to remain silent. The king was happy to be married to the princess, but he had imagined a wife who spoke, who did more than nod her head in obedience. The king decided that perhaps a change of scenery might be beneficial. He announced to his father-in-law that he was returning home with his bride.

When the king notified his young wife of his plans, her response was as usual: silence. If she was going to remain silent, the king figured that he would let her travel in her own coach. There was no reason for him to travel with a wife who refused to talk. The king's party left for the royal palace, the king in one coach and his queen in another coach. Suddenly, a band of highwaymen attacked the queen's coach. "Help me! Help me!" the queen screamed. "Please save me! Please."

Like an arrow bursting forth from the bow, the king came to her rescue. He chased away the robbers, who were actually men that he had hired to frighten the queen. He turned to his wife and said, "I have waited for this moment for some time. I just wanted to hear the sound of your voice once again. When you were attacked in the forest, you screamed for help. I saved you. Then silence. I have never heard from you again. I now know that when you are in pain, you cry out. This is what I was waiting for."

The lesson is obvious. When Klal Yisrael was in Egypt, beaten daily, persecuted and miserable - they cried out to Hashem. He responded and liberated them. The reaction: silence. Hashem had to break their silence to take them out of their reverie. He returned them towards Egypt. They reacted. They broke their silence.

The lesson for us is also obvious. We cry out to Hashem when we hurt. Otherwise, we are silent. That is not the way to treat our Protector. He wants to hear our voices on a regular basis, not only when it hurts.

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

In the Talmud Sotah 13a, Chazal note that Moshe Rabbeinu was the only one who took the time and trouble to gather Yosef's remains, to fulfill the oath that Yosef had extracted from the original tribes that had come down to Egypt. The rest of the people were busy carrying out another mitzvah: requesting the valuables of Egypt. While Moshe understood this was also a mitzvah, his sights were set on a different goal. This is what Shlomo HaMelech meant when he said in Mishlei 10:8, Chacham lev yikach mitzvos, "The wise of heart takes (the performance of) mitzvos." It does not refer to Moshe as a righteous man, but as a wise man. Why? How was Moshe's greater acuity demonstrated by his actions? If anything, he displayed greater piety, a higher level of devotion, but not necessarily wisdom.

Horav Mordechai Ilan, zl, explains that the key word to understanding the depth of Moshe's actions is imo, with him. Both Klal Yisrael and Moshe "took." Klal Yisrael took the valuables which they had collected. This was definitely a considerable deed. In addition to acquiring great wealth, they also fulfilled a mitzvah. What they "took," however, was a temporary appropriation. They could use it right here and now, as long as they walked the earth. They could not take it "with them." No one takes his material wealth with him when he leaves this world. Moshe, on the other hand, took the remains of Yosef "with him." This was a mitzvah that he was taking "with him" to his eternal resting place. It would never leave him. It was a mitzvah, and mitzvos are eternal acquisitions.

He took six hundred elite chariots and all the chariots of Egypt, and officers on them all. (14:7)

From where did Pharaoh obtain the horses to pull the chariots? He could not have gotten them from the Egyptians, since their animals died during the plagues. Certainly it was not from the Jews, who were leaving with whatever animals they had. Rashi explains that it was the kasher she'b'Mitzrim, "G-d-fearing" Egyptians, that contributed animals to the cause. This demonstrates for us exactly how kosher, good, these Egyptians really were. When they were being plagued and the danger was imminent, they suddenly became righteous believers and took their animals into the barn according to Moshe Rabbeinu's instructions. When Pharaoh needed animals for his chariots so that he could pursue the Jews, however, these "righteous" Egyptians came forward and displayed their true colors. This is why Rabbi Shimon says, "The kasher she'b'Mitzrim should be killed. The best of snakes deserve the same fate."

While Rashi's statement is clear, we wonder what happened to transform these Egyptians overnight from righteous men to collaborators with the enemy? If they were no longer G-d-fearing, why were they referred to as "good" Egyptians? Furthermore, what connection is there between the "good" Egyptians and the good snake? Evidently, the Egyptians who pursued the Jews had a dual personality: They were G-d-fearing Egyptians, yet they could simultaneously pursue Jews with the intent to kill them. How?

Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, posits that the answer lies in Rashi's commentary to 14:5, "And the heart of Pharaoh and the people became transformed regarding the people." Rashi adds that the motivating factor which catalyzed this about-face in attitude was "because of the money they had lent the Jews." In other words, the G-d-fearing Egyptians' "fear" extended only as far as their wallets - no further. They had limits to their belief. Money was the transcendent power in their lives: it transcended everything. Money was the defining factor in their lives. It also comprised their greatest hypocrisy.

The same love of money that compelled them to protect their animals originally, demonstrating their fear of G-d's awesome power, was what motivated them to risk their lives in pursuit of the Jews, even if it meant chasing them into the Red Sea. Indeed, the same sign that indicated the Egyptians' G-d-fearing quality also demonstrated how far and how low they would sink in pursuit of money. This is why Rabbi Shimon suggests that the best Egyptians should be killed: what makes them kasher also renders them pasul, invalidates them. You never know when the fine, upstanding, kind, G-d-fearing Egyptians will turn against you. They are just like the snakes. They may appear to be innocent, but there lurks a powerful, poisonous venom beneath their benevolent veneer, and one never knows when they will bite.

For the Hand is on the Throne of G-d: Hashem maintains a war against Amalek, from generation to generation. (17:16)

Hashem takes an oath, by placing His Hand on the Heavenly Throne, that He will continue to wage war with Amalek until the memory of that nation has been expunged. This is the only time that Hashem's animus toward anything is expressed in such strong terms. Much has been written defining Amalek's sin, his unprecedented and all-encompassing hatred of the Jewish People. In truth, when we delve into the roots of his hatred, we see that it is not necessarily the Jewish People whom he hates, but it is Hashem with which Amalek contends. As foolish as it may seem, how could a mere mortal battle Hashem? Therefore, Amalek has refocused his hatred onto Hashem's nation: Klal Yisrael. Furthermore, as the Chafetz Chaim, zl, writes, Amalek is primarily a symbol denoting an individual or nation whose hatred for Hashem and His dictates is so intense that he seeks to eradicate His name, His laws, and His People completely. As Amalek's hatred does not rest, neither should ours. We must forever be vigilant against those who seek to undermine the Torah way of life, who throughout history have fought us every step of the way with their scheming machinations to destroy the Torah and its eternal message, to sever our bond with the Almighty.

The Ozrover Rebbe, zl, infers that the root of Amalek's evil is alluded to in the above pasuk. Throughout the generations, we have been plagued with the harangue that "times have changed," "tradition is something of the past," "it is time to get out of the ghetto." The well-known slogan, "Let Israel be a nation like all others," has been the battering ram used to break down the walls of tradition and belief that have protected us from the rest of society. For hundreds of years, there have been those who attempted to "cleanse" themselves of any constraints that might impede their acceptance into the gentile society. The Jewish community has been fraught with the confusion caused by those elements who have sought to destroy Judaism. It always boiled down to a "war" between the generations. The elders who have fought to preserve the hallowed traditions of our People, who have defended with all their might the religious principles of the Torah, who have stood firm against the onslaught of the "enlightened" youth who lash out mercilessly against anyone who even exhibits a vestige of Jewish life. Ritual is "outdated"; religion is not in vogue. Jewish ritual is no longer edifying; it does not provide spiritual fulfillment. The Torah is ancient and no longer acceptable in a progressive society.

This is the meaning of milchamah l'Hashem b'Amalek, Hashem maintains a war with Amalek - midor dor - (because he seeks to create a separation) "from generation to generation."

Hashem says to Moshe Rabbeinu, K'sov zos zikaron ba'Sefer. "Write this as a remembrance in the Book," v'sim b'aznei Yehoshua, "and recite it in the ears of Yehoshua." What is the meaning of the word zos, "this"? The Rebbe explains that the word zos, is b'gematria, numerically, 408. Likewise, the words dor dor, has the numerical equivalent of 408. Hashem was telling Moshe: "Write 'this' Torah," this immutable unalterable Torah, should be written in a Book, which is a reference to the Torah she'B'ksav, Written Law, and place it in the "ears" of Yehoshua, alluding to the Torah She'Baal Peh, Oral Law, which was transmitted from Moshe to Yehoshua, down through the generations: Both of these Toros - Written and Oral - are considered zos, the Holy Torah. This is the battle Hashem wages with the forces of Amalek, who attempts to establish a rift between the dor/dor, generations. This is a war that will regrettably go on until that glorious day that Eliyahu HaNavi will V'heishiv lev avos al banim, v'lev banim al avosam, "Return the heart of fathers to their sons and the heart of sons to their fathers." He will close the generation gap that Amalek has set into motion.

Va'ani Tefillah

Davar ha'lameid meinyano. v'Davar ha'lameid misofo - v'chein Shnei kesuvim ha'makchishim zeh es zeh. A matter explained from its text, or from a following passage; or two passages that contradict one another.

An example of this rule is the Torah's juxtaposition of Lo tignov, "You shall not steal," upon the negative commandments of Lo tirtzach, "You shall not murder," and Lo sinaaf, "You shall not commit adultery." Both of the latter admonitions carry a punishment of death. Thus, because of its contextual relationship with these aveiros, sins, it implies that stealing here is a reference to kidnapping, which is also punishable by death. Likewise, we find that a house exhibiting a leprous spot, nigei bayis, must be demolished. From the end of the pesukim, which describe the cleansing of the home's stones, wood and mortar, it is inferred that the halachah of demolishing a house that has a nega applies only to a house made of stone, wood and mortar.

Last, is the rule of two pesukim that seem to contradict one another until a third pasuk explains that they each have their own individual application. A prime example of this case is when Hashem commanded Avraham Avinu to remove Yitzchak from the Akeidah. This evoked in Avraham's mind a contradiction. First, Hashem had informed Avraham that Yitzchak would be the next Patriarch, and then He commanded him to slaughter Yitzchak. How are these two commands to be reconciled? Hashem explained that the original command was only to place Yitzchak on the Akeidah, but not to actually slaughter him. Human sacrifice is antithetical to Jewish law and theology.

In loving memory of
Mrs. Glika Scheinbaum Bogen
by her family

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