Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XIII, No. 16
13 Shevat 5759
January 30, 1998
Orach Chaim 47:8-10
Daf Yomi: Yoma 26
Yerushalmi Yoma 19
Hamaayan is pleased
to welcome Daniel Dadusc to its
staff as a contributing editor. We look
forward to his contributions and wish
him much success in his endeavor.
We read at the beginning of this week's parashah that Hashem
led Bnei Yisrael on a circuitous route through the desert lest
they witness a war and wish to return to Egypt. Why did Hashem
do this? Why didn't he simply give Bnei Yisrael the courage to
overcome their fear of war?
The answer to this question implicates a fundamental axiom
regarding Hashem's relationship with His creations, says
R' Yechezkel Levenstein z"l (the mashgiach of the Mir and
Ponovezh yeshivot). Specifically, Rambam writes that Hashem will
perform miracles and change all of nature, if necessary, but He
never, under any circumstances, will change a person's nature.
The reason is that if Hashem would change a person's nature, He
would obliterate the very thing that defines what man is.
In a related vein: Ibn Ezra writes that the first generation
of the Jewish people was destined to die in the desert because it
was unable to adapt to freedom. Only the next generation, which
had not grown up in slavery, could successfully conquer and
settle Eretz Yisrael.
On the other hand, R' Levenstein adds, a person can change his
own nature. Indeed, that is why man was created. [See Iyov 5:7 -
"Man was born to toil]. However, the greatest gift from Heaven
cannot change a person; for example, Hashem rained mahn on the
Jewish people for 40 years, but that did not imbue them with the
spirit and the courage that they needed to function as a people.
In the area of Torah study, too, Hashem sometimes sends angels to
teach individual great men, but one cannot achieve greatness that
way. That can only come through toil. (Mi'mizrach Ha'shemesh
"'Va-chamushim'/And armed, Bnei Yisrael went up from Egypt."
R' Yosef Chaim of Baghdad (died 1909) writes: Rabbi Akiva
taught (in the Pesach Haggadah) that each of the ten plagues in
Egypt consisted of five separate plagues. Thus, the ten plagues
were, in reality, 50 plagues. This, explains R' Yosef Chaim, is
the meaning of "va-chamushim," which can also be read as
"chamishim" (the number 50). The Torah is saying that through
the 50 plagues that were brought on the Egyptians, Bnei Yisrael
were able to leave Egypt.
Rabbi Akiva also teaches that there were an additional 250
plagues at the Red Sea. This is hinted at by the letter "vav" at
the beginning of word "va-chamushim." The gematria of the letter
"vav" is six, and 6 x 50 ("vav" times "chamishim") equals 300,
the total number of plagues in Egypt and at the Red Sea combined.
"Yisrael saw the great hand that Hashem had inflicted on
Egypt, and the people feared Hashem, and they had faith in
Hashem and in Moshe, His servant." (14:31)
R' Yehuda Gruenwald z"l (Hungarian rabbi; died 1921) writes:
When Bnei Yisrael saw that all of the Egyptians died on the
shores of the Red Sea, they realized that had Hashem wanted to
judge the Egyptians in Egypt and kill them there, He could have
done so. Why didn't He? So that the peoples of Eretz Canaan
would hear of His power and tremble in fear of Him.
This is the meaning of the above verse: Bnei Yisrael saw the
great hand that destroyed the Egyptians now instead of in Egypt,
and they realized that His intention was to make the people fear
Him. This is why the song that was sung at the Sea specifically
mentions the fear experienced by the Canaanites and includes a
prayer that we be brought safely to the Eretz Yisrael.
R' Gruenwald adds (in the name of his teacher, R' David Shick
z"l): At the beginning of Moshe's mission, when he complained to
Hashem that Pharaoh had worsened Bnei Yisrael's condition instead
of releasing them, Hashem replied (according to the midrash),
"You will see what I will do to Pharaoh, but not what I will do
to the 31 kings of Canaan." How did this punishment fit Moshe's
complaint? Because Hashem's purpose in making the Exodus a drawn-
out process was to scare the Canaanite kings (as indeed
happened). By demanding a faster Exodus, Moshe was effectively
strengthening those kings.
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Olelot Yehuda)
"Hashem said to Moshe, 'Behold I shall rain down for you
(plural) bread from heaven, and the nation shall go out and
gather each day's portion on its day'." (16:4)
Why does the pasuk begin in second person ("for you") and then
change to third person ("the nation shall")? R' Yosef Karo z"l
(1488-1575; author of the Shulchan Aruch and other works) offers
Hashem may maintain the entire world for the sake of one or two
tzaddikim, i.e., this means that the world may give its produce
for the sake of those tzaddikim, and the rest of the world will
benefit incidentally. Therefore Hashem, said, "Behold I shall
rain down for you - Moshe and Aharon - bread from heaven, and,
incidentally, the nation shall go out and gather."
Alternatively (R' Karo preferred this second explanation): "I
shall rain down for you, Moshe and Aharon, straight to your
doorsteps, but the rest of the nation shall go out to the fields
(Chiddushei Maran Ha'Beit Yosef Al Ha'Torah)
Letters from Our Sages
This week's letter was written by R' Yitzchak Hutner z"l
(1904-1980; Rosh Yeshiva of Mesivta Chaim Berlin in
Brooklyn) in response to a former student. The
correspondent apparently had bemoaned the fact that he faced
spiritual struggles; as quoted by R' Hutner, he had written:
"I will never forget the desire that I once had to succeed
and to climb 'from strength to strength,' but now, my hope
This letter appears in Pachad Yitzchak: Igrot U'ketavim
Your letter reached my hand, and your words touched my heart.
Know, my friend, that your very letter belies the descriptions
that it contains. Now, let me explain this statement.
It is a terrible problem that when we discuss the greatness of
our gedolim, we actually deal only with the end of their stories.
We tell about their perfection, but we omit any mention of the
inner battles which raged in their souls. The impression one
gets is that they were created with their full stature.
For example, everyone is impressed by the purity of the Chafetz
Chaim's speech. [Ed. Note: The Chafetz Chaim led a crusade
against lashon hara and is held up as the model of how a Jew
should speak.] However, who knows about all the wars, the
battles, the impediments, the downfalls, and the retreats that
the Chafetz Chaim experienced in his fight with the evil
As a result [of this gap in our knowledge of gedolim], when a
young man who is imbued with a [holy] spirit and with ambition
experiences impediments and downfalls he believes that he is not
planted in the house of Hashem. This is because this young man
thinks that being planted in Hashem's house means experiencing
tranquility of the soul "in lush meadows beside tranquil waters"
However, know my friend, that the key for your soul is not the
tranquility of the yetzer hatov, but the war against the yetzer
hara. Your letter testifies that you are a faithful warrior in
the army of the yetzer hatov. In English there is a saying,
"Lose the battle and win the war." You surely have stumbled and
will stumble again, and you will be vanquished in many battles.
However, I promise you that after you have lost those battles,
you will emerge from the war with a victor's wreath on your head.
The wisest of all men [King Shlomo] said [Mishlei 24:16], "The
tzaddik will fall seven times and will rise." The unlearned
think that this means, "Even though a tzaddik falls seven times,
he will rise." The wise know well that the meaning is: "Because
a tzaddik falls seven times, he will rise." On the verse
[Bereishit 1:31], "And Elokim saw all that He had made and it was
very good," the midrash comments, "'Good' refers to the yetzer
hatov; 'Very good' refers to the yetzer hara."
[In line with this midrash, R' Hutner continues:] If you had
written to me of your mitzvot and good deeds, I would have said
that it was a good letter. Now that you tell me of your falls
and stumbles, I say that I have received a very good letter from
you. Please, don't picture to yourself that a gadol and his
yetzer hatov are one and the same; rather, imagine the gedolim at
war with all types of base tendencies . . .
I have seen fit to write these words to you so that you can
refer to them from time to time. Regarding specific details, it
is preferable to speak face-to-face.
You are one who is planted in Hashem's house!
Sharing in your suffering,
Confident that you will prevail,
Praying for your success,
[Signed] Yitzchak Hutner.
P.S. Now you understand the opening sentence of the letter,
i.e., that your very letter belies the description that it
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 Marwick family in memory of Reba Sklaroff a"h
The Dadusc family
on the first yahrzeit of father
Zion ben Gamliah a"h
Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz
and Project Genesis, Inc.
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