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by Daneal Weiner
Based on the Torah of Rav Moshe Wolfson.
I heard from a Rav Nota Schiller something to the affect of, “Halacha- Jewish law is the grammar of the moments of our life.” Just as the 100’s of thousands of words of the English language can only begin to make sense when structured according to the laws of grammar, so too do the 100’s of millions of moments of a Jew’s life only begin to make sense when structured according to halacha. Yet Hashem began our manual for life with a narrative of creation, Bereishis Barah- In the Beginning He created. Rashi asks on this first verse why Hashem didn’t start the Torah with the first law, Hachodesh hazeh lachem, the declaration of the new moon which we find in this week’s
A question is raised against Rashi’s question. There are three mitsvos in the book of Bereishis; be fruitful and multiply, circumcision and not to eat the gid hanasheh, an artery in the thigh of an animal. Why does Rashi ask that the Torah should have started with a ‘first’ mitsva which is actually number four?
Immediately following the morning prayers, many prayer books list the Rambam’s (Maimonedes’) 13 Principles of Faith. (Had they only realized services just ended.) One of the principles is, “I believe with a complete faith that the prophecy of Moses, our teacher, a”h, was truthful and that he was the father of all prophets, those preceding him and those coming after him.” What this belief means is, as the Rambam explains in his Laws of the Fundamentals of Torah, that we are never to believe a newly proclaimed prophet because he performs signs or miracles. Even Moshe was not ultimately believed in for his miracles. Rather every Jew was present at Mt. Sinai and heard with his/her own ears Hashem speaking to Moshe saying (19:9), “Behold, I come to you in the thickness of the cloud so that the people will hear as I speak to you and they will also believe in you forever.” So if everything Moshe said has G-d’s seal of approval, and, the Rambam says, he was the father of all prophets to follow, then the only criteria a new prophet needs is to say something Moshe would say. If he instructs us in Hashem’s ways, we listen to him. If he says different, we take him out and kill him. What about the prophets who preceded Moshe?
In this context, there wasn’t anything Hashem said to any of our forefathers that Moshe did not understand. Their lives and prophecies, going all the way back to Adam, all became revealed to us only when Moshe taught and wrote them down for us in Book of Breishis. The 5 Books of Moses really are, in this sense, Moshe’s books. So based on the principle, we should never think anything in the Torah is lacking in accuracy because Moshe was the father of even those prophets who preceded him. To our point, however, we only came to learn about the mitsva’s of procreation, circumcision and the gid hanasheh through Moshe transmission of Bereishis. The first mitsva Israel ever heard from Moshe, however, was Hachodesh hazeh lachem, just prior to the exodus, just as Rashi said.
Moving along, Hashem tells Moshe what will be during the Plague of the First-Born. (11:6,) “V’hoysah Tse’akah gedolah b’chol erets Mitsrayim asher kamohu lo niyasah v’kamohu lo sosif”- There will be a great outcry from Egypt, the likes of which there has never been nor the likes of which there will ever be! Later, during the plague itself, the Torah tells us that at midnight Hashem went out and killed the first-born and there was a great outcry in Egypt. One would expect an outcry under such circumstances. Rav Wolfson asks what it is about this outcry that not only was it forewarned but was recorded a second time?
Furthermore, tse’akah- outcry is in the feminine form, accordingly, its adjective, gedolah- great, is also in the feminine form. But then the Torah uses “kamohu”- the likes of which, which is masculine. “Kamohah,” Rav Schiller would tell you, is the proper grammar. Why did the Torah switch genders? To answer these questions we’ll take the scenic route.
In last week’s parsha, by the plague of frogs, Moshe asked Pharaoh to chose when the plague should end so he would “know that there is none like Hashem, our G-d.” It seems Moshe wanted to impress upon Pharaoh that Hashem was in charge and could remove the frogs at any time. No time clock had been predetermined by magical means. Pharaoh, thinking that Moshe was an exceptional sorcerer, but a sorcerer none the less, figured he was being asked when to stop the plague at the time when Moshe’s forces were weak and the frogs would stop anyway. He chose to foil Moshe’s plot by saying, “Remove them tomorrow!” He couldn’t wait to see the look on Moshe’s face when he couldn’t keep them going one more day! We know what happened there.
All this aside, Moshe must have been pretty confident that Hashem would do what Pharaoh wanted. And yet Moshe goes out from before Pahraoh, vayitsak- and he cried out to Hashem. It seems Moshe needed a strong outcry to get Hashem to agree to what he has just committed Him to. [Rav] Moshe has some explaining to do.
In Parshas Va’eschanan we learn that there are 10 expressions of prayer. We can’t be holding in the middle of the 10 plagues and not raise an eyebrow to the fact that there are 10 expression of prayer. Like the plagues, each expression of prayer correlates to one of the sfiros- spiritual heavens (sfirah, singular) with which the world was created. The expression by the frogs, tse’akah, correlates to the sfirah of Yisode- foundation. Hold this thought.
Last week we read, by Blood, that, “Seven days were completed after Hashem struck the river.” On this verse the Midrash brings a dispute between Rav Yehudah and Rav Nechemyah. One says the warnings were 3 weeks and the plagues were 1 week while the other says the warnings were 1 week while the plagues were 3 weeks. They are arguing whether the verse should be read, “Seven days of plague were completed after Hashem struck the river” or “Seven days of warning were completed after the plague where Hashem struck the river.”
If the Torah, the blueprint for reality, contains this ‘ambiguity’ (to use a bad word) then the potential of this duality exists in reality as well! And if Rav Yehudah and Rav Nechemyah knew it, than Moshe knew it.
This sheds new light on understanding Moshe’s question to Pharaoh on day 6 of the Frogs. “Do you want the complete 21-day plague or would you prefer the popular Plague-Lite, which can end tomorrow? Pharaoh said, “I’ll take the Lite, I’m feeling a little full (ribit).” I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you were wondering what on G-d’s green earth (ribit) Moshe was thinking!? At the resurrection of the dead we’ll ask him. And making the question stronger, the Zohar writes that a plague to the Egyptians was a healing for the Jews. Moshe cut two weeks off of that!?
He undoubtedly made an accounting and felt it worthwhile to trade two weeks for influence for Pharaoh to “know that there is none like Hashem, our G-d.” That was the point of the plagues anyway. And like Schindler said to the Nazi camp commandant, y’sh, [in the movie, anyway,] any king can kill but how great is the king who pardons.
Also unique to plague of frogs is that the warning included two Divine Names, Hashem and G-d, together. Other plagues which say they are se we, “should know”, have only one Name. Why two by Frogs?
When Moshe had first encountered Hashem by the burning bush and asked what Name shall he say is redeeming Israel, Hashem answered, “Eheh-yeh” and then continued, “Hashem, the G-d of your forefathers…This is My Name forever.” Forever, as in, on into the World to Come.
The Plague of Frogs which, as we said, correlates to the sfirah, Yisode- foundation, which was to clean up the impurity caused to Yisode by Egypt, it was to instill into Israel and all the world that Hashem is Hashem, our G-d, the Name which is His Name forever. Once the world would have experienced resting upon this ultimate yisode it would have been ready for Messianic times. Moshe gave Pharaoh the choice to stop the world’s full reparation from occurring by cutting the three week cleaning and healing down to just one week because he knew it would be better for Israel to endure the trials and tribulations of exile and overcome their evil inclinations on their own rather than have Divine Providence wrap it all up right then and there.
Proverbs 10:25 says, “Tsaddik Yisode olam”- a righteous one is the foundation of the world. Rather than our foundation being built via an external wash it should come internally, through the righteous ones of Israel. That is how Yosef Hatsaddik earned his title. He controlled his evil inclination of promiscuity by not having succumbed to the advances of Potifar’s wife. For Israel to finish building up the Yisode, we need to control our temptations in areas of arayos. Our strength and security lies in our self-control and not in an army that specifically drafts girls so that the boys will have something to do, r’l.
There were two possibilities to the redemption from Egypt. It could have been a strong redemption or a weaker redemption. One that sent everybody home or one that left the Jewish people with work to do. Our Rabbis ask how Hashem told Avraham we would be strangers in a strange land for 400 years yet we were in Egypt for only 210? They bring many answers. 1) Hashem said we’d be strangers, not abused laborers. The intensity of Egypt’s persecution shortened our time there. 2) The count began with the birth of Yitschak, exactly 400 years prior to the Exodus. Yet another answer is that we did leave early and we have a debt to pay. But due to our relative weakness, it takes us nearly 2000 years to pay off what our forefathers could have paid in 190 years.
After Pharaoh accepted Moshe’s offer, Moshe knew that Israel would have many long difficult years ahead. So he went out vayitsak- and cried out to Hashem. The strength of his cry was not for Hashem to stop the plague. Hashem would do that. He cried out that Hashem should be with us in our fight against our battle with arayos. Vayitsak Moshe, not just reflects the volume or intensity of the prayer but, as one of 10 expressions of prayer, it also shows us that the point of the prayer was Yisode. It is a loud and intense expression because it has to cut through the highest heavens and bring down the greatest quantities of mercy for millennia to come.
(Devarim 22:23-27), “If there will be a virgin betrothed to a man and another man finds her and lies with her, take them both to the gate and stone them, the girl because she did not cry out… But if it is in the field that the man finds the betrothed girl and the man seizes her… only the man will die… the betrothed girl cried out but she had no savior.” Eisav, the Torah told us, is the “man of the field” and the betrothed is Knessess Israel.
In Bereishis, 11:30, we read Sarah was barren and had no children. The Midrash brings Rav Levi who says, “Whenever it says had no it means will have. Sarah had no children but she will have. Chanah had no children but she will have. In the above verses in Devarim we read the betrothed girl had no savior. But she will have. The key to surviving 2000 years of the defilement of Eisav is taking control and vayitsak- crying out for mercy in the area of arayos.
Leah cried her entire youth because she was a girl destined to be seized by that man of the field. She cried so much, the Gemorah says, that her eyelashes fell out. The Ron, on a different Gemorah, says even though a Heavenly voice declares who one’s destined spouse will be, never-the-less, a man may pray intently to marry a particular woman who is not his zivug and his prayers may be heard. He can pull her away from her zivug! But in the end, the Heavenly voice might prevail and life at home may sour so that this man will divorce the woman or he may die early. She is now free to meet her original zivug.
The Targum Yonasan ben Uziel tells us that Leah’s father, Lavan, was Bilaam the prophet, the chief sorcerer of the gentiles. When Yaakov hid in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever, Eisav did not know where he was to kill him but when he reached Lavan’s it was public knowledge. Why didn’t Eisav come there to kill him? The Zohar says it’s because Eisav knew Lavan would deal with Yaakov accordingly.
Lavan had two daughters and Yitschak had two sons. The older was destined for the older and the younger for the younger. Lavan knew the sanctity that Yaakov was and his spiritual might. When Yaakov was to bless Reuven he says, “You are the first of my strength.” The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh says this means Reuven was conceived from the very first seed of Yaakov! Knowing Yaakov’s potential, Lavan reasoned that Leah, who is the zivug of Eisav, he’ll marry her to Yaakov. She will conceive by him immediately and he’ll no longer be in a position to divorce her. The only other alternative is for providence to kill Yaakov, thereby freeing Leah too marry her zivug, Eisav.
Akin to the sorcerers and astronomers of Egypt who were never quite on the mark, neither was Lavan. And even if they do read the stars right, Israel is above the stars. We are not bound to the influences of the constellations. How great and powerful are the prayers and tears of Israel that they can overturn destiny! Leah, the betrothed girl, she cried out and she had a savior! This mother of Yehudah, whose name all Israel carries (Yehudi), was saved from an eternal relationship with Eisav by crying out to Hashem. A portent of when all Israel will again be saved from Eisav, may it be speedily and in our day.
Had the Plague of Frogs gone it’s full measure, when the marital time of Passover had come around, Israel would have been redeemed and wed, once and for all, in all her glory, to Hashem. But instead, it ended after seven days. A mini redemption was granted. Israel left Egypt betrothed, not wed.
For the last 2000 years every Jew would read on Passover in the Hagadah an excerpt from the Torah, “An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather. He then descended to Egypt and sojourned there, a few in number, and there he became a nation… The Egyptians mistreated us and afflicted us and placed hard work upon us, v’Nitsak el Hashem- and we cried out to Hashem, the G-d of our forefathers, and Hashem heard our voice.” V’Nitsak-we cried out, the same root as vayitsak, is a cry regarding arayos.
To answer our outstanding questions, “V’hoysah tse’akah gedolah b’chol erets Mitsrayim asher kamohu lo niyasah v’kamohu lo sosif”- There will be a great outcry from Egypt the likes of which there has never been nor the likes of which there will ever be! Why was this cry so great that it was recorded twice and why is kamohu masculine?
We see now it wasn’t recorded twice. During the plague the cry was great because, as the Torah says, every house experienced at least one death. But this verse foretelling a great outcry, as Rashi says in Genesis regarding the great river, Prott, it was not ‘great’ because of its size but because of its importance. [Since Prott is one of the borders of Israel the Torah calls it a ‘great river’.] This great outcry from Egypt was referring to the great outcry from the Jews. Since the 21 day plague would stop after 7, all Israel, like Moshe, cried out to Hashem to help them in their now destined millennia of exile!
In Devarim (5:21-24) Moshe is reprimanding Israel for their behavior at the Revelation of Sinai. He reminds them that after hearing Hashem speak directly to them with the first two commandments, they came running to him, saying, “Ot tidabeir ailainu”- you speak to us. If we hear directly from G-d one more time we’ll die. Why did Moshe paraphrase their words to himself with “Ot”- you, in the feminine form? Rashi says Moshe was telling them they caused his strength to weaken. As Israel’s leader, Moshe’s strength is directly proportional to Israel’s spiritual state. When they chose to distance themselves that weakened Moshe.
Applying this lesson here, even though the word tse’akah is feminine, Hashem uses the masculine kamohu to show that the outcry was very strong! One that will echo through the millennia. Even though the betrothed girl cried out and she had no ultimate savior, she will have one.
The sfirah of Yisode is about arayos. On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the pinnacle of our prayers, we read the portion of the Torah about arayos. Billions of people in the world living according to millions of religions, ideologies, philosophies and systems and no one controls themselves the way Jews control themselves in the area of arayos.
When it was asked of our Sages what Hashem is doing, now that the world is ‘up and running’ they said He is making matches. They say it is as difficult as Krias Yam Suf- the splitting the sea. Any creator or inventor who makes something precious and wants to protect it, he makes it as difficult as possible for others to get to it. The most precious thing to Hashem is the relationship between a husband and wife and our control in the area of arayos.
Every day the men put on tefillin and repeat Hashem’s words which He spoke through Hoshe’a, “I will betroth you [Knessess Israel] to Me forever and I will betroth you to Me with tseddek- righteousness.” But it only appears we will be betrothed forever. Because Knessess Israel cries out, as of yet we had no savior. But we will have.
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