By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
When Paroah sent the people . . . (Shemos 13:17)
The truth is, Paroah didn't really send the people. The way the
posuk is worded it sounds as if Paroah had a choice in the matter,
which perhaps he did - if you include national self-destruction as a
Perhaps the posuk is letting us know that this is the way Paroah
looked at it all along, as if B'nei Yisroel leaving from Egyptian
bondage really depended upon his decision. Somehow Paroah must have
imagined that even though he was absolutely powerless to thwart the
absolutely powerful hand of G-d from destroying all of Egypt, he
still could say no to the departure of His people.
Dangerous, very dangerous. This is why Paroah felt as if it was in
his right and capability to be able to pursue after the fleeing
Jewish people in order to re-enslave them. Having believed that he
had sent the Jewish people into freedom, he also believed he could
bring them back, and as a result he personally paved the path right
into the sea for his entire army.
Do you think this only applied to Paroah of that time? No. This
idea applies to all of mankind throughout all of history, though to
some more than others. It applies to any person who comes to believe
that the results of his actions are within his control, just because
he is successful or worse, consistently successful.
There is a story in the Talmud that at first might seem unrelated:
Once it happened that a certain person, a nazir from the south, came
and I saw that he had nice eyes, was handsome and his locks were
well-kept and curled. I asked him, "My son, why do you wish to shave
off your hair?" He answered me, "I was a shepherd for my father in
my city, and once I went to take water from the spring and saw my
reflection. My yetzer hara overcame me and tried to take me from
this world. I told him, 'Evil one! Why do you feel pride in a world
that is not yours, in someone who is bound to be eaten by worms? I
will shave for the sake of Heaven'." (Nedarim 9b)
It is natural to take pride in one's accomplishments, but not
prudent. It is natural to feel proud about one's appearance, but not
safe. For, doing so feeds the incorrect impression that our
successes are in fact our successes, which is only part true.
It would be just about impossible to succeed if one did not will to
succeed, and for that we certainly receive credit. However, willing
is not enough to overcome the many obstacles in life that come our
way to block our paths to success, and if G-d did not help us
overcome them, sometimes overtly but usually covertly, we would
probably never succeed that much. Believing anything else will just
set a person up for his own spiritual downfall, and perhaps his
physical downfall as well.
Then what CAN you feel about your successes? Pleasure. Gratitude.
Appreciation. Inspired. It is feelings like these that allow a
person to take the yetzer hara head on and avoid being dragged into
the world of conceit and spiritual misconception. It is feelings
like these that prevent us from pursuing that which does not belong
to us into our own turbulent, drowning seas.
The Children of Israel ate the mann (haman). . . (Shemos 16:35)
Where is Haman alluded to in the Torah? "Hamin ha-aitz . . .?" -
"From the tree . . .?" (Bereishis 3:11) (Chullin 139a)
The first of Shevat is the new year for the tree . . . (Rosh Hashanah, 1:1)
These are seemingly, three unrelated topics. However, appearances
can be deceiving at times, as they are in this case. In fact, these
three concepts - the Heavenly bread from this week's parshah, the
evil Haman, and Tu B'Shevat of this coming week, G-d willing - are
intimately related, all having to do with the rectification of all of
It all goes back to the Garden. It always does. The moment that
Adam disobeyed G-d's commandment not to eat from the fruit of the
Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, he transformed reality and
changed the course of history. He made possible the likes of Haman,
created the need for Heavenly bread, and instituted the holiday of Tu
B'Shevat, a day the mishnah calls the "new year of the tree" -
According to Kabbalah, the concept of a "Tree of knowledge of Good
and Evil" is any situation where good and evil are combined within
one entity. Thus, a person who is spiritually impure is said to be
on the level of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, because he is
essentially good but in a state of spiritual impurity, or evil.
It is not that evil did not exist before Adam ate from the forbidden
fruit. However, before Adam's sin, good remained separate from evil
and they did not share a common reality. Therefore, it could be said
that the reality of Haman did not yet exist since evil was unable to
interact with good in any detrimental way.
The potential may have existed, but not the reality of that
potential. It took Adam to combine good and evil into a single
being, which became incarnate in the form of his first son, Kayin.
Even though Kayin and his descendants were eventually destroyed, the
reality of evil was in the world and it was possible for it to
interact with good, as did Haman much later on in history. Thus, the
Where is Haman alluded to in the Torah? "Hamin ha-aitz...?" - "From
the tree . . .?" (Bereishis 3:11) (Chullin 139a)
Once that became the case, mankind, and specifically the Jewish
people, required a way to rise above that reality and to even reverse
it. That "way" was embodied in the mann, the miraculous bread that
fell daily for the Jewish people throughout their forty years in the
The mann revealed that even through the physical reality seemed so
all-pervasive and dominant, it was in fact temporal and at the will
of the spiritual reality. Though the amount of mann that fell for
everyone was the same, one omer (about 2 quarts-worth), HOW it fell
for each individual was dependent upon one's spiritual growth. (Yoma
Furthermore, it miraculously nourished all aspects of the person
without having to be rejected at all; it was not a mixture of good
and evil, but only good. On Erev Shabbos it could double its size
without having to be physically added to. Thus, the mann represented
a departure from the everyday mundane and limiting physical reality
of the Pharaohs and Hamans, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and
Evil, for that matter.
Which brings us to Tu B'Shevat, the new year of the tree. Which
tree? Says the Pri Tzaddik: THE tree:
This is why it says, "On the first of Shevat is the new year for the
tree . . ." (Rosh Hashanah, 1:1), for the "tree" is the "Tree of
Knowledge of Good and Evil" after it grew and produced fruit.
Rectification means using it for good, and the ideal time is in the
month of Shevat . . .
The main tikun comes through the Oral Law . . . (Pri Tzaddik, Tu
B'Shevat 2) which Haman was against. This is why, says the Pri
Tzaddik, Haman built his gallows fifty amos high to hang Mordechai:
to indicate he was stopping the "Fifty Gates of Understanding" which
are within the Oral Law, and for which Mordechai had been a conduit.
(Pri Tzaddik, Purim 2)
Thus, Tu B'Shevat is not about eating fruits of the new year for
fruit trees. That is only to remind us that to truly achieve freedom
from the Hamans and Pharaohs of history, we have to rectify THE tree,
by re-dedicating ourselves to the Oral Law and by using it to rise
above their everyday physical reality into the supernatural one of
the Tree of Life.
G-d said to Moshe, "For how much longer will you not believe in Me to
keep My mitzvos and My Torah?!" (Shemos 16:28)
Who was G-d talking about here? Moshe Rabbeinu himself? Did he go
out and collect mann on Shabbos after G-d told him not to? Of course
not! It was Dasan and Aviram who had gone out looking for mann on
Shabbos even though Moshe had warned them not to. If so, then why
did G-d direct the criticism towards Moshe himself?
Rashi says that it wasn't really directed towards Moshe. It was just
that Moshe was the spokesperson for the Jewish people, and he
happened to be in the line of fire, and that's just the way it goes.
The Sifsei Chachamim goes a step further and says that Moshe actually
did bear some responsibility for what went wrong, since he had been
late in telling the Jewish people about the halachah.
Perhaps the following from the Arizal is also an explanation. Even
if it does not apply in this situation, it is an important rule to
recall when it comes to the issue of the suffering of the seemingly
righteous. Says the Arizal:
Suppose a person, for example, reincarnated twenty to thirty times.
He will need to know if the first one had the Nefesh, Ruach, and
Neshamah from Beriyah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, and if he blemished
them. If yes, then those that followed it, even if the Nefesh
entered each one alone, it will have to rectify them as if they
blemished all of Beriyah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah . . . (Sha'ar
HaGilgulim, p. 27)
What the Arizal is saying, that if a person reincarnates into a new
body with a lower level of soul than he had in the previous body
because he sinned, his need for rectification may be much greater
than one might have thought, given his present spiritual level.
Heaven's expectations of the person may be greater than what we
expect from them, because Heaven knows the full story about this
person though we only know about what we see.
Therefore, says the Arizal:
This is the sod of the posuk, "For she has taken from G-d double for
her sins." (Yeshayahu 40:2). Sometimes a person will commit a
"light" sin and they will be very strict with him, punishing him as
if he committed a more severe sin, "twice" what he did. Thus, one
cannot fully fathom the ways of G-d when he sees someone experiencing
this. Apparently, one cannot grasp such matters, but he must trust
that all G-d does is righteous and with justice. (Ibid.)
Thus, G-d's chastisement of Moshe Rabbeinu may have gone beyond the
immediate moment, for Moshe's own good and tikun. Regardless, the
Arizal's words help us to understand better what goes on before our
own eyes, much more than we ever consider when having difficulty with
the suffering of the righteous, or even only the very good.
Chanukah & The Wonderful World of Thirty-Six
Installment #8, Chapter Six, Part Three: The Tribes of Israel
However, all the confusion and trouble did not entirely humble
Yehudah, as Rashi indicates. After Ya'akov refused to send his sons
back with Binyomin as they themselves would have done, Yehudah
WHEN THE FOOD RAN OUT: We'll wait for the old man until there ceases
to be bread in the house. (Rashi, Bereishis 43:2)
It did not sound as if Yehudah yet respected his father's viewpoint
in matters. Like always, the brothers felt that their way of seeing
and doing things better fit the needs of the future Jewish people.
But, with each mistake the tables turned until they were forced to
submit to the views of Ya'akov and Yosef.
When the brothers eventually returned to stand before Yosef with
Binyomin, they first encountered Yosef's overlord - his son Menashe
which also spells "shemoneh" (eight), and "hashemen,"(the oil).
Immediately, they recounted finding their money, pre-empting any
accusation that might be added to the previous one of being spies.
Menashe's answer must have really taken them by surprise:
"Peace be unto you. Don't worry. Your G-d, the G-d your father gave
this hidden treasure to you . . ." (Bereishis 43:23)
Again, it was an Egyptian saying words that should have come out of
the mouth of a son of Ya'akov. More mystery, more clues . . .
Prepare . . . Remove the gid hanashe in front (of the brothers). (Chullin 91a)
The last letters of "u't'voah tevach v'hachayn" spell "Chanukah"
(ches-nun-vav-ches-heh), and their total numerical value is equal to
44, the number of candles of Chanukah (including the shamashim).
(Eliyahu Rabbah, Chanukah 10).
Yosef was referring to the meal that he planned to have with his
brothers after they returned from Canaan with Binyomin. He wanted to
remove the gid hanashe which is hidden within the leg and which
alludes to the struggle Ya'akov had with the angel of Eisav after
returning for small jars of oil. This was another hint to the
brothers. Yosef was bringing home his message.
After a peaceful encounter, true to his word, Yosef freed Shimon and
returned him to his brothers. They dined and after they had finished
loaded up their donkeys with provisions. They prepared to go home,
but when they were not looking, Yosef had his silver chalice hidden
in the sack of Binyomin.
The brothers had not traveled far before Yosef's men caught up to
them and accused them of stealing the goblet - the worst nightmare
they could have dreamed. Once the chalice was found in Binyomin's
sack, they had had all they could take. Tearing their clothes like
mourners, they returned to Egypt defeated and downtrodden.
Still, they accused Binyomin of being guilty rather than assuming his
"Thief, son of a thief . . . son of Rachel who stole Lavan's items of
idol worship." (Bereishis Rabbah 92:8)
Just as they had wrongly accused Yosef, they wrongly accused Yosef's
brother. Just as they had judged "guilty" based upon what their eyes
saw and not what was apparent to the mind's eye, they judged Binyomin
to be guilty based upon surface evidence. In doing so, they set
themselves up for a very hard fall when the hand of G-d and the hand
of Yosef would become perfectly apparent.
Yehudah said, "What can we say to my master, and what is our
righteousness. G-d has found the transgression of your servants."
In other words, Yehudah was telling Yosef that the situation had
become so ludicrous that we don't even suspect you anymore. When
things this strange happen, it is the hand of G-d working directly in
the affairs of man, as Dovid HaMelech taught:
This is from G-d, that which is wondrous in our eyes. (Tehillim 118:23)
- and obviously HE wants us to be enslaved to you for our past mistake.
However, Yosef was not finished yet. Yehudah's admission was only a
partial one. Even when events don't seem so strange, the hand of G-d
is there working and it is for us to assume this, rely upon it, and
show appreciation for it. Once the brothers understood this, Yosef
could prove that each one could be a vehicle to fulfill G-d's will.
Nothing stands in the way of fulfillment once a person lives with
this reality. However, overlook the hand of G-d and you become a
mere pawn in His master plan of making the light of Melech Moshiach,
of ushering in the grand finale of history.
Back in Egypt, Yehudah confronted Yosef when the latter turned down
his request to spare Binyomin and instead enslave the rest of the
brothers. According to the midrashim, the ensuing discussion
threatened to become quite violent at which point Yosef felt
compelled to announce what he had held back until just the right
"I am Yosef!" (Bereishis 45:3)
The brothers were completely speechless and terrified. They were
afraid of Yosef, but more importantly they were afraid of how, for
twenty-two years they had totally missed the point. They had thought
that they had been the ones in control the whole time only to find
out that they had instead been pawns in G-d's plan to elevate Yosef
and bring the Jewish people down to Egypt.
If they had really understood what had been happening, they could
have ended history then and there and ushered in the Days of Moshiach
with the three simple words,
"YOU ARE YOSEF!"
After all, who else could have known what you knew and done what you
have done! Had they come to this realization on their own, it would
have proven that they had learned to see past the surface and into
the innermost reality of a matter.
However, they had not, and now they were very sorry that they hadn't.
For, nothing is worse than being only a pawn in G-d's history;
nothing is worse than misreading the opportunities of life. Nothing
is worse than finding out that you were concealing the light of
creation when you had thought all along that you were revealing it.
The rest of the story of Yosef and his brothers is history. The
brothers recovered from their shock well enough to return home and
reveal to Ya'akov what he had suspected all along. And with the news
of Yosef's physical and spiritual survival came the need to emigrate
from Canaan, to descend into the exile foretold to Avraham over one
hundred years before.
Finally, after twenty-two long years the "spark" was reunited with
the "flame," and a new era of Jewish and world history was ready to
begin. The hidden had been revealed and the light of creation was
allowed to shine for a time. It was peace and tranquility that
Yisroel enjoyed the last seventeen years of his life.
Thus, the period of transition came to a close and the torch that had
previously been passed from individual to individual would now be
passed to an entire nation whose mission it would be to shine with
the light of creation. And the individual responsible for this phase
of the transition had himself been a repository of the spectacular
light of the first day of creation.