Shabbat: Source of Faith
We read near the beginning of our parashah that Moshe spoke Hashem’s words
to Bnei Yisrael, “but they did not heed Moshe, because of shortness of
breath and hard work.” R’ Tzaddok Hakohen Rabinowitz z”l (1823-1900;
chassidic rebbe in Lublin, Poland) explains this verse in light of the
Midrash Rabbah, which records that, while the young Moshe lived in Pharaoh’s
palace, he convinced Pharaoh that slaves work more efficiently when they are
given one day of rest each week. Pharaoh instructed Moshe to implement this
idea, and Moshe arranged for Bnei Yisrael to have Shabbat as a day off.
Later, at the end of last week’s parashah, we read that Pharaoh decreed
(5:9), “Let the work be heavier upon the men and let them engage in it; and
let them not pay attention to false words,” i.e., he took away their day of
rest so they would have no time to think about redemption. R’ Tzaddok
writes: Shabbat itself is a source of emunah / faith. Thus, when Shabbat
was taken away from Bnei Yisrael, their emunah was lost as well.
This requires explanation, however, for Moshe Rabbeinu himself attributed
the initial failure of his mission to his speech impediment (“aral
sefatayim”). R’ Tzaddok explains that here, Moshe is not referring to the
same speech impediment mentioned in last week’s parashah (“kevad peh”), for
Hashem had already promised to heal that condition. Rather, Moshe meant
that, as Bnei Yisrael’s leader, his ability to speak effectively to Pharaoh
was proportional to the level of Bnei Yisrael’s emumah. That, as noted, was
tied to their Shabbat observance. (Pri Tzaddik: Va’era 7)
“Therefore, say to Bnei Yisrael, ‘I am Hashem, and I shall take you out
from under the burdens of Egypt; I shall rescue you from their service; I
shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments; I shall
take you to Me for a people and I shall be a G-d to you . . .” (6:6-7)
R’ Yitzchak Nissenbaum z”l (1869-1942; rabbi in Warsaw and early leader of
the Mizrachi movement) writes: The Zohar notes that these verses appear to
be backwards, for taking Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt would seem to be the end
of the redemption, not the first step. However, the correct understanding,
based on the Zohar, is as follows:
First, says Hashem, *I shall take you out* of Egypt. Lest you fear that
Pharaoh will chase you (as he did, in fact) and enslave you again, *I shall
rescue you* such that you will never be enslaved by Pharaoh again. Still,
you might worry that you will feel indebted to Pharaoh for releasing you,
such that you will always have an emotional tie to him. No! says Hashem.
*I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm,* i.e., with such a show of
power that there will be no doubt that Pharaoh deserves no gratitude.
Lastly, the redemption will not be complete if it is only a physical
redemption. Therefore, *I shall take you* to Me as a people and give you
These, continues R’ Nissenbaum, are the elements of a complete redemption.
However, the full realization of this redemption is not possible without
Eretz Yisrael. Thus, states the next verse, “I shall bring you to the Land
about which I raised My hand [i.e., ‘I swore’] to give it to Avraham,
Yitzchak, and Yaakov, and I shall give it to you as a heritage.”
Alternatively, R’ Nissenbaum writes, each of the four expressions of
redemption in our verses addresses the needs of a different segment of Bnei
Yisrael, as follows:
“I shall take you out *from under the burdens of Egypt*,” refers to a type
of oppression that imposed a special burden--forcing men to do women’s work
and vice versa. This also includes forcing people to perform tasks for
which they were overqualified, for there is nothing more frustrating for a
highly-skilled person than to have to perform menial tasks that do not
utilize his skills and training.
“I shall rescue you *from their service*” refers to the frustration of
having to use one’s skills solely for the benefit of another nation (“their
service”) and not in the service of one’s own people.
“I shall redeem you” is addressed to those of Bnei Yisrael who were bothered
more by the attempts to subjugate their spirits rather than by physical
oppression. For them, it was irrelevant whether the servitude was
back-breaking or not, since any form of subjugation to a foreign power was
Lastly, “I shall *take you* to Me as a nation” refers to those who thought
that they didn’t need to be redeemed, so long as they could to serve G-d
right there in the diaspora. They needed to be taught: No! There is no
future for the nation without being “taken” from our present circumstances.
“Behold, I shall strike the waters that are in the River with the
staff that is in my hand, and they shall change to blood’.” (7:23)
In the Pesach Haggadah, we say that Moshe’s staff performed “otot” /
“signs.” Also, we refer to the plagues as “moftim” / “wonders.” What do
these terms mean? R’ Yitzchak Isaac Chaver z”l (1789-1852; rabbi of Suvalk,
The miracles that Hashem has performed for Yisrael fall into two categories.
The first is called, “otot” / “signs,” which describes miracles intended to
foretell or even bring about a future event. For example, in Melachim II
(13:15-19), the prophet Elisha tells King Yo’ash to shoot arrows toward the
Kingdom of Aram as a sign that Yo’ash would defeat Aram. When Yo’ash obeys
only partially, the prophet tells him that he will weaken, but not destroy,
Moshe’s staff was a “sign” because the names of all of the plagues were
carved on it, thus foretelling what would occur. Also, the staff was a sign
of Hashem’s desire to fulfill the will of tzadikim, because the staff
represented a king’s scepter, and its being in Moshe’s hand foretold that
Hashem would turn over a certain amount of control over the world to Moshe
and Bnei Yisrael, i.e., that the world’s future would depend on the quality
of Bnei Yisrael’s deeds.
“Moftim,” on the other hand, are miracles that Hashem performs directly
without a “sign” preceding them and without any participation by tzaddikim
on earth. These are not meant to prove anything, but serve other purposes.
The plagues in Egypt, concludes R’ Chaver, were both otot and moftim. They
were “signs” because they were meant to prove a point, namely that G-d gives
control of the world to deserving tzaddikim--information that would
encourage Bnei Yisrael to receive and observe the Torah. They also were
moftim, miracles that were designed to punish the Egyptians. (Haggadah Shel
Pesach Yad Mitzrayim)
Elsewhere in the Torah . . .
“You graciously endow man with wisdom . . .” (Beginning of the fourth
berachah of Shemoneh Esrei)
R’ Aharon Bakst z”l Hy”d (1869-1941; rabbi in Suvalk, Lithuania; killed in
the Holocaust) notes that each of the blessings in the middle section of
Shemoneh Esrei begins with a request, except for this one, which begins with
praise and only then states a request. Why?
He explains: By preceding our request for wisdom with the declaration, “You
graciously endow man with wisdom,” we acknowledge that wisdom is not a
one-time gift. Rather, G-d *constantly* endows man with wisdom, and were He
to stop for an instant, man would be left a fool.
This was evident, for example, in World War I, R’ Bakst continues. At that
time, Russia was an agricultural economy, while Germany was an industrial
power. Russia could have been the bread-basket for all of Europe, and logic
would have dictated that Germany and Russia form an alliance. In fact, as
we know, that is not what happened, which can only be because G-d
interrupted the flow of wisdom to the seemingly brilliant leaders of those
countries. (Lev Aharon)
Letters from Our Sages
This is an excerpt from a letter written by R’ Yitzchak Hutner z”l
(1906-1980), rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, N.Y. In the
letter, dated 24 Tevet 5723  and printed in Pachad Yitzchak: Igrot no.
38, he discusses, among other things, the mitzvah to judge another person
favorably. He writes:
All of this refers to an act committed by a person about whom there are
arguments to judge his act as lacking merit and arguments to judge it as
having merit; then, the mitzvah (Vayikra 19:15), “With righteousness you
shall judge your fellow,” obligates us to weigh the side of merit more
heavily based on the quality of the person himself [i.e., one does not have
to judge favorably a person known to be wicked]. However, once we know that
a clearly bad deed has been done, then we are under no obligation to judge
favorably and to assume that the damage has been repaired.
This rule has an exception, which is that if the person in question
qualifies as a Torah scholar, then we have a halachah (Berachot 19a), “If
you saw a Torah scholar sin in the night-time, do not think anything of him
the next day, for he has certainly repented.” This is a novelty with
respect to the usual application of the mitzvah of “With righteousness you
shall judge your fellow,” i.e., that even after the bad deed has been done,
there is an obligation to judge favorably and assume that there has been
repentance. This obligation to weigh the side of merit more heavily in this
situation applies only to [judging] a Torah scholar. No amount of
righteousness creates such an obligation. This means that, though the
general obligation to judge a person favorably depends on the righteousness
of the person being judged, as explained above, nevertheless, that is only
before we know that he did a bad deed. . . But after the bad deed was done,
no amount of righteousness that a person has requires us to presume he has
repented. Only the fact that there is Torah within him obligates us to
judge him favorably.
This is one of the attributes that Torah [study] has over other mitzvot, for
being righteous [with regard to mitzvot in general] does not create a
presumption of repentance. This may be inferred from the words of Rabbeinu
Yonah, who writes [in Sha’arei Teshuvah I 3], “Delaying repentance is found
only among amei ha’aretz / people lacking Torah knowledge.” He did not
write that delaying repentance is found among wicked people or among
simpletons or among impetuous people. Certainly, the doors of repentance
are open to all, but a certainty that repentance has been done exists only
vis-a-vis Torah scholars.
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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