Our parashah opens: "V'eleh shemot" / "And these are the names
of the children of Yisrael who are coming to Egypt . . ." Rashi
comments: Even though Hashem had already listed the sons of
Yaakov in their lifetimes (in Bereishit 46:8), He listed them
again (here) after their deaths in order to publicize His love
for them. In this respect, the Jewish people are likened to the
stars, which are "taken out" [at night] and "put away" [in the
morning] both by number and by name, as it is written (Yishayah
40:26), "Raise your eyes on high and see Who created these
things! He brings forth their legions by number; He calls to each
of them by name."
R' Baruch Yerachmiel Yehoshua Rabinowitz z"l (former
"Munkatcher Rebbe"; later Chief Rabbi of Sao Paolo, Brazil and
Holon, Israel; died 1999) writes: Counting people nullifies the
individual within the whole, while a person's name emphasizes his
individuality. This is why counting Jews is prohibited, and the
moment that the Jews are counted a plague will strike them (see
Shmot ch. 30). It is not because we are prohibited from knowing
how many Jews there are - after all, we are permitted to count by
collecting a coin or an object from each person. Rather, a Jew
is obligated to know his "name" and not to disappear into the
whole of the Jewish people. (Divrei Nevonim)
"Come, let us outsmart [the Jewish people] lest it become
numerous and it may be that if a war will occur, it, too,
may join our enemies, and wage war against us and go up from
the land." (1:10)
R' Yitzchak Elchanan Waldshein z"l hy"d (Assistant Mashgiach in
Yeshiva Ohel Torah in Baranovitch, Poland) observes that Pharaoh
was not presently threatened by Bnei Yisrael; rather, his decree
against Bnei Yisrael was based on his worries about the future:
perhaps Bnei Yisrael will become numerous; perhaps a war will
occur; perhaps Bnei Yisrael will join Egypt's enemies and wage
war against Egypt; and perhaps Bnei Yisrael will go up from the
land -- according to Rashi, a euphemism for the possibility that
Bnei Yisrael would drive the Egyptians out of their own land, a
far-fetched concern at best.
Unnecessarily worrying about the future is a sin, and Pharaoh
was punished for his four worries. This is why (as we read in
the Pesach Haggadah), "Every plague that G-d brought on the
Egyptians in Egypt consisted of four plagues."
(Quoted in Haggadah Shel Pesach Baranovitch p. 126)
"And [the nation] built storage cities for Pharaoh [called]
Pithom and Ra'amses." (1:11)
The gemara (Sotah 11a) interprets the names "Pithom" and
"Ra'amses" to indicate that Bnei Yisrael were forced to build on
quicksand, and that the buildings they built constantly sank into
the ground and had to be rebuilt. R' Avraham Yaakov Pam shlita
(rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Voda'ath in Brooklyn) observes
that this is an indication of Pharaoh's wickedness. He explains
with a parable:
A prisoner in a jail was forced to turn a gigantic wheel for
hours on end every day. The wheel was attached to a shaft which
appeared to pass into the next room, but the prisoner could not
see what was on the other side of the wall.
In response to the prisoner's inquiry, the jailer said that the
wheel turned a large millstone which milled flour for many
people. Knowing this fact made the prisoner's work somewhat
bearable; in fact, over time, he came to imagine that he was
helping to feed widows and orphans, and he began to look forward
to getting up in the morning and beginning work.
After 40 years the prisoner was released, and he immediately
asked to see the millstone which he had spent four decades
operating. The guards laughed, "What millstone? That wheel that
you turned for 40 years was not attached to any machine and all
your work was for nothing."
Imagine that man's mental anguish at that moment. Very likely,
his hurt and humiliation upon learning that he had accomplished
nothing in 40 years of hard labor far exceeded the pain and
suffering of being imprisoned. Similarly, this was how Pharaoh
tried to break Bnei Yisrael's spirit. Being enslaved was harsh
enough, but being forced to build structures knowing that they
were destined to sink in quicksand magnified the harshness of the
enslavement many times over.
In contrast, seeing the fruits of one's hard work can be its
own greatest reward. We read (1:20), "G-d benefitted the
midwives, and the people increased and became very strong." The
Jewish midwives risked their lives to avoid killing the newborn
boys, as Pharaoh had ordered. The most appropriate reward that
Hashem could find to give these women was that the people
increased and became very strong."
(Atarah La'melech p. 54)
"She saw that he was tov / good . . ." (2:2)
What does it mean that Moshe was "tov / good"? The midrash
answers: Rabbi Meir taught, "His name was 'Tov'." [The name
"Moshe" was given to him by Pharaoh's daughter.] Rabbi Oshiah
said, "His name was 'Tovyah'." Rabbi Yehuda said, "He was fit
for prophecy." Others say that he was born circumcised. The
Sages say that when Moshe was born, the entire house filled with
R' Yosef Caro z"l (1488-1575; author of the Shulchan Aruch and
other works) explains: These sages are arguing about whether a
person can attain perfection on his own or whether he requires
Divine assistance. Rabbi Meir says that a person can be "tov /
good," while Rabbi Oshiah says that he can only be "Tovyah" -
"good" together with the help of "Y-h" (one of G-d's names).
Rabbi Yehuda dismisses the views of both Rabbi Meir and Rabbi
Oshiah: Would you attempt to learn from Moshe a rule that applies
to people in general? Moshe was unique. He was fit for prophecy
and was the most perfect specimen of the human race.
The unnamed "Others" also dispute the opinions of both Rabbi
Meir and Rabbi Oshiah: In fact, they say, a person cannot attain
perfection at all because he is tainted by his material nature.
Moshe was an exception to this because he was born circumcised.
The Sages conclude the discussion with a proof to the fact that
Moshe was perfect. When Moshe was born, the entire house filled
with light, reminiscent of the verse (Bereishit 1:4), "G-d saw
that the light was good."
(Chiddushei Maran Ha'Bet Yosef Al Ha'Torah p. 37)
"He [Moshe] replied, 'Please, my Lord, send whomever You are
accustomed to send.'
"The wrath of Hashem burned against Moshe and He said, 'Is not
Aharon your brother, the Levite? . . . Behold, he is going out to
meet you, and when he sees you, he will rejoice in his heart'."
R' Shlomo Harkavi z"l hy"d (Mashgiach of Yeshiva Sha'ar
Ha'Torah in Grodno, Lithuania; killed in the Holocaust) comments:
People say, "The end justifies the means," but these verses
demonstrate that such is not the Torah's perspective. Bnei
Yisrael were enslaved in Egypt, and redeeming a captive is one of
the most important mitzvot. (It is one of the few mitzvot for
which one may sell a Sefer Torah.) Indeed, rescuing the Jewish
people from Egypt was a matter of life and death. Yet, Moshe
refused at first to be Hashem's agent to redeem Bnei Yisrael.
Why? Because he was afraid that his older brother Aharon would
Aharon was a tzaddik and a prophet, and any slight that he
would feel would surely be small and would be dismissed quickly.
Yet, although Hashem became angry at Moshe's refusal to go to
Pharaoh, He did not disagree with Moshe's reason. To the
contrary, Hashem went to the "trouble" of assuring Moshe that his
fears were unfounded. We see that, had it been true that Aharon
would feel slighted at Moshe's appointment, Hashem would have
excused Moshe from his duties despite their importance.
Introductions . . .
In this feature, we present excerpts from the introductions to
famous (and not so famous) works. This week, we feature the
beginning of the introduction to the halachic code, Mishneh
Torah, by R' Moshe ben Maimon ("Rambam" or "Maimonides"). Rambam
was born in Cordova, Spain on Erev Pesach 4895/1135 and died in
Cairo, Egypt on 20 Tevet 4965/1204. Rambam began writing Mishneh
Torah in 1170, and it remains the most comprehensive and
influential code of Jewish law.
All of the laws which were given to Moshe at Sinai were given
with their explanations, as it is written (Shmot 24:12), "I shall
give you the stone tablets and the teaching and the commandment."
The "teaching" refers to the Torah She'bichtav / Written Torah
and the "commandment" refers to its explanation. G-d commanded
us to fulfill the "teaching" according to the "commandment" /
explanation, which is called the Torah She'be'al Peh / Oral
The entire Torah was written down by Moshe Rabbenu / Our
Teacher in his own hand before he died. He gave a copy to each
tribe, and he placed one in the Ark as a testimony, as it is
written (Devarim 31:26), "Take this book of the Torah and place
it at the side of the Ark of the covenant of Hashem, and it shall
be there for you as a witness." However, the "commandment,"
which is the explanation of the Torah, he did not write down;
rather, he commanded it to the elders and to Yehoshua and to the
rest of Israel, as it is written (Devarim 13:1), "The entire word
that I command you, that shall you observe to do . . ."
Therefore it is called the Torah She'be'al Peh / Oral Torah.
Even though the Torah She'be'al Peh was not written, Moshe
Rabbenu taught it in its entirety in his bet din / court to the
70 Elders. Elazar [son of Aharon], Pinchas [son of Elazar] and
Yehoshua all received the Torah from Moshe. To Yehoshua, who was
the student [par excellence] of Moshe, Moshe transmitted the Oral
Torah and he commanded Yehoshua regarding it. [Ed. Note: Perhaps
Rambam means that Yehoshua was commanded to transmit the Torah to
Yehoshua, likewise, studied [the Oral Torah] orally all the
days of his life. Many elders received the Torah from Yehoshua.
Eli [the Kohen Gadol mentioned in the beginning of the Book of
Shmuel] received the Torah from the Elders and from Pinchas.
Shmuel [the prophet] received the Torah from Eli and his bet din,
and [King] David received the Torah from Shmuel and his bet din.
[Ed. Note: Rambam continues in this manner to list the chain of
transmission from King David until Rav Ashi, the editor of the
Babylonian Talmud.] - to be continued -