We Accepted the Three Oaths at Sinai
We Will Not Be Redeemed by Humans
Yosef Mokir Shabbos
And the Egyptians did evil to us, and afflicted us, and placed upon us hard labor. (26:6)
The Hagaddah of Pesach connects the words "and the Egyptians did evil to us" with the verse in Shemos 1:10, "Come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they increase, and when there is a war they will join our enemies, and fight against us and leave the land." What is the exact connection? Seemingly, "doing evil" should have been connected with some words describing the suffering the Egyptians inflicted on the Jews.
The Maharatz Chajes explains that "the Egyptians did evil to us" means that they attributed evil traits to us, seeing us as a nation that would join the enemies of its host, rebel and leave the land with a strong hand, against the host country's will. The truth, however, is that such a thought never occurred to the Jewish people. We have a tradition passed down from our forefathers not to rebel against the ruler, unless Hashem sends His angel to bring us out with open miracles. In that case, the ruler himself will be forced to admit that G-d is right and He brought this about.
And, he continues, the same will is true of the future redemption, for which we are currently waiting. When the redemption arrives, all of humanity will be raised to such a high level that there will be no need for revolt, war, or weapons between men or between nations. This is what is promised to us in the Tanach. But until the coming of Moshiach, G-d forbid that we should lift our hand against the king and transgress his law.
Thus the Hagaddah explains that not only did Pharaoh afflict our bodies with slavery, but he further wronged us by thinking us to be rebels, who plan all day to join his enemies and fight against him. He did not know that our trust is only in G-d, that He Himself will redeem us in a miraculous way, not through wars and revolts. (Kol Sifrei Maharatz Chajes, Toras Neviim)
And Hashem will scatter you among all the nations, from one end of the earth to the other, and you shall serve other gods that you and your fathers did not know, wood and stone. (28:64)
The Ramban in his comment on v. 42 points out that all the curses in this parsha – the diseases, the pestilence, the failing of the crops – come upon the Jewish people only as long as they are still in Eretz Yisroel. This is apparent from v. 21: "Hashem will cause pestilence to cleave to you, until he drives you from the land..." Once they are in exile, the Torah says (v. 36): "Hashem will lead you and the king you will appoint over yourself to a nation that you and your fathers did not know, and there you will serve other gods, wood and stone." The only curse is that they will be subservient and pay taxes to the gentiles, who worship wood and stone. But otherwise Jews in exile will lead successful lives. After v. 36 the Torah goes back and lists more curses that will come upon them in Eretz Yisroel, and then again in v. 64 it says that they will be scattered in exile and serve the nations. They will have no rest and their lives will be unstable, but they will be allowed to live and their crops will grow. This is because the exile itself is atonement, and G-d's promise holds true: "And despite this, when they were in their enemy’s lands, I did not reject them nor revile them to destroy them, to annul My covenant with them, for I am Hashem their G-d" (Vayikra 26:44).
We know that G-d watches over the Jewish people in exile, and as we say in the Hagaddah, "Not only one, but in every generation they arise against us to destroy us, and the Holy One, blessed is He, saves us from their hands." However, the Ramban is teaching us that this promise to watch over us applies only when we have the atonement of living in exile. If the Jewish people were to go back and live in Eretz Yisroel before the atonement of exile is complete, even if the gentile nations gave them permission to do so, they would, G-d forbid, be vulnerable to those who wish to destroy them, for they would not have G-d's special protection. A small community of Jews may live in Eretz Yisroel, since the decree of exile is being fulfilled with the majority of the nation. But a large scale movement in which nearly half the world's Jews (5 million out of 12.9 million) live in Eretz Yisroel during exile is quite a dangerous phenomenon. (Vayoel Moshe 1:14)
These are the words of the covenant that Hashem commanded Moshe to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moav, besides the covenant He made with them at Chorev. (28:69)
Rabbi Dov Ber Treivish, rav of Vilna during the Gaon's lifetime, in his commentary Shir Chadash on Shir Hashirim, discusses the oath: "I have adjured you, daughters of Jerusalem, not to arouse or awaken the love before it is desired" (2:7). This oath occurs three times in Shir Hashirim, and the Gemora (Kesubos 111a) says that it refers to the Three Oaths that are in effect during the Jewish exile: not to go up as a wall, not to rebel against the nations, and that the other nations not subjugate the Jews too much. When and where, asks Rabbi Dov Ber, did the Jewish people accept this oath?
He answers that at Mt. Sinai and again in the land of Moav, we accepted the entire Torah with a covenant and an oath. Included in that oath was the warning that if we would not keep the Torah, all the misfortunes listed in Parshas Bechukosai and Ki Savo would come upon us. These misfortunes culminate in our going into exile and living under the nations (Vayikra 26:33 and Devarim 28:64). Therefore, included in the oath of the Torah is the acceptance of the yoke of exile, not to rebel against it, and not to attempt to end it on our own. (Shir Chadash)
This resolves a question posed by the Satmar Rov in Vayoel Moshe 1:34. The halacha is that one cannot impose an oath on unborn people (Yoreh Deah 228:35). If so, how can the oaths at the giving of the Torah and the Three Oaths of exile apply to future generations who were not alive at the time the oaths were made? Regarding the oaths at the giving of the Torah, says the Satmar Rov, we can say as Chazal say (brought by Rashi on Devarim 29:14) that the souls of all Jews who would ever live, as well as the souls of converts who would later convert, were present at the giving of the Torah and at the covenant in Moav. But what about the Three Oaths?
He answers based on the Midrash Rabbah (Yisro 28) that all the words of the prophets were derived from Sinai, and thus the scroll of Shir Hashirim, in which the Three Oaths are written, was said then as well. The Avnei Nezer (Yoreh Deah 454) answers that the oath was imposed on the roots of the Jewish souls in Heaven, and the gentiles' oath was imposed on the angels of each nation. But according to the Shir Chadash the question is answered simply: the command to stay in exile until the redemption comes is implicit in the warnings of the Torah about exile, which were accepted under oath.
Arise and light up, for your light has come, and the glory of Hashem has shined upon you. (Yishaya 60:1)
Rabbi Yochanan said: This may be compared to a traveler who was walking on the road at dawn when it was still dark. Someone came and lit a candle for him, but it went out. Then another person lit a candle for him, but it too went out. The traveler said: "From now on I will wait only for the morning light." So too, Israel said to the Holy One, blessed is He: "We made for You a menorah in the days of Moshe, but it went out. We made another menorah in the days of Shlomo Hamelech, but it went out. From now on we are waiting only for Your light, as it says (Tehillim 36:10), "For with You is the source of life; by Your light do we see light." (Yalkut Shimoni Nach, 499)
The Holy One, blessed is He, said: "In this world you were saved by humans: in Egypt by Moshe and Aharon, in the time of Sisera by Devorah and Barak, in the time of the Midyanites by the Judges. Since they were human, you went back into captivity afterwards. But in the future, I Myself will redeem you, and you will never again go into captivity, as it says (Yishaya 45:17), "Israel is saved by Hashem with an everlasting redemption." (Yalkut Shimoni Nach 577)
These Midrashim say that the earlier redemptions and earlier Temples were not permanent because they were built by humans, but the future redemption and the future Temple will be built by G-d and so it will be permanent. But one is left with the question: why did G-d want history to proceed this way? Why didn't He redeem Israel Himself and build the Temple Himself from the start? Why did the first two Temples have to be built, only to be destroyed later?
The Yismach Moshe (Tetzaveh) explains this with the analogy of a man who planted a tree, uprooted it, planted another tree, uprooted it, and finally planted a third tree, more beautiful than the other two. People asked him why he did not just plant the third tree from the start, and he explained that the earth had not been rich enough to support such a tree. He therefore planted the first two trees, which drew the proper nutrients to the place and laid the groundwork for the third tree. Similarly, G-d wanted the first two Temples to pave the way for the third. This is the meaning of the verse, "You bring them and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, a foundation for Your dwelling You have made, Hashem, a Temple which Your hands have founded, Hashem" (Shemos 15:17). The Temple "which Your hands have founded" is the Third Temple, which will come down completely built by G-d. The first two Temples are a "foundation" for the third.
The Yitav Lev (Toldos) asks: Seemingly the analogy is not perfect, because while the man has to prepare the ground before planting the tree, G-d is all-powerful and could have created the Third Temple right away. He answers that yes, G-d could have done it, but then the Jewish people would not have enjoyed the redemption as much, since they would not have earned it. There is a Talmudic principle that "one who eats that which is not his is embarrassed to look in the giver's face" (Yerushalmi Orlah 1:3). A person only gets pleasure when he earns what he enjoys. Thus, the Third Temple must be preceded by a long exile in which the Jewish people has an opportunity to prove their faith in G-d and thus earn the redemption. To strengthen their faith, they turn to their holy books and study their history, the great days when the first and second Temples stood, when G-d's presence was manifest in the world, when there were prophets and miracles. G-d wanted the first two Temples to exist in order to pave the way for the Jewish people to remain faithful during the long exile.
With this in mind, the Yitav Lev explains the verses in the book of Eichah (3:18-23): "And I said, my future is lost, my hope from Hashem…this I reply to my heart, therefore I hope…renewed each morning, great is your faithfulness." During the long exile, a Jew sometimes wonders if all hope is not lost. Year after year we wait, and the redemption does not come. But then he replies to his heart: the exile has an important purpose, and that is to remain faithful to G-d, to continue to believe in His redemption, and thereby to earn that redemption.
The Midrash says that when the redemption finally does come, G-d will say to the Jewish people, "My children! I am amazed at you – how did you wait for Me so many years?" They will reply: "Master of the World! If not for the Torah You gave us, we would have become lost among the nations." (Midrash Eichah 3:19)
Waiting for the redemption is indeed a great test, and even G-d will be amazed if we succeed. The only path to success, says the Midrash, is to study and pay close attention to the holy Torah.
And Hashem will scatter you among all the peoples, from one end of the earth to the other. (28:64)
The Tanna Devei Eliyahu (10) relates that a priest once said to Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, "We are more merciful than you. When you had the ability to destroy us, you left over only the women, as it says, 'For Yoav and all of Israel dwelt there six months, until they had killed all the males of Edom' (I Melachim 11:16). [But you are living in exile among us for many years, and we let you live.]” Rabbi Yehuda said nothing, but walked outside and called one of his students to come in and answer the priest. The student said, "The owner of the house knows where to keep his tools. And when the owner of the house comes back to his house, he will bring his tools with him into the house." He said this again, and then a third time, until the priest understood what he meant.
Immediately, the priest stood up, lifted his two hands to heaven and said, "Blessed is the Omnipresent, blessed is He, who chose you, Israel, over all the people of the world and over all His creations, and acquired you permanently, and called you His children and servants, and called you a people, an inheritance, and a treasure to His name, and scattered you in many hundreds of places. When we met to plan to destroy you, we said, 'If we kill those in Eretz Yisroel, who will kill those in the north and the south? And in this manner our plans are abandoned.' Truly, the Owner of the house knows where to keep His tools, and when the Owner comes home, He will bring His tools into the house."
The Gemara (Shabbos 119a) tells the story of a man named Yosef, who was known to all as Yosef Mokir Shabbos (Yosef Who Honors Shabbos). Yosef and his family lived on bread and water all week long so that they could spend their meager income honoring the Shabbos with fine food and beautiful clothing. In Yosef’s neighborhood there lived a rich and miserly gentile. The stargazers warned this gentile that all of his property would one day go to Yosef. So he sold all of his property, bought an expensive pearl and sewed it into his hat. One day, as he was walking on a bridge, a gust of wind blew the hat off his head and into the river. A fish then came and swallowed the pearl. Late Friday afternoon, the fish was caught and brought to the marketplace. But no Jew bought it – everyone had already bought their Shabbos fish. So someone suggested to the fishermen that they go to Yosef Mokir Shabbos. Yosef bought the fish, cut it open and found the precious pearl, which he sold for twelve attics full of gold coins. An old man met him and commented, “When one loans to Shabbos, Shabbos pays back.”
There are two questions here: 1) For the lesson of the story - that Shabbos pays back - it would have been sufficient to say that Yosef found the pearl in the fish. Why does the Gemara need to tell us the history of the pearl – that it came from a rich man who sold all his property to buy it? 2) Why indeed did Yosef buy the fish? If it was so late in the day and all the other Jews already had fish, surely Yosef had fish too. If so, how did his purchase of this fish honor Shabbos?
The answer is that aside from the simple meaning of the story, Chazal had a deeper lesson to teach here. When the rich man heard that he was in danger of losing his property, his reaction was to concentrate all his wealth in one small object, thinking that it would then be easier to guard. The truth, however, was that this was a terrible mistake. It is never good to put all the eggs in one basket. The smart thing would have been to spread his wealth around the world in different investments.
But there is a third, even more foolproof way to protect one’s assets: by doing mitzvos with the money. The Gemara (Bava Basra 11a) tells the story of King Munbaz, the convert to Judaism who used all of his wealth and the wealth accumulated by his royal predecessors to support the poor during a year of famine. His brothers and family complained, “Your fathers added to the wealth accumulated by their fathers, and you are wasting it all?” Munbaz replied: “My fathers stored it below, but I am storing it above. My fathers stored it in a place where the hand of others can reach, but I am storing it in a place where no one can take it away. My fathers stored it in a place where it does not bear fruit, but I am storing it in a place where it does bear fruit. My fathers stored money but I am storing souls. My fathers stored it up to leave it for others but I am storing it for myself. My fathers stored it for this world, but I am storing it for the World to Come.”
If the rich man’s approach to protecting his wealth represented the extreme of foolhardiness, Yosef Mokir Shabbos’s approach was the extreme of wisdom. He spent almost all his money on Shabbos, and even when he had extra money, he bought more fish for Shabbos, so that it would be considered spent on a mitzvah. Thus it was fitting that the foolish rich man should lose his money to the wise Yosef.
In confronting the danger faced by Jews in exile, the Zionists have adopted the approach of the rich man in the story. They think that bringing all the Jews of the world to one small state will make it easier to protect them. They do not realize that scattering the Jews around the world was Hashem’s plan to protect them, as the Tanna Devei Eliyahu says. Furthermore, they do not realize that the wisest investment for Jews in exile is to devote themselves to Torah and mitzvos, and leave their physical protection up to Hashem.