Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XV, No. 13
25 Tevet 5761
January 20, 2001
Orach Chaim 363:34-36
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Sotah 30
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Shevuot 26
Our parashah opens: “V’eleh shemot” / “And these are the names of the children of Yisrael who are coming to Egypt . . .” Rashi comments: Even though Hashem had already listed the sons of Yaakov in their lifetimes (in Bereishit 46:8), He listed them again (here) after their deaths in order to publicize His love for them. In this respect, the Jewish people are likened to the stars, which are “taken out” [at night] and “put away” [in the morning] both by number and by name, as it is written (Yishayah 40:26), “Raise your eyes on high and see Who created these things! He brings forth their legions by number; He calls to each of them by name.”
R’ Baruch Yerachmiel Yehoshua Rabinowitz z”l (former “Munkatcher Rebbe”; later Chief Rabbi of Sao Paolo, Brazil and Holon, Israel; died 1999) writes: Counting people nullifies the individual within the whole, while a person’s name emphasizes his individuality. This is why counting Jews is prohibited, and the moment that the Jews are counted a plague will strike them (see Shmot ch. 30). It is not because we are prohibited from knowing how many Jews there are – after all, we are permitted to count by collecting a coin or an object from each person. Rather, a Jew is obligated to know his “name” and not to disappear into the whole of the Jewish people. (Divrei Nevonim)
“Come, let us outsmart [the Jewish people] lest it become numerous and it may be that if a war will occur, it, too, may join our enemies, and wage war against us and go up from the land.” (1:10)
R’ Yitzchak Elchanan Waldshein z”l hy”d (Assistant Mashgiach in Yeshiva Ohel Torah in Baranovitch, Poland) observes that Pharaoh was not presently threatened by Bnei Yisrael; rather, his decree against Bnei Yisrael was based on his worries about the future: perhaps Bnei Yisrael will become numerous; perhaps a war will occur; perhaps Bnei Yisrael will join Egypt’s enemies and wage war against Egypt; and perhaps Bnei Yisrael will go up from the land — according to Rashi, a euphemism for the possibility that Bnei Yisrael would drive the Egyptians out of their own land, a far-fetched concern at best.
Unnecessarily worrying about the future is a sin, and Pharaoh was punished for his four worries. This is why (as we read in the Pesach Haggadah), “Every plague that G-d brought on the Egyptians in Egypt consisted of four plagues.” (Quoted in Haggadah Shel Pesach Baranovitch p. 126)
The gemara (Sotah 11a) interprets the names “Pithom” and “Ra’amses” to indicate that Bnei Yisrael were forced to build on quicksand, and that the buildings they built constantly sank into the ground and had to be rebuilt. R’ Avraham Yaakov Pam shlita (rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Voda’ath in Brooklyn) observes that this is an indication of Pharaoh’s wickedness. He explains with a parable:
A prisoner in a jail was forced to turn a gigantic wheel for hours on end every day. The wheel was attached to a shaft which appeared to pass into the next room, but the prisoner could not see what was on the other side of the wall.
In response to the prisoner’s inquiry, the jailer said that the wheel turned a large millstone which milled flour for many people. Knowing this fact made the prisoner’s work somewhat bearable; in fact, over time, he came to imagine that he was helping to feed widows and orphans, and he began to look forward to getting up in the morning and beginning work.
After 40 years the prisoner was released, and he immediately asked to see the millstone which he had spent four decades operating. The guards laughed, “What millstone? That wheel that you turned for 40 years was not attached to any machine and all your work was for nothing.”
Imagine that man’s mental anguish at that moment. Very likely, his hurt and humiliation upon learning that he had accomplished nothing in 40 years of hard labor far exceeded the pain and suffering of being imprisoned. Similarly, this was how Pharaoh tried to break Bnei Yisrael’s spirit. Being enslaved was harsh enough, but being forced to build structures knowing that they were destined to sink in quicksand magnified the harshness of the enslavement many times over.
In contrast, seeing the fruits of one’s hard work can be its own greatest reward. We read (1:20), “G-d benefitted the midwives, and the people increased and became very strong.” The Jewish midwives risked their lives to avoid killing the newborn boys, as Pharaoh had ordered. The most appropriate reward that Hashem could find to give these women was that the people increased and became very strong.” (Atarah La’melech p. 54)
“She saw that he was tov / good . . .” (2:2)
What does it mean that Moshe was “tov / good”? The midrash answers: Rabbi Meir taught, “His name was ‘Tov’.” [The name “Moshe” was given to him by Pharaoh’s daughter.] Rabbi Oshiah said, “His name was ‘Tovyah’.” Rabbi Yehuda said, “He was fit for prophecy.” Others say that he was born circumcised. The Sages say that when Moshe was born, the entire house filled with light.
R’ Yosef Caro z”l (1488-1575; author of the Shulchan Aruch and other works) explains: These sages are arguing about whether a person can attain perfection on his own or whether he requires Divine assistance. Rabbi Meir says that a person can be “tov / good,” while Rabbi Oshiah says that he can only be “Tovyah” – “good” together with the help of “Y-h” (one of G-d’s names).
Rabbi Yehuda dismisses the views of both Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Oshiah: Would you attempt to learn from Moshe a rule that applies to people in general? Moshe was unique. He was fit for prophecy and was the most perfect specimen of the human race.
The unnamed “Others” also dispute the opinions of both Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Oshiah: In fact, they say, a person cannot attain perfection at all because he is tainted by his material nature. Moshe was an exception to this because he was born circumcised.
The Sages conclude the discussion with a proof to the fact that Moshe was perfect. When Moshe was born, the entire house filled with light, reminiscent of the verse (Bereishit 1:4), “G-d saw that the light was good.” (Chiddushei Maran Ha’Bet Yosef Al Ha’Torah p. 37)
“He [Moshe] replied, ‘Please, my Lord, send whomever You are accustomed to send.’
“The wrath of Hashem burned against Moshe and He said, ‘Is not Aharon your brother, the Levite? . . . Behold, he is going out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will rejoice in his heart’.” (4:13-14)
R’ Shlomo Harkavi z”l hy”d (Mashgiach of Yeshiva Sha’ar Ha’Torah in Grodno, Lithuania; killed in the Holocaust) comments: People say, “The end justifies the means,” but these verses demonstrate that such is not the Torah’s perspective. Bnei Yisrael were enslaved in Egypt, and redeeming a captive is one of the most important mitzvot. (It is one of the few mitzvot for which one may sell a Sefer Torah.) Indeed, rescuing the Jewish people from Egypt was a matter of life and death. Yet, Moshe refused at first to be Hashem’s agent to redeem Bnei Yisrael. Why? Because he was afraid that his older brother Aharon would feel slighted.
Aharon was a tzaddik and a prophet, and any slight that he would feel would surely be small and would be dismissed quickly. Yet, although Hashem became angry at Moshe’s refusal to go to Pharaoh, He did not disagree with Moshe’s reason. To the contrary, Hashem went to the “trouble” of assuring Moshe that his fears were unfounded. We see that, had it been true that Aharon would feel slighted at Moshe’s appointment, Hashem would have excused Moshe from his duties despite their importance. (Me’imrei Shlomo)
Introductions . . .
In this feature, we present excerpts from the introductions to famous (and not so famous) works. This week, we feature the beginning of the introduction to the halachic code, Mishneh Torah, by R’ Moshe ben Maimon (“Rambam” or “Maimonides”). Rambam was born in Cordova, Spain on Erev Pesach 4895/1135 and died in Cairo, Egypt on 20 Tevet 4965/1204. Rambam began writing Mishneh Torah in 1170, and it remains the most comprehensive and influential code of Jewish law.
All of the laws which were given to Moshe at Sinai were given with their explanations, as it is written (Shmot 24:12), “I shall give you the stone tablets and the teaching and the commandment.” The “teaching” refers to the Torah She’bichtav / Written Torah and the “commandment” refers to its explanation. G-d commanded us to fulfill the “teaching” according to the “commandment” / explanation, which is called the Torah She’be’al Peh / Oral Torah.
The entire Torah was written down by Moshe Rabbenu / Our Teacher in his own hand before he died. He gave a copy to each tribe, and he placed one in the Ark as a testimony, as it is written (Devarim 31:26), “Take this book of the Torah and place it at the side of the Ark of the covenant of Hashem, and it shall be there for you as a witness.” However, the “commandment,” which is the explanation of the Torah, he did not write down; rather, he commanded it to the elders and to Yehoshua and to the rest of Israel, as it is written (Devarim 13:1), “The entire word that I command you, that shall you observe to do . . .” Therefore it is called the Torah She’be’al Peh / Oral Torah.
Even though the Torah She’be’al Peh was not written, Moshe Rabbenu taught it in its entirety in his bet din / court to the 70 Elders. Elazar [son of Aharon], Pinchas [son of Elazar] and Yehoshua all received the Torah from Moshe. To Yehoshua, who was the student [par excellence] of Moshe, Moshe transmitted the Oral Torah and he commanded Yehoshua regarding it. [Ed. Note: Perhaps Rambam means that Yehoshua was commanded to transmit the Torah to future generations.]
Yehoshua, likewise, studied [the Oral Torah] orally all the days of his life. Many elders received the Torah from Yehoshua. Eli [the Kohen Gadol mentioned in the beginning of the Book of Shmuel] received the Torah from the Elders and from Pinchas. Shmuel [the prophet] received the Torah from Eli and his bet din, and [King] David received the Torah from Shmuel and his bet din. [Ed. Note: Rambam continues in this manner to list the chain of transmission from King David until Rav Ashi, the editor of the Babylonian Talmud.] – to be continued –
Copyright © 2000 by Shlomo Katz and Project Genesis, Inc.
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