Empathy for Others — A Great Quality in Both the Wicked and the Righteous
These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape #755 – Techum Shabbos — Wearing Your Hat To The Hospital. Good Shabbos!
Pharaoh had a change of heart right after he let the Jewish people go. “He said to the Children of Israel: They are lost in the land.” [Shmos 14:3] Rashi raises the obvious difficulty with this pasuk. Why does the pasuk say that Pharaoh spoke TO the children of Israel (l’Bnei Yisrael)? They had left Egypt already. How could he be talking to them? Rashi responds that we must interpret the pasuk to mean that Pharaoh spoke ABOUT the Children of Israel (“al bnei Yisrael”) rather than TO them.
The Targum Yonasan ben Uziel has a unique interpretation. The Targum Yonasan ben Uziel interprets that Pharaoh was addressing Dassan and Aviram, who remained in Egypt. The Maharal Diskin asks a strong question. We know that large numbers of the undeserving members of Klal Yisrael died during the plague of Choshech [Darkness]. According to one interpretation in Rashi (on the pasuk “The Children of Israel went up from Egypt ‘Chamushim'”), 80% of the Jewish community perished during those 3 days of Darkness. The Maharal Diskin asks – We are talking about Dassan and Aviram — who are known to us — from several statements of Chazal — as being wicked people. How can it be that they survived the plague of Choshech?
The Targum Yonasan ben Uziel gives a fascinating answer. The Egyptian slave state had a hierarchy. Pharaoh assigned the job of enslaving the Jews to Egyptian taskmasters. The taskmasters identified Jewish policemen and forced these policemen to make the Jewish slaves produce their quota of work. The taskmasters beat the policemen and the policemen beat the Jewish slaves. Chazal praise the Jewish policemen for often absorbing the beatings of the Egyptian taskmasters and thereby sparing greater suffering on the part of the Jewish slaves.
The Maharal Diskin says that even though Dassan was a wicked person and an extreme trouble maker, but nevertheless he was one of the policemen and he had the merit of absorbing the blows of Egyptian taskmasters to save the Jewish slaves from being whipped themselves. This merit caused his life to be spared during the days of Darkness. A person who accepts suffering on himself to save the suffering of a fellow Jew has tremendous merit — neither the Red Sea nor the Angel of Death can touch him.
Rav Shmuel Auerbach, when eulogizing his father Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, quoted one of his father’s favorite stories: The Baruch Taam once arranged for the marriage of his son to the daughter of a very wealthy individual. The families got together before the wedding to talk about the details of the marriage. The future mother-in-law (of the Baruch Tam’s son) saw that the Baruch Tam was distressed. She went to him privately and asked him what he was so distressed about. “Is there anything wrong with the shidduch?” she wanted to know. The Baruch Taam told her that he was upset because the “water carrier” in the city was very sick. [In those days before people had running water, one of the more menial jobs in European villages was that of the water carrier. The water carrier went down to the river, filled up two buckets and carried them back to town on his shoulders. He did this all day, going back and forth between the river and the town. All one needed to do this job was to have a good back and a lot of stamina. One did not need to be very bright and this was literally among the most menial of professions.] The Baruch Taam felt great empathy for the water carrier, who was sick and could not enjoy the engagement party of his own son.
The future mother-in-law of his son told the Baruch Taam, “Get over it! What does that have to do with you? Don’t let his sickness spoil what should be a happy day for you!” The Baruch Taam came out of the room and announced that the engagement was off. “Anyone who could not empathize with the suffering of another Jew is not the type of family I want my son to marry into, regardless of how much money they have.” If one is not seriously bothered by the fact that someone else is hurting, one lacks the sensitivity required of a caring member of the Jewish people.
This was one of the favorite stories of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. Empathy for others is a great quality to have, whether one is as wicked as Dassan and Aviram or as righteous as Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach.
This write-up was adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tape series on the weekly Torah portion. The complete list of halachic topics covered in this series for Parshas B’Shalach are provided below:
Tape # 041 – Israel’s Wars: 1948-1973, A Halachic Perspective
Tape # 084 – The Mitzvah of Krias HaTorah
Tape # 132 – Standing for 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
Tape # 491 – The Three Seudos of Shabbos
Tape # 535 – Using P’sukim for Nigunim?
Tape # 579 – Being Motzi Others in Lechem Mishnah and Other Brachos
Tape # 623 – Kiddush or Netilas Yadayim – Which Comes First?
Tape # 667 – The Supernatural and the “Mun” dane
Tape # 711 – Shlishi or Shishi? And Other Aliyah Issues
Tape # 755 – Techum Shabbos: Wearing Your Hat to the Hospital
Tape # 799 – Kibud Av – Can A Father Be Mochel?
Tape # 887 – Rejoicing At The Death of Reshoim – Recommended or Not?
Tape # 931 – K’rias HaTorah – Must You Listen?
Tape # 974 – Birkat Ga’al Yisroel Before Shmoneh Esrai – Silent or Out Loud?
Tape #1018 – Bracha Achrona: How Soon Must You Say It?
Tape #1062 – Shalosh Seudos: Where and With What?
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