Parsha Pearls: Parshas Bo

Natruna Means Waiting Patiently
Don’t Come In Unless You’re Invited
Purifying the Fiftieth Gate
The Difference Between the Exodus and the Future Redemption

And it will be for you to guard… Do not eat of it raw… (12:6,9)

The Pesikta DeRav Kahana says that these verses contain hints to the Four Exiles and their redeemers. The chapter begins, “This month will be to you the head of months” – a hint to the exile of Nevuchadnetzar, who is called a head (Daniel 2:38). “It is the first for you” refers to Hashem, who is called the First (Yishaya 44:6); Hashem brought an end to Nevuchadnetzar’s dynasty. The Torah continues, “Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel on the tenth of this month” – alluding to Haman, who offered ten thousand silver talents for the right to wipe out the Jewish people. “Let them take a sheep for the father’s house, a sheep for the house” refers to Mordechai and Esther, who redeemed them – Mordechai was outside the king’s palace and Esther was in “the house”, inside the palace. The double mention of the word “sheep” also alludes to the Greek period – the Third Exile – when the Hasmonean kohanim, who offered two sheep in the Temple every day, redeemed the Jews. And who will redeem us from the Fourth Exile, the exile of Edom (Rome)? “And it will be for you to guard (mishmeres)…” The word “mishmeres” means standing guard, waiting and watching. Thus, we will be redeemed in the merit of our waiting patiently for the redemption. “Do not eat of it raw” – do not wish for it (the redemption) undercooked, i.e. before its proper time. “And you shall eat it in haste” – the exodus from Egypt was in haste, but in the future redemption there will be no haste, as Yishaya the prophet said (52:12), “For you will not go out in haste, nor will you go in flight, for Hashem is walking before you, and the G-d of Israel is gathering you.” (Pesikta DeRav Kahana, Parshas Hachodesh 25, brought in Yalkut Shimoni with some differences)

Let no man leave the door of his house until morning. (12:22)

Rabbi Shimon Sofer writes that his father, the Chasam Sofer, once said: In the difficult period before Moshiach comes – known as the “birthpangs of Moshiach” – we will face grave trials, and we must not lose hope. At that time, it will be instructive to keep in mind the story of the Exodus from Egypt, for then we faced a similar test. On the night before they left Egypt, our ancestors sat in their houses and heard shouting and wailing from all sides: “A great cry in all the land of Egypt, such as never was before and never will be again.” (11:6) But the Jews were not permitted to go out of their houses and see what was going on. And the Egyptians surrounded the Jewish houses, yelling, “Leave us!” But the Jewish people was strong and remained faithful and did not leave until the morning, when Hashem permitted them to leave. It was in the merit of this faith that they were redeemed, for they passed a great and awesome test. And so it will be in the time of the birthpangs of Moshiach – Hashem will test us, so that we may gain merit for the redemption. (Michtav Sofer, v. 1 p. 24)

And the dwelling of the children of Israel that they dwelt in Egypt was 430 years. (12:40)

Rashi explains that from the Covenant Between the Parts, when Avraham Avinu was 70 years old and he had a prophecy about the Egyptian exile, until the Exodus was 430 years. We find in the book of Divrei Hayamim (I 7:21) the story of some members of the tribe of Ephraim who were killed by the men of Gas, a Philistine city. The Sages explain that these were Jews who left Egypt 30 years before the Exodus, because they miscalculated the end of the 400 years of exile foretold to Avraham (Bereishis 15:13). They thought that these 400 years began at the time of that prophecy, but in reality they began 30 years later, at the birth of Yitzchak:

“Rabbi Onia said: He adjured them with four oaths, corresponding to the four times when Jews forced the End and stumbled: once in the time of Amram, once in the time of Ben Dinai, once in the time of Ben Koziva, and once in the time of Shuselach, the son of Ephraim… They counted from the time when the decree was made, when the Holy One, blessed is He, spoke to Avraham at the Covenant Between the Parts. But in reality the count began when Yitzchak was born. What did they do? They gathered together and went out to war, and many of them fell dead. Why? ‘Because they did not believe in Hashem, neither did they trust in His deliverance.’ (Tehillim 78:22) Because they transgressed the End, and they transgressed the Oath.” (Midrash Rabbah, Shir Hashirim 2:7)

Rabbi Shmuel ben Yitzchak Yaffe, in his commentary Yefeh Kol on the Midrash, asks: The children of Ephraim based themselves on their understanding of Avraham’s prophecy. So why is this called not believing in Hashem and not trusting in His deliverance? Why is this transgressing the Oath? It was a mere mistake! The answer is, he says, the mistake was deeper than just a misinterpretation of numbers. They thought that when the foretold time came, the Jews would leave Egypt with their own strong hand, without the open intervention of Hashem. Thus they did not rely on the deliverance of Hashem, but on their own swords. Had they understood that the Exodus would be a miraculous event, they would certainly not have taken the initiative without seeing a miracle to demonstrate that this was Hashem’s plan. Even when the real redeemer – Moshe – eventually came and claimed that Hashem had sent him, the Jews were not allowed to believe in him without seeing a miracle. And they had a tradition that the true redeemer would say the words “pakod pakadti”. Since the children of Ephraim had no such redeemer, they could not have left Egypt relying on Hashem’s deliverance. Clearly, they thought that they would succeed in leaving Egypt and conquering Canaan through purely natural means. This is why the Midrash says that “they transgressed the Oath” – the oath that prohibited the Jews from leaving the exile on their own, without Hashem’s intervention. And “they transgressed the End” – since there was no sign from Hashem, they should have realized that their numerical calculation was wrong.

Rabbeinu Nissim, known as the Ran, writes: The length of the Egyptian exile was foretold as 400 years, and yet the children of Ephraim miscalculated. The length of the Babylonian exile was foretold to Yirmiyahu (29:10) as 70 years, and yet Belshatzar, Achashveirosh and even the great Daniel miscalculated (Megillah 11b). So what will become of our present exile, whose length is shrouded in the intentionally obscure language at the end of the book of Daniel? (Drashos Haran, Drash 5)

An exile with an unknown end is an invitation to false messiahs and redeemers, as the Ran says. But let us remember the words of the Midrash as explained by the Yefeh Kol. An error in numbers is only possible for someone who makes a greater error: the error of thinking that the Jewish people are allowed to end their exile on their own, without intervention from Above.

“And they baked the dough that they took out of Egypt, cakes of matza, not leavened bread, for they were driven out of Egypt, and they could not tarry…” (12:39)

The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh (on Shemos 3:7) gives his famous explanation of why Israel had to leave Egypt in such a hurry: because they had already entered 49 gates of defilement, and if they had stayed any longer, they would have entered the 50th gate, the point of no return. This is why the Hagada says, “If the Holy One, blessed is He, had not taken out our fathers from Egypt, we, our children and our children’s children would be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt.” And this is what G-d meant when He said to Moshe at the Burning Bush, “I have certainly seen the poverty of My people… and I have come down to save them from Egypt” (Shemos 3:7). He saw that their spiritual poverty had reached such a level that soon, if they would stay any longer, they would never be able to leave.

The Ohr Hachaim (3:8) asks further: why then did G-d wait till the last minute? He should have taken Israel out earlier, and then they would not have had to hurry. He answers that the purpose of exile is to purify the sparks of holiness that are absorbed in the 50 gates of defilement. In Egypt they were only expected to reach 49 out of those 50 gates, and therefore they were only given 49 gates of understanding. If they had left early, they would have missed purifying some of those sparks.

However, he says, G-d promised that in the future He will grant us understanding of the Torah on the 50th level. We will gain this understanding through the exiles, and especially through the last exile. Then and only then will we be able to purify the 50th gate of defilement. But in Egypt, when the Jews did not yet have the Torah and could not reach the 50th gate of understanding, it would have been dangerous for them to enter the 50th gate of defilement.

The Chazon Ish once said to Rabbi Ahron Katzenellenboigen, “The reason Jews are so confused by the Zionist state is that the state is the 50 gates of defilement. To overcome this we need the 50 gates of holiness. Since the 50th gate of holiness is hidden from us, therefore the confusion is so great, for we cannot stand up against the 50 gates of defilement of the state.” (Mishkenos Haro’im p. 1195)

And it shall be to you a sign upon your hand, and a remembrance between your eyes, so that the Torah of Hashem might be in your mouth (13:9).

The Talmud (Shabbos 108a) relates that a heretic once asked Rabbi Yehoshua Hagarsi, “From what verse in the Torah do you derive the law that one may not write tefillin on the skin of a prohibited animal?” He replied, “From the verse, ‘that the Torah of Hashem might be in your mouth’ – from something permitted in your mouth.” “If so, one should not write them even on the skins of permitted animals that died on their own, for they are also forbidden to eat,” countered the heretic. “Animals that died on their own are actually more holy than animals slaughtered in the kosher way,” said Rabbi Yehoshua. “I will give you an analogy. Two men were executed for their crimes. One was killed by the king and the other by an officer. Which is more respectable? The one killed by the king.”

In the beginning of the Book of Vayikra, the Torah says, “And He called to Moshe…” The Midrash comments that Moshe, in his wisdom, knew not to come in before G-d called him. From this we learn, says the Midrash, that a Torah scholar who has no wisdom is worse than an animal that died of itself.

The Chasam Sofer asks three questions: 1) How could someone be called a Torah scholar at all if he has no wisdom? 2) Why is he worse than a dead animal, of all things? 3) If this is such an obvious act of disrespect, why is it necessary to use Moshe, the greatest of the prophets, as an example? And if, on the other hand, it is such a high level of piety that only someone as great as Moshe knew it, then why is anyone not on this high level considered worse than a dead animal?

He explains that of course it is common knowledge that one must not come in to visit a king without being invited. In Megillas Esther 4:11 we read that whoever would come in to the king without being called would be summarily executed. But here we are talking about a great Torah scholar and righteous man who has reached the point where he is prepared for prophecy, and when he receives no prophecy he is greatly pained and disappointed. For example, Baruch ben Neriyah, scribe and disciple of the prophet Yirmiyahu, longed to receive prophecy but did not. “I was exhausted from my groan, and found no rest,” he said (Yirmiyahu 45:3). Such a person may be tempted to take exceptional steps to push for prophecy. But he must follow the example of Moshe Rabbeinu, who, despite being the greatest of all prophets, did not enter the Holy of Holies on his own to receive the word of G-d, but waited until he was summoned.

The punishment for taking exceptional steps to push for closeness to G-d without permission can be learned from the Oaths mentioned in Shir Hashirim (2:7), “I have adjured you, daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles and deer of the field, not to awaken or arouse the love before it is desired.” The Sages explain (Kesubos 111a) that this is the prohibition against Jews forcing the redemption and the end of exile, and the punishment is that G-d will declare their flesh ownerless like the gazelles and deer of the field.

Now we understand why one who pushes for prophecy is worse than an animal that died of itself. We have seen that an animal that died of itself is considered “killed by the King” whereas an animal slaughtered by human hands is considered “killed by an officer” and thus on a lower level. Lower still is an animal that was torn apart by wild predators. One who presses for closeness to G-d in an unauthorized way is, G-d forbid, made ownerless and vulnerable to wild predators, and thus meets an end that is worse than the animal that dies of itself. (Drashos Chasam Sofer, p. 152, Drush for Adar Sheni 7 and Vayikra 5586)

And you shall eat it in haste; it is a Pesach offering to Hashem. (12:11)

One of the laws of the Pesach offering is that no gentile may eat of it (v. 43). The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 19:6) comments on this: This fulfills the verse, “He relates His words to Yaakov, His laws and statutes to Yisroel. He did not do so for any nation, and His statutes they do not know” (Tehillim 147:19-20). The Holy One, blessed is He said to them: Let no other nation mix into to this; let them not know its secrets, only you. In this world when Israel ate the Pesach offering in Egypt, they ate it in haste (v. 11) as it says, “For in haste you left the land of Egypt” (Devarim 16:3). But regarding the future redemption, Scripture states, “Not in haste shall you leave, and in a hurry you shall not go” (Yishaya 52:12).

This may be compared to a merchant who checked into an inn, stayed there during the day, and then arose at night, stole everything from the inn and went on his way. In the morning the innkeeper arose, and she began to shout: “Look at this merchant who arose at night, stole all my belongings and left!” When the merchant heard this, he said, “This only happened because I left at night. Therefore I swear that I will never leave at night again.”

So too, Israel prepared themselves at night to leave early in the morning. After they left, the Egyptians arose and said, “Let us chase after them because they took all our belongings.” The Holy One, blessed is He said to them: “This is only because you left in haste. From now on, not in haste will you leave.”

This Midrash is hard to understand for several reasons: In the parable, was the merchant sorry that he stole? And what does his stealing have to do with his leaving at night? If he was a thief, he would steal during the day as well. And in the story of the Jews leaving Egypt, what did their leaving in haste have to do with their taking the Egyptians’ belongings? Finally, what is the connection of all of this to the law that a gentile may not eat from the Pesach offering, study Torah or “know its secrets”? What are these secrets?

In Sanhedrin 91a, we find the famous story of the dispute between the Egyptians and the Jews, arbitrated by Alexander the Great. The Egyptians quoted the Torah to prove that the Jews had taken their gold and silver, and they demanded it back. The Jewish advocate Geviha ben Pesisa replied that the Jews dwelt in Egypt for 430 years (Shemos 12:40). “Give us our pay for our 600,000 slaves who worked for you for 430 years,” said Geviha ben Pesisa. The Egpytians asked for three days to think of a reply; when they could not, they admitted defeat and left the land.

We see here that the gold and silver taken by the Jews was the rightful payment for their work. The Egyptians finally admitted this a thousand years later. But at the time of the Exodus they did not admit it. According to the Midrash quoted above, it seems that if the Jews had not left in haste, they would have admitted it then too. Why?

The answer is that the exile in Egypt was supposed to have lasted 400 years. However, Hashem took them out early, as it says, “The voice of my beloved, behold it has come, skipping over the mountains and jumping over the hills” (Shir Hashirim 2:8). The Midrash there says, “The voice of my beloved – this refers to Moshe. When he came and told Israel, ‘In this month you will be redeemed,’ they said, ‘Moshe our teacher! How can we be redeemed? Didn’t the Holy One, blessed is He say to Avraham that they will enslave us for 400 years? It has only been 210 years so far.’ He said to them, ‘Since He wishes to redeem you, He does not look at your calculations. He skips over the mountains – the predestined end-times.”

When the Torah says that they left in haste, it refers to their leaving after only 210 years. Had they stayed the entire 400 years, the Egyptians would have willingly paid them. It is only because they left early that the Egyptians thought they were not entitled to any payment. They reasoned that Hashem had only promised “and afterwards they will go out with great wealth” (Bereishis 15:14) on condition that Israel would fulfill the previous verse and work for the full 400 years. (Actually, however, Hashem in His mercy considered the time Yitzchak and Yaakov spent sojourning in Canaan to be part of the 400 years of exile, so the condition was indeed fulfilled.) We see this also in the story of Geviha ben Pesisa, who won the debate with the Egyptians by quoting the verse, “The time that the Children of Israel dwelt in Egypt was 430 years.” The verse is not to be taken literally – the Jews only spent 210 years in Egypt. But the Egyptians one thousand years later had no way of knowing this, so they accepted their defeat.

The law that gentiles may not eat of the Pesach offering symbolizes the law that gentiles may not study Torah, as we see in the Midrash quoted above. They may study the Written Torah, which was translated into seventy languages and made available to all (Rashi on Devarim 27:8, Sotah 35b; see Meishiv Davar Yoreh Deah 77). But they may not study the Oral Torah, which explains that the Jews really only spent 210 years in Egypt. When the 72 sages translated the Torah for Ptolemy, king of Egypt, they disclosed this secret (Megillah 9a) because the original Egyptians were no longer ruling Egypt. The Ptolemys were Greek rulers, descendents of one of Alexander’s generals.

When Hashem saw that Egyptians at the time of the Exodus did not accept the justice of their payment of gold and silver to the Jews, He said, “This is only because they left early. In the future redemption, I swear that they will not leave exile early.” Hashem knew that if we left exile early, the nations of the world would have claims against us, saying that we stole Eretz Yisroel.

The Gemara in fact tells of three debates in which Geviha ben Pesisa represented the Jews: one against the Canaanites, one against the Egyptians, and one against the Ishmaelites. It is interesting to note that in the debates against the Canaanites and the Egyptians, they each asked Alexander for three days to think of a reply, and when they could not, they admitted that Geviha ben Pesisa had won. But in the debate against the Ishmaelites, in which the Ishmaelites claimed that as descendents of Avraham they had a right to part of Eretz Yisroel, and Geviha ben Pesisa replied that Avraham had written a document willing all of his property only to Yitzchak, the Gemara does not say that the Ishmaelites attempted to reply, or admitted their defeat. It seems that the Ishmaelites never retreated from their claim on Eretz Yisroel – a claim they maintain to this day.

Whether they are aware of it or not, there is truth to their claim, as the Zohar (Shemos 32a, end of Va’eira) says: “The Angel of Yishmael stood for four hundred years before the Holy One, blessed is He, and asked: Does someone who is circumcised have a share in Your Name? He said to him: Yes. He said to him: But Yishmael is circumcised – why does he have no share in Your Name like Yitzchok? He said to him: This one was circumcised properly and this one improperly. Furthermore, these cling to Me properly, on the eighth day, but these are far from Me for many days. He said to him: Even so, since he is circumcised, should he not get some reward? (Woe to the day Yishmael was born in the world and was circumcised!) What did the Holy One, blessed is He, do? He distanced the children of Yishmael from clinging to Above, and gave them a portion below in the Holy Land because of their circumcision. The children of Yishmael are destined to rule over the Holy Land for a long time, when it is empty of all, just as their circumcision is empty, not complete (i.e. without p’riah). And they will prevent the Children of Israel from returning to their place, until that merit of Yishmael is used up.”

Hashem knew that if the Jews were to leave exile early, they would arouse the Ishmaelites to claim that they had stolen Eretz Yisroel from them. Therefore He said, “For not in haste shall you leave, and in a hurry you shall not go; for Hashem walks before you, your Gatherer, the G-d of Israel” (Yishaya 52:12). If we wait for Hashem to redeem us, He will walk before us and make His presence clear to the entire world. Everyone will recognize this, and they will abandon any claims against the Jews. This is explicit in the preceding verses in Yishaya: “Eye to eye they will see when Hashem returns to Zion” (v. 8). “Hashem has bared His holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our G-d” (v. 10).

Rabbi Simcha Bunim, rav of Zachlin and disciple of Reb Mendel Kotzker, seems to have understood the verse “For not in haste shall you leave” the way we have explained it above – that we will not leave exile early. In a letter printed in Daas Harabbanim (published 1902), he responded to the then-new Zionist movement as follows: “G-d forbid for us to believe that our salvation is dependent on human power. This goes against an explicit verse: ‘And those redeemed by Hashem shall return, and come to Zion with song…” (Yishaya 51:11). And later (ibid. 52:3), “So said Hashem: You were sold for free, and not through money will you be redeemed” – as they [the Zionists] imagine. And later (v. 12), “For not in haste shall you leave…” And in the words of Chazal: The Holy One, blessed is He made swear three oaths…that they should not force (ידחקו) the end (Kesubos 111a). Rashi explains this to prohibit praying excessively. If we see that even excessive prayer is forbidden, all the more so taking action, to say, “Our hands will prevail, we have our own language, who can be master over us?” G-d forbid! And although there is another version of the text, that they not make distant (ירחקו) the end, through their sins according to Rashi, in my opinion both versions are true, for if they violate the oath and pray too much, and certainly if they take actions, they will thereby make distant the end because of their sins, G-d forbid. (Daas Harabbanim p. 35)