Friday, February 02, 2007

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 the calculation of 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 a year of witnessing Hashem’s Providence in action during the ten plagues, how could it be that the Jews never came to believe in Hashem until they witnessed the death of their Egyptian oppressors at the Red Sea? The Darkei Mussar, Rav Yaakov Neiman, suggests that there are two types of belief, one predicated on intellectual proofs and one based on sensory knowledge.

The difference between them, explains the Alter of Kelm, can be understood with a parable of a person who has never tasted bread. If somebody will explain to him its texture, taste, and filling qualities, he will accept the information intellectually, for he has no evidence to the contrary. If, however, a second person will subsequently refute the claims of the first, he will be tempted to believe these latter claims.

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 Red Sea the Jews certainly believed in Hashem, but it was only there that they reached the higher level of faith based on actual sensory knowledge. Our sages teach that the clarity of the revelation there 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.

Even prior to this revelation, Rashi writes (15:20) that the Jewish women in Egypt were on such a high level of faith and trust in Hashem that, convinced that they would continue to merit further miracles, they brought along musical instruments to play while singing praises to Hashem.

There was once a tremendous draught in Israel 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 (Western Wall) to pour out their hearts and plead for Divine mercy. After reciting several chapters of Psalms and other appropriate prayers, the clear sky suddenly grew dark and full of ominous clouds, which shortly gave way to much-needed rain droplets, 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!


זה קלי ואנוהו אלקי אבי וארממנהו (15:2)

דין אלהי ואבני ליה מקדשא אלהא דאבהתי ואפלח קדמוהי (תרגום אונקלוס)

After witnessing the miraculous and unexpected downfall and destruction of their sadistic oppressors, the Jewish people were moved to song. In their beautiful song of praise and thanksgiving, they proudly declared, “This is my G-d and I will glorify Him, the G-d of my father and I will exalt Him.”

However, the Targum Onkelos understands this as a proclamation and a commitment to build the Holy Temple as a resting place for Hashem. Although this was indeed a beautiful and lofty idea, why did it specifically occur to them to accept this project upon themselves at this time? Why wasn’t it sufficient to wait until they reached Mount Sinai, when they could receive this mitzvah together will the others?

In one of the great yeshivos in Europe where the students were renowned for their far-reaching knowledge, the boys were once eating lunch together and discussing a certain Torah topic. One of the boys volunteered his opinion on the subject, to which one of his peers responded, “Don’t you know that what you said is explicitly written in a certain Tosefos?” Upon realizing his oversight, the boy was overcome with shame and humiliation and quickly fled the room.

The student proceeded to spend the next several years in isolation studying with unprecedented diligence and went on to become one of the great scholars of the generation. There was only one problem with his actions: before darting from the room, he forgot to recite Birkas HaMazon over his meal!

A great Rosh Yeshiva was asked for his thoughts on the propriety of the boy’s actions, and responded, “While I can’t justify the neglecting of a Biblical commandment, one thing is certain. If he would have paused to recite the Grace after Meals, his initial burst of inspiration would have cooled off and by that point he would never have even made it out of the room to continue on the path that he did!”

Rav Eliyahu Mishkovsky notes that the sages teach that the clarity of the Divine revelation at the Red Sea was so great that even the lowest maidservant reached tremendous levels in attaining knowledge of Hashem, levels which many of the greatest prophets never reached. They understood how wonderful it was to experience firsthand the spiritual heights which accompany such closeness to Hashem.

However, they also recognized that a building with the appropriate splendor and glory that is becoming an earthly dwelling place for the Divine presence would be a costly and time-consuming endeavor. When the time would come to broach the subject in the future, they feared that they would have lost the spark they were currently experiencing and would veto the project as too difficult. In order that this not happen, they specifically proclaimed in unison their willingness to undertake this project at a time when they were experiencing the need and value of directly connecting to Hashem.

We all have moments in our lives – an uplifting Torah class, Yom Kippur, or a miraculous “sign” from Heaven – when we see, hear, or experience something which gives us a tremendous flash of inspiration and excitement to undertake new projects, yet so often the passage of time wears away that enthusiasm and we are left with nothing. The Torah teaches us that the best way to seize such moments is to make concrete resolutions to practically apply the inspiration so that we may keep it with us forever.


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

1) The Gemora in Sotah (2a) states that shidduchim – matching up men and women for the purpose of marriage – is as difficult as splitting the Red Sea (14:21). The Gemora in Pesochim (118a) states that providing a person with his parnassa (sustenance) is as difficult as splitting the Red Sea. In what way are these two difficult issues comparable to splitting the Red Sea?

2) In the blessing said in the morning following Krias Shema, we say וים סוף בקעת וזדים טבעת וידידים העברת ויכסו מים צריהם אחד מהם לא נותר – and You split the Red Sea, and You drowned the wicked sinners, and You brought across Your dear ones, and the water covered their oppressors and not a single one of them remained. Why is it written in a manner which seems far from chronologically accurate? (Moshav Z’keinim, Taam V’Daas, Eebay’ei L’hu)

3) How could Hashem fix the size of one omer (16:16) as the amount of Mon necessary for every man, woman, and child when their needs clearly differed? (Shu”t Chasam Sofer Yoreh Deah 294)

4) Because it was forbidden to collect the Mon on Shabbos, a double portion fell on Erev Shabbos to last them until Sunday (16:22). Did the Mon fall on Yom Tov? (P’nei Yehoshua Beitzah 2b, Tosefos and Korban Nesanel Pesochim 116b, Mordechai Shabbos 117b, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

5) The Gemora in Yoma (75a) states that with the exception of five tastes, the Mon tasted like whatever the person eating it wanted it to taste like. Was one permitted to think that the Mon should taste like a mixture of cooked milk and meat, or on Pesach that it should taste like chometz? (Chida Chullin 109b, Sha’ar Bas Rabim, Pardes Yosef Parshas Tetzaveh pg. 285, Binas N’vonim on Medrash Pliah, Shu”t Tzafnas Paneiach 3, Chavatzeles HaSharon, Eebay’ei L’hu)

6) Rashi writes (17:16) that י-ה is considered an incomplete name of Hashem’s, as it is missing the final two letters (ו-ה) until Amalek is completely obliterated. The Gemora in Sotah (17a) states that if a husband and wife are meritorious, the Divine Presence will dwell between them. Rashi there explains that the Hebrew word for man (איש) contains the letter י from Hashem’s name and the word for woman (אשה) contains the letter ה from Hashem’s name. Why does Rashi seem to imply that even in the best-case scenario, a righteous and loving couple will only merit the dwelling in their home of an incomplete name of Hashem? (Darash Moshe)


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