When Paroah sent the people . . . (Shemos 13:17)
The truth is, Paroah didn’t really send the people. The way the posuk is worded it sounds as if Paroah had a choice in the matter, which perhaps he did – if you include national self-destruction as a viable alternative.
Perhaps the posuk is letting us know that this is the way Paroah looked at it all along, as if B’nei Yisroel leaving from Egyptian bondage really depended upon his decision. Somehow Paroah must have imagined that even though he was absolutely powerless to thwart the absolutely powerful hand of G-d from destroying all of Egypt, he still could say no to the departure of His people.
Dangerous, very dangerous. This is why Paroah felt as if it was in his right and capability to be able to pursue after the fleeing Jewish people in order to re-enslave them. Having believed that he had sent the Jewish people into freedom, he also believed he could bring them back, and as a result he personally paved the path right into the sea for his entire army.
Do you think this only applied to Paroah of that time? No. This idea applies to all of mankind throughout all of history, though to some more than others. It applies to any person who comes to believe that the results of his actions are within his control, just because he is successful or worse, consistently successful.
There is a story in the Talmud that at first might seem unrelated:
Once it happened that a certain person, a nazir from the south, came and I saw that he had nice eyes, was handsome and his locks were well-kept and curled. I asked him, “My son, why do you wish to shave off your hair?” He answered me, “I was a shepherd for my father in my city, and once I went to take water from the spring and saw my reflection. My yetzer hara overcame me and tried to take me from this world. I told him, ‘Evil one! Why do you feel pride in a world that is not yours, in someone who is bound to be eaten by worms? I will shave for the sake of Heaven’.” (Nedarim 9b)
It is natural to take pride in one’s accomplishments, but not prudent. It is natural to feel proud about one’s appearance, but not safe. For, doing so feeds the incorrect impression that our successes are in fact our successes, which is only part true.
It would be just about impossible to succeed if one did not will to succeed, and for that we certainly receive credit. However, willing is not enough to overcome the many obstacles in life that come our way to block our paths to success, and if G-d did not help us overcome them, sometimes overtly but usually covertly, we would probably never succeed that much. Believing anything else will just set a person up for his own spiritual downfall, and perhaps his physical downfall as well.
Then what CAN you feel about your successes? Pleasure. Gratitude. Appreciation. Inspired. It is feelings like these that allow a person to take the yetzer hara head on and avoid being dragged into the world of conceit and spiritual misconception. It is feelings like these that prevent us from pursuing that which does not belong to us into our own turbulent, drowning seas.
The Children of Israel ate the mann (haman). . . (Shemos 16:35)
Where is Haman alluded to in the Torah? “Hamin ha-aitz . . .?” – “From the tree . . .?” (Bereishis 3:11) (Chullin 139a)
The first of Shevat is the new year for the tree . . . (Rosh Hashanah, 1:1)
These are seemingly, three unrelated topics. However, appearances can be deceiving at times, as they are in this case. In fact, these three concepts – the Heavenly bread from this week’s parshah, the evil Haman, and Tu B’Shevat of this coming week, G-d willing – are intimately related, all having to do with the rectification of all of world history.
It all goes back to the Garden. It always does. The moment that Adam disobeyed G-d’s commandment not to eat from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, he transformed reality and changed the course of history. He made possible the likes of Haman, created the need for Heavenly bread, and instituted the holiday of Tu B’Shevat, a day the mishnah calls the “new year of the tree” – singular.
According to Kabbalah, the concept of a “Tree of knowledge of Good and Evil” is any situation where good and evil are combined within one entity. Thus, a person who is spiritually impure is said to be on the level of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, because he is essentially good but in a state of spiritual impurity, or evil.
It is not that evil did not exist before Adam ate from the forbidden fruit. However, before Adam’s sin, good remained separate from evil and they did not share a common reality. Therefore, it could be said that the reality of Haman did not yet exist since evil was unable to interact with good in any detrimental way.
The potential may have existed, but not the reality of that potential. It took Adam to combine good and evil into a single being, which became incarnate in the form of his first son, Kayin. Even though Kayin and his descendants were eventually destroyed, the reality of evil was in the world and it was possible for it to interact with good, as did Haman much later on in history. Thus, the Talmud’s words:
Where is Haman alluded to in the Torah? “Hamin ha-aitz…?” – “From the tree . . .?” (Bereishis 3:11) (Chullin 139a)
Once that became the case, mankind, and specifically the Jewish people, required a way to rise above that reality and to even reverse it. That “way” was embodied in the mann, the miraculous bread that fell daily for the Jewish people throughout their forty years in the desert.
The mann revealed that even through the physical reality seemed so all-pervasive and dominant, it was in fact temporal and at the will of the spiritual reality. Though the amount of mann that fell for everyone was the same, one omer (about 2 quarts-worth), HOW it fell for each individual was dependent upon one’s spiritual growth. (Yoma 74a)
Furthermore, it miraculously nourished all aspects of the person without having to be rejected at all; it was not a mixture of good and evil, but only good. On Erev Shabbos it could double its size without having to be physically added to. Thus, the mann represented a departure from the everyday mundane and limiting physical reality of the Pharaohs and Hamans, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, for that matter.
Which brings us to Tu B’Shevat, the new year of the tree. Which tree? Says the Pri Tzaddik: THE tree:
This is why it says, “On the first of Shevat is the new year for the tree . . .” (Rosh Hashanah, 1:1), for the “tree” is the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” after it grew and produced fruit. Rectification means using it for good, and the ideal time is in the month of Shevat . . .
The main tikun comes through the Oral Law . . . (Pri Tzaddik, Tu B’Shevat 2) which Haman was against. This is why, says the Pri Tzaddik, Haman built his gallows fifty amos high to hang Mordechai: to indicate he was stopping the “Fifty Gates of Understanding” which are within the Oral Law, and for which Mordechai had been a conduit. (Pri Tzaddik, Purim 2)
Thus, Tu B’Shevat is not about eating fruits of the new year for fruit trees. That is only to remind us that to truly achieve freedom from the Hamans and Pharaohs of history, we have to rectify THE tree, by re-dedicating ourselves to the Oral Law and by using it to rise above their everyday physical reality into the supernatural one of the Tree of Life.
G-d said to Moshe, “For how much longer will you not believe in Me to keep My mitzvos and My Torah?!” (Shemos 16:28)
Who was G-d talking about here? Moshe Rabbeinu himself? Did he go out and collect mann on Shabbos after G-d told him not to? Of course not! It was Dasan and Aviram who had gone out looking for mann on Shabbos even though Moshe had warned them not to. If so, then why did G-d direct the criticism towards Moshe himself?
Rashi says that it wasn’t really directed towards Moshe. It was just that Moshe was the spokesperson for the Jewish people, and he happened to be in the line of fire, and that’s just the way it goes. The Sifsei Chachamim goes a step further and says that Moshe actually did bear some responsibility for what went wrong, since he had been late in telling the Jewish people about the halachah.
Perhaps the following from the Arizal is also an explanation. Even if it does not apply in this situation, it is an important rule to recall when it comes to the issue of the suffering of the seemingly righteous. Says the Arizal:
Suppose a person, for example, reincarnated twenty to thirty times. He will need to know if the first one had the Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshamah from Beriyah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, and if he blemished them. If yes, then those that followed it, even if the Nefesh entered each one alone, it will have to rectify them as if they blemished all of Beriyah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah . . . (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, p. 27)
What the Arizal is saying, that if a person reincarnates into a new body with a lower level of soul than he had in the previous body because he sinned, his need for rectification may be much greater than one might have thought, given his present spiritual level. Heaven’s expectations of the person may be greater than what we expect from them, because Heaven knows the full story about this person though we only know about what we see.
Therefore, says the Arizal:
This is the sod of the posuk, “For she has taken from G-d double for her sins.” (Yeshayahu 40:2). Sometimes a person will commit a “light” sin and they will be very strict with him, punishing him as if he committed a more severe sin, “twice” what he did. Thus, one cannot fully fathom the ways of G-d when he sees someone experiencing this. Apparently, one cannot grasp such matters, but he must trust that all G-d does is righteous and with justice. (Ibid.)
Thus, G-d’s chastisement of Moshe Rabbeinu may have gone beyond the immediate moment, for Moshe’s own good and tikun. Regardless, the Arizal’s words help us to understand better what goes on before our own eyes, much more than we ever consider when having difficulty with the suffering of the righteous, or even only the very good.
Chanukah & The Wonderful World of Thirty-Six
Installment #8, Chapter Six, Part Three: The Tribes of Israel
However, all the confusion and trouble did not entirely humble Yehudah, as Rashi indicates. After Ya’akov refused to send his sons back with Binyomin as they themselves would have done, Yehudah remarked:
WHEN THE FOOD RAN OUT: We’ll wait for the old man until there ceases to be bread in the house. (Rashi, Bereishis 43:2)
It did not sound as if Yehudah yet respected his father’s viewpoint in matters. Like always, the brothers felt that their way of seeing and doing things better fit the needs of the future Jewish people. But, with each mistake the tables turned until they were forced to submit to the views of Ya’akov and Yosef.
When the brothers eventually returned to stand before Yosef with Binyomin, they first encountered Yosef’s overlord – his son Menashe which also spells “shemoneh” (eight), and “hashemen,”(the oil). Immediately, they recounted finding their money, pre-empting any accusation that might be added to the previous one of being spies. Menashe’s answer must have really taken them by surprise:
“Peace be unto you. Don’t worry. Your G-d, the G-d your father gave this hidden treasure to you . . .” (Bereishis 43:23)
Again, it was an Egyptian saying words that should have come out of the mouth of a son of Ya’akov. More mystery, more clues . . .
U’t’voah tevach v’hachayn – Slaughter and prepare . . . (Bereishis 43:16)
Prepare . . . Remove the gid hanashe in front (of the brothers). (Chullin 91a)
The last letters of “u’t’voah tevach v’hachayn” spell “Chanukah” (ches-nun-vav-ches-heh), and their total numerical value is equal to 44, the number of candles of Chanukah (including the shamashim). (Eliyahu Rabbah, Chanukah 10).
Yosef was referring to the meal that he planned to have with his brothers after they returned from Canaan with Binyomin. He wanted to remove the gid hanashe which is hidden within the leg and which alludes to the struggle Ya’akov had with the angel of Eisav after returning for small jars of oil. This was another hint to the brothers. Yosef was bringing home his message.
After a peaceful encounter, true to his word, Yosef freed Shimon and returned him to his brothers. They dined and after they had finished loaded up their donkeys with provisions. They prepared to go home, but when they were not looking, Yosef had his silver chalice hidden in the sack of Binyomin.
The brothers had not traveled far before Yosef’s men caught up to them and accused them of stealing the goblet – the worst nightmare they could have dreamed. Once the chalice was found in Binyomin’s sack, they had had all they could take. Tearing their clothes like mourners, they returned to Egypt defeated and downtrodden.
Still, they accused Binyomin of being guilty rather than assuming his innocence:
“Thief, son of a thief . . . son of Rachel who stole Lavan’s items of idol worship.” (Bereishis Rabbah 92:8)
Just as they had wrongly accused Yosef, they wrongly accused Yosef’s brother. Just as they had judged “guilty” based upon what their eyes saw and not what was apparent to the mind’s eye, they judged Binyomin to be guilty based upon surface evidence. In doing so, they set themselves up for a very hard fall when the hand of G-d and the hand of Yosef would become perfectly apparent.
Yehudah said, “What can we say to my master, and what is our righteousness. G-d has found the transgression of your servants.” (Bereishis 44:16)
In other words, Yehudah was telling Yosef that the situation had become so ludicrous that we don’t even suspect you anymore. When things this strange happen, it is the hand of G-d working directly in the affairs of man, as Dovid HaMelech taught:
This is from G-d, that which is wondrous in our eyes. (Tehillim 118:23)
– and obviously HE wants us to be enslaved to you for our past mistake.
However, Yosef was not finished yet. Yehudah’s admission was only a partial one. Even when events don’t seem so strange, the hand of G-d is there working and it is for us to assume this, rely upon it, and show appreciation for it. Once the brothers understood this, Yosef could prove that each one could be a vehicle to fulfill G-d’s will.
Nothing stands in the way of fulfillment once a person lives with this reality. However, overlook the hand of G-d and you become a mere pawn in His master plan of making the light of Melech Moshiach, of ushering in the grand finale of history.
Back in Egypt, Yehudah confronted Yosef when the latter turned down his request to spare Binyomin and instead enslave the rest of the brothers. According to the midrashim, the ensuing discussion threatened to become quite violent at which point Yosef felt compelled to announce what he had held back until just the right moment:
“I am Yosef!” (Bereishis 45:3)
The brothers were completely speechless and terrified. They were afraid of Yosef, but more importantly they were afraid of how, for twenty-two years they had totally missed the point. They had thought that they had been the ones in control the whole time only to find out that they had instead been pawns in G-d’s plan to elevate Yosef and bring the Jewish people down to Egypt.
If they had really understood what had been happening, they could have ended history then and there and ushered in the Days of Moshiach with the three simple words,
“YOU ARE YOSEF!”
After all, who else could have known what you knew and done what you have done! Had they come to this realization on their own, it would have proven that they had learned to see past the surface and into the innermost reality of a matter.
However, they had not, and now they were very sorry that they hadn’t. For, nothing is worse than being only a pawn in G-d’s history; nothing is worse than misreading the opportunities of life. Nothing is worse than finding out that you were concealing the light of creation when you had thought all along that you were revealing it.
The rest of the story of Yosef and his brothers is history. The brothers recovered from their shock well enough to return home and reveal to Ya’akov what he had suspected all along. And with the news of Yosef’s physical and spiritual survival came the need to emigrate from Canaan, to descend into the exile foretold to Avraham over one hundred years before.
Finally, after twenty-two long years the “spark” was reunited with the “flame,” and a new era of Jewish and world history was ready to begin. The hidden had been revealed and the light of creation was allowed to shine for a time. It was peace and tranquility that Yisroel enjoyed the last seventeen years of his life.
Thus, the period of transition came to a close and the torch that had previously been passed from individual to individual would now be passed to an entire nation whose mission it would be to shine with the light of creation. And the individual responsible for this phase of the transition had himself been a repository of the spectacular light of the first day of creation.
Have a great Shabbos,