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7 Nissan 5762 - March 20, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Prime Objective: Speak About My Name Everywhere In The Land!

by HaRav Yitzchok Shlomo Silbermann, zt'l

In this shiur, HaRav Silbermann clarifies the main objective of yetzias Mitzrayim. His penetrating conclusion has important consequences for fulfilling the mitzvoh of sippur yetzias Mitzrayim at the seder. This shiur was delivered two years ago, on erev Pesach 5760, and was prepared from the notes of one of the listeners by A. Chefetz. It is being presented here to mark HaRav Silbermann's first yahrtzeit on 18 Adar.

Why Just Three Days?

A close examination of Moshe Rabbenu's conversations with Pharaoh reveals something strange. In Shemos 5:3, Moshe Rabbenu tells Pharaoh, "We have been called upon by the G-d of the Hebrews, please let us go on a three day journey in the desert and we will sacrifice to Hashem our G-d, lest He smite us [i.e. you -- Rashi] with plague or with the sword."

He also warned Pharaoh in Hashem's name, "So says Hashem, My firstborn son Yisroel . . . if you refuse to send them, I will kill your firstborn son" (4:23). Moshe Rabbenu communicated to Pharaoh that he and his nation were completely in HaKodosh Boruch Hu's power and if he, Pharaoh, refused to listen to what Hashem said, he would be punished with due severity.

But there is something astonishing about their exchange. Pharaoh ruled over the world, as the gemora tells us, and he had a staff of advisors and wise men. He should have dismissed Moshe Rabbenu's arguments with a simple response: "If Hashem has the power that you claim, if He rules over everything and I am enslaving His sons cruelly and unjustly, why are you coming to me with such a modest request -- `let us go on a three day journey' -- after which you'll return to work. Can't Hashem manage more than that? Can't he have you ask me to set you free entirely?" Pharaoh should have pointed out that Moshe's claim to represent Hashem, Who rules over everything in existence, was inconsistent with his request for just a three-day furlough.

In fact, Moshe Rabbenu's request was akin to mockery of his Divine King. Pharaoh should have showed him that what he was saying was illogical. If a man owes his friend a million dollars and is not prepared to repay, and the lender threatens him, "If you don't pay me one penny of the sum now, I'll kill you" -- that is absurd. If he were to demand immediate payment of half or a quarter of the total, the threat is understandable. But there is no logic at all in a threat of such magnitude when demanding a single penny.

When Pharaoh said, "I do not know Hashem" (5:2), he used the verb "to know" in the sense that it is used in the posuk, "and the holders of Torah have not known Me," namely, their attitude to HaKodosh Boruch Hu was incorrect. Pharaoh's declaration "I do not know Hashem" was not a statement that meant, "I have not heard of Him" or, "I lack information about Him." It meant, "I am not prepared to acknowledge the concept that Hashem is the Eternal, that He controls every power, that He is the G-d of Yisroel and that you [Moshe] are trying to compel me because of this. I, Pharaoh, am the head of a cruel, earthly regime and the G-d of truth, holiness, purity and justice will not force my hand!"

Moshe Rabbenu's response to this was, "You are wrong. HaKodosh Boruch Hu is the Eternal and He is G-d of all gods!" But again, his modest request for a mere three-day break seemed to disprove these claims. For this reason alone Pharaoh should have said that he was unwilling to speak to Moshe any more.

Common Knowledge

There is another matter that also requires explanation. It seems obvious that Pharaoh knew that Moshe Rabbenu's intention was to achieve permanent freedom for his nation from the Egyptian slavery. Every Jew knew that Hashem had sent Moshe to take them out of Egypt, as the posuk tells us explicitly in perek 3:16, "Go and gather the elders of Yisroel and say to them ` . . . and I will bring you up from the poverty of Mitzrayim to the land of the Canaani . . . '" Every Jewish child was aware of this and Pharaoh surely knew it as well! As head of the power that ruled over Bnei Yisroel absolutely, there can be no doubt that he knew what was no secret to the Jews, namely that HaKodosh Boruch Hu had made four promises of redemption to Moshe and that this was the nation's hope.

The question is obvious. Throughout the duration of the ten plagues, all discussion between Moshe and Pharaoh regarding freedom for Bnei Yisroel revolved around "a three-day journey to sacrifice to Hashem, G-d of Yisroel." Yet everyone was aware of the truth: HaKodosh Boruch Hu had promised to redeem Bnei Yisroel permanently and to take them to Eretz Canaan.

A Dual Purpose

The answers to these questions appear to lie along the following lines. From the parshiyos we see that there were two aims to yetzias Mitzrayim. The first was to publicize Hashem's Name and His rule throughout the world, and the second purpose was to take Bnei Yisroel out of Mitzrayim forever.

From the pesukim it appears that the first aim -- to make Hashem's Name known in the world -- was the main one. This is apparent from the beginning of parshas Vo'eiro, where Hashem tells Moshe Rabbenu that hitherto, His Name of Havaya had not been revealed to the world, and that an important change was about to take place with the revelation to the world of this Name.

When warning Pharaoh about the plague of hail, Moshe Rabbenu said (9:15-16), "For just now, I could have sent out My hand [against you] and smitten you and all your people and you would have disappeared from the land. However, because of this I kept you alive: in order to show you My power and so that you should speak about My Name everywhere in the land." This then, was the reason for the plagues.

Similarly, at the beginning of parshas Bo, after seven plagues HaKodosh Boruch Hu told Moshe Rabbenu not to lose heart but to go to Pharaoh and continue bringing the plagues. Hashem wanted Pharaoh's heart to be hardened, "so that I can place these signs of Mine in his midst." The ten plagues were part of a specific process. (The Arizal writes that the ten plagues were intended to strike at the ten sefiros of the powers of uncleanliness.) Their purpose was to annul the forces of impurity and to raise aloft the banner of holiness in the world.

More was afoot than simply taking Bnei Yisroel out of bondage, as the posuk continues, " . . . and so that you should tell your son and grandson how I amused Myself with Egypt" -- with the ten plagues -- " . . . and you shall know that I am Hashem" (the G-d of truth, who upholds the covenant and the kindness and who can be trusted to fulfill His promise to the fathers, as Rashi writes at the beginning of parshas Bo).

Attaining the Prime Objective

From all this it appears that Pharaoh in fact knew that Moshe Rabbenu's intention was to take Bnei Yisroel out of Egypt, but their discussions did not revolve around this point at all. Moshe Rabbenu, as Hashem's emissary to Pharaoh, asked just one thing of him: that he send Bnei Yisroel to the desert for three days to offer sacrifices and to serve Hashem their G-d. This was all that was asked; nothing was said about setting them free.

Through agreeing to Moshe's request, the enormity of Hashem's rule would have been revealed to the world and would have become common knowledge. Pharaoh, who declared [his independence of any Heavenly assistance by saying], "My river is mine and I made myself" (Yechezkel 29:3), was the foremost representative of the sitro acharo (literally "the other side") in this world, as we find in the writings of the Arizal and in the holy Zohar. Egypt was the nakedness of the land, the place of the greatest evil and impurity in the world, all of which, as the country's leader, Pharaoh symbolized.

By consenting to Bnei Yisroel's [albeit temporary] departure for the sole purpose of escaping his authority in order to offer sacrifices and to serve Hashem Elokei Yisroel, the G-d of justice, truth, holiness and purity, Pharaoh would have been giving his full approval to the idea that Hashem created the world and chose Bnei Yisroel to be His servants and to publicize His Name, in which capacity they are the ultimate purpose of the creation.

This was what Moshe Rabbenu wanted from Pharaoh. The submission of the forces of evil that such an agreement would have represented would have been the ultimate and the most powerful revelation, throughout the whole world, of Hashem's Name of Havaya.

And this was what Pharaoh would not agree to, under any circumstances. He withheld his consent right to the bitter end and was unwilling to concede that all he stood for was falsehood, that the sitro acharo and all the evil was illusory, and that "Hashem Elokei Yisroel is King and His rule extends to everything."

Had Moshe Rabbenu originally asked Pharaoh to agree to release Bnei Yisroel permanently [i.e. without the conclusive proof of their spiritual mission as Hashem's servants that the three day service represented], no publicizing of Hashem's Name to the world would have resulted at all. The nations would have said that the Hebrews simply possessed their own "local" deity [which rendered them assistance], in the same way that the Moabite nation had a deity named Kemosh and the Amonnites had one named Milchom. This was what the ancient peoples believed. The prime objective -- "so that you should speak about My Name throughout the land" -- would have been missing, since the demand would have been interpreted as a material, not a spiritual, one.

From the pesukim as well, it is clear that Moshe Rabbenu only asked that Bnei Yisroel be allowed to serve Hashem, not that they be entirely released from bondage. This was ultimately achieved when, after all the firstborns had died, Pharaoh said to Moshe (12:31), "Arise and depart from among my people, both you and Bnei Yisroel and go serve Hashem as you said. Take your flocks and your cattle too, as you said, and go, and bless me as well." Pharaoh gave his full consent to Bnei Yisroel's going to serve Hashem. The sitro acharo submitted fully and agreed that Hashem Elokei Yisroel is King and that He rules everywhere.

Pharaoh also freed Bnei Yisroel completely, for he also knew that this was the ultimate objective, despite the fact that his dialogue with Moshe had not revolved around this point.

Third Gain

An additional, immense benefit to Bnei Yisroel that resulted from this arrangement of events was the miracle of Krias Yam Suf. Had the discussion centered upon a complete release for Bnei Yisroel from slavery with Pharaoh ultimately giving his royal consent to what had been asked of him, he would not have been able to pursue Bnei Yisroel, an entire nation numbering millions.

As an important world ruler, Pharaoh would not have retracted his consent to their release, thereby exposing himself to the ridicule of the nations. Neither would his advisors have said (14:5), "What is this we have done, that we dismissed Yisroel from serving us?"

Their sole pretext for giving chase to Bnei Yisroel after three days was that the latter had only requested a three-day absence. Despite the fact that the Egyptians knew that complete freedom was Bnei Yisroel's ultimate goal, it was the explicit mention of only three days that enabled them to pursue Bnei Yisroel.

This casts everything in a very clear light. The request for only a three-day leave of absence resulted, first of all, in the submission of all evil and impurity in the world, the publicizing of Hashem's Name and the revelation of holiness throughout the world, second in Bnei Yisroel's complete freedom from bondage and third in the miracle of the splitting of the Yam Suf.

So That the World Should Know

A further point to consider is the posuk's statement, "I have kept you alive for this, so that you should speak about My Name throughout the land." This was the only reason that Pharaoh and his nation were kept alive: so that the "debate" between Pharaoh and HaKodosh Boruch Hu could become known to the whole world.

Here, Moshe informed Pharaoh that HaKodosh Boruch Hu wished the subject of their "debate" to be discussed throughout the world.

The purpose of this discussion needs to be explained. It cannot have been so that everyone would realize that Hashem is all-powerful, or that He created the world, because all the nations were already aware of this. Aristotle also knew it, yet the mere knowledge did not bind him in any way.

In fact, Pharaoh's "argument" with Hashem over releasing Bnei Yisroel for three days, which turned upon Pharaoh's acknowledging Hashem as Ruler of the world and all evil as false, went on for an entire year. All the nations knew about it and wondered why HaKodosh Boruch Hu was dealing such terrible blows to Egypt, which they had thought was the power that ruled the world.

The answer which they discovered was that Pharaoh refused to concede that the rule of Hashem Elokei Yisroel extends throughout the world. For a whole year, the entire world watched with bated breath to see which side would be victorious: the side of Holiness or the sitro acharo, chas vesholom.

In the end, they all saw the defeat of the sitro acharo and the affirmation of the rule of Holiness, especially with the splitting of the Yam Suf when Bnei Yisroel became truly free, which was the climax of the whole tremendous revelation.

Thus we find in Yehoshua (2:10), "For we heard that Hashem dried up the water of the Yam Suf for you when you came out of Egypt . . . " and in the shiroh itself (15:14-15), "Nations heard and trembled; the inhabitants of Philistia were gripped by fear. Then the princes of Edom were dismayed; the nobles of Mo'ov were gripped by shaking; all the inhabitants of Canaan melted." All the worlds' inhabitants were gripped by fear because of this great revelation and the final, utter submission of the sitro acharo, resulting in the very greatest revelation of G-dliness and holiness.

The Vilna Gaon writes (in his commentary to Safro Detzni'uso at the beginning of perek 2, the paragraph beginning ve'inyon hakovod ) that its main purpose was that which is mentioned in the continuation of the shiroh, "Bring them and plant them upon the mountain of Your inheritance, the dwelling place which You have made, Hashem, the mikdosh Hashem, that Your Hands have established. Hashem will rule forever more."

A New Dimension

The fearsome revelation that resulted from the whole process of yetzias Mitzrayim of Hashem's Name of Havaya, certainly bound the nations as well. It did not simply reveal to them the fact that He is all powerful. It represented a fundamental upheaval in their knowledge hitherto. This was a demonstration that not only had HaKodosh Boruch Hu created the world, but He continually oversees it; that He has a purpose in mind for the world and that Yisroel is His nation and His particular portion.

Being chosen by Hashem as the standard-bearers of the world's ultimate purpose, the Jewish nation is thus the principle focus of the entire Creation, "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (19:6). All the nations have to submit to this idea. Their entire connection to anything G-dly is only through Yisroel, whose task it is to rectify all the nations. (This is the significance of the seventy cows that are offered during Succos, as the Ramchal explains in Derech Hashem.) If the nations wish to endure, they must become [in a spiritual sense] appendages of Yisroel and submit themselves to the latter's authority in the correct way.

The posuk (Zecharioh 14:17) says, "And it will be that those of the families of the earth who do not ascend to Yerushalayim to bow to the King Hashem . . . and the rain will not fall on them." This is how it will be in the future, as the posuk (Michah 4:1) says, "And the house of Hashem will be established at the top of the mountains and will be elevated over the hills and all the nations will flow towards it." All this happened, or was to have happened at the time of yetzias Mitzrayim. If not for the sin of the eigel, Bnei Yisroel would have attained their ultimate purpose then.

Two Messages

This was what was meant by, "so that you should speak about My Name throughout the land." This was the purpose of this powerful revelation of Hashem's Name of Havaya to all the nations. They saw holiness ascendent, proceeding towards the world's ultimate purpose. They saw that none could hinder it, that no other power could exist in the face of this revelation.

All this resulted from HaKodosh Boruch Hu's sending Moshe to ask Pharaoh, "Please let us go for three days' journey in the desert and sacrifice to Hashem our G-d," rather than having him ask for a complete release from slavery, which would not have resulted in the same wondrous Divine revelation.

It was in reference to this that Hashem said " . . . for this I kept you alive . . . so that you should speak about My Name throughout the world." This was really addressed to all the nations. Concerning Yisroel however, the posuk says (at the beginning of parshas Bo), "so that you should tell your son and your grandson how I played with Mitzrayim and My signs which I placed among them and you should know that I am Hashem."

In other words, there were two separate purposes in the revelation of the Name of Havaya to the whole world. One was for Yisroel, as the commentators explain at the beginning of parshas Vo'eiro, and a second one, "so that you should speak about My Name throughout the land," for the nations.

A Practical Application

All the above has practical consequences with regard to fulfilling the mitzvoh of sippur yetzias Mitzrayim. Since the main objective of yetzias Mitzrayim was the revelation of the Name of Havaya, as a result of which Bnei Yisroel attained their freedom, the accent of the story should be upon this aspect; simply recounting how the slavery ended is insufficient.

The Rambam (in Hilchos Chometz Umatzoh 7:2) writes, "It is a mitzvoh to tell one's children about this . . . according to the son's understanding, his father teaches him. How? If the son is young or foolish he says, `My son, we were all slaves and we went out to freedom,' and if the son is mature and wise, he tells him about what happened to us in Mitzrayim and about the miracles that were done for us by Moshe Rabbenu, all according to his understanding." As we have explained, the main aspect of the story is the revelation of the Name of Havaya, not just the end of the bondage [and this should therefore be conveyed to each child, according to their understanding].

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