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Posted on February 6, 2009 (5769) By Shlomo Katz | Series: | Level:

Parshas Beshalach

Hashem Tests Hearts

Sponsored by
Irving and Arline Katz
on the yahrzeits of
grandmother Henia Rachel bat Pinchas a”h (Tu B’Shevat)
and mother Fradel bat Yaakov Shalom a”h (19 Shevat)

The Marwick family
in memory of Reba Sklaroff a”h

Micheline and David Peller
in memory of his parents
Hinda bat Yisroel Mechel a”h
and Efraim Fishel Peller a”h

Today’s Learning:
Middot 4:6-7
O.C. 273:2-4
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Bava Kamma 41
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Kiddushin 5

King Shlomo writes in Mishlei (17:3), “A refining pot is for silver and a crucible is for gold, but Hashem tests hearts.” Rabbeinu Bachya ben Asher z”l (Spain; 14th century) writes: King Shlomo is warning man to purify his thoughts and correct the middot / character traits in his heart, for the heart is the central organ which leads all others, and to which all other organs are subservient. It is for this reason that the heart is located near the center of the body. Because of the heart’s centrality, we use it when we refer to our relationship with G-d, as in the verse (Tehilim 73:26), “G-d is the rock of my heart.” Just as the heart controls the affairs of the body to its most remote extremities, so Hashem directs matters from one end of the world to the other. Thus we read (Shmot 8:18), “I am Hashem in the midst of the land.” Notably, the Torah ends with the letter “lamed” and begins with the letter “bet”; combined, they spell “lev” / heart. And, the early kabbalistic midrashim speak of there being 32 (the gematria of lev) pathways of wisdom.

R’ Bachya continues: The verse states that “Hashem tests hearts.” What is the purpose of the tests to which Hashem subjects man? It is to bring out man’s potential so that those who observe his actions will learn how great is man’s obligation to serve G-d, and G-d’s Name will be sanctified thereby. [For example, Hashem knew that Avraham was capable of offering his son Yitzchak as a sacrifice. However, had Avraham never been tested, we would not have known that he was capable of such a sacrifice, nor would generations of Jews have had the fortitude to make the sacrifices that they have made in Hashem’s Name.]

Our parashah contains two significant tests to which Bnei Yisrael were subjected, R’ Bachya writes: First, the sea did not split until Bnei Yisrael had entered the water, and it only split a few feet ahead of the advancing column of Bnei Yisrael. Also, Bnei Yisrael were tested with the mahn, being given only enough for each day at a time. Both of these tests were intended to bring out their potential for trust in G-d.


“The angel of G-d who had been going in front of Bnei Yisrael moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and went behind them. It came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Yisrael and there were cloud and darkness – – while it illuminated the night — and one did not approach the other all night.” (14:19-20)

These verses seems repetitious, writes R’ Eliezer Dovid Gruenwald z”l (1867-1928; Hungarian rabbi and rosh yeshiva). Isn’t the angel (messenger) of G-d who moved from in front of Bnei Yisrael to behind them the same as the pillar of cloud?

He answers: We read (Tehilim 69:19-20), “Draw near to my soul, redeem it; because of my foes, deliver me. You know of my disgrace, my shame, and my humiliation; all my tormentors are before You.” King David is saying that although there are occasions when we may not deserve to be redeemed, in comparison with our tormentors, we are righteous. “Because [of the unworthiness] of my foes, deliver me.”

When they stood on the shore of the Yam Suf, Bnei Yisrael were being judged. Some of the angels argued that Bnei Yisrael had also worshiped idols in Egypt; thus, it was not at all clear that they would be saved. The angel who moved from in front of Bnei Yisrael to behind them was their defense attorney, so-to-speak. Since he could think of nothing to say in Bnei Yisrael’s favor, he moved closer to the Egyptians as if to highlight the contrast between the oppressors and the oppressed. And his strategy succeeded – for the Egyptians “there were cloud and darkness,” while for Bnei Yisrael, “it illuminated the night.” (Keren Le’Dovid)


“At a blast from Your nostrils, the waters became cunning.” (15:8)

The above translation of the verse is in accordance with the Aramaic translation of Onkelos. Can waters then be cunning? R’ Eliyahu, the Vilna Gaon z”l (1720-1797) writes that we should not be surprised by this translation. After all, man was formed from a clod of earth, and only when G-d “blew” a soul into the lifeless form of man did man become capable of intelligence. It is no more difficult for G-d to “blow” from His “nostrils” and give intelligence to water. (Aderet Eliyahu)


“Hashem said to Moshe, `How long will you refuse lishmor / to observe My commandments and My teachings?'”

R’ Chaim Aryeh Leib of Yedvobna z”l (19th century; Russia) asks: How could Hashem level this seemingly untrue accusation against Moshe? Moshe certainly observed Shabbat! He answers:

Proper mitzvah observance requires preparation and anticipation. This is how one demonstrates that he values the mitzvah, and how one sets the tone for the mitzvah’s observance. This is why we are commanded to remember Shabbat every day. However, our parashah indicates that Moshe did not tell Bnei Yisrael until Friday that there would be no mahn on Shabbat. Since Moshe deprived Bnei Yisrael of the chance to anticipate Shabbat and prepare mentally for the day, he is held accountable for their desecration of Shabbat. [Ed. note: Based on this interpretation, the word “lishmor” in our verse can have a double meaning and can also be translated as “anticipated” (see Rashi to Bereishit 37:11).] (Sha’ar Bat Rabim)


“It happened that when Moshe raised his hand Yisrael was stronger, and when he lowered his hand Amalek was stronger.” (17:11)

The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 3:8) asks: Did Moshe’s hands make or break the war? Rather, when Moshe’s hands were held high, Bnei Yisrael looked upward to Heaven and prevailed.

R’ Uri Feivel z”l (Krystynopol, Galicia; late 18th century) elaborates on the significance of hands in this context: Amalek, a descendant of Esav, derives its strength from Yitzchak’s blessing to Esav (Bereishit 27:40), “By your sword you shall live.” This is represented by the hands, which hold the sword. The Torah says that Amalek attacked Bnei Yisrael at a place called “Refidim,” which the midrash Mechilta reads as an acronym for “Rafu yedeihem mi’divrei Torah” / “They [Bnei Yisrael] loosened the grip of their hands on the words of Torah.” Indeed, Yitzchak had foretold (Bereishit 27:22), “The voice is Yaakov’s voice, but the hands are Esav’s hands.” Our Sages explain: “Either the voice of Yaakov will prevail — i.e., when Yaakov studies Torah — or the hands of Esav will prevail.” (Ohr Ha’chochmah)


“Moshe’s hands grew heavy, so they took a stone and placed it under him and he sat upon it, and Aharon and Chur supported his hands, one on this side and one on that side, and he remained with his hands in faithful prayer until sunset.” (17:12)

The midrash Mechilta states: “They took a stone and placed it under him” refers to the good deeds of the Patriarchs. “He sat upon it” refers to the good deeds of the Matriarchs.

R’ Yehuda He’chassid z”l (Germany; died 1217) writes: In a certain community, a certain old man used to lead the prayers on Yom Kippur. One year, he had no strength to stand for the prayers. Some members of the community said that since he was the most qualified chazan available, he should be permitted to lead the prayers sitting down. However, the elders said that it is preferable to have a less qualified chazan who is able to stand.

The proof that the chazan must stand is the midrash quoted above, writes R’ Yehuda He’chassid. What induced the author of the midrash to interpret our verse in a non-literal manner? Apparently, the midrash could not tolerate the literal interpretation of the verse, according to which Moshe Rabbeinu actually prayed sitting down. For the same reason, when we read (Shmuel II 7:18), “[David] sat before Hashem,” the midrash interprets the verse as teaching that David “settled his heart,” i.e., he concentrated on his prayers. (Sefer Chassidim No. 756)


This Week in History, Halachah, and Minhag

Shabbat Parashat Beshalach: One should rejoice with great feeling on this Shabbat because, if one is sensitive to such things, one can sense that G-d reveals Himself somewhat every year when we read about His revelation at the Yam Suf / Reed Sea and the salvation that He brought about there. (Ramatayim Tzofim, Zuta 16:7)

Some have the custom to put out food for birds on this Shabbat. However, many authorities consider this practice to be halachically- problematic since, as a rule, one may not feed a wild animal on Shabbat. One suggestion that has been offered is to place the food outdoors before Shabbat in a container covered by a plate. Then, on Shabbat, one can remove the plate (without moving the food, which is now muktzeh). (Luach Davar B’ito p.530)

Several reasons are given for this custom: (1) Our parashah records that some of Bnei Yisrael went out to collect mahn on Shabbat, but they did not find any. Our Sages explain that these people had placed the mahn out of doors in order to embarrass Moshe Rabbeinu, who had said that mahn would not fall on Shabbat. However, when those individuals were not looking, birds ate the mahn. (2) Bnei Yisrael are compared to birds in many verses [e.g. throughout Shir Ha’shirim]. By feeding the birds, we indicate just as the birds are cared for by others, so G-d will sustain us if we dedicate ourselves to Torah study. (3) The song of the birds alludes to the Song at the Sea. (Luach Davar B’ito p.530, 534-535)

Many communities read Az Yashir aloud verse-by-verse during the morning prayers on this Shabbat. (Luach Davar B’ito p.532)

Some eat dishes containing wheat kernels or kasha on this Shabbat to recall the mahn. (Luach Davar B’ito p.530)

13 Shevat 5705 (1945): The liberation of Auschwitz occurred on this day.

Tu B’Shevat: One should pray on this day that he will find a good etrog for next Sukkot. (Bnei Yissaschar: Shevat 2:2)

17 Shevat: This day is “Purim Saragossa” (i.e., Syracuse, Greece) because of a miracle that occurred there. (Luach Davar B’ito p.548)

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