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Parshas Bo

Praiseworthy

King Shlomo writes in Mishlei (28:14), “Ashrei adam / Praiseworthy is the man who always fears, but he who is stubborn of heart will fall into misfortune.” Rabbeinu Bachya ben Asher z”l (14th century; Spain) writes: King Shlomo is instructing in this verse that a person should have a “soft heart” (i.e., the opposite of being stubborn). One should always fear that his deeds and actions are not up to the standard they should be, and he should introspect regarding where his deeds will lead him.

Rabbeinu Bachya continues: The verse starts with the word “Ashrei,” which is plural. This word never appears in Tanach in the singular form, he writes. The reason is that a person does not deserve to be praised if he has only one good trait, but rather when he combines many good middot. Thus we read (Tehilim 1:1-1), “Praiseworthy is the man who did not walk in the counsel of the wicked, and did not stand in the path of the sinful, and did not sit in the session of the scorners, but his desire is in the Torah of Hashem . . .” We see that the verse lists many good traits of a person who is called “praiseworthy.” Our verse, too, encompasses several traits in that a person who “always fears” will weigh the advantages and disadvantages of all of his actions, he will refrain from bad actions, and he will do many good things.

Why does the verse refer to such a person as “adam” rather than “ish”? Rabbeinu Bachya explains that “adam” comes from “adamah” / earth, and refers to a person’s baser, less spiritual nature. Praiseworthy is the man who conquers the adam aspect of his nature.

The opposite of the praiseworthy person described here is a stubborn person. [A stubborn person does not examine his deeds.] As described in our parashah and the preceding ones, Pharaoh was stubborn. His punishment, writes Rabbeinu Bachya, was that, even when he wanted to repent, Hashem did not permit him to, but instead forced him to remain stubborn.

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    “So that you may relate in the ears of your son and your son’s son that I made a mockery of Egypt and My signs that I placed among them--that you may know that I am Hashem.” (10:2)

R’ Shlomo Amar shlita (former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel) asks: Who made a mockery of whom? Seemingly, it was Pharaoh--who kept promising to let Bnei Yisrael go as soon as each plague ended, but who never kept his promises--who made a mockery of Bnei Yisrael and Hashem, not the other way around!

R’ Amar explains: No doubt the Egyptians did think that they were in control and that they were mocking Bnei Yisrael and Bnei Yisrael’s G-d. The truth, however, was that the Egyptians were merely tools in the hands of Hashem, tools that He used to prepare Bnei Yisrael to become a nation.

Specifically, the plagues in Egypt taught Bnei Yisrael about Hashem’s awesome power and His ability to do with His world as He pleases. Thus, Egypt was the classroom par excellence for teaching emunah / faith to Bnei Yisrael. Of course, Hashem would not wantonly demonstrate His power against a nation that was not deserving of being dealt with harshly. But, the Egyptians brought this treatment on themselves by forgetting the kindness of Yosef and enslaving Yosef’s family with back-breaking labor, by killing Jewish babies, and by refusing to subjugate themselves to Hashem even after they saw His power. Because of these sins, the Egyptians deserved to have their hearts hardened so that Hashem could make a mockery of them and thereby teach Bnei Yisrael valuable lessons. (Haggadah Shel Pesach Mi’yamim Yamimah p.100)

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    “But among all of Bnei Yisrael, no dog will move its tongue, against neither man nor beast, so that you shall know that Hashem will have differentiated between Egypt and Yisrael.” (11:7)

What is the deeper meaning of the fact that no dog barked during the plague of the firstborn? R’ Chaim Zvi Senter shlita (rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Aderes Hatorah in Yerushalayim) explained:

The original cause of the exile in Egypt was the sin of lashon hara, which is what caused Yosef’s brothers to hate him (see Bereishit 37:2). This is why, when Moshe Rabbeinu realized that Datan and Aviram were tale-bearers, he said (Shmot 2:14), “Indeed, the matter is known!” He meant: Now I understand why our exile persists. Measure-for-measure, Bnei Yisrael were enslaved by Pharaoh, whose name is an anagram (in Hebrew) of “Peh-ra” / “bad mouth.”

The Gemara (Pesachim 118a) says that a person who speaks or believes lashon hara deserves to be thrown to dogs. At the time of the redemption, no dog barked, for the fact that the redemption was occurring indicates that the sin of lashon hara had been corrected.

This also explains, said R’ Senter, why, as long as Bnei Yisrael were in exile, Moshe had a speech impediment. After the redemption, a midrash relates, Moshe’s speech impediment was healed. (Heard from R’ Senter, 20 Tevet 5769)

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    “Please speak in the ears of the people: Let each man request of his fellow and each woman from her fellow silver vessels and gold vessels.” (11:2)

The Gemara (Berachot 9a) notes that Hashem said, “Please speak . . .” The Gemara explains that Moshe was to say to Bnei Yisrael, “*Please* request gifts from the Egyptians.”

Why was it important that Bnei Yisrael ask for gifts? And, why did Hashem only *request* that they ask for gifts, rather than *commanding* them to ask? R’ Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z”l (1865-1935; Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael) explains: After hundreds of years in the Egyptian exile, Bnei Yisrael were lowly and down-trodden. A person in such a situation doesn’t dream of “big things”; he will be more than satisfied if he can gain his freedom. However, in order to prepare Bnei Yisrael for the glorious spiritual future that lay ahead of them, Hashem “needed” them to think big. As a first step, He wanted Bnei Yisrael to *want* wealth.

The Gemara explains that Hashem wanted Moshe to request Bnei Yisrael to ask for gifts so that Avraham Avinu wouldn’t say, “You kept the part of Your promise which said, ‘They will enslave them and they will oppress them,’ but not the part that said, ‘And after that they will leave there with great wealth’.” R’ Kook explains: The “great wealth” to which Hashem referred in His promise to Avraham was the Torah and Eretz Yisrael. However, given the lowly state of Bnei Yisrael, Avraham might have complained that they weren’t capable of aspiring to spiritual goals or nationhood. Indeed, the Gemara records that Bnei Yisrael told Moshe, “We will be happy just to be released from our imprisonment.”

Of course, telling Bnei Yisrael to seek wealth can backfire, since they might think that having material wealth is an end in itself. Thus Hashem *requested*, but did not *command*, that they seek wealth, so that no one would mistake it for a mitzvah. (Ein Ayah)

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    “You shall eliminate leaven from your homes . . .” (12:15)

Rabbi Yehuda, one of the sages of the Mishnah, maintains that chametz must be destroyed by fire and not by any other means. He derives this from the law of “notar” / leftovers of sacrificial offerings, which also must be destroyed by fire.

R’ Zvi Elimelech Shapira z”l (the Bnei Yissaschar; died 1841) is quoted as saying that whenever the Talmud derives one law from another law, there must be some intrinsic connection between them. What is the connection between chametz and notar?

R’ Yaakov Yechizkiyah Gruenwald z”l (Hungarian rabbi; died 1941) explains: Why would someone leave leftovers from a sacrificial offering rather than eat it all within the allotted time? Often, it would be because he lacks bitachon / trust in G-d and is afraid he won’t have food for tomorrow. Chametz alludes to a similar lack of bitachon. What’s the difference between chametz and matzah? Matzah does not expand; the way it’s made is the way it remains. Chametz doesn’t share this trait. Chametz rises as if it’s afraid there won’t be enough for tomorrow. Thus, chametz also alludes to a lack of bitachon. (Va’yagged Yaakov)

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Memories of Yerushalayim

    R' Ben-Zion Yadler z"l (1871-1962; "Maggid / preacher of Yerushalayim”), describes in his memoir, B'tuv Yerushalayim, his role in building and supervising the eruv in Yerushalayim.

The eruv operated at the personal expense of R’ Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teomim z”l [1845-1905; Assistant Rabbi of Yerushalayim, known by the acronym “Aderet”]. When R’ Asher Zusman z”l asked him, “Surely you can turn over the expenses of the eruv to the council!” the Aderet answered him, “Our Sages say that the majority of Jews transgress the sin of theft. The halachah is that if one has stolen and does not know from whom he stole, he should expend money for the needs of the public. There is no greater public need than this--making an eruv so that people can carry. Inevitably, the victim or his son will benefit from the eruv and I will have returned what I stole.”

After the British occupied our Holy Land [in 1917], I continued arranging eruvin in accordance with the guidelines laid down by the Aderet in his day.

After Yerushalayim grew and expanded, the eruv surrounded all of the new city of Yerushalayim. On the west side, it surrounded the neighborhoods of Romema [behind the present-day Central Bus Station], Givat Shaul, Kiryat Moshe, Bet Ha’kerem [in front of present-day Yad Vashem], and the neighborhoods facing it, Yefei Nof and Bayit Vegan. On the south, Sha’arei Chessed, Neve Sha’anan, Rechaviah A, B, C and D, Kiryat Shmuel, Talbiya, Mekor Chaim [south of present-day Baka] and Talpiot. To the north, all the neighborhoods until the Bukharan Quarter, and also the new Beit Yisrael, Machanayim, Sanhedria, Nachalat Yitzchak and Nachalat Shimon (Ha’tzaddik). There was almost no house outside of the eruv.

The eruv that I made used wooden posts with wire strings above them, all in accordance with halachah, without any reliance on telephone lines. [In a footnote:] Remember favorably R’ Pesach Margolin, who devoted his life to improving the eruv with *metal* posts around Yerushalayim.


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