Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Shemos


Vayomer Melech Mitzrayim lam’yaldos ha’Ivriyos asher shem ha’achas Shifra v’shem ha’sheinis Puah (1:15)

As part of his vicious plan to enslave and oppress the Jewish people, Pharaoh commanded the Jewish midwives – Yocheved and Miriam – to kill all male babies at birth. However, the Torah doesn’t refer to the midwives by name as Yocheved and Miriam, but rather as Shifra and Puah. Rashi explains that these names reflect the fact that they beautified the Jewish babies and made calming noises to soothe them.

Rav Shmuel Rozovsky points out that Yocheved and Miriam were both on incredibly high spiritual levels. The Gemora in Megillah (14a) counts Miriam as one of the seven female prophets. If so, why does the Torah refer to them by apparently mundane names based on their actions in taking care of the Jewish babies, which almost seems to degrade their lofty spiritual accomplishments?

Rav Shmuel answers that the Torah is coming to teach us precisely this fundamental lesson. For all of the spiritual greatness of Yocheved and Miriam, their most significant accomplishment was excelling as Jewish women. While the additional levels that they reached were indeed impressive and praiseworthy, the fulfillment of their basic, fundamental roles as Jewish mothers in properly raising the next generation of Jewish children is even greater. The Torah therefore specifically singled out and emphasized their success at fulfilling their unique and special roles as Jewish women.

Vateireid bas Paroh lirchotz al hay’or … va’teireh es ha’teivah b’soch ha’suf vatishlach es amasah vatikacheha (2:5)

Pharaoh’s daughter encountered Moshe’s basket when she went to bathe herself in the river. Rashi in Sotah (12b) writes that her intention wasn’t for physical but for spiritual cleanliness, as she was on her way to the river to convert to Judaism by immersing herself in it. Where is this hinted to in the verse, which seems to state simply that she was going to wash herself in the Nile?

Rav Berel Soloveitchik answers this question based on a story that occurred when his father, the Brisker Rov, was traveling on a boat from Europe to Eretz Yisroel. The Brisker Rov and his family were quite careful about the food they consumed, eating only fruits and raw foods and refusing to rely on the assurances of the captain that care was being taken to prepare special meals in the ship’s kitchen in accordance with the laws of kashrus.

Noticing the Brisker Rov’s hesitance and taking it personally because he prided himself on accommodating his passengers and making them feel comfortable, the captain offered to provide brand-new utensils to prepare special food according to the Rov’s specifications. The Rov was willing to acquiesce but expressed concern to his son about the laws of bishul akum, which forbid the consumption of many foods which are cooked by a non-Jew.

Upon hearing this, the captain sent a message telling the Brisker Rov that he had nothing to worry about, as the captain was himself a Jew and would personally light the oven’s fire. At that point the Rov was comforted, explaining to his son that he had been perplexed by the captain’s behavior until now. The Gemora in Yevamos (79a) teaches that there are three unique characteristics of the Jewish people: they are merciful, bashful, and performers of acts of kindness.

Until now, the Brisker Rov had been at a loss to explain how the captain, who he presumed to be a non-Jew, was being so kind to them. Now that he heard the captain was Jewish everything made sense. Similarly, Rav Berel suggested, Chazal were confounded by the compassion of an Egyptian princess in rescuing Moshe from the river. They concluded that the only possible explanation could be that she was on her way to convert and become a Jew.

Va’teireh es ha’teivah b’soch ha’suf vatishlach es amasah vatikacheha (2:5)

Upon descending to the river, Pharaoh’s daughter heard a crying infant and wanted to assist him. However, the basket containing the crying baby was far away from her, and it was impossible for her to reach it. Nevertheless, Rashi writes that she stretched out her hand, which miraculously extended until it reached Moshe’s basket and pulled him toward her. The actions of Pharaoh’s daughter are difficult to understand. Although Hashem miraculously assisted her, she had no way of knowing in advance that this would occur. If she recognized that the basket was beyond her grasp, why did she even try to reach it? The Chofetz Chaim explains that when faced with such an impossible situation, the average person would give up without even trying. Any attempted rescue would be viewed as a waste of time and effort. However, if this same person has a child trapped in a burning house or under a heavy object, he won’t think twice before attempting a miraculous rescue, which will indeed often be successful.

Similarly, Pharaoh’s daughter had a burning desire to save the crying infant. While she realized that the basket was beyond her natural reach, she also understood that Hashem only expects a person to do his best. At that point nothing more can be demanded of him, as he has put in his maximum efforts and the actual results are up to Hashem. In the case of Pharaoh’s daughter, she merited a miracle and the entire salvation of the Jews from Egypt can be traced back to her willingness to give it her all even in what seemed to be an impossible situation.

The following story depicts a modern-day application of this principle. Rav Don Segal once met a taxi driver who had merited driving the Steipler as a passenger. The driver related that the Steipler asked him if he studies Torah. The driver replied that although he regularly attends a shiur (class) in his neighborhood, he consistently falls asleep in the first minute of the shiur due to his sheer exhaustion.

The Steipler told him that in Heaven he is considered a great man, as Hashem only asks for a person’s best efforts. If the driver doesn’t have the energy to remain awake during the shiur, he will still receive tremendous reward for using his last remaining strength to travel to learn what little he is able to absorb before dozing off. Many times a situation seems desperate and beyond our control. At those times, we should take comfort in the lesson of Pharaoh’s daughter that all Hashem wants is our best good-faith effort, and at that point we can leave the rest to Him.

Ki ha’makom asher atah omeid alav admas Kodesh hu (3:5)

The Chofetz Chaim observes that many people think it is impossible for them in their present situations to make substantial, if any, spiritual progress. They continue to hope and pray for a change in the circumstances which are currently holding them back from the growth they would like to be experiencing. Many times it even seems that the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is just around the corner, and perhaps it really is.

Nevertheless, the Chofetz Chaim notes that these individuals are making a fundamental error. It is possible – indeed, required and expected – to serve Hashem in every situation we encounter in life, and it is for that specific reason that He placed us in those circumstances. He suggests that this idea is hinted to in our verse, which states that the place upon which you are standing (i.e. your present circumstances) is Holy ground and quite suitable for Divine Service and spiritual growth, if you only allow yourself to realize and appreciate it.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Rashi writes (1:7) that the women in Egypt miraculously gave birth to sextuplets with each pregnancy. Who else in Tanach also had sextuplets? (Rashi Shmuel 2 6:11)

2) Who was cured by Moshe in this week’s parsha, and from what? (Targum Yonason ben Uziel 2:5, Shemos Rabbah 1:23, Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer 47)

3) Rashi writes (2:7) that Moshe’s refusal to nurse from an Egyptian woman was due to his unwillingness to drink milk from a non-Jew with the same mouth that was destined to speak directly to Hashem. If a non-Jewish woman eats only kosher food, does nursing from her still cause the same spiritual impurity? (Rema Yoreh Deah 81:7, Meromei Sadeh Sotah 12b, Ben Ish Chai Parshas Emor 14, Chavatzeles HaSharon, Bishvilei HaParsha)

4) Rashi writes (4:24) that an angel sought to kill Moshe because of his negligence in circumcising his son. The Targum Yonason ben Uziel explains that Moshe didn’t do so because his father-in-law Yisro wouldn’t allow him to do so, as the Medrash teaches (Yalkut Shimoni 169) that Yisro and Moshe had agreed that Moshe’s first child should be an idolater. Why did Yisro desire or even suggest such an arrangement when Rashi writes (2:16) that he himself had already abandoned his idolatrous practices? (Taima D’Kra)

© 2013 by Oizer Alport.