Parshas Bo: Lessons of Civility

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By Rabbi Naftoly Bier

In פרשת לך לך, Genesis 15:13-14, the Almighty tells Avrohom Avinu, “Know that your offspring shall be in a land not their own – and they will serve them and they will oppress them four hundred years. But also the nation they will serve, I shall judge and afterwards they will leave with great wealth.”

The commentators, Rashi, Ramban explain what is the seemingly superfluous word “also” teaching us. Rashi explains it comes to include all future exiles.

Nachmanides explains that despite, “I, Hashem have decreed this to transpire, nevertheless the nation that will subjugate them, I, Hashem will mete out punishment to them.” Why? Aren’t they fulfilling the wishes of Hashem? On the contrary, maybe they should be rewarded?

He answers that the connotation, “I will judge,” indicates that Hashem will evaluate if they increased the severity of the servitude beyond what Hashem desired. In reality, the Egyptians desired to destroy us, they threw our male children into the river, they placed us in concentration camps and used childrens’ bodies to help build edifices. The Ramban adds that it is only if one does G-d’s will totally selflessly that one is correct, but if one selfishly either due to hatred, need for fame and acclaim or any ulterior motive, then they are responsible for their actions as if it wasn’t ordained by Hashem.

The same applies to a person who is judged on Rosh Hashana to die during the following year. Despite the fact that he was ordained to die, the murderer is held accountable for his heinous action, due to his desire to murder the person. (As a sidenote, it is interesting to note, that HaRav Aharon Kotler זצ”ל taught that תוספות מס’ כתובות טו, is of the opinion that a murderer is liable for his action of murder, rather than the actual death of the person; though the murder has to take place.)

The Rambam (הלכות תשובה סוף פרק ו) explains that since there wasn’t a definitive commandment to a specific person or a group, if so all those who acted in a manner that pained to Jewish people are liable for their cruelty for they could have excused themselves due to not directed specifically to persecute Klal Yisroel.
The Ramban asks: If there was a general directive by Hashem, all are responsible to effect its outcome. If so, on the contrary one would gain merit by Hashem for swiftly acting in accordance with His wishes.

The משך חכמה teaches a profound lesson. Since there was no commandment but rather Hashem told Avrohom Avinu a future narrative or account that would take place, it was not an imperative that had to be followed. Since all the inhabitants of the world are required to follow the seven Noachide Laws, it precluded them from acting in consonance with Hashem’s narrative. On the contrary, the idea of appreciation and the negative behavior of an ingrate are one of the Noachide laws that all are beholden to. The Egyptians owed their lives literally to Yosef HaTzaddik who saved the country from famine. He also, by charging all other countries to pay for the grains at the time of the world famine, acquired untold wealth for Egypt. If so, it would be inconceivable to want to “play a part” in paining his relatives, the Jewish people. It’s up to Hashem how to actualize His intentions, but for the common folk, it is our indisputable responsibility to appreciate and not to be the opposite!

This formulation as that appreciation is one of the seven Noachide laws can be understood either as ungratefulness is a form of theft, stealing. For one who doesn’t convey true gratitude is robbing another of conveying respect and gratefulness. Another perspective is that due to appreciation being the catalyst of all of one’s desire to fulfill Hashem’s constructions; being ungrateful prevents one from creating a positive path. The משך חכמה is teaching us the extreme importance of sincere thankfulness!

In this week’s portion, we are instructed with the mitzvah of פטר חמור, the redeeming of a firstborn donkey with a sheep, and subsequently presenting the sheep as a present to a כהן, priest. Just as we redeem a firstborn male and a firstborn sheep and cattle as a way of thanking Hashem for the fact that not one Jewish firstborn died on that fateful night in Egypt, so too we have this mitzvah. The Sforno explains that the question (Exodus 13:14), “And it will be when your child will ask you in a future time; what’s this?” refers to this mitzvah. For where do we ever find a mitzvah related to non-kosher animals? The answer given is that, “with a strong hand Hashem removed us from Egypt…” We were compelled by the Egyptians to leave at a moment’s notice in a manner that we had no time to load wagons with all our belongings. We were forced to use donkeys and though the weight was beyond the donkey’s natural capacity, a miracle happened that they were able to sustain all the additional burden. At that moment this miracle of Hashem, suffused them with a spiritual dimension, therefore adding to them a measure of spirituality that had to be redeemed!
Another way to understand the Sforno is that the fact that we must show appreciation eternally for the donkey enabling us to fulfill the idea, “and afterwards you will go out with great wealth.” This obligates us with performing a mitzvah with the donkey.

In 11:7, the Torah states though there will be a great outcry in the entire land of Egypt like there was and never will be, nevertheless “no dog will whet it’s tongue.” Though a dog is aware of the angel of death when it is in its proximity, despite the fact that thousands and thousands were dying, they didn’t bark. In this manner, the idea that not one Jewish firstborn would die, as testified by the dogs, creating a true קידוש השם. Therefore חז”ל say that is the idea of “throwing meat which is not allowed to be eaten (בשר טרפה) to a dog – to show our profound appreciation for the validation of the dogs to Hashem’s decree that only the non-Jewish firstborn male would die.

Appreciation precludes one from desiring to fulfill Hashem’s “wishes”. Appreciation is extended even to the non-kosher animal eternally. Appreciation being the fundamental foundation of all positivity in life.


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