By Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
In this week's parsha of B'sahlach, the Bnei Yisroel (children of
Israel) safely passed through the Yam Suf (Sea of Reeds), after which,
it came crashing down upon the Mitzrim (Egyptians). Moshe then led
Bnei Yisroel in the "Az yashir (15:1)" - the song of redemption.
"Nachisa v'chasd'cha am zu ga'alta (15:13)" - You (Hashem) have led,
with your kindness, this nation that you have redeemed. The Psikta
states: "nachisa v'chasd'cha" - this refers to acts of kindness. Which
and whose kindness is this referring to?
The Chofetz Chaim quotes the Medrash that tells of a strategy meeting
which took place in Mitzraim. The Bnei Yisroel saw that Paroah's
decrees were getting increasingly harsh and there seemed to be no way
out of it. They met and agreed to perform acts of generous kindness to
one another. This, they hoped, would spark a similar response from the
heavens, thereby causing Paroah's decrees to ease. It was this
comradery and these acts of kindness which ultimately brought the
That is the meaning of the Psikta. It was our acts of kindness which
caused Hashem to "nachisa v'chasd'cha" - to lead us with His kindness.
There is a story related in Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust of a group
who were first taken into a Hungarian labor battalion. Years later,
upon being returned to Hungary, they were sent to Borenhauser, a
German concentration camp. Selections became a fact of life - or
death. With the deteriorating conditions it became obvious that fewer
and fewer of the original group would pass the next selection.
Twenty five men were very ill. Despite the help and care from their
fellow inmates, they were in such a deteriorated state that all hope
of saving them was lost. However, a German S.S. man was very moved by
the friendship, comradery and care among the men. He took the twenty
five sick inmates and marched them to a hill, pretending that they
were urgently needed to dig foxholes. Meanwhile, the selection took
place at the camp below.
We were created as essentially 'needing' beings. This was to allow us
to develop ourselves through helping one another, thereby becoming
worthy and appreciative of Hashem's help to us. The heavens serve as a
great reflector. The way that we treat others determines the fate
which will befall us.
With this concept the Chofetz Chaim explains the blessing of 'Boray
Nefashos' (one of the blessings recited after eating). "Boray nefashos
rabbos v'chesronan" - You have created many, many people with that
which they are lacking... "L'hachayos ba'hem nefesh kol chai" - To
give life, through them, to all who are alive. One attains life
through helping others. The great mirror in the sky...
The Talmud (Bava Kama 50B) relates an incident of a person clearing
the stones from his field by throwing them onto the nearby street. A
passerby censured him by asking him why he's throwing stones from
property that isn't his onto property that is his. He laughed at the
seeming silliness of the statement and continued to clear his field.
Some time later, after poverty had forced him to sell his field, he
was walking along the road adjacent to that field. Tripping on one of
the rocks that he himself had thrown onto the road, he understood the
words of censure that he had then ignored. Our ownership of private
property can be very fleeting. Only public domain is 'ours'. He had
thrown from property that wasn't his onto property that was his. The
great mirror in the sky reflecting acts big and small.
We sometimes get too focused on the 'biggies', ignoring the power and
significance of the 'smaller' acts. The story is told of a visiting
person walking along the beach of an island, enjoying the breathtaking
beauty. In the distance he sees a person who seems to be walking in a
very strange manner. As he draws closer, he sees that the person is
bending down, picking something up and throwing it. He does this every
few steps. As he gets even closer, he realizes that it's a native of
the island, picking up starfish and throwing them into the ocean.
"Hello friend, can I ask what you are doing?", he inquires.
"Well, these here starfish got caught on the beach when the tide
shifted and they'll die stranded here. I'm throwing them back into the
ocean to save their lives."
"Are you serious?! Don't even bother! Don't you know that there are
hundreds of miles of beaches here with millions of starfish washed up
on them. How many can you hope to save compared to the millions that
will die?! Why are you wasting your time? What kind of a difference
can you really make?"
The native smiled, bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it
into the welcoming waters of the ocean. "Sure made a difference for
An issue that is often misunderstood is the complaining of Bnei
Yisroel during the travels through the midbar (wilderness). Upon
leaving the area of Yam Suf, they traveled to Midbar Shur. "And they
went three days in the wilderness and didn't find water. They came to
Marah and were unable to drink from the waters because they were
bitter... And they complained to Moshe saying: 'mah nishteh?' - what
will we drink?. Hashem showed Moshe a tree, he threw it into the water
and the water became sweetened (15:22-25)."
We tend to bring others down to our level. If we'd have certain
intentions while performing an act, it's difficult to recognize and
attribute different intentions to others. We view and understand the
world through our perceptions, our prejudices and our interpretations.
We can be compared to a toddler who was unceremoniously locked out of
the bathroom after attempting to drink the eau de toilet'. When seeing
his parents entering the bathroom and locking the door behind them,
he's filled with a devastating feeling of injustice. How come they can
drink that water and I can't?!
Let's try to understand the complaints of a nation on the level of
Bnei Yisroel. After having seen with their very own eyes the
miraculous Hand of Hashem and after having collectively reached one of
the highest levels of prophecy, what was troubling them?
Rav Isaac Sher of Slabodke explains that traveling three days without
water didn't cause them to complain. They felt no need to drink! They
were on the level of angels! They were drawing their sustenance from
the 'ziv haShechinah' - the glow of Hashem's Presence. Upon arriving
in Marah, upon hearing that there was water to drink and finding it
bitter, they asked "mah nishteh?". Meaning, who needs to drink... who
wants to drink... If we can be on the level of angels who have no need
for physical consumption, why sully ourselves with bitter water!
Hashem showed Moshe a tree which he threw into the water thereby
sweetening it. Your purpose in this world is to be people! To live a
physical existence and to sanctify it. To deal with the tests of the
flesh and to overcome them. To transform the earthly into the
heavenly. To transform darkness into light. To transform bitter into
sweet. Moshe was instructed to throw the tree into the water.
We begin the Kedusha prayer by saying: "Let us sanctify Your Name in
the world in the same way that it is sanctified (by the angels) at the
heights of heaven...". Isn't it somewhat audacious for us to try to
sanctify the Name of Hashem in the same way as the angels? On the same
level as the angels? We, who are steeped in this physical world with
all of its allures. Ridiculous. Chutzpah! The truth is - Heaven forbid
that we'd do it on the same level of the angels! We do it on a much
higher level! For a purely spiritual being to recognize Hashem and
proclaim His Glory is no feat at all. If we'd see Hashem before our
eyes as they do, we'd scream Kadosh! Kadosh! Kadosh! - Holy! Holy!
Holy!. But when we, with our perception clouded by the illusions of
this physical world, with our minds concerned with obtaining 'water'
for ourselves and our families, when we pronounce Kadosh, Kadosh,
Kadosh..., we are reaching a level that angels can't even comprehend.
This was the 'complaint' of Bnei Yisroel. A degree of confusion about
their mission. Hashem had Moshe instruct them. Throw the tree into the
bitter water. Transform the world. Transform your selves. Understand
the type of nation that you must become. A fusion of the physical and
the spiritual. As Moshe was an "Ish Elokim" - a man of G-d, we must
become an "Am Hashem" - a nation of G-d. The fulfillment of the
prophetic vision that Yaakov Avinu had seen. The ladder stood on the
ground and its head reached the heavens. A nation whose head soars to
the heights of heaven as their feet dance on this earth.
Wishing you a wonderful Shabbos,
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author teaches at Neveh Tzion in
Telzstone (near Yerushalayim).