Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Parshas Shemos

ובני ישראל פרו וישרצו וירבו ויעצמו במאד מאד ותמלא הארץ אותם (1:7)

שהיו יולדות ששה בכרס אחד (רש"י)

The Oznayim L’Torah recounts that a nonobservant Jew once approached his father-in-law Rav Eliezer Gordon, the Rav and Rosh Yeshiva of Telz in Europe. He argued that he although he believed whatever is explicitly written in the Torah, how could he, a modern and sophisticated intellectual, be expected to believe in apparently exaggerated Medrashim, such as Rashi’s comment that the Jewish women in Egypt miraculously gave birth to six children at a time?

Without batting an eyelash, Rav Gordon answered him with a beautiful mathematical proof of the Medrash’s claim. In Parshas Bamidbar, the Torah (which the man claimed to believe in) records the results of the census conducted approximately one year after the Exodus from Egypt. The total number of first-born males was 22,273 (Bamidbar 3:43), which means that there were a total of 22,273 families. The total of men between the ages of 20 and 60 produced by these families was 603,550 (Bamidbar 1:46), and doubling this number to account for the men under 20 and over 60 yields a total of 1,207,100 men. Dividing 1,207,100 by 22,273 yields an average family size of approximately 54!

It takes a woman almost one year to conceive and give birth to a child. In those times, it took a woman two years after giving birth until she was able to conceive again (Niddah 9a), meaning that each child required roughly three years. A woman normally has 27-30 child-bearing years during her life. If each child takes three years, she will be able to give birth a maximum of 9-10 times during her lifetime. Dividing the 54 children the average woman had by the roughly nine times she gave birth yields a result of exactly six children per delivery, a proof which left the nonobservant Jew stunned and speechless!


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

Approximately two weeks after the birth of one of his daughters, Rabbi S. went into her room to check on her before retiring for the night … only to find her blue and unconscious! He and his wife immediately raced her to the nearest hospital, but when giving her over to the emergency room doctors, he didn’t know if he’d ever see her again. Fortunately, she received proper medical treatment, was quickly nursed back to health, and hasn’t had any further medical problems.

What makes this story remarkable is that the father of Rabbi S is a well-known philanthropist who, nine months before this episode, donated money to an old synagogue in Jerusalem to enable them to check their Sifrei Torah for the first time in more than 80 years. To their astonishment, the Sefer Torah from which they had read every week for close to a century was found to be invalid. The last three words of our verse were written וכל הבית תחיון – the additional “י” rendered the entire Sefer Torah unfit.

As aghast as the congregation was at the error, they promptly corrected it and thought nothing further of the incident. However, nine months later a little girl who was fighting for her life was saved, perhaps in the merit that just around the time of her conception, her generous grandfather enabled the correction of a disqualified Sefer Torah so that the verse properly read, “And all of the girls shall live!”


ותרא את התבה בתוך הסוף ותשלח את אמתה ותקחה (2:5)

את ידה שנשתרבבה אמתה אמות הרבה (רש"י)

Upon descending to the river, Pharaoh’s daughter heard a crying infant and wanted to assist and comfort him. However, the basket containing the baby was far away, and it was impossible for her to reach it. Nevertheless, Rashi writes that she stretched out her hand, which miraculously extended until it reached Moshe’s basket and pulled him toward her. The actions of Pharaoh’s daughter are difficult to understand. Although Hashem miraculously assisted her, she had no way of knowing in advance that this would occur. If she recognized that the basket was beyond her grasp, why did she even try to reach it?

The Chofetz Chaim explains that when faced with such an impossible situation, the average person would give up without even trying. Any attempted rescue would be viewed as a waste of time and effort. However, if this same person has a child trapped in a burning house or under a heavy object, he won’t think twice before attempting a miraculous rescue, which will indeed often be successful.

Similarly, Pharaoh’s daughter had a burning desire to save the crying infant. While she realized that the basket was beyond her natural reach, she also understood that Hashem only expects a person to do his best. At that point nothing more can be demanded of him, as he has put in his maximum efforts and the actual results are up to Hashem. In the case of Pharaoh’s daughter, she merited a miracle and the entire salvation of the Jews from Egypt can be traced back to her willingness to give it her all even in what seemed to be an impossible situation.

The following story gives a modern-day application of this principle. Rav Don Segal once met a taxi driver who had merited driving the Steipler as a passenger. The driver related that the Steipler asked him if he studies Torah. The driver replied that although he regularly attends a shiur (class) in his neighborhood, he consistently falls asleep in the first minute of the shiur due to his sheer exhaustion.

The Steipler told him that in Heaven he is considered a great man, as Hashem only asks for a person’s best efforts. If the driver doesn’t have the energy to remain awake during the shiur, he will still receive tremendous reward for using his last remaining strength to travel to learn what little he is able to absorb before dozing off. Many times a situation seems desperate and beyond our control. At those times, we should take comfort in the lesson of Pharaoh’s daughter that all Hashem wants is our best good-faith effort, and at that point we can leave the rest to Him.


ויאמר משה אל האלקים הנה אנכי בא אל בני ישראל ואמרתי להם

אלקי אבותיכם שלחני אליכם ואמרו לי מה שמו מה אמר אלהם (3:13)

When the Baal HaTanya was young and newly married, he spent Rosh Hashana with one of the leading Chassidic Rebbes of the time. The Rebbe’s custom was that before the blowing of the shofar, all of those who knew how to blow would draw close to the Rebbe, who would teach them the mystical secrets and intentions to have in mind while blowing the shofar. At that point, the Rebbe would choose one of the assembled to blow the shofar for the congregation that year.

The Baal HaTanya joined the group, and to his surprise, the Rebbe selected him to blow the shofar. At that point, he was forced to sheepishly confess that he didn’t know how to blow the shofar. The confused Rebbe asked him why he had falsely claimed to be capable in order to join the group.

The Baal HaTanya answered that when Hashem initially revealed Himself to Moshe at the bush, Moshe asked for His secret name which he could share with the Jews to validate his mission. Yet shortly thereafter, Moshe declared himself unfit for the role due to his speaking difficulties (4:10). The Baal HaTanya used this episode as a source to similarly learn the Kabbalistic secrets of the shofar even though he would later have to declare himself incapable of using them to blow it!


ותקח צפרה צר ותכרת את ערלת בנה (4:25)

In the middle of a good’s night sleep after an exhausting day of travel through a scorching desert, Tzipporah awoke to the sight of her husband being swallowed whole by an angel seeking to kill him. Realizing the cause of this potential calamity, she quickly took a stone and used it to circumcise her son, thereby saving Moshe’s life. The Perishah (Yoreh Deah 264:7) writes that until the times of Dovid Hamelech, it was customary to circumcise children with rocks, just as Tzipporah did. The reason that iron is used today is based on a fascinating Medrash.

The Medrash relates that when Dovid slew Goliath, the rocks that he slung wanted to penetrate Goliath’s metal armor, but they knew it was impossible to do so according to the laws of nature. Therefore, the Heavenly angel in charge of rocks began negotiating with the Heavenly angel in charge of iron. The angel of rocks offered the angel of iron the right to be used for circumcisions from that point on if he would allow Dovid’s rocks to miraculously penetrate Goliath’s iron armor. The angel of iron agreed, Goliath was killed, and we now circumcise with iron instead of rocks!


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

1) Rashi writes (1:21) that because the midwives Yocheved and Miriam feared Hashem and refused to obey Pharaoh’s command to kill the male Jewish babies, He rewarded them by making them the matriarchs of the dynasties of Kohanim, Levites, and kings. As Hashem’s rewards aren’t arbitrary, how was this considered an appropriate measure-for-measure reward for their actions?

2) Rashi writes (2:1) that when Pharaoh decreed that all Jewish male children should be killed, Amram divorced his wife. The Gemora in Berachos (10a) relates that when Chizkiyahu HaMelech became deathly ill, the prophet Yeshayahu was sent to inform him that he would soon die and forfeit his portion in the World to Come for neglecting to attempt to fulfill the mitzvah to have children. Chizkiyahu countered that he had seen through Divine Inspiration that any children he would have would be evil. Yeshayahu rejected this defense by telling him that a person’s job is to perform mitzvos without making such calculations, and to leave the results to Hashem. Why wasn’t there a similar accusation against Amram for divorcing his wife and refusing to have children for fear that they would be put to death? (M’rafsin Igri)

3) What is the connection between Moshe and water, where many significant events in his life occurred – being placed in the river as a baby (2:3), meeting his future wife at the well (2:17), warning Pharaoh about the plagues next to the river, performing the first two plagues via water, splitting the Red Sea for the Jews and drowning the Egyptians in it, and eventually dying as a result of his sin in bringing forth water from the rock at Mei Merivah? (Mishmeres Ariel)

4) Rashi writes (2:7) that Moshe’s refusal to nurse from an Egyptian woman was due to his unwillingness to drink milk from a non-Jew with the same mouth that was destined to speak directly to Hashem. Does receiving a blood transfusion from a non-Jew also cause טמטום הלב – spiritual dullness? (Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov 2:40, Chavatzeles HaSharon, Bishvilei HaParsha)

5) Rashi writes (2:12) that when Moshe saw an Egyptian striking one of the Jewish slaves, after prophetically confirming that the Egyptian had no future descendants who would convert to Judaism, he killed him and hid his body in the sand. If the Egyptian hadn’t committed a sin for which he should be killed, why did Moshe kill him? If he had committed such a crime, why didn’t Moshe put him to death immediately, as the Torah doesn’t differentiate in prescribing punishments for sinners based on their future descendants? (Gur Aryeh, Maharil Diskin, Brisker Rov quoted in Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha, Ayeles HaShachar, Taam V’Daas, Eebay’ei L’hu)

6) Hashem revealed Himself 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, Kli Yakar)

7) The Mishnah (Berachos 54a) prohibits a person from entering the Temple Mount with, among other things, shoes on his feet or a walking stick in his hand. As a result, Moshe was commanded (3:5) to remove his shoes from the Holy ground upon which he was standing when Hashem revealed Himself to him at the burning bush. After Moshe expressed his doubts about the Jewish people believing him about his mission, Hashem gave him a sign by turning his staff into a snake (4:2-3). Why wasn’t Moshe similarly instructed to discard his staff together with his shoes out of awe and respect for the Divine Presence? (Mishmeres Ariel)

8) The Medrash teaches that one of the merits by which the Jews were redeemed from Egypt was that they didn’t exchange their clothes for the fashions of the Egyptians. Why did Hashem tell Moshe (3:22) to instruct the Jews to borrow the Egyptians’ clothing, and how could they wear these garments after generations of insulating themselves from such clothing? (Meged Yosef)

9) Rashi writes (5:4) that the tribe of Levi wasn’t enslaved in Egypt together with the rest of the Jews. Why was Pharaoh willing to spare them from the servitude to which he subjected the rest of the Jews? (Daas Z’keinim, Rabbeinu Bechaye, Rav Eliyahu Lopian quoted in Peninim Vol. 2)


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