By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
This week’s parsha completes the cycle of the ten makkos that Hashem visited upon Mitzrayim. It is striking that despite all the various warnings, punishments, pleas, havoc and destruction rained down upon him and his people, Paroh and the Mitzriyim stubbornly remained frozen in their inability to recognize Hashem’s domination.
How is it that a ruler whose primary job is to care for his country’s welfare and safety refuses to recognize the plainly obvious? How is it that his people didn’t revolt against him after suffering because of his obstinate arrogance?
The Alter of Slabodka asks a penetrating question. The novi Yirmiyohu (2:2) relates that Hakadosh Boruch Hu told him to tell the Jewish people, “Zocharti loch chesed ne’urayich… lechteich acharei bamidbor b’eretz lo ziruah…I remember the favor you did Me, that you followed Me into the desolate desert…” upon leaving Mitzrayim.
Why does Hashem refer to the fact that the Jews followed Him into the desert as a “chesed”? These are the same people who witnessed the makkos in Mitzrayim and the wonders at the Yam Suf. They are the same people who were freed from enslavement and wonderfully set free by Hashem. Why would they not follow Him wherever He would lead them?
For the answer, we turn back to Parshas Va’eira.
Hakadosh Boruch Hu told Moshe (Shemos 6:6-7) to tell the Jewish people that He would redeem them from Mitzrayim using the four words of geulah: “Vehotzeisi… Vehitzalti… Vegoalti… Velokachti…” Following that promise, the next posuk says, “Vidatem ki ani Hashem Elokeichem hamotzi e’schem mitachas sivlos Mitzrayim – And the Jewish people will know that I took them out of Mitzrayim.”
The Ramban writes that the statement referring to geulah, “Velokachti es’chem li l’om,” which is the fourth expression of geulah, refers to the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai, because it was then that we became the Am Hashem. If so, why does the posuk wait until after “velokachti” to state that “you will then know that I am your G-d who has taken you out of Mitzrayim.” They would know that Hashem was their redeemer as soon as they got out. They didn’t have to wait until Har Sinai to know that Hashem had freed them. Why, then, does the Torah foretell that after they would receive the Torah, they would recognize that Hashem was the One who took them out of bondage in Mitzrayim?
When Moshe appeared before the Bnei Yisroel and told them that Hashem promised that the redemption was on the way, the posuk (6:9) recounts that they did not accept his prophecy, “mikotzer ruach umei’avodah kasha.”
The Ohr Hachaim explains that they were not able to accept what Moshe told them because they were not yet bnei Torah, as they had not yet received the Torah. Thus, they did not possess the necessary breadth of heart.
A person who is devoid of Torah, as the Jews were at that time, as they had sunk to the lowest levels of depravity, does not have the ability to process information, understand what is happening, and accept what is being told to him, even by a person such as Moshe Rabbeinu. Without Torah, a person cannot understand whether what is happening to him is good or bad, and cannot always discern between good and evil, friend and foe, entrapment, enslavement and freedom. Torah connects a person to Hashem and to his neshomah, sparking his chochmah, binah and daas.
The people who were enslaved in Mitzrayim never knew a different life. They were slaves. Their parents were slaves. Their grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, and all their relatives as far back as anyone could remember were slaves. A person without Torah is not able to believe the message, let alone absorb it.
The people worked very hard, but on the other hand, their owners provided for them. They had where to sleep and what to eat. They were acclimated to the climate and the culture.
Would leaving be a good thing or a bad thing? Would they have what to eat and where to sleep? Is it even a good idea to dream of getting out of this place? No one has ever had any success escaping this country. Is it worth thinking about something that is almost impossible to happen?
“Velo shamu el Moshe mikotzer ruach umei’avodah kasha.” They were confused. They didn’t have the ability to think straight and intelligently. Because without Torah and the direction of Torah, we are unable to dissect what is going on around us. Not only that, but we are even unable to perceive what is happening in our lives. A person had a job that he didn’t like and then was fired. Was it a good thing or a bad thing? Now he doesn’t have income, but perhaps now that he has no choice, he will be driven to find something that will bring him more satisfaction.
A person who is a ben Torah is a beneficiary of a positive thought process and is in touch with Hashem. Not only is he able to think clearer, but he is blessed with emunah and bitachon, understanding that Hashem cares for him and provides for him, and that there is good in everything that happens to him.
Say, for example, that you are speaking to an irreligious person and are attempting to convince him to perform mitzvos. You try talking to him about tefillin and mitzvos that you think are easy to perform. He won’t hear of it. It makes no sense to do these things. “Why should I do them?” he says.
So you go back to creation. To us, the fact that the world was created is simple and basic, and every time you examine a leaf or look at a flower or think about your body and parts of your body, you are in awe of the beauty and brilliance of creation.
Take a tiny frog or any creature. It has a brain, heart, lung, intestines, fingers, eyes, a nose, and ears, and they all work, keeping this adorable little animal alive and hopping around. Can any rational thinking person really believe that this frog came into being from a piece of dust that evolved? That an oak tree, with its root system, branches, leaves, and photosynthesis, just happened out of thin air?
But that is how people who have no Torah think and nothing you say will convince them otherwise. Unless you study Torah with them. If you take a Jew who knows nothing about Yiddishkeit and learn Torah with him, you will see how Torah study affects him. After studying a small amount of Torah, his appetite will develop to study more and then progressively more. And then, he, on his own, will be asking you about mitzvos. Even if he is learning Gemara Bava Kama or Chumash Shemos, his neshomah is awakened, his heart is widened, and he is receptive to the idea that Hashem created the world and gave us the Torah.
With this, we understand why it is only after Hashem foretells that He will bring the Bnei Yisroel to Har Sinai and give them the Torah that He says that then they will know that it was Hashem who redeemed them from slavery and took them out of Mitzrayim. This is because it was only after they received the Torah that they were able to fully appreciate what was done for them and Who had done it.
They were able to realize that they had been at the door of the fiftieth shaar hatumah, and had they not come out at that time, their fate would have been doomed. They were able to grasp that they were taken goy mikerev goy to become the great nation that they became. Without Torah, they still would have had their doubts and would have attributed everything that happened to them, from the makkos to Yetzias Mitzrayim, to foreign powers.
Thus, we understand how Paroh and his nation could have stubbornly refused to recognize that Hashem had punished them for the way they treated the Bnei Yisroel and that it was about time they heeded Moshe’s repeated warnings. They had no Torah and thus were not able to comprehend the plainly obvious.
Paroh had his magicians copy the initial makkos, and thus was able to comfort himself that they weren’t brought by the G-d of the Jews, but rather through magic. Although that didn’t ease the pain and didn’t remove the effects of the makkos, it provided Paroh and his people with an excuse to continue their behavior.
Even when his magicians could no longer produce, Paroh and his people attributed the makkos to natural phenomena. They blamed them on climate change and global warming, on strong winds, plentiful rain, drought, pandemics, or many other scientific causes, much as we see today, doing anything to deny the existence of the Creator.
With this, we understand, as well, why Hakadosh Boruch Hu refers to the Bnei Yisroel following Him into the desert when they left Mitzrayim as a chesed. It was a chesed because the nation was not yet formed. They were slaves who had been at the lowest level of tumah and were still bereft of Torah. Therefore, they could not be expected to follow Hashem. They could have attributed the splitting of the sea to science and winds, just as scientists and non-believers do today. The fact that despite their complaints and despite their not yet having the Torah, they still believed in Hashem enough to follow Him into the midbor – that was a chesed.
With this, we also understand why Hashem did not complain when the Jews did not listen to Moshe when, utilizing the four eternal promises of geulah which we celebrate at the Seder every year, he told them that they would be redeemed. Hashem and Moshe accepted that they did not accept the comforting words.
When the malochim in the form of nomadic drifters visited Avrohom and Sorah, one of them told Avrohom that he would return in one year and Sorah will have given birth to a son (Bereishis 18:10-14). Sorah heard the conversation and laughed, thinking that at their advanced age, it was impossible for her and Avrohom to give birth to a child. The posuk recounts that Hashem complained to Avrohom, asking why Sorah laughed. Despite her old age, nothing is beyond Hashem’s abilities.
Why was there a complaint against Sorah for not believing a prophecy that was considered scientifically impossible, and there was not a complaint against the Jews who didn’t accept Moshe’s prophecy of redemption?
The answer is that we know that Avrohom observed the entire Torah (Yoma 28b), and thus it stands to reason that his wife, Sorah, did as well, for it is extremely difficult for an observant man to live with an unobservant woman, as any married person would know.
Additionally, we know (Bereishis Rabbah 84:4) that Avrohom converted men to his belief and Sorah converted women. That would indicate that she was a firm believer in Hashem.
Since she was a bas Torah, it was a valid complaint against her when she didn’t believe that it was possible for her and Avrohom to have a child, and it was perceived as a chisaron in emunah. But, as the Ohr Hachaim says, at the time that Moshe appeared before them and spoke the prophecy of geulah, the Jews were not yet bnei Torah, and thus there wasn’t a complaint against them when they didn’t have the ability to process his words and trust them.
In our world, as well, things happen that often defy simple explanation. People struggle to understand how they can happen and what the reaction should be. We need to know that without Torah, we understand nothing. Without Torah, we are lost and confounded.
In every age and in every time, things happen in our world and in the world in general that are difficult or impossible to understand. People wonder how it can be. How can it happen? Why did it happen? We are the eternal people, and for all time we have turned to the Moshe Rabbeinus of the generation for guidance, instruction and support.
Scoffers and people who are not bnei Torah accuse us of every sin in the book. They say chareidim are cruel and heartless, don’t care about their children and don’t care about people’s feelings. They paint us as Neanderthals locked in the past, cave dwellers in ghettos, because we don’t mouth exactly the words they want us to when they want us to.
When a chareidi person is found to be an evil abuser, we are all abusers, they say. They say that we all don’t care about what he did and his victims, when nothing could be further from the truth. Of course we abhor evil; of course we care about his victims and all victims. Of course we condemn a man who used his position to cruelly and sadistically take advantage of people and ruin untold numbers of lives.
There is no group more compassionate collectively than chareidim. The amount of chesed performed with victims and others is hard to fathom. Our hearts break. Many tears are shed. There are many professionals, rabbonim, tzaddikim and fine members of the community who work hard and with much compassion to help heal victims and other people in need of support. It is ridiculous to say otherwise.
Our Torah is a Toras Chesed. It is what defines us and guides us, no matter what anyone says.
And the same is true when a religious person is caught stealing or engaging in improper financial dealings. We are all tarred with the same brush. All chareidim are thieves, they shout. All chareidim are cheats, they say to each other. Their schools are no good. Shut them down. They need to be taught how to act civilized and how to interact with other people. And as many examples as you will show them of fine, upstanding, titans of industry whose word is gold, who are known and respected internationally for their integrity, it is never good enough. They will continue saying and believing that all chareidim are corrupt because of the misguided actions of an individual.
Our Torah is a Toras Emes. It is what defines us and guides us, no matter what anyone says.
Let us all resolve to learn more Torah on a deeper level, adhere to its mitzvos, harchakos and halachos, and seek its leadership and guidance, being a light to others, helping, nurturing, soothing, strengthening, comforting and demonstrating that we are a mamleches kohanim vegoy kadosh.