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PARSHAS VA'ERAI appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov as Kel Shakki. (6:3)
Rashi's interpretation leaves us glaring at the pasuk in wonderment, trying to figure out what our great rebbe is teaching us. After quoting the pasuk that Hashem appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, Rashi writes, "to the Avos, Patriarchs." To whom else could the pasuk have been referring? What is Rashi teaching us? Of course, we know that Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov are the Patriarchs. The simple explanation is that Rashi chose to abbreviate their names and, instead, refer to them as the Avos. Thus, the word Avos is part of the dibur ha'maschil, title words of Rashi, rather than Rashi's explanation.
Horav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, zl, offers a more penetrating explanation of the word Avos, indicating its application here. The word avos, fathers, implies that there are also toldos, offspring. These three great individuals were the Avos who established their offspring mission in the world. Each of the Patriarchs had his own individual approach to Judaism, which he imbued into the collective DNA of the nation through his offspring. Avraham Avinu viewed Judaism as a mountain, as the pasuk in Bereishis 22:14, says, "And Avraham called the name of that site, Hashem Yireh, as it said, 'This day on the mountain, Hashem will be seen.'" What does the metaphor of mountain mean concerning Judaism and its mission? One scales a mountain, sinking his feet in every step of the way up. One climbs slowly, gradually, progressively, step by step, until he reaches the summit.
Yitzchak Avinu viewed Judaism as a field, as it says in Bereishis 24:63, "Yitzchak went out to supplicate in the field." The second Patriarch conceived Judaism as flatter and straighter than did his father. Yitzchak had inherited from Avraham his knowledge of G-d and his true world perspective. It was not a climb for Yitzchak, because his father had endured the rough ascent. It was Yitzchak's task to plant/transmit his father's teachings concerning Judaism into the field of life. It was Yitzchak's task to translate the profound spiritual concepts in order to integrate them into daily life and endeavor. Yitzchak was charged with infusing Avraham's spiritual perception into everyday weltanschauung, to make spirituality a part of life's flow.
Yaakov Avinu referred to Judaism as a bayis, house, as we see in Bereishis 28:19, "And he named that place Bais Kel, House of G-d." In the third generation, Judaism took on a new form. It was now a house, which is a metaphor for family life. Avraham saw a mountain, representing the significance of spiritual ascent. Yitzchak applied those lessons to life's endeavor in the field, commerce, public life, world perspective. The third generation perceived Judaism as thriving within the individual, his home, his family. Among the three Patriarchs, we have a vibrant Judaism that basically covers "all the bases."
Hashem informed Avraham that his progeny would grow through Yitzchak. His descendants were to descend from Yitzchak. The entire bayis, "house," was not going to serve as the foundation for Avraham's future descendants. Avraham had a Yishmael; thus, Hashem had to constrict his mission. It was not going to include the entire family. Yitzchak had a similar problem concerning Eisav. As he was about to bless Eisav, Hashem quickly circumvented his intentions. Eisav was not to be part of the equation. He was not a member of the "house." It was Yaakov that could say, mitaso sheleimah, "his bed was complete/perfect." His offspring all adhered to his way of life, to the legacy of his grandfather, Avraham. It was in Yaakov, the third generation, that the bayis haYehudi, Jewish home, became established as the focal point of Judaism. Here, the individual and family unit began to personify Judaism at its zenith. The Jewish home is the foundation of everything Jewish. This is the meaning of Bais Yisrael, the House of Yisrael, representing father, mother and children as one unit serving Hashem.
Trailblazers, pioneers, rarely see the finished product. They are the vanguards who prepare the way, pave the road, dream the dream, but rarely see the fruition of their idea. The Avos were just that: Fathers who were the vanguard, preparing the path for their future progeny. Hashem made promises and assurances to the Avos - promises that would be fulfilled in the future, as their children, the toldos, established the nation of Klal Yisrael, founded on the beliefs and established upon the foundation laid by the Patriarchs. The Avos paved the road upon which their children tread. Hashem was now about to fulfill His promise to the Avos, as He is about to take out their descendants from Egypt in order to establish Am Yisrael.
Hashem's statement is thus explained as: "I appeared to the Avos as Kel Shakkai, but My true Name I did not reveal to them. I made promises to the Avos, but the truth, the fruition of the promises, never came to pass during their lifetimes." The promises were for their children, the toldos, the future generations. The true man of vision worries not about "today." He prepares for what will be. The Avos received the vision. We, the toldos, their offspring, are privy to its fruition, the reality of the promise fulfilled. Hashem informed Moshe Rabbeinu that the time to collect on the promises was imminent. The time had come.
And I shall take you out… I shall rescue you… I shall redeem you… I shall take you to Me for a people and I shall be a G-d to you; and you shall know that I am Hashem, your G-d. (6:6,7)
These are the four different expressions depicting geulah, redemption, each representing another facet in the progressive redemption of Klal Yisrael from Egypt. The last one, V'lokachti eschem Li l'am, "I will take you to Me for a people," is a reference to the Revelation at Sinai when we received the Torah, the climax and purpose of our liberation from servitude. It seems that only then - after accepting the Torah - that there is a concept of V'yidaatem ki Ani Hashem, "And you shall know that I am Hashem." What were the miracles that took place in Egypt? Did they not engender this profound knowledge that Hashem was G-d? Indeed, in Parashas Bo (Shemos 10:2), the Torah states clearly, "And so that you may relate in the ears of your son and your son's son that I made a mockery of Egypt and My signs that I placed among them - that you may know that I am Hashem." The Torah emphatically states that the miracles of Egypt were to catalyze yedias Hashem, the knowledge of the Almighty. What is the meaning of this phenomenon following after v'lokachti, the receiving of the Torah?
In his Sefer Az Amarti, Horav Eliyahu Marciano, Shlita, quotes Horav Avraham Gurvitz, zl, who wonders whatever happened to the multitude of nefashos, people who embraced the monotheistic belief as a result of Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu's groundbreaking efforts at outreach? Chazal teach that Avraham taught the males and Sarah taught the females. Was all their hard work for naught? Did the inspiration somehow dissipate with time?
The Rosh Yeshivah explains that these geirim, converts, lacked the experience of Kabbolas HaTorah. Thus, they were not imbued with the yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, inherent in one who is committed to a Torah way of life. Even though their original inspiration was derived from a mentor of the calibre of Avraham Avinu, it could not replace the lasting impression of accepting the Torah at Sinai.
With this idea in mind, Rav Marciano acknowledges that although the Jewish people evidently knew Hashem in Egypt as a result of the miracles that occurred, in order for their yediah, awareness, to endure, it was essential that they stand at Har Sinai and receive the Torah amid a revelation unprecedented - and until this day-- unparalleled by any other experience. Without Torah to concretize the inspiration, it will gradually dissipate. The original yediah that occurred in Egypt became a part of the psyche of Klal Yisrael when they accepted the Torah at Har Sinai.
Yedias Hashem, knowledge of G-d, alone is not enough. Knowledge does not make us better people. The knowledge with which we have enriched our minds must be applied to ourselves. It must be transferred from the mind to the heart, which is the source of action. Knowledge without implementation is worthless. The knowledge must become an intrinsic part of ourselves, so that it inspires action. Only then will it become our life.
Without Torah which teaches us how to act, we have no transference of mind to heart. Knowledge without integration into action renders us innocent bystanders. It does nothing for us. Hence, the lessons that were imparted in Egypt took hold only after the Jews received the most important tool for implementation: the Torah.
Hashem spoke to Moshe and to Aharon and commanded them regarding Bnei Yisrael. (6:13)
Rashi interprets Hashem's command regarding Klal Yisrael as instructions to lead them calmly and be patient with them. The Midrash elaborates on this theme. Hashem told Klal Yisrael's new leadership, "My children are stubborn, quarrelsome and bothersome. You should accept them as they are and expect them to curse and even stone you." It was clearly not the most encouraging resume of the people they were about to lead, but Hashem did not believe in cover-up. His leaders must know what to expect. Patience and tolerance would be more than virtues; they would constitute the only manner in which the leaders could lead. Without savlanus, patience, it would be impossible.
Horav Shlomo Wolbe, zl, derives an important lesson from Chazal's depiction of Klal Yisrael's possible attitude towards their leaders and Hashem's directive concerning the leader's reaction. The communal leader must be prepared to expect the worst from his community. Yet, he must be patient and tolerant, regardless of their ungracious response. This applies to anyone in authority, rav, rebbe, gabbai, etc.
Horav Chaim Soloveitchik, zl, says that the Midrash records Klal Yisrael's attitude towards its leadership for posterity for one reason: so that it should be remembered for eternity. A leader should never forget what to expect and never lose control. Without patience, he cannot lead. Indeed, Rav Chaim would exhort rabbanim that it was an obligation to accept humiliation and ridicule often cast against them by community members who are used to getting what they want - when they do not receive preferential treatment. This is a way of life and part of the rigors of avodas ha'kodesh, holy service.
Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, posits that a rebbe who does not manifest patience with his students diminishes his ability to inspire, despite his diligence and sincerity. He will, thus, be held accountable for curtailing harbotzas Torah, the spreading of Torah. A student will not learn as well from a rebbe who is impatient and irritable.
Horav Yissachar Frand, Shlita, quotes a letter sent by Horav Yitzchak Hutner, zl, to Rabbi Moshe Sherer, the President of Agudath Israel of America. It was 1971, and the Agudah, under Rabbi Sherer's direction, was working tirelessly to facilitate the passing of legislation permitting government aid to private education. The financial future of the yeshivos and day schools was greatly dependent upon these government funds. Finally, after many years of hard work, a law was passed that seemed to meet the requirements for preserving the separation of church and state. The Supreme Court had a different opinion and struck down the legislation, sending literally years of hard work and serious money down the proverbial drain. It was a sad day for the Torah world and especially for R' Sherer, whose life was intertwined with Agudah and the Torah world.
That summer, R' Sherer received a letter from Rav Hutner. The Rosh Yeshivah wrote, "When I heard the negative ruling issued by the Supreme Court, I saw an image of you and how you must have felt when you received that decision." Rav Hutner went on to quote an insight from Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, "When it comes to community work, one must accept upon himself three resolutions: never lose one's temper; never get tired; and never want to win."
I can understand patience, forbearance, consistency, but should one not have goals? Winning, success, should be one of the aspirations for which we strive. Therein lies the mistake. This is contrary to the popular dictum issued by a famous football coach, "Winning isn't everything - winning is the only thing." This belief bespeaks a person so obsessed with himself that he begins to believe that winning is within his ability. To believe that the successful outcome of our endeavor is in human hands is not only wrong, it is ludicrous. Man can endeavor; he can try; he can expend effort. The rest - fruition, achievement, success, winning - is in the Hands of the Almighty.
All Hashem asks of us is to endeavor, to try, to exert ourselves. He will do the rest.
Rav Hutner continued: "I have seen you over the years and have noticed that in the face of adversity, you have not gotten angry. Over the forty years that you have been in communal service, you have never gotten tired either. Now you must pass the most difficult of tests in communal endeavors. You must learn that it is not crucial to win - it is only crucial to try."
"How do we see this to be a Jewish trait?" the Rosh Yeshivah asks. "Every Rosh Hashanah, we entreat Hashem for mercy, invoking the memory of Akeidas Yitzchak, the Binding of Yitzchak, but what really took place at the Akeidah? Hashem originally instructed Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchak. It never happened. At the last minute, the mission was aborted when Hashem sent an angel to inform Avraham to halt the proceedings. Although the mission was never accomplished, Avraham received credit for trying! In this z'chus, merit, we ask Hashem to forgive us. We tried. This teaches us that the importance lies not in achieving the final win - but, in trying. It is the effort that counts."
In secular life, success is defined by achievement, by the big win. In the service of the Almighty, be it communal or personal, it is how we play the game that determines our ultimate success. The intensity and sincerity with which we expend our effort, how we act under pressure, these are the things that count - nothing else.
These are the names of the sons of Levi in order of their birth: Gershon, Kehas and Merrari. (6:16)
Why does the Torah inject the word shemos, names (of the sons of Levi), next to the sons of Levi, when it does not do so concerning any of the other brothers? The Shalah Hakadosh explains that Shevet Levi, the tribe of Levi, was not enslaved, as a result of their spiritual commitment. Nonetheless, these unique individuals refused to ignore the pain of their brothers. Sharing in the plight of other Jews is a Jewish character trait. What did Levi do? He gave each of his sons a name that related to the exile. Gershon alluded to the fact that they were geirim, strangers sojourning in a land not theirs; Kehas hinted to shinayim keihos, teeth that were blunted as a result of the exile; Merrari referred to the bitterness. The Shalah concludes: "One should learn from here to share in the pain of the tzibur, community, even if it does not affect him personally in any way. This is what Hashem meant when He said to Moshe, Eheyeh asher eheyeh, 'I will be what I will be.' I will always be with the Jewish people. I will never forsake them in their pain. Their pain is My pain."
The accepted perception concerning nosei b'ol im chaveiro, sharing the burden with one's friend, is, that my sharing, my contribution, eases the load. This is wrong. When Moshe Rabbeinu ascended to a position of nobility in Pharaoh's palace, the Torah writes: "Moshe grew up and went out to his brethren and observed their burdens" (Shemos 2:11). Rashi explains that Moshe had just been appointed chamberlain over the palace. Yet, he went out to his Jewish brothers to see their suffering and grieved with them. Let us take this scene into perspective. There were approximately three-million Jews in the Egyptian labor force. Exactly what could Moshe do for them? This is the attitude that the average "do-gooder" would take upon confronting such a spectacle. Not so our quintessential leader, Moshe. He went into the fray, ignoring the numbers and bending his shoulder to each one with whom he came in contact.
This teaches us, explains Horav Chaim Friedlander, zl, that to share the yoke with another Jew does not involve actually creating a noticeable relief, an obvious benefit. It is the expression of someone else's willingness to help, to offer assistance that allows the individual who is carrying the burden to feel a little bit better about his plight. Even if we do not do much, we at least let them know that we care, that they are not alone. This is what it means to be nosei b'ol im chaveiro.
Moshe's sharing in the pain of his people is manifest in the names he gave his two sons. In the beginning of Parashas Yisro (Shemos 18:3,4) the Torah relates, "And her two sons: of whom the name of one was Gershom, for he had said, 'I was a sojourner in a strange land;' and the name of the other was Eliezer, 'for the G-d of my father came to my aid,' and He saved me from the sword of Pharaoh."
The commentators question the sequence in which Moshe named his sons. Clearly, Moshe was saved from Pharaoh's sword prior to his becoming a sojourner in a strange land. Why then did he name Gershom before Eliezer? Furthermore, why did he bother eternalizing his sojourn in a strange land? What miracle was he perpetuating? Last, obviously Moshe was not lamenting the fact that he was not in Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, he must have been bemoaning his exile from Egypt. What was lamentable about not being in Egypt?
Horav Leib Baron, Shlita, explains that, although Moshe did not experience the actual pain associated with the Egyptian exile since he grew up in the palace, when he left the palace, to escape to Midyan, he still endured the pain and misery of the Jews. Their pain was his pain; their travail was his travail. Thus, he referred to Midyan as a strange land. He wanted to be in Egypt with his brothers! When his first son was born, he expressed the pain that was most cumbersome, which gnawed at him the most: the pain of being separated from his brothers. His mind was on them - not on himself. It was this character that suited him so well as he ascended to Klal Yisrael's stewardship.
During World War I, the saintly Chafetz Chaim, zl, could not rest. He grieved constantly for the suffering endured by Klal Yisrael throughout Europe. Once, in the middle of the night, his rebbetzin noticed that he was not in his bed. She went out and found him sleeping on a chair with his head on his hands. She immediately asked him what was wrong. One does not leave his bed to sleep in a chair for no reason. The Chafetz Chaim responded that at a time when Jewish soldiers were struggling, fighting for their lives in bunkers and foxholes, grappling with the bitter cold in the winter and the unbearable heat in the summer, he just could not permit himself to sleep in a bed.
Various types of pain exist. In the above instances, Klal Yisrael suffered and Moshe sought to be a part of their pain. There are instances, however, in which one participates in the pain of another Jew, but the Jew knows not that he is in pain! So whose pain is he sharing? He shares Hashem's pain! Allow me to share the following incredible episode with the reading public, so that we all develop a new perspective on nosei b'ol im chaveiro.
One of Horav Elazar Menachem Shach's closest students related that he once visited his revered rebbe, zl, after davening one morning, and he noticed that the Rosh Yeshivah had refused to touch a morsel of food. It was breakfast time, and, while Rav Shach did not typically have an elaborate breakfast, he had to sustain himself with something. Yet, Rav Shach would not eat. Thinking that perhaps Rav Shach did not want to eat because of him, the student offered to return after breakfast.
The Rosh Yeshivah said, no, it was not necessary to return. "Let me explain to you why I am not eating," Rav Shach said to the young man. "I accepted upon myself not to taste a morsel of food between eight and 8:30 in the morning. This is because of the pain that I suffer knowing that, at this time, hundreds of Jewish children are going to secular schools, which deprives them of beginning their day with Krias Shema!" We now have an idea how another Torah leader was nosei b'ol im chaveiro. Sharing with another Jew is to feel pain over his lack of commitment to Torah. Perhaps, if we felt more pain and less disdain, they might be more willing to return.
Say to Aharon, 'Stretch out your hand with your staff over the rivers, the canals and over the reservoirs. (8:1)
Aharon HaKohen, rather than Moshe Rabbeinu, was designated to strike the river twice, for both the plagues of blood and frogs, since the river had protected Moshe as an infant, when his mother placed him in it. Thus, it would have been wrong for him to be the instrument to inflict a plague on it. This is a great lesson concerning our responsibility to acknowledge and pay gratitude to all those who benefit us, but there is a deeper lesson to be derived from here. In his Sefer Dudaei Yitzchak, Horav David Yitzchak Nebentzhal, zl, notes how everything Hashem does is conducted with utmost precision and perfection; nothing is overlooked; no good deed, however subtle, is ignored; no negative deed goes unpunished.
Let us take in the scenario behind the command for Aharon - not Moshe - to strike the Nile River. The Egyptians are now being punished with the first plague, blood. An entire nation of perhaps millions of men, women and children are made to suffer with having nothing to drink. Whatever water they had had turned to blood. Can we imagine their collective travail? At that very moment, when the Egyptian people are suffering terribly, with the Middas HaDin, Attribute of Strict Justice, working at full-strength, Hashem is concerned that the kindness exhibited by the river some eighty-years earlier be remembered now. Moreover, this is an inanimate object. It makes no difference to Hashem. The river has served as a vehicle for good; it must be paid back now, even though Hashem is occupied in effecting Klal Yisrael's salvation. While punishing the Egyptians their due, He still finds time to repay the river for its act of goodness.
Perhaps the lesson we derive from this is to never lose sight of our responsibilities. All too often, we become caught up with life's moments, and, as a result, we forget our basic obligations. We may not, because those obligations and our ability to carry them out define our humanness.
Az Yashir - then Moshe sang.
Why did Klal Yisrael delay their singing of Shirah until Krias Yam Suf, the Splitting of the Red Sea? The first day of Pesach, as soon as they were liberated from Egypt, should have been a perfect time to offer their praise and adulation to Hashem for the wonders and miracles that took place in Egypt. Maharam ben Chaviv explains that there was no indication that the miracles which occurred in Egypt were specifically for the benefit of the Jews. Quite possibly, the Egyptians had stooped to such evil and apostasy that they deserved a punishment that was beyond the norm. Pharaoh had the nerve to declare, "Who is Hashem that I must listen to His voice?" (Shemos 5:2). Perhaps Hashem was demonstrating to Pharaoh exactly Who He was. In other words, one could err and suggest that the miracles of Egypt were for Hashem's honor, to preserve His "image."
When the Jewish People experienced Krias Yam Suf, they saw how Egypt was being punished middah k'neged middah, measure for measure. Because they persecuted the Jewish People by drowning their children in the river, they were themselves subjected to drowning in the sea. The Jews now acknowledged that all the miracles and wonders that they experienced were for their honor - not for Hashem's honor. This is why they now sang Shirah. The realization that it had all been for their benefit inspired them to offer praise to Hashem for His favor.
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