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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Vaiera

I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt; I shall rescue you from their service; I shall redeem you...I shall take you to Me for a People. (6:6,7)

Sforno takes a somewhat novel approach to explaining the four expressions of redemption which the Torah employs to describe the various stages of Yetzias Mitzrayim. The four leshonos shel geulah as interpreted by Sforno are: "h,tmuvu" "I will bring you out," when the plagues begin the slavery will end; "h,kmvu"--"I will save you," when you leave their borders; "h,ktdu"--"I will redeem you," with the drowning of the Egyptians in the Red Sea. After the death of your oppressors, you will no longer be slaves; "h,jeku", "I will take you unto Me as a nation," at Har Sinai with the giving of the Torah.

We must attempt to understand Sforno’s words. Although Klal Yisrael was incarcerated in Egypt for hundreds of years, they remained descendants of a noble and dignified lineage. Why did they need to see their master’s demise before they could feel a sense of freedom? Should not the many miracles performed by Hashem--for them--have been sufficient cause to establish their personal trust in Him? Would not the idea of leaving the shambles of Egypt (after the makos) be adequate reason to end their insecurity? Why was another step necessary to eradicate their original slave mentality from their minds?

Horav A. Henach Leibowitz, Shlita, derives a significant lesson about human nature from Sforno’s words. We are our own worst enemy. Once an individual has made up his mind about himself, it is difficult to change his impressions. A negative self-image can be one of the greatest deterrents to our development. Once one has a low image of himself, either self-imposed or created by others--be it teachers, parents, or friends--it is extremely difficult to transform that picture. Although Bnei Yisrael were liberated from Egypt, they still remained slaves in their own minds. They were not free men; they viewed themselves as free slaves. They were afraid of the image of their cruel oppressors that was etched in their minds. It was necessary for them to see the Egyptian corpses washed up onto shore to convince them that they were finally free men.

Horav Leibowitz posits that this feeling extends to one’s spiritual persona. In fact, probably the most common cause of spiritual deterioration is the lack of appreciation for one’s own greatness. When the yetzer hora, evil inclination, coerces us to sin, it says, "You can do it. You’re just an ordinary guy. You do nothing special. Your sin will not make much of a difference anyway. Leave the Torah study and mitzvah observance to those who are spiritual giants, not to the plain guy like you." Every Jew must recognize his own self-worth and the love that Hashem has for him as an individual--as a Tzelem Elokim. If we would only realize that we are princes, created in the image of Hashem, the idea of sin would be unfathomable. Our self-image and our sense of pride should deter us from sin.

As we sit at the Seder table on Peasch night, we recall the Exodus and the events leading up to the unique moment of the giving of the Torah. These milestone occasions should elevate our self-image and bring about the realization that we are the children of Hashem. How can a son possibly rebel against such a loving Father? How truly fortunate are we to be endowed with so much. It is simple questions such as these that guide us to appreciate how special we are, imbuing us with a greater understanding of our responsibility to observe mitzvos.

This was Aharon and Moshe to whom Hashem said: "Take the Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt..." They were the ones who spoke to Pharaoh....this was the Moshe and Aharon. (6:26,27)

Chazal note that in many places in the Torah, Aharon’s name precedes that of Moshe. This implies that they were equally great men. We must address the concept of equivalent greatness between Moshe and Aharon. Moshe was unequivocally greater in nevuah, prophecy, as well as in other areas. Moshe was the select human being, the paragon of humanity, who was the unparalleled, quintessential leader of Bnei Yisrael. How could Aharon be viewed as equally great? Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, posits that while, indeed, Aharon did not distinguish himself as much as Moshe, he did maximize his own potential. Hashem assesses one’s success in terms of the fulfillment of his total potential. Moshe Rabbeinu was born with an incredible potential--which he achieved. Aharon Ha’kohen, his brother, also maximized his potential--although it was more easily accessible than that of Moshe. In Hashem’s eyes, they were equally great.

Horav Yitzchak Goldwasser, Shlita, offers a number of approaches towards understanding Moshe and Aharon’s relative equality. At first, he suggests that quite possibly, before Moshe went up on Har Sinai and stayed there for forty days and nights, he had no distinction over Aharon. Second, he contends that there were certain aspects in which Aharon distinguished himself over Moshe. Their equality was that in select areas each one achieved distinction to the exclusion of the other.

In his third explanation, Moshe and Aharon are compared to the two most important organs of the human body--the heart and the brain. Although the brain ostensibly has many more critical functions than the heart, the body cannot exist without the heart. Since the human being must have both the heart and the brain to exist--even though one may be more significant than the other--they nonetheless remain equal. The Torah characterizes Moshe and Aharon as two components of one entity, "And it will be that he (Aharon) will be your mouth and you will be his leader." (Shemos 4:16). Moshe and Aharon were not two distinct individuals who performed a task together. They were a symbiosis of Moshe/Aharon--one individual composed of two components. They were both an intrinsic part of Yetzias Mitzrayim, the exodus from Egypt. Each had an integral and equal function to perform.

In his last explanation, Horav Goldwasser takes a somewhat pragmatic approach. Undoubtedly, Moshe was greater than Aharon. Since Aharon was so much above us, however, we have no way of either assessing Aharon’s level of distinction or measuring the disparity between Aharon and Moshe. Hence, in comparison to us, Aharon and Moshe were equal, since they are both on so much higher a level than we are.

And I shall harden Pharaoh’s heart...And Pharaoh will not listen to you...And I shall take out My legions, My People, the Bnei Yisrael, from the land of Egypt. (7:3,4)

Was it really necessary to harden Pharaoh’s heart? Hashem could have simply "convinced" Pharaoh to let us go. That would have been much simpler. The Baalei Musar explain that even had Pharaoh one day released us from bondage, we would still remain indebted to him. After all, he would have "liberated" us from servitude. Now that Hashem has redeemed us, we have no debt of gratitude to anyone but Hashem. Horav Chaim Friedlandler, zl supplements this idea. Had Pharaoh acquiesced to Moshe’s demand that Bnei Yisrael be released from Egypt, we might be grateful in some manner to Pharaoh. Hashem wanted Bnei Yisrael not to become subservient to anyone but Him. Consequently, He created a situation where it was obvious that only Hashem -- without any "assistance" -- took us out of Egypt.

The problem of misplaced gratitude is real. All too often we thank everyone else and attribute our success to other sources, neglecting the true source of all good--Hashem. Nothing happens unless Hashem wills it. No man can achieve success unless it is Hashem’s decree. All too often we are subjected to events and circumstances that do not seem related. We do not realize that every event that occurs has a distinct connection to the other. One day, however, we will see how it all fits together. In the Talmud Kiddushin 70a, Chazal say that in Olam Ha’bah there will be a history book which was written by Eliyahu Ha’navi and signed by Hashem. Mankind will be given the opportunity to study and understand the purpose of all events and circumstances of men’s lives. Our life experiences will all be inscribed there. Every ambiguity will be clarified. All the events which we had thought were purposeless--or even tragic--will take on a new meaning as they are interpreted in light of the continuum of history. We will then become acutely aware that it is Hashem Who really deserves our complete and undivided gratitude.

A Midrash teaches us the significance of directing our gratitude to its true source. Moshe Rabbeinu was forced to run away from Egypt as a result of the action he took against an Egyptian who was striking a Jew. When it became known that Moshe had killed the Egyptian, he was forced to flee the country for fear of his life. He came to the land of Midyan. One day, as Yisro’s daughters were being harassed by a band of ruffians, Moshe quickly stepped in and dispersed the would-be attackers. When the girls came home, they told their father, Yisro, that an "Egyptian man" had rescued them. The common explanation is that Moshe was dressed as an Egyptian. Thus, they thought that it was an Egyptian who had intervened on their behalf.

The Midrash interprets the expression in a somewhat different manner by first citing a parable. A man is bitten by a wasp and runs to the river to cool off the stinging bite. Arriving at the river, he sees a child drowning and jumps in to save him. The child tells the man, "If not for you, I would have drowned." The man replies, "If not for the wasp, I would not have been here to save you." When Yisro’s daughters thanked Moshe for saving them, he told them," Do not thank me; thank the Egyptian that I killed. If not for him, I would not be here today."

The message is clear: We thank everyone but the one who set the course of events to occur in such a manner that we would benefit. So who should we thank, the individual who was there or the one Who caused him to be there? If Bnei Yisrael had departed from Egypt with misdirected gratitude, it would have undermined the entire Exodus and distorted its historical and spiritual lessons.

Whoever among the servants of Pharaoh feared Hashem, chased his servants and livestock into the houses. (9:20)

The Torah seems to distinguish between different types of Egyptians. While the majority were obviously evil and supportive of Pharaoh’s diabolical plans to do with the Jews as he pleased, there were those who were "G-d-fearing"; they were "yarei es dvar Hashem," "feared the word of Hashem." Is that really true? Were these Egyptians truly G-d-fearing, or was it a ruse to save themselves and their possessions from ruin? Whatever happened to those animals that were rescued from death because of their owner’s "fear of the word of Hashem"? Chazal tell us that the horses that belonged to those "select" Egyptians were later used to chase the Jews who left Egypt. The Midrash satirizes the G-d-fearing Egyptians. They feared Hashem when the lives of their horses were at stake, but they openly defied Him when the issue was Jewish survival. This blatant hypocrisy has challenged our people throughout history. The same people who have professed religion, love, and fear of G-d have acted with utmost hatred towards the Jews. They have treated us cruelly, brutally inflicting the greatest atrocities upon us, all in the name of religion! We must endeavor to explain the sanctimonious fear of G-d which the religious Egyptians displayed.

In the sphere of morality, Hashem is the source of ethics for three reasons. First and most basic is yira’as ha’onesh, fear of punishment. Man must obediently submit to Hashem’s service as a result of his fear of retribution for transgression, as well as his anticipation of reward for being moral and upright. Chazal, however, have always spoken disparagingly of those who do not move beyond this stage by aspiring to a higher level of service to Hashem.

We consider the next two characteristics prerequisites for developing proper motivation towards serving Hashem. They are yira’as ha’romemus, fear of awe--or man’s awareness of Hashem’s overwhelming greatness--and, ultimately, ahavas Hashem, love of Hashem. Although "awe of Hashem" compels obedience and submission to Him, the Torah demands that we aspire to attain "love of Hashem." These concepts, which arise out of the recognition that Hashem is the source of absolute value, establish the basis and foundation of moral law. The G-d fearing Egyptians were only able to reach the first stage, fear of retribution. Hence, the Torah states that they were "yarei es dvar Hashem." They feared Hashem’s word, but they were fearful only of His "word," His actions; they were not actually in fear of "Him." This "fear" was nothing more than cowardice which was quickly transformed when they felt that they were no longer in danger. One must possess all the qualities of fear and love of Hashem in order to maintain the appropriate moral balance.


1. Hashem told Moshe that He would remember His covenant. To which covenant is this referring? What did Hashem promise to do?

2. Hashem instructed Moshe and Aharon how to act with Bnei Yisrael and with Pharaoh. What did He tell them to do?

3. Why does the Torah emphasize how long Levi lived?

4. How was Yocheved related to Amram before they were married?

5. What was the division of duties between Moshe and Aharon?

6. What difference was there between the end of makas tzefardea and that of makas arov?

7. When makas barad ended, a great miracle happened. What was it?


1. This refers to the Bris bein Ha’besarim in which Hashem told Avraham that He will punish the nation that enslaves the Jews.

2. They were to be patient and deal pleasantly with Bnei Yisrael. They were to show respect towards Pharaoh.

3. This teaches us the length of the slavery in Egypt. As long as any of the original twelve sons of Yaakov lived, the Egyptians could not enslave the Jews. Levi lived longer than his brothers.

4. She was his aunt. Amram’s father was Kehas, who was Yocheved’s brother.

5. Moshe received the word of Hashem and told it to Aharon, who -- in turn -- articulated it to Pharaoh.

6. The frogs all died in Egypt, leaving a terrible stench. The animals of makas arov all left Egypt so that the Egyptians could not benefit from their skins.

7. At the exact moment that the plague stopped, even the hail that was in the air stayed aloft and did not hit the ground.


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