A central portion of this week's parashah is the "Shirat
Ha'yam" / "The Song at the Sea," which Bnei Yisrael sang in
praise of Hashem after He split the sea and rescued Bnei Yisrael
from the Egyptians. As interpreted by the Sages and by Rashi,
the song describes in detail each aspect of the punishment that
Hashem meted out to the Egyptians for oppressing and pursuing
R' Avraham Grodzenski z"l hy"d (mashgiach of the Slobodka
Yeshiva; killed in the Holocaust) asks: At first glance, the Song
at the Sea sounds like a victor's gloating over the vanquished.
If so, was this appropriate behavior for Moshe Rabbenu and the
generation which was about to receive the Torah? Certainly
vengeance is a very lowly trait!
R' Grodzenski explains: This song was not, in fact, a song of
the victor, for it was Hashem who fought and won the battle, not
Bnei Yisrael. Rather, what this song embodies is Bnei Yisrael's
love of good and hatred of evil. They saw true justice being
done and they praised the Just G-d.
For decades, Bnei Yisrael suffered at the hands of the
Egyptians. They saw the Egyptians place Jewish infants into
brick walls when there was a shortage of bricks. They saw the
Egyptians bathe in the blood of Jewish children. Undoubtedly,
Bnei Yisrael had a question in their hearts. They knew that
"Hashem's seal is truth," but they did not see that trait in
practice. Now, when Bnei Yisrael saw evil perish, they sang -
they sang about the destruction of the doers of evil only because
the doers of evil were inseparable from the evil itself.
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Knesset Yisrael p. 156)
"He took 600 elite chariots and all the chariots of Egypt,
with shalishim / 'officers of thirty' on them all. (14:7)
Why did Pharaoh take 600 chariots? Also, why did he have one
officer for every thirty men? R' Yehonatan Eyebschutz z"l (1690-
We read (Devarim 32:30), "For how could one pursue a thousand?"
Pharaoh knew that there would be a time when Hashem would cause
one pursuer to defeat 1,000 of Bnei Yisrael, and he assumed that
this was that time. Thus, to defeat the 600,000 adult men who
left Egypt, Pharaoh needed 600 soldiers.
In addition, there were 22,000 Levi'im among the Jews. Twenty-
thousand is 1/30 of 600,000, so Pharaoh took a one-to-thirty
ratio of officers to soldiers. As for the last 2,000 Levi'im,
Pharaoh assumed that he himself, being the king, could defeat
twice as many Jews as each of his soldiers could.
"And they believed in Hashem . . ." (14:31)
Rambam z"l ("Maimonides"; 1135-1204) writes (Hil. Yesodei
Ha'Torah 1:1): "The foundation of all foundations and the pillar
of all wisdom is to know that there is a First Being, and that He
created all that exists . . ." R' Elazar M. Shach shlita (rosh
yeshiva of the Ponovezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak) comments on this:
Rambam does not speak of "believing" in Hashem, but rather, of
"knowing" that Hashem exists. Apparently it is possible for
someone to know that Hashem exists, to be as confident of His
existence as one is confident of the existence of something
tangible. And, it appears that this is a mitzvah which even a
thirteen-year-old is capable of fulfilling [since Hashem would
not command a person to fulfill a mitzvah which he is not capable
The midrash relates that Avraham began in his youth to wonder
about the existence of a creator. Is it possible, he pondered,
for the universe to function constantly without a director
directing it? Any person who thinks intelligently and does not
twist his logic can come to the same conclusion, writes R' Shach.
And, by the same logical process, one can come to the conclusion
- one can know - that the Director of the universe has unlimited
power, that He is one, and that He is incorporeal.
R' Shach continues: The midrash teaches that Avraham's search
for the Creator was like a person walking past a lighted palace
and asking, "Is it possible that such a beautifully lighted
palace has no master?" When Avraham asked that question, Hashem
revealed Himself to Avraham - like the master of the palace
sticking his head out of the window and calling, "Indeed, I am
the master of the palace." But Hashem does not reveal Himself to
us, so how can we know Hashem as Avraham did?
R' Shach answers: The question itself ("Is it possible that
such a beautifully lighted palace has no master?") is all that we
need. It is a rhetorical question, for it is plainly obvious
that such a well-organized world could not exist by chance.
Simply by pondering this we can know there is a master of the
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Avi Ezri p. 140)
"Behold! I am standing before you by the rock in Horev; you
shall strike the rock and water will come forth from it, and
the people will drink." (17:6)
Rashi writes: "It is not written, 'You shall strike over the
rock,' but rather, 'You shall strike the rock.' Thus we learn
that Moshe's staff was made of a hard material."
Why is the material from which Moshe's staff was made
significant? R' Yerucham Levovitz z"l (mashgiach in the Mir
Yeshiva; died 1936) explains:
We live in a world where some events seem to be natural and
others seem to be miraculous. It is also a world where our
actions seem to move events and it appears that, but for our
actions, many events would not occur. In reality, though, there
is no nature and there are no miracles; there is only Hashem, Who
is One, and Who causes all events to happen.
Avraham was commanded (Bereishit 17:2), "Walk before Me and be
perfect." Hashem wants us to walk before Him, to initiate
events, but to be perfect, to always remember that it is really
Hashem who determines what events will be. Moshe was commanded
to hit the earth of Egypt in order to bring about the plagues.
He was commanded to raise his staff over the Sea in order to
split it. Had Moshe not done these things, there would have been
no plagues and the Sea would not have split. Moshe was Hashem's
agent to bring about these miracles, and, like an agent, he does
not deserve (and did not take) any credit. Rather, the credit
goes to the principal, while Moshe, for his part, said (Shmot
16:8), "What are we?"
This is the significance of the fact that Moshe's staff was
made of a hard material. Had Moshe merely waved his staff in the
air ("over the rock") and brought water out of the stone, there
would be no doubt that a miracle had occurred. However, that is
not the way in which Hashem wants to conduct the world. Hashem's
challenge to Moshe and Bnei Yisrael was that Moshe should shatter
the stone with his hard staff without forgetting that the real
reason that water came out of the stone was that "I am standing
before you by the rock."
(Da'at Chochmah U'mussar Vol. I, p. 41)
Introducing . . .
In this feature, we present excerpts from the introductions
to famous (and not so famous) works. This week, we present
the fourth installment of Rambam's introduction to his
halachic code, Mishneh Torah.
From the two Talmuds [i.e., the Bavli and the Yerushalmi,
together with other works from the same period called] the
Tosefta, the Sifra and the Sifrei- from these we know what is
forbidden and what is permitted, what is tamei / ritually impure
and what is tahor / ritually pure, in what cases one is liable
[to be punished or to pay damages] and in what cases one is not
liable, what is not kosher and what is kosher. All of these laws
are what was passed down by word-of-mouth from one person to the
next since Moshe Rabbenu.
These works also detail that which the Sages and the prophets
in each generation decreed in order to safeguard the laws of the
Torah, as they heard from Moshe that they were supposed to do, as
it is written (Vayikra 18:30), "You shall safeguard My charge . .
." These works also detail the customs and the enactments which
were enacted in each generations, as the bet din of that
generation saw fit. It is forbidden to deviate from these, as it
is written (Devarim 17:10), "You shall not deviate from the word
which they will tell you, right or left." Also in these works
are the laws which were not received from Moshe but which the bet
din of one of the generations derived [from the Torah] using the
rules by which the Torah may be interpreted ("midot she'ha'Torah
nidreshet ba'hain"). All of this was composed by Rav Ashi in the
gemara [i.e., the "Talmud Bavli"]. The sages of that time also
composed other works: R' Hoshiah, a student of Rabbenu Hakadosh
[the author of the Mishnah], composed a commentary on the book of
Bereishit and Rabbi Yishmael composed a commentary called the
Mechilta, which covered from the beginning of Shmot until the end
of the Torah. Rabbi Akiva also composed a "Mechilta," and other
sages composed other midrashim, all before Rav Ashi composed the
Thus, Ravina and Rav Ashi and their colleagues are the last of
the sages who passed down the oral tradition. . . After the bet
din of Rav Ashi, which composed the gemara and finished it in the
days of his son, the Jews spread out all over and reached the
distant lands and islands. Wars increased and travel was made
difficult by armies, and Torah study decreased. [Ed. note: The
writing of the gemara in Persia corresponds to the breakup of the
Western Roman Empire in 475 C.E.] Jews no longer gathered to
study in yeshivot by the thousands and myriads as they had in the
past. Instead, only individuals in each city - "the remnants to
whom Hashem called" [Yoel 3:5] - studied the Torah and understood
the books and the laws which they contained.
As for any bet din which followed the writing of the gemara,
its decrees, enactments and customs were for its city or region
only, and they did not become widespread among all Jewish
communities because of the distance between them and the
difficulty of traveling. As for the "Great Bet Din" of 71
members, that was abolished many years before the gemara was
composed. Therefore, the Jews of one nation cannot impose their
customs on the Jews of another nation.