Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thursday's Parsha Tidbits - Parshas Yisro

The following is a brief summary of a vort said over by R' Frand this evening. I have attempted to reproduce the vort to the best of my ability. Any perceived inconsistency is the result of my efforts to transcribe the shiur and should not be attributed to R' Frand.

In Shemos 18, Moshe discusses with his father in law Yisro all that Hashem did for the Jews when they were leaving Egypt. At Shemos 18:11, Yisro responds to Moshe - "ata yadati ki gadol Hashem m'kol HaElohim, ki badavar asher zadu aleyhem" - now I know that Hashem is greater than all the other gods, for the Egyptians were punished in the very way that they plotted against them.

Rashi explains that the Egyptians had tried to kill the Jews through drowning, as such, they were punished midda k'neged midda by being drowned themselves.

R' Frand quoted a sefer from R' Freund (sp?) who questioned the use of the word "gadol". It is known that the word gadol when describing Hashem is an attribute of His midda of chessed. R' Frand asked - shouldn't Yisro have used the word "gibor" -strong, rather than gadol?

R' Frand answered that the punishment by way of midda k'neged midda is a chessed. The reason for this is that when Hashem punishes in this manner, a person can understand what he did wrong and correct his actions. R' Frand indicated that previously, when a person was sick or had something occur to him, the person would go to a Navi who would be able to tell him why he was being punished and what could be done to correct his bad acts. Nowadays, we do not have nevi'im, but if a person is punished midda k'neged midda, he can understand what he is doing wrong and correct it.

R' Frand then said over a thought from a shmuz from R' Chaim Shmulevitz about a woman who was trying to marry off her daughter. The shadchan proposed that she marry a certain boy who was one of the finest in the yeshiva. The only problem was that the boy had a limp. The mother refused to allow her daughter to marry the boy. Soon thereafter, the mother broke her leg. She wondered why this had happened to her. The answer was obvious...

R' Frand also quoted the Ramchal who explains that Hashem does not punish because He is angry with us. A person is punished to send a message to that person. It is up to us to figure out why.

R' Frand then asked the obvious question - how does the midda k'neged midda punishment help the Egyptians who were drowning at yam suf? R' Frand offered two answers. The first answer, which was given by the Ibn Ezra, explains that the punishment was given so that the Egyptians who lived would know that Hashem is G-d. The second answer that R' Frand gave is that those who drowned at yam suf were given an opportunity to understand what they did wrong and repent. Since drowning is not instantaenous, there was time for these people to reflect.

R' Frand then digressed to briefly discuss the anniversary of the Space Shuttle explosion. He said that when the Challenger blew up, people said - at least they died instantly. However, this deprived the deceased from having final thoughts before dying. R' Frand surmised that it would have been better to have a few moments to get one's thoughts in order and do teshuva before the end.

The vort made me think about the p'shat as to the three ways that the Egyptians died at yam suf. The Torah uses three descriptions - some who died by drowning like lead, others who sank like stone and still others like straw. Chazal teach that the most righteous of the Egyptians sank quickly like lead, while the middle of the ground people sank less quickly like stone. Meanwhile, the most evil people were tossed like straw until they finally were killed.

I would like to suggest that perhaps what made the "lead" category of people drop so fast was that they quickly understood what was occurring and that it was punishment for their actions. Having understood this and accepted it, they had completed their teshuva process and died quickly. By contrast, the "stone" category required a little more thought process to recognize why this was happening to them. However, once they too understood the reason for the punishment they too sank.

The "straw" group was unable or unwilling to see that the punishment was related to their actions. As such, they were tossed until they were able to look past their wickedness and accept that they were responsible for their actions. Only then did the straw finally sink below the surface.

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