In This Issue:
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
Parshat Beshalach begins by describing the route taken by Klal Yisrael as they traveled to Eretz Yisrael as per the order of Hashem. Traveling through the dangerous desert, protection and guidance were necessary for the nation, and Hashem provided it in the form of a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night to illuminate the journey. Why were specifically fire and clouds chosen? Furthermore, what is the connection between the seemingly unrelated elements?
To understand why clouds and fire were chosen, one must first look at the characteristics of those two items. Interestingly, both clouds and fire do not move on their own; both are pushed by the wind. Yet, despite this seeming lack of control over their fate, clouds and fire are always present, and play prominent roles in the functioning of nature. By choosing these two natural forces, Hashem is conveying a powerful message to His people. During times of duress, such as the endless persecution the Jewish people have faced, it may seem as though Am Yisrael is being "dragged through the mud" against their will, and can not dictate the ebb and flow of life. However, God will stay with Bnei Yisrael, through thick and thin, light and dark, and He will raise His nation to the highest levels once again, proving to the entire world that the Jews will never be eradicated, much like the clouds and fire are really controlled by the wind.
Additionally, clouds and fire are the foundation of much of technology. Throughout every generation, specifically before electricity was invented, most of the world relied heavily upon the clouds for their source of water in the form of rain. When rain comes consistently, agriculture booms, drinkable water is in high supply, along with many other benefits, and, conversely, when rain does not fall, many are plagued with a difficult year economically. Even more notable is the importance of fire, which allows for cooking, heating, and any other form of energy to power one's everyday life. By utilizing fire and clouds as the manifestation of His presence, Hashem teaches Bnei Yisrael that, although they cannot see Him, their advancements and well-being are a direct result of Hashem's unwavering kindnesses.
If such fundamentals as water and fire come from Hashem, then certainly everything else also comes from Hashem. We must recognize that anything and everything we have is a direct result of Hashem's benevolence. Hashem specifically gave Bnei Yisrael this message at the outset of their existence as a free nation so they would avoid the pernicious pitfalls of arrogance and forgetting Hashem.
There are at least three possible explanations of the Pasuk "Zeh Keili VeAnveihu" (Shemot 15:2). Onkelos says it refers to building Hashem a dwelling or abode, meaning the Beit HaMikdash. The Gemara (Shabbat 133b) understands it to refer to the concept of Hiddur Mitzvah, doing Mitzvot in the most beautiful way (stemming from the word Noi). Alternatively, Bnei Yisrael promise to sing about about Hashem's greatness.
On the surface, these different comments seem unrelated. There are, however, two different ways to connect them. Rav Mordechai Gifter postulates that these are all crucial steps in the proper way to serve Hashem. After Kriat Yam Suf, Bnei Yisrael had divine revelation on an unprecedented scale. It was so great that Chazal say a maidservant at Kriat Yam Suf had more revelation than later Neviim. This degree of Divine revelation leads to the affected being overcome with love for Hashem, causing him to yearn to demonstrate his love in every possible way. Anyone who experiences this strives to beautify all of the Mitzvot, whether physical or spiritual.
Alternatively, Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that part of human nature is to beautify all of the important things in life, such as one's home, clothing and food. People feel pride when they accomplish these tasks. If someone considers Torah and Mitzvot essential needs of life, he will want to make them as beautiful as possible, lest it seem as though they are a burden. Just as one would be proud of his material possessions, he should be proud of his Mitzvot. Despite the model of humility required by Judaism, we are allowed to take pride in the Mitzvot we perform, as it says in Yirmayahu, "Of this the boaster may boast: Of wisdom and knowledge of Me" (9:23). If someone does not take pride in his Mitzvot, it is due to his lack of consideration of the importance of them. We should be proud of the Mitzvot we do. This reveals how all explanations branch out from Onkelos's explanation. Just as we take great pride in the magnificence of our physical
homes, so too we should take great pride in our spiritual home, the Beit Hamikdash, and glorify it. By extension, we should apply this concept to Torah and Mitzvot, and praise Hashem for giving them to us.
The focus of Parshat Beshalach is Bnei Yisrael's crossing of the Yam Suf. After Moshe Rabbeinu split the sea, the Pasuk states, "VaYavo'u Vnei Yisrael BeToch HaYam BaYabashah VeHaMayim Lahem Chomah MiyMinam UMiSemolam," "Bnei Yisrael came into the sea on dry land, and the waters were a wall for them on their right and on their left" (Shemot 14:22). A very similar sentence is recorded later on: "UVnei Yisrael Halechu BaYabashah BeToch HaYam VeHaMayim Lahem Chomah MiyMinam UMiSemolam" "And Bnei Yisrael walked on dry land in the midst of the sea, and the waters were a wall for them on their right and on their left" (Shemot 14:29). Why is this information repeated? Additionally, in the second Pasuk the word Chomah is spelled without a Vav. The remaining letters (Chet Mem Hay) can also be read as "Cheimah," meaning rage. The sea was angry at Bnei Yisrael for having worshipped idols, and it tried to drown them as well. Why does this allusion appear
only in the second Pasuk? In addition, the first Pasuk states the coming "into the sea" before "the dry land", while in the second Pasuk, the "dry land," precedes "the sea."
The Vilna Gaon explains that there were two different groups that stood in front of the Yam Suf. The first group consisted of those who had full Emunah in Hashem and trusted Him completely. They jumped into the Yam Suf even before it turned to dry land. However, the second group was made up of those who did not have complete faith in Hashem. They needed to wait for the sea to split and to see the dry land before they could plunge into the sea.
When Hashem decided to split the sea, the Malachim (angels) argued against Bnei Yisrael. They maintained that since there were those among Bnei Yisrael who worshipped idols, they should not be privileged to live while the Mitzrim, who also worshiped idols, were drowned in the sea. Hashem responded that in the merit of the faith in which they excelled, they deserved to have the sea split open for them.
Now we can explain the discrepancies between the two Pesukim. The first Pasuk refers to the group that had complete faith in Hashem, those who "came into the sea on dry land," meaning while it was still sea. Hence, these people did not deserve the "rage" of the sea, so the word Choma is spelled with a Vav. On the other hand, the group that did not believe wholeheartedly in Hashem needed to wait for the sea to become dry land before plunging in. Therefore, they "walked on dry land in the midst of the sea." As a result, the word Choma is spelled without a Vav to hint that the sea was enraged to split for this unworthy group.
We can learn a great lesson from the explanation of the Vilna Gaon. We should all strive to be counted among the first group, those who have complete Emunah in Hashem and will do whatever it takes to fulfill His commandments.
In Tanach, a format called chiastic structure is sometimes used regarding stages of a journey and in many other contexts. In the opening Parshiot of Sefer Shemot, we find an example of an A-B-C-B-A chiastic structure. This is used when a person started in place A, went to place B, had a positive experience and moved on to C, whereupon he had a negative experience and backtracked to B, and then backtracked again to A.
Moshe is the subject of this structure of places. A represents when he was born and among his nation. B refers to when he was being raised in Paroh's palace. C is when Moshe ran to Midyan. The second B is when he went back to Paroh's palace to advocate for the suffering Jewish slaves. And last but not least, the second A is when he is back amongst his brethren.
The Torah tells us (Shemot 2) that when Moshe was born, he was placed in a boat on the Nile so that he would not be drowned as per Paroh's decree. Batya, the princess, found him and took him into her house. There he was raised as an Egyptian in Pharaoh's house.
Some say that because Moshe's biological mother was his wet nurse (see Shemot 2:8-9), he was actually raised in a Torah household. I believe that this is unlikely. Moshe lived in Paroh's house. He probably was not left alone with his mother for very long periods of time. He was most likely influenced by her to a small degree, but he was raised an Egyptian, not an Ivri. This is a very significant point. If Moshe had gone to Paroh and said, "Let my people go," Paroh would have said, "You're a Jew, you were raised in a Jewish environment and therefore you are biased towards your nation." But since Moshe was raised as an Egyptian, Paroh could not say that. It was important that Moshe recognized the evil through the eyes of a Mitzri. That shows the purity in his heart. Also, since he recognized evil through the eyes of a Mitzri, he would stay as far away from them as possible and would never convert or give up. Additionally, having been brought up
in the palace, Moshe knew the Egyptians fears and weaknesses.
The Torah then tells us about Moshe's attempt to break up a fight between two Jews. He was rebuffed with the comment, "Who made you a ruler and judge over us?" (Shemot 2:14). This is what Moshe sees as the Jewish perspective at that time. The slavery had so contorted their minds that they were bitter and had resigned themselves to their "inevitable" fate of lifelong slavery and death. Because of this mindset, they were bitter and cynical. This made it much harder for Moshe to convince them that a new dawn was coming. Incidentally, this is also the reason for 10 plagues- Hashem had to knock the slavery mindset out of the Jews. The two feuding Jews spread the rumor that Moshe killed an Egyptian, forcing Moshe to flee to Midyan. Immediately upon arrival, Moshe helps out Yitro's daughters and in turn receives Tzipporah as a wife and a place to stay.
Then there is the incident of the burning bush (stage C). This is the culmination of Moshe's ability, purity, and courage as a leader. The problem is that Moshe didn't want to be a leader. His own powers scared him. But Hashem convinced him to go back to Egypt.
Then Moshe returned to Paroh's palace (stage B) and says, "Let my people go!" Pharaoh refused. Then came the plagues. I see the plagues as several battles. We see Moshe's leadership skills, intelligence, and finesse when the plagues occur. Each plague was Midah KeNeged Midah (measure for measure). The Nile was considered an Egyptian deity, so it was turned to blood. Sheep, another Egyptian deity, were killed. Each plague was related to the Egyptian rituals or daily lives. Moshe exploited the Egyptian weaknesses perfectly.
A common question is why ten plagues were necessary. Couldn't one have sufficed to beat Paroh and his nation into submission? The answer is that the plagues weren't just to punish the Egyptians. The Jews needed convincing; they hadn't heard anything from Hashem for over two centuries! The plagues were drawn out to ease the Jews through their transition back to faith. The Egyptians let up bit by bit. The Jews got an inch of leeway, then another, and another, etc.
This demonstrates Moshe's moral development. He had reached the point where he could exploit people, but would only go so far. He showed mercy and kindness, traits of Hashem. Yet he also punished the Mitzrim, which is Midat HaDin. He had a proper balance of the two traits, which was quite an accomplishment. This shows that he was closer to Hashem than anyone else, the culmination of his development into a leader. Yet again he was scared. He had never led a nation before. He was nervous and didn't want the responsibility.
Hashem showed him that being a leader isn't for the leader's benefit, but rather for others'. A leader needs to help people. Moshe then returns to his people and takes them through the Yam Suf, boldly singing Shirat HaYam. This is where he learns to be a true leader of his own people. This is A.
The chiastic structure shows us the clear development of Moshe as a leader. In Paroh's palace and among his own people, where he had not succeeded earlier in life, he was able to excel and emerge as a true Manhig Yisrael later in life.
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