A large part of redeeming the Jews from Egypt was getting rid of their slave mentality as my Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Alter Chanoch Henoch Leibowitz zt”l explained in a shmuz on the 4 types of redemption used to free the Jewish people: והוצאתי ,והצלחתי ,גאלתי, ולקחתי. “There are four redemptions here: ‘I will bring you out,’ ‘I will save you,’ ‘I will redeem you,’ ‘and I will take you’”…'” (Shemos Rabba 6:4.) The Sforno explains that at first the slavery will end, then they will leave the borders of Egypt. Then comes the drowning of the Egyptians, because after the death of their masters they will not simply be runaway slaves, and, lastly, they will be anointed as Hashem’s nation at Mount Sinai. The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l asked: why did they have to see the Egyptian’s demise to feel absolutely free? Weren’t they in fact princes from a chashuv [prestigious] lineage of illustrious forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov who were unjustly enslaved and incarcerated? Hashem, out of His love and care for His children, seemingly made it abundantly clear that they were not slaves anymore, by stifling and demoralizing the Egyptians masters with the ten plagues. They even officially stopped working for the Egyptians starting from the first plague; so when the Jewish people actually left Egypt, they should certainly have felt free. Why then was the drowning of the Egyptians a necessary part of their freedom? The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l answered that we see from here how hard it is to change our feelings and impressions of ourselves. The Jews felt like freed slaves but not free men upon leaving Egypt. Only after seeing their Egyptian taskmasters washed up on the shore Red Sea after all the miracles did they truly change their self-image.
In a similar vein, but one step before that, the Ralbag relates in this week’s Torah portion of Beshalach that “if one is trying to get something done then he should do whatever is needed to guard from anything that might get in the way of what he is seeking and to do all within his power to reach his ultimate goal. Therefore, we see that when Hashem wanted to take the Jews as His nation, and keep His oath that He made with the Forefathers, He put a lot of thought and wisdom into ensuring that it happens.
This is why Hashem created incredible wonders; to show them that He is master over everything. And when Hashem took them out of Egypt, He didn’t want to take them to Eretz Canaan in the most direct way, even though it is pretty close to Egypt, because the Jews were not learned in war, and perhaps they would have become scared of war and return to Egypt. Therefore, Hashem took them in such a roundabout way in order to extend their journey. This is also why Hashem loaded them with provisions when they left Egypt, leaving with all their flock, and with many treasures they took with them out of Egypt. This was in order for them not to be too embarrassed to make them want to return to Egypt. For if some of their flock would have been left in Egypt, maybe it would have been a reason for them to be worried about the flock that was left and return to Egypt. The reason why they took all the silver and gold and clothing with them from Egypt was also in order to distance them from the possibility of returning to Egypt, in order so that they won’t need [to feel indebted to] return what they borrowed, with the fact that they were absolutely embarrassed about running away with what they borrowed, since they are only giving back bad for the good the Egyptians did for them by lending them their best clothing and utensils.
The reason why Hashem took them on such a long and winding route up the Red Sea was in order that they could see the miracles and wonders of the splitting of the sea, and perfect for them the belief in Hashem and His servant Moshe. Granted, the redemption from Egyptians was complete and there was no reason to fear that the Egyptians would run after them. (In fact, later on the Ralbag says the only reason why the Egyptians pursued the Jews at all was because Hashem orchestrated by putting into Pharaoh’s head that Pharaoh should run after them in order to show the wonder that would take place at the splitting of the sea, in order to perfect their belief in Hashem). For this reason, too, Hashem set up constant great wonders in the desert, such as the Clouds of Glory in the day and the Pillar of Fire by night, in order for them to actualize the power of Hashem and His Supremacy; to do whatever He wishes to do. In this way, the Jews would feel subjugated to walk in the way of His Torah in a fashion that they will be for Him a nation and Him their G-D.” (Click here fr Hebrew text.)
The Ralbag emphasized numerous times that Hashem did what He could to be sure the Jews would not want to return to Egypt. But why would they want to go back to Egypt? They were treated so nastily, persecuted, subjugated to inhumane torturous labor, and even if the Egyptians wouldn’t enslave them again, still just being haunted by the memories in the land should keep them away from going back there. In any event, Egypt was left a wasteland, desolate and charred by the plagues that wreaked havoc on the land. So why would they want to go back? Even if they went back to Goshen, where most of them lived, it was a ghetto. They have an opportunity to find a bigger and better place as the Holy One, Master of the Universe, Father in Heaven had promised them; so why should there be any doubt in anyone’s mind that they would want to go back to Egypt once they left?
We see from here how hard it is to just pick up and leave after being settled in a place for so long. Even if that place was abusive and a horror, it was home, and it’s hard to just leave and stay away. People might think to themselves, ‘Maybe it would be different if we went back, it will be better, like it used to be originally.’ Any excuse to be back to where they grew up and were settled. That is the normal psychology of a human being, to appreciate where they once lived and were settled.
This is why Hashem couldn’t just take them out of Egypt but had to ensure they would not want to go back, just as He had to dispel their slave mentality even after they were free from slavery of Egyptian bondage.
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder
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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.
In this week’s Torah portion of Beshalach, one of the greatest miraculous events of history happened, the splitting of the sea, where the Jews were saved from the clutches of the Egyptians and the Egyptian army all drowned in the Red Sea. The medrish, Pirkei DiRebbe Eliezer, chapter 42, depicts how the sea originally refused to split on the command of Moshe Rabbeinu even after he showed signs of worthiness to be listened to, but only after Hashem Himself “came down” and revealed His Honor on the sea did the sea runaway in fear into the depths and then came up and congealed into 12 crystalized tunnels, one for each tribe to walk through.
The medrish then relates, “Rebbe Akiva said, that the Jews walked towards the Red Sea and then turned back fearing that maybe the waters will collapse and inundate them. The tribe of Binyamin wanted to enter into the sea as it says, ‘There Binyamin the youngest rules over them’ (Tehillim 68:28), referring to them going down into the sea. The tribe of Yehuda started to pelt them with stones as it says, ‘the princes of Yehuda pelt them with stones’ (Tehillim 62:28). Then Nachshon jumped first into the sea and sanctified Hashem’s Great Name in front of everyone. With the ruling hand of the tribe of Yehuda all the other Jews followed them into the sea as it says, ‘Yehuda became His sanctification, Israel his dominion’ [of Yehuda] Tehillim 114:2). The Egyptians started to run after the Jews but they then turned back fearing that maybe the waters will collapse and inundate them. What did Hashem do? He appeared in the split sea as a man riding a mare, as it says ‘At the gathering of the steeds of Pharaoh’s chariots’ (Shir Hashirim 1:9), and the horse that Pharaoh was riding saw the mare and started running towards it into the sea. The Egyptians saw Pharaoh enter the sea and all of them followed suit, as it says, ‘The Egyptians pursued and came after them,’ (Shemos 14:23), immediately the waters went back and deluged them, as it says, ‘And the waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen’ (Shemos 14:28).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The commentary on this medrish, Be’ur Maspik, points out that this medrish really combines both opinions found in maseches Sotah 37a, and relates that the tribe of Binyamin desired to enter the sea but Nachshon ben Aminadav was swifter (zariz) to act in order to sanctify Hashem’s Name. The Maharsha in Sotah 37a, based on a Rashi in Tehillim (62:28) adds that the reason why the tribe of Yehuda was pelting the tribe of Binyamin with stones was because they were jealous of them, so they started stoning them [as a distraction which allowed Nachshon ben Aminadav from the tribe of Yehuda to jump in first.] The Be’ur Maspik further relates that when everyone saw the tribe of Yehuda’s aggressiveness and how they took control of their inclination in order to jump into the sea, only then did the Jewish people do the same. Whereas the Egyptians, what caused them to follow in chase? The horse of Pharaoh that entered the sea first.
There seems to be identical reactions about the sea splitting between the Jews and Egyptians. They both were terrified and hesitated to enter the split sea lest the sea would collapse and drown all of them. However, what drove them into the sea were two very different approaches.
Most of the Jewish people seemed very hesitant to take the plunge, and though the tribe of Binyamin seemed willing and ready to do so but we can infer that even if they did, everyone else would still question their sanity, and not be convinced to follow suit at the threat of their demise. However, it would seem, that because of the passion and aggressive nature the tribe of Yehuda showed which created a tremendous kiddush Hashem, that inspired the rest of the Jewish nation to overcome their fears and follow suit into the Red Sea which was their ultimate savior.
On the other hand, the Egyptians were terrified for the same reason , and it would seem that even though Pharaoh gave orders to pursue the Jews, the Egyptian army refused to listen, but only after an illusion, orchestrated by Hashem, which lead to Pharaoh losing control of his horse which ran into the sea with him, did the army follow since because if their leader is doing it, they must do the same. With all their discipline and army training they still refused out of fear to chase after the enemy until their leader seemingly began the chase and only then did they feel compelled to overcome their fears which ultimately lead to their demise.
We see from here two different approaches of how a leader can convince his followers to overcome their fears. One is to show passion, commitment, zerizus, and validity for the cause which will “rally up the troops” even if they aren’t disciplined soldiers. The other is to lead by example once they are disciplined soldiers. Either way, it takes a show of courageous leadership to prevail over trepidation.
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This dvar Torah is taken from the notes I took about 18 years ago of Rav Moshe Chait zt”l’s Shmuz in Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim Yerushalayim
We find in this week’s Torah portion of Beshalach The Song the Jew’s sang at the sea. One of the stanzas says: “You stretched forth Your right hand and the earth swallowed them up” (Shemos 12:15).
The Yalkut Shimone says that Hashem required the land to swallow up the Egyptians as a burial. What was their merit to be buried? It was because they said “Hashem is the righteous”. They declared it almost by force, but still it is a tremendous merit that outweighed all the evil they did. Despite all their evil, they admitted they were wrong, so Hashem gave them a burial. This is hinted to in the words: “You stretched forth your right hand;” the right stands for chesed, kindness.
The pasuk “You stretched out Your right hand“ also hints that they were thrown out of the sea onto dry land, and then the dry land threw them back into the sea because it didn’t want to bury these evil people. What was the claim of the sea and dry land to not bury the Egyptians? Their claim was that just as the earth had to receive the blood of Hevel, after Kayin killed him, which looked like a cover up, which is why the Torah says the land shall be cursed, then all the more so, they claimed, if we bury all the Egyptians who died, the land will be cursed! They wouldn’t bury the Egyptians until Hashem “stretched out His Right hand,” which is a sign of an oath that he wouldn’t curse them.
Hashem said to the sea: ”You now have an obligation to perform your duty which is the kindness to bury the Egyptians.” But why did the dry land not want to do its normal duty which is a moral Chesed? Because it had its justifications and Hashem had to assure the land under the sea that they weren’t doing wrong by serving the wicked.
By Yaakov it says he ‘took a bunch of stones to rest his head on,’ and then it says he ‘took one stone.’ Chaza”l says all the stones wanted to be a pillow for Yaakov, so they became one.
The Mesilas Yesharim in the first chapter says there is a reason for all aspects of creation and the ultimate purpose of creation is to serve man, who is the purpose of creation.
The magnetism of rocks is to serve mankind. Can you imagine what a merit it is to have Yaakov Avinu lay on the rock? Not one rock had any more merit than the other rock, so they had, one might say, a magnetic spirituality to serve Yaakov!
This is a new definition of Chesed, because people think kindness is usually for people that deserve it. However Chaza”l say “The world with kindness was built.” That does not mean Hashem created the world with acts of kindness, but rather the whole identity of creatures were implanted with kindness. Not just man was created with one of his attributes to do kindness, but the whole essence of man is kindness. It is part an parcel of his nature, as well as the nature of all creation. That is why the evil Egyptians had a right to be buried, because of the remark they made, that Hashem is the Righteous. This triggered kindness to bury them.
An example of kindness to the highest degree is Avraham Avinu. Immediately after circumcising himself, he welcomed and served 3 “Arab idol worshippers.”
Doing a chesed for a close relative isn’t a big deal; it is expected. But still Chaz”al say Hashem said to Avraham you can wear My Garments of Chesed only after he buried his wife because at that instant he showed he did kindness out of love more than any other time which generated even more kindness.
Every one of us has an obligation to emulate Hashem, which is why we should do chesed. A person should have feelings that you need to help another, this kindness comes immediately when you see an opportunity coming your way. One should not have the attitude that the other needs to be helped which comes when you see a friend giving you signs that he wants something done for him.
Acts of chesed are everywhere don’t miss out on the opportunity!
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder