Friday, February 10, 2006

Parshas Beshalach

וחמשים עלו בני ישראל מארץ מצרים (13:18)
A number of explanations are given for the meaning of the word
חמושים. Rashi quotes the Medrash that four-fifths of the Jews died during the plague of darkness, leaving only the remaining one-fifth that went out from Egypt. The Targum Yerushalmi translates that they went out armed with good deeds, and the Targum Yonason ben Uziel perplexingly writes that each family went out with five children. It is difficult to reconcile these seemingly different explanations, as well as to understand what good deeds are being referred to, and why each family had exactly five children especially when we consider that the women in Egypt gave birth to six children at a time. The Be’er Yosef beautifully suggests that all three explanations are really one. As Rashi mentions, the wicked Jews died during the plague of darkness. However, we know that Hashem’s Heavenly Beis Din (Tribunal) doesn’t punish a person until the age of 20. While four-fifths of the adults died, none of the children did, resulting in a tremendous number of orphans. The remaining adults were so overjoyed at being saved, both from Egypt and from the fate of their brethren during the darkness, that they decided to “adopt” the orphans of the four-fifths of the families which were now without parents. Thus, in addition to their own biological children, each family went out with the children of another four families. The Targum Yonason doesn’t mean that each family had five children, but rather five families of children, and these are the good deeds referred to by the Targum Yerushalmi! In light of what we wrote in Parshas Shemos from the Oznaim L’Torah, that the average family size in Egypt was 54, it is all the more astounding to realize that as they were about to head out to the desert, with no source of food, clothing, or sustenance, they trusted in Hashem enough to adopt another 216 (4 x 54) children, bringing the grand total of the average family to 270 children! We now have a new appreciation for the famous verse in Yirmiyah (2:2), זכרתי לך חסד נעוריך אהבת כלולתיך לכתך אחרי במדבר בארץ לא זרועה!

כי אשר ראיתם את מצרים היום לא תספו לראתם עוד עד עולם (14:13)

וירא ישראל את מצרים מת על שפת הים (14:30)
Once when the Beis Halevi, who served as Rav of the city of Brisk, was studying with his son Rav Chaim, a man entered to ask the Rav a question. This man had gotten into a major disagreement with a friend of his, and in the heat of the moment, he took a vow promising never to see his friend ever again. Now, however, that friend had passed away. The man who took the vow also served on the city’s chevrah kaddisha (organization which ritually prepares dead bodies for proper burial) now wanted to know if he was allowed to help prepare the body for the funeral. He reasoned that perhaps “seeing” his friend’s dead body isn’t really considered seeing and therefore wouldn’t be considered a violation of his oath to never again “see him,” so he came to ask the Rav’s opinion on the matter. The Beis Halevi turned to his son, then a young lad of 8, to ask for his thoughts on the subject. Rav Chaim replied that the question is explicitly answered in that week’s Torah portion (which was Beshalach). He explained that we find that Moshe Rabbeinu told the Jewish people not to worry, as they will never again see their Egyptian oppressors, yet several verses later we are told that they saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. The Medrash explains that they didn’t just see Egyptian bodies from a distance, but each Jew was able to discern the face of the Egyptian who had been his personal taskmaster, which would seem to violate the promise made by Moshe to the Jews. Rather, we can conclude from here that “seeing” somebody after their death isn’t considered seeing at all!

ויאמינו בד' ובמשה עבדו (14:31)
After witnessing the death of their Egyptian oppressors at the Yam Suf, the Torah tells us that the Jewish people finally believed in Hashem and His servant Moshe. The Darkei Mussar questions how it could be that after a year of witnessing Hashem’s Providence in action during the ten plagues that they never came to believe in Hashem. Rather, he suggests that there are two types of belief, one predicated on intellectual proofs and one based on sensory knowledge. The difference between them, suggests the Alter from Kelm, can be understood with a parable of somebody who has never in his life tasted bread. If somebody will come over and explain to him its texture, its taste, its detailed characteristics, and its filling qualities, he will accept it intellectually as he has no evidence to the contrary. If, however, a second person will come over and refute the claims of the first, he will be tempted to believe the claims of the latter. On the other hand, somebody who has himself tasted bread even once and knows first-hand of its ability to fill won’t be swayed by all of the “rational” arguments in the world that bread doesn’t satisfy. Similarly, the faith of one whose belief in Hashem is based on intellectual arguments and derivations may be called into question if presented with apparently powerful counter-arguments. Until they reached the Yam Suf the Jews certainly believed in Hashem, but it was only here that they reached the higher level of faith based on actual sensory knowledge. We are told that the clarity of the revelation at the Yam Suf was so great that even the lowest maidservant reached tremendous levels in seeing and attaining knowledge of Hashem, resulting in a completely unshakeable faith that they reached only now. Although we are unable to witness the revelations that they did, this level is still attainable by us, as can be attested to by anybody who has tasted even once the sweet sensation of closeness to Hashem that can be reached through Torah and mitzvos. A Chassidic Rebbe was once giving his tisch, when he surprised his Chassidim by asking if they believe in Hashem. Unsure as to the Rebbe’s motivation, they all answered in unison “Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad.” They were even more perplexed when the Rebbe informed them that he doesn’t believe in Hashem, so he continued by asking if they “believed” that the table around which they were seated is really a table. By this point thoroughly baffled, they laughed and explained that they didn’t need to believe that it was a table, as they knew that it’s a table. The Rebbe now concluded his lesson by stating that similarly, he doesn’t believe in Hashem, but knows Hashem exists just as clearly as they know that they are seated around a table, a high level which Hashem should help us all to reach!

ותקח מרים הנביאה אחות אהרן את התף בידה ותצאן כל הנשים אחריה בתפים ובמחלת (15:20)

מובטחות היו צדקניות שבדור שהקדוש ברוך הוא עושה להם נסים והוציאו תופים ממצרים (רש"י)
The righteous women who left Egypt were so convinced that they would merit further miracles that they brought along musical instruments to play while singing praises to Hashem. I once saw a beautiful story of similar modern-day faith. There was once a tremendous draught in Eretz Yisroel which threatened to endanger that year’s entire harvest, which would mean financial ruin for all of the farmers as well as possible starvation for those left with little or nothing available to eat. Communal fast days and prayers passed unsuccessfully. Finally, with little choice, the Rabbinic and community leaders ordered all Jews to the Kosel to pour their hearts out and plead for Divine mercy. After reciting several chapters of Tehillim and other appropriate prayers, the clear sky suddenly grew dark and full of ominous clouds, which shortly gave way to much-needed droplets of rain, and soon turned into a full-fledged torrential downpour. Those present were so overjoyed at the turn of events and the answering of their prayers that they didn’t even care that they were getting soaked to the bone, all except for one elderly, wheelchair-bound Chassidic Rebbe who remained completely dry … for he brought an umbrella!


וימדו בעמר ולא העדיף המרבה והממעיט לא החסיר איש לפי אכלו לקטו ויאמר משה אלהם איש אל יותר ממנו עד בקר (16:18-19)
Rav Yerucham Levovitz suggests that the laws pertaining to the Mon are coming to teach us fundamental concepts regarding trust in Hashem and our efforts to support ourselves. The Torah tells us that regardless of how much Mon a person collected, upon returning home each person found himself with precisely one omer, not more and not less. This teaches us that a person’s income and success in business isn’t dependent or even related to the amount of effort he puts in. We must labor to support ourselves as that was one of the curses received by Odom HaRishon, but the results of our efforts are completely independent of our choice of profession and the number of hours we put in, as evidenced by the Mon. Secondly, the Jews were prohibited from leaving over from one day’s Mon to the next, in order to make them constantly dependent on Hashem for their sustenance (see Yoma 76a). From here we may derive the folly of the American dream of “financial security,” which is essentially the pursuit of a life full of trust in oneself and one’s bank account and free of trust in Hashem. In fact, I have heard it pointed out that while Americans ostensibly purport to have bitochon, as the currency itself states “In G-d We Trust,” what a fallacy it is that they only trust in Hashem when they have the money in their wallet!


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Why do we refer to the splitting of the Red Sea as "Krias Yam Suf" when the Torah refers to it using the expression B'kiah (14:21), and what is the difference in their connotations? (Shem Mi’shmuel)

2) The Medrash on the verse in Hallel, Ha'Yam Ra'ah Va'yanos (114:3) asks what did the Yam Suf see which caused it to flee, and answers that it fled from the casket containing Yosef as a reward to his descendants for the fact that he fled from the wife of Potiphar. How could the Medrash give this explanation when the following verses (114:5, 7) ask the same question, מה לך הים כי תנוס – what did the Yam Suf see to make it split – and give an alternate answer, מלפני אדון חולי ארץ מלפני אלוק יעקב – that it split from the presence of Hashem?

3) The Medrash relates a number of additional miracles which occurred while the Jews were crossing the Red Sea, including the fact that trees bearing fruit miraculously grew for the Jews to eat. The fruits of a tree during its first three years are known as orlah and are forbidden, so how were they allowed to eat the fruits of these new trees?

4) The Gemora in Sanhedrin (89a) states that no two prophets ever prophesy using the same words and expressions. If so, how did all of the Jews at the Yam Suf sing with Divine Inspiration the exact same song using identical words? (Ohr Gedalyahu)

5) The entire Shiras HaYam is written in the Torah in the singular tense, so why is the Aramaic translation of Onkelos and Yonason ben Uziel written in the plural? (Emunas Yirmiahu)

6) Rashi writes (15:22) that the spoils received by the Jews at the Yam Suf were even greater than those which they received when leaving Egypt one week prior. The Gemora in Berachos (9b) understands 12:36 to mean that when leaving originally, the Jews completely emptied out Egypt of all of its possessions, rendering it like the depths of an ocean which are completely devoid of fish. If so, from where was there any treasure to be had at the Yam Suf, let alone even more than they had already received? (Targum Yonason ben Uziel 14:9 and Peirush there, Eileh Mas’ei)

7) When the Jews were in the desert, were they able to fulfill their obligation to eat matzah on the first night of Pesach by causing the Mon to taste like matzah? (Igra D’Kallah, M’rafsin Igri)

8) Which did the Jews receive first – Shabbos or the Mon? Presumably we would answer that Shabbos was given first in Marah (Rashi 15:25), with the Mon coming only afterward. However, in the “Dayeinu” on Pesach, we chronologically recount the miracles of the Exodus and we sing "ilu he'echilanu es ha'man v'lo nasan lanu es ha'Shabbos dayeinu," which would seem to indicate that the Mon preceeded Shabbos? (Nesivos Rabboseinu)


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