Beshalach – It’s Not About What You Say but How You Say It

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This week’s dvar Torah is SPONSORED BY RABBI DOVID VINITSKY AND CHILDREN IN LOVING MEMORY OF HIS UNCLE JOSEPH KATZ  Yosef ben Moshe Hakohen O”H. He was an intellectual who enjoyed learning mussar and was a reader of this weekly thought. May this dvar Torah bring merit to his soul, AND ALSO BRING COMFORT TO HIS WIFE OF 72 YEARS  AUNT ESTEL KATZ AND HIS CHILDREN.

In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Beshalach, Pharaoh sent the Jewish people out of Egypt.

It came to pass when Pharaoh let the people go… יזוַיְהִ֗י בְּשַׁלַּ֣ח פַּרְעֹה֘

The medrish Pesiksa Rabasi of Rav Kahana learns a very interesting halacha from this pasuk. “Our Rabbis taught that one who uses (literally send his hand שולח יד) an item deposited to him to watch by his friend, how could it be collected by the owner? This is what our Rabbis have taught us (in Bava Metzia daf 43): If one has used a deposit, Beis Shammai says he has to pay what is missing or extra. (For example, if a sheep was deposited to him full of wool and he sheared the wool, after he used the sheep he has to pay for the sheep and wool and if it grew more wool he has to pay the value of what was grown also.) Beis Hillel says he has to pay the value of what it was worth when stolen (whether it was full of wool or empty.) Rebbe Akiva says, he has to pay the value of its worth at the time of the claim against him, (meaning the value of the deposit when he was summoned to court.) And our Rabbis have taught us, that definitely anyone who has used the deposit of his friend is deserving of breaking his arm. Where do we learn this from? From Pharaoh, who the Jews were given to him as a deposit, and he wanted to use them, and Hashem ‘broke his arm’ as it says ‘Son of man, I have broken the arm of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt’ (Yechezkel 30:21). How do we know that the Jews were a deposit in his hand? For it had said ‘פָּקֹ֤ד פָּקַ֨דְתִּי֙ אֶתְכֶ֔ם ‘ (Shemos 3:16), (which literally means I have made you into a deposit) [and Hashem promised] and I will take them out (Brieshis 50:25). And because the Jews gave up on being redeemed, Hashem said, go tell them that just as the owner of a deposit when he wants to, he takes his item, so to you, when your time has come, I will immediately take you out of his hands. The Jews said to Hashem, ‘Master Of The Universe, see how he [Pharoah] denies your existence, and prevents us from leaving,’ as it says ‘I do not know Hashem, neither will I let Israel out’ (Shemos 5:2). Hashem said to them, I swear by your life that you will see the mouth who said who is Hashem will say Hashem The Righteous. The mouth that said ‘I don’t know Hashem’ will say pray to Hashem, and the mouth that said ‘neither will I let Israel out’ will in the end take everyone by their hand and send them away. How do we know this? As it says, ‘It came to pass when Pharaoh let the people go…’” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
It is interesting to note that Hashem refers to the Jewish people as a “deposited item.” One might think that is very belittling to refer to one’s precious children, a nation of human beings with such potential, as a thing or an object. As they say nowadays, this does not sound politically correct! Why did Hashem refer to the Jewish people in this manner? Yet on the contrary, Hashem was sending a very positive and reassuring message to the Jewish people, to inspire them to not give up hope. Just as they were brought to Egypt, as orchestrated by Hashem, they can very easily be taken out of Egypt, even if they were enslaved and mistreated, just like a person who deposited a precious item into the hands of someone to watch and is now picking it up. These are supposed to be words of encouragement, not insult; it is not what is said but how it is said.

In a similar vein, at the beginning of this medrish a person who uses an item deposited by him to just watch is equated to Pharoah, deserving of his arm being broken just as Pharaoh and his country were crushed by the ten plagues for misusing and abusing the Jews. The Rada”l comments that this person deserving of his arm being broken for using the object is like a thief with a high arm and the pasuk in Iyov suggests, “and the high arm shall be broken” (Iyov 38:15). The Rada”l concludes that one should look further into the matter in Sanhedrin 58b.

There, it discusses a person who raise his hand to strike his fellow. Reish Lakish says: One who raises his hand to strike another, even if he ultimately does not strike him, is called wicked…Rav Huna says: His hand should be cut off, as it is stated: “And the high arm shall be broken” (Job 38:15). If one habitually lifts his arm to strike others, it is better that it be broken. (as per Rashi there.) The Gemara relates that Rav Huna cut off the hand of a person who would habitually hit others. Rashi on the gemara there says that the Jewish court has a right to fine a person by beating or punishing him even if there isn’t precedence of the sort in the Torah in order to create a fence and deterrent in the matter. (Clcik here for Hebrew text.)
This person who used someone’s item that does not belong to him, granted he went against the owner’s trust and did something equivalent to stealing – but is he really as bad as Pharaoh, who brutally enslaved the Jews, tortured and killed many of them? Why are they equated?

Granted Pharaoh deserved and received a much, much more severe punishment for what he did; but it would seem from the reference the Rada”l makes to Sanhedrin that the reason why this guardian of the deposit is equated to Pharaoh, who was the guardian of Hashem’s deposit, is not because of what he did, but how he did it.

It would seem that this person had a habit to use other people’s things, which he was entrusted to watch, and that is why he was deserving to have his hand broken just as the person who is in the habit of even just threatening to strike others. Forming such a nasty habit, albeit that it is not punishable the same way as what Pharaoh, did but it is equated in severity to the acts that he did. This is because when a person forms a negative habit, he has convinced himself that he is doing nothing wrong, just as Pharaoh who resolved to believe he himself was a god and denied the Almighty King Of All Kings, had no intention of letting  the Jews go and needed to be severely punished in order to learn his lesson.