This week we begin the Sefer of Shmos - the book of exile and redemption.
It begins "V'eleh shmos bnei Yisroel haba'im Mitzraima (1:1)" - and these
are the names of the children of Yisroel who came to Egypt. Although this
had been mentioned already in Breishis, this descent into Mitzraim, this
commencement of the galus (exile), must begin this book of galus.
A new king arose in Mitzraim "asher lo yada es Yosef (1:8)" - who didn't
know Yosef. Rashi explains that he chose to act as if he didn't know Yosef.
He chose to ignore the tremendous debt of gratitude that Mitzraim owed to
The Kli Yakar explains that this passuk is explaining the folly of this
Paroah. He didn't know what had happened with Yosef. He didn't comprehend
that as much as the brothers had tried to destroy Yosef and his dreams, the
will of Hashem had prevailed. He didn't learn that lesson. He didn't know
Yosef. He foolishly thought that he could stymie that Divine Will.
Chaza"l (Sotah 11a) teach that Paroah summoned three advisers to help
decide how to deal with his 'Jewish problem': Bilaam, Iyov and Yisro.
Bilaam advised Paroah to enslave Bnei Yisroel. Yisro ran away. Iyov sat
silently. Bilaam's heavenly retribution was death at the hands of Bnei
Yisroel. Iyov received incredible 'yissurim' - agonizing bodily
afflictions. Yisro merited having descendants who became members of the
Wasn't the murderous advice of Bilaam far worse than the silence of Iyov?
Why did Bilaam merit a relatively quick, painless death while Iyov had to
endure a full year of torturous pain? Rav Chaim Shmuelovitz explains that
the Torah here is revealing to us that life itself is a gift. Bilaam was
punished far more severely than Iyov! He no longer had this gift of life!
Even with all of his suffering, Iyov was alive.
In our 'Jack Kevorkian' day and age we find this hard to accept... What
kind of life is a life filled with suffering?
I'll take the liberty of deviating from my usual format and enclosing a
letter written to me by a talmid (student) some time ago and my response to
him. (I've edited a bit and removed his name.) Perhaps it will help shed
some light on this issue.
"Dear Rabbi Ciner, I hope all is well with you and your
As you may know, the issue of doctor assisted suicide for
terminally ill patients has become a hot one here in the U.S.
A new statistic shows that over sixty percent of the country
agree that it should be allowed. The case for it is even being
heard by the Supreme Court. I understand that since this isn't
an issue of simply pulling the plug, the Torah would forbid
any such actions. And if one is still capable of performing a
mitzva, any mitzva, that would probably be reason enough to
forbid assisted suicide or suicide period. But then, when an
animal is suffering we are required to put it to death. Why
shouldn't we show at least the same kind of mercy towards
another human being.
Thank G-d I'm only asking out of curiosity, though I would
like to know what the halacha is in regards to this.
I responded as follows:
Hi, I hope all is well. Halacha would certainly forbid this.
Let's understand why. I would imagine that even the staunchest
proponents of this 'physicians assisted suicide' would agree
that there should be a minimum age requirement. In other
words, whether that age would be set at four, nine or
eighteen, they would agree that if a terminally ill child
younger than that would request a physician assisted suicide,
we should not fulfill his wishes. Why is that? Clearly because
we feel that he doesn't have a mature enough understanding of
life in order to make such a decision.
Judaism believes that the only one with a clear enough
understanding to take life is the One who gives life. The gulf
between the level of our understanding and that of a nine year
old is infinitesimal when compared to the gulf between
Hashem's understanding and ours.
I remember hearing a story of a doctor who couldn't bear
watching the misery of a terminally ill, suffering patient who
clearly was imminently going to die. He 'mercifully' pulled
the plug. A few nights later this person came to him in a
dream screaming that he had only needed a few more hours of
yisurim (suffering) and then would have been worthy of
entering a very high level of Gan Eden (paradise in the world
to come). Now that his life had been prematurely ended, that
opportunity was taken away. Now, whether you want to view that
dream as a true spiritual visit or as the subconscious
thoughts of a tormented individual, we do believe that this
world is simply the preparatory corridor leading to the next.
Every moment here is part of the Divine plan. Taking a moments
life away from a person is depriving him of that G-d given
opportunity. Very possibly depriving him of what otherwise
would have been his in the world to come. All and any who try
to subvert that Will haven't grasped the lesson of Yosef. They
too, like Paroah, 'don't know Yosef'.
There are six constant mitzvos that one can fulfill at all
times. These are:
1.To know and to believe that there is a G-d who created
this world and all that it contains. He is actively involved
in all that transpires here. He took us out of Mitzraim and
He gave us the Torah.
2.To not believe in any other god or source of power.
3.Belief that Hashem is One.
4.To love Hashem.
5.To fear Hashem.
6.To not be swayed after our hearts (heretical thoughts) or
after our eyes (adultery and other worldly desires).
Regardless of one's physical condition, these mitzvos are
fulfilled through thoughts. Certainly if one uses those moments
to draw close to Hashem with t'shuva (repentance), those few
moments would drastically alter one's afterlife.
There is a famous story of the Vilna Gaon's wife and a friend
who used to collect charity for needy causes together. They
had agreed that whoever would die first would visit the other
in a dream and would tell of the reward waiting in the next
world for this mitzva. True to the agreement, the friend
visited the Gaon's wife after her death. "Do you remember the
time we went to the wealthy man and there was no answer at the
door? We began to walk away and then we saw his carriage
pulling up. We both said 'There he is', but I raised my arm to
point in his direction and you didn't. For that extra effort
that I put into the mitzva, I was recorded in a totally
different book. It was considered an entirely different type
The reward for a moment's fulfillment of a mitzva or even part
of a mitzva is immeasurable. Depriving an individual of such
an opportunity is a vicious form of cruelty, certainly not an
act of mercy.
The situation is completely different by animals. Animals have
no neshama (soul) and no afterlife. The purpose of their
existence is to aid man in his lofty mission.
The Mishna (Brachos and Megilah) states that if one prays by
saying, "Hashem, you showed your compassion to the nest of a
bird (the mitzva of shiloach hakayn - sending away the mother
bird), have compassion on us!", we are told to quiet him. The
Talmud explains that this is not a proper prayer because it
makes Hashem's mitzvos into compassionate acts whereas they
are, in fact, decrees.
The Ohr Yahel explains as follows. By praying in such a
fashion, we are transforming the mitzva into the compassionate
will of Hashem. That is missing the whole point! We know that
Hashem is compassionate! The mitzva is a decree that must be
fulfilled in order for us to learn to be compassionate. To
transform us into compassionate beings. Perhaps, if the animal
will no longer be able to function here and it will be in
pain, its purpose is now to enable us to be merciful by
putting it out of its misery.
By an animal we see the whole picture, by man we hardly see a
drop in the ocean. By an animal we are equipped to make such a
decision and to show mercy, by a human being we are not.
May we recognize the incredible gift of life - the wealth of opportunities
that each moment of life offers - and utilize them to the best of our