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Be Silent ... Be Still ... Be Yourself

R Pesach Siegel

Parshat Beshalach

Jan 30, 2015

Parshas Beshalach 5775


The Bnei Yisroel find themselves in a quandary, between a rock and a hard place. The Egyptians are behind them, ready for blood. The Yam Suf was blocking the way in front of them. They see Mitzrayim gaining on them and they are afraid. They are very afraid. They respond in two manners, first, they cry out to Hashem. Then, they turn to Moshe and say, "Is there a shortage of graves in Mitzrayim that you took us out to the desert to die?"[1]


Moshe responds, "Hashem will fight your battle for you. You stand still. You be silent." [2]


Hashem commands Moshe to put aside his staff and extend his hand over the Yam Suf.[3]  The Yam Suf splits. The Bnei Yisroel enter. The Egyptians follow.




What caused the Bnei Yisroel to be paralyzed with fear?


Had they not witnessed the ability of Hashem in controlling the elements of nature?


Hadn't He demonstrated the love He has for His people?


Why was the splitting of the Yam to be done specifically through Moshe's outstretched arm?


Why not with his staff?


Why does Moshe Rabeinu tell the Bnei Yisroel to be silent?


Is there fault to be found with crying out to Hashem?




The Egyptians followed the Jews into the Yam Suf. Didn't it occur to them that the Yam Suf split for the benefit of the Jews and that as soon as the Jews would emerge from the Yam, the Yam would return to its former state?


Are the Egyptians possessed of suicidal tendencies?


When the last Jew emerged from the Yam Suf, Moshe was commanded to, again, extend his hand over the Yam, causing it to return to its previous state.[4]  


Why wouldn’t the Yam automatically return to its natural state?


It is clear that just as the splitting of the Yam Suf was a miracle, so was the reversal of that process.


The Medrash Rabbah provides us with insight in the above issues. The Medrash tell us of a celestial court case that was underway at the time. The Bnei Yisroel were standing in judgment, whether to be saved or perish. The advocate for the prosecution was the Angel on high of Mitzrayim. His arguments were persuasive.


"Why is it", he says, "that the Jews are deserving of being miraculously saved and my children are to be put to death?" "Is it because my children are idol worshipers? The Bnei Yisroel also worship idols. Is it due to the fact that my children are uncircumcised, wear shatnez, grow their hair in a provocative manner? The Jews are also uncircumcised, wear shatnez, and grow their hair in a provocative manner."[5]


The Jews and the Mitzriyim are the same. They share identical flaws. This was actually the goal of Mitzrayim. They sought to enslave the Jews so that they should be subservient to their culture, thus dragging them down and engulfing them totally in their impurity.


The prosecutor rests his case.


The posuk says that the Bnei Yisroel envisioned "Mitzrayim" (Egypt) pursuing them.[6]  It would have been more accurate to state that the Mitzriyim (Egyptians) were chasing after them. Rashi explains that they had a vision of the Angel of the Egyptians - the soul of Mitzrayim, hence he is referred to as Mitzrayim.  


They saw the Angel of Mitzrayim. He is the one who blurs the distinctions between the Bnei Yisroel and the Egyptians. The Bnei Yisroel were well aware of their shortcomings, they were afraid of their conformance to Egyptian culture. The danger was very real, there was no foreseeable reason why they should be saved and the Egyptians destroyed.


In order to be saved, the Bnei Yisroel needed to ride above the superficial similarity they had with the Egyptians.


The posuk states that the Bnei Yisroel reached the awareness of "Vaya’aminu BaHashem uveMoshe avdo". - "They believed in Hashem and in Moshe his "servant."


 A servant has nothing of his own. He is null and void to his master's will. He exists solely for his owner.


Moshe Rabbeinu personified this ideal. He, personally, did not exist. Every Jew, by virtue of his connection to Moshe, has within himself the potential of being an eved Hashem. The level that Moshe Rabeinu arrived at is the true identity of all of Am Yisroel.[7]


There are two components of every individual, one's essence and his actions.  The two are not always consistent with one another.


The Egyptians were idol worshipers. The Jews were not idol worshipers. The Jews worshiped idols. There is a difference. The true essence of the Jews is not avoda zara or shatnez. The true essence of the Bnei Yisroel is Moshe Rabeinu.




Had Moshe Rabeinu utilized his staff to save the Bnei Yisroel, they might have thought that there is some miraculous power contained within the staff. Hashem wanted it to be clear that their salvation was due to the essential difference between them and the Egyptians. They were saved due to the "Moshe Rabeinu" within themselves. It is for this reason that Moshe was commanded to use his actual hand to perform the miracle for it was due to his essence that the miracle was wrought.[8]


The Bnei Yisroel were commanded to stand still and be silent. When one "speaks up" in front of Hashem, then there is danger. The rest of one’s words uttered elsewhere may then be held up to the microscope and examined. Had they continued their prayers, the prayers that were offered to Avoda Zara would have been allowed entry to the court case. Their salvation lied in their silence. They were to stand silent and contemplate their essential nature, not the acts they did or the words that they said. Moshe instructed them to stand as a monument to Hashem.[9]


The Egyptians didn't delve deep enough into the Jewish psyche. They had a superficial understanding of the nature of the Jews. They weren't privy to the difference between themselves and the Jews. If the Yam Suf is to split for the Jews, then it must stay in that split state for the Egyptians as well. They were assured of this by their angel. They and the Bnei Yisroel are one and the same. They worship the same avoda zara, wear shatnez, have the same hair style. They are both uncircumcised.


So, they followed the Jews into the Yam Suf.


The Medrash states that the Egyptians didn't perish right away. They were shown that they were to die and the Jews to survive. In their final moments they were shown the distinction between themselves and the Jews.[10]


Now it is perfectly understood why it was necessary for Moshe to extend his hand a second time in order for the waters to cascade upon the Egyptians. It was only due to the distinction between Moshe's "hand" and the Egyptians hands that enabled the final act to unfold.


[1] Parshas Beshalach, perek 14, pesukim 10-12

[2] Parshas Beshalach, perek 14, pesukim 13-14 

[3]Parshas Beshalach, perek 14, posuk 16. According to the Chizkuni

[4] Parshas Beshalach, perek 14, posuk 26 (Question of Rav Mordechai Gifter, z”l, in his sefer Pirkei Torah).

[5] Vayikra Rabbah, parsha 23, piska 2 (The Bnei Yisroel were physically circumised upon leaving Mitzrayim. The medrash is referring to a spiritual internal flaw in briso shel Avrohom Avenu. –  Rav Moshe Shapiro, shlita).

[6] Parshas Beshalach, perek 14, posuk 10

[7] Rav Mordechai Gifter, z”l, in his sefer Pirkei Torah.

[8] Rav Moshe Shapiro, shlita

[9] Rabbeinu Bachaye

[10] Mechilta (quoted in the Sefer Rokeach)

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