Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XIII, No. 12
21 Teves 5759
January 9, 1998
Begin the new Mishnah cycle on Monday
Orach Chaim 38:1-3
Daf Yomi: Yoma 5
Yerushalmi Rosh Hashanah 20
R' Samson Raphael Hirsch z"l introduces the Book of Shmot as
follows: "With this second book, the history of the Jews as a
nation starts. We are led out of the history of the individuals
and families into that of the Nation by a list of those men
[i.e., the twelve sons of Yaakov] who are already known to us as
the "main stem" of the Jewish people. It is out of these men,
with their different individualilities and characteristics, that
the Jewish Nation developed. But there was one basic trait which
they all had in common, and this formed the foundation of Jewish
nationality: 'Each one with his household came with Yaakov'
"Later on, when the national body, dismembered by Pharaoh's
mishandling, appeared to lie helplessly on the ground as a
welcome feast for the vultures of history (as it had appeared in
the prophetic vision of the ancestor [i.e., Avraham - see
Bereishit 15:11]), and, at the call of G-d, was to arise 'in its
blood' [Yechezkel 16:6 - i.e., through the mitzvah of milah] to
immortal life, G-d began the building up of His people on the
rock-like foundation of 'homes' - 'a lamb for a household' [Shmot
12:4 - i.e., the Korban Pesach] - on the bond of children to
parents and parents to children. And here we are told that this
foundation of the immortal People of G-d - even if it had been
forcibly and violently crushed and disturbed [by Pharaoh, as
described in this parashah and in various midrashim] at the time
of the redemption - was implanted in them when the Children of
Israel originally moved down into the Egyptian womb, out of
which, through suffering and woe, they were to be born into a
nation. (Commentary on the Torah)
"These are the names of the sons of Yisrael who came to
Egypt, with Yaakov, each man and his household came." (1:1)
R' Zvi Yehuda Kook z"l (1891-1982; Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivat
Mercaz Harav) taught: There is a difference between the name
"Yisrael" and the name "Yaakov." When the angel told the
patriarch, "Your name will no longer be called 'Yaakov,' rather
'Yisrael'," he was not changing the patriarch's name but, rather,
supplementing it with a new level. [Generally, "Yisrael" refers
to the Jews on a more advanced spiritual level than "Yaakov."]
In this parashah, we begin to encounter different names for
both the Jewish people and for G-d. The Torah also has different
names. Indeed, Chazal say, "The Holy One, Blessed Be He, Yisrael
and the Torah, are all one," and one manifestation of this
relationship is that each of these entities has seventy names
[See Ba'al Ha'turim to Bemidbar 11:16; Bemidbar Rabbah 14:12].
The essential nature of the Jewish people is to cling to G-d
[through the Torah. The different names that G-d, Israel and
the Torah each have allude to different aspects of the
relationship between the three.] "You are the ones who cleave to
Hashem, your G-d" [Devarim 4:4] - this is the essence of our
"You are sons to Hashem, your G-d" [Devarim 14:1] - this fact
begins to be revealed in this parashah. There is movement toward
the appearance of a G-dly nation in the world, and the names of
Hashem's nation begin to appear. The revelation of the nation of
Israel and of Hashem are two sides of one coin; therefore, we see
here the revelation of Hashem's Name to the world. This happens
through Moshe, who asks (Shmot 3:13), "When they say to me, 'What
is His Name?' what shall I say?"
(Sichot Harav Zvi Yehuda: Shmot p.20)
"He said to his people, 'Behold! The people, the Children
of Israel, are more numerous and stronger than we
[literally: 'from us']." (1:9)
R' Shmuel di Ozeida z"l (16th century; author of Midrash
Shmuel) explains that Pharaoh wanted to make his evil plot more
palatable to the Egyptians. He said: "All these years, Yosef
ruled over us and protected his people while they multiplied and
grew stronger. Who is to blame for this? We are; it is _'from
us'_! Wouldn't we have shown sufficient gratitude to Yosef if we
had just released him from jail, rather than appointing him to be
the viceroy?! Didn't we strengthen the Jews by mourning Yaakov
for 70 days?! Now, therefore, it is time to turn the tables."
(Derashot Rabbi Shmuel di Ozeida)
"But the midwives feared G-d and they did not do as the king
of Egypt had spoken to them; rather, they caused the boys to
R' Chaim Elazar Shapira z"l (died 1937; the "Munkatcher Rebbe",
also known as the "Minchas Elazar") explained this verse in light
of the following story involving the early chassidic master, R'
Elimelech of Lyzhensk z"l:
At some point late in the 18th century, the Austrian government
decreed that beginning on the following January 1st, no man could
marry until he had completed army service. It also was decreed
that applicants for marriage licenses would have to pass a test
of their proficiency in German. Obviously, these decrees were
devastating for the Jewish community, and R' Elimelech prayed for
hours on end that the decrees be revoked. Nevertheless, he
sensed that his prayers had not been answered.
It was R' Elimelech's custom to sleep from 10 p.m. to midnight
every night, and then to arise for Tikkun Chatztot, i.e., to cry
over the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash. As he lay down to
sleep on December 31st before the decree was to take effect, he
realized with a heavy heart that G-d's Attribute of Strict
Justice would soon be brought to bear against the Jewish people.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in town, several of R' Elimelech's
disciples had raised money to marry an orphaned bride and groom,
and they had scheduled the wedding ceremony to take place at
midnight, the precise moment when such a ceremony would become
illegal. Unaware of this, R' Elimelech awakened at midnight, as
was his wont, and he immediately sensed that the Attribute of
Strict Justice had retreated and had been replaced by the
Attribute of Kindness. The Heavenly decrees which were
manifested through the government's decrees had been rescinded!
R' Elimelech sent for his students to share the good news, but
they were not in their lodgings. When, eventually, they were
found dancing in the wedding hall, R' Elimelech understood that
the disciples' determination to defy the decrees had succeeded
where his holy prayers had failed. Their mitzvah of marrying two
orphans precisely at the moment when the decree was to have taken
effect "prevented" G-d from carrying out the decree.
Similarly, explains the Minchas Elazar, "the midwives . . . did
not do _as the king of Egypt had spoken to them_; rather, they
caused the boys to live." "As," i.e., "at the exact time,"
Pharaoh had said the decree to kill the newborn boys was to have
taken effect, they did not obey. Rather, at that very hour, they
defiantly caused the boys to live and even gave the boys milk and
warm blankets. In this way, they prevented the decree from
(Divrei Torah I, No. 33)
"So said Hashem, the G-d of Yisrael, 'Send out My people .
"Pharaoh replied, 'Who is Hashem that I should heed His
"So they said, 'The G-d of the Hebrews happened upon us . .
Why does Pharaoh seem to know the "G-d of the Hebrews," but he
does not know "Hashem, the G-d of Yisrael"? R' Yehuda Leib
Maimon z"l (1876-1962; rabbi of several European towns and
Israel's first Minister of Religious Affairs) explains as
Rashi to Bereishit 12:6 writes that Eretz Yisrael originally
belonged to Noach's son, Shem, ancestor of the Jews and other
"Semitic" peoples. We also are taught that there, Shem and his
grandson, Ever (from whom the word "Ivri"/"Hebrew" originates),
taught about The One G-d. In Avraham's time, however, the land
was conquered by the Canaanites, descendants of Shem's brother,
R' Maimon writes: The Egyptians knew Canaan as the "Land of the
Ivrim" (as Yosef calls it in Bereishit 40:15), and they therefore
had heard of the "G-d of the Ivrim." Indeed, when Hashem first
commanded Moshe to appear before Pharaoh, He did not tell Moshe
to identify himself as a messenger of the G-d of Yisrael.
Rather, Hashem expressly told Moshe to speak to Pharaoh of the G-
d of the Ivrim (Shmot 3:18). Only to the Jews was Moshe to
mention the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov (3:15).
(Yisrael, Torah, Zion p.33)
Letters from Our Sages
Beginning this week, we replace our biography section with a
new feature, excerpts from the correspondence of Torah scholars
throughout the ages. The letters offered here will address a
wide range of subjects, sometimes halachic, sometimes hashkafic
(i.e. regarding our system of beliefs), and sometimes of
historical interest, but, hopefully, always edifying. Each
letter will be accompanied by a brief biographical, and, where
necessary, historical, note.
We begin this series with an excerpt from a famous letter, the
"Iggeret Ha'Ramban." The letter's author was the Torah
commentator and Talmudist, R' Moshe ben Nachman
("Ramban/Nachmanides"), who was born in Gerona, Spain in 1194 and
died in Akko, Eretz Yisrael in 1270. This letter was written
from Eretz Yisrael to Ramban's adult son, Nachman, in Catalina,
Spain in Ramban's last years. (The complete letter has been
reprinted many times, including in English.)
"Heed, my son, the discipline of your father, and do not
forsake the teachings of your mother" [Mishlei 1:8]. Accustom
yourself, always, to speak gently to all people at all times, and
you will thus be saved from anger, which is a bad trait that
causes people to sin. Our rabbis z"l taught [Nedarim 22a], "When
one becomes angry, all manners of Gehinnom attain power over him,
as it is written [Kohelet 11:10], 'Banish anger from your heart
and remove evil from your flesh.' [The gemara continues:] The
evil referred to here refers to Gehinnom, as it is written
[Mishlei 16:4], 'The wicked are destined for the day of evil.'
"Once you have distanced yourself from anger, the quality of
humility will enter your heart. This quality is the best of all
good traits, as it is written [Mishlei 22:4], 'On the heels of
humility comes the fear of Hashem.' . . .
"After you think about these ideas [i.e., those set out above
plus others omitted here due to space constraints], you will
stand in awe of your Creator and will be guarded against sin.
With these traits, you will be happy with your lot . . .
"Read this letter once a week, not less, in order to fulfill it
and to always walk with it after G-d, so that you will succeed in
your ways and merit the World-to-Come, which is hidden away for
the righteous. On any day on which you read this letter, Heaven
shall answer your heart's desire, forever - Amen, Selah!
Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ("lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah"), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Project Genesis
start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
Text archives from 1990 through the present
may be retrieved from
to HaMaayan are tax-deductible.
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