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Parsha Pearls: Parshas Shemos

The Meaning of Vayoel Moshe
Exile Means Subservience to G-d
The Wicked Son
Ingathering the Exiles

Lest they multiply, and when there be a war, they be added to our enemies…and Egypt made the children of Israel perform hard labor. (1:10,13).

Rabbi Avraham Loewenstam of Emden, in his work Tzeror Hachaim (published 1820), writes that in every Jewish exile, the Jews were faithful subjects of their king and made no effort to rebel. All their prayers and longing for redemption never posed a contradiction to this faithfulness, because they knew that the hoped-for redemption would come not through their own effort, only from Above.

The Jews spent 210 years in Egypt, he writes, living all together in the land of Goshen, and it would have been easy for them to unite and launch an uprising against Egypt. They were strong enough for such a battle, as we see later that they roundly defeated Amalek, Sichon, Og and the nations of Canaan. In Egypt they were enslaved and afflicted, and yet it never occurred to them to rebel. The sole exception to this were some members of the tribe of Ephraim, who miscalculated the end of the exile by 30 years and left Egypt by force. They were punished for this – they were all killed by the Philistines at Gath (see Rashi on Shemos 15:14, on Yechezkel 37:1, and on Tehillim 78:9). We can be sure the other Jews did not join in this rebellion, for if they had, the Egyptians would have punished them severely for it, and we have no tradition of such an event. Rather, they knew that the exile was a Divine decree and they bore it with great strength and self-control. When the time came, Hashem Himself took them out with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.

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Rabbi Yosef Shaul Natanson, author of the responsa Shoel Umeishiv, asks: When Pharaoh feared that the Jews would join his enemies, why was his strategy to make them slaves? Wouldn’t that make them even more likely to hate the Egyptians and fight against them? He answers that Pharaoh knew that Hashem had commanded the Jews not to rebel against their king, and that He had planted into their nature the inclination to accept subjugation. This is the meaning of the oath (Kesubos 111a) not to rebel against the nations – that He adjured them and made acceptance of the exile a part of their nature. Therefore, as long as the Jews were free and independent, Pharaoh feared them, but with the hard hand of taskmasters over them, they would realize that this was a decree of exile, and they would wait patiently for Hashem to redeem them. (Divrei Shaul on Shemos, p. 48)

And Moshe swore to live with the man, and he gave his daughter Tziporah to Moshe. (2:21)

Rashi, quoting Nedarim 65a, explains that the word “vayoel” means “swore,” that Moshe swore to his father-in-law Yisro that he would not leave Midyan without his permission. The Satmar Rav asks: Yisro knew that Moshe was a holy man. The Midrash says that Yisro’s daughters told him that the water in the well rose up for Moshe, and Yisro said, “This is a sign of the children of Yaakov!” Moshe was the only one able to pull out the miraculous staff, created on the sixth day of Creation, from the ground in Yisro’s garden (Pirkei Derabbi Eliezer 40). So why did Yisro need to make Moshe swear – wasn’t a simple promise enough? Did he suspect such a great man of going back on his word?

The answer is, when Moshe pulled out the staff, Yisro knew that he would eventually return to Egypt and redeem the Jewish people. Since the geulah depended on Moshe, both Yisro and Moshe feared that in his great love for the Jewish people, and in his great distress at their suffering in exile, Moshe would go back to Egypt and start the geulah before the proper time. To prevent this, Moshe took an oath. Thus this oath was similar to the general oath on the Jewish people against attempting to end the exile on their own, before the proper time. The Satmar Rav writes that this is one of the reasons he called his great work, which is devoted to explaining this oath, “Vayoel Moshe.”

He adds that the name is also appropriate because the Midrash says (Shemos 28, on the posuk 20:1) that the Prophets were all standing at Har Sinai and they heard there all the words of prophecy they would ever say. Thus the book of Shir Hashirim, in which the Three Oaths are written (“I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, not to arouse or awaken the love before it is desired” – 2:7) was really first brought down through Moshe at Sinai, and only later publicized by Shlomo Hamelech. Hence, “Vayoel Moshe” – Moshe adjured the Jewish people not to attempt to end the exile before the proper time. (Introduction to Vayoel Moshe, p. 17)

And they said, “The G-d of the Ivrim has come to us…” (5:3)

The Midrash (Vayikra 32:5) brings these words as proof that the Jewish people did not change their language during the Egyptian exile; they continued to speak Hebrew, as did their ancestor Avraham, who was called “Avraham the Ivri” (Bereishis 14:13).

The Jewish people spoke Hebrew only until the beginning of the Second Temple era; from then on, they spoke Aramaic (Shulchan Aruch Harav, Talmud Torah 1:1). During the Babylonian exile, when Jews lived in a land full of idolatry, the Sages decided that it would be disrespectful to the Holy Tongue to continue speaking it in such a defiled environment (Chasam Sofer on Orach Chaim 85). Additionally, they realized that the people were no longer on a high enough level to use such a holy tongue as their everyday language, for sinful speech is much worse when spoken in Hebrew than when spoken in another language (Vayoel Moshe 3:8). The Aramaic they used was not the same as that spoken by the gentiles; it was a special Jewish dialect, written with Hebrew letters. Thus they continued to uphold the principle of keeping a separate language. Later, Yiddish fulfilled the same function for European Jews.

This point was once made by Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin. In Jerusalem there lived a tzaddik who sat all day wearing tallis and tefillin and learning Torah, and he adopted the practice of speaking only in the Holy Tongue. Once he came to Reb Yehoshua Leib to ask a question. He began to say his question in the Holy Tongue, when Reb Yehoshua Leib interrupted him with a rebuke: “Get out of my house! For all the days of our exile, Yiddish will be spoken!” Then he added, “The Jews in Germany, fearing that if they spoke the gentile language they would assimilate, chose a dialect of German spoken by peasants and made it their national language, to serve as a barrier between them and the gentiles. This is how our Yiddish was born. If this language was the barrier to assimilation, it is itself the Holy Tongue!” (Mara D’ara Yisroel, v. 2 p. 95)

And these are the names of the children of Yisroel who came to Egypt, with Yaakov, each man with his household came. (1:1)

The patriarch Yaakov had two names: Yaakov and Yisroel. Why does the Torah begin with Yisroel and then switch to Yaakov in mid-sentence? Rabbi Shmuel Borenstein, son of the Avnei Nezer, said that the name Yisroel denotes the elevated and noble status of the Jew, as the angel said when explaining this name, “For you have ruled over angels and men and been successful” (Bereishis 32:29). The name Yaakov, on the other hand, denotes the Jew in exile who must lower himself, bow and scrape before the gentiles, just as Yaakov bowed before his brother Esav and called him “my master”.

When Israel began the Egyptian exile, they had to be very careful not to assimilate there and become like the Egyptians. Therefore they armed themselves with three physical boundary-markers that safeguarded the nobility of the Jew, symbolized by the name “Yisroel”: they kept their own distinctive names, clothing and language. They viewed their own culture and beliefs as superior to those of the Egyptians; they looked down on and despised the Egyptian idolatry. Hence: “These are the names of the children of Yisroel who came to Egypt” – they survived their stay in Egypt because of the power and nobility of Yisroel.

Yet at the same time the Torah says “with Yaakov” – that in addition to this nobility they maintained the attitude of subservience indicated by the name Yaakov. They accepted the yoke of exile willingly, and they did not complain about the heavy burden of exile. The Kuzari (3:12) says that a Jew who endures the exile with complaints almost loses his share in the World to Come. There was no contradiction between their subservience and their nobility and superiority, because the subservience was not to Egypt, but to G-d, Who had decreed the exile upon them. These two modes of conduct were what kept the Jewish people alive in exile.

This conduct must serve as our model during the current long and bitter exile, to feel the nobility of our Torah ways and yet bow to our oppressors, as the prophet writes, “He gives his beater his jaw, and suffers humiliation” (Eichah 3:30). Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischa once said, “If a gentile calls out an insult at a Jew and the Jew answers back, he lengthens the exile, G-d protect us.” Rather the Jew must bear the exile while feeling inner strength and nobility. (This is the opposite of the well-known movement that cannot bear to continue with the subservience and burdens of exile.) By so doing, we will soon merit the redemption, when our ashes will be replaced by pride. (Shem Mishmuel, Shemos, year 5677 (1917))

Once the Satmar Rebbe was walking with Reb Elimelech Schwartz, and a gentile was coming toward them. Reb Elimelech approached him and asked him to move to the side so that the Rebbe could pass. When they got home, the Rebbe rebuked him, “Why did you do that? It’s his street!” (Tiferes Yoel v. 2, p. 69)

When you take the people out of Egypt, they will serve G-d upon this mountain. (3:12)

The Hagadah says, “The Torah speaks of four sons: one righteous, one wicked, one simple and one who does not know how to ask. The wicked son says, ‘Why do you need this service?’ The reply he is given is, ‘If you had been there, you would not have been redeemed.’” Why is it necessary to tell this to the wicked son?

Rabbi Yaakov Teitelbaum said that although the Hagadah abridges the story, from the reply to the wicked son we can infer what his argument must have been. He must have argued that he could accomplish the redemption without all these mitzvos. “What do you need them for?” he sneers. “All one has to do to be a Jew is love the Land of Israel and speak Hebrew. With that alone we could have been redeemed from Egypt.” We reply to him, “The entire purpose of the Exodus was to “serve G-d upon this mountain” i.e. to receive the mitzvos of the Torah. If you had been there and refused to do mitzvos, you would not have been redeemed. Your Land and your Hebrew would not have helped you!”

On Pesach night we eat matzo and then maror. The Gerrer Rebbe asked that seemingly, the order should have been reversed. The slavery in Egypt came before the redemption, so the maror, symbolizing slavery, should be before the matzo, which symbolizes redemption. He answers that on the day of the Exodus, G-d lifted up the Jews to a very high spiritual level to show them how high it was possible to go, and then He let them down again so that they could work on themselves in the 49 days preceding the Giving of the Torah at Sinai. The Jews felt their spiritual lack, and realized for the first time that they had been in a spiritual exile as well as a physical one. Now they were at last free from the physical exile, and they were able to begin working on their spiritual deficiencies. This is why maror – the bitterness of that spiritual exile – comes only after matzo – the physical redemption.

The final freedom came only when the Jews received the Torah on Mount Sinai. Chazal therefore say that “there is no free man like the man who learns Torah” (Pirkei Avos 6:2). But the wicked son, who has no interest in this sort of freedom, would not have been redeemed.

And it will come to pass on that day that Hashem will beat out [the Jews] from the Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt, and you will be picked up one by one, Children of Israel. (Haftarah, Yishaya 27:12)

Rashi says that the prophet is comparing the ingathering of the exiles to beating an olive tree and subsequently picking up the fallen olives. The owner does the beating and then he and others pick them up off the ground. Here too, Hashem will begin the ingathering process, as it says in the following verse: “And it will come to pass on that day that a great shofar will be blown and there will come those lost in the land of Assyria, and those cast away in the land of Egypt, and they will bow to Hashem in the holy mountain, in Jerusalem.” Later, anyone who finds one of you in exile will bring him up to Jerusalem as a gift..

We see here that the process of gathering in the exiles will be begun by Hashem, not by human effort. This is also the meaning of the verse: “And they will bring all your brethren from all the nations as a gift to Hashem” (Yishaya 66:20). The Metzudas David says there: “They will bring all your brethren – this means the Jews who are far away, who did not ascend with their brethren. The gentiles among whom those Jews live, when they hear about the great wonder that Hashem will do to the camp of Gog and Magog, will bring the Jews on horses and chariots as a gift to Hashem on His holy mountain.” In other words, this is talking about a period in which most of the Jewish people has already been gathered to Eretz Yisroel by Hashem. The nations will gather under Gog and Magog against the Jewish people in Jerusalem, as mentioned in Yishaya 66:18. Hashem will defeat them in a wondrous manner, as described in Zechariah 14:12. After word of this defeat spreads throughout the world (Yishaya 66:19), the gentiles will bring those few Jews remaining in exile to Eretz Yisroel as a gift to Hashem.

Those who advocate a Jewish ingathering with the support of gentile nations before the coming of moshiach point to the commentary on Shir Hashirim attributed to the Ramban (actually it was written by Rabbeinu Ezra, disciple of Rabbeinu Yitzchak, son of the Raavad). On Shir Shirim 8:13 he writes as follows: And after this, the Jews scattered among the nations will appoint one leader over them – Moshiach ben David, who was with them in exile – and with the permission of the kings of the nations and with their help, they will go to Eretz Yisroel, as it is written, “And they will bring all of your brethren from all the nations as a gift to Hashem.” That kingdom will exist forever. And that is the meaning of the verse, “The word of Hashem G-d, Who gathers the dispersed of Israel: I will once again gather unto it, to its gathered ones” (Yishaya 56:8). “Who gathers the dispersed of Israel” – this refers to the Ten Tribes. “I will once again gather unto it” – this refers to Yehuda. The Torah also refers to these two gatherings when it says, “And Hashem your G-d will return your captives and have mercy on you; and He will go back and gather you from all the nations to which Hashem your G-d scattered you” (Devarim 30:3).

But these people are missing an obvious point. Rabbeinu Ezra is saying that the second stage of the ingathering will take place with the permission of the kings. The first stage will be accomplished by Hashem alone. And as we have seen above, the verse he cites as a source for the gentiles bringing the Jews up – Yishaya 66:20 – was understood by Metzudos David as referring to the second stage of the ingathering, not the first. The same was stated by Rashi on Yishaya 27:12. Furthermore, Rabbeinu Ezra says clearly this ingathering will take place after Moshiach ben David is already here.

It is worth noting that Rabbeinu Ezra writes that even when Moshiach ben David is here, we will not regain Eretz Yisroel through warfare; the return to Zion will take place peacefully, with the permission of the nations. He explains this based on the verse in Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion; exult, daughter of Jerusalem. Behold, your king will come to you; righteous and saved is he – a poor man riding on a donkey.” This modest description of Moshiach is a prophecy that the Jewish people will not regain their land through their bow and sword (Tehillim 44:4), not with horses or chariots, but by the will of the Creator, Who will subdue all the nations before them. Zechariah continues (9:10), “And I will abolish chariots from Ephraim, and horses from Jerusalem; and there will be no more bows of war, and they will speak peacefully with the nations; they will rule from sea to sea, and from river to the ends of the earth.” They will need no weapons, as it says (10:12), “I will make them mighty with Hashem, and with My name they will walk, said Hashem.”

Therefore, to see Rabbeinu Ezra’s words as a prediction of the events of our time, in which a Jewish state, recommended by some nations, was born through a war and maintained by fighting seven more wars – and all this before the coming of Moshiach – is to go completely against his intent.

The Rambam, in his commentary on Sanhedrin and in his Letter to Yemen, also seems to say that in the time of Moshiach there will be no wars. He says, “All the nations will make peace with the king Moshiach, because they will be afraid of him.” Similarly, in Hilchos Teshuva 9:2, the Rambam says (based on Yishaya 2:2) that all the nations will come to hear the wisdom of Moshiach. However, in Hilchos Melachim 11:4 he says that Moshiach will “fight the wars of Hashem.” Perhaps this is referring to the war of Gog and Magog, which the Rambam says (Melachim 12:2) will take place in the beginning of the days of Moshiach. We can say that when the Rambam says that all the nations will make peace with him, he means only after this war. As the Rambam says there, no one will know how these things will happen until they happen.