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18 Sivan 5766 - June 14, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira ztvk'l

Part I

The Midrash says on the verse: "A new king arose over Egypt" (Shemos 1:8): "The Rabbis opened with this verse: `They betrayed Hashem for they begot strange children; now a month shall consume them with their fields' (Hoshea 5:7). When Yosef died, they voided the bris milah. They said: `We shall be like Egypt . . . ' Since they did thus, HaKodosh Boruch Hu turned the love that the Egyptians had for them to hatred, as it is said: `He turned their hearts to hate his nation, to plot against His servants' (Tehillim 105:25). Thus, it was fulfilled in them that which is written: `Now a month (chodesh) shall consume them with their fields' (Hoshea 5:7) — a new king (melech chodosh) — who rose up and decreed against them new decrees" (Midrash Rabbah Shemos 1:8).

Our teacher the Beis HaLevi comments on this midrash. One should ask the question: How could such a holy generation, who were only one generation removed from the holy shevotim, void the mitzvah of bris milah? It is a mitzvah with thirteen sealed covenants, and it was the unique mitzvah that separated them from the rest of the bnei Noach. How did they come to the point of voiding the mitzvah?

Furthermore, the Beis HaLevi asks: Why did the posuk in Tehillim call the bnei Yisroel "His servants?" The gemora says that the term, "Your servants," implies tzaddikim without sin (Sanhedrin 47). How could the title "His servants" be reconciled with voiding the bris miloh?

The Beis HaLevi explains that bnei Yisroel certainly performed the bris before the enslavement and afterwards, as the Yalkut writes (Parshas Beshalach): "When the people of Israel circumcised their sons, the Egyptians said to them: `Why are you circumcising them? Be like us and you can alleviate the difficult subjugation.' The people of Israel answered: `Did our forefathers Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov forget their Father in Heaven that we should forget Him?' "

This demonstrates that even during the period of subjugation they performed the bris miloh. If so, why does the Midrash say they voided the mitzvah of miloh? Furthermore, why were they called tzaddikim if they indeed voided the bris miloh?

In fact, the bnei Yisroel had a tradition that they would be subjugated in Egypt for four hundred years. After Yosef died, they understood that the years of subjugation were approaching; the golus would begin soon. They began to fear the golus and worried about what the future held in store for them. Who knew how the Egyptians would treat them and their sons for such a long time?

Therefore, the bnei Yisroel devised a plan to bring themselves closer to the Egyptians, so as not to appear so separate from them and so that their sons would not appear foreign to the Egyptians. They thought that if they took actions to appear more similar to them, the hatred would decrease and the two peoples could be friendly. Seemingly, they had every logical reason to think this plan would succeed.

The main difference between the bnei Yisroel and the Egyptians was the bris miloh. Since these events were before the Giving of the Torah, the only mitzvah the bnei Yisroel had more than the gentiles was bris miloh. Therefore, the bnei Yisroel decided that immediately after the bris, they would pull the skin of the orlah until it was no longer recognizable that the child had been circumcised. Thus, they could fulfill the mitzvah according to the technical requirement of Torah law, but still not be separate from the Egyptians because their children would be indistinguishable from the Egyptians.

They did not want to completely nullify the mitzvah of bris miloh. Rather, as the Midrash wrote with careful precision: "They voided (heifeiru) the bris miloh. They said: `We shall be like Egypt . . . '" Their intention was to remove the difference between the Egyptians and themselves. Therefore, the Midrash used the term "heifeiru," they voided, instead of "bitlu," they nullified. This implies they only wanted to uproot the matter from this point and on, after the miloh had already taken place in actuality.

In order to save bnei Yisroel from mixing with the Egyptians, HaKodosh Boruch Hu created a hatred against them in Egypt, as it is written: "And they were disgusted because of the children of Israel" (Shemos 1:12). The simple explanation of this verse is that the Egyptians were so disgusted by the bnei Yisroel that when they saw a Jew they were disgusted with themselves.

All this occurred not as a punishment to the bnei Yisroel because they sinned, for they actually did circumcise their sons. Rather, it was because HaKodosh Boruch Hu guarded His people and wished to insure that they would not assimilate with the Egyptians.

Following this explanation, the Beis HaLevi also explained the verse: "And I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, and I said to you, `With your blood, live,' and I said to you, `With your blood, live'" (Yechezkel 16:6). "With your blood" refers to the blood of the Pesach sacrifice and to the blood of the bris miloh. It is precisely because you are "wallowing in your blood" that you shall live; the blood of the bris miloh that separates you from the Egyptians is the means by which the bnei Yisroel will live. (See the Beis HaLevi Parshas Shemos for all of his wonderful words).

In truth, we have seen during the long exile of the Jewish people — especially in the last generation of the Holocaust — that in precisely those places where there was the greatest assimilation, the evil and punishments began against the Jewish people. In every place that the Jewish people were exiled, the moment they began to draw close to the gentiles and try to be like them the storm winds began to blow and evil decrees were instituted against them until they were forced to leave.

We are still in exile. Although we reside on the Holy Land, we are in a bitter and terrible exile. The seforim kedoshim have written (see Beis HaLevi Parshas Vayishlach) that there are two types of exiles. This is demonstrated from the prayer of Yaakov Ovinu when he feared meeting Eisov: "Save me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisov" (Bereishis 32:12). Since Yaakov said "from the hand of my brother," why did he have to add: "From the hand of Eisov" — he had only one brother.

The answer is that when Yaakov learned that Eisov was coming towards him, he knew that there was no escaping from one of two alternatives. Either Eisov will wage war with him and try to kill him, or he would be appeased and would want to dwell together with him in peace and brotherhood. Yaakov feared both of these alternatives, as it is said: "Yaakov became very frightened, and it distressed him" (Ibid. 8). He was frightened lest he be killed, and he was distressed lest Eisov draw close to him.

Yaakov was actually more fearful of the possibility that Eisov would want to be friendly with him in brotherly companionship than he was afraid that he would behave as the wicked Eisov and attempt to kill him. For this reason Yaakov prayed first: "Save me, please, from the hand of my brother," and only afterwards: ". . . from the hand of Eisov."

To our misfortune, we have both types of exile today. On the one hand, the Jewish people are in a situation of danger among the antisemitic nations who seek to destroy, slay, and annihilate.

On the other hand, we are in exile in a state whose leaders seek only to be like all the other nations, and whose entire goal is to eradicate Torah from the Jewish people. They only want us not to be different from any other nation: just as they all have a state, land, and a language, so should we. And just as the nations are free of any yoke of Torah and mitzvos, so too they want to cast away Torah.

They say to us in the manner of the Egyptians: "Why are you circumcising them? Be like us and you can alleviate the difficult subjugation." Join us to be a nation like all the others and you will relieve your children of the hatred we bear. They say: Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest those that learn Torah increase.

Not that learning Torah should be obliterated, G-d forbid. It is only out of concern for our welfare, as it were. They are only `concerned' that those who learn Torah should be occupied with earning a living for their households. Because if not, there will be poverty and starvation, R'l.

This all occurs under the banner of: "Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they increase." (But they do not know that Hakodosh Boruch Hu says: You say, `Lest they multiply.' But I say: `So will they multiply!') Thus, they ask us to be more open and to just try to understand their way of life, as if they were not interested in influencing us.

End of Part I

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