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Posted on February 7, 2020 (5780) By Rabbi Yissocher Frand | Series: | Level:

These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: # 1105 The Shabbos Seuda on a No-Carb Diet. Good Shabbos!

No!  The Jews Are Different!

The Medrash comments on the pasuk, “And Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him…” [Shemos 13:19] as follows: “About such, scripture writes: ‘The wise of heart will seize good deeds, but the foolish one’s lips will become weary’ [Mishlei 10:8], for all of Israel were occupied with (gathering) silver and gold, and Moshe was occupied with the bones of Yosef.”

The Medrash thus praises Moshe Rabbeinu’s piety.  When the masses were busying themselves with taking the spoils from Egypt, Moshe busied himself with taking Yosef haTzadik’s remains.  Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky (in his sefer, Emes L’Yaakov) wonders why Moshe’s actions represent great piety (chassidus). Was it not a mitzvah to fulfill the oath made to Yosef [Shemos 13:19] and take his bones with them when they left Egypt?  What else would we expect Moshe to do at this moment?

Rav Yaakov points out that Klal Yisrael had a hard time taking the silver and gold from the Egyptians.  As difficult as it may seem for us to understand why they should have had a hard time taking the money from Egypt, the truth of the matter is that the pasuk says, “Please speak into the ears of the people and have them ask, every person from his fellow (Egyptian)…” [Shemos 11:2].  The Almighty, as it were, had to beg the people to take the money!  Why “Please take the money”?  Since when do people need to be told, “Please take the money”?  What does Rav Yaakov mean here?

Rav Yaakov says the reason they were hesitant to take the gold and silver was because they thought perhaps they were taking it illegally.  Here they would be taking money from the Egyptians and they would not be returning it or paying it back!  In reality, that was not the case.  The Almighty would not instruct them to do something that was illicit.  In fact, they deserved the money.  They had worked all these years as slave laborers without proper compensation.  Furthermore, the great wealth that the Egyptians possessed all came about because of Yosef.  The money was legitimately theirs.

But even though this might have conceivably been the “easier mitzvah” to perform, Moshe Rabbeinu chose a mitzvah for which he would not receive any financial benefit.  Taking the bones of Yosef with him was a mitzvah that involved no personal gain. 

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky explains that it is virtually impossible to imagine what Moshe Rabbeinu was able to accomplish with this Mitzvah.  This act of taking the bones of Yosef literally saved Klal Yisrael.  We are all familiar with the teaching of Chazal that when the Jews arrived at the Yam Suf (Reed Sea), the Angels complained to G-d “These (the Egyptians) are idol worshippers and these (the Jews) are idol worshippers” (implying – why kill the Egyptians and save the Jews?) 

The Medrash states as follows: “In the merit of the bones of Yosef, the Sea split for Israel.  About this it is written: “the sea saw and fled (va’yanos)” [Tehillim 114:3] – this happened in the merit of “he left his garment in her hand and he fled (va’yanas) outside” [Bereishis 39:12].  The splitting of the Yam Suf – the quintessential paradigm of all miracles – occurred in the merit of the coffin of the righteous Yosef, who generations earlier fled from the seductive efforts of Potiphar’s wife. 

Yosef knew that by fleeing from the wife of Potiphar, he faced likely imprisonment for the rest of his life.  Mrs. Potiphar was not going to stand idly by after she tried to seduce him and he left her standing there.  Yosef knew what would happen: She would accuse him of trying to rape her and they would throw the ‘Egyptian slave’ into prison forever.  He had no idea what was going to eventually happen – that Pharaoh would dream and he would interpret the dream and be elevated to second in command in the land.  He did not read Parshas VaYeshev and Parshas Miketz ahead of time to realize all that!  This was an incomprehensible act of mesiras nefesh (self-sacrifice).  In the merit of this great deed, according to the Medrash, the sea split! 

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky adds the following: When the Angels complained, “These and these are idolaters” (i.e., there is no difference between the Jews and the Egyptians), the Ribono shel Olam responded to them: “No! There is a difference between the Jews and the Egyptians.”  Granted, they both might worship avodah zarah, but there is something fundamentally different.  By Yosef HaTzadik, the fact that he was willing to literally give up his life to preserve moral standards, speaks to the capacity and power of the Jewish soul.

Had it not been for Yosef HaTzadik, the implication is that the Ribono shel Olam would have had to concede to the Angels and tell them they were right – there is no difference between these idolaters and those idolaters…and the Jews would have drowned as well. 

In retrospect, we can see who caused the sea to split!  “Come and see the wisdom, the piety and the righteousness of Moshe Rabbeinu!”  Had he not taken Yosef’s bones, had Israel not had the merit of Yosef’s coffin accompanying them as they passed through the split waters of the Yam Suf, who knows what would have been?

This is another case where at the time of a person’s action, he does not realize what he is accomplishing. However, that action could make the difference for eternity.  Moshe Rabbeinu did not realize what he was doing, and Yosef HaTzadik realized the trouble that he was going to get into – but he did it anyway.  Those actions enabled the Master of the Universe to respond to the Angels “No! The Jews are different.”

What Was Pharaoh Thinking???

After having been on the receiving end of ten Divine plagues, and after sending out Bnai Yisrael, Pharaoh suddenly says: We made a mistake.  We sent out the Jews!  “What have we done? We sent out Israel from being our slaves!” [Shemos 14:5] 

I ask you: Pharaoh looks at his country.  It is literally destroyed.  The cattle are gone.  The crops are gone.  The firstborn are dead.  Talk about destruction!  Look at Germany after the bombing of the Allied campaign.  Cities – literally destroyed!  Nothing left!  Good, Pharaoh is a stubborn fool.  All along, he did not get it. He was “slow” to catch on.  But now, he looks around and he sees his country is devastated.  How could he say such a stupid thing – What have we have done that we sent out Israel from being our slaves?

Does he not realize with whom he is dealing?  Does he not realize that he is dealing with an Omnipotent G-d that he has not been able to stop?  And now he plans to start all over again with Him?  What was he thinking?  Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky in Emes L’Yaakov offers two interpretations, one based on ‘pshat‘ (the simple reading of the pesukim), and one based on human psychology.

Based on the simple interpretation, Rav Yaakov says an interesting thing on Parshas Shemos.  The first time Moshe asks Pharaoh to “Send out the people,” he asks that Pharaoh release them for only three days and then they would return.  Was this a trick?  Did the Almighty really mean that Israel would go out for three days and then return to Egypt?  What is the alternative?  Was it merely a ruse? 

The Almighty was not trying “to pull a fast one” on Pharaoh.  The Ribono shel Olam does not work like that. 

Rav Yaakov says an amazingly novel idea.  There is a basic difference between Parshas Shemos on the one hand and the Parshas of VaEra and Bo on the other hand.  In Parshas Shemos, Israel was supposed to remain in Egypt for the full 400 years (foretold to Avraham in Bereishis 15:13).  However, the Ribono shel Olam saw that if they stayed in Egypt much longer than the 200+ years that they were currently already there, they would have spiritual destruction and therefore they would not be able to last the 400 years.  Therefore, He came up with a plan – Let them out for three days!  They will go into the wilderness, they will have a national Avodas Hashem (Divine Service), this will provide a booster shot of ruchniyus (spirituality) and then they will be able to return to Egypt and remain for the rest of the four hundred years!

That was “Plan A”.  Pharaoh rejected Plan A.  The Almighty then came up with “Plan B”.  Plan B was that they were not going to last 400 years in Egypt so the Almighty calibrated the qualitative intensity of the enslavement that they experienced during the time they were in Egypt to be equivalent to 400 years.  After Parshas Shemos, there is never any more talk of “Let us go for three days.”  It is always “Let us out.”  This is what happens in Parshas VaEra and Parshas Bo.

Then in Parshas B’Shalach, Pharaoh says “OK, G-d, You won!  I got it!  Let them go for three days like You said originally!”  They went, and they were gone for three days, then four days, then five days and six days and they are not turning around!  Pharaoh says “Hey!  What happened over here?  You said three days!”  This is what prompted him to go after the Jews.  He felt that it was not fair that they were not coming back (as Moshe had originally offered).  This is the approach based on “pshat“.

The approach based on psychology is as follows: A human being who is blinded – be it by money, be it by greed, be it by tayvah (lust), be it by passion – can look at a situation and see that there is a 99.9% chance that he is going to fail. Nonetheless, if he really wants something because of his greed or his passion or whatever, he will look at that one tenth of one percent and say “Ah!  I can still do it!” 

Pharaoh looked around and saw every avodah zarah was destroyed – except one.  Baal Tzefon was still intact.  [Shemos 14:2].  Yes!  G-d took on my 99 idols and defeated them.  But look!  Baal Tzefon is still around.  The Jews are confused in the desert.  Baal Tzefon has caused them to lose their bearings.  I can still get them.

Any rational person could look at this situation and say, “Look, if G-d did all this to you already, Baal Tzefon or anybody else is not going to be able to help you!”  But Pharaoh was greedy.  He did not want to see the slaves go, and that greed blinded him.  It happened to Pharaoh and it happened in Iraq in 1991.  When Donald Rumsefeld said, “We are going to go ahead, and we are going to destroy your country -“Shock and Awe” (remember that terminology?) – Sadam Hussein thought he would take on the combined forces of the United States of America and all the Allies and he would survive!  Was he crazy?  What motivates someone like Sadam Hussein?  The answer is that it is the same psychology all over again.  Whether it was his greed or his ego or whatever – he went up against the United States.  That was insanity!

That is the way human beings think.  If there is a one tenth of one percent chance, they will rationalize, they will bend, they will twist themselves into a pretzel and conclude – “I will be able to do it.”  That is what we see from Pharaoh. The words “Before Baal Tzefon” indicate that Pharaoh observed that Baal Tzefon was still around.  “He is my savior.  G-d can’t beat Baal Tzefon!”

Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]

Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]


This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas B’Shalach is provided below:

  • # 041 Israel’s Wars: 1948-1973, A Halachic Perspective
  • # 084 The Mitzvah of Krias HaTorah
  • # 132 Standing for Krias Hatorah
  • # 179 Female Vocalists: The Problem of Kol Isha
  • # 225 Music in Halacha
  • # 269 Lechem Mishnah
  • # 315 The Prohibition of Living in Egypt
  • # 359 Making Ice On Shabbos
  • # 403 Three Slices of Pizza–Must You Bench?
  • # 447 Hidur Mitzvah
  • # 491 The Three Seudos of Shabbos
  • # 535 Using P’sukim for Nigunim?
  • # 579 Being Motzi Others in Lechem Mishan and Other Brachos
  • # 623 Kiddush or Netilas Yadayim – Which Comes First?
  • # 667 The Supernatural and the “Mun” dane
  • # 711 Shlishi or Shishi? and Other Aliyah Issues
  • 1# 755 Techum Shabbos: Wearing Your Hat to the Hospital
  • # 799 Kibud Av – Can A Father Be Mochel?
  • # 843 Shalosh Seudos in the Morning?
  • # 887 Rejoicing At The Death of Reshoim -Recommended or Not?
  • # 931 K’rias Hatorah – Must You Listen?
  • # 974 Bracha of Ga’aal Yisroel Before Shemoneh Esrai−Silent or Out loud?
  • #1018 Bracha Achrona: How Soon Must You Say It?
  • #1062 Shalosh Seudos: Where and With What?
  • #1105 The Shabbos Seuda On A No-Carb Diet
  • #1148 Kol Isha – Listening To A Female Vocalist on the Radio
  • #1191 Was Devorah Really a Dayan? How Did She Learn That Much Torah?
  • #1235 Are women obligated in Lechem Mishneh?
  • #1279 Parshas Zachor for Women After Davening & Other Krias HaTorah Issues
  • #1323 Lechem Mishna: What Exactly Is the Mitzva?  Are Women Obligated?  Must you Make Your Own Bracha on Your Slice?
  • #1367 An Interesting Asher Yatzar Shaila

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