In This Issue:
Rabbi Scott Friedman
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
As a queue of pleading and desperate people from across the world stood before the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l seeking Berachot, one woman was sitting, dragging her chair with her as the line moved forward. When at last the mysteriously seated woman approached the Rebbe, she asked him how is it that she, who was younger than the Rebbe, was unable to continue standing, while the Rebbe, who was standing there in front of the line before she arrived, will be able to remain standing after she leaves without needing to sit and rest. The Rebbe answered that when one is counting diamonds, he never gets tired.
In Parashat BeShalach, the Torah informs us of the scene Klal Yisrael witnessed at the edge of the Yam Suf. “ VaYisu Bnei Yisrael Et Eineihem VeHinei Mitzrayim Noseia Achareihem,” “Bnei Yisrael lifted up their eyes, and behold, Egypt was marching after them” (14:10). Rabbeinu Bachya points out that, according to the rules of Hebrew grammar, one would have expected a plural conjugation Nosim, as opposed to the singular Noseia. Therefore, we can glean that, when the Torah speaks of the Egyptians in singular, it serves to tell us that they were united in their goal of pursuing Klal Yisrael. Rashi describes this unity as “with one heart, like one man.” Rav Yitzchak Hutner, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Chaim Berlin, makes a similar observation regarding the Pasuk in Parashat Yitro which states “VaYichan Sham Yisrael Neged HaHar,” “And Israel encamped there, opposite the mountain” (Shemot 19:2). Again, we see a case where grammatically it should have said, “VaYachanu,” the plural conjugation, yet it speaks in the singular. Rashi again comments that it is specifically written in the singular in order to teach us that Klal Yisrael was “like one man, with one heart.” Asks Rav Hutner, why does Rashi say “with one heart, as one man” by the Egyptians, yet by Klal Yisrael, Rashi says the inverse? Rav Hunter answers: When one says that a person’s right hand wants the same thing as his or her left, it is because both are part of the same organism. Therefore, their desires and interests naturally coincide. The organism is as one man, with one heart. Conversely, when two people join together for a common purpose, they are joined only as long as their goals are shared. They are still not a single unit, but rather, with one heart, as one man.
One time, Rav Aryeh Levine went with his wife to a doctor appointment. When the doctor asked what the problem was he responded our arm hurts, referring to his wife’s physical arm, and their joined pain from that arm. The Gemara Yerushalmi states that if one was cutting something, and his right hand was to cut his left, he wouldn’t be upset at his right hand. This is comparable to the Jewish people, if only we would be able to see each other as the Gemara speaks of us, as Hashem sees us, as the Rebbe valued every Jew, as different parts of one organism serving Hashem.
I often wonder, throughout history, that the Jewish people have united when trouble strikes. Most recently, when the war in Gaza broke out, I remember initially hearing about four, holy, brave soldiers who lost their lives defending Eretz Yisrael. Every Jew across the globe was discussing these four soldiers. Yet, four casualties in a day of war is a small number, unless each one is a family member. These four soldiers were our family members, part of the one unit, together serving Hashem.
A friend of mine who is learning in the Belz Beit Midrash in Yerushalayim told me that the day the war began they cancelled the morning Seder of learning and recited all of Sefer Tehillim for the soldiers. The Bostener Rebbe spoke out about the importance of caring for all Jews regardless of our differences. We all know that the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed for Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred amongst fellow Jews. It always seemed to me that the rectification for this must be Ahavat Chinam, genuine love amongst fellow Jews for no other reason other than they are part of our “family.” When a child is born, the parents love them without the child ever doing anything to earn it; so too, we should all feel this unconditional love towards our Jewish family. When we focus on only that which we have in common, we become weak; we become “with one heart, like one man” as opposed to “like one man, with one heart.” On my recent trip to Eretz Yisrael with a group of seniors over the winter break, Mr. Robert Katz was gracious enough to set up an appointment with us and Rav Grossman, the founder of the charity organization, Migdal Ohr, established with the express purpose of providing education and social guidance to the children from underprivileged and problem homes in northern Israel. Rav Grossman was the most loving, caring, genuine person I have ever met, and the organization is beyond words; something every person should go see if possible. Rav Grossman spoke with us for three hours and gave us great insights, and told us many moving and powerful stories. One story told to us was of a little boy from Migdal Ohr who was walking outside when he saw Rav Grossman and went to hide. Rav Grossman called the boy over and asked him why he was hiding. The boy responded that he was embarrassed, and when asked why, the boy answered because he doesn’t have a Kippah. Rav Grossman hugged the boy and smiled, proclaiming “do I love you any less because you don’t wear a Kippah?” This unconditional love is something I strive for and I hope that as a people we will all come to it soon.
The beginning of Parashat BeShalach is filled with instances in which Hashem’s intentions in leading the Jewish people are revealed. For example, Hashem decides not to lead Bnei Yisrael into the land of the Pelishtim because Hashem does not want to create a situation in which the Jews would run back to Egypt (Shemot 13:17). Additionally, the Torah states Yosef’s previous assertion that if Bnei Yisrael bring Yosef’s bones with them, “Pakod Yifkod Elokim Etchem,” “Hashem will surely take you [the Jews] into account” (13:19). Hashem also shows that He has the needs of his nation in mind by traveling as a cloud by day and as a pillar of fire by night “LaLechet Yomam VaLaylah,” “so that they [Bnei Yisrael] could travel day and night” (13:21). Moreover, Hashem talks to Moshe and reveals an overview of His Divine plan “VeIkavedah BiPharoh UVeChol Cheilo,” “and I [Hashem] will become glorified through Paroh and all his army” (14:4).
After finding themselves surrounded on one side by the Egyptian army and on the other by the Yam Suf, Bnei Yisrael, for the first time, are able to call out specifically to Hashem. Because they have experienced Hashgachah Pratit, the Divine Providence, in the beginning of Parashat BeShalach, the Jews realize that their God is not just a personal GPS with a built-in plague-maker, and they exhibit an understanding of Hashem’s intense love for His people. Conversely, in the beginning of Parashat Shemot, before Bnei Yisrael have experienced Hashgachah Pratit, the Torah states, “VaYei’anechu Bnei Yisrael Min HaAvodah VaYizaku VaTaal Shavatam El HaElokim,” “and Bnei Yisrael groaned because of their work and cried out, and their cries ascended to God” (2:23). The wording of this statement implies that the Jews did not cry out to anyone in particular; Bnei Yisrael did not have faith in Hashem because they did not necessarily realize the strength of their relationship with Hashem.
After Bnei Yisrael, unable to escape from the Egyptians at Yam Suf, cry out to Hashem, Hashem performs perhaps the most glorious act of Hashgachah Pratit: the splitting of Yam Suf. This miracle acts as a spectacular ending of Hashem’s plan for Yetziat Mitzrayim. The first national prayer session of the Jewish people, the reason for Keriyat Yam Suf, proves to be a spectacular beginning of Bnei Yisrael’s spiritual relationship with Hashem. Frequent celebrations and unfortunate trying times have proven that the Jews will never cease to pray to Hashem, whether through holidays, fasts, or daily Tefillah.
BeShalach relates Bnei Yisrael’s miraculous crossing of the Yam Suf and the Shirah which followed. In the Shirah, Az Yashir, why does the Pasuk “Sus VeRochevo Ramah VaYam” “His horse and rider [God] has thrown into the sea” (Shemot 15:1) precede the phrase in the following Pasuk of “Zeh Keili Ve’Anvehu,” “This is my God and I will exalt him” (Shemot 15:2)? It seems out of place. Why don’t we declare that Hashem is our God in the pasuk before we talk about defeating the Mitzrim? One would think that we should declare that Hashem is our God before we give the reasons!
There are three approaches to explain this connection. Rashi takes a more classical approach and states that the purpose of the phrase “Zeh Keili VeAnvehu” is to make Hashem’s glory great. This means that we are adding the idea of Hashem’s glory into the Shirah as it connects the two Pesukim; it transitions from Pasuk Aleph’s ideas of the miraculous wonders Hashem performed for us in Egypt to Pasuk Gimmel’s declaration of “Hashem Ish Milchamah” “Hashem is a God of war” (15:3).
The Sforno states that that “Zeh Keili VeAnvehu” means that Hashem is my champion, my God. Meaning that Bnei Yisrael accepted Hashem as their God based on the miracles and deeds He performed at the Yam Suf, with the expectation that he would perform more miracles for them in the future.
Thirdly, the Ramban explains that the Pasuk is to be understood as “Hashem is the God of my nation”. This is quite similar to the Sforno’s response, the Ramban explains that Bnei Yisrael were accepting Hashem through his miracles. The Ramban differs from Sforno in that he sees “Zeh Keili VeAnvehu” as a segue to Pasuk Gimmel: first Bnei Yisrael will accept Hashem and then Hashem will act for them as a God of war.
When we are in times of distress, we can always look to Hashem for help. These three approaches can be our focus when we daven to Hashem. We can consider, as Rashi did, the miracles that he has already performed, such as at the Yam Suf, we can look to the future with Hashem as our champion who will continue to perform miracles for us, as Sforno did, or we can merge the two as the Ramban did and keep both in mind when davening. May these intentions during Tefillah elevate the Tefillot so that they be accepted speedily by Hashem.
An interesting Midrash regarding Parshat BeShalach states that when the Mon initially descended, it was accompanied with precious diamonds. The Gedolim of the nation went ahead and took these diamonds while the rest of the congregation took only the Mon. Why were the leaders only able to take advantage of the riches?
To shed insight onto this question, Rav Frand directs us to an observation from Rav Michel Twerski of Milwaukee who points out the unique economic conditions that existed in the wilderness. For possibly the only time in the history of mankind, every need of a people was met. Food was delivered from the sky, water traveled with them in the form of a traveling well, shelter was found in the Annanei HaKavod, and as Rashi explains, Bnei Yisrael’s clothing never wore out. There was no need for anything other than that which was provided, much less diamonds. Realizing this, the people felt that money served no purpose and as a result, they neglected these diamonds.
However, the great people of Bnei Yisrael knew that there would come an occasion when there would be a Mishkan and Bigdei Kehunah, which would require the contribution of these precious stones. Chazal teach us that what differentiates the masses from the leaders is perspective. A person who only sees what is in front of his nose and considers only his immediate requirements for the day, lacks the foresight to become a leader. The leader, on the other hand, recognizes that although certain things may be unnecessary in the current situation, in the future there may come a time when they will have value.
It is well known that trees do not grow in deserts; yet, Bnei Yisrael still managed to procure a massive amount of wood for the construction of the Mishkan. Where did they obtain the lumber? Chazal credit the existence of the trees to the foresight of Yaakov, explaining that Yaakov planted cedar trees when he first came down to Egypt so that his descendants would be able to cut them down and take them out with them for the purpose of building the Mishkan (Rashi Shemot 25:5, Tanchuma 9). This is the perspective of a great individual, he is not merely caught up in 'today'; he plans for and considers what will be necessary in the future.
This idea of perspective is not merely something that should be left for the “elite” leaders to consider. We, as Am Yisrael, understand that we all are supposed to take initiative and strive to be role models for the rest of the world. With the numerous and major problems constantly threatening us in the world today, it is easy for us to just want to give up. However, we cannot simply rely on our leaders to do all of the work and blame them in times of failure. We must all become leaders. When in a difficult situation we must look at the situation in perspective. The bad experiences that we suffer are our diamonds, and we need to be able to collect them, store them, and learn the valuable lessons that exist within them.
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