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PARSHAS VA'ERAAnd I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt; I shall rescue you from their service; I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm… I shall take you to Me for a people… and you shall know that I am Hashem Your G-d, Who takes you out from under the burdens of Egypt. (6:6,7)
The nature of a person is to entreat the Almighty when he is confronted with adversity. At the times in which a person requires a salvation of sorts, he immediately turns to Hashem with tears of supplication. He runs to the righteous Torah leaders - both to those who are alive, and to those who have passed on to their eternal reward. He tumults and weeps, recites countless perakim, chapters, of Tehillim, and beats his chest until, finally, Hashem responds, "Yes!" His tzarah, trouble, is over.
Let us take an example and be more specific. A family member is stricken with a terrible illness. Hashem sends a good agent, a wonderful doctor, who is able to arrest the disease and provide a healthy prognosis for the patient. In another situation, a person is teetering on financial ruin. Without an infusion of a large sum of money, he will be in serious trouble. Suddenly, out of nowhere, he receives a gift from a kindhearted person - the exact amount required to extricate him from his financial woes. There is also the family that is plagued with a child who is seriously at risk. Nobody has succeeded in reaching him - until, out of the blue, someone is able to get through to the child and turn his life around.
In all of the above scenarios, shortly after salvation has been achieved, the beneficiary slowly seems to forget the real Source of his "pardon." He no longer recognizes that it was Hashem Who intervened; he believes that the solution to his problem was "natural"; it was a great doctor, an astute rebbe, a wonderful philanthropist. They forget that it was all Hashem. Without the Almighty - nothing would have happened.
Horav Gamliel Rabinowitz, Shlita, quotes an exposition to explain an enigmatic phrase which we recite nightly during Tefillas Maariv: V'haseir Satan milfaneinu u'mei'achareinu, "And remove the Satan from before us and after us." It is understandable that we must contend with Satan's guile prior to executing a mitzvah or a good deed, but what can Satan do after we have already completed the mitzvah, after we have carried out the act of kindness? What is done is done. He explains that we remember Hashem and reach out to Him before the mitzvah which we hope will catalyze His salvation. We need His help. We know that, without Him, we have no chance of subduing the yetzer hora/Satan. After we have successfully completed our service to Him; after we have emerged from adversity with our feet on the ground; now that we have health, we are financially sound, our family is in order; do we remember Hashem, or do we say, "Nature took its course. It was the doctor, the philanthropist, the rabbi."? It was not them. When we do not think of Hashem as the true and only Source of our salvation, we fall right into Satan's tentacles.
This idea is emphasized by the Torah. Even after the Jewish People had been redeemed from Egypt, they were to remember that their Savior was none other than Hashem. We must continue to transit this truth throughout the generations and reiterate it constantly: Our only source of salvation is the Almighty. While this injunction is addressed to the collective nation, Rav Gamliel observes that it applies to each individual Jew as well. We each have our personal yetzias Mitzrayim, exodus from Egypt. For some, it is called "illness"; others see it as a financial crisis; yet others view it through the lens of tzaar gidul banim, the pain associated with raising children. In any event, we all confront personal adversity in life for which we pray, and Hashem listens rendering a positive response. Yet, shortly after we have experienced our personal deliverance from distress, we often forget that it was Hashem Who unshackled us from misery. Gratitude is a lifelong endeavor. Once we owe, we may not forget, because life as we presently experience it would have been drastically altered had Hashem not responded favorably to our entreaty.
Once a chasid of Horav Yochanan, zl, m'Karlin came before the tzaddik and asked that he pray for his son who was ill. The Rebbe sent the chasid to a specific physician. After visiting the doctor with his son, he returned to the Rebbe with the declaration that his son was fine. Not even a hint of disease was in his system.
The Rebbe looked deeply into his chasid's eyes and said, "Do not say it that way, as if there was never anything amiss with your son's health. There was something wrong. Your son was gravely ill. Hashem intervened and healed him. Therefore, the doctor saw nothing wrong. You went to the doctor to discover that Hashem had healed your son. Do not make the mistake of thinking that the original diagnosis was incorrect!"
We pay gratitude to Hashem. The issue is how much and for how long. Regrettably, we quickly forget that it was Hashem,Who provided us with the answer to our problem. This is normal and, unfortunately, predictable for a human being. This does not, however, make it right.
But they did not heed Moshe, because of shortness of breath, and hard work. (6:9)
One would expect that a man overwhelmed with misery would listen to anyone who would give him a respite from his pain. Any sign of hope would be greatly appreciated. Why did the Jews not listen to Moshe Rabbeinu? They were burdened by slavery and pain. They sought redemption from the purgatory of the Egyptian exile. The commentators explain that their rejection of Moshe had nothing to do with their level of emunah, faith. Their debilitating physical and emotional straits stimulated their rejection of Moshe. Moshe, however, blamed his speech impediment for his inability to reach them. What requires elucidation is why the people's inexorable faith in Hashem did not "kick in" to enable them to transcend their adversity. Faith conquers pain, misery and troubles. Yet, Klal Yisrael was so overwhelmed with their burdens that their faith was no longer sufficient to carry them through the challenge. Why?
I think the answer lies in the words, v'lo shamu, "but they did not heed/listen." One who does not hear does not think. One who skips step one - "listening," -- neither thinks issues through thoroughly nor develops the thought processes that would affect his actions postively. An entire pagan world was quite aware of Egypt's downfall at the hands of their Jewish slaves, yet only one person came to the wilderness to join them to pay homage to Hashem: Yisro. Why? Because Vayishma Yisro, "Yisro heard," He understood that the Splitting of the Red Sea was Hashem's medium for conveying a message. Thus, he listened and incorporated this lesson into his lifestyle. One who thinks without first listening might agree with the consequences for a given action, but he is likely to feel that they do not apply to him. When no one is listening, the message has no "address."
I recently read a story which I will share with the readers. It was written by a popular, observant writer, a ben Torah of the highest order. Exactly why he wrote about a secular, intermarried Holocaust survivor, I am not sure. My issue with the narrative is concerning its intended message. If it was correct, why did the survivor not alter his lifestyle and become a frum, observant, Jew?
A well-known secular thinker, a man of profound spirit and culture, who had distinguished himself through his powerful innovative ideas, was incarcerated in the Auschwitz death camp. This man was a gifted writer, who had completed a thesis which elaborated his ideas and expounded on his profound philosophy. When he was taken prisoner, he hid the manuscript on his person, hoping that he would not be caught. This was before the days of computer whereby one can save thousands of pages of text with the pressing of a singe button. In those days, if something was lost, it was gone forever.
The Nazis had a simple perspective concerning the life of a Jew: it was meaningless. We were accidents of birth and had no right to live. Therefore, the dehumanizing process began in earnest as soon as the Jewish prisoners were "welcomed" into the confines of Auschwitz. Here, each individual was a number; his status, emotions, personal philosophy, regardless how brilliant, were of no value. He existed by the whim of the Nazi. He was of no value to the human race.
While the Nazi's took much from this particular man, they could not deny him his ability to think, to cogitate, to question, to probe. He still had his manuscript. It was his life, because, in reality, in his notes he wrote down his perspective on life. It was how he lived. The low point of his internment was the day the Nazis discovered his manuscript. It was forcibly removed from beneath his shirt and torn to shreds. For him, life ended when the product of his toil and determination, his countless hours of deep thinking and reflection, was taken from him. Without his manuscript, he was worthless. The viva d'vivre which kept him alive had been extinguished. His ability to think had been expropriated from him. The concentration camp became for him what it had already become for most of his friends: a place to die.
He was given a new uniform, "compliments" of another inmate who no longer had use for it. As he donned the striped rag, which was the Nazis perverted idea of prison garb, he resigned himself to a nightmarish existence, devoid of hope and lacking meaning. Without his precious manuscript, he had very little to which to look forward.
As he was straightening out the garment, he noticed something in his pocket. He discovered a piece of paper which had probably been left by its most recent wearer. He opened up the folded scrap of paper; with some difficulty, he was able to decipher a Hebrew sentence. The words that had been jotted down appeared to be more of a scribble than handwriting. Written on the paper was Judaism's most famous seminal phrase: Shma Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echod, "Hear, O' Yisrael, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One." It suddenly dawned on him: Hashem is in control. He guides us through the purgatory on earth and He will never forsake us - regardless of where we may be found. He now had his meaning in life. He had just located his lost manuscript!
This was the end of the story. Everybody lived happily ever after. The Jewish prisoner continued his assimilated lifestyle, taking a new wife following his liberation. Regrettably, she was not of the Jewish faith. She was nice woman, but she was not Jewish. As long as he had his manuscript, what had gone wrong? Was this really the message of the paper? If it was, how could he go on living a life of abandon?
The answer lies in the fact that he focused on the wrong words of the verse. He ignored the "Hear O' Yisrael" which meant: "Listen. Open up your ears. I am talking to you! Yes, this message is for you. Hashem is G-d; Hashem is One." It is a powerful message, but only if one is thinking and listening. Otherwise, he will not get the message.
Pesach night is a very special night. It is when we teach our children the story of the Exodus, employing a question and answer format for telling the story of yetzias Mitzrayim. When a question is asked, it involves the question in the answer. V'higadeta l'vincha leimor, "And you must tell your children" - leimor, "saying". What does the leimor add? The Meor Vashemesh explains that we must tell it to our children in such a manner that they will one day also be able to tell it to their children. Teach it so that leimor, they will say it over. How does this take place? We must make them listen, be part of the experience; ask questions and listen to the answers. The message is for them to impart to the next generation, but, if they do not listen, it cannot be leimor.
We think that kotzer ruach and avodah Kashah are the end of the world, that adversity, moments of hester Panim, when the Divine Presence conceals Himself from us, makes it impossible to continue on, to maintain hope for the future. We err. Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, explains that, specifically within these periods of extreme darkness, a great light is concealed. During these moments of obscurity, Hashem's greatest kindness becomes revealed. Yes, during moments of what seems like adversity, misery, pain and tragedy, we are able to discern Hashem's great and boundless love for us.
Rav Shimshon explains this with a powerful analogy. A father can manifest his love for his child in one of two ways: he can give the child a candy; or he can discipline him. The great, deep love that the father feels for his child achieves expression when he slaps him, rather than when he gives him a lollipop. Anyone can give a child a candy, but only his father can discipline him. In order to discipline the child, the one who is meting out the discipline must love the subject with all his heart and soul. It must be a labor of love. One can give a lollipop to anyone. It is not an indication of love.
The beauty of Hashem's chesed is revealed specifically during times of hester Panim. When He hits us, we see His love, His care, His desire to see us improve. Rav Shimshon observes that when one places a pot of boiling water on the stove and removes the lid, the water boils to a certain point. It never increases its temperature beyond a predetermined number of degrees, according to the Fahrenheit scale. If, however, the lid is attached, the heat of the water increases immeasurably. Indeed, no one knows how hot it can get. External heat has its parameters. There are no limits to internal heat. Likewise, when the "lid" is on Hashem's Presence, when there is hester Panim, there is no limit to what might be achieved.
Nobody seeks adversity. It is, after all, antagonistic to what one wants to accomplish. On the other hand, adversity is what makes us grow; it is what makes us who we are. One will not maximize his potential -- he will not even realize what that potential is -- unless he has traveled the road through ill fortune. The greater the challenge, the more difficult the struggle, the more prodigious the sense of success and triumph. Positive adversity is a dynamic that is intrinsic to the human condition. It is a "good thing."
Surely, at one time or another, we have all been humiliated, reproved unnecessarily, demoralized. It may not - and it is not - pleasant, but it is, nonetheless, a positive phenomenon. It increases our determination, allowing us to achieve success under circumstances in which we would otherwise never have realized that we were capable of achieving. Failure is a part of life; no one always wins. Indeed, true winners do not always win. What distinguishes a true winner is his resilience and fortitude, his ability to bounce back after defeat - and win. He never loses confidence; he always goes for the gold. Victory may be elusive at first, but, without trying, one will never know if he could have made it.
During the Holocaust, simple people accomplished superhuman feats of heroism, but then again, they were not really simple people. They thought they were simple, until the moment of need surfaced and they rose to the occasion. A Jewish woman who lived in the Warsaw Ghetto was in dire need of the services of a doctor. She had contracted a serious infection which, if not treated, could prove to be fatal. She left the ghetto to see a non-Jewish doctor. After the doctor, who was female, diagnosed and treated the infection, the woman was prepared to leave. The doctor implored her to stay. "You cannot go back to the ghetto where you will certainly die," the doctor said. "Stay here in my home, and I will tend to your needs. I will protect you."
The Jewish woman replied, "I would take my chances and stay here with you, but I cannot abandon my family. There are thirteen people in my family who are waiting for me to return."
"Bring them all here! I will hide your entire family in my attic." She did exactly that. For twenty-three months, until the end of the war, thirteen members of this Jewess' family were hidden with her in the doctor's attic. The doctor provided food, a degree of comfort and abundant hope.
A few years ago, two hundred descendants from that Jewish family celebrated a milestone event in America. In tribute and profound gratitude to the doctor whose heroic efforts facilitated this event, they went to Warsaw to bring her to America to share in their family simchah.
From where did a person who was not even Jewish obtain the incredible fortitude and courage to undertake to hide, protect and sustain a large family of Jews for almost two years? To be caught meant certain death. Every day must have been a traumatic experience. Why did she do it? How did she do it? When there is hester Panim, with the increasing darkness and gloom, a Heavenly light like no other begins to illuminate in the least expected areas. This overwhelming, unusual light penetrates the darkness in a manner that otherwise would never have occurred.
Hashem shall distinguish between the livestock of Yisrael and the livestock of Egypt and not a thing that belongs to Bnei Yisrael will die… Pharaoh sent and behold, of the livestock of Yisrael, not even one had died - yet Pharaoh's heart became stubborn. (9:4,7)
Moshe Rabbeinu warned Pharaoh concerning the upcoming plague of dever, an epidemic that would strike and kill their livestock. He added that no animal belonging to a Jew would die. This would clearly be a miracle, since the animals of both Egyptian and Jewish ownership mingled together in the pasture, drinking the same water and breathing the same air. The Egyptian animals died, but the animals belonging to the Jews did not - exactly as foretold by Moshe. Despite what was undeniably a miracle, Pharaoh continued his stubborn refusal to allow the Jews to leave Egypt. Why would Pharaoh act this way? Did the plague not take place exactly as Moshe foretold? The mere fact that nary a single animal belonging to a Jew was lost was the strongest indication that Pharaoh was waging a losing battle. Why was he being so obstinate?
The Malbim notes the phrase, v'hinei lo meis m'mikneh Yisrael ad echad, "Of the livestock of Yisrael not even one died." He says that the phrase ad echad, means "up to one," which implies that one did die. We find this phrase in two other instances in Tanach. When the Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea, the Torah writes, lo nishaar bahem ad echad, "There remained not one of them" (Shemos 14:28). This implies that one Egyptian did live. Chazal teach that Pharaoh survived the Red Sea. Also, the phrase is used again in Navi, (Shoftim 4:16) concerning Sisra's defeat. Chazal teach that one did survive, Sisra, the general made it.
Therefore, concerning the plague of dever and its effect on Jewish livestock, when the Torah writes lo meis m'mikreh Yisrael ad echad, "that one did die," it is a reference to the livestock of Shlomis bas Divri, whose husband was an Egyptian. While the livestock may have been assimilated with the Jewish livestock, her husband was not Jewish; thus, her livestock died. Pharaoh, however, did not see it this way. He considered Shlomis' livestock to be of Jewish ownership. Therefore, in his eyes, Moshe was "wrong." Pharaoh could continue sinning. He had a reason to be stubborn. This demonstrates the obtuseness of the wicked. They see what they want to see. They embrace any excuse to continue their evil.
Whoever feared the word of Hashem… chased his servants and his livestock into the houses. (9:20)
Chazal derive an important principle from the Torah's depiction of the "G-d-fearing" Egyptian: The best of snakes should have its head smashed. In other words, a snake is a snake, regardless of how "good" it may be. It cannot be trusted. The Torah distinguishes between the Egyptians who listened to the warning of Moshe Rabbeinu concerning the upcoming plague which would overrun the country and those that did not listen. Those who listened brought their livestock indoors, while those who ignored the warning left their animals outside. To their chagrin, these recalcitrant Egyptians lost their animals. Later on, when Pharaoh was about to pursue the Jews who had left Egypt, he was able to obtain animals from the G-d-fearing Egyptians. We derive from here that an Egyptian remains evil, regardless of his supposed fear of G-d. Evil remains evil, no matter how it is coated.
Let us attempt to digest this statement. Once the Egyptian becomes G-d-fearing, his serpentine character should disappear. The two simply do not mesh together. Yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, and evil are antithetical to one another. How is one considered G-d-fearing, yet act like an Egyptian, with hatred and malice towards the helpless Jewish slaves? Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, explains that Chazal are teaching us that unless one's entire mahus, essence, is altered, unless he undergoes an extreme makeover, his yiraas Shomayim will not have any impact on him. If he remains a nachash, his yiraas Shomayim is worthless.
True fear of G-d is internal. It is not something one "puts on" to make an impression. The entire person is changed. A yarei Shomayim is no longer the same person he once was. One who continues with his nachash, snakelike behavior, is not really G-d-fearing.
Furthermore, let us analyze the superhuman effect of the G-d-fearing Egyptian in response to the dilemma which confronted him. The entire country ignored Moshe: some because they gave no credence to his warning; others because they were afraid of what their neighbor might say. They would rather lose their animals than be viewed as sympathizers, fools, and spineless people. To listen to Moshe meant standing up for one's beliefs, challenging Pharaoh, going against popular opinion. It took incredible strength to go against the country's political and pagan current, to defy Pharaoh and his cohorts in order to listen instead to Moshe.
The yarei Shomayim did just that. He acted in a bold manner that was filled with courage and fortitude, regardless of public backlash. This is in what he believed, and he would act on his beliefs, regardless of the consequences. This sounds good! It sounds like a truly wonderful, morally upright man of incredibly strong character! Yet, since the yiraas Shomayim remained outside of his essence, it had not changed him; therefore, he still retained his base Egyptian character. His fear of G-d was a one-time deal; it was not reflective of his essence. Therefore, later, when Pharaoh needed animals to pursue the Jews, he turned to the G-d-fearing Egyptians to supply the war effort. An Egyptian remains an Egyptian - much like a snake remains a snake.
V'yacheid levaveinu l'ahavah u'l'yirah es Shemecha. Unite our hearts to love and fear Your Name.
Levaveinu in the plural-like form alludes to two hearts or the "double" heart. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains that the heart can have a dual relationship with Hashem. Some people can love Hashem, although they do not actually fear Him. The case in question would be an individual who loves Torah study, is inspired by its intellectual dialectic, yet this does not prevent him from executing a sin. He is simply not afraid. Love of Hashem and fear of Hashem do not necessarily mesh together. The heart might be a small organ, but it is large enough that these two attributes do not always work in tandem.
The combination of yiraas Shomayim and ahavas Hashem can only be achieved through Torah study. Without Torah learning, any feelings concerning Jewish tradition and practice that one has for the Jewish way of life do not represent love or fear of Hashem. They are nothing more than nostalgic sentiments. Real connection can be realized only through the Torah. Real mitzvah performance can be executed only if one learns, so that he knows and understands what he is doing. By learning Torah, one develops an appreciation of Hashem. The Almighty becomes an entity that is real. Otherwise, He is an idea, a concept - even a conscience, but "ideas" neither promote love, nor do they prevent sin.
R' Yaakov Shimon ben Yisrael Tzvi z"l
Mrs. Helen Pollack
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