Shemot 5765 – Gilayon #375

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Parshat Shemot






 (Shemot 2:13-14)


The Oppressed Must be Saved from his Oppressor without Regard for Nationality

Two Hebrews – They were Datan and Aviram, who later left manna overnight (see Shemot 16:20).

(Rashi on Shemot 2:13)


Hebrews fighting – The verb fighting serves as an adjective which

indicates a continuous activity rather than the usual past conjugation of

Hebrew verbs. It implies that they were both constantly fighting, from which

the midrash concludes that

they were Datan and Aviram.

 (Ha-Amek Davar, ad loc)


Two Hebrews – This comes to order to commend Moses. It shows

that he did not kill the Egyptian on the previous day out of brotherly

solidarity, but rather in order to save the oppressed from his oppressor. The

proof is that on the next day he rebuked a man who caused strife with his fellow,

even though both of them were Hebrews and it would have seemed appropriate to

sympathize with the victimizer (as well as with the victimized), since he was

one of his brothers.

(R. Yitzhak Shemuel Riggio, Italy ad loc)




Rebel Against the Order Rather than to Obey it.

Daniel Rorhlich


principle formulated by the Sages "The kingdom's law is [halakhically binding] law" guided Jews for many

generations in the Galut, where they had to contend

with the laws of the lands of their dispersion.


many aspects, this is an interesting and unique principle. Although it is cited

several times in the Babylonian Talmud (Shemuel's dicta in Gittin 10b, Nedarim 28a, Bava Kama 113a, Bava Metzia 54b, 55a) it lacks any Mishnaic

or Scriptural foundation. It derives from the historical experience of the Jews

in the Babylonian Exile. Though lacking any early precedent, the Rishonim wrote, "We have never seen anyone disagree

with this law." Originally, the principle pertained specifically to royal

decrees but with time its authority was expanded to include the laws of

countries not ruled by monarchs.


principle applies to established laws dealing with business, taxation, real

estate, and so forth. However, it does not apply to religious ritual. It also

does not apply to laws which arbitrarily discriminate between people. As the RaMBaM writes: "Any law

legislated by the king whose application is universal, and not concerned with a

particular person – is not theft."(Hilkhot Gezeilah ve-Aveidah 5:14). And in the writings of the poskim we find: "Theft by the king is not a [halakhically binding] law."


their sophisticated approach, the Sages managed to find the correct balance between

various values and principles: On the one hand, they insisted that the

sovereign must be honored and his authority recognized. On the other hand, they

delineated the limits of authority to be grated to the sovereign. In this

sense, their assignment of limitations on governmental authority preceded the

great philosophers of modern democracy (Rousseau, Locke, Mill, etc.) by many



should notice an important difference between the views of these philosophers

and the position of the Sages: The Sages did not discuss the people's right to

rebel against governmental tyranny. In fact, they did not speak of human rights

at all – they were solely concerned with human duties.


far as the Sages were concerned, there is no conflict between respecting the

sovereign and limiting his authority. On the one hand, government is a

necessity for proper social life untroubled by murder and exploitation, as R. Hananya Segan Ha-Kohanim said, "Pray for the government's well-being;

for without its intimidation people would eat each other alive"(Avot 3:2). The

government in the days of R. Hananya Segan Ha-Kohanim was none other

than the evil and hated Roman Empire, and even so: "One should pray for

its well-being." (As stated by Y. Leibowitz in his Sihot

al Pirkei Avot veha-RaMBaM, pg. 43)


the other hand, one should rebel against certain laws (first and foremost,

those laws requiring idolatry, forbidden sexual relations, and blood-shed),

even at the price of one's own life. Such cases do not involve the right to

rebel, but rather the duty to rebel. (It is appropriate to mention H. D.

Thoreau's famous essay, "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.")


conflict between obedience to state law and loyalty to the demands of morality

or religion finds expression in our parasha in the

story of Shifra and Puah,

the two Hebrew midwives who refused to execute Pharaoh's terrible edict, If

he is a boy, kill him (Shemot


Nehama Leibowitz (Studies in Shemot,

pp. 31-38) describes two ancient traditions concerning the identities of

the midwives. According to one opinion (held by Rashi,Ibn Ezra, RaShBaM, and RaMBaN, following Sotah 11b) the

midwives were themselves Jewish, and they are more specifically identified as Yocheved and Miriam (or, alternatively, Yocheved

and Elisheva, Aaron's wife). The opposing tradition,

(adhered to by Philo, Josephus, Midrash Tadsheh, Abravanel and ShaDaL) claims that the midwives were Egyptians. This

tradition is of special interest for us because it opposes the individual to

her own government, rather than opposing her to a foreign government. This

interpretation exacerbates the moral dilemma facing the midwives.


it possible to argue that this interpretation jibes with the plain meaning of

the text? After all, it is written, and the king said lameyaldot


the Hebrew midwives] (1:15). The patah which appears under the letter lamed in

the word lameyaldot [to the midwives] sets the connection between

the words in a manner contradictory to the interpretation. ShaDaL



is no argument. It could indeed have been [clearer] to say la-meyaldot et ha-ivriyot [to

the midwives of the Israelite women – implying that the midwives treated

Israelites, but were not themselves Israelites], but it is also possible to

leave out the word et, as in the verse ha-adam

ha-okhel boser [the man who

eats the sour grapes] (Jeremiah 31:29).


this interpretation is indeed possible philologically and grammatically, it can

also be offered additional support: If Pharaoh meant to execute his plot

secretly, would it have made sense to leave the actual commission of murder in

the hands of Israelite women? ShaDaL further mentions

in the name of his student, Yaakov Hai Pardo, that the words The

midwives, fearing God, did not do as the king of Egypt had told them; they let

the boys live (1:17) would not make

sense in relation to Jewish midwives: "If they were from another people,

it would be right to say that they feared God, but if they were Hebrews, there

would be no reason to mention fear of God, since everyone loves the sons of

their own people." Nehama Leibowitz

adds that the expression fear of God appears in the Torah in connection

with one's relationship to another people, to a minority:


father Abraham says of the Egyptians, Surely there is no fear of God in this

place and they will kill me because of my wife (Breishit20:11).

Of Amalek, upon attacking Israel, it is said: And did not

fear God (Devarim



speaking in his role as the gentile viceroy of Egypt, says of himself: I

fear God (Bereishit


Nehama Leibowitz writes:

Treatment of the stranger, of the powerless and unprotected, is the touchstone

by which it may be known whether someone has God in their heart or not. She

concludes her discussion of the midwives with these words:


this interpretation is correct, we must appreciate how the Torah shows us that

in the midst of a sea of evil and tyranny – just after verse 13, which exhibits

the Egyptians, both government and nation in their wickedness – how an

individual can stand up to evil, rebel against an order, refuse to obey it, and

not attempt to deflect the blood-guilt from herself by saying, "I received

an order from my sovereign."

Dr. Daniel Rorlich is a physicist



Our Good does not Necessarily Come at the Expense of Others

Ra'o ra'íti [I have surely seen] the

plight of My people in Egypt (Shemot 3:7)

Ra'o ra'íti should be glossed: Yet,

I have seen. This is the meaning of all such doubled expressions, such as a'lo na'aleh [yet,

we shall go up] (Bamidbar

13:30) and yakhol nukhal [yet, we can] (loc.

cit). It comes to say "yet"

to say the thing is true, even though some may disagree, as in the verse yadati beni yadati [I know my son, I know](Bereishit 48:19). That is to say:

even though I saw My people's plight in Egypt, as was shown by the angel in the

bush, even though I will punish the Egyptians for their persecutions just as

the fire burned in the bush, those who oppress you will not be annihilated by

the plagues I send upon them, just as the bush was not consumed by the

fire. After all, the point of the plagues I bring upon them is not to destroy

the Egyptians and settle Israel in their place, but rather to save Israel from

them and settle Israel elsewhere.

(Seforno on Shemot 3:7)


The ruffians who lived

in Rabbi Meir's neighborhood caused him much trouble,

and R. Meir would pray for them to die. His wife Bruriah said to him: Why do you think it is written, let

sins cease to exist (Tehillim

104:35), does it say let sinners cease to exist? It says sinners!

Now go to the end of the verse: and there are no more wicked people. Since

you let sins cease to exist as a result there are no more wicked

people. So – pray for them to repent! He prayed for them and they did


(Berakhot 10a)


The place upon which you stand is sacred soil

The Sages explained: Moses'

face was like the sun and Joshua like the moon (Bava Batra 75a). Just as one

half of the moon shines and the other is dark, so too was Joshua: his

intellectual side gave illumination, but his remaining material side was dark. However,

Moses' face was like the sun, which illuminates from all sides. His material

aspect had become so purified that the material skin of his face shined. It had

been refined when he stood on the mountain for forty days without eating or

drinking, nourished by the brilliance of His Divine Presence, may He be

blessed. That is why Moses was told remove your shoes (Shemot 3:5) – meaning

two [shoes] – which

implies the negation of materiality from both his aspects: refinement of

his intellect from material influences, as well as the refinement of the

material aspect itself. That is why it says, as if by way of explanation, for the

place upon which you stand is sacred soil. The word place [makom] refers to a status, and the verse says that at

the status which you have achieved, even the part of you that is soil is holy. That

is why Scripture says, is sacred soil. Since you have achieved this

great status, I had to tell you do not come close to view the Divine

Presence, because no man can see me and live (Shemot 33:20). Even the angels do not

draw near to view God's essence, all the more so a human living in this world

should not draw near.

(Keli Yakar



And God saw the Israelites, and God knew – Expressions

involving God's "seeing" always refer to the day of retribution,

because nothing ever escapes God's eyes. All the while that He, in His

mysterious wisdom, allows someone to continue in his path [of evil], it seems

to us as if He does not see. But when the day of retribution arrives, Scripture

says that God sees, for example: and the Lord went down to see the town (Bereishit 11:5) and

I will go down and see (18:21). The

point here is that the time had come for God to save the sons of His covenant

and make His enemies pay.

(R. Yitzhak Shemuel Riggio on Shemot 3:25)



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