Yeshivat Yishrei Lev
In the first aliya of this week’s parsha, the pasuk says “And Hashem
directed the nation by way of the wilderness of the yam
suf and the people were armed when they
went up from Egypt”. The Torah uses the word chamushim which Rashi defines as armed. Why are we told this
here and why is this specific word used?
understand this better, we need to look at the preceding pasuk. “It happened
when Paroh sent the
nation out and Hashem did not lead them by way of the Pelishtim because it was near and Hashem said lest I lead them
[that way] and they will see war [and reconsider] and return to Egypt. And
Hashem directed the nation by way of the wilderness of the yam
suf and the people were armed when they
went up from Egypt.”
says that it was specifically because they went though the wilderness that the
Torah tells us here that they brought weapons with them. If they had gone
through inhabited areas, they would have been able to acquire what they needed
on the way. However, since they were going through the desert, and they
expected at some point to be forced to fight, they brought weapons along with
them. Rashi emphasizes the difference between someone travelling through towns
and someone trekking through the wilderness. Keep this in mind.
answer why the word chamushim was specifically used here, we must look in Beraishis 41:34. Yosef has
just interpreted Paroh’s two dreams and advises him to appoint officials to cheemaish the land for the famine. In this instance, the word
is used to mean prepare. But if you look at the bigger picture, both uses of
the word are meant to convey an implication of preparation of something that
will not be able to be done at a later time. Yosef advises Paroh to stockpile food now, because later there will be
none. Likewise, in our parsha, the Jews had to bring weapons with them when
they left because they would not be able to get them later.
When one goes
on a journey or a hike through the wilderness, they need to prepare. They need
to gather everything they need, pack it all up, and bring it with them, because
there is very little chance of finding what they need out in the wilderness.
What one brings will help them survive their journey.
Life is a
journey. It is also a wilderness. Before we venture out into this wild world,
we must be sure we have all the tools we need to succeed, because there will be
very few or no “refill” points. The years spent learning in yeshiva or seminary
are the arsenal from which we arm ourselves for life. During this time we must
gather everything we need spiritually to fortify ourselves for the long journey
ahead. It is a spiritual desert out there and while there may be a few oasis's
from time to time, you cannot rely on that to get you through your entire life.
As my Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Moshe Gordon, has said: the harder you pull back the
bow, the farther the arrow will fly when you let go. The more you take
advantage of your time in yeshiva or seminary and the more you put in to
building yourself, the farther you will get spiritually in life once you leave
yeshiva or seminary.
is a jungle out there, a wilderness, and many of us are about to go out into
it. There will be a few places to replenish and build up your spiritual
supplies during your life, that is true, but you cannot rely on them. It would
be ignorant for someone to go on a long hiking trip without provisions with the
hope that he will come across a 7/11 in the middle of nowhere. Whatever you
need, you must stock up now and take it with you.
not waste your time in yeshiva or seminary. Take everything you can out of it.
Cram yourself full of Judaism. And as you set off for the wilderness, you can
be confident that you are prepared for whatever may come your way. Behatzlacha.
As the Egyptians were closing in on the Bnai Yisrael, Bnai Yisrael cried out
to Hashem in prayer, and then desparingly asked Moshe if there weren't enough
graves in Egypt, and they were brought outside in order to be buried by the
sea. Moshe responds "Hashem will do battle on your behalf, and you shall
remain silent." Its an ambiguous response. Why is Moshe telling them
they'll be quiet? Is he rebuking them? Is he prophesying? What's going on
I would like to suggest that Moshe is teaching the Nation a lesson which is
as relevant now as it was then.
Bnai Yisrael were enslaved in Egypt. They cried out to Hashem, He saved
them, Shalom Al Yisrael. Now once again they found themselves in a time of
distress and cry out again to Hashem for help. Moshe, responding confidently,
tells them that Hashem will save them once again. Then he adds that they will
be quiet. I think that it is a point of rebuke. They will be quiet, but they should
not be quiet. Moshe is teaching Bnai Yisrael that times of despair are not
the only times to Daven to our Father in Heaven. We need to daven when things
are good too. When Hashem fights a war for you, DON'T BE QUIET! When Hashem
takes you out of two-hundred years of slavery don't be quiet! You must daven
and say thank you!
That is the message that Moshe is teaching Bnai Yisrael and then we see that
they heard it. As soon as they get to the other side of the Yam Suf we see them
Sing Az Yashir, the first time that Shira is sung by the Nation in
There are two points that are being made here. One point is that Tefillah is
more than just making requests when you are in need. It is saying thank you. It
is talking to the Creator. Tefillah is not narrow but multifaceted in its
design and must be viewed/used as such.
The other is to focus on the importance of saying 'thank you'. It's not difficult
to understand the importance, but it is worth emphasizing. After Hashem
miraculously destroyed Sancheirev's entire army Chizkiyahu did not sing Shira.
The Gemara in Sanhedrin 94 writes that had he sung Shira, he would have been
Mashiach. With a simple 'thank you' he could have been Mashiach, and without
it, opportunity lost. A 'thank you' is not just casual repartee, it is so much
So we now understand that when Moshe was teaching Bnai Yisrael not to be
quiet, he taught us two fundamental lessons. He taught us that Tefillah is not
simply for when you need something, and the importance and power of a 'thank
you'. Ah Gevald.
Yeshivat Har Etzion
At the beginning of this
week’s parsha the Torah tell us that “Hashem did not lead them by way of the
land of the Philistines because it was near, for Hashem said “perhaps the
people will reconsider when they see war and return to Egypt” (Shmot 13:17).
There are two problems
with this pasuk. The first issue being that when Bnei Yisrael came up against
the sea, and were trapped by the Mitzriyim, they wanted to go back, and almost
did. So why was Hashem not afraid of this? The second is the fact that even
though Hashem didn’t want them to fight the P’lishtim, Bnei Yisrael still ended
up in a war anyway with Amalek; if Hashem was truly worried, then He should
have steered them away from Amalek. What was so different at the beginning when
Hashem was afraid they would turn back, to when they were forced into a fight
Looking back, Hashem
could not let Bnei Yisrael get into a war as they had just exited Egypt because
they still had their slave mentality. Even though they were ecstatic when they
found out they were leaving Egypt as we saw in last week’s parsha, in this
week’s parsha they start out wanting to return to their comfort zone, to
slavery in Egypt! Hashem knew this was their mentality; a slave mentality, and
knew they would turn back at the first sign of danger. So what brought them out
of this slave mentality? The most memorable, shocking event that happened
in this parsha was kriat
yam suf!! This amazing miracle was heard throughout the world. When
Bnei Yisrael saw their former taskmasters disappear into the sea, finally their
faithfulness trumped their fear and slave mentality. The first time we see Bnei
Yisrael have emunah in Hashem is only after their captors are gone as the pasuk
ba’Hashem uv’Moshe avdo. This is the fundamental difference between
Bnei Yisrael pre and post kriat yam suf. Pre-kriat yam suf were lacking the will power and strength to
have emunah, whereas afterwards they had the strength and drive to look forward
with emunah no matter the circumstance. We see this by Amalek as well.
The gemara in Rosh Hashana says that it was not the hands of Moshe causing Bnei
Yisrael to win the battle, rather when they looked up, they davened to Hashem.
Before kriat yam
suf this would not have even come across their minds as we see when
they stood at yam
suf. This is why Hashem chose to take us away from the war and saw
to it that we were free from the bondage, physical and mental, of our
taskmasters in Egypt; to perpetuate within us the value that helped bind us
into a nation, emunah.
Why did Hashem choose makkat bechorot as a means of
punishing the Egyptian people? In one respect, it could be seen as a perfect mida kineged mida, punishing
the Egyptian population for helping facilitate the throwing of Jewish baby boys
into the Nile. In another respect the makka
Hashem’s control over life and death. The previous makkot encompassed all the
various application of Hashem’s power and it would fit that He should cap it
off by displaying control over the greatest phenomena known to man: human
While these answers do provide insight
into the reason for makkat bechorot, they do not explain its most
central aspect. Why specifically the bechorot?
understand this we must revisit the first time that makkat bachorot is
referenced. This is in parshat Shemot (4:22-23), when Hashem explains to
Moshe what he will eventually relate to Pharaoh.
“So said Hashem, My bechor is Israel… But you have refused to send
him out; behold, I will kill your bechor”.
This is the first reference to makkat bechorot and many mefarshim see it as an explanation for the
makka. Their logic
goes more or less as follows: You, Pharaoh, have enslaved my bechor, Am Yisrael, and have refused to send them out to
serve me. Due to the way you have treated my bechor, I will punish you by killing your nations bechorot. This draws a connection between
the idea that Am Yisrael is Hashem’s bechor and makkat bechorot, seeing the makka as a more specific mida kineged mida that includes an explanation as to why
the bechorot specifically
are killed. However, the choice of punishment still seems somewhat arbitrary.
On the surface it seems like it is based on nothing more than word association,
and is void of any deeper meaning or symbolism. To get a better understanding
of the makka we need to
analyze what the term bechor really means.
In general the term bechor in the Torah refers to the elevated
status of a firstborn son. The concept of treating firstborns with an elevated
status was a practice that was prevalent in many civilizations at the time of
the Torah. The people of the time saw it as a sort of natural law that the
firstborn son would always be given the reigns of the household: both the
responsibility of leadership and privilege of respect. Scholars today refer to
this ancient practice as the practice of primogeniture. This understanding of bechor is evident in the bracha that Yaakov gives to Reuven at
the end of his life. “Reuven, You are my bechor,
strength and my initial vigor. First in rank and foremost in power.” It makes
sense that the firstborn should be given an elevated status within the family.
Being the oldest is usually associated with being the wisest and strongest,
meaning he has the most potential to successfully lead the family. However,
throughout sefer Bereishit, we see very little significance
attributed by Hashem to firstborn sons and the idea of primogeniture. On the
contrary, we often see a younger brother taking precedence of over the older.
We see Yaakov chosen to be lead Hashem’s nation over Eisav, Ephraim placed
before Menashe, and Yehuda blessed with the bracha of strength and leadership over Reuven. We see from these
examples that Hashem’s notion of bechor is very
different from that primogeniture. Whether or not a son is chosen to lead his
family, or in the case of Yaakov, to become the father and leader of Hashem’s
nation, has nothing to do with the very arbitrary circumstances of ones birth,
but is rather based on a combination of one’s merit and potential.
If we analyze these instances of
brothers mentioned above we can see that Hashem’s notion of bechor differs from the idea of primogeniture
in two key ways. The first is that it is possible for a person to lose the bechora if they do not act in a worthy manner.
This can be derived from the story of Reuven and Yehuda. While Reuven started
out his life as the bechor, he seems to
lose it to Yehuda who is given the
of strength and leadership. The reason for this is also mentioned in Yaakov’s bracha. Reuven lost his leadership role in
the family due to the despicable way that he had comported himself in regards
to the incident of Bilhah’s bed. This same idea is illustrated by Chazal when they explain to us that originally
it was supposed to be the bechorot of Am Yisrael that were to be performing the avodah in the Beit Hamikdash, however they
lost that privilege due to their participation in chet ha-eigel.
The second way in which Hashem’s
concept of bechora differs from
primogeniture is that in certain circumstances it is not given to the oldest
son at all and is instead given to a younger brother who shows more potential
as a leader. This is the case by Yaakov and Eisav as well as by Ephraim and
Menashe. We see that the bechora, in the eyes
of Hashem, is something based on a combination of merit and the potential to
When Hashem calls Am Yisrael his bechor perhaps His intention is all that we
have discussed. It’s not that they are the nation equivalent of a firstborn
son. They do not possess the gifts of superior strength and wisdom; on the
contrary they are a nation of slaves who have been dealt the lower hand in the
global spectrum of nations. The reason that they are Hashem’s bechor is due to the potential that Hashem’s
sees in them to represent His name affectively. This may be the symbolic
message behind makkat bechorot. The killing
of the firstborn sons of the Egyptians shows that the idea of being dealt the
upper hand is not of inherent value to Hashem. What matters instead is potential,
and that is what we must remember as Hashem’s nation. At the end of this week’s
parsha we are
commanded to offer our firstborn animals as korbanot to Hashem and to redeem our firstborn sons. The Torah’s
reason for this is so that we remember
Perhaps it is the symbolism that we must remember; we were made Hashem’s nation
because of the potential that He saw ad continue to see in
us to represent Him and spread His name. It is a reminder that we must
constantly be striving towards fulfilling that potential.
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