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Can you imagine someone calling his wife a horse? It doesn’t sound like much of a compliment does it? But in Shir Hashirim (the Song of Songs), King Shlomo expresses the affection between Hashem and His beloved People in an allegory of a man and a woman who are totally in love and express their devotion to each other in poetic language. In the ninth sentence of the first chapter, the man says to his beloved one, “I compare you, O my love, to a mare of the chariots of Par’oh!” What could this possibly mean? And if there is some reasonable connotation in the comparison to a horse, why did he specifically pick one from the chariots of Par’oh?
The answer can be found in a vort from Rabbi Yeshayeh Cheshin zt”l, brought in the book Yalkut Ma’amarim, according to the book, Lekach Tov.
After Moshe and the Israelite men sang their song, after the splitting of the sea, it says, “And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aharon, took her drum in her hand and all the women went forth after her with drums and with dances. And Miriam answered them, ‘Sing to Hashem for He is exalted above the arrogant, the horse and his rider has He thrown into the sea’" (Shemos 15:20:21).
It seems strange, says Rav Cheshin, that the Torah uses the expression “Miriam answered them”, which seems to imply that someone asked a question and she replied. What was the question, who was the questioner and what, exactly, was the response?
We know that when Moshe stood before Hashem at the burning bush and He told him to go to Par’oh and instruct him to send out the Jewish People, Moshe asked, “Who am I that I should go to Par’oh and that I should take the Children of Israel out of Egypt?" (Ibid. 3:11). Rashi explains that Moshe asked Hashem, “How has Israel merited that a miracle should be wrought for them and that I should bring them forth from Egypt?” Moshe understood that if the Israelites had no merits then the Exodus would not be successful. Hashem answered, “When you take the people out of Egypt, you will serve Hashem on this mountain" (Ibid. 12). Hashem took us out on credit with the merit that after we leave Egypt we would accept the Torah at the Mountain of Sinai. As soon as the Jews left their “House of Bondage,” they began counting the days in anticipation of that joyful event when we would receive the Torah. The song they sang at the sea was not only one of freedom; it was a song of rejoicing that these steps would soon lead them to receive Hashem’s Torah.
This is the question that the woman asked of Miriam, explains Rav Cheshin, when she encouraged them to sing too. Although they too experienced the joy of freedom from oppression, they thought that they could not share in the joy of the eagerness to receive the Torah, since women are exempt from the mitzvah of learning Torah. But Miriam answered them and said, “Sing to Hashem…” because, “the horse and his rider has He thrown into the sea.” One might argue that although the Egyptian rider surely deserved to be drowned in the sea, why did Hashem punish his horse too? The answer is that the horse was an accomplice to the crime and therefore shares in the retribution. If this is true in terms of punishment, how much more so when it comes to rewarding someone who helped someone else do a mitzvah.
Miriam answered the women that just like the horses in Par’oh’s army were punished for helping their riders sin, so we, the women, will be rewarded for helping our husbands learn Torah. And, indeed, the Gemara says Berachos 17a), “With what are women merited? With sending their children to learn Torah in the Synagogues, and sending their husbands to learn in the Houses of Study, and waiting up for them until they return.” Therefore, the women too shared in the song at the sea.
This is the compliment which the man in Shir Hashirim gives his beloved by comparing her to a mare of the chariots of Par’oh. Like Par’oh’s horses, he means, you share in all of the Torah I learn and the mitzvahs I perform, because I could not have done them without you.
But this opportunity, to share in others’ reward, is not limited to wives. As we saw in the Gemara above, it applies to mothers too. But also fathers benefit from their children’s good deeds.
A friend of mine, Steven Bloch, from Australia, once told me the following story. His father was a prominent member of the Melbourne community, and was one of the founders of the prominent Lakewood Kolel there. As part of his reward, Hashem instilled in his son, Steven, a desire to learn in the Kolel himself. But his father was not able to appreciate his son’s desire since he wanted him in business at his side. The Kolel, he felt, had been established for other people’s children. A great dispute erupted between them, but Steven was stubborn and insisted on learning there for awhile, even without his father’s consent, before he became an accountant.
Several years later, Mr. Bloch passed away. During the shiv’ah, he came to Steven in a dream and said, “I am very happy that you disobeyed me when I tried to discourage you from learning in the Kolel, because now, I am benefiting from it. I am sharing in the reward you will receive for the abundance of Torah you learned there!”
But this opportunity is not restricted to parents only. Anyone who helps someone else learn Torah and do mitzvahs will receive an equal share in the reward (this equal share is not deducted from the portion of the one performing the good deeds. Hashem simply matches it and bestows it to his partner too). Therefore, one should always try to help others learn Torah and do mitzvahs, especially if he finds himself in a situation which limits him from doing much of these things himself. In the World-to-Come, he will be amazed to find how much reward and bliss is awaiting him for mitzvahs which he himself never performed but made it possible for others to do.
FOOTNOTE: One of the people who benefits from the service of others is a Rebby who taught his students to learn Torah and observe her commandments. Recently we were told that Harav Shach zt”l asked in his will that his students learn even one Mishneh or entertain one thought in Torah ethics in his memory as this will bring benefit to his soul.
One of the Rebbeim at Neveh Zion, whom I was privileged to bring to Israel, and who benefited countless students, is Rabbi Price. Unfortunately, he is now in the States, awaiting open-heart surgery. Surely we should all learn, do mitzvahs and pray for his speedy, painless, recovery. May Hashem send a refuah sheleimah to Shlomo Yoel ben Chayeh Leah, among all of the other sick in Israel.
I also just heard that another Neveh Rebby, one of our own students who did so well that he joined the staff and is now a very successful Rebby, Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, just lost his father. I knew him well. He was a very fine gentleman who had lots of nachas from his son’s progress and is certainly benefiting from it now in Gan Eden. May Hashem console Yisroel among all the other mourners in Tzion and Yerushalayim, and may he not know of any more sorrow.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network