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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


This was the Aharon and Moshe to whom Hashem said, "Take Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt. (6:26)

Did Klal Yisrael need two leaders to liberate them from Egypt? In truth, for the Geulah Hoasidah, the Future Redemption, when we will finally achieve ultimate redemption from the exile that is so much a part of our lives, there will also be two redeemers: Moshiach ben Yosef; and Moshiach ben David. The question remains: Why do we need two redeemers when one could do the job? I once heard a noteworthy reason. We need two redeemers to eradicate the concept of galus, exile, totally from our lives: one redeemer to take us out of galus; and the other redeemer, to take galus out of us!

Regrettably, the same idea that applied to the Jewish People as slaves in Egypt - in regard to the Egyptian culture and way of life - haunts us to this very day. Are we ready to be redeemed? Do we want to be redeemed? It is much easier to take the Jew out of Egypt than to take Egypt out of the Jew. We have become slaves to the society and culture in which we live. They way of life that prevails in modern society has, for the most part, controlled and reigned over our lives. Its mindset has become our mindset. Its art and culture has so captivated our lives that we have begun to accept what should be foreign to us as being a cultural necessity. Do we really want to be released from galus, or do we simply want galus relaxed?

It was not much different in Egypt. The Jews complained about the backbreaking labor and persecution. Did they want to leave Egypt? The decree of galus was accepted. They just wanted an "easier" galus. It was not Egypt that they wanted to leave; it was the hard work and torture that they could have done without. Have we accepted the state of galus as a way of life, as something with which we can live? Yes. We need two redeemers: one to take us out of galus; and one to remove the galus mentality from our minds.

With this idea in mind, we can better understand a compelling thought from Horav Sholom, zl, m'Belz. He notes that the word p'dus, distinction/redemption, is mentioned three times in Tanach: First, in our Parshah, (8:19), Hashem says, "I will make a p'dus, distinction, between My People and your people;" second, in Sefer Tehillim, 111:9, "He sent p'dus, redemption, to His nation," and last, in Tehillim, 130:7, "For with Hashem's kindness, and with Him is abundant p'dus, redemption." These three promises of redemption correspond with these forms of galus.

The first galus is when the Jew is exiled among gentile nations. Hashem promises to make a distinction between Jew and gentile and redeem Klal Yisrael from their exile. The second exile is more difficult. It is when the Jew is in exile among Jews; when brother imposes his rule over brother; when a Jew is uncomfortable among his own brethren. When Jews disparage and hurt each other verbally, and even physically, we have a bitter galus that is far worse than when the persecution is directed at us by gentiles. To this form of exile, Hashem responds that He will send p'dus, redemption, to His nation - to His children that are enslaved by members of His own nation.

Last, is the galus to which we originally alluded: the Jew who is in exile within himself, who is subservient to his base nature and physical desires. The Jew who has no control over himself is in a deep exile. He can ascend from the depths of his self-inflicted exile only through his own efforts. It takes courage, strength, faith and incredible siyata diShmaya, Divine assistance. Hashem will grant abundant redemption to he who raises up his hands to Hashem and requests help.

And the frog infestation ascended and covered the land of Egypt. (8:2)

Rashi tells us that the plague of frogs started with only one frog which the Egyptians beat. As they beat the first one, it multiplied and became two frogs. This continued as they beat the frogs. The more they beat them, the more they multiplied. The Steipler Rav, zl, asks a practical question: When they saw the result of their beating the frogs, why did they not stop? He explains that, indeed, rational thinking told them to stop, but they became enraged when they saw the result of their beating the frogs - and they lost control.

Anger does that to a person. When he becomes enraged, he loses control of his faculties. Chazal tell us that anger is like idol-worship. When one becomes angry, he indicates that Hashem does not control the world. Otherwise, why would he get angry? Whatever happened was the result of Hashem's decree. Control yourself! Idol worship abnegates Hashem's dominion; so does rage.

An angry person cannot sustain a relationship because he always places himself at the forefront. An individual may attempt to place the blame on others for a host of reasons, but, after all is said and done, it is he himself who should be blamed. The angry person is insecure, and he takes his diffidence out on those around him in an attempt to conceal his troubled nature. The ones who suffer the most, after the spouse, are the innocent children, who become the punching bags for his feelings of inadequacy.

One must come to grips with his problem and overcome it before it envelops and possesses him. The worst thing one can do is to concede to the problem by ignoring it. Saying it is part of my nature to be angry is self-destructive and irresponsible. Taking hold of this negative character trait and using it for the common good will transform it in a positive way. Anger can be transformed into indignancy when one sees that Torah or its causes are disparaged. In such a case, the negative undergoes a positive metamorphosis and is employed as a tool to combat indifference. So, after all is said and done, anger, like all other character traits, is something negative only when used in a destructive manner.

Only in the river shall they remain. (8:7)

Why did Hashem not make a greater miracle and rid the land and the river of the frogs? Was there some reason that the frogs were left in the river? Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, cites the Likutei Anshei Shem who compares this to a father who, after disciplining his son with his belt, hangs up the belt on the wall, so that the boy will have a reminder. The belt on the wall will "motivate" him not to do anything that will incur his father's punishment again. Hashem kept frogs around as a constant reminder to the Egyptians of what had occurred and what could easily happen again if they were out of line.

Rav Zilberstein suggests that this is a practical idea to employ to spare an individual from repeating his mistakes. The constant reminder of the consequence of sin can be a powerful deterrent. Furthermore, one should maintain a remembrance of anything that Hashem does for him. If he was spared from a terrible fate, he should have for himself some form of keepsake that will always be a reminder of what could have been.

Remembering and erecting memorials to the past are inherently Jewish actions. While one should not live in the past, one, nonetheless, should never forget it. Zachor, remember, whether it applies to Shabbos, the exodus from Egypt, or various incidents in our history. The Torah wants us to remember and never forget the lessons of the past. In our personal lives, a host of effective rituals are designed to help us to remember our loved ones who have passed on: Kaddish, Yahrzeit; Yizkor; naming our children and grandchildren after those that have died; erecting memorials; and giving charity in their names. Probably the most significant remembrance, however, is following in their righteous paths and not deviating from their legacy.

Following the death of his wife, a non-Jewish statesman took his three children to their mother's grave. The epitaph read: "Caroline Spencer, wife of J. Sterling Spencer, and mother of Joy, Frank and Mark." After reading the simple epitaph, the father turned to his children and said, "If any of you ever does anything that would have caused your mother grief or shame had she been alive, I will chisel your name off that stone." That is remembrance. That is motivation.

And so that My Name may be declared throughout the land. (9:16)

The goal of universal recognition of Hashem's monarchy and ultimate sovereignty over the world requires that all nations recognize Him. The world would hear of the miracles He wrought against the Egyptian land, and a greater awareness of His powers would be realized. The word used for declaring Hashem's Name is sapeir, which means to tell over as a story. Sipur is a story. This would suggest that there are many ways to relate Hashem's greatness, and the medium of a story is equally effective. A story is not only uplifting, it is an instrument of healing. Horav Nachman, zl, m'Breslov, a great proponent of the effectiveness of stories, notes that, prior to delving into the various mitzvos and the ensuing halachos, the Torah first relates the story of Creation and all of Sefer Bereishis. Our people carried their stories with them from exile to exile, giving them hope and inspiration. No enemy could destroy the emotion and faith achieved through an inspiring story. The ravages of exile, persecution or disease could not destroy the inspiration attained through a story. Yes, these stories of faith, Providence and Jewish resilience have kept many from succumbing to the despair and deprivation that have plagued us in galus.

There is a story that goes back a few hundred years that gives meaning to the concept of stories. When the Baal Shem Tov saw a decree threatening the Jewish People, he went into the solitude of the forest, lit a fire and poured out his heart in prayer to Hashem. The decree was averted.

Years later, when his primary talmid, disciple, the Mezritcher Maggid was compelled to advocate the needs of the Jewish People, he would go to the same place in the forest that his revered rebbe had used and said, "Hashem Yisborach, I do not know how to light the fire, but I do know how to pray." Hashem listened to his prayer, and misfortune was avoided.

When his talmid, Horav Moshe Leib Sassover, went into the forest to intercede on behalf of Klal Yisrael, he would say, "Ribbono Shel Olam, I do not know how to light the fire; I do not know how to pray in the manner of my rebbeim that preceded me. One thing I do know, however, I know the place to go. I pray that just being in this holy site will effect salvation." He succeeded in turning the tide, and - again - the Jewish People were saved.

Last, the responsibility fell on the shoulders of his disciple the saintly Rizhiner Rebbe. Sitting in his home, he looked up and spoke to Hashem. "I have not achieved the spiritual plateau of my rebbeim. I neither know how to light the fire, nor do I know how to pray. I do not even know the place in the forest which is propitious for prayer. All I can do is relate the story and hope that this will be sufficient." He succeeded.

The story was all that was left. The analogy for us is that not all people have the ability to convey the message of truth through prayer or other forms of intellectual communication. Likewise, there are those who are not necessarily inclined to derive the message unless it is wrapped in a story. A story, when related properly, can have penetrating insight and touch a person in a way that no other means of communication can.

Whoever among the servants of Pharaoh feared the word of Hashem, chased his servants and livestock into the houses. (9:20)

The G-d-fearing Egyptians had the common sense to take their animals inside. Does this indicate yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven? This is the seventh plague to have struck Egypt. Moshe Rabbeinu's track record had been perfect. Whenever he foretold of a plague occurring, it arrived on time with intensity. Only a fool would leave his animals outdoors. In the Zer Zahav by Horav Avraham, zl, m'Teshchinov, the author distinguishes the G-d-fearing Egyptian who, upon hearing of the upcoming plague, immediately took action and brought his animals inside, from his counterpart, who waited until the hail came pounding down, wreaking havoc, before he gathered in his livestock.

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, derives from here that a yarei Shomayim is not one who merely does not sin, but rather it is a person who is meticulous not to come in contact with anything that might lead him to sin. This may be compared to a person who fears fire. He will make sure not to have anything of a flammable nature in his possession. It goes without saying that he will not put his hands in the fire.

And as for you and your servants, I know that you are not yet fearful of Hashem, Elokim. (9:30)

The Maharshdam, zl, notes that the dual terminology, Hashem Elokim is used only once prior to this instance. In the beginning of Sefer Bereishis, 2:4, "These are the products of the heavens and earth when they were created, in the day that Hashem Elokim, made earth and Heavens." Is there some message to be derived from this exclusion? The Maharshdam explains that the term Hashem denotes rachamim, the Divine attribute of Mercy, while Elokim denotes middas Hadin, the attribute of strict Justice. As Hashem was about to employ His middas Hadin to punish the Egyptians, He preceded it with the attribute of Mercy, demonstrated in the fact that the wheat and spelt were not destroyed. Although the Egyptians were wicked, Hashem had compassion on them. If this is the case, why did Hashem not have any mercy on the Egyptians during the earlier plagues, such as the plague of blood?

Horav Mosuad ben Shimon, Shlita, explains that only concerning the plague of barad, hail, did the Egyptians manifest that they feared Hashem. It was during this plague that the G-d-fearing Egyptians took in their slaves and livestock, indicating that they believed in the plague's imminent occurrence. One who has yiraas Shomayim deserves Hashem's mercy.

Va'ani Tefillah

Asher Yatzar es ha'adam, b'chachmah. Who fashioned man with wisdom.

As we wake up in the morning, we become conscious of a great miracle, perhaps the greatest miracle, the rebirth of our physical body with all its intricate, perfectly constructed organs and vessels. Our ability to once again perform as human beings - with all of our physical faculties in place and good working order - motivates us to sing Hashem's praises with profound gratitude. We take the simple functions of respiration, digestion and all other normal bodily functions for granted, until they are almost taken from us. The brachah of Asher Yatzar communicates a crucial message: all the organs of the body, even the lowest, fulfill a vital function which maintains our health and well being.

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains that the dual nature of man, whose spiritual entity, the neshamah, soul, is housed within the guf, body, is a miraculous wonder which this brachah emphasizes. The very fact that a spiritual entity of the highest order can exist within the lowly body is an incongruity and, thus, miraculous. Furthermore, this system has parallel functions, whereby for each physical opening and cavity there is a spiritual counterpart. Hence, the double wording of nekavim, nekavim, challulim, challulim, (many) openings, and (many) cavities. We conclude the blessing with the awareness that each of these aspects, the physical and spiritual, plays a critical role in our existence.

L'zchus Refuah Sheleima
Boruch ben Sara Chasia
B'soch She'ar Cholei Yisrael

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