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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Shemos

Come let us outsmart it lest it become numerous....and it too, may join our enemies. (1:10)

Chazal tell us that Pharaoh had a council composed of three advisors, Bilaam, Iyov, and Yisro. Bilaam was the one who suggested the diabolical scheme to enslave the Jews. Iyov remained silent; he was later punished for his silence with ordeals of terrible pain and anguish. Yisro fled Egypt, rather than acquiesce to the evil advice. He was rewarded with the promise that his descendants would one day sit in the Sanhedrin. This well-known Midrash assumes a new meaning when one considers the nature of each of the three advisors and the inconsistency of their advice with his own personal character.

Bilaam was as arrogant and egotistical as he was evil. He had the power to curse entire nations. He could cast anyone under his evil spell. Why did he fear the Jews to the point that he initiated the scheme to destroy them?

Iyov, a pacifist, was the symbol of loving-kindness and human decency. He could not tolerate evil; he would never turn his back on oppression. Yet, what did he do when the tragic decree to enslave an entire nation was made? He remained silent! Is that consistent with his nature? Is this the response we would expect from a man of his noble stature? Is silence the type of reaction one would expect from a man whose life was dedicated to humane causes? How could he tolerate the screams of the Jewish infants as they were cast in the river?

Yisro, the great philosopher, epitomized justice and truth. Was he acting in accordance with his nature? A man who had served - and subsequently rejected - every pagan idol, who had fought for integrity and justice, would be expected to decry such an evil decree. He should have protested vehemently, endeavoring to rescind the decree. Yet, what did this paragon of virtue, this noble fighter for justice do when he heard the tragic decree enacted against the poor Jews? He ran away! Is this type of behavior consistent with Yisro's character?

In light of the above, Horav Yosef Zundel Salant, z"l, infers a significant lesson. Hashem told Avraham during the Bris bein Ha'besarim that one day his descendants would go into exile. When Hashem issues a decree, nothing stands in the way of its fulfillment. Hashem's plan functions beyond the realm of the "consistent" and the "typical." Bilaam, who would typically not regard Bnei Yisrael as a national threat, acted strangely and advised Pharaoh to kill the Jewish boys. Iyov, whose essence could not tolerate cruelty, remained silent. Yisro, the fighter for justice, fled the country. Nothing can stand in the way of Hashem's decree. Indeed, the Egyptian exile and ensuing liberation is incongruous with the natural course of events. Once again, Hashem is manifested as the creator of "nature" as we know it.

And they appointed taskmasters over it in order to afflict it with their burdens. (1:11)

By inflicting hard labor upon the Jews, the Egyptians' goal was simply to destroy their dignity, to hurt them emotionally as well as physically. Horav Shimon Schwab, z"l, comments that the purpose of placing taskmasters over the Jews was to degrade and humiliate them, to convey to them that they could not be trusted to perform their job adequately without supervision. They were telling the Jews that they were crude and undignified; their integrity was lacking and their work ethic unsuitable. Is there anything worse than such a loathsome form of emotional abuse? Indeed, the intention of the Egyptians was to debase and degrade the Jews, to destroy their will so that they would become worthless human beings devoid of hope and aspirations. This, suggests Horav Schwab, is the underlying meaning of the pasuk in Sefer Devarim 26:6, ugrhu"

"ohrmnv ub,ut "And the Egyptians did evil to us." "Vayareiu" - "And they made us look bad." They portrayed us as evil people; lazy ne'er do-wells, living off the Egyptians; people who could not be trusted. They maintained that we had no sense of allegiance to the country that admitted us and cared for us. They asserted that we were interested in taking over and dominating the Egyptian populace. When such foolishness is reiterated enough times, people begin to believe what they have heard. We can understand why the Egyptians reacted in such a manner.

They embittered their lives with hard work...All their labors that they performed with them were with crushing harshness. (1:14)

We memorialize the bitterness of Egypt, the harsh labor and persecution, with the marror, bitter herbs, which we eat on Pesach night. Chazal teach us that while there are a number of vegetables that are suitable for the mitzvah of marror, leaf lettuce is preferred. Among the vegetables, leaf lettuce provides the most apt comparison with the type of labor to which the Egyptians subjected the Jewish people. At first, the Egyptians convinced the Jews to work with them. Later on, they embittered their lives with harsh labor. At first, the lettuce seems almost sweet to the palate, but subsequently, its bitter taste is manifest. This reason for preferring leaf lettuce for marror, is enigmatic. We seek to remember the bitterness of the Egyptian exile. Yet, we eat a vegetable that recalls the "sweet" beginning of our bondage. Is the memory bitter or sweet?

Horav Yosef Zundel Salant, z"l, notes two forms of suffering. One type of suffering is inflicted upon a person by others. This is undoubtedly difficult to bear, but it is more tolerable than the pain and suffering that is self-inflicted when one has become complicitous in creating his own misery. Had the Egyptians originally conscripted the Jews into slave labor without pretext, the Jews might have been able to accept the concept of bondage, as painful as it would have been. The circumstances preceding the Egyptian slavery were different. The Jews had never thought their "good" friends and neighbors would actually enslave them. The sweetness compounded the bitterness, for the Jews had parcipitated in bringing the misery upon themselves.

Perhaps this is the idea behind the custom of dipping the marror into the sweet charoses. We recall the bitterness with which we lived as a result of accepting the Egyptian blandishments. The Egyptians smiled at us, making us feel good. Our own insecurity led to our ultimate torment. If we would only learn a lesson from the message of the marror, it might prevent other tragedies from occurring--even in our own time.

And Pharaoh commanded his entire people saying, "Every son that will be born--into the River shall you throw him." (1:22)

Pharaoh thought that the way to prevent the emergence of a Jewish leader was to drown all baby boys. Indeed, his astrologers had told him that the downfall of the Jewish savior would be effected through water. As a result of this decree, Amram, who was the gadol ha'dor, the spiritual leader of that generation, separated from his wife, Yocheved. Ostensibly, all Jewish men followed suit. Rather than bring boys into the world to be drowned by Pharaoh, they left their wives. Miriam, however, yet a young child, challenged her father Amram's decree. She claimed that his decree to separate was far worse than Pharaoh's, since he was also preventing the birth of girls. Moreover, Pharaoh was a mortal king, whose decrees would not outlast him. Amram was a tzaddik whose good deeds would protect him and his progeny. The piercing words coming from this young child made a powerful impression upon Amram. Consequently, he remarried Yocheved, and Moshe Rabbeinu was born.

Let us take a moment to analyze what happened. One would assume that we are presenting the greatness and influence of a determined, but young, child. After careful perusal, we may note, comments Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, shlita, that the real credit should be attributed to Amram. He truly distinguished himself. The gadol ha'dor, the leader of hundreds of thousands of people, made a decree, and an entire nation accepted his word and followed his example. Along came a little girl, his daughter no less, offering an insightful critique of his edict. What did this great leader do? Did he laugh it off? Did he ignore the little girl? No! He accepted her constructive criticism, annulled the decree, and remarried his wife! This represented true greatness! He did not argue; he did not attempt to present "his side" of the story, his reasoning for issuing the decree. He simply accepted Miriam's reproof. We must question what went through Amram's mind. What originally motivated him to make the decree, and what was it about Miriam's analysis of the circumstances that inspired him to rescind his order?

Let us begin by analyzing Miriam's critique; "Your decree is worse than Pharaoh's." What is the decree to which she is referring? Amram made no decree; he merely responded to Pharaoh's decree to kill the Jewish boys. We must, therefore, say that Miriam addressed an issue that went to the very foundation of Klal Yisrael's existence. It is, in fact, an issue we must confront even today. Amram was about to nullify, or at least put "on hold", a mitzvah of the Torah. The Torah commands us to "Be fruitful and multiply;" it is the first mitzvah of the Torah. To ignore this mitzvah is to ignore the Torah--the foundation of our existence! Never has Klal Yisrael been without the Torah. We have never abandoned the Torah, despite the cruel pogroms, the persecutions and catastrophes to which we have been subjected as individuals and as a nation. It is the basis of our life! Therefore, how could Amram say, "Separate from your wives"? This was Miriam's critique. Amram was, by example, issuing a statement: If the situation warrants it, if the lives of your children are put in danger, then do not have children. Miriam questioned, "Is this not, however, contrary to the Torah which remains with us during the most trying circumstances?" If the Torah commands us to have children, how could Amram decree, by example, that the situation in Egypt overrides the Torah? Klal Yisrael has undergone so many trying ordeals in their history, but never have they forsaken the Torah. Was Pharaoh's decree any worse than the pogroms, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust that we survived as a nation--because we adhered to the Torah?

This poignant--but compelling--critique prompted Amram to rescind his order to the Jewish men to separate from their wives. We never know when the innocent words of a young child can leave a remarkable impression. Perhaps we do not listen well enough.

Every son that will be born, into the River shall you throw him. (1:24)

Chazal tell us that Pharaoh's astrologers foresaw that the Jewish savior's downfall would occur as a result of water. They were even able to pinpoint the exact day on which Moshe would be born. Pharaoh's own daughter, who found Moshe, took him home and raised him in the royal palace. Following the advice of his astrologers, on the day that Moshe was born, Pharaoh issued an edict to drown all male infants upon birth. The astrologers claimed that the threat of a Jewish savior had been averted. They were, of course, wrong, since Moshe's death was not caused by drowning, but rather by his involvement in the waters of Merivah. We may question the astrologers' actions. Since the sign that they saw actually alluded to another situation, how could they assume that once Moshe was placed in the Nile River, the sign from Heaven had disappeared? Obviously it was still present. Were they so myopic that the sign which they presumably saw yesterday had disappeared today--if it was alluding to something else? How could they say that they did not see the sign when it was apparently still there?

Horav Elyakim Shlesinger, shlita, infers a profound lesson from the astrologers' "myopia." A person can receive a clear vision from Heaven, yet, if his perspective is distorted, he will either not see, or he will misinterpret the message. A person sees what he wants to see. One who wears blue-tinted glasses will always see blue, regardless of the actual color. His vision is tainted by the tint! As far as the astrologers were concerned, the downfall of the Jewish savior would occur with his drowning in the Nile River. Nothing else mattered, and no other sign would change their erroneous interpretation. Myopic vision is very often not related to vision of the eyes!


1) How old was Yocheved when she gave birth to Moshe?
2) What reward did the midwives receive for keeping the Jewish boys alive?
3) How was Yocheved able to conceal Moshe for three months?
4) What does the burning bush symbolize?
5) How long did Moshe remain at the burning bush?
6) What reward did Aharon Ha'kohen receive for his self-effacing nature towards his younger brother Moshe?


1) 130 years old.
2) They were blessed with "houses" of Kehunah and Leviyah, which descended from Yocheved, and Malchus, which descended from Miriam.
3) Moshe Rabbeinu was born after the sixth month of pregnancy.
4) As the bush fulfills Hashem's command without being consumed, so too, will Moshe succeed in his task to go to Pharaoh and not be harmed.
5) Seven days
6) He would wear the Choshen Ha'mishpat.

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