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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


I shall bring you to the land. (6:8)

Of the members of the generation that left Egypt, only two of 600,000 men actually entered Eretz Yisrael. Yehoshua and Calev ben Yefuneh were the only individuals who merited entry to the land. The Meshech Chochmah comments that all of the miracles and wonders that occurred in Egypt prior to the liberation - those on the Yam Suf and those during Klal Yisrael's forty-year sojourn in the wilderness - occurred so that two righteous people could reach the promised goal. Out of 600,000 people, only two attained the goal! The percentage is mind-boggling. Yet, the reality is before us.

There is a profound lesson to be derived. We should not despair when we see that those who adhere to the righteous path that was transmitted to us through the generations are in a great minority. Thousands upon thousands have died throughout the millennia out of a sense of conviction, a superhuman faith in the Almighty, that has transcended human understanding. They were few; they were a select minority; they were individuals who triumphed over adversity and challenge because they knew the truth, and they believed it would prevail. For that minority, for those select few, the light of Hashem that nurtures the seeds of Redemption will shine forth as it did for the two righteous people who entered Eretz Yisrael.

We also see the importance of the individual. Two people were worthy of all the miracles of the Egyptian redemption. The power of a single Jew is incredible, as evident from history. Indeed, the spiritual climate that we enjoy today is the result of the hard work, mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, and determination of a handful of people. The yeshivos and day schools that have educated and inspired thousands over the last sixty years were founded by a "few good men," who pursued their life's goal of establishing Torah chinuch, education, in this country. Is there a greater source of encouragement to those of our generation in which everyone is viewed as a number, not as a person? From the other perspective: If one person can achieve so much, then we will be taken to task for our lack of accomplishment - or, at least, for not trying.

Say to Aharon…stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt…and they shall become blood throughout the land of Egypt. (7:19)

Interestingly, Aharon, not Moshe, was designated to strike the river. Chazal attribute this to the fact that the river had protected Moshe as an infant when Yocheved, his mother, placed him upon it. From a perspective of gratitude, it would have been wrong for Moshe to be the vehicle for inflicting a plague on the river. Moshe would have had to strike the earth that protected him when he buried the Egyptian that he killed. Once again, Aharon initiated this plague. When we note the extent to which the Torah demands gratitude even to an inanimate object, we begin to realize the overriding importance for us to recognize and appreciate the benefits we receive from human beings. We must endeavor to understand the need to teach this lesson specifically in the context of the makos Mitzrayim, Egyptian plagues. Certainly, other areas of the Torah are just as appropriate for teaching this lesson. Furthermore, if it had been so important for Moshe Rabbeinu to personally administer the plagues, why did not Hashem Yisborach command him to initiate the plague without striking the water or the earth? The plague could have begun through Moshe without confronting the issue of ingratitude.

Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, derives from here a profound and pivotal lesson in emunah, faith, in Hashem. He cites the Chovas Halevavos who emphasizes the significance of unequivocal belief in Hashem, which is developed through one's reflection upon His creation and constant rulership of every aspect of the world. One must recognize the benefits that we receive from the Almighty, expressing constant gratitude to Him for His favors. Our emunah in Hashem must generate a sense of hakoras hatov, appreciation. Moreover, as Horav Solomon notes, hakoras hatov and emunah complement one another. The hakoras hatov we demonstrate to Hashem is consistent with our level of emunah. Our level of emunah is in consonance with our feelings of gratitude to the Almighty. In other words, gratitude is not simply a fine character trait; it is an integral component of emunah in Hashem Yisborach!

This lesson is derived from the first three plagues: Even the most incredible revelation of Hashem's might and Providence will not have lasting value as long as we do not develop the middah, character trait, of hakoras hatov, expressing gratitude. Only after this middah is integrated into our psyches can the lessons and experiences of hashgachah, Providence, effect us. The purpose of yetzias Mitzrayim, the exodus from Egypt, was to bring us closer to Hashem, to be able to serve Him and, ultimately, to receive His Torah. In His infinite wisdom, Hashem prepared the circumstances and initiated the ten plagues, so that Klal Yisrael would have a yediah berurah, clear knowledge, of His existence and supervision over the world. Similarly, He taught us the middah of hakoras hatov, because one complements the other. Moshe did not personally introduce the first three plagues because of the imperative to show appreciation - even to an inanimate object. Implicit in this statement is the realization that one must most certainly show appreciation to the Source of all good - Hashem. The appreciation they were to express to Hashem was to prepare them for the greatest moment - when they would experience the Revelation of Hashem and the Giving of the Torah. Hakoras hatov is a character trait that defines one's mentchlichkeit, humanity. Indeed, our greatest gedolim, Torah giants, were individuals who exemplified this character trait. They endeavored to be certain that they showed their appreciation to anyone from whom they benefited.

The Chofetz Chaim once fainted in the bathhouse. He was alone, unconscious in the bathhouse, when by chance the attendant entered the room. Immediately, the man did everything to revive the Chofetz Chaim. After a little while, he succeeded. One cannot imagine the Chofetz Chaim's gratitude to this simple man who happened to be in the right place at the right time. For the rest of his life, the attendant was an honored guest of the Chofetz Chaim, always standing in the front of the shul by his side. During every festival, the Chofetz Chaim drank "l'chaim" with him, kissing him on the forehead, blessing him that he would attain longevity - even greater than the Chofetz Chaim. This man lived to be over ninety, passing away shortly after the Chofetz Chaim.

Horav Simcha Zissel, zl, m'Kelm paused for a few minutes upon coming home from shul every Friday night - to observe and reflect upon the Shabbos preparations, the beautifully set table, and the delicacies that his wife had prepared for Shabbos. His wife had exerted considerable effort to provide him with an ambiance to enhance the spirituality of Shabbos Kodesh. He wanted to savor this moment, so that his appreciation of her actions would be accordingly appropriate.

For some, it was a lifelong display of gratitude; for others, it was a moment of reflection; for yet others, it was the ability to transcend personal pain and grief long enough to offer a few words of thanks. Soon after Horav Yitzchak Hutner, zl, was told the sad news of his wife's passing, he sought out the chief physician who had attended to her. We can imagine the doctor's state of mind as he was approached by this gadol, moments after he had lost his wife. Horav Hutner, pointing to the kriah, tear in his frock, said, "See, I have just torn kriah and made the blessing of Dayon Ha'Emes, the true Judge, accepting the Almighty's judgement. Yet, I would like to thank you for all you have done for my wife." The doctor stood there dumbfounded. Never had he heard such words emanating from a grieving husband so soon after he had been left bereft of his life's partner.

The river shall swarm with frogs and they shall ascend and come into your palace…and of your people, and into your ovens and into your kneading bowl. (7:28)

The frogs were a hardy bunch. They fulfilled Hashem's command to the fullest, swarming all over Egypt. Some even "sacrificed" themselves for Hashem's command and entered the burning hot ovens. Miraculously, they did not die. Their mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, to fulfill Hashem's Divine decree, protected them from certain death. Indeed, Chazal teach us that Chananya, Mishael and Azaryah entered the fiery cauldron motivated by a kal v'chomer, a priori argument, derived from the Egyptian frogs. They said, "Frogs do not have a mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem, to sanctify Hashem's Name, by offering their lives for Him; yet, there were frogs who entered the burning ovens, even though they could not have gone elsewhere. Certainly Jews, who have this mitzvah, are obligated to enter the fiery cauldron and demonstrate love and uncompromising devotion to Hashem. The Maharsha questions Chazal's argument: After all, frogs do not have a mitzvah of "V'chai bohem," "and you shall live by them." In other words, they may give up their lives - a Jew may not, except under certain circumstances. The tzelem, image, that Nebuchadnezer had placed before them was not really an idol. They did not have to give up their lives. In fact, they probably should not have been willing to give up their lives.

Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, cites Rabbeinu Yona. He says that one who has sinned to the point that there is no hope for him can still obtain forgiveness by being mekadesh Shem Shomayim, sanctifying the Name of Heaven. Kiddush Hashem initiates a new bond with the Almighty; it begins a new relationship, a new connection with the Source of all life. The individual is now a new person. The old person is gone, a new person has appeared, who has been created through the vehicle of Kiddush Hashem.

The frogs that entered the ovens, who were prepared for certain death, emerged alive and well. This was not simply a reward for their commitment. It was the effect of Kiddush Hashem. They emerged alive because they were granted new life, not simply spared the old one. Chananya, Mishael, and Azaryah understood that to give up one's life Al Kiddush Hashem is, in effect, the greatest manifestation of "V'chai bohem." To give up one's life for the Almighty is to live; it is to connect with the true Source of life. V'chai bohem and Kiddush Hashem work in consonance with each other. Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah understood this when they were confronted with the challenge of what they should do. If they did not risk their lives, then they were not manifesting mesiras nefesh. If they did give up their lives, then they were not fulfilling "V'chai bohem." They saw that the frogs "lived" as a result of their willingness to give up their lives. They were reborn, their lives rejuvenated, as a direct result of their commitment to Hashem. They ran towards life. They received it. Chananya, Mishael, and Azaryah understood what they were required to do.

Whoever among the servants of Pharaoh chased his servants and his livestock to the houses. (9:20)

Later, when Klal Yisrael left Egypt, Pharaoh acted in typical fashion and decided to chase them to bring them back. Chazal question the source of his horses, since the animals had been killed during the plagues of dever, pestilence, and barad, hail. They explain that these horses were obtained from the "pious" Egyptians who feared Hashem and heeded His word. They kept their animals protected during the hailstorm. They now "offered" their horses to Pharaoh. This prompts Chazal to say, "The best of snakes, crush its head." In other words: Once a snake, always a snake. Even the snake that has achieved the appellation of "yarei Shomayim," G-d fearing, still has innate evil within him. We must endeavor to understand this anomaly. If he fears Heaven, how does he continue to perform his evil? How does he have the gall to go against Hashem? How do we reconcile the characteristics of G-d fearing and evil?

Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, comments that this is to be expected of the snake. This is his true nature. Even if he fears the Almighty, he does not alter his essence - the evil remains. Thus, the best snake, the G-d fearing snake, should be crushed. This is the simple way of looking at our G-d fearing snake. There is, however, a deeper lesson to be derived. As long as one does not change his essence, he will persist in spewing his venom; he will continue acting as a snake. His "nechoshius," serpentine character, manifests itself, overshadowing his external yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven. True fear of G-d is not superficial; it permeates one's essence, totally transforming his character and personality. He is no longer the same individual as he was before. A "snake" whose yiraas Shomayim is superficial remains a snake, about whom it is declared, "The best of snakes should have his head crushed."

Horav Ezrachi adds that ostensibly, those Egyptians who listened to Moshe were, for all intents and purposes, G-d fearing. Imagine their dilemma when Moshe warned Pharaoh concerning the upcoming plague. Surely Pharaoh scoffed at the warning. The socially acceptable response was to ignore Moshe, to reject his warnings, and to do everything possible to demonstrate disdain for Moshe and his warnings. How much resoluteness and fortitude it must have taken for this handful of G-d fearing Egyptians to withstand the pressures of their leader and peers, to evince almost superhuman strength to defy popular opinion. Yet, they did demonstrate this resolve. They feared G-d; they believed the plague would be destructive, and they did something to protect themselves. Nonetheless, they had no qualms about giving their horses that were spared to Pharaoh, so that he could chase the Jews. Their fear of G-d was superficial. They remained the snakes that they had always been.


1. A. Which one of Yosef's brothers lived the longest?
B. What began after his death?
2. A. Who initiated the first plague?
B. Why?
3. How do we see the "mesiras nefesh" of the frogs?
4. A. Which three plagues did Moshe initiate?
B. Which plague did Moshe and Aharon initiate together?
5. What was miraculous about the manner in which the hailstones were stopped?


1. A. Levi
B. The slavery.
2. A. Aharon.
B. The water had protected Moshe as an infant when he was placed in it. It was not appropriate hakoras hatov for Moshe to strike the very water that had benefited him.
3. The frogs swarmed Egypt. Some even entered the burning hot oven in order to fulfill Hashem's decree.
4. A. Hail, Barad; Locust, Arbeh; Darkness, Choshech.
B. Shechin, boils.
5. Even those hailstones that were in midair did not continue to fall.


Peninim on the Torah is in its 7th year of publication. The first five years have been published in book form.

The fifth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

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