A Student Publication of the Torah Academy of Bergen County
Parshat Beshalach 15 Shevat 5764 February 7, 2004 Vol.13 No.20
In This Issue:
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
This week's Kol
Torah has been sponsored by Barbara and Ken Strassman and family
Are We Truly Free?
by Mr. Bryan Kinzbrunner
When reading Tanach, people are inclined to see things in black and white without considering all avenues of thought. I think that when reading Parshat Beshalach, we fall into the same trap. We tend to ignore Hashem's seemingly unfair treatment of Pharaoh because we see Pharaoh as the bad guy. If so, why should we care if Hashem takes away his choice and leads him to his death?
After the plague of boils, Hashem hardens Pharaoh's heart (Shemot 9:12). For the first time, it is no longer Pharaoh deciding to force the Jews to stay in Mitzrayim, but Hashem, who has a master plan to afflict the Egyptians with ten plagues and drown them in the sea. After the tenth plague, before Hashem speaks to Moshe in the desert, the reader might think, "Finally, the Jews are free, and Pharaoh will no longer be punished." However, Hashem has other plans. After Bnei Yisrael are on their way to the sea, Hashem hardens Pharaoh's heart, forcing one final confrontation, in which He will be able to prove that Pharaoh is merely human (Shemot 14:4). The idea that Hashem would harden Pharaoh's heart seems difficult. How can it be legitimate for Hashem to remove a person's free will?
In Chapter 7 of his introduction to Pirqei Avot, Rambam discusses the notion of free will in relation to the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. According to Rambam, if the issue were simply a matter of Pharaoh not allowing the Jews to leave Mitzrayim, there would be a serious problem with Hashem hardening Pharaoh's heart because it would be an abrogation of free will and would appear unjust.
However, upon further reflection, Rambam claims that Pharaoh really did have the choice to allow the Jews to leave Mitzrayim. Instead of choosing to allow the Jews to continue living in Mitzrayim as free men, Pharaoh enslaved them. Hence, his punishment was to lose his free will and be unable to repent, in order for punishment to be carried out to its conclusion. Therefore, instead of merely killing Pharaoh and the Egyptians and allowing the Jews to leave Mitzrayim, Hashem hardened Pharaoh's heart one last time to force Pharaoh to chase after the Jews. Pharaoh is then drowned as punishment for oppressing His people. Rambam concludes that Pharaoh's loss of free will is a result of Hashem determining that the punishment needed for Pharaoh would warrant a loss of the ability to repent, for, as we know, Pharaoh had five chances to let Israel leave under his own free will.
Perhaps one can learn from Rambam's analysis that humanity does have the ability to choose, but sometimes the choices appear predetermined. Unlike Pharaoh, who loses his freedom of choice due to constantly changing his mind regarding the freeing of the Jews, most of us have some form of choice. However, like Pharaoh, we can lose the ability to choose if we do not carefully control our actions.
Careful What You Wish For
by Jesse Dunietz
In the closing lines of Shirat Hayam, Bnei Yisrael look to their future in Eretz Yisrael. They discuss the resident nations' fear, and go on to describe the ideal state that will come with their own establishment in the land. In Shemot 15:17, they sing, "Tivi'emo Vitita'emo Behar Nachalaticha," "May You bring them and implant them on the mountain of Your possession." It seems that Bnei Yisrael are simply asking that they be securely established in Eretz Yisrael. But why do they ask for "them" to be brought into the Land? Would it not make more sense for them to say, "You will bring us?"
Mechilta (quoted by Rashi) explains that Bnei Yisrael were expressing an unwitting prophecy. Without realizing the implications of their words, they predicted that they themselves would not enter Eretz Yisrael. Rather, Hashem would bring and implant "them" - the children of the current generation. Still, points out the Beit Halevi, a question remains. Bnei Yisrael must have meant something when they said these words. If this prophecy was unintentional, what did they really have in mind at the time? Indeed, though the Beit Halevi does not mention it, the Chizkuni points out that Moshe and the nation clearly were quite convinced that they were going to enter they land; Moshe later tells his father-in-law Yitro, "Nos'im Anachnu El Hamakom.," "We are traveling to the place." (Bamidmar 10:29). Clearly, they did not know that it would only be their children who would enter. What, then, did they originally intend when they said, "May You bring and implant them?"
One possible answer may be embedded in the Midrash itself, or at least in the Riva (quoted by the Torat Chaim commentary on Chizkuni), who comments on Rashi. The Midrash states that "they prophesied without realizing what they were prophesying." Similarly, the Riva writes that "this prophecy entered their mouths" via this phraseology. The implication that may be made from these sources is that Bnei Yisrael did not, in fact, understand what they were saying. They were merely inspired by a prophetic spirit, which caused them to utter predictive words that did not make sense to them. This may be supported by the fact that they describe Hashem's "dwelling place," as they call it later in the Pasuk, as "the mountain of Your possession." According to several commentators, including Seforno and Ibn Ezra, this refers to Har Habayit. However, they had not yet been told what city Hashem would choose in Eretz Yisrael; it is referred to throughout Devarim as "the place Hashem will choose." It is likely, then, that Bnei Yisrael did not understand this turn of phrase about the mountain, and it is therefore logical to say that they did not understand their own words about entering the Land, either.
The Beit Halevi, however, suggests a stronger answer. The Gemara in Pesachim (87b) states that Bnei Yisrael are exiled only so that there will be more converts. The Beit Halevi explains that Hashem could have punished us in a different way, but in order to encourage proselytes to join the nation, He chose this means of punishment. However, if Bnei Yisrael had not sinned and brought an exile upon themselves, these non-Jews would have come to Israel independently, and would have come to convert by that means. Unfortunately, our sins (and the corresponding downswing in Divine favor) diminished our reputation greatly, so the odds of this occurrence became quite slim. In order to assure that those destined for conversion would have their opportunity, Hashem sent us out into exile so we would have contact with those non-Jews.
It was about these people, not about themselves, that Bnei Yisrael said, "May You bring and implant them." Two Pesukim before that phrase, they sang of the fear that would strike the current inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael. Bnei Yisrael were referring to those non-Jews when they mentioned "them." As the Beit Halevi puts it, they were praying, "May You bring those among [the other nations] who are fit to join us to the mountain of Your possession. May they come to us, and may we not have to go to them." What became a prophecy about not entering the Land started out as a prayer that the nation not be evicted from it.
This is closely connected to the interpretation of the Ibn Ezra (Hearuch), quoted by Seforno. He believes that "may You bring and implant them" was a prayer that many people would come to the mountain (or the Land), and that the nation not be exiled from it. Like the Beit Halevi, the Ibn Ezra suggests that Bnei Yisrael were really asking not only that they be brought to the Land, but that they never be forced off of it. Most unfortunately, this vision was not realized. Instead of their originally intended meaning, these prophetic words came to refer to the fact that only Bnei Yisrael's children would enter the Land.
Perhaps the concept brought out by the Beit Halevi and the Ibn Ezra is an expression of a theme found elsewhere in Tanach, the mutability of prophecy. Bnei Yisrael had a very specific idea in mind when they sang their song. Despite the fact that their wording was carefully tailored to this idea, it was still possible for it to be changed to the very opposite meaning. Because of later flaws in Bnei Yisrael's actions, Hashem completely reinterpreted the prediction of the Shirat Hayam, much to our detriment. Yet this is not always the way He works. He promised Avraham in the Brit Bein Habetarim that we would be in Mitzrayim for 400 years, but He reinterpreted the prophecy to allow us to leave sooner. According to the Midrash, this great kindness of Hashem was due to the good deeds performed by Bnei Yisrael in Mitzrayim. May we be Zocheh that our actions merit only positive realizations of prophecies, and may the prophecies fulfilled be those that describe the time of the Mashiach.
An Educational Detour
by Ben Krinsky
There is an age old question of how the Jews in the desert could continuously complain about their situations; after all, they knew that Hashem was more than willing to produce miracles for their benefit! To find the answer to this question, we must examine the beginning and end of this week's Parsha. At the very beginning, Hashem decides to take the Jews to Israel in a roundabout way. The reason He gives for this is to prevent war with the Pelishtim, lest the Jews become afraid and try to return to Egypt. However, less then two weeks later the Jews are attacked by Amalek, and not a single person wanted to return to Egypt. How could Hashem say they would be afraid of war if it soon became apparent that they were not?
Rabbenu Bachya, quoting Rabbenu Chananel, answers that the reason for going the long way in the desert really had nothing to do with wars; this was merely an excuse. Hashem's real reason was that he wanted the opportunity to perform miracles on a large scale for the Jews in order to create a recognition of His power. Had the Jews gone directly to face the Pelishtim, it would only have taken one small miracle to destroy them, and they would have gone on to conquer the land of Israel. However, Hashem decided to spend two years (which was later increased to forty) teaching the Jews about Him by doing many miracles in the desert. One example of this was the manna. Most travelers carry at least a week's supply of food with them when they travel, but the Jews were required to rely on Hashem to give them food every day. Hashem's teaching method took a long time and needed much reinforcement. The Jews were not able to grasp all the fundamentals until after forty years of teaching.
Now we can return to our original question. The Jews were slow learners and did not grasp right away that Hashem would give them whatever they needed. Therefore, when things got tough, they did not realize that Hashem would help them, so they resorted to complaining.
by Mitch Levine
"It happened when Pharaoh sent out the people that God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, because it was near, for God said, "Perhaps the people will reconsider when they see a war, and they will return to Egypt" (Shemot 13:17).
The Baal Haturim on this Pasuk wonders why it says, "the people." The Baal Haturim answers this question by saying that the Gematria of these words, 516, equals that of the words "Gam Eirev Rav," "also a mixed multitude." (This phrase is found in last week's Parsha, where it says, "Also a mixed multitude went up with them" [12:38].) What does this mean, though, and what does it have to do with "the people?" Rashi explains as follows: The "Eirev Rav" was comprised of a large number of non-Israelites who joined Bnai Yisrael when they left Egypt. Without the permission of Hashem, Moshe converted them and accepted them into the nation. However, their conversion was not sincere, and they eventually became degenerate and took others (non-Israelites) along with them in their travels with Bnai Yisrael. Thus, according to the Baal Haturim, it was not the People of Israel with whom Hashem was concerned, but these insincere, potentially disloyal converts.
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