[The first sicha of this farbrengen, concerning the printing of Tanya in every place which has a Jewish population, has been published as a separate essay titled “The Printing of Tanya.”]
1. We read in parshas Bo (Shemos 12:35-36) that the Jews asked the Egyptians for their valuables, their “silver and gold vessels and garments.” The Egyptians at first denied they owned such valuables; but when each Jew said to an Egyptian, “I saw it in your house, and it is in such a place” (ascertained during the plague of darkness — see Rashi, Shemos 10:22), the Egyptians gave them everything. Although the Egyptians could have kept on lying, nevertheless, when faced with the firm stance of the Jews armed with “the pride of Ya’akov,” they were left no choice but to acquiesce to their demands.
This teaches two things:
1) That it is very important for a Jew to be proud and firm in his dealings with the non-Jewish world;
2) The other side of the coin, that to cower before a non-Jew, to surrender one’s vital interests, is out of the question.
To our sorrow, in our days Jews have surrendered strategic territories, air-bases and oil fields to Egypt, things which are vital for the security of Israel and its inhabitants. Worse yet, this abject surrender is seen as a manifestation of “the pride of Ya’akov”!
Jews have, unfortunately, been subjected over their history to every possible tragedy. These experiences should serve as lessons in how to conduct ourselves today.
In the Middle Ages, the two possible paths of action — surrender to non-Jews in return for promises of safety, or a firm stance — were tested time and again. In tens of cases non-Jews assured Jews total safety if they would surrender their weapons as a sign of good will and trust. In those cases where Jews surrendered on the basis of these assurances, not only were the promises not kept, but Jews thereby lost their weapons with which they could have defended themselves. In those cases where Jews stood firm with “the pride of Ya’akov,” then, even if they were not victorious, some of the Jews were able to be saved. In any case, the willingness to stand strong and fight served as a deterrent against attacks on Jews in other places.
These two approaches were tested more than once, and the results were always the same. Yet today Jews continue in the same bitter path of surrender, giving away the oil fields, strategic territories, etc. — all for “assurances” and “promises,” which we now see how worthless they have proven.
Why this refusal to learn from past experience? Why continue in a path that has already been demonstrated to be so dangerous — especially after we have seen today how many casualties have resulted? Should obstinacy to admit a mistake be permitted to continue to endanger millions of Jews? Even the non-Jewish nations were amazed that Jews surrendered to Egypt those things most vital to their security — and celebrated it!
Some claim that the peace accords with Egypt has prevented further bloodshed. Nothing could be more false. If the oil fields had not been surrendered to Egypt, Egypt would not be in a position to aid the terrorists — both those which operate from Egyptian territory, and those which operate from other countries, through sending weapons or warmly welcoming the chief terrorist. This was a result of the strengthened position Egypt was in because of Jewish surrender.
Thus, not only did the peace accords not prevent bloodshed, but because Egypt became more powerful as a result of the accords, the terrorists became stronger. One does not need to be a politician to understand the danger in surrender and withdrawal — especially after seeing the result of it, both in previous generations and in our own times.
The exodus from Egypt also teaches us the cause of such conduct. Scripture states (Shemos 6:1): “For with a strong hand he (Pharaoh) shall send them out, and with a strong hand he shall drive them out of his land.” The Jews were then slaves in Egypt, doing back-breaking work. Surely they wanted to leave Egypt. Why was it necessary that Pharaoh should drive them out?
But there were Jews who were so sunk in the exile and in the non-Jewish milieu that they considered the exile to be a good thing. And therefore Pharaoh had to drive them out.
So too today: Some Jews are so subservient to non-Jews that they are incapable of freeing themselves of this attitude — to the extent that they think it is a good attitude, that it expresses lithe pride of Ya’akov.” They call darkness light.
May it be G-d’s will that very soon we merit to see all unpleasant things removed, and, indeed, transformed into sanctity. And all Jews shall speedily leave exile, to go to our holy land, to the third Bais Hamikdosh.
2. Parshas Bo talks of the tenth and final plague that G-d brought upon Egypt, the smiting of the first-born. Every Egyptian first-born, from Pharaoh’s down to the maid-servant’s, would be smitten, and a great cry would be raised in Egypt, “such has never been like it and shall never be like it again.” Ch. 11, verse 7, then states: “And against the children of Israel a dog shall not sharpen its tongue (in Hebrew, 1yecheratz leshono’ — i.e., bark vociferously) ... so that you may know that the L-rd makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.”
There are some puzzling aspects to this verse.
1) How does the plague of the striking of the first-born differ from all the other plagues that a special miracle was necessary — that “Against the children of Israel a dog shall not sharpen its tongue?” Why should we think that specifically in this plague dogs would bark against Jews that Scripture finds it necessary to emphasize they will not? Indeed, what do dogs have to do with the plague against the first born? Dogs may have a connection to the plague of mixed animals — but to the plague of the first-born?!
The “Da’as Zekeinim M’Ba’alei HaTosfos” explains that “Although we say that when dogs bark [it is a sign that] the Angel of Death has come to the city, and therefore the dogs should have barked at the time of the striking of the first-born nevertheless, here, ‘Against the children of Israel a day shall not sharpen its tongue (i.e. bark).”’ However, this interpretation does not follow the plain meaning of the verse, and Rashi, the commentator par excellence on Scripture, does not even allude to such an interpretation.
2) The verse says, “Against the children of Israel a dog shall not sharpen its tongue so that you may know the L-rd makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.” The fact that dogs will not bark does not seem to express a distinction between Jews and Egyptians more than the actual striking of the first-born, of which it states (11:6): “There shall be a great cry throughout the land of Egypt, such has never been like it and shall never be like it again.”
3) The word used here to describe dogs barking is, "yecheratz.” This is a highly unusual word, for the normal usage is “nevichah,” as in Yeshayah (56:10): “Dumb dogs, they are not able to bark (‘linvoach’).” Why then is the word “yecherat’z” used here?
Although these are questions that arise in the plain interpretation of the verse, Rashi makes no comment to answer them. Rashi does explain what the word “yecheratz” means — that it is not just regular barking, but “it is an expression of sharpness,” i.e., vociferous barking. But he does not explain why in Egypt the dogs should bark in such an unusual manner. Indeed, Rashi’s comment only deepens the above questions. Why should we think that in the plague of the first-born the dogs should not only bark, but should bark vociferously? And how does this vociferous barking show that G-d makes a distinction between Jews and Egyptians?
4) Rashi, in making his comment, quotes the words “A dog shall not sharpen (‘yecheratz’) its tongue.” Rashi is always very meticulous in quoting the words on which he comments. In this case, Rashi seems only to be interpreting the word “yecheratz,” and not the rest of the phrase (“its tongue”). Why then does Rashi quote the whole phrase?
We could perhaps answer that Rashi quotes the whole phrase to be consonant with the verse which he cites immediately afterwards as proof to his interpretation of “yecheratz” — “None sharpened his tongue against the children of Israel” (Yehoshua 10:21). But this itself needs explanation. Rashi, in explaining the meaning of “yecheratz,” states “I say that it denotes ‘sharpening’ ... and similarly, ‘None sharpened his tongue against the children of Israel’ ... [and similarly], ‘then you shall be sharpened’ ...” We see that Rashi does not cite these other verses as proof to his interpretation of “yecheratz,” but that from his interpretation of it in this verse (“I say”), the other verses are interpreted accordingly. And this ‘is puzzling. It is not Rashi’s custom to explain, at any particular verse, similar usage in other verses which come after that particular verse,_(in our case, in Yehoshua). And especially not to add extra words in his quote, just to conform with the verse cited from Yehoshua!
[The Rebbe Shlita did not answer these questions at this farbrengen.]
3. [On Shabbos parshas Va’eira, the Rebbe Shlita posed some questions on the parshah. The Rebbe did not then answer them. We here present the questions, and the answers which were given on this Shabbos.]
In parshas Va’eira, Scripture tells of the second plague which G-d brought against the Egyptians, the plague of frogs. Pharaoh asked Moshe to pray to G-d to remove the frogs, and he would then send away the Jews. Moshe told him he would do so. Ch. 8, verse 5, states: “Moshe said to Pharaoh ... when shall I pray for you ... to remove the frogs from you and from your houses; only in the river shall they remain.” Two verses later Moshe makes the same point: “The frogs shall depart from you and from your houses, and from your servants and from your people; only in the river shall they remain.”
There are two puzzling points.
1) Why, when the plague of frogs ended, did G-d leave frogs in the river, unlike every other plague which disappeared totally?
2) Why was it necessary for Moshe to say it twice?
If there is a difficulty in the plain meaning of Scripture, and Rashi does not explain it, it means it is either self-understood, or it is understood according to a previous comment of Rashi.
In our case, the difficulties are resolved through Rashi’s words in a later verse, concerning the plague of mixed animals. It is only necessary to answer it there, and not now when talking of the plague of frogs, for the question of why the frogs differed from the other plagues arises only after we have learned about the other plagues. When we see that the other plagues totally disappeared, only then do we wonder why in the plague of the frogs they remained in the river.
On Ch. 8, verse 17, Rashi says: “There is a reason given in the Aggadah for each and every plague, why it was specifically this one and why that one. He [G-d] came against them with the strategy of the wars of kings, according to the order of a kingdom when it besieges a city. First he spoils its wells, and afterwards they blow upon them and sound their horns to frighten them and to confuse them; and similarly the frogs croaked and made a tumult, etc., as it is [narrated] in Midrash Rabbi Tanchuma.”
Rashi writes two reasons for the plague of frogs — “to frighten them and to confuse them.” Confusion reigns only during the actual plague, for when the frogs are actually croaking and making a tumult in the Egyptian houses and in all Egypt, confusion ensues. Fear, however, applies even after the plague has actually ended — if, a reminder of the plague is left. Thus although fear is not as severe a trial as the actual confusion (which applies only when the plague — the frogs is actually around), it can continue even when the confusion has died down. If a reminder of the plague is always present, there is fear that the actual plague will return.
An example of this is “All the children of Israel shall hear and they shall fear” — meaning, that through seeing/hearing that punishment is possible, they will fear to do wrong. Another example, particularly applicable to a student learning Scripture (to whom Rashi addresses his commentary), is the teacher’s cane which hangs on the classroom wall. Just seeing the cane frightens the child, inducing him to pay attention to the lesson. Indeed, the idea is not to actually strike the child, for then he cannot learn.
In other words, actual punishment causes confusion and tumult; the knowledge that he can be punished induces fear which prevents misbehavior which could lead to punishment.
This is why it says of the plague of frogs that “only in the river shall they remain.” So that fear should remain after the actual plague (which causes confusion) ceases, some of the frogs would be left in the river as a reminder of the actual plague (but not that this reminder sows confusion as in the actual plague).
But, one could ask, why is such a reminder necessary if a new plague is to be brought? And if it is necessary, why wasn’t a reminder left of all the plagues?
However, the frogs left in the river were not meant to be a reminder of the actual plague, but of its unique nature emphasized in the words, “only in the river shall they remain.” When Moshe and Aharon said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the L-rd ... send away My people,” Pharaoh answered, “I do not know the L-rd and I also will not send away 1srael.” Pharaoh relied on Egypt’s god, which was the Nile river. So that Moshe’s warnings and the plagues should work their effect that Pharaoh should recognize that they are from the L-rd — he needed to be reminded constantly that the “river” in which he laid his trust could not save him. The river, he would learn, is but an ax in the hand of the hewer — G-d.
The frogs came into being from the river, as stated (7:28): “And the river shall swarm with frogs which shall go up ... into your house ... and in your people ...” Thus it was the Egyptian god, the river, which struck them with frogs, and therefore even when the frogs ceased, Moshe emphasized that “in the river shall they remain.” Every time Pharaoh would go to the river (as was his custom — see Rashi, Shemos 7:15), he would see the frogs and be reminded that his god was powerless. And that is why the frogs remained specifically in the river, and not on the land — to emphasize the powerlessness of the Egyptian god.
For the same reason, “only in the river shall they remain” is said twice. The frogs in the river did not cause confusion (which ended with the actual plague), but were there to cause the Egyptians to fear G-d. And because fear of G-d was most important to ensure that the plagues wrought their effect — to cause Pharaoh to listen to G-d to release the Jews — it was repeated twice.
But not all is clear: Also the first plague, blood, affected the river, and therefore the same effect of fear of G-d ‘ could have been produced by leaving some part of the river’s water blood. ‘In such a case the actual plague would cease (since they could drink from the rest of the river), and only a reminder of the powerlessness of the Egyptian god would remain — just as in the plague of the frogs. Why then did this happen only in the plague of frogs?
The difference between blood and frogs, however, is that blood of itself is not harmful (it is only undrinkable), whereas frogs do cause trouble. In the first two plagues, not only did the waters of the Nile which previously gave life to Egypt become undrinkable, turned to blood, but the Nile itself struck the Egyptians — it spawned frogs which then caused so much trouble for them.
In slightly different words: That the river turned to blood also showed that the Egyptian god had no power, and was subservient to G-d’s commands. But in the plague of frogs, a more startling phenomenon was seen: that G-d made the river itself strike those who served it — and this induced greater fear of G-d.
One point remains unresolved. G-d is omnipotent, and therefore could have transformed the river’s waters not into blood, but into something harmful — e.g., poisonous waters. Why then did not G-d cause the first plague to thus induce fear of Him, rather than wait until the second plague, frogs?
When one wishes to punish someone, one first gives a light punishment, and then if that does not work, follows it up with a heavier one. G-d therefore turned the Nile’s waters into blood, and only when that did not have the desired effect, did He send a harsher plague — the river itself should strike the Egyptians with frogs.