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Posted on January 31, 2019 (5780) By Yaakov Sterling | Series: | Level:

(ויסעו בני ישראל מרעמסס סכתה כשש מאות אלף רגלי הגברים לבד מטף” (שמות יב:לז”

“Bnei Yisrael journeyed from Ramses to Succot, about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children” (Shemos 12:37)


Rashi: “`Men’–from twenty years old and older.”[1]

Ibn Ezra: “`Aside from children’–who are less than twenty years old.”


Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi asks where these classic commentaries know that the men mentioned in this verse were from twenty years old, when usually (according to Torah Law) one is considered a man from thirteen years old. Furthermore, Jews from thirteen to twenty should definitely not be termed as “children.” See the Gur Aryeh written by the Maharal of Prague who resolves these difficulties.

“It happened in those days that Moshe grew up and went out to his brethren and observed their burdens.”[2]  “Moshe was twenty years old at that time.”[3] On what grounds does the midrash reckon Moshe as twenty years old when he went out to his brethren? Perhaps he was younger? Maybe he was much older?

“A twenty-year-old begins pursuit . . ..”[4]  Rabbeinu Ovadiah of Bartenura explains, “He pursues a livelihood. After studying Chumash, Mishnah and Gemara, marrying a wife and having children a man must seek a livelihood. Another explanation: When twenty-years-old, Heaven pursues and punishes him for his sins since the Heavenly court does not punish anyone less than twenty-years old.”

According to both explanations of the Rav of Bartenura we can understand why our verse defines the primary period of man’s life as beginning from twenty years old. Only at that period, at approximately twenty years old, which is usually after his main Torah study and marrying his life partner, do abundant temptations test his awe of Heaven and Torah observance. Only from that point in time does he find himself knee-deep in his daily struggle to support a family, and must guard himself from succumbing to the entreaties of the yetzer (Evil Inclination) to act unscrupulously as he tries to guarantee his family’s welfare. “Who is mighty? He who overcomes his yetzer”[5] –real might is displayed by personal restraint. One must subdue the yetzer in numerous other areas too, such as conscientiously praying with a Minyan (quorum) of ten although this takes away from his time to work, and concentrating when praying without thinking about his business worries, being honest and trustworthy with partners and customers, establishing set Torah study times, donating charity for the poor and needy, treating his spouse honorably, supervising his children’s Jewish education and endless other spiritual and moral obligations.

One’s priorities must remain clear at all times. “The Torah is acquired by means of forty-eight qualities, which are . . . limited business activity . . ..”[6]  One must constantly review what he has mastered in Torah knowledge, one must remember well what he has studied and not suffice with a superficial understanding, and one must strive to acquire more and more Torah. Doing so is only possible after realizing that a Jew’s objective in this world is perfecting his soul. This can only be accomplished through curbing the amount of time he engages in commercial enterprise and spending more time in the beis medrash, a house of study, studying Torah.

            According to the second explanation of the Rav of Bartenura, at that age when a person begins providing for his family and is exposed to the onslaughts of the yetzer and the many temptations in the big world outside of the beis medrash, the Heavenly court then begins punishing for sins. He must quash these enticements so not to be punished.

*  * *

At the current time, yeshiva boys marry around the age of twenty (and the same for Beis Yaakov girls), and then all of a sudden the yoke of making a living falls on them. They must somehow cope with all the impediments and allurements confronting them in this world. This is a war of life or death, and success in each battle in our transient world is what leads to eternal life.

Before a young man or woman marries, they harbor many preconceived notions regarding the way their Jewish Home should be run. To a great extent they had previously been used to being supported by their parents, and suddenly after their marriage, they must deal with the harsh reality of balancing their own budget.

When Torah learning and Mitzvah observance are the two main priorities for a married couple, a robust effort is required to maintain a consistent Torah study schedule and strict Mitzvah observance, while coping adequately with the material demands of this mundane world. While sinking into debt is a relatively easy option, the price on the couple’s mental health is always much higher than they initially anticipate when they decide to take loans or go into overdraft to “finish the month.” By openly working together, through setting mutual targets, through understanding each other and consulting with experienced experts in financial management, they can arrive at a suitable plan that leads to tranquility and spiritual health.

I have unfortunately seen a lack of financial stability develop not only with young couples but even with a couple that had been married fifty years! Nevertheless, once the couple attended five sessions of financial management advice, their house became a place where the Divine Presence dwells.

[1] Shir HaShirim Rabba 3:6

[2] Shemos 2:11

[3] Shemos Rabba 1:27

[4] Avos 5:25

[5] Avos 4:1

[6] Avos 6:6