This week’s Parsha includes the story of Keriat Yam Suf, the splitting of the sea. Following this incident, the Jewish people are inspired to sing the Shirat Hayam, the Song of the Sea. One of this song’s most famous phrases is “Zeh Keili Veanveihu” (15:2) Rashi quotes three explanations for the word Veanveihu. First, Targum Onkelos says it means “I will establish a dwelling place for Him,” meaning that the Jewish people will build the Beit Hamikdash, in which Hashem will rest His Shechinah. Second, the Gemara in Shabbat 133b interprets it as “I will beautify Him” - the Jewish people promised to beautify the Mitzvot. Third, it means “I will glorify Him” by singing of His awesomeness.
In Darash Moshe, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l teaches us that all three meanings are interconnected. It is human nature to want to beautify personal belongings such as our homes, furnishings, and clothing. Similarly, one who considers the Torah to be among his essential needs will want to beautify it as much as possible. He will be careful not to let the Mitzvot seem like a heavy burden, something that is just there to cramp his lifestyle. Just as we have a feeling of pride in our material possessions, we should also be inspired to take pride in the Torah we study and the Mitzvot we fulfill. Even though we are supposed to control the feeling of pride (note the Mishnah in Avot, which states that if we study a lot of Torah we should not think we are great, because we were created for this purpose), we should nonetheless take pride for our accomplishments. If someone does not have this feeling, it is because he does not consider Torah and Mitzvot as an accomplishment worthy of being proud of.
All the interpretations of Rashi stem from Targum Onkelos, who stated that Veanveihu refers to creating a place for Hashem to live. Just as we are proud of our homes, we should want to make the Beit Hamikdash a wonderful physical dwelling place. We should also want to apply this pride to our accomplishments in Torah and Mitzvot and to praise Hashem for giving them to us.
Many years ago when I was seventeen years old, I spent a year of study at Ner Yisrael Rabbinical College in Baltimore, Maryland. There I met a young man named Yitzchak Hirschprung from Montreal, Canada, who was blessed with a photographic memory. He had mastered five entire Masechtot during afternoon Seder that year. He attended Johns Hopkins college in the evening and returned to the Beit Medrash shortly before midnight to resume his studies. After observing this night after night I finally asked him, “If you know the Gemara by heart already, why do you come back to learn it again after such a long day of Torah study and college courses?” He replied, “I still have a Mitzvah of Talmud Torah.” This story made a profound impression on my life, as I discovered first hand the importance of Torah study.
We must take to heart this lesson about Torah study and the fulfillment of Mitzvot. They should be viewed as wonderful opportunities to come close to Hashem, and we should feel good about our success in these areas, because we were created for this purpose. In this way, we will continually be able to sing our Shirah to Hashem and be able to glorify Hashem by our actions. The Talmud in Yoma teaches us when we study Torah, do acts of kindness, and act properly towards people, we cause people to love Hashem. May we be Zoche to fulfill this statement so people will see our actions and say about each one of us “blessed is his parents who taught him Torah and blessed is his teacher who taught him Torah”. In this way we shall bring glory to Hashem.
by Dov Rossman
When the Jews are sandwiched between the Egyptian army and the sea, the Torah tells us that the people cried out to Hashem, but at the same time protested about Moshe having taking them out of Egypt. This incident seems very strange because of the inherent contradiction. If the Jews were calling to Hashem, they must have thought Hashem would save them. But then why would they complain that Hashem took them out of Egypt? The Ramban (commenting on Shemot 14:10-12) answers that there were two groups within Bnei Yisrael at that point. One group cried out to Hashem, while the other protested against Moshe having taken the Jews out of Egypt. This is alluded to in Tehilim: “They were rebellious at the sea, even at the Red Sea” (106:7).
The Ramban states further that whenever the Chumash uses the term “the children of Israel,”, it is referring to the righteous group among Am Yisrael. This is why the Chumash in this Parsha says, “And the children of Israel lifted up their eyes…and the children of Israel called out unto the Eternal” (14:10). This is saying that the better ones called out, and the rest rebelled. If so, we must ask why the Torah, after the Yam Suf was split, states (14:31), “And the people feared the Eternal; and they believed in the Eternal and His servant Moshe.” The answer is that it says “the people,” not “Bnei Yisrael” teaching that after the great miracle even the rebellious group was moved to belief in Hashem.
This idea expressed several times elsewhere in Chumash, such as in the Pasuk, “And the people murmured” (15:24). It also uses the term “the people” during the sin of Baal Peor in Shittim (see Bemidbar 25:1). We can see from these cases that whenever the Chumash uses the term “the people,” it refers to rebels, and when the Chumash uses the term “the children of Israel,” it refers to a group of believing Jews.
We can suggest a second explanation to resolve the contradiction. During the complaint at the Yam Suf, Bnei Yisrael complained to Moshe and said (14:11), “Have you taken us to die in the wilderness!?” This shows that even before the people were scared of war, they were already scared of dying from hunger and thirst. It is possible to say that the people did believe in Hashem but doubted Moshe. Perhaps he had brought them out of Egypt to rule over them. And as for the wonders that he performed, maybe he did it through his wisdom; maybe the Makkot were simply from Hashem to punish the Egyptians for their wickedness, and not to take them out of Egypt. They supported their claim with a “proof”: if all if it was from Hashem, then why did the Egyptians pursue them even after they had left Egypt? Accordingly, this appears to be the reason why the Torah states that after the Yam Suf was split we believed in both Hashem and Moshe His servant.
An additional interpretation can be found in the Mechilta, which states that the People of Israel had prayed to Hashem properly as their fathers did. Subsequently, the Midrash adds, after they “added leaven to the Matzah”, they asked Moshe (14: 11), “Is it because were there no graves in Egypt that you have taken us to die in the wilderness?” The leaven dough is a reference to the Yetzer Hara. Bnei Yisrael cried to Hashem to save them from the Egyptians, and after they saw that Pharaoh did not turn around, they followed their Yetzer Hara and started to complain to Moshe.
by Josh Rossman
The second Pasuk of this week’s Parsha states, “Vachamushim Alu Bnei Yisrael Mayeretz Mitzrayim.” Rashi explains this Pasuk in two ways. First, quoting Targum Onkelos, he suggests that Bnei Yisrael left Mitzrayim equipped with weapons that were later used to fight against Amalek, Midyan, and other various enemies they encountered on the way to Eretz Yisrael. Rashi explains that when Bnei Yisrael would be in the desert there would be no opportunity to obtain military supplies. Thus, it was necessary for them to acquire weapons before they left.
Rav Hirsch asks, in turn, why the preceding Pasuk stated that it was necessary for Bnei Yisrael to avoid war if indeed Bnei Yisrael were armed and seemingly ready to fight. He answers by saying, “It was not the sword at their side that was lacking, but the heart underneath that failed…they lacked [as yet] the spirit of trustfully putting themselves in God’s hands under any and all circumstances.” This explanation makes it somewhat easier to understand Rashi’s second interpretation of the Pasuk. Rashi explains that perhaps “Chamushim” refers to the amount of people who left Mitzrayim. In Parshat Bo, Rashi teaches that one of the reasons for Makat Choshech was to kill all those Jews who were not willing to leave Mitzrayim without allowing the Mitzrim to realize that the Jews were being punished as well. Yet, it is not until this week’s Parsha that we realize the magnitude of the number of Jews who were in fact wiped out. The Mechilta and the Midrash Tanchuma explain “Chamushim” to mean that a staggering four fifths of Bnei Yisrael were killed, and only one fifth had enough faith in Hashem to leave Mitzrayim. It is astonishing that so many people were willing to stay in Mitzrayim, where they were enslaved and killed, rather than to go into Eretz Yisrael as a free nation.
However, it is clear from Rav Hirsch’s answer that the problem was not that they were settled in the land, nor that they did not want to leave their vast riches behind, for they had no worldly possessions and nothing to live for in Mitzrayim as slaves. The problem that Bnei Yisrael faced was their unwillingness to put their complete faith in Hashem. Though they were enslaved in Mitzrayim throughout the ten Makkot, Bnei Yisrael nonetheless received three meals a day and enjoyed a great measure of autonomy in regards to their daily life and decision making. Consequently, they were unwilling to leave this relative state of independence for a complete dependence on Hashem. Bnei Yisrael were not yet willing to leave the land where the Nile was sure to overflow and sustain them for a land where their sustenance was to come only on condition that they were good. This slave mentality led to many of the hardships that they would face while in the desert for so many years.
by Mr. Ezra Frazer
Parshat Beshalach concludes with Amalek’s attack against Bnei Yisrael (17:8-16). In response to this vicious action, God designates Amalek as His mortal enemy, and (in Devarim 25:17-19) orders Bnei Yisrael to annihilate them. One must wonder, why does the Torah single out Amalek for destruction? Bnei Yisrael experienced conflicts with many nations (such as the Egyptians who had just enslaved them); what distinguished Amalek from all other enemies?
In order to understand the severity of the Amalekites’ actions, we must observe a key distinction between the vow to annihilate Amalek in Parshat Beshalach and its parallel in Devarim. In last week’s Parsha, God commits himself to eradicating Amalek, “Macho Emcheh Et Zecher Amalek Mitachat Hashamayim,” “I will totally eradicate the memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens,” whearas in Devarim God commands us “Timcheh Et Zecher Amalek Mitachat Hashamayim,” “You shall eradicate….”. Perhaps the harsh response to the Amalekites’ actions indicates that they acted immorally towards both God and Bnei Yisrael. Indeed, the commentators identify both of these elements in several details of the narrative.
The Torah cryptically states that the Amalekites “came,” without explaining how or why they attacked. In Devarim, however, the Torah explains that the Amalekites targeted the “Necheshalim,” the weaklings. The Abarbanel comments that this tactic might reflect Amalek’s lack of regard for human decency; honorable nations declare war on enemy armies, whereas they Amalekites launched a sneak attack on the most vulnerable individuals. According to this understanding, the Torah views the Amalekites especially harshly because of their immoral behavior towards Bnei Yisrael. Alternatively, the Abarbanel adds, this underhanded military tactic might indicate the Amalekites’ lack of respect for God; they feared all but the weakest Jews, yet they did not fear the God who protected even the weakest Jews. Thus, Amalek’s true enemy is God Himself.
A similar ambiguity surrounds the significance of Moshe’s raised arms. The Torah recounts how Bnei Yisrael ultimately defeat Amalek because Moshe’s hands remained raised. The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 29a) questions how the elevation of Moshe’s arms impacted the battle, and suggests that the elevated arms focused Bnei Yisrael on their faith in God, Who in turn helped them defeat Amalek. Thus, the true battle was waged between Amalek and God. On the other hand, the Abarbanel, after citing the Mishnah’s interpretation, further suggests that Moshe waved his arms and staff in order to boost his people’s morale, in the manner that a king raises his staff in order to encourage his troops. According to this interpretation, Bnei Yisrael were fighting a military battle against Amalek, without God’s overt involvement.
Perhaps the best way to appreciate the Amalek’s character flaw is to focus on another phrase from Devarim 25:18 – “Velo Yarei Elokim.” At first glance, this verse would indicate that the Amalek’s fault lies in their lack of respect for God, and not in their unethical treatment of Bnei Yisrael’s weak. However, the biblical phrase Yirat Elokim (as opposed to Yirat Hashem) generally alludes to basic moral standards (see Breishit 20:11 and 42:18, Shemot 18:21, and Iyov 6:1, all of which indicate that Yir’at Elokim refers to basic moral standards, which the Torah expects from Jews and Gentiles alike). One who engages in murder, for example, is said to lack Yirat Elokim (Bereshit 20:11 and Shemot 1:17). Hence, “Velo Yarei Elokim” presumably refers to Amalek’s targeted attack of the weakest Jews, and not to a lack of respect for God.
In truth, though, the fact that the Torah refers to Amalek’s reprehensible conduct towards Bnei Yisrael as a lack of Yirat Elokim demonstrates that we cannot artificially separate Amalek’s religious worldview (in which they feared strong humans but did not fear God) from their low standard of interpersonal ethics. By shamelessly targeting the most vulnerable elements of Bnei Yisrael, the Amalekites showed that they lacked any sense of a Supreme Being Who represents a higher ethical standard. Thus, Amalek goes down in history as the arch-nemesis of both God and the Jewish People; in one attack, the Amalekites acted immorally towards Bnei Yisrael as human beings while simultaneously showing that they have no regard for the concept of ethical monotheism – “Vayezanev Becha Kol Hanecheshalim Acharecha…Velo Yarei Elokim.”
With this background in mind, we can better appreciate why Parshat Yitro opens with Yitro’s arrival. The Ibn Ezra (18:1) comments that the Torah juxtaposed the stories of Yitro and Amalek for the sake of contrast. The Torah calls for a relentless war against Amalek, while Yitro’s descendants enjoy a special relationship with Bnei Yisrael. The Torah characterizes Amalek as “Lo Yarei Elokim,” whereas Yitro insists that Moshe appoints judges who are “Yirei Elokim.” Through the contrast with Amalek, we see in Yitro the embodiment of the decency and morality that the Torah expects from Jews and non-Jews alike.
Who is Yitro?
by Willie Roth
Although the Torah makes various references to the character of Yitro, or more precisely, Choten Moshe, it is unclear exactly who Yitro was, whether he joined up with Bnei Yisrael, and if he even converted to Judaism. Additionally, his many names make him an even more complex character. Ostensibly, based on the Pesukim in this week’s Parsha, one would conclude Yitro to be positive force within the community as he helped Moshe organize his work to effectively judge Bnei Yisrael and he even has the illustrious title of “Choten Moshe.” However, one could also say that since he is still referred to as Kohen Midyan, a title linked to Avodah Zarah and other bad Midot that Midyanim exemplified, perhaps he is not the Tzadik that we perceive him to be.
The Ohr Hachayim Hakadosh clarifies that Yitro had a choice with regards to his title. Upon joining Bnei Yisrael he could retained his title of Kohen Midyan that linked him to his evil past, or he could have chosen the title of Choten Moshe which hints his righteousness. He in fact chooses the second one which he feels to be more honorable and would lead one to conclude that indeed Yitro was a Tzadik. In fact, heretofore Yitro is referred to only as Choten Moshe.
Additionally, later on in Sefer Bemidbar, Yitro is mentioned again. Bnei Yisrael believed that they were finally ready to enter Eretz Yisrael, although they are unaware of the future events with regards to Chet Hamiraglim, and Moshe asked Yitro to join them on their quest while even offering him a prominent position of overseer. Although Yitro is referred to in Sefer Bemidbar as a Midyani, he also called Choten Moshe and his name Yitro is not mentioned. However, Yitro responds that he wants to return home, and it is yet ambiguous as to whether Yitro ends up joining Bnei Yisrael. The Ramban believes that since Yitro did not respond to Moshe’s final plea for him to remain, it must be that Yitro did accept the invitation to join Bnei Yisrael. Furthermore, in Sefer Shoftim the Navi records how Yael, who saves the Jews by killing Sisra, is the wife of Chever, one of Yitro’s names. From here one could conclude that indeed Yitro joined Bnei Yisrael as they later had good relations in Eretz Yisrael and Yitro’s family even had some land. It is even possible to suggest that Yitro converted to Judaism. However, one could also say that Chever’s status as a Jew is unclear as he still had some ties to the enemy. Nevertheless, it is clear that Yitro joined up with Bnei Yisrael.
Returning back to this week’s Parsha, with regards to Yitro’s conversion, it is probable that at least at this time Yitro did not convert. First of all, as Amos Chacham in Da’at Mikra points out, Yitro went home in this Parsha, which implies that he did not become Jewish. Additionally, the Torah uses the word Vayishalach instead of Vayishlach with regards to Moshe’s sending away of Yitro. The former is a more forceful form of the word, which also implies that Yitro did not convert. Furthermore, Yitro first refers to Hashem as Elokim, the word that outsiders use, and subsequently when Yitro talks to Moshe about what happened, Yitro begins to use Hashem’s actual name. However, Moshe then uses the name of Elokim with Yitro, which again implies that the latter remained an outsider. Finally, if Yitro were indeed still a non-Jew, it would make sense for him to be interested in the appointing of the judges, as it is one of the Sheva Mitzvot Bnei Noach that all non-Jews must observe.
It seems from the end of the story in this week’s Parsha that Yitro was still a non-Jew. However, as a gentile, Yitro’s interest and devotion to the existence of Am Yisrael is remarkable. It is therefore important to recognize how important our relations to the outside world are, and how they can help us in our development as a nation and as individuals. -Adapted from various Shiurim given by Mr. Ezra Frazer at TABC.
See the Light
by Danny Shulman
The Gemara (Shabbat 25) presents an argument between Rava and Abaye regarding the nature of Nerot Shabbat. Rava explains that using malodorous oil is unacceptable on Friday night because the bad smell will force one to eat elsewhere. Abaye raises the seemingly obvious question: why does it matter if one eats elsewhere? Rava defends his opinion by claiming that lighting candles is a requirement. Tosafot (s.v. Hadlakat) explains that Rava’s final statement does not refer to the simple lighting of the candles as even Abaye would agree to this obligation. (see Rambam Hilchot Shabbat 5:1 as well as Mishnayot Shobbos 2:6). Rather, Tosafot explains that the Machloket revolves around the requirement to light the candles in conjunction with the Friday night meal. According to Rava, having candles at the meal on Friday night is necessary as a meal is not significant except in the presence of light, (Rashi ibid.) and, in light of the Mitzvah of Oneg Shabbat, an enhancement of the meal is ideal and perhaps required.
The two items at hand, light and food, are allegorical paradoxes. Light represents absolute spirituality which is free of shape restrictions. Conversely, food is the most basic physical need. Every person and animal, regardless of status, needs food. Perhaps a message can be derived from the notion that the Shabbat meal, an entirely physical entity, needs to be coupled with light, the ultimate spiritual creation. The physical world we live in can be both a challenge as well as an opportunity. The challenge is clear: overindulgence in worldly pleasures plagues today’s society that is lacking in morals and ethics. However, as Jews, we are also presented with the prospect of using the world we live in as a means to uplift ourselves. Through an integration of our basic needs with Torah ideals, the two separate elements can be fully utilized.
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