Parshas Beshalach

Empathy for Others – A Great Quality in Both the Wicked and the Righteous

By: Rabbi Frand

Pharaoh had a change of heart right after he let the Jewish people go. “He said to the Children of Israel: They are lost in the land.” [Shmos 14:3] Rashi raises the obvious difficulty with this pasuk. Why does the pasuk say that Pharaoh spoke TO the children of Israel (l’Bnei Yisrael)? They had left Egypt already. How could he be talking to them? Rashi responds that we must interpret the pasuk to mean that Pharaoh spoke ABOUT the Children of Israel (“al bnei Yisrael”) rather than TO them.

The Targum Yonasan ben Uziel has a unique interpretation. The Targum Yonasan ben Uziel interprets that Pharaoh was addressing Dassan and Aviram, who remained in Egypt. The Maharal Diskin asks a strong question. We know that large numbers of the undeserving members of Klal Yisrael died during the plague of Choshech [Darkness]. According to one interpretation in Rashi (on the pasuk “The Children of Israel went up from Egypt ‘Chamushim'”), 80% of the Jewish community perished during those 3 days of Darkness. The Maharal Diskin asks – We are talking about Dassan and Aviram — who are known to us — from several statements of Chazal — as being wicked people. How can it be that they survived the plague of Choshech?

The Targum Yonasan ben Uziel gives a fascinating answer. The Egyptian slave state had a hierarchy. Pharaoh assigned the job of enslaving the Jews to Egyptian taskmasters. The taskmasters identified Jewish policemen and forced these policemen to make the Jewish slaves produce their quota of work. The taskmasters beat the policemen and the policemen beat the Jewish slaves. Chazal praise the Jewish policemen for often absorbing the beatings of the Egyptian taskmasters and thereby sparing greater suffering on the part of the Jewish slaves.

The Maharal Diskin says that even though Dassan was a wicked person and an extreme trouble maker, but nevertheless he was one of the policemen and he had the merit of absorbing the blows of Egyptian taskmasters to save the Jewish slaves from being whipped themselves. This merit caused his life to be spared during the days of Darkness. A person who accepts suffering on himself to save the suffering of a fellow Jew has tremendous merit — neither the Red Sea nor the Angel of Death can touch him.

Rav Shmuel Auerbach, when eulogizing his father Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, quoted one of his father’s favorite stories: The Baruch Taam once arranged for the marriage of his son to the daughter of a very wealthy individual. The families got together before the wedding to talk about the details of the marriage. The future mother-in-law (of the Baruch Tam’s son) saw that the Baruch Tam was distressed. She went to him privately and asked him what he was so distressed about. “Is there anything wrong with the shidduch?” she wanted to know. The Baruch Taam told her that he was upset because the “water carrier” in the city was very sick. [In those days before people had running water, one of the more menial jobs in European villages was that of the water carrier. The water carrier went down to the river, filled up two buckets and carried them back to town on his shoulders. He did this all day, going back and forth between the river and the town. All one needed to do this job was to have a good back and a lot of stamina. One did not need to be very bright and this was literally among the most menial of professions.] The Baruch Taam felt great empathy for the water carrier, who was sick and could not enjoy the engagement party of his own son.

The future mother-in-law of his son told the Baruch Taam, “Get over it! What does that have to do with you? Don’t let his sickness spoil what should be a happy day for you!” The Baruch Taam came out of the room and announced that the engagement was off. “Anyone who could not empathize with the suffering of another Jew is not the type of family I want my son to marry into, regardless of how much money they have.” If one is not seriously bothered by the fact that someone else is hurting, one lacks the sensitivity required of a caring member of the Jewish people.

This was one of the favorite stories of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. Empathy for others is a great quality to have, whether one is as wicked as Dassan and Aviram or as righteous as Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach.


Parnasah: Wherein the Toil?

By: Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann

A famous and oft-cited Gemara compares earning a living to an event in this week’s parsha:

R. Shizvi said in the name of R. Eleazar ben Azariah: A man’s sustenance is as difficult as the dividing of the Red Sea. It is written (Tehillim/Psalms 136:25), “He gives food to all flesh,” preceded by, “[Give praise] to He who divided the Red Sea in pieces.” (Pesachim 118a)

In what way is providing for man as “difficult” as splitting the sea? In fact, what is difficult about splitting the sea? Not to say that it’s something you or I do with regularity, but we are talking here about the Almighty. He made the rules; it stands to reason that He can adjust them or override them as He sees fit.R’ Chaim Shmuelevitz zt”l asked: How is it possible that of all the Jews, only Nachshon ben Aminadav jumped into the sea?

He answers that if Hashem would have told the Jews the time had come to sacrifice their lives to sanctify G-d’s name, many of them would have done so, perhaps all of them. But they were not meant to die. The mitzvah was to jump into the sea, and believe nothing would happen, despite what seemed like insurmountable odds. This pure faith was a quality only Nachshon possessed.

Mefarshim grapple with his answer. Were Moshe and Aaron not up to the task? Was Yehoshua Ben Nun not capable of ‘throwing’ himself into the task and relying on Hashem’s promise?

The same Gemara compares man’s sustenance (parnasah) with childbirth: R. Yochanan said: Man’s sustenance is twice as difficult as a woman in childbirth. For of a woman in childbirth it is written, “in pain (be-etzev) you will bring forth children,” whereas of sustenance it is written, “in toil (be-itzabon [plural] you shall eat.”

Notwithstanding the indignation of those who have gone through the latter of the two, what is noteworthy is that this Gemara uses the identical wording as the previous Gemara which compared parnassa to splitting the sea – “kashin, it is difficult” — despite the fact that this Gemara refers to our difficulties and suffering (ergo the comparison to childbirth), whereas the previous one apparently refers to Hashem’s ‘difficulty,’ i.e. the greatness of the miracle.Perhaps, in fact, both Gemaras refer to man’s efforts.

There is yet another Gemara (Shabbos 53b):


Our Rabbis taught: A man’s wife died and left a child to be nursed, yet he could not afford to pay a wet nurse. A miracle occurred and he was able to suckle his son… R. Yehuda said: “Come and see how difficult man’s sustenance is, that the order of Creation had to be altered for him! R. Nachman said: The proof is that while miracles occur, food is [rarely] created miraculously.

Why do miracles occur more readily for other circumstances than in order to provide man with parnasah?

When Adam was punished after partaking from the Tree of Life, he was told earning a living would no longer be easy. “With toil you will eat your bread.”

Be’itzavon, with toil, also connotes sadness and worry. In being kicked out of Gan Eden, Adam not only lost his meal ticket; he was also being cast off from before Hashem. In Gan Eden, not only did things come easy; it was also easy to remember from Whom they came. Just as there were no doubts as to whether the fruits of the Garden would suffice, so too there were no doubts as to whether Hashem would take care of Adam. Hashem’s presence was tangible; there was no ‘Hidden Face’ in the Garden of Eden.

The curse of eating bread “by the sweat of your brow,” means that we’ll have to work hard to earn a living. But it also means we will be naturally inclined to believe we are responsible for making things happen; we take credit for our successes and blame ourselves for our failures. With regard to parnasah, it will be exceedingly difficult to bring Hashem into the picture.

Think about it like this: We know that we play a big role in our own health; by eating the right foods, exercising, not smoking etc. Yet when a person G-d forbid gets sick, even a person who could rightly say they are at least partially to blame, you don’t see them beating up on themselves the way a person who lost money does. Conversely, even those who take good care of their bodies don’t engage in back-patting to nearly the same degree as people who have succeeded in the world of finance.

In both cases, we would rationally agree that good health and good wealth are to some extent dependent on our efforts, but to a greater extent depend on the grace of Hashem. Yet somehow it’s relatively easy to internalize this with regard to health, and impossibly difficult to remember with regard to wealth. This is the curse of “be’itzavon, with worry you will eat.”

This is why the Gemara says Hashem doesn’t [normally] perform miracles with regard to parnasah; it defeats the purpose. The whole concept of parnasah was that it should come with worry. It was an extension of being thrown out of Gan Eden and cast away from Hashem’s presence. Hashem, of course, is still there for us pulling the strings, but feeling His influence in this area is harder than in all others.

Nachson Ben Aminadav had to overcome his fear of death and place his trust in Hashem. Moshe and Aaron could not have done what he did because of their extreme closeness to Hashem as His prophets. For them, jumping into the raging waters would not have demonstrated the raw faith against-all-odds that Nachshon’s actions did. Only he could ‘split the sea’ with his faith. The two Gemaras in Pesachim, which compare parnasah to splitting the Red Sea and to childbirth both refer to the difficulties of man. It is as difficult for us to believe our parnasah is in the hands of Hashem as it was for the Jews, at the edges of the raging sea, to believe no harm would become them, and jump into the sea. The struggle is majestic; hopefully we can find the spark of Nachson within us.



Quote Of The Week:

“Please Get Me Kosher Food And A Car For Proper Kevurah”

When the Klausenberger Rebbe, was liberated from Auschwitz, he was asked what they could do for him.

After losing his wife and 11 children to the NAZIS Y’SH

This great Tzaddik requested Kosher food for the survivors and a car to take the bodies in order for them to get a proper Kevurah.

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