Parashat Beshalach – The Real Exodus – By Rabbi Shimon Fridmann

After the splitting of the Sea and the Egyptians drowned The Parasha states: “And Hashem saved, on that day, Israel from the Egyptians. Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the shore of the sea” [Shemos 14:30]. There is an obvious difficulty with this Verse; “That day” was the 21st of Nissan when they crossed the sea, which is six days after the Exodus from Egypt that took place on the 15th of Nissan. Then, how can the Verse claim that Hashem freed them on that day? Rashi explains: the sea threw the bodies on its shore so the Bnei Yisrael should not say: “Just as we have been able to cross the sea, so were the Egyptians successful in crossing it, and they are just waiting for the opportune time to attack us.” This explanation raises another difficulty; why would the Bnei Yisrael further fear the Egyptians? Had Hashem not proved to them, for months, that he had their back? With the ten plagues Hashem put the most fearsome power of that time on its knees. Never had a single slave successfully escaped from Egypt while Hashem made the Egyptians beg for the millions of Jews to leave. Even if the Egyptians had second thoughts, they would face a fierce sentence from Hashem. The Sforno provides a cryptic message; “With the death of those who had cruelly abused them, those who had previously been in bondage to the Egyptians were now free. Until the Egyptians died, they had been comparable to slaves running away from their masters.” It is understandable that a fugitive fears his arrest, though the Bnei Yisrael have been forced to leave, why would they then feel like a fugitive? Why did they only find peace of mind at the sight of death of their oppressors? The Vilna Gaon explains; All the smiting the Egyptians received was measure for measure for their deceptive conduct towards the Jews. For Pharaoh deceived the children of Israel into bondage with “soft words” as the Talmud [Sota 11b] states on the Verse “The Egyptians perversely imposed bondage upon the Israelites”; Rabbi Elazar said, Pharaoh tricked them into bondage by first setting out by himself to build bricks, and if a king works all the more so his servants, so Jews had no choice but to help. Then, he would pay them wages per brick, to entice to build as many as they could. And then he attacked them and forced them into slavery. Pharaoh also tried to deceive the women that were giving birth by requesting from the midwives to kill the baby boys at birth; He instructed them to strangle them as soon as the head comes out; Boys are born face down and girls face up and tell the mothers it is a stilled born.” The Vilna Gaon elucidates how much thought was put into that plan by Pharaoh and his advisers. The Midrash unforms that their primary goal was to enslave the Jews but in a way that would ensure them no punishment from Hashem. “They said, if we kill them with a sword or burn them, Hashem will surely reward us measure for measure. However, He swore to never again bring the deluge, so we will kill them in water. Hashem said, you fools I swore not to bring the deluge on people, but I can still bring the people to the deluge, your own feet will carry you to it.” Hence, they went to the sea where they drowned as a payback for drowning Jewish babies. It was therefore a continuation of the Exodus which was not completed by physically leaving Egypt. To fully understand his explanation, let us introduce one more notion. The ‘Mayan Ganim’ asks why in Shabbos Kiddush we say, “a memorial to the Exodus of Egypt,” which could also be translated “a memorial to the Exodus of Egyptians”? Why a clearer language is not used, such as “a memorial to the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt?” To answer, he points out to two verses in Parashas Bo with only a slight change of language: “At the end of the four hundred and thirtieth year, to the very day, all the ranks of Hashem departed from the land of Egypt.” [Shemos 12:41]. Then a few verses further it says: “On that very day Hashem brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by troop.” [ibid 51]. These Verses seemingly refer to two different Exoduses that can be interpreted according to the verse [Proverbs 18: 1]: “The spirit of man can heal his sickness, but an afflicted spirit who can bear it.” This means that if one contracts an illness, but his spirit is healthy, his spirit will conquer the sickness and heal his body, as the spirit can cure a physical disease. But when the spirit is afflicted, a healthy body cannot alleviate the affliction. The ‘Mayan Ganim’ elucidates then, that the above two Verses refer to two different Exoduses. On the 15th of Nisan, the bodies were liberated from Egypt. Though, since they left deceivingly and only for three days, their spirits were never released, and they still felt like slaves. The very example are the Holocaust survivors, they were liberated from the camps, but the camps never came out of them. So, during Kiddush we praise Hashem for taking Egypt out of us, and this occurred when they saw the dead bodies of the Egyptians on the seashore. Only on the 21st of Nissan when this miracle took place were the Jews totally liberated from Egypt, and this was the completion of the Exodus that had started on the 15th of Nissan. Hereafter is a story illustrating that simple things may have a deep meaning: Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740–1809) is one of the most beloved Chassidic leaders, renowned for his compassion for every Jew. In 1785, R. Levi Yitzchak arrived in Berditchev, where he led the community for nearly 25 years, until his passing. There are many stories about his love and advocacy for Jews, no matter their spiritual state. Our story is a personal one, about his own life. When his children were of age to be married, Rav Levi Yitzchak hired a matchmaker to suggest potential suitors for them. Rav Levi Yitzchak would give a pitak (a five-kopek coin) for every suggestion, even if nothing materialized. With all the responsibilities of a town rabbi, Rav Levi Yitzchak was a busy man. In addition, he was known for his tremendous excitement to serve Hashem, and his intense ardor often caused him to act without consideration for his surroundings. Certain portions of prayer would send him into a state of such rapture, it was not unusual to see him jumping on the tables. This made it difficult for the matchmaker to secure an appointment with the Rabbi. The matchmaker figured that while Rav Levi Yitzchak was folding his Tallis and Tefillin after prayers would be an excellent time to suggest his ideas. Though, it was not a fixed time, and at times the matchmaker had long waits until Rav Levi Yitzchak completed his prayer. One day, he offered several suggestions and received his compensation. None materialized, however, and, feeling disheartened, he stopped bringing ideas to the rabbi. Some time passed and Rav Levi Yitzchak summoned the matchmaker. “Why did you stop coming?” he asked. “The suggestions themselves play an important role in setting up a Jewish home. Moreover, part of the great mitzvah of Ahavas Yisrael is to take an interest in the welfare of a fellow Jew, specifically if you will be able to earn a livelihood by doing so.” The matchmaker replied with his own question, “What is the point of making suggestions if they do not pan out anyway?” Rav Levi Yitzchak explained, “Our sages taught, ‘Forty days before a baby is formed, a heavenly voice announces who this person will marry.’ Each Divine announcement gives vitality to the angels, and the angels repeat what they have heard. “When a person studies Torah and does mitzvot, it creates angels above. But if a person does not have the proper intentions and enthusiasm, the angels born of his actions have defects – some are blind, and others are deaf, etc. “So, when the announcement is made regarding who will marry, these impaired angels do not hear correctly, and they conflate the names. When an angel speaks, it has an impact, and the person does not reach their intended match until all the names of those impaired angels have been suggested. Only after all the suggestions have been brought up and do not pan out can the person meet his or her true soulmate.” With this newfound insight, the matchmaker got back to work. Another short story: Rabbi Avraham Abish of Frankfurt was born into a family of great Torah scholars, but he did not quite fit in. He experienced learning challenges, including trouble with reading. Despite his difficulty participating in Jewish life, he was a sincere young man who developed a strong awe of Heaven. His father understood that he could not marry into a family of scholars and arranged a match with the daughter of a wealthy, G-d fearing businessman from the city of Mezeritch. The custom was that during the festivities, the groom would lead the Grace After Meals, reciting the final words of each blessing aloud. His brothers worried that his lack of reading skills would embarrass them, so they made a point of tutoring him, and helped him memorize the blessings. During one of the meals before the wedding, while surrounded by his family, he was asked to lead the blessings, as preparation for the wedding festivities. But his mind went blank, and he could not remember what he had memorized. Frustrated and ashamed, his brothers scolded him and told him that he was an “embarrassment to the family.” Crestfallen, he left the table and went off into the forest, where he prayed to G-d like never before. Exhausted, he fell asleep and dreamt of an impressive-looking man who told him, “I will bless you to succeed in scholarship, provided you remain humble, as you always have been. Whenever I appear to you, you will listen to what I teach you and then repeat it.” The wedding took place on a Monday. On Tuesday morning, the groom was sent off to pray in the town synagogue. After prayers, the holy man from his dream appeared again and taught him a drasha, so the young groom could deliver it before all the guests. He delivered a beautiful dissertation on an obscure subject of the Talmud, and everyone crowded around him, immensely impressed by his teachings. Meanwhile, his father and family were waiting for him, and wondered why he was so delayed. They went off to the shul to see what was going on and were amazed to see him delivering a speech. “He has finally revealed his potential as a great scholar and a tribute to the family,” they said to each other. “Maybe we should see about ending this marriage, as he can now marry into a great rabbinic family like ours.” But the groom, of course, refused and said that the woman he had just married had clearly been ordained for him by Hashem. He went off with his wife to study in the most advanced Torah academies of the day and became one of the greatest scholars of Israel. Nevertheless, he always retained his humility. When signing his name, he would write: “Avram ‘hu—he is’ Avraham.” This reminded himself and others of how Hashem choses to transform Avraham our Forefather into a great man, changing his name from Avram to Avraham, which carries the meaning, “Father of multitudes of nations.” The hint was that the same applied to him: he had been called upon by Hashem, and had been transformed into the scholar he now was. Are we fully aware of the potential of prayer to change our innate capabilities? How do we treat those in our lives who live with learning challenges—are we proud of how they deal with that experience? After we achieve success with something which was extremely difficult for us, do we remain the same sincere person whom we were before?

By Rabbi Shimon Fridmann – Din Torah Of North Miami Beach

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