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by Daneal Weiner
"Ma'asay Avos simon l'banim"- The events of the forefathers are a portent for their descendants. Yaakov left Lavan's house in daylight not to give the impression that his leaving was an escape [since Lavan was away]. After three days Lavan returned and it was realized that Yaakov was fleeing. Lavan chased after Yaakov and caught up to him on the 7th day. After some back and forth, up and down, to and fro, Lavan was not heard from again and is a threat to Bnei Yisrael no more.
In this weeks
Parshas B'shalach-Shabbos Shira-Tu B’shvat
we have Bnei Yisrael leaving Egypt in daylight not to give the impression that it was an escape. After three days Pharaoh realized Israel was fleeing. Pharaoh chased after Israel and caught up to them on the 7th day. After some back and forth, up and down, to and fro, within the waters of the closing sea, Egypt is not heard from again and is a threat to Bnei Yisrael no more.
13:18>"Hashem turned Bnei Yisrael the way of desert, towards the Suf Sea and Bnei Yisrael went chamushim out of Egypt." Rashi says chamushim means 'armed' as with weapons. To travel by way of the desert means they have to take with everything they need. Weapons were for conquering Israel when the time came. Rashi then brings another famous explanation of chamushim, from the root chamaish- 5. Only 1/ 5 of the Jews came out of Egypt. Oy!
Not as famous is the translation of the Targum Yonasan ben Uziel, who learns from Chamushim, also based on the root chamaish, that every family left Egypt with 5 kids!
Two questions should come to mind. Three, if you include, "What???" We learned back in Parshas Shemos that Hashem’s response to Pharaoh’s plans was, "Pharaoh thinks to deal wisely with Bnei Yisrael LEST they multiply? They will SURELY multiply!" Hashem caused every birth to be sextuplets! Infant mortality rate, zero! So how does each family leave with only 5 kids? Maybe we could say infants were being thrown in the river, used for bricks, killed so Pharaoh could bathe in their blood. They were born miraculously and healthy but many didn’t make it after that, r'l. Even if we buy that as an answer, still we have to ask the other question; every single family ended up with 5 children? Exactly 5?
The B’air Yoseph, whose dvar Torah this is, asks one more question. The Targum Yerushalmi has another tradition on chamushim. He starts like Rashi, saying it means 'armed' but he claims Bnei Yisrael were armed with a good deed! “Good deed”? Another two questions leap off the page! 1) What??? 2) We were just taught last parsha that a reason Hashem commanded the slaughter of the paschal lamb was that since the Jews were on the 49th level of tumah- spiritual impurity, the angels asked Him, "Why are You saving them from the others? They're both idolators?!" So Hashem gave Israel a mitsva to have some merit for being saved. And now it sounds like Israel left with a spare tucked under their belts? So question #2 is what is the Targum Yerushalmi talking about??? (As was so mellifluously expressed by question #1.)
The B’air Yoseph offers an incredible answer which makes most all translations come together!!! The 1/5, the 5, the kids and the good deed!
Hashem looked into the hearts of all Bnei Yisrael and 4/5 didn’t want to leave Egypt. They are decreed to die during the Plague of Darkness. Who was that 4/5 of Israel? In other words, whom does Hashem hold accountable? ADULTS!
Of every 5 families, 4 sets of parents were killed off leaving 4/5 of the children, now orphaned! Each remaining couple decided to take upon themselves the responsibility for 4 families of orphans!. This means, as the Targum Yonansan says, that each couple left with 5 (families of) kids! G’valdik! But if we look back we have a verse in Parshas Bo (12:37) which says, "Bnei Yisrael traveled from Ramses to Sukos, 600,000 men, excluding the children." Wouldn’t that have been the ideal place to say Israel left chamushim and we’ll bring there all these oral traditions?
Re-enters the Targum Yerushalmi’s emphasis of the good deed. In Bo it says “Bnei Yisrael traveled from Ramses to Sukos.” So these parents suffered with these children along the interstate. How bad could it be for such a trip? Maybe in Sukos they had a KiddyLand and a few hundred thousand baby sitters? But what does the beginning of our verse say? "Hashem turned Bnei Yisrael the way of DESERT..."! Dozens of children to care for and it is just them and the sand dunes! Wow! What a chesed that was! That’s why the Torah waits till now to tell us what happened!
My own addition, fitting in Rashi’s first interpretation of chamushim, that Bnei Yisrael came out armed with weapons. BANG! “Now listen up! I told you 8 kids to get your feet off the coffee table!" "Eat your vegetables! I've got the 9mm. Don't make me use it!" "I'm loading the bazooka...get AWAY from the crystal cabinet, NOW!"
Rabbi Yechezkel Fox, who taught me that B’air Yoseph, later added something from the Ohr Gedalyahu. The Zohar says chamushim alludes to not 1/5 and not 5 but chamishim- 50! Although Bnei Yisrael physically left Egypt once, spiritually they had to leave 50 times. We briefly reviewed in the opening paragraph what we learned a while back, that Yaakov living by Lavan’s was Israel living in exile! Yaakov leaving Lavan was Israel leaving Egypt at the 49th level of tuma. But as the father of all Jews for all times, Yaakov also had to portend redemption from exile at the 50th level of tuma! Hashem had Lavan run after Yaakov and their last interaction set the stage for the final redemption. Like lavan, Egypt was also a precursor of all exiles. So even though we left from level 49, the Torah tells us we also left chamushim, out of the 50th. The Zohar says this is a message in the exodus being mentioned in the Torah 50 times.
A friend of mine with a Torah CD pushed a few keys and came up with the exodus mentioned more than 50 times. I saw it in a Rishone (a late first, early second millennia commentary) that the Zohar is only referring to the times the Torah mentions the exodus in a positive sense. I understand him to mean, for example, when Israel would complain saying, “Why did you take us out of Egypt to die in the desert” that would NOT qualify in the count. If anyone can check that out, I’d love to know what you find.
It seems likely that this is one idea behind the 50 days till the revelation Mt. Sinai. Each day was another spiritual exodus from Egypt. In some senses it absolutely was. Ridding oneself of any unG-dly traits instilled from a foreign country’s culture can surely be looked at as “leaving that country”. Every day that Israel was under Moshe’s physical and, more importantly, spiritual leadership was another exodus, out from all Israel absorbed from Egypt.
This seems integral to Hashem’s command of the counting of the Omer, 7 days times 7 weeks, from the first of Pesach till Shavuos, the receiving of the Torah. Each day and each week of the count parallels one of the 7 prominent s’firos- Divine traits which we try to emulate. The 7x7 reflects the idea that no trait stands alone but every one is part of every other one. Similar to these current weeks of Shovevim, when the Torah narrates the redemption, so to during those 7 weeks, the actual time of redemption, do we also work on elevating ourselves, bringing ourselves closer to Hashem, ridding ourselves of our foreign ways and emulating more of His ways.
The first sfirah is Chesed- kindness. The first day of the first week would be Chesed within Chesed. By each couple taking upon themselves to care for 4 additional families of orphans, in an unparalleled way did Israel show themselves people of Chesed within Chesed making them well on their way to achieving their goal of being fit for the Revelation at Mt. Sinai.
4:3> “And Pharaoh says to Bnei Yisrael, ‘They are wandering in the land the desert closed in them.’ ” That's a pretty good trick, Pharaoh, talking TO Bnei Yisrael about Bnei Yisrael wandering in the desert! Rashi says the word 'to' means ‘regarding’. Pharaoh spoke regarding Israel saying, “They etc.” The Targum Yonasan ben Uziel does it again! He informs us Pharaoh IS indeed talking TO Bnei Yisrael- sons of Israel. 2 sons, to be exact! Dasan and Aviram!!!
We learned the 4/5 of Bnei Yisrael who died during the plague of Darkness were the ones who didn’t want to leave. Here are two of those Jews! Why weren't Dasan and Aviram killed during the darkness? One tradition is that when Moshe found out what was to occur during the Plague of Darkness he prayed to Hashem on behalf of the 4/5 of Jews who were to die. Hashem saved two to give Moshe an idea of what he would have been in for. Dasan and Aviram are a repeating source of trouble for Israel. Why did Hashem to save these two? Maybe we can apply the Maharil Diskin’s explanation to this question. He says Dasan and Aviram had some tremendous merit going for them.
Back in Shemos, when Pharaoh’s decree went out that straw would not be provided to the Jewish slaves but the same number of bricks were expected, production did drop off and babies were used for bricks. This barbaric substitution for bricks did not stop the Egyptians from beating the Jewish taskmasters for the shortage. One would expect this 'motivation' to be passed on to the slaves. The Jewish taskmasters, however, would NOT beat their fellow Jews. They took it all themselves. Their merit for this m'siras nefesh- self sacrafice, was so great that later on, when Hashem will tell Moshe to gather men to receive Divine inspiration to become the first Sanhedrin, Moshe will chose from these men.
After the aforementioned decree, we read that Moshe and Aharon came out from Pharaoh's palace and were met by two taskmasters who greeted them with, "Thanks but no thanks! We'd like to say you're doing fine job, but you’re not! Go back to shepherding rather than making our lives miserable!" Who would speak this way to Moshe and Aharon? Rashi says it's Dasan and Aviram (5:20). For their fellow Jew they'd be beaten and beaten again. Show them an authority figure, a Divinely appointed authority figure, forget it! "Ma'asay Avos simin l'banim"- They survived then and their ilk survive till this day.
15:8> "And with a blast of Your nostrils the waters ne'ermu-were heaped up..." Moshe leads the men in singing Hashem's praises for splitting the sea. Ne'ermu is from a root word which means 'pile'. The Targum Onkelos translates ne'ermu as ‘dealt wisely’. The same root is also shared by aramah which means ‘trickery’! The water dealt wisely? Played tricks? BINGO says the Midrash Mechilta!
Pharaoh said "Let's deal wisely with the them [Bnei Yisrael]." Rashi said Pharaoh meant with water. He thought Hashem's promise not to flood the world would prevent Hashem from exacting punishment, measure for measure, with water. Sorry Pharaoh. Measure for measure Hashem had the water deal wisely with you. What did it do?
14:21> "Moshe stretched out his hand over the sea and Hashem sent the sea with a strong east wind all night and turned the sea dry and the waters split." Sea, sea, sea...water? After the verse says Hashem made the sea dry, then it says the water split? Something is fishy about this water. Picture this as well.
Egypt had suffered the 10 plagues, they chase after Bnei Yisrael, they are blocked by a pillar of fire. It deflects all arrows. It makes it bright as day for the Jewish side while it’s pitch black for Egypt. Now the sea splits open in front of Bnei Yisrael taking them to safety. I ask you, if you were an Egyptian, would you run in after them? Of course not- because you don't want to. But if you wanted too so badly, then any excuse you could find would be reason enough to take the chance.
After the east wind dried up the sea bottom, which meant the sea was already split, the verse says the 'water' split. Rashi says on this sudden use of the word ‘water’, “All the water in the world.” Moments ago, there was an incredible miracle being performed just for Bnei Yisrael. But now, it's an unbelievable fluke of nature. All the water in the world has split in half. Bath water, pitchers of water, I would venture to guess no Egyptian could spit in one spot if his life depended on it. So if it’s just a fluke of nature...no reason it shouldn't stay open for the Egyptians just like it’s open for the Jews. Very tricky, water. Very tricky!
This is how the Egyptian sees even the open miracles of the world. Flukes and phenomenon's. How does a Jew see the world? 14:22, "And Bnei Yisrael came into the water on dry land..." 14:29, "And Bnei Yisrael walked on dry land amidst the water..." The Amshinover Rav said that verse 22 is telling us what a miracle it was that B'nei Yisrael entered the sea and it turned to dry land! And verse 29 tells us the truth of the matter is, even to walk on dry land is a miracle! There is nothing natural about nature. It is all a miracle.
Bnei Yisrael then comes to Maratah and they couldn't drink the water because it was bitter. Hashem showed Moshe a tree. He threw of its wood into the water and it became sweet. Tradition says that wood was also bitter. Bitter + bitter = sweet!
It was taught in Gateshead Yeshiva how so many people drink bitter coffee. They put sugar in it. It's still bitter coffee but with enough sugar, it has the illusion of being sweet coffee. So many people unfortunately live their lives this way. They chose a bitter path, but if they can heap on enough shallow, transient pleasures they can fool themselves to think their lives have become sweet.
As Jews we know we have to take a bitter piece of wood. No matter how busy we are, we have to make time for prayers. We have to make time for Torah study. We don’t deal in business ‘like everyone else does’. No matter how poor we don’t work on Shabbos. In fact, we spend more for Shabbos! No matter how wealthy we bend our will to our spiritual leaders who do know better. Because we know only then do our lives truly become sweet!
Towards the end of Az Yashir we praise Hashem saying, “T’vi’aimo v’si’ta’aimo b’har nachalascha”- You will bring them and implant them on the mount of Your heritage. Implant, like by trees!
This Shabbos is also Tu B’shvat, the 15th of the month of Shvat. The Gemorah Rosh Hashanah says it is New Years for trees. Rav Wolfson asks, Why did our Sages make such a big deal about this day?
From a verse later in the Torah we learn, “A person is a tree of the field.” Our Sages expound that although like a tree, we are an upside down tree. We are rooted in the heavens and we blossom and spread the fruits of our deeds down here on earth. What is it about Tu B’shvat that makes it the New year for trees? Our tradition tells us that this is the day the sap begins to flow. Even though the tree may be barren and seem stripped of all life, the reality is that deep in its roots there is a resurgence of life!
Our Sages also tell us that this day is the time to pray for the perfect Esrog for Sukkos. We beg Hashem that when Sukkos comes around and we go shopping for our 4 species, Divine providence should cause it that our hand reaches for a box with a perfect esrog inside! May all 4 species be perfect!
In a Rav Wolfson vort from Sukkos we learned… allow me to plagiarize…
Vayikra 23:40> "And you shall take yourselves, on the first day, the fruit of the Hader tree, of the date palm, the leaves of the hyssop and willow..." Before we recite the blessing on these 4 minim- species, most siddurs have a Y'he Rotsone, a brief prayer as a preface to the mitsvah. In it we say, "...osiyos shimcha hamiyuchad tikarev echad el echad v'hoyu l'achadim b'yadi v'laidah aich shimchah nikrah alai..."- the letters of Your Name [Hashem’s four letter Name] may You bring close, one to one, and unite them in my hand to know how Your Name is called upon me..." Very nice. Problem is that the Arizal says that the 5 books of Moses parallel the FIVE elements of Hashem’s name! The last 4 books parallel the 4 letters and the first book parallelthe kotes- a point of the inscribed letter yud! If Hashem's 4 letter name is really 5 parts, then why not take 5 minim?
Rav Moshe Wolfson says the answer is already revealed in the Y'he Ratsone quoted above, "...to know how Your Name is called upon me..." ME! That’s YOU! Hashem's Name is on the 4 minim and on us too! WE are the 5th specie paralleling the sublime kotes of the Yud!!
After bringing ourselves back into Hashem's domain with the month of Elul, after accepting He is King with Rosh Hashanah, after repenting and the spiritually cleansing service of Yom Kippur we have now perfected ourselves just like the 4 minim we drive ourselves nuts over, searching for the perfect ones. Our hopefully perfected spiritual state and that same condition which we seek in our 4 minim are one in the same. And this brings us back to the verse from Vayikra, "Take yourselves, the fruit, the palm, etc." Not “take for yourselves” but “Take YOU yourselves”! This Sukkos, when someone greets you while putting out their hand, give them a real shake! [Careful not to poke the person behind you.]
So putting all our ideas together we get a glimpse of the depth of wisdom of our Sages. When we pray for the perfect species for Sukkos, we are praying for ourselves! We are the trees of the fields. We are the 5th specie for Sukkos. During this time of Shovevim, again, a time for introspection and repentance, the Chesed of Hashem gives us yet another booster shot. Along comes Tu B’shvat. We think our sins are too great and there is little hope? Chas v’shalom! There is a resurgence of life within! Physical life! Spiritual life! Now is the time to pray that when we get to the ‘real’ New Year we merit perfection, we merit being sealed in the book of life, health and prosperity. And shortly thereafter, on Sukkos, may we merit that our perfected selves and the perfect species, which we had prayed for, all come together on Sukkos, in the sukkah, the mitsva which requires our whole being to perform it.
The Bnei Yissaschar adds that 40 days before a new life comes into creation a Bas Kol- a Divine voice announces who that child will be, rich or poor, smart or average, weak or strong, etc. There are two opinions in the Gemorah of when creation was. One says Adam was created the first of Tishrei, the other says on the first of Nissan. Backing up to the first day of creation makes it either the 25th of Elul or the 25th of Adar. 40 days prior to that creation a Bas Kol would have gone out. That brings us to either, respective to Tishrei or Nissan, Tu B’av or Tu B’shavt! Just before the Bas Kol goes out to describe the world created for us this coming year we are given the opportunity to offer up a prayer that we are given the wisdom, strength, and means to emulate the ways of Hashem and bring ourselves closer to Him.
Tu B’shvat falls out on Shabbos so the time to direct our prayers and thoughts towards all this is during the Silent Prayer, when we read the words, “V’tahair Libainu L’avdecha B’emes”- And purify our hearts to serve You sincerely. Not just because these words are the synopsis of all we’ve been talking about but also because the first letter of each word are the 4 letters in LuLav!
And Tu B’shvat falling out on Shabbos means that the first day of Sukkos falls out on Shabbos! The day we don’t take our lulav and esrog for fear of breaking Shabbos! Ironic? NO! Because in the time of the Third Temple we will take the 4 species on Shabbos! So with our prayers for our own spiritual growth and for our fitting placement with our 4 perfect species in the protective walls of the sukkah, we simultaneously pray for the perfection, fulfillment and redemption of all Israel! That the Mashiach comes and takes us from this 50th level of impurity and builds the Third and everlasting Temple! This special year 5760 of the 6th millennia, this Tu B’shvat the time is ripe!
Get your candles, your two challahs and your bag of fruits and make sure you have a Y6K bug free Shabbat Shalom!
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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