We read in our parashah (20:14-17), “Moshe sent emissaries from Kadesh to
the king of Edom: ‘So said your brother Yisrael--You know all the hardship
that has befallen us: Our forefathers descended to Egypt and we dwelt in
Egypt many years, and the Egyptians did evil to us and to our forefathers.
We cried out to Hashem and He heard our voice; He sent an emissary and took
us out of Egypt; now behold! We are in Kadesh, a city at the edge of your
border. Let us pass through your land! We shall not pass through field or
vineyard, and we shall not drink well water; on the king’s road we will
travel--we will not veer right or left--until we have passed through your
borders’.” Why did Moshe appeal to Edom (the descendants of Esav) as a
“brother”? Also, why did Moshe mention Bnei Yisrael’s suffering in Egypt?
R’ Chaim Palagi z”l (1788-1868; Chief Rabbi of Izmir, Turkey) explains:
Eretz Yisrael’s holiness derives from the fact that it is where Creation
began. Being closer to the Source, it receives the Divine flow of goodness
more directly, and it therefore is more complete. (This, writes R’ Palagi,
is reflected in the fact that Eretz Yisrael contains a little bit of nearly
all of the world’s climates.) In matters of spirituality, also, Eretz
Yisrael’s goodness is more authentic and complete.
Halachah dictates that younger siblings honor their firstborn brother. This
is for exactly the same reason that Eretz Yisrael has a special status,
i.e., each of them is closer to its source. Moshe’s message to Edom was: Do
not worry that we will harm you as we pass through your land. For the same
reason that we desire Eretz Yisrael, we honor you as descendants of our
firstborn brother, Esav. If so, why are we claiming Eretz Yisrael for
ourselves? Because, by being enslaved in Egypt, we paid-off the debt
created by Hashem’s covenant with Avraham, while you did not. (Artzot
“He shall put upon it mayim chaim / spring water in a kli / vessel.”
The Torah is referred to as “mayim” (see Yeshayah 55:1) and as “chaim”
(Mishlei 3:18). “Kli” is an acronym of Kohen, Levi, Yisrael. Here we have
an allusion to the custom of calling a Kohen, a Levi, and a Yisrael up to
the Torah. (Da’at Zekeinim Mi’Ba’alei Ha’Tosafot)
“Then Moshe raised his arm and struck the rock with his staff twice;
abundant water came forth and the assembly and their animals drank.”
Midrash Rabbah relates: Moshe hit the rock once, and water began to trickle
out, as is written (Tehilim 78:20), “He struck a rock and water dripped.”
Bnei Yisrael said to him, “Son of Amram: This is enough water only for a
nursing child!” Immediately, Moshe became angry and hit the rock twice.
Then the water washed over those who had been mocking, as is written (also
in Tehilim 78:20), “Streams flooded forth.”
Why did Hashem make the water flow begin as a mere trickle?
R’ Eliyahu Hakohen (“Ba'al Shevet Mussar”; Izmir, Turkey; died 1729)
answers: The Talmud Yerushalmi (Shekalim ch.6) foretells a day when water
will flow from the Holy of Holies in the Bet Hamikdash. That stream will
begin as narrow as the antennae of the smallest insect, then it will widen
to the width of a grasshopper's antennae, and then it will continue widening
and becoming deeper until it is a fierce river. [Until here from the
Yerushalmi]. R’ Eliyahu continues: Hashem wished to give Bnei Yisrael in
the desert a taste of this miracle, so He caused the water to flow in a
trickle at first. Had Bnei Yisrael been patient, this trickle would have
become a gushing river.
This answers another question, R' Eliyahu writes: The Torah says (verse 12),
“Hashem said to Moshe and to Aharon, ‘Because you did not believe in Me to
sanctify Me in the eyes of Bnei Yisrael . . .’” What did Moshe Rabbeinu do
wrong? Why does the Torah accuse Moshe Rabbeinu of lacking faith and
preventing the sanctification of Hashem’s Name? The answer is that by
losing his patience and hitting the rock again, Moshe prevented the above-
mentioned miracle from occurring.
R’ Eliyahu adds: What is the purpose of this miracle? One possibility is
that the appearance of a raging river that began as an almost microscopic
trickle coming out of the Holy of Holies--a place where there is no natural
spring--will reinforce mankind’s belief in Creation “yesh me’ayin" /
“something out of nothing.” Another possibility is to indicate that the
closer one is to holiness, the smaller he appears at first; in the end,
however, an overpowering rush of holiness will sweep away the wicked who are
distant from holiness. (Aggadot Eliyahu: Shekalim)
“The people spoke against Elokim and Moshe: ‘Why did you bring us up from
Egypt to die in this Wilderness, for there is no food and no water, and our
soul is disgusted with the insubstantial food?’” (21:5)
In Parashat Be’ha’alotecha we read that Bnei Yisrael complained about a lack
of meat. The question is asked: If mahn could taste like anything, why
didn’t they imagine that it tasted like meat?
R’ Aharon Lewin z”l Hy”d (the Reisher Rav; killed in the Holocaust) answers:
In the desert Bnei Yisrael were prohibited to eat meat except when they
brought a sacrifice. If the mahn could taste like meat, it would
effectively circumvent this prohibition. Therefore, the mahn could not
taste like meat. (Ha’drash Ve’ha’iyun)
R' Yaakov Halevi Lifschutz z"l (1838-1921) was the long-time secretary to R’
Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor z”l (1817-1896; rabbi of Kovno), one of the
leading halachic authorities of the second half of the 19th century as well
as a spokesman and lobbyist for Russian Jewry in the Czar’s court. Through
his position, R’ Lifschutz was a witness to, and a participant in, many
important events of that era. His memoirs are entitled “Zichron Yaakov.”
In last week’s excerpt, the author described the fierce literary war that
the Haskalah / so-called “Enlightenment” movement waged against the
lifestyle of the religious majority and against traditional Torah education,
and he asked why the religious did not, for the most part, respond through
similar literary means. He explains:
A satisfactory rebuttal is possible only when the person answering has the
absolute freedom to express and clarify truth; the disputants must have
equal rights to express their logic and understanding. Then the answer is
like the healing sun which enlightens the world and penetrates deep into the
heart. But, if only a partial answer can be given, not only will it not
help, it may do harm. Under the old regime, as I will explain, religious
Jews could not express their views even partially because of the danger.
Therefore, they adopted silence as the best policy. . .
In those days, the Maskilim (proponents of the Haskalah) were strengthened
by the [Russian] Government. The Maskilim openly proclaimed: “The
Government seeks the good and happiness of the Jewish Nation,” and they
portrayed themselves as the agents of the Government to educate the Jews and
bring them more rights. They claimed likewise that they wanted to teach our
people the Holy Tongue and to purify them of primitive beliefs, for this is
the desire of the Government, which, in its goodness and mercy, wants the
best for our People. This is what they wrote in their prolific literature.
To this end, the Maskilim attempted to have every aspect of Jewish life--
physical and spiritual--placed under the guardianship of the Government: the
rabbis, the teachers, the cheders, the talmud Torahs, and the yeshivot--all
of which are the foundation and supporting pillars of the house of Yisrael.
They wanted these institutions to be entirely supervised and managed by the
Government and to be approved by them, and only then they would be permitted
to teach and educate the youth of Yisrael in Torah and religion. Likewise,
they wanted all of the charitable societies to also be supervised by the
Government, for only then [the Maskilim claimed] would these institutions be
operated honestly. Their literature was overflowing with these claims over
a period of 70 years, as is so well known that citations would be
Our experience, however, proves as clearly as the sun shines in the
afternoon that the truth is precisely the opposite. First, the sole desire
of the Government in those days [the mid- and late-19th century] was to
cause Jews to apostatize so that all physical and spiritual vestiges of
Judaism would be uprooted. . . Second--which also is as clear as the day--
the old regime was like S’dom and Amorah: its ministers made decisions
solely based on bribery. For a payment of silver, mountains could be turned
into valleys, while truth, justice and honesty were trampled upon. Because
of this, this resource-rich nation [Russia] operated like one of the
backward nations of Asia. If justice was done, it was done quietly, without
the knowledge of the central government. . .
In these circumstances, would it have been possible for even the best
writers among our religious brethren to say publicly that we were not
rejecting wisdom; we were rejecting the attempts to destroy our religion?!
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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