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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Voayra

Moreover, I have heard the groans of Bnei Yisrael whom Egypt enslaves. (6:5)

Upon reading the text, one would think that the use of the word "Ani", "I (heard)" indicates that it was only Hashem who heard Bnei Yisrael cry. If they had been groaning, why was it only Hashem who heard? The Noam Elimelech explains that the groaning essentially had three manifestations. The first type of cry emanated from the common Jew who had been subjected to back-breaking labor, to the affliction of the Egyptains throwing their baby boys into the Nile River. While most of the people cried over the demeaning and cruel slavery to which they were subjected, there were those, such as the tribe of Levi, upon whom no decree of hard labor had been issued. They lamented their lack of freedom. Their state of enslavement to Pharaoh was reason enough for them to mourn. Among the Leviim, a select group of individuals bemoaned their fate for a different reason. These were the tzaddikim, righteous Jews, who could not tolerate the effect of the slavery on their spirituality. The suffering of their neshamos was greater than the physical hurt they endured. Their minds were not free to think; their hearts could not properly perform the mitzvos of the heart; their mouths could not express prayer for spiritual redemption, since they were compelled to pray for an end to the physical domination of the Egyptians. In short, these three areas of complaint represent the three perspectives of the Egyptian exile.

The Noam Elimelech uses this concept to explain the three types of redemption which the Hagaddah suggests. We thank Hashem for bringing us out of slavery to freedom, from darkness to great light; and from servitude to redemption. Each Jew reflected upon his own personal liberation. The Jew who suffered harsh labor, toiling with brick and mortar, was grateful for his release from slavery to freedom. The Levi who was not subjected to labor thanked Hashem for redeeming him from his servitude. The tzaddik who until now had bemoaned the darkness to which his neshamah was relegated, thanked Hashem for the new light.

The Ohaiv Yisrael supplements the words of the Noam Elimelech. While he agrees that the outcry took on three forms, this was only in the beginning of the analysis. After awhile, the Jews realized that it was not proper to bewail only their physical affliction. They should aspire to greater heights and cry out against the spiritual darkness that had enveloped their lives. They should cry about the spiritual muck in which their neshamos were submerged. Subsequently, while they overtly lamented their miserable conditions, they also harbored an inner hurt, an intimate sorrow for their spiritual devastation. This affliction was not public. Its cry was unheard by all--except Hashem. Only the Almighty, Who knows and is sensitive to our internal emotions, heard this covert cry.

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

The Torah employs arba leshonos shel geulah, four expressions of redemption, which allude to the distinct stages of the Jews' liberation from the Egyptian exile. Horav Gedalyah Shorr, z"l, posits that the four expressions relate as equally to the individual as they do to the entire nation. Every person experienced his own personal redemption from the Egyptian culture. Every individual must liberate himself from the shackles of his own enslavement to the yetzer hora, evil inclination. He cites the Sfas Emes, who says that these expressions coincide with the four elements which comprise man: fire, water, wind and dust. The characteristics of these elements fuse together to create the emotional/physical composition of man, the gashmius. Man's body, his corporeal essence is but a container in which the neshamah, soul, is placed. Horav Chaim Vital, z"l, says that these four elements of man are also the source of every negative character trait within man. Every bad middah originates in some manner from these physical foundations of man. The neshamah, spiritual dimension, is ensconced within the body as if it were in exile. The function of transcending the physical with the spiritual, by sublimating the physical dimension of man to its higher calling, is the process by which man "liberates" himself from his physical bondage. This is one's personal Yetzias Mitzrayim. We strive to transform these purely physical elements to serve Hashem so that they become vehicles for spiritual development.

In four places in the Torah, we are enjoined to relate the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim to our children. Chazal have derived from this apparent redundancy that children may be categorized into four groups, or "four sons." They are: the chacham, wise son; the rasha, wicked son; the tam, simpleton; and the she'eino yodea lish'ol, the child who does not even know what to ask. Horav Yehudah Leib Chasman, z"l, feels that these "four sons," actually represent four distinct personalities. The traits typified by these four sons represent the inner struggle within each one of us. There are moments when we act with wisdom, reflecting common sense and forethought. There are times when we "lose it," and we foolishly carry on like the wicked son. There are times when we act like the simple son, unsure of the direction in which we should go, unclear of the manner in which we should act. The last son, the one who does not know to ask, is not that far from us. We can all relate to moments when we just do not know what, how, or whom to ask.

We must address these life situations in the same manner that the Torah responds to the individual sons. In keeping with Horav Shorr's thesis that the four expressions apply equally to the individual, we may suggest another area of focus; the individual's unique tendencies. We are adjured to address those areas of our personality that are deficient. Likewise, as we find with the wise son, we must cultivate and enhance the areas in which we excel. This concept is underscored in the words of the Hagaddah, "In every generation it is one's duty to regard himself as if he personally had gone out of Egypt." We are obligated to experience a personal liberation in which we elevate the physical, addressing those areas of our character which need improvement.

And Hashem said to Moshe, "Say to Aharon, take your staff and stretch out your hand." (7:19)

Moshe Rabbeinu initiated the last seven makos, plagues, while Hashem told Aharon to strike the river and the earth for the first three plagues. Chazal attribute Aharon's designation to the fact that the river and the earth protected Moshe. He was placed in the river as an infant to be concealed from the Egyptians, and later the earth covered the Egyptian that he had killed. Moshe benefited from two inanimate objects. Therefore, he must demonstrate his gratitude. This seems to be excessive. The middah of hakoras tov, appreciation, is one of the mainstays of character development, but is it necessary to show this gratitude to an inanimate object that was essentially fulfilling its purpose in the world? After all, the water or earth are not sensitive to a lack of gratitude.

Horav Mordechai Kukis, shlita, explains that in the area of hakoras tov, the beneficiary need not make cheshbonos, calculations, to appraise the actual amount of effort his benefactor has exerted in order to estimate how much gratitude he owes. How much was the benefactor put out by his favor? Did he have to do it anyway? Was he going my way? It did not really cost him very much, and so many more excuses that we may use to justify not repaying a favor, not demonstrating gratitude where it is due. Quite possibly, once we start with the cheshbonos, we might negate the whole concept of hakoras tov!

This is the lesson we learn from Moshe. If Hashem insisted that Moshe demonstrate his sense of gratitude, even to an inanimate object, how much more so must we show our appreciation to human beings, and--ultimately--to Hashem Yisborach, the source of all good. Our concern should not be from whom we have received a favor, or the size and value of that favor; our first and only consideration should be that we have benefited and should show our gratitude.

Horav E.M. Shach, shlita, goes a bit further in expounding the demand for hakoras tov. We must recognize that Hashem is the source of all the good that we receive. The medium through which we receive this benefit is nothing more than a vehicle for channeling Hashem's favor to us. What difference does it make to us who or what Hashem employs to serve as the agent for carrying out His objective? He demands that we imbue ourselves with the middah of appreciation, not distinguishing among the benefactors. This is a case in which too much "discrimination" might cause us to lose sight of the actual source of our blessing--Hashem.

And Hashem carried out the word of Moshe, and the frogs died--from the houses, from the courtyards, and from the fields. (8:9)

It did not take long for Pharaoh to beg Moshe to implore Hashem to put a halt to the swarms of frogs that were literally infesting his entire country. Moshe prayed to Hashem and the frogs all died. Chazal tell us that the frogs who had entered the ovens miraculously did not die, either in the oven or afterwards! We may question the remarkable reward received by the frogs. After all, if they were commanded by Hashem to enter the ovens, where else should they have gone? A similar question may be asked regarding Chazal's statement in the Talmud Pesachim 53b. Chazal tell us that Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah entered the fire as a result of a Kal V'chomer, a fortiori argument, which they derived from the frogs. They said, "If the frogs were willing to sacrifice their lives to sanctify Hashem's Name, so should we." The question is obvious. The frogs had no other choice but to conform to the will of Hashem. Why are they being lauded for doing what they were supposed to do?

Horav Shimon Schwab, z"l, observes that Yechezkel Ha'navi had actually advised Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah to run and hide. Their response was straightforward; they sought to prove a point. If they had fled, people would say that everyone, including the Jews, had bowed down to the idol. By accepting the challenge and risking their lives, they were demonstrating to the world that the Jews had rejected the idol. This was the appropriate time to make a statement against Nevuchadnezzar. They certainly could have run away in order to save themselves. Their cowering from the wicked king would be, in effect, a statement in his support.

What motivated them to accomplish this supreme act of self-sacrifice? What inspired them to go forward rather than backward? It was the frogs who went into the ovens knowing fully well the obvious results. Horav Schwab explains the rationale. The frogs were all commanded to swarm throughout Egypt. They knew that this also meant entering the burning ovens. They all had the choice to go where they desired. There was a unique group of frogs who understood that if some of them would not enter the ovens, then Hashem's decree would appear ineffective. This action personified their mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice. They did not have to go into the ovens; they wanted to go into the ovens.

Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah drew a parallel to their own situation. They could escape and be spared, but what about the humiliation it would eventually cause to Hashem's Name? What about the degree of success, the renewed power over the people of which Nevuchadnezzar would be the beneficiary? They could not permit this. Therefore, they acted accordingly and entered the fire.

How often do we have the opportunity to sanctify Hashem's Name, but do not because it is inconvenient? How often does a mitzvah come our way, but we ignore it because it is not very "appealing"? True, we can pick the easy mitzvos, the ones that give us public acclaim, the ones that will not demand much sacrifice on our part. We should not be surprised, however, when we are rewarded accordingly.


1. How many Kal V'chomer arguments are presented in the Torah?

2. In what manner were Moshe and Aharon to treat Pharaoh when they spoke to him?

3. Who was the last of Yaakov's sons to die?

4. Where do we find the concept of hakoras tov, appreciation, in this parsha?

5. How many frogs were there?

6. What is the difference between the end of makas tzefardaya and the end of makas arov?

7. During which makos were the Egyptians able to save their animals?


1. 10

2. They were to speak to him with the respect that befits a king.

3. Levi

4. Moshe was not permitted to strike the water or the earth during the course of the first three makos, because he was obligated to pay gratitude to them for protecting him.

5. There is a dispute in Chazal. Some contend that there was originally only one frog which multiplied as the Egyptians hit it, while others say that there were countless frogs.

6. After makas tzfardaya, most of the frogs had died, causing a tremendous stench in the country. In contrast, in makas arov, all of the animals vanished, so that the Egyptians could not benefit from their skins.

7. Makas dever and makas barad.

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