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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


G-d spoke to Moshe and said to him, "I am Hashem." (6:2)

The Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh notes that the pasuk commences with the word Elokim, which describes Hashem's Name, a name that reflects Hashem's manifestation of His Middah, Attribute, of Din, Strict Justice. It concludes, however, with the name, Hashem, which denotes Middas HaRachamim, the Attribute of Mercy. The Ohr Hachaim explains that Hashem was teaching Moshe Rabbeinu that, despite outward appearances which make the shibud Mitzrayim, Egyptian bondage, appear to be the result of Din, Justice, it was not so. Appearances can be deceiving. In effect, the bondage resulted from Rachamim. How are we to perceive mercy reflected in the terrible slave labor to which the Jewish People were subjected?

Horav Chaim Kamil, zl, cites the commentators who assert that one of the reasons that Hashem subjected the Jews to slavery was so that they would become imbued with a natural tendency towards servitude. Man, by his natural instinct, resists any form of servitude. He throws off any yoke of confinement that is placed over him. The reason is simple: servitude means that the person has no individuality, no distinctiveness, no identity of his own. This is intolerable for a human being. Everyone wants to be in charge, to be his own boss. No one is inclined to be beholden to others. Hashem sought more for the Jewish People. They were to leave Egypt in order to accept Hashem, His Torah, and the yoke of mitzvos willingly over themselves. They were to become ovdei Hashem, servants of the Almighty. This would have been an incredibly traumatic change for a nation that had not previously experienced the taste of obedience and subjugation.

Klal Yisrael obtained this attribute during the years of enslavement in Egypt. Thus, what appeared to be a consequence of Din was actually a corollary of Rachamim, as Hashem prepared the Jewish People for a life of service to the Almighty. Rav Kamil explains that this awareness could only have been comprehended through hisbonenus, penetrating analysis: By cogently asking ourselves, what does Hashem want of me that He is putting me through this ordeal of slavery? Why is He doing this? When a person uses his mind to think clearly, he derives the correct answer.

It happens all of the time. We see and we experience, but it flies over our heads, because we do not think. Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, noted that while Chazal teach us that the simple maidservant who experienced the splitting of the Red Sea perceived a greater revelation of the Shechinah than the Navi Yechezkel, she, nonetheless, remained a maidservant. She did not transform. It was not a mind-altering experience for her, because she did not think. She was not misbonein.

I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov as Keil Shakkai. (6:3)

Moshe Rabbeinu complained to Hashem that although he had been sent to bring relief to the nation, it seemed that his presence only provoked Pharaoh to make matters worse for them. Hashem was not pleased with Moshe's righteous grievance. He responded by saying that He had revealed Himself to the Avos, Patriarchs, with the Name Shakkai, referring to the manner in which He guides the world. How does the use of the name Shakkai explain to Moshe why life would have to become worse for the Jews before it would become better? Horav Avraham Pam, zl, quoted by Rabbi Sholom Smith in his English rendition of the Ateres Avraham, cites the Midrash that explains that the root of the word Shakkai is dai, enough. It describes Hashem as setting limits to the development of Creation and establishing specific laws of nature. Otherwise, had Hashem not declared Dai! Enough! at the conclusion of the Six Days of Creation, the waters would have expanded and inundated the earth. The heaven and earth would have also continued expanding. Hence, the name Shakkai represents the limits by which the universe, and everything within it, is controlled.

Rav Pam so aptly explains that there is a precise equilibrium in the world. In order for the world to function properly this equilibrium must be maintained. For example, the earth must remain at a certain distance from the sun. Otherwise, it would either be too cold or too hot, and life could not exist. Likewise, this notion applies to the various planets. Everything must remain in its specific place, or there would be a disaster. This same idea applies to a human being, who is actually an olam katan, small world, a microcosm of the universe. If any imbalance occurs in his body, in his chemical makeup, he can become deathly ill or emotionally unstable. Shakkai plays a crucial role in the life of a human being.

Hashem was indicating to Moshe that He governs everything in this world and controls it with precise regulations. He controls the world with the sod hatzimtzum, the secret of exact limitations. Everything that takes place occurs with an equilibrium that is beyond human rationale. Man cannot comprehend how it was possible for the moment of redemption from Egypt to have been quickly approaching, while the slavery was becoming increasingly more difficult and painful. It could only be understood through the concept of Shakkai, in which Hashem creates a precise equilibrium which fits into the context of overall history. The Divine "computer" takes everything into account. The intensification of slavery essentially brought the redemption closer, because it would ultimately hasten the punishment of the Egyptians once they had completed the measure of sin necessary to catalyze Hashem's retribution.

Many occurrences take place in our lives for which we cannot provide a rationale. Indeed, many are troubling. A believing Jew, however, understands that there are things that he does not understand. We trust that Hashem has His reasons for everything that He does. This realization helps us to weather life's occasional storms.

"So says Hashem, 'Through this shall you know that I am Hashem.'" (7:17)

With the above pasuk, we begin to relate the Ten Plagues that neutralized Pharaoh's reluctance to send the Jews from his land. On Pesach night, these Ten Plagues play a central role in the story of yetzias Mitzrayim, the exodus from Egypt. When we think about it, we wonder why Hashem did this. Why was it necessary to plague the Egyptians in order to bring about their agreement to let the Jews leave? Hashem can do anything. He certainly could have "convinced" Pharaoh in another manner to acquiesce to the liberation of the Jews.

Horav Shabsi Yudelevitz, zl, cites the famous statement made by the Baal Haggadah, "Had not the Holy One, Blessed is He, taken our fathers out from Egypt, then we, our children, and grandchildren would still be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt." Certainly, the Tanna who authored this work is not suggesting that had Hashem not taken us out, we might still be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt. Many things have happened since that day. Nations have come and gone. Egypt is no longer the same country it was at that time. What does the Tanna mean?

Had Pharaoh "agreed" of his own free-will and "kindness" of heart to let us go, had he not been broken by the plagues, we would until this very day remain beholden and subservient to him for freeing us from bondage. True, we would have left Egypt, but we would not have truly been free men. Pharaoh would still have remained our master. Therefore, the Ten Plagues were for us. They serve as an eternal testament that we owe nothing to Pharaoh. Hashem freed us from Pharaoh's bondage against Pharaoh's will. The plagues broke the shackles of Egyptian bondage, as Pharaoh was forced to his knees in obedience to Hashem.

The first makah, plague, was dam, blood. The Baal Haggadah refers to the blood as a mofeis, wonder. Mofsim - zeh ha'dam. "Wonders - this refers to blood." Why is this plague in particular called a mofeis? The Ritva explains that blood was the only plague in which the essential character of the subject transformed. Water turning into blood is a wonder. In contrast, in the other plagues, the only alteration of nature that occurred was a change in the behavior of the subject. For instance, a multitude of frogs or lice came together in one place, for one purpose. While this was certainly a miracle, it did not change the essence of the frog or lice. Water, on the other hand, was changed into blood.

Furthermore, the Ritva notes that even the water that remained in the possession of a Jew, which normally would not have turned into blood, became blood once it fell into the hands of an Egyptian. This is a mofeis. Even if a Jew and an Egyptian were to have been drinking with two straws from one cup, the Egyptian would be drinking blood, while the Jew would be drinking water. This is a mofeis.

If you refuse to release my nation. (7:27)
For, if you refuse to send out. (9:2)
"How long will you refuse to be humbled before me?" (10:3)

In his warning to Pharaoh following the plague of hailstones, Moshe Rabbeinu admonished him for his refusal to humble himself before the Almighty. Interestingly, this warning is different from the ones that preceded the previous plagues. In order to explain, let us analyze the plagues. Pharaoh defiantly declared, "Who is Hashem?" In response to his recaltricense, Hashem sent the Ten Plagues to teach Pharaoh "Who" Hashem was. These plagues were grouped into three sets of three with the tenth plague, the killing of the Egyptian firstborn, serving as the final catalyst for the release of the Jewish People. The first two of each set of plagues were preceded by a warning encouraging Pharaoh to repent and avert the destruction, pain and misery that would result from the plagues. There was no notification prior to the third plague of each set, since this was a punishment for ignoring the first two warnings. The second plague of the first two groups was preceded by the words, "If, you refuse to release them" (Shemos 7:27, 9:2). This occurred prior to the plague of frogs and pestilence. Following the plague of hailstones, however, the warning changed. Now, Moshe declared, "How long will you refuse to be humbled before me?" What is to be derived from this change in the warning?

Horav Mordechai Miller, zl, cites the Rambam in his Iggeres HaMussar who writes: "Pharaoh, king of Egypt, is the embodiment of the yetzer hora, evil-inclination." Why does the Rambam describe Pharaoh as evil incarnate?

Chazal cite a discussion about the question concerning when the yetzer hora becomes active. Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi posits that it occurs at the time the embryo is formed within the mother's womb. Antoninus, the Caesar who was Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi's close friend, asked, "If so, why does the fetus not kick against its mother and bolt out? Obviously, this indicates that the evil-inclination becomes dominant at birth." Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi concurred with his friend's exegesis.

This position, however, seems questionable when taking into consideration the words of Chazal in Niddah 30b, "An unborn child in its mother's womb has a beacon lit over its head with which he can perceive the world from one end to another. No days in a person's existence are more blissful than those days." If the time spent in the womb offers the peak of pleasure, why would the evil-inclination want to enter an existence that is so antithetical to its very essence? The yetzer hora thrives in a negative, miserable situation, not one of bliss and pleasure. Why would it do something so atypical of its "nature"?

Rav Miller explains that, indeed, there is one impingement on the infant's blissful existence: it is confined and restricted. Anyone who is privy to modern society knows that restriction of any form is universally resented and viewed as one of today's worst ills. The desire for freedom, both personal and national, is one of the most basic and intrinsic instincts that drive mankind. As evidenced by the dialogue between Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi and Antoninus, this drive takes effect even under the most blissful circumstance, when a child is ensconced within its mother's womb.

Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, remarks that this idea is implied by the name of Pharaoh. An allusion to the meaning of the name Pharaoh is to be found in the pasuk describing the sin of the Golden Calf: "Moshe saw that the nation was paruah, exposed, for Aharon praah, had uncovered them" (Shemos 32:25). Rashi interprets this: Paruah means exposed, for the nation's evil and shame was revealed. Thus, paruah/Pharaoh denotes a breaching of the parameters of the heart, a granting free rein and open license to the evil-inclination. This is Pharaoh. It is to this exposed, unabashed evil-inclination that the Rambam refers when he says that Pharaoh embodies the essence of the evil-inclination. Man's resistance to restriction and confinement lies at the root of all sin. No one wants to be told, - "No!"

In addressing the original question, Rav Miller cites the Malbim who underscores Pharaoh's reaction to the concrete display of Hashem's Omnipotence. He explains that the purpose of the first three plagues was to demonstrate that Ani Hashem, "I am G-d," the existence of Hashem's power. The second set of plagues was to demonstrate the concept of Divine Providence. Hashem is powerful, and He controls every aspect of this universe. Now, Pharaoh was threatened. He felt that he was the undisputed ruler of Egypt. No one else could undermine him, or claim this position. Pharaoh could not deal with this. His identity as supreme ruler was being challenged, restricting the extent of his total control over the freedom of others. The third group of plagues crumbled the last vestige of Pharaoh's imaginary power, for they attested, without any room for doubt, that Hashem was the Supreme Ruler and power. Each step in the process called the Ten Plagues presented further indication to Pharaoh, the individual who challenged any form of personal limitation, that his powers were truly restricted.

During this entire process, Pharaoh refused to acknowledge the fact that he was not in control, that he did not dominate. In the beginning, Pharaoh could still render his own decision, but in the third set of plagues, this, too, was taken from him. He was now completely confused. It was at this point that he was admonished, "How long will you refuse to be humbled before me?" You have already lost everything. Do you not see that you are not what you think you are? Your mind is no longer your own. You have lost your free choice. You have been censured for refusing to acknowledge your limitations and Hashem's Omnipotence.

Pharaoh's defiance, his virulent objection to the limitation of his own power, identified him as evil incarnate. The Ten Plagues taught him how wrong he was.

We quest for freedom. Yet, we do not realize that total freedom is the greatest constraint to one's spiritual development. Restrictions allow the individual to achieve the greatest spiritual heights, as they free him from the encumbrances of egotism and physicality which are so dominant in contemporary society.

In a shmuess, ethical discourse, entitled Paleis maagal raglecha, "Measure out the circle of your activity," Horav Yosef Leib Bloch, zl, explains that the circumference of each person's circle is in proportion to his spiritual standing. The greater one's spiritual position, the smaller is his circle. A lowly, base person needs a larger circle of activity and external interests in order to achieve self-satisfaction. The spiritual void from within compels him to look elsewhere, to turn to outside sources of pleasure and fulfillment. The inner vacuum must be filled and, since the spiritual dimension is not in his area of interest, he must seek artificial sources to supply contentment. Physicality can never satisfy one's spiritual yearnings, so he is forced to seek grander and more glorious external aids to fill the inner abyss.

Meanwhile, the area of his personal circle is increasing, as his yetzer hora pressures him to broaden his "horizons." Conversely, the individual who is spiritually focused, who is a person of great spiritual stature, needs only a small field of external activity to satisfy his inner-self. His true happiness lies in satisfying his spiritual needs and giving satisfaction to Hashem through his service and mitzvah performance. His needs are small; his desires are limited. External substitutes are not needed when one's inner-self is filled with a pulsating life force of spirituality.

Hishallalu b'shem kodsho.
Glorify in His Holy Name.

The Binah LaIttim explains that we become glorified by praising Hashem. The Almighty certainly does not need our praise. Rather, we become glorified when we avail ourselves of the opportunity to praise and pay homage to Him. Hisallalu, glorify (yourselves) by praising Hashem. The fact that Hashem is among us, that He is in our midst, is sufficient reason for us to be filled with pride. Everything that we possess is from Hashem. When we internalize this realization, we may take pride in our accomplishments and success, because we are acknowledging their source.

Yismach lev me'vakshei Hashem. "So that the hearts of those who seek Hashem shall be gladdened." The Chafetz Chaim, zl, explains that when one seeks and searches for an item, he does not derive satisfaction until after he has successfully obtained and acquired that object. One who is mevakeish Hashem, seeks Hashem, however, derives great pleasure from the actual search. The process catalyzes great satisfaction for him. This is Hashem's guarantee for the individual who is sincere in his quest.

What does it mean to seek Hashem? Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains that those who are looking for meaning in their lives, who are thoroughly disgusted with the type of world in which they live, are called mevakshei Hashem. They seek the Almighty. Our happiness and pride emanates from the fact that we have a relationship with Hashem. This brings us joy, and this is what attracts those who seek Hashem to us. They yearn to feel what we feel. It is our obligation to share that wonderful feeling with them. This is the true meaning of Hisallalu b'shem kodsho. By priding ourselves in living a life in accordance with His Will, we encourage others to do the same.

l'zechar nishmas
Yaakov Shimon ben Yisrael Tzvi z"l

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