The pasukim at the beginning of Perek 14 say, “Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, Speak to the Children of Israel and let them turn back and encamp before Pi-Hachiros, between Migdol and the sea, before Ba’al-Tzephon; you shall encamp opposite it, by the sea. Pharaoh will say TO the Children of Israel, ‘They are imprisoned in the land, the Wilderness has locked them in.'” (Shemos 14:1-3).
Pharaoh’s assessment that the fleeing Jews were lost in the Wilderness prompted him to chase after them with his army. The question is, what does it mean “and Pharaoh said TO the Children of Israel (EL Bnei Yisrael)”? There were not any of Bnei Yisrael left in Mitzrayim (Egypt) to whom he could speak! The people who deserved to leave Mitzrayim left already; the ones who were undeserving, died during the plague of Darkness, but there were no Jews left in Mitzrayim!
Because of this problem, most Meforshei HaChumash do not translate the words “El Bnei Yisrael” to mean “TO Bnei Yisrael” but rather “ABOUT Bnei Yisrael“. However, Targum Yonosan ben Uziel, gives a different interpretation (as he often does). According to Targum Yonosan ben Uziel, Pharaoh spoke to Dasan and Aviram – two Jews who stayed back in Mitzrayim when their brethren left.
As is well known, Dasan and Aviram were terrible antagonists of Moshe Rabbeinu. They were wicked individuals who gave Moshe constant tzores. Apparently, they stuck around in Mitzrayim, not wanting to leave with Moshe. Pharaoh was addressing them.
The question is, if they were such wicked people that they did not even want to leave when Bnei Yisrael were given permission to leave the country, why were they still alive? The Torah says that Bnei Yisrael left Mitzrayim “Chamushim” (Shemos 13:18). According to some Medrashim, this means that only one fifth (‘chomesh‘) of the Jews left Mitzrayim – the righteous Jews. Eighty percent were found unworthy to witness the Exodus, and they died during Makkas Choshech! There is no way that Dasan and Aviram qualified as tzadikim. Not only that, but even if they survived the Choshech, they did not want to leave Mitzrayim! How is it that they lived to tell the tale and survived all the way into the midbar, up to the rebellion of Korach, more than a year later? What was their merit that granted them this ‘longevity’?
The Maharil Diskin says an amazing thing. Dasan and Aviram had a zechus in that they were the taskmasters (shotrim) in Mitzrayim. Just like in the Concentration Camps, in addition to the German officers, there were also the Jewish Kapos who were given the job of enforcing the labor upon their fellow Jews. They had the same system in Mitzrayim. There were Egyptians who were the overseers, but the people who actually dealt with the Jewish slaves were these shotrim, the taskmasters.
These taskmasters bore the burden of the Egyptian overseers. The overseers did not whip the lower echelon slaves at the bottom of the ladder. They whipped the Jewish taskmasters, whose job it was to ensure maximum productivity from the slaves at the bottom of the ladder. Dasan and Aviram were part of that crew of taskmasters who bore the whippings of the Egyptian overseers.
The Maharil Diskin adds that earlier Bnei Yisrael complained to Moshe Rabbeinu, “You made us smell” (Hiv’ashtem es Rucheinu) (Shemos 5:21). We usually learn this as a figure of speech. The Maharil Diskin interprets it literally – because of their wounds from the whippings that did not heal, their bodies reeked. The Maharil Diskin says that the Ribono shel Olam, as it were, has a soft spot in His heart for a Jew who suffers on behalf of other Jews. Dasan and Aviram were wicked and they reported Moshe Rabbeinu to Pharaoh for killing the Egyptian. They were horrible people. But they had one incredible merit. They literally took it on the chin – if not the back – for other Jews. This is such an enormous zechus that it protected them such that they did not die during Choshech, nor did the fact that they did not want to leave Mitzrayim condemn them, and they lived to tell the tale.
Moshe Was Not Abdicating His Role as Leader
The pasuk says that the Jews complained about the food (or lack thereof) in the Wilderness “” (Shemos 16:3). They incredibly complained to Moshe Rabbeinu that they missed the “good times” they had in Mitzrayim. The Ribono shel Olam then initiated the incredible miracle of the mann – “Lechem min haShamayim.” Every single day for forty years, they would go out in front of their tents and collect a daily ration of mann that was an exact match for the number of people in their households.
Perhaps we became accustomed to the idea of the miracles that occurred during the time of the Exodus. But if we think about it…bread from Heaven, every single day for forty years, is perhaps the greatest miracle of all! It is almost like finding a check in your mailbox every single day to cover all of your basic expenses. This is the miracle of the mann.
Moshe proclaims that with this miracle, the Jews will realize once and for all that it was the Ribono shel Olam who took them out of Mitzrayim: “In the evening you shall know that Hashem took you out of the land of Egypt. And in the morning, you will see the glory of Hashem, that He has heard your complaints against Heaven…” (Shemos 16:6-7). Then he tells them: “… For what are we that you should incite complaints against us? …When, in the evening, Hashem gives you meat to eat and bread to satiety in the morning, as Hashem hears your complaints that you complain against Him – for what are we? Not against us are your complaints, but against Hashem!” (Shemos 16:7-8). In other words, “Why blame us? If you have a complaint, go blame Hashem!”
Knowing what we know about Moshe Rabbeinu, does this seem like an appropriate response by the leader of the Jewish people to talk like that to his flock? “You have a problem? It’s not my problem – take up your issues with Hashem!” This does not sound like the Moshe Rabbeinu we know! How callous can someone be? This is Moshe Rabbeinu – the faithful shepherd of Israel here!
The Gemara (Chulin 89a) makes a drasha from this pasuk. “Rava (some say R’ Yochanan) states: ‘Greater is that which is written about Moshe and Aharon than that which is written about Avraham. For by Avraham, it merely states ‘I am but dust and ashes’ while by Moshe and Aharon it says ‘We are nothing”” The humility of Moshe and Aharon thus surpassed that of Avraham. However, the context here is puzzling. This is misplaced humility! This is not the place to say “What do you want from me? I am a nothing!” We see Chazal praise Moshe for this, and yet to us it seems like misplaced anivus.
The Tolner Rebbe, based on a diyuk in Rabbeinu Bachye in this week’s parsha, answers both of these questions. Rabbeinu Bachye notes that the appearance of the word “Zeh” in this parsha of the mann (“Zeh – This is the matter that Hashem commanded…” (Shemos 16:16)) is an allusion to the word “Zeh” in the beginning of the previous chapter (Shemos 15:2) (“Zeh” – This is my G-d and I will glorify Him…) in the Shiras HaYam.
Rabbeinu Bachye explains “For at this moment when they said “Zeh Keli v’Anveyhu,” they were worthy of a miracle such as the mann, about which it says “Zeh HaDavar.” It sounds like Rabbeinu Bachye is making up an irrational Gezeira Shava. This is not something a post Talmudic commentator can suggest without a source from Chazal! What does Rabbeinu Bachye mean?
The Tolner Rebbe provides insight into the intent of Rabbeinu Bachye: Chazal say that by Kriyas Yam Suf, the humblest handmaid saw prophetic visions that were greater than those of the great prophet Yechezkel. They were actually able to point and say “This is (Zeh) my G-d!” But it is more than an emphasis on the word “ZEH” – “THIS.” The emphasis is “This is MY G-d.” (Zeh KELI)! Klal Yisrael reached such a stature and closeness to Hashem at that moment that they could not only recognize the Hand of G-d but that they could feel a personal closeness and intimacy and say “This is MY G-d” – This is the G-d that takes care of ME. In effect, they were saying “This is my Father”.
Since at that moment, they had the closeness and intimacy of a child to a father, they merited receiving the mann. Who puts breakfast on the table for the children? It is the father! Who buys clothes for the children? It is the father! That is what a father does for his child.
If at that moment, Bnei Yisrael reached that level of intimacy and closeness to the Ribono shel Olam that He was not merely a distant G-d in Heaven, but rather that he was their father who put breakfast on the table for them, then that is why they merited receiving ZEH ha’Mon! When a person feels that close to Hashem, the relationship is reciprocal. Then Hashem treats us as His children and every single morning when we come down for breakfast, there will be cereal on the table and milk in the refrigerator.
So when Klal Yisrael complain to Moshe Rabbeinu – What are we going to eat? – Moshe Rabbeinu answers – You are endangering the relationship! “If you are talking like that and saying ‘Why did you take us out of Mitzrayim?’ you are jeopardizing the entire Father-Child connection! Moshe Rabbeinu says to Klal Yisrael “We didn’t take you out of Mitzrayim. Hashem took you out of Mitzrayim! You have a complaint? Go to Daddy! Don’t come to me, I am not your father.”
At all costs, Moshe Rabbeinu wanted to preserve this closeness and intimacy that Klal Yisrael had established with the Almighty at Yam Suf. Moshe knew that if they fell away from this closeness and did not look at the Ribono shel Olam as literally taking care of them like a father to a child, then they would lose it. Therefore, Moshe Rabbeinu says “V’Anachnu Mah?” – We did not take you out of Mitzrayim! We are nothing! Hashem took you out of Mitzrayim! “You don’t have what to eat? Don’t come to us – go straight to Hashem with your complaints!” When a child approaches a stranger on the street and complains that he has not had breakfast or he does not have shoes, the stranger might say “What do you want from me? Go to your parents. They will take care of you!”
Moshe Rabbeinu was not abdicating his role or passing the buck. Moshe Rabbeinu trying to preserve the level of intimacy that Klal Yisrael had with the Ribono shel Olam at that moment of “This is MY G-d and I will glorify Him.”
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
- # 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
- #1411 Hiring a Snow Plow to Remove Your Snow-Even on Shabbos?
- #1455 Should You Correct The Baal Koreh If He Makes a Mistake?
A complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.