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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And Moshe said, "With our young and our old we will go; with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds we will go; for we are to hold a festival unto Hashem." (10:9)

What message did Moshe Rabbeinu seek to convey to Pharaoh with such a verbose response? He could have simply said, "We must all go because it is a holiday to Hashem for us." Kli Yakar explains that Moshe's response reflects the essence of Jewish observance. Indeed, if they had just been going to the wilderness to offer sacrifices, then the only individuals that should have gone would have been those who were to sacrifice. Moshe explained to Pharaoh that our religion does not work in this manner. If this was to be a festival for G-d, then simchas ha'chag, the joy inherent in celebrating the holiday, would have been obvious. How can one express joy without his family's presence? How can one experience true happiness without his possessions? He can have no joy if his wife and children are being held "hostage" in Egypt; if his material assets are subjected to be held as a guarantee that he will return from the wilderness. His holiday with G-d is deficient. It is lacking a primary component.

The halachah states that one is obligated to be happy with his wife and children during the festival. In other words, one must see to it that his family is happy in order for his simchah, joy, to be complete. Thus, a simchah which does not include one's family, is lacking. If one is to have a "relationship" with Hashem he must be b'simchah, at peace with himself, without worry or concern about family or possessions. Moshe told Pharaoh that Klal Yisrael must cooperate as a single unit -- including family and possessions -- if this holiday experience in the wilderness was to have the proper effect on them.

Horav Simchah Shtetner, Shlita, explains this concept further. Pharaoh was under the impression that Judaism is an aggregate of religious observances. He thought that we are required to perform certain actions as part of our service to the Almighty. These are individual, isolated activities that are not related to a Jew's lifestyle or essence. In other words, Pharaoh ascribed to the infamous progressive axiom that was so common among the assimilated Jew of pre-World War II Europe, "Be a Jew at home and a German in the street." Religion does not govern our lives; it does not change us. Accordingly, Pharaoh felt that the only individuals that should be allowed to leave Egypt were those who were going to perform the actual worship.

Moshe explained to Pharaoh the fallacy of this belief. Judaism is not simply a set of commandments that one observes. Judaism is a way of life that encompasses every area of human endeavor, for both the individual himself and the nation collectively. Hashem's command is not a process in which He decrees, and we follow with action. It is a relationship that brings us closer to Him, to fear and, ultimately, love the Almighty. This is only perceived in the context of the mitzvos which encompass our entire lives - spiritual and physical. Not simply the sacrifice, but everything involved in its offering, comprises Jewish worship. Pharaoh could not perceive this, for he was a pagan.

We do not know with what we must serve Hashem until we come there. (10:26)

From the dialogue between Moshe and Pharaoh, we are able to develop two perspectives on religion: Pharaoh's and Moshe's. The latter constitutes the essence of Judaism. It was no longer a question of freedom from slavery. The negotiations were focused upon serving Hashem in the wilderness. Moshe beseeched, "Let my People go, so that they may make a feast for Me in the wilderness." Pharaoh responded that if it was only a question of serving Hashem, of offering sacrifices, they could go, but their flocks of sheep must remain. Moshe countered that even their cattle were to go along. Nothing was to remain in Egypt because "we do not know with what we must serve Hashem until we come there." Rashi comments, "We do not know how arduous the worship will be, He might ask for more than we have in our possession." Moshe explained to Pharaoh that Hashem might ask more than we possess. We must, therefore, be prepared for anything.

Let us ask ourselves: How would they have been able to give more than they possessed? Surely, in the wilderness they would not have been able to go out and purchase more supplies. Horav Moshe Swift, zl, explains that in this statement lies the essence of Jewish commitment. To serve Hashem with dedication means to somehow find the supply - to give up what we have - and more! If serving Hashem means prayer, we must somehow find the time, regardless of our prior commitments. If service to Hashem means Torah study, we must carve out the time. If it means shemiras Shabbos, Sabbath observance, then we must create the time, regardless of the hardship involved. If we serve Hashem through charity and acts of lovingkindness, then we must find the resources and the strength to execute these good deeds. This is the nature of the Jew. We have faced every new Jewish venture, undertaken every endeavor, with the position that whatever Hashem asks of us, whatever possessions He might require us to surrender, we stand ready and willing to serve s Him.

Horav Swift distinguishes between the theoretical Jew and the practical Jew: The Jew in theory must know the meaning and grasp the reason before he chooses to serve. In contrast, the practical Jew serves, studies and prays without fanfare, with devotion and conviction, even if he does not grasp the full meaning or understand the reason. This attitude has shaped our relationship with the Almighty. If one believes with conviction, he realizes that not everything is comprehensible to his limited human mind. His belief stems from his love. His relationship will endure. Regrettably, those who have placed emphasis upon the theoretical aspects of Judaism, ignoring the practical observances, are ultimately bereft of both.

Hashem told Klal Yisrael that the miracles of Egypt should be related "in the ears of your son and your son's son, that you may know that I am Hashem." It is important to transmit our glorious history to our children. By all means, we must teach them whatever there is to know about our culture in order to infuse them with pride. All of this is useless if the theory is the end product. The theory must lead to "v'yedaatem ki Ani Hashem," a knowledge of Hashem. It must have a practical bearing on our everyday life. We will survive as a nation only through a commitment to practical Judaism.

Speak now in the ears of the people, and let them ask every man of his neighbor, and every woman of her neighbor, jewels of silver and jewels of gold. (11:2)

During the Bris Bein Ha'besarim, Covenant Between the Parts, Hashem promised Avraham Avinu, "Acharei kein yeitzu birchush gadol." "Afterwards, they will go out with a great substance / treasure." Klal Yisrael would be enslaved in Egypt for many years, but they would not leave empty-handed. If they had been promised wealth, why did the Torah instruct them only to borrow gold and silver? Why not take it? Furthermore, even in order to borrow these gold and silver jewels, it was necessary for the Jews to have found tremendous "chein," favor, in the eyes of the Egyptians. Could this "favor" not have been increased a little so that they could have taken the vessels? It seems that the emphasis was specifically upon the act of borrowing. Why?

Horav Zaidel Epstein, Shlita, renders this pasuk homelitically. He first explains the meaning/concept of "rechush gadol," great substance/treasure. A number of commentators suggest that this refers to a spiritual, rather than material, treasure. The Jewish people were being prepared for the Torah which would be given to them as a result of their "stay" in Egypt. This pshat, exposition, however, is not consistent with the text, which implies that they were specifically to borrow jewelry. When we think about it, what is a treasure? For that matter, how do we define wealth? Simply, we see that a wealthy person is one who has enormous material assets, who certainly has no debts, and is never in need of financial assistance. Accordingly, a wise man is one who has amassed great knowledge, who is erudite and learned. We note that our barometer for measuring wealth and wisdom is much different than the Torah's. Indeed, a wealthy man can be really poor and vice versa.

Chazal teach us that "he who has one hundred (coins) wants two hundred." In other words, the more one possesses, the more he wants. This occurs when he lacks the middah, attribute, of sameach b'chelko, being happy with his lot. One who maintains the position that whatever he has is what Hashem wants him to have, goes through life happy and satisfied, never in need of anything. He is truly a wealthy man. He possesses everything, because he views his possessions as encompassing everything. This same idea applies to the concept of wisdom. One whose wisdom is based upon accumulated knowledge will be disconcerted when he finds others who know much more than he does. Suddenly, he no longer feels wise. When the barometer for measuring wisdom is determined by how much knowledge one has acquired, it is subject to constant change, frequently due to one's envy of another. Once again, a lack of self-satisfaction plays a dominant role in defining success. Who is truly a chacham, wise man? One who is "lomeid mikol adam," learns from all men, who never stops learning, whose thirst for knowledge is never quenched. This defines the Torah's concept of wisdom.

Hashem told Moshe to tell the people that they should borrow; this was the lesson with which they would leave Egypt. This was the rechush gadol, great treasure, they would take with them. They should borrow. The act of borrowing, forces the individual to realize that what he needs -- he already has, and what he does not have -- he does not need. Egyptian culture taught that he who has amassed much wealth is wealthy, and he who does not have material assets is considered a slave. The Jews saw that what the Egyptians had was worthless to the Jews, because in the long run they lent it to the Jews. The Jews were told to borrow, so that they would understand that a lack of material assets did not mark them as poverty-stricken slaves. They did not have because they did not need. Had they needed, Hashem would have provided them with it. Avraham Avinu felt comfortable with this lesson / treasure.

And it shall be when your son will ask you at some future time, "What is this?" (13:14) Rashi attributes this question to the tam, the simple son, of the Haggadah, Seder service. In Sefer Devarim the Torah repeats this question, attributing it to the ben chacham, wise son. Rashi notes that while both "sons" ask the same question, the wise son asks with chochmah, in a wise manner, while the tam speaks vaguely, unable to articulate his question in depth. In other words, when one asks, "What is this?", he can be motivated either by a profound, well thought out understanding of a subject or a nagging vagueness which reflects an inability to comprehend the subject. The chacham and tam seem to be saying the same thing, but, in reality, they are not. The tam asks, "What is this?" His blanket statement indicates a lack of perception. The chacham asks specifically, "What are the testimonies, statutes and judgements?" He asks with chochmah! It is not what one asks; it is how he presents the question.

Nachlas Tzvi cites a story as a basis for this idea. There was a caliph who had two sons, from two different wives: One son was the crown prince, his queen's child. The other son was born to him from one of his other wives. One day the caliph noticed that the queen was crying. When he asked her why she was crying, she responded, "I am bothered by the fact that you favor the maidservant's son over mine." The caliph said, "You are right; forgive me. Send for your son, and I will ask him to do something for me."

When her son appeared, the caliph said to him, "Go to the store and bring me some threads." The boy bowed to the caliph, immediately leaving to do his bidding. When the shopkeeper asked him regarding the texture of the threads, he did not know. He had forgotten to ask the caliph. Upon returning, the caliph instructed him regarding the threads' texture. The boy returned to the store only to be asked what colors the caliph wanted. Once again, the boy was dumbfounded and embarrassed for not asking the color before he left. The caliph instructed him to purchase white threads. He returned to the store only to be questioned regarding the amount of the threads the caliph required. Humiliated, the boy returned to the caliph at which point the caliph told him he no longer needed the threads.

Afterwards, the caliph instructed his aide to call the "other" wife's son. When the boy arrived, the caliph asked him to purchase threads for him. The boy immediately responded, "Father, what type of threads do you want: wool or linen, thick or thin, what color and how many? Perhaps if you tell me for what purpose these threads will be used, I can purchase the ones most appropriate."

The caliph now turned to the queen and said, "Do you now understand why I favor this son?" Knowing what to ask and how to question is a sign of wisdom. Patience and deliberation are virtues that not only complement wisdom, but they are also essential qualities which are the hallmark of a wise man.


1.) Was the plague of locust in the time of Moshe the most severe in history?
2.) Was there a difference between night and day during makas choshech?
3.) What occurred during the three days of makas choshech?
4.) A. On what day was the lamb to be used for the Korban Pesach taken?
B. Was this the same for the ensuing generations?
5.) The shechitah of the korban was performed in ______ groups called________.
6.) The Torah says (12:41) that Klal Yisrael left Egypt after 430 years. When did this "430 year" period begin?
7.) Why does the Torah emphasize that Klal Yisrael left Egypt during chodesh ha'aviv?


1.) In the time of Yoel Ha'navi, there was a plague of locust that was more severe than that of Egypt. That plague, however, came about through many species of locust, while the Egyptian plague was composed primarily of the "arbeh" species which was greater than the "arbeh" in Yoel's time.
2.) Yes. The darkness of night was darker even than the extraordinary darkness that prevailed by day.
3.) Those Jews who refused to leave Egypt died out during those three days. Also, the Jews were able to search for the Egyptian's gold and silver vessels, so that when they would come to borrow these vessels, the Egyptians could not dismiss them by saying they had no vessels.
4.) A. Tenth day of Nissan.
B. No.
5.) Three; Kahal, Eidah, Yisrael.
6.) At the time of Bris Bein Ha'besarim, which was thirty years before Yitzchak's birth.
7.) The Torah wants Klal Yisrael to recognize Hashem's favor in the fact that He liberated them during a time in which the weather is most comfortable.

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