January 28th 2012
shevat 4th 5772
Rectifying the Sparks of Holiness from Egypt
by Rabbi David Hanania Pinto Shlita
It is written, “Please speak in the ears of the people: Let each man borrow from his fellow, and each woman from her fellow, vessels of silver and vessels of gold” (Shemot 11:2). This requires a lengthy explanation. Why did Hashem order them to borrow these vessels, rather than to take them by force? Can Hashem not do everything He wishes? We also need to understand the existence of the spoils in Egypt and the spoils at the sea, as Rashi writes: “The spoils at the sea were greater than the spoils in Egypt” (Rashi on Shemot 15:22). Why did Hashem divide these spoils in two? He could have made them into a single massive treasure!
We know what our Sages have said, namely that the objective of the descent into Egypt was to rectify the sparks of holiness that had fallen into the kelipot. The Gemara states: “They emptied out Egypt [Shemot 12:36]. Rabbi Ammi said, ‘This teaches that they made it like a snare without grain.’ Resh Lakish said, ‘They made it like the depths is empty of fish’ ” (Berachot 9b). They explain that the Children of Israel took from there all the sparks of holiness through slavery and suffering, to the point that none whatsoever remained.
According to these words, we may say that the Children of Israel’s departure from Egypt with great possessions of silver and gold simply alludes to the fact that they left with numerous sparks of holiness, which they had rectified, and which represented the essence of that wealth. Since they rectified the sparks of holiness, He gave them great possessions. Therefore if they had not done so, it would not have been worth it for them to leave Egypt with great possessions.
We know that in Egypt, the Children of Israel descended to the threshold of the 50th gate of impurity. They practiced idolatry, and when they were near the sea, the accuser turned against them and said: “These [the Egyptians] are idolaters and so are these [the Children of Israel]” (Zohar II:170b) – the Children of Israel do not deserve a miracle, nor do the Egyptians deserve to be drowned in the sea for them.
Given that we know all this, we must reply to the question that we asked at the outset: Why did Hashem command the Children of Israel to borrow expensive items from the Egyptians, rather than to take them by force, and why were the spoils divided in two? The answer is that Hashem wanted to hide from the accuser the fact that the Children of Israel left Egypt with great possessions. As such, the accuser would have no pretext for accusing the Children of Israel of not having rectified the sparks of holiness, meaning that they were not worthy of taking anything with them. As we have explained, they took great possessions on account of the sparks of holiness that they had rectified, which is why Hashem commanded that they only take them under the guise of borrowing. It is also why the spoils of Egypt were not excessively large – in order to hide from the accuser that they were leaving with great possessions. Such was not the case at the parting of the sea. At that point they had already started to emerge from the 49 gates of impurity, and they began to enter the 50 gates of wisdom and holiness. Furthermore, the power of the accuser was broken at the splitting of the sea, and so the Children of Israel could acquire all spoils, which they took.
Greater Understanding to Fulfill the Torah
Our Sages have taught, “The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moshe: Please, go and tell Israel, ‘Please borrow from the Egyptians vessels of silver and vessels of gold,’ so that this tzaddik [Abraham] may not say, ‘ “And they shall serve them, and they shall afflict them” [Bereshith 15:13] He did fulfill for them, but “and afterwards they will leave with great wealth” [ibid.] He did not fulfill for them’ ” (Berachot 9ab). Could anyone possibly think that Abraham would worry and complain about the silver and gold that his descendants did not receive?
We can understand this in the following way: When Israel does G-d’s will, He gives them a reward in this world by granting them the necessary conditions to fulfill Torah and mitzvot, as the Sages have said: “Three things deprive a man of his senses and a knowledge of his Creator” (Eruvin 41b), and one of them is poverty. When Israel fails to perform G-d’s will, He does not give them money, since in any case they are not doing His will and have no need for greater understanding. Yet when they do His will, Hashem yearns for them to fulfill all the mitzvot, some of which can only be performed with money. Although the Clouds of Glory provided the Children of Israel with all they needed, a wealthy man who fulfills a mitzvah in the best possible way cannot be compared to a poor man who depends on others for his food, and who fulfills a mitzvah in the simplest way possible.
This is why Hashem told Moshe to borrow vessels of silver and gold from the Egyptians, so that “this tzaddik” (i.e., Abraham) would not suffer in noting that: “ ‘And they shall serve them, and they shall afflict them’ He did fulfill for them, but ‘and afterwards they will leave with great wealth’ He did not fulfill for them.”
Due to his Greatness
We should also note the precise language of the phrase, “So that this tzaddik may not say,” since it could have simply said: “So that Abraham may not say.” The expression “this tzaddik” alludes to what the Sages have said: “One who has disciples, he is called ‘Rabbi.’ When his disciples are forgotten, he is called ‘Rabban.’ When everyone is forgotten, he is called by his name” (Tosefta, Eduyot 3:4).
In the introduction to his commentary on the Mishnah, the Rambam explains this statement by saying: “This divides the people who are mentioned in the Mishnah, numbering 128, into three groups. Whoever is at the highest level is called by his own name, such as Hillel, Shammai, Shemaya, and Avtalyon. This testifies to the greatness and honor of their level, for it is impossible to find a title that befits their name, just as the prophets did not carry titles. However the Sages who are lower than this level are called ‘Rabban,’ such as Rabban Gamliel and Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai. Those who are lower than this level are called ‘Rabbi,’ such as Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehudah.”
Thus the greater the man, the fewer titles he is given. That is why Hashem called Abraham “this tzaddik,” for this extraordinary title recalls just how great he is in the World above, to the point that he cannot even be called by his own name.
Guard Your Tongue!
Even If You Hear it from Two People
Just as it is forbidden to believe Lashon Harah after hearing it from a single person, the same applies if you hear it from two or more people. You must not believe it, for even according to what people say (that so-and-so did not act properly), they have transgressed the prohibition, “You shall not go about as a talebearer” (Vayikra 19:16), a prohibition that also applies to the truth.
The Parable and its Meaning
A Small Compensation for Years of Suffering and Enslavement
It is written, “The Children of Israel carried out the word of Moshe: They requested from the Egyptians vessels of silver and vessels of gold, and garments” (Shemot 12:35).
This is surprising: Why did G-d command the Children of Israel to ask for possessions from the Egyptians under the guise of “borrowing”? Why did He not tell them to take everything outright, since they deserved it for all the years that they had worked in Egypt?
In the book Ben Ish Hai, the gaon Rabbi Yosef Haim of Baghdad answers this question with a parable:
I Delayed it Until Tomorrow
A wealthy man went for a walk with his son in the city, when suddenly a drunk grabbed the hem of his coat and began shouting loudly before everyone: “That’s my coat! You stole it from me, so give it back right now!”
The wealthy man replied calmly and gently: “Yes, that’s true. The coat is yours. However I certainly did not steal it from you. I simply borrowed it from your wife for a single day, which she completely agreed to. Don’t worry, I’ll return it to you tomorrow.”
Appeased by wealthy rich man’s response, the drunk calmed down and left.
When he was far away, the boy said: “Father, why did you say that the coat is his, and that you borrowed it with his wife’s permission? It’s your coat! It belongs to you, not to him!”
The father replied, “What did you think – that I was going to argue with a drunk in the middle of the street? I delayed things until tomorrow, and in the meantime he will probably have drunk his wine and completely forgotten about his shouting and demands of today. And if he remembers, he will be ashamed of himself and not say another word.”
Their Drunken Foolishness
That is what happened here, Rabbi Yosef Haim explains. The truth is that the Egyptians were on the road to ruin, and in the end they sent the Children of Israel out of their land. They also drowned at the Sea of Reeds, and even enabled the Children of Israel who left Egypt to acquire spoils by the sea. Yet even before all this happened, even before the plague of the firstborn, the Children of Israel borrowed great possessions from them, as the verse states: “Let each man borrow from his fellow, and each woman from her fellow, vessels of silver and vessels of gold.” This is because the Egyptians were still steeped in their drunken foolishness, thinking that they had thereby delayed the Children of Israel’s departure and increased their servitude.
Once their drunkenness wore off, however, they no longer went back to the Children of Israel to reclaim these possessions, for at they point they realized that these valuables constituted a minor compensation for all the years of suffering they had endured while enslaved in their land.
At the Source
When the Halachah Says Something…
It is written, “It shall be for you a sign upon your arm and a reminder between your eyes, so that Hashem’s Torah may be in your mouth” (Shemot 13:9).
The famous gaon Rabbi Dov Berish Weidenfeld Zatzal, the Rav of Tshebin, once fell seriously ill and required an operation in which the patient must be anesthetized. However the Rav’s doctor was afraid because he was so frail, he might fall asleep under the anesthesia and never wake up.
When the Rav of Tshebin heard this, he spoke to his relatives and said: “I know how to survive the operation without any chance of falling asleep.”
“What is it?” his relatives asked him with surprise.
“Bring me my tefillin. When I put them on before the operation, I won’t fall asleep.”
In fact the Rav placed his tefillin on his arm and on his head, and the lengthy operation went well. In fact it was a complete success, for the Rav was immersed in his holy thoughts as he wore his tefillin, without falling asleep in the least!
After he recovered, he noticed just how surprised his relatives were. He therefore explained to them what had happened:
“It’s an explicit Halachah: As long as tefillin are on the head and the arm, it is forbidden to fall asleep [Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 44:1]. When the Halachah says something,” the Rav of Tshebin said in a loud voice, “it’s impossible to do otherwise!”
Their Great Numbers
It is written, “Let each man borrow from his fellow, and each woman from her fellow, vessels of silver and vessels of gold” (Shemot 11:2).
Why did G-d tell the Children of Israel to borrow these vessels and other expensive objects from the Egyptians? Had the Egyptians not enslaved them on account of the decree at the “Covenant Between the Parts”?
In his book HaChaim VeHaShalom, Rabbi Chaim Falagi Zatzal writes that the Egyptians enslaved them much more harshly than planned, which is why they paid with their possessions.
This is difficult to understand, for the Children of Israel left Egypt after 210 years, rather than 400 years, on account of their harsher enslavement. Hence they no longer had a right to such a large fortune! To explain this, it has been taught that the Children of Israel were rescued before the set time for another reason: On account of their great numbers. That said, they deserved this great fortune in light of their harsher enslavement.
We find an allusion to this in the verse, “But He raised the needy from poverty” (Tehillim 107:41). Why did they deserve such a large fortune? It is because “He made his families [numerous] like flocks” (ibid.).
Day and Night
It is written, “From the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, to the firstborn of the maidservant who is behind the millstone” (Shemot 11:5).
Further on we read: “…to the firstborn of the prisoner” (ibid. 12:29).
Rabbeinu Bechaye Zatzal stated that according to what he heard, the reason for this change is that slaves worked during the day to turn the millstone, and at night they were led back to prison.
Hence in the pronouncement that Moshe made during the day, he said: “to the firstborn of the maidservant who is behind the millstone,” for that is what they were doing during the day.
As for the plague of the firstborn, which took place in the middle of the night, the verse states: “to the firstborn of the prisoner.”
The Second Watch
It is written, “Against all the Children of Israel, no dog shall whet its tongue” (Shemot 11:7).
Why did the Holy One, blessed be He, make a specific promise that dogs would not bark on that night? How do we know that dogs would have barked then?
The book Ketoret Samim answers this question according to a teaching of the Gemara: “Rabbi Eliezer says: ‘The night has three watches, and during each watch the Holy One, blessed be He, sits and roars like a lion, as it is written: “Hashem roars from on high and raises His voice from His holy abode” [Jeremiah 25:30] … The donkey brays during the first watch, dogs bark during the second, the child sucks from the breast of his mother and a woman talks with her husband during the third’ ” (Berachot 3a).
Since the plague of the firstborn occurred in the middle of the night, during the second watch – when “dogs bark” – a specific promise was therefore needed so that “against all the Children of Israel, no dog shall whet its tongue.”
It is written, “Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the first issue of every womb among the Children of Israel, of man and animal; it is Mine” (Shemot 13:2).
The holy Rabbi of Apt recounted that Rabbi Eliezer (the father of the Baal Shem Tov) practiced hospitality at a great level, without differentiating between a tzaddik and a rasha. He said that this is alluded to in the verse, “Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the first issue of every womb among the Children of Israel, of man and animal; it is Mine.”
He explained it as follows:
“Sanctify to Me” – if a Jew truly wants to sanctify himself before Hashem, he should be humble and self-effacing, knowing that “every firstborn” – every Jew – is greater than himself, and he will not try to find sins among the deeds of others.
“The first issue of every womb” – everything has its origins in “every womb among the Children of Israel,” and therefore one must show compassion to every Jew, regardless of who he is.
However “of man and animal” – differentiating between Jews by saying that one is like a man and another is like an animal, “it is Mine” – can only be done by Hashem, for only Hashem knows the deeds and thoughts of men. However it is forbidden for a being of flesh and blood to differentiate between one man and another. He must show compassion to every Jew and love them equally, without any difference whatsoever.
In the Light of the Parsha
From the Teachings of the Gaon and Tzaddik Rabbi David Hanania Pinto Shlita
Humility, Not Pride
It is written, “Seven days shall you eat matzot, but on the first day you shall put away the leaven from your homes, for whoever eats chametz – that soul shall be cut off from Israel” (Shemot 12:15).
Regarding the reason for the mitzvah of eating matza and the prohibition against eating chametz, we may say that the exodus from Egypt is the basis of faith in Hashem, as it is written: “I am Hashem your G-d, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Shemot 20:1). We say this when we put on tefillin, in which Hashem commanded us to write the four passages pertaining to the unity of His Name and the exodus from Egypt, in order that we may remember the miracles and wonders that He performed for us. They demonstrate His unity and the fact that He alone possesses the ability to do everything He desires in Heaven and on earth.
During the exodus from Egypt, Israel’s primary task was to strengthen their faith in G-d and to understand it perfectly. This is because all the miracles and wonders that Hashem performed were in order for the Children of Israel and the entire world to recognize His existence, and the fact that He has the power to do what He desires in Heaven and on earth. In fact He is the One Who created all the worlds. Since Hashem’s primary objective in sending the plagues was to proclaim faith in Him, the Children of Israel were immersed in the study of faith throughout the exodus from Egypt.
In order for a person to believe in Hashem, he must be humble. This is because faith is the annulment of understanding. A person must believe in Hashem even in regards to what he does not understand, since what he does understand is not faith, but comprehension. It is therefore impossible for a person to believe in Hashem if he is proud.
We know what the commentators have written, namely that chametz designates pride. This is because fermented dough rises. Conversely matza designates humility, for it is the bread of the poor, which is why Hashem commanded us to eat matza, not chametz, on Passover. This means that we must be humble, not proud, which will enable us to achieve faith in Hashem.
A Life of Torah
“Just as one must put an effort into establishing his home in Eretz Israel, he must put an even greater effort into spending most of his days and nights in synagogues and houses of study. There one finds peace, rest, and joy. As the Sages have said, synagogues and houses of study are like an orchard for the tzaddik, but like a prison for the rasha” (Sefer Charedim, ch. 66).
He Slept a Little on His Chair
In the eulogy that the gaon Rabbi Y. Tiya Weill Zatzal gave for his Rav, the gaon Rabbi Yehonatan Eibeshutz Zatzal, he provided an extraordinary account of his daily habits:
“I was fully aware of the fact that when I served the Rav at the yeshiva, most of the time he did not sleep in a bed. Instead he would sleep a little on his chair, finding rest in the depths of Halachah.
“I remember that when I was at the Metz yeshiva in 5510, he was studying a particular subject in Halachah and Tosaphot [Bava Metzia 35b] for the entire week, every day from morning till night, until the time for Mincha. On the following week, he gave classes for two days, seven hours each day.”
We find the same account given by his student Rav Naphtali Hirsch Weshrtriling Zatzal:
“I take Heaven and earth as witnesses that he literally did not sleep. Every day of the week he did not go to bed, for at the time that people were sleeping, he was immersed in the Torah of Hashem. I doubt that there was anyone in that entire generation who put as much effort into Torah during his life as that courageous man.”
He Returned to Learn Again and Again
The gaon Rabbi Yehoshua Cohen Shlita recounts:
“My grandfather Zatzal [a disciple of Rabbi Meir Yechiel of Ostrova Zatzal] testified to the love for Torah that was deeply rooted in the residents of the town where he lived. In fact none of the wealthy people there, who possessed vast fortunes, ever stopped learning Torah in the Beit HaMidrash each day from 4 am to 10 am without respite.
“They dealt with their business affairs from 10 am until 4 pm, important transactions that earned them thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars. When their work ended at 4 pm, did anyone even think of going home? Certainly not! Everyone returned to the Beit HaMidrash to learn still more until 10 pm. It was only after their learning and prayers that they returned home!”
Our Eternal Joy
Ever since he became self-aware, the gaon Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank Zatzal, the Rav of Jerusalem, devoted all his days and nights – all his strength and desires – exclusively to learning Torah in the Babylonian Talmud and Jerusalem Talmud, the poskim and responsa, the Rishonim and the Acharonim. He devoted himself to Torah with tremendous diligence for the love of Torah.
Rabbi Tzvi Pesach had fixed study sessions, both day and night, with advanced avrechim. Rabbi Shemuel Aharon Shazuri described it as follows:
“In 5659, I studied in the junior yeshiva next to the Ohr Chadash yeshiva in the Chatzer Strauss. I remember that we prayed Ma’ariv at 12:30 (according to local time in Israel), and afterwards Rabbi Tzvi Pesach and Rabbi Yona Ram immediately returned home to eat. Fifteen minutes later, they began to study together for six hours straight.”
Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank himself wrote: “Each day we read, ‘For they are our life and the length of our days, and we will mediate on them day and night.’ The men of the Great Assembly, who instituted the text of the blessings, were not speaking rhetorically. The simplicity of their words and their great precision truly constitute our life and the length of our days, as well as our eternal joy, when we mediate on them day and night.”
On His Own
It is said that when the tzaddik Rabbi Israel Abuhatzera Zatzal was still very young, he would often hide himself behind the door of his brother’s room. His brother, Rabbi David, was older than him by 24 years, and Torah was his entire life, Torah and nothing else. His young mind had registered the command of Hashem: “You shall speak of them day and night” – as the only path in life, a path that can lead to true riches. That is why he decided, on his own, to devote all his energy to learning Torah.
He would go see his brother, the tzaddik Rabbi David, and his uncle the tzaddik Rabbi Yitzchak. He would observe their ways and ask them for advice on how to elevate himself and grow in Torah and the fear of Heaven. He studied clear-cut things with them, a straight and clearly-marked path on how to reach the “House of G-d.” The first principle that he learned was the need and obligation to study Torah day and night without respite. He always saw his brother learning, one minute after another throughout the day, without any interruption, and he understood that this was the way of Torah.
A Boundless Desire for Torah
Diligence in learning was a personal characteristic of the gaon Rabbi Moshe Feinstein Zatzal.
This diligence demonstrated itself as early as childhood, a characteristic that weaved its way through his entire life, which was filled with Torah study.
When he was eight or nine years old, his father studied the entire tractate Beitzah with him during the night of Shavuot. This was similar to what the Vilna Gaon did with his own son, and it also demonstrated how much attention and time Rabbi Moshe’s father spent with him. When he reached the age of 12, he stayed awake during the entire night of Yom Kippur learning tractate Yoma with his father. Before the prayer of Shacharit, they had finished the entire tractate.
Such nights and similar instances left a lasting impression on Rabbi Moshe, serving as a foundation for his intense desire for Torah. Later on, he made a compelling remark on this subject by saying: “A person is forbidden to aspire to a level greater than what his character allows, with the exception of Torah, for which one’s desire should be boundless!”