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Why Didn’t Dasan and Aviram Die in Egypt?

egy[By Rabbi Yair Hoffman]

In regard to the approaching Mitzvah of Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim, a young student from Florida posed the following question to her teacher.

The Torah tells us that Chamushim alu miMitzrayim – and Rashi explains that only twenty percent of the Jewish nation arose from Mitzrayim. The rest were killed in the plague of Choshaich. Yet the Torah also tells us of the wickedness of Dasan and Aviram. The question is, why didn’t Dasan and Aviram die in Mitzrayim?

Clearly, this young lady is a thinker.

It seems that there are four approaches found in the commentaries.

The first approach is that the only people that died in the plague of Choshaich were those who denied the destiny of Israel. People who did not believe that the Jewish nation would be redeemed did not merit to be saved. Dassan and Aviram were evil, true. However, they believed that Hashem would ultimately redeem the Jewish people. In that merit they too were redeemed. This is the approach of some of the Baalei haTosfos (Rashbam as cited in compilation of Rav Yaakov Gliss on Parshas Bo), and in contemporary times Rav Ovadiah Yoseph zt”l and Rav Moshe Tzalch of Bagdad (Toras Moshe).

Rabbi Yoseph Yashar (Levush Yoseph Parshas B’Shalach page 77) explains that Dassan and Aviram were saved from death in Mitzrayim because they were not black and white. While they were evil in Mitzrayim, they did have the merit of being the officers over other Jews who themselves received lashes rather than being the cause of lashes toward other Jews.

Rav Shmuel HaLevi Levinson in Sefer Zichron Shmuel (end of Parshas Shmos) writes that Hashem saw that they would be destroyed in the rebellion of Korach. This destruction would form a greater sanctification of Hashem’s Name than their death would in the six days of the plague of Choshaich.

Rav Yoseph Tzvi HaLevi Dunner of London had an altogether different approach. He writes (Mikdash HaLevi p.235-236) that they were so evil that they did not merit to have their death and punishment in obscurity. No, their evil was so intense that they were forever written in the Torah as having died with Korach and his band. Rav Moshe Tzalch makes this suggestion too.

All four approaches have valuable lessons. The first is the power that belief in redemption has. It can extend our lives, even if we have much to make up for. Of course, we must still do Teshuva, but it heps give us an extended chance. From the second answer we see the great merit of looking out for Hashem’s children – even though we may be evil ourselves, it will save us. The third approach tells us how very important the idea of sanctifying Hashem’s Name is. Finally, the fourth approach informs us of the long arm of Hashem’s Justice.

The author can be reached at [email protected]


21 Responses

  1. Nobody really died. It says Va’chamishim Olu etc., which means they went out armed with weaponry. It doesn’t say that anyone died.

  2. See end of Alei Shur Vol. 1, where he suggests that to be redeemed all you must be is someone who realizes that this isn’t the ideal place for yourself, and that you are yearning to be redeemed to a state of closeness to Hashem – similar to the first approach here.

  3. First of all, Dasan and Aviram were tzadikkim, otherwise, bnei Yisroel would never have followed them in their rebellion with Korach against Moshe and they never would have been chosen as leaders in the first place. Just like all the sins of the Jews in the midbar, we don’t understand their level and the actual sin they or anyone else did, the sins were on deeper levels that we are not privileged to fully understand.
    Second of all, the source midrash on 4/5 dying also has other opinions about how many died some saying up to 1000 times that number, which is about 8 billion people. Clearly it is all a metaphor and should not be taken literally as the Rambam teaches.

  4. #1: The Torah doesn’t say anywhere how to slaughter an animal. So what’s all this about shechitah? The Torah doesn’t say anywhere that tefillin have to be black boxes, so why not golden spheres?

    It’s called Torah Shebal Peh – the Oral Law.

    Get with the program!

  5. I do hope this is analysis or a Dvar Torah. It would be very bad news judgement to be reporting this as a breaking news story!

  6. “And it came to pass when Pharaoh sent out the people.” (13:17)

    QUESTION: Why is the cantillation (“trope” printed above the Hebrew text) revi’i munach on the words “vayehi beshalach”?
    ANSWER: Regrettably, there existed among the Jewish nation a group of wicked people uninterested in leaving Egypt. Had Hashem punished them publicly, the Egyptians would have thought that the suffering affected everyone, both the Jews and themselves. Therefore, during the plague of darkness, when the Egyptians were unable to see anything and were literally tied to their places, these unworthy Jews died and were buried.
    The Torah relates, “vachamushim alu B’nei Yisrael” — “and B’nei Yisrael went up armed” (13:18). Rashi explains that the word “chamushim” alludes to the fact that only one fifth of the people left Egypt, while the other four fifths died.

    Hence, the words “vayehi beshalach” have the cantillation of “revi’i munach” (which can be read as meaning “four remains”) to indicate that four of the five portions remained, and only one fifth of the people left when Pharaoh sent them out.

  7. Rashi’s comment comes from the Mechilta and the Tanchuma – straight from Chazal. Anyone who denies their validity is being kofer in Chazal.

  8. Folks, it’s ok for us to respectfully disagree. After all, that’s what goes on in every beis midrash, all day and night. However, this is the Yeshiva World, and there should be common denominators which reflect that fact. Comments which reflect kefirah should not be posted. Ader’s comment denies Torah she’ba’al peh. I should not have been posted.

  9. #7, #4 #1 and #3: First, medrushim are meant to teach lessons so when a nice dvar torah comes along like this one which teaches some very nice lessons from a medrash, it should be appreciated for its beauty and insight even if its not pshat. Second, chazal gave us medrushim to teach us lessons, not pshat. someone who says a medrish is not pshat is not a koifer he is just stating the obvious and fails to appreciate the beauty of a medrish.

  10. A Talmid Of R’ Aron Kotler [Rabbi Kaufman From Chasan Sofer] Asked R’ Aron this Very question.

    His Answer quoted the Passuk ”
    כל פעל ה למענהו וגם רשע ליום רע

    “ehr hat zei gerotevet, oif tzu M’anesh zein”

  11. I recall seeing in the Toldos Aharon, in the name of the Hagada minhag Teiman, that Moshe Rabeinu davened to Hashem to stop the 4/5 from dying. Hashem said I will leave you a dugma, sample, of them. The dugma was Doson V’aveerom

  12. The Rambam says in shmoneh prakim that those who take midrashim literally are taking away the Beauty and splendor of the Torah. Chazal were incredible geniuses, able to express the deepest of life lessons in riddles and metaphors. To take them just as literal facts at face value ignores the underlying wisdom.

    Additionally, if taken literally many of them sound impossible. See Gittin 57a where the gemara describes a mountain in eretz yisroel which held 600,000 towns and each town consisting of over 600,000 people. Similarly, if 2 million left Egypt that means 8 million left behind to die? That’s more Jews than those who died in the Holocaust. Besides which the original Midrashic source has that number at 4999/5000 dead. Incredible, not meant to be taken literal, but to be examined further for the lessons behind.

  13. You could never ask a ‘Pshat Kasheh’ on a Drash. Just like you cant ask, How could Moshe Rabeinu get so nervous when the Malochim went to tell him that Haman wants to kill all the Yidden, Moishe had already been taught the Sefer Megila way back on the Mount Sinai.

  14. #16 – but when the pshat kasheh produces great insight, why not, as long as you are still in the land of drush? if a medrish has many layers you can peel away one and find another then why not? i think its what makes drush so beautiful. btw, im sure you know that rashi himself on the word chamushim gives pshat too. he still felt much can be learned from the medrish too. theres no chidish in saying pshat is chamushim means armed. the chidish is in giving uplifting insight on a medrish, like rabbi hoffman did.

  15. I once heard a beautiful pshat from a Rosh Yeshiva at porat yosef which ties together the pshat and drash of ” v’chamushim”. He pointed out thet if 4/5 of the yiddin died there must have been millions of yesomim. Each one was adopted by the remaining yidden. This act of rachmanus was the v’chamushim with which the B’nei Yisroal were armed!

  16. Besalel, my friend: If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been don l’kaf zchus someone else’s reply…
    This one, however, had to be addressed.

  17. To #15

    Right, Vashti did not physically have a tail, and Haman did not physically discuss Hilchos Menochos with Mordechai’s Talmudim, and don’t go looking for the Physical Beis Midrash of Shem V’eiver, and Yakov did not actually tell Eisov that he kept the Taryag Mitzvohs.

    Lomdim have to understand how one is supposed to learn the world of Drash.

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