Bishalach – The Kindness of Strict Judgement

This dvar Torah is dedicated in dear memory of my brother-in-law Rabbi Yehuda Simes, Yehuda Pinchas ben Yitzchak Isaac zt"l, who passed away this past Tuesday. Rabbi Simes' and his wife's involvement in CITE and my life as a whole has had a profound impact on myself as well as on many others throughout the world. May his blessed memory live on forever.
In this week’s Torah portion of Bishalach we have the famous Shiras HaYam, the Song at the Sea. It is the song that Moshe and B’nei Yisrael sang after walking through the split sea.  It is recited every morning during shachris, at the end of pesukei dizimra.

Towards the end of the song it says: “You stretched out Your right hand – the earth swallowed them” (Shemos 15:12). The Rosh comments on the end of this posuk that the reason why the Egyptians deserved to be buried was because they were involved in honoring Yaakov at his burial, and The One who does not deprive any creature from its reward should not deprive them of their reward, measure for measure. (Click here to see Hebrew text.)

The burial of a human being is considered basic human decency, and is done out of respect for the person. Even a person who committed  a terrible sin such as idolatry, or cursing Hashem, which is deserving of  the capital punishment of stoning, the Torah directs the court to not allow his body to hang for too long. The Sefer HaChinuch says that, in fact, this terrible person should be hung at sunset for all to see, to instill fear and trepidation in their hearts in order so that they won’t do such a thing. He is then immediately  buried with the scaffold he was hung from and with  the stone he was stoned with, so that people won’t say ‘this is the tree that so and so was hung on’ (Mitzvah 535). The Gemara in Sanhedrin 46b brings a touching parable to explain the severity of this point, of two twin brothers who looked exactly alike, one who becomes  king and the other who was a bandit and was eventually hung. Whoever would see the hung body would say ‘the king is hanging;’ so the king commanded for the body to be taken down. Rashi there says: so too, each person is made in the image of Hashem and it would not be right to leave a person hanging, no matter what insidious act he has done.

It would seem however from this Rosh that the Egyptians  lost even  the right to a proper burial, and  even their reward for having shown the proper respect at Yaakov’s funeral was taken away from them. Only because this was the right thing to do, meaning this is the way Hashem runs the world, measure for measure, were they given a burial; the land opened up and swallowed them after they washed up onto shore, in order for B’nei Yisrael to see their enemy finally destroyed (See Ramban Shemos 15:12).

We see here a whole new dimension in the quality of a good deed. Even if one somehow lost the right to deserve to collect his reward for doing a good deed it still could count for something and invokes strict judgement to be exercised for one’s advantage.

Don’t underestimate the impact of one simple good deed!

Yehuda sure did not underestimate the impact of one simple good deed. Please click here to gain some inspiration from eulogies of this very special person.