Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 12   No. 14

This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas
Nisim ben Moshe z.l.
Avraham ben Chayim Dov z.l.
Iza bas David z.l.

Parshas Va'eira

The Fear of G-d

When Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai, on his death-bed, blessed his disciples that their fear of G-d should be on a par with the fear of their fellow-man, they expressed surprise that his expectations of them were so low. Surely they thought, one's fear of G-d should exceed one's fear of man!

Their Rebbi disillusioned them however, by reminding them of the tendency when doing something that is forbidden, to turn round to make sure that nobody is watching, even though in their heart of hearts, they know that G-d is watching them anyway.

If one were to apply the fear of getting caught to the Ribono shel Olam, Rabban Yochanan was teaching his Talmidim, one would simply never sin. The basis of that fear, he was telling them, is the fear of punishment (incorporating embarrassment). Only with G-d, the preliminary stage of getting caught does not exist, since His awareness of all that we do is total, and we know it. Consequently, all that is left is the fear of G-d's punishment, which ought to serve as of itself, as an absolute deterrent.

The above level of fear is in fact, the lower level of Yir'as Shamayim. There is a higher level, which is based on reverence, and entails being afraid of rebelling against G-d for what He is, and not on account of the punishment. And this can be compared to a loyal subject, who would not rebel against the king even if was not afraid of getting caught. This is the higher level of Yir'as Shamayim, which, based on the B'rachah of Ahavah Rabah, where we say 'le'ahavah u'le'yir'ah es Shemecha' the commentaries place on an even higher level than Ahavas Hashem.

The basic difference between these two kinds of Yir'ah is, that in the former, one really wants to sin, but desists for fear of the consequences; whereas in the latter, the fear of G-d negates even the slightest inclination to do so. The latter constitutes the basis of the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos 'Make your will like His will'.


Par'oh was devoid of either of the two above-mentioned levels of fear. The only thing that could force him to retract from sinning, was the pain inflicted by the actual punishment itself. That explains why not even Moshe's warnings could deter him from disobeying G-d's instructions, and it was only whilst most of the plagues were actually in progress that he softened his stance. That is why the Medrash writes about him that, like all Resha'im, he would relent whilst the plagues were in progress, only to retract as soon as they were over. And that is why, on those occasions when, after the plague had terminated, Paroh was on the verge of capitulating, 'Hashem hardened his heart'. Had his capitulation been even remotely rooted in genuine Yir'as Shamayim, it is unlikely that Hashem would have done that, seeing as this is what He wanted of him, as He explicitly told him (in the Pasuk in Bo [10:3]). But it wasn't. Paroh's show of regret was based, not on the fear of G-d, but on self-pity and self-love, which was not what Hashem was waiting for at all.


Someone once asked me why it is that by the plague of frogs, Paroh pleaded with Moshe 'Pray to Hashem, that He remove the frogs ... and I will send the people out and they will serve G-d" (8:4). He mentions no conditions, and the implication is that he would send hem out completely, lock, stock and barrel. And the same applies to the plague of hail, where he said "Pray to Hashem ...and I will send you, and you will not continue to remain" (9:28). Yet by the plague of locusts, which occurred later, Paroh said to Moshe "Go And serve Hashem ... Who is going"? (10:8), and he began to stipulate who may go and who must stay. Surely one would have expected Paroh's resistance to decrease as the plagues progressed, rather than to increase.

It seems to me however, that if one examines Paroh's choice of words, it is clear that by the plagues of frogs and hail, Paroh did not actually grant them permission to leave. All he said was that if Moshe would Daven, then he would let the people go. That being the case, there was no room for stipulations. And it was only following the plague of locusts that he actually permitted them to leave. That was when it became appropriate to stipulate.

The progression was indeed natural. First of all, Paroh only promised that he would condescend to send them out; whereas later, he actually permitted them to, albeit with conditions attached. His resistance in fact, had decreased.

All this only confirms what we wrote earlier, that Par'oh's fear was based, not on any kind of Yiras Shamayim, but on self-pity. That is why he initially felt free to go back on his word the moment the plague was over (and the immediate pain had dissipated) and later, to state the conditions that were beneficial to him. Had he possessed a modicum of Yir'as Shamayim, he would not have dared, either to retract from his promises, or to make stipulations with G-d. He would have accepted G-d's terms, and sent Yisrael out of Egypt, lock, stock and barrel.

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Parshah Pearls

In Their Own Right

"And I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Ya'akov" (6:3).

Rashi comments on this 'to the Avos'. The commentaries ask what Rashi is coming to teach us with this comment (though it seems that he is merely curtailing a lengthy phrase for convenience sake, as part of his overall comment, part of which is still to come).

R. Meir from Premishlan extrapolates from this Rashi the importance of developing one's own personality, and not following solely in the footsteps of one's illustrious ancestors. That is why Rashi stresses that G-d did not appear to Yitzchak because he was the son of Avraham, or to Ya'akov because he was the son of Yitzchak. He appeared to each of the Avos because he was 'a father' of the Jewish people in his own right.


Who Are You?

In similar vein, R. Chayim from Sanz once asked a certain Rav who came to visit him who he was. When he replied that he was the grandson of such-and-such an Admur, the Sanzer Rav commented that he had not asked him who his grandfather was, but who he was.


No Jewish Slaves

"And G-d spoke to Moshe and Aharon and He commanded them concerning the B'nei Yisrael and concerning Paroh" (6:13).

What was the command concerning the B'nei Yisrael, asks the Rogatchover Ga'on?

And he cites a Yerushalmi, which explains that the Exodus from Egypt took place on condition that in the event that if a Yisrael would ever have a Jewish slave, he would set him free.

And that, explains the Rogatchover, is what is meant here. Moshe and Aharon should instruct Yisrael, as well as Paroh, to always set free their Jewish slaves.

See also Rashi.


Punished for Nothing

"And I will harden Paroh's heart ... and I will place My hand over Egypt" (7:3).

The commentaries all ask what sort of justice that is, to force Paroh's hand and then to punish him for it. Beside, one may well ask, why did G-d force Paroh's hand in the first place?

R. Yosef Shaul Natanson answers both questions with the following parable:

Reuven once slapped Shimon's face. When the latter took him to court, they sentenced him to a slap round the face from Shimon.

Shimon argued however, that justice would not be served with that, since whereas Reuven had slapped him without cause, he would be slapping Reuven with good reason - to give him what he deserved.

Similarly, he explains, the sin of of Sin'as Chinam (baseless hatred) is a terrible one. But if the object of that hatred were to hate him in return ("Ke'Mayim Panim el Panim"), that would not be sufficient a punishment to atone for the crime, since the latter's reciprocation would not be a case of baseless hatred, but hatred with a reason.


In our case too, had Hashem punished Paroh for his enslavement of K'lal Yisrael, justice would not have been served, since Paroh's maltreatment of Yisrael was baseless, whereas the punishment was well-founded. So what did Hashem do? He hardened the culprit's heart, not allowing him to send Yisrael out even when he wanted to, and then punished him for nothing 'Midah ke'Neged Midah'!


A Heart of Liver

"Paroh's heart is hard" (7:14).

This phrase can also be translated as 'Paroh's heart is liver'.

The Dinover Rebbe explains that liver is different than all other types of meat, in that whereas the more one cooks the latter, the softer it becomes, the more one cooks liver, the harder it gets. Paroh too, the more G-d beat him, the harder his heart became.


See Who's Holding the Stick

"Behold I will strike the water ... with the stick that is in my hand" (7:17).

The Egyptians worshipped the River Nile, as is well-known. Chazal have said, R. Moshe Cheifetz quotes a Gemara in Avodah-Zarah (45), that it was customary to place a stick in their idol's hand, a hint that it ruled over the entire world. That explains why Moshe told Paroh that he would strike the Nile 'with the stick in his hand', as if to say 'See who is holding the stick!'


No Frogs Beyond This Point

"And the magicians did likewise, and they brought up the frogs over the land of Egypt" (8:3).

The words "over the land of Egypt" appear superfluous. The Yalkut however, explains their insertion, by connecting it with a border dispute between Abyssinia and Egypt. The two countries had been at war over the disputed territory, when the plague of frogs struck Egypt, settling the dispute once and for all (since the frogs were destined to plague Egypt, not Abyssinia).

Initially, says the Eidus bi'Yehosef, the magicians produced more frogs, in an attempt to spread the plague into Abyssinia, thereby extending the Egyptian territory. They failed however, when, as the Pasuk tells us here, all the frogs that they produced remained within the borders of Egypt.


An Earthly Nuisance

"And also the ground on which they were" (8:17).

The G'ro (and others), interprets this Pasuk with reference to the ferocious beast, known as Adnei Sadeh, which was attached to the ground by its umbilical cord.

According to that, the words "on which they were" refers to the wild animals.

R. Yosef Shaul Natanzon however, explains the Pasuk differently. According to him, the Pasuk refers to the Egyptians, and what the Pasuk means is that not only did the wild animals appear in their houses, but out of the very ground that they walked. For example, an Egyptian might make his way to Goshen, in an attempt to escape the ravages of 'Arov'. But to no avail, because wherever he trod, wild animals appeared out of the ground.

According to him "on which they were" refers to the Egyptians.


Genuine Yir'as Shamayim

"Those servants of Paroh who feared G-d chased their servants and livestock into the house ... Whilst those who did not take any notice of the word of G-d, left their servants and livestock in the field" (9:20/21).

To strike a contrast between the two types of people dealt with here, the second Pasuk ought to have written 'Whilst those who did not fear G-d ... ' (which is the opposite of "Those ... who feared G-d")?

R. Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld learns an important lesson from this switch of expression. Some people convey the impression of being G-d-fearing individuals. They perform the Mitzvos and Daven with great fervour, yet when it comes to the word of G-d, they go their own way and do their own thing.

The Torah teaches us here that someone who does not pay attention to the word of G-d (which reaches us via the Chachamim of our generation) cannot be described as G-d-fearing, never mind how devout he appears in the eyes of others.


Fear Overrides Fear

"Those who feared the word of G-d among the servants of Paroh ... (me'avdei Paroh)" (ibid).

The Meshech Chochmah translates "me'avdei Paroh" as 'more than the servants of Paroh'. What happened, he says, was that Paroh's servants threatened whoever would chase his servants and livestock into the house, with severe punishments.

However, the Pasuk tells us, there were those who feared G-d more than they feared the servants of Paroh ... . They chased their servants and livestock into the house.

This is reminiscent of the Jewish midwives in Parshas Sh'mos, who also feared G-d more than they feared Paroh (though, in stark contrast to the Egyptians mentioned here) they had not needed the prodding of any plagues to stimulate it).


Afraid of the Consequences

"Those ... who feared the word of G-d ... chased their servants" (ibid.)

The Torah does not write 'those ... who feared G-d', says the Alshich, but "those ... who feared the word of G-d". The Pasuk is not speaking about Egyptians who had even a modicum of genuine Yir'as Shamayim', but about Egyptians who were afraid that maybe there was something in Moshe's warning to take to heart.

* * *

(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Mitzvah 430:
To Bless Hashem After a Meal (cont.)

Should the additional food that one eats during the meal come neither to satisfy nor to accompany the bread, but purely for pleasure, then it depends: if it nourishes (such as a cooked dish made from the five species of grain), then it is covered by the B'rachah that one recited over the bread, both before and after the meal. If it is not, but is eaten purely for pleasure, (such as fruit), then a B'rachah before is required, but not a B'rachah afterwards (as it is covered by Birchas ha'Mazon). Included in this latter category are things such as salted olives and the like, which are normally eaten in order to bring on an appetite. They too, require a B'rachah before eating, but not afterwards.

Dates may well be a fruit, yet they have the Din of Mazon, and do not require a B'rachah, either before eating them or afterwards.


If someone is brought a dish full of fruit, then, assuming that they all share the same B'rachah (e.g. 'ha'Eitz'), then a B'rachah over the one that he prefers will cover the entire dish, none of which requires a fresh B'rachah. If there is no fruit that he prefers, then should the dish contain some of the seven species (for which Eretz Yisrael is praised), then he recites a B'rachah over the one that is closest to the word "Eretz" (presuming that he intends to eat it), and that covers the rest of the fruit.

If the B'rachos are not the same (e.g. some of the fruit requires ha'Eitz, and some, ha'Adamah) then two B'rachos are required, starting with the B'rachah over the one that he prefers. Should he have no preference, then the more important B'rachah takes precedence (i.e. that of 'ha'Eitz', which is more specific, since 'ha'Adamah' covers the fruit that grows on a tree (which also grows from the ground), but not vice versa. Wine is not included in the B'rachah over bread, and requires an independent B'rachah before drinking it, even if one drinks it in the middle of a meal.

The Chachamim fixed another B'rachah ('ha'tov ve'ha'meitiv') over wine, there where a second (superior) kind of wine is brought to the table, during or after the meal, provided at least two people partake of it.

If one drinks wine before the meal, the B'rachah Rishonah covers any wine that one drinks after it, either during the meal, or after it. But wine that one drinks during the meal does not cover wine that one drinks after it, which therefore requires its own B'rachah. Birchas ha'Mazon however covers any wine that one drank beforehand, seeing as wine, which sustains and makes a person happy, is considered a Mazon.


Mayim Acharonim is obligatory. The water, which must be cold, should be poured either into a receptacle or onto something that interrupts between it and the ground (such as little pieces of wood). Someone who did not eat any food that is 'messy' and who did not touch salt (from S'dom) during the meal, is not required to wash Mayim Acharonim.

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