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PARSHAS YISRONow I know that Hashem is greater than all gods, for in the very matter in which (the Egyptians) had conspired against them!" (18:11)
Rashi explains that Yisro was intimating that he had experimented with other religions. After experiencing every form of idolatry, he was now thoroughly convinced that Hashem was superior to any other form of deity. He derived proof of Hashem's Omnipotence from the fact that when He had punished the Egyptians, He had punished them measure for measure, for what they had conspired to do to the Jews. Pharaoh had planned to drown the young Jewish males in the Nile River. Hashem arranged for Pharaoh's final punishment to be executed by the Red Sea. Hashem punishes and rewards in accordance with the rule of middah k'neged middah, measure for measure. We do not always perceive this, but upon careful introspection, we will notice that this principle is always in effect.
There is an important lesson to be derived from this pasuk. Horav Aizik Ausband, Shlita, notes that Hashem performs miracles; He alters the course of nature, just to teach man a lesson. After all, the splitting of the Red Sea was no ordinary miracle. Hashem made a condition with Maas'e Bereishis, the Creation of the World, that one day He would change the course of nature and split the Red Sea. If the sole purpose was to kill the Egyptians, He certainly could have employed other methods. It is not as if Hashem had never before punished a large segment of people. He slew the Egyptian firstborn; he destroyed Sancheiriv's army. He did not have to drown the Egyptians through a miraculous effort on His part.
Hashem acts only for a reason, to carry out a purpose. Here, it was to teach them and the world, a lesson: measure for measure. You attempted to destroy the Jewish People using the medium of water. You will perish through the medium of water. A punishment is necessary. Understanding why and for what one is being punished are equally significant.
People must be imbued with the awareness that Divine Providence governs the world. The greatest manifestation of Hashgachah, Providence, is through the principle of measure for measure. If one does not clearly see that retribution parallel's one's actions, both in a negative and positive sense, he can always err and say, "It just happened," without realizing that nothing "just happens" by coincidence
In other words, the entire miracle of Krias Yam Suf, the splitting of the Red Sea, was to impart one lesson: middah k'neged middah. Rav Ausband cites his rebbe, Horav Asher Kalmen Baron, zl, rosh yeshivah in Ponevez in Europe, who expressed a similar idea, supporting it from a statement of Chazal in the Talmud Shavuos 20b. Chazal teach us that Hashem said the words "Shamor, guard, and zachor, remember, the Shabbos to keep it holy," at the same time, in one utterance. This is a reference to the two times that the commandment to observe Shabbos is mentioned in the Aseres HaDibros, Ten Commandments. Once, the Torah writes "Zachor es yom haShabbos", and, in the other instance, it says "Shamor es yom haShabbos." Hashem articulated both commandments simultaneously. We derive an important halachah from this. Zachor and shamor are compared to each other concerning all aspects of Shabbos. Thus, a woman, who normally is not obligated in time-bound mitzvos, would never-the-less have to observe the positive mitzvos related to Shabbos, such as Kiddush.
Whoever is commanded to observe the prohibitive mitzvos must, likewise, observe the positive mitzvos. This halachah is derived from the fact that Hashem vocalized both shamor and zachor simultaneously. He altered nature, so that Klal Yisrael would derive an important halachah. This gives us but a glimpse into the overwhelming significance of each and every halachah. If Hashem is prepared to change nature for a halachah, we should certainly be obligated to observe it.
Now I know that Hashem is greater than all Gods, for in the very matter in which (the Egyptians) had conspired against them. (18:11)
Yisro had "known" Hashem prior to the miracles at the Red Sea. The splitting of the Red Sea gave him new insight into the manner in which Hashem directs the world. The Egyptians conspired against the Jews with water when they drowned the Jewish baby boys. Hashem paid them back measure for measure, when they themselves drowned in the Red Sea. Yisro recognized this, and the situation brought his awareness of the Almighty to a deeper and more acute understanding. Yisro was a great man. After all, the Torah names a parsha after him. What distinguished him to the extent that he became Moshe Rabbeinu's confidante and advisor? What gave him such distinction that Moshe and all the Zekeinim, Elders, paid such great homage to him?
Horav Chaim Mordechai Katz, zl, asserts that Yisro's ability to put "two and two" together - to reflect upon the fact that there was a clear corollary between the punishment the Egyptians' received and their malevolent intentions to harm the Jewish People -distinguished him from everyone else. Everybody saw and everybody knew; it was Yisro, however, who assimilated this cognizance and realization into his mind and went one step further: he acted upon it. Yisro's entire metzius, essence, changed as a result of his newly-discovered consciousness. The way an individual views and analyzes a situation catalyzes a deeper perspective within himself, elevating him into a new being. Yisro's entire perception of Hashem changed after he understood the concept of middah k'neged middah, measure for measure.
This is the difference between a simple person and a great person. An individual's eminence is not always measured by how much he knows, but rather by how much of what he has learned he is willing and able to integrate into his consciousness, character, and daily behavior. Depth of understanding is a great gift, but the individual's failure to apply his cognitive perceptions to his own life wastes this unique gift. Yisro valued his lesson; thus, it elevated him.
If you do this thing, and G-d shall command you - then you will be able to endure. (18:23)
Yisro gave Moshe Rabbeinu advice concerning how to circumvent the fatigue that would overcome him if he maintained his demanding schedule of personally judging the people. Fatigue can be manifest in different forms. It can be physical or it can be emotional. Physical fatigue is the result of overwork or work without rest. Likewise, emotional fatigue is the result of having to endure constant incursions against our emotions, each intrusion breaking down our defenses until we ultimately capitulate and lose hope. How does one avoid falling prey to emotional aggression, to the constant attacks that we, as a nation who value our spiritual dimension, succeed in avoiding the pitfalls which we must confront on a regular basis in today's base society?
It is important that we retain focus on: who we are, from whom we have descended; what we represent; and our future legacy. We must constantly infuse in our minds and in the minds of our children that - yes - we are better. We have a glorious past. True, we have suffered persecution and misery, but we are still here. Our persecutors are not. They have been replaced with our present tormentors, but that is all a part of Hashem's Divine Plan. When we connect with our past, we are filled with pride in being the bearers of Hashem's doctrine for mankind. Those of us who have forgotten - or who, unfortunately, have never been aware of - our past have a difficult time enduring the challenges and obstacles which confront us on an almost constant basis.
Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, relates a powerful incident which left a lasting impression, teaching him a powerful lesson about how one can endure even under the most vexing situations. The episode took place in a Siberian slave labor camp where Rav Galinsky and so many of our brethren suffered unbearable and inhuman pain and misery. The Russians did not single out Jews as the only enemies of the state. Whoever had the misfortune of falling into their clutches was imprisoned and relegated to performing backbreaking labor under the most brutal conditions. After a full day's work, the men would trudge back to their barracks to lay down on their wooden bunks and attempt to fall into a painfully fitful sleep.
Every night at approximately 2:00AM, one of the Polish prisoners would arise from his "bed" and remove a bag that was hidden beneath his bed. He would quickly remove what appeared to be some kind of a uniform, put it on, view himself in the mirror, quickly remove the suit, return it to the bag and go back to sleep. This went on every night. While Rav Galinsky was used to strange things occurring in prison, this man's actions were very puzzling. Sleep was very important to the prisoner's well-being. To force oneself to arise in the middle of the night just to put on a suit seemed irrational. There had to be an explanation that would shed light on this man's strange behavior.
One day, when they were alone, Rav Galinsky asked the man to explain his behavior, "Why do you arise in the middle of the night to put on your suit and view yourself in the mirror? Do you not value your sleep?"
"Yes, Rabbi, my sleep is very important to me, but so are my sanity and dignity. Let me explain. Prior to being taken captive by our Russian tormentors, I was a distinguished general in the Polish army. I had the respect of thousands of soldiers. Suddenly, our army was vanquished and I became a prisoner. The degradation and depravation to which they subject us is, in my opinion, a greater danger than the physical blows which they rain down on us on an almost constant basis. At all costs, I had to prevent them from getting into my mind and destroying it. Therefore, every night when everybody is fast asleep, I risk removing my general's uniform which I was able to retain in my possession. I don the uniform and look in the mirror. For two minutes, I see before my eyes my true self - my position and my status. I do not see a broken down, frail prisoner. I see a general in the Polish army! This is how I am able to maintain my sanity."
This idea applies equally to us. We are the descendants of a noble lineage with a compelling legacy for the future. If we visualize ourselves in our true uniforms, a uniform which exemplifies the Jewish essence and spirit, we will be able to transcend the society in which we live.
The following episode from the life of Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, has previously been featured in these pages. I repeat the story because of its impact and lesson. Rav Schwab served as rav in a small town in Germany. On Shushan Purim, 1936, he became the focus of a libelous accusation. The Nazis, who were becoming more powerful, claimed that in one of his sermons, he had publicly slandered Hitler, yemach shemo. The Gestapo picked him up and demanded an explanation. He looked the Gestapo official straight in the face and flatly denied having said anything disparaging about the German chancellor. Apparently, when he was addressing the sin of the Golden Calf, he made use of the word "vermittler," which in German means intermediary. The government spy who was in the audience thought he had heard the name Hitler instead. Rav Schwab was told that the case would be discussed and reviewed and that they would advise him of the result. In the meantime, he was remanded to his home.
It goes without saying that Rav Schwab feared for his life. It took two months for the matter to be settled in his favor. He later related that during this entire time, he did not change into his bedclothes when he retired at night. The reason he gave for this behavior demonstrates to us the quality of pride and dignity with which we should be infused. It seems that it was common for the Nazis to break down a person's door in the middle of the night and take the person out to a makeshift gallows erected in the middle of the town to execute them. Rav Schwab feared for his life, knowing that until his case was resolved, his life hung in the balance. Therefore, he feared that if the Germans found him guilty, it was important that he, the rav of the community, not hang there in his bedclothes. This would denigrate the position of the rav and everything that he represented. Therefore, for two months, Rav Schwab went to bed every night in his clothes. He maintained his dignity under the greatest duress, because he understood who he was, from whom he had descended, and whom he represented. What a powerful lesson for us all.
Honor your father and your mother. (20:12)
A cornerstone of our belief in the entire Torah, the mitzvah of Kibbud Av v'Eim, honoring one's father and mother, affirms our belief in and commitment to the Mesorah, chain of transmission of Torah from Har Sinai. As with all other mitzvos, we do not seek rationale to justify or explain the mitzvah. It is Hashem's command, an edict from the Almighty, which is our most compelling reason to observe the mitzvah. This idea is underscored in the following incident which is related by Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita.
An individual who played a leading role in a major crime spree which involved huge amounts of money was about to be sentenced to ten years in prison. He sent a letter to Rav Zilberstein stating that he had the opportunity to diminish his sentence if he could use the abuse he had sustained in the hands of his father as part of his defense. His lawyers felt that after the judge heard about the traumatic effect that this had on his childhood, he would reduce his sentence by five years. Rav Zilberstein responded that Torah law does not permit this. Even if it meant being incarcerated for an additional five years, he was not permitted to publicly humiliate his father. Word would get out, and the media would have a field day with the scandalous news.
A few hours went by, and Rav Zilberstein received another request from the defendant. He cited the Talmud Yerushalmi, which rationalizes Kibbud Av v'Eim as part of one's obligation to be makir tov, to acknowledge the benefits and favor one receives and to offer gratitude to his benefactor. Parents raise their children and provide them with sustenance, an education and love. Does this apply, however, to a parent who has clearly reneged on his responsibility? Indeed, in his case, it was not hakoras ha'tov, good; rather, it was hakoras ha'ra, acknowledging the evil, that his father wrought against him. Does he still owe him respect under such circumstances?
Rav Zilberstein responded in a number of ways, each answer affirming his earlier p'sak that prohibited him from saying anything negative about his father, regardless of the consequences. Among them was the following explanation. In the Talmud Kiddushin 31a, Chazal relate the story of Dama ben Nesina, a gentile in Ashkelon, who possessed jewels which were a perfect match for what was needed for the Eiphod, vestment worn by the Kohen Gadol. The Chachamim, Sages of Yerushalayim, came to Dama requesting to purchase the jewels. They were prepared to offer an exorbitant amount of money to procure these jewels. Alas, the key to Dama's safe deposit box was beneath the pillow upon which his father was sleeping. He was not prepared to wake his father, regardless of how much money he risked losing. The sages left reluctantly to search for another source for these jewels.
One year later, Dama ben Nesina was rewarded for the respect he accorded his father, with the birth of a Parah Adumah, Red Heifer, in his herd of cattle. Indeed, Dama understood that this was a reward, for the time when the sages approached him to purchase the jewels. He said, "I know that if I would charge you an exorbitant price, you would agree to pay it. All I ask is the amount of money I lost last year when I had to forego the sale of the jewels out of respect for my father."
The commentators wonder why Hashem rewarded him with a Parah Adumah? Certainly, there must have been other ways to enrich this gentile who was so meticulous in observance of Kibbud Av v'Eim. They explain that Hashem sought to impart to us a critical lesson concerning the mitzvah of honoring one's parents. Just as Parah Adumah is one of those mitzvos that are under the scope of chukim, Divine decrees, mitzvos that seemingly have no human rationale; so, too, is Kibbud Av such a mitzvah. While it may seem to have its roots in the middah of hakoras hatov, it does not. We are to observe it for the same reason that we observe Parah Adumah - Divine imperative.
Rav Zilberstein concluded that the man was not permitted to disgrace his father, even if the result would be a reduction in his jail sentence. There is no negotiating with regard to mitzvos.
Lecha etain eretz Canaan chevel nachalesechem. I shall give you the land of Canaan, the territorial region of your inheritance.
We commence the summary of our national history with a declaration, announcing to the world that Eretz Yisrael is ours. Hashem granted us this land through a covenant. This is an absolute, immutable truth. Regardless of popular opinion, it is our land. Irrespective of the various nations that have laid claim to this region, it is rightfully ours by a grant of Hashem. Moreover, this ownership is not contingent upon statehood. It is ours because Hashem said so; subject closed.
Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, notes that not only does the land belong to us, each and every aspect of it, every blade of grass, every pebble is intrinsically filled with kedushah, holiness. Whatever grows in the land is subject to Terumah, Maaser, orlah and kilayim. Since this land is held in such high esteem, we may, therefore, not complain about it - even when the weather is inclement, or if we are subject to natural inconveniences. Eretz Yisrael is good, and it is ours.
Rav Schwab distinguishes between a "land" and a "state." If we peruse history, we will note that our statehood was always a contentious subject. It was disputed by Nevuchadnetzar, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, and, today, the Arabs. This does not change the fact that it is ours. Ownership of Yerushalayim may be hotly contested. This dispute, however, will continue only as long as we are in galus, exile. When Hashem heralds the final geulah, redemption, it will no longer be a contest. The entire world will finally concede that Eretz Yisrael is ours.
R' Meir ben Betzalel HaLevi z"l
niftar 24 Shevat 5764
on his yahrzeit.
Reb Meir loved people and was beloved by all.
His sterling character and pleasant demeanor were the hallmarks of his personality.
He sought every opportunity to increase the study of Torah and that it be accessible to all.
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