Thursday, March 29, 2007

Pesach

Chag kosher v'sameach to all! Parshas Tzav was posted earlier this week and is available from the archives.


ויצו פרעה לכל עמו לאמור כל הבן הילוד היאורה תשליכוהו (1:22)

אף עליהם גזר. שנאמר כל הבן הילוד ולא נאמר הילוד לעברים (רש"י)

ופקיד פרעה לכל עמה למימר כל ברא דיתליד ליהודאי בנהרא תרמנה (תרגום אונקלוס)

Rashi points out that whereas Pharaoh’s first decree was specifically directed against male children born to the Jews, this second order didn’t differentiate and was directed even against the Egyptian children. This was because Pharaoh’s astrologers foresaw that the Jewish savior would be born that day, but because he was born a Jew and brought up among the Egyptians, they were unable to discern whether he was Jewish or Egyptian. As a precaution, Pharaoh declared an across-the-board law ordering all children killed.

The Tosefos Rid and Mahar”i Bruna note that Onkelos, in translating the Torah into Aramaic, understood that the 2nd decree was also made only against the Jews. Where did Onkelos find a hint to his rendition, as Rashi points out that there seems to be no mention of it in the verse, and it also seems to contradict the Gemora in Sotah 12a on which Rashi’s comments are based?

Rav Simcha Sheps and Rav Meir Shapiro answer that there is no disagreement between Rashi and Onkelos. Onkelos was a convert to Judaism and was actually raised as a non-Jew. As such, he knew better than anybody that whatever laws the non-Jews and their governments enact, as much as they may seem to fair and non-discriminatory on the surface, are ultimately directed against the Jews. Onkelos would agree to Rashi that the words of Pharaoh’s actual edict were indeed directed even against the Egyptians. However, he was coming to hint that the translation and underlying motivation behind the ruling was, as even Rashi explains, solely directed against the Jewish people!


ותשלח את אמתה ותקחה ותפתח ותראהו את הילד והנה נער בכה (2:5-6)

והנה נער בכה - קולו כנער (רש"י)

Upon descending to the river, Pharaoh’s daughter Bisyah heard a crying infant and immediately went to assist him and remove him from the river. Upon opening the basket, she noticed that the baby was crying. However, Rashi adds that although he was only 3 months old, Moshe’s voice was that of a youth. In what way was the voice of Moshe Rabbeinu, a 3-month-old infant, similar to that of an adolescent?

Rav Meir Shapiro explains that while both babies and teens cry, the difference between them is that an infant is only capable of crying over his own pain, while an older child is also able to shed tears over the suffering of another. Initially, Bisyah noticed Moshe abandoned in a basket near the river and assumed that his crying was a result of his own loneliness. After she picked him up and comforted him and he still continued crying, it became clear that his tears weren’t for his own pain but for the agony of his Jewish brethren, which was indeed the mature crying of a young adult who from a young age was able to share in the suffering of his fellow Jews.


כי כבד פה וכבד לשון אנכי (4:10)

Moshe argued that he was unfit to serve as the redeemer of the Jewish people because he was heavy of mouth and heavy of speech. What is the difference between heavy of mouth and heavy of speech, which seems to be repetitive? Rabbeinu Chananel writes that the seemingly redundant expression indicates that Moshe was unable to pronounce letters which are said with one’s teeth (namely, ז, ש, ר, ס, צ) nor those with are pronounced with one’s tongue (specifically, ד, ט, ל, נ, ת).

Based on this explanation, the Kesef Nivchar suggests an original understanding of Moshe’s request ואמרו לי מה שמו מה אומר אליהם (3:13) – when the Jews ask what is the name of the G-d who sent me to redeem them, what shall I answer them? Moshe was expressing his frustration over the fact that every one of Hashem’s names with which he was familiar contained at least one of the aforementioned letters which he was unable to pronounce. In other words, he was asking Hashem for an alternate name which he would be able to say clearly. Hashem therefore taught him the name (3:14) “אהי-ה,” which contains only letters that even the hard-of-speech Moshe could pronounce!


לכן אמר לבני ישראל אני ד' והוצאתי אתכם מתחת סבלת מצרים (6:6)

Hashem instructed Moshe to say to the Jewish people that He will take them out from under the burdens of their suffering. Although the verse literally refers to Hashem taking out the Jews from under the burdens placed upon them by Pharaoh and their Egyptian taskmasters, the Chiddushei HaRim and the Kotzker Rebbe suggest an alternate reading which teaches a powerful lesson.

The same words which mean “the suffering caused by the Egyptians” can also mean “the patience to tolerate their life in Egypt.” As difficult as their life was in Egypt, they had grown accustomed to it and learned to cope. It represented the only stability they had ever known, and they didn’t even feel an intense desire to be redeemed and go free into the unknown. Hashem told Moshe to hint to the Jews that the first prerequisite toward their salvation was the creation of a willingness and desire to be saved.

The Medrash emphasizes the magnitude of the miracle required to redeem an entire nation from slavery in Egypt by recording that prior to the Exodus, not a single slave every successfully escaped from Egypt in all of its history. While the simple understanding is that this was due to an effective system of policing the borders, Rav Gedalyah Schorr suggests that it was due less to physical control and more to mind control. He posits that no slave ever escaped because none of them ever tried! Egypt had such an effective system of brainwashing the slaves and convincing them that life beyond the border offered nothing that they were currently lacking that they grew complacent and content with their existence.

After the Beis Halevi refused the initial offer he received to serve as Rav of Brisk, the town sent back messengers to inform him that 25,000 Jews of Brisk were anxiously awaiting his arrival at the train station, a message which caused him to change his mind and accept the position. Upon hearing this story, the Chofetz Chaim burst into tears and explained, “If the Beis Halevi couldn’t refuse 25,000 Jews eagerly anticipating his arrival, surely Moshiach can’t do so. His delay in coming can only be because we’ve grown so accustomed to our comfortable lives in golus (exile) that we don’t feel lacking and aren’t yearning for the final redemption!”


כי ידבר אלכם פרעה לאמר תנו לכם מופת (7:9)

In challenging Moshe and Aharon, Pharaoh insisted that they provide a wonder to back up their threats and prove their abilities. Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein notes that throughout the generations, there has always been a need for Rabbis to know how to “provide signs” in their fights on behalf of Torah-true Judaism. When Rav Shimon Sofer, son of the Chasam Sofer, became Rav of one of the largest Jewish communities in PolandKrakow – he was a mere 24 years old, and he understood the need to quickly assert his authority.

In his first public speech, he recounted that in the city of Pressburg, where his father served as Rav, one of the non-observant Jews dared to break with established tradition and began publicly opening his store on Shabbos. The Chasam Sofer sent two students from the yeshiva to warn the man to close his store, but he insulted them and refused to comply. When they were sent back a second time, he chased them away and threatened to attack them if they dared show up again.

When the Chasam Sofer instructed them to return a third time, they expressed fear for their well-being. He then taught them one of Hashem’s mystical names, instructing them that if the man threatens them, they should touch the nearest mezuzah while concentrating on this name. When the man saw them coming near, he indeed began to approach them menacingly. They quickly ran to the nearest mezuzah while focusing on the name that they had been taught, at which point the storekeeper dropped dead!

At this point, Rav Shimon Sofer dramatically looked around the room packed with congregants old enough to be his father or grandfather, and concluded that he was one of the two students, and he still remembers the name! Suffice it to say that from this point on his rulings were accepted with the awe normally accorded an older and more experienced Rav.


זה קלי ואנוהו אלקי אבי וארממנהו (15:2)

A well known Medrash (Yalkut Shimoni 244) states that the clarity of the revelation at the Red Sea was so great that even the lowest maidservant saw more than Yechezkel and Yeshaya, some of the greatest prophets ever. Why did they specifically refer to the accomplishments of the maidservants, and where is it at all hinted to that the maidservants indeed reached such levels?

The Vilna Gaon notes that the Mishnah in Bikkurim (1:4) rules that a convert must bring bikkurim (first-fruits) but does not read the verses that other Jews do when bringing bikkurim. The reason for this is that those verses refer to the enslavement of אבותינו – our ancestors – something which isn’t true of the convert’s great-grandparents, which should also be the case with regards to a maidservant.

Our verse may be split in two, with the first half referring to “my G-d” and the second half discussing “the G-d of my father.” Why the need to split the praises in two, and what is the significance of the switch from “my G-d” to “the G-d of my father?” It must be that the Jews said the latter praise and were therefore able to refer to the G-d of their ancestors, as per the opinion of the Mishnah in Bikkurim.

If so, we may conclude that the first phrase, which emphasizes the personal G-d of the speaker, was said by the maidservants who were unable to refer to their forefathers, and this phrase uses the expression “זה(this), which is always associated with a clear physical presence that one is able to point to. This is exactly the statement of the Medrash, that the maidservants saw Hashem so clearly as to be able to point to Him, a level which even the later prophets didn’t reach!


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

1) Does a father who lives in America and observes 2 days of Yom Tov have a mitzvah to relate the story of the Exodus on the 2nd day of Pesach to his son who lives in Israel and observes only one (in the event that they spend Pesach together)? Is the law the same regarding a father who lives in Israel and observes only one day but has a son who lives in America and observes two?

2) The Tur writes (Orach Chaim 417) that each of the three Biblical festivals is associated with one of the Avos, with Pesach corresponding to. What connections can you find between the two?

3) As the Zohar HaKadosh states (Pinchas 232a) that Moshe merited to have the Shechina (Divine Presence) actually speak through his mouth, what difference did it make that his speech was impaired (4:10), and why did he feel that this rendered him unfit for the task? (Mishmeres Ariel)

4) Why is the eating of chometz on Pesach punished (12:15) with kares (spiritual excision), a punishment not meted out for eating other prohibited foods?

5) Why does the Torah relate in Parshas Bo the questions attributed in the Haggada to the wicked son (12:26) and the simple son (13:14) instead of beginning with the question of the wise son, which isn’t mentioned until much later (Devorim 6:20)? (Darash Moshe)

6) The Mishnah Berurah rules (473:71) that when fulfilling one’s obligation to recount the story of the Exodus from Egypt on the night of Pesach (13:8), one should do so while sitting in an atmosphere of fear and awe and not while casually reclining. How can this be reconciled with the well-known episode recorded in the Haggadah Shel Pesach that 5 Torah scholars were reclining in B’nei B’rak while discussing the Exodus from Egypt? (Matamei Yaakov)

7) Will the mourning period practiced during Sefiras HaOmer be observed in the Messianic era?

8) The Gemora in Megillah (10b) relates that when the Heavenly angels saw the punishment being meted out to the Egyptians at the Red Sea, they desired to sing Hashem’s praises, but Hashem answered them, “My creations are drowning and you wish to sing!?” Why weren’t the Jews forbidden to sing the Shiras HaYam for this reason? (Taam V’Daas, Maharsha Berachos 9b)

9) May one fulfill his twice-daily obligation to recall the Exodus from Egypt (Devorim 16:3) by reciting Shiras HaYam? (Magen Avrohom 67:1, Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chaim 15 and Chiddushei Chasam Sofer to Orach Chaim 67, Chiddushei Rav Akiva Eiger Orach Chaim 67)


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