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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


So God turned the people toward the way of the wilderness. (13:18)

The Midrash teaches that this pasuk, which relates that Hashem caused the people to journey in a circuitous (va'yaseiv) manner, is the source for the halachah that requires each Jew - even one who is poverty-stricken - to sit at the Seder table, b'haseibah, reclining. Apparently, the only connection between the halachah and the pasuk is the word va'yaseiv; they are related by the root, sov. The question before us is obvious: What is the relationship between reclining on Pesach and the manner in which the Jewish People traveled from Egypt?

Horav Zaidel Epstein, zl, suggests a significant principle to be derived from this pasuk. Why did Hashem guide the Jews in a circuitous manner? If the problem was that their fear of the Egyptians would catalyze their desire to return to Egypt, Hashem could simply have removed the fear. After all, they had witnessed the most amazing miracles as Hashem devastated Egypt. They really had nothing to fear but fear itself.

We realize that obviously Hashem had other options. Hashem, however, sought to teach Klal Yisrael an important lesson: what is straight and easy is not always what it seems to be. Hashem was in the process of educating the nation. Every challenge which He presented to them was to elevate them, to increase and enhance their spiritual powers. What they thought was impeding them was actually a promising opportunity that would sustain them throughout their national lives.

This, explains the Mashgiach, is the lesson of Afilu ani she'b'Yisrael, "Even the poor man of Yisrael" must recline and celebrate the Seder as a king. Specifically during the Festival of Faith, which is another name for Pesach-- when we delve into the miracles that Hashem wrought for us, the plagues which overturned Egypt, the Splitting of the Red Sea with its accompanying miracles -- we are able to perceive the reality that even the most abjectly poor person should sit back and recline at the Seder table like a king. He understands that his function in this world is to carry out the ratzon, will, of Hashem. If Hashem has created him to be poor, then he believes that this state is best for him. After all, it is the will of G-d.

And Bnei Yisrael cried out to Hashem. (14:10)

Rashi cites Yalkut Shimoni who comments: Tafsu umnos Avosam, "They adopted the craft of their Forefathers." The Avos HaKedoshim, holy Patriarchs, conversed with Hashem through the medium of prayer. Apparently, what was good for the Avos was good for their offspring. Horav Nosson Wachtfogel, zl, derives a powerful lesson from the Yalkut. A craft is one's trade,his vocation, the medium by which he earns a living. Prayer is our trade, our umnos. One who has a profession must be serious about it, or his work will be for naught. Someone who has studied a trade, mastered a course, and received a degree attesting to his ability will do everything to ensure that he is successful in his chosen vocation. He will rise early, be on time, maintain his commitments. In short - he will not play around. After all, this is his umnos.

Should our davening be any different? It is our umnos. Without proper davening, we will receive nothing. To skip parts of the tefillah, cut corners, come late, leave early, is no way to run a business - unless one seeks to ensure bankruptcy. Imagine someone who has a business and shows up whenever he is in the mood, treats his customers in accordance with how well he slept the previous night; stands outside schmoozing with his friends, ignoring what is taking place in the store. This is certainly not the way to guarantee a successful business venture. Should davening be any different? It is our business venture with Hashem. How can we hope for a positive response if we are outside discussing the latest gossip? How can we entreat Hashem for His favor if we do not even bother to wait around in shul for an answer? If tefillah is our umnos, we had better do it properly, or risk foreclosure.

And Bnei Yisrael shall come into the midst of the sea on dry land. (14:16)

The Tosefta Berachos 4:16 teaches that when the Shevatim, Tribes, came to the banks of the Red Sea, they stopped; a discussion ensued concerning which one was not going in first. Each tribe pushed the "honors" of entering the water onto someone else. Finally, Shevet Yehudah took the initiative by rising to the occasion and jumping in. They all followed after him. We wonder why the people refused to enter the water. Am Yisrael is a nation in which mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice for Hashem, is part of their DNA. Throughout the generations, we have never restrained ourselves from a willingness to die for Hashem. Kiddush Hashem, the ability to sanctify Hashem's Name through self-sacrifice, was almost a way of life in Europe, a continent whose soil has been soaked with Jewish blood. Why then, of all times, did the people refrain from listening to Hashem?

Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, explains that had the Jews been commanded to give up their lives by entering the water, they would have jumped at the opportunity. They would not have held back for a minute. Now, however, they were being instructed to enter the water - and live! This was a different situation. To enter the raging waters as if one were walking on dry land requires an incredibly high level of faith. The Tribes had not yet arrived there. To die for Hashem - they were ready. To enter a raging, stormy sea and feel that one is taking a walk on the beach is more than that generation was capable of processing.

This, explains the Rosh Yeshivah, is the underlying meaning of Hashem's tribute to the Jewish people. Zocharti lach chesed ne'urayich… lechteich Acharai bamidbar b'eretz lo zerua. "I remember for your sake the kindness of your youth… how you followed Me in a wildness in unsown land" (Yirmiyah 2:2). ` The emphasis should be placed on the lechteich Acharai, "How you followed Me." They were following Hashem. The fact that they were traveling through a bitter, desolate wilderness is of no consequence, because they did not sense the bitterness or the desolation. They were following Hashem. Nothing else mattered. This is very much like an infant being held in its mother's embrace. He or she has no regard to the circumstances which surround it. As long as his/her mother holds the infant, the child is unaware of anything else. This is the true meaning of trust in the Almighty.

Horav Yosef Hochgelernter, zl, author of the Mishnas Chachamim, explains that this is the reason we shut our eyes -- or cover them -- when we recite Shema Yisrael. When we declare our faith in Hashem, we do not need to see anything. We need no support in our faith. We trust only in Hashem.

Then Moshe and Bnei Yisrael chose to sing this song to Hashem. (15:1)

The Shabbos during which the Shirah is read is unique. Indeed, it is called Shabbos Shirah - the Shabbos of the Song. Horav Yitzchak, zl, m'Varka once asked the Chidushei HaRim why the Shabbos on which we read the Shirah has become Shabbos Shirah, when this phenomenon does not occur on any other Shabbos. We do not refer to the Shabbos on which we read Parashas Yisro (which records Kabbolas HaTorah) as Shabbos Mattan Torah. Likewise, other Shabbosos do not derive their name from the contents of the parsha that we read on that particular week.

The Chidushei HaRim replied that the uniqueness of the Shabbos and its relationship with the Shirah are evident from the way the Shirah is written in the Torah, namely, ariach al gabi ariach leveinah, "brick on top of brick." This is a reference to the way in which the text is written in the Sefer Torah. Rather than in straight long columns, it is written, "A half brick above a whole brick." A half brick refers to the written part of the song, and the whole brick refers to the blank space which is twice the size of the written part. This format is followed throughout the Shirah. Thus, the Shabbos is given a special name, due to its uniqueness as evinced in the way it is written out in the Torah.

In honor of Shabbos Shirah, I have taken the liberty to relate a story that is perhaps more well known in Chassidic circles. Since it is "water related," it is appropriate for this Shabbos. The Mezritcher Maggid, zl, announced to his students, "I see an overwhelming chasheicha, darkness, descending upon the world. It will envelop the Jewish world with devastating effects. He was referring to the Haskalah, Enlightenment, which had a deleterious effect on German Jewry, before it spread its poisonous tentacles to the rest of western Europe and Russia. In order to prevent the desolation that would result from this spiritual infamy, the Maggid dispatched his two primary students, Horav Shmelke and his brother, Horav Pinchas HaLevi Horowitz. Rav Shmelke went to Nikolsburg and established a yeshivah. Rav Pinchas, the distinguished author of the Sefer Haflaah, went to Frankfurt. While these illustrious brothers did not succeed in changing the tide of assimilation, they did succeed in mentoring two young men who became giants in Torah and indefegatible fighters for Torah. Rav Pinchas was the Rebbe of the Chasam Sofer, and Rav Shmelke mentored Rav Mordechai Binet. These two giants of Torah fought relentlessly and successfully against the secular scourge created by the Haskalah movement.

When Rav Shmelke arrived in Nikolsburg, the Jewish community poured out en masse to greet him. He sat with his Tallis over his head and did not gaze beyond the immediate four cubits in front of him. Among those who approached the illustrious Rav was Moses Mendelssohn of Dessau. Mendelssohn was considered the father of the German Reform movement, a virulent form of secular perspective whose goal was to destroy Judaism as a religion and lower it to the level of a culture. Thus, the Jew would have no ties with G-d, since religion would no longer be a part of the Jewish portfolio. Rav Shmelke immediately pulled back his hand and said, "I want this rasha, evil man, together with his followers, to be asked to leave this house!"

Mendelssohn did not take this insult lightly. He wasted no time in planning his revenge. He immediately dispatched a letter to the governor of Vienna stating that a new "Rabbi," who is totally unschooled, has assumed the rabbinate in Nikolsburg. He stated that the Rebbe was not conversant in the German language and was unable to read or write in the mother tongue. Rav Shmelke was summoned to appear before the magistrate in Vienna. Mendelssohn's henchmen arranged that the day of Rav Shmelke's presentation would be Monday. To ensure that the Rav would not arrive on time, they saw to it that the letter arrive on Friday afternoon. There was no way that the Rav could reach the capitol by Monday - being that he was Shabbos observant.

When the letter arrived, Rav Shmelke's family reacted as expected - with great fear. This was a set up. How could the Rav arrive on time? Rav Shmelke implored them not to worry. Everything would work out in due time. Motzei Shabbos, Rav Shmelke hired a driver and two assistants, and the small group set out for Vienna by carriage. Midway, the three men dozed off, "allowing" the horses to gallop to their hearts' content. When the men woke up at day break, they were shocked to see that they were at the Danube River, on the outskirts of Vienna. Rav Shmelke sought a boat and captain to take him across the river. He was not successful, due to the climate. The frozen river was beginning to melt and it was difficult to navigate a boat between the large chunks of ice. If a boat were to be struck by ice, it would mean the end of the boat and its passengers. No one was moving. Finally, one of the shipmasters, sensing that Rav Shmelke was a holy man, stepped forth and agreed to take him across the Danube.

Meanwhile, the Rav of Prague, the venerable Horav Yechezkel Landau, zl, author of the Noda b'Yehudah, was well aware of Mendelssohn's evil slander. He was close with Rav Shmelke, and, as a result, he had traveled to Vienna to intercede with his friends in the government. The Noda b'Yehudah and the mayor walked together to the banks of the Danube to watch the melting ice. Apparently, this was a sight to behold, and thousands poured out to watch this phenomenon annually. They were watching as the large chunks of ice were moving toward a small boat in which a regal man, a rabbi, stood praying.

What they did not know was that, as the ice came hurtling toward their boat, Rav Shmelke had stood up, and, with deep devotion, began reciting the Shiras HaYam. Miraculously, every block of ice that came toward them was "somehow" repelled, as their little boat made safe passage through the Danube. All this was witnessed by the government official who stood next to the Noda b'Yehudah. Unquestionably, Rav Shmelke was a holy man, but sanctity was not the criteria for a rabbinic position in Germany. The judge still had to see whether the complaint against Rav Shmelke was true or slanderous.

When the judge asked Rav Shmelke whether he spoke German, the Rav responded in impeccable German. When asked if he could write German, he proceeded to write an entire intellectual thesis in HochDeutch, high German, the language spoken by royalty. Obviously, Mendelssohn's allegations had been vicious lies, which, sadly, have been the trademark of his followers throughout history.

Rav Shmelke was granted permission to punish his detractors. He refused, but asked them to leave Nikolsburg. They moved to Berlin, where their nefarious impact was felt for the next century.

Moshe's hands grew heavy, so they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. (17:12)

Moshe Rabbeinu's hands grew heavy from fatigue. Therefore, Aharon HaKohen and Chur supported his arms. Moshe sat on a stone, rather than on a pillow, because he was not about to sit on a soft pillow while his people were in danger and suffering. The Talmud Brachos 54a enumerates a list of places in which miracles occurred, stating that if one were to see any of these places, he would be required to offer praise to Hashem. One of these places is the stone upon which Moshe sat. The Maharsha wonders why the stone upon which Moshe sat retains such a prominence. One would think that the miracle for which one should offer praise should be the actual battlefield where Klal Yisrael emerged victorious over the evil Amalek. It was there that the miracle which spared our ancestors actually occurred.

The Maharsha explains that, given the halachah that a blessing is made at the place where the miracle takes place, one must view the top of the hill where Moshe sat as the makom ha'neis, place where the miracle occurred. Moshe raised his hands and, as a result, the tide of the battle turned in Klal Yisrael's favor. The result of the miracle might have been experienced on the battlefield, but the miracle which catalyzed their victory took place on the hill.

Commenting on this Maharsha, Horav Betzalel Zolty, zl, observes that, if we think the miracle occurred on the battlefield, our perspective is distorted. The miracle defines the turning point of the war. This did not happen on the battlefield; rather, it was the "praying" field which was the scene of the miracle. When the people saw Moshe Rabbeinu with his hands outstretched, they looked up to Heaven and obliged their hearts to their Father in Heaven. It was at that point that their prayers were accepted, and, as a result, the campaign against Amalek turned in their favor.

Perhaps we may extend this idea further. We pray to Hashem with extreme devotion, and as a result of our intense supplication, Hashem listens and grants us our wish. We, of course, offer shevach and hodaah, praise and gratitude, to Him for His favor, but we do so at the field of endeavor, whatever it may be, wherever the miracle occurred. We now understand that the miracle occurrs in the shul, in the bais hamedrash, or at the place in which we perform a mitzvah, a chesed, act of loving kindness. It is where Hashem hears our plea and responds "Yes!", that we must offer our gratitude. When we are the recipients of Hashem's blessing, we should introspect and delve into our actions to determine what catalyzed Hashem's positive response.

How often is it that we err in thinking that Hashem did not hear our entreaty, or that He totally rejected it, because the salvation upon which we were counting did not materialize according to our hopes and plans? This is categorically wrong. Just because that which we hope for does not happen, does not mean the answer is "No." Hashem does not have to conform to our preconceived schedules and definitions of salvation. He can do what is right for us - something which is not always in sync with what we personally have in mind.

Ramban teaches us this idea in his commentary to Shemos 14:1: Klal Yisrael saw Pharaoh and his army approaching. In front of them was the Red Sea; behind them was Pharaoh. They cried out, "Were there not enough graves in Egypt that you brought us out to die in the wilderness?" Ramban explains that originally they had prayed to Hashem to change Pharaoh's mind, to have him turn around and return to Egypt. When they saw this was not happening, they became vexed. Hashem was not listening to their pleas. Their anxiety led them to doubt Moshe's leadership. He was attempting to kill all of them out in the desert. All of this was the result of their inability to accept the fact that Hashem will listen to them, but He is not beholden to carry out their salvation in accordance with their preconceived notion. It does not have to be their way. It will happen, but it will happen Hashem's way, because He knows what is best. This, too, is part of faith; the ability to trust that Hashem will do what is best for us on His own timeline.

Horav Chaim Stein, zl, considers this to be a powerful lesson in understanding the ways of Hashem. It is a major principle in understanding the ways of prayer and faith. People trust in Hashem. They believe that He will send their salvation in accordance with their way of thinking. They have determined what they feel should be their salvation. When they see that their hopes have not achieved fruition according to their perception of salvation, they begin to doubt Hashem, even questioning their faith. The situation can progress to the point of apostasy, "Are there not enough graves in Egypt?"

The Rosh Yeshivah explains that this approach is totally erroneous. Hashem does not have to conform to our line of thinking. Hashem did not want Pharaoh to return to Egypt, because He wanted to make him suffer two hundred and fifty plagues at the sea - before drowning. By arranging for Klal Yisrael to stand at the banks of the sea and watch it split in two, they were availed a miracle of epic proportion. The people were privy to a seminal revelation unparalleled to what they had ever experienced. They became wealthy from the Egyptian spoils, and they achieved a level of faith heretofore never realized by any of them. This is why Hashem did not have Pharaoh return to Egypt. He had His reasons. Our diminished faith did allow for us to exhibit greater patience in trusting Hashem to save us.

During our entire lives we rely on siyata diShmaya, Divine assistance. Without Hashem's constant help and guidance, we cannot function - at all. Yet, we have the audacity to expect Him to do it our way! Part of trust is the belief that Hashem will provide for our salvation in the best and most optimal manner. Horav Yisrael Stam, zl, was a talmid, student, in the Kelm Talmud Torah during the tenure of the yeshivah's founder and mentor, the Alter, zl, m'Kelm. He later became a Rav in New York until his retirement, at which time he moved to Bnei Brak. He related that a distinguished lay person once visited the yeshivah. The students noticed that, when he recited Shemoneh Esrai, he manifested great intensity when he came to the words b'shuvcha le'tzion b'rachamim, "When You will return to tzion with mercy," a prayer entreating Hashem to return the Shechinah, Divine Presence, and our People to Yerushalayim. This would signal the end of our bitter galus, exile. On the other hand, when he recited the blessing which addresses our material needs, earning a livelihood, he quickly ran through the words. They were impressed with his devotion to matters of a spiritual nature, and his apparent disregard of the mundane. Upon sharing their impression with the Alter, they were surprised with his reaction, "He is not a very great maamin, believer."

When the Alter noticed the look of incredulity on their faces, he explained with an analogy: "If I were to travel by carriage to a city which I had never before visited and for which I am unsure of directions for traveling there, I would rely totally on the driver. I would not offer suggestions or directions on how to reach the destination. I would naturally rely totally on the driver, trusting that he knows the best way to reach my destination. This would not be the case if I had made the trip numerous times and was well aware of the most propitious way to arrive there in a timely fashion. I would then make subtle suggestions to encourage the driver to follow my directions. (In other words, when one does not know how to get there, he leaves the driving to the driver.) Apparently, when it concerns parnassah, earning a livelihood, this Jew has his own self-reliant approach. Thus, he does not devote much time or energy to prayer (he has his directions). When it involves galus ha'Shechinah, he apparently does not know his way around. It is beyond his ken. Therefore, he relies totally on Hashem and prays fervently."

I think the Alter was intimating that when it comes to our material deliverance, our sustenance - anything to do with "us" - we must rely solely on Hashem. We are clueless concerning what is best for us. Our faith must apply to every endeavor, to every aspect of our lives, because only Hashem knows what we really need, and the best way for us to sustain it. One who takes matters lightly does not have much faith.

Va'ani Tefillah

Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak v'Elokei Yaakov. G-d of Avraham, G-d of Yitzchak, and G-d of Yaakov.

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, meaningfully explains the opening sentence of the Shemoneh Esrai. Our Avos, Patriarchs, recognized Hashem as the Melech HaOlam, King of the Universe. There are three aspects of Malchus Shomayim, the Heavenly Kingdom, or the manner in which Hashem reigns over the world. Each one of the Avos underscored one of these aspects in his life.

Avraham Avinu reached out to a pagan world by spreading the belief in one G-d. Thus, he taught the knowledge of Hashem Yisborach to thousands of people. Spreading Hashem's Name throughout the world, educating a world to the verities of monotheism, of one Hashem, defines Elokei Avraham. Yitzchak Avinu emphasized the recognition of Hashem as a personal G-d. When he lay on the Akeidah, prepared to give up his life for Hashem, he was proclaiming to the world that Hashem, the Melech HaOlam, is Mashgiach, supervises, each and every human being. Elokei Yitzchak underscores Hashem as a personal G-d.

Yaakov Avinu disseminated the teachings of Avraham to the entire world. His focus was to raise awareness of Malchus Shomayim throughout the entire world population. In order to do this, he had to make sure that his own people fully accepted the yoke of Heaven upon themselves. Yaakov taught that Hashem is Melech over Klal Yisrael

Elokai Avraham - Melech Al HaOlam - King of the Universe.
Elokai Yitzchak - Melech Al Hayachid - King of each individual.
Elokai Yaakov - Melech Al Klal Yisrael - King of the Jewish People.

Dedicated in loving memory of our dear
mother and grandmother
Leona Genshaft
Leah bas Refael Hacohen a"h
niftara 16 Shevat 5770
by her family
Neil and Marie Genshaft
Isaac and Naomi

Peninim on the Torah is in its 20th year of publication. The first fifteen years have been published in book form.

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