Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Bnei Yisrael were armed when they went up from Egypt. (13:18)

Rashi cites the Midrash that interprets the word chamushim, translated above as "armed," as a derivative of the word chomesh, which means "a fifth." This implies that actually four-fifths were unprepared and unwilling to accept a new life as Hashem's people and, thus, did not want to leave Egypt. They would rather have remained slaves to Pharaoh. These malcontents perished during the plague of darkness so that the Egyptians would not see that Jews, as well as Egyptians, were dying in the plague. This brings us to a noteworthy question. Dasan and Aviram were Moshe Rabbeinu's nemeses, who went out of their way to challenge and destroy every one of Moshe's positive efforts. As archenemies of anything sacred, they stand out as reshaim gemurim, consummate wicked individuals. If so, why did they leave Egypt? Why did they not die together with the other iniquitous people during the plague of darkness?

The Chasam Sofer gives a noteworthy answer. Dasan and Aviram began their relationships with Moshe when he was young and chronologically far from becoming the quintessential leader of the Jewish People. They slandered him to Pharaoh, forcing Moshe to escape for his life. Sixty years later, Moshe returned to Egypt as Hashem's emissary, as the go'alan shel Yisrael, the Jewish redeemer. Hashem, however, was not yet ready to take these two miscreants from the world. He wanted them to witness the Exodus, the liberation of the Jews from slavery - just as Moshe said it would happen. It was only later, during the revolt that Korach initiated, that they received their due. First, they had to witness Klal Yisrael becoming a free people.

It happens all of the time. Good people, virtuous people, wonderful people, leave this world all too soon, while some of the generation's most evil people continue to thrive and inflict damage on the lives of others. We wonder why. Let them receive their punishment already! It is not up to us to decide when a person should be called to pay for his evil, or, whether he should pay. This is Hashem's decision. Likewise, He decides when it is most appropriate. The punishment of Dasan and Aviram included having to witness the error of their ways, having to see the young man whom they wanted to destroy become the great leader of Klal Israeli this manner, when they were called to task for their infamy, they would be leaving the nation in its glory. They were being told: You attempted to subvert this nation's spiritual and physical triumph. Now, when you want to be a part of the celebration, you will meet your well-deserved punishment. We must be patient. Everyone has his day in court.

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

The Midrash cites the pasuk in Mishlei10:8, Chacham lev yikach mitzvos, "The wise-hearted (person) acquires mitzvos." Hashem praised the efforts of Moshe Rabbeinu in locating and retrieving the coffin which contained the earthly remains of Yosef Hatzadik. While the rest of Klal Yisrael was occupied with searching for Egyptian treasure, which was also a mitzvah, Moshe was busy with Yosef's coffin. Moshe was greatly rewarded for his tireless efforts, such that when he died, Hashem Himself arranged his burial. The Midrash emphasizes that effort and toil engendered his reward. Furthermore, the fact that Moshe possessed Yosef's bones played a critical role in the Egyptian exodus, since the redemption was contingent upon it.

Moshe had before him two mitzvos, both of which presented great spiritual opportunity, one which did not involve much toil and was accompanied with the fringe benefit of great wealth. The other would subject him to backbreaking toil. Moshe was a wise man. He knew that the mitzvah which presented the greatest hardship would be his ticket to Gan Eden and the Jewish People's opportunity for redemption. The wise counsel of his heart sustained him.

A mitzvah that does not come easily is well worth the trouble. Horav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, Shlita, suggests that this is the meaning of Chacham lev yikach mitzvos. He cites Avos D'Rebbe Nosson 3:6 who say, "It is good for a person one thing accomplished with difficulty more than a hundred done easily." Moshe understood that the distress or personal discomfort which he might undergo would only serve to reinforce the mitzvah.

Performing a mitzvah involves more than the action needed to execute it:" The wise-hearted (person) acquires mitzvos." The mitzvos we perform should become a part of us. They are our acquisition, thus providing us with an enduring influence and inspiration. The reward for a mitzvah has no parameters. It is limitless and everlasting. The more effort we put into its performance, the greater our acquisition of the mitzvah, the more it becomes a part of us. The kinyan, act of acquisition, for mitzvah attainment is toil and hardship.

A mitzvah must be more than a physical endeavor. Its awesome significance and extraordinary reward compensates whatever hardship one may encounter in its performance. A wise person understands this and acts accordingly. His mitzvos are not performed by rote, nor are they dry, mechanical acts. They are the essence of his life. He truly "lives" when he carries out mitzvos.

When we perform a mitzvah, we recite the blessing, asher kideshanu b'mitzvosav, "Who sanctified us with His mitzvos." One becomes consecrated through mitzvah performance only when he makes the mitzvah intrinsic to himself. Thus, his performance is indicative of his attitude.

Yisrael saw the great hand that Hashem had inflicted upon Egypt…and they had faith in Hashem and in Moshe, His servant. Then Moshe and Bnei Yisrael chose to sing this song to Hashem. (14:31, 15:1)

The Egyptian exodus, followed by the splitting of the Red Sea, was a seminal event in the formative history of our nation. The Shirah, song of praise that Klal Yisrael sang after witnessing their miraculous salvation at the Red Sea, gives expression to the mixture of feelings that took hold of them at the time. There were feelings of fear-- even horror-- at what might happen if the Egyptians were to catch up with them. There was also the risk of drowning in the Red Sea, which appeared to be the only option outside of falling into the hands of the Egyptians. They watched as the powerful armies of their oppressors went to their graves at the bottom of the sea. Clearly, Shirah was the appropriate expression of joy and gratitude, but why did they wait until now to sing Shirah? The splitting of the Red Sea was not the first miracle that they had experienced. What about their departure from a country that had enslaved and oppressed them for hundreds of years, a country that was infamous for never having a breach in security? There never had been an escape from the walls of Egypt. Yet, the entire Jewish people left with pride and dignity. Should they not have sung Shirah at that time? What was unique about the splitting of the Red Sea?

Furthermore, concerning the pasuk, Zeh keili v'anveihu, Elokai avi, va'aromemenhu, "This is my G-d, and I will beautify Him, the G-d of my father and I will exalt Him,"(ibid.15:2) Rashi writes that Hashem appeared to the Jewish People in His full glory, such that the people could point to the sky and say, "There is G-d." They actually beheld Divinity. This is the meaning of the pasuk, "Yisrael saw the great hand of G-d…and the nation feared G-d and believed in G-d." If the people actually "saw" G-d, what was the need for their belief? One believes in what one does not see. If it is right in front of his eyes, the concept of belief does not apply. In addition, the pasuk implies that only now - after they beheld Divinity - did they believe in Hashem. What about all of the plagues that occurred in Egypt? Were those and the other miracles something to ignore?

In order to answer these questions and explain the entire concept of belief followed by Shirah, Horav Aharon Soloveitchik, zl, first distinguishes between the miracles that the Jews experienced in Egypt and those that took place at the Red Sea. The difference between these two miracles coincides with two terms which denote salvation: yeshuah and hatzalah. Hatzalah is a reference to an act of salvation during which the party being saved remains passive throughout the process. Yeshuah, however, implies a salvation during which the party being saved actively participates in his own deliverance.

In Egypt, the people were completely passive, while Hashem did all of the work. Therefore, their salvation is considered to be of a hatzalah nature. At the Red Sea, they participated by entering the water up to their nostrils. Only when they actively participated in the miracle were they able to sing Shirah. This expression of gratitude is appropriate only when one achieves a victory. To be a victor one must be an active participant in the struggle which leads to triumph. When Klal Yisrael participated in their yeshuah at the Red Sea, it involved more than precursory action alone. The process also engaged them in a resulting commitment to the One who performed the miracles for them. They pledged their allegiance to the Divine Revelation which they beheld. This did not occur in Egypt, as a result of their passive participation. At the splitting of the Red Sea, the Jewish People became totally involved, active participants. Belief in that which one sees implies and demands action. One must immediately accept the belief, act upon it, and become devoted to its implications and consequences. The zenith of emunah is active participation.

Rav Aharon adds that the word vayaaminu, "and they believed," is actually the causative of the word uman, to rear, to train and educate. The Hebrew word for craftsman, which is also uman, referring to one who has been trained and has achieved proficiency in a specific trade or field, is also derived from this root. Therefore, Klal Yisrael did not just merely believe. They took this belief to the next level by disciplining themselves, thereby catalyzing one another to become craftsmen in a spiritual sense. They became umanim in emunah.

Taking belief to the next level, acting upon one's faith, indicates a loftier level of belief, a higher, more devoted sense of commitment. The story is told of two chasidim who would annually travel to visit with their Rebbe on Succos. On the way, they would stop at a certain inn run by an observant Jewish couple. One year, the innkeeper approached them humbly and asked, "You know that I am not a chasid, but I nevertheless have a favor to ask of you: My wife and I have been married for ten years with no child. Can you ask the Rebbe to intercede on our behalf?"

The chasidim agreed to speak to the Rebbe, and the next morning the innkeeper's wife began parading around town with an expensive baby carriage, heralding the future birth of their child. When her friends gathered to wish her mazel tov, she explained that, while she was not yet with child, she soon would be. After all, the chasidim were going to speak to their Rebbe. Seeing this, the two chasidim were slightly embarrassed because they knew that the prayers did not always engender the results for which they hoped. Hashem decides what is best, and it does not always correspond precisely with our aspirations.

The following year, the chasidim returned to the inn as the innkeeper's son's circumcision was in progress. The joy was palpable, as everybody shared in the celebration - everybody but one of the Chasidim. He said nothing until he arrived at the Rebbe's home, and then he began to pour out his heart to him." For thirty years I have been your trusted disciple. Every year I ask for your blessing that my wife and I be blessed with a child. We have yet to be blessed. Yet, the innkeeper, who is not a chasid, was answered on the first request. Why?"

The Rebbe took his disciple's hands in his, looked deeply into his tear-stained eyes and asked, "Tell me something, during these thirty years did you ever buy a baby carriage? How great was your faith compared to that of the innkeeper's wife?"

This story tells it all. Emunah has to be taken to the next level. We must demonstrate our belief by participating actively in our faith. Perhaps we should not go as far as buying a baby carriage, but we must realize that emunah is not a spectator event.

And Miriam…took her drum in her hand and all the women went forth with drums and with dances. (15:20)

It seems that the women's expression of joy and gratitude was more pronounced than that of the men. They did not merely sing Shirah; they took their drums and danced in appreciation of the great miracles and wonders that Hashem wrought for them. The mere fact that the women had drums with them indicates their incredible belief from the start that Hashem would perform miracles for Klal Yisrael. The Mechilta says that this is why the women's song was accompanied by drums, so confident were they of Hashem's salvation.

Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, suggests that the women felt an even greater sense of joy in the salvation than the men. The women were in greater spiritual peril in Egypt. This was a decadent country infamous for its moral pollution, its licentious behavior, and its odious treatment of women. Pharaoh did everything to disrupt family life, something that women felt much more strongly. Having experienced greater spiritual pain, they similarly felt a more heightened sense of joy. They could not express their exhilaration merely with song. They banged their drums, sang and danced with sheer joy and gratitude to the Almighty, because they deeply understood the meaning of liberation from Egypt.

What a powerful lesson for all of us. Hakoras hatov means to recognize, acknowledge, appreciate and offer gratitude for the benefit one has received. The level of acknowledgement, appreciation and gratitude are commensurate with the recognition. If one does not properly value what he has benefited, how is he able to pay gratitude? The women expressed greater gratitude, because they experienced greater benefit. They recognized what Hashem had done for them.

I recently came across a wonderful story that moved me. I relate it in the hope that the diverse reading public will similarly appreciate it and act accordingly. The executive director of one of Eretz Yisrael's premier Jewish outreach organizations was scheduled to give a tour of the city and area of his organization's efforts on behalf of Jewish youth to a wealthy American supporter. Their first stop was the Kosel for some serious prayer. As they approached the Kosel, they noticed a "sixty something" Jew praying with great emotional fervor. He was sobbing loudly, entreating the Almighty with great emotion. What could be bothering this Jew to the extent that he was pouring forth such emotion? Perhaps, someone was sick; maybe it was a serious financial predicament; or it could be a problem with a child. Whatever it was, the philanthropist was so visibly shaken that he asked the rabbi to inquire concerning his problem. He would like to help. Perhaps a check could alleviate his misery.

The rabbi waited until the person "calmed down" and approached him." I am sorry to bother you, but we could not help but notice your travail. Could you share with me the reason for your misery? My friend from America would like to help."

"No, no there is nothing wrong," was the supplicant's reply.

"Please, I understand your misgivings about sharing your difficulty with a stranger, but we would like to help," the rabbi said.

"No, there is nothing wrong," was again the reply.

"Perhaps someone is ill?" the rabbi said.

"No, nobody is ill. My family is baruch Hashem, thank G-d, healthy and well," the man replied.

"Could it be that you are in a financial bind?"

"No, I am quite blessed with material assets."

"Come on, something must be wrong. It was obvious from the way you prayed, that something was seriously wrong in your life," the rabbi more or less demanded.

"My friend, there is nothing wrong. I am well; my family is well; and we lack nothing. May Hashem continue to sustain us as He has until now. You wonder why I davened with such emotion. Last night, I married off my youngest child - my twelfth child. I came here today so overwhelmed with gratitude to the Almighty for all of His goodness that I simply could not contain myself. I am so happy. I am overjoyed. My heart goes out with gratitude to Hashem. This is why I cried. It was tears of joy, tears of gratitude to Hashem for having given me so much!"

Now, dear reader, is this our attitude? Perhaps now you understand why I was so moved.

Behold! I shall rain down for you food from Heaven; let the people go out and pick each day's portion on its day so that I can test them, whether they will follow My teaching or not.(16:4)

The Talmud in Yoma 76 relates that the students of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai asked him why Hashem had sent manna each day. Why did He not arrange to have it "arrive" once a year? It did not spoil, and this would save them much time. The great sage replied with a mashal, parable. A great king had an only son whom he provided for once a year. The son would come and his father would have his servants stock up the wagons with provisions for one year. There was one problem with this arrangement: the king saw his beloved son only once each year. The king then decided to provide for his son on a daily basis. This way, his son came every day to pick up his food and, in the interval, spent time with his father. Likewise, since Hashem sent the manna on a daily basis, the Jew would have to turn to Hashem in prayer on a daily basis, entreating Him for his sustenance.

The lesson was a lesson in emunah, faith, and bitachon, trust in Hashemite Jew realized that it all came from Above and, therefore, he became acutely aware of the address to which he must turn if he wanted sustenance. He prayed; he believed; he trusted; and Hashem sustained him.

There was another unique aspect to the manna. It served as a reminder to the Jew that he had better deserve the manna, or its delivery system would be an early warning to him and to everyone else that he was deficient in mitzvah performance. Apparently, the manna was dropped right outside of each person's tent - commensurate with his virtue. If, for instance, one day the individual had not davened properly, had eaten something whose kashrus was questionable, or had kept Shabbos in an imperfect manner, his manna would not be dropped outside his door. He would have to walk quite some distance to retrieve his portion. Understandably, this could prove to be embarrassing. No one felt like declaring throughout the camp that his mitzvah observance was lacking. Rather than call attention to the error of his ways, the person would starve himself all day. He would act as if the manna had arrived as usual and he had just picked it up early. His wife would probably commiserate with him, and they would both fast and stay in the tent all day. How embarrassing! This was the result of the manna's unique ability to discern a person's veracity: Was he a servant of Hashem, or was he a sinner? It was confirmed by the manna via its unique delivery mechanism.

Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, feels this is the underlying message of the pasuk in Devarim 8:3, "He afflicted you and let you hunger, then He fed you the manna which you did not know." Simply, this means that even when they had the manna, they went hungry, because at first they did not know if humans could subsist on such food. This original lack of trust did not permit them to become satisfied on the manna. Based upon the above, however, we understand why some would rather go hungry than reveal their shortcomings. They were not prepared to walk throughout the entire camp, making a big production about the fact that today Hashem had not delivered the manna in front of their tent. They had in some manner failed, and they were now paying for it - either by accepting the circumstances and owning up to their inadequacy or by going hungry. Is it any wonder that some of these malcontents complained, "Our soul is disgusted with the insubstantial food" (Bamidbar 21:5)?No one is interested in publicizing his indiscretions throughout the entire camp - or even in his home - where his children will wonder why he is fasting today. This comes with the territory. When we eat manna, certain responsibilities accompany it. Regrettably, many of us do not realize that everything we eat is manna from Hashem which also carries responsibilities. If we open our eyes, we might begin to see that the manna does not always fall in front of our doorstep, and, when it does not, we should do something to amend the situation.

Va'ani Tefillah

Retzon yireiav yaaseh, v'es shavasam yishma v'yoshieim.
He will do the will of those who fear Him; He will hear their cries and save them.

The Talmud in Kesubos 62b relates that Rabbi Yanai inadvertently uttered a curse against his son-in-law, because he mistakenly thought he had acted inappropriately. The consequences were disastrous, as Rabbi Yanai's son-in-law died as a result of this ill-fated remark. The Talmud compares the expression of such a distinguished scholar to "the decree that is asserted by a ruler: There is no going back. Even though Rabbi Yanai certainly did not want to hurt him, it was too late. Horav Elchanan Wasserman, zl, questions this statement. We find that Hashem carries out the will of the righteous either for a blessing or curse, because "He will do the will of those who fear Him." Here, there had clearly been no desire to hurt his son-in-law. Rabbi Yanai had no intention of seeing his son-in-law die. Indeed, he made the actual remark in error.

Rav Elchanan explains that the words expressed by a holy mouth, from a tongue that is pure and untainted, are like an ax that falls unintentionally - it still cuts through whatever it lands on. This is the nature of an ax. It is sharp; it cuts. So, too, are man's words. One who has tainted his mouth with unholy words has weakened his power of speech. The tzadik, righteous person, however, whose mouth has been devoted only to saying what is proper and correct, has sanctified his mouth, so that its nature is powerful. Whatever he says becomes a decree - whether it is his will or not. It is like the ax which cuts, regardless of one's intentions. That is its nature.

l'ilui nishmas
Aidel bas R' Yaakov Shimon a"h
niftar 13 Shevat 5767
Idu Keller
Perl & Harry M. Brown & Family
Marcia & Hymie Keller & Family

Peninim on the Torah is in its 18th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

The Ninth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel