The Gemora in Sotah (11a) records that three of Pharaoh’s advisors were consulted regarding his worries about the Jewish population. Bilaam suggested the wicked plan and was killed, Iyov remained silent and was punished with tremendous afflictions, and Yisro disagreed with the plan and fled and was rewarded with descendants who were righteous Torah scholars and judges. Why did Bilaam, who presumably deserved the most severe punishment for his active role in Pharaoh’s diabolical scheme, get off relatively easily with an instant death, while Iyov sufferedortuous pains throughout his life?
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz answers that this question stems from a fundamental error, as Rashi writes (Kiddushin 80b) that being alive is the greatest present and kindness that Hashem could ever give a person, regardless of what difficulties may transpire in his life. In fact, Dovid Hamelech – who was no stranger to suffering – expressed this idea explicitly (Tehillim 118:18): יסר יסרני ק-ה ולמות לא נתני – Hashem afflicted me greatly, but at least He didn’t give me over to death.
Therefore, the unimaginable and excruciating pain and agony of Iyov is still considered infinitely preferable to the quick, relatively painless death of Bilaam due to the sheer fact that he remained alive. As we all suffer various difficulties and setbacks throughout our lives, it would behoove us to recall and focus on this lesson, perhaps every time we recite the aforementioned verse during Hallel, that we must be eternally grateful to Hashem for the wonderful gift we call life!
ויבן ערי מסכנות לפרעה את פתם ואת רעמסס (1:11)
The Gemora in Sotah (11a) explains that the names of the cities Pisom and Raamses allude to the fact that the earth there was completely unsuitable for building, and whatever the Jewish slaves would build would immediately be swallowed up by the unstable ground. Rav Avrohom Yaakov Pam questions why Pharaoh, who had an entire nation available to serve him as slaves, didn’t choose to have them work in a more appropriate location where they would be able to build for him beautiful palaces and buildings which would bring honor and glory to his kingdom?
Rav Pam suggests that no matter how overwhelmingly difficult a person’s task may be, he is still able to feel good about his accomplishments as long as he feels there is a purpose in his efforts, regardless of whether he will ultimately benefit in any way from the finished product. If Pharaoh had put the Jews to work building splendid edifices, even though they would never be allowed to set foot in them, they would still feel a sense of purpose in their suffering and would take pride in the fruit of their labors. The diabolical Pharaoh was willing to forego all potential benefits to himself and to his kingdom from working them under more suitable conditions in order to afflict them with crushing harshness.
Rav C. once had a son born very prematurely and severely underweight. The doctors and nurses in the hospital went beyond the call of duty, putting in tremendous efforts over the course of two months until the baby was finally healthy and strong enough to return home. Rav C. searched far and wide for an appropriate gift demonstrating his gratitude toward the medical staff, but couldn’t find anything suitable.
In frustration, he turned to his Rebbe, Rav Elya Svei, who suggested that the doctors didn’t need any more fountain pens or paperweights. Rather, he suggested that each year on the baby’s birthday, Rav C. should bring his son to the hospital to show the doctors and nurses the fruits of their efforts. So many times medical professionals put in tremendous energy, fighting an uphill battle, only to become dejected when they lose more often than not. The best gift of gratitude would be to strengthen them by reminding them that their efforts make a difference and are eternally remembered and appreciated.
While most of us hopefully haven’t had such extensive interactions with the hospital staff, we have all benefited greatly from the Herculean time and energy invested in our education and upbringing by our parents and teachers, and it behooves us to give them the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment they deserve by letting them know what a difference they made in our lives and how appreciated they are.
והיה אם לא יאמינו לך ולא ישמעו לקל האת הראשון והאמינו לקל האת האחרון
והיה אם לא יאמינו גם לשני האתות האלה ולא ישמעון לקלך ולקחת ממימי היאר
ושפכת היבשה והיו המים אשר תקח מן היאר והיו לדם ביבשת (4:8-9)
The Tosefos Yom Tov (Demai 7:3) writes that there are those who ask a powerful question based on the verse in Chaggai (2:9) גדול יהיה כבוד הבית הזה האחרון מן הראשון – the glory and honor of the last Beis Hamikdash will be even greater than that of the first. This verse is referring to the 2nd
He answers that many times the word “last” doesn’t mean the final one, but rather it refers to the last one vis-à-vis the first one, even though there may indeed be others which come after it. Although this sounds a bit foreign grammatically, he cites two places where the Torah indeed uses such language, one from our verses (the other from Bereishis 33:2) in which Hashem tells Moshe that if the Jews won’t believe the first sign, they will trust in the last sign. Hashem then adds that if they won’t believe the “last” sign, they will surely believe the third one in which Moshe will turn the water of the river into blood!
The Kehillas Yitzchok and Imrei Noam bring a clever hint to this proof from 12:13, והיה הדם לכם לאות על הבתים, which literally means that the blood from the Passover-sacrifice will be a sign on the doors for Hashem to skip over that house. However, it can also be understood as stating that the blood (which was the 3rd proof of Moshe’s legitimacy) will be a sign for you regarding the Temples, as if anybody attempts to prove from Chaggai 2:9 that the second Temple was the final one, we may now answer that the blood mentioned in our verse proves that it isn’t so!
כי כבד פה וכבד לשון אנכי (4:10)
Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein was once asked by a heavily speech-impaired person regarding the legal permissibility of a new treatment that was suggested to him. An expert in the field had experienced remarkable success at treating such problems by completely isolating the patient for one month and not allowing him to speak or hear a single word during that time, after which he then begins the arduous process of re-teaching the letters and their proper pronunciations from scratch. The questioner was concerned that enrolling in this treatment would require him to miss all of his prayer obligations, including the Biblical requirements of the twice-daily recitation of Shema and Kiddush on Shabbos.
Rav Zilberstein answered that a decision of the Avnei Nezer in a similar case is also applicable in this one. The Avnei Nezer was asked if a person is obligated to be circumcised in a case where the doctor says that doing so will leave him with a permanent limp. The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 756:1) that a person is only obligated to spend up to one-fifth of his possessions in order to perform a positive commandment. He therefore ruled that if the value to the man of walking without a limp is greater than one-fifth of his estate, he is exempt from the mitzvah of circumcision. Similarly, Rav Zilberstein opined that if curing his severe speech impediment is monetarily equivalent to more than one-fifth of his possessions, he may proceed with the treatment even even at the expense of his prayer obligations.
ויאמר פרעה מי ד' אשר אשמע בקולו לשלח את ישראל לא ידעתי את ד' (5:2)
The Darkei Mussar notes the striking contrast in Pharaoh’s actions over the span of just a few short years. In Parshas Mikeitz, Pharaoh had no problem accepting all of Yosef’s interpretations and recommendations, even though Yosef made it clear that his explanations emanated from Hashem while Pharaoh himself was an idolater. Yet a short while later, the very same Pharaoh had completely forgotten Hashem’s existence and all of the benefits that he had received through Yosef.
There was once a rich businessman whose associates received word that his entire inventory had been lost at sea. Unsure about how to inform him, they went for guidance to the local Rav, who volunteered to break the news himself. The Rav called in the businessman and engaged him in a lengthy discussion about trust and faith in Hashem, as well as the insignificance of temporal, earthly possessions relative to the infinite, eternal reward of the World to Come.
At this point, the Rav asked the man what would happen if he were to receive word that his entire fleet had sunk in the ocean. The businessman, inspired by the insightful words of the Rav, answered that he could accept it. Assuming that his plan had worked, the Rav informed him that this had indeed occurred. Much to the Rav’s surprise, the man promptly fainted. After awakening the businessman, the Rav pressed him for an explanation. The man replied that “it’s much easier to have faith and trust in a G-d Who could wipe out my possessions than in one Who actually did.”
Pharaoh was a wicked idolater to the core who never believed in Hashem from the beginning. Nevertheless, it was easier for him to “believe” in a Hashem Who sends His agent (Yosef) to bring him satiety and riches than in a Hashem Who sends His agent (Moshe) to order him to free millions of slaves.
The Medrash says that Hashem figuratively rides over the righteous, as the Torah states (28:13) regarding Yaakov והנה ד' ניצב עליו – and behold Hashem was standing over him. The wicked, on the other hand, view themselves as superior to their gods, as the Torah relates (41:1) ופרעה חולם והנה עומד על היאור – and Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing over the river, and the
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) In Sefer Bereishis, Onkelos renders the word עברי – Hebrew – into Aramaic as עבראי (see e.g. Bereishis 41:12), but beginning in Parshas Shemos he changes and translates it as יהודאי – Jews. Why the sudden change? (Be’er Moshe, Pardes Yosef, Eebay’ei L’hu)
2) Rashi writes (2:14) that Moshe killed the Egyptian who was striking a Jewish slave by saying Hashem’s Ineffable Name. If somebody does kills another person in this manner, is he considered a murderer? (Halachos Ketanos 2:95, Maaseh Rokeach Hilchos Shabbos 24:7, Shu”t Yehuda Ya’aleh Orach Chaim 1:199, Kehillas Yaakov Bava Kamma 45)
3) Hashem was revealed to Moshe while he was shepherding the sheep of his father-in-law Yisro (3:1). A disproportionate number of our greatest ancestors – Hevel, Avrohom, Yitzchok, Yaakov, Moshe, Dovid, and Shaul – were shepherds. Why is this profession uniquely suited for one destined for spiritual greatness? (Rabbeinu Bechaye)
4) Hashem told Moshe (3:8) of His intention to redeem the Jewish people from slavery in
5) Rashi writes (4:24) that an angel sought to kill Moshe because of his negligence in circumcising his son Eliezer. As circumcision is merely a positive commandment and there is no source which states that failure to perform this mitzvah incurs the death penalty, why was Moshe almost killed as a result of not doing so? (Maharsha Nedorim 31b, Chasam Sofer in Toras Moshe, Zahav MiSh’va, Chavatzeles HaSharon, M’rafsin Igri)
6) Rashi writes (4:24) that an angel sought to kill Moshe because of his negligence in circumcising his son. The Targum Yonason ben Uziel explains that Yisro wouldn’t allow him to do so, as the Medrash states (Yalkut Shimoni 169) that Yisro and Moshe had agreed that Moshe’s first child should be an idolater. How is it possible that Moshe agreed to allow one of his sons to be an idol-worshipper? (Shu”t Radvaz 6:2168, Taima D’Kra, Chavatzeles HaSharon)
7) According to the opinion that a woman is unfit to perform a circumcision, the Gemora in Avodah Zara (27a) states that although the verse (4:25) seems to indicate that Tzipporah circumcised her son, one must say either that she began the circumcision and Moshe completed it. As the Shulchan Aruch invalidates (Yoreh Deah 2:10) a ritual slaughter which is begun by somebody who is unfit to do so and completed by a person whose slaughter is valid, why is a circumcision performed in such a manner any different? (Kli Chemda, Chavatzeles HaSharon, M’rafsin Igri)
8) What did Pharaoh do wrong in refusing to accept orders (5:2, 4-5) from Moshe and Aharon, two total strangers, who suddenly appeared in his palace and began demanding that he should immediately set free an entire nation of slaves, something that no rational person would have considered normal? (Nesivos Rabboseinu)
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