Shemot 5763 – Gilayon #270


Shabbat Shalom The weekly parsha commentary – parshat


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Parashat Shemot

THE MIDWIVES, FEARING GOD, DID NOT DO AS

THE KING OF EGYPT HAD TOLD THEM; THEY LET THE BOYS LIVE. SO THE KING OF EGYPT

SUMMONED THE MIDWIVES AND SAID TO THEM, "WHY HAVE YOU DONE THIS THING,

LETTING THE BOYS LIVE?"

 (Shemot 1 17:18)

 

Ethical

Behavior Is The Criterion For Fear of God

… whoever withstands this

test, willing to sacrifice his life – prepared to be killed rather than to

transgress – definitely has in his heart the Lord, the Lord of truth…

"Fear of God" in the Bible is a demand made of every person created

in the image, and if there is no fear of God in his heart, the heart of the

gentile, Scripture judges him accordingly, and he is considered to have

betrayed all his duties. Avraham said: "For I said that there is no

fear of God in this place, and they will kill me for my wife."

This means that fear of God

does exist among the gentiles. Whoever is suspect of not having fear of God in

his heart is also suspect of all evil behavior. Of Amalek it is written: "How

he encountered you on the way and attacked your tail – all the beaten down ones

at your rear, while you were weary and faint, and thus he did not stand in

awe of God" . It should be noted that in all of the four

places where the gentile (including Yosef, who plays the part of the gentile)

is either praised or condemned – either because of his fear of God or because

of the lack of it – in all those places "fear of God" is expressed by

behavior towards a member of another people, towards members of the

minority. The attitude to the stranger, to the one who is powerless, who

lacks protection, is the criterion of whether or not one has fear of God in his

heart. Therefore, and also because of the phrase "the midwives, fearing

God", it would seem that the preferable explanation would be: They

were Egyptians.

 (Prof. N. Leibowitz: New Studies in the

Book of Shemot, pp. 32-33)

 

 

YOU

ARE NOT TO ABOMINATE AN EGYPTIAN,

FOR

YOU WERE A SOJOURNER IN HIS LAND

Yehuda Pinchover

 

Parashat Shemot provides a succinct and

objective account of the oppression, the suffering, and the attempted

destruction of our people by the Egyptians. The Egyptians enslaved us with

crushing labor, they made our lives bitter, they beat us and oppressed us.

Worst of all, they commanded the midwives and all Egyptians to kill the newborn

males. The Children of Israel, groaned, moaned, cried out to God from the iron

furnace of Egypt.

 

What

is the background of the subjugation?

The

Children of Israel came to Egypt during the period that the Egyptians were

selling their belongings, their lands, and even themselves to Pharaoh. The

Children of Israel were free men, for they had come in response to a special

invitation which promised them sustenance, protection and development. The

Egyptians had no land of their own for "for each of the Egyptians

had sold his field". During that period, the Children of Israel, sheep

herders, with whom the Egyptians were forbidden to dine – the raising of sheep

being an abomination in their eyes – take hold in foreign soil, and become

plentiful: "Now Israel stayed in the land of Egypt, in the region of

Goshen; they obtained holdings in it, bore fruit, and became exceedingly

many" (Bereishit

47:27)

This

passage ends the story of the purchase of Egyptian lands by Pharaoh! Perhaps

through this explicit contrast the Torah alludes that this situation – in which

the Egyptians are serfs, indentured to Pharaoh, while the Children of Israel

are free and flourishing – will inevitably arouse envy and will be a basis for

future hatred and conflict. (Perhaps this is the meaning of Ralbag's

commentary).

Envy

and hatred do indeed arouse fear that the Children of Israel present an

existential danger to the Egyptian world-power: "Now a new king arose

over Egypt, who had not known Yosef. He said to his people: Here, this people,

the Children of Israel, is many more and mightier in number than we! Come now,

let us use our wits against it, lest it become many more, and then, if war

should occur, it too be added to our enemies and make war upon us or go up away

from the land!" (Shemot

1:8,9)

Pharaoh

wants to take action, but he dares not exploit his full power. As is well

known, the failure of the master only intensifies the servitude, as is

explained by Ramban (Shemot

1:10):

"Pharaoh and his advisors did not

see fit to strike them with the sword, because this would be a great breach of

faith, to strike for no good reason a people which had come by decree of the

earlier king, and also the common folk – with whom he would take counsel –

would not permit the king to perpetuate such iniquity".

The end of the story is known.

When

we search in the Torah and in the Prophets for instruction in coping with such

traumatic events such as oppression and forced conversion and geulah, we

quickly find a number of educational messages:

1.      The first lesson related to the Egyptian

bondage revolves around the repeatedly emphasized obligation to show concern

for the weak and to love him. The weak is the slave, the pauper, the orphan,

the widow, and the stranger. The basis is "For you yourselves know well

the feelings of the sojourner, for sojourners were you in the land of

Egypt" (Shemot

23:9).

2.      The second – and basic – message concerns

the concept of destiny. God delivered us from the bondage of Egypt so that we

acknowledge Him and serve him: "I am the Lord who sanctifies you, who

took you out of the land of Egypt in order to be your Lord" (Vayikra 23:33)

3.      Another idea is that of freedom: "For

the Children of Israel are slaves unto Me, they are My servants whom I took out

of the land of Egypt, I am the Lord your God" (Vayikra 25:55)

4.      Another value demanded of us is the

recognition of God's great deeds and the goodness which He bestowed upon us. We

celebrate the Shabbat and the festivals as remembrances of the exodus from

Egypt "Remember, yes remember that which the Lord your God did to

Pharaoh and to all Egypt" (Devarim 7:18).

5.      We are enjoined to distance ourselves

from Egyptian culture by the injunction against ever dwelling in Egypt, as is

written: "You will never return that way again!" (Devarim 17:16). It is permitted to return to Egypt for

business, and in order to conquer other lands, but it is forbidden to settle

there – and therefore, the king may not multiply horses for himself. "Only,

he is not to multiply horses for himself, and he is not to return the people to

Egypt in order to multiply horses, since God has said to you: "You will

never return that way again" (Ibid.) Ramban explains that the reason for these prohibitions is

the fact that Egypt was the most depraved of all countries, as is written,

"What is done in the land of Egypt, wherein you were settled, you are

not to do" (Vayikra

18:3).

But

one subject – a natural reaction – is emphasized by its absence; in the Bible

there are no expressions of bitterness and hatred. There is no mitzvah

commanding remembrance of the injustice and the wickedness (such as with

Amalek; there is no joy over the fall of the foe, there is no promise of – nor

hope for – additional revenge and punishment.

Regarding

joy over another's misfortune, the Meshech Chochma writes:

"A

noble person does not rejoice at his enemy's defeat, because such joy is wrong

in the eyes of God and one should hate that which is wrong in the eyes of God.

Therefore on Pesach, Festival of Matzoth we do not recall His meting out

punishment – but rather that God delivered the Children of Israel from Egypt.

There is no Jewish festival and Yom Tov celebrating the fall of

enemies."

I

searched in vain through the Torah and the Prophets for some expression of

bitterness, hatred, anger, demand for revenge or punishment over our

enslavement in Egypt. True, it is a fact that Biblical Israel never derived

great nachat from Egypt throughout the Biblical period. Yet more, in the

Prophets we find visions of destruction of Egypt (although none presage total

annihilation, as with Assur and Babylon). It should be stressed that Egypt's

punishments are due only for sins against the kingdoms of Yehuda and Yisrael

and against those exiled to Egypt – the penalties are not for her historical

transgression the enslavement of the Children of Israel.

As

against the above, we find in Devarim the commandment "You shall not

abominate the Egyptian for you were a sojourner in his land. Sons which will be

born to them, the third generation may enter the community of the Lord." Whereas

the Ammonites – whose sin was much smaller and of shorter duration than that of

the Egyptians – are totally forbidden to become part of the community, the

Egyptians, despite all their continuing iniquitous actions, are in no way to be

abominated, and they may enter the community of Israel after three generations.

The

simplest explanation of the absence of any expression of bitterness and hatred,

is explicitly stated in the Torah and elucidated in the Gemarrah:

"Said

Rava to Rabba bar Meri: What is the source of the expression "Don't throw

stones into the well from which you drink?" He replied, as is written:

"Do not abominate an Edomite, for he is your brother, and do not

abominate an Egyptian, for you were a sojourner in his land" (Bava Kama 93a).

In

other words, the Torah tells us that in the merit of the long hospitality

extended us by the Egyptians, we are obliged to forgive their sins towards us.

A

different explanation – surprising and profound – for the almost total

forgiveness we find in the Bible is offered by modern commentators, mainly,

Benno Yaakov and M. D. Cassutto. They suggest that The Holy One, Blessed Be He,

provided the people with an instrument for rooting out – or at least

considerably weakening – the natural and human emotions of bitterness and

hatred, and the yearning for punishment and vengeance. This instrument is given

through the commandment regarding the lending of utensils. The giving of gifts

to the Children of Israel by the Egyptians might seem to be insignificant, but

surprisingly, it is mentioned four times in the Torah. God pleads with Moshe

"Pray speak in the ears of the people: They shall ask,

each man of his neighbor, each woman of her neighbor, objects of silver and

objects of gold" (Shemot 11:2)

Underlying

this act is the idea that God commands the Children of Israel to request gifts

in order to uproot those bitter and painful feelings, and to lessen the

animosity.

May

it be His will that we learn to find instruments to diminish the

animosity and the hatred between us and all those who wronged us, and also

between us and those whom we wronged.

 Yehuda Pinchover is a founder of

"Netivot Shalom"

 

 

Now Pharaoh's daughter went down to bath

at the Nile… she saw the little ark… she opened it and saw him, the child,

here, a boy weeping! She pitied him and she said: One of the Hebrews' children

is this!… The child grew, she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and he

became her son. She called his name: Moshe/He-Who-Pulls-Out; she said: for out

of the water I pulled him.

 

She did not call him Mashui

one drawn up from the water. Perhaps this gives us an indication

of the whole tendency of the education which the Princess gave her foster- son,

and of the deep impression that was made from the very beginning upon his

character. By giving him this name she said to him: All his life, he is never

to forget that he was thrown into the water and that I drew him out of it.

Therefore all his life is he to have a soft heart for to other people's

troubles and always be on the alert to be a Moshe, a deliverer in times of

distress. His Hebrew name always kept the consciousness of his origin awake

within him. The Princess surely inquired of the mother the Hebrew term for

expressing this thought, otherwise she would have given him his an Egyptian

name. In all this we can see the noble humane character of Moshe's savior.

(Rabbi Shimshon Rafael

Hirsch, Shemot 2:10)

 

 

Moshe,

Even In Flight, Does Not Stop Fighting For Justice

"Moshe fled from

Pharaoh's face and settled in the land of Midyan; he sat down by a well…

Shepherds came and drove them away… But Moshe rose up, he delivered them and

gave drink to their sheep." Moshe

came and sat in judgement upon them, saying to them: It is customary that men

draw the water and the women give to drink; here women draw and men give to

drink, this is perversion of justice.

 (Avoth D'Rabbi Natan, 20:1)

 

"Come and note Moshe's

humility; even though he was fleeing like a commoner, and he saw the daughters

of Yitro in distress, and he was not too proud to stand up and draw for them,

but his soul was that of a son of the daughter of the king". This is to

say that the awareness of his coming from the palace of the great Pharaoh did

not prevent Moshe our teacher from standing by those unfortunate women who were

robbed by the shepherds of Midyan and acting on their behalf in their distress.

From his first steps in approaching his brothers, upon seeing an Egyptian

beating a Hebrew, he decided that the proper course of action is to intervene,

to attack the attacker and to kill him. These events are testimony to his

sensitivity to the suffering of people and to the quality of his leadership;

from here we learn that he is qualified to be the faithful shepherd of his

people.

 (Y. Leibowitz: Seven Years of

Discussions on the Weekly Parasha, pp. 195-196)

 

 

Readers React to Readers Reactions

(Answer to

Menachem Ziberstein, Issue Miketz)

 

In his letter, Menachem

Zilberstein wrote the following: "When we are unwilling to learn from

history, locked into a flawed conception, we are drawn to philosophies which

led to the murder of a Jew by a mentally disturbed student seven years

ago." This

means that Mr. Zilberstein understands that the victim (who was

locked into a mistaken conception) was guilty of the murder…

This

kind of "logic" is gaining legitimacy in our circles – occasionally

we hear that the rape victim is guilty of rape, or that the woman murdered by

her husband behaved disrespectfully towards her husband, etc.

According

to this warped reasoning, The Holy One, Blessed Be He, as it were,

"erred" in punishing Kayin – when the guilty party was Hevel…

It is unfortunate that the

Editorial Board publicized Zilberstein's words without any reaction.

                                                                                               Chanan

Golan

                                                                                               Kibbutz

Saad

 

Editor's Comment:

May we again reiterate that the Editorial

Board does not necessarily identify with content of letters appearing in

"Shabbat Shalom". These letters provide a platform for our readers,

and open opportunities for fruitful dialogue between readers and authors of the

articles, and between the readers themselves. On occasion, we feel the

necessity to react or to comment. In this particular case, we did not deem it

necessary to stress that which is obvious, and therefore we refrained from

comment.

 

 

 

Editorial Board: Pinchas Leiser

(Editor), Miriam Fine (Coordinator), Itzhak Frankenthal and Dr. Menachem Klein

Translation: Kadish Goldberg

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