Parsha Pearls: Parshas Beshalach

The Zionist Leaders are Amalek
Religious MKs Lend Legitimacy to the Government
Judaism Versus Idolatry
Leaving Egyptian Exile Early

And Moshe said to the people, "Do not fear! Stand by and see Hashem's saving that He will perform for you today… Hashem will fight for you, and you will be silent." (14:13-14)

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Ehrenreich (1863-1944), the Samloyer Rav, once said: Why did Moshe have to say "stand by"? Wasn't it enough to say "do not fear, see Hashem's saving"? The answer is that among the Jewish people there were many mighty men, and furthermore, anyone who sees that he is about to meet his death will put up a great fight, summoning superhuman energy. When the Jews saw the sea on one side and the Egyptian army on the other, they thought they were doomed. Let us go and fight the Egyptians, they thought, kill as many as we can of them, and perhaps we will overcome them – for in any case we are about to die. Moshe Rabbeinu knew what they were thinking, so he said, "Stand by, stay in your places and do nothing, for Hashem Yisborach does not need you to help Him save you. On the contrary, that would make it worse. "Hashem will fight for you" only if "you will be silent."

In general, Hashem comes to our aid only when we recognize that we cannot fight for ourselves. This is what Dovid Hamelech said in Tehillim (94:17), "If Hashem had not been my help, my soul would easily have dwelt in death. If I said, 'My foot has slipped,' Your kindness, Hashem, supports me." The meaning of these verses is: If I had not recognized that Hashem helps me, my soul would easily have dwelt in death. But since I say, "My foot has slipped, I am nothing, I cannot save myself with my own power" - Your kindness, Hashem, supports me.

This is why when the rebellious Jews tried to invade Eretz Yisroel against the will of Hashem after the sin of the spies, the Amalekites and the Canaanites came down and smote them and smashed them until Charmah (Bamidbar 14:45). And this is why when some of the tribe of Ephraim left Egypt thirty years before the end of the exile, the Philistines killed them (Sanhedrin 92b). Their sin was that they relied on their own power, without Hashem's help.

This is what we must know, that we cannot save ourselves with our own power, without the help of Hashem and without the holy Torah. The Zionists, however, want to conquer and control Eretz Yisroel by force, with their own power, without the help of Hashem and without the Torah. It will be bitter for them in the end, for they will never succeed or accomplish anything. They will meet the fate of the rebellious invaders of the Land and the tribe of Ephraim.

Know also, my fellows, that this group existed once before in our history, at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. Then they were called not "Tziyonim" but "Biryonim". We could have continued to live peacefully under Roman rule, but the Biryonim, the militants, wanted to fight Rome and become independent. They disregarded all the words of the great sages of their time, and fought till the bitter end – and because of them we are in exile today. (Drashos Lechem Shlomo 76)

Tomorrow is a holy Shabbos to Hashem; bake what you want to bake, cook what you want to cook, and store away all that is left till the morning. (16:23)

The Torah forbids cooking on Shabbos, and Chazal enacted the precaution of not even insulating cooked food on Friday with a substance that adds heat: "We may not insulate with olive pulp, manure, salt, plaster, or sand…we may insulate with clothing, fruit, the wings of a dove, sawdust or fine flax dust." (Mishnah Shabbos Ch. 4) Reb Mordechai Yosef of Izhbitzeh (d. 1854) explained that this law contains a hint to the Jewish people's proper conduct during exile. We may insulate our life-force during exile so that it should not burn out, but we may not do anything that "adds heat" – to arouse ourselves to the point where we want to leave exile by force and push to the End, as the Gemora (Kesubos 111a) says that Hashem made us swear not to do this. "We may insulate with clothing" – the tzitzis, which protect us – "fruit" – the Four Species of the lulav – "the wings of a dove" – tefillin and mezuzos, as explained in the Gemora (Shabbos 49a) – "sawdust" – afflictions which bring atonement (from the similarity of the words "yisurin" and "nesores") and "fine flax dust" – acts of kindness. All these mitzvos protect us during exile, but we may not add heat and leave on our own, only when Hashem Yisborach shines His light upon us. (Mei Hashiloach on Shabbos, Ch. 4.)

And he said, "For the hand is on the throne of Hashem – Hashem is at war with Amalek, from generation to generation." (17:16)

Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman writes: The Torah teaches here that this war against Amalek exists in all generations until the coming of Moshiach. However, the "Amalek" is not always the same. In the olden days when the Jewish people was ruled only by Torah, the enemies were the descendants of Amalek in the gentile world. But ever since we have thrown off the yoke of the Torah, the seed of Amalek thrives in our midst. We now have many who violate the Torah out of spite, such as the Yevsekses – Jewish Communists – who live not only in the Soviet Union but in all of the world, wherever there are Jews, and also in Eretz Yisroel. The Hellenizers there are the same Yevsekses – there is no difference between them, except that these write in Yiddish and those write in modern Hebrew. On both groups, Hashem has sworn that His name is not complete and His throne is not complete until they are erased from the world.

People are so ignorant today, that a large percentage of Jews support them with money, so that they might be bigger and stronger. They do not know or understand the word of Hashem, "When the wicked blossom like grass, when all sinners flower, it is in order to destroy them forever." (Tehillim 92:8) And when that time comes, woe to those who support them or flatter them! And it is as clear as the sun that the Land will vomit them out, for it is the King's palace and it does not support sinners, much less those who sin out of spite. (I am not coming here to curse or to bless, but since these things are written in the Torah we must admit that they will come true.)

We must not err and think that all those who follow the Zionists are from the seed of Amalek. G-d forbid to say so; we are talking here only about their heads and leaders, teachers and guides, writers and speakers – these are from the seed of Amalek, standing at the front of their armies to do battle with the Holy One, blessed is He. But all the multitudes of Jews who join them are merely following like a herd of animals. (Omer Ani Maasai Lemelech, paragraphs 5-6)

And in the morning you will see the glory of Hashem, since He has heard your complaints against Hashem; and what are we, that you should complain against us? (16:7)

Rashi says that the word "talinu" (complain) actually means to cause others to complain. Thus, the Jews' complaint caused their wives and children and the Eirev Rav, the mixed multitude of Egyptian converts, to complain. This is strange: we usually find that the Eirev Rav were the ones who induced the Jews to sin, and not the other way around. For example, the Eirev Rav initiated the sin of the golden calf. G-d said to Moshe, "Go down, for your people have become corrupt..." (Shemos 32:7) Rashi explains, "Your people – the converts you accepted." And when the people complained about the lack of variety in their diet (Bamidbar 11:4), it was the Eirev Rav who started it. So how could it be that the Jews caused the Eirev Rav to complain?

When Pharaoh devised his plan to enslave the Jews, the Sages say that he consulted three counselors: Bilam, Iyov and Yisro. Bilam advised him to do evil against the Jews, and in the end G-d punished him with death. Iyov kept silent, and G-d punished him with suffering. And Yisro fled; his reward was that his great grandchildren served on the Sanhedrin in the hewn chamber of the Temple (Sotah 11b).

This passage raises many questions. 1) Why did Yisro flee? If he had stayed and, together with the righteous Iyov, advocated good policies toward the Jews, perhaps they could have saved the situation. 2) Iyov was always a fighter against human injustice. In Iyov 29:12-17 we read of Iyov's righteous deeds: he saved the poor, the orphans and the widows; he helped the blind and the lame. He saved the victim from the teeth of the evildoer. So how could it be that Iyov was silent on the issue of enslaving the Jews? 3) Why did Pharaoh, who was wicked and wanted only to harm the Jews, choose such advisors as Yisro and Iyov, who were righteous? Perhaps he did not know that Yisro was righteous, but Iyov was famous as an upright and G-d-fearing man. At most Pharaoh would succeed in keeping him from protesting. But why did he need to go to the trouble? He should have picked evil advisors who would say whatever he wanted.

The answer is that, as the Ramban says on Shemos 1:10, Pharaoh wanted to disguise his decrees against the Jews in a cloak of moderation and fairness. To achieve his goal of lowering the Jewish population, he could have ordered his men to kill the Jews outright, or to throw the babies into the river, but that would have looked very bad – to make an official policy of killing an innocent nation who came by the invitation of an earlier Pharaoh. Therefore he said, "Come, let us deal wisely with them" – let us act with wisdom and cleverness, so that the Jews do not notice that we are persecuting them. He secretly encouraged the Egyptian people to throw Jewish babies into the river, and when the Jewish parents came to the king or to the governor in protest, they said, "Bring witnesses that so-and-so killed your baby, and then we will prosecute him under the law."

Now we understand why he picked righteous counselors: this was part of the plan to cover up his wickedness. He would say, "Look, there are righteous men on my advisory panel and they agree to my policies." Pharaoh was powerful enough to have no fear that Iyov or Yisro could ever stop him from passing any of his decrees He knew that they would not protest too much. At most they would keep quiet, and so at least to the outside world it would appear that these righteous counselors approved.

Yisro quickly understood Pharaoh's intentions and so he refused to sit on the panel; he fled. But Iyov did not realize that he was being used, and he stayed. Who knows, he thought, maybe I will be able to use my influence to improve conditions for the Jews in some way and save whatever can be saved. He had good intentions, but since he continued to be Pharaoh's counselor and cover up for him, all the wicked acts of Pharaoh and the Egyptians were counted against him. The Mishnah in Avos 1:7 says, "Do not join a wicked man," and Rabbeinu Yonah writes in his commentary that the punishment for this sin is very great. If a man commits any other sin, he has one count against him, but if he joins a wicked man, he has a share in all the sins committed by that man. He is helpless to stop the man from sinning, nor does he get any benefit from the sins, yet he is punished for them. "Woe to the wicked man and woe to his neighbor!" (Succah 56b)

Perhaps Iyov did protest from time to time, and when the Sages say that he was silent, they mean that most of the time he was silent out of fear of the king. Even if sometimes he registered a weak protest, it was considered as nothing, since his words went unheard. His real sin was simply that he continue to sit on Pharaoh's advisory panel, and for this he was punished with suffering. By sitting there he enabled and strengthened the wicked to practice their wickedness, something they would not have been able to do without his support.

According to this, we can explain Rashi's statement that the Jews induced the Eirev Rav to complain. Certainly the Eirev Rav were always the first ones to complain, but they on their own did not have enough influence to affect the Jewish people. What good Jew would listen to the counsel of the Eirev Rav? But there were some Jews who joined the Eirev Rav in their complaints, and from this the Eirev Rav gained the prestige and ability to convince the other Jews. Thus, in effect, the Jews who joined the Eirev Rav caused the Eirev Rav to complain, for it was only by virtue of their joining that the Eirev Rav had any power over the Jews. (Divrei Yoel, p. 442)

“And Hashem went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to guide them on the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to illuminate for them, to travel by day and by night.” (13:21)

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 11a) tells the story of Onkelos, nephew of the Roman emperor, who converted to Judaism and went to study in a yeshiva. His uncle sent soldiers to capture him and bring him back, but Onkelos convinced them to convert to Judaism as well.

He sent a second group of soldiers and this time warned them not to enter into any discussion with Onkelos. As they were leading him away, he said to them, “If a simple soldier and a captain are walking together at night, the simple soldier holds the lantern. If a captain and a general are walking together, the captain holds the lantern. If a general and a governor are walking together, the general holds the lantern. If a governor and the king are walking together, the governor holds the lantern. But does the king ever hold a lantern for anyone?” “No,” replied the soldiers. “But,” said Onkelos, “when the Jews traveled from Egypt, G-d illuminated the way for them with a pillar of fire.” When they heard this they all converted to Judaism.

The emperor sent a third group of soldiers, warning them not to speak with Onkelos at all, even about worldly matters. As they were leading him away, he put his hand on the mezuzah and smiled. They could not contain their curiosity and asked him why he was smiling. He said, “A human king sits inside and his servants guard the doors, but G-d stands guard at our doors while we, his servants, sit inside, as it says (Tehillim 121:8): ‘Hashem will guard your going and coming forever.’” All the soldiers converted to Judaism, and the emperor gave up trying to capture Onkelos.

Why did Onkelos choose these concepts to attract the soldiers? Why did they work so effectively? The answer lies in a fundamental difference between idolatry and Judaism. The idolaters see their gods as powerful but limited beings who need their services. By bringing offerings and performing the service of the idol, they are like servants providing the needs of a king. The idol and its priests remain focused on the spiritual while the rest of the people focus on the physical – satisfying their own desires. Their only duty to the idol and its priests is to provide their physical needs. By doing so they buy the right to live however they want. The Talmudic Sages connect idolatry and permissive lifestyles when they say (Sanhedrin 63b) that the Jewish people worshipped idols only in order to permit themselves to do immoral acts in public.

In Judaism, on the other hand, G-d is the ultimate in perfection and does not lack or need anything. He did not create us because He needed us to serve him. Rather, He created us in order to bestow kindness upon us: reward in the World to Come, which we earn through performance of the commandments in this world. Our spiritual obligations are for our own good, in order to better our souls. The Jew’s job is to focus on his spiritual well-being as much as possible, and trust in G-d to take care of his physical needs. G-d lights the way for us, guards our houses and provides us with everything we have so that we can continue to live and better our souls. When Onkelos explained this to the soldiers, they realized that the G-d of the Jews is the only true G-d, who is perfect and needs nothing from man.

The redemption for which Jews are waiting will follow the pattern of Judaism: We will complete the spiritual process of teshuva, and then G-d will take care of the physical so that we can devote ourselves to higher spiritual goals. G-d will bring us back to the Holy Land, build it for us, give us the Temple and a kingdom ruled by moshiach. He will give us plenty of food and money so that we can devote ourselves to Torah and Avodas Hashem.

This comparison between the carrying of the torch at the Exodus from Egypt and our future redemption is made by the Midrash Rabbah (Shemos 15:17): “When the Holy One, blessed is He, took Israel out of Egypt, He held the torch and walked before them, as it says, ‘And Hashem went before them…’ And so He will one day do when He takes them out of Edom, as Yishaya says (52:12), ‘For Hashem goes before you, your gatherer, the G-d of Israel.”

The Zionists, however, have patterned their “redemption” after the system of idolatry. The more religious among them will claim that they are still waiting for G-d to send moshiach, but what exactly is our role and what is G-d’s role? In their view, our role is to take care of the physical aspects of the redemption: bringing the Jewish people back to the Holy Land, conquering it, building it up, establishing a government and making food and money. G-d’s role will be to bring about the spiritual aspects of redemption. Thus, the Zionist redemption is the exact inverse of Judaism. We pray that the Jewish people recognize this and reject Zionism as the heresy that it is!

And it came to pass, when Pharaoh let the people go, that G-d did not lead them through the land of the Philistines, because it was near, for G-d said: Lest the people change their minds when they see war, and go back to Egypt. (Shemos 13:17)

Which war is the Torah referring to? The Mechilta says, “This is the war of the children of Ephraim…as it says, ‘The children of Ephraim, armed and shooting their bows, turned back on the day of battle. They did not keep the covenant of G-d, and in His Torah they refused to walk’ (Tehillim 78:9). They transgressed the End and the Oath… Hashem did not want the Bnei Yisroel to see the Bnei Ephraim’s bones strewn about in Philistia, and go back to Egypt.” According to Shemos Rabbah (20:11), some 300,000 of the Bnei Ephraim were killed, and their bones were still lying in heaps.

The Yalkut Shimoni 227 brings the Mechilta, and the Magen Avraham in his commentary Zayis Raanan explains what Oath the children of Ephraim transgressed: “For the Holy One, blessed is He, adjured them not to leave Egypt before the End, as it is written, ‘I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem…’ (Shir Hashirim 2:7). This was said regarding the final redemption, but it applied equally to the first redemption [from Egypt].”

Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Hakohein of Polnoye (disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, d. 1784) asks: It is true that the children of Ephraim left before the foretold end of exile. But the entire Jewish people, who left 30 years later, also left before the end. The exile was supposed to last 400 years, and they left after only 210 years. Of course, they got around this problem by counting the 400 years from the birth of Yitzchok, but then we could make a similar argument in defense of the children of Ephraim, who counted the 400 years from the Covenant Between the Parts.

Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Hakohein strengthens his question with a quote from the Mechilta on Parshas Bo, also brought in the Yalkut there, 208: Pharaoh arose in the middle of the night and said, “Get up, get out from among my people!” Moshe said, “Are we thieves? We will leave in the morning!” Pharaoh said, “All of Egypt will soon be dead!” Moshe said, “If you want the plague to stop, say ‘You are now in your own possession. You are now the slaves of the Holy One, blessed is He.” Pharaoh began to shout, “Up till now you were my slaves, but now you are free; you are in your own possession.”

Why did Moshe need to squeeze this statement out of Pharaoh? (And this question can be asked in general on the whole story of the Exodus: why did Hashem need Pharaoh to let the Jews go? Couldn’t He have taken them out of Egypt against Pharaoh’s will?) The Zayis Raanan answers: “Because it was still before the end of the allotted time for the exile, since 400 years had not yet passed, they were not permitted to go out until Pharaoh gave them permission. Although Pharaoh did not give permission out of his own free will, and the usual law is that if one forces another person to give him a gift, the gift is not valid, here we can apply the words of the Gemara (Bava Basra 48a) that when it comes to a mitzvah, such as a bringing a sacrifice or granting a divorce when one is required to do so, agreement under duress is valid; here also, it is a mitzvah to obey Hashem and therefore Pharaoh’s obedience under duress was valid.”

We see here clearly that the Exodus took place before the time was up. So why, asks Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Hakohein, did it not constitute a transgression of the Oath? It is true that the Children of Ephraim left against Pharaoh’s will, whereas the Israelites had Pharaoh’s permission. But evidently, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Hakohein held that Pharaoh’s granting permission would make absolutely no difference as far as the Oath. The Oath of exile is a contract between the Jewish people and Hashem, and the permission of a earthly power has no effect on it. He answers: We must say that Hashem Himself annulled the oath because He desired to redeem them early. (Tzofnas Paneach, p. 199)

The parsha begins, “It came to pass (ויהי) when Pharaoh let the people go…” The word ויהי contains the word ווי – a cry of woe. The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 20:8) comments: “Who cried woe? Moshe cried woe. This can be compared to one who was chosen to lead the king’s daughter on her wedding day, and he saw in the stars that he would indeed lead her out of her father’s house, but he would not lead her to her wedding canopy in the groom’s house. He began to cry. People said to him: Why are you crying? He said to them: I am crying because I have worked hard taking her out and I will not come with her to the wedding canopy. So too, Moshe said: I am crying because I worked hard taking Israel out of Egypt and I will not enter the Holy Land with them.”

What does this Midrash mean? Why did Moshe suddenly foresee at this point that he would not be the one to lead the people into Eretz Yisroel? According to the Zayis Raanan, we can explain as follows: From the fact that בשלח פרעה, that it had been necessary for Pharaoh to willingly let the people go, Moshe understood that the full term of exile had not yet elapsed, and therefore the redemption from Egypt would not be a permanent redemption. The Jews would eventually have to spend more time in exile. The verse continues כי קרוב הוא “because it was near” – i.e. this redemption was near and early, before its proper time. Moshe knew that if he led the people into Eretz Yisroel and built the Beis Hamikdash, there would never be another exile. Since there had to be another exile, he concluded he would not enter Eretz Yisroel; that is why he cried.

The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 20:11) makes an additional point about the children of Ephraim. Despite the fact that the children of Ephraim sinned and transgressed the Oath, that Hashem never took consolation after their deaths. He took their blood and, so to speak, dipped His garments in it. This is the meaning of Yishaya 63:2: “Why is your garment red?” The Holy One, blessed is He said: I will not be comforted until I take revenge for the death of the children of Ephraim. This is alluded to in the words of Shemos 13:17: “And it came to pass, when Pharaoh let out the people, that G-d did not lead them through the land of the Philistines…” The words ולא נחם (“and He did not lead them”) can also be translated “He did not take consolation.”

Similarly, in the Song at the Sea the Jews sang, “Trembling has seized the dwellers of Philistia” (Shemos 15:14). Rashi says, “Because they killed the children of Ephraim.” They knew that Hashem would punish them for what they had done.