In this week's parashah we read of the first seven of the Ten
Plagues. Rashi writes that Aharon, not Moshe, initiated the
plagues of blood and lice because Moshe did not want to hit the
Nile or the sand. Moshe felt a debt of gratitude to the river
and the sand. The Nile had saved him when he was an infant in a
basket and the sand had saved him when he buried the Egyptian
that he killed.
R' Yaakov Yitzchak Halevi Ruderman z"l (founder of Yeshiva Ner
Israel in Baltimore and its rosh yeshiva from 1933 to 1987) notes
the lesson that we are to take from this: hakarat
hatov/recognizing good that is done for us is not merely an
obligation that we owe to other people. One must feel hakarat
hatov toward any animal, plant or inanimate object from which one
R' Ruderman continues: we see this trait reflected in the
Talmud commentary Shitah Mekubetzet (to Bava Kamma 92b) where it
is recorded that R' Yitzchak Alfasi (Morocco; 1013-1103) refused
to judge a case involving the bathhouse where he bathed. Since
he owed a debt of gratitude to that bathhouse, he did not want to
run the risk of slighting it while determining its fate.
Why must one feel gratitude even to a bathhouse? Because the
ability to appreciate kindness that one receives is one of the
foundations of serving Hashem. The midrash says, "If one denies
his friend's kindness, he will inevitably deny Hashem's
kindness." Indeed, the very first sin that mankind did involved
denying an act of kindness. This occurred when Adam defended his
eating from the Tree of Knowledge with the words (3:12): "The
woman whom You gave to be with me - she gave me of the tree, and
I ate." Instead of recognizing that Hashem had performed a
kindness for Adam by creating Chavah, Adam instead blamed Hashem
for his own sin. (Sichot Halevi)
"Elokim spoke to Moshe and said to him, 'I am Hashem.
I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov . . . , but
with My Name Hashem I did not make Myself known to them . .
. I established My covenant with them . . . But also I have
heard the groan of Bnei Yisrael whom Egypt enslaves . . .
Therefore, say to Bnei Yisrael, 'I am Hashem'." (6:2-6)
There is a disagreement between the twelfth century sages
Rambam and Ra'avad (in Hilchot Teshuvah ch. 6) regarding the
answer to the following question: if Hashem decreed that
Avraham's descendants would be exiled and enslaved, why were the
Egyptians punished for enslaving them? Rambam answers that
Hashem did not say in what country Bnei Yisrael would be
enslaved. The Egyptians so-to-speak volunteered to enslave Bnei
Yisrael, and for that they were punished. Ra'avad disagrees; he
writes that the Egyptians were punished for treating their slaves
more harshly than necessary.
R' Gavriel Ze'ev Margolis z"l explains Rambam's and Ra'avad's
disagreement as follows: The gemara (Nedarim 36b, and Rabbenu
Nissim there) teaches that if a person (Reuven) says, "Let
whomever wants come and separate terumah from my produce," a
volunteer who comes and separates terumah (Shimon) would not be
considered to be an agent of the produce-owner (Reuven).
Accordingly, even if Reuven had previously undertaken a vow not
to derive any benefit from this Shimon, Shimon would be permitted
to separate terumah on Reuven's behalf, since Shimon would be
acting on his own and not technically acting for Reuven.
On the other hand, if Reuven said, "Let whomever hears me come
and separate terumah from my produce," a volunteer who comes and
separates terumah is considered to be Reuven's agent. Therefore,
if Reuven had previously undertaken a vow not to derive any
benefit from Shimon, Shimon would not be permitted to separate
terumah on Reuven's behalf.
Rambam writes elsewhere that there is no contradiction between
our having free-will and Hashem's knowing the future because His
knowledge is different from our knowledge in a way that we cannot
comprehend. Somehow, the fact that He knows that a certain event
will happen and a certain person will be involved does not force
that person to play that role. Rather, every person has free-
Thus, continues R' Margolis, when Hashem decreed that Bnei
Yisrael would be enslaved, His knowledge that the enslavement
would take place in Egypt did not force the Egyptians to enslave
Bnei Yisrael. It was as if Hashem had said, "Let whomever wants
come and enslave Bnei Yisrael," in which case the person who
responds is not deemed to be an agent. It follows, then, that
the Egyptians who did respond were deserving of punishment.
Ra'avad on the other hand, contends that Hashem's omniscience
somehow limits man's free-will. Thus, when Hashem decreed that
Bnei Yisrael would be enslaved in Egypt, He effectively appointed
the Egyptians as agents to fulfill His will. It was as if He
said, "Let whomever hears come and enslave Bnei Yisrael," in
which case the one who responded was deemed to be an agent.
Therefore, since the Egyptians were merely His agents, they would
not have been deserving of punishment if not for the fact that
they treated their slaves too harshly.
(Torat Gavriel to Shmot 1:1)
R' Margolis writes that in light of Ra'avad's view that the
Egyptians were punished only because they enslaved Bnei Yisrael
too harshly, the verses quoted above can be understood as
follows: When Moshe first spoke to Pharaoh, Pharaoh responded by
worsening Bnei Yisrael's working conditions, as described near
the end of last week's parashah. That parashah then ends with
Moshe questioning why Hashem allowed this to happen.
Our parashah opens with Hashem's answer to Moshe's question:
"Elokim (the Attribute of Justice) spoke to Moshe: 'I am Hashem'
(the Attribute of Mercy)." My harsh judgment and My mercy are
one and the same; in order to redeem Bnei Yisrael before the end
of the 400 years that the exile was supposed to last, I had to
increase the harshness of the exile."
That Hashem's harsh justice can at the same time be merciful is
something that Hashem never revealed to the Patriarchs, for they
could withstand justice alone. "With My Name Hashem I did not
make Myself known to them." And, why did Hashem ignore Bnei
Yisrael's suffering until now? Because, "I established My
covenant with them" - it was My decree in My covenant with
Avraham that they would be enslaved.
But now, "I have heard the groan of Bnei Yisrael whom Egypt
enslaves" more harshly than I had decreed. "Therefore, say to
Bnei Yisrael, 'I am Hashem'," the merciful G-d who will redeem
them and punish their oppressors.
(Torat Gavriel to Shmot 6:2)
"Moshe spoke before Hashem, saying, 'Behold, Bnei Yisrael
have not listened to me, so how will Pharaoh listen to me'?"
Many commentaries observe that Moshe's argument seems
illogical. The Torah tells us why Bnei Yisrael did not listen;
it was, in the words of verse 6:9, "because of shortness of
breath and hard work." However, this reason did not apply to
Pharaoh, so maybe he would listen!
R' Chaim Elazary z"l (see page 4) answers that Moshe's argument
was as follows: No one can be rescued from exile unless he feels
the exile and wants to be redeemed from it. If Pharaoh sees that
Bnei Yisrael are satisfied with their present situation, why
should he listen to me and let them go?
(Netivei Chaim II p. 91)
Rabbis of the New World
The following are biographical notes on two of the sages who
appear in this week's issue:
R' Gavriel Ze'ev Wolf (Velvel) Margolis z"l was born in Vilna
on 27 Cheshvan 5608/1847, the son of the scholar and kabbalist R'
Yechiel Yitzchak Margolis. From age 14 to age 17, young Velvel
studied under R' Yaakov Brit (1797-1883), one of the teachers of
the Chafetz Chaim. In the letter of semichah/ordination that R'
Brit gave R' Velvel in 1869, the teacher wrote: "He became great
and greater still, not like the greatness of students who succeed
in their studies after five years - he, in a short time, passed
his friends; they chased him but could not catch him, because his
belly was filled with Talmud and halachah." In 1864, the young
R' Margolis married the daughter of another teacher of the
Chafetz Chaim, the famed tzaddik R' Nachumke of Horodna (Grodno).
Beginning in 1876, R' Margolis served as rabbi in several
Lithuanian towns. In 1880, after the death of his father-in-law,
he settled in Grodno where he taught for 27 years. In 1907, he
was brought to Boston, Massachusetts as its Chief Rabbi. In
1912, R' Margolis moved to Manhattan's Lower East Side as rabbi
of the Adas Yisrael congregation. He died on 11 Elul 5695/1935.
R' Margolis' Torah commentary Torat Gavriel was published in
the 1920's together with his commentaries on the haftarot and the
five megillot. In the foreword to Torat Gavriel, R' Margolis
mentions his plans to write a book on the state of American
Jewry. (Sources: Torat Gavriel, Foreword; Otzar Ha'rabbanim No.
R' Chaim Moshe Reuven Elazary z"l was a student of the Slobodka
Yeshiva, first in Europe and then in Chevron. He began his
rabbinic career in the Bronx, N.Y., and also taught at a yeshiva
in Brooklyn. After 1929, he succeeded his father-in-law, R'
Ephraim Pelcovitz, as rabbi of Congregation Agudas Achim in
Canton, Ohio. (The latter had been in Canton since 1914, and in
1929 moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut.)
In 1972, R' Elazary settled in Petach Tikva, and he died there
on 7 Iyar 5744/ 1984. He left numerous published and unpublished
works and articles, many of them exhibiting the influence of R'
Nosson Zvi Finkel, the "Alter of Slobodka."
R' Elazary's brothers, R' Betzalel and R' Yisrael, were among
those murdered by Palestinian Arabs in the 1929 Chevron
massacre. (Sources: Netivei Chaim; Shevilei Chaim, Otzar
Ha'rabbanim No. 3061)