In this week's parashah, we read of Bnei Yisrael's enslavement
in Egypt and of the beginning of their redemption. R' Yehoshua
Heschel Rabinowitz z"l (1860-1938; the "Manostricher Rebbe" in
the Brownsville section of Brooklyn) writes:
The exile in Egypt was twofold. Besides the physical exile in
which the Jews were enslaved with bricks and mortar, the Jews'
spirits were not able to develop. This spiritual exile was
itself twofold. There was the exile of the da'at/knowledge and
the exile of the midot/character traits.
The exile of the da'at came from their being "slaves to
Pharaoh" (in the words of the Haggadah). Pharaoh himself said
(5:2), "I do not know Hashem." [Therefore, Bnei Yisrael too did
not know Hashem.] When a king is small-minded, his people will
be too, for the king is to his nation as the head is to the body.
This is what King Shlomo meant when he wrote (Kohelet 10:16),
"Woe to you, a land whose king acts as an adolescent."
The exile of the midot relates to the degeneration of the
Jewish people's own character. This came from the fact that the
land of Egypt is itself an impure place which is called
(Bereishit 42:9), "The nakedness of the land." The Torah
similarly introduces the prohibition on incest with the words
(Vayikra 18:3): "Do not perform the practice of the land of Egypt
in which you dwelled." It does not say, do not perform the
practices of those who dwell in the land, but rather, the
practice of the land itself. The land itself is impure. One can
see how deeply the land of Egypt negatively influenced Bnei
Yisrael in their complaints in the desert that they missed the
food of Egypt. [Imagine, after all the suffering that Jews
endured in Egypt, they missed its food!]
(Do not ask, writes R' Rabinowitz, that the same verse in
Vayikra says, "Do not perform the practice of the land of
Canaan." He explains that the immorality of the Canaanites
turned Canaan into a "sick" land, but it could be, and was,
cured, when Bnei Yisrael settled there and kept the Torah.)
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Torat Yehoshua p. 27)
"And these are the names of the children of Yisrael who were
coming to Egypt; with Yaakov, each man and his household
R' Baruch Yosef Sack z"l writes: Various midrashim list
different meritorious practices that enabled Bnei Yisrael to be
redeemed from Egypt. These are:
They did not give up their Jewish names;
They did not change their language;
They did not commit adultery;
They were not talebearers;
They observed Shabbat; and
They circumcised themselves [- at least the tribe
of Levi did].
All of these are alluded to in our verse, as follows:
"These are the names of the children of Yisrael" - they kept
their names. If they kept their names, they must have kept their
language, for those who abandon the Jewish tongue usually abandon
their Jewish names as well.
The gematria of "v'eleh shemot"/"And these are the names of"
(788), plus eight, for the eight letters of the two words, equals
796. The gematria of "Shabbat, milah" (787), plus nine, for the
seven letters and two words, also equals 796. Also, the words,
"with Yaakov," allude to Shabbat and milah because the name of
Yaakov is tied to those two mitzvot. Specifically, we say in
shacharit of Shabbat: "And in its contentment the uncircumcised
shall not abide - for to Yisrael, Your people, have You given it
in love, to the seed of Yaakov . . ."
Finally, the words "each man and his household" alludes to the
fact that husband and wife were faithful to each other and did
not commit adultery.
[R' Sack does not explain how the verse alludes to the fact
that they were not talebearers. Perhaps this also is alluded to
in the words "each man and his household," i.e., that they
remained a close-knit family.]
R' Moshe Feinstein z"l was asked: If keeping Jewish names can
bring about the redemption, why do we find that so many sages of
the Talmud had non-Jewish names? He answered:
Perhaps our Sages' praise of Bnei Yisrael for maintaining
Jewish names only refers to before the giving of the Torah, as
then there was no other way to distinguish Bnei Yisrael from
gentiles. This is especially true because many of Bnei Yisrael
in Egypt were idolators and did not circumcise themselves. (Only
the tribe of Levi was careful to circumcise its sons.)
For that generation, preserving Jewish names and the Hebrew
language were signs that they believed in the redemption.
Accordingly, they deserved to be redeemed. Once the Torah was
given, however, all that is expected of us is to keep the Torah;
even our feelings and ethics are dictated by the Torah, as we
learn in Pirkei Avot. The Torah does not expect us to look for
other ways of identifying such as giving only Jewish names.
R' Feinstein concludes: Even though this appears logical to me,
I am afraid to say it for certain.
(Igrot Moshe: Orach Chaim IV No. 66)
"The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives . . . 'When
you deliver the Hebrew women, . . . if it is a son, you are
to kill him."
R' Joseph B. Soloveitchik z"l (1903-1993) observed: The method
employed by the haters of Israel throughout the generations has
been not only to oppress the Jew but also to discredit or
dehumanize him in the eyes of the world. They have wanted to
prove that he is a subhuman, an immoral being, and therefore does
not deserve the sympathy of other people.
This was exactly the method employed by Pharaoh. He wanted to
show that Bnei Yisrael were not worthy of sympathy in that the
Hebrew midwives themselves had no sympathy for the newborn
babies. Pharaoh wanted to show that the midwives were willing to
kill the babies at birth in order to save themselves from
(Quoted in The Rav, Section 18.06)
"During those many days, it happened that the king of Egypt
died, and Bnei Yisrael groaned because of the work and they
cried out. Their outcry because of the work went up to G-d."
R' Yaakov David Willowsky z"l observes: The seemingly redundant
language, "Bnei Yisrael groaned because of the work and they
cried out," means: They groaned because of the work and they
cried out because of the Egyptian taskmasters who oppressed them.
Significantly, only their cries that were because of the work
went up to G-d; their cries that were because of their Egyptian
taskmasters do not seem to have been answered.
Why? It is always proper to call out to G-d to save yourself
from your own suffering. However, Chazal teach that if the
oppressed calls upon G-d to judge his oppressor, G-d will judge
the oppressed first.
We read later (3:7): "I have indeed seen the affliction of My
people that is in Egypt and I have heard its outcry because of
its taskmasters, for I have known of its sufferings." Does this
verse not appear to contradict the lesson stated above? R'
Willowsky explains that it is to answer this question that Hashem
concluded, "for I have known of its suffering." This means: It
is true that one is not supposed to complain about his oppressor,
only about the oppression, but I have seen how great their
suffering is and I know that the fact that they complained
against their taskmasters is involuntary. Therefore the Torah
continues, emphasizing (3:9): "And now, behold! The outcry of
Bnei Yisrael has come to Me." Although they cried out against
their oppressors, I view it as if they cried out for themselves
Rabbis of the New World
This week, we begin a new feature in Hamaayan, highlighting
rabbis and roshei yeshiva who served North American Jewry
before World War II. Some of the sages that we will present
are well known; most prominently, perhaps, R' Moshe Feinstein
and R' Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Many more, however, are all
The following are biographical notes on two of the sages who
appear in this week's issue:
R' Baruch Yosef Sack z"l was born in Krasilov, Volhynia
(northeastern Ukraine) in 1887. His father was the chassidic
rebbe of Krasilov, a part of the Zlotchover dynasty.
In 1913, R' Sack settled in Eretz Yisrael, where he hoped to
establish an agricultural settlement. However, when World War I
broke out, he was deported to Egypt.
Eventually, R' Sack reached the United States, where he became
the leader of the Kobriner chassidim. The shul that he founded
in New York was called "Degel Machaneh Yisrael."
Birkat Yosef, R' Sack's work that is quoted in this issue, was
published in New York in 1919. He also left other works. He
died in New York on 16 Sivan 5709/1949. (Source: Encyclopedia
Le'chassidut p. 390)
R' Yaakov David Willowsky z"l ("Ridvaz") was born in Kobrin in
1845. He served as rabbi in Vilna, Slutsk and other Lithuanian
and White Russian towns, and also led yeshivot in several cities.
In particular, Ridvaz encouraged the study of the Talmud
Yerushalmi, and he authored several commentaries on that Talmud.
In 1902, Ridvaz emigrated to the United States with the hope of
raising the religious standards of American Jewry. At a
rabbinical convention in Philadelphia, Ridvaz was recognized as
the "Elder Rabbi" in the United States. In 1904, he accepted a
position in Chicago; however, he quickly became disillusioned,
and, in 1905, he resettled in Tzefat, in Palestine. He died
there on Rosh Hashanah 5674/1913.
In the introduction to one of his works, Ridvaz writes of
himself: "All of my days I was a great zealot. When I saw that
the pillars of Judaism were weakening, I could not restrain
myself and I fought zealously with all my might." He was known
as a powerful speaker who usually brought his audiences to tears
of repentance. When he was asked why the audience in a certain
town (known for its inhospitability to Torah) failed to respond
to his words, he replied, "The job of a darshan/public speaker is
to find the right key to open the faucet of tears for the
audience. If I opened the faucet, but the reservoir was empty,
that is not my fault."
Ridvaz's Torah commentary, quoted on page 3, was published in
Chicago in 1904. (Source: Gedolei Ha'dorot p. 932)