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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


But the midwives feared G-d…and they caused the boys to live. (1:17)

Rashi emphasizes that the midwives sustained the infants with food and water, so that they would thrive. Their fear of G-d was more than fear of retribution. For that, it would have sufficed simply not to do anything negative. By not harming the infants, they would be expressing their yiraas ha'onesh, fear of punishment. Theirs was a yiraas ha'romemus, fear of awe. They were not afraid - they were awestruck. This fear captivated them, so that they were compelled to not only save the infants, but also to sustain them. The infants comprised the Jewish nation's future.

A similar idea applies concerning the middah, character trait, of chesed, lovingkindness. There are those who act kindly because it generates a good feeling internally. While this might be a selfish form of chesed, the beneficiary receives assistance, and that is what is important. Others simply cannot say no. When they are asked to do a favor, they are uncomfortable replying in the negative. Once again, the reason for acting kindly emanates from the wrong form of motivation, but, after all is said and done, the beneficiary has been helped. A higher level of chesed is performed by one who identifies with someone's needs and feels as if they are his own. He, thus, acts out of a sense of association, putting himself in the beneficiary's shoes. Last, is the one who acts kindly because it is a mitzvah. Hashem has instructed us to perform chesed, to act kindly. He is simply following Hashem's command. The meyaldos, midwives, acted positively because they feared G-d. Saving Jewish babies is a mitzvah. Hashem commands it - period. There is no more to say. We save; we sustain; we do whatever is necessary to carry out Hashem's command. It is not an issue of fear of punishment, sense of compassion, or personal guilt; we are just simply carrying out Hashem's mitzvah.

One who acts out of fear still does the right thing, but he does not necessarily maximize his efforts. He does what he must do. Not so, one who acts out of a sense of awe. He can never do enough. He seeks every avenue for performing the mitzvah in the most punctilious manner. When Horav Akiva Eiger, zl was Rav in Friedland, the city became the victim of a plague. People were dying everywhere. A number of young, nursing mothers perished in the plague, leaving over a house full of yesomim ketanim, young orphans. These infants were starving because no one was available to nurse them. Rav Akiva Eiger acted upon finding a solution to this problem.

The following Shabbos, he stood before the Aron HaKodesh and delivered a heart-rending plea that these infants be adopted by suitable surrogates who would attend to the individual needs of each orphan. The young women nursed these infants until they were successfully weaned.

Every Sunday morning, after the Rav had delivered his daily shiur, lecture, in the shul, he walked to every home that served as a surrogate, to inquire about the well-being of "his" orphans. He checked the home, making sure it was clean and suitable for the orphan. He did not only do what he "had" to do; he went out of his way to provide the optimum care for the infants.

One who serves Hashem out of a sense of awe does not waver in his commitment, does not accept dispensations, and does not look for a way to ease his obligations. The Klausenberger Rebbe, zl, sustained some of the most cruel punishment during the Holocaust - all because of his refusal to do mitzvos lightly. One day, the head kapo of the concentration camp noticed that the Rebbe had not yet shaved off his beard, a requirement of all Jewish inmates. The kapo screamed at him, "What is with the beard? You know that everyone must remove his beard."

"I did not have a chance to shave it," the Rebbe answered.

"I will accept your excuse for now, but when I see you again, you had better be without your beard. I will not tolerate your insolence any longer. This is your last chance," were the kapo's instructions.

The next day, as the Rebbe was on his way to his forced labor, he once again met the kapo. The man was livid with rage because the Rebbe had not yet shaved his beard. He immediately set upon the Rebbe, pummeling him mercilessly. After the beating, the Rebbe was taken to the infirmary to recuperate. The kapo was relentless, instructing his soldiers to remove the Rebbe's beard by tearing it off his face! This was a painful and brutal form of punishment, but what else could be expected of a man to whom killing Jews meant very little?

The Rebbe stood in front of the Kapo, surrounded by Nazi soldiers waiting expectantly to carry out the Kapo's instructions, and he began to cry bitterly, "I am willing to relinquish my cot in the dormitory and sleep on the floor, in addition to you giving me twenty-five lashes of the whip, but do not touch my beard. You can do what you like, but please do not remove my beard," the Rebbe pleaded.

The words left his mouth and suddenly a miracle occurred, as the frustrated kapo screamed, "Leave my presence now! I never want to see you again!"

Understandably, the Rebbe moved very quickly, as he began to run from the Kapo. No sooner had the Rebbe begun to flee, than the kapo screamed, "Halt! Stop immediately where you are!" Fearing the worst, the Rebbe stopped in his tracks, as the kapo took out a large herring from a bag and said, "Here, fill your stomach with this!"

The Rebbe concluded the story, saying, "It was then that I realized the overriding significance of mesiras nefesh, sacrifice for the glory of Hashem. Despite the fact that the Nazis are cruel beasts, the most spiritually contaminated people on the earth, when a Jew is willing to sacrifice himself for kedushas Hashem, the sanctity of Hashem, the Almighty's salvation comes momentarily, with the blink of an eye. I went from almost certain painful death, to life with sustenance, in the period of a few moments, all because I was not willing to renege on Kiddush Shem Shomayim, sanctifying Hashem's Name."

(Pharaoh) sought to kill Moshe; so Moshe fled from before Pharaoh. (2:15)

He saw and behold! The bush was burning in the fire, but the bush was not consumed. (3:2)

After Moshe Rabbeinu killed the Egyptian who had been striking a Jew, Dassan and Aviram - who later were to earn a warranted reputation as wicked people - Moshe's nemeses, informed on him to Pharaoh. The king did not take this matter lightly, and he immediately handed Moshe over to the executioner. Chazal tell us that the executioner swung his sword, but it broke against Moshe's neck. This is the meaning of Moshe's statement (ibid 18:4), "And He saved me from the sword of Pharaoh." The sparing of Moshe Rabbeinu from the executioner's sword is a miracle of epic proportion. It was the precursor of his ability to lead the Jewish People. It was no covert act of salvation; it was an overt miracle, witnessed by everyone. We wonder why not more than a subtle allusion to it is made in the Torah. Such a miracle should have a Biblical reference.

Later on, (ibid 4:11) following Moshe's refusal to return to Egypt and transmit Hashem's message to Pharaoh due to his speech impediment, Hashem responded, "Who gave man a mouth…? Is it not I, Hashem?" Rashi interprets this as a reference to Moshe's failed execution and the proceedings leading up to it. "Who taught you to speak in your defense when you were being judged before Pharaoh for killing the Egyptian? Who made Pharaoh mute in that he agreed to have you executed? And who made his servants deaf in that they did not take heed when Pharaoh commanded them against you? And as for the executioners, who made them blind, in that they did not see when you fled from the executioner's platform and escaped? Is it not I, whose name is Hashem, that did all of this?" Once again, our question remains: Why does the Torah ignore the miracle of Moshe's salvation from the executioner's sword?

Furthermore, the Rosh Yeshivah of Mir in America, Horav Shmuel Berenbaum, zl, asks, "What is the meaning of Hashem's reply to Moshe? Moshe demurred from going to Pharaoh, saying 'I am not a man of words' (4:10), to which Hashem replied, 'Who gave man a mouth?'" Certainly Moshe did not question Hashem's ability to remove his speech impediment. Moshe was acutely aware that, if he accepted the mission, Hashem would give him a "voice" that would impress and inspire Pharaoh. It is just that Moshe understood that in order for this to occur, it would demand miraculous intervention on the part of Hashem. Moshe felt himself to be unworthy of such extreme measures. Alternatively, Moshe was not sure that Hashem should alter the course of nature for the Jewish People. There must be a more "natural" way of affecting their liberation. Moshe simply did not want the entire experience to be of a miraculous nature.

Last, the Rosh Yeshivah asks, when Moshe turned aside to see the burning bush, what prompted him to do so? Someone of Moshe's spiritual calibre does not interrupt his spiritual line of thought to look at a fire in the wilderness. What about the burning bush attracted Moshe's attention?

In response to these questions, the Rosh Yeshivah relates an incident that occurred when Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, in his advanced years, decided to travel to Paris to repair what he thought was a spiritual deficiency. He arrived there amid great hardship, and he was forced to live in one small room in which it was practically impossible for a person to live comfortably. In addition to his living arrangements, he underwent much physical deprivation. Yet, he felt that it was all worth it. He was on a mission to serve Hashem. He was carrying out His will. Rav Yisrael later related to his students that, while he was in Paris, he slipped and fell down two flights of stairs. As he was helped up, he was hardly breathing. Truly, it was a miracle sent by Hashem that he was alive. A few days later, he returned home. He later related, "I was never afraid; I never worried, because when I was in Paris, I was not there for myself. I had no vestige of personal interest whatsoever. It was all to perform Hashem's will. Thus, 'Paris' could not harm me."

The Rosh Yeshivah notes that Rav Yisrael did not say that he was certain that he would be saved by a miracle; rather, since he was there "for Hashem," nothing negative could happen to him. This implies that he was naturally guarded from all danger. Why? Where does nature fit into the equation? From where did Rav Yisrael Salanter derive this hypothesis?

Rav Shmuel feels that it is to be derived from our parsha. When Moshe asked Hashem, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?" Hashem replied, "I will be with you. This shall be a sign that I sent you" (3:11). Rashi explains that Hashem was telling Moshe, "You ask, 'Who am I to go to Pharaoh? You are not going for yourself, but for Me, and I will be with you. The vision you see of the burning bush performing My mission and, thus, not consumed is also applicable to you. If you go on My mission, you will not be hurt." Rashi seems to indicate that the fact that the bush was not consumed was not the result of a miraculous occurrence, but rather it was part of the process of carrying out Hashem's will. When one is in the process of acting for Hashem, he will not get hurt.

The Rosh Yeshivah explains this phenomenon in the following manner. Under normal circumstances, certain matter has within it the power to damage and even destroy other matter. Fire can burn; falling down can break and cause pain. This is a natural occurrence which is part of the dynamics of life. When one is an inactive participant in the service of Hashem, this schema changes. His natural physical makeup is altered, and he becomes stronger - to the point that damaging matter will not affect him. This is the inference of the burning bush. Hashem intimated to Moshe that he need not worry. Just as fire is rendered powerless to consume a bush that is in the service of Hashem, so, too, will Pharaoh be helpless in harming Moshe. This is not a miraculous occurrence. It is a "stipulation" within nature that no harm can befall one who is actively involved in Hashem's service.

We understand now why Moshe stopped to look at the burning bush. When Moshe saw the bush that was not being consumed by fire, he initially thought it was a miraculous occurrence. On second thought, he wondered why Hashem would perform a miracle in the desert. What purpose was served by this? He deduced that, veritably, it was not a miracle but, rather, a natural occurrence, whereby under certain conditions matter is able to defy the destructive forces of fire. This must be a very special bush. Hence, Moshe went over to find out what about this bush granted it such power.

Moshe's dialogue with Hashem revolved around this discourse. Moshe felt it was not appropriate for him to rely on miraculous intervention when he met with Pharaoh. Hashem told him that it had nothing to do with miracles. Pharaoh was powerless to inflict any pain or injury on Moshe as long as he was on a mission for the Almighty. This is very much like the time when the executioner's sword was rendered powerless against Moshe's neck. It was not a miracle - it was natural. Moshe was part of Hashem's Divine plan; thus, he could not be harmed. For this reason these occurrences are not emphasized in the Torah, which primarily records experiences that are supernatural.

Perhaps this is the underlying meaning of the Rabbinic dictum of Shluchei mitzvah einan nizakin, "People on a mission to perform a mitzvah will not be harmed." It is not a miracle. They are on Hashem's mission. Nothing can happen to them. The following episode underscores this idea.

After World War II, officials still encountered difficulties when attempting to bring the survivors to America. Immigration quotas closed the doors to many. There was a group of yeshivah students who were stranded in a DP camp under the direction of a governor general who refused to permit them to leave. After some investigation, it was discovered that a certain rabbi from Connecticut had a warm relationship with this governor general.

Word was brought to Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, who was intricately involved in saving Jews from Europe. He immediately sent for the rabbi and requested that he fly to Europe and speak to his friend. Lives were at stake. The rabbi agreed, and left immediately for Europe. He succeeded in his mission, convincing his friend to release the yeshivah students. Mission accomplished, he took the first available flight home.

Then tragedy struck. The plane on which he had booked his seat crashed in the Atlantic Ocean, leaving no survivors. When his wife was notified by courier, the distraught woman went right to Rav Aharon and, with a heartrending cry, asked, "Should I sit shivah, mourn, for my husband, or am I an agunah, an abandoned wife who is in limbo, since her husband's body has not yet been recovered?"

Rav Aharon replied, Es ken nit zein. "It cannot be."

"But Rebbe," she protested, "I have a notification from the carrier that the plane went down, and my husband's name was on the manifest."

With his classic determination, Rav Aharon told her, "Chazal say that shluchei mitzvah are not harmed - even on their return. I am sure that nothing happened to your husband! Go home and wait for news."

The woman went home and waited. Three days later, the phone rang. It was her husband on the line. Naturally, the woman screamed hysterically, "The plane crashed. There were no survivors. What happened?"

Her husband explained that when the plane stopped to refuel in Paris, he realized that he had yahrzeit. He decided to run out, grab a taxi, look for a minyan, say Kaddish and return before the flight took off for New York. He did not make it in time. The next flight to Chicago encountered a storm en route and was forced to land in Canada. "Now, please wire me some money, so that I can come home!" Those who are on a mission for Hashem are protected from all harm. This is something to remember.

So Moshe took his wife and sons…and returned to the land of Egypt. (4:20)

Moshe Rabbeinu's initiative in taking his wife and sons back to Egypt raises concern. Moshe's wife, Tziporah, and her two sons had lived in Midyan in relative freedom. They never heard the sound of a taskmaster yelling at his Jewish slaves. Worry, concern, fear, beatings, pain and death were concepts that were, for the most part, foreign to them. So why would Moshe bring them to Egypt where slavery, with its accompanying misery and pain, was the normative way of life for a Jew? Indeed, their father and grandfather, Yisro, was incredulous over Moshe's decision. Chazal relate Moshe's dialogue with his father-in-law. Yisro asked, "Where are you taking them?"

"I am taking them to Egypt," was Moshe's reply.

"I cannot understand your decision. Egypt is filled with Jews, all yearning to leave, and you are taking your wife and sons there!" exclaimed Yisro.

Moshe replied, "Tomorrow they are destined to leave Egypt and stand at the foot of Har Sinai where they will hear Hashem's voice proclaim, 'I am Hashem, your G-d, who took you out of Egypt.' My children will not hear these words in the same manner that the Jewish People will hear them."

When Yisro heard Moshe's explanation, he agreed with his son-in-law's decision and bid him a peaceful journey.

While this gives us some latitude in understanding Moshe's decision, it does not explain why his family could not go directly to Har Sinai and hear the same words expressed by Hashem, that Klal Yisrael was privy to hear. Why did they have to go to Egypt in order to go to Har Sinai? Was that the more "scenic" route? Moshe could have gone alone and left his children in the safe care of Yisro. Once the Jews were liberated from Egypt, Moshe could have sent for them and they would have met him at Har Sinai. Why make the circuitous and dangerous trip to Egypt?

Horav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Shlita, explains that Moshe was acutely aware that if his sons did not grow up together with the Jews-- if they did not see and feel their pain and travail-- and were not a part of the liberation experience, then Har Sinai would not hold the same meaning for them. Without experiencing exile and liberation, the words, asher hotzeitsicha mei'eretz Mitzrayim, "Who took you out of the land of Egypt," would have little meaning. Hashem was talking to Klal Yisrael. If Moshe wanted his children to be a part of that experience, they would have to first experience Egypt. Har Sinai resonates for those who have lived through the Egyptian bondage and freedom. It does not have the same meaning to the casual observer.

Rav Elyashiv adds that one who wants his children to be mekabel the Torah, to accept the Torah and integrate it into their being, must see to it that they are raised and remain in an environment conducive to Torah advancement, values, and living.

It is not for naught that Chazal state in Pirkei d'R'Eliezer, zl, concerning the pasuk, "And Avraham arose in the morning and saddled his donkey" (Bereishis 22:3), "This was the same donkey upon which Moshe's children rode back to Egypt. It is the same donkey upon which Moshiach ben David will ride when he heralds the end of our exile." Chazal are teaching us that when he went to the Akeidah, Binding of Yitzchok, Avraham Avinu communicated to us the recipe for Jewish success, the prescription for Jewish continuity: we must go yachdav - together- Avraham and Yitzchak, father and son. The finest schools and the best and most innovative educators are successful only when the spirit of the Jewish home is supportive, complementing the school. If the home environment is not consistent with the school's values and educational structure, it is extremely difficult to produce successful fruits. I am not saying "impossible" - just "difficult."

Hashem said to Aharon, "Go to meet Moshe to the wilderness. So he went and encountered him…and he kissed him. (4:27)

Aharon HaKohen has a distinguished reputation as the exemplary baal chesed. His ahavas Yisrael, love for each and every Jew, motivated him to do everything within his power to maintain harmony within Klal Yisrael. Aharon's chesed was focused toward the Jewish People. In contrast, Avraham Avinu, the amud ha'chesed, pillar of lovingkindness, saw chesed as his mission to the world. In any event, as far as the Jewish People were concerned, Aharon was the primary baal chesed. It is, therefore, strange that his acts of lovingkindness are not mentioned anywhere in the Torah. It is Chazal who derive from Biblical allusions that Aharon was "the" baal chesed. In Bamidbar 20:29, the Torah records Aharon's passing, "When the entire assembly saw that Aharon had perished, they wept for thirty days, the whole House of Israel. Aharon was mourned by everyone, men and women alike, because he pursued peace and extended himself to promote harmony between adversaries."

In Malachi 2:6, the Navi describes Aharon in glowing terms, confirming his commitment to chesed. "The teaching of truth was in his mouth, and injustice was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and with fairness and turned many away from iniquity." Aharon's love for the Jewish People is, in fact, a family trait, to be transmitted throughout the generations from Kohen to Kohen. Prior to Birkas Kohanim, when the Kohanim bless the people, they recite a blessing which bespeaks this character trait: "And has commanded us to bless His People, Yisrael, with love." Chazal tell us that a Kohen whose relationship with the people is estranged, manifesting no love, should not take part in Birkas Kohanim. Yet, we still have no source in the Torah that confirms Aharon HaKohen's unique sense of chesed.

It has been suggested that the above pasuk, describing Aharon's greeting his younger brother, Moshe - his friendly, loving kiss of greeting - is the source from which we derive insight into Aharon's unique character. It took superhuman forces of exemplary character to quell what most of us would have felt at the time. After all, Aharon had been the leader of the Jewish People until this moment. Moshe had been ensconced safely and comfortably in Pharaoh's palace. Aharon was the older brother. He had been, up until this point, the man in charge, Klal Yisrael's leader. To give it all up for his younger brother must have reflected powerful commitment to Hashem and outstanding love for his brother. Once he was told to go to greet Moshe, Aharon could have performed this welcome with an attitude that would have indicated a lack of excitement. He did not, because he was Aharon. He was truly excited that Hashem had selected Moshe over him.

The Torah attests to Aharon's unbiased love when it says, "Moreover, he is going out to meet you. And when he sees you he will rejoice in his heart" (Shemos 4:14). These are Hashem's words to Moshe. The Almighty was telling him, "You might think that Aharon has reservations about handing over the reins of leadership to you. Do not worry. He is overjoyed for you." Aharon loved Hashem, and he perceived whatever the Almighty asked of him to be a great opportunity to fulfill. Hashem asks - Aharon gladly performs. He had no feelings of self. It was all for others. He exemplified the true baal chesed.

Va'ani Tefillah

Az yashir Moshe. Then Moshe sang

A fascinating Midrash lends insight into the meaning of the word az, then, in the context of the shirah. Moshe Rabbeinu intimated to Hashem, B'az chatasi, "With the word az, I sinned, when I said, 'U'mei az bassi l'Pharaoh,' from the time I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name, he did evil to this people." Moshe complained to Hashem that from the time he first came to Pharaoh to demand the Jewish People's release, life for the Jew had become increasingly difficult. Moshe felt that his demands had a negative effect on Pharaoh. "Now I praise You with the same az, then."

The Bais HaLevi explains that when a person experiences a troubling situation and emerges from it relatively unscathed, he offers his gratitude to his savior. In this case, the Jews are acknowledging Hashem as their Savior. There are two ways to show gratitude. In the first case, one recognizes his suffering, a painful juncture in his life for which he is not very happy, but the joy in being saved overwhelms the pain which he has experienced. In a second situation, one recognizes the therapeutic effect the troubles and misery have had on him. He acknowledges that without the "pain," there would have been no "gain." He then thanks his benefactor for his salvation, but he also is thankful for the trauma that preceded it.

Moshe now recognizes the therapeutic value of the Egyptian bondage. Had the Jews not experienced this slavery, they would not have warranted the miracles of the Exodus and the Splitting of the Red Sea. He now tells Hashem: "We are grateful for the original slavery - for the 'az bassi,' the pain and misery of Egypt, so that now we can experience the miracles at the Sea. We thank You for the troubles, as well as for the salvation."

l'ilui nishmas ha'isha ha'chashuva
Rivka Tova Devora
bas R' Chaim Yosef Meir a"h
niftar 21 Teves 5760
Menachem Shmuel and Roiza Devora Solomon

In memory of Mrs. Toby Salamon a"h

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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