Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XII, Number 15
4 Teves 5758
January 31 1998
Martin and Michelle Swartz
in memory of Martin's grandmother,
Elise Hofmann a"h
The Meth family
in honor of Marcia's birthday
The Goodman family
in memory of mother and grandmother,
Rivka Bat Yehuda Halevi
The midrash relates a parable regarding a princess who was
rummaging amongst the stalks in the field in search of food
until, one day, a king saw her and took her to his palace.
Thereafter, the other women said to her in wonder, "Yesterday you
were rummaging amongst the stalks, and today you are sitting in a
She replied, "Just as you are amazed, so we are amazed."
Similarly, the midrash says, the nations of the world said to the
Bnei Yisrael, "Yesterday you were slaves in Egypt and today you
are the chosen people?!"
Bnei Yisrael replied, "Just as you are amazed, so I am amazed."
R' Yedayah Ha'penini z"l (died 1315 - see page 4) explains
this midrash as follows:
The amazement of the gentiles and of Bnei Yisrael was for
different reasons. To the idolatrous nations who did not know
Hashem and who attributed events to the stars or to nature, the
ascent of Bnei Yisrael was truly beyond their understanding. A
nation's rise from slavery, such a Bnei Yisrael experienced, was
unnatural and unprecedented.
To Bnei Yisrael, who were aware of Hashem's abilities and who
had learned from their ancestors that Hashem watches over Bnei
Yisrael, the source of their amazement was different. Bnei
Yisrael in Egypt were idolators, and they expected G-d to punish
them for it. They were doubly amazed - not only did Hashem not
punish them, He made them His chosen nation!
What is the answer to that which caused such wonder in Bnei
Yisrael? R' Yedayah writes that Bnei Yisrael failed to realize
that the Exodus took place in the merit of the Patriarchs and
because of Hashem's promise to the Patriarchs. Bnei Yisrael
themselves really did not deserve to be redeemed.
Also, while Bnei Yisrael did not merit the redemption at that
moment, G-d had great plans for them. Hashem redeemed them from
Egypt so they could be the means of revealing His Name in this
(Peirush Tehilim, Ch.21)
"Please speak in the ears of the people; Let each man
request of his fellow and each woman from her fellow silver
vessels and gold vessels." (11:2)
The gemara (Berachot 9a) teaches: Why did Hashem say "Please"?
He wanted Moshe to request of Bnei Yisrael to be sure to ask the
Egyptians for gifts, lest Avraham Avinu say, "You did not keep
Your promise that they would leave with great wealth." (See
R' Chaim Berlin z"l (died 1905) explains this as follows:
Hashem told Avraham that Bnei Yisrael would leave Egypt with
great wealth, but surely He did not mean material wealth. Why
would a tzaddik such as Avraham care whether his descendants had
material wealth? Rather, Hashem meant the "riches" of good
Had Bnei Yisrael been so inclined, they could have helped
themselves to the Egyptians' belongings during the plague of
darkness. Therefore, Hashem said, "Please be sure that they
ask for gifts, rather than taking on their own" [even though
they were entitled to be paid for their hundreds of years of
servitude]. Why? Because one who must ask will (hopefully) ask
modestly and accept even a small gift. That is the type of good
character trait that Hashem promised Avraham his descendants
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Imrei Chaim, p.4)
"This month shall be for you the beginning of months . . ."
[This verse refers to the mitzvah of kiddush ha'chodesh /
sanctifying the new moon. When the Sanhedrin still existed, Jews
did not have a written calendar. Rather, when two kosher
witnesses saw the new moon, the Sanhedrin would sanctify it and
declare the new month begun.] Rashi writes that Moshe had
trouble understanding how big the moon must be for the new month
to be sanctified, until Hashem showed him, "This month" - the
moon should be like "this" when you sanctify it.
R' Velvel Soloveitchik z"l (The "Brisker Rav"; died 1959) asks:
Is there a minimum shiur/size at which the moon can be
sanctified? The halachah is that as soon as it can be seen, it
may be sanctified!
He answers: That is the shiur - when the new moon is visible to
the naked eye it may be sanctified. The gemara states that this
occurs about six hours after the time which one would calculate
mathematically to be the moment of the new moon. Earlier,
however, even if it can be seen through a telescope, it cannot be
"You shall tell your son on that day, saying, 'It is because
of this that Hashem acted on my behalf when I left Egypt'."
Rashi comments: "'Because of this' - i.e., in order that I
could keep the mitzvot such as Korban Pesach, matzah and maror."
R' Yerucham Halevi of Mir z"l (died 1936) taught: We are used
to thinking that the purpose of the Exodus miracles was to
ingrain in us belief in G-d and His greatness. Indeed, many
verses support this interpretation of events. However, Rashi is
teaching us another aspect of the Exodus - the purpose of the
Exodus miracles was to obligate us in the mitzvot associated with
A similar interpretation is given by R' Yosef Yaavetz z"l
(known as "The Chassid Yaavetz"; 1435-1507) in his commentary to
the mishnah, "If there were no Torah, there would not be derech
eretz/the way of the world; If there were no derech eretz, there
would not be Torah." He explains: Derech eretz means our daily
activities such as planting, harvesting, lying down, getting up,
building a house, eating, etc. Hashem created all of these
activities only so that mitzvot could revolve around them.
We are used to thinking that because we have a father and
mother, we have a mitzvah to honor them. This is not so; rather,
because there is a mitzvah to honor our parents, Hashem "had" to
give us parents. Similarly, Hashem told Moshe (Shmot 16:4) that
Bnei Yisrael would be given the mahn "so that I can test them
whether they will follow My teachings or not." The purpose of
the mahn was not to feed Bnei Yisrael, it was to be an object
with which mitzvot could be performed (for example, saying
(Yalkut Lekach Tov)
"An Astonishing Midrash"
"Hashem gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians
and they loaned to them - so they emptied Egypt." (12:36)
- "favor" refers to nothing other than ruach
At the time of the Exodus, Moshe commanded Bnei Yisrael to ask
their Egyptian neighbors for gifts. As for Bnei Yisrael
themselves, they would have been happy just to escape with their
lives; they had no desire for gold and silver at that moment.
The ability to not desire riches is akin to achieving ruach
ha'kodesh! This is what the midrash means: The Egyptians saw
Bnei Yisrael's ruach ha'kodesh and therefore they loaned to them.
R' Yosef ibn Tzaddik z"l
born approx. 1075 - died 1149
R' Yosef was born in southern Spain and died in Cordova, Spain.
As a dayan/rabbinical judge in that city for the last eleven
years of his life, R' Yosef served on the same bet din/court as
R' Maimon, father of Rambam.
R' Yosef, a disciple of R' Yitzchak ibn Giat, delved deeply
into philosophy, and his fame rests upon his religious
philosophical work, Olam Kattan, in which man is portrayed as a
miniature world. Originally written in Arabic, Olam Kattan was
translated into Hebrew by R' Moshe ibn Tibbon. Rambam, in a
letter to R' Shmuel ibn Tibbon (father of R' Moshe), wrote,
"Although I have not seen Olam Kattan, I am familiar with the man
and his work, and I recognize both his and his book's value." In
later centuries, when the study of philosophy became a matter of
controversy, Olam Kattan was cited by poskim/halachic authorities
as an example of an unobjectionable philosophical work.
R' Yosef also wrote a book on logic, which is quoted in Olam
Kattan, but has been lost. Later writers acclaimed R' Yosef's
poetry; however, only a few pieces and some liturgical
compositions appearing in North African machzorim have been
preserved. (Sources: The Artscroll Rishonim, p. 73 & 177;
She'eilot U'teshuvot HaRashba Vol. I, No. 418; She'eilot
U'teshuvot Rema No. 7. Note that the cited responsum from
She'eilot U'teshuvot HaRashba is a letter to Rashba, not by him.
The letter, known as Iggeret Ha'hitnatzlut/ "Letter of Apology"
was written in response to Rashba's banning the study of
philosophy for those below the age of 25. Its author was R'
Yedayah Ha'penini, a 13th century sage from France's Provence
region, who also cites R' Yosef's Olam Kattan in his other works)
Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz
and Project Genesis, Inc.
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