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12 Shevat 5760 - January 19, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
The Eternal Battle Against the Yetzer: A Shmuess for Parshas Beshalach

By HaRav Sholom Schwadron zt'l

A Jew Always Believes

"And it was, when Pharaoh sent away the people . . . " (Shemos 13:17) Chazal tell us (in both the Mechilta and the medrash Tanchuma here), that "the expression shiluach, sending away, always implies accompaniment." Here this means that Pharaoh went along to accompany bnei Yisroel, for dalet amos when they left Egypt.

The word beshalach, when he sent, is being understood by the midroshim as implying that Pharaoh sent the people away freely and voluntarily, to the point of accompanying them upon their departure, whereas he actually suffered ten plagues before he was compelled to release them. This is strange! This is the same Pharaoh who forced bnei Yisroel to be his slaves and who said, "I do not know Hashem"!

It is related that the Kotzker Rebbe zt'l, was once told that a certain person was an heretic. "He's an apikores?!" retorted the Rebbe, "Pharaoh was an apikores!" Moshe Rabbenu told Pharaoh that Hashem said, "At midnight I am going to go out inside Egypt and every firstborn will die." Pharaoh had already seen that every single plague that Moshe had warned him about had come to pass exactly as he had been told it would and exactly when he had been told it would. Yet he ignored this warning about makas bechoros and went to sleep, as we see from the posuk, "And it was at midnight . . . and Pharaoh arose in the night," which Rashi explains as meaning that he rose from his bed. In other words, he had gone to sleep as usual and only when "there was a great outcry in Egypt,"did he get up. Until that fateful moment, he did not believe. Pharaoh was therefore a true apikores but it is different with a Jewish soul. If a Jew's finger hurts him, he cries out immediately to Hakodosh Boruch Hu, "Heal me! Help me!"

I heard another story which illustrates this from HaRav Zalman Sorotzkin zt'l, the Lutsker Rov. Reb Zalman was once walking in Yerushalayim together with one of the Zionist leaders. This man was boasting about how he was an apikores, R'l, and he uttered some words of heresy R'l, and then, while he was speaking, he mentioned that he had terrible pains in his stomach. They were near the Bikur Cholim hospital on Rechov Strauss. "I said to him," recalled the Lutsker Rov, "`Let's go inside and a doctor can examine you.' He did so and the doctor said that he had a stomach ulcer R'l, and that he needed surgery immediately. The man asked if he could first go to his home and tell his family but the doctor said that there was no time because his situation was dangerous and they took him into the operating theater straight away."

The man asked the Lutsker Rov to go into the beis haknesses in the Zichron Moshe neighborhood, (which is very near the hospital), and to say some Tehillim for him.

"You are an apikores who lacks faith?" the Lutsker Rov asked him. "All you are missing is a stomachache! The proof is that you just asked for Tehillim to be said for you!"

What then led the man to speak as he did? The answer is that there exists an ideology based upon heresy and those who want follow it must make an effort to convince themselves that they believe in it.

Similarly, the gaon HaRav Eliyohu Lopian zt'l, would mention a certain apostate Jew who lived in France who, when he was lying on an operating table, called out, "I entrust my spirit to Your hand, you have redeemed me, Hashem, G-d of truth"! (Tehillim 31:6) Commenting on this story, HaRav Lopian explained the posuk (Tehillim130:1), "I have called You from the depths," to mean that from somewhere deep down in the Jewish soul, a Jew calls out to Hashem.

The Eternal Reward for a Small Victory

To return to our discussion, the wicked Pharaoh who tormented bnei Yisroel and oppressed them with crushing labor, who threw Jewish children into the water, and slaughtered others and bathed in their blood -- it was this very same Pharaoh who nevertheless overcame his yetzer hora and accorded bnei Yisroel honor at the moment they left him. He will never lose whatever reward he deserves for having done so and his act is recorded in the Torah for all time: "And when Pharaoh sent."

In the medrash Tanchuma Chazal also tell us that for this deed, Pharaoh also merited the inclusion of the mitzva "You shall not abominate an Egyptian" in the Torah (Devorim 23:8). It is fearsome and staggering to contemplate the extent to which Hashem does not withhold from any of His creatures, a single iota of the reward due to them for a good deed. The medrash Tanchuma says furthermore that, "The mouth that said, `Who is Hashem that I should listen to His voice?' (Shemos 5:2) was the mouth that said, `Hashem is the righteous one and I and my people are the wicked ones' (Shemos 9:27). They were therefore given a burial, as the posuk says,`You extended Your right hand; the earth swallowed them' (Shemos 15:12)."

How much more so then, can we be sure that eternal reward is in store for anyone who overcomes his yetzer hora, even over some small matter? By so doing, a person wins merit for himself and for all the generations that will follow him.

We find the principle of overcoming one's inclinations mentioned in the gemora (Bovo Metzia 32), in the discussion about whether causing distress to animals is prohibited by the Torah or only by the rabbonon. The gemora says that if someone is faced with two animals needing help, the first needing unloading and belonging to a talmid chochom who is his friend and the second, needing loading and belonging to someone he hates, he should assist the second animal first, for there he has the added mitzvah of overcoming his bad feelings towards its owner. Tosafos explains that when the posuk speaks about the animal's owner being someone he hates, it refers to the former having witnessed some act of immoral behavior, in which case it is a mitzvah to hate the perpetrator. It is concerning this person's animal that the Torah commands us to help out.

HaRav Eliyohu Lopian points out that although there is a Torah mitzvah here of unloading an animal to ease its distress, added to which its owner is a friend and a talmid chochom, while at the same time another animal needs loading, which belongs to an evildoer, whom it is a mitzvah to hate, a person is required to initially leave aside the relief of the suffering animal, and go to help the evildoer, in order to subdue his own yetzer hora.

The Effect of a Single Deed

Our master and teacher the gaon HaRav Yehuda Leib Chasman zt'l, raised the following difficulty. Immediately after the wicked Pharaoh had taken his few steps in honor of bnei Yisroel, the posuk tells us, "He pursued bnei Yisroel" (Shemos 14:8). What great power did this small good deed have, that it merited the Torah's commanding us, "Do not abominate an Egyptian"?

HaRav Chasman answered that the Torah is teaching us that the minutest fraction of good in a person is never lost, even amid infinitely more and greater portions of absolute evil. Pharaoh's good deed was able to win for himself and for all subsequent generations of Egyptians the Torah's command not to abominate them.

We are forced to say that besides this single worthy act of Pharaoh's, there was nothing good or upright anywhere in all of Egypt. Everything was shameful and disgusting and the Egyptians deserved to be abominated for all subsequent generations. However, Pharaoh's deed raised all his people from the morass they were in to the point where bnei Yisroel are commanded not to abominate them.

This is the power of the Divine image in which man was created. And if it is so with gentiles, how much more so with Yisroel. When a Jew subdues his yetzer hora and makes it subservient to mitzvah purposes, he is not only refining himself and his own soul, but the entire world as well. Chazal tell us, "Whoever does one mitzvah, tips his own and the world's balance to the side ofgood."

I will tell you a story that has already been recorded in the book by the rav of Be'er Sheva, who writes that the man who experienced the events he relates is standing before him as he writes. The story is a fearful and awesome one and I will recount it here briefly. The rav wrote that a young, irreligious man, who was mechalel Shabbos, R'l, and who also ate on Yom Kippur, R'l, was standing in front of him. The young man was a war survivor and his father had been a chareidi Jew, as had all the members of the father's household, with this son being the sole exception. The young man had followed the wrong path R'l.

The father and hisfamily had been consumed in the flames of Auschwitz, while the surviving son had reached Eretz Yisroel, where he settled in Be'er Sheva. Several years went by and then, one night, his father appeared to him in a dream and warned him to do teshuvah for if he didn't, he would meet a bitter fate.

This went on for several nights, with the father coming to his son and making terrible threats. The young man went to stay at a friend's house but his father still appeared to him and yelled at him, "You ate on Yom Kippur!I'm warning you for the last time, do teshuvah!" His father told him to travel to the Chazon Ish to receivefrom him some means of rectifying his situation.

The son went to the Chazon Ish and as soon as he opened the door,even before he'd had a chance to say a word, the Chazon Ish said to him, "Oh no! You ate on Yom Kippur!" The son started crying. The Chazon Ish asked him what special merit he had or what mitzvah he had done, that would provide him with sufficient merit for his father coming to him.

"I gave a lot of tzedokoh," the son answered but the Chazon Ish told him that would not explain it. Ultimately the son said, "I remember when we were in the ghetto, a child once died in its mother's arms and the mother spent the whole night crying over her child, to the point where her own life was endangered. My father z'l, told me to bury the child so that the mother wouldn't die of a broken heart. I went to do it with great sacrifice, becauseit was very dangerous to go out to the graveyard at that time and I buried the child. I experienced a number of miracles in avoiding the Nazis." The Chazon Ish told him that was the mitzvah in whose merit his father had appeared to him to arouse him to repent his ways.

The Two Opposing Forces

The posuk (Shemos 13:17) says, "And Hashem did not lead them the way of the land of the Philistines . . . lest thepeople reconsider when they see war and return to Egypt." Let's consider this. Bnei Yisroel had already been in Egypt and had their children cast into the water by the Egyptians. After the enslavement and the crushing work which they had been forced to do, was there a real possibility that they would want to return on seeing war? Would there be any improvement in their situation were they to return? What then, was the fear that they would return to Egypt?

The answer is an idea which we have discussed before. The posuk (Bereishis 2:7) says, "And Hashem formed man[out of] soil from the earth and He breathed into his nostrils, a soul of life." Man was formed from two opposing forces. One part of him is the soul of living spirit -- a Divine spark -- through whose powers and by exercising his free will to choose good, man can reach the highest levels.

The other part is dust of the earth. This part is physical, and by being drawn after it, man can sink to the basest levels R'l. No man is therefore sure ofhimself. This is what Rabbenu Yonah means in his comments on the posuk (Mishlei 14:16), "The wise man fears and turns away from evil" -- even though he turns away from evil, he still fears it! -- "while the fool excites himself [instead of turning away] and trusts [that nothing will happen to him]."

The plain meaning of the first part of the posuk is that since the wise man fears, he takes care and protects himself, and therefore he moves away from evil. However, one who becomes excited and angered and trusts himself not to stumble, is a fool and is acting like a fool.

[These two forces continue to work upon a person throughout his lifetime.] It is well known that the gemorarelates that before he died, Rabbi Yochonon ben Zakai expressed his fears over not knowing along which of the two paths which he saw before him -- one to Gan Eden and the other to Gehennom -- he would be led. The story is told that one of the chassidim of the Kotzker Rebbe was praying intensely one Shabbos morning, with histallis, which had silver edging, wrapped around his head. The chossid was swaying in prayer as though he were hovering between heaven and earth. The Rebbe walked in front of him and whispered in his ear, "Yungerman!Young man! Know that the yetzer hora is also there with you under your tallis!"

This is why "Hashem did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines . . . lest the people have a change of heartwhen they see war . . . " Rashi explains, "If, when He made them go the roundabout way they said, `Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt,' if they would have gone along the straight route, how much more likely would this havebeen." This is an example of Chazal's warning, "Don't believe in yourself [i.e. in your righteousness and ability to withstand tests] until your dying day." We have to believe in Hashem only, not in ourselves. Even on the last day of a person's life, he still needs to fear the yetzer hora.

It is related that one of the talmidim of the Arizal fell ill and was close to death. On the last day of his life, one of his friends went over to him and asked him, "Is the yetzer hora still within you today?" The patient nodded in affirmation. Yes, his yetzer hora was still within him, trying to get him to say Shema Yisroel loudly so that all his friends would hear how he passed on in purity and holiness . . . It is also related that before his petirah, the Ba'al Shem Tov ztvk'l, repeated the posuk (Tehillim 36,12), "May a proud step not approach me," several times to himself.

Our master and teacher illustrated how these two natural forces act within a person. A horse is pulling a wagon and in the middle of the journey, it becomes boisterous and uncontrollable. Does it make the slightest difference to the horse whether there is a king or a farmer sitting in the wagon?

In the same way, if a person allows his physical desires to "ride" and control his neshomo, they will throw off the rider, and it will sink to the depthsR'l. If a person puts his neshomo in control of his physical wishes however, he can reach the Heavens. This is why [even after all that bnei Yisroel had experienced] the Torah feared, "lest the people have achange of heart when they see war and return to Egypt"!

Noticing the Wonders of Creation

The posuk (Shemos 14:22) says, "And bnei Yisroel came into the sea on dry land." However, later(posuk 29), we find, "And bnei Yisroel went on dry land in the sea."

I heard from a talmid chochomin America that the Chasan Sofer asks why the fact that they entered the sea is stated first in posuk 22,while in posuk 29, we are first told that they walked on dry land? The Noam Elimelech says that at first, when bnei Yisroel entered the Yam Suf, they were walking in the sea and when it split and became dry land, their level of emunah rose so much that it was as though they were still in the sea yet walking on dry land. They recognized that sea and dry land are one and the same, for One Master controls them both, changing sea into dry land and dry land into sea at His will.

The Chasan Sofer gave a parable to explain the deep idea contained in the Noam Elimelech's words. A certain artist once produced a wonderfully accurate likeness of the king's horse. He displayed his work against a fence but soon began to feel that people were passing by his masterpiece without being in the least impressed by it. He realized that this was because the picture was so lifelike, that everyone thought that it really was the horse, for this was exactly how they were used to seeing it! They had no idea that this was only a picture!

The artist therefore took a knife and cut away at one corner of the picture. Then everyone expressed their amazement at the style and precision of the picture.

People who are born and grow up on dry land are quite used to it and do not realize that it is Hashem who "stretches the land over the water." We are not amazed at the wonders of the creation simply because we are used to them! When therefore, Hakodosh Boruch Hu tore away the sea and exposed dry land, bnei Yisroel were inspired to sing, "This is my G-d . . . " and they were elevated to levels of strong, visible, tangible, faith. When they went on dry land, they were as impressed as they had been when going inside the sea. They were amazed by the dry land! This is something wondrous!

The Highest Levels of Faith and Trust

I have said this before and will repeat it again now, because it fits in with our discussion: when we read about Yonah Hanovi on Yom Kippur, I always used to wonder at the posuk (Yonah 1:5), "And he went down into one of the boat's sides and lay down and fell asleep." How could he sleep? The previous posuk says,"Hashem cast a tremendous wind into the sea . . . and the boat was thought to be close to breaking."

The first time I travelled to chutz la'aretz was by boat, on the Queen Elizabeth. When we were close to Naples, there was a storm at sea. There were some boxes on the deck and they fell and when people heard them crashing, they began to scream. Yonah Hanovi's boat was in such a terrific storm -- how could he possibly go down below deck and go to sleep? This was the captain's question to Yonah (posuk 6). "What are you doing nodding off?" How can you go to sleep at such a time? "Get up and call to your G- d."

When the sailors had determined by casting lots that the storm was on Yonah's account, they asked him, "What is your work and where do you come from?" It's amazing! They relied upon the result of their lots, so why ask all these questions?

And what was Yonah's reply? "I am a Hebrew and I fear the G-d who made Heaven and earth, sea and dry land." Why did Yonah add that Hashem made "the sea and the land"? Wouldn't it have been enough to say that He made heaven and earth?

His reply implied however, "You asked me how I can sleep? The answer is that Hashem created the sea and the dry land. He made the sea where it is in accordance with His will and the dry land where it is in accordance with His will. There is no difference to me whether I sleep on my bed on dry land or under the deck of a boat at sea. The entire creation and everyone in it are in the hands of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. If he wants there to be a storm, it is certainly for a reason and is therefore for the best. I can therefore sleep peacefully despite the raging sea."

We can moreover explain that Yonah's sleep was completely different from that of ordinary people. The Shulchan Oruch brings a difference of opinion about what length of time constitutes proper sleeping, which is forbidden during the day, as opposed to napping, which is permitted. One opinion is that up to half an hour is considered a nap while another holds that more than a few minutes is already called a sleep. A proof is brought from the practice of the Arizal, who used to sleep for several hours each day. However, the poskim explain that this is no proof at all, for the Ari's talmidim write that while he was "asleep" he would expound new teachings ofKabolo and that he in fact expounded several hundred times as much in his sleep as he did while awake.

If so, Yonah Hanovi, who lived many generations before the Ari, must have been in the upper worlds during the time that he slept, which was why he went down under deck to sleep.

From this we can understand that at the splitting of the Yam Suf, when all of Klal Yisroel reached the level of prophecy (as Chazal say, "A maidservant at the Yam Suf saw more than Yechezkel ben Buzi" in his vision of the Mercovoh"), there was no longer any difference for them between the sea and dry land, for they had reached the peaks of emunah.

This is why the posuk says, "And bnei Yisroel went on dry land in the sea." They had ascended so high in emunah that they felt the pleasure of Olom Haboh and then they sang to Hashem, just as the gemora says in Brochos (daf 17), "When the rabbonon would part from Rabbi Ami's beis hamedrash . . . they would bless each other, `May you see your world in your days,' meaning that they should attain a similar existence to that of Olom Haboh while still in Olom Hazeh! The Shitoh Mekubetzes explains, "When a person achieves ultimate wisdom, it is like the world of neshomos, which are separate intellects and he attains something of the olom haneshomos in his lifetime . . . "

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