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PARSHAS BESHALACHHashem shall do battle for you, and you shall remain silent. (14:14)
If one had to suggest the underlying motif of Parashas Beshalach, I think it would be emunah and bitachon, faithful trust in the Almighty. From its very outset, as the nascent Jewish nation left Egypt, until its closing pesukim, describing our triumph in battle over our archenemy, Amalek, the parshah is replete with instances of emunah and bitachon. I will focus on a few of these examples.
As Klal Yisrael stood at the banks of the Red Sea, the people, filled with overwhelming fear, began to cry. They raised their voices in prayer, entreating Hashem to spare them. Moshe Rabbeinu quieted them with the declaration, Hashem yilacheim lachem v'atem tacharishun, "Hashem shall do battle for you, and you shall remain silent" (Shemos 14:14). Simply, this implies that the nation's prayer will achieve efficacy if the people merit salvation. By demonstrating their readiness to enter the waters, thereby showing their willingness to sacrifice themselves for His Name, they would be spared. Horav Meir, zl, m'Premishlan, renders this pasuk homiletically, with contrasting lessons. Hashem yi'lachem lachem. Yilachem is related to the word lechem, bread, the symbol of livelihood. Moshe was saying to the people, "Can you imagine, a G-d that is always there, Who never forsakes His people? He provides us with our daily lechem, bread. Yet, we feel the need to plow, plant and harvest? Where is our faith in Him?" Hashem yilachem lachem - Hashem will provide your lechem, daily bread, yet, v'atem tacharishun, "Yet, you still feel the need to plow!" (Charishah is plowing). Where is your trust in the Almighty? Spend your valuable time learning - rather than applying yourselves to the mundane.
In a contrasting interpretation, Horav Meir Premishlaner reads the pasuk differently. "True, Hashem yilachem lachem, the Almighty provides your daily bread, but, nonetheless, V'atem tachrishun, You must be mishtadel, endeavor on your own, by plowing. You cannot just sit back and wait for the check to come to your doorstep. You must do something to provide the basis upon which the blessing can occur.
Veritably, these variant renderings apply to two different people. The individual whose bitachon is exemplary, whose trust in Hashem is unequivocal and sincere, can live on trust alone. This is the domain of yechidim, unique individuals who have achieved an enormous sense of bitachon. For the rest of us, bitachon goes hand in hand with hishtadlus, endeavoring. We must realize that the blessing is not commensurate with the endeavor. We must do "ours," just to do something. Hashem provides the rest.
Certainly, there are different venues upon which miracles manifest themselves based on a person's faith. A young man from a secular background came before the Baba Sali, zl. He was in a wheelchair, as a result of an injury sustained as a soldier in the Yom Kippur War. He had one leg that was mobile. The other leg was completely paralyzed, leaving him to rely on a wheelchair for mobility. He came before the sage to seek his blessing.
The Baba Sali asked him, "Do you put on Tefillin every day?" The young man replied that he did not. "Do you observe Shabbos?" Once again, the answer was in the negative. "If this is the case, it is small wonder that you have the use of one leg. Consider it a gift from the Almighty. The strength we have to function originates from Hashem. If we do not carry out His will, how can we expect to exist?"
When the young man heard these stern words, he began to weep uncontrollably. The Baba Sali looked at him and asked, "If I bless you with health, will you accept upon yourself the yoke of mitzvos?" "Yes! Yes!" replied the young man. "Hold onto my hands, and I will bless you." the Baba Sali declared. The young man did as he was told, and then kissed the hands of the sage. "Rise up from your chair and walk across the room," the Baba Sali instructed. To everyone's surprise, and to the shock of the young man, he crossed the room on his own, as if he had never had an impediment.
Afterwards, the Baba Sali remarked to his grandson that when a Jew accepts upon himself to correct his shortcomings, the force of the emunah exhibited by this acceptance will intercede before Hashem to grant a miracle in his behalf. True belief generates true response.
The power of faith is awesome, maintaining the ability to transform the most grave circumstance into one of joy. The following episode substantiates this idea. The parents of a young child were distraught. Their six-year-old son would wake up in the middle of the night and cry incessantly. They had taken him to specialists to seek an explanation, a cure to this malady, to no avail. They turned to tzaddikim, righteous men, for blessings and or amulets -all to no avail.
One day, the mother, who was a simple, trusting soul, found a page torn out from a Chumash lying on the street. She felt this was a Heavenly sign. After cleaning off whatever dirt was on the page, she placed it that night beneath her son's pillow, with the hope that this page of Chumash would be the amulet through which her son would be cured. Lo and behold, the child had his first restful night! He slept through the night without incident. The parents were overjoyed until the father looked at the verses printed on the page. The sheet was torn out of the Tochechah, Rebuke, of Parashas Ki Savo. "Hashem will strike you with madness…and you will be frightened night and day" (Devarim 28:28.66).
"How could you use this page? Do you know the terrible curses that are stated here?" the frightened husband asked. "I did not read it," she replied. "It is a page of Chumash; that is all that counts. The holy words and letters will provide an amulet for our son."
The husband, however, could not accept this. He went to the venerable Rav of the Sephardic community, Horav Yaakov Mutzafi, zl, to seek his guidance in the matter. The sage told him he had no reason to worry. This is the power of pure emunah. His wife's faith was so positive that it could transform curse into blessing, tragedy into joy.
There is one more story I have been saving for last. It is about a Kollel fellow in Yerushalayim, a scholar of note, who viewed and lived his life through the lens of bitachon. He confronted challenges with total equanimity; nothing fazed him. His trust in the Almighty was consummate. Thus, he was able to live in near-abject poverty as if he did not have a care in the world. Somehow, his family survived the daily financial pressures. The man never worried. Hashem ya'azor, "The Almighty will help."
It was now time to marry off his eldest daughter who was a lovely girl, a baalas middos, paragon of character refinement, and G-d -fearing. The finest of girls, however, requires an apartment. This had become the accepted norm. A girl becomes engaged, and her parents pay for the apartment. A shidduch, matrimonial match, was arranged with a fine Torah scholar, a young man who was truly the young woman's equal. The father of the kallah, our hero, promised an apartment for the wedding. They had selected a small "hole-in-the-wall" that would suffice for their needs. It cost only $60,000.
The kallah's mother looked at her husband as if he had suffered a breakdown, "Where will we obtain $60,000? We hardly have enough for our own simple, daily expenses!" Her husband assured her that she need not worry. Hashem will provide the necessary money in time for the wedding. He returned to his idyllic life of Torah study. The subject was closed - for the time being.
We must understand that the husband was neither a fool nor a simpleton. He had a profound sense of bitachon. If Hashem could provide their daily bread, He could likewise provide $60,000. It was all based upon their merit. In any event, the wedding date was looming closer, and still there was nary a penny in the till. The wife was getting more nervous, while her husband was as serene as ever, as he delved into the tomes of Talmud which were his life. His wife, realizing that her husband had no plans for any hishtadlus of his own, decided to speak with Rebbetzin Elyashiv, whose husband, the posek ha'dor, had a tremendous influence on her husband. Rav Elyashiv informed the husband that he must make some form of hishtadlus. He should not just sit back and wait for a miracle. The gadol ha'dor had spoken, and the husband's response was immediate. He went to one of his good friends who was the executive director of a large girls' school and solicited his assistance. Perhaps he could tell him the name of one of his donors, someone from whom he could endeavor to obtain the $60,000 that he needed almost immediately.
The director shared with him the name of one of his American donors. He did not bother telling him that his annual donation was fifteen dollars. The kallah's father immediately sent off a letter explaining his present need, and solicited his assistance to the tune of $60,000. The letter was sent. The fellow returned to his chavrusa, study partner, in the Kollel. He had performed the required hishtadlus. The wedding was in two weeks. He trusted that Hashem would provide them with His beneficence. "How" and "when" were unimportant. It would happen!
It was a few days before the wedding, the father of the kallah was, as usual, engrossed in his learning, while his wife and daughter were beside themselves with worry. They would have to call off the wedding. The embarrassment would be traumatic. What could they do? They could not possibly come up with $60,000 in the next three days. That afternoon, an envelope arrived from America; the return address was that of the man to whom their father and husband had written earlier. With trembling hands, they opened the envelope. Words cannot describe their shock, joy and utter disbelief to discover a check for $60,000 in the envelope. The wife immediately ran to the Kollel to inform her husband of the exciting news. A miracle had surely taken place!
The kollel fellow took the news in stride, accepting what he had been sure about all along. He trusted in Hashem, and his faith was affirmed. He immediately wrote a warm letter of gratitude to his new benefactor - and returned to his Torah study. Meanwhile, his friend, the executive director of the girls' school, was shocked into disbelief. If this is what the American donor was sending to an unknown kollel fellow, he would surely send him much more! He would not settle for a letter. He purchased a plane ticket and flew to New York to visit with the American benefactor. Upon arriving at his home, he was shocked that the man lived with his wife and young daughter in a small, simple apartment. There was nothing about the apartment's simple accoutrements that bespoke any allusion to wealth. Perhaps the man lived frugally.
"Let me tell you my story," the benefactor began. "For many years, my wife and I prayed for a child. Finally, we were blessed with a little girl. She was the center of our lives. At the age of four years old, we enrolled her in nursery school. Everything seemed to be going so well in our lives until, one day, we received the call that every parent dreads: my baby was hit by a car. The situation was grave. We ran down to the hospital as they were wheeling her into surgery. The surgeon was brutally honest with us. Hope for a successful outcome were, at best, slim. We began to pray fervently. All the tears that we shed to have this child were renewed, as we entreated Hashem for a blessing: 'Please let our baby live!' I then made a vow that half of the money that we had placed in a savings account for her dowry would be given to tzedakah, in the hope for a complete recovery.
"Hours elapsed, and finally an exhausted, but smiling, surgeon came out to greet us. The surgery had gone well. He was cautiously optimistic. That very day, I went to the bank and withdrew half of my account. It amounted to $60,000. I declared that the first needy person to approach me would receive this money. That night, we came home to find a letter in our mailbox from a Kollel fellow in Eretz Yisrael. He was marrying off his daughter and had no money to pay for her apartment. I felt it was Hashem's way of providing the dowry for one girl with the dowry of another. Thus, he was the one to whom I sent the entire check."
This is a true story of bitachon that we can "take to the bank."
And He said, "If you hearken diligently to the voice of Hashem, your G-d…Any of the diseases that I placed upon Egypt I shall not place upon you, for I am Hashem, your Healer. (15:26)
The Talmud Sanhedrin 101a questions the message of this pasuk. In as much as Hashem has promised that He will not place any disease upon us, i.e. that we never become ill in the first place, why, then, do we have a need for His healing? The Talmud replies that the pasuk is self-explanatory. If one hearkens to Hashem's voice and observes His mitzvos, he will not be stricken with disease. If, however, he will not listen to Hashem and will not faithfully carry out His mitzvos, then the diseases of Egypt will be placed upon him. There is one "plus": Hashem will cure you, because He is your Healer. This is the meaning of the seemingly contradictory language of the latter part of the pasuk.
The question seems to remain. The pasuk clearly implies that if one does not listen, he will be stricken with the disease. What is the purpose of the healing? Obviously, he is receiving the disease because he has rebelled against Hashem. There is a purpose in the punishment. Why the healing? Eitz Yosef explains that the purpose of the afflictions is to cure the person of the spiritual malaise that caused him to sin in the first place. Hence, the afflictions are therapeutic - not punitive. Thus, the healing comes after one has realized the purpose of the affliction.
Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, explains that, while it is true that one who sins will be stricken, a distinction exists between the affliction meted on the nations of the world and that which is received by a Jew who has sinned. When Hashem afflicts a gentile, the disease is purely punitive. Hashem is taking revenge on those who scoff Him. When He afflicts a Jew, however, the disease has one purpose: to stimulate his teshuvah, repentance. The afflictions experienced by Jews are remedial. They are powerful motivational forces which inspire remorse and repentance.
The hands of two people can be cut off, yet the situation is different one from another. The first one stole with his hand. He is incarcerated awaiting punishment. His punishment is that his hand is to be cut off. The hand of the second person is also to be cut off, but he is having it performed as a surgical procedure, administered in a hospital to prevent an infection from spreading to the rest of his body. Two people - two hands - two surgeries - two disparate reasons. One is punitive; one is remedial.
If we do not listen - Hashem will then place upon us a disease. Since He is our Hashem, this disease will serve to expiate our sins - not simply to hurt us. It is only concerning the Jewish People that affliction is a "good" thing.
"For the hand is on the Throne of G-d: Hashem maintains a war against Amalek from generation to generation." (17:16)
No people is so reviled by Hashem as Amalek, the archenemy of the Jewish People. Regarding no other nation do we have a commandment to obliterate their name. Only Amalek has that distinction. Why? What is there about Amalek - his hatred of the Jews and everything that they represent - that differentiates him so? I think the answer lies in Amalek's attack on us. We were leaving Egypt after two centuries of bitter, brutal persecution. We were not bothering anyone. Yet, Amalek, for some reason, felt it necessary to attack. Why? We were threatening no immediate danger to him; we were not traveling through his land. The Jewish People were basically minding their own business. Yet, Amalek attacked them for no apparent reason.
Perhaps the answer lies in Megillas Esther, which relates the Purim story, in which Haman, descendant and heir to the evil Amalek, attempted to wipe out the Jewish population of Persia. How did he do it? What was his convincing argument? Yeshno am echad mefuzar u'meforad bein ha'amim… v'daseihem shonos mi'kol am, "There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples…Their laws are different from every other peoples" (Megillas Esther 3:8). Haman reveals the "reason" for his hatred of the Jews: they are different! Haman was intolerant of the Jews' distinction. He was not suffering from the Jews. He lost no money. The mere fact that they were not like him was reason enough to hate and kill them.
This is Amalek. The Jewish nation that was liberated from Egypt had no issues with Amalek. Yet, the fact that they were different was reason enough for Amalek to wage war with them. Halachah, Eisav sonei l'Yaakov, "It is Halachic axiom, that Eisav hates Yaakov." No rhyme or reason - just simple hatred. Why? Yaakov is different. Eisav's insecurity cannot tolerate anyone who is different than he is. In the womb, Eisav was already out to destroy Yaakov Avinu. Why? Because, when Rivkah Imeinu passed a shul or bais ha'midrash, Yaakov wanted out. This agitated Eisav, since the avodah zarah, house of idol-worship, is where he would gravitate. He was different, and this troubled Eisav enough to hate him.
Hashem declared that His Throne is not complete as long as Amalek exists. The Almighty wants Amalek's name obliterated. The world society exists on a multiplicity of people. Different people, different cultures, different beliefs. This is the world. Klal Yisrael has its little niche in which we are isolated from the world society. Our way of life, the Torah way of life, is distinct. As a result of our mandate to be exclusive, we enrage the forces of evil represented by Amalek and his ilk. Throughout our history, the Amalekites have hounded and persecuted us for no reason other than Eisav sonei l'Yaakov. Our point of divergence, our individuality, is, in fact, our badge of honor, our source of pride. I guess this troubles Amalek.
The problem does not end there. I think the issue is much more acute, with grave ramifications reaching into our own insular society. I was reading recently how a prominent European Rav of Chassidic persuasion was walking through a vibrantly chareidi, observant, neighborhood one Shabbos afternoon, together with his family. He was shocked to hear the taunting voices of little children poking fun at his grandson's payos. At first, he thought that some gentile youths must have moved into the neighborhood. We can all imagine his shock and utter disbelief when he saw that the ridicule was coming from a group of frum children. The Rav writes how disturbed he was about this outrage. It is one thing to suffer the derision of anti-Semites, but to hear it from the mouths of innocent Jewish children was quite distressing. After all we have gone through collectively as a nation, how can children raised in fully observant homes make fun of another Jewish child's appearance? Furthermore, it would be wrong to place the onus of guilt on the children alone. Children reflect what they hear and observe from their parents and other adults with whom they come in contact. Apparently, manifesting a different appearance than one's own is reason for ridicule. This is subtle Amalekism creeping beneath the veneer of religiosity.
Let me assume my writer's license to submit that these feelings exist across the board. Right wing, left wing, centrist, modern, traditional, yeshivish, heimish; these are some of the labels by which we identify other frum Yidden who are "different" from who we are. We determine one's level of frumkeit based upon the shul in which he davens, the rabbi he supports, the school or yeshivah to which he sends his children, the color, texture, and shape of his hat or yamulka. It has gotten to the point that we are intolerant of people for no reason other than that they are different. Since when do we have the right to question someone's preference concerning which minhagim, customs and traditions, they want to observe? How are our children being affected by our petty, obtuse perception of one another?
Klal Yisrael is comprised of twelve Shevatim, Tribes, each with its own individual blend of attributes, qualities, and religious devotion. They all have one goal in common: serving Hashem. The individual approach may vary, but the goal and devotion remains unchanged. If their observance does not totally adhere to the purvue of the Torah it is simply not Jewish - end of subject. While throughout history all factions under the religious umbrella have not always seen eye to eye, for the most part there were elements of respect that were manifest between them. There were, and always will be, individuals who are extreme and for whom respect for their fellow Jew is not a priority, but that is why I call them extreme. They are beyond the pale. Everyone needs "his" place, his comfort zone, where he feels in-sync with others. It should not be reason for disparagement if another's choice of venue is not in harmony with ours. It is an expression of insecurity when one belittles others who are "different," who dance to a different tune. This is how Haman commenced his campaign against the Jews: "They are different from us." We have enough enemies from without. Why should we have to contend from enemies within?
"For the hand is on the throne of G-d: Hashem maintains a war against Amalek, from generation to generation." (17:16)
Sensitivity to the feelings of others is a given. No decent, upstanding ben Torah would knowingly hurt his fellow Jew. What about Hashem? Are we cognizant of the effect our actions and words have in the Heavenly sphere? While the concept of "feelings," "emotions," are corporeal and, thus, do not apply in the spiritual dimension, certainly not to Hashem, that should not excuse our thoughtless behavior. The following vignette is an example to what I am alluding.
When the Chafetz Chaim, zl, reached an advanced age, his congregants took note of the fact that the chair which he used in shul was literally falling apart. In his honor, they purchased a new one for him. When they brought the chair into shul, the Chafetz Chaim took umbrage with their choice of gifts. They were shocked. Perhaps he had developed an affinity to his chair, as it had "served" him for so many years. It still was no reason to become agitated. In a voice laden with despair, the Chafetz Chaim explained the following: "It is written in the Torah that Hashem's hand is on His Throne. The word used for throne / chair is kais, instead of kisei. The incomplete spelling prompts Chazal to derive an important message. As long as Amalek exists, Hashem's Throne is incomplete. Apparently, you show greater concern for my honor than for Hashem's. How can I sit on a new chair as long as Hashem's Throne is deficient? "
What a powerful statement! Do we feel the "pain" of Shechinta b'galusa, the Divine Presence in exile? Do we understand the concept of Imo Anochi b'tzarah, "I am with him in his affliction?" Hashem feels our pain. Do we feel His?
V'kulam m'kablim aleihem ole Malchus Shomayim zeh mi'zeh.
When we refer to a yoke, it does not necessarily have to have an inglorious connotation. While it is true that a yoke is placed upon animals, we use it for the purpose of harnessing them all together under one "yoke." Thus, the animals all pull together in harmony. They are now called a "team." This is how it should be concerning our relationship toward serving Hashem. We must participate in teamwork, such that all Jews work together to serve the Almighty. While we may all have individual strengths, we contribute these forces to the greater good, to serve the team. We bear the yoke of Heaven willfully, joyfully, together, each one looking out for the other. When one member of the team falters, it affects all the others. This lesson is derived from the Heavenly angels who "accept the yoke" one from another, almost as if asking permission, so that when they begin their praise it is with perfect harmony, in complete unison. This is how we should serve Hashem: by being part of the community, working with others, influencing others, not by ignoring them, but by including them. It might not always work, but at least we will have made the attempt.
Aidel bas R' Yaakov Shimon a"h
niftar 13 Shevat 5767
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