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21 Shevat 5761 - Febuary 14, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Shom Derech -- Balancing Our Ways

by HaRav Simcha Zissel Broide zt"l

A new sefer came out recently containing the writings of HaRav Simcha Zissel Broide zt"l on Chumash Shemos. Shom Derech is a collection of the Rosh Yeshiva's shiurim on the Ramban's commentary on the Torah. We have picked several excerpts which deal with topical issues.

How To Approach Calamities In Our Times

We can only comprehend the meaning of periods in history by having a complete overview of the whole of history. A contemporary onlooker of events can never understand!

The Baalei Hatosfos (on Shemos 1:5) explain why the Torah repeats the enumeration of the Jewish people at the beginning of Shemos, even though they were already counted at the end of Chumash Bereishis when they went down to Egypt: "They were counted again here, even though they had already been counted in their lifetime, because it says afterwards, `and they multiplied and became exceedingly strong,' in order to tell you that only seventy people became strong and multiplied into six hundred thousand members."

We are being taught a fundamental point here: If we want to understand the ways of divine providence in the world, we must consider events in all their details together, for by considering only part of them, it is quite impossible to know and comprehend their divine purpose. Therefore, if a person stands in one place at a certain time, he is not in a position to fathom all the details and the processes of divine providence.

The complete purpose of Hashem's providence in the world becomes clear only after many years, and sometimes the picture only becomes totally intelligible in a time to come. This principle is well-known and elaborated upon, especially in Derech Hashem and Daas Tevunos of the Ramchal. It is a major obligation incumbent upon all of us to become familiar with and delve into this principle, which is a most fundamental one.

A person standing in a particular period, witnessing contemporary events, can never get to the bottom of the divine design. We very often see with our own eyes how things which seem good and beneficial turn out after a while to have been bad and harmful, and how, on the other hand, in many cases, events which seem like terrible misfortunes Hashem shows us to have been for the good.

I heard an example of this once from the Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Moshe Mordechai Epstein zt"l, who spoke about the fact that in the same year that the expulsion of the Jews from Spain took place, Spaniards (led by Columbus) discovered America. Rav Moshe Mordechai said that Jews at the time must have been convinced that, having been expelled suddenly in such a cruel way, after having contributed so much to the Spanish kingdom, Hashem would surely pay Spain back for this iniquitous expulsion by destroying its kingdom as a punishment for all the evil this nation had committed against Hashem's people. However, at the time it seemed that not only were they not punished, but they actually became stronger and wealthier as a result of the discovery of America, which put many natural resources and various trade possibilities at their disposal. Jews at the time must have found it difficult to comprehend Hashem's purpose in all of this.

Only after many years were we able to see how Hashem had planned that the discovery of America would play a part in the salvation of the Jewish people, when American assistance during the Holocaust years was responsible for saving the lives of the shearis hapleito during World War Two. It became clear in retrospect that when America was discovered and then developed and populated, the Spanish were, with their own hands, preparing the ground for a place of safety and refuge for the Jewish nation to this very day, so many years later. Hashem had planned that the discovery of America and its development would serve the purpose of saving the Jewish nation. It became clear to everybody that the only thing left to remind us of the defunct Spanish Empire [persecutor of the Jews] was the discovery of America [savior of the Jews].

Based on this, Rav Moshe Mordechai zt"l explained Dovid Hamelech's words (Tehillim 28:5), "Because they give no heed to the works of Hashem, nor to the operation of His hands, He will destroy them and not build them up." In other words, when we consider each of Hashem's acts separately, we cannot understand His behavior, which seems "destructive." Only when all events are considered together, do we begin to see how Hashem builds up.

This is the same point we are making: that in order to understand Hashem's hashgocho in the world, we have to consider all the details and events together, because it is impossible to unravel the meaning of Hashem's behavior by considering only one detail or event.

We must have a similar outlook regarding the destruction of European Jewry. Some six million of our people perished, including men, women, children, giants of Torah, and cheder boys Hy"d. We ask ourselves why Hashem got so upset with His chosen nation and firstborn son. The gemora says (Yevomos 47a), that the Jewish people "at the present time is persecuted and oppressed, despised, harassed and overcome by afflictions." It frequently happened during periods of persecution in this golus that we wanted to know the purpose of our sufferings.

The solution to this mystery is that Hashem leads His world over a period of six thousand years towards perfection [of Creation], and we cannot, from the perspective of one localized moment in time, perceive the total picture of divine providence. Sometimes several generations pass before Hashem's purpose becomes apparent, and sometimes this remains unclear until the world reaches its completion in the time to come.

Similarly, when the Jewish people in Egypt were faced with the decree of "every son that is born you shall cast into the river" (Shemos 1:22) and Pharaoh bathed himself in the blood of slaughtered Jewish children (Shemos Rabbo 1,34, quoted in Rashi 2:23), and even more poignantly, when Hashem promised to redeem them and sent Moshe Rabbeinu but their situation actually became worse and they were forced to gather straw for themselves without diminishing from the number of bricks, the Jews at the time must have been bewildered and mystified about Hashem's intentions, and wondered what happened to His hashgocho, chas vesholom.

Only afterwards did everyone understand the direction of the hashgocho when it became evident how all the events were a part of the shibud culminating in the redemption which was the fulfillment of Hashem's promise: "And he said to Avrom, `You must know that your seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them for four hundred years; and also that nation whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterwards shall they come out with great substance."

This is the point the Baalei Hatosfos are making when explaining that the Torah repeated the enumeration of the Jewish people "in order to tell you that only seventy people became strong and multiplied into six hundred thousand members." The Torah wanted to teach us that to get an insight into divine providence we have to consider the details and aspects of events in their entirety. Therefore, at the beginning of the narration of the Egyptian bondage and exile, the number of Jewish people who went down to Egypt was enumerated once more in order to illustrate the marvelous hashgocho of "only seventy people becoming strong and multiplying into six hundred thousand members" despite the extent of the bondage and persecutions. The entire series of events, from the stage of "seventy souls" until "six hundred thousand" has to be surveyed together.

This principle is also contained in Moshe Rabbeinu's words in Parshas Ha'azinu, "Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations." This is a general commandment relating to our philosophy of history, to consider all world events since Creation in all their distinct parts as forming one complete picture representing the divine hashgocho.


Without Torah ethics, the slope is extremely steep, and no other ethical system can serve to curb [human instincts and desires]. How far man can deteriorate without Torah ethics!

"Come, let us deal wisely with them" (Shemos 1:10).

The Ramban says, "Pharaoh and his advisers did not consider it appropriate to hit them with the sword, for it would be a grave betrayal to strike without cause a nation which had come to Egypt at the behest of the previous king. The general population too, whose advice he took into account, would not permit the king to commit such an injustice. The Jewish people were large and powerful and they would wage war against them, but he said that they should behave in a cunning way, by hiding their malevolent intentions from the Jews. He therefore imposed a tax on them, because it was natural for a king's subjects to pay him a tax, as was the case with Shlomo (Melochim Alef 9,21). Afterwards, he gave a secret order to the midwives to kill the males on the birthstool, without even the mothers knowing what was happening.

"He then commanded his whole nation to throw all the newborn sons into the river. He did not want to instruct his own executioners to kill them with the king's sword or order them to throw the babies into the river, preferring to tell the people that whenever they came across a Jewish child, they should throw him into the river, and if the father of the child should complain to the king or the local Minister, he would be told to bring witnesses and the guilty parties would be punished. Eventually, these murderous crimes were practiced openly, and the Egyptians searched Jewish houses, entering them at night and taking children out of them. That is why it says, `And when she could no longer hide him' (2:3)."

The Ramban concludes, "All these measures were taken with a view to hiding their misdeeds. This is what they meant when they said to Moshe Rabbeinu, `Because you have made us become odious in the eyes of Pharaoh -- to put a sword in their hand to slay us.' (5:21), because they will now hate us more, and find an excuse for slaying us openly, saying that we are rebelling against the king, and they will no longer need to act deceitfully."

We see from the Ramban's explanation that the Egyptians realized that their decrees were unjust and a grave betrayal, and they consequently did their utmost to act secretly, cunningly and deceitfully, recognizing the immorality and indecency of their contemptible behavior against the Jews.

This illustrates how perverse and corrupt people can become when they are guided by non-Torah ethics. Morality of this nature is external and not firmly rooted in a man's character. Its end result is persecution and murder hidden in cunning and deceitful ways to prevent injustices being publicized. When people behave in this distorted way, the gradual disintegration of all moral values is a foregone conclusion. That is what happened in Egypt: at first, they only imposed taxes and did not harm anybody, then they gave a secret order to the midwives to kill the babies on the birthstool, and anybody who "came across a Jewish child, should throw him into the river." Finally, murder was fully legalized and practiced openly.

Let Us Be Like All the Nations

Israeli secularism today is pervaded with the attitude, "Let us be like all the nations." The "moralists" are leading the nation to disaster. "A nation that shall dwell alone." The honor of the Jewish nation!

"They set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens--and the Egyptians imposed tasks upon the Jewish people ruthlessly" (Shemos 1:11,13).

The Ramban says, "Chazal said that they were servants for kings and not servants for servants. If so, `and the Egyptians imposed' is a reference to Pharaoh's taskmasters." This teaches us how important and great is the honor of the Jewish people, Hashem's chosen nation: even in this bitter exile Hashem made sure that they would be in bondage only to kings and not to servants. This is what the gemora means when it says, "Whoever harasses the Jewish nation becomes head." Consider this matter carefully and you will understand it.

We can see how distinguished the Jewish nation is from the following gemora: "Whoever returns a lost object to a non-Jew, to him applies the posuk, `that the watered be swept away with the dry' (Devorim 29:18). Rashi (ibid.) writes, "[This person] has put the Jew and the non- Jew on an equal footing, and has demonstrated that the divine commandment of returning a lost object is not important to him, by returning the object to a non-Jew which he has not been commanded to do. `The watered' are the non- Jews, who are full and do not thirst for their Creator. `The dried' refers to the Jewish nation, which is thirsty and hungry for the fear of its Creator and to fulfill His commandments." Similarly, Rashi writes in Kesuvos 15b (dibbur hamaschil lehachzir lo aveido), "He has equated the importance of Egypt with that of the Jewish nation, and it says, `Hashem will not be willing to forgive him.' "

We see clearly that somebody who returns a lost object to a non-Jew, thereby putting the latter on the same footing as the former, denies the superiority of the Jewish people and repudiates the fact of the divine nation having been chosen amongst all others. This sin is so great, that "Hashem will not be willing to forgive him." We do not find such a severe punishment in the rest of the Torah, and this demonstrates the built-in, deep-seated nature of the Jewish nation's distinction. We must make ourselves aware of this distinction, especially in our generation, when those "moralists" with bleeding hearts want to equate the eminence of the Jewish nation with that of the other nations.

[This of course does not mean that we are allowed to steal from non-Jews or not follow their laws when we live among them. It only refers to returning a lost object where he is not otherwise obligated to do so.]

Drafting Yeshiva students

The anti-religious left does not understand what Pharaoh horosho understood: without yeshivos and people learning Torah, the Jewish nation cannot exist. Shevet Levi, then and now.

"And the king of Egypt said to them, `Why do you, Moshe and Aharon, disturb the people from their work, go and see to your burdens' " (5:4). Rashi says, "To your burdens," to your work in your houses, but the tribe of Levi was not subjected to slave labor" [see Shemos Rabbo 5:16]. We see this from the fact that Moshe and Aharon were free to come in and out [of Pharaoh's palace].

The Ramban writes on Rashi's explanation, "This is correct, because sevel refers to any work in the house or field (see Melochim Alef 11:28). Every nation has the custom that its sages teach the nation's laws, and that is why Pharaoh left the tribe of Levi alone, since it was made up of the nation's chachomim and zekeinim. Hashem was supervising events carefully. "

Even Pharaoh horosho understood that the vitality, in fact the very existence of a nation is dependent on the activity of its sages and judges, this being the "custom of every nation." Pharaoh, despite his evil and cruel nature, realized that even a nation of slaves is in need of its sages and judges.

In our times, we are faced with the embarrassing and shameful situation where the people in power and their supporters do not understand and have no feeling whatsoever for the value of yeshivos and the study of Torah, and the extent to which these are essential to the nation's existence, something which even Pharaoh recognized and understood.

About the Book

This new book, Shom Derech, containing explanations and articles on the Torah and the Ramban's commentary, follows the first two volumes in the series on Chumash Bereishis. This volume too consists of two sections: a section of short explanations according to the order of pesukim, and a section of in-depth articles. In addition, this volume, at the end, includes a subject index arranged according to the Ramban's commentary on the Torah.

In his lifetime HaRav Simcha Zissel Broide zt"l felt a heavy responsibility before handing over manuscripts of his chiddushim to be printed. His great efforts, intensive study, and attention to the smallest details were well- known. Before they were printed, he would go over all his manuscripts and write many new comments, corrections and references on the side. He managed to prepare for print the first part of this volume (up to parshas Yisro), and from there onwards the shiurim are taken from his writings, using exactly the same format which he used during his lifetime.

The editor of this volume, Rav Yaakov Silberlicht, a student of the Rosh Yeshiva zt"l, deserves a lot of credit for eternalizing the Torah of his rov.

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