Volume 34, No. 16
13 Shevat 5780
February 8, 2020
Irving and Arline Katz
on the yahrzeits of
grandmother Henia Rachel bat Pinchas (Spalter) a”h
and mother Fradel bat Yaakov Shulim (Reiss) a”h
Micheline and David Peller
in memory of his parents
Hinda bat Yisroel Yechiel a”h and
Efraim Fishel ben Avraham a”h
We read in our Parashah (14:15) that, as Bnei Yisrael approached the Yam Suf, “Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to Bnei Yisrael and let them journey forth!” These words require explanation! Isn’t a Jew supposed to cry out to Hashem in a time of need?
R’ Yitzchak Arama z”l (Spain; died 1494) explains: We read (Tehilim 99:6), “Moshe and Aharon, among His priests, and Shmuel, among those who invoke His Name.” This teaches that there are two types of prophets. Throughout the Book of Shmuel I, we find Shmuel praying to Hashem, with the result that miracles occurred. This pattern is repeated by other prophets; for example, Eliyahu Ha’Navi. The greatness of these prophets lay in their ability to “invoke His Name” and be highly confident, though not absolutely certain, that they would get the desired response.
The uniqueness of Moshe and Aharon, as compared to those prophets, was Moshe and Aharon’s ability to “dictate” to Hashem, without needing to pray. In some cases, Moshe did pray–for example, to make a particular Plague in Egypt end–but that was because ending the Plagues was not an integral part of Moshe’s mission. Here, in contrast, Hashem told Moshe, “Your role is not to pray; it is to lead Bnei Yisrael, and salvation is guaranteed to come.”
In this light, explains R’ Arama, we can understand why our Sages equate the wicked Bil’am with Moshe. What did they have in common? Bil’am, like Moshe, knew in advance, without any doubt, what the outcome of his mission would be. Specifically, Bil’am knew for certain that his efforts to curse the Jewish People would fail. (Akeidat Yitzchak: Bemidbar 82)
“Pharaoh Hikriv / approached; Bnei Yisrael raised their eyes and behold! — Egypt was journeying after them, and they were very frightened; and Bnei Yisrael cried out to Hashem.” (14:10)
Midrash Rabbah comments: “Pharaoh brought the hearts of Bnei Yisrael closer to their Father in heaven.” [Until here from the Midrash]
What about the verse suggests this interpretation? R’ David Tevel Rubin z”l (1792-1861; rabbi of Minsk, Belarus) explains:
First, it would have been more correct grammatically to say, “Pharaoh Karav” / “came close.” The conjugation “Hikriv” implies that Pharaoh brought something else close, i.e., the Jewish People to Hashem.
Also, the verse says, “Bnei Yisrael cried out to Hashem”–a genuine reaching out to G-d. This stands in contrast to the earlier verse (2:23), “Bnei Yisrael groaned because of the work and they cried out.” Then they cried out because of their hard work, but here they cried from a genuine desire for closeness to Hashem. (Derashot Bet David, Drush 12:40)
“You will bring them and implant them on the mount of Your heritage, the foundation of Your dwelling-place that You, Hashem, have made–the Sanctuary, my Master, that Your hands have established.” (15:17)
The Bet Hamikdash would not be built until 480 years after Bnei Yisrael sang this verse at the Yam Suf. Why, then, is it referred to here as if it already has been built (“Your dwelling-place that You, Hashem, have made–the Sanctuary, my Master, that Your hands have established”)?
R’ Nissim Karelitz z”l (1926-2019; rabbi, Rosh Kollel, and Halachic authority in Bnei Brak, Israel) explains: We read in Tehilim (13:6), “But as for me, I trusted in Your kindness; my heart will exult in Your salvation. I will sing to Hashem, for He has dealt kindly with me.” The first part of the verse should be read: “As soon as I have trusted in Your kindness, my heart will exult.” This teaches that when a person places his trust in Hashem, he should begin immediately to rejoice in Hashem’s salvation, as His salvation is sure to come. However, “I will sing to Hashem,” is in future tense. Singing praises of thanksgiving ordinarily must wait until the salvation has occurred.
However, continues R’ Karelitz, there is a higher level, on which a person’s Bitachon / trust is so strong that he feels as if his salvation has already come. That was the level Bnei Yisrael reached when they witnessed the Splitting of the Sea; they felt as if all the miracles and acts of kindness that Hashem was destined to perform for the Jewish People had occurred already. One of those future acts of kindness was the building of the Bet Hamikdash, which Bnei Yisrael, therefore, were able to sing about in past tense. (Chut Ha’shani: Chovot Ha’lev p.37)
“They came to Marah . . . There He established for [the nation] a decree and an ordinance.” (15:23, 25)
Rashi z”l explains: At Marah, He gave them a few sections of the Torah to study–specifically, Shabbat, the Parah Adumah / red heifer, and Dinim / civil laws. [Until here from Rashi]
Rabbeinu Bachya ben Asher z”l (Spain; 1255-1340) writes: When Hashem first appeared to Moshe, at the “Burning Bush,” He did so gradually. First, Moshe saw a fire–which he thought was a natural fire, so he wondered why the bush was not consumed, and he went to investigate. Then, an angel addressed Moshe from within the bush. Finally, Hashem Himself appeared to Moshe in a prophecy.
Similarly, continues Rabbeinu Bachya, Hashem gave the Torah to Bnei Yisrael gradually–first, three Mitzvot at Marah, then the Aseret Ha’dibrot / “Ten Commandments,” and only later, the rest of the Torah.
This, concludes Rabbeinu Bachya, is the proper approach for any person who wants to attain knowledge of G-d. We read (Hoshea 6:3), “Let us know; let us strive to know Hashem, like the dawn . . .” The verse is teaching that we must know how to strive to know; there is a correct way to strive to know Hashem, and an incorrect way. The incorrect way is to try to “jump” to a high level. The correct way, says the verse, is as the day dawns–gradually. (Commentary to Shmot 3:2-4)
“Bnei Yisrael ate the Mahn for forty years, until their arrival in an inhabited land; they ate the Mahn until their arrival at the border of the Land of Cana’an.” (16:35)
We read (Yehoshua 5:12), “The Mahn ceased on the following day,” i.e., on the sixteenth of Nissan, six days after Bnei Yisrael entered Cana’an.
R’ Levi ben Gershon z”l (“Ralbag”; 1288–1344) writes: Some say that no Mahn fell after Moshe Rabbeinu died, more than a month before Bnei Yisrael entered the Land. Rather, they say, the Mahn that Bnei Yisrael had collected before Moshe died lasted through the fifteenth of Nissan. Those who share this understanding, explains Ralbag, find it far-fetched that a prophet could continue to perform a miracle after he had died. And, since the amazing miracle of the Mahn could only be brought about by someone of Moshe Rabbeinu’s stature, we must conclude that the Mahn stopped falling when Moshe died.
On the other hand, continues Ralbag, some say that the Mahn did continue to fall through the fifteenth of Nissan. Those who hold this view (which, according to Ralbag, includes Rashi) either believe that Yehoshua was great enough to bring about Mahn, or they do not agree that a prophet’s power has to end when he dies, as demonstrated by the fact that the anointing oil that Moshe made lasted forever. (Commentary to Yehoshua 5:12)
R’ Yechiel Michel Tikochinski z”l (1871-1955; editor for 51 years of an annual calendar documenting the customs of Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalayim) writes: Tu B’Shevat begins the new year for trees for purposes of Terumah and Ma’asrot / tithes, and for Orlah / the prohibition on eating the fruits of a tree in its first three years. This day is the dividing line for determining whether one separates Ma’aser Sheni (which is taken in the first, second, fourth and fifth years of the Shemittah cycle and eaten in Yerushalayim) or Ma’aser Ani (which is taken in the third and sixth years of the Shemittah cycle and given to the poor). If, before Tu B’Shevat, fruits reached the stage of development where tithing is required, those fruits are considered produce of the old year. But, fruits that reach that stage after Tu B’Shevat are produce of the new year. For fruits, that defining stage is Chanatah (approximately, when the blossom appears), except for the Etrog, for which the defining stage is picking. One is forbidden to mix fruits of different years when tithing.
R’ Tikochinski writes further: In Eretz Yisrael, where these laws apply, Tu B’Shevat is observed as a minor holiday. The Ashkenazim are content to observe the day by eating the fruits of the Land and distributing fruit packages to children. In contrast, R’ Tikochinski writes, the Sepharadim gather to eat fruit in groups, amidst joy and song. Over every fruit, they recite chapters of Tehilim, poems, and songs that praise the Land and its fruit. The wise men of the Sepharadim remain awake on the night of Tu B’Shevat and recite “Tikkunim,” which are composed of verses from Torah and Ketuvim, and from the words of our Sages, especially from the Zohar, which relate to the fruits of the Land. They also take pains to eat many types of fruits, both tree fruits and produce of the ground. For Kabbalistic reasons, they eat 30 types of fruits. They also honor each other with reciting the blessings over the fruit. (R’ Tikochinski adds that the reason for these rituals is that each species of fruit has a different “root” in Heaven and requires a separate “Tikkun.”) (Ir Ha’kodesh Ve’ha’mikdash, III ch.25)