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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


But the midwives feared G-d…and they caused the boys to live. (1:17)

Imagine that you have told someone about a certain individual who risks his life daily to save the lives of tens of thousands of children, and then the person asks you: Does he have yiraas Shomayim, fear of Hashem? You would probably look at the questioner incredulously and respond, "What difference does it make? He is saving lives! What more are you concerned with?" Horav Eliyahu Lopian, zl, notes that while this may be an ordinary human perspective, the Torah does not seem to concur. The Torah writes that "the midwives feared G-d." Furthermore, later on in pasuk 21, the Torah writes, "And it was because the midwives feared G-d that He made them houses." Apparently, the only reason they merited the "houses"-- which is defined by Chazal as a reference to the houses of Kehunah, Priesthood, Leviah, Leviites, and Malchus, Monarchy-- was their yiraas Shomayim., not their self-sacrifice to save the children.

Clearly, this teaches us that saving lives, even at the risk to one's own life, must be guided by fear of Heaven. We see this in our own time when organizations involved in saving lives throughout the world make decisions regarding who should live and who should die based upon political pressure or vested interests. Did we not confront a similar situation during the Holocaust when the efforts of rabbanim from the Vaad Hatzalah, relief and rescue committee, were hampered by secularists who were afraid that the measures the Vaad employed were not "dignified" or did not conform with government standards? Who cares? Lives are in danger! The secularists saved lives - their way. They saved young, strong men who could go to Palestine and build the Land. The older, weaker generation were just not worth the effort. They were guided by their personal and political agendas - not by yiraas Shomayim. Any endeavor which one performs without the motivation of, and guidance by, yiraas Shomayim lacks in its virtue and merit.

The boy grew up and she brought him to the daughter of Pharaoh. And he was a son to her. She called him Moshe. (2:10)

Moshe Rabbeinu actually was given ten names. The Midrash says that the name that became his for posterity was the one given to him by Bisyah, the daughter of Pharaoh. Chazal cite a number of reasons for this. They suggest that we derive from here the extent of the reward received by those who are gomel chesed, perform deeds of lovingkindness. Pharaoh's daughter was a good person - a kind, benevolent woman, who saved a Jewish infant at a time in which her own father had decreed that every Jewish child should be drowned. Hashem rewarded her for her kind heart by determining that the name she gave the infant would remain his permanent name. Imagine, he was the first Moshe from whom millions throughout Jewish history have received his name - given to him by Pharaoh's daughter. It was not a Biblical name. It was a contrived name which commemorated an experience. She wanted to remember his roots and her participation in saving him. She did not want to forget that she had saved a Jewish child. She was proud of her deed.

People perform chesed, acts of lovingkindness, all of the time. Does this mean that each one merits such a reward? Perhaps. Does Bisyah's act constitute such heroism, such altruism, such benevolence that the name she gave has been perpetuated throughout Klal Yisrael? Perhaps, but there is a deeper idea here expressed by the phrase, vayehi lah l'ben, "and he was a son to her." What is the meaning of these words? Did she adopt Moshe?

Horav Yehoshua Leib Diskin, zl, was one of the greatest Torah giants. He was rav in Brisk-- and later in Yerushalayim-- over a century ago. At the time, due to disease, many young children were orphaned. The gentiles and secularists-- who were Jewish by birth only-- treated these young unfortunates as human refuse, throwing them out into the streets, forcing them to fend for themselves. One such foundling was taken in by the Diskins, who raised and educated him. He was joined by others. As the adopted "family" grew, Rav Yehoshua Leib established what was to become the famous Diskin orphanage.

The Maharil Diskin, as he was reverently called, told his students about one of the young orphans who would burst into bitter weeping every time Rebbetzin Diskin shampooed his hair. This went on constantly. Every time she shampooed his hair when she bathed him, he would cry heartrendingly like only a young orphan can. Rav Yehoshua Leib asked him, "Why do you cry so bitterly? Is it painful?"

"Yes, it hurts," the young boy replied, "but it is not physical pain. When the Rebbetzin washes my hair, I am reminded of when my mother used to wash my hair. After my mother finished washing my hair, she would kiss me. I miss my mother's kiss!" From then on, the Rebbetzin always gave the young boy a motherly kiss of love.

That, explained Rav Yehoshua Leib, is the meaning of "and he was a son to her." Pharaoh's daughter was able to make Moshe feel like a son. This is the height of chesed. He was not just some other "kid" that was brought home for dinner. He was Bisyah's son! When chesed extends to this point, it incurs an incredible reward.

The boy grew up and she brought him to the daughter of Pharaoh…It happened in those days that Moshe grew up and went out to his brethren. (2:10, 11)

The Midrash Tanchuma notes the redundancy of the word vayigdal, "(and) he grew (up)." They say it refers to two stages of growth: first, when Moshe Rabeinub physically matured; and, second, when he grew in stature and distinction. The Alshich HaKodesh reiterates this question, maintaining that Moshe's growth had already been established. He explains that the added word, vayehi, "it happened," is usually a reference to a sorrowful occurrence, a negative experience. It is a lashon tzarah, a term used for denoting troubles and pain. The Torah is teaching us that when a Jew ascends to gedulah, distinction, at a time when Klal Yisrael is experiencing a tzarah, he should not say, Shalom alai nafshi, "Peace is with me," or, "Whew! I am not affected by this catastrophe." Rather, his attitude should be one of empathy, sharing in the pain of the klal, greater community. Moshe rose to gedulah during a period that was extremely painful to his brethren. Yet, he neither forgot about them, nor turned away his eye, ignoring their plight. He was one of them, and the distinction to which he arose was not going to infringe upon his relationship with Klal Yisrael. He empathized with their troubles and felt their pain. It was not simply another "growing up." It was "growing up" during a time of va'yehi, a period of trouble for his people. The Torah emphasizes his reaction - the reaction of a true Torah leader.

It is natural for a person to empathize when he is in the same predicament as his fellow who is suffering. When he is experiencing success, when the sun is shining in his face and joy fills his life, however, it is most difficult to feel the pain of one who is suffering. Moshe Rabbeinu modeled the way to do this. At a time when he was introduced to Pharaoh's royal palace, when he could have easily ignored the plight of the Jews, he chose to share in their pain, to be with them. He could have taken any position in the comfort and luxury of the palace. The "corner office" was his for the taking. Not Moshe, not Klal Yisrael's quintessential leader. He sought to be close to his brethren, to feel their pain, to work with them, to cry with them, to experience together with them the horrible slavery of Egypt.

The Ponovezer Rav, Horav Yosef Kahaneman, zl, was alone during the Holocaust. Far from his family and community, he went from place to place meeting disenfranchised Jews, encouraging them to maintain their faith, continue their prayer, and never to weaken their connection to the Almighty. He would give rousing speeches, his oratory moving, his weeping profound, his lament piercing the hearts of his listeners. Once, during one of his derashos, homilies, he broke out in bitter, uncontrolled weeping when he mentioned his own family and community in Ponovez. In the midst of his heart-rending cries he said, "Today is the Bar Mitzvah day of my youngest son. Where is he? Who knows if he is still alive?" After his speech, the people surrounded him and asked, "Rebbe, tell us about your son. Tell us about his brilliant mind, his incredible knowledge of Torah, his wonderful deeds." The Rav's answer was, "What should I tell you? How can I speak about my son when millions of Jews - men, women and children - are being slaughtered? What is the value of one young boy when untold numbers are dying?"

This was the attitude of a gadol b'Yisrael, Torah giant. Their pain was his pain. How could he think of himself when so many others were suffering? Thoughtfulness concerning others is something that any decent human should manifest. Feeling their pain as if it were one's own pain takes superhuman effort, but it can and should be done. The daughter of Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, once told him that she had purchased a new baby carriage. She wondered if her father, with his many acquaintances, knew of anyone who could use the old one. "I would like the mitzvah of passing it on to someone in need," she said.

R' Sholom replied, "Why not give some poor person the new one?"

This was gadlus. He understood that a poor person rarely receives something new, he is always relying on the goodness of others, expecting and getting used to receiving hand-me-downs. Why not make him feel good and give him something new? He knew how the poor felt, and he felt with them.

The Talmud in Taanis 20a relates that the students of Rav Ada bar Ahavah asked him in what merit he warranted arichas yamim, longevity. He replied that he had never rejoiced at the downfall of his fellowman. We wonder what is so special about his not taking a celebratory attitude to his friend's misfortune?

Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, explains that this concept applies in an instance in which his friend had sustained a tragedy which left his life a shambles. At the same time, his home was the scene of unprecedented joy, due to the fact that his only daughter, who had taken her time selecting "Mr. Right," was finally getting married. Clearly, he had every reason to celebrate boundlessly, to make a wedding that would leave a lasting impression for generations to come. Money was no object, since he had it, and what better way to spend it than on a wedding that had been anticipated for quite some time? In this case, he had every right to do as he pleased. Yet, he did not. He downplayed his own simchah, joyous affair, so as not to infringe on his friend's sorry affairs. In order not to hurt his friend, his neighbor, another member of his community, he minimized his own affair, de-emphasizing it in such a manner that it would not cause any ill feelings for his friend. He did not have to do this, but how could he think of himself when his friend was enshrouded in pain and sorrow? This is the meaning of feeling another person's pain. Sharing in another person's emotions - whether they are sorrowful or filled with joy - catalyzes longevity.

She opened it and saw the child, and lo! A crying boy. (2:6)

The Midrash Rabba tells us that the infant Moshe was by age a yeled, child, but his nature was like a naar, boy. In other words, the child's tendency to cry was controlled. It was the angel Gavriel that struck Moshe, so that he would cry loud and be heard by Princess Bisyah. When she heard his loud weeping, she took pity on him and took him out of the water. The Maharal m'Prague reiterates this idea in his Gur Aryeh, saying that Moshe's loud crying was "motivated" by Hashem Who wanted Bisyah to hear the infant. Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, derives an important lesson from here. Tears are an expression of emotion. Usually, these tears reflect pain, either physical or emotional. Tears can also be tears of joy, which are catalyzed by one's overwhelming response to happiness. Moshe Rabbeinu's tears were tears of pain, as he had been struck by an angel. He was, however, struck for a purpose: so that his tears would awaken the inner compassion within the Egyptian princess, and she would save him. His tears were tears of pain, but they generated salvation and brought joy.

Human nature dictates that when one is under intense pressure-- such as when he is tested by Hashem through illness, pain or other challenges to his welfare-- he begins to worry. As his anxiety intensifies, his worry increases. Often he begins to complain, "Why me?" "Why now?" "What did I do to deserve this?" These are normal reactions to troubling situations. If a person were to be able to pierce the heavens and observe the workings in the world of Truth, he would understand the reason for his pain, the source of misery, the purpose of his illness. Suddenly, he would discover that the troubles he was experiencing had replaced an even more painful challenge. Had he known this earlier, he certainly would have thanked the Almighty for His mercy in granting him his present nisayon, trial. In other words, we worry, we weep, we anguish, but we never bother to give Hashem the benefit of the doubt. The tears of sorrow can quickly be transformed into tears of joy by employing the tool of introspection.

We travel unaware through the road of life. While that is the way it is supposed to be, as such decisions are made in Heaven, why do most of us refuse to even think about a deeper meaning, a hidden message in life's occurrences? Why do we take it for granted that "good" things are totally good and "bad" things have a wholly negative connotation? The Navi in Yeshayah 12:1 says: "I thank You, Hashem, for You were angry at me, and now Your wrath has subsided and You have comforted me." The Talmud in Niddah 31A explains the meaning of this pasuk. It anthologizes it to two men who went on a business trip. One of them stepped on a sharp thorn. His reaction was the usual: he cursed; he yelled; he blamed everybody and anything for his misfortune. A week later, when he was informed that his colleague's ship had capsized, he offered his profound gratitude to the Almighty, realizing now that when he had stepped on the thorn, he had "gotten away easy." Hashem was kind to him by giving him what turned out to be a minor discomfort compared to what he could have received. The Talmud concludes with the statement that even the baal ha'ness, one who has experienced the miracle, is often unaware of its occurrence, simply because he neither thinks, nor looks. He is unaware until something happens. Then, he wakes up - and complains.

Moshe Rabbeinu cried as an infant because the angel was slapping him. While it was certainly painful, it was not why he was crying. Rav Zaitchik explains that Moshe's tears were tears of joy, tears of ecstasy, because he knew that these tears would bring about his salvation. He understood that just because an individual has been hit it does not mean that he has to cry in pain. The slap he receives might quite possibly open the door to his salvation. It did for Moshe. Hence, his tears were tears of joy.

And when he sees you, he will rejoice in his heart. (4:14)

Chazal teach us that in the merit of Aharon's open, embracing heart, he warranted to wear the Choshen HaMishpat, Breastplate, over his heart. The heart that was overjoyed together with the gedulah, distinction, that was accorded to his younger brother, Moshe Rabbeinu, should wear the Urim V'Tumim. We derive from here that from a machshavah tovah, good thought, which was the result of a middah tovah, good character trait, Aharon HaKohen merited the kedushas Kehunah,holiness that is associated with the Priesthood. He merited so many mitzvos-- offering the korbanos, sacrifices, entering into the Holy Sanctuary and serving the spiritual needs of Klal Yisrael-- all as a result of what seems to be a minor act. He was a nice man. He was sincerely happy for Moshe. This reaction was quite different from that of Korach, who created the first major rebellion in order to impugn Moshe and Aharon's leadership. His perverted sense of values clouded his perception of the Priesthood and the character refinement and personal sanctity that it required to possess in order to ascend to this lofty position.

Moshe's reaction to his new position was equally impressive: he did not want it if it meant infringing on his older brother's role. He refused to compete against Aharon - even if it meant giving up everything such as leading the Jews out of Egypt, Splitting the Red Sea and all of its accompanying miracles, and the Giving of the Torah. We wonder why Moshe would be prepared to give up all of this. These were the most seminal spiritual events in Klal Yisrael's history - epoch-making experiences. How could he give all of this up simply because it might bother Aharon?

Horav Reuven Grozovsky, zl, explains that our quintessential leader, our Rabban Shel Kol Yisrael, was acutely aware that the Torah is established only on the foundation of middos tovos, refined character traits. The reason for this is: Derech eretz kadmah l'Torah - Respect and obedience /manners, etiquette and human decency, precede Torah. One cannot enter into the traklin, drawing room, of Torah without first passing through the vestibule of derech eretz. Torah is the most elevated level in the development of man. One cannot ascend the ladder; he cannot reach the top, unless he has worked his way up on the rungs of middos tovos, good character traits.

One who is not concerned about the pain of his friend, his inner emotions, his feelings, cannot appreciate the crown of Torah. Forty-eight steps lead to achieving the Torah's wisdom, towards acquiring Torah. Among them are included many aspects of human relationships.

Indeed, Moshe's relationship with Hashem, his closeness with the Almighty, was catalyzed by and predicated on the foundation of feeling the pain of his fellow Jews. Chazal tell us that when Moshe went out and saw his brethren enslaved in bitter, back-breaking labor, suffering constant beating from their Egyptian taskmasters, he joined with them. He cried out, "If I could die for you, I would." Moshe began to work with the mortar, which is one of the most physically demanding forms of labor. Hashem told Moshe, "You abandoned your affairs and went to share in Klal Yisrael's burden. You acted with them as a brother, making their labor your labor, their toil your toil. In return, I will leave the elyonim, upper worlds, and descend to the lower world of human beings to converse with you." We see that Moshe became the av ha'neviim, father of the prophets, the greatest prophet, in a league all to himself, only because he took note of and reacted to his brethren's pain. The stronger the foundation, the more stable and enduring is the edifice. Moshe's nevuah was established on a foundation of brotherly love, all elements of middos tovos which comprise the foundation of derech eretz. One who does not possess the quality of derech eretz in its all-encompassing role-- representing middos tovos, decency, obedience and respect for others-- will not make it as a true ben Torah. While he might achieve lofty levels of scholarship, this does not make him a ben Torah.

A group of yeshiva students were sent by Horav Isser Zalman Meltzer, zl, to Horav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zl, the venerable Alter m'Slobadka. Rav Isser Zalman wanted this elite group to hear some shmuessen, ethical discourses, from the famed baal mussar, ethicist, and he also wanted the Alter to render his opinion concerning his students. After a few days, the Alter sent back the following message: "For the most part, I was very impressed. One student, however, whose reputation for brilliance precedes him, does not warrant accolades. In fact, I feel that, unfortunately, nothing much will become of him."

Rav Isser Zalman was considerably taken aback with this report, and he asked the Alter for the reason behind his remarks. The Alter replied, "When the students were served a cup of tea, some of the sugar spilled onto the tablecloth. This young man dipped his finger into the sugar and licked his finger. Clearly, he lacks the quality of derech eretz. This is enough for me to make a decision about him. His lack of derech eretz is a defining point in his character."

Regrettably, the Alter's words proved right. A few years later, the young man became a rav in a small town. A short while later he was forced to leave this post and instead assume a position as a judge. A few years later, it became public knowledge that as a judge, he had validated, for a price, a number of false documents. He was indicted and jailed, thus ending the bright future of a distinguished Torah scholar, all because he was missing the most important ingredient in his foundation of learning: derech eretz.

Va'ani Tefillah

Retzon yireiav yaaseh, v'es shavasam yishma v'yoshiem.
He will do the will of those who fear Him; He will hear their cries and save them.

Simply, this means that Hashem hears our pleas and He helps when it is appropriate. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, comments that he once heard an alternative explanation of this verse. Retzon yireiav yaaseh literally means Hashem "creates the will" of those who fear Him. In other words, the desires of yereim, G-d-fearing people, exist because Hashem causes them to have these desires. He inspires us to have correct and proper desires. Rav Schwab goes on to interpret this into the statement of Rabban Gamliel, who says in Pirkei Avos 2:4, Asei retzono ki'retzonecha, "Do His will as if it were your will." A person should perform every mitzvah with the same cheishek, desire, as if this is what he would want for himself. The reward for this is that Hashem will actually make you want what He wants.

Thus, the verse is saying: The reward of those who fear G-d will be that Hashem will make them want what He wants. Since such people only want what He wants, He will hear their pleas and respond favorably. They are in "agreement" regarding what "they" both want.

l'ilui nishmas ha'isha ha'chashuva
Rivka Tova Devora
bas R' Chaim Yosef Meir a"h
niftar 21 Teves 5760
Menachem Shmuel and Roiza Devora Solomon

In memory of Mrs. Toby Salamon a"h

Peninim on the Torah is in its 18th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

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