These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape # 132, Standing for Krias HaTorah. Good Shabbos!
Did Pharoah Forget All That Happened In One Week?
In this week’s Parsha the Jewish people, having just left the slavery of Egypt, camped by the Red Sea. The verse tell us that “Pharoah heard that the people had escaped and his heart and the heart of his servants changed vis a vis the nation, saying ‘What is it that we have done to send Israel from serving us?'” [Shemos 14:5]
Here it is a week later — the seventh day of Pesach — and Pharoah wakes up and says to himself, “We had such a great deal going for us all these years — 600,000 people working for us free labor — why did we do such a stupid thing as sending them out?”
This is amazing — it doesn’t make sense! Everyone knows that Pharoah didn’t “send them out.” The country of Egypt was suffering through nine terrible plagues; finally the Plague of the First Born came. By this point it was well established that this was the Hand of G-d and that Pharoah had no choice in the matter but to let the Jews go. How can he say “we sent them out”?
Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt”l, says that we see from this verse an insight into human nature. We see this insight everyday — when we look at our friends and acquaintances. The trouble is that we don’t always see it when it comes to ourselves.
There are two things that vie for control of a human being — his emotion and his reason, his heart and his intellect. Whenever there is a conflict between the emotions and the rational part of a human being, the emotions will overcome and make the rational part forget the things that were so clear just yesterday. If the emotions can find even the smallest excuse to understand something in a way that will coincide with the wants and desires of a person, the emotions will twist and corrupt that which is so obvious to any rational person. The emotions and passions will overcome the intellect.
Pharoah had a good thing going. The free labor was an economic boon for Egyptian society. Their desire, more than anything else, was to re-enslave the Jewish people. Pharoah, seeing the Jews encamped in front of Ba’al Tzefon [14:2] (Ba’al Tzefon was an Egyptian idol), reasoned as follows: “G-d was victorious over all our other gods, but now that I see that they are encamped in front of Ba’al Tzefon, the Ribbono shel Olam has met his match.”
Even though any rational person would have to conclude after all that had happened that G-d is Almighty, Pharoah was so desperate to find a justification to re-enslave the Jews that he reached out and grasped this far-fetched theory.
When Pharoah came to the Red Sea and saw that the Sea was miraculously split, with the Jewish people marching through in the middle, he did not draw the conclusion that would be obvious to every rational person — that this must be the Hand of G-d. What kind of idiot would chase after Klal Yisroel under these circumstances? People are afraid to walk under a ladder because it may fall on them — so how could he do such an insane act as to follow them into the middle of the sea?
No. He again came up with a far-fetched theory — “a strong easterly wind” [14:21] was responsible for the water’s separation, not the Hand of G-d. The emotion says, “it must be the east wind”. Rational reasoning says, “it must be the Hand of G-d”. But if a person wants something, his emotions will distort that which is obvious to every other individual in order to satisfy his own desire and passion.
This is the moral lesson of “we sent Israel out from being our slaves”. Whenever we are in a situation where we know that our emotions are in conflict with our logic, we have to be extremely careful and on the lookout. We have to seek counsel from disinterested third parties. We ourselves cannot judge the situation. Emotions and passions can be terribly blinding.
Personalities & Sources:
Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky — (1891-1986) Rav of Tzitevian, Lithuania; Toronto, Canada; and Rosh Yeshiva of Mesivta Torah Vodaath, New York.
Gehennom — place of punishment in the Afterlife.
chas v’Sholom — Heaven forbid
l’havdil — to distinguish (between unequals)
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, Maryland.
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah portion #132. The corresponding halachic portion for this tape is: Standing up for Krias HaTorah. The other halachic portions for Parsha Beshalach from the Commuter Chavrusah Series are:
- Tape # 041 – Israel’s Wars 1948-1973; A Halachik Perspective
- Tape # 084 – The Mitzvah of Krias HaTorah
- Tape # 179 – Female Vocalists: The Problem of Kol Isha
- Tape # 225 – Music in Halacha
- Tape # 269 – Lechem Mishnah
- Tape # 315 – The Prohibition of Living in Egypt
- Tape # 359 – Making Ice on Shabbos
- Tape # 403 – Three slices of Pizza — Must you bench?
- Tape # 447 – Hidur Mitzvah
Tapes or a complete catalogue can be ordered from:
Yad Yechiel Institute
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Owings Mills, MD 21117-0511
Call (410) 358-0416 for further information.
Also Available: Mesorah / Artscroll has published a collection of Rabbi Frand’s essays. The book is entitled:
and is available through Project Genesis On-Line Bookstore: http://books.torah.org/