• S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program

  • Peirot Haaretz  


    Ariel Woodland 

    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?

    To 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.”

     Rashi 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.

    To 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.

    It 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.

    Do 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.



    Eliezer Weinstein


    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 here?!

    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 Tanakh. 

    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 more.

    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.





    Aryeh Broth

    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 with Amalek.

    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 says vayaaminu 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.




    Yosef Sklar 

    Yeshivat Har Etzion 


    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 displays 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 mortality.

    While these answers do provide insight into the reason for makkat bechorot, they do not explain its most central aspect. Why specifically the bechorot? To 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, My 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 bracha 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 represent Hashem.

              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 makkat bechorot. 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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