Tuesday, 8 January 2013
Parshas Shemos: A Chidush in the Name of Reb Shalom ben Ha’Rav Shlomo
I learned for a long time with a man in Toronto whom I respect a great deal. He was and is my mentor in Torah, even though I learned with many wonderful rebbeim as well. He is a chazan and a leader in kiruv, although you may not know his name, because of his incredible humility.
Reb Shalom taught me a fascinating chidush. I have tried to determine if this chidush is to be found in peirush, and none of my rebbeim knew it. Reb Shalom learned it from his enormous efforts as a chazan and Baal Korah, and simply noticed a pattern in the Torah, which he toiled to understand over many decades. I would like to share this chidush in his name, and to show some interesting things we can learn in Parashas Shemos using this chidush.
Every tiny detail of the Torah is significant. The nikud in the Torah is no exception. The word “et” (or "es" to Ashkenazim like me) is very difficult to translate into English. It serves to connect the subject of the sentence to its object, and no English word or grammatical structure corresponds to it. With the nikud, sometimes this word is pronounced “et” (or “es” to Ashkenazim) and sometimes “eit” (or “eis”). Consider the first two paragraphs of the Shemah: “Ve’ahavta EIS Ha’Shem Elokecha be’chol levavecha...” in the first, and “Vehaya, im shamoah tishme’u el mitzvosai asher Anochi metzaveh estchem ha’yom, l’ahava ES Hashem Elokeichem u’le’avdo...”
Why does the Torah change the nikud in differing cases? Reb Shalom gave a very interesting suggestion about this, from seeing this tiny word, only two letters long, in many different contexts. I have checked an enormous number of instances of this explanation, and have yet to find a circumstance in Chumash where it does not work and does not give insight.
Reb Shalom explained that "es" is an inclusive term, referring to more than one object (“ES Hashem Elokeichem u’le’avdo” - BOTH Hashem and His service), where eit or eis refers to one and only one object (“Ve’ahavta EIS Hashem Elokecha” - Hashem and only Hashem).
Another example is in our benching after a meal, where we ask Hashem to send us “ES Eliyahu Ha’Navi, zachur le’tov, veyevaser lanu besorot tovot ve’yeshu’ot” - since Eliyahu is coming to anounce the arrival of Moshiach ben David, the inclusive sense of the word “es” is used.
This understanding has been tremendously useful to me. It is like a key to a lock, or a primer to a cypher. By examining whether the word “es” or the word “eis” is used, one can glean enormous insights into the Torah’s meaning.
Let us examine two comments from Parashas Shemos, and see what we can learn, using this chidush. The amount of information that can be “unpacked” using this one, deceptively simple chidush is incredible. I will only use two examples of this “dikduk,” or grammatical structure here, but the insights I have learned from it have been too numerous to mention. This might be the greatest chidush I have learned from any of my teachers, kaneinu ha'rah.
In Shemos 1:13, the Torah relates that “Egypt enslaved the Children of Israel with crushing harshness.” In Lashon Kodesh, this is וַיַּעֲבִדוּ מִצְרַיִם אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּפָרֶךְ, or in transliteration, “Vaya’avidu Mitzrayim ES Bnei Yisrael befarech.” This is the inclusive sense of the nikud, as taught by Reb Shalom.
Yet in Shemos 1:14, the Torah teaches us that the Egyptians “...embittered their lives with hard work, with mortar and bricks, and with every labor of the field; all their labors that they performed with them were with crushing harshness.” In Lashon kodesh: וַיְמָרְרוּ אֶת-חַיֵּיהֶם בַּעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה, בְּחֹמֶר וּבִלְבֵנִים, וּבְכָל-עֲבֹדָה, בַּשָּׂדֶה--אֵת, כָּל-עֲבֹדָתָם, אֲשֶׁר-עָבְדוּ בָהֶם, בְּפָרֶךְ. Note that in this pasuk, the language is very similar regarding this harshness, but the “es” has become “eis.”
If we examine the change in nikud, the first comment is an inclusive one, “es” meaning not exclusively so. Yet in Pasuk 1:14, since the word becomes “eis,” it would seem this is without exception!
Thus there were clearly significant exceptions to the Jews who had to perform the crushing labor, but all the labor the Jews were ordered to perform were crushingly difficult. How can we explain this seeming paradox?
We cannot argue that the exceptions were gender-based; the midrash tells us that the building was done by the men, and the work in the fields by the women.
We do know that the Levi’im remained in Goshen, and were permitted to remain in the Beis Midrash, but this is midrash and perush, not pshat. Where do we see in the pshat that there were Jews who were not involved in this crushing labor?
The Torah goes on to discuss the work of the midwives, Shifrah and Puah (identified in Midrash as Yocheved and Miriam, OH”S) in Shemos 1:15-20. Clearly the work of a midwife had not changed. This was not crushing harshness, although the miraculous rates of birth might have resulted in a more busy work schedule than normal for them.
If one wishes to argue that this is still Midrash, since the pshat does not say “Yocheved and Miriam,” we can still see that the midwives had Hebrew names, which was a hallmark of Jews in Mitzrayim, and no Egyptian would want a Jewish name, as “they became disgusted because of the Bnei Yisrael (Shemos 1:12).”
Thus, even if the midwives were not these two great tzadeikios, they were Jewish women, and thus constitute an exception to the requirement of the Jews to work at the tasks mentioned. All those who were ordered to do this labor experienced this crushing harshness, however. Interestingly, Yocheved and Miriam were also from Beis Levi, which brings the midwives and Levi'im into a certain connection in their exemption from this labor.
What remains, then, is to explain the use of “eis,” the exclusive form of the nikud, in pasuk 1:14. If one considers the sentence carefully, this is a grammatic necessity. In what did the Egyptians enslave Israel? In crushing labor specifically. It is only later that the Egyptians began to try to kill the first-born children.
Now that we have seen an example of this chidush in action, let us examine another interesting comment later in this parshah. Shemos 4: 15 relates Hashem’s commandments to Moshe about his and Aaron’s (OH”S) actions to follow in Egypt.
The pasuk reads: וְדִבַּרְתָּ אֵלָיו, וְשַׂמְתָּ אֶת-הַדְּבָרִים בְּפִיו; וְאָנֹכִי, אֶהְיֶה עִם-פִּיךָ וְעִם-פִּיהוּ, וְהוֹרֵיתִי אֶתְכֶם, אֵת אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשׂוּן.
In translation, this reads: “You shall speak to [Aaron] and put the words in his mouth; and I shall be with your mouth and with his mouth, and teach you both what you are to do.”
Note that the nikud here is “EIS asher ta’asoon.” If we understand this using Reb Shalom’s chidush, it would read “...and teach you both what you are to do specifically, and you should not do anything else.” The additional words would be needed in English because of the differing grammar rules, but are needed in the Lashon Kodesh. Saying “eis” implies the “this and only this” understanding.
How is this valuable information, besides being a grammatical novelty? It implies that there were other options Moshe and Aaron could have chosen to “do.”
Since we know that the only sin Moshe committed that the Torah recorded was striking the rock when he was commanded to speak to it, we can see how important this language was. Moshe was to understand that there were possible pitfalls if he performed his task differently from the manner in which he was commanded.
To me, this also suggests that Moshe could perform more miracles than those Hashem tells him about in this perek. He was to restrict himself to only the miracles Hashem told him about here. This understanding is an inference, it is true. But it seems sound to me, and we know Moshe later performed many additional miracles.
We could then understand the entire discussion as being, in effect: “I will teach you many different miracles you can perform, but it is important to use them B’Shem Shamayim, and thus they should not be performed whenever you want, but only in the specific circumstances I explain to you.”
Again, we see from Moshe’s hitting the rock that he knew this. If you gave me a stick and told me to bring water from a rock, I would not have thought of banging the rock with the stick without knowing this could occur. Clearly Moshe Rabbeinu knew much more than the Torah is telling us in the pshat - and despite his enormous time leading us, and equally enormous nisyanos, he never erred in his service until he struck the rock instead of speaking to it. I doubt we know the true limit of the miracles he was taught how to perform.
The Ramchal, ZT”L, explains in Derech Hashem that miraculous actions require knowing how to do them, as well as Hashem’s permission. Clearly the Ramchal did not miss Moshe Rabbeinu’s more hidden knowledge... Given the merit of Moshe and Aaron, it is not surprising that they might stumble onto miracles they might not have thought about.
This awareness of Moshe's was not true of Aaron Ha'Cohen Gadol, clearly. When he was faced with a potential massacre regarding the Egel Ha'Zahav, Aaron threw the gold into the fire, intending to delay the process of making the Egel until Moshe returned. He told Moshe that it came out immediately and miraculously as an idol. Clearly he was shocked and upset that this had happened, and equally clearly, he is not killed or punished for it. His teshuvah was accepted. One could think of this as a "teachable moment," where Hashem Yisborach was reminding Aaron how careful he needed to be.
This suggests that Aaron could also do miracles we are not told about, but that he and Moshe did not discuss the wording of Hashem's initial teaching carefully enough, in retrospect (I am certainly not suggesting I would have done better - I often wonder how Moshe even remembered all the instructions he received from Hashem Yisborach).
Perhaps Moshe found this teaching of Hashem's obvious. We have a similar comment about Moshe's vantage point from perush about Moshe's Da'as Torah, when he tells us he "only" expects us to have Yiras Shamayim. Our Sages of Blessed Memory ask if Yiras Shamayim is so easy to perfect that this can be said as "only?" They answer that if you are Moshe Rabbeinu, yes, this is a small task, relatively speaking. For the rest of us it is a life's work.
It is, perhaps, not surprising that Moshe had to struggle to remember the gap between what he had accomplished and knew, and the Da'as Torah of Klal Yisrael. We could say, metaphorically, that Moshe's vantage point was looking down from Har Sinai, and ours remained very much at "ground level."
Some Torah insights are applicable only to one specific pasuk, others to several. Reb Shalom’s chidush allows us to gain more insight from every parsha in the Torah, so pervasive is the use of the words “es” and “eis.”
Some of you probably know this already, but we are urged by our Sages to give credit to the person who taught us a given idea, as this hastens the Ge'ulah. It is possible that Reb Shalom would prefer I do not mention his name. I think he would agree, however, that since this hastens the Ge'ulah Shleimah, it is more important for me to do so than to work to keep him as anonymous as he usually works to be...
Yishar koach, Reb Shalom. This chidush continues to illuminate Hashem’s Torah for me today, just as it did when you taught it to me a decade ago...
B"H' Yom Yom.