וארא אל אברהם אל יצחק ואל יעקב בא-ל ש-די ושמי ה’ לא נודעתי להם ו:ג
By the man, the Torah says lo yadun avosecha. Rabbeinu Bachaya says that this can be referring to the Avos. The Avos were not zocheh to the madreigah of nisim gluyim u’mefursamim. The reason for this is as the pasuk says in the beginning of the parsha that the hasagah of the Avos was through the sheim of Keil Shakay, and not through the sheim Havayah.
Rashi says that ani Hashem means that Hashem is ne’eman. Hashem is the ultimate of reliability. The Avos didn’t get to see the fruition of that reliability. Paranthetically, we see from here that having emunah means to rely on Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu.
The Ramban says that the hanhagah of Keil Shakay which the Avos had does include great nisim in which nature is bent, twisted, turned, and changed; but not controverted. There was clear, open Hashgacha in the salvation of the Avos from famine and war, and in the fact that they merited great wealth and abundant brachos. The sheim Havayah, though, conveys the awareness that, really, there is no true reality other than the truth of Hashem’s being. In that context, there is no such thing as nature whose rules and regulations need to be taken into account. In the hanhagah of Havayah there do not exist any confines of nature. This is the hanhagah that was was innovated, as it were, in the process of yetzias Mitzrayim. Now they saw that reality as they knew it was not at all set in stone. Blood became water, water became blood. The ten makos. Krias Yam Suf. Nature was not simply manipulated, it was completely suspended.
אתה תדבר את כל אשר אצוך ואהרן אחיך ידבר אל פרעה ז:ב
Rashi explains that what this pasuk means is that each time Hashem gave Moshe a message to transmit to Paroh, Moshe would relate it once, and then Aharon would repeat it in a way that Paroh would be able to understand. The Ramban, on the other hand, learns that Moshe would not say it in front of Paroh at all. Rather, he would tell it to Aharon who would then transmit the message to Paroh.
The question is, according to Rashi, what was the purpose in Moshe Rabbeinu saying each nevuah one time, if Paroh was anyway only going to understand it from Aharon?
Each time there was a makah, it was preceded by a warning. These warnings were an inherent part of the process of the Eser Makos and Yetzias Mitzrayim.
The Rambam writes (Hilchos Avodah Zarah 1:3): “Over the length of time Klal Yisrael was in Mitzrayim, they came to worship avodah zarah like the Mitzrim – with the exception of sheivet Levi who remained faithful to the instructions passed down from the Avos, and never worshipped avodah zarah – and it got to the point where the foundation that Avraham Avinu had implanted was almost completely uprooted wherein Klal Yisrael would have completely reverted to the follies of the rest of the world. However, out of His love for us and keeping His promise to Avraham Avinu, Hashem made Moshe the Rabban shel kol ha’neviim and sent him [to redeem Klal Yisrael].”
The Rambam’s usage of the term “Rabban shel kol ha’neviim” is a clear reference to the fundamental principle of emunah that he outlines in his Pirush Ha’Mishnayos (in Perek Cheilek of Sanhedrin) – that Moshe Rabbeinu’s nevuah was of a totally different category than all others. Thus, when the Rambam says that Hashem made Moshe Rabbeinu into the Rabban shel kol ha’neviim and sent him to Mitzrayim, he is making it clear that Moshe Rabbeinu’s supreme level of nevuah was even in Mitzrayim, and not only later when the Torah was given.
The truth is, that this is practically an explicit pasuk. In V’zos Ha’Bracha (34:10,11) it says, “And there did not arise in Yisrael another navi like Moshe whom Hashem knew panim el panim. For all the signs and wonders that Hashem sent him to do in Eretz Mitzrayim, to Paroh, and all his servants, and his whole land.” So, really, the Rambam was just condensing for us what the pasuk is telling us, that Moshe Rabbeinu’s totally supreme level of nevuah was with him even in Mitzrayim.
This begs the question, why did it have to be like that?
In last week’s parsha, Moshe Rabbeinu said to Hashem, “Who am I that I should go to Paroh?” Based on a particular Medrash, the Brisker Rav says a novel pshat in this pasuk. Hashem had promised Avraham Avinu that He would take Klal Yisrael out of Mitzrayim. As we emphasize in the Haggadah, “Not through a malach, not through a saraf, and not through a messenger.” So Moshe Rabbeinu was asking, “Who am I to go to Paroh? If I act as Your messenger to take Klal Yisrael out, that would contravene Your promise that You would take them out Yourself!”
Hashem’s answer to that question is, “Ki eheyeh imach, I will be with you.” In other words, since Moshe Rabbeinu already had the supreme, unique level of panim el panim, his words were not filtered messages from Hashem. Rather, it was a completely transparent transmission of the nevuah directly from Hashem; literally word for word. It was a madreigah that is practically impossible to fathom that a basar v’dam could reach, that Moshe Rabbeinu’s being was not at all a chatzitzah (barrier) in any way, shape, or form for the Dvar Hashem to come through. When Moshe Rabbeinu spoke the nevuah, it was not him talking as much as it was the Shechina medaberes mi’toch grono, the Divine Presence speaking through his throat, kavayachol. “Ki eheyeh imach, I will be with you.” Moshe was not going as an independent entity functioning as a shaliach, but as a vehicle for the unadulterated expression and manifestation of Ratzon Hashem.
Paranthetically, the continuation of the pasuk now also takes on a new meaning. “And this will be the sign for you that I have sent you in your taking out the nation from Mitzrayim, you all will worship the Almighty on this mountain.” While in Mitzrayim, it was not yet demonstrated with complete, incontrovertible clarity that Moshe Rabbeinu embodied this absolutely unique level of nevuah. Only when they experienced Matan Torah at Maamad Har Sinai did Klal Yisrael come to know this point with 100% precision.
Coming back, this is pshat in Rashi. The promise was that Hashem Himself would take Klal Yisrael out of Mitzrayim. If only Aharon would have sounded the warnings of each makah, that would have been a mechanism of shlichus (agency). That is why Moshe Rabbeinu – who was the one who served as the mouthpiece, kavayachol, of the Shechina – had to say each warning to Paroh at least once. That way, it was a full manifestation of Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu Himself taking Klal Yisrael out of Mitzrayim.
A memory (from the compiler):
Talk to Hashem
Although it took place more than fourteen years ago, the conversation I had with my Rebbi, Rav Mosheh Twersky zt”l Hy”d, in the wake of 9/11 remains vivid in my mind. As I imagine many people felt at that time, a sense of emotional disorientation and feeling rudderless loomed large. So, I approached Rav Twersky and asked: “Rebbi, what are we supposed to do?” I assumed that a tragedy of such enormous magnitude demands some sort of concrete response. Also, I really needed something that could serve as a vehicle to allow some sense of emotional relief (the sense of, “ok, at least I am doing something…”).
My assumption was that Rav Twersky would prescribe some sort of increase of avodas Hashem. Perhaps a few extra minutes of Torah learning every day, or reciting a particular chapter of Tehillim. His totally unexpected response, therefore, caught me completely off guard.
“Talk to Hashem.”
Three words. That’s it. When Rav Twersky saw my befuddled look, he added, “Perhaps you don’t know what I mean…I am not talking about Shmoneh Esrei…Just talk to Him.”
ושרץ היאר צפרדעים ועלו ובאו בביתך וכו’ ובתנורך ז:כח
The Gemara in Pesachim on daf 53b makes reference to the story in sefer Daniel (perek 3) that Nevuchadnetzar made an idol. He ordered everyone to come to the dedication of the idol and bow down to it. Whoever would disobey this order would be thrown into a fiery furnace. Chananya, Mishael, and Azaryah disobeyed this decree. The Gemara relates their rationale not to bow down to the idol. Chananya, Mishael and Azaryah applied the logical reasoning of a kal v’chomer: if the frogs in Mitzrayim jumped into the Egyptians’ ovens despite not being commanded to do so, then all the more so should we allow ourselves to die al kiddush Hashem and not bow down to the avodah zarah. There is a fundamental question on this kal v’chomer. A “Brisker kashya” that the Rishonim ask. Why did Chananya, Mishael, and Azaryah need to make a kal v’chomer? There is a mitzvah of kiddush Hashem regardless of the kal v’chomer! The transgression of idolatry is one of the three prohibitions that one is obligated to die for and not violate. Furthermore, this event was took place in the presence of multitudes of people. In such a situation, the mitzvah of kiddush Hashem requires one to give up his life and not transgress no matter what the aveirah is!
There are a number of answers to this question. One answer is that, according to Tosafos, the idol that Nevuchadnetzar had made was not actually an icon of idolatry. It was nothing more than an image that was made simply to give honor to Nevuchadnetzar. There was no sense of deifying worship associated with it. Accordingly, there was no inherent obligation of giving up one’s life to avoid bowing to it since there was no clearly-defined aveirah. That is why they only decided to give up their lives on the basis of the kal v’chomer. Rabbeinu Dovid and the Ran explain that giving honor to Nevuchadnetzar was entailed diminishing the honor of Hashem. This constituted a chillul Hashem. Chananya, Mishael, and Azaryah’s kal v’chomer from the frogs, then, was that if the frogs entered the ovens in order to bring honor of Hashem, all the more so in a situation of chillul Hashem – where the honor of Hashem is being compromised – should one make a kiddush Hashem even if it means giving up one’s life.
Another answer that Tosafos posits is that Chananya, Mishael and Azaryah could have avoided the whole situation by escaping. The kal v’chomer, then, was what made them decide to deliberately remain and give up their lives. They reasoned, “If the frogs went out of their way to jump into the fiery furnaces, surely we shouldn’t go out of our way to escape from the fiery furnace!”
Coming back to the approach that Nevuchadnetzar’s idol wasn’t actually an avodah zarah, Tosafos in Kesubos 33b utilizes this explanation to elucidate an unbelievable statement made by Rav. Rav said, “Had torture been the threat on Chananya, Mishael, and Azaryah they would have bowed down to the image.” From the account of Rabi Akiva bearing having his flesh combed off with iron combs, asks Tosafos, we see that one is obligated to suffer even the most extreme form of pain and suffering rather than transgress one of the cardinal sins, so how could Rav say that Chananya, Mishael, and Azaryah would have buckled under the pressure of torture?! Rabi Akiva underwent unimaginable pain and he rhetorically exclaimed in response to the disbelief of his talmidim, “All my life I wondered if the opportunity to fulfill this mitzvah would ever come my way, and now that it has I shouldn’t uphold it?!” The mitzvah that Rabi Akiva was referring to, of course, is the mitzvah of b’chol nafshecha – the mitzvah to give up one’s life, if necessary, al kiddush Hashem. It seems clear, then, that included in this mitzvah is that one has to endure even torture if necessary. If so, how could it be that Chananya, Mishael, and Azaryah would have capitulated out of fear of being tortured and bowed down to the avodah zarah? Tosafos answers that since the image was made just for the honor of Nevuchadnetzar, and not for worship, they therefore would not have withstood unbearable suffering for the sake of making a kiddush Hashem that is beyond the letter of the law.
Based on this approach, Tosafos concludes that even in a situation where there is no actual obligation to give up one’s life, it is permissible to voluntarily do so if it will generate a kiddush Hashem. The Rambam, though, argues on this statement and maintains that there is no such thing as voluntary kiddush Hashem. Either it is a full-fledged obligation to give up one’s life, avers the Rambam, or it is strictly prohibited. And, adds the Rambam, if one does give up one’s life in a situation that he was not obligated to do so, that is tantamount to the prohibition of suicide (Hilchos Yesodei Ha’Torah 5:4). Accordingly, the Rambam maintains that the Nevuchadnetzar idol indeed had a status of avodah zarah, and therefore the situation mandated an obligatory kiddush Hashem on the part of Chananya, Mishael, and Azaryah. In this vein, the Rambam in Sefer Hamitzvos (mitzvah 9) describes, in great length, the significance of this showdown between Chananya, Mishael, & Azaryah and Nebuchadnezzar. The Rambam describes how that time period represented a particularly low and disgraceful point in the history of Klal Yisrael, wherein practically everyone was bowing down to this idol. As such, emphasizes the Rambam, the actions of these three great tzaddikim held very special significance. This event, adds the Rambam, serves as the ultimate paradigm of what it means to effect a kiddush Hashem and what it is meant to accomplish. The entire Jewish nation witnessed this singular event at a time when no one else was willing to stand up for Hashem’s honor. It generated an exalted level of kiddush Hashem. In fact, the very continuity of Klal Yisrael was due to this great mesiras nefesh (self-sacrifice).
According to the Rambam, though, we are back to the original question: why did Chananya, Mishael, and Azaryah need a kal v’chomer to know that they should be willing to give up their lives rather than bow to Nevuchadnetzar’s idol? They had a full-fledged obligation of kiddush Hashem regardless?! The truth is “ein makshin al aggada”. The Gemara that describes the kal v’chomer of Chananya, Mishael, and Azarya that they derived from the frogs’ self-sacrifice is not a halachic Gemara, and it therefore doesn’t demand a halachic interpretation. That being said, perhaps we can suggest as follows. Indeed, the kal v’chomer was not their source for carrying out the act of kiddush Hashem; rather, the purpose that the kal v’chomer served was in relation to the avodas hanefesh that would underlie their mitzvah fulfillment. The kal v’chomer served as their source that they had a mandate to create a certain attitude and feeling – their overall mindset – for the moments that they would be dying al Kiddush Hashem. Certainly, it would be perfectly understandable were one to fortify himself with the thought, “In a few moments, I will have attained the highest level of Olam Ha’Ba; a level that no creature in the entire universe can perceive!” There is no question that such an outlook and focus would serve one as a great source of motivation and inspiration to go through with dying al kiddush Hashem with a full heart. And, in fact, there is nothing wrong with being yearning for that great level of spiritual attainment, as we see from the fact that the Beis Yosef, in numerous places, that one should daven that he merit to die al Kiddush Hashem! The frogs, though, that willingly jumped into the Egyptians’ ovens to bring glory to Hashem, obviously do not have a share in Olam Ha’Ba. Koheles (3:21) says, “v’ruach ha’beheimah yoredes l’matah, the spirit of animals descends down into the earth,” and nowhere do we find that the “spirit” of the frogs is excluded from the statement of this pasuk. The frogs didn’t have any motivation of a wonderful afterlife. They went into the furnaces with one purpose, and one purpose only: because that was the will of the Ribbono shel Olam. There was nothing in it for them, no reward at all, aside for doing what Hashem wanted. Chananya, Mishael, and Azaryah employed this kal v’chomer as a mandate to give up their lives 100% lishmah, purely for the sake of making a kiddush Hashem and increasing k’vod Shamayim.
Quotables “Rachmana leba baei (Hashem wants the heart) is not an excuse, it is a charge.”
Vignettes Rav Twersky once told us that the Vilna Goan explains that the words “tov yatzar kavod lishmo” mean that Hashem created a good thing, and that is the ability to give honor to His Name! I heard and felt the deep emotion in Rav Twersky’s voice when he said, “What greater thing could a person do than give kavod to Hashem!” (Reb Yitzchak Goldsmith)