Archive for January 2013

Parashat Yitro

Parashat Yitro
Shemot 18:1 - 20:23


Parashat Summary

Yitro Brings Zipporah, Gershom and Eliezer to Moshe
Moshe Appoints Judges
The Benei Yisrael Camp in front of Mount Sinai
After three days of preparation, the Benei Yisrael encounter G-d at Mount Sinai
God gives the Ten Commandments aloud directly to the people
Benei Yisrael ask Moshe to serve as an intermediary between G-d and them

18:1 Vayishma Yitro chohen Midyan choten Moshe et kol-asher asah Elokim le-Moshe ule-Yisrael amo ki-hotzi HASHEM et-Yisrael miMitzrayim

And Yitro, the priest of Midyan, Moshe's father-in-law, heard of all that G-d had done for Moshe and for Yisrael His people--that HASHEM had brought Yisrael out of Egypt.
Yitro was very important among the pagan priests.  He was so great that he had even served as one of Par'oh's advisors.  But when Par'oh started to devise plans to persecute and kill the Benei Yisrael, Yitro fled.  He gave up his idolatrous practices, and no longer had anything to do with the pagans.

The Torah now tells us Yitro's reaction, when he heard of all that G-d had done for Moshe and Yisrael.  He had heard reports that the Reed Sea had been split and that Amalek had attacked the Benei Yisrael and been defeated (17:8-13). (Rashi; Mechilta)  He had also heard about the miracle of the Manna, how it fell from heaven each day.

But of all the miracles, the greatest was the Exodus itself.  This was the greatest possible miracle, because there was no natural way the Benei Yisrael could have left Egypt.  As soon as he heard about this, Yitro made up his mind to join the Benei Yisrael and became a Ger tzedek. (Yalkut Shemoni; Rashi; Mechilta)

If one contemplates this section well, he will see Yitro's goodness and pure heart.  

The Torah stresses that "Yitro heard" - and did not see.  He was "priest of Midyan" and had to abandon his high postion and wealth.  Moreover, he was "the father-in-law of Moshe," and might have waited for his son-in-law to invite him.

As soon as Yitro heard the news about what G-d had done for Yisrael, he hurried to them, leaving behind all his honor and wealth.  He was too impatient even to wait for an eyewitness who had actually seen the miracles.  He did not even entertain any thoughts about waiting for a personal invitation or a letter from Moshe.

When a person is seeking truth, he is filled with enthusiasm, and is not concerned with playing status games.  All the goods of this world are totally immaterial to him, and he ignores them completely. (Akedat Yitzchak; Keter Shem Tov; Abarbanel)

18:2 Vayikach Yitro choten Moshe et-Tziporah eshet Moshe achar shilucheiha

Moshe's father-in-law, Yitro took Moshe's wife, Tziporah, after he had sent her back [home],

3 Ve'et shnei vaneiha asher shem ha'echad Gershom ki amar ger hayiti be'eretz nochryah

along with her two sons.  The name of one was Gershom, because he [Moshe] had said, "I was a stranger [ger] in an alien land."

4 Veshem ha'echad Eli'ezer ki-Elokei avi be'ezri vayatzileni mecherev Par'oh

The name of the [other] one was Eliezer, because the G-d  of my father was my help [ezer] and rescued me from the sword of Pharaoh.
After Moshe had brought his wife and sons to Egypt, he changed his mind and sent them back to Midyan.  Moshe then went on G-d's mission in Egypt alone. (Rashi)

Our sages teach that Moshe actually had divorced Tzipporah at that time.  The Torah therefore stresses here that Yitro was "Moshe's father-in-law," and Tzipporah was "Moshe's wife." This is a sign of the righteousness of both father and daughter, because neither of them abandoned Moshe.  They both had patience, waiting until the right time came and they could learn the ways of the holy Torah.  Therefore, after all the troubles were over, Yitro and his daughter immediately came to Moshe. (Mechilta; Keter Shem Tov; Sifetei Yeshenim)

Yitro also took Moshe's two sons.  Moshe's first son had been named Gershom.  Upon his birth, Moshe had declared, "I was a stranger (ger) there (sham) in a foreign land." 

Moshe had said that he felt like a total stranger in Midyan, and he felt that the land was completely foreign to him.  All the people in Midyan were idolators, and there was no one who shared his beliefs.  He was the only Hebrew in the entire land. (Mechilta)

When Moshe's second son was born, he named him Eliezer.  He declared, "My G-d (Eli) was my Help (ezer) and rescued me from Par'oh's sword."  Moshe was alluding to an event that had happened previously. Datan and Aviram informed on Moshe, reporting that he had killed an Egyptian.  At that time, Par'oh sentenced Moshe to death, and was ready to kill him (2:15), but as the sword descended, Moshe's neck became as hard as stone, and he was saved. (Rashi)

In speaking of Moshe's second son, the Torah literally says, "The name of the one was Eliezer." This wording is somewhat difficult to understand.  The Torah should have said, "The name of the second was Eliezer." After all, Eliezer was the second son.

This can be understood through the following:

When Moshe ascended on high to receive the Torah, he heard G-d's Voice expounding on the Red Heifer (Parah Adumah - BaMidbar 19). the Voice said, "My son Eliezer has taught that a cow is called a heifer (parah) when it is two years old."   
Upon hearing them, Moshe exclaimed, "Master of the Universe!  All the universe is under Your Hand.  Yet you are teaching something in the name of a mortal human." 
"True," replied G-d.  "A time will come when a tzaddik will be born, and he will be the one to teach the laws of the Red Heifer." 
"Master of the Universe" said Moshe.  "May it be Your will that this tzaddik be my descendant." 
"By your life," replied G-d, "he will be of your offspring." 
The Torah therefore says, "The name of the one was Eliezer."  It is alluding to the great sage, Rabbi Eliezer, who was destined to be a descendant of Moshe. (Yalkut Shimoni; Pesikta)

Rabbi Eliezer had studied Torah as a child.  But he never had time to devote himself to Torah study until he was 28 years old.  From that time on, he was completely dedicated to the Torah and did not engage in any other task. (Tosafot, Shabbat 104a) 

Rabbi Eliezer became such a great sage that it is said of him, "If all the heavens were parchment, if all the reeds were pens, and if all the seas were ink, it would still not be enough to write down all of his Torah teachings." (Avot deRabbi Natan 25:2.  Cf. Shabbat 11a)  He was such a genius that the breadth of his knowledge had no measure.

The Torah alludes to the fact that G-d acquiesced to Moshe's request in the verse, "The name of the one was Eliezer."  The Torah uses this unusual wording to teach that the name of the scholar who would be unique in his time would be Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrkonos, a descendant of Moshe. (Alshekh. Cf. Divrei Shlomo, p. 180)

18:5 Vayavo Yitro choten Moshe uvanav ve'ishto el-Moshe el-hamidbar asher-hu choneh sham har ha'Elokim

Moshe's father-in-law, Yitro came with his sons and his wife to Moshe in the wilderness, where he was encamped at the mountain of G-d.

 The Torah stresses that Yitro came to the desert to show us his great piety.  In Midyan, he lived in a palace like a king.  Still, he was willing to leave his home, to come to an arid, uninhabited desert where he would have nothing.  He had such a strong desire to become a Ger tzedek and to learn the Torah, that) he did not pay any attention to what he was leaving behind.

Moreover, each time Yitro is mentioned, the Torah adds that he was Moshe's father-in-law. This was because Yitro was very proud of his relationship to Moshe.  He would boast, "I am the father-in-law of the king of Yisrael," and his gladness would know no bounds.

The Torah also honors Yitro by referring to him by seven names each of which is a title of honor. (Abarbanel. Cf. Targum on 1Divrei HaYamim 23:17; Berachot 7a [end]; Also see 1Divrei HaYamim 24:21, 26:25)

18:6 Vayomer el-Moshe ani chotencha Yitro ba eleicha ve'ishtecha ushnei vaneiha imah

Now he had said to Moshe, "I, your father-in-law Yitro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her."
Yitro sent a letter to Moshe, writing, "I, your father-in-law Yitro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her. My intention is to join the Benei Yisrael as a Ger tzedek" 

The Benei Yisrael, at that time, were sealed within the Clouds of Glory, like people in a ship.  It was impossible to send anyone into the Clouds of Glory, so Yitro could not send a messenger with his letter.  His only recourse was to tie it to an arrow, and shoot it into the camp of the Benei Yisrael. (Chizzkuni; Tzedah LaDerech)

Yitro's intentions were pure.  He wanted Moshe to show him respect to show the world that G-d cherishes the Gerei tzedek.  This would motivate others to want to convert to the religion of the Torah.

Yitro had been an important pagan priest, worshiping virtually every idolatrous deity in the ancient world.  He had also led many others to commit the sin of idolatry.  Therefore, Moshe might have thought that he should not accept him as a Ger tzedek.

Furthermore, there is a rule that Gerim will not be accepted in the Messianic Age.  If a person wishes to become a Ger tzedek at that time, it will not be because of any good intention, but merely because of fear lest he be killed, or because he wishes to join the Benei Yisrael when they have the upper hand.

G-d therefore told Moshe that he should not be concerned that Yitro might want to become a Ger tzedek because he had heard about the greatness of Yisrael - that the Reed Sea had been split and that the Egyptians had been miraculously defeated.  Furthermore, Yitro was Moshe's father-in-law, and there might be concern that he wanted to cme and enjoy the position of being the father-in-law of the leader of the Benei Yisrael.

G-d told Moshe, "You have no need to be concerned about any of these matters.  Yitro's motives is entirely pure and holy.  He has no ulterior motives whatever." (Tanchuma; Shemot Rabbah according to Yeffeh Toar, loc. cit.; Maharit, Derush 2)

Furthermore, the law is that, initially, when a gentile wishes to become a Ger tzedek, every attempt is made to discourage him.  He is told all about the punishments in the next world.  All this is to see if he will change his mind, or if he sincerely wishes to be a Ger tzedek. (Yevamot 47a; Yoreh Deah 268:2)

G-d therefore told Moshe, "You must accept him, and not repulse him.  Do not speak to him as you would to other would be converts, trying to discourage him to see if he changes his mind.  You can be sure that his motives are absolutely pure." (Penei Shlomo)

18:7 Vayetze Moshe likrat chotno vayishtachu vayishak-lo vayish'alu ish-lere'ehu leshalom vayavo'u ha'ohelah

So Moshe went out to meet his father-in-law, bowed down, and kissed him. And they asked each other about their well-being, and they went into the tent.
Yitro was greatly honored at that time.  Since Moshe went out, Aharon and his sons, Nadav, Avihu, Eleazar and Itamar also went, followed by the seventy elders.  Following them, was the entire nation of Yisrael.  Seeing their leaders going out to greet Yitro, no one dared remain behind in the camp.  The Divine Presence (Shechinah) also was revealed in honor of Yitro. (Mechilta; Shemot Rabbah; Rashi)

When Moshe and Yitro met, they kissed each other and inquired as to each other's welfare just as two very close friends would after not seeing each other for a long time.  Each one asked about the other's health and general welfare. Then they went into the "tent," which was the study hall (Beit Midrash), where Moshe would study the Torah.  

When the Torah relates that Moshe "bowed down," it does not mean that he bowed down to Yitro.  Rather, Moshe prostrated himself to G-d, thanking G-d that Yitro and his family had come in peace.

This is very closely related to the law that if one does not see a close friend for 30 days, when he sees him he must recite the Shehecheyanu blessing:
Blessed are You, HaShem our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has kept us in life, Who has sustained us, and Who has allowed us to reach this season.
If one sees his close friend after not seeing him for 12 months, he must recite the blessing:
Blessed are You, HaShem our G-d, King of the Universe, Resurrector of the dead.
The Torah is therefore careful not to say that Moshe "bowed himself to him (Yitro)", although it does say, "he kissed him".   Moshe bowed to G-d, and then kissed Yitro. (Sifetei Kohen)

The Torah also teaches us a special lesson when it says, "they went into the tent."  This would appear to be completely redundant, since they obviously did not remain outside in the desert.

The Torah is alluding to the fact that Moshe had emulated Avraham.  Avraham had a tree through which he could test people who wanted to become Gerim, to see if their motives were pure or not.  Moshe made similar use of the Clouds of Glory.

Moshe led Yitro through the Clouds of Glory.  If Yitro's motives were pure, the clouds would let him pass.  If he had ulterior motives, however, the clouds would not let him through.

It is for this reason that the mixed multitude (Erev Rav) were not allowed within the Clouds of Glory.  The tribe of Dan was also excluded because of Mikah's statue that they were carrying with them.
When the Benei Yisrael in Egypt did not complete their quotas, the Egyptians would substitute Hebrew children for bricks.  One of these infants was Mikah.  When he grew up, he made an unusual statue, which he originally worhsiped privately.  Later it was to be worshiped publicly as the subject of a cult (Shoftim 17) (Shemot Rabbah, in Yeffeh Toar, p. 127; BaMidbar Rabbah, Naso, in Yeffeh Toar p. 196; Arukh, s.v. Makh)
Moshe had rescued Mikah from the wall of bricks. He grew up and buil a famous idol and caused many Benei Yisrael to worship it (Shoftim 17).
Now when the Benei Yisrael were crossing the sea, a number of its worshipers were carrying Mikah's idol.  Since other Benei Yisrael were aware of it and did not protest, all were considered guilty. (Ibid.; Sifri, Behalotecha)  The fact that G-d spared even these idolators among the Benei Yisrael was a miracle in itself. 
The Torah therefore relates that "they came into the tent.  And Moshe told his father-in-law all that HASHEM had done to Par'oh and to the Egyptians" (18:8).  After Yitro was tested by the Clouds of Glory it was determined that his motives were pure, Moshe told him of all the miracles that had happened to them in Egypt. (Sifetei Kohen)

It may seem surprising that Moshe tested Yitro after G-d had told him to accept him and not repulse him.  But after the entire nation of Yisrael came out to greet Yitro, Moshe was concerned that Yitro may have become proud and now wanted to become a Ger tzedek because of the honor he would receive.  Moshe therefore felt it best to test him again.

Furthermore, G-d wanted the Torah itself to bear witness that Yitro became a Ger tzedek for pure motives.  The Torah therefore explicitly states that "they came into the tent."  The fact that the Clouds of Glory allowed Yitro in was a sign that his motives were absolutely pure.

18:8 Vayesaper Moshe lechoteno et kol-asher asah HASHEM le-Par'oh ul-Mitzrayim al odot Yisrael et kol-hatla'ah asher metza'atam baderech vayatzilem HASHEM
And Moshe told his father-in-law all that HASHEM had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Yisrael's sake, all the hardship that had come upon them on the way, and how HASHEM had delivered them.
Moshe told Yitro all about the splitting of the Reed Sea and the war with Amalek, and how in both cases, G-d had rescued the Benei Yisrael.

Yitro actually knew about all these events, and this knowledge motivated him to come and become a Ger tzedek.  Still, Moshe told him the entire story.  Hearing the story a second time, it would make a greater impression in Yitro's heart and remain fixed in the memory.

In addition to the above, Moshe told Yitro about what had happened at Marah and Refidim (15:23, 17:1), (Targum Yonatan; Rashi)

18:10 Vayomer Yitro baruch HASHEM asher hitzil etchem miyad Mitzrayim umiyad Par'oh asher hitzil et-ha'am mitachat yad-Mitzrayim
And Yitro said, "Blessed be HASHEM , who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh, and who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians.
11 Atah yadati ki-gadol HASHEM mikol-ha'elohim ki vadavar asher zadu aleihem.
Now I know that HASHEM is greater than all the G-d; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them."
Yitro thanked G-d for rescuing them from Egypt, which was a powerful nation, from the genius of Egypt, who name was Mitzrayim, and from Par'oh, who was a powerful king.  He also thanked G-d for rescuing them people from under the power of Egypt. (Rashi)

When Yitro said, "Blessed be HaShem, Who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians," he was addressing Moshe and Aharon.  He said, "First, I must thank G-d for the miracle that He did for you.  All the Ten Plagues came about through you; and therefore, when you went to warn Par'oh, you were in great danger.  He could have become angry enough to kill you with his own hands.  Here you came to him the first thing in the morning, as if you had good news for him, and then you told him about the impending plagues.

"In addition, I must thank G-d for rescuing the people.  This was also a great miracle, bring such a great nation out from under the power of Egypt." (Ramban; Ibn Ezra; Abarbanel; Rashbam)

Yitro became a Ger tzedek by undergoing circumcision and immersing in a mikvah, just like all other converts.  The Torah therefore says, "Yitro rejoiced (va-yichad)" (18:9).  He allowed a sharp (chad) knife to cut his flesh when he submitted to circumcision.  He then accepted upon himself the yoke of G-d, and the yoke of the Torah and the commandments. (Sanhedrin 94a; Rashi; Kesef Mezukak; Keter Shem Tov; Aruch s.v. Chad)

18:12 Vayikach Yitro choten Moshe olah uzvachim l'Elokim vayavo Aharon vechol ziknei Yisrael le'echol-lechem im-choten Moshe lifnei ha'Elokim
Then Yitro, Moshe's father-in-law, took a burnt offering and other sacrifices to offer to G-d. And Aharon came with all the elders of Yisrael to eat bread with Moshe's father-in-law before G-d.
The burnt offering (olah) was an animal sacrifice that was completely burned.  It was an atonement for bad thoughts.  The other sacrifices that Yitro offered were peace offerings (shelamim).  These were to bring peace and harmony between G-d and man. (Tanchuma,Tetzaveh 15, Tzav 13; VaYikra Rabbah 7:3.  Also see Tanchuma, Lech Lacha 10)

Aharon and all the elders of Yisrael then sat down to eat with Yitro.  Normally, the Mann (manna) that fell in the morning was completely consumed as the morning meal, but Yitro arrived at noon.  Our sages teach that in honor of Yitro an extra portion of Mann fell at noon.

Our sages also learn from here that when a person sits at a meal where Torah scholars are present, it is like eriving sustenance from the glow of the Divine Presence.  The Torah therefore says that Yitro and the elders at "before G-d."  Obviously, G-d is omnipresent, but the Torah stresses this fact because Moshe was present at the meal.

The same is true when one goes to visit a Torah scholar.  It is certainly considered virtuous to visit a sage who has arrived from another city. (Mechilta; Rashi)

The Torah does not say that Moshe ate.  This is because Moshe was standing on his feet, serving the people. Moshe was so humble that he ignored his own status completely. (Ibid.)

Although Mshe was the leader of the Benei Yisrael, he was not actually considered a king.  If he had been a king, he would not have been permitted to ignore his status.  According to law, even if a king wishes his status may not be ignored.  "If a king forgoes his honor, it may not be forgone." (Ketubot 17a)  A king's honor belongs to his subjects; it is not his to relinquish.  But since Moshe was more like a judge than a king, he was able to relinquish his honor. (Tzedah LeDerech)

Therefore, Moshe served as a waiter at this feast in honor of Yitro.  He had learned a lesson from Avraham. When the angels came to Avraham disquised as Arab travelers, he stood over them and waited on them (Bereishit 18:8).  Moshe felt that he should do no less.

Looking carefully at this section, one sees that this is the last time that the name Yitro is mentioned.  From here on, the Torah only refers to Yitro as "Moshe's father-in-law."

The reason for this is that at first Yitro considered himself greater than the other Benei Yisrael.  He had relinquished his high position to become a Ger tzedek, and he had undergone the pain of circumcision.  Because of this, the Torah refers to him as יִתְרוֹ (Yitro), which comes from the same root as the word יְתָרוֹן (yetaron), meaning an advantage.  Yitro felt that he had an advantage over the other Benei Yisrael.

But after Yitro was with the Benei Yisrael for several days, he began to become aware of their greatness.  He realized that they had suffered terrible persecutions in Egypt, but they had upheld their high standards of sexual morality, and had refused to give up their Hebrew names or to assimilate in other ways.  He also saw their other good qualities. He then began to realize how insignificant his own sacrifice was, and was happy to be referred to merely as Moshe's father-in-law. (Sifetei Kohen)

Meanwhile all the other people in the world were also aware of all the miracles that G-d did at the Exodus.  They had heard of the splitting of the Reed Sea and the falling of the Mann.  As a result, they had tremendous awe and respect for G-d, and they waited to see what Yitro, their greatest theologian, would do.

When they saw that Yitro went to Moshe to serve G-d, and that he said, "Now I know that G-d is greater than all the deities" (18:11), it made a tremendous impression on them.  They all realized that their gods were nothing, and they relinquished them completely.  As a result, G-d's greatness became greatly publicized through Yitro.

For this reason, the Torah devoted a special portion to Yitro, YITRO, calling it by name.  The story of his arrival was not placed in the middle of the portion, but at its very beginning.  This was a great honor for Yitro, having one of the portions of the Torah begin with his story. (Zohar, p. 69)


Blessings for Miracles

The Torah relates that when Yitro heard the account from Moshe, he said, "Blessed be G-d who saved you from the hand of Egypt and from the hand of Par'oh - Who rescued the people from under the hand of Egypt."  From here our sages learn that a blessing must be said for miracles. (Berachot 54a)

If a person sees a place where a miracle was done for our fathers, he must recite the blessing:
Blessed are You, HaShem our G-d, King of the Universe, Who did miracles for our fathers in this place.
A person must thank G-d for the miracles that He did for our fathers.  Since G-d rescued our ancestors from death through the miracle, we are also beneficiaries.  If our ancestors had died, we would never have been born.  Therefore, miracles that benefited them also benefited us.

This blessing is recited when one sees the place where the Benei Yisrael crossed the Reed Sea, where they crossed the Yarden, (Yehosua 3) or the corssing of the stream of Arnon.
This is explained in Berachot 54b on the basis of BaMidbar 21:14. There were two mountains with caves in which the Amori hid.  The two mountains miraculously came together sealing the caves.
The same is true of the stone of Og, King of Bashan wanted to throw at the Benei Yisrael, or the stone upon which Moshe sat during the battle with Amalek (17:12), or the fallen walls of Yericho.  This rule also applies to any other place where a major miracle occurred for all Yisrael.  If a person sees such a place and recognizes it, he must recite the above blessing.

If he returns to such a place after not seeing it for 30 days, he must repeat the blessing, reciting it just as when he saw the place for the first time.

However, when one sees a place where a miracle occurred only to an individual, no blessing is said.  A person living now does not derive any benefit from miracles that happened to individuals of long ago.

If a miracle occurs to a person in a certain place, whenever he passes that place, he must recite the blessing:
Blessed are You, HaShem our G-d, King of the Universe, Who did a miracle for me in this place.
If 30 days pass and he sees the place again, he must repeat the blessing.

We thus find that when Yosef was traveling from Egypt to Chevron to bury his father, he recited the above blessing.

When a miracle occurs for an individual, his children, grandchildren and all his descendants must recite the following blessing when they pass by the place:
Blessed are You, HaShem our G-d, King of the Universe, Who did miracles for our fathers in this place.
We said earlier that no blessing is said for a miracle that occurred to an individual, but this is only true for people who are not related to that individual.  His descendants have a portion in the miracle, and must therefore recite the blessing.  This is true even for those who were born later. (Orach Chayim 218; Magen Avraham ad. loc.)

When a person experiences a miracle, he should either pledge money for charity, or do something for the synagogue or the community, to the best of his ability.  This was done by Yaakov and by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

If a person has experienced many miracles in many places, he should recite a blessing every time he passes one of those places.  Whenever he recites such a blessing, he should also mention the other places where miracles occurred.  He should therefore thank G-d "for doing a miracle for me in this place, and in (designate place)."

According to some authorities, even if one does not see the place where the miracle occurred, but merely sees his parent or master after the latter experienced a miracle, he must say a blessing.  Similarly, even subsequent time one sees his master or parent after not seeing him for 30 days, he must repeat the blessing.

This is derived from the fact that Yitro blessed G-d when he saw Moshe and the Benei Yisrael, and said, "Blessed is G-d who saved you from the hand of Egypt" (18:10).  He recited this blessing even though he did not see the place where the miracle happened.  We thus see that a blessing must also be recited when one sees the person to whom the miracle occurred. (Orach Chayim 218:6)

The blessing over miracles is recited only over an occurence that involves a violation of the laws of nature.  If one is saved from danger in a natural manner, this blessing is not said.  For example, if a person was in danger from burglars who broke into his house at night, and was then rescued, he does not recite the blessing over miracles.  Instead he recites the Gomel Blessing. (Orach Chayim 218:6)


The "Gomel" Blessing

When a seriously ill person recovers, it is a greater miracle than the escape of Chananyah, Misha'el and Azaryah from the fiery furnance (Dani'el 3, 1:7) Earthly fire can be extinguished, but sickness comes from heavenly fire, which man cannot extinguish.  One must therefore thank G-d when he recovers.

It is taught that there are four cases when one must formally thank G-d; this applies to men and women alike  (Keneset HaGedolah):
  1. one who crosses the sea
  2. one who crosses the desert
  3. a seriously ill person who recovers
  4. one who has been released from prison after having been jailed on a false charge. (Orach Chayim 219.  Cf. Keneset HaGedolah)
These four cases can be represented by the acrostic ChaYYIM (חַיִים) meaning "life": Choleh (sick man), Yam (the sea), Yesurim (penalties) and Midbar (the desert).

Obviously, similar formal thanks must be given whenever a person escapes a dangerous situation, for example, when a wall fell on him, or burglars broke in when he was home and could have killed him.

One then says the blessing:
Blessed are You, HaShem our G-d, King of the Universe, Who grants good to the underserving, Who has granted me all good.
It is good to say this blessing while standing before ten men, two of whom should be Torah scholars.  It should therefore be said in the synagogue when the Torah is out. (Yad)

One should not let three days pass before reciting this blessing.  Thus, if one arrives from an overseas voyage on Monday, one should not wait until Thursday to recite this blessing.  He should say it within three days. (Keneset HaGedolah)

18:13 Vayehi mimachorat vayeshev Moshe lishpot et-ha'am vaya'amod ha'am al-Moshe min-haboker ad-ha'arev
And so it was, on the next day, that Moshe sat to judge the people; and the people stood before Moshe from morning until evening.
There is a dispute among authorities  as to when Yitro came to Moshe.  According to one opinion, it was before the giving of the Ten Commandments.  Others, however, maintain that it was after the Ten Commandments.

If we assume that the Torah here is in chronological order, it appears that Yitro came before the Ten Commandments.  However, this section, where Yitro advises Moshe, takes place after the Commandments. According to both the above mentioned opinions, this occurred during the second year after the Exodus.  In this case, the Torah is not in chronological order. (Zevachim 116a; Rashi; Ibn Ezra. Cf. Ramban; Bachya. Abarbanel. Also see Yeffeh Toar, Bereshit, p. 152; BaMidbar Rabbah 13; Bereishit Rabbah 34)

This is only one of many cases where we find that the Torah is not written chronologically.  For example,  the death of Yitzchak is recorded before the selling of Yosef, even though he died later.

One reason why the Torah was not written in chronological order is because if so written it would enable people to perform all sorts of miracles, including the resurrection of the dead. (Bachya, Bereishit; Yalkut Shimoni on Psalms, #625.  See Imrei Shefer, Noach; Yeffeh Toar, Vayeshev)

The true order of the Torah is therefore concealed from all but G-d Himself.

Chronological order is also avoided occasionally to teach that the Torah is more than a collection of histories.

Since the Torah is already telling the story of Yitro's coming, it includes the account of the advice that he gave Moshe immediately afterward.  The account concludes with Yitro's returning to his homeland. (18:27).  (Tosafot, Avodah Zarah 24b, s.v. Yitro)

The Torah tells us that Moshe sat down to judge the people.  This occurred on the day after Yom Kippur.

The Ten Commandments were given on Shavuot 6 Sivan (May 14, 1313 b.c.e.), just 49 days after the Exodus.  40 days later on 17 Tammuz (June 24), Moshe came down from Mount Sinai with the Tablets.  Seeing the Golden Calf he broke the Tablets.  Early the next morning, Moshe went back up to the summit of Mount Sinai, remaining there for 80 days (40 to pray to G-d to forgive the people, and 40 to receive a second set of Tablets).  Moshe was thus up on Mount Sinai from 18 Tammuz (June 25) until 10 Tishrei (September 13), which was Yom Kippur.

Finally, on Yom Kippur, Moshe descended from the mountain with the second set of Tablets.  On the next day, 11 Tishrei (September 14), Moshe sat down to judge the people. (Rashi)

One might wonder what kind of litigation the people could have brought before Moshe.  Here they were in the desert, not engaged in any business or commerce.  All their needs were provided for.  What kind of cases were there to bring before Moshe?

There was much treasure that the Benei Yisrael had gathered on the shore of the Reed Sea after the Egyptians were drowned.  The people who were nearest to the sea were able to get a majority of this treasure, choosing the very best objects.  Those who were further away, got much less, and some did not get any at all.

Now there was much dispute about the distribution of this treasure.  Naturally, those who got the most wanted to keep what they got.  Others wanted to divide it all equally.  Still others felt that it was meant to sear as reparations, and wanted it divided according to each person's suffering and loss in Egypt.  This was a major case that Moshe would have to judge for all Yisrael. (Paaneach Raza)


18:14 Vayar choten Moshe et kol-asher-hu oseh la'am vayomer mah-hadavar hazeh asher atah oseh la'am madua atah yoshev levadecha vechol-ha'am nitzav aleycha min-boker ad-arev
So when Moshe's father-in-law saw all that he did for the people, he said, "What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?"
Yitro saw Moshe sitting like a king, with all Yisrael standing over him, and he found it very hard to take.  He felt that Moshe was not showing the people proper respect.

He therefore asked, "Why do you alone sit [with no one to help you?], and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?" (Mechilta; Rashi)

One might wonder at Yitro's second question. According to the law the judge must sit and the litigators must stand. (Ibn Ezra)

The judge must sit so that he will be able to concentrate better.  He will then be able to pay careful attention to the arguments of the litigants, and render a proper decision.

The litigants and witnesses, on the other hand, must stand.  They are to remain in a state of tension, where they will be unable to argue or testify falsely. When some people are standing, in the presence of others who are sitting, they cannot concentrate well enough to lie effectively. (Toledot Yitzchak; Divrei Shlomo, p. 246)

This being the case, why was Yitro so surprised that Moshe was sitting and all the others standing?

Yitro had a good argument for two reasons:

  1. It is true that the litigants must stand on their feet.  But Yitro wanted to know, why were all the other people made to stand?  Obviously, everyone was not being judged at once.  All the others were merely waiting their turn.  Yitro therefore asked, "Why do you alone sit...and all the people stand before you?"  What bothered him was the fact that all the people, even those who were not being judged, were forced to stand.  This seemed to indicate a lack of respect for the community.  Why should people have had to stand even when they were not being judged? (Ibid.)
  2. According to the law, the witnesses must testify while standing.  Even if the judge wants to allow them to sit, he is not permitted to.  However, if the judge wants to allow the litigants to sit, he may do so. (Chupat Eliahu)  Obviously, if a judge allows one litigant to sit, he must also allow the other.  If he allows one to sit, but not the other, it is considered unfair.  The one who is made to stand cannot argue properly.  He also feels that he is a victim of rejudice, because the judge is allowing his opponent to sit and not him. (Choshen Mishpat 17)
Actually, Moshe was greater than a mere king.  It would not show a lack of respect for the community if they stood while he sat.  We thus that although Aharon was older than Moshe, he showed him the greatest respect, referring to him as "my master" (BaMidbar 12:11). (Ibn Ezra)

Nevertheless, the honor of the entire nation of Yisrael is not the same as that of an individual, even one so great as Aharon.  It is true that when Moshe saw Aharon showing him honor, he did not stop him and say, "I am your younger brother.  It is not fitting that you call me 'my master.'"  But when the entire nation of Yisrael stood up for him., Moshe should have told them to sit.  Otherwise, it would seem that he was taking their honor lightly. (Mizrachi)

Furthermore, Aharon had merely called Moshe "my master," which was something that did not require any real effort.  Moshe was greater than Aharon, so it was not very difficult for Aharon to call him "master," even though Moshe was younger.  But to make all the Benei Yisrael stand on their feet all day, this was a different matter.  Therefore, Yitro admonished Moshe. (Chupat Eliahu)

He therefore said to Moshe, "Why are you sitting all by yourself while the people standing over you from morning until evening?  You are making the people wait for you all day long, trying to do everything yourself. If people want to come to you to have a case judged, they must wait until you are finished teaching.  On the other hand, if people want to learn, they must wait until all the day's cases are judged.  You are making the people stand and wait for you all day long. (Maharsha; Dat VeDin; Kesef Nivchar, Mishpatim)

18:17 Vayomer choten Moshe elav lo-tov hadavar asher atah oseh
So Moshe's father-in-law said to him, "The thing that you do is not good.
18 Navol tibol gam-atah gam-ha'am hazeh asher imach ki-chaved mimcha hadavar lo-tuchal asohu levadecha
Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself.
All the people will wear themselves out - you, Aharon and his sons, the elders, and all the people who are with you. (Mechilta; Rashi; Targum Yonatan)  You will wear out the entire nation, making them wait so long to get an appointment with you. There are many people who want their cases tried, each one with a different complaint.  There is no way that you can do it yourself.  (Bachya; Ralbag)

18:19 Atah shmah bekoli iyatzecha vyhi Elokim imach heyeh atah la'am mul ha'Elokim veheveta atah et-hadevarim el-ha'ElokimListen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and G-d will be with you: Stand before G-d for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to G-d.
"I am giving you this advice so that G-d will be with you in prophecy, a prophet's mind must be totally calm.  But with all your concerns for the community, you are so busy that you cannot have the calmness and serenity necessary for prophecy.  I wish to give you advice so that you will not have so much work and worry."

Yitro therefore told Moshe, "G-d will be with you."  He was saying, "If you do as I suggest, you will have the serenity so that G-d will be with you in prophecy." (Asarah Maamarot; Yalkut Chadash, s.v. Moshe 40)

"You must be G-d's representative for the people," said Yitro.  "You must be an agent and a mediator between G-d and the people.  You must be the one whom they will ask when they want to know G-d's will. Whenever a novel case arises, you must bring their litigation before G-d.  This is also something that only you can do.  No one but you can receive a clear answer from G-d when you ask about a law. (Rashi)

"You will also be G-d's representative in another sense.  You will sit in the Ohel Mo'ed (Tabernacle - Tent of Meeting), which is a place where the Divine is revealed.  At such times, you will be uniquely suited to pray for people who are sick.  You will be able to tell each person what the heavenly decree is regarding his recovery.  Your place is in the sanctuary, and not in the courtroom.  You cannot mix the two." (Ramban)

18:24 Vayishma Moshe lekol chotno vaya'as kol asher amar
So Moshe heeded the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said.
25 Vayivchar Moshe anshei-chayil mikol-Yisrael vayiten otam rashim al-ha'am sarei alafim sarei me'ot sarei chamishim vesarei asarot
And Moshe chose able men out of all Yisrael, and made them heads over the people: rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.
Moshe sought G-d's advice and G-d told him to do as Yitro had said.  Moshe chose capable me, men who were honest, good, G-d fearing, and scholars.  They were the best men in all Yisrael. (Cf. Yeffeh Toar, p. 154)

The majority of the judges were from the tribes who had the most people with the above mentioned traits. (Mesorat Ha'Brit)

The most important thing is a good personality.  We see that when the scripture speaks of the prophets and tzaddikim, it does not praise them for their wisdom and scholarship.  Rather, it praises them for their good personal qualities.

The Torah thus says that Noach was "a righteous man, upright" (Bereishit 6:9).  G-d told Avraham, "Walk before Me and be upright" (Bereishit 17:1).  Yaakov is spoke of as a "single-minded man" (Bereishit 25:27). Moshe is described as "very humble" (BaMidbar 12:3)

In none of these cases does the Torah mention that the individual was intelligent or a scholar.  The main think is that a person should have good character traits, hating that which is crooked, and being unable to find any satisfaction, except with that which is fair and honest.  He must also have a good heart.

Intelligence and scholarship are like a tree, while good traits are its fruit.  Obvious, the main purpose of a tree is to bear fruit. (Bachya; Toledot Yitzchak)

18:26 Veshaftu et-ha'am bechol-et et-hadavar hakasheh yevi'un el-Moshe vechol-hadavar hakaton yishputu hem
So they judged the people at all times; the hard cases they brought to Moshe, but they judged every small case themselves.
The total number of judges that Moshe  appointed following Yitro's advice was 78,600.  This included the leaders of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, mentioned earlier. (Sanhedrin 18a; Mechilta)

18:27 Vayeshalach Moshe et-chotno vayelech lo el-artso
Then Moshe let his father-in-law depart, and he went his way to his own land.
Moshe accompanied Yitro, seeing him off on his journey to his homeland.

Moshe pleaded with Yitro not to leave, saying, "You have given us such wonderful, enlightened advice.  How can you leave us now?  Remain with us and be our eyes."  (see BaMidbar 18:16)

"Light is needed only where there is darkness," replied Yitro.  "Why use a lamp when you have the sun and the moon?  You are like the sun and your brother Aharon is like the moon.  What am I compared to you?  Let me return to my homeland.  There I will be able to do some good.  I want to proselytize all the people of my city, and teach them the sacred Torah.  I will bring them under the wings of the Divine."

When Yitro left, Moshe, Aharon, and the seventy elders saw him off with great honor.  The Divine Presence was present, just as when Yitro arrived. (Mechilta)

Yitro then returned alone to Moshe, and was with the Benei Yisrael when the Ten Commandments were given. (Ramban)  According to another opinion, Yitro did not come until after the Ten Commandments had been given. He did not give Moshe advice to delegate responsibility until the second year after the Exodus. (Cf. BaMidbar 10:11)

19:1 Bachodesh hashlishi letzet benei-Yisrael me'eretz Mitzrayim bayom hazeh ba'u midbar Sinai
In the third month after the children of Yisrael had gone out of the land of Egypt, on the same day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai.
The "third month" mentioned here is Sivan.  When the Torah says, "on the same day," it means that it was the first day of the month (Rosh Chodesh).  The Benei Yisrael therefore came to Mount Sinai on the first of Sivan (2448 - May 9, 1313 b.c.e.)

Moreover, when the Torah speaks of coming to Sinai on "the same day," it indicates that the Torah should always be cherished as it was "on the same day" when it was given at Sinai.  One should not say that it does not pay to review, that something has already been learned.  Every day it should be like new. (Mechilta; Targum Yonatan; Rashi)

There is an obligation each day to remember the Revelation at Sinai and giving of the Torah.  One must then meditate upon the love that G-d extended to us in choosing us from all the nations.  In the Torah blessing we thus praise G-d as the One "Who chose us from all the nations and gave us the Torah."

Even though we sinned and emulated the Egyptians, G-d did many miracles for us.  He brought us to Mount Sinai, gave us His holy Torah, and spoke to us in His glory, giving us the commandments.

If a person meditates on this, he will never think of committing a sin.  He will realize that as a result of the Sinai experience, we are continually obligated to keep the commandments that He gave us. (Sh'nei Luchot Ha'Berit)

19:7 Vayavo Moshe vayikra leziknei ha'am vayasem lifneihem et kol-hadevarim ha'eleh asher tzivahu HASHEM
So Moshe came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which HASHEM commanded him.
8 Vaya'anu chol-ha'am yachdav vayomeru kol asher-diber HASHEM na'aseh vayashev Moshe et-divrei ha'am el-HASHEM
Then all the people answered together and said, "All that HASHEM has spoken we will do." So Moshe brought back the words of the people to HASHEM.


We Will Do and Listen

The first time Moshe spoke to the people, their reply was, "All that HaShem has spoken we will do" (Shemot 19:8). On the next day, however, their response was, "All that G-d has spoken, we will do and we will listen" (24:7). Why was there a change in wording on the next day?

Yisrael's reply, "All that HaShem has spoken we will do," can be interpreted in two ways, one positive and one negative.

It can be interpreted very positively. According to this, the Benei Yisrael were saying, "There is no question that we will keep everything that you have already told us in G-d's Name. But we will also keep everything that G-d has told you even if you have not yet told it to us. From this moment on, we are accepting upon ourselves to keep it. We are not concerned that we may be taking upon ourselves something that will be extremely difficult to keep." According to this interpretation, the statement demonstrates the greatness of Yisrael, since they were willing to blindly accept upon themselves everything that G-d would tell them.

However, their words can also be interpreted negatively.  According to this, the Benei Yisrael did not have great faith in Moshe and they were almost taunting him with their words.  They therefore said, "All that G-d has spoken, we will do.  We are not questioning the fact that we must obey all that G-d tells us to do.  But how do we know that what you are telling us is G-d's word?  We want to know for sure that G-d Himself has spoken these words.  It is not enough that you are telling us these things in G-d's Name."

Thus, the Benei Yisrael answer could have been interpreted in two very different ways.  When Moshe went up and told G-d what the Benei Yisrael had said, G-d replied, "Behold, I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people will hear when I speak with you, and they will also believe in you forever (19:9). From then on, they will know that you are a true prophet."

When the Benei Yisrael heard what G-d had told Moshe, they were very concerned.  They realized that their words could have been interpreted in two ways, and they were afraid that Moshe had taken what they had said negatively.  They were concerned that when they had said, "All that G-d has spoken, we will do," Moshe had understood it to mean, "We do not believe what you tell us. We want to know for certain that G-d has spoken to you."

The Benei Yisrael were also concerned that Moshe would interpret their words negatively because G-d had told him, "They will also believe in you forever."  This seems to indicate that G-d was telling Moshe that the people now doubt his prophecy, and that, therefore, G-d must let them hear Him speak to Moshe personally.

The Benei Yisrael realized that if they had the audacity even to hint at such a thing, it would be considered a great fault on their part.  How could they even begin to suspect that Moshe would pretend to speak in G-d's Name after they had seen all the great wonders and miracles that G-d had done through him?

Therefore, when they responded a second time, they were careful to clarify their words, and they said, "All that G-d has spoken, we will do and we will listen."  In effect, they were saying to Moshe, "This should remove any possibility that we doubt your prophecy.  We obviously know how great you are.  We believed in you implicitly from the time of the splitting of the Reed Sea.  This is alluded to in the verse, "They believed in G-d and in his servant Moshe" (14:31)

"It is true that we said, 'All that G-d has spoken, we will do.'  This seems to indicate that we wish to hear G-d's own word.  But do not interpret this negatively, and think that we do not believe in you, and that if we do not hear it from G-d we will not obey it.

"Our only motive was that we wanted to see our King, and hear the words from His mouth.  This would make us as spiritual as angels, and allow us to understand all the mysteries of the Torah.  Obviously, hearing the words from you is not the same as hearing them from G-d Himself.

"Still, if you want proof that our motives are pure, 'All that G-d has spoken, we will do and [then] we will listen.'  We will do what G-d commands even before we hear it.  We accept upon ourselves to do all that we will be commanded to, no matter how difficult.

"We still want to be worthy of hearing the words from G-d Himself, so as to attain the holiness and spirituality.  But our observance of the commandments is not conditional upon our hearing them; we will keep the commandments even before we hear them.

"When G-d told you, 'They will also believe in you forever,' He did not mean that we do not believe in you now.  G-d wanted to safeguard us against any false Mashiach or prophet who will try to tell us that G-d wants us to worship idols, violate the Shabbat, or abandon any other commandments of the Torah.  People might be led to follow him, arguing that the Torah was given by Moshe, a mortal human being, and therefore, it can be abrogated by another human being.

"But, the Torah was given by G-d Himself.  He gathered our entire nation to the foot of Mount Sinai, and He Himself pronounced the basics of the Torah.  We can therefore say to any false religious leader, 'If what you are saying is true, then G-d must gather us once again to Mount Sinai and verify your words that He is abrogating the Torah that He gave us.  If you cannot accomplish that, you are a false prophet and you deserve to die. (see Devarim 18:20)

"Therefore, G-d was in no way implying that we do not believe in you.  Rather G-d revealed Himself to us so that we would always have a counterargument to any false messiah or prophet." (Chen tov.  Cf. Tzeror Hamor)

20:1 Vayedaber Elokim et kol-hadevarim ha'eleh lemor
And G-d spoke all these words, saying:
2 Anochi HASHEM Elokeicha asher hotseticha me'eretz Mitzrayim mibeit avadim
"I am HASHEM your G-d, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 Lo yihyeh lecha elohim acherim al-panai
You shall have no other god before Me.
4 Lo ta'aseh-lecha fesel vechol-temunah asher bashamayim mima'al va'asher ba'aretz mitachat va'asher bamayim mitachat la'aretz
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;
5 Lo-tishtachaveh lahem velo ta'ovdem ki anochi HASHEM Elokeicha El kana poked avon avot al-banim al-shileshim ve'al-ribe'im leson'ai
you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, HASHEM your G-d, am a jealous G-d, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me,
6 Ve'oseh chesed la'alafim le'ohavaI uleshomreI mitzvotai
but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
7 Lo tisa et-shem-HASHEM Elokeicha lashav ki lo yenakeh HASHEM et asher-yisa et-shmo lashav
You shall not take the name of HASHEM your G-d in vain, for HASHEM will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
8 Zachor et-yom haShabbat lekadsho
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9 Sheshet yamim ta'avod ve'asita chol-melachtecha
Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
10 Veyom hashvi'i Shabbat l'HASHEM Elokeicha lo ta'aseh chol-melachah atah uvincha-uvitecha avdecha va'amatcha uvehemtecha vegercha asher bish'areicha
but the seventh day is the Sabbath of HASHEM your G-d. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.
11 Ki sheshet-yamim asah HASHEM et-hashamayim ve'et-ha'aretz et-hayam ve'et-kol-asher-bam vayanach bayom hashvi'i al-ken berach HASHEM et-yom haShabbat vayekadeshehu
For in six days HASHEM made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore HASHEM blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
12 Kaved et-avicha ve'et-imecha lema'an ya'arichun yameycha al ha'adamah asher-HASHEM Elokeicha noten lach
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which HASHEM your G-d is giving you.
13 Lo tirtzach. Lo tin'af. Lo tignov. Lo-ta'aneh vere'acha ed shaker
You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
14 Lo tachmod beit re'echa. Lo tachmod eshet re'echa ve'avdo va'amato veshoro vachamoro vechol asher lere'echa
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's."


Wording of the Commandments

In giving the Ten Commandments, G-d used the second person singular, as if He were speaking to a single individual.  He thus said, "I am HaShem your G-d (Elokecha), using the singular suffix ךָ (cha) instead of the plural suffix כֶם (chem).

It was as if G-d were speaking to each individual separately.  G-d did this to teach that even if a person is alone at home, he is obliged to study the Torah.

If G-d had used the plural Elokechem with the suffix כֶם (chem), it would seem that a person only has an obligation to study Torah as part of a group.  This is not true; a person must study the Torah even when he is alone.

There is even great obligation to study Torah when a group of four or five people get together at night, as is often the custom in the winter.  Obviously, they are not permitted merely to engage in idle chatter.  They should discuss whatever matters may be pressing at the time, and then they should devote their time to Torah study. (Sifetei Kohen.  Cf. Toledot Yitzchak; Moreh Nevuchim 2:32)

There is another reason that the Commandments were given in the singular.  Every individual must consider it as if he is alone in the world and there is no one else.  Through his Torah study and observance he is the one who is sustaining the entire world.  If he gave up studying Torah, the entire world would come to an end.

He must realize that he cannot rely on those who study in the senior academy (hesger).  Each individual has his own obligation to study Torah.  What one does, does not help the other.
The term hesger was used by the Sefardim to denote the institute for advance Torah study and research.  The word is derived from the root sagar (to close), since the members of the hesger closed themselves off from the mundane world.  The approximate Ashkenazic equivalent is the kollel.
Each individual must also be careful to keep all the commandments, both positive and negative.  One should not think that the world is only judged collectively, and if the majority are good, it does not matter if individuals sin.  If an individual sins, he will be punished individually. (Ramban)

There is also another reason that the Ten Commandments were given in the singular.  All the work that is done in the world, whether it be plowing, sowing, or transporting food, is done so that the Torah scholar is able to study without interruption.  G-d wants him not to have to put aside his study to seek the necessities of life. The individual who studies Torah is therefore the singular around whom the entire world functions. (Siftei Kohen)

It is thus written, "Fear G-d and keep His commandments, for this is all of man" (Kohelet 12:13).  This means that the whole world was created only to serve the tzaddik who devotes himself to the Torah.  He is the main ingredient of creation.  The rest of the world exists mainly to serve him so that he can meditate on the spiritual. (Berachot 6b)


Foundations of the Torah

We see that the Ten Commandments form the basis for the entire Torah, including all 613 Commandments.  Furthermore, because the Ten Commandments are logically obvious, there was all the more reason to announce them at Mount Sinai.   The reason is that one who is commanded and does is greater than one who is not commanded and does.   If the King commands a person to do something and he does it, he is more praiseworthy than one who does it without being commanded.  When a person is commanded, the Evil Inclination tries to prevent him from doing as he has been told, and he has all the more reward for overcoming his negative nature.

The commandment therefore says, "Honor your father and mother as Hashem your G-d commanded you" (Devarim 5:16).  G-d told us to honor our parents, not because it is morally logical, but because it is G-d's commandment.

G-d therefore began with the Ten Commandments.  Although they are logical, we must not keep them merely for ethical reasons, but because they were commanded to us by G-d.  Our first allegiance must be to G-d, and not to any abstract morality or ethic.

Whenever one keeps any of the commandments or does a good deed, he should do it for G-d's sake alone.  Thus, for example, when a person gives charity, he should not do it out of respect for the warden (gabbai), or so that people will praise him and think well of him for being charitable.  If he does this, he is placing the warden and his friends above G-d.  No sin could be worse.  Besides denigrating G-d, it is the grossest ungratefulness.  Such a person has completely forgotten that G-d has given him this wealth so that he will be able to do charity with it and thus be worthy of the Olam Haba.

The same is true when a person refrains from sinning because he is afraid or ashamed in front of others, or because of the community officials who prevent him.  If he could find a hidden place where no one would see him, he would do whatever he desired.  What sin could be worse than this?  Such a person is behaving as if G-d does not see and does not look into each person's heart.

How foolish such a person is for fearing flesh and blood, but not fearing G-d!  A human being might die before he could admonish him, but G-d exists forever, and can punish a person both in this world and in the next.


Ordering of the Ten Commandments

The order of the Ten Commandments is very important, and each commandment is bound to the other. This can be understood through a parable:

A king once was building a new city in an uninhabited area. The first thing he did was to buy up a number of slaves who had been war captives, paying a large sum to secure their freedom. As soon as these freed captives were settled in the city, the king came and spoke to them, asking them to accept his rule. Obviously, the first thing the king will tell them is how great a favor he had done for these people in securing their freedom.

G-d did exactly the same thing when He introduced His commandments with the words, "I am Hashem your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the place of slavery. (Shemot 20:2) You therefore have an obligation to accept me as your King."

The next thing that the king does is warn the people not to give honor or status to any other king. G-d similarly said, "Do not have any other gods before Me. Do not make any idols" (Shemot 20:3, 4) 

The king then tells his new subjects that they must show respect for him, not using his name for trivial oaths, and certainly not for false oaths. G-d similarly commanded, "Do not take the name of Hashem your G-d in vain." (20:7) 

The next thing that the king will do is to designate a special day so that the people would remember periodically that the king was the one who built this city from scratch, and freed its citizens from slavery. G-d also gave the commandment, "Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it." (20:8) Through the Shabbat, one recalls that G-d created the world ex nihilo.

The Shabbat also teaches that not only did G-d create the world, but He also constantly oversees it, changing the very laws of nature when necessary to give each person what he deserves. We saw this through the miracles that were done in Egypt at the Exodus. It is for this reason that in the second reading of the Ten Commandments, G-d said regarding the Shabbat, "You shall remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt, and Hashem your G-d took you out of there ... ; therefore, Hashem your G-d commanded you to keep the Sabbath." (Devarim 5:15) 

Since the Shabbat leads one to recall that G-d created the world ex nihilo, it also leads one to remember the Exodus, since the two are intimately bound together. Since G-d created the world, He is the author of the laws of nature and can change them as He sees fit. When He wanted to, He was able to alter the laws of nature totally, doing great wonders and miracles at the Exodus.

There is also another important purpose to the Shabbat. As mentioned above, the Ten Commandments were given on the Shabbat. Therefore, when a person keeps the Shabbat, he is showing his allegiance to the three most important elements of Judaism:  G-d's creation of the world, the Exodus, and the giving of the Torah.

Moreover, through the Shabbat, one always remembers the great deeds of love that G-d did for us. It is very much like the above-mentioned king who built a new city in an uninhabited place, freeing captives to populate it. Even if the king will only visit the city very seldom, even only once a year, the people will always remember the great kindness that he did for them. They themselves experienced what he had done for them.

This, however, is only true of the original settlers. Their children, however, will never have experienced the king's kindness, and will take it for granted. As far as they are concerned, the city might always have been there. They were born and raised in the city, and never knew what it was not to be free.

Therefore when the king punishes some criminals for violating his law, they consider it to be very cruel. They complain, "What does he want for us anyway? He acts as if the city was his and we were his slaves. He demands that we obey his every order."

In order to prevent this in the future, the king devised a plan. The day that the criminals were punished was set aside as a holiday when the young would have to honor their elders and children their parents, accepting their corrections and rebukes. In this manner, each generation would teach the next generation about their origins. They would tell their children, "We were captives in a certain place, and the king did us the greatest favor in the world by securing our freedom. He brought us to this place and made us his subjects. This is the foundation of our very existence."

In order that this not be forgotten, it is imperative that children listen to their parents, so that the tradition is preserved from one generation to the next. All would then know that the king built the city and freed all its citizens.

But if the children do not respect their parents, they will not pay any attention whatever to the traditions. They will therefore be very likely to rebel against the king.

G-d therefore gave the commandment, "Honor your father and your mother." (20:12) This obliges a person to follow the traditions of his parents as well as of the rabbi who teaches him Torah. This is a foundation of Judaism, because no one alive today was actually in Egypt. We did not see how we were slaves, mixing mortar and making bricks for the Egyptians without any pay. We only know this from our parents and teachers. We must therefore honor them and not do anything against their will. We will then know our roots, and the obligations that they imply. We will realize that G-d freed us from slavery, and we have a great obligation to Him.

We thus see that the commandments are all interdependent. They are all necessary so that a person will realize that he is G-d's servant with an obligation to keep His commandments.

After all this, the king must provide laws for the welfare of the city. So as the population not be diminished, he must prohibit murder. Lest a person feel that populating the city should also be done through adultery, the king forbade relations with another man's wife. One may still argue that kidnapping should be permitted, since this does not affect the city's population. The king therefore also forbade kidnapping.

With life and family secure, the people might still think that they can do as they please with others' property. The king therefore made a law forbidding robbery and stealing. One might still think that this is only true when one actually takes another's possessions with his hands, but to cause monetary loss by testifying falsely is permitted. Therefore the king issued a law forbidding perjury. Even with words it is forbidden to cause another harm.

Finally, the king issued orders forbidding his subjects to covet and desire that which is not theirs. This indicates that not only is it forbidden to harm another with action and speech, but even with thought, coveting another's possessions in his heart. Even this is also forbidden.

The Ten Commandments also parallel the ten sayings with which the world was created.   This teaches that the world was created only for the sake of the Torah. As long as Yisrael keeps the Torah, the world endures. But when they do not, the world experiences major catastrophes. G-d thus said, "If not for My covenant of day and night, I would not have set up the decree of heaven and earth" (Yirmeyahu 33:25).  Through the study of the Torah day and night, the heaven and earth are sustained.


-MeAm Lo'ez; Raanach; Ibn Ezra; Bachya; Zohar; Ramban




Parashat BeShalach

Parashat BeShalach
Shemot 13:17-17:16
Shabbat Shirah
Tu B'Shevat (New Year for Trees)

Parashat Summary

Pharaoh Pursues the Benei Yisrael into the Desert
The Red Sea is Parted
The Benei Yisrael Cross the Sea while the Egyptian Army is Drowned
Moses and the Benei Yisrael Sing a Special Song Thanking G-d
The Benei Yisrael Complain
G‑d Sends Manna and Quail
Water is Miraculously Produced from a Rock
Amalek Attacks the Benei Yisrael and is Defeated

13:17 Vayehi beshalach Par'oh et-ha'am velo-nacham Elokim derech eretz Plishtim ki karov hu ki amar Elokim pen-yinachem ha'am bir'otam milchamah veshavu MitzraimahThen it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that G-d did not lead them by way of the land of the Pelishtim, although that was near; for G-d said, "Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt."
The logical route from Egypt to Kenaan would take the Benei Yisrael along the Mediterranean Coast through the Pelishtim territory.  Although this was the shortest path, G-d did not let the Benei Yisrael use it. (Rashi; Kesef Nivchar)

G-d did not let the Benei Yisrael take this road precisely because it was short.  If anything had frightened them, it would have been too easy for them to return to Egypt.  G-d knew that the slightest hostility might cause them to regret leaving Egypt, and drive them to return. (Bachya)

13:18 Vayasev Elokim et-ha'am derech hamidbar yam-Suf vachamushim alu venei-Yisrael me'eretz Mitzrayim
So G-d led the people around by way of the wilderness of the Reed Sea. And the children of Yisrael were armed when they left Egypt.
Because of these considerations, G-d led the Benei Yisrael along a roundabout route. Instead of bringing them along the Mediterranean coast, He led them into the desert, toward the Reed Sea (Red Sea).

chamushim (armed).  This alludes to five (Targum Yonatan ben Uzziel; Pesikta DeRav Kahanna 10; Yerushalmi, Shabbat 6:4) types of weapons: shield, buckler, spear, [bow and] arrows and mace. (Yechezkel 39:9)
 The reason for the Reed Sea route was that G-d had plans for the great miracle of the parting of the sea.  For this reason alone, however, He would have had to lead them by such a roundabout way.  There is also a sea along the Pelishtim route that could have been split.  As we shall see later, an arm of the Reed Sea (the Gulf of Aqaba) is to the east of the Holy Land, while the Pelishtim Sea is to its west (23:31).
The "Pelishtim Sea" may be Lake Sirbonis, just off the Mediterranean coast.
 Since the road through the land of the Pelishtim was so close, the Egyptians would not have bothered to pursue the Benei Yisrael.  G-d, however, wanted to drown the Egyptians in the sea, as a fitting punishment for their having drowned the Hebrew infants.  G-d therefore directed the Benei Yisrael through the desert toward the Reed Sea.  This was bait for the Egyptians, tempting them to pursue the Benei Yisrael, setting the state for the miracle of the parting of the Reed Sea.

When the Benei Yisrael left Egypt, Ammon, Moav and Amalek made a mutual treaty to wage war against them.  G-d, however, watched over Yisrael and overturned their plans. (Shemot Rabbah 112)

The Benei Yisrael heard about this treaty, and therefore left Egypt well armed. (RaMBaN)  They were armed like men going off to war. (Targum)

In saying that the Benei Yisrael were armed, the Torah uses the expression "chamushim" which can also be interpreted to mean that they "were one-fifth." This alludes to the fact that only a fifth of all the Benei Yisrael actually left Egypt.  The other four-fifths had died during the days of darkness. (Rashi; Zohar)  According to one opinion, only one out of 500,000 Benei Yisrael actually left Egypt. (Mechilta; Shemot Rabbah)

Although the Benei Yisrael had seen many wonders, they did not depend on miracles, but armed themselves. G-d does not want people to rely on the suspension of the laws of nature.  If, after one does everything in his power, he still must rely on a miracle, this is a sign that he had no other choice.  King Shlomo thus said, "The horse is prepared for the time of war, but victory belongs to G-d" (Mishlei 21:31). All the necessary equipment must be ready in time of war, but who will be the ultimate victor depends wholly on G-d.  Man should not depend on miracles. (Bachya; Cf. Sifetei Kohen)

There is also another allusion in the word "chamushim".  Although a mixed multitude left Egypt with the Benei Yisrael, the native-born Yisraelim outnumbered them five to one.

The word חֲמֻשִׁים (chamushim) is written without a ו (vav) , rather than חֲמוּשִׁים.  Since there are no vowels in the Torah, it can therefore also be read as חֲמִשִׁים (chamishim), meaning fifty.  It was through the Torah, which would be given after fifty days, that the Benei Yisrael were able to leave Egypt.  Without the merit of the Torah, they would have never deserved such great miracles. (Zohar; Bachya)

13:19 Vayikach Moshe et-atsmot Yosef imo ki hashbea hishbia et-benei Yisrael lemor pakod yifkod Elokim etchem veha'alitem et-atzmotai mizeh itchem
And Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him, for he had placed the children of Yisrael under solemn oath, saying, "G-d will surely remember you, and you shall carry up my bones from here with you."
Yosef had bound his brothers by this oath, and had instructed them to make this oath binding on their descendants (Bereishit 50:25).  Moshe therefore made the effort to find Yosef's remains.

Yosef doubled the words, pakod yifkod, literally, "remember, He will remember."  Although the Benei Yisrael were suppose to be in Egypt 400 years, they only remained there for 210. The numerical value of pakod is 190, the number of years reduced from the decree.  It was thus as if Yosef had said, "190 years early, He will remember you."

For this reason, even though in Bereishit 50:25, the word פָּקוֹד (pakod) is written without a ו (vav), here it is written with the vav.

The Torah relates that Moshe took Yosef's remains at this point to teach how careful one must be to keep an oath.  The Benei Yisrael left Egypt with so much hurry and confusion that they did not even have time to prepare provisions for their journey.  Even so, they forgot about food, and became involved in transporting Yosef's remains in order to keep their oath to him.  The sin of violating an oath is very great. (Akedat Yitzchak)

The remains of the rest of Yaakov's sons were also carried out of Egypt. (Rashi)

13:20 Vayis'u miSukkot vayachanu ve'Etam biktzeh hamidbar
So they took their journey from Sukkot and camped in Etam at the edge of the wilderness.
The first leg of the Benei Yisrael's journey was from Rameses to Sukkot (12:37).  Now the Torah tells us that the second leg of their journey was from Sukkot to Etam.  The journey took place on 16 Nissan, the second day of Pesach.  On the first day, they had traveled from Rameses to Sukkot. (Rashi)

13:21 V'HASHEM holech lifneihem yomam be'amud anan lanchotam haderech velailah be'amud esh leha'ir lahem lalechet yomam valailah
And HASHEM went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night.
Once, a king was judging his people, with his sons at his side.  On the way to the palace, the king took a torch and walked in front of his sons to illuminate the way for them.  The royal ministers asked to hold the torch, saying, "We would like to walk before your sons and light the way for them."  "No," replied the king.  "The reason I am holding the torch is not because I lack servants.  I want to show the world how much I cherish my children.  When people see this, they will honor my sons."
The same was true here.  G-d wanted to show all the world how much He cherished the Benei Yisrael.  He wanted all nations to respect and honor His children.  He therefore carried the "torch" before them, the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night. (Mechilta)

As it were, G-d personally escorted the Benei Yisrael into the desert.  This was the merit of Avraham, who escorted the angels when they were leaving his house, as the Torah relates, "Avraham went with them to escort them" (Bereishit 18:16) (Shemot Rabbah, p. 132)

The pillar of fire was not like an ordinary large torch.  The light of a torch is not very strong.  It merely provides illumination for those who are fairly close to it.  The pillar of fire, on the other hand, provided illumination that was as bright as day.  The Torah thus says, "so as to go by day and by night."  Their illumination by night was just as bright as it was by day. (Alshekh)

One might be very surprised at what was happening here.  The Torah states that the Benei Yisrael traveled by day and by night.  This, however, would have exhausted them even more than their work making bricks in Egypt.  Traveling day and night for several days without rest in thoroughly exhausting.

But, the Benei Yisrael were completely surrounded by the Clouds of Glory on all sides and above and below.  These clouds protected them from heat, cold, and rain.  The clouds also carried the Benei Yisrael along, like a chariot.  They traveled like passengers in a large ocean liner, who are not even aware that they are moving. (Sifetei Kohen. Cf. Zohar; Bachya)

13:22 Lo-yamish amud he'anan yomam ve'amud ha'esh lailah lifnei ha'am
He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people.
At the instant of nightfall, the pillar of fire appeared, and at the instant of daybreak, the pillar of cloud was there.  The Benei Yisrael were not without these pillars for even an instant. (Rashi)

The mixed multitude traveled behind the clouds, together with the livestock.  They did not deserve to be carried along by the clouds. (Zohar, Ki Tisa)

14:1 Vayedaber HASHEM el-Moshe lemor
Now HASHEM spoke to Moshe, saying:
2 Daber el-benei Yisrael veyashuvu veyachanu lifneI Pi haChirot bein Migdol uvein hayam lifnei Baal Tzefon nichecho tachanu al-hayam
Speak to the children of Yisrael, that they turn and camp before Pi-haChirot, between Migdol and the sea, opposite Baal- Tzefon; you shall camp before it by the sea.
At first, the Benei Yisrael were traveling along the seashore.  However, when they saw the sea begin to whip up huge storms, they retreated, and headed into the desert. G-d then caused wild animals to confront the Benei Yisrael, closing off the route into the desert. (Shemot Rabbah, p. 83; Mechilta)

On the third day of the Exodus, G-d told Moshe to inform the Benei Yisrael that they were to turn around and camp by Pi HaChirot (Freedom Valley).  This was the coastal city of Pitom, where the Benei Yisrael had previously worked as slaves (1:11).  Now, when the Benei Yisrael returned there, they renamed the city Pi HaChirot, literally "Mouth of Freedom."  In the same place where they had been slaves, they were now able to celebrate their freedom. (Rashi)

Freedom Valley (Pi HaChirot) was a plain between two huge natural pillars.  One had the form of a man, while the other looked like a woman, and both seemed to have large eyes.  Although they had remarkably human form, they were natural formations. (Mechilta; Targum Yonatan; Rashi)

Facing these formations was a huge idol known as "Lord-of-the-North," or Baal Tzefon.  This idol had the form of a gigantic snarling dog. (Yalkut Reuveni)


Although G-d destroyed all the idols of Egypt, He allowed this one to survive.  This allowed the Egyptians to believe that this deity had true power. G-d does such things to preserve the free will of the pagans. (Shemot Rabbah, Bo; Mechilta)
A Jew once visited a city by the name of Keder, where the people worshiped a live volcano, thinking that its fire came from the netherworld.  They considered this fire sacred, saying that fire was the first thing that was created, and that in this fire all souls were judged.  They therefore worshiped this fire.
In their temple, there was a place where this volcanic fire welled up, forming a sort of altar.  Each morning, they would place two huge logs on this altar, and each evening, another two logs.  The volcanic heat was so intense that the logs were completely volatilized, not even leaving any ashes.  Seeing this, the people thought that the fire was supernatural, and had divine powers.
When people in that city became old, they had the custom of throwing themselves into the volcano.  They believed that such self-immolation would result in complete atonement for any sins that they might have committed.  It was said that one who threw himself into this volcanic fire would go straight to Paradise, which was directly opposite the volcano in the netherworld.  If one did not sacrifice himself to the volcanic fires, he would have to be judged in Hades for all his sins.  This constituted the religious belief of these people.
Arriving in this city, the Jew stayed with an old man.  He rested for a few days before continuing on his journey.  His next stop was to be a nearby town, but the road was known to be infested with highwaymen and robbers.  Realizing that it would be dangerous for him to take his wares along with him, he left everything, including his money and extra clothes, with the old man.  He knew that although these people were pagans, they were extremely honest with regard to the belongings of others.
The Jew went to the nearby town, and after a few days, returned to the old man to pick up his belongings.  Upon returning, he learned that the old man had suddenly become sick, and had thrown himself into the volcano.  When he asked for his belongings and merchandise, the Jew was told that no one knew anything about them.  The Jew was thunderstruck.  He had traveled all over the civilized world trading and doing business, and now everything he had gained was lost.  He was totally impoverished, without even the wherewithal to return home. 
Seeing his despondent state, the old man's relative said, "Do not worry.  Whenever a person sacrifices himself to the volcano, he returns on the third day and makes his last will and testament.  He then goes back to where he was.  When he arrives, you will be able to find out about your belongings.
Knowing that these pagans were honest and would not lie, the Jew waited in the old man's house.  On the third day, an apparition appeared, looking exactly like the deceased old man.  The apparation sat in the house with the old man's wife and children, and told them exactly how the estate should be divided.  To all appearances, the old man had actually returned from the dead.
The Jew stood there astounded.  Finally he gained enough courage to ask the apparition where his belongings were.  The apparition opened a large concealed drawer and gave them to him.
Not knowing what to think about this uncanny phenomenon, the Jew asked the shade, "Is it true that you were in Hades?"
"Yes I was."
"You actually threw yourself into the volcano?"
"Yes I did.  And anyone who sacrifices himself in the volcano has all his sins atoned, and is not judged in the world beyond."
"I would like to go and see how you jump into the volcano again."
"That can easily be arranged.  If you come with me, you can also come into the volcano and descend to Hades with me."
"I am still young.  I would like to see.  Then I'll make up my mind."
"If you are not sure, do not go."
The apparition completed his duties, divided the estate, and left his last will and testament to the family.  He then blessed them and walked off.  When he saw the Jew following him, the shade said, "Do not follow me."
"What concern is it to you?" asked the Jew.  "I am going to follow you to see where you go, even if it takes many days.  I must find out how you returned from the dead."
Seeing how stubborn the Jew was, the shade asked, "Are you a Jew."
"Yes I am," replied the Jew.  "I am a Jew, and my father was a Jew."
"Do you think that I am a human being?"
"I'm not sure.  That's one thing that I'm trying to find out."
"Then let me tell you now.  I am not really the old man.  I'm not a human being at all.  I am one of the agents of Satan, the master of hell.  He sends me to confuse the fools who abandon the true living G-d, and worship hell fire.  When one of these pagans throws himself into the volcano, I return after three days, and draw up his will, just as he would have desired.  I also tell the people how great it is to sacrifice oneself in the volcano.  If people wish to follow the wrong path, they are given ample opportunity.
"We have methods of reinforcing all sorts of idolatrous beliefs.  This is alluded to when your scripture states, 'He lifts up nations, and destroys them' (Iyov 12:23).  Things are done to reinforce the beliefs of the pagan nations, but only to destroy them. 
"Over Yisrael, however, we have no power.  They believe in the Creator of the universe, and they accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai.  We have no power over them as long as they walk the straight path.  It is thus written, 'Not this is the portion of Yaakov, for He is the maker of all things, and Yisrael is His inheritance' (Yirmeyahu 10:16).  The descendants of Yaakov have no portion in this foolishness, for they believe that G-d is the Creator of all."
Upon hearing this, the Jew was very happy.  He continued on his journey in peace.
G-d allowed this idol, Lord-of-the-North, to remain standing. This would preserve the free will of the Egyptians who still wanted to believe in idols.

This idol was allowed to survive for a special reason.  Every idol parallels an astronomical body, and its worshipers believe that through the idol they can communicate with the genius of that body.  Lord-of-the-North, which the Egyptians believed was the god of wealth, paralleled the North Star.  Gold was seen as coming from the power of the north, as it is written, "out of the north comes gold" (Iyov 37:22).

G-d let this idol remain standing, so that the Egyptians would think that it would return to them the treasure that the Benei Yisrael had taken when they left Egypt (12:36).  In the days of darkness, the Benei Yisrael had helped themselves to the Egyptians' jewelry, precious stones, and garments.

All the other plagues did not disturb the Egyptains morally, since they felt that they had deserved them.  They could see how each plague was a fitting punishment for the wrongs they had committed.  But in the case of darkness, the Egyptians could not see how it was a fitting punishment, and they assumed that it had been an unfair blow.

G-d therefore left Lord-of-the-North standing.  The Egyptains would think that this god would restore their wealth and punish the Benei Yisrael if they only remained faithful to it.

It was for this reason that the Benei Yisrael were given instructions to camp right in front of this idol.  The Egyptians would suffer their final downfall before their last idol, and they would see how helpless it was to help them. (Kli Yekar. Cf. Tzedah LaDerech; Commentary on Mechilta)

14:3 Ve'amar Par'oh livnei Yisrael nevuchim hem ba'aretz sagar aleihem hamidbar
For Pharaoh will say of the children of Yisrael, 'They are bewildered by the land; the wilderness has closed them in.'
"When he sees you heading back toward Egypt, Par'oh will assume that you are disoriented in the desert.  He will say that the desert has shut you in, where you cannot go one way or the other.  He will also think that Lord-of-the-North has confused you, closing all paths before you."

The Egyptians believed that this idol had great power to prevent slaves from escaping. They attributed great occult powers to it, thinking that it would prevent anyone from leaving Egypt without permission.  Now they thought that it had confounded the Benei Yisrael, causing them to get lost in the desert. (Shemot Rabbah)
Baal Tzefon was thus the god of property, and slaves are considered property.
This being true, one may ask how the Efrayim had been able to leave thirty years earlier.  They left Egypt prematurely, only to be killed by the Pelishtim.  How could they have gotten by Lord-of-the-North, if it had such great occult power to prevent unauthorized exits?

The Efrayim had never actually been slaves.  They were of noble birth, direct descendants of Yosef, who had been ruler of Egypt.  The Egyptians would never have had the audacity to enslave them and make them work with bricks and mortar.  Since the Lord-of-the-North only stopped slaves, it would do nothing to prevent the Efrayim from leaving. (Sifetei Kohen; Cf. Yefeh Toar)

14:4 Vechizakti et-lev-Par'oh veradaf achareihem ve'ikavdah bePar'oh uvechol-cheilo veyad'u Mitzrayim ki-ani HASHEM vaya'asu-chen
Then I will harden Pharaoh's heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egypt may know that I am HASHEM.  And they did so.
"Par'oh is hesitating; he is not able to make up his mind to pursue you.  I will harden his heart and cause him to try to bring you back to be slaves.  I will then us Par'oh and his armies as the means through which I will make My strength known in the world." (Mechilta)

G-d was alluding to an important principle.  Whenever G-d punishes the wicked, people become aware of His power.  They realize that the world has a Master, who punishes those who deserve it. (Rashi)

G-d instructed the Benei Yisrael to turn back and camp on a narrow peninsula in front of Freedom Valley.  At one end of the peninsula, they would be confronted by Lord-of-the-North and the sea, while at the other end, the Egyptians would be attacking.  Seeing them trapped, with no place to escape, Par'oh would be bold enough to mount an attack.

G-d had planned the strategy well.  If the Benei Yisrael had remained out in the open field, Par'oh would never have attacked them. Even if he could have captured them, they were already far from Egypt, and it would have been impossible to bring them back.  Besides, they might have allies in the desert, who would fight at their side.  Par'oh remembered how he had been punished for harming the Benei Yisrael, and he therefore would not have tried to recapture them.

But now, Par'oh received reports that the Benei Yisrael were trapped on a narrow peninsula  obviously afraid to venture into the desert.  Even if they wanted to fight back, the narrow area would not leave them any place to maneuver.  The men were together with their women and children and could not disengage to wage war.

"Now is the time to go after the Benei Yisrael," said Par'oh.  "They are trapped on a narrow peninsula, where they can neither escape nor fight back.  Besides, Moshe told me in G-d's Name that they were merely going to leave on a three day journey, and he informed me exactly where they were going.  Now that they have turned around, we see that Moshe's claim to be G-d's ambassador was not true.  G-d never told him to do this.  He merely made it up as an excuse to flee with the Benei Yisrael, taking all our treasures.

"I can now see that this was their intention all along.  They are turning back because they left so quickly that they did not even have time to plan a route.  If G-d were actually leading them, they would never be so unsure of their way."

It was working out exactly as G-d had planned.  He wanted Par'oh to have a logical reason to go after the Benei Yisrael.

G-d's expression, "I will harden Par'oh's heart," is therefore understandable.  Obviously, G-d never forces a person to do bad.  As we have seen many times, G-d always gives a person free choice.  But G-d gave Par'oh a logical reason to pursue the Benei Yisrael.  Par'oh was sure that he would be able to recapture them.  If they had trapped themselves on a narrow peninsula, they obviously were no longer under Divine guidance.  With this, Par'oh would forget all the evil that had befallen him for harming the Benei Yisrael.  The wicked never learn a lesson.

"I will bring Myself glory through Par'oh," said G-d.  "Through all the Ten Plagues, Par'oh and his armies were not completely destroyed.  The plagues only lasted seven days, and then there was a respite.  But now I will drown the entire army in the sea, not allowing even one to survive.  All the world will know that I am the Master of the Universe."

"Par'oh once said, "Who is G-d that I sould obey His voice?" (5:2).  Now all Egypt will know that I am G-d. All will know that I created the universe, and I am now delivering Yisrael, My beloved people, from their enemies." (Kesef Nivchar; Abaranel. Cf. Yeffeh Toar, Shemot, p. 32a)

14:5 Vayugad lemelech Mitzrayim ki varach ha'am vayehafech levav Par'oh va'avadav el-ha'am vayomru mah-zot asinu ki-shilachnu et-Yisrael me'ovdenu
Now it was told the king of Egypt that the people had fled, and the heart of Pharaoh and his servants was turned against the people; and they said, "Why have we done this, that we have let Yisrael go from serving us?"

Chronology of the Exodus

15 Nissan - Thursday, first day of Pesach, the Benei Yisrael left Egypt and came to Rameses.
16 Nissan - Friday, they left Rameses and arrived in Sukkot.  They remained there over the Shabbat.
18 Nissan - Sunday, they left Sukkot and came to Etam.  Their intent was to continue straight ahead.

G-d had instructed that they revese their march and camp at Freedom Valley so that Par'oh would assume that they were lost in the desert and will try to pursue them.  G-d will punish them and the Benei Yisrael will truly be free.

Par'oh and his advisers began to regret that they had let the Benei Yisrael leave the land.  Once the Benei Yisrael were out of their power, it would be very difficult to get them back. (Rashi; Mechilta)

There were also master occultists in Egypt who conjured up visions and saw that the Benei Yisrael were traveling by day and by night.  This was a sure indication that they were trying to flee.  Then when they saw the Benei Yisrael turning around and heading toward Freedom Valley, they assumed that they were confused and lost.  They occultists passed this information on to Par'oh. (Zohar)

The tribes of Amalek also sent messages to Egypt that the Benei Yisrael were fleeing and were confused.  They had high towers on the mountains, and would light signal fires to inform Egypt of what was happening to the south.  Although the Benei Yisrael were now a three day journey away from Egypt, the signal fires quickly passed along the message, confirming what the occultists had said. (Mechilta. Cf. Sifetei Kohen)

In the temple of Baal Tzefon (Lord-of-the-North) there wree many magical glyphs which were known to the Egyptians hieroglyphists.  The idol itself was made of copper, and inscribed on it were the names of many occult forces which the Egyptians would summon.  With these esoteric powers, the Egyptian sorcerers were able to know everything that was happening all over the world.

Through the priests of Baal Tzefon, Par'oh learned that G-d had decreed to Avraham that his descendants should remain in Egypt for four hundred years.  Knowing that only 210 years had passed since Yaakov and his sons had arrived, Par'oh assumed that the Benei Yisrael were fleeing without Divine protection.

The Torah thus says, "Now it was told the king of Egypt that the people had fled (barach)" The numerical value of בָּרַח (barach) is 210, the number of yeas the Benei Yisrael had been in Egypt.  Knowing this number, he assumed that the Benei Yisrael had fled prematurely, and he became determined to recapture them. (Sifetei Kohen; Bachya; Toledot Yitzchak; Yad Yosef; Kesef Nivchar; Kli Yekar)

14:6 Vayesor et-richbo ve'et-amo lakach imo
So he [Par'oh] made ready his chariot and took his people with him.
7 Vayikach shesh-me'ot rechev bachur vechol rechev Mitzrayim veshalishim al-kulo
Also, he took six hundred choice chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt with captains over every one of them.
 The next day, the fifth day of Pesach, Par'oh called a meeting of all his generals, sorcerers, astrologers, elders, and government ministers in order to devise a plan against the Benei Yisrael.

600,000 Benei Yisrael left Egypt. Since four-fifths died during the days of darkness, the original number was 3,000,000.  Counting three troops for ever one of the Benei Yisrael, Par'oh therefore attacked with 9,000,000 troops.

This is alluded to in the verse, which can be translated, "The entire chariot corps of Egypt, with three (shalishim) for each of the Benei Yisrael. (Bachya; Paaneach Raza)

Each Egyptian was armed with three different kinds of weapons.  Par'oh's intent was to attack and kill.

Paralleling each of Par'oh's troops, G-d sent an angel of destruction to protect the Benei Yisrael.

14:8 Vayechazek HASHEM et-lev Par'oh melech Mitzrayim vayirdof acharei benei Yisrael uvenei Yisrael yotze'im beyad ramah
And HASHEM hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the children of Yisrael; and the children of Yisrael went out with boldness.
The Yisrael scholars were marching triumphantly. (Zohar, Naso)  They were not slinking away like slaves, but were marching boldly and openly. (Rashi; Mechilta)

14:9 Vayirdefu Mitzrayim achareihem vayasigu otam chonim al-hayam kol-sus rechev Par'oh ufarashav vecheylo al-Pi haChirot lifney Baal Tzfon
So the Egyptians pursued them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, his horsemen and his army, and overtook them camping by the sea beside Pi haChirot, before Baal Tzefon.
At this time, the Benei Yisrael were involved in an important undertaking.  As we have seen, the Pishon River runs through fields of gold and precious stones in Gan Eden (Bereishit 2:11).  In those days, the Pishon fed into the Gichon River, which followed a subterranean course into the Reed Sea (Red Sea).  The waves washed these jewels on the shore, and the Benei Yisrael were busy gathering them up.  They gained tremendous wealth through this effort. (Targum Yonatan)

During the years of famine, Yosef had amassed great wealth and had also hidden it in this vicinity hear Baal Tzefon (Lord-of-the-North).  Much of Egypt's treasures was also stored there, since this was considered a safe place.  All the Egyptian aristocracy also stored their wealth here.  All this was taken by the Benei Yisrael.

This was fulfillment of G-d's promise to Avraham that after the Egyptian exile, his children would leave with "great wealth" (Bereishit 15:14).   The treasure that the Benei Yisrael brought out of Egypt was not the fulfillment of G-d's promise that they would leave with "great wealth."  Rather, it was merely in fulfillment of G-d's promise to Moshe that they would not "leave empty-handed" (3:21).  This is severance pay (ha-anakah) which must be given to a Hebrew slave.  When freeing a Hebrew slave, it is forbidden to let him go empty-handed.  One must provide him with severance pay, and outfit him with livestock, grain and wine (Devarim 15:14).  What the Benei Yisrael took out of Egypt, then, was, in effect, their severance pay.

Actually, the wealth that the Benei Yisrael found at Baal Tzefon was rightfully theirs.  As we have seen, the entire famine was for the sake of Yisrael, so that Egypt would become a wealthy nation.  Furthermore, Yosef had been the one to amass all this treasure, and he did so for the sake of his people. Seeing prophetically that they would camp at Baal Tzefon, he hid the treasure there.

The Egyptians overtook the Benei Yisrael on 20 Nissan, the sixth day of Pesach.

14:10 UPar'oh hikriv vayis'u venei-Yisrael et-eineihem vehineh Mitzrayim nosea achareihem vayir'u me'od vayitz'aku venei-Yisrael el-HASHEM
And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Yisrael lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egypt marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Yisrael cried out to HASHEM.
Par'oh thus campled his army at the neck of the peninsula with no place to escape.  When Par'oh's army attacked, ti would force the Benei Yisrael into the sea. All would be drowned; none would escape.  Par'oh had no doubt that he would now exterminate the Benei Yisrael completely.

When the Benei Yisrael looked up, they saw the Egyptians marching after them.  The Torah literally says that they saw Egypt (Mitzrayim) marching, in the singular.  The Benei Yisrael saw the great unity among the Egyptians - all were marching with a single heart, as if they were but one man. (Rashi)

The Mitzrayim ("Egypt") that the Benei Yisrael saw also denotes Egypt's genius (sar).  Seeing Egypt's genius flying through the heavens to help the Egyptians, made the Benei Yisrael very frightened.

This explains how, after seeing all the miracles that G-d did for them, the Benei Yisrael could still be afraid. if the Egyptians along had been attacking, they would have had no cause for fear.  But now that Egypt's guardian angel was also mounting an attack, they were terrified.  This meant that the battle was being waged on a spiritual front, and their sins would be held against them.

The Torah thus says, "Egypt (Mitzrayim) marched after them."  It is known that Egypt's genius is called Mitzrayim. (Shemot Rabbah, Bo; Cf. Sh'nei Luchot HaBrit; Devarim Rabbah)

Although the Benei Yisrael were aware that G-d had done great miracles to punish the Egyptians, they were afraid that it was not for their sake, but because Par'oh had blasphemed and said, "I do not know G-d" (5:2).  G-'d's fearing them would then have also been merely a punishment for Par'oh.  Now they assumed that G-d had abandoned them.  This seemed obvious, since the Egyptians were marching after them, and they were trapped on all sides. As we saw earlier, it was a similar logic that led Par'oh to attack. (Divrei Shalom; Kesef Nivchar)

14:15 Vayomer HASHEM el-Moshe mah-titz'ak elay daber el-benei-Yisrael veyisa'u
And HASHEM said to Moshe, "Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Yisrael to go forward.
16 Ve'atah harem et-matcha uneteh et-yadecha al-hayam uveka'ehu veyavo'u veneI-Yisrael betoch hayam bayabashah
But lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Yisrael shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.
17 Va'ani hineni mechazek et-lev Mitzrayim veyavo'u achareIhem ve'ikavdah be'Par'oh uvechol-cheilo berichbo uvefarashav
And I indeed will harden the hearts of the Egypt, and they shall follow them. So I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, his chariots, and his horsemen.
18 Veyad'u Mitzrayim ki-ani HASHEM behikovdi bePar'oh berichbo uvefarashav
Then the Egyptians shall know that I am HASHEM, when I have gained honor for Myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen."
"Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it."  When G-d told Moshe to raise his staff, why did He then tell him to stretch out his hand over the sea?  G-d told him to raise his staff, cast it aside, and then stretch out his empty hand over the sea. (Kesef Nivchar)

More than all the other punishments, G-d wanted this one to be done through Moshe's hand and not through the staff.  Here, G-d wanted everyone to see Moshe's power.  The Egyptian occultists had foreseen the birth of the redeemer of Yisrael, and for this reason Par'oh had decreed, "Every son that is born shall be cast into the Nile" (1:22).  The Egyptians chose this form of death, since they knew that G-d punishes measure for measure.  They felt that G-d could not retaliate by drowning them, since He had made an oath that He would never again bring a flood upon the world (Bereishit 9:11).

G-d therefore said, "I will not bring a flood upon the Egyptians.  Instead, I will bring them right into the sea, and drown them there. I will show them that what they wanted to do to you, Moshe, will now be done to them.  Moreover, they will see the Benei Yisrael actually going into the sea without being harmed.

"Now, raise your hand.  Let the Egyptians see that this is all coming about through the very person they wanted to drown.  Let them see that your power alone can open the sea and close it again.  They wanted to drown you; but they will see that I have given you complete power over all the water in the world. (Alshekh, Cf. Akedat Yitzchak)

According to another opinion, however, the sea was split by the use of Moshe's staff. (Targum Yonatan)

14:19 Vayisa mal'ach ha'Elokim haholech lifnei machaneh Yisrael vayelech me'achareihem vayisa amud he'anan mipneihem vaya'amod me'achareihem
And the malach of G-d, who went before the camp of Yisrael, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them.
20 Vayavo bein machaneh Mitzrayim uvein machaneh Yisrael vayehi he'anan vehachoshech vaya'er et-halailah velo-karav zeh el-zeh kol-halailah
So it came between the camp of the Egypt and the camp of Yisrael. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other, so that the one did not come near the other all that night.
 The pillar of cloud which had been leading the Benei Yisrael through the desert now moved to their rear.  This was to separate the Benei Yisrael from the Egyptians.  The Egyptians were shooting arrows and catapulating stones into the camp of the Benei Yisrael, but all these missles were absorbed by the pillar of cloud. (Targum Yonatan; Zohar; Rashi)

Normally, the pillar of cloud would remove itself at night, making way for the pillar of fire (13:21), but on this seventh night of Pesach, the pillar of cloud did not depart.  Instead, it moved to the rear of the camp of the Benei Yisrael, separating them from the Egyptians. (Rashi)

The pillar was half dark and half glowing.  The dark, cloudy side was toward the Egyptians, while the glowing side faced the Benei Yisrael.  Since the Egyptains were in total darkness, they could not even see to aim their weapons.  They were totally disoriented. (Targum Yonatan; Targum Yerushalmi; Midrash, Tehillim 27)

The darkness was so palpable that the Egyptians were literally paralyzed.  If an Egyptian were standing, he could not sit, and if he were sitting, he could not stand.  When the Torah says, "They could not approach one another all that night," it is speaking of the Egyptians.  One Egyptian could not come close to another, since they were totally paralyzed.

On occasions, the cloud would clear enough for the Egyptians to see the Benei Yisrael eating, drinking and celebrating.  The Egyptians' paralysis would leave long enough for them to fire a number of arrows and catapult a number of missiles, but all would be absorbed by the clouds. (Mechilta)

This was a double miracle.  Although the darkness was so palpable that it prevented the Egyptians from moving, they were still able to see the Benei Yisrael brightly illuminated.  Seeing the Benei Yisrael celebrating their victory, the Egyptians were totally frustrated.  Their enemies could be seen, but they could do nothing even to come near them.

Usually, when the Torah speaks of an "angel of G-d," it uses the expression Malach HaShem (Malach Y-H-V-H).  As we know, the Tetragrammaton, Y-H-V-H always indicates the attribute of Mercy (Middat HaRachamim).  Here, however, the Torah uses the expression Malach Elokim, where the Divine name (Elokim) denotes the Attribute of Judgment (Middat HaDin).

The Torah states that "The angel of Elokim, who went before the camp of Yisrael, moved and went behind them."  This indicates that the Benei Yisrael were also being judged at this time.  The judgment was very close, and it was also decreed that the Benei Yisrael drown in the sea along with the Egyptians. (Mechilta; Rashi; RaMBaN)

Samael, the angel of evil, stood up in the Divine Tribunal and said, "Master of the Universe, until now the Benei Yisrael worshiped idols just like the Egyptians.  Why should you show them favoritism over the Egyptians?  Although they repented, submitted to circumcision, and offered the Pesach-sacrifice, this only enough to atone for their sins.  They certainly do not deserve that You perform for them a miracle that violates the very laws of nature."
"It is true that My children worshiped idols,"  answered G-d.  "But they only did so after their minds had become totally confused because of their subjugation.  They did not willingly rebel against Me.  They are not like the Egyptians, who worship idols blatantly and willingly."
Even though there is an obligation to suffer martyrdom rather than worship idols, if one does so under duress, he does not deserve to die.  It is considered an involuntary act. (Yad, Yesodei HaTorah 5:4)  G-d therefore answered Samael, "The Benei Yisrael may have worshiped idols, but they did so under duress.  The Egyptians do so voluntarily."

The Attribute of Judgment wanted to punish the Benei Yisrael, but G-d had mercy on them.  The Torah thus says, "The angel of Elokim (judgment) who went before the camp of Yisrael, moved and went behind them." The Attribute of Judgment which was previously confronting the Benei Yisrael now stood behind them against the Egyptians.

14:21 Vayet Moshe et-yado al-hayam vayolech HASHEM et-hayam beruach kadim azah kol-halailah vayasem et-hayam lecharavah vayibak'u hamayim
Then Moshe stretched out his hand over the sea; and HASHEM caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided.
As soon as Moshe lifted his hand over the sea, a powerful east wind began to blow.  This is the wind that G-d uses to punish the wicked.  This wind blew the entire seventh night of Pesach with such strength that it was able to hold back the sea.  The sea bed was transformed into dry land, and the waters were divided. (Rashi)

One reason for this wind was so that the Egyptians would think that the splitting of the sea was a natural phenomenon, caused by the wind.  This was part of G-d's plan to "harden Par'oh's heart" (14:17).  The Egyptians would think that the wind split the sea, and that it was not a miracle made specially for the Benei Yisrael. (RaMBaN)

Furthermore, G-d always minimizes miracles.  To the greatest extent possible, He makes use of natural law, bending it only when absolutely necessary. (Ralbag)

As a result of the powerful wind, the Egyptians were unable to light lamps and torches.  Without illumination, they were helpless all night, and could not prepare to attack the Benei Yisrael. (Olat Shabbat)

14:22 Vayavo'u venei-Yisrael betoch hayam bayabashah vehamayim lahem chomah miyeminam umismolam
So the children of Yisrael went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
Standing on the seashore, all the tribes began to argue as to who should go in first.  While they were debating, the tribe of Binyamin marched forward into the sea ahead of all the rest.  Seeing this, the leaders of the tribe of Yehudah began to throw stones at them.  Still, all the tribes deserved reward for their actions.

A good parallel is the story of a king who had two sons, an older one and a younger one.  One night, he told the younger one, "Be sure to wake me up at sunrise."  To the older son, he gave instructions, "Wake me up at nine o'clock in the morning."
At sunrise, when the younger son was going to wake up his father, the older one stopped him and said, "Father told me to wake him up at nine." "But Father told me to wake him at dawn," retorted the younger.
While they were arguing, the king woke up.  He said, "You both wanted to obey my instructions.  I will therefore reward you both."

Here too, both tribes were amply rewarded.  As a reward for sanctifying G-d's Name and entering the sea first, Binyamin was worthy to have the Divine Presence reside in its portion.  The Holy Temple (Beit HaMikdash) was half in Binyamin's portion, and half in Yehudah's, but the Holy of Holies (Kodesh HaKedashim) was in the portion of Binyamin.

For protesting Binyamin's impetuousness, the tribe of Yehudah was also rewarded.  They royal line was given to the tribe of Yehudah.

This is the opinion of Rabbi Meir.

According to Rabbi Yehudah, none of the tribes wanted to enter the sea first.  Each was waiting for the other.  Finally, Nachshon ben Aminadav of Yehudah, jumped into the sea.  Seeing him, the entire tribe of Yehudah followed.  Then the rest of the tribes entered the sea. (Sotah 37a; Mechilta; Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer; Midrash Tehillim 76,114)
Nachshon was the leader of Yehudah (BaMidbar 1:7).  He was also Aharon's brother-in-law (Shemot 6:23).  David was his direct descendant (Rut 4:20).
Jumping into the sea, Nachshon cried out, "Save me, O G-d, for the waters are threatening my life" (Tehillim 69:2)

As a result of Nachshon's great faith, leadership was given to the tribe of Yehudah.  Nachshon was to have as his direct descendant King David, to whose offspring the throne of Yisrael was given for all times.

Regarding this, it is written, "When Yisrael went out of Egypt, Yaakov's family from a strange-speaking people, Yehudah became his holy one, Yisrael his domain" (Tehillim 114:1, 2).  When the Benei Yisrael left Egypt, and stood on the shore of the Reed Sea, they did not have faith that the sea would split; they were afraid to enter the sea.  The leader of Yehudah then sanctified G-d's Name by literally jumping into the sea, and as a result, he was worthy of fathering the royal line, making Yisrael his domain. (Ibid.; BaMidbar Rabbah, Naso, Chapter 13)

The waters of the sea congealed, forming protective walls on both sides of the Benei Yisrael.  The pillar of cloud and pillar of fire were behind them, so they were prefectly protected from the Egyptians. (Targum Yonatan)

Moshe was the last to enter the sea.  This would reassure the Benei Yisrael that the sea would remain divided until all had crossed.  If he had gone first, those at the end might have been afraid to enter.  Since many Benei Yisrael were totally without merit, the sea might have closed up as soon as Moshe had crossed over.  But since Moshe was at the rear, the sea remained divided until he and all his people crossed. (Ralbag).

14:23 Vayirdefu Mitzrayim vayavo'u achareihem kol sus Par'oh richbo ufarashav el-toch hayam
And the Egyptians pursued and went after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.
24 Vayehi be'ashmoret haboker vayashkef HASHEM el-machaneh Mitzrayim be'amud esh ve'anan vayahom et machaneh Mitzrayim
Now it came to pass, in the morning watch, that HASHEM looked down upon the army of the Egypt through the pillar of fire and cloud, and He troubled the army of the Egypt.
This took place on the seventh day of Pesach, during the morning watch.  This is the third of the three watches of the night.

The night is divided into three watches.  During each one a different group of angels sings to G-d. It was during the third watch that the Egyptians were drowned. (Targum Yonatan; Rashi)

The verse, "They did not approach one another all night" (14:20) is interpreted as speaking to the angels.  When the angels sing to G-d, they communicate with each other, as it is written, "They called to one another and said, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is G-d of Hosts, the whole world is filled with His glory" (Yeshayahu 6:3).  On this night, however, they did not come together to sing to G-d, since He would not let them.  This shows how much G-d loves his people.  Because of their trouble, He did not want to hear the song of the angels.  G-d thus said, "I am with [Yisrael] in times of trouble" (Tehillim 91:15). (Megilla 10b; Yeffeh Toar, p. 123)

It is also for this reason that we do not recite the full Hallel on the seventh day of Pesach. (VaYikra Rabbah, VaYikra in Yeffeh Toar, p. 14)

Since the Egyptians drowned before dawn, no one could see it, and there was no sanctification of G-d's Name.  G-d therefore would not let the angels sing.  If they sang now, it would seem that they were celebrating the death of the Egyptians. Rather let them wait until daybreak, when all could see G-d's power, and then they would celebrate the sanctification of His Name. (Maharimat)

14:25 Vayasar et ofan markevotav vayenahagehu bichvedut vayomer Mitzrayim anusah mipnei Yisrael ki HASHEM nilcham lahem beMitzrayim
And He took off their chariot wheels, so that they drove them with difficulty; and the Egyptians said, "Let us flee from the face of Yisrael, for HASHEM fights for them against the Egyptians."
The heat of the Pillar of Fire melted the bearings holding the wheels, causing the wheels to fall off the Egyptians' war chariots.

The Pillar of Fire was to one side of the Egyptians, causing only one wheel to fall off each each chariot. If both wheels had fallen off, the chariots would have been able to drag smoothly on the ground.  But now, since only one wheel was missing, the heavy chariots swung one way and then the other.  The verse therefore actually says, "He removed the wheel" in the singular.

The word for chariot, "מֶרְכָּבָה" (merkavah) also had the connotation of a spiritual structure, as in the Merkavah-chariot seen by Yechezkel. (1Divrei HaYamim 28:18).  The "wheel" of the chariot denotes the lower angels of this structure.

There is an allusion here that Samael came to help the genius of Egypt, but G-d cast him aside.  This is the significance of the verse, "He removed the wheel of their chariot."

It is for this reason that the word for wheel, "אֹפַן" (ofan) is spelled without a ו (vav), rather than its usual spelling "אוֹפַן".  The numerical value of אֹפַן (ofan) spelled this way is 131, the same as that of Samael "סַמְאֵל".

G-d also cast down the genius of Egypt, and when it fell, Egypt fell.  Whenever G-d punishes a nation, He first casts down it guardian angel.  This is also alluded to in the verse, "He removed the wheel of their chariots." (Zohar, p. 49)

14:26 Vayomer HASHEM el-Moshe neteh et-yadcha al-hayam vayashuvu hamayim al-Mitzrayim al-richbo ve'al-parashav
Then HASHEM said to Moshe, "Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the waters may come back upon the Egyptians, on their chariots, and on their horsemen."
G-d informed Moshe that the waters that were now standing like a wall on both sides of the Benei Yisrael would return to their original position and cover the Egyptians. (Rashi)

G-d saw this as a fitting punishment.  The Egyptians had decided initially to drown the Hebrew infants, because G-d had sworn that He would never again bring a flood to destroy all the world (Bereishit 9:11).  Thus, they felt, G-d would not be able to punish them in a similar manner.  They felt that in this manner they had outsmarted G-d, and they said, "Come, let us outsmart Him" (1:10).  But G-d did not have to bring a flood.  He merely led the Egyptians into the sea and drowned them there. (Shemot Rabba; Mechilta; Sotah 11a)

Besides, G-d had only sworn that He would not destroy the world.  He had never sworn that He would not destroy a single nation by flood. If the Egyptians deserved to be drowned, they would receive this punishment.

The Torah literally says, "The water returned to Egypt."  The Egyptians' plan to kill the Benei Yisrael by water now backfired on them, and they were the ones who drowned.

14:27 Vayet Moshe et-yado al-hayam vayashov hayam lifnot boker le'eytano uMitzrayim nasim likrato vayena'er HASHEM et-Mitzrayim betoch hayam
And Moshe stretched out his hand over the sea; and when the morning appeared, the sea returned to its full depth, while the Egyptians were fleeing into it. So HASHEM overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.
It was now daybreak of the seventh day of Pesach.  The waters began to close, and, instead of fleeing, the confused Egyptians ran toward the closing waters.  The Torah thus says, "The Egyptians were fleeing into it."

The Egyptains were following the Benei Yisrael.  When the sea began to close, ti began behind the Egyptians.  Logically, the Egyptians should have continued in the direction of the Benei Yisrael, away from the closing waters.  But in panic, they began fleeing from the Benei Yisrael, and running right into the closing waters.

G-d tossed the Egyptians in the midst of the sea, stirring it up, as one stirs a pot.  The waters tossed the Egyptians around like balls.  The waves threw the horses and riders into the air, over and over.  The Egyptians deserved punishment; death did not come quickly. (Shemot Rabbah, Bo; Rashi)

At first G-d took the genius of Egypt and threw it into the sea.  The Torah literally says, "G-d tossed Egypt in the midst of the sea."  As always "Egypt" denotes the genius of Egypt.  G-d removed the genius from its position, broke its power, and then drowned the Egyptians. (Shemot Rabbah, p. 117, 120, 126)

The Torah states, "The sea returned to its full eytan (אֵיתָן)." The Midrash interprets eytan to denote the precondition that G-d had made with the sea at creation, to part wen the Benei Yisrael would have to cross. Now G-d brought the sea back to this stipulation. (Shemot Rabbah)

This Midrashic teaching might seem somewhat difficult to understand.  It is understandable that G-d would recall the stipulation when the sea split.  But now that it returned to its original state, why did G-d have to remind it of the stipulation?

This teaches that another time would come when G-d would call upon the sea to fulfill this agreement.  All the miracles that happened at the Exodus are destined to be repeated on a much greater scale in the Messianic age.  It is thus written, "As in the days when you came out of Egypt, I will show you wonders" (Michah 7:15).  Although the waters had parted once, the stipulation was still in effect for the future. (Kesef Nivchar; [Rabbi Moshe Almosnino,] Hanhagath HaChaim (Regimiento de la Vida; Salonika, 1564).  Cf. [Rabbi Aaron (ben Avraham) ibn Chaim,]  Lev Aaron (Venice, 1609), p. 78; Imrey Shefer, p. 70.)

14:30 Vayosha HASHEM bayom hahu et-Yisrael miyad Mitzrayim vayar Yisrael et-Mitzrayim met al-sfat hayam
So HASHEM saved Yisrael that day out of the hand of the Egyptians, and Yisrael saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.
31 Vayar Yisrael et-hayad hagdolah asher asah HASHEM beMitzrayim vayir'u ha'am et-HASHEM vaya'aminu b'HASHEM uveMoshe avdo
Thus Yisrael saw the great work which HASHEM had done in Egypt; so the people feared HASHEM, and believed HASHEM and His servant Moshe.
From this verse until the end of the Song of the Reed Sea is said every day as part of the morning service.  It should be chanted out loud, with the same joy that it was sung at the time of the Exodus.  Pious Jews have the custom to say it while standing.

This song has intrinsic powers to atone for sin.  Therefore, if one is repenting a serious sin, he should recite it each day with great feeling. (Sh'nei Luchot HaB'rit [Cf. Cheredim, Teshuvah, Chapter 7])

If one recites this song with emotion and joy, he will be worthy to sing it in the next world. He will also be worthy to sing it when he greets Mashiach. (Zohar, p. 50b; Zohar, Terumah; Yalkut Reuveni)

King David would chant this song every day. As a result, he was worthy of becoming king of Yisrael. (Zohar, Lech Lecha; Yalkut Reuveni)

The main thing is not merely to recite the words, but to believe in G-d's promise, and to recognize that He has the power to perform the greatest miracles.  Our sages teach that in the merit of their faith, the Benei Yisrael were worthy of experiencing the Divine Presence, giving them the power to compose this great song.

It is also for this reason that the Redemption Blessing must be said immediately before the Amidah, without interruption. One must recite the concluding blessing for the Shema', "Blessed are You, HaShem, Who redeemed Yisrael" and then immediately begin the the Amidah.  In this respect, we emulate the Benei Yisrael, who sang to G-d immediately after they had been redeemed. (Shemot Rabbah, p. 120)

On the even of the seventh of Pesach, one should chant all ten songs found in the Tanach.  Each one was said on a different occasion.  In many communities, there is a custom to get up before the dawn, cleanse one's body and wash, recite the morning blessings, and then chant the songs.

The Ten Songs:

  1. The song for the Sabbath Day (Tehillim 92).  This was sung by Adam after G-d forgave him for the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge.
  2. The Song of the Reed Sea.  It is recited from the beginning, until after teh account of the bitter waters (14:30 - 15:26)
  3. The song for the well in the desert (BaMidbar 21:17-20)
  4. The song chanted by Moshe before he died, admonishing Yisrael to keep G-d's word.  This is the entire portion of HaAzinu (Devarim 32).
  5. The song chanted by Yehoshua after the great miracle when the sun stood still for 36 hours until the battle could be won (Yehoshua 10:12-14).
  6. The song chanted by Barak and Devorah after the defeat of Sisra (Shoftim 5).
  7. The song chanted by Channah when G-d heard her prayer and granted her a son, even though she was sterile. (1Shmuel 2:1-10).
  8. The song chanted by David for the miracles G-d had done for him (2Shmuel 22).
  9. The entire Song of Songs composed by King Shlomo with prophetic inspiration.
  10. The song that Yisrael is destined to chant upon redemption from the present exile.  It is thus written, "You shall have a song as on the night when the festival was sanctified; there shall be heartfelt joy as when one goes with flute, coming to G-d's mountain, to the rock of Yisrael" (Yeshayahu 30:29).  That is, there will be a song as on Pesach, when the first festival was sanctified to G-d, and as on the Three Festivals when all Yisrael makes a pilgrimage to the Temple Mount.  This song consists of Tehillim 30 and 98.
If a minyan of ten adult men is present, these ten songs are followed by the Kaddish, chanted as a song. (Targum on Shir HaShirim 1:1; Tanchuma; Yalkut Shemoni; Mechilta)

Our sages teach that the Benei Yisrael were like a daughter, who inherits a tenth of her father's estate.  This is the law: each daughter receives a tenth of the inheritance, and the rest is taken by the sons. (Ketubot 68a; Yad Ishut 20:3, 4)  The Benei Yisrael now inherited the lands of the seven nations: The Canaanite, Hivite, Gergashite, Hittite, Amorite, Perrizite, and Yevusite.  This is one-tenth of the seventy nations of the world.  Therefore, when they sang, the Torah refers to it as שִׁירָה (Shirah) which is a feminine word.  It is thus written, "Then Moshe and the Benei Yisrael sang this song (shirah) to G-d" (15:1).

In the Messianic age, however, the Benei Yisrael will sing a שִׁיר (Shir) which is a masculine word.  They will be like a male heir, who inherits a full portion.  It is thus written, "Sing to G-d a new song (shir)" (Tehillim 98:1) (Shir HaShirim Rabbah on 1:5; Mechilta, Cf. Tzedah LaDerekh; Yalkut Shimoni, end of Yechezkel)

-MeAm Lo'ez, Bachya, Rashi, RaMBaN

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