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9 Nissan 5764 - March 31, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Practical Lesson of Yetzias Mitzrayim: A Shmuess for the Seder Night

by HaRav Sholom Schwadron, zt'l

HaRav Sholom's son, HaRav Yitzchok, told us that this shmuess was the focus of his father's main Pesach Torah, that he repeated to the family every year at their Seder.

A Tremendous Revelation

In recounting the story of yetzias Mitzrayim on seder night we mention the posuk, "I multiplied you like the vegetation of the field and you grew and developed and came of age . . . and you were uncovered and bare" (Yechezkel 16:7). The Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 1:35) comments, " `and you were uncovered and bare' -- without good deeds."

Chazal (Sotah 11) tell us that this posuk refers to the Jewish children who were born under apple trees in Egypt. After Pharaoh promulgated his decree that, "you shall cast any son born into the river" (Shemos 1:22), Jewish mothers could not risk giving birth in their homes and they would go out into the fields to bear their children. Without anyone to tend to the babies there and provide them with sustenance, their fate must have been the same as Pharaoh wished for, had the children not been miraculously cared for. In the merit of their parents' faith that Hakodosh Boruch Hu would protect them, this was what indeed happened.

The gemora relates that Hashem sent an agent from on high who cleaned them up and straightened their limbs, "like a wild animal that sets its newborn in order." The gemora quotes a posuk (ibid. 4) that lists the things that are usually done for a newborn, that were here done miraculously: ". . . and your birth, on the day you were born, your cord was not cut and you were not washed in water to smooth you, . . ." This agent gathered two round objects for them, one with oil and the other with honey, as the posuk (Devorim 32:13) says, ". . . and he suckled them with honey from the rock and oil from the flinty boulder."

Bnei Yisroel then, experienced tremendous miracles, with Hakodosh Boruch Hu Himself sustaining and providing for them. How then, can the first posuk, " `and you were uncovered and bare' -- without good deeds" also have applied to them? If they had no merits, how did such miracles come to be wrought for them? The posuk even describes their attainment of stature: "And you grew and developed and came of age." How did this happen without any good deeds?

Chazal conclude that when Hashem revealed Himself to bnei Yisroel at Yam Suf, these children were the first to recognize Him, inferring this from the posuk, "This is my G-d and I will praise Him" (Shemos 15:2). As Rashi explains, " `This is my G-d' -- Whom I have already encountered [i.e. in Mitzrayim]." These children were very close to Hashem and they had an incredibly great spiritual revelation that exceeded even that of the prophets. Chazal tell us, "A maidservant saw more at Yam Suf than Yechezkel ben Buzi saw" in his vision of Hashem's glory which is known as Maaseh Merkovoh.

The Level of Yechezkel's Vision

Let us consider this vision for a moment, if only to have some idea of its sublime level, for we have no clear knowledge of what it really means. The gemora in Chagigah (14) says, "Rabbi Yochonon ben Zakai was once riding a donkey and Rabbi Elozor ben Aroch was going behind him.

"He said, `Rebbi, teach me something from Maaseh Merkovoh! . . .Allow me to say something that you taught me!'

"He said, `Speak!'

"Rabbi Yochonon ben Zakai immediately descended from the donkey, draped [his garment over] his head and sat on a stone.

"Rabbi Elozor said, `Rebbi, why did you get off the donkey?'

"He said, `How can I sit on a donkey while you explain Maaseh Merkovoh and the Shechinah is with us and ministering angels accompany us?'

"Rabbi Elozor immediately started speaking about Maaseh Merkovoh and expounding on it and a fire came down from Heaven and encircled all the trees in the field and they all broke into song . . . and a mal'ach spoke from the fire and said, `This is truly the Maaseh Merkovoh!' "

The Greatness of Earlier Generations

Rabbi Yochonon ben Zakai was the least among the talmidim of Hillel Hazokein, as the gemora tells us in Succah (28): "Hillel Hazokein had eighty talmidim. Thirty of them deserved to have the Shechinah rest upon them as [it did upon] Moshe Rabbenu. Thirty were deserving of having the sun stand still in the sky for them as it did for Yehoshua bin Nun. And there were twenty intermediate ones. The greatest among them was Yonoson ben Uziel. The least among them was Rabbon Yochonon ben Zakai. It was said that Rabbon Yochonon ben Zakai omitted studying neither Written Torah nor Mishnah, neither gemora nor halochos . . . [omitting] neither a great thing nor a minor one. `A great thing' is the Maaseh Merkovoh. `A minor thing' means the inquiries of Abaye and Rovo. The extent of the knowledge he amassed is in fulfillment of the posuk, `[I have plenty goodness] to convey to those who love Me and I shall fill their storehouses' (Mishlei 8:21).

"If such was the stature of the least among them, the greatest was certainly so. It was said that while Yonoson ben Uziel was occupied in Torah study, any bird that flew over him was immediately burned."

Let us think for a moment. If his talmidim were such great men, Hillel's own greatness must have been tremendous, and that of Shmaya and Avtalyon, from whom Hillel and Shammai received the Torah traditions, must have been even more so. The Anshei Knesses Hagedoloh who transmitted Torah to the first pair of leaders were thus even greater and the prophets themselves were on such a level that if a woman saw one of them during the time of her impurity she would die straight away.

Our question now assumes its full proportion. The generation that left Egypt experienced greater revelation of the Shechinah than the prophet Yechezkel, yet the posuk refers to this very generation as having been "uncovered and bare," lacking mitzvos to provide them with merit. [How can this be?]

The Two Practical Merits

From this it becomes apparent that an individual's greatness is not a function of his wisdom but of the deeds that he has managed to amass. The mishnah says, "When a person's deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom will endure" (Ovos 3:17). Although maidservants indeed witnessed more at the Yam Suf than Yechezkel did in the vision of the Maaseh Merkovoh, they remained maidservants. Those who left Egypt were raised to greatness temporarily. The mekubolim refer to this as being endowed with `greatness of mind for a time.' Their greatness was a gift to them from outside, while they themselves, in terms of their own efforts, were "bare and uncovered" and bereft of mitzvos.

The previous posuk (Yechezkel 16:6) says, "And I passed over you and I saw you wallowing in your blood and I said to you, `You shall yet live in your blood.' " Chazal comment on this posuk that when bnei Yisroel made the Pesach offering in Egypt, Hakodosh Boruch Hu brought a wonderful aroma out of Gan Eden. Those who had been unwilling to be circumcised came to Moshe Rabbenu and asked him if they could eat from his Pesach. He told them that Hashem had forbidden anyone uncircumcised to eat from the offering. When they heard this, they had themselves circumcised.

This posuk refers to them: "And I saw you wallowing in your blood" -- the blood of circumcision and of the Pesach -- "and I said to you, `You will yet live in your blood.' " Pesach and Miloh were two practical mitzvos that they did, in whose merit they were redeemed from Egypt.

A person's greatness is thus not only measured according to his wisdom but according to his deeds and the mitzvos that he has done. It is related that shortly before his petiroh, the Vilna Gaon wept over the potential of this world, whereby a person can fulfill the mitzva of tzitzis, for a few pennies. In Olom Habo, however, one can no longer fulfill mitzvos, even in exchange for one's wisdom. This world alone is the place for actions and deeds.

Learning Practice from Mussar

It is well known that the Chazon Ish esteemed the stories of the lives of gedolei Torah and of their conduct. He applied Chazal's teaching about Torah -- "If a person merits it, it becomes a life-giving elixir to him; if he doesn't merit it, it becomes poison to him" (Yoma 72) -- to mussar as well. Mussar is also Torah, as we see in the posuk, "Hear my son, your father's mussar and do not abandon your mother's Torah" (Mishlei 1:8).

A person is successful in learning mussar when he takes guidance from it about how to correct his traits and puts himself on the path to a higher and nobler life. If he chas vesholom uses his mussar just to reprove others instead of himself, he has not been successful in learning it.

The Chazon Ish comments that everyone who hears or repeats mussar teachings of men who achieved greatness in Torah and yiras Shomayim asks himself, "When will my conduct reach those levels?" This is what it means to be successful in learning from mussar (quoted in She'al Ovicho).

The Chazon Ish expressed his admiration for an article that was published in Vilna in the Yiddish journal Dos Vort, that reviewed the life of the gaon Rav Betzalel Hacohen zt'l, author of ShuT Reishis Bikkurim, who served as a rov in Vilna. One of the stories in the article mentioned that at the time of the controversy surrounding the esrogim from Corfu, Rav Betzalel travelled to Italy and spent a few months there thoroughly researching the matter.

The Chazon Ish commented that in his opinion, this story about the Lithuanian gaon's journey was the most beautiful one told about him. It demonstrated the devotion of a talmid chochom, whose time was valuable, to one of the Torah's mitzvos. He was prepared to undertake a difficult and prolonged trip in order to investigate the way in which a single mitzvah was being fulfilled.

Literally hundreds of stories are told about the Chazon Ish's own dedication to helping others. Whether it involved sacrificing his own meager physical resources or taking precious time from his rigorous Torah study, he would guide and advise both the sick and others who came to him with their problems.

We Are All Obliged

Here is just one of the many stories about him which I heard from a great Torah scholar who used to frequent the Chazon Ish's home: "I once went in to him, together with another friend. The Chazon Ish turned to us and asked, `What's doing with ploni?' mentioning the person's name and remarking that he had long since reached a marriageable age and that we should help him find a match. This bochur was also a frequent visitor to the home of the Chazon Ish, who concerned himself with each individual's welfare and he wanted to see him find a suitable match. He asked us to help him. For us, the Chazon Ish's request was holy and we did all that we could. Within a short time we found a worthy match for him and he became engaged.

"We went to the Chazon Ish to tell him the news and he was delighted. He expressed his wish to attend the celebration of the engagement. He told us that his time was precious and asked us to call him at the very last moment before the reading of the teno'im. We promised to do so and at the specified time, we came to his home to ask him to come to the engagement. We saw that there were people in his room so we waited outside. The door of his room was open and we saw a man and a woman sitting in the room, reading various things out to him about what would be worthwhile to sell and whether merchandise could be obtained cheaply and so on. We waited by the door for an hour-and-a-half while the Chazon Ish replied patiently to all their questions.

"At last the consultation ended and they stood up. The Chazon Ish accompanied them as they left and bade them farewell. As soon as they had left, he donned his hat and came with us to the engagement. He said to us, `You must be wondering why I kept you waiting. I realize that the friends and family are sitting, awaiting my arrival and you must be asking yourselves how I could keep you so long while I sat with that couple.

" `Let me explain. They are Holocaust survivors who came to Eretz Yisroel. They have no livelihood here and they came to me with their woes. I advised them to open a store and they returned to consult me about how to run it and what they should buy and sell and so on. I knew that I would be unable to offer them financial help for I don't have money, so I felt obligated to help by advising them. I was unconcerned about keeping everybody waiting for me because we are all obliged to assist others. You have fulfilled that mitzvah simply by your trouble in waiting for me to come.' "

In this story, the Chazon Ish teaches us that the mitzvah is not confined to the actual deed -- in this case the advice that he gave to the couple -- but that involvement in it also extends to the other parties who are indirectly affected.

It is Up to Us

Returning to yetzias Mitzrayim, it is now clear that the mitzvah of relating what happened is not confined to the account of the miracles and wonders that Hashem did for us. [True,] even if we were all sages and savants and we knew the entire Torah, we would be obligated to recount what happened. However another aspect of the mitzvah is that we should absorb the lesson for all generations, that we merited yetzias Mitzrayim because, "And I passed over you and I saw you wallowing in your blood," i.e. the actual performance of those two mitzvos.

A spiritual arousal took place on bnei Yisroel's part, resulting in their fulfillment of the mitzvos of Pesach and Miloh, in whose merit they were redeemed amid miracles, and they also witnessed Hashem's revelation at Yam Suf. Chazal tell us that the Soton argued against bnei Yisroel being saved because, "Both these [i.e. the Egyptians] and these [i.e. bnei Yisroel] worship idols. Why should You destroy them because of them [bnei Yisroel]?"

Why indeed were bnei Yisroel saved? The sea split for them and they merited their subsequent greatness, because of the spiritual arousal that they made themselves.

The medrash comments on the posuk, ". . . the voice of my beloved knocks" (Shir Hashirim 5:2): "Rabbi Yossi said, `Hakodosh Boruch Hu said, "My children, make me a single opening of repentance like the eye of a needle and I will make openings for you through which wagons and carriages can pass." ' "

It is said in the name of the Rebbe of Kotzk ztvk'l that this "opening of repentance" must, however, be open all the way, just like a needle's hole goes all the way through from one side to the other.

I heard my teacher, HaRav Yehuda Leib Chasman zt'l, point out that, as we know, one of the Torah's principles is that we should make a negative inference from a positive statement. If we do not feel that our hearts are open wide enough for wagons and carriages to pass through, it's a sign that we haven't yet made an opening in them the size of the eye of a needle!

At the Seder night, as we sit recounting the miracles of yetzias Mitzrayim and fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzoh, we ought to contemplate Hashem's great love for Klal Yisroel. The holy Zohar states that Hakodosh Boruch Hu rejoices in Klal Yisroel's celebration as they praise and laud Him. On Seder night, we have an opportunity to open our hearts at least to the size of the eye of a needle.

May the prophecy, "I will show you miracles as the days when he left Egypt" (Michah 7:15) be fulfilled as expounded by our teachers, as an allusion to "fifty wonders." Chazal say, "They were redeemed from Egypt in Nisan and will be redeemed in the future in Nisan" (Rosh Hashonoh 11a).

May we merit celebrating Pesach in joy and delight, eating from the sacrifices that will be offered when the Beis Hamikdosh is rebuilt, may it happen quickly, in our times, omein!

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