King Shlomo writes in Mishlei (24:5), "The wise man (`gever') remains
steadfast, and the man of knowledge grows stronger." Rabbeinu Yonah z"l
(Spain; 1180-1263) writes: It is well known that the three major
characteristics for which people are praised in this world are: wisdom,
strength (gevurah), and wealth. Wisdom is the most secure of these, for
it resides within a person's soul. Moreover, one's wisdom generally
increases with age. Strength is next, for it resides within a person's
body. However, as a person grows older, his strength generally lessens.
Wealth is the least secure, for it is external.
Nevertheless, writes Rabbeinu Yonah, strength and wealth actually are
derivatives of wisdom. Thus King Shlomo writes in the verses that precede
ours (24:3-4), "Through wisdom a house is built . . . and through
knowledge, its chambers become filled with all dear and pleasant
treasures." And, he writes in the verse that follows ours (24:6),
"Through wise strategies, you can wage war . . ."
The verse with which we opened can be applied to Moshe Rabbeinu,
writes Rabbeinu Yonah. Moshe was the wisest of all men, and he
demonstrated steadfastness and strength against Pharaoh. Through Moshe,
Hashem's strength was demonstrated to the world. However, Moshe used his
wisdom and strength to help the oppressed even before Hashem appointed him
to be His agent, as related in our parashah (see, for example, 2:12 and
2:17). These events are what led to Moshe's appointment as the savior of
Bnei Yisrael, in keeping with our verse, "The man of knowledge grows
stronger [i.e., more powerful]." (Drashot U'perushei Rabbeinu Yonah al
"And these are the names of the children of Yisrael who were
coming to Egypt; with Yaakov . . ." (Shmot 1:1)
Why does the pasuk begin with "Yisrael" and continue with "Yaakov"?
R' Yoel Herzog z"l (Paris, France; early 20th century; father of Israeli
Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Halevi Herzog z"l) explains based on the similar
wording in the verse in Parashat Vayigash which describes Yaakov's descent
to Egypt. There we read (Bereishit 46:8), "Now these are the names of the
children of Yisrael who were coming to Egypt -- Yaakov and his children."
We also read there (verse 2): "G-d spoke to Yisrael in a night vision and
He said, `Yaakov, Yaakov'." Why the change from Yisrael to Yaakov?
The answer is that "Yisrael," the name given to our Patriarch after
he defeated Esav's guardian angel, represents the fulfillment of
Yitzchak's blessing that his son would rule over the other nations. When
Yisrael/Yaakov was descending to Egypt, where his son was the viceroy to
Pharaoh, our Patriarch and his children thought that he was going as
"Yisrael." But Hashem appeared to him in a dream and informed him that
this was not the case. Rather, Hashem told him, his journey was the
beginning of the exile that had been foretold to Avraham. Therefore, He
called the Patriarch "Yaakov."
Perhaps Yaakov did not immediately tell his children about his dream.
Therefore, they continued to believe that they were going to Egypt as the
"Children of Yisrael." However, they went not with Yisrael, but with
Yaakov. (Imrei Yoel)
"He [Moshe] turned this way and that and saw that there was no
man, so he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand."
"The shepherds came and drove them [the daughters of Yitro]
away; Moshe got up and saved them, and watered their sheep."
We read in Bemidbar (12:3), "The man Moshe was exceedingly humble,
more than any person on the face of the earth." How are Moshe's actions
in the above verses from our parashah and other events in the Torah (e.g.,
smashing the luchot) consistent with his trait of humility?
R' Yechezkel Levenstein z"l (mashgiach ruchani of the Mir and
Ponovezh yeshivot; died 1974) explains that we are wrong to equate
humility with timidity and weakness. A humble person is humble because
his awe of G-d leads him to recognize his inadequacy vis-a-vis the
Creator. As a corollary, a humble person fears only G-d, and not man.
(Quoted in Le'anavim Yitain Chen p.125)
R' Yosef Yozel Horowitz z"l (the Alter of Novardok; died 1920)
describes humility as follows: A humble person does not think that he has
no positive traits. However, he is so disturbed by whatever negative
traits he has that he has no time to think about his positive traits. To
what may this be compared? To a small cut on one's finger (for example, a
paper cut), which causes pain disproportionate to its size. (Madregat
Ha'adam: Ma'amar Tikkun Ha'midot ch.4)
"Let the work be heavier upon the men and let them engage in it;
and let them not pay attention to false words." (5:9)
In this verse, Pharaoh reasoned that if Bnei Yisrael were forced to
work harder, they would not have time to dream about freedom. R' Moshe
Chaim Luzzato z"l (Ramchal; 1707-1747) observes that the yetzer hara uses
the same strategy to distract a person from focusing on his task in this
world. Specifically, man's task is to reflect upon every step he wishes
to take and every action he wishes to perform and to ask himself: Will
this step or action bring me closer to G-d or will it cause me to become
distant from G-d? The yetzer hara knows that if man would merely think
about his actions, he would certainly begin to regret his deeds, Ramchal
writes. To prevent this, the yetzer hara makes sure that we are
constantly busy with all types of activities and tasks that appear to be
very important. (Mesilat Yesharim ch.2)
To what kinds of distractions is Ramchal referring? R' Yaakov Moshe
Hillel shlita (a contemporary rosh yeshiva and leading kabbalist in
Israel) observes: We find in old sefarim that when a tzaddik died in one
city, he was eulogized months later in another town because it took that
long for news to travel. [Ed. note: See an example of this on page 4 of
this week's issue.] In 19th century America, R' Hillel writes, the
typical person never knew which Indian tribe had fought with or defeated
another, nor did anyone need to know.
Today, in contrast, we are bombarded with news and, more
unfortunately, we actually believe that we need this information. Whether
the topic is a war or other major world events, financial market
fluctuations or just sports scores, we are afraid to be out of touch for a
moment. "Can we deny that it is the handiwork of the yetzer hara to
submerge us in such trivia?" asks R' Hillel.
(R' Hillel adds that even seemingly good deeds can be classified as
distractions. One common example, he writes, is the temptation to study
kabbalah when one should be studying more basic subjects.) (Ascending the
Path Vol. II, p.20, 27)
R' Shlomo Wolbe z"l (died 2005) asks: How can Ramchal assert that if
man would merely think about his actions, he would certainly begin to
regret his deeds? He explains: Ramchal does not mean that a person will
radically alter his lifestyle the moment he begins to reflect on his path.
[Nor does he mean that a radical change in lifestyle is necessarily called
for.] Rather, the mere act of reflecting on one's path is a radical
change. A person who does not reflect about the negative aspects of his
behavior or lifestyle is as one with those negative aspects. On the other
hand, the mere act of thinking about them causes one to be separate from
them. In R' Wolbe's words: "Self-knowledge is itself uplifting." (Alei
Shur Vol.I p.141-142)
This Week in History, Halachah, and Minhag
20 Tevet 4965 (1204): Passing of R' Moshe ben Maimon z"l (Rambam /
Maimonides). Rambam was born in Spain and lived in Morroco and Eretz
Yisrael before settling in Egypt. His various written works are classics
in the areas of halachah / law, Mishnah commentary, and hashkafah / Jewish
beliefs. He also was a practicing physician and wrote treatises on
21 Tevet: Birth of Shimon, second son of our patriarch Yaakov and
matriarch Leah. He passed away on this date 120 years later. Some say
that he was born and died on 28 Tevet. (Seder Ha'dorot)
This date is Purim Ancona (Italy), which celebrates the community's
salvation from an earthquake in 5451 (1691). (Luach Davar B'ito p.486)
24 Tevet: On this date, the Torah law of inheritance was reinstated
in Eretz Yisrael. For some time during the Greek occupation of Eretz
Yisrael (during the Second Temple period), the Saducees had succeeded in
corrupting the law, but after the Chashmonaim defeated the invaders, they
reinstated Torah law. (Bava Batra 115b). According to Megilat Ta'anit,
this event occurred on 24 Menachem Av.
On this date in 5597 (1837), an earthquake devastated the cities of
Tzfat, Teveryah and Shechem, killing thousands. Later that year, R' Moshe
Sofer z"l (the Chatam Sofer) eulogized the victims in Pressburg, Hungary
and noted that crying over the death of a "kosher person" is a meritorious
act that protects one's own family from tragedy. R' Sofer suggested,
based on a letter he had received from one of the leading scholars in
Eretz Yisrael and on Talmudic sources, that the earthquake was an
expression of G-d's displeasure that olim were favoring the Galil over
Yerushalayim, which lay in ruins. (Torat Moshe: Emor) [During the 1700s
and early 1800s, olim tended to favor the areas around Tzfat due to its
association with the great figures of kabbalah: R' Shimon bar Yochai and
the Arizal. One of the effects of the earthquake was an influx of new
settlers from the Galil and from Europe to Yerushalayim, and the beginning
of Yerushalayim's expansion beyond the walls of the Old City.]
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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