Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And so that you may relate in the ears of your son and your son's son that I made a mockery of Egypt… so that you may know that I am Hashem. (10:2)

This pasuk encapsulates Jewish history. The various movements from which our people have collectively suffered throughout the last few hundred years have been successful in alienating a majority of our people from Hashem. How did they do it? How were they able to destroy thousands of years of faith, mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, and devotion to Hashem? They did it by breaking with the past, by severing the connection we have with our glorious history. Today's assimilated Jew has no clue concerning Jewish history - its ups and downs - but specifically its Providential weaving of events. He sees the here and now; he perceives only what his myopic vision allows him to see with his colored glasses.

Hashem tells Moshe Rabbeinu that the Exodus was to be a seminal event in world history. It would demonstrate Hashem's mastery over nature and His constant Providential guidance of every aspect of the universe, as well as the creations which inhabit it. Hashem toyed with the Egyptians, and He continues to do so with the modern-day Egyptians until this very day. If we do not teach this to our sons and our son's sons, they will never know G-d. They will view the Torah to be "legends" and "tales" or "traditions" - anything but applying it to them. If one has no sense of the past, he does not have a foundation for building a future. There must be a means for l'maan tisaper b'aznei bincha u'ben bincha, "that you relate in the ears of your son and your son's son." The secular movements stole Jewish history; they deprived Jews across the generations, preventing future members of Klal Yisrael from learning the truth, from knowing Hashem. Hence, they deprived us of true freedom.

How are we to understand the meaning of freedom? We celebrate the exodus from Egypt by proclaiming ourselves to be free men. Indeed, halachah demands that one must act as if he had been liberated from Egypt. Are we really free? Were we free in pre-World War II Europe? Were the Jews behind the Iron Curtain free men? Yet, they celebrated the Pesach Seder whenever and wherever they were able to do so - in bunkers, in fields, in basements. How could they recite the Haggadah and call themselves free men when they were being hounded by modern-day oppressors? Does a Jew incarcerated in prison recite the Haggadah? Is it not hypocritical?

Obviously, the recitation of the Haggadah represents not only a historical perspective, but also an affirmation of our faith. Yetzias Mitzrayim is the prototypical liberation from exile. As Hashem redeemed us then, so has He redeemed us throughout the millennia, and so will He lead us out of exile in the future. Egypt set the tone; Egypt was the standard. Egypt imbued us with an unshakeable faith, because Egypt taught us: V'yadatem ki Ani Hashem, "So that you may know that I am Hashem." Egypt set us free, because that liberation enabled us to develop faith.

The key to our survival is the conviction that, despite our physical plight, we have been spiritually and religiously liberated. Mitzrayim is derived from the word metzarim, narrow straits. The Zohar HaKadosh explains that on Pesach we experience liberation from the narrow, agonizing straits in which we find ourselves. Pesach teaches us that just as Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim, Egypt, He will also redeem us from our mitzarim, straits. A Jew who has G-d has everything. A Jew who does not acknowledge the Almighty is alone. He has nothing.

The story is told of a Russian Jew who returned home one Shabbos morning after davening to find his house completely destroyed and ransacked by marauding Cossacks - his family scattered all over, without a cover over their heads, without a morsel of food to eat. What is a Jew to do? It was Shabbos HaGadol, the Shabbos preceding Pesach. On this Shabbos, the Rav of the community/shul traditionally delivers a lengthy discourse in the afternoon. The Jew was heartbroken, bereft of food and shelter, not knowing what tomorrow would bring. Yet, he went to shul to listen to the Apter Rebbe, zl, Horav Yehoshua Heschel, speak.

In the midst of the misery and ruin, the Rebbe spoke of Pesach as a time of redemption. The Jews in Egypt had reached rock bottom - physically and spiritually. Yet, Hashem redeemed them and their future immediately changed. The tzibrochene Yid, the unfortunate, broken Jew, returned to what was left of his worldly possessions, to the desolate remains of what was once his "proud" home. On Motzaei Shabbos, he could be seen dancing among the ruins, singing the praises of Hashem. This man had experienced freedom. He "knew" Hashem.

They shall eat the meat during that night, roasted with fire, and unleavened bread; with bitter herbs shall you eat it. (12:8)

The lamb which serves as the Korban Pesach must be roasted directly over fire and eaten with matzoh and marror. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains the profound symbolism attached to this tradition. The symbolism of the matzoh and marror is obvious. When Klal Yisrael left Egypt, they were not in control. Their oppressors did not permit them sufficient time to allow for their dough to rise. They were, thus, compelled to take it in its unleavened state. This was not rare. Indeed, throughout their enslavement, they were never given the time to allow for their dough to rise properly. Driven by the taskmaster's whip and the unremitting toil to which they were subjected, time was not within their control. They baked and ate in haste. The matzos became symbolic of the bread of enslavement, the bread of dependence which our ancestors ate in Egypt.

Marror, bitter herbs, is clearly an allusion to the manner in which we were treated in Egypt, the misery which was our constant accompaniment. Matzoh and marror symbolize the bondage and torment, the toil and bitterness which reigned over the Jew in Egypt. These two symbols of galus Mitzrayim, the Egyptian exile, are supplemented by lamb roasted over fire, symbolizing the third element, geirus, alienhood of the exile.

The lamb is suspended in mid-air, not roasted in a pot, but suspended on a spit. This personifies geirus: no foundation, floundering, alienhood. We now have the three symbols which remind Klal Yisrael of the avdus, slavery, inui, affliction, and geirus, alienhood, which accompanied them even at the moment of their salvation. They were under Egyptian domination, until Hashem Himself freed them from the clutches of Egyptian oppression.

As stated above, matzoh is the symbol of slavery, of social dependence. Thus, chametz, leavened bread, is its antithesis, implying independence. The day of Pesach is to serve as a "day of remembrance" (ibid 12:14), recalling to us anew each year that special moment when we became free men, when we achieved our independence, so that we never lose sight of the manner in which we were freed. The day that incurs this reminder, the first day of Pesach, introduces a complete cycle of seven days, surprisingly not of the sign of freedom, but rather of the total removal and abnegation of the symbol of independence.

For an entire cycle of seven days, we may not permit ourselves to partake of chametz, the bread of independence. In fact, on the very day that we achieved personal independence and the right to own our own property, symbolized by the command to "take each man a lamb for each household," we must, on our own accord, remove any vestige of social independence from our homes. The prohibition against chametz continues in full force for the seven days that follow. This is to imbue us with the notion that at the moment of our emergence into a life of freedom and independence, we were as far from independence as we had been for the hundreds of years preceding that auspicious moment. We had no freedom, no power, no independence. It was all Hashem Who made this transformation possible. Thus, one who partakes of chametz during this seven-day period denies the Divine origin of our liberation. By doing so, he severs himself from our nations' past, thereby rejecting its future destiny.

Rav Hirsch notes that a cycle spanning seven days always represents a period of time in which we attain a new or revived level. Whenever such a cycle is designated to a specific moed, festival, this means that the ideas and attitudes that are to emerge during, and as a result of, the festival begins with their revival on the first day and achieve the zenith of clarity on the seventh day. Then, after having accomplished this new level of clarity, spiritual elevation and vitality, we are to take it all and return it to the mundane, everyday life in order to put these ideas to practice.

Yetzias Mitzrayim, loosely translated, means "the going out of Egypt." If this is a reference to the Jewish people's liberation from Egypt, it should be referred to as yetziah mi'Mitzrayim, going out from Egypt. Who was going out: Egypt or the Jews? We now are able to say that Egypt was veritably going out from the Jew. The mindset of dependence on Egypt as a way of life was finally taken out from the Jew. With his newly-found freedom, the Jew achieved an independence that had previously eluded him for hundreds of years. He was free. He was socially independent. Egypt had departed from him!

Moshe called to all the elders of Yisrael and said to them, "Draw forth or buy yourselves one of the flock for your families." (12:21)

In a somewhat cryptic statement, the Baal HaTurim says that the gimatria, numerical equivalent, of mishchu u'kechu coincides with the words min aveirah, from a sin. This teaches us that Klal Yisrael was admonished not to offer a sheep that had come into their possession through illegal circumstances. To steal a sheep and offer it as a sacrifice to Hashem defeats the purpose of the Korban Pesach. We wonder why, specifically concerning this mitzvah, Korban Pesach, the Torah would go to lengths to emphasize the need for legal possession of the cheftza d'mitzvah, object used for the mitzvah. It is, after all, a requirement in all mitzvah observance. We do not steal in order to perform a mitzvah.

Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, explains that a nation which had recently been informed that they were being liberated from misery and bondage after hundreds of years might react with such adulation, praise and gratitude, that they might forget the rules of the game: no stealing. In their unbridled excitement, they might ignore one of the basic laws of Korban Pesach. Indeed, it is specifically when one is so wrapped-up in performing the mitzvah that he might forget one of the basic principles of the mitzvah.

It happens all of the time. We are so excited about going to shul to daven that: we fly down the street, completely indifferent to speed limits, park anywhere, ignoring the lines that are present to inform us of the appropriate parking spot; run into shul with such enthusiasm and make so much noise that the fellow who is trying to daven with kavanah, proper intention, is blown-out of his mind - and the list goes on. We mean well, but meaning well does not give one license to steal, to disturb, to hurt, to humiliate.

Rav Zaitchik quotes a passage from the Talmud Shabbos 63A, "Whoever performs a mitzvah according to its utterance they will never inform him of evil tidings, as it says in Koheles 8:5, Shomer mitzvah lo yeida ra, 'He who guards a mitzvah shall know no wrong.'" Chazal are teaching us the significance of executing a mitzvah without any deficiency, doing it correctly, with perfection. Rav Zaitchik explains that the idea of "no deficiency" is far-reaching. There are instances during which our mitzvah performance infringes upon another person's honor or affects someone else negatively. The individual who is performing the mitzvah is so bound up in spiritual ecstasy that he has no clue that he is causing pain to another Jew. Hashem, however, knows acutely how this mitzvah affects others. The individual who is performing the mitzvah is filled with joy, but the fellow at the back of the shul is filled with sorrow. Tears are running down his cheeks for a reason, but we are all too busy with our spiritual good fortune to concern ourselves with the feelings of the "guy in the back of the shul." Such a mitzvah is not carried out b'shleimus, to perfection. There is something vital missing from the equation.

In the course of pursuing one mitzvah, we sometimes ignore another mitzvah. At times, we even go beyond ignoring - we trample upon another mitzvah. It is just not that important, and it is in the way of "progress." Under such circumstances, he is informed "bad tidings." This means he is told that his mitzvah is incomplete; it is deficient; it is missing a critical component. These tidings will sadden the person, because he realizes that there is more to mitzvah performance than satisfying his own ego.

Taking great care in the preparation of matzoh is an important hiddur, aspect of beautifying the mitzvah. Meticulous preparation - adherence to every aspect of the mitzvah from the moment the wheat is harvested until the final product - is an intrinsic part of the mitzvah of matzoh. If the preparations are carried out, however, at the expense of the emotional and physical well-being of the widows and orphans who were often those who work long, difficult hours in the matzoh bakery, then it is not being performed to perfection. To save money by squeezing the life out of one's workers is not hiddur mitzvah.

Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, once spent the night at the home of one of his distinguished students. Early in the morning, his student went to fetch water for netillas yodayim, to wash their hands, upon arising from sleep. This meant traversing a number of apartments and possibly disrupting the sleep of his neighbors. Rav Yisrael did not permit this practice, stating that washing one's hands in the morning is a Rabbinic dictum, while stealing another person's sleep is a Biblical injunction.

The Torah tells us (ibid 12:43), "This is the decree of the Pesach offering: No alienated person may eat of it." Chazal explain that the term ben neichar, alienated person, refers to two kinds of people: a) a Jewish apostate, one who denies the validity of the Torah or any of its commandments, etc. b) a non-Jew. Neither of these individuals may participate in - or eat from - the Korban Pesach due to their alienation from the Torah. The Torah continues and says, "Every slave of man…you shall circumcise, that he may eat of it." The non-Jewish slave belonging to a Jewish master may eat of the korban because he is the master's possession. However, he must first be circumcised. There is a dispute among Chazal whether the master may eat if his slave has not yet been circumcised. In any event, one possible position is that as long as one's slave has not been circumcised, the master may not eat from the Korban Pesach.

In Hilchos Avadim 1:9, the Rambam explains the reason for this halachah: "No one shall be left at home who does not share in the Korban Pesach. No one should be shamed by his being left out. The joy of the event will be deficient if someone is missing, if someone is not permitted to share in the event. If the slave is deprived of eating from the Korban Pesach due to his not yet having had a Bris Milah, then the master should also be deprived of eating." According to Rabbi Shimon in the Tosefta Pesach, this halachah remained in force throughout the generations in which we brought a Korban Pesach. No Jew may be left behind.

Furthermore, one must be part of a chaburah, group of Jews sharing in the Korban Pesach, that is in his immediate neighborhood. This halachah applies even if he has good friends elsewhere. By leaving, he is hurting his neighbors and inadvertently making them feel unwanted, suggesting they are second-class citizens. . This is not how a Jew performs a mitzvah. It must be carried out to perfection. That means not offending anyone - even remotely!

Draw forth for yourselves one of the flock for your families. (12:21)

Chazal teach us that, although the designated time for redemption had arrived, Klal Yisrael was bereft of mitzvos, merits to make them worthy of this redemption. Hashem had ensured Avraham Avinu that his descendants would not be in Egypt for more than four hundred years from the day of Yitzchak Avinu's birth. The time had come, but the Jewish People were ill-prepared for the transition from slavery to freedom. What could be done to alleviate the problem? Hashem gave Klal Yisrael two mitzvos which, once they performed them, would warrant their liberation. The mitzvos were Bris Milah and Korban Pesach. They both involve shedding blood, symbolizing sacrifice. Is this why Hashem specifically selected these two mitzvos? Horav Shabsi Yudelewitz, zl, explains that these mitzvos exemplify Klal Yisrael's total conviction, their unshakeable faith in Hashem. In order to understand this idea thoroughly, it is essential that one picture in his mind what must have taken place in Egypt at that time and what the Jewish People must have experienced in order to fulfill these mitzvos.

After makkas arov, Pharaoh decided that the multitude of animals was too much for him. He notified Moshe that he would permit the Jewish People to offer sacrifices to Hashem - in Egypt. Moshe replied that it would be insane for the Jews to slaughter sheep, which was the Egyptian godhead, in Egypt. The natives would go into a frenzy, and the Jews would end up replacing the sheep as the sacrifice. In other words, "Pharaoh, no way were the Jews going to slaughter sheep in Egypt."

Hashem proceeded to command the Jewish People to slaughter the Egyptian godhead and use it as a Korban Pesach. That was asking quite a lot from them. Yet, they acquiesced gladly. Moreover, not only were they prepared to carry out the mitzvah, they were even willing to do so quickly. Hashem instructed them to purchase the sheep four days before Pesach. This was giving a message to the Egyptians: Guess what we are about to do. The Egyptians must have wondered why the Jews were suddenly buying sheep. The Jews had nothing to hide: "We are going to slaughter the sheep as a sacrifice to our G-d." There were four days until that auspicious moment. Yet, neither did the Egyptians react, nor did the Jews worry. Hashem told them to do it; they were prepared to do whatever He asked of them.

Why did Hashem do it this way? Why arouse the Egyptians' ire? This is exactly what Hashem sought to convey to Egypt: "The Jews no longer fear you. Furthermore, you are powerless to harm them." This indicated an incredible level of commitment by Klal Yisrael. How did they do it? Emunah, faith - they believed in Hashem. When one believes in the Almighty, the rest is simple.

The mitzvah of Bris Milah is similarly connected to Korban Pesach. The Jews had by then enraged the Egyptian people, who were probably waiting for an opportunity to take revenge in order to bring a final end to this mutinous people. One would think that the Jews, fearing an Egyptian onslaught, would fortify themselves and remain behind locked doors in their homes. Hashem had other plans. He insisted that the Jewish men circumcise themselves. Circumcision is a surgical procedure. It leaves the patient weak and in pain. When the men of Shechem had their circumcisions, they became easy prey for the two young sons of Yaakov, Shimon and Levi. The third day is the most painful. Yet, Klal Yisrael had no problem acquiescing to Hashem's command. They had no fear of the Egyptians, because they had faith in Hashem. He would protect them.

This mitzvah begs elucidation. Why command the Jewish men to have a Bris Milah if it is going to weaken them, especially at a time when they must be strong? That is the kind of question one who lacks faith asks. Hashem wanted to demonstrate Klal Yisrael's total conviction, their unequivocal faith and commitment. Their emunah in Him that He would protect and redeem them gave them the resolution and fortitude to sacrifice the Korban Pesach and have the Bris Milah. Danger is often in the mind. It is dangerous only if one has no faith. Klal Yisrael believed. That is why they were redeemed.

And it shall be for you a sign on your arm and a reminder between your eyes. (13:9)

There are primarily two opinions concerning the sequence of the four parshios placed in the Tefillin. The debate between Rashi and his grandson, Rabbeinu Tam, is long-standing. For that reason, many observant Jews don both sets of Tefillin daily. The point of dispute concerning the placement of the parshios is: Rashi places the parsha of Shema first, followed by v'hayah im shamoa; kadesh li kol bechor; v'hayah ki yeviacha. Rabbeinu Tam agrees that the Shema is first, followed by v'haya im shamoa. It is concerning the third and fourth parshios that he feels v'hayah ki yevicha follows the previous v'hayah, with kadesh li kol bechor being last. In other words, Rabbeinu Tam insists that the two v'hayahs be next to one another, in the middle. This is what the Rishonim refer to as havayos b'emtza, the v'hayahs are in the middle.

Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, sees in this debate a powerful philosophical lesson. The commentators say that the parshios of Tefillin coincide with the letters of Hashem's Name: Shema is yud; v'hayah im shamoa is hay; kadesh is vov; v'hayah ki yeviacha is hay. Hashem's Name is split into two parts - Yud-Kay,Vvav-Kay. Both Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam agree that the Yud-Kay, Vav-Kay remain the same. The divergence between them is regarding the Vav-Kay, with Rashi contending that it be Vav-Kay, and Rabbeinu Tam being of the opinion that it be Kay-Vav.

Rav Pincus posits that when one builds a house, he follows a process: architect, blueprint, contractor, builder, foundation, walls, roof, interior, etc. There is a defined procedure from concept to reality. Concerning the Shem Hashem, Name of Hashem, the vav always precedes the hay, since the vav connotes the six attributes of Hashem detailed in the "Va'Yivarech David" tefillah: gedulah, greatness; gevurah, strength; tiferes, beauty; netzach, eternity; hod, glory and ki chol ba'shamayim u'va'aretz, everything in Heaven and earth comes from Hashem. These attributes form the framework, while also serving as the actual inside, essence of the Name. In the Tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam, the sequence is reversed with the "inside" hay preceding the framework - vav. How are we to understand this?

Rabbeinu Tam teaches us that, under certain conditions, the process can be altered. Let us take the following incident. In Auschwitz, in 1944, "dinnertime" consisted of non-kosher meat. One Jew emphatically refused to eat. This bothered the Nazi commandant who immediately came over and said, "Eat!" The Jew said, "No!" The Nazi thought that he had before him an observant Jew who keeps kosher. He was not going to accept a "no" from him. He was, however, mistaken. The Jew who stood before him was totally secular, who had in his "previous" life regularly eaten non-kosher. Yet, he refused to eat the meat. Of all times, when his life was in danger, he refused, on pain of death, to eat non-kosher. He was beaten to within an inch of his life, but he did not eat the non-kosher meat. When asked later why he did this, he responded, "I just realized the severity of the prohibition against eating non-kosher food." What happened to this person?

Rav Pincus explains that while most people are ready and willing to give up their lives to sanctify Hashem's Name, this is the result of a gradual process going back to grade school, a supportive home environment that venerated and promoted faith in Hashem. Their foundation was secure, anchored in generations of faith and commitment. What about the fellow, however, who, experiences an uplifting Shabbos, a stimulating trip to the Kosel, standing at the gates of Auschwitz or any of the other inspirational experiences that suddenly transform one who heretofore had been totally alienated from his heritage to commencing on the road to return? How do they do it? Where is their gradual process? How did the fellow in the concentration camp transform a life of assimilation in one moment?

This is the lesson of Tefillin d'Rabbeinu Tam. The process can be changed. This is especially true in our generation, the generation of Ikvesa d'Mishicha, time of Moshiach, when there is a special spiritual blessing that allows us to "jump" to the front of the line without passing "go." The time for positive change is here. This is truly a change with which we can live.

Va'ani Tefillah

Ashirah La'Hashem ki gaoh gaah. Sus v'rochvo ramah ba'yam.

I shall sing to Hashem for He is exalted above the arrogant, having hurled horse and its rider into the sea.

We note that the Shirah begins with lashon yachid, singular version, ashirah, I will sing. Were they not all singing together? Horav Moshe Leib Shachar, zl, explains that we are being taught that each individual member of Klal Yisrael was worthy of Krias Yam Suf, the Splitting of the Red Sea. It was not a collective z'chus, merit. Thus, each individual Jew sang his own song of praise to Hashem, together with the rest of Klal Yisrael. Likewise, sus v'rochvo ramah ba'yam, "having hurled horse and its rider into the sea," the phrase is said in the singular, implying that Hashem judged each and every individual Egyptian for his singular evil. Each Egyptian was punished for his own sins - not as part of the collective Egypt. Each warranted his own individual punishment.

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 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

The Fifteenth 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