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Peninim on the Torah

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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. (10:2)

We celebrate the exodus from Egypt annually on Pesach, when we recall the many miracles which Hashem wrought for us. Veritably, the Exodus was a seminal event, second in importance only to the Giving of the Torah. What happened at that time to our forebears carries weight for us to this very day. After all, had they not been liberated from the Egyptian bondage, where would we be today? Indeed, it makes sense for children to celebrate their parents' wedding anniversary. Had their parents not wed, the children would never have been born. Therefore, the parents' wedding celebration is not only an event for the parents to mark; it also touches on the lives of their children.

While it is important that the wedding itself be celebrated and remembered, should the menu that was served that night be equally as important? Should it be a primary part of remembrance of the occasion? Is it important whether they served chicken or fish, steak or sushi that night? The important thing is that the parents were married that night - not the menu! Likewise with events surrounding the Exodus; we are grateful that we left Egypt, but why are we so strongly commanded to tell over the story at such great length, relating everything that took place - every plague, every detail? Is that not similar to ruminating over the menu at one's parents' wedding, when all that is really important is celebrating the actual event?

Horav Simcha Wasserman, zl, explains that this teaches us an important lesson concerning yetzias Mitzrayim: It is not a series of events that took place thousands of years ago which has some remote relationship to us. No! These events happened to us and their effect on us continues to this very day. In his commentary to the Torah, Ramban writes that one of the reasons the Torah discusses so many of the events which occurred during the Egyptian exodus (in minute detail) is that they teach us the fundamentals of emunah, faith in Hashem.

We witnessed Hashgachah, Divine Providence. The world does not run like a machine. Hashem interacts with Creation/nature. He is in control of every aspect of the world's functioning. He controls everything in the world, in our lives - everything. He takes an interest in what takes place. He is concerned. When Moshe Rabbeinu predicted that an event would occur - it happened exactly as he said it would. Nothing "just happened." Hashem made it happen!

Ramban says that every event that happened is an essential lesson in emunah. Every event is demonstrated in such dramatic terms, so that it sinks into our minds and we constantly remember it. The miracles of Egypt are analogous to the wedding! The miracles and wonders that accompanied us then continue to chaperone us to this very day. The names of the miracles might change, but their Source is the same.

"B'chol dor va'dor chayav adam liros es atzmo ki'ilu hu yatzah mi'Mitzrayim"; in every generation, a person is obligated to view himself as if he (personally) went out of Egypt (Hagaddah Shel Pesach). We, too, experienced the process of Redemption. We, too, should be grateful for it. We must learn from every event that took place then - because it happened to us. It was our wedding too! In order to learn the lessons, we must focus on each one. They are much more than just the menu. They are the wedding.

Our emunah in Hashem is incredible. Emunah is our light. A Jew who does not have it is in the dark. With it, we are able to see, to keep on going in the midst of the greatest and most palpable darkness. The fact that Jews who survived the Holocaust were able to rebuild their lives is a tribute to their emunah. Those who lost it, sadly had their light extinguished. With emunah, they were able to see the future amidst the overwhelming darkness of the present. Thus, they were able to "dust themselves off", pick themselves up, rebuild, and raise new families to believe in Hashem. They knew there was a reason for the tragedy. Hashem was with them throughout, and He had a reason. One day the light that we have now will shine brighter as it illuminates the answers to all of our questions.

Emunah keeps us going. It is the engine that drives our lives. It is the reason that so many of our own people envy us. We can see. Sadly, they refuse to put on the lenses of emunah. So they go through life existing, without meaning, envious that we have it and they do not. All they have to do is light the match. It is there within them as well. Sadly, they would rather stay in the dark and denigrate those who have taken the initiative, those who refuse to walk blindly.

This is the only way a Jew can live. Horav Yissacher Frand relates ("Listen To Your Messages") hearing the remonstration of an observant pharmacist in Brooklyn who asked, "What should I do? I see the worst forms of sickness. I dispense drugs for the worst types of diseases - not just strep throat and ear infections. It is so difficult. Why is this happening? Why should people suffer so much? I recently filled a prescription for a young father suffering from end-stage terminal cancer who said, 'I am teaching my five-year-old son to recite Kaddish yasom!' I went to shul this morning, and I cried throughout the entire davening."

I read this story, and I realized that, amidst his terrible physical and emotional pain, the father could think of nothing else other than imbuing his young son with love and respect for Hashem, teaching him how to say Kaddish, how to exalt and sanctify the Almighty. That defines emunah. That father was not living in darkness. He saw the light, and he was transferring it to his son!

This is how people live in the Holy Land amidst terror attacks. Their deep-rooted emunah illuminates their lives, as they continue to learn and review the lessons of yetzias Mitzrayim. I write this on my father's fiftieth yahrtzeit. He was an individual of enormous faith. Otherwise, how could he, together with my mother, rebuild their lives, be the progenitors of three children, so soon after losing everything: family, friends and all material assets during the Holocaust. They had the light of emunah to guide them through the darkness that had enveloped so many others. Fifty years ago, the chance that those three children and their broken-hearted mother would "make it" was very slim. The emunah with which our mother raised us kept us going through thick and thin. My father may physically have been gone, but his legacy of faith illuminated our lives. Today, as he gazes down from his rightful place in Gan Eden, he sees that his emunah paid off. Indeed, I feel strongly that he saw this all through his life, during the years of terror, followed by the years of extreme material challenge. He saw the light at the end of the tunnel. That is emunah.

People wonder why Hashem has not wrought miracles of the caliber that were manifest in Egypt. A well-known incident which occurred with Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, sheds light on this query. An assimilated Jew approached Rav Yisrael and told him that his daughter, who was an accomplished dancer, had asked him, "We are always relating miracles which occurred thousands of years ago. Why do we not see miracles today?"

[Veritably our lives are filled with miracles. They are covert and require one to open his eyes in order to see them. Someone who keeps his eyes shut or has myopic or distorted vision - due to his desire to see only those things that support his perverted sense of morality and culture - sees either only what he wants to see or sees nothing at all.]

Rav Yisrael did not immediately respond, but he waited until the man began bragging about his daughter's extraordinary dancing ability. Rav Yisrael said, "I have difficulty believing that your daughter is such a consummate dancer. For all I know, she does not even know how to dance."

The father said, "Rebbe, I am telling you the truth. My daughter is a magnificent dancer."

Rav Yisrael countered, "If she is that good, let her come and dance for me."

The father said to his daughter, "I would like you to put on a show for the Rabbi, so that he will believe me that you dance."

The girl replied indignantly, "I should dance because some Rabbi does not believe I know how to dance? Let him look at my diploma from the most prestigious school of dance. I am certainly not going to dance just for him!"

Rav Yisrael was waiting for this likely response. Arrogance often accompanies a lack of observance. The assimilated (frequently) look askance at their observant brothers and sisters because, otherwise, they are the ones who are out of place. We can ask the skeptics: "What do you want? Hashem should come dancing into Vilna, making overt miracles, because one non-believer does not believe that He can perform miracles?"

Hashem owes us nothing. We owe Him everything!

That you may know that I am Hashem. (10:2)

We live in an era which may be characterized as "inexplicable." When we look around the world and we open our minds to confront reality, it is obvious that Klal Yisrael - both as a nation in general and the individual Jew in particular - is not winning a popularity contest. Indeed, this is the way it was in Egypt. The Egyptians despised the Jews. Yet, they were not prepared to let us leave their country. "Good riddance" was not enough for them. Their deep-rooted hatred for us and for everything that we represented stoked their desire to keep us as slaves, make our lives miserable, and remind us at every juncture that we belonged to them.

Hashem employed ten plagues as a form of punishment to encourage Pharaoh to release us. When these messages did not work, because Hashem did not want them to work, the Almighty simply took us out of Egypt. The time had come, and nothing within Pharaoh's power could prevent the redemption of the Jews from Egypt from occurring. Did it have to happen this way? It is not as if this was the only time our People had experienced hardship and exile. Galus Bavel, the Babylonian exile, some nine centuries after the Egyptian exodus, was certainly no picnic. Yet, Hashem took us out by "encouraging" Koresh, King of Persia, to issue a proclamation throughout his kingdom to allow the Jews to return home. Moreover, he opened up his coffers and offered them financial assistance in rebuilding the Bais HaMikdash. Would it have been so bad if Hashem would have, likewise, manipulated Pharaoh's mind in our favor?

Obviously, Koresh's positive thinking was the result of Divine machination. Why did Hashem not employ the same maneuvering to ease the Jews out of Egypt?

In Rav Avraham Pam's, zl, "Parsha Thoughts," redacted by Rav Shalom Smith, the Rosh Yeshivah quotes Horav Shlomo Kluger, zl, who writes in his Imrei Shefer that, had the liberation from Egypt occurred in some positive way, with Pharaoh acting as the great liberator, friend of the Jews, it would have created a situation in which we would remain indebted to him forever. Despite all of the evil and cruelty that he and his henchmen committed against us, we are a unique people for whom hakoras hatov, gratitude, courses through our veins. It is an inherent part of our psyche. Thus, our deep sense of gratitude would have made us feel beholden to Pharaoh. Hashem would never have accepted this approach. There is no way that we could ever feel anything positive about that evil person and his perverted nation.

Hashem took us out of Egypt so that we would be a nation for Him. If we maintain any sort of allegiance to anyone else - for whatever reason - it detracts from our service to Hashem, because we no longer recognize Him as our Savior. Thus, the more Pharaoh was afflicted with plagues, the greater was his obstinacy until the final makkah, the smiting of the firstborn, overwhelmed him.

This is the idea behind zeichar l'yetzias Mitzrayim, a remembrance of the redemption from Egypt. We must constantly reiterate the fact that what we are is all due to the fact that Hashem took us out of Egypt. We owe Him - and only Him. The redemption of the nation from its Babylonian exile was quite different. First, it involved only a limited number of Jews. Even though we returned home, we still remained under gentile domination. The Second Bais HaMikdash was an impressive and inspiring sight to behold. Nonetheless, it paled in comparison to its predecessor. Therefore, since the redemption was not that compelling, it was permissible to also maintain a sense of gratitude to Koresh to some degree.

The Rosh Yeshivah continues by drawing a parallel between geulas Mitzrayim and our Final Redemption, which will be heralded by Moshiach Tzidkeinu. Egypt serves as the prototype geulah for us. Just as there were no benevolent nations at that time who were prepared to help us, likewise, we will be redeemed in the End of Days by Hashem - Alone. We will not need all of the great talkers/ politicians who, when they need our votes, assert, "Israel, Israel!" When the truth becomes clear, we will see that we have only Hashem to thank - no one else.

With this insight, we are able to gain a better understanding of the implacable hatred that exists in today's world toward the Jews and their country. Hashem does not want us to harbor any feelings of gratitude toward the gentile nations. They never really cared for us. They supported us only because they needed our support. We are, otherwise, inexplicably reviled. Now, we have an explanation; Hashem want us to ingrain in our minds that, Ein lanu l'hishaein ela al Avinu she'ba Shomayim. "We have no One other upon whom to rely other than our Father in Heaven."

This is what is alluded to by the pasuk's conclusion, "That you may know that I am Hashem." We must know that it is only Hashem Who redeems us - no one else. Our gratitude must be focused on the True Source of our redemption: Hashem.

There shall be a great outcry in the entire land of Egypt, such as there never has been. (11:6)

That there will be a loud crying is understandable. Every Egyptian home sustained the loss of its firstborn. It is a normal response to sudden death. Why was it necessary to inform the Egyptians beforehand that there would be a great outcry? What else? Horav Yechezkel Levenstein, zl, explains that the Torah is teaching us an important lesson. The great outcry which would accompany the deaths of the Egyptian firstborn, an outcry which would seize and overwhelm the entire country, was not the result of a natural reaction to sudden tragedy. This outcry was part of the middah k'neged middah, measure for measure, punishment which the Egyptians deserved for how they treated the Jews.

When the Egyptians snatched the Jewish babies from the arms of their mothers, this cruel action certainly catalyzed a bitter outcry throughout the Jewish community. Therefore, the Egyptians deserved a punishment which would be appropriate in light of the distress they caused the Jews. The deaths of their firstborn was insufficient to compensate for the pain and grief experienced by the Jews when their children were thrown into the water. Hashem promised to judge the nation that afflicted His people. They would be paid back in full; nothing would be held back. Thus, they deserved to cry out with the same grief stricken screams that they caused the Jews to emit. Hashem is very exacting in His punishment: no more; no less.

It was on midnight that Hashem smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh sitting on his throne to the firstborn of every captive who was in the dungeon. (12:29)

We have reached the last of the ten makkos, plagues. This is the end of the line. Every firstborn - kol b'chor - implies that any firstborn who had the misfortune to be in Egypt at the time of the makkos bechoros, plague of the firstborn, also died. If: he was not an Egyptian; he was a tourist visiting the country; he was a temporary resident on business; he was not an Egyptian, but rather a member of a different nation - if he had a firstborn, or if he was a firstborn, he suffered the same fate as the Egyptians. Even the unlucky fellow who was a captive relegated to spending his life in an Egyptian dungeon, he, too, had the dubious honor of being considered an honorary Egyptian. This is enigmatic. What did the captive do? He had no part in the Jews' enslavement. Why was he subjected to this plague?

Rashi enlightens us with two reasons which imply the necessity of subjecting these random people to the plague. First, as lowly as these captives were, they still rejoiced over Jewish suffering. Imagine, they were captives who were probably going to spend the rest of their wretched lives in an Egyptian dungeon, but it made them feel good that someone else had it worse. The Jews' suffering eased their own suffering. This may be perverted reasoning, but sadly, a lot of people have perverted minds. Rashi gives a second reason. These captives should not think that their praying to their idols engendered the punishment the Egyptians were now experiencing and spared them from it. Thus, they, too, died. The captives did not actually persecute the Jews, because they themselves were subjected to immense pain and suffering. Yet, they rejoiced over Jewish pain. Since they might have attributed the Egyptian punishment to their gods, they, too, suffered along with the Egyptians. This explains the suffering of the captives, but what about the tourists, or the temporary residents? What did they do to incur such punishment? They did nothing. They were just passing through. Yet, now they had reason to rejoice over the Jewish pain.

Horav Noach Weinberg, zl, explains that the answer should be obvious. One cannot be a tourist in a country where genocide is a way of life, where persecuting an entire nation and subjecting them to the most inhumane brutality is part of its culture. One should run from such a country. It should not be on the itinerary of any decent human being. By remaining in such a country, one is making a statement: "I condone those atrocities. I see nothing wrong with persecuting hapless Jews." Such a person deserves the same punishment as the full-time residents.

If one lives in a country where its leadership ignores atrocity, where perversion is an everyday affair, where moral bankruptcy is a way of life - then he is as reprehensible as everyone else. His silence is tantamount to acquiescence. Not taking an active stance against terror, persecution, immorality is similar to being complicit with the devil.

What about Klal Yisrael? It seems that they, too, had reason to fear the effects of the smiting of the firstborn. The Torah teaches that they were instructed to place the blood of the Korban Pesach on the two doorposts and lintel of their homes. This was in order to present a sign for the plague of destruction to pass over this home. A committed Jew lived here. What if they did not smear the blood as required? Apparently, the firstborn of the Jews would have been included in the plague. The aforementioned reasons, which applied to the tourist and captive, certainly did not apply to the Jews. What did they do wrong that necessitated a sign over their doors for their protection?

Rav Weinberg explains that when one asks Hashem to judge someone, he must realize that such a request may have dire ramifications for the petitioner. Hashem always judges the petitioner first. When one asks to have justice served, he is, in effect, asking Hashem to restrain His trait of compassion and, instead, stand in judgment. We must be prepared to be examined. Only when we are deserving can we ask that Hashem mete out justice against our enemies.

We have two ways to call out to Hashem: "Please Hashem have mercy on me"; or "Hashem look at what they/he are doing to me." Do we want our appeal to be justice-oriented or mercy-oriented? When we criticize others, we had better be prepared for the back-lash. They might receive their due, but it may exact a costly price on us. Since justice was being carried out that day in Egypt, all were being judged - even the Jews. By smearing the blood outside their homes, they were entreating Hashem for lenience.

The Rosh Yeshivah applies this thought to our personal lives. Many of us take a dim view of another person's errors. We lack compassion, tolerance; we ignore the many mitigating circumstances that give reason for a person's behavior - however obnoxious it may be. There are people around us who are experiencing profound guilt for the errors in judgment they made in the course of their lives. Rather than try to understand why they act the way they do - we too often condemn. This is especially true when it comes to judging teenagers who do not conform to the prevalent mold of the day. We are quick to degrade. Some of us are not satisfied with disparaging the student; we take our judgment one step further: we besmirch those who devote their lives, sacrificing time, energy, money and family, because they view these children as unpolished diamonds, who have been left by the wayside by a system that rejects anyone it is not willing to try to understand.

Being judgmental not only creates a barrier between brothers, but it also causes the Shechinah to distance Itself from our midst. We are divided by senseless hatred, resulting from: our own insecurities; by arrogance that is the cause of endless criticism; by infighting which is the result of envy. It has gotten to the point that the friendship has been redefined. I will be friends only with those on the same social strata as I am on. Otherwise, my other friends will look askance at me. We nitpick people and organizations, because everything must fit into our myopic perception of life. Rather than being forgiving, we have become petty and mean-spirited. What we do not realize is: Hashem will judge us in the same manner that we judge others. Perhaps this might give us reason to wake up and smell the roses. Life can be great - it is great, as long as we remove our lenses of negativity, seek compassion for those in need, and not fault those who vex us. They, too, have their personal issues with which they must contend.

Va'ani Tefillah

Elokeinu v'Elokei Avoseinu. Our G-d, and the G-d of our forefathers.

Horav Shlomo Wolbe, zl, explains that each and every Jew has within him a spark of kedushah, sanctity, which is not found in anyone else. This spark of kedushah initiates a special relationship with Hashem that catalyzes His special shemirah, watchfulness, over us. This is the meaning of Elokeinu, our G-d: He is our G-d; we are His people. The Mashgiach adds that, whatever we know of His middos, Divine attributes, comes to us through the Avos HaKedoshim, Holy Patriarchs. We know that Hashem cares and wants us to perform chesed, acts of lovingkindness, from Avraham Avinu, who was the pillar of chesed. Gevurah, strength, is derived from Yitzchak Avinu, who lived his entire life with a sense of fear of the Almighty. Yaakov Avinu was the paradigm of emes, truth, which indicates that Hashem's chosam, signature, is emes. By interacting with us/Jews, the nations of the world learn about Hashem from us, when we act ethically, maintaining integrity in business; and when we reach out to our fellow man with acts of lovingkindness, etc. We demonstrate Hashem's Divine attributes. It places an enormous responsibility upon us, because, if we act inappropriately, it reflects, likewise, who we are.

l'ilui nishmas
Aidel bas R' Yaakov Shimon a"h
niftar 13 Shevat 5767
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