Sign In Forgot Password

Parshas Vaera - Revealing the Torah Piece by Piece        26 Teves 5779

01/02/19 11:38:10


There is a certain thrill one gets in learning Torah. The different levels of excitement or appreciation come from the person with whom I am learning or preparing. The gemara in Taanis relates that in general there are three kinds of people we learn from: a teacher, a colleague, and a student. For me, I get the most out of my Torah learning when a student reaches a level to ask and derive questions from other things we’ve learned previously. It displays a genuine depth of understanding and grasping of material, revealing measurable signs of growth.

Last week, one of my study partners asked the following question: In Parshas Shmos Hashem gave Moshe three signs by which to convince the Egyptians and the Jews that he, Moshe, was a messenger from God. In Shmos, Perek 4 Pesukim 3,6, and 9 three signs are given: his staff turning into a snake and back again to a rod; Moshe’s hand, which develops leprosy when first inserted in his shirt and then, after repeating the process, it comes out healthy again; The third sign is when Moshe took some water and turned it into blood as a sign that this will be the first of the ten plagues. My chavrusa asked: if later Hashem wasn’t going to allow Moshe to smite the Nile, as we see in parshas Vaera, why even bother doing the miracle of the water with him? Doesn’t God know that Moshe would not be able to hit the Nile because he had to show Hakaras Hatov - gratitude toward the water - because it saved him? The following is the selection in question.

In this week’s Parshas Vaera the Torah states, Shmos 7:19: "VaYomer Hashem El Moshe Emor El Aharon, Kach Matcha UnTei Yadcha Al Meimei Mitzrayim Al Naharosam, Al Y’Oreihem, V’Al Agmeihem, V’Al Kal Mikvey Meimeihem V’Yihyu Dam, V’Haya Dam B’Chol Eretz Mitzrayim UVaeitzim UBa’Avanim.” : God said to Moshe, “Tell Aaron to take his staff and extend his hand over the waters of Egypt – over their rivers, their canals, their reservoirs, and every place where water is kept, and the water shall turn into blood. There will be blood throughout all Egypt, even in wooden barrels and stone jars.” An almost identical verse and command is repeated at the time of the third plague of lice, upon which Rashi comments in an identical fashion as well. Rashi explains, ‘Since the river offered protection to Moshe when he was cast into it, therefore it was not smitten by his hand, neither with the plague of blood nor with the frogs; but it was smitten by Aharon’. This instruction is repeated in Shmos 8:12 where Rashi gives a similar explanation. ‘The dust was not deserving to be smitten by the hands of Moshe, since it protected him when he killed the Egyptian and concealed him in the sand; and therefore, it was smitten by the hands of Aharon.”

The name of the parsha is Vaera, which means ‘I revealed Myself’, as in Hashem telling Moshe He appeared to the forefathers. For me, it rings loudly as I reviewed this section a few times working through in the process of answering this question. My initial thought was God doesn’t take decisions out of our hands; rather he places the challenge or situation in front of us to make the decision on our own. Hashem wants Moshe to come the realization that he needs to have gratitude to the Nile for protecting him. After further review (revelation), the initial test in Shmos commands Moshe to take some water out from the Nile and turn it into blood, in contrast to turning the entire river red. This answer removes the question completely Upon further and deeper review, however, another answer was revealed to me in an obscure sefer - K’ayal TaArog

If one steps back to analyze this, one might reach a different conclusion regarding the reason Moshe should not have been the one to do the first three Makkos (plagues). Anyone with a little common sense realizes that the water and the sand didn’t really do anything to protect him. The protection came from his sister Miriam when she placed him into the basket. The water was just helping Miriam. So, in reality, the water by itself doesn’t deserve any particular mention or reward. Therefore, even if Moshe would have been the one to smack the Nile, the river would not have had a complaint against Moshe. We should not apply the principle of ‘denying the good’ vis a vis the river. Furthermore, we could argue that the river was just doing its job exactly as God had intended. Nevertheless, with all that said, the river did fulfill the will of Hashem, therefore elevating its level of holiness. The fact that the river turned into blood proves that it followed the will of its creator and raised its level of sanctity. We should not view the river turning into blood as a punishment. So, why do all the commentaries - led by Rashi - explain that Moshe had to have a sensitivity and gratitude to the river and therefore needed to have Aharon begin the plague?

Rav Aleksander Yehoshua Levinson of Har Nof, Yerushalayim in his sefer K’Ayal TaArog, formalized this approach and answers in the following manner: There are two approaches or paths when it comes to the fulfillment of Mitzvos between man and his fellow man. The first and obvious side is the benefit the recipient of the kindness receives from the giving of his friend. (There is also the flip side of doing something harmful to our fellow). The second way to observe the act is the benefit to the giver. At the same moment that he is giving or doing the kindness, he is refining his good character qualities. When a person does a ‘chessed’ - a kindness - he becomes a Baal chessed, a master of kindness. The act of chessed that he or she performs transforms the person’s middos and refines them another notch above. The act of chessed converts into the midda itself and strengthens it.

Rav Dessler compares a person’s middos to a ladder. Each one of us is on a certain rung. All the middos that are beneath that rung have been conquered by that person; the person was victorious over each previous challenge. The evil inclination no longer has the upper hand over it so it gives up on that point. Any middos that are above the rung are those we still strive to perfect. When we fulfill a mitzva ,not only do we receive reward, but it puts another notch into climbing the ladder of that trait. Through this process a person begins to change, conquering the trait and making it part of his essence. Rav Soloveichik, in his sefer ‘Al HaTeshuva, explains the difference between atonement and purity. A sin causes two bad things for a person: 1) the sin causes him to receive a punishment. 2) The sin causes the person to become a sinner; he defiles himself, lowering himself from what a human being should be. Teshuva, repentance, comes to fix these two corrupt events. First, Teshuva atones for the punishment and purifies the sinner from the impurity of the sin. This notion is all the more emphatic: doing a chessed causes the person to develop into a kinder individual.

  1. the perspective of ‘the letter of the law’, the concern that Moshe should not hit the Nile or the sand that protected him is now easily understood. But we must realize it was not because Moshe was under any obligation. To the contrary, he could have done the Makkah (plague), because his only true gratitude would have been toward Basya, the daughter of Pharoah, who literally spared him. Only he did not do the hitting himself because the middah of Hakaras Hatov would be weakened within him if he smote the water by a little bit or strengthened the character trait of gratitude by overcoming and withdrawing from doing so a little more each time. That is why Hashem told Moshe to let Aharon do it, to sensitize Moshe even more so as to improve his Middos a little at a time, fine tuning his overall character as the leader of His people.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Sat, December 14 2019 16 Kislev 5780