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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And I appeared to Avraham and to Yitzchak and to Yaakov. (6:3)

Rashi adds, "And I appeared to the Avos, Patriarchs." Ostensibly, Rashi conveys a message with these words. Do we not know that Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov are the Avos? What is Rashi teaching us? Horav Meir zl m'Premishlan offers a compelling explanation. While Avraham ho'lid, gave birth, to Yitzchak, the Patriarch, Yitzchak did not rely on his exalted status as Avraham's son. He toiled both physically and spiritually to achieve his own individual status. He sought to become an Av, Patriarch, on his own accord - not based upon his father's zechus, merit. Likewise, Yaakov Avinu had an even greater opportunity to rely on his ancestry for distinction. He was raised by Yitzchak, and, until the age of fifteen, he even had the opportunity to learn from his grandfather, Avraham. Yet, he wanted to ascend his own ladder of spirituality. He wanted to achieve his own Av status.

This is what Rashi is telling us: "I appeared to the Avos." Each one earned his own unique status - on his own. Each one became an Av - not merely a son. There is an important lesson to be derived from this concept. Unity, community, friendship: these are all wonderful and glowing terms. They should not, however, be used as an excuse from taking a personal stand, from going forward and establishing our own personal initiative. It seems that we are always relying on the "other one" or waiting until "everybody gets together." The Avos taught us that one must act in his own right and undertake to serve the community personally. Waiting for everybody to get together or to work with a large group is often a justification for complacency. Likewise, one should earn his own distinction, rather than rely on the status of a distinguished pedigree. This is why the Avos, Patriarchs, were called "fathers."

And I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt; I shall rescue you from their service. (6:6)

The promise of redemption, of one day realizing an end to our tzaros, troubles, has been the source of hope that has maintained our nation during the thousands of years that we have been in exile. In a meaningful thesis on the concept of yesurim, suffering, Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, cites his father-in-law, Horav Yosef Elyashuv, Shlita, who relates in the name of Horav Yehonasan Eibshitz, zl, an important principle concerning yesurim. In the Talmud Berachos 7b, Chazal wonder how David HaMelech, who was being pursued by his son Avshalom, who sought to kill him was able to write Psalm 3 which begins, Mizmor l'Dovid b'varcho mipn'e Avshalom b'no, "A song to David, as he flees from Avshalom, his son." Why does the Psalmist use the word mizmor, a song? He should have said, Kinah l'David, "a lamentation to David." Having one's own son intent on murdering him is not a cause for song.

The Talmud replies that this may be compared to a person who has a debt. Obviously, until he pays off the debt, he is depressed. Once the debt has been satisfied, he is happy once again. Likewise, Hashem informed David HaMelech, "I will raise up evil against you from your house." David was despondent, not knowing who would be the "evil." Would it be a slave or a low, base individual who would not be compassionate towards him? When David saw that it was none other than his own flesh and blood, he was happy. Knowing that a son does not kill his father, he was able to write the Psalm as a mizmor, a song." Rav Yehonasan adds, "While Avshalom may be David's son, and a son does not kill his father, nevertheless this son was intent on killing his father. So, from what did David benefit by being pursued by his son?"

Rav Elyashiv explains that Rav Yehonasan Eibeshitz is teaching us an important principle concerning avodas Hashem, serving the Almighty. There are two forms of yesurim, sufferings, that Hashem sends to man. One comes as a form of punishment, which is to purify him in order to atone for his sin. This form of yesurim is given with compassion. It indicates that Hashem still cares about him and wants to help him improve in order to return to his previous spiritual plateau.

Second, is the situation in which man has angered Hashem so much that Hashem flings him away from His Presence. Hashem wants nothing to do with this person. He is now under the domain of the laws of nature. Whatever happens - happens. Hashem will not intervene. This is similar to a father who is distressed by his son's obnoxious behavior. Having tried one form of discipline after another, the father finally gives up and throws his son out. He no longer cares. The son can now do what he wants. His father will not intervene. The bridge to return is gone.

How does one distinguish between those two forms of yesurim? How does one know if he is still under Hashem's protection? It depends on the nature of the affliction. If it is under the guise of a natural event, an illness that is not uncommon, a disaster that falls under the heading of an accepted, natural occurrence, this is an indication that Hashem has released him. Hashem has handed him over to the realm of nature. If, however, his suffering is unnatural, if his troubles are without precedent, they indicate that Hashem has involved Himself. Hashem cares, and He wants to cleanse him of sin.

This is why David HaMelech "sang." True, he was fleeing his own son. He was in constant danger lest Avshalom capture and kill him. This fear is what gave David so much solace. There is nothing as unnatural as having one's own flesh and blood intent on murdering him. It is bizarre for a son to want to kill his father. This inanity demonstrated to David that this was a Heavenly decree. It demonstrated that Hashem still cared for him. In gratitude, he sang to Hashem. Yes, I am being chased. Yes, my life is in danger. Now, however, I know that my Father in Heaven has not forsaken me.

Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon and commanded them to be Bnei Yisrael. (6:13)

What were they commanded to do? In the Talmud Yerushalmi Rosh Hashanah (3:5), Chazal comment that at this point Moshe - was instructed to command Klal Yisrael that once they were liberated and had their own home, they were to free their slaves. A very important mitzvah, no doubt, but was there no other time more suitable to inform them of this mitzvah? Surely, they must have had other actions to prioritize.

Someone who is under intense pressure, or is confronted with a distressful situation can react in either of two ways: he can either be so preoccupied with his own adversity that he has no time or patience for others; or he can identify with the plight of others. He can now feel their pain and understand their deprivation. Quite possibly, this is the underlying reason for informing Klal Yisrael of the mitzvah of shiluach avadim, emancipation of slaves - specifically at a time when they were personally undergoing great travail. This was the time when they could empathize with the slave. They knew his suffering, his humiliation, his need to be free and independent. When we undergo a painful situation, a period of travail, an illness or any difficulty, we should take advantage of the suffering and utilize it to commit ourselves to easing the plight of others in distress.

When Pharaoh speaks to you saying, "Provide a wonder for yourselves," you shall say to Aharon, "Take your staff and cast it down before Pharaoh - it will become a snake." (7:9)

In Hashem's conversation with Moshe and Aharon, He related that when Pharaoh says, "Provide a wonder for yourselves," Aharon should be prepared to throw down his staff. Pharaoh's selection of words is enigmatic. Why did he say, "Provide a wonder for yourselves?" Are they the ones in need of a wonder? It is Pharaoh that needs to be impressed - not Moshe and Aharon. This question is asked by the Rebbe, Horav Elimelech,zl, m'Liszensk. He notes a similar anomaly concerning the navi sheker, false prophet. In Devarim 13:2 the Torah writes, "If there should stand in your midst a prophet or a dreamer of a dream, and he will produce to you a sign or a wonder," the false prophet produces a sign for others, while the Navi emes, true prophet, produces a sign for himself. Why?

Rav Elimelech explains that the false prophet is false, and so that he cannot really produce a true wonder. All he can do is put on a show. He can provide an illusion to fool people into believing that he has supernatural powers. Everybody is fooled except for one person: the false prophet. He knows the truth. Therefore, when he tenders a sign or wonder, the only ones who are impressed are the ones whom he is attempting to fool. He is not impressed, because he knows the truth: it is all fake.

Conversely, the Navi emes, such as Moshe Rabbeinu, who facilitates the transformation of a wooden staff into a living snake, was just as captivated by this awesome wonder as everyone else. Thus, it says, "Provide for yourselves a wonder."

There is a powerful lesson to be derived from here. The true tzaddik who is petitioned for a blessing will not make empty promises in return. He will promise to supplicate Hashem, to storm the Heavens on behalf of the petitioner, but he cannot promise what is not in his hands to accomplish. Everything is in the hands of the Almighty. We have no idea what His calculations are concerning a given situation. We can only pray and hope. We cannot promise for certain as if we have the power to carry out the promise.

The Smag writes that there is a mitzvah in the Torah that, "You should know in your heart that just as a father will chastise his son, so Hashem, your G-d, chastises you." (Devarim 8:5) We are thereby enjoined to accept Hashem's Divine decree with love, even if it is painful. This decree is the edict of a loving Father who has His reasons for meting out this decree. True, one may and should pray for mercy, but to attempt to "tie the hands of the Almighty" with demands is to attempt to undermine His will.

If so, why are we permitted to pray to Hashem to revoke a negative decree? After all, if it is all for our benefit, we should not mix in and possibly circumvent what is to be beneficial to us. The Baal HaSulam explains that the sole purpose of troubles is to purify us and purge us of anything negative in order to bring us closer to Hashem. This in itself is also the underlying purpose of prayer. Therefore, if our tefillos, prayers, catalyze the necessary transformation within us that is needed to bring us closer to Hashem, there will no longer be any need to have yesurim, painful decrees.

It is related that the Baal Shem Tov once came to visit someone who was ill and he noticed the Malach ha'Maves, Angel of Death, standing near the head of the bed. The Baal Shem Tov looked at the Angel of Death negatively as if he was about to rebuke him, chasing the angel away. At that moment, a decree came forth from Heaven declaring that the Baal Shem has lost his portion in Olam Habah, the World to Come, because he drove away one of Hashem's emissaries during a mission. Upon hearing this Heavenly report, the Baal Shem expressed his joy at now being availed to serve Hashem without reward, simply l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven. As soon as the Baal Shem said this, he was notified that in response to his selfless devotion to Hashem, his Olam Habah was being returned.

As a form of "amends," the Baal Shem explained his behavior vis-a-vis the Malach Ha'Maves. Apparently, when he went to visit the sick person he was under the impression that his illness had not progressed to the point that he was at death's door. When he saw the Angel of Death, he was taken aback with his presence, only because it now dawned on him that his friend was near death. In no way had he intended to involve himself by interfering with Hashem's decrees. He would never "impose" upon Hashem to rescind a decree. In fact, when Choni Ha'Magel drew a circle and declared that he would not leave the circle until Hashem sent rain, Shimon ben Shetach, who was the Nasi, Prince of Yisrael, said that he was worthy of being excommunicated.

In summation, tzaddikim are certainly granted awesome powers from Hashem. They, however, understand that there is a time and place for these powers to be exercised. They do not impose the rule of tzaddik gozez v'HaKodesh Baruch Hu mekayaim, "a righteous person decrees and Hashem carries out (his dercree)," unless they perceive that it is spiritually correct and necessary. They are granted a sublime gift which they know how and when to use appropriately.

There shall be blood throughout the land of Egypt, even in the wooden and stone vessels. (7:19)

In Sefer Bereishis (15:14), Hashem notified Avraham Avinu, "But also the nation they shall serve, I shall judge." Hashem told him about the exile, and He gave him a timetable for his descendants' eventual release from slavery. He also added that the nation that indentured them would not go unpunished. He would deal with them. The Egyptians sustained ten plagues that devastated them and their country. Clearly, Hashem had a reason for the sequential order of the plagues. Blood was the first plague. Obviously, the first plague was to convey a powerful, defining message concerning the Egyptians' nefarious behavior and treatment of the Jews. It was to serve as an explanation to the Egyptians as to exactly wherein lay their sin and the corruption of their ways. What does the plague of blood teach? How does it set the tone for conveying to the Egyptians that what they believed was appropriate was actually absolute evil, that what they preached was correct was totally wrong?

Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, explains that the plague of blood focused on the Egyptian mindset, revealing its hypocrisy. The Egyptians slaughtered Jewish infants, so that Pharaoh could bathe in their blood. They drowned Jewish babies, or used them as a supplement to the bricks and mortar for their construction. Can anyone think of a more heinous behavior than the brutal murder of infants? Yet, the Egyptian society did have laws and rules. They had social classes with various laws that addressed social behavior. Certainly, the country had legislation that addressed the needs of its citizenry. These laws were, to the Egyptian mindset, wellsprings of pure life-sustaining water that validated the entire Egyptian lifestyle. Apparently, their behavior vis-?-vis the Jewish slaves was not considered anomalous to their lifestyle. Their evil treatment of the Jews had nothing to do with the personal lifestyle of the Egyptians.

The Egyptians viewed themselves as citizens of a cultured nation with an affinity for the arts and sciences. Their ill treatment of the Jews neither had an effect on, nor was it a reflection of, their culture. So they thought. So they were led to believe. They thought that killing Jews was an intrinsic necessity for the betterment of their country. It did not paint them as evil. The lesson of the first plague was compelling. What the Egyptians had until now thought was pure water was far from pure - and certainly not water. The lifestyle they had adopted was a lifestyle of blood. When they saw blood in the streets, they ran home to the shelter of their private life. There, it was all water, but when they came home, they found blood. This taught them a lesson: one cannot be a partial murderer. You cannot murder in the street and be a fine, decent citizen at home. You cannot gas Jews in the concentration camp and then go home to play ball with your children. It is all murder. It is all blood. Egypt was a country replete with evil. Even what they presented as good was evil, because one is either completely good or completely evil.

An individual once lost his quarter in a pay phone. He felt that the phone company was now indebted to him. A few days later, he came upon a broken pay phone, which "allowed" him to make a free call. He felt he had the right to use the phone since, after all, the phone company "owed" him. He presented his query to the Steipler Rav, zl,: Was he allowed to make one call for free on this phone so that he would "collect" his debt from the phone company?

The Rav cited the Talmud in Berachos 5b which posits that one who steals from a ganav, thief, tastes the flavor of geneivah. In other words, while he cannot be prosecuted for his actions, his psyche has been tainted. Thus, while it was permissible to make that one call, he was nonetheless allowing himself to taste the flavor of stealing and that was unpardonable. His actions would have a devastating negative effect on his spiritual dimension.

Human nature induces us to always find a way to justify our behavior. Who would ever think of conceding error? Therefore, if something bothers us, or we are faced with a challenge that just does not seem to dissipate, we attempt to vindicate whatever action we might undertake legally, even if it is unethical. We can, however, reign over human nature. That is what a Torah life is all about.

Shortly after the Titanic tragedy, two pictures appeared in one of the national newspapers. The first showed the ship with an open gash ripped into its side, helplessly about to sink. The picture bore the following caption beneath it: "The weakness of man, the supremacy of nature."

The second picture portrayed the passengers stepping back to allow the last remaining place on a lifeboat to go to a young woman with a baby in her arms. Beneath this picture was the following caption: "The weakness of nature, the supremacy of man." Human nature does not have to control our lives. Yes, we can triumph over our natural tendencies. Torah gives us the strength and resolution to do what is spiritually and halachically correct. Therefore, we should refuse to accept the way we act until we have successfully expunged the inappropriate behavior or feelings we harbor within ourselves. By justifying it, we only fall prey to nature and allow the supremacy of the human spirit to fall into an abyss.

Va'ani Tefillah

Kol davar shehayah b'klal v'yatza liton toan echad shehu kinyano. Kol davar shehayah b'klal v'yatza liton toan acheir shelo k'inyano

Anything that was included in a general statement, but was then singled out to discuss a provision similar to the general category: Anything that was included in a general statement, but was then singled out to discuss a provision not similar to the general category:

At times a principle is singled out from among the general statement, as we find concerning nigei ohr u'basar, the various plagues affecting the skin or flesh of a person. The plagues of shechin, inflammation, or michveh, a burn on the skin, are treated as precursors of tzaraas, spiritual leprosy. Once they have completely healed and the telltale signs indicating tzaraas appear, the Kohen is asked to determine if this is a plague that renders the person tamei, ritually contaminated or not. Since they have been singled out from the klal, the general rule of nigei basar, a kula, alleviation, or leniency, is applied to them to the effect that they are to be declared tahor, ritually clean, after the first week, if they remain unchanged in color during the first week. In the case of the plagues of the flesh, a mandatory second week was imposed. Since the Torah singles them out, the chumra, stringency, which applies to the other plagues does not apply to them. On the other hand, if the principle that is singled out differs completely from the general statement, such as nigei rosh o'zakan, plagues on the head or beard, they become tamei saar tzahuv, with a goldlike hair, but not through saar lavan, white hair. This is unlike other skin plagues whereby a white hair effects tumah and a golden hair does not. Therefore, no rule of kula, leniency, or chumrah, stringency, applies to them.

l'zechor nishmas
Yaakov Shimon ben Yisrael Tzvi z"l

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