Volume 37, No. 16
13 Shevat 5783
February 4, 2023
Irving and Arline Katz
on the yahrzeit of grandmother
Henya Rachel bat Pinchas (Spalter) a”h
Micheline and David Peller
in memory of his parents
Hinda bat Yisroel Yechiel a”h and
Efraim Fishel ben Avraham a”h
Manny and Loretta Sadwin
on the yahrzeit of her mother,
Henya bat Aryeh Leib Halevi a”h
This coming Monday is Tu B’Shevat, the Rosh Hashanah / New Year’s Day for trees. (This designation has Halachic consequences for tree owners and buyers of fruit.) R’ Zvi Yehuda Kook z”l (1891-1982; Rosh Hayeshiva of Yeshivat Mercaz Harav in Yerushalayim) writes about trees: The Gemara (Shabbat 88a) states, “Hashem created the world conditionally. If Bnei Yisrael will accept the Torah, Creation will endure. If not, Hashem will return the world to Tohu Va’vohu / astonishing emptiness.” [Until here from the Gemara.] Thus, by studying and observing Torah, one becomes Hashem’s partner in the Creation of nature. For this reason, man, especially the righteous person, is likened to a tree (Devarim 20:19; Tehilim 92:13).
R’ Kook continues: We learn in Pirkei Avot (Ch.3), “One who walks on the road while reviewing a Torah lesson, but interrupts his review and exclaims, ‘How beautiful is this tree! How beautiful is this plowed field!’–Scripture considers it as if he has forfeited his soul.” [Until here from the Mishnah.] The Mishnah is not teaching us to ignore nature’s beauty, R’ Kook writes. Indeed, there is a Berachah to be said on a flowering tree. The Mishnah is speaking of someone who “interrupts” his learning, i.e., he detaches the beauty of nature from the Torah, seeing nature as a separate entity. The sage who taught the just-quoted Mishnah, Rabbi Yaakov, teaches later in Pirkei Avot (ch.4), “This world is but a corridor leading to the main hall,” i.e., the World-to-Come. He is teaching: Do not see this world and nature as separate from Olam Ha’ba and Torah. They are but a continuum, and the light of Olam Ha’ba and Torah can reflect back upon, and illuminate this world and nature so that we see Hashem in it. (Le’netivot Yisrael II 50)
“Bnei Yisrael were ‘Chamushim’ when they went up from Egypt.” (13:18)
Rabbeinu Bachya ben Asher z”l (Spain; 1255-1340) writes: The P’shat/ simple meaning is that Bnei Yisrael left Egypt armed, like an army going to war. Though the Jewish People are not like other nations, which need to arm themselves against their enemies, the Torah commands us to act somewhat in a natural fashion. After we do our part, then Hashem will perform His miracles. (Commentary on the Torah)
R’ Moshe Yitzchak Ashkenazi z”l (1821-1898; Trieste, Italy) elaborates: One should never rely on a miracle or on extraordinary Hashgachah / Divine Providence approaching the level of a miracle. Rather, along with his Bitachon / Trust in Hashem, one must take steps to help himself. Bitachon, writes R’ Ashkenazi, is like salt–without it, food may be bland, but too much salt is counterproductive and damaging. Similarly, one should trust in Hashem, lest he be shown that all of his own wisdom and efforts are worthless. At the same time, one should not rely exclusively on Bitachon such that he refrains from lifting a finger on his own behalf.
R’ Ashkenazi continues: When Bnei Yisrael left Egypt after witnessing unprecedented miracles, one might have expected them to rely on Hashem to care for them. But, they did not do that exclusively; they also armed themselves. And, when Amalek attacked them (at the end of our Parashah), they did not sit back and wait for Hashem to vanquish their attackers; they fought back. Just as it would have been wrong to congratulate themselves on their military prowess, so it would have been wrong to do nothing for their own defense, R’ Ashkenazi concludes. (Simchat Ha’regel: Drush 3)
“Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him . . .” (13:19)
“Moshe stretched out his hand over the sea . . . and the water split.” (14:21)
We read in Tehilim (114:3–recited as part of Hallel), “The sea saw, and fled.” The Midrash on that verses asks, “What did the sea see?” and it answers, “It saw Yosef’s coffin.”
What is the connection between Yosef’s coffin and the splitting of the sea?
R’ Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z”l (1865-1935; first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael) explains: Our Patriarchs–Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov–knew that the nation they were establishing is the foundation for the revelation of Hashem in this world. And, they passed on that knowledge to Yaakov’s children. However, those children–Yosef, on the one hand, and his brothers, on the other hand–disagreed about how this would come about. Would Hashem’s revelation be though the Torah–given uniformly to all individuals and all generations, and transmitted through central leadership (Yosef’s view)–or would Hashem’s revelation be through prophecy–experienced by each individual on his own level and each generation on its own level (the brothers’ view)? Since, according to tradition, the Torah could only be given after Bnei Yisrael’s population reached 600,000, Yaakov’s family was not yet “Jewish,” Yosef held. His brothers, in contrast, held that the key test of “Jewishness” was whether Bnei Yisrael were fit for prophecy, and they were. [R’ Kook bases this on the famous Derashah of R’ Yehuda Roseannes z”l (1657-1727; Turkey; author of Mishneh Le’melech on Rambam’s Mishneh Torah), explaining in detail the dispute between Yosef and his brothers. A full explanation is beyond the scope of this space.]
R’ Kook continues: Our Sages teach that Bnei Yisrael who left Egypt were idolators. Indeed, the guardian angel of Egypt challenged Hashem’s plan to split the sea, claiming that Bnei Yisrael were no better than their pursuers. Had the view of Yosef’s brothers–that each generation stands alone–prevailed, Hashem could not, in fairness, have split the sea. However, the sea “saw” Yosef’s coffin, and it “remembered” that the Torah was yet to be given. Seeing that, the sea fled. (Me’orot Ha’Rayah: Chanukah p.79)
R’ Yitzchak Arieli z”l (1896-1974; Mashgiach of Yeshivat Mercaz Harav; author of Enayim La’mishpat) offers another explanation for the connection between Yosef’s coffin and the splitting of the sea. He writes:
By withstanding the seductions of Potiphar’s wife, Yosef demonstrated that one can rise above nature. So, too, said the sea, I can defy my nature and split. (Haggadah Shel Pesach Shirat Ha’geulah p.16)
“It happened on the sixth day that they gathered Lechem Mishneh/ a double portion of food . . .” (From our Parashah–Shmot 16:22)
R’ Yosef Karo z”l (1488-1575; Greece and Eretz Yisrael) writes: On Shabbat, one recites Hamotzi over two loaves of bread. He holds both loaves in his hands, and then slices the lower one.
R’ Moshe Isserles z”l (“Rema”; 1530-1572; rabbi of Cracow, Poland) adds in a gloss: That is on Friday night, but on Shabbat day and on Yom Tov night, one cuts the upper loaf. (Shulchan Aruch: O.C. 274:1)
Why two loaves? R’ Yisrael Meir Kagan z”l (the Chafetz Chaim; died 1933) writes: As a remembrance of the Mahn, as it is written, “They gathered Lechem Mishneh.” (Mishnah Berurah 274:1)
R’ Chaim Hakohen z”l (1585-1655; Aleppo, Syria) writes: The Talmud Yerushalmi (Shabbat 15:3) states, “Shabbat was given to the Jewish People solely so that they may engage in Torah study.” Therefore, R’ Chaim writes, it is obligatory to devote more time to Torah study on Shabbat than one devotes on a weekday. The Gemara (Shabbat 31a) teaches that a person will be asked in Heaven whether he had fixed times for Torah study. That, however, refers to a weekday, when a person is obligated to work for his living, R’ Chaim writes. On Shabbat, however, when there is no work, a person must devote himself to Torah study–for if not now, when?!
This, continues R’ Chaim, explains why we take two loaves of bread. Of course, the simple reason also is correct–i.e., to honor Shabbat. But, at the same time, the two loaves of bread hint that one must study twice as much Torah on Shabbat as he does on a weekday, for we find that a “loaf of bread” alludes to Torah study (see Mishlei 9:5).
Regarding the custom to cut the lower loaf on Friday night and the upper loaf on Shabbat day, R’ Chaim writes: During the workweek, Hashem is hidden in our world, since everything appears to operate according to nature, based on our efforts. On Shabbat, when we refrain from work, Hashem becomes revealed. On Friday night, when Shabbat is just beginning, nature must take the initiative from “below” to unify with Hashem; therefore, we cut the lower loaf. On Shabbat day, Hashem reveals Himself from “above”; therefore, we cut the upper loaf. (Mekor Chaim: Tur Pitdah 274:1)