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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Bo 5771 - "From a Friend"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Parshas BO 5771


Rabbi Binyomin Rabinowitz[1] related the following story about his father, Rabbi Yisroel Rabinowitz zt’l[2]:

“During his adolescence, my father learned in the Lomza yeshiva in northeastern Poland. When the Germans began bombing in 1939, the air-raid sirens immediately began blaring, and everyone in the town would immediately escape into the shelters[3]. The shelters were located in the middle of the street. Everyone would climb down a ladder into the shelter and tensely wait for the bombing to cease.

“During one such raid my father was with a large group of people in the shelter, where a baby kept crying. The relentless wailing intensified the already tense feeling in the shelter, but the baby could not be soothed. After some time my father approached the man holding the baby and asked him what was bothering the baby. The father replied that the baby was thirsty and they had no water to give him. My father turned around and started heading for the ladder leading to the street. The father called after him, “Where are you going? If anything I should be the one going to risk my life for my son.” My father replied, “You have a family. If anything happens to you, you will leave behind a widow and orphans. But I am just a bochur. My parents are far away. If anything happens to me no one will have to cry for me.”

“With that my father climbed out of the shelter and began hastily running towards the nearest building. As he did so he noticed a German plane flying frightfully low, as it neared him it let loose a barrage of bombs. One of those bombs fell directly into the shelter he had just departed from, instantly killing everyone inside.”

The time of the redemption had finally arrived. Just as G-d had promised, the night before the exodus, Pharaoh had aimlessly circulated the streets of Goshen in desperation to locate Moshe, whereupon he begged Moshe to leave the country immediately. The Egyptian pride had been shattered and the former captors hurried the Jews to leave their land.

The Torah then relates: “The Children of Israel carried out the word of Moshe; they requested from the Egyptians silver vessels, gold vessels, and garments. G-d gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians and they granted their request; and they emptied Egypt.[4]

Rashi notes that they carried out Moshe’s earlier instruction which was to adhere to G-d’s command[5], “Please speak in the ears of the people: Let each man request of his friend and each woman from her friend silver vessels and gold vessels.”

Truthfully, the verse seems to be redundant. If in fact the Torah already recorded that the Jews solicited the gold, silver, and clothing of the Egyptians, why does the Torah repeat it again just prior to their hastened departure?

The Vilna Gaon explains that Rashi was bothered by the lexicon of the earlier verse, “Please speak in the ears of the people: Let each man request of his friend and each woman from her friend”. How can the Egyptians be referred to as friends after all of the tormenting and oppression they had subjected the Jews to[6]? Furthermore, why did G-d need to initiate this instruction by asking the Jews to ‘Please’ do it? Wouldn’t they be more than happy to demand of the Egyptians a small portion of compensation?

The Gaon answers that in order for the Jews to be granted their request that the Egyptians hand over to them all of their valuables and wealth carte blanche at the time of the redemption, they had to merit it. First they had to demonstrate selflessness and love to each other. That was G-d’s original request that he “please” speak to the people and request that they borrow and share with their own friends – their fellow Jews, and demonstrate fraternity and devotion. Because they did so, at the time of the redemption they were indeed able to ask the Egyptains for their wealth. This is the deeper meaning of the latter verse, “The Children of Israel carried out the word of Moshe” i.e. which was to create a spirit of kindness and devotion, and therefore, “They requested from the Egyptians… G-d gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians and they granted their request.”

A well-known businessman once arranged to have a private audience with the Chasam Sofer. “Rebbe,” he began, “I’m sure you are aware that I am known to be a very wealthy person. But recently business has been difficult and I have lost all of my wealth. Please give me a blessing that my fortune should turn around and I should regain my wealth.” The Chasam Sofer answered, “You have an impoverished brother. Help him and your money will return.” The merchant replied, “Rebbe, as soon as I regain my wealth I will help him generously.”

The Chasam Sofer shook his head, “At the beginning of Parshas Va’era when G-d informed Moshe that the commencement of the miraculous redemption was imminent, G-d declared[7], “And also I have heard the groans of the Children of Israel whom Egypt enslaves.” What did G-d mean “And also I have heard”, as if someone else heard first?

“The answer is that when the enslavement became unbearable and there was almost no hope for the Jews, they began to help each other. Despite the severity of their oppression when one Jew cried out another came to his aid despite utter exhaustion. When that occurred G-d declared, “Just as they have heard each other’s cries, And also I have heard their cries. It was their selflessness that granted them the merit to redemption.

The Chasam Sofer concluded, “I didn’t mean that you should only help him when you are again financially comfortable. You need a merit right now. Help him despite your difficult situation and that will give you the blessing to regain your wealth.”

Tanna D’vei Eliyahu[8] writes, “When the Children of Israel were in Egypt, they gathered together and sat together, and they all formulated one group, and they made a covenant together that they would perform kind deeds with each other, and they would preserve in the hearts the covenant of Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov, and to serve their Father in Heaven alone…”

The Chofetz Chaim explains that when the Jews saw that their situation was virtually hopeless from natural means, they decided to make this covenant together. They knew that if they performed acts of kindness with each other G-d would perform kindness with them.

This idea is expressed clearly in the Yerushalmi[9]: “The Holy One, blessed is He, said to Israel, “My son, if you see that the merits of the patriarchs and the merits of the matriarchs have been depleted, go and cling to kindness…”

The Chofetz Chaim explains that this is the meaning of the words that Klal Yisroel recited in their magnificent Song at the Sea[10], “With Your kindness You guided this people that You redeemed.” It was in the merit of the kindness they performed with each other that G-d redeemed them with kindness.

This is also the meaning behind the beautiful words of the prophet[11], “So says G-d, ‘I recalled for you the kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, your following me into the desert, into an unsown land.” It was our kindness that served as the catalyst for G-d’s kindness.

In our prayers we state, “Behold, I will redeem you – the end as the beginning.” The miracles that we will yet witness with the advent of Moshiach and the process of redemption will, in many ways, parallel the redemption from Egypt.

At times we may wonder if we possess sufficient merits to be worthy of the ultimate redemption. But there is one area in which Klal Yisroel still excels and is unquestionably worthy, i.e. in our kindness and helping each other. One need look no further than at the classified section in the back of any of the major Torah-Jewry newspapers on any given week where there is an entire section dedicated to announcing the availability of different gemachs (free-loans).There are gemachs for cribs, tables, equipment, tools, and clothing.

If one G-d forbid needs to be in the hospital there is a Bikur Cholim room set up for any Jew, no matter what his level of religiosity is. The room is regularly re-stocked with free food, and reading material, and the room itself provides for a brief respite from the intensity of the hospital. When a woman in our community has a baby, there is an immediate mobilization to ensure that meals are provided for the family for some time. The same holds true in the face of a tragedy, G-d forbid.

What a nation! What a people! With all of our shortcomings and despite all of our internal and external challenges, the covenant that our forefathers made in Egypt lives on. We revel in it and it is one of our defining features, and ultimately we will again merit redemption because of it.

“And also I have heard”

“The end as the beginning”

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[1] Rabbi Binyamin Rabinowitz is the founder and seventh grade rebbe of Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch. He related this story, as well as the following thought from the Chasam Sofer, at the bar mitzvah of Avrumy Lazarnik, this past Sunday, 26 Teves 5771.

[2] Rabbi Yisroel Rabinowitz was the Rabbi at Kehillas Ohel Moshe in the Bronx and the author of two volumes of ‘Kol Bo’ on the Shulchan Aruch.

[3] The Germans bombarded Lomza mercilessly because it was the first major city near the East Prussian border.

[4] 12:35-36

[5] 11:2

[6] See Bava Kamma 37b where the gemara explains that when the Torah refers to ‘a friend’ it refers exclusively to a fellow Jew.

[7] 6:5

[8] Eliyahu Rabbah 23:9

[9] Sanhedrin chapter 11

[10] “Az Yashir” in parshas Beshalach

[11] Yirmiyah 2:2

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