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by Daneal Weiner
Welcome to the Orchards of Jerusalem's spring time (2 days in a row now
over 60 F!)|
Rav Zev Leff goes out on a lamb to talk about what's usually not talked about. He says everyone else is going to discuss the Exodus so he wants to discuss the...Inudos. How did we get into the bum rap of Egypt in the first place??? The Gemorah Nedarim brings three reasons. A three way dispute of what sin Avraham Aveinu committed that led G-d to say (15:13), "Know that your seed will be strangers in a strange land...400 years"? Three opinions and they're all true.
1) When G-d promised Avraham Aveinu his descendants would inherit the land of Israel, Avraham asked (Breishis 15:8), "How will I know?" For doubting Hashem we were exiled.
2) Avraham Aveinu took the 318 students he had learning in his house and went to war against the 4 kings to save Lot. For turning Yeshiva students into soldiers and wasting time which could have been spent learning Torah we were exiled.
3) When Avraham ended up saving all the people of Sodom, the king of Sodom asked, "Take the wealth but give me the people." Avraham should have said, "You'll take the wealth and I'll take the people!" Avraham Aveinu is spending his life trying to turn people on to monotheism. Here he has millions of people who owe him their lives and he lets them go?! For losing the opportunity to teach millions about Hashem we were exiled.
The first BIG question is what did Avraham Aveinu do wrong??? Regarding #1) When he asked how will I know, G-d didn't respond, "Would I lie?" "Do I look like a kidder?" Have I did you wrong this far?"?? G-d answered, "Take for me a cows, goats, rams, birds..." Karbanos- Sacrifices!!! G-d was answering Avraham that through Bnei Yisrael's sacrifices we will inherit Israel. (3 verses earlier the Torah just called Avraham Aveinu a believer in G-d!!) It wasn't a question of doubt. He saw the sins of Israel and asked how we'd inherit it with our sins? What did Avraham Aveinu do wrong?
Re: #2) He takes 318 Kollel guys from a night seder and goes to save Lot's life!? If saving a life can push off Shabbos, it can push off a few hours of learning! Not only that, a Midrash says one of the kings gagged Lot, put him in a cage and showed him off saying he captured Avraham!!! What a chilul Hashem!!! [Rashi said (on Avraham saying to Lot, "We are brothers") they looked alike!] On top of that, Avraham Aveinu shouldn't depend on miracle. He has to go fight 4 armies! He should go himself?? Even depending on a miracle one should depend on it as little as possible. Against 4 armies he should take 317 men and leave one behind? And according to the opinion that the 318 men were only ONE man (because 318 is the gematria of the name of Avraham's servant, Eliezer) he certainly should have brought him with! So what did Avraham Aveinu do wrong?
Re: #3) These weren't ignorant people. They were absolutely wicked! Sodomites legalized evil! One of Lot's daughter was discovered giving food to a beggar and they covered her in honey and caused her to be stung to death by a swarm of bees! Commentaries said it was her cry which was the final straw after which G-d sentenced them to destruction. Avraham is supposed to take these people and say, "Repeat after me, class. 'G-d says "Be nice."'" He's better off spending his time on wild buffalo. Maybe even Tel-Avivians! What did Avraham Aveinu do wrong?
The second question is if Avraham did do wrong, let HIM go to Egypt. O.K., he did. But you know what I mean. Rav Leff answers it all with the following. A 'chait'- sin, is not just a deliberate act. Not even only an unintentional one. It's literal translation is 'mistake'. Keeping well in mind that Avraham was Bnei Yisrael at this time, keeping well in mind that G-d gave us, especially the Righteous, an unbelievable role in shaping the world, Avraham's mistake was not instilling in his genes and in the world a completion of these three things.
1) Identity- When Avraham Aveinu asked, how will they inherit, it put a question into creation as to our connection to Israel. If he thought 'what better people for the holy land' than the sins wouldn't have mattered. But asking the question said 'Bnei Yisrael + what = Israel'? It blemished our identity. We, alone, weren't enough.
2) Resources- Chazal say that learning Torah IS greater than saving a life! And Halacha says go save the life anyway because that's what G-d wants! Avraham was doing exactly what he had to do. But if there came into the world even a legitimate reason to take all the Torah resources an engage them an a less than ideal form of service, then it showed Avraham Aveinu had done (or not done) something which led to the manifestation of this situation. It showed there to be a blemish in the resources of Israel.
3) Purpose- Avraham Aveinu could not have brought the Sodomites home. But our role is to be a light unto the entire world! If it were impossible for Avraham Aveinu to teach these people, it showed there was a blemish in the purpose of Israel.
When there is a hair line crack in a wall it can be plastered over. But Avraham Aveinu is our foundation. When there is a hairline crack in the foundation, the ground has to be dug up, the crack gets broken open and a strong filler gets secured in it's place.
Our exile into Egypt wasn't a 'punishment'. It was the restoration of the hairline cracks in our foundation. Being strangers in a strange land stripped away our identity. Slavery strips us of our resources. And Egypt's oppression took away our purpose. This third one probably needs explanation. As long a person can feel accomplishment he can feel purpose. (You know, the story of the prisoner turning a wheel in his cell 10 years. Upon release he found the wheel connected to nothing and died on the spot.) Egypt had Bnei Yisrael building cities on unstable ground which eventually collapsed. They had men doing women's work and women doing men's work. The gender's have different innate natures which gives them senses of accomplishment from defferent activities. Egypt robbed us of all that.
One of the Rishonim takes the word "perech", which is the Hebrew for this meaningless labor, and uses the form of gematria called 'Ot-bosh' on it. Ot-bosh is a reversal of letters in the order of the Aleph Beis. The first letter switches with the last. The second letter with the second to last and so on. [A coupe times I tried to explain, from the words of Rabbi Tatz, that the gematria of a word is a quantifying (quantification?) of it's spiritual energy. Two words with the same quantity are spiritually related. A word representing good and one representing evil can have the same value because they are antagonists of the common spiritual force. Ot-bosh, a letter reversal, shows a flip side relationship even when values aren't the same.] The letters of 'perech' become 'vav, gimal, chaf' These three new letters add up to 39. The Rishon says one thing but Rav Leff notes there were 39 activities which were involved in building the Temple, each referred to as a 'melachah'! With 'melachah' a microcosm of the world is created. With 'perech', absolute zero!
Now that the crack were stripped, the Contractor, Himself, comes to fill the void. But first there's measure for measure! But before that first, first some background information. Hashem gave us our identities but he wants us to be dynamic. There are two fluids of life. Blood and water. G-d gave us the blood in a self contained system that rarely needs checking and almost never leaks. That was His contribution. We have to add water. No water, no identity. That's our involvement in our own growth.
Back to the first first (the measure for measure), the first three plagues attacked Egypt's identity. Egypt took the water of the Nile and said IT is their prime identity. A self claimed identity euphemistically reverses the role of blood and water. So Hashem reversed the water and blood. A self made identity, independent of a connection to G-d, carries no responsibility for behavior. Such a person starts out mischievous. Turns bad. Ends up rotten! The second plague was frogs which did just that. Started out mischievous (jumping in the food, etc.), turned harmful (sterilized the Egyptians- see related parsha for explanation) and went rotten (when they died they stank big time!). If a living beings identity is connected to Hashem then the world becomes a base for development. The third plague, the dirt turning to lice, made the world the living being and made the Egyptians the lices base for developement.
The next three plagues attacked the Egyptian resources. The land (the Torah says the wild animals attacked the Egyptians in their houses "and the land that they were on" (see related parsha for more incredible explanation)), the cattle (their gods) and their own bodies.
The final four attacked Egypt's purpose. Hail and locust took away their food. With out food no one can accomplish anything but struggle just to exist. Darkness incapacitated them. And the killing of the first born took away their future. Without descendants for continuity, what gets accomplished today is just a building on unstable ground.
Now that Hashem showed Bnei Yisrael the bankruptcy of the antithesis of what they lacked, He fortified them with the three languages of redemption! Three??? The Rav knows there are four but that doesn't work with his idea!
Now that you've finished chuckling the GAON OF VILNA (Grah) says there are only three languages and the third has two parts!! (I'll apologize to Rav Leff for you.) If there are four then there has to be five! Hashem says (Shmos 6:6-8), "I shall take you out...rescue you...redeem you...take you to Me...[and]...bring you". And if theses are the languages of redemption, the third one is "redeem"!!! How are we still redeemed after the redemption? So the Grah says only the first three are the languages- the third has two parts- and the last two are post redemption events.
Explaining himself according to the Grah, Rav Leff says the "taken out" is extracting the stranger from the strange land. The identity comes back. The "rescue" is form the servitude! The resources are reinstated! (But if Bnei Yisrael has been taken out of Egypt, doesn't that simultaneously reinstate the resources? We can't be slaves to Egyptians outside Egypt!? Good question! It will be answered later on, G-d willing.) The "redeem" gives back our purpose. Their are two ways to be stopped form fulfill one's purpose. Internal strife and external opposition. G-d says, "I'll redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments." The "outstretched arm" is the personal push and the "great judgments" is on the 70 nations, relieving us of any external opposition.
Rav Leff concludes tying these four stages into the four cups of the Seder. The first is Kiddush. That is when we declare our identity. A chosen people from amongst the nations. The second cup is after the story of the Exodus during which we pointed to the Matsah, the Maror, (and not) the Pesach- the symbols of the servitude which we have been released from. All our resources are in tact. The third cup comes over the Benching- Grace after meals. Now that we had food and have eaten we are free to fulfill our purpose. Where is the personal push? Well, what's the benching? It should be, "G-d, thanks for the food. See You next sandwich!" Instead we talk about Israel, Jerusalem, king David... All we have is a lousy sandwich and we need a refresher course in Jewish history? YES! Because that is our purpose! Now that we've eaten we remind ourselves what we've eaten for! This is the personal push. And the external opposition? It's the fourth cup comes after Hallel. Psalms by which we praise Hashem from having saved us from the perils and oppression of our enemies!
What a vort!!! There's more!
I heard Rav Nachman Bulman, shlita, talk about the ideas impressed upon us by our forefathers in Egypt and the Exodus. Our presence in Egypt, which gradually deteriorated into slavery, no doubt would have left one hard pressed to even imagine an eventual redemption. Young couples, to use a bad example, who might want to make aliyah or make any kind of a major investment are often of the opinion and/or are advised, "Do it now. Because later on comes the kids and the mortgage and the car and the insurance and then you'll never...." If Bnei Yisrael couldn't get out of Egypt before, they were certainly not going to get out now!
Last week we spoke about the hidden miracle of Shabbos Hagadol, that the first born Egyptians revolted against their parents and Pharaoh. When these first born saw the Jews taking the lambs they asked what they were for. Bnei Yisrael answered they would be an offering of praise to Hashem for killing all the first born of Egypt. These kids were not happy campers. They went to Pharaoh and asked for the Jews to be released. When Pharaoh said no, they revolted!
It struck me what this meant in light of what Rav Bulman said. After each plague, Moshe asked Pharaoh to let Bnei Yisrael go and he said no. We are never told what Pharaoh is thinking until the next plague when Moshe will again ask and we hear what Pharaoh says. It is like this the first 9 plagues. Along comes a Midrash and in between the 9th and 10th plague it says, "You want to know what Pharaoh is thinking right now? He is still thinking, "NO!" Not only that, but he has to go to war against his own Egyptians to let them know just how much the answer is still, "NO!"
Imagine what would have been Bnei Yisrael's response at that time. They are being told that redemption is just around the corner and front page news reads, PHARAOH SQUELCHES CIVIL WAR! THE ANSWER IS STILL, "NO!" (EPI) Cairo, Pharaoh's palace. Having heard rumor of their impending doom, hundreds of thousands of first born youth storm Pharaoh's palace demanding the release of Hebrew slaves....
Woa!!! Dit dit d-dit-dit dit dit...important news flash!, Way back in Shmos, when it said that a new Pharaoh arose over Egypt and he said to his people that the Jews were stronger and more numerous than they (verses 1:8-9), according to Rav Shimshon R. Hirsch, it had to be there was a coup and this was literally a new Pharaoh who drove out or killed the previous! Rav Hirsch says this is the only way to explain the Torah's words. Pharaoh could have said the Jews were 'great' or 'numerous' or 'strong' and we would understand that although still a small percentage of the population, Pharaoh was feeling uncomfortable with the census bureau reports. But to say they are "MORE numerous and stronger THAN WE" is going out of the way to say something else. It has to mean a strong few overpowered the previous government and were literally less in strength and numbers than the Jews. Rav Hirsch goes on to purport that this was the first text-book case of politically motivated anti-Semitism. Using the Jews as a scapegoat, this new Pharaoh rallied the people on his side, thereby securing his position.
So, Rav Hirsch might be happy to know that it seems measure for measure for this Pharaoh using the Jews to avert a revolution, G-d pays him back with the Jews having been the cause of a revolution!!!
What a G-d thing to do. He pays back Pharaoh with a revolution and at the same time put the Jews to the test to believe in Moshe's Pesach instructions for speedy redemption, even in the face of this crushed 'free-the-slaves revolution'. Imagine what the feelings and attitudes of the black's would have been had the north lost the American civil war?
Getting back, this is Rav Bulman's point. The end of our exile didn't look like an end. It looked like an impossibility of ever ending. One more plague. One more week. One more day. One more minute. This has been our history. Always seeming bereft of any defense. No divine assistance. But then as soon as Hashem decides it's time, it happens in a blink! No delays! Pushed out! Before the dough even had time to rise 600,000 Jews (men from the age of 20 and up. Which translates into 2,000,000 to 15,000,000 people altogether, depending on the commentary) were on their way out and with monetary compensation for all their years of 'perech'.
One benefit of the push to freedom is curtailing the slave mentality. When there is no freedom, it is yearned. But when it comes, what do you do? What will be when you get there? Where are you even going??? Harper's Ferry Arsenal: John Brown, an abolitionist, overtook an arsenal of weapons in one of the southern states and expected slaves from all around to come grab arms and fight for their freedom. No one came! More unbelievable were cases, lehavdil, after the liberation of the concentration camps. Some utterly broken Jews didn't want to leave the camps, may G-d avenge them. Mentally, there became a comfort even to a living hell when compared to the unknown.
The down side of the push to freedom is taking this mentality along. Although it hasn't found expression now, as soon as events take a turn for the seemingly worse, then the redeemed turn on the redeemers. When the Jews where against the Yam Suf they said, "Weren't there enough graves in Egypt?" When they tired of the Mon they said, "We remember the free fish in Egypt." But as Hashem declared through His servant Yirmiyahu (2:2), "I remember the kindness of your youth...you followed Me into the desert, in a land that was not planted." Even though rushed out they went with tremendous faith in Hashem. Even though their appeared to be setbacks and complaints, the reality was that we were free. A freedom that could only come from Hashem's reinforcement of our foundation.
This is the answer to the question above, wasn't being taken out of Egypt an automatic reinstatement of our resources? If one looks through history, we Jews can't even be compared to other nation's who were enslaved and set free. Where as we become leaders and crafters of society (never beneficial in the long run but impresses the point) these others take a back seat to the society and demand their fair share. They're still enslaved even while verbalizing expressions of freedom and equality.
This is just one of the messages of eating Matsah. When Chazal give us a mitsvah to do it enshrines memory through a formal practice. Our action enables us to internalize into ourselves something our ancestor's experienced 3310 years ago.
Chazal not only told us to eat Matsah but to destroy all chamets. What is chamets? A souring of the dough which causes the dough to rise. Is this swelling an increase in the substance of the dough or just an increase of air in the dough. You better believe it's all air! Going hand in hand with the belief in G-d is that everything else is just a lot of hot air! Chazal use 'chamets' to give expression to the Yetser Horah- Evil Inclination. It plays havoc on our imagination. It looks like something, acts like something, feels like something, but it's nothing. That's fine but then the Torah says, "Man can not live by bread alone but by the word of G-d..." This means we need the bread! It's not all but it's necessary. So do we eat it or destroy it?
A Gemorah in Sanhedrin says Chazal asked Hashem to take the desire for relations from the world. When He did, a fresh egg was soon needed for a particular remedy and there were none to be found. The animals no longer had mated! So Chazal prayed and Hashem put the desire back into the world but 'blinded' it. We haven't the desire for parents/siblings/children. It turns out though we need our desires but we have to keep it in check. If we see these inclinations as the hot air they really are, then we control it and it doesn't control us. Then physical desires endear us to our spouses and bring children into the world. Desire for honor has us fix times for learning Torah. Desire for a name has us do acts of kindness and give charity. Then the good and evil inclination both serve Hashem.
The night before Pesach, the search for chamets is done with a candle. There is an axiom, "Ner Hashem nishmas adam"- a candle of Hashem is the soul of man. Just as we use a candle to search out our houses, so too should we use Hashem's candle to search out our soul's houses, our physical existence.
"Any chamets that is in my domain, that I have not seen or destroyed shall be like the dust of the earth." This is what we say when we do the 'biur' chamets, literally translated as 'burning' and figuratively means 'destroying'. Many are accustom to saying this extra paragraph while burning the chamets: "It should be the will of H' that just as I destroy this chamets from my house and property, so too may He destroy the spirits of tumah and all such beings from the world and destroy our Yetser Horah from within us..." The second verse connects the deeper meaning to the search for chamets in the first. The key phrase in the first is, "shall be like the dust of the earth." Like the nothing that it really is.
Above we mentioned Avraham Aveinu running after the four kings to save Lot. In Breishis it says, (14:15) "Vayichalek alayhem, hu v'avdav, vayakaim.."- And he [Avraham] deployed with his servants against them and struck them. Rashi says 'vayichalek' means 'deployed' according to the simple context but the root of the word is 'chalek'- divide. The night was divided. Half was a miracle for Avraham and half was saved for his descendants in Egypt. This night was the 15th of Nissan, Pesach night! The next day, on Avraham's return home, the king Malki-Tseddek came out to greet him with bread and wine. Commentaries say don't be fooled by the word `bread'. Its `bread of affliction'- matsah!
Something's missing from this story! One guy and his servants take on 4 world powers and 12 hours later they're heading home? What arsenal of weapons would Avraham Aveinu have stored away except for a shchita knife?!? Ok, they are pretty sharp knives but against 4 armies? Chazal answer these questions explaining the miracle which Rashi mentions. Avraham and his servants picked up handfuls of dust from the ground and throw it at the enemy and the particles turned into swords and arrows! That certainly explains 4 armies going down fast. Why throw dust? Why not say boo? Maybe blow real hard?
We said one should not depend on a miracle or at least as small a miracle as possible so Avraham had to do something physical. Speaking or blowing are questionable in the 'action' category. Rav Wolfson has a problem with this. There is nothing natural that can be expected from picking up and throwing a handful of dust!? (Except for maybe a little spitting.) How does that diminish the miracle? What was the point?
Rav Wolfson answers that Avraham Aveinu knew that these for kings were 'chariots' for four kinds of tumah that were in the world. The sustenance of their existance were the forces of Tumah. He also knew the power of Pesach. On Pesach we rid ourselves of our own tumah by nullifying it like dust. Avraham picked up dust and said, "Here! This is all you are to me!" Once the spiritual sustenance of the kings was destroyed, they were destroyed. All that's left is the 'technicality' of killing the bodies, now obsolete 'chariots' with no riders. For this Hashem intervened and turned Avraham's dust, his biur chamets into a biur of his enemies as well.
Here's wishing you and all of yours a complete removal of any chamets. May we all merit the freedom to fulfill our purpose in serving only Hashem and thereby merit the Mashiach who will lead us to Jerusalem and rebuild her to former glory. Hashanah haZOS b'Yerushalyim! This year! Shabbot Shalom and Chag Kasher v'Somayach!