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Vol. 5 No. 14
Obstinacy Does Not Pay
The moment that Moshe and Aharon first entered Par'oh's palace, they proved their absolute supremacy, beyond any shadow of doubt. Whatever Par'oh's magicians could do, they could do better, and whatever they decided to do, they did, without the slightest interference from Par'oh or his men, who were powerless to stop them.
Indeed, at their very first meeting, the Jewish leaders served Par'oh what was clearly a portent of his imminent downfall. This occurred when Aharon's staff, having been transformed into a serpent, swallowed up the staffs of the magicians, after it had reverted into a staff. This was followed in rapid succession by the turning of Egypt's entire water suply into blood, a swarm of frogs that filled the entire land, ovens, pots, beds, baths and all; lice that covered every Egyptian animal and human from head to toe; a profusion of wild beasts that devoured whatever was Egyptian, and a plague of pestilence that decimated their livestock.
It was up until this point that Par'oh's stubborn refusal was deliberate, without any Divine coercion, in spite of the fact that he was powerless to prevent G-d from striking, and in spite of the advance warning that he duly received in most cases. Every single detail took place exactly when Moshe said it would, and every detail materialised with stunning accuracy - even Moshe's challenge for Par'oh to prove him phoney was accepted - and failed. The success of Moshe Rabeinu's mission was further enhanced by the fact that during this entire period (and we are speaking of a period that covered some five months), not one single Jew was affected by any of the plagues (and don't for one moment think that Par'oh did not send agents to keep check of this!).
To add to Par'oh's humiliation, we must not forget the refutation of his claim to deity, when Moshe Rabeinu caught him red-handed, relieving himself by the Nile River early in the morning, after he had led his people to believe that he was a god and that he had no need for this very human function.
All in all, Par'oh's self-esteem ought to have been shattered, and one would have expected him, in the face of such persistent humiliation, to submit himself to a force so superior to his own, if only for the sake of his shattered prestige, if not for that of his devastated country.
Yes, there was every reason for him to acknowledge G-d's greatness and superiority, and nothing, nothing at all, to be gained by his continued refusal to do so. Yet it was his servants who began to buckle under the Divine pressure and to beseech him to let the people go. Par'oh was quite capable of imploring Moshe Rabeinu to pray for the removal of the plagues, but he seemed incapable of acknowledging (unconditionally) G-d's supremacy. In his stubbornness, he led himself and his people over the brink of ruin, destroying himself and divesting his country of a glory that it never regained.
There is clearly no place for obstinacy in the face of the Will of Hashem. In the long term one stands to gain nothing by refusing to bend oneself to His Will - and, for that matter, not in the short term either!
The Hand of Hashem
"Behold the Hand of Hashem will be on your cattle." (9:3)
This is the fifth plague, Rabeinu Bachye points out, and it is executed by the Hand of Hashem (comprising five fingers - as the Ba'al Haggodoh explains in detail). "Hayo (be'miknecho)" comprises the letters of the name Hashem (Havayah) and represents the last letter of that Name - the second 'Hey' (whose numerical value is five). The second 'Hey' incidentally, in Kabbalistic terms, represents the Sefirah of Malchus - G-d's Sovereignty - which is synomymous with His Quality of Judgement - most appropriate for the use to which it was now being applied - to punish the Egyptians.
The Shechinah is in Golus Too
Rabeinu Bachye in Parshas Va'yigash (46:4) has already explained in detail how the letter 'hey' represents the Shechinah, and how this conforms with what Chazal have told us - that the Shechinah went into golus with Yisroel. And the Torah writes an extra 'hey' both by the golus (in the word 'Mitzraymoh) and by the Exodus ("oloh gam oloh') (46:4), Rabeinu Bachye adds, to teach us that the Shechinah went with us into golus and it would go up with us to Eretz Yisroel, when the time arrived to leave.
Indeed, Yosef in his wisdom, hinted that the Shechinah was in Egypt, when he said to the people "Hey lochem zera" etc., perhaps as a hint that the famine would terminate early, due to the Shechinah that had come down to Egypt with Ya'akov, on whose account the famine stopped.
By only two of the plagues does the Torah use the expression "Haflo'oh," making a distinction between the Jewish flocks and those owned by the Egyptians: by the plague of pestilence and by that of wild animals. Rabeinu Bachye explains how the first three plagues - the blood, the frogs and the lice - were localised, making it feasible for the plague to appear in Egypt, but not in Goshen, where the Jews lived. But when it came to the wild animals, which came into Egypt from the Sinai desert, there is no logical reason as to why they should have circumvented Goshen to attack their prey only in Egypt. (On the contrary, one would have expected Goshen, where most of the sheep and cattle grazed, to bear the brunt of their attack.)
...Even For the Animals
Similarly, by the plague of pestilence, explains Rabeinu Bachye, it is either because all the animals, even those of the Egyptians, used to graze in the land of Goshen, that Hashem needed to stress that He would make a distinction between the cattle of the Jews and those of the Egyptians, or because pestilence was a result of a climatic change, and there was no reason as to why that change should effect one place more than the other - even assuming that the Egyptian sheep did not graze together with Yisroel’s in Goshen.
Existence, Supervision, Omnipotence
There were three aspects of G-d that Par'oh denied - that He existed, that He supervised what happens in this world, and that he was omnipotent (Metzi'as ha'Borei, Hashgochoh and Yecholes), explains Rabeinu Bachye. That explains why, by the plague of frogs, Hashem said to Par'oh "So that you should know that there is none like Hashem!" (that there is no existence like that of Hashem); by the plague of wild beasts, He said to him "So that you should know that I am Hashem in the midst of the land!" (supervision); and by the plague of hail, He said "So that you should know that there is nobody like Me in the midst of the land" (that there is nobody capable like Hashem).
The Medrash says about this, that Par'oh said to Moshe "I don't know G-d". Therefore G-d keeps on repeating to him "So that you should know" - in the end, you will know, Par'oh! You most certainly will!
About The Mitzvos
Some people do not realise that Hashem gave us the mitzvos for our benefit - we referred to them in the last issue of "About Tefillah", and it was to them that the parable of the African pertained.
There are others who simply do not realise the value of a mitzvah, like a small child who will play with a gold coin, or will throw it away, without the least understanding that the coin is of great value. The Chofetz Chayim gives the following Moshol: A man was once shipwrecked on a desert island. Strewn across the beach of the island were numerous jewels and pearls. The man, totally unaware of their value, did not trouble himself to collect many of these precious stones. And so, when, some years later, he was rescued from the island, he left with only a handful - when there was nothing to stop him from leaving the island with boxes full of jewels.
Like the African in the earlier parable, it is not difficult to imagine the deep disappointment and remorse that the man must have felt, when he discovered - too late - the immense fortune that had been available to him, and that he had squandered. That disappoinment is nothing, compared to the chagrin that many will experience when they realise - too late - how much more Torah they could have learnt and how many more mitzvos they could have performed during their stay here.
It is the task of the Yetzer ho'Ra to lead us to believe that: 1. the mitzvos have been given to us to burden us with tasks that are designed to make our lives a misery; and that 2. the mitzvos themselves are of little or no benefit and that we could be doing more important things with our time.
Our task therefore, lies in convincing ourselves that Hashem loves us immensely and that, far from attempting to make our lives a misery, He created the world with the sole purpose of giving as much reward as possible, far from attempting to make our lives a misery, He created the world with the sole purpose of giving as much reward as possiat, far from attempting to make our lives a misery, He created the world with the sole purpose of giving as much reward as possible to the people who inhabit it, as King David taught, " The world was created with Chessed" - Tehillim 89,3. That reward is known to us as The World to Come, and the means of gaining the right to revel in its eternal bliss is Torah and Mitzvos.
Seen in that light, not only are mitzvos not insignificant, but they are the only means at our disposal to gain entry into amazing world, a world whose ecstatic joys cannot be matched by any of the pleasures known to man in this world, and which belie any description known to man.
It is as the Mishnah testifies at the end of Makos: 'Hakodosh Boruch Hu wanted to increase Yisroel's merits, therefore He increased their quota of Torah and mitzvos' etc. How valuable must the mitzvos be, if they can buy eternal bliss.
THE MITZVOS OF TODAY
13. To Recite Birchas ha'Mozon (bensching) after eating bread - as the Torah writes in Devorim (8:10) "And you will eat and be satisfied, and you shall bless Hashem your G-d".
By Torah-law, one only needs to bensch if one has eaten to satisfaction. The Rabbonon however, obliged one to bensch after having eaten a kezayis (the volume of an olive) of bread. (The undertaking of the Jewish people to go beyond the letter of the law and to bless Hashem even when they have not eaten to satisfaction, evokes a similar response on the part of Hashem, who favours the Jewish people over and above the other nations of the world - precisely because of it - B'rochos 20b).
Min ha'Torah, bensching incorporates three b'rochos, birchas ha'Zon, birchas ho'Oretz and birchas Binyan Yerusholayim. The Rabbonon however, added a fourth b'rochoh - that of ha'Tov ve'ha'Meitiv. If one is obligated to recite a b'rochoh after eating, then how much more so must one do so before eating! If a person blesses Hashem when he is satisfied, then he must certainly do so when he is hungry!
It appears from the Gemoro in B'rochos 35a that all of the seven species, over which the b'rochos of "al ha'Michyoh", "al ho'Eitz" and "al ha'Geffen" are recited, are also min ha'Torah. All other b'rochohs - with the exception of birchas ha'Torah - i.e. "asher bochar bonu" etc. - are mi'de'Rabbonon. Bensching should be said with great care. The correct procedure, in principle, is to bensch before leaving the table.
This mitzvah applies everywhere, at all times, to men and women alike (though it is uncertain whether *their* obligation is min ha'Torah or mi'de'Rabbonon).
14. To study Torah and to teach it - It is a mitzvah for the words of Torah to be sharp (clear) in one's mouth, that he should not stammer over them (but to be fully conversant with them).
Whether one is poor or rich, young or old, even if one is steeped in suffering, or one is so poor that he needs to go begging, he is obliged to fix a time to learn Torah every day and every night, as the posuk in Yehoshua writes "And you shall study it by day and by night. " This obligation remains in effect up to the day of one's death, as the Torah writes in Devorim (4:9) "And lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life".
A father is obligated to learn Torah with his son, and this takes precedence over learning with others. This obligation extends to his son's son, as the Torah writes in Devorim "and you shall inform them to your sons and to your sons' sons". (It is not clear though, whether it applies to his *daughter's* sons, too.) As soon as a baby is able to speak, his father teaches him Torah, beginning with the posuk "Moshe commanded us Torah, a heritage for the community of Ya'akov" (Devorim 33:4). And he is obligated to hire a Rebbe to teach him. Although a woman is exempt from Torah-study, and consequently from teaching her son Torah, nevertheless, it is advisable for her to ensure that her sons should not turn out to be ignorant in Torah-knowledge. (In other words, where there is no father to fulfill this mitzvah, she should undertake to personally organise her son's Torah education.) Torah-study is equal to all the other mitzvos put together, because its study leads to its fulfillment. This mitzvah applies everywhere, at all times, to men (whose obligation to study is an intrinsic one), but not to women (whose obligation to learn Torah is only inasmuch as she needs to know to fulfil the Mitzvos).
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