These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: #1232 – Placing A Person in a Non-Kosher Mental Institution. Good Shabbos!
I will share a brilliant insight on this week’s parsha from the Tolner Rebbe (Rabbi Yitzchok Menachem Weinberg of Jerusalem).
The pasuk says in Parshas Shemos “…See all the wonders that I have placed in your hand, and you shall do them before Pharaoh and I will harden his heart and he will not send away the nation. And you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says Hashem, My son, My firstborn, Israel.'” (Shemos 4:21-22). Rashi writes on the words “My son, My firstborn, Israel” as follows: “This is an expression of greatness (lashon gedula).” In other words, the Hebrew word Bechor here does not necessarily mean firstborn, it connotes greatness.
After Rashi gives the “simple interpretation” (pshuto), he then cites the Medrashic interpretation, which indeed takes the word Bechor in its literal sense: “Here the Almighty certified the sale of the birthright by Eisav to Yaakov.” It is as if the Holy One places His signature on the document of sale that Eisav wrote up, selling his rights of being the firstborn to his younger brother.
Three questions may be asked here:
- All the way back in Parshas Bereshis, Rashi says “There are many Medrashim, but I have come only to provide the “P’shuto shel Mikra” (the simple interpretation of Scripture). This pasuk that we just quoted is actually just one of the dozens and dozens of Medrashim that Rashi brings. When Rashi bring a Medrash, it is because something is bothering Rashi and the “pshat” just does not adequately solve the issue. Therefore, Rashi marshals a Medrash to help elaborate a deeper interpretation of the pasuk. The question we need to pose here is what is the problem with this pasuk? What was lacking in the simple interpretation, which prompted Rashi to bring a Medrash for deeper understanding?
- The transfer of the Birthright between Eisav and Yaakov was an event which occurred approximately 250 years earlier. Why does Hashem suddenly certify this sale now?
- This is a generic question. The Halacha is that a firstborn is entitled to a “double portion” of his father’s estate—double what any of his brothers receive. Why did the Torah grant the firstborn a double portion? We just finished learning the tragic story of Yosef and his brothers. It all started with Yaakov showing favoritism to Yosef and giving him something that he did not give to his other sons. The Talmud teaches (Shabbos 10b) that a father should NOT show favoritism to one brother over another. And yet here the Torah says that a firstborn receives a double portion! Why did the Torah do that?
Those are the three questions: Why was it necessary to bring the Medrash? Why now? And in general, why does a Bechor get “pi shnayim“?
To answer these questions, the Tolner Rebbe postulates three principles:
Principle #1: There are few things that are more disgusting to Hashem than a person who is a kafui tov (ingrate). The Medrash of Rav Eliezer states “There is nothing as difficult to handle for the Holy One Blessed Be He as someone who ignores a favor done for him.”
Principle #2: The Meshech Chochma in this week’s parsha explains that a Bechor receives a double portion because a father owes hakaras hatov (gratitude) to his firstborn son for having made him into a father. Fatherhood is an entirely different chapter of a person’s life, which enhances the worth and essence of an individual. The firstborn is the one who makes his father into a father.
This Meshech Chochma basically answers question #3 above, explaining why the Bechor receives the double portion, and explaining why this is not a violation of a father showing favoritism among children. The Bechor deserves the double portion as a token of the gratitude the father has to him for making him into a father!
Once we understand this connection between Bechora (the status of being a firstborn) and hakaras hatov (the debt of gratitude a person has for someone who did him a favor), we introduce…
Principle #3: The pasuk says, “A scoffer (naval) says in his heart, ‘There is no G-d'” (Tehillim 14:1 & Tehillim 53:2). Rashi, in his commentary on Tehillim, says this pasuk refers (prophetically) to either Nebuchadnezzar or Titus. However, the Medrash says the naval referenced in the pasuk is referring to Eisav. The Medrash commentaries explain that the reason that Eisav is considered such a naval is because he is the epitome of a kafui tov. The Medrash states that when Yaakov received the Bechora, Eisav hated him. He said to himself, “I just can’t wait until my father will die, and then I will kill Yaakov.” But he was not satisfied with just waiting. He planned to speed up the process by hastening his father’s death. But rather than do this dastardly act himself, he went to Yishmael and asked him to kill his (paternal) brother, Yitzchak. “You kill your brother Yitzchak and I will kill my brother Yaakov, and then we will receive the whole inheritance between the two of us!” However, the Medrash continues, part of Eisav’s diabolical plan was that after Yishmael killed Yitzchak and Eisav killed Yaakov, Eisav intended to kill Yishmael and take the whole inheritance for himself! This, the Medrash says, is the epitome of a naval.
Thus, the example par excellence of a person who is a kafui tov is Eisav. Now, who else in Chumash is a kafui tov? It is Pharaoh! Why is he a kafui tov? Look what the Jewish people did for Egypt, to the extent that the Egyptians themselves said to Pharaoh, “How can you do this? The Jews saved us. The Jews kept us alive!” When Yaakov Avinu came down to Mitzrayim, the famine ended. So Pharaoh is also a kafui tov.
If that is the case, it all comes together. Eisav is a kafui tov. The whole reason for the Bechora is because people need to show gratitude (to be makir tov). A person who is not makir tov has no connection to the Bechora. Therefore, Hashem says “I agree. I sign onto the sale of the Birthright from Eisav to Yaakov because Bechora is all about appreciating the concept of hakaras hatov.” Eisav, who is ready to kill his brother, his father, and his father-in-law (Eisav married Yismael’s daughter) has no connection whatsoever to hakaras hatov and consequently, not to the Bechora either!
Therefore, it is now that Hashem tells Moshe “You tell Pharaoh that I can’t stand him either because Yisroel is my first born! I certify the transfer of the Bechora away from someone who is a kafui tov. Just as Eisav was not a makir tov, you, Pharaoh, are also a kafui tov!”
This explains what was bothering Rashi, as well. Listen carefully to the two Pesukim. “…Go ahead and do these signs I have given you in front of Pharaoh. I will harden his heart and he will not send out the nation. And you shall say to Pharaoh, thus said Hashem, My son, My firstborn, Israel.” (Shemos 4:21-22). Note that once Hashem told Moshe that the signs were to be done “in front of Pharaoh” it was not necessary to mention the monarch’s name, but rather it sufficed to use the pronouns “his heart” and “he will not send.” It is clear that the pronouns refer to Pharaoh. Likewise, in Pasuk 22, there was no reason to mention Pharaoh by name. The pasuk could have just as well said “And you shall say to him…”. Why was it necessary to say “And you shall say to Pharaoh“?
That is what was bothering Rashi. Why does the pasuk need to re-mention Pharaoh’s name? But now Rashi has an answer. The reason is that Pharaoh is a kafui tov. The Ari z”l points out that the letters of the word Pharaoh (Pay Reish Ayin Hay) also spell haoref (Hay Ayin Reish Pay), meaning the back of the neck, which represents someone turning their back on someone. The reason the Torah emphasizes Pharaoh in this pasuk is that Pharaoh represents haoref – the person who is characterized by a demonstration of ingratitude towards someone who has done him a favor symbolized by showing him the back of his neck, turning his back upon him. Pharaoh turned his back on Klal Yisrael, the nation of Yosef, who saved Egypt from destruction.
Rashi cites the Medrash to explain why the Torah needs to say “Vayomer el Pharoah” rather than “Vayomer E’lav,” to emphasize that the Egyptian monarch is haoref – characterized by his ingratitude which is symbolized by the back of his neck. Because of Hashem’s intolerance for those who are ungrateful, he signed on the Bechora of Yaakov, eliminating Eisav from that role because Eisav too was a kafui tov. Pharaoh is being told that he too will receive his punishment now, because like Eisav, he is a kafui tov.
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 Shemos is provided below:
- # 038 – Husbands at Childbirth
- # 081 – Cholov Yisroel: Necessary or Not in America?
- # 129 – Giving English Names
- # 176 – Shalosh Seudos in Shuls: Is There a Problem?
- # 222 – Disposal of Shaimos
- # 266 – The Laws and Customs of Chupah
- # 312 – The Do’s and Don’ts of Naming Babies
- # 356 – Turning Offender Over to the Secular Authorities
- # 400 – Sh’nayim Mikra V’echad Targum
- # 444 – The Deaf Mute In Halacha
- # 488 – Marrying Cousins
- # 532 – Learning On Shabbos — A Good Idea?
- # 576 – Davening With Shoes
- # 620 – Kosher Cheese: What Is It?
- # 654 – The Woman Mohel; Laser Milah
- # 708 – Your Child as a Shabbos Goy?
- # 752 – Saving Your Life – How Far Must I Go?
- # 796 – English Names Revisited
- # 840 – Baby Naming – Whose Privilege, Father or Mother?
- # 884 – The Corrosive Effect of Non-Kosher Foods
- # 928 – The Heinous Crime of Mosair
- # 971 – Kissing People in a Shul — Mutar or Asur?
- # 1015 – Ma’avir Sedrah – Why? When?
- # 1059 – “How Do You Get Called Up to the Torah?”
- # 1102 – Dressing Jewishly: Is There Such A Thing?
- # 1145 – Shomer Shabbos Vs Non-Shomer Shabbos Doctor – Revisited
- # 1188 – Cho’shaid Be’kesharim – Not Giving The Benefit of the Doubt
- # 1232 – Placing A Person in a Non-Kosher Mental Institution
- # 1276 – Cap and Gown at Graduation: Is There A Halachic Problem?
- # 1320 – Sitting Next to Someone Who is Davening Sh’moneh Esria –Is it Permitted?
- # 1364 – The Halachic Issues Concerning Hearing Aids
- # 1408 – How Does One Pronounce and Write the Name Yissocher?
- # 1452 – Ours is Not to Question Why, Ours is Just to Do and Die – Do We Always Say That?
- # 1496 – Should You Make a Sh’hechiyanu When You Get the Corona Vaccine?
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.