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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Who takes you out from under the burdens of Egypt. (6:7)

The word sivlos, which is translated as "burdens," is used by the commentators (Kotzker Rebbe, zl) to connote a sense of complacency in adapting to slavery. Thus, sivlos is connected to savlanus, patience, reticence. The Jews had become content, accepting their situation in life, obsequiously willing to submit to being Egyptian slaves. Furthermore, they had become part of Egyptian culture to the point that it had become their culture, their mindset. The Egyptian way of life was not foreign to them; it was not an anathema. It was the way they were willing to live. This bespeaks the galus, exile, mindset to which the Jews in Egypt were subject. In this sense, Hashem not only redeemed us from Egypt; He expunged Egypt from within us.

I have always been bothered by this exegesis. Among the z'chusim, merits, for warranting our redemption were: we did not change our Hebrew names; we retained our Hebrew language; and we dressed in the same distinctive manner which characterized us in our original home. How then did we adopt the Egyptian culture? We did not speak like Egyptians; dress like Egyptians; or take Egyptian names. It seems that we did preserve our "Jewishness."

Apparently, being "Jewish" means more than having a Hebrew name, speaking the language and maintaining a distinctive mode of dress. It is how we think that determines our essence. If one dresses like a Jew, but thinks like a goy; speaks like a Jew, but acts like a gentile; has a Jewish name, but limits his Jewishness to these traits, he retains Egypt within himself.

In contemporary society, we dress differently, speak differently, even converse in a different language. Can we assert, however, that our lifestyle, our mindset, is really different from those around us? If our adherence to the Jewish way of life is external, but our consciousness is state of the art American, we maintain galus within us. Acting outwardly yeshivish, but thinking inwardly "worldly" does not render us "yeshivish," "chassidish," or much of anything Jewish for that matter.

But they did not listen to Moshe, because of shortness of breath and hard work… "Behold Bnei Yisrael have not listened to me, so how will Pharaoh listen to me? And I have sealed lips!" (6:9,12)

Rashi observes that Moshe Rabbeinu's response to Hashem is considered one of the ten kal v'chomer arguments to be found in the Torah. Kal v'chomer translated literally means, "light and weighty." This refers to the extrapolation from a minor premise to a major one. Thus, Moshe argues, "Behold the Jews (who would want any opportunity to leave) did not listen to me, so how can You expect Pharaoh to listen?" The commentators question this kal v'chomer, since the Torah had already given a reason for the refusal of the people to listen. They had already given up. The persecution had taken its toll on their emotions. They were short of breath and overworked. The bondage had already gone too far; the people had lost hope.

Additionally, the commentators are troubled by Moshe's extreme reluctance to go to Egypt to redeem Bnei Yisrael. One does not say "no" to Hashem. This is especially true of the adon ha'Neviim, master of Prophets, the one about who Hashem attests, "In My entire house, he is the trusted one. Mouth to mouth do I speak to him, in a clear vision and not in riddles" (Bamidbar 12:7). Such greatness; such trust; yet this very same Moshe said "no" to Hashem!

Furthermore, earlier we find Moshe telling Hashem, Lo ish devarim anochi, "I am not a man of words, not since yesterday, nor since the day before yesterday, nor since You first spoke to Your servant (4:10)." Where do we find that Hashem had previously spoken to Moshe?

Last, why is it that when Hashem sent Moshe to redeem the Jewish People, Moshe was reluctant to accept the mission; yet, when he was sent to accept the Torah, he did not display any of his earlier humility. He did not say, "Who am I (that I should go to Pharaoh)?" (Shemos 3:11).

In his inimitable manner, Horav Pinchas Friedman, Shlita, explains this with a yesod, Kabbalistic principle, rendered by the Rema m'Panu. When Hashem created Adam HaRishon, Primordial Man, He created him with two significant organs: kaneh, trachea/windpipe; and veshet, food pipe/esophagus. The function of the trachea is to produce speech, allowing for thought to be expressed verbally: V'dbarta bam, "And you shall speak in them"; Bam yeish lecha reshus l'daber v'lo bidevarim achairim, "In them you have permission to speak, but not in other things" (Yoma 19b). This teaches us that speech was granted to us for the purpose of Torah study or any act which leads up to Torah study. The function of the esophagus is to ingest food and beverage into the body in order to sustain the person.

As soon as Hashem created man, He immediately gave him various mitzvos, both positive and prohibitive, which are related to the veshet, esophagus. Adam was allowed to eat from a certain tree and prohibited from eatimg from another tree. Since Adam ate from the Eitz HaDaas, Tree of Knowledge, he blemished the veshet, creating a klipah, "outer shell" which is the esoteric symbol of an evil covering preventing the flow of good from reaching its destination. His trachea was not affected when he ate of the forbidden fruit. Nonetheless, when he blamed Chavah, including Hashem as her Creator in the equation, he was kafar b'tovah, acted ungraciously, manifesting a lack of hakoras hatov, gratitude; in so doing, he blemished the trachea which allows speech. Thus, Adam's koach ha'dibbur, ability to speak, became nifgam, tainted. The neshamah, soul, of Adam HaRishon included within it the source of every neshamah to be created thereafter. Different parts of his body, every organ, membrane, limb - even his hair- all provided a source from which every later neshamah would be derived.

The Rema M'Panu posits that the shoresh, source, of Moshe's neshamah was Adam's windpipe. Realizing that one of his primary organs had already been compromised, Moshe took extreme care to protect the other one, his veshet, food pipe, from ingesting any food that was not absolutely spiritually impeccable. This is what Hashem alluded to when He said, "In My entire house, he is the trusted one." Moshe viewed anything inappropriate as representing the sin of eating of the Eitz HaDaas. Thus, Moshe was the perfect individual through whom to channel the Heavenly Bread, Manna, to the Jewish nation in the desert. When Moshe ascended Har Sinai and remained there for forty days and nights, he ate no tangible food, subsisting solely on the ziv haShechinah, shine of the Divine Presence. Furthermore, since the "Moshe aspect" of Adam's neshamah had not listened to Chavah, and, thus, did not eat of the Tree of Knowledge, he was permitted to separate from his wife, Tziporah, in preparation for the Giving of the Torah. Having led a perfect life, he was able and permitted to continue doing so.

Nonetheless, Moshe's ability to speak was slightly flawed, since, as part of Adam HaRishon, he did not prevent the other neshamos included therein to eat of the Eitz HaDaas. Because he did not prevent the sin from occurring, he was compelled to flee to Midyan, parallel to the exile imposed on one who kills unintentionally. When Pharaoh's executioner was about to kill Moshe by severing his neck, he was saved, his neck turning into stone. Despite the fact that sound emanates through the neck, since it remained pure when "he" did not eat from the Eitz HaDaas, he was protected from death. Understandably, much more can be said and explained as a result of this incredibly novel principle, but I will instead return to respond to our earlier question.

Moshe Rabbeinu viewed his mission to teach Torah to Klal Yisrael as a form of penance for not having screamed out to prevent the sin of eating from the Eitz HaDaas. Speaking divrei Torah, words of Torah, would correct his original spiritual mishap. Thus, prior to the Giving of the Torah, Moshe had difficulty speaking. It was his way of repairing the spiritual flaw created by his silence during the sin of the Eitz HaDaas. When he gave Klal Yisrael the Torah, Moshe's "tongue" was healed.

As we prepare to address the previous difficulties in explaining Moshe's reluctance to go to Egypt, Rav Friedman cites the Arizal who illuminates for us an entirely new perspective for understanding galus Mitzrayim, the Egyptian exile. In his Shaar HaPesukim, Parashas Shemos, the Arizal explains that all of the neshamos who experienced the terrible ordeal in Egypt had been originally components of Adam HaRishon's neshamah which ate of the Eitz HaDaas. Thus, they were relegated to undergo various gilgulim, transmigrations of the soul, during which the taint on their neshamos would be expunged.

Their first sojourn into this world was in the neshamos of the generation of the Flood. The taint was too deeply imbedded in them, causing them to sin and be forced to leave this world during the Flood. The Dor Haflagah, Generation of the Dispersal, was their next chance. They did not fare very well there, so they were sent to Sodom. We all know what happened there. Their last chance was galus Mitzrayim. Two hundred and ten years of brutal persecution took its toll on them, and they cleaned their slate, so to speak. Additionally, through the various persecutions, they were able to atone for the sins which led to the Flood and Dispersal. They were once again punished through the medium of water when their male children were being flung into the Nile. The bricks and pyramids which they built atoned for the bricks which comprised the Tower of Bavel. Moshe redeemed them from Egypt, since his neshamah had never sinned in Gan Eden. Moshe was compared to all of Klal Yisrael, who, after four exiles, was now ready to receive the Torah.

Rav Friedman now explains Moshe's refusal to lead the Jews out of Egypt. While it is true that his neshamah had not participated in Adam's sin, he blamed himself for not protesting, for not "opening his mouth" to stop the sin from taking place. Thus, he said to Hashem, "I was not an ish devarim, person who speaks (takes a stand) from "way back," which is a reference to Gan Eden. "How could I be the one to serve as Klal Yisrael's leader? I am myself far from perfect!"

Hashem responded to Moshe that, by teaching Torah to Klal Yisrael, all would be cleansed; all would be forgiven. We now understand the profound meaning of the pasuk V'ha'ish Moshe anav mikol ha'adam, "And the man Moshe was more humble than any man" (Bamidbar 12:3). Moshe considered himself to be lower than any component of Adam HaRishon, since he did not speak up and prevent the sin from occurring. So much more can be said based upon this principle. I have selected this dvar Torah to demonstrate the many profundities of the Torah which elude us and which provide so much meaning in understanding the questions which challenge us throughout life.

Amram took his aunt, Yocheved, as a wife. (6:20)

As a general rule, we do not find many women's names mentioned in the Torah. Mentioning Yocheved's name is, therefore, unanticipated and gives us food for thought. Yocheved gave birth to three pillars of Judaism, leaders who nurtured our nation during its forty-year sojourn in the wilderness, but is this the primary source of her distinction? Horav Arye Leib Heyman, zl, posits that Levi ben Yaakov Avinu named his daughter - as well as his sons - with names that correlated to the mechiras Yosef, the sale of Yosef. He felt a greater sense of guilt and responsibility, since his father had distinguished him from the rest of the family as the one who would strive for spiritual ascendance. Apparently, the sale of Yosef was a far cry from spiritually commendable. He was not proud of his role in that debacle.

The name of Levi's first son, Gershon, is derived from geirus, being a stranger; Kehas is derived from hakheh es shinav (blunt his teeth), referring to an inability to speak, having nothing to say/no excuses; Merari is derived from mar, bitterness. Levi neither wanted to ignore nor to forget the role he played in the sale of Yosef. Yocheved is a name which begins with yud and vav, two of the letters which comprise Hashem's Name. This implies the hope that Hashem's Name would rest upon this child. The last letters of her name spell kavod, honor. Levi was acutely aware of the secret of his daughter's neshamah. He knew that her delicate soul was destined to glorify and give reverence to the Almighty via her personal actions on behalf of the Jewish nation and through the actions of her two sons and daughter.

By her actions, Yocheved indicated that Hashem's command to sustain the Jewish infants carried more weight (kaveid) than Pharaoh's decree. Additionally, Yocheved brought two sons who personified love and honor for Hashem into this world. The admiration and respect one manifested in the other was truly unique. They understood the meaning of kavod.

Yocheved was born as Yaakov Avinu, together with his family, passed within the walls of Egypt. Rav Heyman posits that this was certainly no coincidence. He suggests that Yocheved was born "between the walls" to allude to the idea that, within her lay hidden the key to the redemption of Klal Yisrael from Egypt. She rebelled against Pharaoh when she refused to kill the Jewish babies. Her sons stood at the helm of the nation as their redeemers from Egyptian bondage. Ibn Ezra explains why, when the Jewish People stood at the banks of the Red Sea with the Egyptians swiftly approaching on their flanks, they expressed such fear of their tormentors. They were overcome with a slave mentality. This was indicated by the fact that only one fifth of the nation left the country. The other four-fifths did not want to leave. Indeed, even this one-fifth did not enter Eretz Yisrael, because these people were simply just not ready to eliminate Egyptian servitude from their consciousnesses. Had Yocheved been born in Egypt, she, too, would have fared a similar mindset; thus, she would have been unable to produce sons who could serve as Klal Yisrael's redeemers.

Rav Heyman continues with his perspective on the profound personality of Yocheved. Rashi teaches (ibid 2:1) that Yocheved was one hundred and thirty years old when she gave birth to Moshe Rabbeinu. One other woman, Chavah, gave birth to her third son, Shes, at the age of one hundred and thirty. We can identify five similarities between Moshe and Shes. They were both their parents' third child. They were both born after their father had separated from their mother. Adam separated from Chavah following the sin of eating from the Eitz HaDaas. Amram separated from Yocheved as a result of Pharaoh's decree to kill the Jewish male infants. Both Amram and his predecessor Adam returned to their wives following an admonishment they had received from a woman. Amram acquiesced to the compelling argument of his daughter Miriam. In his commentary to Bereishis 4:25, Rashi writes that it was Adah and Tzilah, the wives of Lemech, who convinced Adam to return to Chavah. Both Shes and Moshe had the same physical countenance, coinciding with that of Adam HaRishon. This attests to their unique greatness. Last, both Shes and Moshe represented a renewed hope for the world following a painful experience. Shes was born after Hevel was killed by Kayin, and Kayin was banished from Hashem. With Hevel gone and Kayin sent away, Shes presented the new hope for the future. Moshe led Klal Yisrael out of Egypt, brought them to Har Sinai and gave them the Torah. The ensuing covenant cemented a new relationship between Hashem and Klal Yisrael.

In closing, Rav Heyman writes that he found support for the relationship between Yocheved and Chavah, Shes and Moshe, in the Sefer HaLekutim from the Arizal. The Arizal posits that Moshe was a gilgul, reincarnation, of the neshamah of Shes. Yocheved was a gilgul of Chavah. Rabbeinu Bachya adds that Shes was a gilgul of Hevel. In other words, Moshe Rabbeinu represented Shes and Hevel. This is to be found in his name, Moshe: Mem - Moshe; Shin - Shes; Hay - Hevel.

Elazar, son of Aharon HaKohen, took for himself from the daughters of Putiel as a wife. (6:25)

Rashi explains that the name Putiel alludes to two of the ancestor's of Elazar's wife. She was of the seed of Yisro, she'piteim agalos l'avodah zarah, "who fattened the calves for idol worship," prior to his learning about and accepting the true G-d. Also, she was of the seed of Yosef who is called Putiel, she'piteim b'yitzro, "he overcame his evil-inclination." In this sense, her father came from either Shevet, the tribe of Efraim or Menashe, and her mother was of the seed of Yisro. Thus, Elazar was either Yisro's son-in-law or grand-son-in-law. In his commentary to Meseches Sotah 43a, the Ben Ish Chai wonders why the Torah would allude to Yisro's far from illustrious past. Referring to him as one who fattened calves for idols is certainly not praiseworthy. Indeed, we are admonished not to abuse or insult a convert. We are prohibited from recalling his earlier idolatrous behavior. Why would the Torah do this to Yisro, who "also happened to be" Moshe Rabbeinu's father-in-law?

Rav Yosef Chaim explains that the Torah is actually alluding to the distinction of Yisro. At one time, he had been so devoted to idol worship that he fattened the sacrificial calves. That he ultimately achieved distinction, not only as Moshe's father-in-law, but also by being beloved and revered by the entire Jewish nation, was quite praiseworthy.

In a similar statement, in commenting on the pasuk in Shemos 22:20, "Do not abuse a stranger," the Chasam Sofer asks: What abuse is there to remind a convert of his past life? The mere fact that he overcame and transcended his earlier indiscretions is in of itself an incredible praise. We remind the ger that he rejected a life of idol worship in order to cleave to a life of sanctity.

In his inimitable manner, Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, offers another explanation of the admonition against reminding a ger of his sordid past. He quotes a story that made headlines during the time that it occurred. In the city of Vilna, there was a poor shoemaker who had struck it rich. Overnight, he went from abject poverty to a life of wealth and luxury. While most people were happy for him, one of the city's old guard, a man who had accumulated his wealth over time and whose snobbery matched his bank account, was upset with this shoemaker's nouveau riche. Things came to a head when the shoemaker made a wedding for his daughter in the main thoroughfare, a practice reserved for only the effete rich.

When the shoemaker was walking his son down to the chupah, marriage canopy, this rich man walked up to the shoemaker, removed his shoe, and, in a loud voice for all the spectators and guests to hear, asked, "How much will it cost to fix my shoe?" The humiliation spread all over the shoemaker's face. He was speechless with shame. Indeed, if he could have located a hole in the ground in his vicinity, he would have buried himself there.

When the preeminent Mussar sage, Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, heard of this incident, he remarked, "I am certain that the previous rabbanim and educators who lived in that city are presently being taken to task for not having taught their community to refine their character traits." It was such an incident that motivated Rav Yisrael to establish the Mussar, ethical character refinement, movement.

Rav Galinsky asks what was so crude about the incident. Indeed, how did the wealthy man humiliate the shoemaker? On the contrary, the mere fact that he was today making a wedding amid the lap of luxury, when yesterday he had been begging for alms, is in itself a most praiseworthy statement. It should make the shoemaker feel good about himself, knowing that only "yesterday" he had been dead broke and "today" he could enjoy life together with the city's wealthy.

The Maggid explains that he had a good friend who had suffered together with him in Siberia. Their pain and travail, starvation, bitter cold and constant fear, were a reality to both of them. Indeed, they had shared so many painful moments together. Yet, when, after many years Rav Galinsky met his old friend, the first statement that emanated from his friend's mouth was: "I do not want to talk about Siberia. Absolutely not! I have expunged that period from my mind. I never want to remember that miserable period. I have too much despair in my life. I do not want to add to it!"

Imagine asking him why he did not want to remember this period. You were saved! You will no longer have to relive that miserable period in your life. You are out! Why not talk about it now, but from a different vantage point? The answer is, explains Rav Galinsky, that, indeed, both are true. One should be overjoyed, as well as be ashamed. In Avos d'Rabbi Nosson, we find that Rabbi Akiva was once lecturing to his students, when his mind wandered back to his earlier days when he was quite distant from the Torah scholar without peer that he later became. At that point, the sage became very depressed, because he realized how much time in his earlier life he had wasted. He then declared, "Modeh ani, I thank Hashem for granting me the opportunity to be among those who sit in the bais ha'medrash and not be among those who sit all day and waste their time."

Indeed, this is how a person should act. One should be heartened by his achievements in the vast sea of Talmud and Halachah whose depths he is beginning to plumb. If this is true, however, we revert back to the Chasam Sofer's question: Why is it prohibited to remind a ger of his past?

Apparently, we must derive from here that the pain experienced by a person is neither determined by - nor is it dependent upon - how much true shame he has experienced. Even if he had gone through a humiliating experience from which he not only did not derive any pain - he actually became uplifted and heartened by it - it is forbidden. We do not deride nor mock a person, regardless of the reason or purpose.

When the Torah refers to Yisro as Putiel, it is not to deride him. It is to flatter him for being able to overcome the incredible challenge of avodah zarah. If, however, by calling Yisro Putiel, he might become offended - it would be categorically prohibited - regardless of our rationale. How often do we see someone mocked, humiliated, and degraded, yet he says, "Think nothing of it. It does not bother me"? While it may be true, the mocker still loses his portion in Olam Habba, the World to Come. Could it be worth it?

Va'ani Tefillah

The mitzvos of Tefillin and Mezuzah are included among those mitzvos which are called Edos, Testimonial mitzvos, which attest to our relationship with Hashem and His relationship with us. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, observes that these Edos mitzvos become effective only when duly activated. Much like anything else, for example, a credit card, unless one calls the bank and activates the card, is nothing more than a piece of plastic. When one connects with the bank, the "plastic" takes on substantial value, commensurate with the signee's credit limit. Thus, by identifying Tefillin and Mezuzah with the general mitzvah of Torah study, eventually the Tefillin and Mezuzah would keep the words of the Torah constantly in one's mouth by reminding him to love Hashem. Originally, Tefillin were meant for all-day wear; they were to be part of the uniform of a Jew. Thus, they, together with the Mezuzah, would stand guard over the Jew - protecting him from sin. As he gazes upon the Mezuzah and as he wears the Tefillin, he is reminded of his obligations; thus, Hashem assists him, so that he benefits from these Edos mitzvos.

Reminders are only effective when activated. Walking through a door and tapping the Mezuzah becomes a thoughtless habit, whose true purpose is largely thwarted when one's mind is not put into motion. Without the brain's engagement, there is no testimony, no reminder.

In loving memory of
Miriam Bas Avraham Yehuda Jacobson
by her family

David, Susan, Danial, Breindy, Ephraim, Adeena, Aryeh and Michelle Jacobson
and her great grandchildren

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

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