Prince of Egypt?
In this week’s parashah we meet Moshe Rabbeinu and learn about his early
experiences. We read (2:10-12), “The boy grew up and she brought him to the
daughter of Pharaoh and he was a son to her. She called his name ‘Moshe,’
as she said, ‘For I drew him from the water.’ It happened in those days
that Moshe grew up and went out to his brethren and observed their burdens;
and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man, of his brethren. He
turned this way and that and saw that there was no man, so he struck down
the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.” Rashi z”l explains that the
expression, “the boy grew,” refers to growing up physically while the
expression, “Moshe grew up,” refers to being appointed overseer over
Pharaoh’s house. Ramban z”l comments on the phrase, “[He] went out to his
brethren and observed their burdens,” as follows: “He was told that he was
Jewish, so he wanted to see them, for they were his brethren. Then he saw
their suffering and toil, and he couldn’t stand it; therefore he killed the
R’ Menachem Genack shlita (Englewood, New Jersey) writes: In this light, we
can interpret the phrase, “He turned this way and that,” to mean, “He looked
at the Egyptian man and the Egyptian culture in which he had grown up, and
he looked at the oppressed Jew -- “and [he] saw that there was no man,”
i.e., in his eyes, the Egyptian man was not an important man, not a
representative of a culture worthy of his respect but rather the
representative of a contemptible culture. This reflects Moshe’s greatness,
for he was able to abandon the culture in which he had grown up in favor of
a path of truth and righteousness.
Later in the parashah, the daughters of Yitro call Moshe an “Egyptian man.”
Midrash Rabbah faults Moshe for this and states that this was why he did
not merit burial in Eretz Yisrael. Perhaps, writes R’ Genack, this
criticism is for the fact that Moshe *ever* considered himself to be Egyptian.
On the other hand, the name by which we know Moshe is not the name he was
given by his parents--Toviah or Avigdor--but specifically the name that an
Egyptian princess gave him. Perhaps, suggests R’ Genack, this is meant to
remind us that Moshe could have been an Egyptian prince but had the courage
to abandon his privileged position and come to the rescue of an oppressed
Jewish slave. (Birkat Yitzchak)
“The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, the first of whom was
called ‘Shifrah’ and the second of whom was called was ‘Puah’.” (1:15)
Rashi z”l writes: “Shifrah was Yocheved [the mother of Moshe] . . . Puah was
Miriam [the sister of Moshe].”
R’ Ovadia of Bartenura z”l (1445-1515; Italy and Yerushalayim; Mishnah
commentator) asks: How did Rashi know this? He answers:
“Shifrah” connotes goodness and beauty, and befits someone with the name
“Yocheved,” which connotes “honor.” “Puah” implies crying, which parallels
“Miriam,” from the root meaning to raise one’s voice. (Amar Nakeh)
What forced Rashi to abandon the peshat / straightforward meaning of the
verse, i.e., that Shifrah and Puah were the midwives real names?
R’ Eliyahu Mizrachi z”l (1450-1526) writes that Rashi must have had a
tradition to this effect. (Mizrachi)
R’ Yehuda Loewe z”l (Maharal of Prague; died 1609) writes that the Torah is
intended to teach, not to create mystery. Since we don’t find any other
information in the Torah about Shifrah and Puah [for example, their fathers’
names or their tribe], they must have been people who are already known to
us. (Gur Aryeh)
R’ Menachem Mendel Schneerson z”l (1902-1994; Lubavitcher Rebbe) answers:
The verse is difficult to understand literally. Were there only two
midwives for a nation of hundreds of thousands?
He explains: The reality was, as Shifrah and Puah say later (verse 19), that
the Jewish women did not need midwives. Why then were two midwives
appointed? To calm pregnant women with the knowledge that there would be
midwives available if necessary.
If the mere knowledge that two midwives existed was sufficient to bring
comfort to tens of thousands of women (or more), it follows that those two
midwives must have been known for their righteous and good standing in the
community. That is why Rashi concluded that they were Yocheved and Miriam.
“Moshe was frightened and he thought, ‘Indeed, the matter is known!’”
Rashi comments: “Now I know that which I have been puzzled about, i.e., I
what way has Yisrael sinned more than all the 70 nations, that they should
be oppressed by this crushing servitude? But now I see that they deserve this.”
R’ Yisrael Isserlin z”l (1390-1460; Austria; author of Terumat Ha’deshen)
asks: Didn’t Moshe know that exile had been decreed upon Avraham’s
descendants? He explains:
The Torah says that children will not be killed for their fathers’ sins.
How, then, was this exile possible? When Moshe saw that Bnei Yisrael spoke
lashon hara, the same sin that Yaakov’s sons committed, he understood, for
our Sages teach that children who emulate their fathers’ sins *will* be
punished for their fathers’ sins as well. (Beurei Maharai)
“Hashem said to Moshe in Midian, ‘Go, return to Egypt, for all the
people who seek your life have died’.” (4:19)
Moshe needed to return to Egypt to save the Jewish People. Why, then, was
it relevant that those who sought to take his life had died? R’ Meir Simcha
Hakohen z”l (1843-1926; rabbi of Dvinsk, Latvia; known as the “Ohr
Samei’ach”) answers: This proves that a person is not obligated to endanger
his life even if the entire Jewish People is counting on him.
R’ Meir Simcha continues: We read (4:24), “It was on the way, in the
lodging-place, that Hashem encountered him and sought to kill him (i.e.,
Moshe).” Our Sages explain that Moshe was liable for not circumcising his
son the moment he reached the hotel. Why had Moshe not circumcised his son
before leaving Midian? He reasoned, consistent with the above
interpretation: “If I am not obligated to risk my own life to save the
Jewish People, certainly I should not endanger my son’s life by circumcising
him immediately before traveling.” And, Hashem apparently agreed with this.
Moshe is faulted only for not circumcising his son the moment they settled
down. (Meshech Chochmah)
R’ Meir Dan Plotsky z”l (1866-1928; Poland) disagrees with the Ohr Samei’ach
and writes that a person *is* obligated to endanger his life to save the
Jewish People. As proof, he cites the fact that Pinchas endangered his life
to kill Zimri, thus ending the plague that had stricken the nation (see
The question arises, however: If Pinchas was only doing what he was
obligated to do, why was he deserving of special reward? R’ Plotsky
answers: We know that saving lives takes precedence over all of the mitzvot.
But, we might have thought that this is true only when the resulting
salvation is “natural” [such as driving a seriously injured person to the
hospital on Shabbat]. But, when Pinchas killed Zimri, he had no reason to
think that he was directly saving lives, i.e., ending the plague that had
struck Bnei Yisrael, as there was only a spiritual, not a natural,
connection between the two. Thus, Hashem had to make a special announcement
that Pinchas had done the right thing.
R’ Plotsky adds, parenthetically: When two events have a cause-and-effect
relationship that has no natural explanation, we call that a “segulah.” He
relates: A chassid once asked the Gerrer Rebbe known as the Sfas Emes (R’
Yehuda Leib Alter z”l; 1847-1905) for a segulah for a sick relative. The
Rebbe replied, “I don’t know anything about segulot, except for the one
mentioned in the Torah (Shmot 19:5), ‘And now, if you listen well to Me and
observe My covenant, you shall be to Me a segulah [in that context meaning:
‘the most beloved treasure’] of all peoples, for the entire world is Mine’.”
(Kli Chemdah: Parashat Pinchas)
Memories of Yerushalayim
R' Ben-Zion Yadler z"l (1871-1962; the "Maggid / preacher of
Yerushalayim”), describes in his memoir, B'tuv Yerushalayim, his role in
establishing and supervising the eruv in Yerushalayim. The following is an
open letter he published on 18 Sivan 5696 / June 8, 1936 during a period of
Our brethren, the inhabitants of Yerushalayim, the Holy City, may it be
built and established!
As is well known, there existed until now a general outer eruv, located far
from the areas inhabited by Jews, encircling Yerushalayim and all of its
neighborhoods, near and far. Because of this, it was permitted until now to
carry on Shabbat throughout the city, from one neighborhood to another, as
well as within neighborhoods--even neighborhoods without their own eruv--and
on every street in Yerushalayim without exception.
Now, however, because of the situation which exists in our Holy Land, we
painfully recognize that there is no guarantor that the general eruv is
intact. Obviously, it is impossible to supervise and inspect the eruv far
from the areas inhabited by Jews. Also, as is known, they [the Arabs or the
British] are presently uprooting the telephone lines and telegraph lines;
who can guarantee, therefore, that the eruv strings surrounding Yerushalayim
will not be severed? It is known that if the eruv string is severed in even
one place, carrying is forbidden in all the neighborhoods and streets of
Yerushalayim that relied until now on the general eruv. Moreover, even in
private courtyards, carrying is forbidden unless each courtyard makes an
eruv chatzeirot of its own.
Therefore, there is no alternative other than for every neighborhood to make
an eruv of its own. Thereafter, all the neighborhoods can be joined
together by an inner eruv within the area inhabited by Jews. Then it will
be possible to supervise it at all times and to fix at all times that which
needs to be fixed. In this way, it will be possible to carry on Shabbat on
the streets within the populated area of Yerushalayim.
The one appointed over eruvin,
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
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