Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XII, Number 16
11 Shevat 5758
Micheline and David Peller
in memory of David's parents
Irving and Arline Katz
on the yahrzeits of grandmother
Henia Rachel bat Pinchas Spalter a"h,
mother Fradel bat Yaakov Shulim Reiss a"h, and
father Chaim Eliezer ben Avigdor Moshe Hakohen Katz a"h
The Sadwin family
in memory of Loretta's mother Anna Smolar a"h
Moshe and Zev Teichman and families
on the yahrzeit of their father Meir ben Moshe Aharon a"hL
Barbara and Yitzchok Siegel and Russie and Yaakov
on the yahrzeit of Rose (Sarah Rassa) Siegel a"h
In this week's parashah, Bnei Yisrael begin their journey
through the desert and the mahn begins to fall to feed them. The
midrash says that the amount of mahn which fell every day was
enough to feed the entire nation for 2,000 years. Why so much?
R' Yechezkel Abramsky z"l explains: Bnei Yisrael said (in the
words of Tehilim 78:19-20), "Can G-d prepare a table in the
wilderness? . . . [C]an He give bread also?" Therefore, Hashem
had to show them that nothing is too difficult for Him, for the
whole world is His.
Hashem knew that the road that lay before Bnei Yisrael until
they would come to their land was long. If they did not have
complete faith in Hashem, who knows whether they would withstand
the journey [as many did not]?
We can appreciate how difficult those years were from the verse
in Yirmiyahu (2:2), "Thus said Hashem, 'I recall for you the
kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, your following
Me into the wilderness, into an unsown land'." Here the prophet
announces in the name of G-d that the Jewish people did a
kindness for Hashem by trusting Him to lead them in the desert.
This was even after Hashem had demonstrated His greatness through
the plagues in Egypt.
Why did Hashem provide enough food for 2,000 years (rather than
some other number)? Chazal say that our world will exist for
6,000 years, of which the first 2,000 years (from Adam to
Avraham) are the era of darkness and confusion, the next 2,000
years are the era of Torah, and the last 2,000 years are the era
of [anticipating] mashiach. Hashem wished to allude to Bnei
Yisrael that the falling mahn could instill faith, but only Torah
study could make that faith last. (Chazon Yechezkel: Kovetz
"An Astonishing Midrash"
One day, Rabbi Tarfon and the Sages were sitting in the
shade of a dovecote in Yavneh. The question was asked, "Why
were the Arabs who brought Yosef to Egypt transporting
spices [rather than oil - see Rashi]?"
What is the connection between the various questions that Rabbi
Tarfon was asked? (The way the questioner repeated the previous
question before asking a new one implies that there is a
connection.) The answer is as follows:
Rabbi Tarfon answered, "So that Yosef would not suffer
from the smell of the oil."
The questioners continued: "You have taught us that this
was in Yosef's merit. Now teach us what berachah one says
on drinking water."
Rabbi Tarfon answered, "Borei nefashot rabbot." [Ed. Note:
Rabbi Tarfon held that the blessing which we say after
drinking water should be said before drinking water, and the
blessing of she'hakol, which we say before drinking, is not
recited over water at all.]
The questioners continued: "You have taught us the
blessing over water. Now teach us why the tribe of Yehuda
To this, Rabbi Tarfon first answered that it was because
he saved Yosef, but the questioner refuted this answer.
Rabbi Tarfon then answered, "Because at the Yam Suf/Red Sea,
each tribe refused to enter the sea first. Finally Nachson
ben Aminadav of the tribe of Yehuda, and his tribe with him,
jumped into the waves."
The sages seated with Rabbi Tarfon agreed with this answer.
(Source: Mechilta, Parashat Beshalach on verse 14:22)
Rabbi Tarfon holds that the berachah on water cannot be
"She'hakol nihyeh be'devaro"/"Everything came into existence
through His word," because Rabbi Tarfon holds that water was the
first creation. Before water was created, there was nothing in
the world to which Hashem could speak His words. (We, who do say
she'hakol on water, hold that the heavens and earth were created
The midrash (commenting on verse 14:27) offers two reasons why
the Red Sea split for Bnei Yisrael. One view says that it was in
the merit of the bones of Yosef which traveled with Bnei Yisrael.
The other view says that when Hashem created the sea, He imposed
a condition that the water would split for the Jewish people.
Rabbi Tarfon must hold like the first view in the midrash,
which emphasizes the greatness of Yosef, for according to Rabbi
Tarfon (who says that water was the first creation), to whom
could Hashem express this condition before water was created?
This is consistent with Rabbi Tarfon's view (above) that the
Arabs who brought Yosef to Egypt "happened" to be transporting
spices so that the righteous Yosef would not suffer.
Yet this presents a new problem: We are taught that Yehuda's
tribe earned royalty by jumping into the sea first. However, if
the sea split in Yosef's merit, then how could Yehuda rule over
Therefore, says Rabbi Tarfon (above), it must be that all of
the tribes - including Yosef - were standing on the banks of the
sea refusing to go in. The tribe of Yehuda, which did jump in,
"Bnei Yisrael went up from Egypt 'chamushim'." (13:18)
The midrash explains that the word 'chamushim' comes from the
root "chamesh"/"five." Only one-fifth (some say 1/500 or
1/5,000) of Bnei Yisrael left Egypt. Those who were rich and did
not want to leave died during the plague of darkness.
Another midrash says, "Why did Hashem appear to Moshe from a
thornbush? Because just as the thornbush is the toughest of all
trees, so the enslavement in Egypt was the toughest of all exiles."
R' Yitzchak Arieli z"l (author of Einayim La'mishpat) observes:
It would seem from these sources that only a small fraction of
Bnei Yisrael were enslaved in Egypt. However, for those who were
enslaved, the enslavement was bitter indeed.
Those who led a good life in Egypt did not want to leave, and,
therefore, they did not merit to leave. Those who suffered in
Egypt and did want to leave, merited to leave. Even Datan and
Aviram who had tried to get Moshe killed - after they lost their
wealth [see Rashi to 4:19] and felt the pain of the exile, they
wanted to leave and so they merited to leave.
And so it is with every exile - those who want to be redeemed
merit to return to Eretz Yisrael.
"This is my G-d and I will glorify Him; the G-d of my father
and I will exalt Him." (15:2)
Rashi comments: "I am not the beginning of holiness; rather,
holiness and His Godliness are firmly established upon me from
the day of my forefathers."
R' Joseph B. Soloveitchik z"l explains: Every Jew has two types
of holiness within him - one from being born a Jew, and the other
through his own acceptance of G-d. This is why the gemara says,
on the one hand (Sanhedrin 44a), "A Jew, even after he has
sinned, is still a Jew," and, on the other hand (Chullin 5a), "An
apostate has the legal status of a non-Jew." Due to one's
inheritance from the Patriarchs, he always remains a Jew;
however, an apostate loses his personal holiness.
(Quoted in Nefesh Harav p.282)
"There He established for [the nation] a decree and an
Rashi explains that in this place, called "Marah," Hashem
commanded Bnei Yisrael regarding some of the mitzvot.
R' Eliezer Friedman shlita (of Montreal) answers: When a person
is lacking in spirituality, all the riches in the world will not
bring him lasting happiness. Marah took its name from the fact
that the water there was bitter. Imagine! Bnei Yisrael had just
gathered the riches which washed ashore at the Yam Suf/Red Sea,
and they should have been on top of the world. If they were so
unhappy with their lot that they could complain about the taste
of the water, this was a sure sign that they needed the Torah.
R' Yehuda al-Barceloni z"l
early 12th century
Although R' Yehuda is not well known today, the 13th century
sage, R' Menachem Ha'meiri, placed him alongside Rashi, Rif and
Ra'avad III as one of "the patriarchs of the Talmud . . . from
whom the entire world [of Talmudic commentary] sprang." Ramban
wrote that R' Yehuda was expert in all Geonic works.
Like Rif (i.e., R' Yitzchak Alfasi), R' Yehuda composed a work
which offers the reader a clear halachic decision based upon the
Talmud, citing only as much of the source as is necessary for the
halachah. However, whereas Rif does not quote much Geonic data,
R' Yehuda supplied not only the Geonic opinions but also quoted
the commentators and codifiers who preceded him, including Rif.
R' Yehuda's work had three parts: Sefer Ha'ittim, dealing with
everyday laws such as prayers, tefilin, kashrut, Shabbat and yom
tov; Sefer Yichus She'air Basar, dealing with marriage and
divorce; and Sefer Ha'dinim, dealing with civil law. (The middle
section has been lost.) He also wrote a commentary on the
kabbalistic work Sefer Yetzirah, discussing that work from a
scientific and philosophical point of view. This too has been
lost. (Sources: The Artscroll Rishonim, p. 76)
Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz
and Project Genesis, Inc.
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