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Vol. 5 No. 13
To Question G-d!
Two years ago, we discussed Moshe Rabeinu's query of Hashem "Why did You do bad to this people?" (5:22). Under the circumstances, this query appeared more than reasonable, and perfectly justified. And we pointed out then, how even Moshe Rabeinu, who understood the ways of Hashem better than anyone else, was way off the mark - on that occasion - in his assessment of the balance between G-d's Midas ha'Din and Midas ha'Rachamim.
We explained how the human mind is just too small to fathom the extent of G-d's mercy, how, so deep is G-d's love of Klal Yisroel, that the unbearable suffering to which Yisroel was subjected was in fact, absolutely vital to their emergence as a nation, because, without it, they would not have been able to leave Egypt.
In fact, Moshe was severely punished for his lack of faith, for taking Hashem to task, as it were. As a result, he was told that he would not witness the conquest of Eretz Yisroel, forty years later.
Chazal have said (Bovo Basra 16b) that a person is not taken to task for something that he does when he is in pain, and it is not at first clear as to why Moshe, who obviously felt deep pain at the increasing misery of Klal Yisroel, should therefore be taken to task for what he said at that moment.
Perhaps that principle applies only to the actual sufferer at the time of his suffering, but not to others who witness the suffering, and who maybe even share the sufferer's anguish, but whose suffering is indirect. As far as the sufferer is concerned, G-d is willing to overlook his expression of personal pain and agony, and to overlook any insult to His great and Holy Name that this might incur.
Another prime example of just how distant man is from even beginning to fathom the depths of the Divine mercy, is that of King Shaul:
The Gemoro in Shabbos (56b) explains how King Shaul 'quarrelled with Hashem' concerning the Parshah of Eglah Arufah, whose neck was broken in the valley. Rashi explains this to mean that, when Shmuel ha'Novi commanded Shaul to destroy Amolek - men, women and children (a mitzvah whose roots lie in the Torah itself, where it writes "wipe out every trace of Amolek" - see Rashi Devorim 25:19) - Shaul's reaction was one of silent indignation. How could he possibly kill all those innocent people? If the Torah demands a whole ceremony, concluding with the breaking of a calf's neck in a valley of virgin soil, to atone for the death of just one innocent man, then how could he, Shaul, justify the death of so many blameless men, women and children?
King Shaul overcame that impulse, and went on to kill all of those 'innocent people', but his merciful instinct got the better of him at the sight of Agag their King, whom he kept alive - for only one night. Hashem alone knew what an act of kindness it would have been to have killed, not only all those men, women and children, but Agag too - there and then. He knew how many countless millions of Jewish lives would have been spared, if only King Shaul would have ignored his merciful instinct and obeyed Him instead.
King Shaul cannot be blamed for not knowing how cruel an act it was, to spare even one potential ancestor of Amolek - for even just one night. It was an act that would lead to every conceivable form of tyranny and persecution, murder and genocide. He could not have known this. But he can, however, be blamed for not having the faith in Hashem to do what G-d's emisarry, the Novi Shmuel, instructed him to do, without doubting or wavering. For that is the true meaning of faith - the conviction that G-d knows what is best for mankind and for us. We cannot even begin to understand that knowledge, let alone to query it.
R. Bachye notes that, although Binyomin was the youngest of the brothers, he is listed seventh at the beginning of the Parshah, whilst Yosef, who was older than Binyomin, is placed last.
He gives a number of reasons for this strange order. Binyomin is placed seventh, he explains, because of the Beis ha'Mikdosh, which is in Binyomin's portion, and the Beis ha'Mikdosh is in Eretz Yisroel, which is the seventh 'Aklim' (sectional climates into which the world is divided). It is the seventh Aklim - in space - like Shabbos is the seventh day - in time - (and, as the Medrash says, all the sevenths are special).
Yosef is placed last, he continues, for two reasons: firstly because the Torah wanted to avoid placing the sons of the 'maid-servants' - Don, Naftoli, Gad and Asher - last. This would have caused the brothers to denigrate them, to consider them inferior, because they were the sons of the maid-servants. The Torah therefore, placed them in between Binyomin and Yosef, in order to raise them in their brothers' esteem, to make it clear to them that all the sons of Ya'akov were equal. And secondly, to teach us Yosef's incredible humility. For, just like Yehoshua bin Nun is referred to as Hoshei'a bin Nun (Devorim 32:44), even after he had already been appointed to succeed Moshe - because he remained humble even at that stage - so too, does the Torah place Yosef last, to teach us that the power that he wielded over the whole of Egypt did not go to his head - he remained modest, just as he had been before he was appointed viceroy. This is an art, explains the Gemoro in Chullin 89a, which effectively is the hallmark of tzadikim; the more authority one gives them, the more humility they generate.
Putting on Airs (Yosef's Style)
Yosef died before all his brothers, explains the Gemoro in B'rochos (55a), because, in his capacity as ruler, he put on superior airs. The Gemoro derives this from the fact that the Torah writes "And Yosef (first) and (then) all his brothers died".
"At first glance, this appears extremely difficult to comprehend, for not only is there not the least indication that Yosef ha'Tzadik behaved towards his brothers in a high-handed or a conceited manner, but quite to the contrary, we find on a number of occasions, that he played down his position, and did everything in his power to give due honour to his brothers, who were senior to him in age.
Indeed, the Medrash Rabbo explains the possuk "and Yosef was in Egypt" (1:5) to mean that Yosef remained as unassuming after he became king, as he had been when he was a slave, when he first arrived in Egypt. The Torah Temimah cites a Pirkei de'Rebbi Eliezer, which explains Yosef's airs in the light of another Chazal, which attributes Yosef's premature death to the fact that ten times he heard his brothers refer to their father as "our father, your servant" (in fact, it was five times from his brothers and five times from the interpreter) - and he remained silent. He was due apparently, to live for 120 years, and he now died at 110.
And that, explains the Pirkei de'Rebbi Eliezer, is 'the airs' to which the first Chazal refer.
Putting on Airs (Par'oh's Style)
"And there arose a new king who did not know Yosef." (1:8)
He was not a new king at all, the Da'as Zekeinim explains. He was the original Par'oh who had appointed Yosef more than eighty years earlier. However, when his subjects demanded that he turn upon the Jews, he refused, on the ground that it was inconceivable to repay the good that they had done the country, with bad.
So they deposed him. After three months, he could take it no longer, so he acceded to their request. But not only that; he actually took the initiative in enslaving and tormenting the Jewish people. So much so, that the Gemoro writes in Sotah (11a) that since Par'oh was the one who initiated the plan to subjugate the Jewish people, he would be the first to suffer the plagues, as the Torah writes about the frogs "And in you (Par'oh) and in your people the frogs will go!" See the difference between the airs put on by Par'oh, and those put on by Yosef!
"And He Made Them Houses" (3:21)
Rashi, quoting a Gemoro in Sotah, explains that the 'houses' here, refers to houses of Kehunah and Leviy'oh, since Aharon and Moshe descended from Yocheved, and a house of Malchus, because Dovid descended from Miriam (the two midwives, otherwise known as Shifrah and Pu'oh).
In fact, Rashi is quoting not one opinion here, but two, since Rav and Shmuel argue over whether the posuk is referring to houses of Kehunah and Leviy'oh or to houses of Malchus, but not to both.
It is also not clear how Dovid descended from Miriam, since Miriam's husband was Kolev, the son of Chetzron, and Dovid descended from Rom, who was Kolev's brother.
The Aggodos Maharsho in Sotah asks this question, and he suggests that one of Kolev and Miriam's female descendants married one of Rom's male descendants, so that Dovid descended from Miriam, somewhere on the mother's side.
R. Bachye, among a number of explanations, explains that the "he" in the Pasuk, pertains not to Hashem, but to Par’oh. He therefore explains the posuk like this: When Par'oh saw that his plans to have the Jewish babies killed - using the medium of the Jews' own midwives - had failed, he built houses for Yisroel - meaning to have them watched by his own guards, one Egyptian house between those of two Jews, so that they could keep track of all pregnancies. When the time came, it would be easy to arrange for the disposal of all Jewish babies, at the hands of his own men.
Hashem is unique, inasmuch as He not only performs feats of strength, creates new things, is the overlord of war, sows kindnesses (which multiply as they grow), causes salvation to flourish, creates cures, is fearful in praises and Master of wonders, but He does all these alone - 'for He alone performs feats of strength'. He requires no assistance, explains the Eitz Yosef, because He is superior to all those who might assist Him.
The sun and the moon, as well as the angels, are G-d's emissaries. It is they who are delegated by Him to keep the world in constant motion and to implement His decisions for good and for bad. For it is well-known that, just as there are four worlds (that of G-d's Throne, that of the angels, the world of the luminaries and the world in which we live - as we explained in our introduction to Tefillah), so too, does Hashem communicate on practical terms with this world, firstly via the angels and then via the sun, moon and stars - it is they who implement His decisions. Consequently, it is easy to be misled into believing that it is these powerful emissaries who are responsible for everything that happens to us here. Therefore, we declare, clearly and unequivocally, that Hashem alone does everything, and that the emissaries are no more than go-betweens, who are not empowered to make decisions or to initiate any changes - their job is to reflect the greatness of G-d by performing His decisions and translating His orders into action.
And not only that, but it is the emissaries themselves who are acknowledging G-d's supremacy; it is they who are singing songs of praise in honour of the G-d who alone, performs feats of strength, creates new things, etc. like the Chashmono'im, who wrote on their banner 'Maccabi' - 'Mi cho'mocho bo'eilim Hashem?' If the emissaries themselves offer testimony that Hashem does everything - alone - then who can doubt the absolute authenticity of that fact?
'Who Renews in His Goodness...
... everyday, the work of the creation.' Virtually the identical phrase is used at the beginning of this b'rochoh. The Eitz Yosef explains this to mean, not that Hashem literally re-creates the world daily - for we see that that is not so - but that, if He were to remove His influence from any of His creations, even for one moment, they would cease to exist, due to the fact that everything exists by virtue of G-d's will and grace, and by that grace alone.
Consequently, by not withdrawing His influence from His creations, by granting them the right to continue to exist, it is as if He was re-creating them each day.
'Who Renews in His Goodness'...
When G-d first created the world, he consulted the angels about creating man. They protested, however, on the grounds that man was a potential sinner, and sinners do not deserve G-d's mercy.
But G-d ignored them, because He does not contend with the future, the fact that they might, or even will, sin, is of no consequence to Him. "Because Hashem has heard the voice of the lad (Yishmo'el)" ‘according to the way he is’, Hashem would later tell the angels, without taking into account his future sins. And that was the situation at the original creation.
But today, when He creates the world anew each day, we are no longer potential sinners. Today the angels would have a solid argument, were they to challenge Hashem as He re-creates the world each day. Because the answer that He gave them then, will no longer be valid. Today we are dealing, not with a world of potential sinners, but with a world of people who have sinned - for which person 'does only good and does not sin'?
Yet Hashem - in His goodness - continues to re-create the world every single day, with good reason, or without it - for His goodness is reason enough to do so.
'Or Chodosh al Tziyon Tochin'...
Chazal have taught us that the light that G-d originally created was a different, superior kind of light. With it, Odom was able to see from one end of the world to the other. But when Hashem saw the evil generations of the flood and of the tower, He decided to hide it for the tzadikim for the time of Moshiach. Presumably, it is to that light which we are referring, when, after discussing the major lights - the sun and the moon - that He re-creates every day, we alude to the new light, a light that no human being has ever set his eyes on, that Hashem will establish to shine on Tziyon. That is the light which He hid at the time of creation, and which we will merit to utilise when Moshiach arrives.
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