Vol. 7 No. 14
Those Holy Frogs
'Why did Chananyah, Misho'el and Azaryah prefer to be thrown into the furnace (in the days of Nevuchadnetzar) rather than bow down to his idol?' asks the Gemoro in Pesochim (53b). 'They learned a kal vo'chomer from the frogs', answers Todos from Rome. If the frogs, who were not commanded to sanctify Hashem's Name, leapt into the boiling ovens, they observed, then how much more so we, who are commanded, must allow ourselves to be cast into the boiling furnace in order to sanctify Hashem's Name.
But that's not correct, exclaimed the Sha'agas Aryeh! The Torah explicity writes "And they will go up in your houses ... and in your ovens" - so how can Chazal say that they were not commanded?
The Gro, who was only seven at the time, heard the Sha'agas Aryeh's kashya, and gave the following answer: 'True, they were commanded,' he said. 'The command however, to jump into the ovens, was not issued to any specific frog: they were told to go into Par'oh's house, into his bedroom, onto his bed, into the houses of his slaves and of his people, into the ovens and into the doughs. Now what was to stop one frog from choosing to go into Par'oh's bedroom or bed, and telling his friend to leap into the oven?
Clearly, the frogs that jumped into the oven, did so voluntarily. And it is from them that Chanayah, Misho'el and Azaryah learned a perfectly valid kal vo'chomer.'
When the Sha'agas Aryeh heard this young genius' answer, he picked him up and kissed him on his forehead.
The Gro's explanation of the Gemoro in Pesochim really vindicates the Rambam's interpretation of why Hashem punished Par'oh for enslaving Yisroel, despite the fact that He had ordained it. The Rambam explains that Hashem punished Par'oh because He had not named any specific nation to perform this task, and that what Par'oh did was of his own free choice.
Now if the frogs were considered praiseworthy for volunteering to jump into the ovens, because they could have let others do it, it stands to reason that Par'oh deserved to be punished for volunteering to perform Hashem's dirty work when he could have passed the buck and let others do it.
Interestingly, the Meshech Chochmah in Parshas Lech Lecho answers the Sha'agas Aryeh's kashya differently than the Gro. Moreover, he too uses his explanation to vindicate the Rambam, though he works in the reverse order, first proving the Rambam right, and then answering the kashya on the frogs, as we shall now see.
The Meshech Chochmah, commenting on the Ramban, who in turn disagrees with the Rambam, on the grounds that anyone who carries out a command of Hashem deserves credit and not retribution, points out that that argument would have been sound if Hashem had issued a direct command to enslave Yisroel. But that was not the case, he argues. Hashem merely related to Avrohom, in the form of a prophecy, that later in history, a nation would subjugate his children. Nobody was actually commanded to do so. That being the case, Par'oh more than anyone, should have known better than to lay a hand on Yisroel: firstly, because they were his guests; secondly, because he owed it to Yosef who had done so much for him and for Egypt in their hour of need.
And with this, he concludes, we can understand the Gemoro in Pesochim. Hashem may have related to Moshe what the frogs would subsequently do, but that too, was in the form of a prophecy. The frogs themselves were not expressly commanded to jump into the ovens. Consequently, when they ultimately did so, it is considered as if they did it voluntarily, and that is why Chanayah, Misho'el and Azaryah could learn a kal vo'chomer from them.
It seems to me however, that one can answer the Sha'agas Aryeh's kashya quite differently: The Gemoro does not say that the fogs were not commanded to jump into the furnace (of course they were! Frogs do not possess free-will; they can only obey the Divine command - which was clearly spelt out in this case, in the pesukim that we discussed earlier).
What the Gemoro says is that they were not commanded to sanctify Hashem's Name (precisely because they have no free-will). And what Chananyah, Misho'el and Azaryah learned from the frogs is that, if frogs, who have no mitzvah of Kidush Hashem, can give up their lives to do the will of Hashem, then how much more so must they be willign to do likewise, seeing as in addition, they have the mitzvah of Kidush Hashem.
This lesson from the frogs is reminiscent of a Rashi at the end of Parshas Nitzovim, where he describes how Hashem exhorted Yisroel to learn from the sun and moon, who do not deviate from their Divinely-allotted tasks, even though they stand to gain nothing, one way or the other. How much more so should Yisroel, who are due to receive reward if they do the right things and punishment if they do not, follow the path of Torah and mitzvos that Hashem has laid down for them.
The higher the stakes, the more powerful the obligation!
Playing into G-d's Hands
'According to the Ramban, Par'oh was punished for carrying the decree further than G-d had intended. Hashem had said that they would enslave them and afflict them, but not that they would embitter their lives or that they would drown their new-born babies ... '.
This is what we wrote last year in Parshah Pearls (Parshas Lech Lecho, 'Par'oh's Punishment'). And we queried the Ramban; 'It is however, very difficult to see how anyone can carry a Divine decree further than G-d intends it ... ?'
On second thoughts, the Ramban is perfectly right!
Of course, one cannot carry G-d's decree further than He intends it. But that is only as long as Hashem does not want it to go further. But what if He does?
In our case, Yisroel in Egypt had deteriorated to such an extent that it had become necessary to take them out of Egypt early, and the only way to do this was by increasing the level of slavery beyond that which Hashem had originally intended. That is why, when Par'oh decided to increase the extent of servitude, G-d did not stop him. On the contrary, it suited Him fine. Not that Hashem needed him; He is not short of Sh'luchim to do His bidding. But now that Par'oh volunteered to do Hasem's will, Hashem saw no reason to stop him. The snag, as far as Par'oh was concerned, was that, had he kept to the initial measure of servitude, he would have been amply rewarded; whereas, now that he had overstepped the mark, he would be punished for his maltreatment of G-d's beloved nation. Be that as it may, by going beyond the limits of the initial decree, he played right into G-d's Hands!
Four or Five
The Yerushalmi in Pesochim ascribes the four cups of wine to the four expressions of redemption ("and I will take you out ... and I will save you ... and I will redeem you ... and I will take you .. ." Sh'mos 8:6-7).
The universal minhag of pouring out a fifth cup (without drinking it), and calling it the cup of Eliyohu ha'Novi, says the Gro, is based on a dispute in the Gemoro there, as to whether a fifth cup is required or not (corresponding to the expression "And I will bring you to the land", that the Torah uses in the following posuk). So we pour out a fifth cup, to remind us of the dispute, but do not drink it. And the reason that we refer to it as 'the cup of Eliyohu ha'Novi' is because, when Eliyohu comes, he will resolve this she'eilah, together with all other unanswered she'eilos in Shas.
"Behold I will incite against you a mixture of wild animals. And the houses of Egypt will be filled with them, and also the ground on which they are" (8:17).
The Gro explains the significance of the final phrase "and also the ground ... " with Rashi, who says that the plague of orov comprised all kinds of wild beasts. In that case, the beast 'Yid'oni' (quoted in the Mishnah in Kil'ayim 8:5) would also have been included.
Now the Yid'oni was a ferocious animal, in the form of a man, which was attached to the ground by its umbilical cord. It devoured anything that came within its orbit, and the only way to kill it was to sever its umbilical cord.
That is why the Torah records here that the ground came with the animals, explains the Gro, because there is no way that the Yid'onim could have appeared in Egypt together with the other beasts, without the ground to which they were intrinsically attached.
Three in One
"Because this time I will send all My plagues ... " (9:14).
Why does the Torah refer to the plague of hail as "all My plagues"?
The Gro explains that G-d has designated three emissaries with which to punish the sinners; they are fire, wind and water. He punished S'dom with fire, the Dor ha'Mabul with water, and the Generation of the Tower with wind (when he scattered them across the face of the earth).
In Egypt too, G-d used all three: 'Water, in the plagues of blood and frogs; wind, in that of locusts; and fire, in that of boils.
When it came to the plague of hail, he used all three - since hail consists of water, and the Torah recrods that the hail contained fire and that there was thunder, caused by the wind. That explains why the Torah refers to the plague of hail as "all My plagues".
The Shema and th e B'rochos
(Adapted from the Eitz Yosef)
'He Knocks Down Those Who are Proud ...'
This refers to the Egytians; 'and raises those who are low', to Yisroel.
'He releases the bound, and redeems the humble, assists the poor and answers His people Yisroel ... ' - four expressions, corresponding to the four expressions of redemption in Parshas Sh'mos: 'He releases the bound' corresponds to "And I will take you out"; 'And redeems the humble', to "and I will redeem you"; 'assists the poor' corresponds to "and I will save you"; and 'He answers His people' to "and I will take you to me as a nation".
Praises for the Most High G-d
All the praises, says the Eitz Yosef, are due to Hashem, like the poet wrote "Praise and glory belong to the Living One of the worlds".
'Moshe and the B'nei Yisroel sang to You a song with great rejoicing' - a song is placed next to 'rejoicing' because the two go hand in hand, as Lovon said to Ya'akov "I would have sent you away with rejoicing and with songs ... " (Bereishis, 31:27).
Fearful in Praises
... because the more one praises Him, the more one really detracts from His praise (by the mere suggestion that one has finished all of Hashem's praises, and "Who can relate all of His praise").
"Who is like You ... " contains twelve words, which correspond to the twelve tribes and the twelve pathways through which they crossed the Reed Sea.
A New Song
'... the redeemed ones sang'. The fact that six hundred thousand people should sing in unison a song which none of them had ever heard before is amazing. It can only be understood by explaining that they all reached a level of Ru'ach ha'Kodesh (that G-d spoke from the mouth of each one of them).
Hashem will Reign Forever
Four words that correspond to the four seasons (and the four directions). And these four words contain fifteen letters, corresponding to the fifteen steps leading from the Ezras Noshim in the Beis ha'Mikdosh to the Ezras Yisroel, and to the seven Heavens and eight spaces that divide the earth from G-d's Throne.
"Hashem will reign forever" is described here as 'a new song'. It is reminiscent of what Chazal say in Sotah (9b), that nobody called Hashem Master until Avrohom came along and called Him by that name. Because in similar vein, the authors of this tefilah are teaching us that the first ones to call Hashem 'King' were Yisroel at the Yam Suf, when they sang "Hashem will reign forever".
The Rock of Yisroel
This final paragraph, which juxtaposes 'ge'ulah' next to 'tefilah' begins with the word 'Tzur' (Rock) because when Dovid ha'Melech teaches us to do this, he uses the word "Tzuri" - "Hashem Tzuri ve'Goali ... Ya'ancho Hashem be'Yom Tzoroh" (Tehilim 19:15, 20:2).
It is also significant that this paragraph, which refers to the final redemption, begins with the letter 'tzadik', because according to the Pirkei de'Rebbi Eliezer, the five double letters (Kaf, mem, nun, pey and tzadik) are all connected to the redemption, and the tzadik, to the final one, to the redemption of Yisroel from Golus Edom, in which we currently are (which is why Moshi'ach is referred to as 'Tzemach').
This paragraph also contains the word 'Yisroel' five times, corresponding to the four times that we were redeemed from the four exiles, Bovel, Persia and Medes, Greece and Rome, plus the fifth redemption of the Souls. It seems to me that the Eitz Yosef might equally have explained that they correspond to the four redemptions, plus the redemption from Egypt, the first redemption and the fore-runner and blue-print of all the subsequent redemptions, especially, as it would seem to be more than appropriate to refer to the redemption from Egypt at this juncture in the tefilah.
Others however, draw an analogy between this paragraph and the posuk in Beha'aloscho (8:19) where the Torah mentions Yisroel five times in one posuk, corresponding to the five books of the Torah, to demonstrate how precious Yisroel are in the eyes of Hashem (Rashi, ibid.).
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