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Posted on January 15, 2015 (5775) By Shlomo Katz | Series: | Level:

Parshas Vaera

Shabbat, Emunah & Exodus

We read near the beginning of our parashah that Moshe spoke Hashem’s words to Bnei Yisrael, “but they did not heed Moshe, because of shortness of breath and hard work.” R’ Tzaddok Hakohen Rabinowitz z”l (1823-1900; chassidic rebbe in Lublin, Poland) explains this verse in light of the Midrash Rabbah, which records that, while the young Moshe lived in Pharaoh’s palace, he convinced Pharaoh that slaves work more efficiently when they are given one day of rest each week. Pharaoh instructed Moshe to implement this idea, and Moshe arranged for Bnei Yisrael to have Shabbat as a day off. Later, at the end of last week’s parashah, we read that Pharaoh decreed (5:9), “Let the work be heavier upon the men and let them engage in it; and let them not pay attention to false words,” i.e., he took away their day of rest so they would have no time to think about redemption. R’ Tzaddok writes: Shabbat itself is a source of emunah / faith. Thus, when Shabbat was taken away from Bnei Yisrael, their emunah was lost as well.

This requires explanation, however, for Moshe Rabbeinu himself attributed the initial failure of his mission to his speech impediment (“aral sefatayim”). R’ Tzaddok explains that here, Moshe is not referring to the same speech impediment mentioned in last week’s parashah (“kevad peh”), for Hashem had already promised to heal that condition. Rather, Moshe meant that, as Bnei Yisrael’s leader, his ability to speak effectively to Pharaoh was proportional to the level of Bnei Yisrael’s emumah. That, as noted, was tied to their Shabbat observance. (Pri Tzaddik: Va’era 7)


    “Therefore, say to Bnei Yisrael, ‘I am Hashem, and *I shall take you out* from under the burdens of Egypt; *I shall rescue* you from their service; *I shall redeem* you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. *I shall take* you to Me for a people . . .'” (6:6-7)

The Talmud Yerushalmi (Pesachim 10:5) teaches that the four expressions underlined above are the “four expressions of redemption” that are represented by the four cups of wine at the seder.

R’ Zelig Reuven Bengis z”l (1864-1953; rabbi in Lithuania; later rabbi of the Eidah Ha’chareidis of Yerushalayim) explains that each of the four expressions of redemption represents a different aspect of the subjugation, as well:

    — the back-breaking work (paralleled by “I shall rescue”);

    — the fact that the work was involuntary, which made it seem even harsher (paralleled by “I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt”);

    — the spiritual harm that resulted from the Egyptian influence (paralleled by “I shall take you to Me as a people,” a reference to the giving of the Torah); and

    — the damage to Jewish national pride (paralleled by “I shall redeem”).

R’ Bengis writes: In contrast to the last aspect, Hashem restored our national pride and our image in the eyes of the nations through the Exodus, as is written (after the splitting of the Yam Suf–Shmot 15:14), “Nations heard–they were agitated; terror gripped the dwellers of Philistia.” But it is noteworthy, continues R’ Bengis, that the phrase that alludes to the giving of the Torah is mentioned last, for that was the ultimate purpose of the Exodus. (L’flagot Reuven: Haggadah Shel Pesach p.38)


    “Go to Pharaoh in the morning–behold! he goes out to the water- and you shall stand opposite him at the Nile’s bank.” (7:15)

Rashi z”l explains: “[Pharaoh] went to relieve himself. Pharaoh claimed to be a deity and asserted that, because of his divine power, he did not need to relieve himself; therefore, he used to rise early and go to the Nile, where he relieved himself in secret.”

R’ Mordechai Krause shlita (rabbi in Yerucham, Israel) asks: Earlier (6:13) we read, “Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon and commanded them . . . regarding Pharaoh,” which Rashi explains as a commandment to show respect to Pharaoh. Why then did Hashem now command Moshe and Aharon to humiliate Pharaoh by intruding on his most private activity?

R’ Krause answers: Pharaoh refused to subjugate himself to Hashem’s command that he let Bnei Yisrael go because Pharaoh suffered from ga’avah / haughtiness. Deep down, the essence of haughtiness is the feeling: “I am unique; there is no one above me, and it is unimaginable that I would need to humble myself before anyone.” In this vein, Pharaoh claimed (Yechezkel 29:3), “My Nile is mine, and I made myself.” In order for Hashem to be revealed in the world, Pharaoh had to be humbled, to be shown that Hashem is far more powerful than he. A necessary first step was to humiliate Pharaoh by reminding him that he could not even control his own body. (Netiv B’mayim Azim p.416)


    “The River shall swarm with frogs, and they shall ascend and come into your palace and your bedroom and your bed, and into the house of your servants and of your people, and into your ovens and into your kneading bowls.” (7:28)

The Gemara (Pesachim 53b) teaches: “Why did Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah allow themselves to be thrown into the furnace rather than bowing down to Nevuchadnezar’s statue (in the book of Daniel)? They reasoned: ‘If the frogs, who are not commanded to sanctify G-d’s Name, entered the ovens (as told in our verse), certainly we, who are commanded to sanctify G-d’s Name, should enter the oven’.” Rashi explains the Gemara’s question to be: Why didn’t Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah feel that the commandment to preserve one’s life (in Vayikra 18:5) superseded the mitzvah of sanctifying G-d’s Name?

(As an aside, the Tosafot note that Nevuchadnezar’s statue must not have been an idol; rather, it was only a monument to his own honor. Had it been an idol, Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah would not have needed to learn anything from the frogs; they would have been required to give their lives no matter what other considerations existed.)

Commentaries ask: Frogs have no mitzvah to preserve their own lives. Therefore, of course, they sanctified G-d’s Name even if it meant losing their own lives. But, how could Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah learn from the frogs the importance of sanctifying G-d’s Name, since Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah did have a mitzvah to preserve their own lives?

R’ Moshe Leib Shachor z”l (Yerushalayim; 1894-1964) explains: It is true that frogs are not commanded by the Torah to preserve their own lives. However, they are “commanded” by G-d’s words at the time of Creation. G-d’s utterances when He created the world implanted a natural survival instinct in frogs. When Hashem said (Bereishit 1:20), “Let the waters teem with teeming living creatures,” He made known His Will that frogs exist just as His words (Vayikra 18:5), “You shall observe My decrees and My laws, which man shall carry out and by which he shall live,” make known His Will that man live by the mitzvot and not die because of them.

In this light, we can understand Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah’s reasoning as follows: “If the frogs, who are commanded to live but who are not commanded to sanctify G-d’s Name, entered the ovens, certainly we, who, despite being commanded to live, also are commanded to sanctify G-d’s Name, should enter the oven.” (Avnei Shoham)



    This week we continue discussing the concept of “Kedushat Shevi’it” / the sanctity of the fruits of the seventh year. One of the basic rules is that the produce of shemittah may not be wasted.

There is a widespread custom to overflow the havdalah cup as an omen for blessing. One who recites havdalah over wine of the seventh year should not do this since he is causing the wine to go to waste. Likewise, those who have the custom to place a drop of havdalah wine in their eyes may not do this with the wine of shemittah.

In addition, an argument can be made that one is not even permitted to make havdalah with the wine of shemittah. The reason for this would be that, since it is customary that women do not drink the wine of havdalah, one who recites havdalah over wine of shemittah is causing it to become unusable by a large segment of the population, which is a form of “waste.” (Sources: R’ Yechiel Michel Tikochinski z”l, Sefer Ha’shemittah, ch.7, n.4; R’ Y.Y. Neuwirth z”l, Shemirat Shabbat Ke’hilchatah, ch. 60, n.55)

Note that this does not apply to all wine that happens to be used during the shemittah year; only to wine that was made from grapes that are subject to the laws of shemittah.

One might ask: Why is overflowing the wine cup not prohibited at all times because it seemingly wastes food? The answer is that the definition of “waste” is different for purposes of shemittah than for general halachic purposes. When wine was not made from grapes of the shemittah year, the wine that is spilled out is not “wasted” because it is spilled for a purpose-as an omen that the coming week will overflow with goodness. With respect to shemittah, however, any conversion of a food item to a non-food state is considered “waste.”

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